the contextual life

thoughts without borders

read this next

with 4 comments

what to read next. for any real booknerd this is the question, isnt it? what do i read next? i ask myself this before i’m even halfway through the book in my hands. i ask it before the next book on my list is even started. what to read next. it’s the perennial question; the answer, never reliable, shifts with last-minute thoughts and interests. the word “next” to a booknerd takes on abstract meaning: something never quite arriving, always a step ahead—next is our tomorrow.

as i walk through bookstores—independents and chains—as i read book reviews—literary blogs and the the new york times book section—and as i hear authors on air—both npr and podcasts—i scribble notes in my journal, take pictures of covers on my cell phone, and feed my online wishlists. the anticipation of what comes next is akin to the feeling you get when a relative would hold out their hands, balled up  into a fist, and make you guess which one held the gift. the gift might be a classic that’s been a weight on your shoulders; it might be a memoir that sparks your own need to confess; or it might be the new bestseller that everyone’s talking about—and deserves to be.

let’s face it, book covers matter. we shouldnt be ashamed to admit this, after all there are whole departments whose job it is, is to catch your eye. there are college courses devoted to the teaching of it and there are artists who not only made a living at it but have also made a name for themselves in the process. chip kidd comes to mind as well as paul buckley over at Penguin who’s in charge of revamping the Penguin Classics. if you enjoy the graphic arts you cannot deny the joys and powers of the book cover. it is with this in mind that Read this Next: 500 of the Best Books You’ll Ever Read caught my eye. the bold, white lettering on a solid black image of a book set against a bright orange background. read this next. the levels of meaning run through your head from the first glance.

when i went to see the two authors of the book, sandra newman and howard mittelmark, speak at at local bookstore, i struck up a conversation with the editor from the publishing house. after letting her know that the cover is what got my attention—believe me, publishing people want to hear these things—she mentioned that they’d put a lot of thought into it. they wanted it to seem biblical—on closer look, the squiggly lines running through the bright orange do have a “come to Jesus” feel. along with God’s oeuvre, abbie hoffman’s steal this book was an influence.

the introduction, and the event, began with a humorous tutorial on how to start and run a book group—something both authors admitted to have never been a part of. i’ve never been part of a book club either, possibly due to my noncommittal nature and antisocial behavior but also because i dont need to be strong-armed into reading. luckily, the next part of the introduction is titled, “What If I Don’t Want to Join a Book Group?”. whether you cant wait  for your group’s next meetup or the thought of having upwards of 8 people agreeing to read a certain book at a certain time makes you a bit twitchy, this book will act as a guide to thoughtful book decisions.

one of the questions raised at the event was of books assigned in high school that weren’t appreciated until years later. i have a few of my own to add to this list, most notably Fahrenheit 451 by ray bradbury. we should all have at least one on the tip of our tongue. after flipping through Read This Next i might have one more to add. flowers for algernon jumped out at me. i vaguely remember reading this for school but the lack of details leads me to believe i faked my way through it.  previous to picking up this great collection, flowers for algernon was relegated to my even longer list of books: ones i will never read. but, daniel keyes’s 1959 classic has been snatched from the jaws of literary death based on this brief summary alone:

Flowers for Algernon is an SF [science fiction] tale about a mentally retarded narrator whose intelligence is experimentally increased to genius levels. Daniel Keyes takes his hero from almost complete incomprehension of his world through the gradual dawning of understanding, speculation, brilliance—and the consequences.

also in this section, right after flowers for algernon, comes one of my all-time favorites: one flew over the cuckoo’s nest by ken kesey. and before flowers is the intriguing title: madness: a brief history. what i find even more interesting than the great recommendations under the heading “Books about Mental Illness” is that it comes at the end of the humor section—and who in their right mind couldnt appreciate that!

if quality book suggestions at your fingertips is something you crave, you should pick this one up next.

my ‘next’ list
sci-fi: flowers for algernon by daniel keyes
classics: huck finn by mark twain
collections: i found this funny edited by judd apatow
philosophy: how to live: a life of montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer by sarah bakewell
quirky/counter-culture: doors of perception by aldous huxley
author for author’s sake: samuel beckett
because i should: poetry

what’s yours?


Written by Gabrielle

November 24, 2010 at 10:13 am

Posted in books, reviews

Tagged with , ,

4 Responses

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  1. I’m reading Middlesex (fifty pages to go, for a book club) and don’t know what’s up next! After reading Freedom last, maybe “How to be Alone” by Jonathan Franzen or the Corrections.


    November 24, 2010 at 11:13 am

    • after seeing franzen that night i want to read his nonfiction. i tried about 10 years ago but i dont think i was ready for it then.
      curious to know if middlesex picked up for you.


      November 24, 2010 at 11:19 am

  2. […] reading the entry for flowers for algernon in read this next, a book of literary recommendations, i moved the 1957 classic by daniel keyes to the top of my […]

  3. […] reading the entry for flowers for algernon in read this next, a book of literary recommendations, i moved the 1957 classic by daniel keyes to the top of my […]

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