As last year wrapped up, I wrote about the difficulty I’ve had reading as deeply and as frequently as I used to. Of late, I have noticed one of the ways that plays out is that I seem to have bookmarks in a huge number of books. These are not books I’ve started and abandoned. Rather, they are books I keep dipping into without ever quite committing to focusing solely on one until I reach its end. So here’s a deep dive into a bunch of books I haven’t quite deeply dived into yet.
Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball by Donald Hall with Dock Ellis
I’ve had my eye out for this book for a while now after having written a preview of a (pandemic-cancelled) play about Dock Ellis. I found a copy in a used bookstore just before Christmas. Ellis, who may be most famous for having thrown a no-hitter while under the influence of LSD, pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1970s. He and the famed poet Donald Hall struck up a friendship that turned into a collaboration: this lyrical but unflinching portrait of an exceptionally talented ballplayer, the game he played, and the nation in which he played it.
Democracy Awakening by Heather Cox Richardson
This is the new book by the historian who heroically pens the nightly “Letters from an American” Substack that so many of us have come to rely on to help make sense of current-day politics and the historical events and ideas that led to the present moment. The book covers ground that will be familiar to folks who read her letters or who watch her weekly politics chat on Facebook, but fans and new readers alike will still benefit from her insights and her optimism about the future.
The Hero of This Book by Elizabeth McCracken
I have been just pages from the end of this book for quite some time now. I’m not quite ready for it to end. McCracken, whose novels, short stories, and memoir are all beautiful, insists this book is a novel. It says so right on the cover. She insists it is not a memoir: “If this were a memoir—it isn’t—the author might talk at length about her own connection to her grandmother on the subject of self-recrimination, how easy it is to blame yourself for the harm that comes to children during pregnancy, and how other people, even well-meaning ones, will blame you, too. It’s isn’t; she won’t. No book can contain everything.”
On that last point, she’s absolutely right, of course. But what The Hero of This Book does contain in its fewer than 200 pages is astonishing.
Sister Citizen by Melissa V. Harris-Perry and A Virgin Conceived by Mary F. Foskett
I list these two books together because they’re authored by my middle kiddo’s two favorite professors at Wake Forest University. Partway through each of these books, I can see why my daughter loves them so much. Harris-Perry brings an English major’s eye to her topic, grounding her exploration of Black women in America in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Foskett’s exploration of the Virgin Mary asks us to shift our attention from what Mary’s purported virginity says about Jesus to what it says about her. This shifted focus seems revelatory to this reader.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
I started this novel a long time age. Better than a decade ago, as a matter of fact, as the book was published in 2013. At the time, I discussed it with the novelist and essayist Ann Patchett, and we agreed it was one of the more remarkable things either of us had read in a quite a while. And then, somehow, I didn’t finish it. I’m listening to it now and it is just as impressive as I remember it being, though its story of the suffering caused by an ongoing war has a heightened impact now. Marra is one of two graduates of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop on this list (McCracken is the other), and I hope to read his two subsequent books—a collection of stories and his second novel—when I reach the end of his stunning debut.
Star Trek Phase II: The Lost Series by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
As regular readers know, Star Trek is my go-to comfort narrative. I’ve had this book about the 1970s efforts to launch a new Star Trekseries since the 1990s, when it was first published, but hadn’t read it. When I arrived at the Phase II period in Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross’s The Fifty-Year Mission, an oral history of the franchise, I took a detour to the Reeves-Stevens account of the “lost” series that instead became Star Trek: The Motion Picture. There’s a lot here for folks who are Trekkies, but also for anyone interested in the business of television.
Coming Up: Shotgun by Ed McBain
My 87th Precinct reread continues. I recently finished Fuzz, the 22nd entry in the 55-book series, and I’m currently watching the Burt Reynolds/Raquel Welch/Yul Brynner movie based on the novel (Evan Hunter, a.k.a. Ed McBain, wrote the screenplay). When the credits roll, I’ll be ready to start Shotgun, the 23rd book—and the last written in the 1960s.
Here’s hoping you have a bookmark (or two) in a book (or two) that you are truly enjoying.