Workman Reads: Read Across America Day Edition

Dear readers, in honor of the NEA’s Read Across America Day, we bring to you once more a compilation of the books we have been devouring on subway trains, stuffing in our tote bags, and tossing on our nightstands: The Semi-Annual Whenever-We-Feel-Like-It Workman Reads Unofficial Reading List. It’s our hope that you’ll catch, or be inflicted with all over again, this feverish love of reading,* even as the spring threatens to beat winter back into the ground with the promise of an ever-strengthening sun or an eager grass tendril.

Here are a few words about the pages we’ve been turning:

Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West, Hampton Sides
I’m currently knee-deep in an obsession with the old west and Sides’s book taught me all I could ever want to know about how the Southwest was won. For the full, inter-disciplinary experience, I’ve followed it up with a novel: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, a grim account of one violent ne’er-do-well’s escapades across the deserts of 19th-century Texas and Mexico. Utterly bleak and utterly beautiful. –Maisie

I’m reading, for the umpteenth time, My Ántonia. I can’t really explain it, but reading Cather always makes me think that summer is coming. –Suzie

The Plot Against America, Philip Roth
What would have happened if FDR did not win a third term, and Charles Lindberg, a Nazi sympathizer, became president as the country encountered World War II?  The at-times tender, always compelling story, filled with real-life characters, is told through the eyes of nine-year-old Philip Roth, child of Newark, NJ.  It’s like learning history in an alternate universe—as a family is wrenched apart and a country you do and don’t recognize as your own is conveyed with frighteningly plausible, chilling detail. –Mary Ellen

My bedtime reading right now is BakeWise by Shirley O. Corriher.  Really!  Yes, it’s a cookbook—but it’s also a fascinating discussion of the science behind cake recipes, like Harold McGee for bakers. –Kendra

The Art of Telling: Essays on Fiction, Frank Kermode
Since starting it, I have changed my entire approach to reading books, and also watching films or looking at art. Kermode gives a concise, and more importantly readable, history of literary criticism; both how it has evolved in the academy and the general reading public. He explains why there is such a thing as the literary canon, why it is important, and why, though the text stays the same, great books can always teach us something about our continually developing culture. –Nicholas

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
What’s a Jane Austen-ite to do when she’s plowed through Austen’s entire oeuvre? Turn to the Brontë sisters, of course! An underprivileged but plucky heroine; a dark, dashing gentleman with a mottled past; and a grand manor house in the English countryside—all the classic ingredients for a sweeping Victorian novel. I’m halfway through and cheering Jane and Mr. Rochester on. –Erin

I just finished reading Father and Son by Larry Brown. I loved it! It was suspenseful, sexy, thrilling. The author successfully conveys what it was like to live in the south in the 1960s. While reading it, you feel as though you’re right there with the characters. I couldn’t put it down! –Claudia

Kaddish for a Child Not Born, Imre Kertész, Hungarian Nobel Laureate; trans by C. C. & K. M. Wilson
The narrator, a writer and translator utterly disconnected from the world, for whom life is nothing more than the process of digging his own grave, tries to explain his separateness and his refusal to bring a child into a world where horrors like the Holocaust can occur. This is an intense, compelling probe of many survivors’ despair and isolation. –Judit

Going Bovine, Libba Bray
It took me more than a year to pick up a copy of this brilliant YA novel and less than two (work)days to finish. It follows a teenager’s mad cow disease-influenced hallucinatory adventure with a punk-rock angel, a video game-obsessed dwarf, and a lawn gnome. Trippy, hilarious, and heartwarming. –Krestyna

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan–so smart, so sharp, so imaginative. –Margot

I just finished Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones for the second time, and love everything about it (especially—weirdly enough–now that I know Oprah has a half-sibling that probably had some similar experiences as Dana, the novel’s “secret sister”). Next up is Anne Cherian’s A Good Indian Wife, which an Algonquin editor highly recommended to me. –Emily P.

I’ve just finished reading the manuscript for Hillary Jordan’s new novel, tentatively titled Red, to be published by Algonquin this fall.  You may remember that she is the author of Mudbound, one of my favorite all-time Algonquin books.  Her new book has all of the passion of Mudbound, but this time we’re in an all-too-believable near future, one in which criminals are “chromed”—meaning that their skin pigment is permanently altered to a color corresponding to their crime.  With clear reference to The Scarlet Letter, our protagonist, Hannah Payne, has been turned red as punishment for having an illegal abortion.  This is a book with a main character we care about deeply, and a moral power that burns hot at its center.  It’s a book that many people will love, though “pro-life” evangelicals may not be among them… –Bob

Just Kids, Patti Smith
I live in the East Village and get wildly excited every time Patti and Robert Mapplethorpe go to Gem Spa. That’s where I buy the New York Times. –Beth W.

I’m reading Griftopia by Matt Taibbi.  The investigative journalist attempts to untangle the financial meltdown, and explains how the government (in particular Fed chairman Alan Greenspan) encouraged Wall Street to take increasingly reckless gambles, by promising that taxpayers’ money would be there to bail them out when they failed. As a result, we the taxpayers were robbed for trillions of dollars not once, but twice–once by the banks collapsing the housing market, and then again by the promised bailout. –Mike V.

Beautiful Children, Charles Bock
I’d never heard of this book before coming across it in a bookstore. The graphic novel-like cover caught my eye, and after turning it over to read the back cover copy, I knew I had to pick it up. Fortunately, the book itself lives up to the promise of its packaging. –Randall

And now, for the unadulterated list:

Running the Rift, Naomi Benaron
Beautiful Children
, Charles Bock
Going Bovine, Libba Bray
Triumvirate: McKim, Mead, & White: Art, Architecture, Scandal, and Class in America’s Gilded Age
, Mosette Broderick
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
Father and Son
, Larry Brown
Once Upon A River, Bonnie Jo Campbell
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
My Á
ntonia, Willa Cather
A Good Indian Wife, Anne Cherian
BakeWise, Shirley O. Corriher
The Karamazov Brothers, Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, Heidi W. Durrow
A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
Silver Sparrow, Tayari Jones
Red, Hilary Jordan
The Art of Telling: Essays on Fiction
, Frank Kermode
Please Ignore Vera Dietz, A.S. King
Kaddish for a Child Not Born, Imre Kertész, Hungarian Nobel Laureate; trans by C. C. & K. M. Wilson
The History of Love, Nicole Krauss
Half the Sky, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman
The Plot Against America, Philip Roth
Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West, Hampton Sides
Just Kids, Patti Smith
Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner
Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World, John Szwed
Griftopia, Matt Taibbi
Annabel, Kathleen Winter

Go now to flip through the pages of your nearest beloved book (or scroll through the e-version), and count yourselves among the lucky to be literate. Happy Read Across America Day!

*Sorry about the flu-like adjectives. I guess it’s just winter, trying to assert itself.

Liz, who has been reading Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook as if it were a novel, and has also been trying not to destroy the cover of her mom’s copy of Angle of Repose before the end of the story. (Sorry, Mom.) Oh, and she read The Girl Who Fell from the Sky in a day. Boom.

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