Orwell, Obama And Other Odysseys

January 8, 2019

Reading.

It’s just never really been my thing. Not because I don’t want to read, but because I’m so…damn…slow. With a captivating book I could maybe crank through 10 or 20 pages in an hour. Do the math and you’ll realize that even a mid-sized 300 pager is a daunting task for someone of my skill level.

Mind you, I have read books. In fact, a few years ago I ripped through presidential biographies of Andrew Jackson, John Adams, William McKinley and James Garfield. I loved them all but just couldn’t sustain the effort it took at my slow pace.

Just before Thanksgiving, my kind of brilliant sister-in-law, an absolutely voracious reader, suggested I do something novel: get a library card and use it to check out audiobooks and listen to them on an app called Libby.

So I did. It’s been almost seven weeks, and I have consumed about eight books. I mean, do THAT math!

I titled this post, in part, “… And Other Odysseys” because I feel like my world has opened up in a whole new way. And I realize that sounds cheesy, but for the first time ever, I can’t wait to start the next book. I listen in the car, while walking my dog and, best of all, I don’t have CNN playing non-stop in my house. Instead, Alexa reads to me and I just feel like I’m getting so much out of them. Nerdy? Perhaps. I’m OK with that.

The best part is that I don’t really know what I even like, so I’m taking on a pretty eclectic bunch of titles. Here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve “read” so far:

“Churchill and Orwell” by Thomas E. Ricks
My first scan for audiobooks was for a presidential biography…preferably Lincoln or an obscure one like Van Buren. Nothing was immediately available, but when I came across a few titles on Churchill, my interest was piqued. “Churchill and Orwell” tells the life story of these two British heavyweights whose time in the spotlight overlapped, and I absolutely loved it. I knew nothing about Orwell and this book inspired me to read his work. More to come on that.

“1984” by George Orwell
I just loved this. It’s dark. It’s depressing. It’s sheer hopelessness, and it hits a little too close to home these days. So glad I finally know what all the hype is about.

“The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama
I love Obama. I liked his book. I had to keep reminding myself it was published in the Bush era, because I’m a much bigger fan of President Obama than I was Senator Obama. Not the best book but I’m still a huge fan.

“Theft By Finding” by David Sedaris
I might be David Sedaris’ biggest fan. Me Talk Pretty One Day and Naked are two of my favorite books ever. In Theft By Finding, Sedaris reads his diary entries from 1977 to 2002. It’s a lot. There are some great moments, and it’s a really great way to gain a deeper understanding of him. But it’s a lot.

“God: A Human History” by Reza Aslan
This book I loved. It’s an examination of how humans – since prehistoric times – have humanized the gods they’ve worshiped. So fascinating and one I’d actually listen to again down the road.

“Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance
This was the first recommendation I took from my sister-in-law, even though she led me to have low expectations. Again, she reads like a maniac, so no doubt she’s found better books on similar topics. But I thought it was really amazing. Vance tells a very intimate story of his childhood in eastern Kentucky and Ohio – part of the “hillbilly” population that continues to struggle with drug addiction, poverty, poor education and ill health. His unlikely success in the face of such challenges is inspiring and I came away with a profoundly sad realization of how difficult life truly is for people in our own country.

“The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough
This one’s got to be boring, right? Wrong. Before checking out the Wright brothers, I couldn’t have cared less about the whole “first in flight” thing. But this was a fantastic listen and I feel much smarter for having done so.

“Homage to Catalonia” by George Orwell
Okay here’s the lone clunker in my list. Remember (above) when I said I was inspired to read more Orwell? My list included “1984,” “Animal Farm” (on the waiting list) and “Homage to Catalonia,” a book about the author’s time fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Holy hell this book is boring. It was almost nine hours long. I gave up after five. I may go back, but the thought is hard to stomach.

“American Gods” by Neil Gaiman
This is the second reco from my SIL, a novel she said she’s started but never finished.  I kid you not, this thing is TWENTY HOURS in length, so how anybody could actually read it is beyond me. But I’m about seven hours (eight chapters) in, and I’m captivated. It’s all over the place and a little tough to follow. But I shall not relent.

Once I get through “American Gods,” I have so many more titles already in my queue. They include:

  • “Fascism” by Madeleine Albright
  • “Animal Farm” by George Orwell
  • “The Soul of America” by Jon Meacham
  • “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond
  • “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” by Ottessa Moshfegh
  • “The Great Alone” by Kristin Hannah
  • “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte
  • “The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck” by Mark Manson
  • “The Great Believers” by Rebecca Makkai
  • “The Good Neighbor” by Maxwell King
  • “Heavy” by Kiese Laymon
  • “Educated” by Tara Westover

Updates on future “reads” in future Peepshow posts!