Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Reading List

TyL's picture

                                                Reading List, Amanda Fortner


What: Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’Rourke.

Why: As the antidote to Arne Naess. Also, it’s effing hilarious. I mean it. I read this book at least once a year. While it was written during the administration of the first George Bush, it has been relevant for every administration afterwards (and, I think, many before). While O’Rourke is a libertarian, he skewers everybody mercilessly: in power, out of power, liberal, conservative—everyone. And he’s hilarious as he does it. The one thing in which he is consistent is his dislike of government. As the preface says, “What is this oozing behemoth, this fibrous tumor, this monster of power and expense hatched from the simple human desire for human order?...this government, swollen and arrogant with pelf, goes butting into our business. It checks the amount of tropical oils in our snack foods, tells us what kind of gasoline we can buy for our cars and how fast we can drive them, bosses us around about retirement, education and what’s on TV; counts our noses and asks fresh questions about who’s still living at home…; decides whether the door to our office or shop should have steps or a wheelchair ramp; decrees the gender and complexion of the people to be hired there; lectures us on safe sex; dictates what we can sniff, smoke and swallow; and waylays young men, ships them to distant places and tells them to shoot people they don’t even know.” Also, I found a preview of it online, on Google books:'rourke&printsec=frontcover&source=bn&hl=en&ei=_yKpTK74BYW6sAPKzoSbDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&sqi=2&ved=0CCQQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false

What: On Writing, Stephen King

Why: Stephen King’s On Writing is, like many of the books we have read (Solnit’s in particular) unclassifiable. Part memoir, part advisory on the craft of writing, the two components are seamlessly interwoven. But while it may sometimes be difficult to clarify exactly what On Writing is, it is always beautiful and moving. It’s also occasionally hilarious. “In many ways, [my babysitter] prepared me for literary criticism. After having a two hundred pound babysitter fart in your face and yell Pow! The Village Voice holds few terrors.” I read On Writing at least once a year, and I always get something new out of it. And again, a preview on Google books:

What: The Liars’ Club, Mary Karr

Why: I have not read this one, but I have heard it is pretty much the seminal memoir. Back when it came out, everyone was talking about it—one of my earliest memories is of hearing my mother talk about it with my grandparents in hushed and amazed voices. Back then I wasn’t in the least bit interested in the craft of memoir, but now I am, and this seems as good a place as any to start. Also, I checked out the limited preview that provides ( and found gems such as this: “There was no need to scudge anymore about Mother’s past propensity to get drunk and openly wag firearms, or the number of times she’d married (seven times—twice to my Texas oil worker daddy).” This is in many ways a memoir about a family, a crazy, funny, dysfunctional, difficult family, which also matches Fun Home very well. And in great keeping with Solnit, this is the epigraph: “We have our secrets and our needs to confess. We may remember how, in childhood, adults were able at first to look right through us, and into us, and what an accomplishment it was when we, in fear and trembling, could tell our first lie, and make, for ourselves, the discovery that we are irredeemably alone in certain respects, and know that within the territory of ourselves, there can only be our own footprints.” –R. D. Laing, The Divided Self

What: The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, Albert Camus

Why: “There is really only one serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” This is the first sentence of The Myth of Sisyphus, and it’s a doozy. I have not read this one, so I can’t say for sure, but what I can tell is that it’s about the meaning of life. According to one very helpful review ( the first one), “How does one exist without any given purpose or meaning? How does one develop meaning? Le Mythe de Sisyphe addresses this directly in the retelling of the famous tale. Considering the plight of Sisyphus, condemned to roll a stone up a mountain knowing the stone will roll down yet again, it is easy to declare his existence absurd and without hope. It would be easy to believe Sisyphus might prefer death.” And yet, Sisyphus does not give up. He does not let the stone roll over him and end it all. How are we supposed to live when life itself seems meaningless? “For Camus, Sisyphus is the ultimate absurd hero. He was sentenced for the crime of loving life too much; he defied the gods and fought death. The gods thought they found a perfect form of torture for Sisyphus. He would constantly hope for success, that the stone would remain at the top of the mountain. This, the gods thought, would forever frustrate him…The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. We have to imagine Sisyphus happy.” This book ties in with The Ecology of Wisdom in that it is philosophy, but it’s something different because it’s not ecological philosophy.

What: Bluets, Maggie Nelson

Why: Not entirely sure. I was looking for something that had somewhat to do with Reality Hunger, because it seemed to be the last hole in my list, and I searched Reality Hunger on and came up with this as one of the “Customers who bought Reality Hunger frequently buy…” I really liked this review: “I was excited about this book since reading an excerpt in The Hat. I read that poem 2x and went online and ordered it, knowing only it would come in the fall, and it did. I read the entire thing today sometimes skipping excitedly along at a pace maybe a bit too swift to really be taking it all in, but I was excited and it made me hungry for the next pages wit and frankness and it's the sort of work that just makes you hungry for more. You want to know all of it right now. I laid the book down for a minute to finish tending to what I had in the oven and my boyf. picked it up and started reading different parts aloud, loving it, laughing, we discussed the "depression is not like a fire" bit. I am so tremendously stoked this book exists, that it scratches the poetry itch I have for something lyrical and smart and feminist and libidinous and real and very alive. It is revivifying and truly great work. Perfect present for the cool woman in your life. Or the uncool woman in your life. Both. Either. All.” I was also highly intrigued by the first sentence: “Suppose I were to begin by saying I had fallen in love with a color…” Check it out here:



Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
11 + 2 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.