I’m in my second of four terms in The Bennington Writing Seminars (nonfiction track), and below is a list of what I’ve read so far and plan to read through December.
The reading list is devised by the student and the mentor for any given term. I was thrilled when my mentor, Susan Cheever, and I sat down in June in the living room of my dorm at Bennington, and she started reeling off questions, “Have you read this? Have you read that? I can’t force you to read anything, but if you’re getting a master’s degree, you really should know these books.” It was kind of embarrassing, because I was usually answering, “no.” Although I took a bunch of lit classes as an undergraduate, my major was psychology. Then, a few years later, I went on to grad school in urban planning, and for a long time, I only read public policy books. Imagine a life without novels and memoirs 🙁 but that’s how it was.
The result of this conversation was an amazing list of classics and some newer books. I can also swap out for something new that comes along at any time, which is how I ended up reading Sophia, the biography of Tolstoy’s wife, which has only been out for a few months. I was going to read a biography of Tolstoy, but then I was like: let’s hear about the wife who nurtured him through his great works and then was totally dissed by his followers and him at the end of his life. Let’s hear her side of the story!
So, here you go!
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (Pevear & Volokhonsky edition)
Sophia Tolstoy, a biography – Alexandra Popoff
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
Capote: A Biography – Gerald Clarke
Shot in the Heart – Mikal Gilmore
The Executioner’s Song – Norman Mailer
[I don’t recommend reading all these in the same month. Really depressing insights into family dysfunction and how NOT to raise your sons.]
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte [a romance! shake off those murderers! hooray!]
The Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
Charlotte Bronte biography – Lyndall Gordon
Jean Rhys Interview – Paris Review
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
October [some of these will be re-reads from a long-ago college course]
First We Read, Then We Write – Robert Richardson on Emerson
Walden – Henry David Thoreau
The Scarlet Letter & other stories – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Hawthorne: A Life – Brenda Wineapple
The Invention of Solitude – Paul Auster
Self-Consciousness – John Updike
The Control of Nature – John McPhee
Waterfront – Phillip Lopate
Middlemarch – George Eliot
The Pine Barrens – John McPhee
Ward 6 and Other Stories – Anton Chekhov
Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey – Janet Malcolm
The Journalist & the Murderer – Janet Malcolm
Tolstoy – Henri Troyat [the bio. I temporarily ditched in favor of Sophia above]
Moving back into the present day… I’d like to read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Dave Cullen’s Columbine, the latter of which is sitting on the floor right next to me as I type this…