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I’m joining in with the challenge that Cathy at 746 Books hosts. It’s so fun to see everyone’s plans!

A Chip Shop in Poznan: My Unlikely Year in Poland – Ben Aitken

I bought this from Waterstones as part of their Read for Ukraine promotion.  “One of the funniest books of the year,” says somebody on the cover.  

Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny – Witold Szablowski

This looks great and was recommended by Rennie at What’s Nonfiction.  The author, who is Polish, reports on actual dancing bears in Bulgaria and what happened when they were released into a wildlife refuge; and then on conversations and encounters in Eastern Europe, the former USSR, and Cuba, with people who likewise have been “released” from authoritarian control.

The Walls Came Tumbling Down – Henriette Roosenburg

A World War II memoir by a Dutch woman who was a political prisoner in Germany.  James Mustich of 1000 Books to Read Before You Die, a book I dearly love, listed this among the top three or four books he would give to an alien civilization to explain what it means to be human. 

The Oresteia – Aeschylus

This was one of the other books James Mustich would give to an alien civilization.  I have already stalled out on this once.  Hopefully the challenge will give me some extra momentum.

The Prisoner and The Fugitive – Marcel Proust

I have been reading In Search of Lost Time very slowly, one volume every few years.  It’s an absolute joy to read but also challenging and I have a variety of fears about how it’s going to end.

The New Kings of Nonfiction – ed. Ira Glass

This very promising book came up in a library search for Susan Orlean.  It includes 14 articles selected by Ira Glass and published in 2007.  I’ve already looked into this one and love the piece by Malcolm Gladwell, about people who seem to know everyone, and how we know the people we know.  There are also pieces by Michael Lewis, David Foster Wallace, and Michael Pollan.

The Seven Storey Mountain – Thomas Merton 

This book has been described as “a twentieth-century form of The Confessions of St. Augustine” and “the odyssey of a soul.”  I’ve never read anything by Thomas Merton and have been meaning to read to this one for a while.

The Temporary European – Cameron Hewitt

I first saw this at The Captive Reader.  The author has been “Rick Steves’ right hand man” for more than 20 years, and gathered these travel pieces together during the first year of the pandemic.  In the introduction Rick Steves describes it as “some of the best travel writing I’ve read.  Reading it during COVID was, for me, the next best thing to a plane ticket.”  It will still be a while before I’ll be on a plane again so this should be perfect for me right now.

Land of Big Numbers – Te-Ping Chen

This book of short stories, according to Jennifer Egan, “offers intimate glimpses of the seductive power of state control: the Faustian bargaining it requires of its citizens, the landscapes and lives it forces them to discard in exchange for material prosperity.”  

The Thousand Autums of Jacob de Zoet – David Mitchell  

Historical fiction set in Japan, highly recommended by Jo Walton via Jo Walton Reads.

Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

Rereading this for book group in June.

Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

I started this at the beginning of the year and stalled out, hope to finish it over the summer.  It’s SO good but slow reading with thousands of endnotes.

The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism – Jemar Tisby

I have heard so many good things about this book, which “takes readers back to the roots of sustained racism and injustice in the American church.”  

The Genius of Birds – Jennifer Ackerman  

The author studies birds all over the world and reveals how intelligent and amazing they are.  

Being a Beast – Charles Foster

I have wanted to read this ever since I heard the author appear on This American Life, describing how he tried to learn what it was like to be a badger, by digging burrows, blindfolding himself (I think?), working on his sense of smell, and eating earthworms.

Hell of a Book – Jason Mott

I’m already halfway through this one.  It’s amazing.  I’m folding down corners on almost every page because the writing is incredible and it’s also really thought-provoking.  It has already made me laugh and made me cry and I’m feeling really scared about the ending.

Clever Lands – Lucy Crehan

The author, a teacher in an inner-city school in London, traveled to Finland, Japan, Singapore, China (specifically Shanghai), and Canada — countries whose students far outperform those in the UK and the US on international standardized tests — and visited classrooms to see for herself what was going so well in these places.  

East West Street – Philippe Sands 

I’m also halfway through this story of the author’s investigations into the lives of his grandfather and two other men who lived in the 20th century in Lviv, which is now in Ukraine and has previously been under Austro-Hungarian, Polish, German, and Soviet control.  The other two men are Raphael Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht, who were the authors of the terms “genocide” and “crimes against humanity,” respectively.  This will clearly be one of the best books I will have read this year or probably any year.

Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804 – Richard Holmes

Footsteps, a collection of shorter pieces on various subjects by Richard Holmes, was wonderful and I’m sure this will be too.

How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America – Clint Smith

Between October 2017 and February 2020, the author visited places where “the story of slavery in America lives on,” starting with Monticello.  

And seven alternates:

Strange Journey – Maud Cairnes

Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World – Mark Kurlansky

Master and Commander – Patrick O’Brian

The Power of Geography – Tim Marshall

The Candy House – Jennifer Egan

Crossroads – Jonathan Franzen

River of the Gods – Candice Millard