Monday, 1 October 2018

№ 16 reading list | Black History Month (UK)

№ 16 reading list | Black History Month (UK) · Lisa Hjalt

Libraries are my happy place. Or so I thought. Last week I was at the library with a notebook, in which I have written down some of the titles I would like to read. As you can imagine, on my way there I was like a little kid going to Disneyland. As I walked up the stairs and entered the floor of the humanities (this is the university library, it's big), I was in a state of bliss, walking between the rows of bookshelves. Browsing books, touching books. Removing books from the reading list I already had in my mind to make space for books that demanded to be on it. Putting books back on the list to perhaps remove them again. Normal library behaviour.

Then something happened, something I was not prepared for: I experienced a moment of panic. For a few seconds, as I stood by the first row of shelves of American fiction, it suddenly dawned on me how many books there were on that floor, on all those shelves: In this lifetime I would never be able to finish my to-read list, which keeps getting longer. I cannot be the only book lover who has experienced this fear. No way. There better be an afterlife, with a library that has all your unread titles just waiting for you. There better be.

№ 16 reading list:
· Blue Nights  by Joan Didion
· Go Tell It on the Mountain  by James Baldwin
· Sing, Unburied, Sing  by Jesmyn Ward
· The Human Stain  by Philip Roth
· Stet  by Diana Athill
· Train Dreams  by Denis Johnson
· The Bookshop  by Penelope Fitzgerald
· Do Not Say We Have Nothing  by Madeleine Thien
· The Collected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick  (ed. by D. Pinckney)

On Saturday - you may have seen it on Instagram already - I read Didion's memoir Blue Nights in one go. She wrote the book after the death of her daughter Quintana, who was only 39 when she died. (She wrote The Year of Magical Thinking after the death of her husband, author John Gregory Dunne.) I liked Blue Nights. It's not a sob story that makes you reach for the tissue. Didion's style isn't emotionally overloaded. She is just trying to make sense of it all. Trying to find answers to questions that cannot be answered.

October is Black History Month in the UK (February in the US). I'm showing my support with two novels on the list, by James Baldwin and Jesmyn Ward. She won The National Book Award 2017 for Sing, Unburied, Sing. It was her second win; in 2011 she won for Salvage the Bones.