Part of what this trip entails is unbelievable amounts of downtime. Whether it’s killing those last daylight hours before crashing in our sleeping bags, or spending an afternoon in a café waiting for an interview, we often find ourselves in need of something, anything, to do.
Enter the Kindle E-book reader.
One of the great saviors of this enterprise, the kindle has not only given us an activity to fill time with, but it allows us a means to escape into our own heads. Since last March, we estimate that each of us has read over 40 books. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to catch up on classics we never read in highschool or college when we were too lazy, an excuse to dip into trashy airport novels, and an invaluable spring of insight into our budding careers as journalists.
Because the amount of reading we’ve been able to do has been a joy, we wanted to share each of our three favorite books that we’ve read since leaving Paris.
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Simplicity. Simplicity. Simplicity. Reading Hemingway has been instrumental for me in my goal of becoming an effective storyteller. Few do it better than Hemingway. His account of an American demolitions expert caught up in the anti-fascist movement in the Spanish Civil war is powerfully frank. I was fascinated by Hemingway’s ability to intersperse succinct anecdotes within a larger narrative. His descriptions of El Sordo’s last stand against the fascist bombers, or the slaughter in Pablo’s village, are unforgettable. Mini masterpieces in themselves. It is rare that a piece of literature sticks with me like this.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Written in 2012, this was the most recently produced book I’ve read. There’s no question this was what made it so relevant. I picked up Boo’s nonfiction tale of a Mumbai slum right as we were biking across India, struggling in our own endeavors as journalists to relate such a different place in the world back to Western readers. Boo does it brilliantly. By reading the depth she goes into her characters, I was both humbled and inspired to improve our own nonfiction feature stories. Boo taught me the importance of following just a couple characters, but bringing out all the minute details that allow readers to connect and empathize with them. Only then could she bring home the significance of complex issues like poverty, corruption, family greed, and gossip for the inhabitants of a slum tucked away next to Mumbai’s Internatinonal Airport. Not only that, but she made me feel like I lived there too. I guess that’s why she won a Pulitzer Prize.
V by Thomas Pynchon
This novel was far and away my most difficult read. But it was also the most wild, fun experience. Pynchon’s novel starts out with a character named Benny Profane, who has just been discharged from the Navy and strikes up a wild lifestyle running around New York with a bunch of friends nicknamed the Whole Sick Crew. Sounds simple enough right? Well from there, the novel takes us to espionage in 19th century Egypt, rebellion in South Africa, Malta during the Suez crisis, and a robbery in Florence. Pynchon’s imagination is totally unpredictable. Sometimes I couldn’t tell if what I was reading was brilliant and profound, or pure garbage. (There are entire websites dedicated to debating this topic). Nevertheless, I put this book on the list because the way in which he somehow interweaves the mysterious woman known as “V” throughout the book’s outrageous chapters is truly an accomplishment of writing to behold. This is a book to experience first, and then come back to later to understand. I certainly plan to.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
This is a classic for a reason. The story takes place over three generations, and weaves a fantastic tale of love, lust, vanity, and fear. The conflicts are simple: while we stand in terror of Cathy Ames, perhaps the most horrific monster ever to come alive in print, most of the conflict resides within the characters, each running away from what they most fear within themselves. To tell you the truth, when I finished it I still couldn’t really tell you what it was about, but I thought about the decisions the characters made every day for a while.
The Worst Hard Times by Timothy Egan
This is the story of what happened to the farmers of the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles during the Dust Bowl. It comes alive through Egan’s meticulous research and masterful hand. We travel with families from the early boom to the dust storms to the apocalyptic invasion of grasshoppers, and we feel their joy as they find a new home and their despair as the american dream is taken from them. It is a beautiful work of historical journalism.
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
This is the book that solidified my desire to become a journalist. It follow the lives of the mercury astronauts from Edwards Air Force base to being launched into space, and goes into all the machismo, politics, and engineering that it took to get them there. It doesn’t just show you their community–it makes you live in it, understand it, get to know the astronauts to point that you feel like could predict their behaviour. In the process, he captures the spirit and optimism of an era.