Following a theme that I established last year, this short list of books reflects my association with books and places:
1. Cervantes's Spain
I spent two weeks last Spring in the Andalusian part of Spain between Cordoba, Grenada and Seville. This is one of the areas of Spain where the first modern novelist Miguel Cervantes roamed. It's a rich cultural area, which I knew nearly nothing about, but since I hauled Robert Goodwin's voluminous Spain: The Centre of the World (1519-1682) around with me, I began to get some understanding of what I was I seeing. Worth the heavy lift -- like carrying Christopher Columbus' sarcophagus (shown here) at the Grand Cathedral in Seville.
As a precursor to the trip, I read Our America: An Hispanic History of the United States by Felipe Fernandez-Armato, which is an important alternative to the Anglo perspective of the settling of the Americas. It makes the idea of building a wall to keep immigrants out even more ludicrous, since the Spanish settled America in greater numbers before English-speaking peoples.
2. Birmingham, Alabama
Though my entire month of October was dominated by the Cubs winning the World Series, a near-equal baseball experience was attending my first Rickwood Classic in Birmingham with my daughter and son-in-law. I love the history of baseball (which helped sustain me during the Cubs' decades of drought) and the annual Rickwood Classic, where two teams turn back time to play in the stadium that has been hosting games since 1919. In preparation, I read James Hirsch's fine biography Willie Mays: The Life and the Legend. Mays, who grew up in Birmingham, played on the 1948 pennant-winning Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues before signing with the New York Giants. The Barons hat is on the left in the photo.
3. MIT Press in Boston
Nothing affects my reading selections more than browsing the MIT Press bookstore in Boston. Whenever I visit my other daughter in Cambridge, I always carve out time to browse and buy. I even take their catalog home with me and order books later. Here's just a list of books read (with links if I wrote about them): The Irresponsible Magician by Rebekah Rutkoff, Metadata by Geoffery Pomerantz, Memes in a Digital Culture by Limor Shifman, Raw Data is an Oxymoron edited by Lisa Gitelman, One Way Street by Walter Benjamin, Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents by Lisa Gitelman, Typewriter: The History, The Machines, The Writers by Tony Allen, and Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation by Edward Humes.
Never underestimate how a really good bookstore can influence your reading.
4. Verdun, France
On this 100th anniversary of the World War I Battle of Verdun, which resulted in French and German casualties of over a million men in the period of less than a year, I read Alastair Horne's The Price of Glory. Admittedly, I have not traveled to Verdun, but Horne's book transported me there with its grisly details coupled with clear analysis on how this bloody campaign shaped the history of Europe.
As in 2015, I spent a week at St. George Island on the Florida panhandle. On a whim, I pulled out a remaindered hardback copy of John Hersey's Key West Stories, which he published just before he died in 1994. Hersey was a writer who I had heard of (Hiroshima, The War Lover), but I had no idea how good he was. One might associate him with the Ernest Hemingway era of the 1950s, but after rereading The Sun Also Rises, (part of my Spanish prep) I realize that Hersey is by far the better writer. His stories show tremendous range in subject matter with some measure of wit. For example, in the story "To End the American Dream," Hersey pays "tribute" to Hemingway by portraying him as a bar brawler, but also balances his portrayal by showing how Hemingway cares about his sentences and his writing habits. A Bell for Adano, for which Hersey won a Pulitzer Prize, is on my 2017 book list.