By Matt Harvey and Nancy Oda
As the summer comes to a close, we’ve asked some interesting New Yorkers to share what they’ve been reading. Answers run the gamut from Philip Pullman’s young adult fantasy “The Golden Compass” to Dean Wareham’s account of rock and roll excess in “Black Postcards.” It’s hard to imagine toting some of these along to the beach; in fact, this is what makes the selections notable. Like the Downtowners who selected them, these choices are political, weird, artistic, and entirely surprising.
The book I most enjoyed this summer was Rick Perlstein’s “Nixonland.” Unlike many political books, this work was clearly years in the making. I can’t say that the analysis of Nixon’s strategy is groundbreaking. But the rich period detail and larger-than-life characters make it read like a great novel.
Editor of “The Brooklyn Rail” and author of “The New Blue Media”
I picked up “The Book Borrower,” by Alice Mattison, from the lending library in my building’s mailroom (otherwise known as other people’s discards). It’s a novel about a friendship between two women in the ‘60s and ’70s that manages to get in an early 20th century trolley strike. Then my neighbor loaned me “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel, a charmer of a novel about despair. Speaking of despair, now I’m in the middle of Irene Nemirovsky’s “Suite Francaise” which was recommended to me by my son, who read it in ninth grade English.
-- Michele Herman
Writer and teacher at The Writers Studio
Rollo May’s phenomenal book, “The Courage To Create,” takes on the unfortunate descent of art into abject careerism happening today. For my course on Professional Coaching at NYU, David Rock’s “Quiet Leadership” talks about significant new findings in neuroscience that shed light on how the brain works. I’ve been traveling through Romania, which has given me the chance to re-read one of my favorite books by our own East Village’s literary hero, Bruce Benderson. His book, “The Romanian” is an epic memoir. I have also been reading my own diaries from the ’60s to the ’80s in preparation for writing my memoir this year. Maybe next summer some of you will be reading my books!
-- Penny Arcade
Performance artist (and former Warhol superstar) and writer
Peter Godwin’s “When a Crocodile Eats the Sun” is a heartfelt but grim account of his experience in Zimbabwe. Currently, I’m occupied with Douglas Preston’s “The Monster of Florence,” about a writer investigating a crime that he feels he’s personally involved in. Before that I read “New York Burning” by Jill Lepore and “The Island at the Center of the World” by Russell Shorto.
I’m also reading Joyce Townsend’s “Turner’s Painting Techniques” to accompany the extraordinary show at the Metropolitan Museum and completing some rare 1930’s wood Pastime jigsaw puzzles loaned to me. Ah, the joys of retirement!
-- Barry Benepe
Director and founder of the Greenmarket and also Transportation Alternatives (retired)
Lots of different things! I’ve been slowly plowing through Jung Chang & Jon Halliday’s “Mao: The Untold Story” since Sonic Youth got back from a trip to China last April. It’s very intense, so I’m reading it in bits and pieces. I Recently finished Dean Wareham’s memoir “Black Postcards.” It’s tales of his indie-rock life in Galaxy 500 and Luna. I quite enjoyed that. Also, Susan Minot’s “Evening,” whose writing I love. I’m in the middle of two others right now too; Richard Brody’s excellent bio of Jean-Luc Godard, “Everything is Cinema,” and Dave Van Ronk’s memoir “The Mayor of MacDougal Street” about life in and around the folk music scene in 50’s and 60’s NYC. Lastly, I had great fun re-living my early days on the New York scene while reading Thurston Moore & Byron Coley’s great “No Wave” book, in living Black and White, baby!
-- Lee Ranaldo
Founding member of Sonic Youth and Text of Light
I read a lot of nonfiction related to spiritual development. They included several books by the popular psychic, Sonia Choquette, and Anne Lamott’s latest essay collection:“Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith”. I enjoyed several novels including “Away” by Amy Bloom and “Awake” by Elizabeth Graver. But the biggest delight for me was Diane Schoemperlen’s “Our Lady of the Lost and Found” in which the Virgin Mary visits the narrator for a week. They hang out, chat over coffee, shop in the mall. Mary even talks on a cell phone. This book is a hoot, a great mix of history, philosophy, fiction. It’s a must read for anyone raised Catholic.
-- Kate Walter
Writer and teacher at BMCC and NYU
“The Artist’s Way”—I got so stressed out in grad school that I forgot how to tap into my creativity, so reading this book helped me tap into my artistic side, and learn to be creative even in the super stressful environment of New York. I can write even with all the noise and demands around me.
“Little Stalker” by Jennifer Belle who writes chick lit in a very palatable way. It’s excellent beach material for people who don’t like anything too fluffy. I found the book in the dollar bin at the Strand, which is funny because the book’s protagonist is an author who hates finding her book on the shelf in the Strand, and prays that she never winds up in the dollar bin.
Francine Prose’s “Guided Tours of Hell.” I like anything that laments the corruption and lack of communication in sexual relationships. It’s like going through a bad relationship yourself without having any of the mess.
-- Adrienne Urbanski
A fabulous novel is “The Poison that Fascinates” by Jennifer Clement. It’s an emotional thriller that brings Mexico City to life. Emily, the protagonist, is a proper Mexican girl of British heritage, who’s transformed by passion. Although quite sheltered, she is obsessed with Catholic saints and murderesses, a result of being abandoned by her mother who simply disappeared one day. Clement writes in a poetic style that makes the book impossible to put down. Also Michael Pollan’s “The Botany of Desire;” he writes about the co-evolution of plants and humans in an accessible way. As a Mexican chef, I am always amazed that our forbearers discovered the wonders—in Mexico alone!—of vanilla, chocolate and, of course, corn. We have changed plants to suit our cultivation but plants have also changed our cultures.
Co-owner of La Palapa Cocina Mexicana
The trilogy by Philip Pullman called “His Dark Materials,” that includes “The Golden Compass.” It’s geared toward a younger audience but banned in some schools. I found it allows one to think critically about some aspects of faith, particularly those I learned having gone to a Catholic school. Second, I read Garth Stein’s “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” a novel told through the eyes of a dog (which I always find intriguing). I’m also in the midst of “An Anthropologist on Mars” by Oliver Sacks. It’s a neurologist’s recount of the work he’s encountered with his patients, ranging from autism to color blindness to Tourette’s syndrome. I’m finding that it’s quite fascinating to enter into those situations.
-- Alicia D. Hurley, Ph.D.
Vice President of NYU’s Government Affairs & Community Engagement