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The Omnivorous Reader - Early January, 2018

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The Omnivorous Reader

January 17 · Issue #5 · View online

Recommendations, reviews, and assorted digital flotsam and jetsam


Hi, all.
Here’s what I’ve been reading this month (and this year).
Why You’re Getting This: This reading list is going out to old and new friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. If you’re receiving this, I thought you might appreciate it.
Feel free to unsubscribe–obligatory reading is the worst.
If you know a fellow reader who might enjoy it, please pass it along.

Goats (or G.O.A.T.S.?)
I’m not a Crossfitter, but I am a huge fan of Kelly Starrett (founder of San Francisco Crossfit and Mobility WOD and author of Becoming a Supple Leopard (which, along with Teach Like A Champion, should win an award for having one of the worst possible titles for an otherwise amazing book)) and it’s from him that I’ve been considering both the overall belief that all humans should be able to move well and perform basic maintenance on themselves as well as the concept of the “Goat” as we head into 2018.  
In the mobility world, a “Goat” is an area of personal physical restriction (e.g. restricted hips, tight ankles) that prevents you from being able to perform basic physical movements (e.g. squatting all the way down) and restricts your ability to move freely and without pain.  
Of course, as Urban Dictionary tells us, G.O.A.T. is also an acronym for the “Greatest Of All Time.” And it’s the weird confluence of these two concepts that is central to how I began approaching some of my reading this year. 
Proclaiming myself to be an “omnivorous” reader is, I think, moderately fair, but it doesn’t mean that I read everything. In fact, as a reader, I’ve been considering the fact that I have some literary goats of my own…and many of these personal goats are also considered by some people to be, well, literary G.O.A.T.s. 
Each of these are books I’ve tried and failed to finish. I’ve read the first few chapters of Moby Dick over fifty times. I own copies of each of these titles, and while I hit up the “New Releases” section of the library, there they sit on my bookshelves, silently scoffing at the notion that I read widely and voraciously. 
Every time that I’ve muscled my way through one of my personal literary goats (e.g. Mrs. Dalloway, Great Expectations, As I Lay Dying) I’ve appreciated having done so–and I’ve recognized why others consider those books G.O.A.T.s, even if they’d never make it into my Top 10, even if there was nothing but a sense of guilt impelling me to turn the pages.
I’m sure a part of my own sense of guilt at not having finished some of these classics is that, on some level as an English major and former English teacher, I’m sort of supposed to have read these things already. But there’s something larger than that at stake for me, personally. In the end, I keep coming back to a quote from an essay by Mark Edmundson in his wonderful book Why Teach  
“The reason to read Blake and Dickinson and Freud and Dickens is not to become more cultivated or more articulate or to be someone who, at a cocktail party is never embarrassed (or can embarrass others). The best reason to read them is to see if they know you better than you know yourself.” 
This is all to say that I’m hereby declaring 2018 my own personal “Year of the GOAT” and will be spending each month reading (or at least attempting to read) one title from my own personal stable. I’ll let you all know ahead of time which title I’m choosing in case you’d like to weigh in on why you consider that book a G.O.A.T. or in case you’d like to join me because that work is one of your own personal Goats. 
For January, I’ve already started grappling with Crime and Punishment.  
Fiction
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman was a beautiful little book about an old curmudgeon with–somewhat predictably but none the less charmingly–depth and tragedy behind his sullen behavior. It’s a quick read and an enjoyable one. 
Unquiet Spirits: Whisky, Ghosts, Murder by Bonnie MacBird is the second Sherlock Holmes novel that MacBird has written and certainly the better one. While I couldn’t finish her first, I enjoyed this one as MacBird has created a Holmes faithful to the original while adding her own twists and back story to the original characters. 
Nonfiction
The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader by Fred I. Greenstein was a terrific study of Eisenhower’s leadership. The office of President is tremendously difficult, Greenstein argues, because it requires the Executive to simultaneously play the role of symbolic Head of State as well as Chief Executive. Through records of his internal conversations and correspondence, Greenstein shows how Ike managed to publicly craft the image of a carefree President while acting as a savvy politician and manager behind the scenes. This is a man who arguably did more to take down McCarthy than anyone else, while at the same time, almost never speaking out against McCarthy publicly. Particularly given the bigoted Child King now in office, this is a refreshing look at a President with tremendous integrity. 
Best Books of 2017
There are so many exceptional places to find book recommendations in the new year. I’ve found a bunch of new titles that I’m excited to use as a break from Dostoyevsky. Most of my recommendations have come from sources that I didn’t expect, so I thought I’d share the non-obvious ones:
The Best Books of 2017 on the SubReddit r/Books might be obvious, but it wasn’t immediately to me. Still, I agree with many of the awards that were given and am excited to read the ones I haven’t already read–Little Fires Everywhere and Artemis being at the top of that list.   
The Autumn Book Review edition of the Incomparable podcast was something that I only recently listened to, but I grabbed a number of titles from it–many of which are listed on the show web page. 
I hope you’re all doing well and that you can find (or make) the time to read whichever of these books catches your interest. And if you know of a good book that you’d recommend, please pass it along.
Happy New Year,
Chris Cunningham
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