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The Omnivorous Reader - May, 2018

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The Omnivorous Reader

June 20 · Issue #9 · View online

Recommendations, reviews, and assorted digital flotsam and jetsam


Hi, all.
Here’s what I’ve been reading these past months.
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 forward it.

The G.O.A.T. Report
I spent April and May avoiding Walden, my most recent GOAT  (i.e. a work that I’ve begun multiple times but couldn’t get through). I’ve come to realize that my issue with Walden was mostly structural: The way Thoreau jumps from topic to topic in a stream of consciousness way leads you to think that the order of topics matters in some way. There aren’t actual sections or chapters…but there are headings at the top of the page that are probably intended to help you follow the thread. 
Then at the end of May, I started to skip and skim. And I realized that that might be the better way to read Thoreau. A friend of mine once told me that Walden was best read in excerpts, and at the time, I dismissed that as a bit of clever snark. But when I actually tried it–when I began randomly choosing passages based on the headings like a swimmer dipping a toe into a pool–I realized it was much better. Leaves of Grass, and particularly “Song of Myself,” works in much the same way: It’s a lot to take on in one gulp, but pleasant enough in small doses.
And that was how I read (most of) Walden. And who’s to say that I won’t be back to dip an occasional toe in, particularly in the “How I lived and what I lived for” section, which is really the only part people are talking about when they talk about Walden
Capers!
I took a deep dive into novels about heists, con artists, and other charismatic scoundrels this month. I think the Gentleman Bastards series got me into it. Or maybe it was that Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen were on Netflix, a series of movies that I like even though I feel as though I really shouldn’t. 
In any event, over the course of May, I read The Lies of Locke Lamora, Red Seas Under Red Skies, and Republic of Thieves in quick succession. They were a lot of fun once you got past the requisite fantasy world-building of the first few chapters and into the actual heists and capers.  
But that just whetted my appetite for more crime novels, so I reread Michael Crichton’s old chestnut The Great Train Robbery, which basically invented the trope that the Ocean’s films uses: The slow introduction of all of the confederates as the thieves assemble the team, the secrets kept from the audience until they are unveiled (and thus a surprise to the reader as much as the mark) during the pivotal scene, the slick, brilliant protagonist thieves.
I have not, however, seen any of the various films based on The Great Train Robbery. I think, a decade ago, I watched the introduction to the one with Donald Sutherland but turned it off after that. I don’t feel a particular need to seek it out now…although I have been considering rewatching The Sting. 
Is it the hazy morality of this genre that makes it feel like a guilty pleasure, the fact that we’re cheering for the bad guys? If that was all there was, I would get the same feeling when I watch The Sopranos or Breaking Bad, and I don’t. I certainly don’t regret spending most of the month on this particular sub-genre, but it’s curious to feel hesitant and, well, sorta guilty about recommending it. 
Then again, I already recommended a lot of Star Wars novels, so it’s not as though I have any literary pretensions that this recommendation overturns. And I had a blast reading them, which is ultimately all I really care about.   
Nonfiction
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan is a fascinating look at the world of psychedelics. It’s pretty remarkable, in and of itself, that someone as mainstream as Michael Pollan took on a topic with as much baggage as this one, but the new science around psychedelics is extremely compelling. From treating clinical depression to helping the terminally ill cope with dying to healing the scars of veterans with PTSD, there’s a growing body of research to suggest that there are all sorts of profound applications for these compounds. 
What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan is the heart wrenching true story of a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania whose struggles with depression and the pressures of life as a collegiate athlete were nearly invisible to those around her–making her suicide that much more surprising and tragic. It highlights in a real and poignant way how difficult it is to be a teenager in world saturated with social media and the attendant requirement to appear effortlessly perfect. 
Other Clicks and Links
Bees Can Learn The Concept Of Zero, Study Finds : NPR
Chris Long still intends on getting Ken Flajole tattoo, and a body location has been decided | PhillyVoice
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.
Take care,
Chris Cunningham
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