I was a junior English major at UC Berkeley and my husband, then-boyfriend, was a senior majoring in poli sci. He needed another class to finish out his year and decided to take a seminar led by author Maxine Hong Kingston. I seethed with envy; I couldn’t take the class because I still had major pre-reqs to fulfill. Did my man even know what books she’d written? Could he understand her aura of literary magic?
It was an amazing class, said my guy. And no, she didn’t teach it again until after I’d graduated. But you already figured that would happen, right?
So here I am, many years later, and can interact with Ms. Hong Kingston on Facebook. She is a true gem to follow, especially with her post-election commentary.
In a recent NYT article, she was asked to share the books she read over 2016. I was in awe at the sheer number of books she managed to consume. And I decided that for 2017, I would try to read as many books on her list as possible. One caveat: I would swap out a few in place of those on my own list. Plus, I’d already read a few books she’d listed.
This list was first published in The New York Times, and later published via Maxine Hong Kingston on her Facebook page:
“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” by Marie Kondo.
“The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson,” edited by Brooks Atkinson.
“The Origin of Species,” by Charles Darwin.
“Notes of a Son and Brother,” by Henry James.
“Our Appointment With Life: Sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone,” by Thich Nhat Hanh.
“The World as I See It,” by Albert Einstein.
“The Vagrants,” by Yiyun Li.
“The Heart of Haiku,” by Jane Hirshfield.
“On the Narrow Road to the Deep North,” by Lesley Downer.
“Encouraging Words: Zen Buddhist Teachings for Western Students,” by Robert Aitken.
“The Little Red Chairs,” by Edna O’Brien. (Didn’t finish. Stopped at torture scene.)
“Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart,” by Claire Harman.
“Our Souls at Night,” by Kent Haruf.
“In the Beauty of the Lilies,” by John Updike.
“Natural Opium,” by Diane Johnson.
“Flyover Lives,” by Diane Johnson.
“Le Mariage,” by Diane Johnson.
“Luck of the Draw,” by William Scott Morrison.
“The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression,” by Andrew Solomon.
“At the Kirks’,” by Mary Gordon.
“I Feel Bad About My Neck,” by Nora Ephron.
“The Woman in White,” by Wilkie Collins.
“If I Can Cook / You Know God Can,” by Ntozake Shange.
“The Sympathizer,” by Viet Thanh Nguyen. (Skipped some torture scenes.)
“Nothing Ever Dies,” by Viet Thanh Nguyen.
“Legacy of a Teapot,” by Barbara Quinn Benom.
“The Buried Giant,” by Kazuo Ishiguro.
“The Best American Short Stories 2013,” edited by Elizabeth Strout.
“My Father’s War,” by Phyllis Meshulam. (Forthcoming.)
“Thirteen Ways of Looking,” by Colum McCann.
“All the Pretty Horses,” by Cormac McCarthy. (Didn’t finish. Couldn’t take the suspense.)
“Finding Beauty in a Broken World,” by Terry Tempest Williams.
“When Women Were Birds,” by Terry Tempest Williams.
“The American Heiress,” by Daisy Goodwin.
“On That Day, Everybody Ate,” by Margaret Trost.
“Back on the Fire,” by Gary Snyder.
“Armor and Ashes,” by Miriam Marx.
“Mainlined,” by Gregory Ross. (Hard-to-find, self-published book.)
“In Whose Eyes,” by Tran Van Thuy and Le Thanh Dung.
“Justin Chin: Selected Works,” edited by Jennifer Joseph.
“Lolas’ House: Survivors of War Time Rape Camps,” by M. Evelina Galang. (Forthcoming. Skipped some torture scenes.)
“Old School,” by Tobias Wolff.
“Excursions in the Real World,” by William Trevor. (I was reading this when I heard that he died.)
“Upstream,” by Mary Oliver.
“Wherever You Go, There You Are,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
“One World,” by Gail Newman.
“Well Being,” by Clare Morris. (Hard-to-find, self-published book.)