For many years I’ve posted a summer reading list so members of the congregation, if interested, will know what books I’ll be delving into over the summer months. But the truth is winter is also a reading time, at least for me. It is dark outside, the wind is blowing, the temperature is dipping. Inside a single light illuminates a cozy room. I sit in an armchair, with a thick sweater on, wool socks, perhaps a warm mug of tea, or even better a wee dram of fine whisky. An open book on my lap, the pages turn one by one, and I am transported to some far off land or distant time. As the hours go by and the candle begins to burn down and sputter, I hardly notice, for the words beckon.
I’ve loved to read since I was a little boy. Some of my earliest memories are of flipping the pages of books, or of having my mother or my aunt read to me. I read constantly, at every spare moment. I could spend hours perusing the books at my local book store, eyes carefully scanning the covers, hands weighing the heft of each tome, even smelling the freshly cut and printed paper. That early love of reading has been one of the most important and consistent threads in my life, and the pleasure I felt when opening a book as a lad is even deeper in my adult life.
And in the winter, with the longer nights and shorter days, with less time to be out of doors, there is more time to read. So here are a few of the titles on my bedside table that I’ll be tackling in the weeks ahead:
I am currently about 200 pages in to Walter Isaacson’s magical biography of Leonardo da Vinci. The author uses da Vinci’s famous notebooks as a window to peer into the great genius’s mind, and the reader feels as if he is walking along a Milanese city street in the late 1400s watching one of the unique minds of all time unpack the world around us. The effect is not disconcerting, but is instead a source of wonderment and delight.
Simon Schama has published the second volume in his ‘The Story of the Jews,’ entitle ‘Belonging.’ Schama is a wonderful, anecdotal reporter of history, who writes with lively prose and joy. This middle volume of his work (I am guessing there will be a third book taking the Jewish story into modernity) covers the period from 1492-1900. It was a time when Jews began to realize that the world around them might never fully welcome them into its fold. To be Jewish, Schama suggests, is to always feel as one apart.
Last on this mini-list – Phillip Pullman’s ‘the Book of Dust.’ A prequel to Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy, the Book of Dust traces the earliest stages of his heroine Lyra’s journey, and he explores the societal structures and social norms that drive a fantasy and parallel world that sometimes seems eerily like our own.
Last but not least, check out David Brooks (the NY Times columnist) and his two columns about the best long form essays of the year. The articles he picks are widely varied in topic, from a story about a man eaten by an alligator to a serious investigation into the current opioid epidemic. Yet somehow, when viewed as a complete package, the essays form a picture of where we currently are, how we got here, and where we might want to go in the months ahead.