Books Are Machines for Thinking

Books on Nordic Skiing:


Vordenberg, Pete: Momentum: Chasing the Olympic Dream (Out Your Backdoor Press 2002). This is a rambunctious ride through the eyes of a very good athlete and fine storyteller. What does it take to make it to the highest levels of nordic skiing? What does it take to make the US Olympic team? Read here to find out.

Bill McKibben: Long Distance: Testing the Limits of Body and Spirit in a Year of Living Strenuously (Rodale 2010). Fantastic book with memorable passages of endurance, skill, and failure. McKibben is a thoughtful writer and a generous person. My only wish is that he was a skate skier instead of a classic skier.

Books on Biking:

• David V. Herlihy: The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Take of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010). Check out my review of this book in The Journal of American Studies.

• William Gibson: Virtual Light (New York: Bantam, 1993). Even though this novel is 27 years old, it feels like it will happen next year. Or, perhaps it is happening now. Chevette is my hero, and she will be yours too if you read about her and Rydell. Question: are they outlaws going against THE MAN, or are they outsiders trying to reinvent the idea of human caring? Don’t forget, this novel is part of a trilogy.

•  Matt Rendel: A Significant Other: Riding the Centenary Tour de France with Lance Armstrong (London: Phoenix, 2004). The everyday toil of those carrying the water and blocking the wind is, for me, just as exciting as the heroics. Update: Lance is de-pants-ed.

•  Tim Krabbe: The Rider. I used to own this book, but some guy on my cycling team borrowed and hasn’t returned it. It is the best cycling novel every written. And it might be one of the best sports novels every written.

•  Ralph Hurne: The Yellow Jersey (New York: Breakaway Books, 1996). This novel is most certainly not the best cycling novel, even though this is what Bicycling magazine says. What is amazing is how truly unlikable and downright immoral the “hero” is. Oh, maybe that is worth checking out after all. Perhaps this novel sends a message to readers about the real pro cycling world.

Good Novels:

• Aravind Adiga: The White Tiger (New York: HarperCollins, 2008). I just finished reading this novel. Loved it! You must read this novel if you read such novels as Life of Pi or The Namesake. Want to know the cost of globalization in one man’s world? Want to know just how serious class issues are in India? Read on, dear reader.

•  Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar: A Mind at Peace (In Turkish: Huzur) (1949; Archipelago Books, 2008). A sprawling, mezmerizing book. If you like Joyce and Kafka, then I guarantee that you will like Tanpinar’s brand of European modernism. The tension among romantic desires, intellectual striving, and WWII violence are powerful and, at times, shocking. Excellent narrative structure keeps me thinking long into the night about the relationship between times of great stress and the need to shift memories around–for survival.

Books on Education and Teaching:

Charles Dickens: Hard Times (1854; Koln, Germany: Konemann, 1996). A funny book that will make you cry when you realize that even though education is important, few have the gumption to dive into its difficulties and its rewards. And bad teachers, like Mr. Gradgrind, are the worst sort of people. Why do I have such a weird German-made copy? It was on sale at Iowa Book, that’s why.

Mike Rose: Lives on the Boundary: A Moving Account of the Struggles and Achievements of America’s Educationally Underprepared (New York: Penguin, 1989). Rose can write in such a way that you feel smarter and you want to do what he does. Hard to put down; impossible to forget.

Cultural Criticism Books:

• Elaine Scarry: Thinking Is an Emergency. A clearly written account of how several different communities dealt with disaster. Governments can learn from actual cultural practices that are based on communal, sharing values.

•  Zygmunt Bauman: Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty (Cambridge: Polity, 2007). If you want a brief, but mind expanding explanation of globalization, then Bauman can help. He has four other books on the concept of “liquid” and they are all heavy. This one is his latest and his most distilled.

• Dolores Hayden: Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000 (New York: Vintage, 2003). This book gives an eye-opening account of just how old the notion of the suburbs are. Hayden is masterful at proving the linkage between business, government, and advertising. People do not have the choice in living space that they imagine they do.

• Sigmund Freud: Civilization and Its Discontents (New York: Norton, 1961). Readable, interesting, wrong. But not totally wrong.

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