What’s on your bookshelf?

Another week in the books, and I can’t quite understand how it happened. You ever get that way? Monday dawns, and it’s another grind ahead, and then you look up and it’s Friday, and you’re another week older.

Not that I wish to depress you. It’s just something that happens.

Today I found Barack Obama’s year-end list of his reading and viewing, and once again, regretted… well, you know what we regret:

That’s a two-page list, by the way. I’ve read two books on there, total — “Harlem Shuffle” and “Leave the World Behind.” I’m clearly not smart enough to touch the hem of Barack Obama’s garment, but I think we could share a laugh at a cocktail party. I read “Harlem Shuffle” in Paris, where I learned that every current best-seller on the U.S. list is available in Europe in a fancy paperback, which is maybe not important to you until you have to schlep this stuff through one, two or more airports.

I did better on the movie list:

Saw three of these – “Pig,” “Summer of Soul” and “Judas and the Black Messiah,” all excellent. I want to see the rest, but after the “House of Gucci” experience, I can wait until they play in the living-room cinema.

As you can no doubt tell, the holidays are sapping my energy, as is the January 6 subcommittee and all the rest of it. One of these days I’ll find something to say about it, but for now, probably just as well to look at other people’s reading lists.

Back after the weekend.

Posted at 8:44 pm in Popculch |

46 responses to “What’s on your bookshelf?”

  1. David C said on December 16, 2021 at 9:04 pm

    I saw Pitchfork’s top 50 albums of 2021. I’d listened to six. I was fairly pleased with myself. The other 44, I had no idea.

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  2. Suzanne said on December 16, 2021 at 9:45 pm

    I already had many of Obama’s books on my “to read” list but have not gotten to most of them. I am currently reading Intimacies and it is superb. I need to get it finished, though, because I checked it out of the library and I have 4 days until the ebook disappears. It’s stellar!

    I miss Obama every day.

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  3. Deborah said on December 16, 2021 at 9:45 pm

    The only book I’ve read from Obama’s list is Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads and the only movie is Power of the Dog. Don’t know what that means. Currently, I finished Tom McGuanes, “Crow Fair”, collection of short stories and Kitteridge’s “We are Not in this Together” short story collections both. Now I’m reading Charles Portis’s Dog of the South. All of the last 3 or 4 books I’ve read are loans from the artist next door neighbor. I’m looking forward to finishing these books so I can start on one that I can’t wait to start.

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  4. Julie Robinson said on December 16, 2021 at 10:28 pm

    Harlem Shuffle is the only one I’ve read, with three more already downloaded and others on my to be read list. To be honest, many on Obama’s list are not books I’m going to enjoy. I can only immerse myself in darkness part-time.

    When I have time I should make my own list; I track books read but have never tried to rank them. By fiercely carving out introvert time, I’m finishing #96 this week.

    Crisis of the day here is goats for the living nativity the next two nights. The goats are a big draw, sheep being quite rare in Florida. But the family that brings them every year has a little one down with Covid, so what are you gonna do? Many phone calls have been made, many prayers uttered.

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  5. Dexter Friend said on December 17, 2021 at 4:07 am

    “Power of the Dog” was discussed here last week. It put me into a death sleep first time, so I watched it again. I hated that slow-moving killer movie.
    “Judas…” I followed that story as it happened when newspapers were everywhere, read testimonies by Fred Hampton’s associates and family, and the movie, as bloody as hell as it was, didn’t touch reality’s finality, so I didn’t rate that movie highly. “Summer of Soul” is a real must-see, damn, that was great.
    About half of Barack’s list have evaded my world so far. I’ll look.
    I don’t read voraciously , the book I just finished is “Take This War and Shove It!…A Reluctant Soldier, 1967-1971”, a memoir by Gregory Laxer, my army pal and friend and confidant since 1970; we’re always in close daily contact online. I think it about $17, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. Country Joe McDonald praised the book in an Amazon review. It’s about Greg joining the army so as to pick his job, medic, to avoid the draft/infantry (cannon fodder). He planned to serve stateside, in Germany or anywhere but Vietnam. Of course his hopes were dashed by orders to Vietnam , touching off long stretches in various army stockades as his beliefs about that war prevented his departure to Vietnam. It’s quite a tale; I am in the book a few places under an alias.

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  6. beb said on December 17, 2021 at 6:19 am

    I’ve read almost nothing this year and certainly nothing that would be on anyone’s Year’s Best list. I don’t stream any service, the theaters were closed most of the year. My wife and I went to the Joe Bonamassa concert and I went to see Encanto, which I really liked. Beautiful, colorful, with lively songs, much dancing and an interesting take on the burdens of being responsible. My year has been pretty much like Nancy’s description. One day it’s Monday and then the next thing I know (being retired) is that it’s Monday of another week already. And my doom and gloom centers around Joe Fucking Manchin.

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  7. basset said on December 17, 2021 at 8:00 am

    Mine centers on our confrontational and angry political and cultural climate, Covid, and Mrs. B’s health.

    Never heard of any of the books or all but one of the movies. You all are way ahead of me.

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  8. ROGirl said on December 17, 2021 at 8:52 am

    I’m reading The Women of Troy by Pat Barker. It’s the follow-up to The Silence of the Girls, both definitely worth reading.

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  9. JodiP said on December 17, 2021 at 11:00 am

    Suzanne @2: if you are reading on a Kindle, turn on airplane mode. The book stays on your Kindle until you turn off airplane mode. The loan still ends, but since Amazon can’t talk to your Kindle, you can continue to read!

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  10. Jeff Borden said on December 17, 2021 at 11:08 am

    I’m grateful to Obama for turning me on to James McBride’s “Deacon King Kong.” It’s my favorite read this year. . .by far.

    Now, I’m reading “The 50’s” by David Halberstam, which is surprisingly useful in these times. Reading about the pressure put on President Truman regarding the H-bomb and Korea and the screams of “soft on communism” from Republicans that drove him to take certain actions rings just as true as today. And the lessons the GOP learned from the defeat of Thomas Dewey, who refused to sling mud or impugn Truman’s character in the 1948 election, was to go big and dirty and malicious ala Joe McCarthy. Gosh. Everything old is new again.

    Of course, Tailgunner Joe and his band of bastards didn’t have the enormous power of a well-financed propaganda network or the network of billionaire kooks who fund insane rightwing proposals. And, though it took years, he finally was disavowed by the GOP, something that seems unimaginable in these times. Poor Joe. Born 50 years too early to really cash in.

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  11. Julie Robinson said on December 17, 2021 at 11:44 am

    New goats have been located!

    Passing is on Netflix and I’m looking forward to watching it, given my own family’s history. It’ll have to wait until Christmas is over and others are available so we can discuss it. And maybe until I’ve read that book, which just became available.

    My #1 book for the year isn’t light but I’d still recommend it: All the Frequent Troubles of our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler by Rebecca Donner. The title is misleading; it’s really a history of Germany after WWI and shows clearly how Hitler built power and the depths of depravity his regime practiced. Lots of parallels to today, but you knew that.

    And speaking of TFG, he sold 5400 seats in the 17,000 seat Amway Center. So there’s some good news.

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  12. Jenine said on December 17, 2021 at 11:48 am

    @Julie: I’m suddenly very invested in the Christmas goats. So glad to hear the update!

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  13. Julie Robinson said on December 17, 2021 at 12:21 pm

    When Sarah told us about her church’s long time living nativity, I thought it sounded incredibly hokey and a drag on time and resources so close to Christmas. Then I had a chance to go and was touched by the simplicity and by the emotions it invoked.

    Shepherd guides take groups around to tell the story, from the angel on the roof to a crazy marketplace and a grouchy innkeeper. It’s beloved by families in the area, thus the popularity of the goats and shepherds gathered around a fire. Yep, they’re stinky and will eat anything not fastened down, yet they tell the story in an important way for many.

    So the call this morning in response to a frantic day of reaching out yesterday was gratifying. And, did I mention, she also had an emergency board meeting yesterday for a group she’s involved in; their director stepped down suddenly (me: get an audit immediately). And on and on it goes.

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  14. LAMary said on December 17, 2021 at 1:41 pm

    Reading those lists makes me sad. Four years of the orange philistine thug slob destroyed any expectation of intelligence, culture, joy in the arts emanating from the White House. Joe B had a Kennedy Center Honors thing last week, so there’s hope. Remember Obama watching Aretha sing Natural Woman at the Kennedy center honors for Carol King? How about Elvis Costello singing Penny Lane with that brilliant Marine playing the brass solo? Or Heart doing Stairway to Heaven? Remember those times?

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  15. Jeff Borden said on December 17, 2021 at 2:03 pm


    Even an idiot preznit like George W. Bush had numerous cultural events at the White House. tRump is utterly devoid of the kinds of emotions touched by art. He’s the essence of boorish distilled to its purest form.

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  16. Suzanne said on December 17, 2021 at 2:32 pm

    JodiP, I download the books through an app on my iPad. I tried disconnecting from the internet before and it didn’t work. Book disappeared anyway. So, now I have an excuse to sit and read!

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  17. Indiana Jack said on December 17, 2021 at 2:36 pm

    I’ve read three on Obama’s latest list of favorites: Cloud Cuckoo Land, The Lincoln Highway, and Harlem Shuffle. Enjoyed all three, especially Cloud Cuckoo Land, which I found to be enchanting. Also read Deacon King Kong this summer based upon an earlier Obama recommendation.
    I was surprised that Bewilderment by Richard Powers didn’t make his 2021 list. Wonderful book.

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  18. Jeff Gill said on December 17, 2021 at 4:46 pm

    Ten years ago, for living nativities, I learned the delightful trick of having a llama or two in as excellent kid’s eye view replacements for camels. Looking at their faces atop long enough necks, they fill the role nicely.

    Around here, sheep are the easiest role to fill. The hard slots are for Joseph: very little competition for that one.

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  19. nancy said on December 17, 2021 at 5:05 pm

    No one wants to be Joseph, cuckolded by God.

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  20. Julie Robinson said on December 17, 2021 at 5:20 pm

    Too hot for llamas too, but how about a Mary who has a two month old baby? I should add this all happens outside at a distance.

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  21. Suzanne said on December 17, 2021 at 5:20 pm

    I have never been a fan of living nativity things. That sort of thing simply doesn’t appeal to me.
    A few years ago, I got stuck in a conversation with the guy down the road who waxed eloquent about the “Walk to Bethlehem” he had attended at a nearby church and how the church had used actual sand and the costumes were so great and it was so wonderful that he felt like he was actually in Bethlehem. To which I thought “Were you wearing your winter coat? Did you use the flush toilet? Were there overhead electric lights? Were all the people white? Then it was nothing like Bethlehem.” But I didn’t say it.
    I get what is trying to be accomplished but I would rather listen to some well done Christmas music. But that’s just me.

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  22. tajalli said on December 17, 2021 at 5:46 pm

    My reading and movie choices have focused on whatever is cheery, uplifting, distracting etc. I suppose my response to all this political and plague-related uproar is to be rather restless and overly-sensitive to any craziness, so I’m self-medicating with more soothing, non-pharmaceutical activities.

    I’d probably like those goats and llamas since I’m at the children’s-petting-zoo level of entertainment these days.

    Currently reading Alexander McCall Smith’s The Joy and Light Bus Company and chugging along into season six of Royal Pains. Put a hold on Richard Powers’ Bewilderment since
    I’d enjoyed his Overstory.

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  23. Sherri said on December 17, 2021 at 6:03 pm

    Julie, the thought of my ED stepping down is one of the things that keeps me awake at nights. Not that there’s an imminent danger of it, just that it would be so painful. We’re just starting to recover from the trauma of the last ED hire. We’re in the middle of updating the succession plan, which badly needed updating. Audits I’m not worried about: we have an outside audit done annually.

    My task over the next couple of weeks is to think about our ED evaluation process and new board member onboarding process and whether I want to propose changes to those. This presidenting thing just doesn’t stop!

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  24. Margaret said on December 17, 2021 at 8:40 pm

    A few friends have recommended “The Lincoln Highway” and I love Ann Patchett. I read “Beautiful Country” for Book Club and was generally not impressed. The narrator wasn’t likeable, and her story seemed repetitive at times. On my book shelf is mostly easy reading and mysteries these days.

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  25. basset said on December 17, 2021 at 9:58 pm

    Went to Ann Patchett’s bookstore in Nashville yesterday to use up my birthday gift card. Nice place, they have two dogs.

    A few weeks ago I sat down a little too hard in a reading chair there, tipped it over, and did most of a back somersault into the checkout line. Store personnel were right there to help me up and I was not hurt, but a woman I almost rolled into just looked down at me and turned back toward the register. Wrong part of town to care about strangers, I guess.

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  26. Deborah said on December 17, 2021 at 11:17 pm

    As I mentioned before I’m reading Charles Portis’s “Dog of the South” and I just realized today that Portis is the author of “True Grit” that the movie comes from, well actually two movies, the original John Wayne one and the newer Jeff Bridges one. The way this guy writes is interesting so far not like any author I’ve read before. Portis lived in Arkansas, mainly Little Rock. He is also well known for his book “Norwood” which was also made into a movie, which I have not seen. That book is another one that our artist neighbor has loaned me and is piled on my bedside table along with many from him to read soon.

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  27. basset said on December 18, 2021 at 12:13 am

    I’ll recommend Douglas C. Jones’ novels, then. You’d like those.

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  28. Suzanne said on December 18, 2021 at 8:31 am

    I read True Grit a few years ago and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. I am not sure what I expected, but it exceeded those expectations and then some. I need to read more of Portis, who seems to have become a forgotten author.

    I marvel at what becomes a popular sometimes. Years ago, a friend and I read The Bridges of Madison County and laughed ourselves silly at how bad it was. Living in farm country where the book is set, we knew how nosy people are out here and that there was no way the neighbors wouldn’t have found out there was an affair going on.

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  29. alex said on December 18, 2021 at 9:45 am

    I look at the list of books and it just makes me feel overwhelmed because I don’t know where I’d find the time to fit them in and I feel like I’m missing out on the kind of intellectual stimulation that I’m not getting from my job, my social life or my habits as a news junkie.

    It almost makes me want to retire early and risk being broke in my golden years. Another friend announced just yesterday that he’s taking the plunge, to hell with the consequences but he has had it with the stress of being a teacher. He was concerned with the health insurance gap between 60 and 65, but his employer will let him continue to buy insurance through their health plan. The health insurance piece is largely what holds me back as well. I’m adjusting to the shitty (UHC All Savers) plan that my employer switched to this year and finding much higher copays. I’m all in for Medicare for all and the Republicans who call it communism can kiss my faggot ass.

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  30. LAMary said on December 18, 2021 at 10:36 am

    I remember reading True Grit when it was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post. Loved the writing and it was illustrated well.

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  31. Jeff Gill said on December 18, 2021 at 10:42 am

    My December tradition of the last ten years or so is a story on the installment plan, and they are neither edgy nor incredibly innovative — if you loathe Hallmark movies on principle, you won’t enjoy this at all. My editor is kind enough to add links to the previous installments, too. Again, this is NOT literature, just some seasonal sentiment in narrative form:


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  32. Sherri said on December 18, 2021 at 2:13 pm

    Maybe it’s time to revive Victorian Christmas cards: https://twitter.com/LaurynIpsum/status/1471680617452429312

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  33. Snarkworth said on December 18, 2021 at 2:28 pm

    May I be forgiven for flogging my mystery novel? I hate every aspect of book promotion and putting-oneself-forward, but this is shaping up as a book thread. You may enjoy reading about shrinking local newspapers, laid-off reporters, toxic fungi, the Underground Railroad, and Basque shepherds.

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  34. Jeff Gill said on December 18, 2021 at 5:13 pm

    You had me at “scientists, history buffs, and nosy neighbors” let alone an antique gallows. Sold!

    Sherri, loved the cards: the jellyfish/marine life ones are a modern gag gone wild on the internet, but I really want to know more about the dead bird motif for Christmas . . .


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  35. Jeff Borden said on December 19, 2021 at 1:00 pm

    Joe Manchin just announced he is killing the Biden administration and destroying the Democratic Party in 2022 and beyond. One man representing a desperately poor state with just 1.7 million citizens is helping crush our democracy to protect his corporate masters.

    Our country is so fucked.

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  36. LAMary said on December 19, 2021 at 1:28 pm

    Just reading the headlines of the Sunday NYT has me thinking we’re fucked. Reading the stories didn’t help.

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  37. Julie Robinson said on December 19, 2021 at 2:40 pm

    Heard the Manchin news on the way home from church and said a very un-Christian word. Two or three, in fact.

    Jeff, sadly your newspaper’s site made it impossible for me to read your story.

    But everyone go back to Snarkworth and go buy the book. I did the last time it was mentioned and really enjoyed reading it.

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  38. Deborah said on December 19, 2021 at 2:45 pm

    Maybe I’m being naive again but I think there’s still hope for the Build Back Better bill. Manchin said he was a no for the 2.2 trillion number but a week or so ago he said he’d go for a 1.8 trillion number. So it’s better than nothing isn’t it? Maybe Manchin is like Lucy and the football and he really won’t go for anything? I don’t know, but isn’t it worth a try, to see if we can get something? I realize he’s a big asshole who lives on a luxury yacht in DC and drives a Maserati and he’s getting a lot of $$$ from the fossil fuel industry and big pharma but he’s what we’ve got to deal with, unfortunately. I hope he’s on board for the filibuster fix to pass the voting rights bill, but that I don’t have much hope for.

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  39. Snarkworth said on December 19, 2021 at 3:09 pm

    Thank you, Jeff G. and Julie!

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  40. jcburns said on December 19, 2021 at 3:13 pm

    Deborah, I think Manchin’s statement on Fox News Sunday was about the bill in general, not any specific dollar amount. He might turn around again…but yee gads, is this how we have to do business in washington!?

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  41. Sherri said on December 19, 2021 at 3:39 pm

    You want to understand what makes police reform so hard? When you try to restrict use of force, police departments respond like this.


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  42. David C said on December 19, 2021 at 4:20 pm

    I felt a little better after reading this. Rachel Bitecofer seems to know her stuff, so if she has confidence in Jamie Harrison I do to. Also, with Ben Wikler as the chair of the Wisconsin Democrats I think we can do well here. There’s still the gerrymandering fuckery but if we can hold all the statewide offices and kick Ron Johnson out of the Senate I’d be happy.


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  43. beb said on December 19, 2021 at 7:46 pm

    Sherri, that Settle Times article is paywalled.

    AOC hits the nail on the head when she said she (and the progressive caucus) knew all along that Manchin would stab Biden in the back. The idea that if Dems keep whittling the BBB plan a point will come when Manchin will accept it is naive. Even if the bill was reduced to one dollar and change he would vote against it. And he is not going to carve out the filibuster to allow a vote on the voting rights bill. He’s turning into a clone of Moscow Mitch.

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  44. Sherri said on December 20, 2021 at 1:02 am

    Sorry, beb, I thought the Seattle Times had a soft paywall, giving you several free articles per month.if you open it in a different browser, or in private mode, you can probably get around it, because I think it uses cookies to track. They don’t seem to have added a “gift an article” feature yet.

    At least Manchin has made it clear who he represents, and it’s not the state of West Virginia. We could put in $5000 payments to every man, woman, and child in the state, and Manchin would be opposed to the bill because he represents rich donors, not the people who live in West Virginia.

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  45. Dexter Friend said on December 20, 2021 at 3:17 am

    I’ll do the cussin’ for you…Manchin, that goddam son of a bitch.

    Got a 45 minute chunk of time to kill? https://www.thirdcoastfestival.org/feature/sean-hurley-sherwin-sleeves-show Try Sherwin Sleeves’ Christmas story, “The Christmas Skater”. Sleeves performs a stage show each holiday season and I received an invitation. I can’t make it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yo0SOGcfwKc

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  46. Mark P said on December 20, 2021 at 9:03 am

    I don’t know Manchin’s plans for re-election, but his ass needs to be primaried. I know some say a back-stabbing Democrat is better than a Republican, but I fail to see how.

    I read somewhere that the Democrats should take each provision of the BBB and introduce it as a separate bill. That way everyone that votes against it will have to take responsibility for opposing each of the obviously beneficial provisions.

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