That Deep, Weird Urge

It all comes down to that urge that walks the black ice-lacquered sidewalk between time-wasting compulsion and actual adult organization: The Urge to List.

Maybe it’s genetic, maybe it’s a product of schooling, or a coping mechanism for chronic personal chaos, or maybe it’s just something I picked up from my ex-girlfriend who had a knack for administrative tasking.

Whatever the cause, I (occasionally, in unpredictable spurts) have it bad.

It all started in 2011, during a 6-month backpacking trip where my 48-litre capacity ensured I could not lug more than a book or two around at once. I read whatever looked most promising in the book swap of whichever hostel I slept in that night, and traded it for a new title at the next stopover. It was a pretty flawless system, except for the fact that each hostel represented a total grab bag and the distinct possibility that the book you dragged up from the depths would be Wuthering Heights.

In order to assuage my bibliophilic desire to throw out my only other pair of pants and stuff my backpack full of the titles I most loved, I started writing down the name and author of each book I read, regardless of my feelings toward it. When I got back from the trip, I kept up with the list.

At some point I realized I had a compendium of every book I’d read over the last 3 years, which is almost as satisfying a feeling as when all of your books fit neatly onto that green bookshelf you picked up from a neighbor’s front yard (in Vermont, every sidewalk block is the Bermuda Triangle of ailing furniture).

So, I’m starting my own tiny tradition: every year, I’ll post my list for the year past. Maybe, if I get really out of hand, there will be pie charts to depict my genre ratios. For now, The Great Booklist of 2011-2013:  



Prison and Chocolate Cake- Nayantara Sahgal

A People’s History of the United States- Howard Zinn

Wicked- Gregory Macguire

Watership Down- Richard Adams

“Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman.”- Richard Feynman

Tuck Everlasting- Natalie Babbitt

What We Believe But Cannot Prove- John Brockman

You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down- Alice Walker

The Arm of the Stone- Victoria Strauss

The Grass Dancer- Susan Powers

The Mermaid Chair- Sue Monk Kidd

Wuthering Heights- Emily Bronte

One Thousand White Women- Jim Fergus

The Mango Orchard- Robin Bayley

Reaper Man- Terry Pratchett

Dead Man’s Walk- Larry McMurtry

The Carpet People- Terry Pratchett

The Things They Carried- Tim O’Brien

The Streets of Laredo- Larry McMurtry

Murder in the Dark- Margaret Atwood

To Kill a Mockingbird- Harper Lee

Heat & Other Stories- Joyce Carol Oates

Nature Girl- Carl Hiassen

The Way of the Scout- Tom Brown, Jr.

The Forest House- Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Tipping Point- Malcolm Gladwell

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009- ed. Elizabeth Kolbert

The Earth Hums in B Flat- Mari Strachan

Desert Solitaire- Edward Abbey

A Good Man is Hard to Find & Other Stories- Flannery O’Connor

The Tiger’s Wife- Tea Obreht

The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011- ed. Lavinia Spalding

Rubyfruit Jungle- Rita Mae Brown

Catharine, Called Birdy- Karen Cushman

The World Without Us- Alan Weisman

Walk the Blue Fields- Claire Keegan

Diving into the Wreck- Adrienne Rich

Stiff- Mary Roach

The Profile Makers- Linda Bierds

At the Bottom of the River- Jamaica Kincaid

Women on Hunting- ed. Pam Houston

Internal West- Priscilla Becker

All of the Above- Dorothy Barresi

Grass Songs- Ann Turner

Notes from the Divided Country- Suji Kwock Kim



Teeth- Aracelis Girmay

The Moon is Always Female- Marge Piercy

Haunts- Laura Cherry

The Mammoth Book of Awesome Comic Fantasy- Edited by Mike Ashley

Swamplandia!- Karen Russel

The Gold Cell- Sharon Olds

My Side of the Mountain- Jean Craighead George

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close- Jonathan Safran Foer

Fun Home- Alison Bechdel

2.5 Minute Ride and 101 Humiliating Stories- Lisa Kron

The Earth is Not Flat- Katherine Coles

O Yes I Will (I will remember the spirit and texture of this conversation)- Deb Magorlin

Thirst- Mary Oliver

Westwind- Mary Oliver

Big Love- Charles L. Mee

Kingdom Animalia- Aracelis Girmay

Confederacy of Dunces- John Toole Kennedy

New and Selected Poems, Vol. I- Mary Oliver

A Portrait in Sepia- Isabel Allende

Fisherman of the Inland Sea- Ursula K. LeGuin

Born to Run- Christopher McDougall

Running After Antelope- Scott Carrier

Selected Poems II: 1976-1986- Margaret Atwood

White Teeth- Zadie Smith

Controlled Hallucinations- John Sibley Williams

Maddaddam- Margaret Atwood

The Shadow of the Wind- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Wild- Cheryl Strayed


And, because the Urge to List feeds on itself:

Other Stuff I’ve Read That Lives On My Bookshelf


West With the Night- Beryl Markham

Jitterbug Perfume- Tom Robbins

Solibo Magnificent- Patrick Chamoiseau

The Prophet- Kahlil Gibran

The Crooked Inheritance- Marge Piercy

Bird By Bird- Anne Lamott

Interpreter of Maladies- Jhumpa Lahiri

The Master and Margarita- Mikhail Bulgakov (Translated by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O’Connor)

A Desired Past- Leila J. Rupp

One Hundred Years of Solitude- Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Red Tent- Anita Diamant

We Have Always Lived in the Castle- Shirley Jackson

The Blind Assassin- Margaret Atwood

The Unsayable- Annie G. Rogers, PH.D.

Mama Day- Gloria Naylor

Things Fall Apart- Chinua Achebe

Sputnik Sweetheart- Haruki Murakami