The Reading List: Winter 2018

I burned through John Hodgman's Vacationland in all of about six hours. In a series of neurosis-fueled misadventures, Hodgman manages to expertly capture the Maine that I saw growing up in New England — an unforgiving coastline with a population that's hard to define. It's working-class laborers, smug sailing-club types, and wealthy recluses. It's a place that's generous and open-minded, but still struggling to catch up with the rest of the country in many ways. His witty, self-deprecating humor shines in scenes like his semi-legal visits to the local dump (not technically the one for his town, but definitely a lot closer) and the chapter where he encourages his son to stick with sailing lessons is full of some especially incredible moments.

"If your children are not in danger, if something is just unpleasant, you can't give them permission to quit. First of all, not everything in life is unpleasant, but most of it is, and certainly all of the things that lead to real and lasting pleasure are."

— John Hodgman


Buy: Vacationland

High Notes is a comprehensive collection of Gay Talese's finest profiles and essays. Some personal favorites are "Mickey Mantle" in which he describes growing up working with his father, a distant Italian-American tailor in New York, and Frank Sinatra Has a Cold — perhaps his best known, but nonetheless one of the most impressive profiles of a celebrity that's been written. 

"Frank Sinatra, holding a glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other, stood in a dark corner of the bar between two attractive but fading blondes who sat waiting for him to say something." 

— Gay Talese


Buy: High Notes

Barbarian Days follows journalist and staff writer for The New Yorker, William Finnegan, from his childhood in Hawaii and Los Angeles, through the four years he spent chasing swells around the world — traveling through Asia, Australia, and Africa. But it's more than just a surfer's journal. It's a story about the strangeness of growing up and growing apart, and the importance of pouring everything you've got into what you love while you still can. 

"You have to hate how the world goes on."

— William Finnegan


Buy: Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

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Thomas McDermott