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It's the May Talking Meme! You can ask me a question or give me a topic for any day of the month (that hasn't already passed or been claimed) here. I can't guarantee that any of my answers will be interesting! But I will answer them all.

Today's answer is for therck: "What is one book you think everyone should read?"

This is a really hard question, because "everyone" is a lot of people and my opinions on books are pretty poorly grounded for the most part. Plus, I don't exactly have a unique perspective; nearly all the books I've read up to this point are some kind of bestseller, so I end up sounding like an Onion article: Local Blogger Stands By Conventional Opinions on Mainstream Media.

The most obvious candidate I can think of for "book everyone should read" is Anne of Green Gables, which is already one of the most famous books in the world -- though because it's a "juvenile" and has a young girl as protagonist, it still doesn't get read by as many people as it should. If you grow up a bookish girl of a certain range of temperaments, it's almost inevitable, but if you don't, it's very easy to miss. One of my brothers just read it for the first time last year, at thirty, and was blown away by it. It's about a girl who has to change how she relates to her fantasy world after unexpectedly finding a family and friends in the real one, and some older people who learn that they are not as set in their ways as they thought, that they can still grow and change even though they haven't for years. It's a comedy and a love song and probably one of the best things ever written.

For books that aren't already on every "must-read books" list on earth: Living My Life is a two-volume autobiography by Emma Goldman, all about her friends and rivals and nemeses in the golden age of the American anarchist movement -- from the galvanizing Haymarket verdict in 1887 to the crackdown following the Espionage Act in 1917 and the implosion of the American left after the Russian revolution. Maybe because it's personal, I found it much easier to read than most of Goldman's writing. It's the kind of biography that creates an uncanny illusion of real time -- you get to know Goldman and her passionate, eccentric, selfish friends, get caught up in their long late-night arguments, worry about their business ventures, wince at their small or spectacular mistakes, and share in their real suffering. Because this is a book about someone's whole life, not just what they did in lecture halls or how the Bolsheviks ruined everything, it's full of beautiful, unexpected details of everyday life in the US during the period -- what it was like to run an unsuccessful ice cream shop, be a masseuse, go dancing in an underground club, get arrested, have sex in a crowded tenement apartment, organize picnics and meetings, maintain an activist network in the age of print, and travel cross-country, among many other things. There's the heartbreak of politics and the heartbreak of idealism and the heartbreak of heartbreak and the heartbreak of being alive, and the determination to make it all have been worth it, whatever dust it turns to in the end.

Goldman is a self-serving narrator, but she self-serves with enough disarming frankness that I liked her anyway. I laughed, I cried, I fan-casted an imaginary HBO series in my head.

There are a lot of runners-up and a lot of books that are arguably better and more must-read than these two, but we'll be here all day if I try to sort them all out, so I am Standing By My Conventional Opinions for now.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 7th, 2015 06:41 pm (UTC)
Drat. My library doesn't have Living My Life. I'll put it on the long list of things I want to get through interlibrary loan. I'm less likely to get to it that way, but at least I'll remember that I wanted to read it.
May. 7th, 2015 07:00 pm (UTC)
IN THEORY, I could mail it to you, if you lived in the US and would be willing to mail it back when you were finished.
May. 7th, 2015 08:07 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the offer. I'm in Michigan. Experience suggests, though, that I'm better off getting the books through ILL because I'm much more likely to read them in a timely fashion if I have a hard due date imposed by the library. I have books on my to-be-read shelf that I've owned for over a decade because I always give first priority to library books.
May. 8th, 2015 04:41 pm (UTC)
That makes sense! (as someone who ALSO has decade-old TBRs in embarrassingly large quantities)
May. 7th, 2015 10:41 pm (UTC)
Ooooh, I should read Living My Life.

Also, I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who fan-casts imaginary HBO series in my head. Or, well, I never actually got around to picking actors for Bolsheviks, but I did have a number of beautiful plot arcs planned. (Season one would end with Trotsky dashing up to Lenin's funeral, late, with all the Politburo standing around Stalin watching. All the reasons for Trotsky's downfall, contained in one quick scene.)
May. 8th, 2015 04:39 pm (UTC)
It's good! And will dovetail a little with your Russian prison-camp reading. Emma and Sasha are deported in 1919 and have a mostly miserable time trying to anarch in Civil War-era Russia. At one point, they try to get prison leave for some Russian anarchists for Kropotkin's birthday, but the authorities keep stalling because the official line is that there are no anarchists in Russian prisons.

Your Bolsheviks and my anarchists can fight it out on the battlefield of HBO viewer ratings and Emmy nominations. <3
May. 8th, 2015 07:41 pm (UTC)
I think the obvious answer to this is a crossover season. Post-Civil War Russia, as seen through the eyes of Emma Goldman! It will provide a nice distraction from the depressing storyline of Lenin's strokes and eventual death.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


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