Small is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered by E.F. Schumacher
If you happened to catch my podcast with Birmingham native Carrie Rollwagen, you know that I’m particularly interested in how physical spaces create community and vibrancy in our neighborhoods. As such, I knew I’d love this book when I saw it categorized as a “landmark statement against bigger is better industrialism.” Though it was originally published in 1973, it remains especially pertinent in our COVID era, as small & local has become more important than ever. If you need just one more push over the edge, Newsweek has named it one of its 100 most influential books.
Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris
I read The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt last year (which won the Pulitzer in 1980), and Rex is part two in Morris’s biographical trilogy — Roosevelt’s presidential years. I’ve been increasingly interested in the role of the presidency, and finished Leadership in Turbulent Times earlier this year, which encompasses Lincoln, TR, FDR, and LBJ. Thus, I longed to return to TR’s years in office to see what else I could learn. Roosevelt was often accused of being erratic, but he was a complete flurry of both professional and personal activity, not to mention an avid conservationist. He battled corporations in the Second Industrial era of consolidation & “trusts”, and I see many similarities to the growing power of today’s corporate titans. Last century’s industrialists — Rockefeller, Carnegie & Morgan — aren’t all that different from today’s technologists — Bezos, Zuckerberg, etc. It takes me quite a bit of time to get through Morris’s books, so I’ll probably shelve part three for 2021.
Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I stumbled into the Battery Park Book Exchange in Asheville, NC and rediscovered this collection of FSF short stories via a beautiful, clothbound Library of America release. And, coincidentally, FSF spent quite a bit of time in the NC mountains as a retreat for his wife, Zelda (a Montgomery native)! Fitzgerald has to be one of the greatest short story writers ever. Beautiful prose that drips of the footloose Roaring Twenties — these are such fun, bite-sized reads.
The Overstory by Richard Powers
“What you make from a tree should be at least as miraculous as what you cut down.” You succeeded at that, Mr. Powers… I wanted to read this simply because it won the Pulitzer last year, and found it to be a captivating account of how interdependent we are with nature. All I knew going in was that it was a “book about trees”, but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not a pure page-turner, but Powers draws you in with just amazingly eloquent writing, and I usually enjoy this type of story format — disparate stories that weave more & more together as you read. At 512 pages, it’s not for the faint of heart, but as with anything good, your effort will be rewarded.
The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of The Walt Disney Company by Robert Iger
I’ve long been fascinated by the corporate side of Disney, and was anticipating this release as Iger led the iconic brand through a number of strategic acquisitions the past few decades (Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and then the launch of Disney+). This book is similar to Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog, but with a bit more polish from a ‘company man’. In particular, Iger’s detail on negotiating with Steve Jobs for the Pixar acquisition was pretty entertaining. He rose through the ranks to the top job over a nearly 30-year career, then held the CEO job for fifteen years. A fascinating read for folks interested in business and/or Disney.
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
A hauntingly beautiful novel about Shakespeare's family--and the plague. She's already a favorite writer of mine, but this is truly a perfect novel.
A Room with a View by EM Forster & Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan
Kwan's (Crazy Rich Asians) new novel Sex and Vanity is an homage to this turn of the centruy exploration of society and coming of age. It's set in Florence, Italy and Somerset, England: gorgeous escapism!
1918 in an Irish hospital, a nurse tries to care for several pregnant women sick with the flu. It sounds dreary, but it's actually quite hopeful.
I have always loved this collection of little stories about Herriot's canine patients and their people. These stories are often funny, sometimes sad, and always poignant.
Mary Laura's Picks
Furious Hours by Casey Cep
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz