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As the United States struggles through its worst economic crisis in generations, gloom has seized much of the heartland. The optimism that came so easily to many Americans as the new century dawned is significantly harder to summon these days. There is, however, a conspicuous exception: African-Americans, long accustomed to frustration in their pursuit of opportunity and respect, are amazingly upbeat, consistently astounding pollsters with their hopefulness. Earlier this year, when a Washington Post–Kaiser–-Harvard poll asked respondents whether they expected their children’s standard of living to be better or worse than their own, 60 percent of blacks chose “better,” compared with only 36 percent of whites...
Certainly, the Obama presidency has fueled euphoria in black circles. But even before Obama came on the scene, optimism was building—most notably among a new generation of black achievers who refused to believe they would be stymied by the bigotry that bedeviled their parents. Obama’s election was, in effect, the final revelation—the long-awaited sign that a new American age had arrived. “It blows away the nationalist argument that the system is white and racist and won’t ever change,” scholar Manning Marable told me shortly before his death.I see this every day at the main library downtown, where many of these young "black achievers" do all their coursework on our public-access computers, and increasing numbers of them are coming in with new laptops to use our free WiFi.
I am not a "typical American", loathe football, violence, SUVs, big-screen TVs, and Christian religious fanatics, especially creationists. I consider myself a secular humanist, and I believe in the Enlightenment values of reason, human rights and universal equality. I love Paris above all cities, for its culture of enlightened hedonism. I love the sea, strong European coffee, and hotels with great room service. I love to read challenging fiction and literary criticism, (Eric Auerbach's "Mimesis" is one of my favorite books.) I also love film especially French, and books about film, as well as modern history and psychology. I used to teach writing, and now write myself.He reminds me of my French history professor, Paul Halpern, who believed that the best of all worlds would be to have lived in Vienna or Paris at the end of the 19th century, (presumably as a professor).
This is my list of favorite books which are so rich I return to them again and again. They are that "cut above" ordinary literature, either because of exquisite writing or deep ideas or both. Some are well-known, some hard to find but worth it. Take a chance and challenge yourself! You'll be glad you did.It's a good list, and an original one. I noticed Grossman's Life and Fate, about which he says:
The epic Russian novel of the 20th century, following the fortunes of one family through revolution, civil war, brutal purges, disillusionment, and the monumental struggle of war with Germany. Lyrical, realistic, clear-sighted but never cynical, Grossman never loses his moral compass or his humanity. An amazing book.I knew the book, and I decided to read it on the strength of his recommendation. What an interesting list, the fruit of one man's reading life. Check it out.