Two Almost Perfect Books

The two books I completed aren’t perfect because they fell in as book #85 and book #86 rather than #99 and #100. They might be the last two books I complete this year (unless I finish this one I just started, it seems to be an easy-ish read), but even if they are and I didn’t finish my goal, they were two of the most perfect books for me to end on.

They were: The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller and Humans of New York: Stories by Brandon Stanton. I finished both of these books feeling content and a little bit like it may have been fate.

TYoRD is a hilarious work of non-fiction about Andy Miller and his quest to get back into reading, first and foremost, and also to finally read those books that he’s been telling people he’s already read and enjoyed/hated for years (speaking from experience, this is a really hard habit to break). He compiles a list called “the List of Betterment” and sets to work reading the 50 books in one year.

For a second I let myself get all cocky and proud that I was shooting for 100, but Miller definitely went for quality over quantity. To name a few on his list, War and PeaceAnna KareninaMiddlemarch, Moby Dick, and other crazy long and difficult ones. It was very impressive.

The book was especially relatable and wonderful because Miller is hilarious in a self-deprecating but also somehow vain way. He discusses things he learned throughout his year of getting back into “reading shape,” he talks about book clubs, the feeling of liking a book but not being sure whether or not you should like that book, hating a book and choosing not to finish it (something he almost did but ultimately wasn’t able to), the feeling of pure life a book can give, even blogging about books, and just generally the whole range of emotions and actions and wonderful possibilities that come along with reading.

It felt especially appropriate for me to read at this point in my year, almost like a validation of this goal that I wasn’t able to complete. The experience of reading, the new perspective I bring to a book, and all of that positive stuff may have been more important than me completing 100 books.**

**I kind of believe this. I’m also salty that I won’t be able to finish in time, and I plan to set this goal for myself until I am able to do it. Hopefully 2016 will be my year, but sorry for any of you who were hoping to see something new next year.

So I’m rambling for way too long about this book, but it was really, really great. There’s an especially hilarious section comparing Herman Melville’s Moby Dick to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code… the read is worth it for that section alone, I could not stop laughing.

Then the second perfect book I completed yesterday: Humans of New York Stories. I think at this point anyone with a Facebook has at least seen this photo blog series; there are something like 15 million followers.

Anyway, if you’re the one person who doesn’t know what HONY is, Brandon Stanton is a photographer who approaches random people in New York City,  conducts brief interviews with them, and takes their picture.

Some of these humans have devastating, horrible stories of drug abuse or abandonment or assault or war, some are lighter but still emotional (people discussing their  breakups or divorces), and some stories are uplifting, hopeful, and/or hilarious. This book captured all of it and it was so perfect.

I especially loved that he stuck with his simple format and let the human stories and vivid photos do the talking. There were some three-part quotes and some equally emotional images accompanied by one line. I recognized some of the photos from Facebook, but others were new to me.

It was just a beautiful book. There is such a wide range of human experience in this city; you can see it as you walk down any street. This book was a wonderful reminder that not everything is as it appears, and you really can’t judge a book by its cover, to employ the cliche.

I love New York City, and this book made me love it even more from afar, not for its culture or breathtaking sights or ornately decorated buildings, but for the millions of people here who each offer something new and unique, something only they’ve experienced and something they can teach us. It’s easy to forget that we can learn from each other, especially here where sometimes it’s best not to make eye contact or talk to strangers.

I’ve learned a lot as I worked through these 86 books this year, but this book reminded me that I have much more to learn from my 8.4 million neighbors. ◊

Try not to let it obscure the point of this bit, which is: never abandon the possibility that, however old you are, there might still be a book out there that will make you gush and garble and do something you might regret. It means you’re still alive.”

The Year of Reading Dangerously, page 235

Brandon: ‘What’s been your greatest accomplistment?” Human: ‘Keeping in touch with distant friends and relatives.’ Brandon: ‘Why is that important?’ Human: It’s important to always have people who remember you at various stages of your life. It’s especially important as you get older, because there are less of those people around. And they remind you who you are.'”

Humans of New York: Stories, page 104

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