Bat-Mitzva and Bar-Mitzva book lists


Here’s an update, with the 40 titles I’ve typed into a Listmania list at Amazon.com. I’ll probably need a 2nd list for the rest.
Books for 13 year olds. “Today, I am an adult, and I take my place…”

“For Bar mitzvah or Bat mitzvah I used to wonder what to give, then I realized I had a list of books in my head that I’d found illuminating and helpful to have read as a young person. Books to return to as you grow into adulthood, books to provide a guide, a commentary, and perhaps, an inspiration. Books I gave to high school graduates, and camp counselors at my son’s summer camps. I’d have been pleased to get any of them, and I’m honored to give them, in turn.”

1. The Periodic Table by Primo Levi
“Unique and magical, a chemist’s life, each chapter centered on one element and its relationship to the author and those around him. Mercury, Lead and Carbon are imaginary, the rest autobiographical. My favorite chapter is the story of the chemists at lunch, and the slice of onion in the linseed oil.”

2. The Caine Mutiny: A Novel by Herman Wouk
“A detailed dissection of a failing organization and the price it extracts. Not to mention a great novel. (The typhoon made my hair stand on end when I was a kid) I give this book to people in crazy organizations (most organizations are crazy…). I have never read a better description of where the distress and responsibility fall when things aren’t working right.”

3. The Maltese Falcon (Crime Masterworks) by Dashiell Hammett
“Hammett’s best, not withstanding the Charles’ of The Thin Man (and the movies it gave birth to…). All the elements are familiar, and yet the way it unfolds is riveting. The writing is gripping, laugh-out-loud funny and timeless. The subjects are honor, duty, loss, romance and having to get up every morning and get on with your life. Because “..a man … has to do something.””

4. A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes by Stephen Hawking
“This is it – how we know what we know, only one equation, and as readable and instructive now as ever. Hawking’s ability to express himself against the challenges of his own body is beyond my words. This book is so clear, and starts with a wonderful joke. I was overseas the first time I read it, and his contrast of Einstein and Aristotle gave me courage to get the job done.”

5. Emma (Penguin Classics) by Jane Austen
“One of those remarkable books which seems dauntingly long when you start and far, far, too short by the time you’ve finished. Emma, of good family and comfortable circumstances, trys to help her friends by matchmaking. The results are far from what anyone wants, complication and crisis compound on each other. But all is made well. Her own match is concluded in the sweetest way.”

6. The Wisdom of the Bones: In Search of Human Origins by Alan Walker
“This terrific book focuses on the Nariokatome Boy, a 1.6M yr old Homo Erectus’ skeleton. Kamoya Kimeu found the first pieces, Alan Walker and Meave Leakey assembled them, the scientific descriptions were published by Walker. The Boy is most complete Homo Erectus skeleton so far. Like us. But not us. Pat Shipman, Walker’s wife, is gifted writer. The story is his, the voice hers.”

7. The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Penguin Modern Classics) by Malcolm X
“I read this book in 1971 and I found it electrifying- Brother Malcolm X plumbed the depths and climbed the heights and had his life torn from him just as it seemed his greatest work was beginning. The hell of segregated America is something we must never forget. How one man educated himself out of prison and became a national leader is always worth knowing.”

8. The Hominid Gang: Behind the Scenes in the Search for Human Origins by Delta Willis
“A great how-they-did-it adventure, led by Richard and Meave Leakey, Kamoya Kimeu, etc. Kimeu is a treasure in his own right, worth meeting. Willis was with the expedition as they, Alan Walker, etc, found the Nariokatome Boy, a 1.6M yr old Homo Erectus skeleton. She also covers friction between the Kenyan team and the Institute for Human Origins (from Berkeley), who found “Lucy” in Ethiopia”

9. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M. Pirsig
“Pirsig wastes no time. You need a thin aluminum shim for your top of the line BMW motorcycle. Do you buy expensive shim stock from the BMW dealer, or snip a piece of essentially the same thing from an empty beer can? Pay someone to think for you, or call it yourself and accept the consequences? What *is* high quality, how do you define or apply it? A great story too!”

10. When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson & S. J. McCarthy
“Written by a noted natural science reporter and a once-enfant-terrible of Freudian Psychology, is very readable and not always comfortable. Elephants are not the only species here. Animals feel and express emotions; cases to cite don’t hurt.
Full disclosure: S. J. McCarthy is a personal friend of mine. my admiration of her writing has been verified in double-blind tests.”

11. To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition by Harper Lee
“Some people can’t stop writing books. Harper Lee had one book to write. Her love of her father and the story she wanted to tell is worth more than the whole production of many other writers.
Atticus Finch’s story wasn’t leading straight to Rosa Parks, Brown Vs. Board of Education or the Voting Rights Act of 1964. Low-key person-by-person didn’t get the job done. But it wasn’t a coward’s path.”

12. The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage by Clifford Stoll

13. The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme by John Keegan
“A landmark book, explaining the often unrealistic conventions of military history, as far back as Julius Caesar and as close as the Charge of the Light Brigade. He then describes three notable battles in the history of England and Great Britain, and what the typical soldier would have experienced. Keegan’s account of the first Battle of the Somme is heartbreaking.”

14. Ancient Engineers by L. Sprague De Camp
“A wonderful (filled with wonder) history of engineering in the long ago and far away. From the Tigris/Euphrates and Nile civilizations to Leonardo, who De Camp rightly points out, was the last of the ancients- wise, but secretive, not pubishing during his lifetime or after. Not a specialist book on any area or culture, its a guided tour by someone who loves the subject.”

15. Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

16. Fate is the Hunter by Ernest Kellogg Gann

17. Funny Money by Mark Singer

18. A Garlic Testament: Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm by Stanley G. Crawford

19. The Fallen Man by Tony Hillerman

20. Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters (P.S.) by Matt Ridley

21. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

22. Incredible Victory: The Battle of Midway (Classics of War) by Walter Lord
“The best kind of history, built of quotes from 350 survivors, 250 from the US and 100 from Japan. How code breaking, courage, luck and sacrifice stopped the Japanese conquest of the Pacific. A human tragedy, triumph and a victory that comprised 1/3 of what Winston Churchill called “The Hinge of Fate””

23. Rising From The Plains by John McPhee

24. Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo by Eric Hansen

25. Assembling California by John McPhee

26. The Survival of the Bark Canoe by John McPhee

27. Young Men and Fire by Norman MacLean

28. Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (Vintage) by Neil Shubin

29. The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler

30. The Immense Journey: An Imaginative Naturalist Explores the Mysteries of Man and Nature by Loren C. Eiseley

31. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

32. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2nd edition by Edward R. Tufte

33. Synapsida by John C. McLoughlin

34. Five Equations that Changed the World: The Power and Poetry of Mathematics by Michael Guillen

35. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

36. A Country Year: Living the Questions by Sue Hubbell

37. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

38. Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys by Michael Collins

39. The Prince (Bantam Classics) by Niccolo Machiavelli

40: Ultramarine: Poems by Raymond Carver

Buy a copy for your brother. Read one of the poems to him.

I think I’ve bugged more of my friends and family with Carver’s masterpiece, “The Car”, from this book, than with any other poem I’ve ever read. More than “Howl”, more than “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, “McCavity the Mystery Cat” or “Greed and Aggression”. There are teaching guides for middle school teachers to use this one as an exercise. Find it. Read it. Make up your own verses. Make up your own poem when you’re driving somewhere with your family. I’ll come back and edit in an excerpt, but trust me, you need this book, as a gift if nothing else.

When I bought my brother a copy and stopped by his house and read him, “The Car”, he laughed and looked thoughtful, his wife squeezed his hand. and he paused, at the end, after,

“… Car of my sleepless nights.
My car.”

and then he said, “‘The car I struck with a hammer.’ ‘The car I struck with a hammer.’ The car I cut to pieces with an oxy-acetylene torch !”

See?

Yeah, there’s sadness here too, but there’s a LOT of that tough heart that people, not just men, need to have to get by in this world. The first poem is called “What You Need To Paint” and lists (from a letter? a notebook?) things a well regarded fine art painter recorded. Brushes, Colors. And then the zinger, that gives the whole thing life: “The ability to work like a locomotive”.

Its what we all need. Raymond Carver had it, and its beautiful to listen to, to watch, to live up to in your own life.

So buy this one for your brother, or sister, or someone who YOU love, who can work like a locomotive, when its required.

You won’t be sorry.

41: Seizing the Enigma: The Race to Break the German U-Boats Codes, 1939-1943 by David Khan

—=== Original Post: ===—
Its that time of year again, so beside a check, its time to pass around books that I think are worthwhile to those who are learning how to take their place in the wide world

Last year I put “The Prince” by Machiavelli into the hands of a couple of Benjamin’s classmates, JG and JB. Dunno if either read it. Both boys and Benjamin had been talking politics, so it seemed like a natural. I also gave JB a copy of “Carrying the Fire” by Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins.

JG did have an actual Bar Mitzva and by way of celebration, I gave him:
The Periodic Table – Levi
A Brief History of Time – Hawking
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Pursig (His dad noted this approvingly – “ah”, he said, “Pursig? Well, its not depressing like ‘Lila'” and I said, “Now he takes his place…” or something similar.
The Maltese Falcon, Hammett
I’ve also got a copy of
“The C Programming Language” for him.
He’d probably enjoy “The Curve of Binding Energy” too.

For JB I’ve got:
The Face of Battle – Keegan
Brazen Chariots – Crisp
and not-yet delivered:
Assembling California – McPhee

For SL I’ve got:
When Elephants Weep – Mason and McCarthy
The Fallen Man – Tony Hillerman
or
The Thin Man – Hammett
For this child and the next, both girls, I need books with a strong female character/voice. Sue Hubbell, Jane Goodall, Pat Shipman, Delta Burke… Obviously fiction such as Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Anne of Green Gables or Little Women would be appropriate, but at least some is likely to have been given… Neither Kinsey Milhone in “A is for Alibi” or in “Shooting the Boh” are quite right for 13 year olds. This is harder than it looks. “October Sky” has been recommended for an inspirational teacher who is an unconventional woman who inspires the author. His mother also has a strong role. Good suggestions, from a woman who’s son is all over the submarines, tanks, airplane books used to read. She also says she was big on Judy Blume at age 13. I’ve certainly seen Judy Blume’s books, but haven’t read any yet. Probably ought to, and October Sky too. We had a copy once…
How could I have not included
“To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee?

For HM I’ve got:
Genome – Ridley
Assembling California – McPhee – both sent today via Ben. Maybe “Rising from the Plain” would be better, with so much coming from the geologist’s mom’s diary. I think a Sue Hubbell and/or Pat Shipman needs to follow.
5/13: Added When Elephants Weep – Mason and McCarthy
The Fallen Man – Tony Hillerman

For GS I’ve got
Assembling California – McPhee, and I need a couple more-
I’m thinking The Period Table – Levi
Fate is the Hunter – Gann
All Creatures Great and Small – Herriott

for GM I’ve go little beyond good intentions, yet

For MG I’m getting another copy of
The Periodic Table

For the school’s library I donated
“Fighting On Two Fronts”
“Autobiography of Malcom X” by Halley,
“Animal Farm” by Orwell

Sitting here burning a hole in my bookshelf are give-away copies of

“Desert Solitaire” – Abbey,
“A Garlic Testament”, – Crawford
“Robinson Crusoe” – Defoe
Your Inner Fish – _______
“The Curve of Binding Energy” – McPhee
“The Wisdom of the Bones”, – Shipman & Walker

I’ve got between one and several copies of

“The Curve of Binding Energy”,
“The Periodic Table”,
“Bloods”,
“The C Programming Language”,
“The Wisdom of the Bones”,
“Your Inner Fish”
“Broadsides from the Other Orders”,
“A Country Year” and
“Waiting for Aphrodite”

on order and presumably making their way to get there.

I realize I need more female voices. I’ve received some suggestions, along the lines of young adult fiction with strong female characters:
Judy Blume
Mercedes Lakey
M Pierce (not the other Pierce)
Earthsea (Not U. K. LeGuinn’s Earthsea Trillogy)
Ibbod
Harper Lee writes from a young girl’s perspective, and if “To Kill A Mockingbird” isn’t quite in the’ books for girls’ zone, neither is The Diary of a Young Girl by Ann Frank, who is also an undeniable girl.
Besides Hillerman, Hammett, Chandler and Conan-Doyle, Rita Mae Brown’s mysteries, written with her cat Sneaky Pie, are said to be child-friendlly and female voiced. I picked one up for a look through at the library sale.

I need to add
“Young Men and Fire”
“Fate is the Hunter”
“The Simple Art of Murder” – Chandler
“Incredible Victory” – Lord.
And more

Alphabeticly, by title, this all and some other old favorites adds up to:

The Autobiography of Malcolm X – Hailey
A Brief History of Time – Hawking
Brazen Chariots – Crisp
The Cuckoo’s Egg – Stoll
The Curve of Binding Energy – McPhee
Desert Solitaire – Abbey
The Face of Battle – Keegan
The Fallen Man – Hillerman
Fate is the Hunter – Gann
Funny Money – Singer
A Garlic Testament – Crawford
Giant Squid – Ellis
Genome – Ridley
Huckleberry Finn – Twain
Life on the Mississippi – Twain
Incredible Victory – Lord
Little Women – Alcott
The Maltese Falcon – Hammett
The Phantom Major – Cowells
The Periodic Table – Levi
Pride and Prejudice – Austin
Rising From the Plain – McPhee
Robinson Crusoe – Defoe
Sense and Sensability – Austin
Stranger In the Forest – Hansen
Taking Wing – Shipman & _____
The Thin Man – Hammett
To Kill A Mockingbird – Lee
Waiting for a Ship – McPhee
When Elephants Weep – Masson & McCarthy
The Wisdom of the Bones – Shipman & Walker
Young Men and Fire – _______
Your Inner Fish – _______
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Pursig

Now that’s a list of old friends!
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