Bill Kauffman’s Reading List

Ah, May: month of rhubarb, tulips, and misjudged fly balls!

We read poetry aloud in our home (though not, my wife and daughter thank their lucky stars, my own compositions), and springtime, after the threat of frost is gone, is Frost-time. As in Robert, who put his trust in “insubordinate Americans,” bless his crotchety heart. North of Boston is my favorite of his books. I also dip into my cull 1858 copy of the Rufus Griswold-edited Poets and Poetry of America. Griswold was a pompous-ass anthologizer who made the fatal (to his posthumous reputation) mistake of taking on Poe, but this volume is filled with seasonal delights: “April” by Nathaniel Parker Willis, “Spring is Coming” by the deaf-mute poet James Nack, William D. Gallagher’s “May,” William Cullen Bryant’s “June,” and the doomed Charles Fenno Hoffman’s “To an Autumn Rose.”

Next month, my daughter and I will reenact our annual summer solstice reading of Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, the loveliest evocation of a childhood summer I have ever read.

I like to read a baseball book to kick off (if I may mix sports metaphors) the spring. This year I finally got around to Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, the diary of an aging knuckleball pitcher on the sadsack expansion Seattle Pilots of 1969. An unflinchingly honest and melancholy delight.

Alan Pell Crawford’s new biography of Thomas Jefferson in his waning years (Twilight at Monticello) is sensitive and intelligent and gives deserved emphasis to the “ward republic” plan Jefferson drew up late in life — just the kind of radical decentralization we need in our Washington-Wall Street-Hollywood-centered nation.

Orion readers in particular will enjoy James Howard Kunstler’s new novel World Made by Hand, his dystopian—or is it utopian?–vision of an Upstate New York village after the bombs fall.

Finally, let me plug several of my favorite novels, books which never fail to refresh or amaze me: The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett; Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis; The Octopus by Frank Norris; The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck; Burr by Gore Vidal; and Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry.

Bill Kauffman’s Ain’t My America: The Long, Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle American Anti-Imperialism has just been published by Henry Holt/Metropolitan.