Books Authors Read with Earl Swift

Journalist and five time (wow!) Pulitzer Prize nominee Earl Swift will be at our Dallas Flagship HPB on Wednesday, July 16 at 7 p.m. to sign and discuss his new book, Auto Biography, a fascinating look at the life of a classic ’57 Chevy. We hope you’ll stop by to meet Earl! In the meantime, we asked Earl to put together some of his favorite books for our “Books Authors Read” series. Take it away, Earl! — Emily

Books Authors Read with Earl Swift

1.  Bill Morris, Motor City

The first book by novelist, journalist and essayist Morris, this fictional 1993 yarn is set in the automotive design world of mid-fifties Detroit, and recreates the time and place down to the subtlest curve, the briefest wink of chrome, years before “Mad Men” trod similar ground. A fun, fast, smart read that’ll stay with you.

2. W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence

This is the story of one Charles Strickland, a button-down British stockbroker who abandons his wife and children and runs off the Paris to become a painter—and eventually, meets his fate in a squalid South Seas hut. But there’s far more to it than that: Told through Maugham’s loner-traveler narrator, the novel (generally recognized as a fictionalized spin on the life of Paul Gauguin) offers a lasting rumination on art, talent, obsession and destiny.

3. John Fowles, The Magus

The world seems pretty evenly split between those who love and hate The Magus, Fowles’ first novel (though third published); I’m firmly and enthusiastically in the first camp. Like Fowles’ later, A Maggot, it so muddies distinctions between the real and imagined that readers might find themselves wondering, while in its grip, whether they really know that they know what they know.

4. Donna Tartt, The Secret History

It’s no surprise that Tartt won last year’s National Book Award; it seemed foreordained from the opening pages of this, her first novel, published back in 1992—a murder mystery set on a tony New England college campus, and fueled by the need to know neither who did the deed, nor to whom, but why it happened. By its end, it’s plain that Tartt is a storyteller for the ages, and a stone-cold genius, to boot.

5. David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

You’ll need two bookmarks while exploring this story of tennis, addiction and boarding school, suicide and disabled Quebecois terrorists—one to mark your place in the narrative, and the other your place in the endnotes, which in some instances are chapter-length and impart information vital to the main story (the meaning of the title, for instance, is revealed in agate type at the back). The book’s reputation as labor-intensive isn’t helped by its cinderblock size. But trust me: Its structure is part of what makes it amazing, and Wallace was just so damn smart in so many ways that this crazy story quickly becomes your entire, happy focus for the weeks it takes to tackle it.

6. John Hersey, Hiroshima

Where any discussion of literary journalism begins. This slim volume, originally published in The New Yorker, follows a handful of men and women through the events of August 6, 1945, as their city is obliterated by atomic bomb. Hersey’s reporting is peerless. His language is understated and respectful, and more the powerful for it. If you finish this afternoon’s read without being deeply moved, call 911 immediately.

7. Christopher Cokinos, Hope Is The Thing With Feathers

This 2000 collection of essays about extinct and threatened birds—and, by extension, man’s heavy hand on all that surrounds him—is expertly reported and utterly heartbreaking. It includes some of my favorite pieces of narrative nonfiction.

8. John Lewis and Michael D’Orso, Walking With the Wind

The Georgia congressman’s memoir of the Civil Rights movement ranks among the best first-person accounts of important history that I’ve read—we’re talking right up there with Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. The introduction alone is worth the cover price.

9. Rory Stewart, The Places In Between

Stewart, a Scotsman, hiked across Afghanistan in 2002. He emerged with a portrait of place that defies the definition of “country” in any modern sense—it’s a harsh, barren wilderness of warring tribes and shifting loyalties, and always has been. An illuminating companion to The Kite Runner.

10.  John Stilgoe, Lifeboat

Harvard professor and sharp-eyed observer Stilgoe has a number of intriguing books under his belt, the best known being 1998’s Outside Lies Magic. This is one of his (unjustly) lesser-known titles: Released in 2007, it’s built around the development, design and use of a seemingly straightforward object—but along the way offers a pile of insights into the industrial age and the cost of “progress”. A smart, quirky, and mighty enjoyable read.

11.  Joe Jackson, The Thief at the End of the World

Longtime journalist Jackson offers a thrilling story of international theft and espionage in the adventures of Henry Wickham, who in the 1870s snuck thousands of rubber tree seeds out of Brazil (at insane personal risk) and into the hands of British botanists—who then planted them throughout the Empire, thereby changing the face of industry worldwide. Read it with David Grann’s The Lost City of Z.   

Earl Swift is the author of Auto Biography, As They Lay and Journey on the James.

You may visit him online or follow him on Twitter at @EarlSwift1

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