U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse recently gathered and annotated a collection of quotations that he’s published as On Virtues, a guide to living ‘a full, honorable life.’ Below, the Rhode Island Democrat recommends other great piecemeal reading.
archy and mehitabel by Don Marquis (Anchor, $14). An American classic whose poems are as fresh and true today as 95 years ago, when Archy the cockroach, a reincarnated poet, started jumping on the keys of Don Marquis’s typewriter to share the tales of his demimonde and its louche feline queen, Mehitabel. Part folk art, part humor, part philosophy, and of course, “toujours gai.”
The Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian (Norton, $250 for the set). This collection of 20 nautical historical novels is a single saga of warfare, adventure, friendship, travel, and predicament. Riddled with telling details, it’s relentlessly researched and often unconventional. But if you get the bug, you’re in for a rewarding voyage.
The Immediate Experience by Robert Warshow (Harvard, $28). Before dying in 1955, at age 37, Warshow broke ground with a series of essays that took a serious look at popular culture, instead of more “correct” subjects. I read them to gear up for college term papers. The topic almost doesn’t matter—they are so lucid that reading them helps you write better.
Break Blow Burn by Camille Paglia (Vintage, $15). If, like me, you think poetry criticism is usually a useless bore, give this collection a chance. Paglia picks wonderful poems, then provides a short analysis for each one, bringing her brains and attitude to bear on the verse in such a lively way that reading her commentary helps you read better.
A Gentleman’s Companion by Charles H. Baker (Martino Fine, $10). Okay—this two-volume set is drinks and food recipes. But Hemingway kept a copy in his house in Cuba, and not in the kitchen. The book is an immensely entertaining read and an unwitting history of an era and a type: the hard-drinking, widely traveled, prewar WASP bon vivant that Hemingway exemplified.
A Treasury of the Familiar by Ralph L. Woods (Buccaneer, $55). My father brought a battered copy of this book home from World War II, and it was a great mishmash of a collection to wander in on a rainy afternoon: some gems, some curiosities, some American classics.