My MA reading list

One of the great things about being an academic is sabbatical, or as we call in at my university, research and study leave. I’ve got six months of it this year, from May through October, and I’m looking forward to writing lots of words and learning new things about writing and, I expect, myself.

Rebecca pumice
I’m not done with the pumice yet: I think the world needs “12 ways to look at a piece of pumice”. (This pic taken on board the HMNZS Canterbury in 2012: that’s a piece of freshly erupted Havre-volcano pumice.)

I want to write new things about my trips to Antarctica and the Kermadecs, about pumice, and about my work with scientists studying climate change, biodiversity and natural hazards. I want to explore these topics without the restrictions or expectations of writing for a particular publication or to a book contract. For these reasons, and because I’ve found myself increasingly jealous of my creative science writing students over the four years that Ashleigh Young and I have been co-teaching science writing at the IIML, I decided that I’d like to spend my RSL time writing in a challenging and supportive workshop environment. I’ve also never done a Masters before and quite liked the idea of having four degrees in four different disciplines (my undergraduate degree is geology, my honours degree is in physical geography and my PhD is in history and philosophy of science).

So this year (yay!) I’ll be doing an MA in creative writing at the IIML, starting this week. I’ll be combining it with my other work for the first two months then, hopefully, focusing on it almost exclusively.  My genre is “creative non-fiction” (there are also poets in my workshop, and a group of fiction writers in another workshop).

One of the great things about this MA is that as part of your application you have to put together a reading list.

The books I mostly want to read (or re-read) have some elements of personal essay, travel narrative and science. Some of them I’ve read before, some I’ll be reading for the first time. Some I expect I’ll love, but even the ones I don’t love I expect will teach me things about structure, different narrative techniques, and what I like and don’t like about this sort of writing. Big thanks to all the people who responded to my Twitter requests for suggestions late last year. I look forward to this list evolving over the coming months and during the course of the Masters, so comments and suggestions are very welcome.

So here it is: a preliminary (and very long!) reading list.

Robert Macfarlane, Mountains of the Mind (2003), The Old Ways: A Journey On Foot (2007), The Wild Places (2012)

Hope Jahren, Lab Girl (2016)

John McPhee, Uncommon Carriers (2006), Annals of the Former World (1998), The Curve of Binding Energy (1974), The John McPhee Reader (1974)

Eve Kokofky Sedgwick, A Dialogue on Love (2000)

Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road (2015)

Geoff Chapple, Terrain: Travels through a Deep Landscape (2016)

Jonathan Raban, Driving Home: An American Journey (2011), Passage to Juneau: A sea and its meanings (1999), Bad Land: An American Romance (1996), Coasting (1986)

Lee Gutkind (ed), Becoming a Doctor (2011)

Ingrid Horrocks and Cherie Lacey (eds), Extraordinary Anywhere: Essays on place from Aotearoa New Zealand (2016)

Gregory O’Brien, News of the Swimmer Reaches Shore (2008)

Geoff Dyer, one or more from: White Sands: Experiences from the outside world (2016), Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS H. W. Bush (2014), Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected essays and reviews, 1989-2010 (2011), Yoga for People who can’t be bothered to do it (2003)

Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby (2013), A Field Guide to Getting Lost (2006), A History of Walking (2000)

Melissa Broder, So Sad Today (2016)

Ashleigh Young, Can You Tolerate This? (2016)

Ingrid Horrocks, Travelling with Augusta: 1835 and 1999 (2003)

Joan Didion, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live (2006), The Year of Magical Thinking (2005)

Anne Fadiman, At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays (2008)

Gavin Francis, Adventures in Human Being (2015), Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence and Emperor Penguins (2012), True North: Travels in Arctic Europe (2008)

Charles Fernyhough, The Voices Within: The history and science of how we talk to ourselves (2016)

Steve Braunias, How to Watch a Bird (2007), Civilisation (2012)

Brian Gill, The Owl that fell from the Sky (2012), The Unburnt Egg: More stories of a museum curator (2016)

Amy Leach, Things that Are (2012)

Anna Sanderson, Brainpark (2007)

Jon Mooallem, Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America (2014)

David Quammen, one or two from: Natural Acts: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature (2009), The Boilerplate Rhino: Nature in the Eye of the Beholder (2001), The Flight of the Iguana: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature (1998), Wild Thoughts from Wild Places (1999)

David Haskell, Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature (2012)

Annie Dillard, The Abundance: Narrative essays old and new (2016), The Writing Life (1989), Teaching a Stone to Talk (1982), Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974)

Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Life in the Woods (1854)

Anne Patchett, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage (2013), Truth and Beauty: a Friendship (2004)

Helen MacDonald, H is for Hawk (2013)

Henry Marsh, Do No Harm (2015)

Suzanne O’Sullivan, It’s all in Your Head: True Stories of Imaginary Illness (2015)

Tim Cahill, something from: Lost in My Own Backyard: A walk in Yellowstone National Park (2004), and one or more of: Not So Funny When It Happened: The Best of Travel Humor and Misadventure (ed), (2006), Pass the Butterworms: Remote Journeys oddly rendered (1997), Pecked to Death by Ducks (1993), A Wolverine is Eating my Leg (1989)

Jeremy Hall, Half Lives, Real Lives: Tales from the atomic wasteland (1996)

Lauren Slater, Opening Skinners Box: Great psychology experiments of the 20th century (2004) and one or more from Playing House: Notes of a Reluctant Mother (2013), Blue Beyond Blue: Extraordinary Tales for Ordinary Dilemmas (2005), Love Works Like This: Travels Through a Pregnant Year (2003), Prozac Diary (1998), Welcome to My Country: A Therapist’s Memoir of Madness (1997)

Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere (2014), Falling off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World (1993)

Atul Gawande, Being Mortal (2014), Better (2007), Complications (2002)

Jenny Diski, In Gratitude (2016), What I Don’t Know About Animals (2010), On Trying to Keep Still (2006), A View from the Bed (2003), Stranger on a Train (2002), Skating to Antarctica (1997)

David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster (2005)

Scott Slovic, James Bishop, Kyhl Lyndgaard (eds), Currents of the Universal Being: explorations in the literature of energy (2015)

Lloyd Jones, A History of Silence: A memoir (2013), Biografi: An Albanian Quest (1993)

Siri Hustvedt, Living, Thinking, Looking (2012)

Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire: A plant’s eye view of the world (2001)

Roger Deakin, Waterlog: A Swimmer’s journey through Britain (1999)

Jeremiah Sullivan, Pulphead (2011)

Meghan Baum, My Misspent Youth (2001), Unspeakable (2014)

Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams (2014)

Tim Parks, Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo (2014)

Mark Greif, Against Everything (2016)

Kathleen Jamie, Sightlines (2012)

Eliot Weinberger, Karmic Traces (2000)

Nigel Cox, Phone Home Berlin (2007)

Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape (1986)

Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks, FSG, New York (2015)

Best American Nature and Science Writing series

Best American Essay series (especially latest one edited by Jonathan Franzen)



About Rebecca Priestley

I have a PhD in the history & philosophy of science and I write about science and science history. I live in New Zealand.
This entry was posted in Antarctic, Creative non-fiction, Kermadecs, Personal, Science, Travel, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to My MA reading list

  1. What fun. I suggest your list is waaay too long and won’t allow time for reflection, and you, living. Ditch the ones that don’t spark joy. Good luck.

  2. Wieinberger’s book is incredible, and Geoff Dyer is good. Annie Dillard I want to read myself. I read three books by Nigel Cox, esp. his Tarzan Presley. Barry Lopez I have it looks interesting. A lot of interesting writers. David Foster Wallace started with two PhD theses, one combatting Richard Taylor’s re free will and a literature PhD in the same year. So he bridges lit. and logic and so on.

  3. The Foster Wallace book might also connect to a short story by Beckett ‘Dante and the Lobster’ in More Pricks than Kicks. Also Wittgenstein, and Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson (which Wallace adds an afteword to in one edition) and Montaigne on animals etc

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s