THE LIST – 2022 Favorite Reads

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A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read.” A. Lincoln

(Note – 1/8/23: Some readers have expressed interest in having a printed list of just the titles, authors, and contributors. For some reason, I have not been able to embed it in this post, but if you send me your mailing address, I’d be glad to send it to you. RAM)

Sixty-four contributors responded to this 14th MillersTime call for favorite reads. Readers of this site offered 229 titles they identified as books they’ve particularly enjoyed over the past year. Nonfiction (NF) were cited far more often than Fiction (F), 58%-42%. The contributors were evenly divided between female and male – 32-32.

Books listed just below this paragraph are titles that appeared in two or more submissions:

FICTION:

*Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

*Horse: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks

*Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmis

*The Last Green Valley by Mark Sullivan

*The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

*The Personal Librarian by Benedict & Murray

*The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

*Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

NON-FICTION:

*Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis

*How Civil Wars Start & How to End Them by Barbara Walter

*In Love: A Memoir of Love & Loss by Amy Bloom

*Invisible Stop by Jason Kander

*Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit

*Saints & Soldiers by Rita Katz

*Stolen Focus by Johann Hari

*The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson

*The Grieving Brain by Mary-Frances O’Connor

*The Man Without a Face: Putin by Masha Gessen

*These Precious Days by Ann Patchett

*Walking the Bowl by Chris Lockhart & Daniel Chama

INDIVIDUAL FAVORITE READS

What makes the list below of particular value to me are the personal descriptions of why a book was a favorite. And for the time each contributor took to write and send in their (up to six) titles, I am deeply thankful.

Hopefully, you’ll return to this list throughout 2023 for possible new reads, many of which (most in fact) have not been listed in the various ‘Best Lists of 2022’ by ‘professional’ reviewers.

The list below is alphabetical by first name. Any errors are solely my responsibility. Let me know if I need to make corrections. And if you missed the deadline, you can still send in your favorites – Samesty84@gmail.com – and I can easily add them.

Abigail Wiebenson:

The Daughters of Yalta by Catherine Grace Katz (HF). It was fascinating to read this segment of history from a woman’s perspective in a very masculine power centric world. 

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende (F). Oh my, Isabel Allende is such a reliable, spellbinding storyteller. This time her characters navigate challenging situations and family secrets. 

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (HF). Rich in literary language (Maggie is a walking thesaurus) and family Shakespearean history during pandemic times, this spellbinding story of relationships is provocative, complicated, and enlightening. 

Change Your Questions, Change Your Life by Marilee Adams (NF). As always, navigating and creating the language of conversation is fascinating and compelling. The anatomy and choreography of questions is critical to leadership of self and others and key to my work in leadership coaching. 

Allan Latts:

Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence by Ajay Agrawals, Avi Goldfarb, and Joshua Gan (NF). In Prediction Machines, three eminent economists recast the rise of AI as a drop in the cost of prediction (the computer revolution recast rise of computers in cutting the cost of calculations). With this single, masterful stroke, they lift the curtain on the AI-is-magic hype and show how basic tools from economics provide clarity about the AI revolution and a basis for action by CEOs, managers, policy makers, investors, and entrepreneurs. 

How the Mountains Grew: A New Geological History of North America by John Dvorak (NF). After visiting Utah, I read this book on the geological history of the earth America. It was a little dense but really interesting tidbits of info. (I think this was this year…could have been last)

Mistborn Series by Brian Sanderson (F). I read this series…sci-fi / fantasy – Really great story line across five books.

Anita Rechler:

Matters of race on my mind. Two very different books:  

Horse: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks (HF).  An easy read, interesting, though imperfect book (the ending is contrived). It is a story well told about a slave, the remarkable racehorse Lexington, their relationship, a mystery painting and its artist, a romantic relationship, and more. The story looks back to 1850’s Kentucky and forward to contemporary DC (folks who live in DC will recognize city landmarks), telling a story about racing and racism, then and now.

Douglas: Prophet of Freedom David Blight (NF) – This is a detailed biography of Fredrick Douglass and his emergence from slavery to a complicated life as a gifted orator, energetic proselytizer, friend, colleague, husband and father. I read the book imagining what he might say if reborn to this moment. 

And recommend this and anything else Anand writes:

Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas (NF). The book is a devastating critique of the wealthiest who donate big bucks to various causes and charities of their own creation. Read it, and it is impossible to look at big philanthropy and its elite donors in the same way again. 

Barbara Friedman:

Mary Churchill’s War: The Wartime Diaries of Churchill’s Youngest Daughter Mary Churchill edited by Emma Soames (NF) is a fascinating book even if you have read a lot about Churchill. You get an “inside” perspective on the family and the times.  She provides interesting perspectives on the life of a young women in war times – the parties, the gaiety, and the bombing.  In addition, you see life at the Admiralty and 10 Downing Street from the perspective of an insider.

Power and Liberty: Constitutionalism in the American Revolutionby Gordon Wood (NF) is an excellent book on the framers as they wrote the American Constitution, covering what they included and why, what they left for future consideration (slavery), and how it all came together. An excellent book of the times.

Forty Autumns: A Family’s Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall by Nina Willner (NF) is a wonderful book about her family (grandparents, mother, aunts, uncles, and cousins) who were born in East Germany and who lived behind the Berlin Wall.  Aided by her grandfather, her mother escaped East Germany and eventually lived a normal American life while her mother’s family lived, suffered, endured, and made the best of living in East Germany.  The author was the first female US Army Intelligence Officer to lead sensitive intelligence operations in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War. I found the book in a shop across from Checkpoint Charlie.  It is a fascinating read.

The Death of Democracy by Benjamin Carter Hett (NF) is an excellent and well written history of the fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler in 1930’s Germany, the widespread use of lies and untruths among the Nazis and Hitler in particular, and the confidence of the conservative politicians who thought that Hitler and the Nazis would support but instead drove them out of power and created the Hitler regime.  The parallels with today’s conservatives are eerie.

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb (F) is a wonderful novel about Ray, a black boy/man who became a concert and prize-winning violinist, and his PopPop’s (his great grandfather’s) violin. This old, rosin encrusted violin turns out to be a Stradivarius and is stolen just as he is practicing for the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Did he win it?  The book is not only a compelling story about Ray and his ascent up the path to becoming a professional violinist, but it also tackles the inevitable issues of discrimination and racism. The hurried pace at the end of the book to tie everything together is a bit disappointing, but the book remains a great read.

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson (NF) is a MUST READ!  The book focuses on the exploration and understanding of RNA and this part of the book was fascinating and written in English! However, what I found most interesting was the debate on gene editing – is it OK to correct genetic mutations by restoring a “normal” version of a gene –  such as eliminating sickle cell anemia or Huntington’s disease?  Probably yes. But if you do this gene editing, do you then affect genes that are resistant to malaria or West Nile virus?  Not a great result!  Is it okay to gene edit to make a newborn taller or have blue eyes, etc?  Probably no!  Great questions!  The book ends with the work done in recent years regarding Covid 19.  An interesting fact – Isaacson participated in the Pfizer-BioNtech clinical trials! Said again…a MUST read!!

Ben Senturia:

Harlan Coben Series by Harlan Coben (F). I am continuing to read this series of mysteries which I love. The main character is a sports’ agent (Myron Bolitar). They are well written and fun.  

Bob Thurston:

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (NF). This is the story of the American rowers who competed in the 8-man (plus coxswain) boat that represented the US in the 1936 Olympic Games (“Hitler’s Games”). The author weaves many strands together: a picture of the sport of rowing, hitherto dominated by elite schools in the east; the program at U of Washington and its driven coach, Al Ubrickson; a sense of the mechanics and demands of rowing; and most compellingly, the story of one young man, Joe Rantz, who had to overcome incredible odds just to support himself, never mind getting to the U of Washington and its rowing program.

I had to keep reminding myself that this is a true story; it reads like a novel in that you want to keep turning the pages. Brown’s narration of the actual races was excellent and, in many cases, suspenseful. Each chapter is prefaced by a bit of wisdom from George Pocock, a boatman and aracing shell builder, sort of the Yoda of this story. The author includes some of the story of the Nazis, including the decision to make a grand show of the 1936 Olympics, and how the Olympic areas were “cleaned up” to impress visitors and hide evidence of atrocities. I found it inspiring to read about how the physical and mental toughness of the rowers allowed them to overcome situations that, at critical times, looked hopeless. Definitely a fun read.

Brandt Tilis:

Bittersweet by Susan Cain (NF). Why do we push people toward happiness instead of letting each other (and ourselves) just be?  This book is about normalizing negative emotions and finding the good in our sadness.

Boom Town by Sam Anderson (NF). The history of Oklahoma City that you never knew you had to read. I have never been to Oklahoma City, and outside of the 1995 bombing and their basketball team (the Thunder), I have never thought much about it.  This book goes through the history of the city from the Land Run (fascinating!) to the bombing (tragic). It is so well written and colors everything through the lens of the Thunder who have become a major part of the city’s identity. Boom Town is for people who like quirky history.

Mindset by Carol Dweck (NF). This is not a new release, but it is timeless.  Mindset is about the two different types of mindsets: Fixed and Growth, and how to identify and cultivate a Growth Mindset in ourselves, our children, and our workplace. This book changed the way I look at everyone, particularly my kids. If you have young children or grandchildren, Mindset will help you have meaningful, constructive dialogue with them beyond “Good Job.”

Quit by Annie Duke (NF). Quitting things is frowned upon in our society, but some great success stories are born from decisions to quit. This book will give you the confidence to quit and tips for how to know when it’s time

Stolen Focus by Johann Hari (NF). Our phones and social media are designed to distract us from what’s happening in front of our faces. Reading this book has given me a reason to look past my phone and live more intentionally (though I’m still striving for perfection there).  If you think you spend too much time on your phone, do yourself a favor and read this book.  It is eye-opening.

The Power of Regret by Daniel Pink (NF). Another book about normalizing negative emotions. This time, about feeling regret for past actions. This book breaks down different types of regret and shares some very poignant, real-life examples of people’s regrets. The author collected thousands of peoples’ greatest regrets in life and broke them down. This book helped me learn to appreciate my regrets instead of suppressing them.

Brian Steinbach:

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) (F). As I said last year about Lethal White, Rowling always writes a page-turner, and this is no exception. Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellicott remain engaging characters, and the story – involving a forty-year ago disappearance – kept me going even thought it was over 900 pages. I await her latest, The Ink Black Heart, to appear in paperback come next June. (The TV films aren’t bad, either.)

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (F). Several others have already commented onthis book last year and spring, I can’t add much. Very engaging, amusing and at time horrifying, a mostly satisfying ending.

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (F – mostly). A real tour de force telling the story of John Brown – both in Kansas and Harper’s Ferry – through the eyes of a enslaved youngboy who is taken in by Brown during Bleeding Kansas times, who believes he is a girl and a good luck charm. He separates from Brown and resides for a time in a brothel, then is reunited and accompanies Brown to Harper’s Ferry. Much of the account of Brown’s action is true. The boy escapes to live a long life. An adventure, but also a lot of insight into identity and survival.

All Roads Lead to the Birchmere by Gary Oelze & Stephen Moore (NF). The story of the“legendary music hall”, but also chock full of short biographies of the musicians and characters who have played there, most interconnected. Great for a history of the DC music scene and great stories.

Of The Land by Lou Stovall (NF). Mary [wife] knows Lou from her days at Sidwell and gifted me one of his prints before I had any idea who he was. (We have another one as well). We once went to his studio with our then young kids, and he worked with each to do abstract prints. More recently we attended his shows at the Kreeger Museum and the Phillips. Much of the former drew on this book, put together by his son Will. The book tells Lou’s life, but focuses on work done in 1974 and 1977, with accompanying poetry and a short autobiography. A great introduction to his work.

Carole Haile:

The Lobotomist’s Wife by Samantha Greene Woodruff (HF). Very interesting book that delves into what actually happened to people who received lobotomies and what can occur when ego overtakes reason.  As is often the case, the author’s notes were as captivating as the book. 

Based on true events during the introduction of frontal lobotomy and movement to the “icepick” outpatient procedure. What seemed to be an effective procedure, was not followed up with objectively evaluated results for decades.  

The Happiest Man on Earth by Eddie Jaku (NF). When you start a book and can’t put it down it’s a 5.  I don’t remember how I learned of this book. After I closed the book, I needed some quiet time to digest it. What begins as a difficult to read Holocaust story, written so well that I verbally reacted to some of the atrocities, ends with Eddie completing his vow to smile every day and lead a happy life as a tribute to those that didn’t survive. His memoir succinctly presents his life before, during, and after his capture and imprisonment (more than once). He lived to 101, dying in 2021. I would have loved to have met him. He realized later in life that it was important to share his story to truly liberate himself and to ensure the youth today understand the Holocaust DID HAPPEN and 6 million Jews were killed. He’s done a Ted Talk as well. Would be great if this was required reading in high school. 

The Last Stand of Payne Stewart by Kevin Robbins (NF). Listened on audio and highly recommend this format. The narrator brings the emotions of the story to life. This isn’t just about Payne Stewart’s career and untimely death. There’s a tremendous amount of golf history and trivia. What I enjoyed most was learning about the friendships and competitiveness between golfers and following Payne’s transition from a cocky kid to a thoughtful, caring, mature husband, father, and golfer. Who would have thought you’d need tissues for a golf book? You do!  And after the epilogue, what resonates with me is that you never know when the last words you speak to someone may be your last. Make them count.

Catherine Lynch:

In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi (NF). Faludi, well-known American feminist (she wrote Backlash, which is just wonderful), tracks down her estranged Hungarian-born father, who had returned to Budapest, and discovers that he has transitioned and is now living as a woman. Absolutely fascinating. 

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (F). Loved this. Tackles the origins and nature of love, ideas about God and religion, class and talent and illness and alienation and loss. Ishiguro is just remarkable. 

How Civil Wars Start by Barbara F. Walter (NF).  Everyone should read this. Here’s the summary: Be afraid. Be very afraid. 

Charlie Atherton:

Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve read any fiction worth reporting, but in July I started to get seriously involved in baking sourdough bread and have come across several good books which cover everything from creating your own starter to baking in a Dutch oven. The dough is the thing.

The first two books I read were:

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhard (NF).

How to Make Bread: Step by Step Recipes for Yeasted Breads, Sourdoughs, Soda Breads and Pastries by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou (NF).

Several others were:

Artisan Sourdough Made Simple: A Beginner’s Guide to Delicious Handcrafted Bread with Minimal Kneading by Emilie Raffa (NF).

New World Sourdough: Artisan Techniques for Creative Homemade Fermented Breads, With Recipes for Birote, Bagels, Pan de Coco, Beignets, and More by Brian Ford (NF).

Tartine Bread by Chad Roberston (NF).

I especially enjoyed the various authors’ descriptions of how it was that they became bakers and how they learned the trade. Then, of course, were all the descriptions of equipment and techniques for baking good sourdough bread. I’ve not got into their pastries, etc, I’m just a sourdough baker.

Charlie Haile:

Freezing Order by Bill Browder (NF). The true story follow up of Red Notice, also by Mr. Browder. More murder and corruption in modern day Russia. 

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn. (F). A fictional story that is a cross between Girl on the Train and Rear Window

The Golden Couple by Greer Hendricks (F). A fictional mystery of love and betrayal that puts a couple and their unlicensed therapists on a collision course. 

Chris Boutourline:

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman (F). I wasn’t loving it through the first 30 pages or so but it was well worth continuing on. The plot involves a bank robbery gone awry and the taking of a group of hostages in an apartment. I enjoyed he plot twists and the way the characters evolved.  

Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann. (F)  I know, when you see the subtitle, “A Sheep Detective Story”, you think, “not another one of those”. Lots of fun to follow the flock.

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (F). A gritty, wild ride in this coming-of-age tale from the author of A Gentleman in Moscow

Chris Rothenberger:

Kathryn “Kate” Quinn is the author of three of the historical fiction books that I highly recommend.  I became a fan after reading The Rose Code (F).  Not always easy reads, the reader is transported to the frontline in each of these powerful stories.  Also, in each book, Quinn’s notes help to understand her mindset and choices as she weaves the real history into the complex stories she creates.

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn (F) is an unforgettable WW2 story of a quiet woman who becomes history’s deadliest female sniper.  It is based on a true story and drawn from the personal memoir of Mila Pavlichenko. In 1937, Mila, a student and single mother in the Ukraine, is recruited to join the fight against the Nazi’s. Over time, she transforms from a student to a deadly sniper who becomes known as Lady Death. When news of her 300th kill makes her a national figure, she is sent to Washington DC on a goodwill tour. An unexpected friendship develops with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, which provides an unexpected twist to the story. When an old enemy from Mila’s past joins forces with a deadly new foe, Mila finds herself in the deadliest duel of her life. The story is a haunting story about heroism, desperation, and a woman who changed the course of history. This story tells a little-known story about the role females during WW2, and how heavy a blood price Russia paid to help defeat the Nazi regime. This well researched and well written novel conveys details about Soviet culture, the harsh landscape that is Russia and weaves an unforgettable story. You can practically smell the gunpowder and feel the frigid cold because the words are rich and vivid. There are great photos of the real Mila, and the author’s notes are very insightful as she portrays this strong woman, rich characters, and puts a human face to wartime. It is particularly meaningful as we understand facts about the past history of Russia and now read about the War in the Ukraine today.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn (F) is the story about two women whose lives intertwine in WW1 and 2.  Their story is told in dual timelines which alternating well with each chapter. It is another well researched story based on a real female spy ring in wartime France. The story is told from the perspective of two characters, “Charlie” and “Eve” in various English and French locations. The book centers on the search for Charlie’s Cousin Rose who is missing. Eve is a battle-scarred spy who has no interest in helping until she realizes her own hunt for a French collaborator and Charlie’s hunt may lead to the same man. The riveting and heartbreaking stories of their journey are well done. The characters are engaging and the settings of England, France, and Germany are vivid with a lot of period detail.  Kathryn Quinn combines the two time periods well and brings the two stories together nicely. This covert story of spies who infiltrated German lines, memorable characters, a meaningful epilogue, and the themes of courage, guilt, redemption, and what it means to be a warrior woman are riveting.

The Huntress (F) is the story about Nina Markova who grows up in icy Russia and joins the infamous night witches, an all-female night bomber regiment that is charged with attacking Hitler’s Eastern Front. Shot down, she is thrown into the path of a Nazi murderess known as the Huntress, a ruthless murderer. Ian Graham is a British war correspondent who abandons journalism to become a Nazi hunter. He joins forces with Nina who is the only witness to escape the Huntress. Meanwhile, Jordan, a 17-year-old in Boston is very suspicious of the woman her father has chosen to marry.  The characters of Nina, Ian, and Jordan converge and eventually they must come to terms with their pasts.  The characters are vivid, themes of PTSD, survivor guilt, evil brutality, denial of truth are intertwined. Another fascinating story, based on true events, draws the reader into a world few know about or can even imagine as the hunter becomes the hunted. Be sure and read the author’s notes at the end.

 Chuck Tilis:

The Terrorist Hunter: The Extraordinary Story of a Woman Who Went Undercover to Infiltrate the Radical Islamic Groups Operating in America Originally–by Anonymous and since revealed to be Rita Katz (NF).  Want to read about one of the bravest women in America?  Get this book and be inspired by Rita’s life story starting with her childhood in Iraq, escaping to Israel after her father was executed, making her way to the United States, raising a family and becoming a leading expert on terrorism in the United States. And, with all that going underground to infiltrate Islamic terrorism organizations to help expose the threats which our own government fails to detect. Issued in 2003, this is the classic must read to gain an appreciation of how terrorism organizations operate in the United States. While Rita’s story is one of triumph, the revelations are disturbing.

I read The Terrorist Hunter in anticipation of her second book Saints and Soldiers: Inside Internet-Age Terrorism, From Syria to the Capitol Siege by Rita Katz(NF) which was published this October. Rita’s second book, given the timeliness of the subject matter, mandates we remain vigilant to protect our democracy against the impact social media/on-line forums have in promoting extremist behavior and especially the antisemitic fervor being promoted today. 

By The Grace of the Game: The Holocaust, a Basketball Legacy, and an Unprecedented American Dream by Dan Grunfeld (NF). THIS IS NOT A HOLOCAUST BOOK NOR A SPORTS BOOK. This is a book for entire families—Parents, children, and older grandchildren to enjoy reading about an incredible story of a grandmother who survived the Holocaust and her family’s story, especially her relationship with her grandson Dan, all as told through the lens of Dan himself.  In the end it’s a love story—the love of family, the love of life, the love of bubby’s cooking and the love of a game– basketball–which provided so much to the Grunfeld family.  Yes, Dan’s father is Ernie Grunfeld who is believed to be the only professional athlete in the U.S. to have parents who survived the Holocaust.  Ernie was an acclaimed NCAA star at Tennessee, on a US Olympic Gold Medal winning team, NBA player for years and a NBA General Manager for several teams including the NY Knicks.  Get multiple copies to share with family and friends as the story is inspiring on so many levels but, in particular, how to enjoy life by pursuing excellence as a person, in a career and through hardship. An added bonus is that I can say from first-hand knowledge having spent time corresponding with Dan–he is such a mensch.  You don’t (want) me to say this though–the book speaks volumes.

Cindy Olmstead:

The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson (NF). Isaacson covers the life of Jennifer Doudna, Nobel prize winner for developing CRISPR, gene editing that will help to cure diseases, viruses, as well as create healthier babies. Book covers the intense scientific research and competition to development of this methodology. It also highlights the moral issues that are emerging with the ability to manage future children’s DNA. Much scientific data but an excellent read even for the non-scientific. Certainly raised my awareness on the impact of our transitioning to the next great innovation revolution, the life-science revolution.

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams (HF). Delightful and interesting read about the formation of the Oxford English Dictionary as well as the importance of words that are missing. Given that the original OED words were compiled by educated men, Esme, the protagonist, collects her own words relating to women’s and common folks’ experiences that were not recorded. Set during the height of the women’s suffrage movement and pending Great War, the novel intertwines history and actual events.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (F). Ignore the cover! I thought it was some ditzy novel but actually was very surprised with the depth of the novel. It is a NYTimes bestseller and author’s first book. It is about Elizabeth Zott, single mother, dedicated scientist who is forced by life’s circumstances to take on a role outside of the science lab, a cooking show. Teaching cooking as a science she becomes a star and emboldens women to seek their own creativity. It is a great read that tends to stick in your thoughts once the book is closed.

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict & Victoria Christopher Murray (HF). Historical novel about JP Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle de Costa Greene, the Black American woman who hid her identity to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books and artwork for JP Morgan’s new Pierpoint Morgan Library. This is the story of an extraordinary woman known for her intellect, style (famous for her hats), and ability to mingle in society’s upper circles to accomplish what she knew she had to do. Excellent read!

How Civil Wars Start and How to Stop Them by Barbara Walter (NF). Walter is a professor of International Affairs at the Univ of California San Diego’s School of Global Policy. She is one of the world’s leading experts on civil wars, political violence, and terrorism. Her book examines the dramatic rise in violent extremism around the globe and exposes the increasing likelihood of a second civil war in the US. She reveals the warning signs of a civil war, where they tend to start, who initiates them and why some countries move to conflict while others remain stable. She identifies the crucial risk factors, democratic backsliding to factionalization and politics of resentment, all symptoms that are precipitated by social media. It is a very insightful book and one the made me realize how complacent we are towards this possible reality.

Dominique Lallemont:

A repeat of my March submission: The Hare with Amber Eyes – A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund de Waal (NF). A cultural fresque through a family memoir — the Ephrussi’s — spanning the 19th and 20th C., three continents and many countries, all brilliantly tied by the travels of a collection of Japanese Netsuke’. Most painful descriptions of the Anschluss of Austria and the human devastation from WWII. Some passages reminiscent of what we are living today with Russia’s president. (PS. November/December 2022: During my recent visit, I was hoping to visit the Nissim de Camondo museum in Paris, which is mentioned in the book. Alas, not enough time…)

I will Never See the World Again: The Memoir of an Imprisoned Writer by Ahmet Atlan (NF). Atlan wrote this book while in prison for his political activism in 2018-2019. How to keep one’s sanity when in prison: dreams, memories of travels, the stories you write, the authors you revisit…

Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit (NF). A brilliant literary and political essay anchored in a reflection on Orwell’s life-long cultivation of roses, leading to a profound reflection on the 20th c. Solnit unfolds a tapestry covering the Bolshevik revolution, the emergence and evolution of the Soviet Union, the Spanish Civil War, and Western Europe in WWII, all woven with great dexterity with highlights of great literary, political, and artistic figures: Diego Rivera, Lenine, Trotsky and Tina Mondotti to name a few. A masterpiece that leads us to major contemporary issues: the preservation of our planet, the protection of our environment and the saving of modern democratic systems.  A humorous wink: too bad she did not start with battle of Hastings in 1066 described in the Bayeux Tapestry….

The Man Without Face: the Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gassen (2012) (NF).  A brilliant biography of Vladimir Putin that clearly explains what’s happening today in/with Russia. Nothing has changed since she wrote the 2014 Postface, except that everything got worse as she had predicted. After Crimea, the Donbass and now Ukraine, Russia is waging an ideological war against Europe and the West. How long will it be before Russians actually realize that he is actually destroying Russia? Once criticism though: she could have addressed better the role played by such Western economists as Jeffrey Sachs who arrogantly contributed to fostering the rise of the oligarchs through the privatization programs; they now protect the current regime. 

And, if the following books are ever translated from the French, I highly recommend them: Cherif Mecheri: Courageous Prefect Under the Vichy Government by Boris Cyrulnik and Joe Lenzini (NF); Les enfants de Cadillac by François Noudelmann ( (NF); and Le Mage du Kremlin by Giuliano da Empoli (NF).

Donna Pollet:

Cork O’Connor Series, 1-19 by William Kent Krueger (F) Audio and Print. More than good story telling and a compelling mystery and crime series, it is an insightful study of character, unimaginable ethical choices, Native American culture, and place, the north woods of Minnesota. Start with #1 Gailbraith (F) and meet Cork O’Connor, part Irish and part Anishinaabe, ex-sheriff turned private eye and be transported into his world. Other books by this author, not in the series, may also be of interest. This Tender Land (F) and Ordinary Grace (F).

Walking the Bowl, a true story of murder and surival among the street children of Lusaka by Chris Lockhart and Daniel Mulilo Chama (NF) Like Beyond the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo which told the story of India’s poorest of the poor children, this is another heart wrenching portrait of children surviving in the worst possible conditions imaginable. The place is the capital city of Zambia, where a child, horrifically disfigured, is found murdered and left in an alley way of garbage. The back story is daily survival as seen through the lives of four children. Heartbreaking tragedy abounds, but there are also glimmers of uplifting moments and experiences when resilience and “good” win out. This book has appeared on the list previously. 

Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis (NF) Audio and Print. Viola Davis in her own words, an unvarnished telling of her rise to accomplished actor. It is gritty, difficult to read in parts, but also humorous and inspiring. It is also the story of race as it permeates theater and film.  It is the very private and behind the scenes look at what it takes to be an actor.

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (F) Audio and Print. This is a fictionalized portrait of Belle de Costa Greene, the first librarian of the J Pierpont Morgan Library in NYC. It is a mesmerizing story of an accomplished, intelligent woman who rose to great professional heights in the world of rare books and art collecting all the while “passing” and hiding her true identity as African American throughout her entire career beginning in 1902 till her death in 1950. FYI: there is a work entitled An Illuminated Life, Bella De Costa Greene’s Journey from Prejudice to Privilege (NF). 

Ed Scholl:

The Inside Game: Bad Calls, Strange Moves, and What Baseball Behavior Teaches Us About Ourselves by Keith Law (NF). I really enjoyed this book, not only because I love baseball, but I loved how he analyzed baseball and decisions made in the game and by front office executives. He draws on knowledge from the fields of behavioral science and psychology to analyze how decisions in baseball are made (wisely or irrationally) and how they are rooted in how we make decisions in everyday life. 

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird (NF), 2005 (winner of the Pulitzer Prize). I listened to this as an audio book during a cross-country drive and it sure made the hours pass by. I knew only a little about this brilliant physicist who led the development of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos. I really   that came to pass. It was fascinating to learn as well how he lost his security clearance and was unable to work as a result of McCarthy era hearings that maligned him for his past association with progressive causes that had real or perceived Communist associations.

Elizabeth Lewis:

Leonardo de Vinci by Walter Isaacson (NF). The 525 pages of this book is as close a meeting with a genius that I will ever have. Isaacson’s lucid writing unveils the mysteries of Leonardo’s scientific inquiry for the layperson, the exquisite nature of how that science informed the art, and the mystery that connects the man and his oeuvre:  “But by the time the list (of inquiries) gets to an infant in a womb and the cause of sneezing, it is clear that he is looking for more than information that might help his brush.”  While the book is stronger on the science than the art criticism, its encyclopedic quality does justice to the “uomo universalle” who is Leonardo.  The quality of the paper and the clarity of the plates make this a book that belongs in your library.

Elizabeth Tilis:

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng (F). Latest from the author of many fabulous books, but probably my favorite to date. Very poignant.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow byGabrielle Zevin (F). Recommended by several other MillersTime readers, a story about two friends and how their lives intertwine over decades.

The Lincoln Highway byAmor Towles (F). A (very) long read about the story of three young men and a young kid traveling across the United States in 1954. Probably would have read another 500 pages if he’d written more. 

The Last Green Valley byMark Sullivan (F). From the author of Beneath a Scarlet Sky, a work of historical fiction that takes place in the dark days at the end of World War II detailing the bravery and heroism of the Martel family, one of the many families of German heritage whose ancestors farmed in Ukraine for more than a century. I don’t typically love historical fiction, but this book was the exception. 

Invisible Storm: A Soldier’s Memoir of Politics and PTSD by Jason Kander (NF). A progressive Kansas City politician icon opens up about his struggles in Afghanistan, his PTSD, and his family. 

Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention – and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari (NF). Spend too much time on your phone? Or on any devices? Read this book, get your life back. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it. 

Ellen Kessler:

The Prison Minyan by Jonathan Stone (F) – (amusing if it does rely on some stereotypes, but it still has a serious side). It is fiction, but it is based on the Federal Pen. in Cooksville NY, which is where Michael Cohen was imprisoned, so it is based on a real (semi-real) place with a large Jewish population.

The Thread Collectors by Shaunna Jones and Alyson Richman (F). Two Harvard- trained attys (I think-definitely lawyers) collaborated to present fascinating insights about Afro-American and Jewish soldiers in the Civil War. It does have a ring of truth, and both the authors are very impressive. 

The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen (F). It wasn’t my favorite and some of the plot was a bit disappointing, but there was a romantic and Venetian sense that was pleasant–maybe a nice beach book?  I loved to remember Venice reading this book.

From the Dark We Rise by Margarret Kommonow (F). I read this during my WWII novels-about -courageous women who saved thousands of lives by their activities but were ignored after the war and either forgotten or relegated to secretarial duties and completely forgotten.

Non-Fiction books are not my favorites generally, but during my WWII period, I read two that I can recommend.

A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Hill about Virginia Hall (NF), a society kind of woman, who set up and managed an effective spy ring in Europe, saving so many lives. She was the subject of a special Gestapo squad. She saved so many lives and retrieved so much information. She accomplished all this despite her disabilities relating to the loss of her leg and managed daring trips at great physical pain. This was selected as THE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR by NPR & received many other awards. Apparently, she was mostly ignored by historians, but there has been increased information about her activities.

The Daughters of Yalta by Catherine Katz (NF)) about the daughters of FDR, Averill Harriman, and Winston Churchill who accompanied their fathers to Yalta and had important supportive functions. When I read about the book, I was fascinated and bought it immediately, but when I started reading it, it was rather ponderous–seemed dull despite the subject matter. I felt after reading it, as I often do when I read non-fiction, that I have improved myself but would have rather read a novel!

Ellen Miller:

The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World by Jonathan Freedland (NF). Despite a promise (to myself) to read fewer books about the Holocaust this year, I was hooked by this nonfiction account after page two. The story is about a man named Rudolph Vrba who planned his escape from Auschwitz to let the world know what was happening there. He details his own time as a prisoner while he methodically memorizes the number of transports, the treatment of prisoners, and every detail of the exterminations. His goal is to let the world know what is happening in time to stop it. After the escape, he writes a report detailing all the horror, and points fingers and names names of all those in officialdom — throughout the world – who were in the position to try to stop the horrors of Auschwitz or acted too slowly, if at all, to do so. This book is a “tough” read. It’s another side of the story I haven’t read before.

Demon Copperhead (Barbara Kingsolver (F). This much-heralded book lives up to Kingsolver’s reputation and the critics’ praise of the book. Even without knowing that it is a reworking of the David Copperfield, it is a moving description of a boy’s challenges, as he grows up essentially, on his own. The book is set in Appalachia, where Demon is born to an unwed mother. It tells his life’s story, and the reader is engulfed by the challenges he faces: the “support” system offered by government agencies that fail him miserably; the mal and well-intentioned adults who shape his life, along with the good and bad choices he makes. The book uncomfortably reflects the reality of the American today for too many children and families. It’s must-read.

How Not to Drown in a Class of Water by Angie Cruz (F). This was one of the books I most thoroughly enjoyed this year. It’s a must-listen. It’s funny, it’s real, and it’s heartbreaking all at once. And it is another story about how we fail as a country to serve those who need just a little bit of help to raise themselves out of poverty. The heroine of this story is a woman – a factory worker for 25 years — named Cara Romero who was laid off in her md-50s. She turns to a government agency to help her find a new job. The book is comprised of “transcripts” from her many visits to a government agency which, after assessing her skills, will try to place her in a new position. This is a light “listen” that takes a hard look into how America fails those who need help. I highly recommend listening to this book.

Kiki Man Ray: Art, Love, and Rivalry in 1920s Paris by Mark Braude (NF). Freewheeling Paris in the 1920s, plus the artists, musicians, thinkers, and writers who gathered there, make for one heck a great story, especially when it’s about a woman unknown in today’s world, yet an artist and influential thinker. The captivating nightclub performer “Kiki” became a muse for Man Ray, the famous artist. She was good friends and a muse with others whose names you know, whose paintings you’ve seen, whose books you’ve read, and whose avant-guard movies you might have seen. Her story as an artist in her own right has never been told. Later in life she wrote a memoir, for which Ernest Hemingway wrote the introduction. The memoir made front-page news in France and was immediately banned in America. That’s another good reason to learn more about her.

Finding Me by Viola Davis (NF). I listened to this book which I enjoyed very much: it was read by the author, and it was superbly executed. I am certain it would be a good read too. This is the actress Viola Davis’ life story – rising from poverty to world- famous actor. It details the huge hurdles she faced and overcame along the way. But it is not just a story about rising up and out of poverty, but also a story of the institutional and systematic discrimination from the establishment artistic world as she struggled to advance her career. Reading biographies of famous people is not usually something I seek out. I am so glad I found this one. Anyone interested in the theater and film worlds will find this extremely enlightening.

Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took on a World at War by Deborah Cohen (NF). I loved this historian’s account of the band of famous American reporters who, in the run-up to World War II, from their posts in Paris told the story of what was happening in Europe at that time. The reporters — John Gunther, H. R. Knickerbocker, Vincent Sheean, and Dorothy Thompson — got exclusive interviews with Hitler and Mussolini, Nehru, and Gandhi. What they reported shaped what Americans knew about that world at that critical time. This book is also a personal story of what these reporters gained and lost as they aggressively pursued their truth telling. It’s a marvelous, engaging true story of real American heroes.

Ellen Shapira:

My favorite books for the second half of the year:

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Gramus (F) is one of the few books that I can say I loved in 2022.  For me the book had all the elements that I love:  set in the past (1950’s-60’s), interesting, quirky characters, some thoughtful issues to explore that resonate for a baby boomer woman coming of age in a male dominated society and above all, humor. 

Horse, A Novel by Geraldine Brooks (F) is written by one of my favorite authors. All of her books are very different from each other and this one doesn’t disappoint. There are two story lines with the first one being about a Smithsonian bone researcher intrigued with knowing about a misplaced skeleton of a famous racehorse from the mid 1860’s and her relationship with the art historian who helps her unravel the mystery.  The second story line is far more compelling, telling us the story of a famous racehorse and his slave trainer.  While the horse, named Lexington, was an actual real champion, his Black slave trainers and jockeys are largely unknown.  The story, set in the pre-Civil war years, that Brooks develops around the horse is captivating. I particularly loved to the tie-ins with Kentucky and art history.

The Latecomer: A Novel by Jean Hanff Korchlitz (F) tells the story of a wealthy New York family in conflict.  A mis-matched couple has triplets by in vitro fertilization and then as an afterthought use the last of their fertilized eggs to have another child.  I found the plot intriguing and the relationships explored compelling. 

The Last Green Valley: A Novel
by Mark Sullivan (F) is a World War II novel.  Mark Sullivan had written Beneath a Scarlet Sky which I had really enjoyed.  This story centers on a group of German settlers in Ukraine who were caught between the opposing German and Russian armies.  It was interesting to get a perspective on the Eastern Front of the war and to learn how European refugees had to survive during the war.

Call Your Daughter Home by Deb Spera (F) is set in South Carolina in the 1920’s in the aftermath of the boll weevil infestation that destroyed the cotton crops and the local economy.  The story is told from the perspective of three different women whose lives intersect: one is a poor white mother, one a plantation mistress and one a black housekeeper.  The characters are well developed, and the story moves at a pleasing pace with a few plot twists to keep the reader’s interest.

The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray (F) is another work of historical fiction though based on three very real women placed in three different periods of history.  The first is the fascinating story of Adrienne Lafayette, the wife of the General Lafayette of the American Revolutionary War fame.  I particularly liked learning of the political intrigue that she was involved with at the French Court during the 18th Century.   The second story centered on an American woman residing in France during World War I who helped establish a home for war orphans at the ancestor Lafayette chateau and the third story is about one of the grown-up orphans who becomes involved in an elaborate resistance operation during World War II. The book is well written with exquisite details.

Emily Nichols Grossi:

The Yank: The True Story of a Former US Marine in the Irish Republican Army by John Crawley (NF). John Crawleywas born in New York to Irish immigrant parents and moved to Ireland as a young teenager to attend school. Inspired there by the struggle for Irish freedom against British rule in the North of Ireland, he returned to America to receive military training in an elite, special forces “Recon” unit of the US Marine Corps. Afterwards, he returned to Ireland to volunteer for the IRA and conducted many missions, including gun-running from the US, working with Boston criminal head Whitey Bulger. Crawley would be captured and imprisoned twice, both in Ireland and in England, while on major missions, done in both times by informers.

The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly (NF). In The Great Mortality, author John Kelly lends an air of immediacy and intimacy to his telling of the journey of the plague as it traveled from the steppes of Russia, across Europe, and into England, killing 75 million people—one third of the known population—before it vanished.

The Ruin. The Scholar. The Good Turn. The Murder Rule. all by Dervla McTiernan (F). Fabulous Irish-living-in-Australia crime writer. The first three books are a series. The Murder Rule is independent. 

The Fell by Sarah Moss (F), although could easily be NF. Moss is queen of gorgeously written small books, and this story, which takes place in a small English town during the pandemic, is no different. I couldn’t put it down.

Eric Stravitz:

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Toles (F).

 Live by Night by Dennis Lehane (F).

 The Overstory by Richard Powers (F).

Fruzsina Harsanyi:

The Grieving Brain: The Surprising Science of How We Learn from Love and Loss by Mary-Frances O’Connor (NF). This amazing book by a neuroscientist shares groundbreaking discoveries about how our brain handles grief and provides a new paradigm for understanding love, loss, and restoration.  It was on my list in July and stays on. 

Churchill’s Shadow: The Life and Afterlife of Winston Churchill by Geoffrey Wheatcroft (NF).  In 535 pages I could not put down, Wheatcroft tells the good and the bad, the successes and failures, the passions and prejudices of this great man. Most interestingly, he describes Churchill’s afterlife, the evolution of a mythical figure whose legacy has been used and misused by today’s politicians.   

And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle by Jon Meacham (NF). This is the best book on Lincoln written by my favorite Presidential historian. Meacham argues that 1) Lincoln believed from early in life that slavery was wrong; 2) nevertheless, he disappointed abolitionists time and again; 3) because Lincoln was not a full-time reformer but an office-seeker,” not “a preacher but a politician.”  And yet, Meacham finds, it was his religious faith that guided him through the most consequential decisions of the “American struggle.”  Not a surprising conclusion for a man of faith, but his massive endnotes and bibliography support this very readable book.

The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan (F). A beautifully written book about life and death and how we adapt to our own extinction. It is told in the style of magic realism, which in this case is not a gimmick, but essential to telling the story.

What Storm, What Thunder by Myrian J.A. Chancy (F). This fictional account of the aftermath of the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti is based on interviews the author had with people who lived through and knew people who didn’t. The book is built around the story of 10 characters through whose experience she explores the horror of the earthquake and the desperate conditions in the camps. It’s heartbreaking for the people in Haiti and in a different way for the people who made it to an unwelcome America.

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (NF).  I’m just catching up with this wonderful book written in 2013 by a botanist and citizen of the Potawatomi Nation. Its subtitle: “Indigenous wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants” is a good description of the contents, which I read AND listened to with wonder.

Garland Standrod:

Into the Great Emptiness: Peril and Survival on the Greenland Ice Cap by David Roberts (NF). I just received this book and couldn’t put it down. It details the story of the once famous, but now chiefly forgotten, British explorer, Henry George Watkins, and of his daring rescue expedition in Greenland in the 1930’s. It’s a fascinating read about someone of whom I knew nothing and a book which I quickly read.

Spadework for a Palace by Laszlo Krasznahorkai (F). This short, strange novel,  by a Hungarian writer, written all in one sentence, consists of the thoughts of a librarian at the New York Public Library whose name is Herman Melville, and who spends the course of the book discussing the architecture and landscape of Manhattan and how Herman Melville, the author, and Malcolm Lowry, the author, and Bartok, the musician, related to Manhattan, all the while trying to explain the perfect Library Palace. 

Leopoldstadt by Tom Stoppard (F). Stoppard’s latest play, in nine scenes, is a powerful, searing, intergenerational study of a two Viennese, inter-married, upper middle-class, Jewish families covering the years 1899 – 1955. Stoppard is usually known for his wordplay and comic sense, but in this play he is deadly serious, even with just a little word play and humor. Stoppard shows the vanity of ideas, especially political ideas, when confronted by the evil of racial hatred.

Bliss Montage by Ling Ma (F). The short stories in this collection tackles the troubles of the real world by transporting the reader to the indeterminate realm between sleeping and being awake. She contrasts the irretrievability of the past with the instability of our recollections. These are stories preoccupied with sudden, yet ordinary, schisms—death, violence, birth, infidelity, migration, publication, and the end of love.

The Last Days of the Dinosaurs: an Asteroid Extinction, and the Beginning of Our World by Riley Black (NF). Riley Black walks readers through what happened in the days, the years, the centuries, and the million years after the asteroid impact, tracking the sweeping disruptions that overtook this one spot, and imagining what might have been happening elsewhere on the globe. Most geological and ecological changes take enormous amounts of time to occur, but this extinction process started all in one day.

The Years by Annie Ernaux (F/NF). Ernaux, who won the Nobel Prize, writes auto-fiction—that is, a mixture of memoir and fiction. Ernaux’s The Years (2006) is a group autobiography, told in the first-person plural, of the generation that came of age in France after World War II. Ernaux tells her story not through the movements of history in any conventional sense but as a list of ordinary events, of television programs and advertisements and minor celebrity. She has been criticized as being too banal or sociological, but I found her work quite interesting, being of the same age group of which she writes.  This could profitably be read in conjunction I Remember by George Peerec (NF).

Glen Willis:

Row House Blues-The Decline and Loss of the Old Philadelphia Neighborhoods during the Suburban Migrations 1966-1999 by Jack Myers (NF).I was born in West Philadelphia in April of 1941. We lived over a Butcher Shop during the early 40’s while my dad went off to War. When he came home, we couldn’t afford to stay there, so we moved closer to South Philadelphia because the apartments were cheaper there. My Dad took advantage of the GI Bill and went to Painting and Paperhanging school. We moved again to a Southwest Philadelphia Row House, a few houses away from my grandmother. Mom and Dad were both working, my sister and I were both in Catholic School and went to Granma’s until they got home.

I share this with you, good reader, because that is a prelude to this book about living in a city neighborhood about to suffer the great migration of families into and out of the various neighborhoods scattered throughout the City of Philadelphia.

Once I started reading this book I could not stop. I felt like I knew so many of the characters and locations by heart.

Harry Siler:

The Need to Be Whole: Patriotism and the History of Prejudice by Wendell Berry (NF) – a revisit of what he’s come to believe.

The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling by James Hillman (NF) – an excellent companion to The Need to Be Whole.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (F) – upper class man is forced to live out a long, and interesting, life under house arrest.

Haven Kennedy:

You Learn by Living by Eleanor Roosevelt (NF). For a book written more than 50 years ago it’s incredibly relevant. Roosevelt takes a long look at privilege and the damage it does. Roosevelt also talks about dealing with pain, how to live with courage, and the importance of love.

Right after this book I read Nothing Was the Same by Kay Redfield Jamison (NF). Jamison wrote the groundbreaking book The Unquiet Mindher bipolar diagnosis, and I was curious about her other work. Nothing Was the Same was written after Jamison lost her husband to cancer. She is a brilliant writer and has a way with words. Jamison’s story resonated with me, as my own struggles with mental illness impacts my marriage. But – the book was lacking compassion and love towards others. The amount of privilege shown in the book was intense – her husband took part of clinical trials despite not qualifying for them. He held onto life even when it was clear that he was dying.

Roosevelt, on the other hand, shared a more pragmatic and compassionate way view of life and death. Roosevelt was matter of fact and aware of her privilege. Throughout the book she talks about the importance of service, of using your privilege to help others.

I understand that Jamison was grieving, and the book shared that. She wrote beautifully of her life with her husband, and the life they shared was beautiful. It is unfortunate, however, that Jamison never talked about her privilege. She talked about being attacked by a fellow doctor – he drunkenly told her that the only reason she wrote The Unquiet Mind was because of her privilege. She disagreed – mental illness affects everyone. What she failed to understand is that most people cannot talk about their mental illness. If I were to come into work and announce that I had anxiety and depression, I wouldn’t be greeted with applause. I would be avoided. Jamison just lost her private practice; she was still able to teach.

I recommend reading both these books and comparing the lessons in each. Read separately they are excellent books, but together they paint a picture of privilege. How to use it for good, and how to ignore the gifts it gives.

Hugh Riddleberger:

NEVER by Ken Follett (F)…pretty chilling..the only positive element is the President is a woman..and has to make the most difficult of all choices..but shows how easily “never” can happen.

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (HF).  Did I read this one because it was on your readers’ list?  But a story that shows the power of one’s ambitions and a willingness to compromise her family values to achieve something even greater.

The Palace Papers by Tina Brown (NF)…my wife does not agree with my including this book and my obsession with the Royals, but there! I’ve admitted it!  Tina Brown does an excellent job writing the book. I liked it, but I will admit my monarchist support for a pretty dysfunctional family who cannot deal with their emotions should cause anyone to question my choice in books to read.  

Dinners with Ruth by Nina Totenberg (NF) …while it hardly focused on the title, RBG obviously played a significant role in Nina’s life.  Some criticize the “name dropping” that Nina seems to focus on…I prefer to think of the remarkable women she includes in her book, many at NPR/PBS, and in this year when Judy Woodruff retires, she is worthy of including in Nina’s next book.

Jane Bradley:

In July I listed Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe (NF), an extraordinary history of the family and marketing strategy at the heart of the opioid crisis.  That book provides context for the compelling story of Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (F), set in Appalachia where opioid addiction touches all the characters. 

Recognizing that the inspiration for Kingsolver’s novel was David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (F), I was prompted to read that charming classic and realized how much fun Kingsolver must have had creating and naming her characters.  I recommend reading all three books in succession.

I don’t know how I missed reading David Copperfield before, but I also had never read Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev (F), a timeless novel about the generation gap and nineteenth century Russia. 

Two other novels I found unforgettable are The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li (F); and The Slowworm’s Song by Andrew Miller (F) – both beautifully written and engaging.  These are the first books I’ve read by those two novelists, and I’ll definitely read their earlier works. 

Finally, Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout (F) left me eagerly awaiting Strout’s next book.  I hope we haven’t seen the last of Lucy Barton.

Jeff Friedman:

Cheap Land Colorado: Off-Gridders at America’s Edge by Ted Conover (NF). The author spent four years living on the Colorado prairie, where land is basically free and there is essentially no government presence. He presents a captivating description of what that’s like and what these people are up to. The book has a lot of what people liked about Hillbilly Elegy and Strangers in their Own Land but it’s not particularly political. I really felt like I was there with them.

Putin by Philip Short (NF). A very interesting biography, particularly with respect to Putin’s early life. I learned a lot about Russian government and society. I also found it very interesting to see America’s foreign policy through Russian eyes. 

Jesse Maniff:

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (NF).

Trust by Hernan Diaz (F). 

Invisible Storm by Jason Kander (NF).

This is How They Tell Me the World Ends by Nicole Perlroth (NF).

Jim Kilby:

Talking to GOATS by Jim Grey (NF). Interesting and funny. He has led a charmed life and had and still does, relationships with some of the most interesting people, on the planet. A lot of inside stuff.

Judy White:

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn (F) — I am rarely a fiction fan, but this book, adapted as fiction from a true story of British women breaking German codes during WWII, kept me turning pages.

West With Giraffes by Linda Rutledge (F). I also enjoyed this adaptation as fiction from a true story set in the Depression of the transport of two giraffes from New York to the San Diego zoo.  

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman (NF) — A perennial favorite of mine, re-read during the pandemic, sensitive and perceptive story of attempts by the California medical system to work with Hmong refugees.  Great cross-culture perceptions.

Native Voices: Listening to Native Americans by Alison Owings (NF) — Another re-read during Covid. I love this book, which gives a real feel for the breadth of experiences of Indians today. Seventeen different people from different tribes, some on reservations, some in cities. The author is obviously a great listener and gains trust, for people confide in her.

Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey (NF). The author, who had a tough childhood in an evangelical community, faces this question with honesty and without attempting a definitive answer. I especially was impressed by descriptions of communal prayer during historical crises and how that seemed to affect the resolution of the crisis.

Fifty Two Ways to Walk by Annabel Streets (NF) — Fun and inspiring set of, indeed, 52 ways to walk (think walking backwards, walking to smell, etc.) with pretty amazing research results of the benefits.

River of the Gods by Candace Millard (NF). I am a fan of anything by Candace Millard, and this one, about Burton and Speke’s explorations in East Africa, did not disappoint.

Kate Latts:

I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys (HF) takes place in Romania during the final days of communist dictatorship in 1989. It is told from the point of view of a 17-year-old boy who dreams of freedoms that don’t exist in Romania and instead finds himself caught up in the frightening citizen spy network that ultimately brings an end to the reign of terror. It is not the most sophisticated of writing but really interesting to read about the harsh conditions that still existed in Romania as Communist regimes were falling throughout rest of Europe.

Sparks Like Stars by Nadia Hashimi (HF) is about an Afghan woman in modern day still managing the trauma she suffered as a young girl when her family was killed during the communist takeover of Kabul. As she navigates her adult life in NYC, she decides to return to Kabul to explore what happened to her family. There are a few annoying coincidences but overall, an interesting book about another historical time period I did not know much about.

Kathleen Kroos:

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee (NF) – a girl’s escape from North Korea.

In My Mother’s Footsteps by Mona Halaby (NF) – a Palestinian refugee returns home.

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni (F).

Kathy Camicia:

Lessons by Ian McEwan (F). Granted I like everything he writes, but this topic is unusual. If you want to understand how sexual grooming and trauma can determine the limits of a life, McEwan takes you through a full life that is never full.

Most of what I read is essays.

Essays 1 by Lydia Davis (NF) is outstanding as is the always reliable Best America Essays 2021 (NF).

Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit (NF) is a lovely meandering journey. 

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett (NF) should be enjoyed all at once which is not hard to do.

On Getting Better by Adam Phillips (NF) is for anyone who wants what the title offers.  Written by a leading British psychoanalyst it is an easy read without jargon and more about a sympathetic understanding of the human condition.

A Swim in a Pond in Rain by George Saunders (NF) is outstanding for any frustrated would-be English major. He teaches Russian short stories, and this is how he does it.

Kevin Curtin:

The Dirtbag’s Guide to Life: Eternal Truth for Hiker Trash, Ski Bums, and Vagabonds by Tim Mathis (NF). This is a great book if you are interested in maximizing more adventure in your life and minimizing the pressures of your career, that is, how to make your career something that supports your passion rather than a barrier to the adventures you wish to seek. The book is a guide on how to do this effectively, such as how to manage money (live a minimalist lifestyle), relationships (be around cool people who support you), and other responsibilities. As an avid hiker and trail runner (who wants to do more), I found it inspiring.    

Smoke, Snort, Swallow, Shoot: Legendary Binges, Lost Weekends, and Other Feats of Rock ‘n’ Roll Incoherence Edited by Jacob Hoye (NF). This book is a compilation of stories of excess by famous/infamous rock and roll legends, centering on their use of substances of abuse. Stories (confessions) written by Johnny Cash, Marilyn Manson, Dee Dee Ramone, Lemmy, Greg Allman, Anthony Kiedis, Slash, and more, are mostly sad, often vulgar, and sometimes funny (I can admit it).  

Other one’s I’d recommend:

Group by Christie Tate (NF).

The Stranger in the Woods (by Michael Finkel (NF).

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (F).

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (F).

Land Wayland:

An Immense World:  How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us by Ed Yong (NF). This is the most interesting/ amazing book I have read in seven years.  It was like watching “Wizard of Oz” for the first time and coming to that magical moment when the door/camera in a black-and-white world opened onto the world of TECH-NICOLOR. This book, page after page, introduces, explains and accolades the thousand senses of every kind of animal on, over or under the face of this planet. Human beings are not in the top 100 of anything except ability to see subtle colors.  Before reading, put on your chinstrap to hold your jaw mostly closed so you don’t keep muttering: “I didn’t know that”.  “So that’s how/why they do that!”.  Fives+ across the board   Readability 5.  Information 5. Credibility regrading physics 5.  To be reread annually.  

When We Cease to Understand The World by Benjamin Labatut (NF).   Recommended for those somewhat familiar with atomic physics who have heard of Schrodinger’s Cat and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.   Starts with brilliant examples of science gone wrong or misused to establish the premise that the scientific view of reality is often quite at odds with the general view.  Focuses on the story of the fall of the certainty of Newtonian physics (as represented by Schrodinger) and its replacement with the current incompatible and thus far irreconcilable views of uncertain reality espoused by the Heisen-berg school.  Concludes with a discussion of the strange dichotomy of a princi-pal science whose fundamental basement stone is composed of two concepts that are incompatible but are which both needed to understand the existing structure of the field. Makes it clear that unraveling this conundrum will re-quire a genius of the magnitude of at least an Einstein or the patient work of 1000 lesser gifted souls.   Distracting is the author’s gratuitous insertion of contrived scenes (most are sexual and libelous) portraying the fictitious private lives of some of the prin-cipal scientists. They are irrelevant and (worse) they are not interesting. If the author had wanted to produce a longer book, he should have edited the dross and provided more information about the certainty/uncertainty debate—but perhaps he wasn’t up to it and decided to write about something he was vague-ly familiar with. Readability 5.  Information 5. Credibility regrading physics 5. Credibility regarding imaginative scenes .001 (they are written like a scientific report)  

Periodic Table: A Cultural History of the Elements from Arsenic to Zinc by Hugh Aldersey-Williams (NF). A bright, chatty recounting of the history and interesting details of the elements that make up our universe.  Well written.  Easy to pickup and easy to put down to do something more pressing.  Readability 4.8, Information 5.  Credibility 4.8. (some of the abstruse elements could have been given more space but that was probably just my wishful thinking that something more interesting could have been said).  

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg (NF). Random House/Penguin New York. Well established as a “go to” book to understand habits, what they are, why we rely on them, how to make ‘em and the struggle to break ‘em. Readability 4.8, Information 5.0, Credibility 4.8.  

EDISON: A Biography by Edmund Morris (NF). Every possible detail about a very powerful, very boring man.  Good attention to Edison’s process of invention or co-opting the work of others to create many of the essential items of everyday electrical life. The author is under no illusions about the subject he was working with and about halfway thru I mentally gave up hoping for more or for a hero to emerge.  Readability 4.2, Information 4.1, Credibility 4.4. Perfect for long winter nights before the fireplace; it will take a month to get through it.

Larry Makinson:

Deacon King Kong by James McBride (F). A cast of unforgettable characters in this novel of a rundown housing project in Brooklyn in 1969 and the people who live there. Enjoyable, complicated, often heartwarming. A supremely satisfying read.

The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putinby Masha Gessen (NF). Definitive biography of Vladimir Putin’s rise to power and the thuggish behavior he has exhibited ever since. This should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand what drives the world’s most dangerous man.

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami (F). Marvelous novel about a Japanese artist who lives for a while on a mountaintop house once occupied by a great artist. He finds a hidden masterpiece in the attic, and everything changes from there. Wonderfully engaging, even to someone who doesn’t like the fantasy genre.

Walking the Bowl by Chris Lockhart & Daniel Mulilo Chama (NF). An immersive plunge into the world of the street children of Lusaka, Zambia. It reads like a novel, but it was co-written by anthropologists and based on a multi-year research project in the slums of Lusaka. Educational and absorbing.

Lydia Hill Slaby:

As you know I drift fiction, which (in one perspective) focuses on emotional truth over factual truth. The best series I read this year on that was the Rowland Sinclair mysteries by Sulari Gentill (F). Set in 1920s/30s Australia, the facts of those times told through fiction felt very true now, which triggered a lot of conversations in our house. Plus, I haven’t read a lot of Australian literature — fun to learn about a different culture. 

Mary Bardone:

Last Boat from Shanghai by Helen Zia (NF). This book chronicles the lives of four people who lived in Shanghai from 1939 until they each left for various destinations in the 50s and 60s.  It is  a fascinating view of Chinese history from the  Japanese occupation through WWII to Chang Kai Chek to Mao and beyond.

Neither Wolf nor Dog and Wolf at Twilight by Ken Neubert (NF). These are two books of a trilogy, but I only read these two.  Each gives a very in-depth insight to the native American’s experience and philosophies.  You might think that you have read enough on this topic, as did I, but I learned a lot and got a different insight into the issue.  It is spiritual, philosophical and at time brutal as the history is recounted.

The Last Green Valley by Mark Sullivan (NF). Initially drawn to this book as it is a Bozeman author, we live in Bozeman, and it is the story of a local family who eventually got here from Ukraine. Their story is of a harrowing escape from the Soviets and the Nazis, eventually making their way to Montana and an inspiring story of immigrant success. They defied all the odds to get here to to be successful in business once they got here. 

Mary L:

The Tragic Muse by Henry James (F).  He wanted to be a playwright, but his only play was his only failure.  This book is after all that and features some features of the 19th century theatre world–one character is an actress.  Great for me, but recommended only for other fans of Henry James.

Allegorizings by Jan Morris (NF).  Her last book, it’s about life, the universe, and everything, as Douglas Adams would say.  The essays are not connected, but in Morris’ world, everything is connected. As I said in 2020, she was a travel writer/essayist who creates prose as if she were a poet.

Marie Lerner-Sexton:

Grey Bees by Kurkov (F). Probably the best living writer in Ukraine today, Kurkov takes us into the country with an extraordinary, immersive look at the eastern Grey Zone through the eyes of a beekeeper. The emotional impact of a war’s deprivations and challenges plays a part in the novel’s lingering sentiment, and yet, the story takes place before the current Russian conflict. The characters feel real, and the story bends toward Ukraine’s present-day reality.

The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony (NF). This is an older (2009) non-fiction book about an animal reserve owner who is “gifted” a herd of elephants. A beautifully- told page-turner that grips your heart whether you love animals or not.  It reads like a novel. 

Voyage of the Morning Light by Endicott (F). An historical novel that transports the reader to the South Seas at the end of the 19th-century.  It took me a while to get into the book because it moves as slowly as the sailing ship depicted.  But soon the story engages, and the main characters’ lives take on a greater importance than their circumstances. 

Matt Rechler:

How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith (NF). Through travels and conversations, Smith looks at how slavery has left its mark on all of us. From Monticello to Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana, Smith peels away myths and sheds light on stories omitted from official tours.  Angola prison for 4 million people and was the bloodiest prison in America.  The book is informational without being confrontational. It won the National Book Critics Award for Nonfiction.

Mecca by Susan Straight (F). The book focuses on people of different backgrounds (Mexican, Mexican American, African Americans, indigenous peoples, white) who live and work at non-glamorous jobs in non-glamorous southern CA. There are several intertwining stories, for example, Johnny Frias, a California Highway Patrol officer and Ximena an 18 year old Mexican migrant pregnant from her human smugglers. These are honest stories about the lives of extraordinary people who are fragile and proud. I recommend reading the Boston Globe review by Lauren LeBlanc, “The Art of Listening in Susan Straight’s ‘Mecca’” to preview the book.

Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis (NF). This is an honest, raw telling of a life from poverty to theatrical prominence. Davis’ father was an alcoholic and violent to her mother. The family was “po”: She had one skirt, few showers. She experienced racism and sexual abuse. Life was never easy but along the way she found role models and mentors, persevered, and survived as a dark-skinned, black woman who was often ignored or rejected.

Meggie Herrlinger:

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (F). It was an easy read, and I found myself enjoying the quirky characters. 

Melanie Landau:

A World of Curiosities by Louise Penny (F) Her 18th book – worth reading if you are read her books – fiction- but one always feels that the town of Three Pines should exist.

Micah Sifry:

Why We Did It by Tim Miller (NF): A both hilarious and sobering dissection of why so many Republicans who knew better went with Trump, by one who didn’t.

Gunfight by Ryan Busse (NF): A gun industry insider explains how it became radicalized.

Producing Politics by Daniel Laurison (NF): How and why the political campaign industry became a self-licking ice cream cone.

Sandy Hook by Elizabeth Williamson (NF): A wrenching portrait of how the misinformation industry led by Alex Jones fanned lies about the massacre and how the survivor families fought back.

The Quiet Before by Gal Beckerman (NF): An exploration of the settings and processes that incubate world changing new ideas, from the correspondence societies and cafes of the Renaissance to the manifestos of the Furturists and zines of the riot geeks to the Arab Soring and beyond.

In Love by Amy Bloom (NF): A personal memoir of caregiving when one’s partner chooses to die on his feet rather than live on his knees with Alzheimer’s.

Michael Slaby:

Before Religion by Brent Nongbr (NF) is in fact a fascinating exploration of religion as a modern concept of sociology more than theology that actually helps break up some of the sclerosis around moral philosophy and civic life interestingly. Part of an entire curriculum of reading this year for me in the role of religion in society at Union.

Born to Be Good by Dacher Keltner (NF) not as new but a wonderful exploration of how our positive instincts are more at the heart of human nature and our capacities to thrive and survive.

Debt: The First 5000 Years by David Graeber (NF)..He was (sadly gone too soon) one of the most brilliant moral and anthropological thinkers of his generation. Debt takes us through history of money and upends a lot of bad unhelpful assumptions about barter and trade and debt and how by fixing those bad assumptions we can unlock different ways of thinking about concepts like public financing and mutual aid.

Mike White:

Operation Pineapple Express by Scott Mann (NF). Great story of the efforts of former Special Forces officers in Afghanistan to get their Afghan counterparts out of Afghanistan during the chaotic withdrawal of American forces.

Weapons of Mass Delusion by Robert Draper (NF, unfortunately). Wins for scariest book of the year.

Unthinkable by Jamie Raskin (NF). Very clear description of how close our government came to failing during the January 6 insurrection.

Nick Fels:

Tom Stoppard: A Life by Hermione Lee (NF). Recommending this and also Stoppard’s autobiographical play, Leopoldstadt, well worth the time, and even the money, required to see it on Broadway.

Nick Nyhart:

In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss by Amy Bloom (NF). A superb writer chronicling a brutal love story. The author writes beautifully about her husband’s decision to end his life after a diagnosis of dementia while in his mid-60s and the road map after that decision. The harrowing consequences of a deep love, interspersing humor alongside its grieving.

American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis by David (NF). Hochschild tells the story of an authoritarian government locking up dissidents, imprisoning a Presidential candidate, and permitting/encouraging mob violence against outgroups. Immensely readable, it moves quickly, covering a short and mostly unexamined slice of American history, 1917-21. 

What it Took to Win: A History of the Democratic Party by Michael Kazin (NF). This biography of a political party traces the continuing thread of pragmatism through two centuries of shifting coalitions, forming, and re-forming to win the ability to govern. It provides an insightful lens for looking at both of our major parties today.

Randy Candea:

This year I decided to re-read series of books written by my favorite authors. I started with Louise Penny and her 17 novels based on Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Due to the continued character development, I read each book in the order they were written, starting with Still Life (F) and ending with The Madness of Crowds (F). The books were as good if not better than the first time around! 

The second series of books, written by Donna Leon, are based on vice-commissario of police and detective genius, Guido Brunetti.  There are 32 novels; so far I am in the middle of the 12th book Uniform Justice. (F). Excellent reading!

Rebekah Jacobs:

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (F). Spanning thirty years, Sam, Sadie, and Marks grapple with success, joy, and tragedy, after creating a blockbuster video game. It explores friendship, art, creativity, and loss. It was my favorite book of 2022.

Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro (F). Everything changes for the Wilf family after a car accident which they never speak of again. Chapters flow between 1985, 2010, 1999, 2020, 2014, and 1970 and we see Mimi, Sarah, Theo, and Ben endure, sustain, and surprise each other.

The Matchmaker’s Gift by Lynda Cohen Loigman (F). The chap­ters alter­nate between two nar­ra­tors: Sara, a young immi­grant Jewish woman who serves as a match­mak­er on the Low­er East Side around World War I; and her grand­daugh­ter, Abby, who works for a 1990s law firm spe­cial­iz­ing in divorce. It is entertaining historical fiction with a touch of magic. 

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonie Garmis (F). Elizabeth is a chemist, forced to leave the lab due to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy in the 1960’s. She eventually becomes a star of a television program called Supper at Six takes American housewives by storm as she teaches them science and independent thinking. 

Hello, Molly by Shannon (NF). Shannon begins with the loss of her mother and sister in a car accident when she was 4.  Raised by her father with little rules, the author describes her childhood, including the time she snuck on a flight to New York City when she was 13 and her rise to SNL. Equal parts funny and sad. 

The Measure by Nickki Erlick (F). This was another favorite.

Richard Miller:

The first four of these are on my list not because they are ‘favorites’ in the sense of good literature, enjoyable reading, good writing, or intriguing story telling. Each of the four, in their own way, took me beyond my previous knowledge and understanding of issues that confront us and our society. All four are eye opening, informing, and educating. Each is compelling.

Saints and Soldiers: Inside Internet-Age Terrorism, From Syria to the Capitol Siege by Rita Katz (NF). A wakeup call as to what is truly going on in terms of how the Internet is being used in ways that most of us don’t know. Katz is doing and has done an amazing service by exposing “the surprising connections between Islamist militants and violent groups on the far right and explains why the latter now poses a far graver threat to Americans and to democracies around the world. Through case studies recounted in alarming detail, Katz shows how radical organizations are exploiting social media to extend their reach and amplify their power.” — Joby Warrick.

Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention – and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hard (NF). If you are uncomfortable with the amount of time you spend on your phone, general screen time, or time on the internet, you’re not alone. Hari explores what has happened to his and our ability to pay attention to anything for longer than a short period of time. It’s not only about our personal inability to focus but goes much deeper. Definitely worth the time to understand what is happening to all of us and what we might do about it.

The Grieving Brain: The Surprising Science of How We Learn from Love and Loss by Mary-Francis O’Connor (NF). From earlier in the year. The most insightful explanation of anything I’ve read in connection with the topics of loss, grieving, and grief.  O’Connor writes about what happens in our brain when we experience loss and why grief and grieving are so powerful. In helping us understand what science has recently learned about these issues, she shows us a new perspective and a new way to think about these powerful issues. O’Connor writes that The Grieving Brain is in no way an ‘advice book,’ yet for me it offers so many new insights on these subjects that I will return to it many times and highly recommend it to others. A good companion book is The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van her Kolk (NF).

Walking the Bowl: A True Story of Murder and Survival Among the Street Children of Lusaka by Chris Lockhart and Daniel Mulilo Chama (NF). Also from earlier in the year. An amazingly true story – narrated non-fiction – about the street children in Lusaka, Zambia (and by implication other street children around the world?). It took five plus years and eight individuals, including five embedded individuals, to gather, sift, and put together this story. The book reads like fiction. Were it so. Similar to Pulitzer Prize winner author Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers. But with a bit of a twist. This one also has a message about how one good deed, if walked forward, played forward, can have ripples of positive effect.

These Precious Day: Essays by Ann Patchett (NF). A longtime favorite writer of mine, these are personal stories of and from her life, told simply and honestly. I listened to them and felt she was a good friend, talking directly to me. I suspect reading them would have the same affect. She is a treasure.

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (F). The only fiction choice of the six books I’m allowed to favorite, Demon Copperhead is a riveting story of a young boy born in a trailer in southern Virginia to an addicted, single, teenage mother. It’s a tale that could easily have been overwhelming depressive – which it is on some accounts – but it’s told in the first person by this young boy who has a will to survive, a keen sense of humor, and in a language (Appalachian) that rings true. Kingsolver tells this coming-of-age story of a boy nobody wants, except to exploit, with a barely repressed sense of outrage. It mimics the Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield story, but you need not know anything about that to understand the value of what Kingsolver has written. Put this one on your ‘to read’ list.

Robin Rice:

Blonde Indian: A Native Memoir by Ernestine Hayes (NF). Recommended by Mary Bardone. How can one grow up in a compromised native American culture and still maintain links to its redeeming, lyrical links. Eloquent.

Sal Giambanco:

Grant by Ron Chernow (NF). The most extraordinary book about America I have read in a really long time. Chernow’s biography, simply titled Grant, tells the story of one of the most maligned American heroes – following his death. Grant is maligned because no other American President before or since tried to do true justice towards Black Americans – he almost succeeded. Think 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments – all exist because of Grant’s support. He defeated the first installment of the KKK across the South, etc. This book is a reminder that narratives and the stories we tell ourselves and our children really matter.

Sam Black:

Best New Books:

The Anomaly by Herve Le Tellier (F). This book caused a sensation in France and Europe when it first came out, in 2020. Just translated into English and released in 2021. Set in the present with just a single but existential astrophysical twist.  Unputdownable – and it leaves you with things to think about. Not overly long – you could read the whole book on just part of a transatlantic flight. Won the Prix Goncourt.

The Tyranny of Merit by Michael Sandel (NF). A careful analysis and evaluation of the history, rationale, and subtle biases of current American versions of meritocracy. Especially provocative on the rhetoric of Democratic candidates. The principal areas of focus are U.S. college admissions and U.S. national electoral politics. Essential.

The Dawn of Everything by Graeber and Wengrow (NF). Turns much of the last few hundred years of cultural anthropology, a k a the study of human prehistory, upside down. A fresh look at the evolution of human culture. Thought-provoking on every page. A magnificent accomplishment that involves the re-thinking of the received wisdom in almost an entire field.

All That She Carried by Tiya Miles (NF). Based on an exhibit in the African American Museum in Washington: a cloth sack given, with a few contents, by a mother to her 9-year-old daughter, Ashley, when their family, which was enslaved, was broken apart. The emotional reactions, to this exhibit, of hundreds of museum guests resulted in curators placing boxes of tissues alongside the display case. Starting with a description of the exhibit, the author traces Ashley to a place and time, traces her family to the past and almost to the present, and creates a tapestry of narrative and analysis out of this humblest of objects. By a woman historian, a professor at Harvard, the book digs into the history of materials, food, gender roles, culture, and the skewing of the historical record by the socially and economically dominant forces that create the records. (Ed. Winner, National Book Awards 2021 for Nonfiction)

A Brief History of Equality by Thomas Piketty (NF). The kind of book that gives you a new perspective on major issues every time you read a chapter. Based on the best set yet of compilations of the (historical, recent and current) nation-by-nation data on income and assets, and on the author’s deep thinking on the issues of equality. The analysis digs into what happened to wealth distribution after the end of slavery, and after the French revolution, and what are the arguments pro and con for compensation to those who were, or whose families were, enslaved. What causes changes in the distribution of wealth? What social principles underlie these changes? What political changes would be needed to bring about a more egalitarian distribution of income or wealth? The kind of book I may have to read more than once.

Tiffany Lopez:

The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin (F). This was one of the most fascinating, mind-shifting books I have ever read. It is set during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and blends physics, philosophy, and a dystopian fantasy book into one incredible story that is somehow, not as far-fetched as it sounds. I was not aware of the Chinese cultural revolution, which has sent me down a very deep, dark rabbit hole, and many of the scenarios in the book made me pause and consider some pretty hefty questions. This book has been the topic of many interesting dinner conversations with friends, and I recommend it for anyone needing a good think.

Going Postal by Sir Terry Pratchett (F). This is a light-hearted, whimsical satire book I picked up as a recommendation from a friend. This is one book out of the Discworld series (41 books in total), but no previous knowledge of the other books was required. I loved the cheesiness, puns, and witty banter of the characters, and unbeknownst to me, every mention of anything ties into the greater Discworld, which is literally a disc-world (think flat planet) balancing on four elephants on the back of a turtle. So I guess it is sci-fi, too. It reminded me of Absurdistan or A Confederacy of Dunces, but with much, much more runway for future reading.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (NF). This one has been on my reading list (MillersTime suggestion) for years, and I finally had the time to get through it this summer. It has been a beautiful book to read to better understand the evolution of civil rights and to learn about the great migration in the US. While living in Sweden, it has been interesting to reflect on what I was reading while also seeing a similar micro segregation here due to the influx of asylum seekers and refugees after several different humanitarian disasters in recent times. 

Freezing Order by Bill Browder (NF). This is Bill Browder’s own account of following the trail of money laundering, leading to murder, and eventually surviving Putin’s wrath. I decided to try to understand more about Russia and the oligarchs after the war in Ukraine started this spring, since I am living a stone’s throw from Russia, in a land with a pending NATO application, realizing I know very little about our neighbors, and war feels much closer to home than it did when I was in the US. It is in large part to the work mentioned in this book that the world was able to sanction Russia during this war at the speed they could, but is it actually making an impact? Browder also follows the money right to Washington, where the picture he draws makes so much sense, and it just leaves me asking why we are not doing more. 

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (NF). I listened to this audiobook after seeing Trevor on tour this summer. This book really highlights his gift for storytelling, his playful energy, and his humble, human, real-life experiences. I understand so much more about South Africa from hearing his story and can truly relate to his account of growing up bi-racial and finding it hard to fit in with any group, regardless of how you identify. This light-hearted adventure with a serious underlying plot was a pleasure to hear read with the author’s own emotions.

Predictable Success by Les McKeown (NF). I enjoyed this relatively short book, and though it is very high-level, it is an simplified description of the lifecycle of companies, with some very tangible descriptions and stories of companies and leaders in each phase. I read this book during my most recent job transition and felt I could see how different areas of the business I was leaving was in different phases and how the attitudes and strategies of different individuals landed the company right where they were at during my tenure. I appreciated how the author gave some advice for transitioning from one phase to the next, and back, now if only it were that straight forward to pull off in real time. 

Todd Endo:

Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown (NF). By the author of The Boys in the Boat, Facing the Mountain tells part of the story of how Japanese Americans fought for their rights and their place during World War II by fighting in Europe as part of the all-Japanese infantry unit (442nd Regimental Combat Team) and by challenging the Constitutionality of the forced removal of Japanese American from the west coast of the US.

Tom Perrault:

Breakfast with Seneca: A Stoic Guide to the Art of Living by David Fideler (NF) – I really enjoyed this easy-to-read distillation of Seneca’s writings into nine (or so) thoughtful ways to live your life. I still think about this book, and it has fundamentally altered my thoughts and behaviors.

Across the River: Life, Death, and Football in an American City by Kent Babb (NF) – It helps that the “American City” is New Orleans and feels intimately familiar so there’s that. But upon finishing, I felt compelled to tell almost everyone I could think of to read this book. It’s non-fiction but reads like a novel. I loved it.

Memorial by Bryan Washington (F) and 100 Boyfriends by Brontez Purnell (F) – Two LGBTQ choices that I lump together because a) I read them concurrently and b) they feel stylistically the same in spirit, if not in form. “Memorial” is the more “traditional” novel form but super offbeat characters and plot which kept me captivated. “100 Boyfriends” was more of experimental writing with amazing short stories, sometimes as small as a few paragraphs. Both written by gay Black authors that I’m grateful are finally getting a larger and louder platform in which to be heard.

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard (NF) – It was a (fun) slog but I *finally* understand ancient Roman history!! Worth the read.

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To see previous years’ lists, click on any of these links: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015. 2016. 2017. 2018 Mid-Year, 2018, 2019 Mid-Year. 2019. 2020, Mid-Year 2021, 20221. 3/30/22. 7/16/22.

Year End Call for Favorite Reads

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As I have done for the past 13 years, I am asking for a list (anywhere from one to as many as six) of books you’ve most enjoyed reading in 2022.

There is no definition to the kind of book which you might add to this list. They can be fiction, non-fiction, science fiction, short stories, science, poetry, mystery, romance, hobbies, children’s books, etc. I’m most interested in what you truly enjoyed this past year (old or new books) with the thought that others might get some ideas for their reading in 2023.

Even if you think others may recommend a particular book that you liked, please include it on your list. Some of you like to know that more than one or two MillersTime readers have enjoyed a given title.

Also, if you want to include any of the books you cited from the March 30, 2022 or July 17, 2022, feel free to do so. You can review what you sent in here:

March 30, 2022 Favorite Reads

July 16, 2022 Favorite Reads

Send me your list (Samesty84@gmail.com) with the title, author and whether the book is fiction (F) or non-fiction (NF).

Please take the time to include a few sentences about the book and particularly what made this book(s) so enjoyable for you. For many of the contributors and readers of this annual list, it is the comments that are what’s most important about MillersTime Favorite Reads each year.

Send your list by December 20. Then I can post the results on Dec. 31, 2022.

Thanks in advance.

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To see previous years’ lists, click on any of these links: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015. 2016. 2017. 2018 Mid-Year, 2018, 2019 Mid-Year. 2019. 2020, Mid-Year 2021, 20221. 3/30/22. 7/16/22.

Cappadocia: Thru Ellen’s Lens

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Overlooking the Devrent Valley

Following our time in Jordan, the second part of our recent trip was focused on Cappadocia, in Central Turkey, also a place we had long wanted to visit.

Over the past decade or so, as we considered this trip, we must have seen hundreds of photographs of the strange formations which make up this magical area. Often, when that happens, the traveler is disappointed with the reality, for how can the beautiful images match the reality of what you’ll see and how you will experience it? We are happy to report that in this case we were not disappointed. Cappadocia is even more impressive than its pictures, even Ellen’s!

Kapadoky (its Turkish name) was designated in 1985 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, primarily for its dramatic landscapes, underground cities, cave churches, and houses carved in the rocks.

It’s a semi-desert region dating back as far as the Bronze age and known for its tall, cone-shaped, rock formations (“fairy chimneys”) and for its cave dwellers (“troglodytes”). It later became used as refuges by Christians.

The soft volcanic rock was shaped by erosion into towers, cones, valleys, and caves and was used throughout history (think Byzantine, Roman and Islamic eras) by inhabitants who built rock cut churches, underground tunnels, and ‘cities’. Wind erosion created exotic shapes out of the sandstone, each area different — strange, weird, mesmerizing. Ellen’s camera never stopped clicking.

We went to Cappadocia largely for its stunning landscapes and natural wonders, but we learned so much about ancient religious history. We flew from Istanbul to Kayseri and drove to the small town of Uchisar. We stayed four nights at the wonderful Museum Hotel (partially built into the caves) with its unique rooms and panoramic views of various valley and sites.

The photographs you see below and in the slide show are from the Devrent, Pasabag, Pigeon, and Zelve Valleys and the underground city of Kaymakli, the Goreme Open Air Museum, the ancient city of Sobesos, and Ortahisar.

Certainly one of the highlights was the hot air balloon flight as we floated over Cappadocia’s unforgettable landscapes. We rose at 5 AM and took our place in that tiny but tall basket below a very large hot air balloon. We rose into the air as the sun was breaking over the mountain tops around us. To say this was spectacular would be an understatement. At one point, there were well over 100 hot air balloons in the air at the same time, creating a unique sight itself. Fortunately, none of them crashed that day.

Our time in Cappadocia, along with the first part of the trip (see Thru Ellen’s Lens: Petra & Wadi Rum), certainly ranks in the top tier of our continuing explorations of the world.

Devrent Valley Rock Formations

Zelve Valley

Zelve Valley
Pasabag Valley “Fairy Chimneys”
Goreme Valley, City with 6th Century Churches

Goreme Valley Churches
Filling Our Hot Air Balloon
The View from Our Hot Air Balloon
Balloons Over Pasabag Valley
Balloons Descending
Basmelek Mikail Church and Monastery

To see all 41 of Ellen’s photos go to: Cappadocia: Thru Ellen’s Lens

As always, we recommend you view all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer). They are much sharper and much more detail than the ones above or if you only look at the opening page of the slide show.

For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show.

Thru Ellen’s Lens: Petra & Wadi Rum

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Exiting The Siq, Petra

Ellen and I recently returned from a 10-day trip to Petra (Jordan) and Cappadocia (Turkey). For many years we had wanted to visit these two treasures of civilization. Having to postpone the trip twice because of COVID restrictions, we were finally able to make this long desired trip in October.

We have divided Ellen’s photos and some brief notes about these trips into two posts, starting with our journey to and through Jordan. (The second post will appear in a week or two, focusing on Cappadocia.)

We met our wonderful guide, Riyad Shishani, who stayed with us for our five days in Jordan and proved to us once again the importance of having the right person to introduce us to and teach us about the treasures and stories of his country:

Riyad – Our Guide

We began our trip with a drive north from Amman to the hills of Gilead and the Greco-Roman city of Jerash, an extensive area of archeological remains (Neolithic, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Umayad) where we spent a half day exploring this vast site:

Jerash — Oval Plaza

Riyad then took us back to Amman where he introduced us to its Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic remains (The Citadel, The Roman Theater, The Forum) and the wonderful views over the city. We also wandered in the old part of Amman and wished we had more time to explore the markets, restaurants, and crafts there:

Amman – The City

Amman – The Citadel

Our knowledgeable driver, Nabil Hamo, drove us south to Dana, Jordan’s largest nature reserve (think 200 square miles of spectacular mountains and wadis on the edge of the Great Rift Valley) and then on to Wadi Rum (Valley of the Moon). One of the two highlights of this part of our trip, we explored this desert landscape by four-wheel jeep, a four-hour, five-mile hike through the sand dunes, canyons, and sandstone mountains, and an overnight stay at the Aicha Camp. (Ask Ellen some time about locking us out of our luxurious domed ‘tent’ at 4:45 AM.):

Wadi Rum by Jeep
Wadi Rum

Heading back north through more stark landscape, we stopped at Little Petra, a site that dates back to the first century and may have served as a ‘suburb’ to the larger city of Petra. Smaller and less crowded than Petra itself, Little Petra’s buildings are carved into the walls of the sandstone canyons and gave us a taste of what we were to experience over the next two days.

Entrance to Little Petra

Petra itself covers an area of 100 square miles. It was carved into and out of rocks and canyons between 800 BC and 100 AD. It was an important city in its day as it served as a stopping point along a major caravan route. Until an earthquake in the 4th century destroyed much of the city, it thrived as the capital of the Nabataean Empire with its temples, theaters, tombs, and extensive water system. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World (2007).

For us, the 1.2 km long, narrow gorge (The Siq), leading into the city and The Treasury, was the highlight of Petra. We walked in an out of this dramatic entryway twice, once by day and once by candlelight. That walk will be forever in our memory.

Entering Petra – The Treasury
Inside Petra

We ended our road trip in Jordan with a brief stop at Mount Nebo, the biblical site where Moses was said to have viewed, but was not able to enter, the Holy Land. Despite some cloudy weather, we were able to see Jordan, the Dead Sea, and Israel.

From Mount Nebo to the Holy Land

The trip was fascinating on many levels: its ancient historical backdrop; the landscapes of the gorgeous red desert of Wadi Rum; the passageway into ancient Petra (and walking there after dark by candlelight); the delightful and knowledgeable guide; the adorable group of school girls picnicking (who insisted on phone pictures) as we walked in the Dana Reserve; learning how to open and eat a pomegranate just plucked from a tree by a local guide; and the general good will we felt as tourists. As always, we took a cooking class, and enjoyed the local cuisine, largely for its delicious hummus, pita bread, baba ganoush, and many variations of salads.

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To see all 44 of Ellen’s photos go to: Thru Ellen’s Lens: Petra & Wadi Rum

See all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either). They are much sharper, and the larger format presents them in much more detail than the ones above, or if you only look at the opening page of the slide show.

For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show.

Slot Canyon – Petra

I Changed My Mind

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On August 30th, I unequivocally, but sadly, wrote that after 18 years as a full season ticket holder of the Washington Nationals, I had terminated my annual contract with the team and its owners.

Primarily, I was fed up with the Nats’ model of getting good young players and then abandoning them when they reached free agency, which, among other things, is unfair to the fans. Getting attached to players only to have them go elsewhere maybe understandable (players have every right to determine their value, and the owners have their right to their business model). But as I came of age in a time when a fan could count on their favorite player being with their favorite team year after year, I found it hard to adjust to this new reality. And so I decided I wanted to withdraw my financial support of both the owners and players.

There were also other reasons I gave up the tickets. All my season ticket partners for the 81 home games had, for a variety of reasons, gradually dropped out of the partnership, and the tickets and parking therefore had become extremely expensive. Watching the Nats go 55-107 was another reason I was unhappy with the Nats and their ownership, even for this Red Sox fan who has endured many, many years of disappointment. While I still cared about baseball, it seemed I could choose to go to a few games a year and continue to ‘register’ my protest as a fan about being part of a system that rewarded the owners and the players to care more about the money than the game.

Then, over the last month or so of the season, I attended five or six games and found that despite all the reasons listed above, I still loved being at the ballpark, watching baseball, and always looking for something I had never previously witnessed (e.g., one umpire being overridden on three consecutive missed calls at first). Above all, I enjoyed being with family and friends for an afternoon or evening of baseball and companionship.

So, while I had terminated my full season three seats and parking, and with some encouragement from Cassie Bullis, my young Nats’ account executive, I decided to return as a partial season ticket holder (two seats, 41 games, and parking). I won’t have total choice of every game I want to see, but I can swap tickets for a particular game(s). The Red Sox, for instance, are here for three games in August and only one of those is on my 2023 Plan B.

If any of you have interest in being a partner for at least five games, let me know, and we can discuss which games, costs, etc.

And I will continue to invite various family and friends to join me and so urge you to let me know if you want to attend a game together. (Added Note: if you don’t live in DC but will find yourself coming to our ‘swamp’ sometime in the next year, consider checking with me about seeing a game, either together or with a friend.)

I will also continue to pass on some tickets to various charities and friends at no cost.

Baseball will remain a part of my life even while I disapprove of many aspects of what it has become.

As the Duke of Brooklyn (Sean McLaughlin) has said, “with all its faults, it is still THE best sport.”

Baseball Contests: Winners & Losers

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There were only two contests this year, and the questions required contestants to answer six questions in the first contest and five in the second. In both contests, it was difficult to declare an outright winner, but here’s what yours truly has decided:

Contest #1: Are you a ‘homer’ or do you really know your team?

If your name is NOT in the following list, consider yourself a ‘homer’:

Ed Scholl, Jesse Maniff, Matt Galati, Larry Longenecker, Brent Schultz, Nicholas Lamanna, Bill Bronwell, Zack Haile, Jim Kilby, Chris Ballard, Dawn Wilson, John Carlson.

Of these 12 who all avoided the ‘homer’ label, it was difficult to choose between the two best submissions.

Matt Galati said the Pirate’s record would be 60-102 (they were 62-100), would be last in their Division (they were), and wouldn’t make the playoffs (they obviously didn’t), and he attributed that to mismanagement, lack of offense, and a weak defense (all true).

Chris Ballard said the Astro’s record would be 97-65 (they were 106-56), said they’d win the AL West (they did), have a first round bye (true), would go to the World Series and win it (true). His eight reasons were detailed and amazingly on target.

And so Matt and Chris share the Winner title for Contest #1, and each will receive a copy of Joe Posnanski’s superb The Baseball 100.

Contest #2: Name the four teams in the LCS, what two teams will make it to the WS, how many games will the WS go, which team will win, and why.

No one shined in this Contest. Brent Schultz did pick the Phillies to make it to the LCS and the WS (where they would lose to the Twins). Pretty good.

Joe Higdon and Chris Ballard (the same guy from Contest #1) had the best overall answers, each getting one of four teams in the LCS, one of two teams in the WS, who would win it all, and pitching being the reason for the victory.

Joe wins as he picked the Astros in six, and his submission was early. Chris loses to Joe as he picked the Astros in seven and, as usual, was late in making his picks.

So Joe gets one ticket to the 2023 World Series.

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See you all again next year when MLB will have instituted some new rules in the hopes of making beisbol more fan friendly.

Plus, look for my upcoming post, Mea Culpa.

Vote for Ellen’s Photo!

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JUST A DROP by Ellen Miller – a lone rock remains to be crushed by time (Namibian Desert)

Many of you have commented over the past few years about your enjoyment of Ellen’s photos from our various trips throughout the US and abroad.

A panel of judges at Wilderness Safaris, one of our favorite outdoor travel/adventure companies, has chosen Ellen’s photo above as a finalist in one of their four contests, African Landscapes.

If you think the photo above is worthy, you can cast a vote for her photo, as the winner(s) will be chosen exclusively by visitors to Wilderness Safaris’ website.

You have to register to vote, but there is a box to check so you will not receive any future mailings from Wilderness Safaris.

Do vote in each of the four categories as there are some truly amazing photos in each.  As you vote, the display will automatically move to the next category. Ellen’s photo is in the category of African Landscapes, and, as you can see above, it’s a picture of a lone rock on the vast red/orange of the Namibian desert.

The link to voting is here.

Full disclosure: There is a prize for the winning photos. But when I urged Ellen (she describes it as ‘extreme coercion’) to enter the contest, we knew nothing about prizes being attached to contest. I simply felt it could be fun to see how others who do not know Ellen would judge her work.

And while it would be rewarding to be chosen as a winner, the fact that her desert rock photo has made it to the finals in this amazing collection of photos is certainly an honor in and of itself.

Voting closes 10 October 2022

(PS – Feel free to pass this post on to one or two friends.)

Thru Ellen’s Lens: Montana

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Ellen and I recently had the good fortune to spend 10 days in Montana, three days visiting long time friends in Bozeman, and then seven days with our elder daughter and her family in the Big Sky area . It was a thoroughly delightful time: beautiful weather — clear skies, clean air, and day-time temperatures in the mid- 70’s; a homemade fire pit, wood gathering, and s’mores; rafting, hiking, biking, horseback riding, zip lining, kayaking; a wonderful house perched some 8,000 feet in the sky; evenings of good food (even the children tried bison one night!); and all of us working together on a 1,000 piece puzzle.

Today’s post is for those of you who enjoy seeing “Thru Ellen’s Lens” — her photos from our various travels. As she said repeatedly through out the trip,  “They don’t call this Big Sky country for nothing.” You’ll see that and more.

If you want to see more than the 10 photos below, you can click on the link at the end of this page to see her full 40 photos on Flickr. (Snuck in between the landscapes you’ll even find a few pictures of our three oldest grandchildren, but you’ll have to click on the link below to do so.)

If you want to see more of Ellen’s photos of Montana (and a few of the grandchildren), use this link to Ellen’s slide show: Thru Ellen’s Lens: Montana.

For the best viewing, click on the tiny arrow in the rectangular box near the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show. See all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either).

Caveat Emptor

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Today, after 18 years as a full season ticket holder of the Washington Nationals, I informed the Nats that I am terminating my annual contract with the team and its owners.

Let me explain.

I love baseball.

Ever since my wonderful grandfather took me to Fenway Park and introduced me to the game, it’s been an important part of my life, including playing it in the street in front of our house and then moving on to Little League, listening to games on the radio, then watching on TV, and of course attending as many games as I could. (I use to gather baseballs hit over the fence at Tinker Field in Orlando, FL so I could turn them in for free entrance to Minnesota Twins Spring Training games.)

I’ll spare the reader any of the many baseball related stories with which I’ve burdened my children, my wife, and my friends over the years. Suffice it to say, as my favorite T-Shirt proclaims, “Any Team Can Have a Bad Century.”

In 2005 when the Montreal Expos were relocated to DC and became the Washington Nationals, I quickly teamed up with some friends to get season tickets to RFK Stadium (where they played until moving to their new stadium in 2008). So it’s been 18 years that I’ve been attending Nats’ games – and enriching its owners – largely because I simply love what baseball offers, even if it’s not watching the Red Sox. (In fact, attending Nats’ games is sometimes more relaxing than watching the Red Sox, where I am on edge on every pitch, etc.)

So why my decision to abandon my season ticket status?

Primarily, I do not want to continue to support a franchise that consistently refuses to keep players like Bryce Harper (not my favorite guy), Anthony Rendon, Trey Turner, Max Scherzer, and Juan Soto. The ownership’s model of largely acquiring outstanding players when they are young and relatively inexpensive and getting rid of them when they are reaching free agency and have become expensive may be financially smart for the owner, but is terrible for the fans. (My Bosox did that with Mookie Betts, and while I have still not forgiven them for that, at least they have not made it a way of continually ‘doing business’ as have the Nats.)

Try explaining to my perfect three eldest grandchildren**, one who ‘loved’ Bryce Harper, one who ‘loved’ Trey Turner, and one who ‘loved’ Juan Soto, why none of these players are still playing for the Nats. Although it’s not the only reason, none of these grandchildren have kept up interest in baseball, while they continue to be fans of other sports, particularly football.

The Lerner family paid $450 million to purchase the Nats. They are now in the process of considering offers to sell them, likely for perhaps as much $2,000,000,000 or more. Yes. two billion dollars.

The team has been decimated and is “rebuilding” for the future. But not with the help of my three ticket, full season income.

I will no doubt attend a few games next year, largely because I still love baseball. I enjoy going with others for an afternoon or evening at the park, and with the new schedule of every team playing every other team starting in 2023, there is the opportunity to see any team or player in either the American or National League.

I don’t think I’m the only baseball fan that is choosing to terminate their season plan or to reduce the number of games they will attend.

Caveat Emptor – Let the Buyer (of the Nats) Beware.

**My two youngest perfect granddaughters, six and five, perhaps wisely have chosen to live 1,055 miles away from DC, and so I have only just begun to work on their full baseball indoctrination. Unfortunately, on a recent trip to Kansas City where we attended a game together, the lowly Royals creamed the Sox 13-7. But then, as I learned from experience with my own daughters, it’s probably better not to instill too high expectations concerning my Bosox heroes.

Nats’ Baseball Tickets…for the asking

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I’m going to be away for many Nats’ games in August and would be glad to pass on some tickets to those of you who (still) want to see a Nats’ game.

Here are the dates that are available, on a first come, first serve basis, with no cost to you, The seats are quite good, Section 127, Row Z, Seats 1, 2, & 3., about 20 rows off the field between the catcher and first base.

Friday, Aug. 12, 7:05 vs Padres, 7:05, three tickets

Saturday, Aug. 13, 7:05 vs Padres, 7:05, three tickets

Sunday, August, 14, 1:05 vs Padres,t hree tickets

Monday, August 15, 7:05 vs Cubs, three tickets

Wednesday, August. 17, 1:05 vs Cubs, three tickets

Friday, August 26, 7:05 vs Reds, three tickets

Saturday, August 27, 7:05 vs Reds, one ticket

Sunday, August 28, 1:05 vs Reds, three tickets

Tuesday, August 30, 7:05 vs Athletics, three tickets

Wednesday, August 31 vs Athletics, three tickets

If you are connected with an organization that could use tickets to give to staff and or students, you’re welcome to these games also.

You do need to have the MLB Ball Park App on your phone as the ‘only’ way I can forward tickets are through this AP. No more printed tickets. (In an ‘extreme situation,’ I could go to the Box Office and get a set printed out, tho I would have to do that soon as I’ll be away for most of the days above.)

Let me know if you’re interested in any of the games above. And if you only want one or two to a particular game, that’s OK as I can try to sell the remaining ones…

Contact – Samesty84@gmail.com or 202-320-9501.

By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea…

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By Ellen Miller

This summer Richard and I had a chance to spend close to a week in Los Cabos, Mexico, a place we had never been.

I was lucky to have a new camera with me, and I spent part of every morning walking along the rock covered beach. I fastened my eye on the waves as they burst on the rocks, trying to capture their force and power. I was almost equally fascinated by the rocks themselves, many of which looked as though they were just mounds of sand, some of which create almost lunar type landscapes.

It wasn’t hardship photography.

I took at least 1,000 pictures over six days.  Below are four of my favorites, and I winnowed the rest down to 20.  You can find those in my Flickr Album.  Look at them on a big screen if you can to understand the majesty of the sea.

PS from Richard: You gotta see these in the biggest format possible. When you get to the album of 20, click on each one to enlarge it and go through them one by one.

Trust me on this one:

Flickr Album.

So Many Books…So Little Time? Here Are 34 Recent Favorite Reads

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A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read.” A. Lincoln

I’m pleased to post this list of 34 titles that were particular favorites to MillersTime readers and contributors over the past few months. (Note: contributors were limited to submitting just one title for this post, and one book was cited by two different contributors). The breakdown between female and male contributors favored females (23-11).

As has been the trend over the past few years, there were slightly more non fiction (NF) than fiction (F) titles (18-16). Also, almost half of the fiction titles were historical fiction (HF).

As always, the value of the list comes from the comments each contributor makes about her or his choice of a favorite read. And even if you don’t know the individual who cited a particular book, I think there’s value in reading all of the comments.

Enjoy the list, I think you’ll find a least a few that might appeal.

As always, this type of posting can only happen because of your willingness to participate.

Thanks to all.

Recent Favorite Reads – Alphabetical by First Name of Contributor

Abigail WiebensonA Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende (HF). I loved it.

Anita Rechler – The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson (NF). I am not the most likely person to be drawn into a book that takes a deep dive into basic science. FWIW CRSPR could have been a drawer in my refrigerator for storing lettuce. (Well, not really.) For a novice, Isaacson makes the science of gene editing accessible. What kept me engaged were the human stories of people driven by camaraderie, curiosity, competition, collaboration, capitalism. I ‘read’ the book on audible.

Barbara Friedman – American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin (NF), is a fascinating biography of the brilliant theoretical physicist, the man who made the Manhattan Project (and the bombs) happen. He was caught up in the McCarthy Trials – was he a member of the Communist Party? – and ended his career as the head of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. There were heroic as well as tragic aspects of his life. The book is very much worth a read.

Charlie Atherton – When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut (NF), a National Book Award finalist and rated by the NY Times as one of the ten best books of 2021. I must admit that I am usually a reader of fiction, crime fiction, but I most enjoyed the author’s combination of personal details from the lives of eminent scientists and mathematicians, many of which were undoubtedly fictitious, coupled with readable descriptions of ideas produced by the greatest minds of the modern era.

Chris Boutourline – Anxious People by Fredrik Backman (F) (author of A Man Called Ove). I read this after my wife started it and then put it down after 40 pages or so. She said that the transcripts of the police interviews of witnesses weren’t making sense and, that, overall, she just wasn’t enjoying it. Since it is an upcoming  read for my book club I read it all the way through. The gist of the story is that a bank robbery goes bad, and the bank robber takes the attendees of a condo open house hostage while trying to figure out what to do next. Early on the novel does feel disjointed as the witness statements reveal more about those recounting than about the robber. Best not to say much more, other than I told my wife that I thought she’d be rewarded by picking up where she left off, and, after finishing it, she agreed. Suicide is one of the numerous themes the novel touches upon.

Cbris Rothenberger – The Four Winds by Kristen Hannah (F). This is the story of Elsa, unloved by her family, a hasty marriage, and abandonment by her family. The Dustbowl, Great Depression become the backdrop to the story of Elsa’s survival. Starvation and desperation punctuate this book.   She leaves for California with her children in search of a better life and there endures the battle between the “haves” and “have nots,” a nation divided, and the rising up of migrant workers in her struggle to survive. 

This book was a  sad and difficult, but an illuminating read of an era that I knew little about. It puts a spotlight on the land, on love, the definition of hope and heroism, and a country in crisis.  It is a very powerful story that has stayed with me and is a portrait of that time in our history as seen through Elsa’s eyes.

Chuck Tilis Thou Shall Innovate—How Israeli Ingenuity Repairs the World by Avi Jorisch (NF). A compendium of inspiring vignettes describing the incredible  contributions “Israelis” created to improve the lives for all human-kind.  Israelis in quotes as most inventions were due to the collaboration between Jews and Arabs. I liken this book as the sequel to Start Up Nation. Each story stands on its own and can be read one at a time at any pace. 

Cindy Olmstead – The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (HF). Historical novel about JP Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle de Costa Greene, the Black American woman who hid her identity to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books and artwork for JP Morgan’s new Pierpoint Morgan Library. This is the story of an extraordinary woman known for her intellect, style (famous for her hats), and ability to mingle in society’s upper circles to accomplish what she knew she had to do. Excellent read!

David Stang – Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town Red: The Curious Origins of Everyday Sayings and Fun Phrases by Andrew Thompson (NF), a lawyer obsessed with finding out the truth about over two hundred Idiomatic expressions and how they were derived. Thompson’s persevering scholarship traces the roots of several terms in his book as far back as the Fifteenth Century. For curious minds this book is a truly fascinating read.

Donna Pollet – Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje (HF). Given the most recent headlines about the uprising and collapse of the government in Sri Lanka, this novel written in 2000 characterizing an earlier and turbulent civil war of unrest, murder, and kidnapping will evoke interest. The writing is compelling, and the characters are multi-dimensional with absorbing back stories. Anil, a forensic pathologist called in by an international organization, teams up with Sarath, a local government official and archeologist to investigate a series of murders in violation of human rights. Their investigation leads to the discovery of an unidentified victim and becomes a mission to find justice for him and the countless other nameless murdered. It is a story of personal tragedy, individual integrity, and the spirit of human resilience.

Elizabeth LewisWalk with Me: A Biography of Fannie Lou Hamer by Kate Clifford Larson (NF). With its copious footnotes, this biography reads more like a thesis than a popular account of the life of a remarkable woman whose presence in and command of the Civil Rights Movement spanned much more than is popularly known. It is frightening, uplifting, and far too relevant for the faint of heart.

Elizabeth Tilis – Lily’s Promise: How I Survived Auschwitz and Found the Strength to Live by Lily Ebert (NF). The story of a Holocaust survivor from Hungary and her great-grandson Dov who used social media to track down the family of the GI who gave Lily a banknote on which he’d written “Good luck and happiness” the day she was liberated.

Ellen Kessler – Prison Minyan by Jonathan Stone (F). I recently read & enjoyed this novel. It is modeled after Otisville State Prison in Otisville, NY (Michael Cohen, personal atty for Trump before he started talking, went there). The book is very entertaining and often amusing. The rabbi conducting the minyan is one of three rabbis in prison! The characters are stereotypical in some ways, and there are some serious ideas to consider, but I enjoyed the book for the humor most of all. I have recommended it to some friends, and all of them have told me how enjoyable it is. A perfect vacation book!

Ellen MillerThe Twilight World by Werner Herzog (HF). The German filmmaker Werner Herzog’s first novel tells the story of a Japanese soldier — Hiroo Onoda — who defended a small island in the Pacific for 30 years after the end of World War II. It is an absolutely remarkable and mesmerizing story, from both how Herzog met Onoda to the long hours they spent together unraveling Onoda’s story. We learn how Onoda survived in the jungle and fought the enemy as he had been instructed by his superior officer in 1944, just as the Japanese troops began to withdraw from the island. He ignored repeated pleas to surrender throughout the years, thinking they were ‘enemy’ tricks.

Herzog brilliantly adds some details to the story, which are purely fictional, to fill in the blanks of the actual story and to keep the reader engaged. This is an unusual book, an unbelievable and unknown story brought to life by Herzong’s storytelling and literary talents.

Fran Renehan – The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (F) who also wrote A Gentleman in Moscow, which was one of the best books I have ever read. I think his writing is superb. This story is about a young boy just released from a detention center. He finds his brother, and they set off to find their mother. However, two other boys arrive on the scene that have escaped from the same institution. The stories are twisted, and there are way too many segues for me. But I still could not put it down. 

Fruzsina Harsanyi – The Grieving Brain: The Surprising Science of How We Learn from Love and Loss by Mary-Frances O’Connor (NF). This amazing book by a neuro-scientist shares groundbreaking discoveries about how our brain handles grief and provides a new paradigm for understanding love, loss, and restoration.  During the past 10 months I have read a lot of fiction and non-fiction about grieving, and this is by far the most helpful.  

Garland Standrod H of H Playbook by Anne Carson (F). Anne Carson is an eccentric and quite original poet and translator of ancient Greek texts, and for her translations, she uses modern language and contexts to bring out the depth and wit of the piece involved. H of H Playbook is a facsimile edition of her translation, with illustrations, of Euripides play Herakles. Anne Carson is also well known for her translations of Sappho and of the Oresteia.

Hugh Riddleberger – Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell (NF), author of best selling A Woman of No Importance.  Well written, exploring the life of Clementine Churchill…once again confirms my belief that women are so much better in most things.  Devoted to Winston, without her, most likely Britain would have fallen. His loyal advisor and critic, a complex woman.  Worth a read.

Jane BradleyEmpire of Pain:  The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Kee (NF).  This extraordinary history of the family and the marketing strategy at the heart of the opioid crisis helps you understand, and support, the movement to drop the Sackler name from the museums and galleries whose benefits so many have enjoyed.

Jeff Friedman – The Fall of Robespierre by Colin Jones (NF) provides a detailed, hour-by-hour account of the coup that ended Robespierre’s reign in 1794. The history alone is gripping, but the book also offers fascinating insights into the nature and fragility of political power.

Jesse Maniff – In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (NF). Set in Nazi Germany in 1933 and told from the perspective of the American ambassador’s family, this book was a terrifying reminder of what can happen when fringe beliefs become normalized in the pursuit of maintaining power.

Judy WhiteThe Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman (NF). I had read this some years ago and re-read it last winter, enjoying it again. The author becomes very involved with all the players in a real-life drama involving a Hmong family, whose young child has seizures that cannot be controlled, and the doctors and social workers who try to help.  She (the author) is able to understand where each of these people is coming from and convey their positions beautifully, no easy task.  The author, too, plays a role even as she observes. An all-time favorite — I’ll probably read it again in a few years.  

Kate Latts – Hands down the best book I have read in the past few month is The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray (HF). There are three interwoven true stories about the women who were inspired by the legacy of Marquis de Lafayette and his castle in the French countryside. One of the  stories set in the late 1700s chronicles Lafayette’s wife throughout their 34 year marriage and his journey to become a beloved hero. The second story is set during WWI and features the real life woman who created the Lafayette Foundation as she travels between NYC and France establishing Lafayette’s castle as an orphanage. The third story is set in WWII and focuses on a young woman who grew up the orphanage and joins the resistance movement during German occupation. The book is not short, but very good.

Kathleen Kroos – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (F). This book has huge juicy secrets right up until the end. 

Larry Maknson – Walking the Bowl: A True Story of Murder and Survival Among the Street Children of Lusaka by Christ Lockhart & Daniel Mulilo Chama (NF). An absorbing, immersive look at the lives of street children in Lusaka, Zambia. The book is a result of a multi-year anthropological study of the slum-dwelling kids, but it reads like a novel as it follows the lives of its four main characters. An absorbing read.

Marsha Harbinson – In the City of Bikes: The Story of The Amsterdam Cyclist by Pete Jordan (NF), It’s a fascinating history of cycling in Amsterdam & especially interesting to read of the cycling resistance to the Nazi occupation in WWII.

Martha Curtin – Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, (HF). I recently read this historical fiction novel that explores life from the perspective of Koreans who emigrated to Japan during WW2. The book is presented in three parts, representing 3+ generations, but is a quick read due to it being well written.  This rich time in history offers personal stories from so many perspectives… I’m hooked on historical fiction from this era. 

Mike WhiteThe Rose Code by Kate Quinn (HF).  I don’t read much fiction but really enjoyed this novel, based on real events and people, about the codebreakers in England during World War II.  Hard to put down; many twists and turns in the plot.  Judy liked it too.

Mary L – Damon Runyon Omnibus by Damon Runyon (F). I finally finished 500 pages of Damon Runyon short stories which I’ve been sampling for four years.  They are funniest when read one at a time as a pause between longer books.  Available on-line in Australia:  https://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks11/1100651h.html

The natural habitat of Harry the Horse and Nathan Detroit is the  neighborhood of Manhattan where I was born. I even found a reference to the hospital where that occurred in one of the stories. Runyon’s stories are all in the present tense which makes them even livelier than they naturally are. I marvel that a man born in Kansas (Kansas!) could capture the ethos of 1920s/30s New York. Set aside all your modern concerns about sexism and representation and go to Guys and Dolls-land.  This guy says the book can do.

Meg Gage – The Weight of Ink, Rachel Kadish (HF). A remarkable story that weaves an interconnected tale of two women: one a Jewish survivor of the Spanish Inquisition and a refuge from Amsterdam, who in London manages to become a scribe for a blind rabbi; the other a jaded and ailing London historian who has a deep personal and professional connection to Jewish history.  The story and the connection of the two main characters is launched when a huge trove of 350 year old original Jewish letters and documents is found in the course of the renovation of an derilict mansion outside London. The book took Kadish over 10 years to write, which resulted in a deeply researched and poignant story with plot threads involving the likes of Shakespeare and Spinoza.  Amazing details about life in London just before and during the plague — I felt like I was there!  One of the most compelling books I’ve read in years.

Richard Miller – The Grieving Brain: The Surprising Science of How We Learn from Love and Loss by Mary-Francis O’Connnor (NF). Recently, I came across what has truly been the most insightful explanation of anything I’ve read in connection with the topics of loss, grieving, and grief.  O’Connor writes about what happens in our brain when we experience loss and why grief and grieving are so powerful. In helping us understand what science has recently learned about these issues, she shows us a new perspective and a new way to think about these powerful issues. O’Connor writes that The Grieving Brain is in no way an ‘advice book,’ yet for me it offers so many new insights on these subjects that I will return to it many times and will certainly recommend it others.

Romana Campos – I just finished The Night Watchman (F) by Louise Erdrich and really enjoyed it.  Can you fact check this, but I believe it won a Pulitzer Prize (Ed. Yup. 2021). So what did I like about it? Cultural perspective. The conversations that take place inside the homes and the workplaces of individuals and families make you feel like you’re sitting at the kitchen table with family, and you find out what’s important and relevant from the perspective of that person, that family, and that community’s lived experience. 

Sam Black – Breaking the Age Code by Becca Levy (NF). Levy, a professor at Yale, develops the evidence that common American stereotypes about “senior citizens” are inaccurate and are quite different from the way society views these citizens in some other countries.  Moreover, she builds the case that when society believes these things, senior citizens go along, to their detriment, and that these beliefs actually increase illness and death rates.  So be warned!

*** *** ***

On a slightly different note, since there are so many books available and we have so many choices, I am curious about how each of you came to read the book you cited. If you have a few moments, please let me and others know in the Comment section of this post how you chose this particular book as well as generally how you go about picking the books you read. That may give all of us ideas of how to find good reads and not spend time on books that are not worthy of our reading time.

Thru Ellen’s Lens: Amsterdam and Beyond

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Following my bike trip from Belgium to the Netherlands, Ellen met me in Amsterdam where we spent four days in that vibrant city and several days in the northern part of the Netherlands. We had last been in Amsterdam more than 20 years ago.

We stayed in the Jordaan neighborhood wandering along the canals, by the cafes, restaurants, small shops and markets, and dodging the bicycles. We joined a demonstration in Dam Square in support of the people of Ukraine and visited the (former) Jewish Quarter and the stunning Holocaust Memorial.

Mostly we drank coffee (and had apple pie and scones) in various cafes and just enjoyed observing the exuberant activity in this part of Amsterdam. We did have two memorable meals (Restaurant Daalder and the Pesca Vis Seafood Restaurant).

We ventured by rented car out of the city, getting lost on numerous occasions but visited some of the small fishing villages and towns to the north. We also took a train one day to The Hague, specifically to revisit the three Vermeer’s and the Rembrandt’s at Mauritshuis.

Below you will see ten of Ellen’s favorite photos from this trip, and if you want to see more, check out the link below to her slide show.

Central Railway Station
Boats, Bikes, & Canals
Pigeons in Dam Square
The Jewish Quarter, Then & Now
A Peaceful Canal
Ukrainian Demonstration, Dam Square
Amsterdam Reflection on a Door
Some Old Ones Still Remain
Hague Reflection
Village Curtains

If you want to see more of Ellen’s photos of Amsterdam and the northern part of the Netherlands, use this link to Ellen’s slide show: Thru Ellen’s Lens: Amsterdam

For the best viewing, click on double arrows at the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show.

See all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either). They are much sharper, and the larger format presents them in much more detail than the ones above, or if you only look at the opening page of the slide show.

One Favorite Read

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A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read.” A. Lincoln

Since it’s the middle of the year, and three months since the last Call for Favorite Reads, I thought it might be valuable to continue mid-year posting of books MillersTime readers are particularly enjoying.

For this mid-year call, I’m asking that you send in just one title and your accompanying remarks about why you enjoyed that book.

As usual, give the title, author, identify the book as F or NF, and, most importantly, write a few sentences or a paragraph of what it was/is about this book that makes it into your category of particularly enjoyable or exceptional.

If you do not have anything to add at this point, you might want to check out the 3/30/22 post, Winter-Spring 2022: Best Reads. There were a number of enticing reads in that post.

I already know what book I’ll select out of the several very good ones I’ve read in the last three months.

How about you?

Deadline for Submission – July 15th

Send to Samesty84@gmail.com

(But don’t wait – I don’t plan to send a reminder)

Yes, It’s True…I Biked from Bruges to Amsterdam!

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A Prologue:

A year ago my ‘older’ cousin and his wife (Ronald & Elizabeth) invited us to join them on a week-long VBT bike-barge trip from Bruges (Belgium) to Amsterdam (the Netherlands). Ellen, immediately, definitely, and wisely declined as she never learned to ride a bike as a child. I was intrigued, in large part because I enjoy being with Ron and Elizabeth. So, with Ellen’s encouragement, I agreed to go.

Basically, I didn’t think much about the trip until about six months ago, when I learned Ron and Elizabeth were ‘training’ for the ‘guided vacation.’ Having only ridden twice on a bike in the last four decades, I suddenly realized I’d better get serious about being prepared. So I rode on an indoor bike throughout this past winter, then borrowed an e- bike from my son–in-law two months ago so I could ride outside. Eventually, I was riding 20-30 miles a day around Washington. (The longest single day ride on the VBT trip would be 40 miles, divided between a morning and an afternoon ride. The approximate 160 miles we’d ride on the trip was on flat bike paths along canals, on country roads, and we’d have the assistance of an e-bike.) I was encouraged I could do it all.

Then, shortly before the trip was to begin June 1, sadly my cousin Elizabeth had to withdraw because of a foot injury, and Ron understandably did not want to go without her.

A dilemma for me. I’ll spare you the details, but ultimately I decided to go anyway.

The Journey:

On June 1 I flew to Brussels, where I was met by a VBT representative, and together with two other VBT ‘peddlers’ we were driven to Bruges. I was not happy to learn that 15 of the 18 people on the trip all knew each other and had been together for many previous bike trips. I was concerned that I was a novice at biking long distances and might be an outsider with so many people already knowing each other. But I did know one couple from a previous trip Ellen and I had made with Ron & Elizabeth.

I spent a couple of days walking around Bruges, a lovely Belgian city Ellen and I and our daughter Elizabeth had visited previously and remembered fondly. I marveled at Michelangelo’s magnificent Madonna and Child in the Church of Our Lady and climbed and descended the 366 steep steps of the

medieval Belfry Tower for a stunning view over city. Basically, however, I just wandered by myself in the city, spending much of my time sitting at the St. Joris Cafe overlooking the main square, eating apple strudel and frites, tasting various Belgian beers, listening to the tower bells, and observing a world away from Washington, DC.

It was a relaxing and lovely start in this quiet city dominated by bicycles.

Our group met one of our guides and walked with her for about an hour to the barge where we’d board, so to speak, for the next six days. Our rooms reminded me of the sleeping compartments on a train, though slightly larger. The barge, named Fiep after the captain’s daughter, had lots of common space inside and outside, space for all of our VBT provided bikes, and proved to be a comfortable home for the week.

We were immediately introduced to our e-bikes — and each other — and embarked on a 13 mile ‘get to know your bike’ ride along the Bruges-Ghent canal into the heart of Flanders, the Dutch speaking area of Belgium. As promised, the bike paths and roads were paved, flat, and well marked. Additionally, we each had a detailed GPS system installed on our smartphones which guided us with turn by turn navigation. So even though I was a novice, this warm-up ride was easy, and I had no trouble surviving my first bike excursion.

After this ride, we spent the first night on our ‘barge,’ moored near the beautiful city Ghent. Dinner aboard the Fiep was delightfully delicious as were all of the following meals on the barge. Following this very chatty and noisy dinner, we sat on the upper deck, introducing ourselves to each other. Despite my earlier fears, I found them to be an impressive group of people. I think most of the group were 70 or older and were mostly retired. (** See my apology in the COMMENT section of this post). Everyone seemed to have a special fondness for travel, for the outdoors, and obviously for biking. Everyone, except myself, had multiple experiences with biking trips in various parts of the world. Many of the group had gone to medical school together and had stayed in touch over the years. I was soon to learn that this group of 15 were warm, inclusive, and interesting fellow travelers. In addition, there were two ‘young’ women guides (in their mid 30s) and one male ‘trainee’. All three were more than just tour guides and experienced bikers as we were to discover in the days that followed. The small staff on the Fiep, including “Captain Harry Sir,” were also friendly and were important in making our time on the barge relaxing and enjoyable.

Vesna Faassan

Croline Ruijgrok

We spent part of the next day touring by a small boat through the canals of Ghent and then a few more hours wandering on foot through this enchanting town. In the afternoon, mostly in a steady rain, we biked along a river and through the countryside and a few small villages to the outskirts of Dendermonde. By the time we finished our 20 mile ride, I was soaked as I foolishly had not put on my rain pants. But I was pleased to have survived the distance and the weather without any difficulty. In the evening, our guides led us through a beer tasting session. There are 370 breweries in Belgium with more 1500 beer brands. We were limited to tasting just nine of them.

The next day we admired the charming square of the centuries-old city Dendermonde as we began our longest ride of the trip, 40 plus miles. We biked through the countryside and ferried across the Sheldt River before stopping in Basel for lunch. We continued through farmland and tiny villages and met our barge in Antwerp, Belgium’s second-largest city. I was delighted to find that I was having no issues with any aspect of the biking and realized that the superb GPS app could allow me to ride more slowly than most of the group without fear of getting lost. For the remainder of the trip, I pedaled more slowly, stopped more often, and took more time to appreciate all I was seeing.

On a non-biking day, our guide introduced us to Antwerp, the “Diamond City” and the home of Peter Paul Reubens. While I generally don’t spend much time in churches, I spent probably an hour almost mesmerized by the four Reubens (The Elevation of the Cross (triptych, 1609-1610), The Descent from the Cross (triptych, 1612), The Resurrection of Christ (triptych, 1612), and The Assumption of Mary (altarpiece, 1626) in Cathedral of Our Lady). I wandered a bit in the old city and enjoyed waffles with ice cream and chocolate sauce before returning to our barge. We spent the afternoon cruising along quiet canals and into the small town of Tholen in the Netherlands. That evening we were divided into small groups and spent several hours in the home(s) of local Dutch families.

The following day involved a 30 mile ride, at least 25 of which were in rainy, chilly weather. We rode through the town of Tholen, along small country lanes, and stopped in the village of Our-Vossemeer, the ancestral home of the Roosevelt family. I rode leisurely, stopping particularly to admire the old fashion windmills and the plethora of new wind turbines. We ended in the town of Dorderecht with its crooked church and buildings. It’s one of Holland’s oldest towns and the birthplace of the state of the Netherlands. Fortunately, I had remembered to wear my rain pants, and thus the rain was only a minor inconvenience and didn’t inhibit my enjoyment of the day.

The next day brought a 38+ mile ride in great weather. The highlight was A UNESCO World Heritage Site – the 19 windmills at Kinderdijk. The Dutch have a long history — more than 1000 years — of using windmills not only for power (e.g., grinding grain) but importantly for water management. As much of the country is below sea level, windmills were built to pump water out of the lowlands and back into the rivers beyond the dikes to deal with flooding issues. This day was particularly lovely, cycling through small towns and back roads with many dairy farms and numerous canals. We ended in the medieval town of Vianeh.

Our final day of biking was a mere 28 miles, starting in the little town of Bruekelen and across its white drawbridge, the original “Brooklyn” Bridge. We admired the large 17th-century summer mansions and country estates built by wealthy Amsterdam merchants. Following a picnic lunch next to a windmill and the River Vecht, we rode single file with the guidance of one of the trip leaders the final eight miles along the Amsterdam-Rhine canal all the way into the city of Amsterdam. That was the only portion of the entire 169 miles we cycled that presented a challenge. But we all made it without mishap.

Ellen had flown to Amsterdam a day or two before our group’s arrival there and joined us for the late afternoon and final evening dinner on the boat. We remained in and around the city for five days, and you will get the benefit of her photography of Amsterdam in another post. In the meantime, here is her photo of our group of 18 and our three guides.

My major takeaways:

  • Delight and pride in being able to bike comfortably long distances without difficulty, even in the rain. I might even do more biking in the coming months.
  • Enjoyment in exploring Belgium and the Netherlands from the perspective of a bicycle, a boat, and on foot.
  • Indulgence of being largely on my own without my usual need to be too concerned about others.
  • Stimulating conversations with the Dutch trip leaders, their backgrounds, lifestyle, and various vocations. They were far more than just guides.
  • Enjoyment of dinners, discussions, and riding with others of my age group who have chosen to be actively in the world. My initial concerns about being added on to an in-group of 15 were definitely unfounded.
  • Learning about the the people of the Netherlands (and the difference between Holland and the Netherlands), starting with the informative book Why the Dutch Are Different by Ben Coates.
  • In the notes I jotted down each evening, I listed 12 times I forgot something or needed help, starting with our drive to the airport when Ellen asked if I had my iPhone (I didn’t and needed to go back into the house to get it). Just some of the other assistance necessary included such things as forgetting evening pills, wallet, helmet, rain pants, backpack, getting my new earphones to work, help with getting the map app started each day, and daily reminders not to trip over the slightly raised doorstep entrance onto the barge.
  • VBT is terrific at all aspects of what they do – planning and executing bicycle vacations.
  • It was a wonderfully restorative week, and I owe thanks to Ron and Elizabeth, Hal & Rona Goodman, the other participants on the trip, the VBT organization, and particularly its guides. And certainly, Ellen’s and my sister’s encouragement was key.

Addendum:

Reading on the way back to DC: