Here it is:
Sixty-six books (41 fiction, 25 non-fiction) particularly enjoyed this summer by 35 folks who have succumbed to my badgering to send the titles of their most recent favorites. Much thanx to all 35 of you.
If you missed sending in a title or two, don’t fret. I’ll call again for books in December and post an end of the year list of what folks have enjoyed in 2011.
And one note — it doesn’t matter if someone else has already mentioned a title. One of the ‘benefits’ of the MillersTime list is to see and know what various folks are reading and enjoying.
Keep a list.
1. Fran Renehan:
Two books I enjoyed:
Then Came You (F) by Jennifer Weiner
The Condition (F) by Jennifer Haigh
2. Lydia Hill Slaby:
The Devil in the White City (NF) by Erik Larson. I loved this book.
3. Ellen Miller:
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family Family in Hitler’s Berlin (NF) by Erik Larson. My must read of the summer.
4. Judy White:
The Warmth of Other Suns (NF) by Isabel Wilkerson. I really enjoyed this non-fiction book about the great migration of blacks from the South to the North in the first half of the 20th century. Wilkerson is not only a meticulous researcher, debunking myths with facts, but he is also a great storyteller and did a yeoman’s job interviewing literally hundreds of people and letting them tell their stories.
Let the Great World Spin (F) by Colum McCann. It is an amazing book which continues to haunt me.
5. Mike White:
Unbroken (NF) by Laura Hillenbrand, a true story of an unknown hero from WWII by the author of Seabiscuit.
6. Todd Endo:
Death and Life of Great American Schools (NF) by Diane Ravitch. She rehearses educational issues (vouchers, charter schools, high stakes testing, accountability, NCLB, rating teachers by test scores) that I have worked in, states her position on these issues in the 1980s and 1990s (she was Asst. Sec. of Education in the first Bush administration), cites research studies that change her mind, reflects on why she held her positions and why she changer her mind — all in clear, non-jargon English. And she comes around to my point of view, which I had held in opposition to Ravitch and her cohorts in the 1970s and 1980s. Great satisfaction!
Sports in America (NF) by James Michener. I must have picked up this book at a garage sale for 25 cents. It’s torn and tattered, but a jewel, if you like sports. Written in 1976, Michener travels through lots of sports issues, like what happened to the Litle League World Series champs of 1954 (almost all gave up baseball by high school), what sports people should learn for their lifetime, what to do about big time college football (his proposal is gaining currency now, after Ohio State, USC, and now Miami). It’s a series of essays, as a labor of love by a good writer and thinker.
7. Jeff Friedman:
Empire of the Summer Moon (NF) by S.C. Gwynne. One of the most interesting new books I’ve read in some time. It’s nonfiction and describes the rise and fall of Comanche dominance in the southwest. It provides a very lucid and very interesting account of tribal culture and politics, as well as the Comanches’ relations with U.S. settlers. The main Comanche leader, Quanah Parker, was half-white, and he is a thoroughly fascinating character who drives the narrative. It’s the sort of history I think most people wish they knew more about, and this is a great way to learn it.
8. Glen Willis:
Cutting for Stone (F) by Abraham Verghese. When I read the following words on page nine of this book, I knew it was something I had to read: “Life, too, is like that. You live it forward, but understand it backward.” The story is told that way, retrospectively by Marion, a famous surgeon.
The story begins with the difficult birth of twin boys, named Shiva and Marion. Joined at the head in the womb, they remain joined in spirit for the rest of their lives. Their birth mother, an Indian nun dies at birth and their father, an English surgeon, runs away. The story plays out in Ethiopia in the 1950’s. The boys are adopted by two surgeons who work at a tiny hospital outside the city of Addis Ababa.
At times I wished the story would move faster but when I finished the book I understood the saying I quoted above. Each event is so important to the whole life story that to skip over it would cause you to lose the life thread.
The story is about life and death; callousness and compassion; hurting and healing; pride and humility; wealth and poverty; faith, doubt, belief in others; enablement, mentoring, betrayal, forgiveness and finally hope. It’s a book I will keep on my shelf.
9. Eric Stravitz:
A Soldier of the Great War (F) by Mark Helprin. A work of fiction, it resonates with themes of honor, dignity, and decency. Helprin has a keen eye for describing the beauty of life, even in extremely harsh conditions.
10. Ellen Kessler:
I am a little late in reading best sellers but just finished three that I enjoyed:
Water for Elephants (F) by Sara Gruen. My middle daughter reads voraciously despite being an attorney working full time. She did not like Water for Elephants, and our taste is generally similar, but I “read” it on my MP-3 player as an audiobook and really enjoyed it. The readers of those books are phenomenal, and they generally make a good book even better. (Loved my audiobook rendition of Cutting for Stone, for example–hated it to be over!).
Unbroken (NF) by Laura Hildebrandt. It is nonfiction, about Louis Zamperini, the runner of the 40s, who endured horrors in Japanese POW camps and then, after a downward spiral, found God through Billy Graham (one of my all time unfavorite people). Nevertheless and overlooking that part, I liked the book. I could never understand the general antipathy towards the Japanese and didn’t know about the post-war War Crime tribunals for Japanese and the horrors of those POW camps, but now I do and remain shocked at the political expediency that caused the commutation of sentences and parole of so many convicted criminals when we needed Japan as a political ally. Plus ca change, plus the meme chose. The book was fascinating for many reasons.
Start-Up Nation (NF) by Dan Senour and Saul Singer. I will say only that it is imperative reading–not just because it is about Israel’s strengths and accomplishments but because it makes one ponder our country’s problems and our society’s shortcomings. Fabulous book–and I am a reader of fiction who forces herself to read non-fiction to preserve the few brain cells that are still working for me.
(I just rediscovered Charles McCarry, whose Tears of Autumn (F) I read in the 70s and haven’t forgotten. I hadn’t realized he had written so many more and are plunging through them–just finished Shelley’s Heart (F), which was fun even if the impeachment trial there was written before Bill Clinton’s! If one likes political/spy books that are intelligent and thought provoking, McCarry is wonderful. I also read Daniel Silva‘s latest novel of the same genre (only his bad guys are Arabs or Russians working with them rather than the villains who were threatening whenMcCarry wrote!) and enjoyed it.; I love his Israeli art restorer and Arab hunter protagonist , Gabriel Alon. I did not like Cleopatra, which won awards–it wasn’t readable to me–nonfiction and too scholarly for my aging brain, I guess. And I am just beginning a book entitled 2666 (F), which won the National Book award a few years ago. So far it seems a bit curious and dry, but I will read on to see why it won so many awards.
Finally, a dear college friend of mine asked me to read A Summer Without Men (F), by Siri Hustvedt. She said it was “really strange but wonderful” and wants to talk about it with me as we used to do when we were young and intellectual! Now I am a grandmother whose oldest grandchild is this minute moving into a dorm at the U of Michigan to begin her freshman year. Wow–where did the time go? And how many brain cells flew by with the years?)
11. Laurie Kleinberg:
Crossing to Safety (F) by Wallace Stegner. A novel (with autobiographical parallels to the world of academia) about friendship, marriage and growing old — much of which is set in beautiful summertime New England.
12. Elizabeth Miller:
Clare DeWitt and the City of the Dead (F) by Sara Gran. Quick and fun murder mystery that takes place in post Katrina New Orleans.
The King of Lies (F) by John Hart. Good summer read. John Grisham meets Pat Conroy.
Robopocalypse (SF) by David Wilson. Science fiction. Next time you think your iPhone is the best thing since sliced bread pick up this book. You have been warned.
13. Bill Plitt:
First You Have to Row a Little Boat: Reflections on Life and Living (NF) by Richard Bode. It’s a book for all teachers. It’s a must read for all teachers who are sailors. It’s a requirement for all who step foot on my ship, if I still had one.
14. Kerry Mitchell:
Difficult Loves (F) by Italo Calvino. A collection of short stories exploring various facets and forms of love.
15. Sal Giambanco:
Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty (NF) by Abhijit V. Baneriee and Esther Duflo. A must read for those care about world poverty.
God is Not a Christian: And Other Provocations (NF) by Desmond Tutu.
16. Mary Lincer:
Finishing the Hat (NF) by Stephen Sondheim. Those who already appreciate musical theatre have probably already read this first person monograph about his creative process during the first 30 years of his career. It’s must-reading.
Anything a book lover chooses to read by Mark Helprin satisfies and enriches. He’s the only writer in history who can simultaneously narrate and render a character’s feelings. This summer I read A Kingdom Far and Clear (F), illustrated by Chris van Allsburg and printed in hard cover on the most elegant paper I have ever felt. It is a children’s book the way St. Exupery’s Le Petit Prince is simply a children’s book or the way Casablanca is only a movie about a romantic triangle or the way “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is just a TV show about a space ship.
At Helprin.com, you can order books which are discounted from MSRP and which arrive signed by the author.
17. Carrie Trauth:
I read two science fiction books that I liked a lot, this summer
Bad Moon Rising (SF) by Sherrilyn Kenyon- The major characters in this war story are half human and half animal.
Genesis of Shannara- The Elves of Cintra (SF) by Terry Brooks. This is the first of a new fantasy trilogy. The story tells about a plague infested America besieged by demons,elves and magical humans.
The last book I read is the story of a college graduates return to her family’s home in Sullivans Island, South Carolina. She learns a lot about herself and her family. The book is Return to Sullivans Island (F) by Dorthea Benton Frank.
18. Bob Thurston:
The Shipping News (F) by Annie Proulx. I read it this summer and really enjoyed it.
19. Leslie Lieman:
Cutting for Stone (F) by Abraham Verghese. Loved it. Rich, well-developed characters. Although medical/hospital setting would usually turn me off, I loved the author’s passion for his practice and desire to share his joy of healing with the reader. Ethiopia setting is powerful. A few soap opera twists towards the end, alas, the writer needed to wrap up the loose ends.
Zeitoun (NF) by Dave Eggers. Beautifully written, poetic in the beginning. Then the terrors, not of natural disaster, but of the mishandling and fear-driven government treatment he endured in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Only true faith would enable someone to forgive America for what he went through. I don’t.
20. Kathy Camicia:
Let The Great World Spin (F) by Colum McCann. I know it’s been mentioned before, but I just finished it, and it felt quite timely with 9/11 approaching. Extremely well written and most of us can remember the events.
Too Much Happiness (F) by Alice Munro. I could say any book by Alice Munro, but this is the latest for me. No one writes short stories better.
21. Jane Bradley:
Unbroken (NF) by Laura Hillenbrand. While driving home from New Hampshire, I listened to the audio version of (this) World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, and I didn’t want to get out of the car when I arrived.
22. Richard Miller:
Half the Sky (NF) by Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I listened to this on CD on a recent trip to and from NY as this book had been on my ‘to read’ list since it was published in 2010. I thought it might be too much of a polemic. Not so. There are so any wonderful things about what Kristof and WuDunn have done as they make the case for what they call the moral outrage and challenge of our time.
The Snowman (F) by Jo Nesbo. If you’re looking for a replacement for Steig Larsson, you might check out Jo Nesbo. He’s a Norwegian writer whose books will keep you up and reading all night. A film of his very successful novel Headhunters, (I haven’t read it yet) is just out in Europe and will be shown around the world.
23. David P. Stang:
The Best American Short Stories 2010 (F); Richard Russo, Editor, Mariner Books/ Houghton Mifflin.
The Best American Essays 2010 (NF); Christopher Hitchens, Editor, also Mariner Books.
For about the past 20 years I have been reading both of these annual book length publications. The series editor for each title selects from several dozen North American journals and magazines his or her choice for the best 200 short stories or essays then passes them on to the guest annual issue editor to select the top 20 stories or essays. Both series and annual editors write introductions and the stories and essays are respectively contained in the annual issue bearing the date of the year after they were originally published.
What I value about these two outstanding annual books is the editors’ choice of those pieces most worthy of republication. My perception is that the common thread criteria for selections to be included in both annual publications consists of (A) uniqueness, interest and expertise of subject matter and (B) excellence of writing. This obviously combines the best of substance as well as of form. The items selected consist of well-known writers, including professors of MFA courses in writing, as well as up and coming young writers making their first splash in the big time literary scene. In short, both of these titles give the reader an opportunity for an excellent first-hand glimpse at what the best (or at least better) American writers are writing about as well as their individual style.
23. Ellen Shapira:
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (F) by Helen Simonson. A charming story about a retired very British major’s romance with a widowed Pakistani woman. If you liked the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society you will love this.
Caleb’s Crossing (F) by Geraldine Brooks. Not quite as good as her previous books but an interesting novel set in Colonial New England.
The Invisible Bridge (F) by Julie Orringer. A powerful Holocaust novel set in pre-war Paris and Hungary.
24. Sean McLaughlin:
Our Father, Frank (F) (a novella) by Joseph Chamberlin. A small book…an easy read…This is a personal book by a good friend, BUT I enjoyed it very much. Adopted, Joe as an adult wanted to know more about his “birth” parents. This is the story of his journey of discovery. It is interesting and amazing!
Absolute Monarchs (NF) by John J Norwich. This is an historians take on the history of all the popes of the Catholic Church and how “human” this 2000 year old institution is based on its leaders. It really didn’t learn too much that I already didn’t know, but I totally enjoyed the book and the many crazy, corrupt, and saints of this book.
Unbroken (NF) by Laura Hillenbrand. This is a great story! A true story of a WW11 soldier who survives to tell his journey….and boy, what a journey! It is a story of courage and survival that you will enjoy.
25. Donna Pollet:
Shadow in the Wind (F) by Carlos Ruiz Zafron. Language, characters and plot make for an all consuming reading experience. For the bibliofile and all who enjoy a magical tale and like their stories dark this is a gothic mix of mystery, murder, forbidden, passionate love, political intrigue, and eccentric characters set in post World War II Barcelona. For fans of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Borges or A.S. Byatt’s Possession. This made me want to get on the next plane to Barcelona……..
Before I Go To Sleep (F) by S.J.Watson. First novelist Watson presents a suspenseful and psychologically intriguing portrait of a woman who wakes up everyday without a past or an identity. Nothing may be what it appears, and even the help by therapeutic professionals is suspect. Only gradually are blurry, scant hints of previous experiences illuminated which builds the tension for both the main character and the reader as they attempt to figure out the puzzle of who, what, when, and where over and over again.
Reading My Father (NF) by Alexandra Styron. For those who read Styron’s own memoir, Darkness Visible, a searing memoir of depression, here is another view from his daughter. In a loving, reverential and forthright portrait, Alexandra Styron bears witness to all of the dimensions of her father’s life.
26. Kate Latts:
I have not read anything awesome lately. The best I have read was My Name is Mary Sutter (F) by Robin Oliviera. It takes place during the Civil War (and is) about a young woman who wants to be a surgeon but is relegated to being a nurse with the Potomac Army. I also read Girl in Translation (NF) by Jean Kwok, and I really liked it. It is about a young Chinese girl acclimating to life in school in the US.
27. Kathleen Kroos:
Cutting for Stone (F) by Abraham Verghese. I highly recommend this book about twins born in the early 1950’s to a British Doctor and an Indian Nun in Ethiopia. The book is narrated by one of the twins and is very engrossing.
28. Anita Rechler:
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin (NF) by Erik Larson — Revealing history of earliest days of the Nazi ascent to power; scary similarities with some current events.
28. Suzanne Stier:
Unbroken (NF) by Laura Hillenbrand
In the Garden of the Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family Family in Hitler’s Berlin (NF) by Eric Larson
Cleopatra (NF) by Stacy Schiff. No so well written but worth the trouble for the history and the “unspinning” of her reputation.
Jayne Eyre (F) by Charlotte Bronte. Very worth a second or third read.
How Soccer Explains the World (NF) by Franklin Foer. Amazing how in most countries soccer isn’t only a game…it’s a political and military happening.
29. Karen Pogoda:
State of Wonder (F) by Ann Padget
The Bells (F) by Richard Harvell
30. Cindy Olmstead:
South of Broad (F) by Pat Conroy. Good read!!!
31. Martha Curtin:
The Help (F) by Kathryn Stockett
32. Kevin Curtin:
After Sunset (F) by Stephen King. Short stories — creepy but good of course.
33. Mary Bardone:
Embers (F) by Hungarian author Sandor Marai. I really enjoyed this one.
34. Gabi Beaumont:
The Help (F) by Kathryn Stockett. The only fiction I read recently that I enjoyed.
35. Norman Rates:
May Thy Dear Walls Remain: Memoirs of a College Minister, The Sisters Chapel, Spelman College (NF) by Norman Rates, Dean Emeritus
(Note: I have taken the liberty of including this book, which I have not yet read but is on my ‘to read’ list. Norm lead the Crossroads Africa group in 1963 which began my travels and interest in worlds beyond my home. Richard Miller)