Favorite Books, Favorite Books Read This Year, Millerstime, MillersTime Readers's Favorite Books
First, much thanks to all who sent in your favorite reads, those who have done so in the past — and continued to do so — and the dozen or so new contributors too.
Please forgive my endless reminders, tho the results, I believe, may have been worth the nagging. (Late additions will be posted as they arrive, without any snarky comments from the editor.)
I often heard three comments from readers:
- “Nothing really great this year…”
- “I can’t really remember (all of) what I’ve read…but here are a few…”
- *As I get older, I find I’m reading more nonfiction…”
Nevertheless, seventy of you contributed this year, listing 250 different books, split virtually evenly between fiction and nonfiction. The female-male division was 54%-46% (F/M), about what it has been in the past. About 20% of you were in what I would loosely call the ‘younger’ category, under approximately 39 years of age (my definition of ‘younger’ continues to expand).
I’ve made several adjustments in my posting of the results of what you’ve sent:
- I’ve listed contributors alphabetically to make it easier for you to find specific individuals to see what they have enjoyed.
- I have put stars (****) in front of all books that have been listed more than once. The number of stars refers to the number of times the book appears as a favorite (and NOT how highly individuals rated a book).
- On a separate link, you can see in one place all the books that were listed more than once this year.
- For those of you who may want to see the lists from previous years, simply click on which year you want to review – 2009, 2010, 2011.
For a quick overview, titles that appeared five or more times were:
- Behind the Beautiful Forevers (NF) by Katherine Boo – 7
- The Passage of Power (NF) by Robert Caro -6
- This Is How You Lose Her (F) by Junot Diaz – 6
- The Hare with Amber Eyes (NF) by Edmund de Waal – 5
- Gone Girl (F) by Gillian Flynn – 5
- Cutting for Stone (F) by Abraham Verghese – 5
But as is often said, “the devil is in the details.” I suspect one of the strengths of this (and previous) year’s list has more to do with what contributors said about why they enjoyed certain books rather than the number of times a book was listed.
When I printed out the lengthy list you are about to see, I found 20 different titles I immediately marked for my ‘to read’ list for the coming year and another 29 that also interested me. Many of these were only mentioned once or twice.
Just a reminder that this list is not meant to be the best books published in 2012, but rather what the title of this posting states – ‘The Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers in 2012.’
And, of course, I take responsibility for any inaccuracies or mistakes in the posting of the titles, authors, comments, etc. as MillersTime readers rarely make grammatical or other mistakes in their submissions. Please feel free to let me know about any of my errors as I can correct them quickly and easily.
House of Stone (NF) by Anthony Shadid. (This book) is so elegantly written, with such understanding, self-deprecating look at life and dreams, that the greatest sadness in finishing its joyful pages is knowing that it’s author, NY Times columnist Anthony Shadid, will not write another. Shadid, 42, died on assignment in Syria early this year.
Before I Go to Sleep (F) by SJ Watson
Still Alive (F) by Lisa Genevo
Elizabeth Street (F) by Laurie Fabanio
*****Gone Girl (F) by Gillian Flynn
***Defending Jacob (F) by William Landay
What Alice Forgot (F) by Liane Moriarty
**Kitchen House (F) by Kathleen Grissom
Sea of Poppies (F) by Amitav Ghosh. Recommended by Ellen Sudow, first in a trilogy of grand novels, the first set in 10th-century India. Color and drama, robust and intriguing characters, the novel creates a world in itself. Like an epic soap opera — reminded me of The Jewel in the Crown.
***The Cat’s Table (F) by Michael Ondaatje. Also recommended by Ellen. A short fictionalized memoir, set on a passenger liner in 1950, steaming from Ceylon to London, of two young Ceylonese boys heading off to England to start their years of boarding school.
****Matterhorn (F) by Karl Marlantes. Recommended by Kevin Klose. Perhaps the best novel yet to come out of Vietnam. By a Yale graduate and Rhodes Scholar who served as a Marine platoon leader, the book was 40 years in the writing. The chapters on company-level action in the field and in battle will stop you in your tracks. You can taste the sweat and dirt.
***Bring up the Bodies (F) by Hilary Mantel. I’m indebted to Pam Schonberger for putting me on to Mantel originally (Wolf Hall). Her mastery of form continues. A historical novel from the perspective of the protagonist, Henry VIII’s chief minister.
Jane Eyre (F) by Charlotte Bronte. Having never read it before, I plunged into it this summer. Some of the prose is classic. A good read – some famous characterizations, descriptions, settings and lines – but the novel was more interesting to me for the ground it broke at the time of publication.
House of God (F) by Samuel Shem. I’d been looking for this novel for years; it’s been in print continuously for decades, but it’s sort of an underground book, famous in the medical profession. It created stereotypes of patients, care and physicians that ring immediately and completely true and are almost universally in use today. A thinly fictionalized memoir of the first year at Harvard Medical School in the 1970s. Steamy and brutal.
***The Art of Fielding (F) by Chad Harbach. Also recommended by Ellen & Joe Higdon. Something completely different. Part of the book is set in what happens on the baseball team in one season, but that’s not what the book is about. A coming-of-age drama set in a small college town in Wisconsin. It’s not just the young who are finding out the new truths about themselves.
Nonfiction: I read more good nonfiction (including memoirs, biography and history) than fiction this year. Somehow, the nonfiction books that came my way were better than the novels, and more accessible.
It’s Even Worse Than It looks (NF) by Thomas E. Mann & Norman J. Ornstein. The current legislative impasse in Washington. It’s short and very well written, clear, instructive, thoughtful. You can read it on one transcontinental flight.
Watching the English (NF) by Kate Fox. Recommended by Michael Hastings-Black. A British social anthropologist who has lived abroad extensively turns her eye on her fellow residents of the Sceptered Isle. Dead on, academically careful and precise, revelatory, and side-splittingly funny.
Blues (NF) by John Hersey. For those of you who like the New England coast and love to fish for or eat bluefish, this is your book. Short, full of accessible science and canny observation of the species. I knew John Hersey and most of his family, but I had never heard of this book. Came across it in a run-down used bookstore.
A Time of Gifts (NF) by Patrick Fermor. Recommended by Ellen Frost. In 1932, having been kicked out of several English boarding schools, an 18-year old decides to walk from the Netherlands to Istanbul. He does so and keeps a journal, but loses it. Less than a decade later, the war comes, and he becomes a guerrilla in the British Army, living in Nazi-occupied Europe and emerging as an authentic and daring hero. A career as a writer eventuates, and in his 60s he finds his journal and writes a classic story in two volumes, of which this is the first. Intersections with European history and literature, including, coincidentally, The Hare with Amber Eyes. One of the last century’s great travelogs.
Speak, Memory (NF) by Vladimir Nabokov. Recommended by Kathy Camicia. A lyrical, evocative and justly-famous memoir. I’m looking for what next to read in the Nabokov canon.
A Book of Secrets (NF) by Michael Holroyd. Part detective story, by England’s best contemporary biographer, it’s short; a fascinating introduction to Bloomsbury if you want one, from a particular perspective. Raves in the NYTimes review and in the NY Review of Books. Not a biography but several capsule biographies presented in the context of Holroyd’s contemporary (and ongoing even today) search for the origins and the fate of diverse shadowy but important figures.
**Catherine the Great (NF) by Robert Massie. Spellbinding, great storytelling, just carries you on and on. Recommended by Joe Higdon.
*****The Hare with Amber Eyes (NF) by Edmund de Waal. This book has created a sensation in biography and publishing circles; a family history–one of the wealthiest families in the world, based in 19th century Europe–by a descendant, traced through the history of part of the family’s art collection; also a window into pre-WWI Vienna. The author is a well-known Dutch ceramicist; his first venture outside his field. Full of surprises. Rich in the history of turn-of-the-century artistic Paris (think Matisse, Renoir and Proust).
**Unbroken (NF), Laura Hillenbrand. This biography, years in the making by a master writer (who also wrote Seabiscuit), is full of pages and chapters where you say to yourself, “unbelievable.” You thought you knew something about American sports history, about the air war in the Pacific, about WW2 rescues at sea, about life in the Japanese POW camps? You thought wrong.
******The Passage of Power (NF), Robert Caro. A tour de force. Based on painstaking research into an era most of us lived through. The story of Kennedy’s Administration and of his death has been told a thousand times – a book for every day of his short presidency – yet there’s something big and new in every chapter of this book. It’s so well-written, by such a good storyteller, that you can sail through it – or at least read it – a long book – faster than you first thought. In Part 1, you’ve got to read the story of how Johnson delayed his campaign, and think what his strategy could have been; and then the story of Kennedy offering Johnson the VP slot, and Bobby’s followup. Mind bending. (These tidbits I’m telling you don’t spoil the plot for you.) Caro will tell you about the conflicting recollections about what really happened, and then tell you he doesn’t know. The truth is, in some cases, no one really knows. And Caro will tell you that.
**Warmth of Other Suns (NF) by Ida Mae Brandon Gladney. Recommended by Joe Higdon. Another revelatory work of American history, written in a style like butter and sugar, completely personal in the portrayals of three families who left the South as part of the Great Migration. Another master effort at storytelling.
Nothing Like It in the World (NF), Stephen Ambrose. Recommended by Joe H. and my brother Joe as well. The story of the building of the transcontinental railroad, 1863-1869. A story of a major federal intervention in the economy that returned benefits to the nation a thousandfold. A study of visionary government policy and the strategic management (by government and business) of an enterprise. Many political and managerial lessons in the context of a swashbuckling story.
Save Your Money:
Some of you know that I read trash with gusto (as long as it’s good trash). I do this as a public service, to spare you from the truly bad trash. Herewith my final words of advice from my 2012 reading experiences.
Don’t read anything written by James Patterson. Badly written and unconvincing. Stick with Tana French if you want a mystery.
Don’t bother with 50 Shades of Gray or the sequels.
At Last, by Edward St. Aubyn, This short novel, the last in a well-reviewed contemporary English fiction cycle, didn’t do much for me.
Renewing America’s Food Tradition: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods (NF), edited by Gary Paul Nabhan. This is the one I’ve enjoyed the most in the past year. (Ed.: Keith is lawyer by profession and a wonderful chef by choice).
The Glass Castle (NF) by Jeannette Walls. A page-turner which recounts the tumultuous childhood of the author.
Half Broke Horses (F) by Jeannette Walls. I also liked this one which is the story of her maverick, grand-mother beginning in 1930s Texas.
Married to Bhutan (NF) by Linda Leaming. A captivating account of the author’s immersion in a very foreign place, and more.
***The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (F) by Rachel Joyce. Sort of Don Quixote meets Canterbury Tales meets the M5 high meets…(can’t reveal everything). I liked the journey.
Hotel Honolulu (F) by Paul Theroux. Fiction with an autobiographical feel. A scruffy Waikiki hotel provides the setting for viewing the underbelly of paradise.
Breakfast with Buddha (F) by Roland Merullo. Fiction with a spiritual slant based on an actual road trip by the author.
**Flight Behavior (F) by Barbara Kingsolver
***Sweet Tooth (F) by Ian McEwan
****The Sense of an Ending (F) by Julian Barnes
***The Cat’s Table (F) by Michael Ondaatje
**Train Dreams (F) by Denis Johnson (novella)
The Stonecutter (F) by Camilla Lackberg (mystery)
**Mission to Paris (F) by Alan Furst (audiobook)
**Caleb’s Crossing (F) by Geraldine Brooks (audiobook)
Coming of Age on Zoloft: How Antidepressants Cheered Us Up, Let Us Down and Changed Who We Are (NF) by Katherine Sharpe (disclaimer: I know this remarkable young author)
The Road from the Past (NF) by Ina Caro
France in Mind (NF) by Alice Leccese Powers (anthology)
Luncheon of the Boating Party (F) by Susan Vreeland (historical fiction)
**Truman (NF) by David McCullough. – Weighing in at four pounds and 992 pages (not including 100+ pages of notes), this book resided unread on my bookshelf since shortly after it was published in 1993. “I’ll read it someday,” I said to myself. That day came in 2012 when I finally felt fit enough to tote around this rectangular dumbbell. My only regret is that I didn’t read this extraordinary biography sooner. It is the dramatic story of the life of Harry S. Truman (1884-1972), who started as dirt poor Missouri farmer’s son and became one of the most important and controversial presidents of the United States. McCullough is well known for bringing history to life for lay readers, and he does so on every page of in this book. Each phase of Truman’s life becomes a portal for McCullough to shed light on the evolution of the United States from a largely rural society into the economic and military powerhouse that emerged from World War II and became the foundation for the country in which we currently live. While Truman is perhaps best known for approving the decision to drop nuclear bombs on Japan in 1945, he made many extraordinary decisions. His role in expanding the civil rights of African Americans is especially interesting considering his 19th century rural Missouri roots.
****The Sense of an Ending (F) by Julian Barnes, Mann-Booker prize winner. What he leaves out in this short novel–maybe best described as a novella–leaves much to the imagination. The narrator is unreliable, so are our suppositions any more reliable. The surprise ending upset me at first, but then as I considered the book more deeply, I appreciated it more. The Barnes book led to one of the best discussions my book club has ever had!
The Submission (F) by Amy Waldman. Much goes awry in awarding of the design competition for the 9-11 Memorial when it is discovered that the winner’s name is Mohammed Khan. You cannot believe what comes out of the mouths of some of the characters, and you will wince and laugh, and watch the characters change. Somewhat like a Tom Wolfe novel, but not as bloated, the former journalist really hits the mark in describing the art world, the political world, the immigrant world, the mourners world and the post 9-11 world.
***Sweet Tooth (F) by Ian McEwan. He is my favorite author and is eloquent beyond belief which if you read the interview in the NYTimes book section on 12/9 you can easily believe. The story is more out of John LeCarre who is another author I love. But what I found really interesting was what life was like for a young single woman in London in the early 70’s. As usual, he gives us a surprise ending.
****The Sense of an Ending (F) by Julian Barnes. Best book of the year for me. You have to keep the title in mind; it isn’t clear what’s happening and that is the point of the story.
NW (F) by Zadie Smith. I found (NW) disappointing but would still read just because the author’s voice is so beautiful. It is her most unimpressive book, but like I say, I like her voice. I also read her book of essays, Changing My Mind, and loved that. Read her essay on Joni Mitchell in the 12/17 New Yorker for further pleasure.
Consider the Lobster (NF) David Foster Wallace. I came late to read David Foster Wallace, but I am sure I will be reading much more of him. His books of essays is like listening to a good friend who is telling you stories in an eloquent voice. The essay “Big Red Son” is one of the funniest essays I’ve ever read. But again, it’s the voice that speaks to me. Many people have remarked how they experience his voice as something in their own mind.
***Bring up the Bodies (F) by Hilliary Mantel
Steve Jobs (NF) by Walter Isaacson—fascinating picture of an exasperating genius.
The Snowman (F) by Jo Nesbo—good thriller.
**Mission to Paris (NF) by Alan Furst—always entertaining stories of 1930’s Europe.
*****The Hare with the Amber Eyes (NF) by Edmund de Waal—an interesting picture of history through art objects, so good that I bought a netsuke.
Blue Nights (NF) by Joan Didion — another author whose voice I love, but profoundly sad.
As you can tell I seek authors whose voice I love and will read anything they write, even if it’s not their best work.
Broken For You (F) by Stephanie Kallos. A wonderful tale of two women revealing the risks and rewards of human connection.
*****Cutting For Stone (F) by Abraham Verghesse. A multigenerational tale of love, betrayal, medicine and faith.
First You Have To Row A Little Boat (NF) by Richard Bode. Teaches some fundamental principles of life.
An Unfinished Life (NF) by Robert Dallek. Perhaps the best and most complete biography of JFK.
Nixon and Kissinger (NF) Robert Dallek. Uses a wealth of recently declassified archives to brilliantly analyze thier dealings as power brokers in Vietnam, the opening to China, detente with Russia, the Yom Kipper War and Nixon’s eventual resignation over Watergate.
Pilgrim in the Ruins: A Life of Walker Percy (NF) by Jay Tolson.
Tender Bar (NF) by JR Moehringer
**Sutton (F) by JR Moehringer
The Catonsville Nine (NF) by Shawn Francis Peters
The Master (F) by Colm Toibin
***The Hunger Games (F) by Suzanne Collins. (Only because I wanted to know what the campers were reading).
****A Real Emotional Girl (NF) by Tanya Chernov
Failure to Connect and Endangered Minds (NF) both by Jane Healy. How computers affect our children’s minds–and what we can do about it. Both books are scary and fascinating.
Arcadia (F) Lauren Groff. People are probably familiar with Groff’s debut novel, The Monsters of Templeton, which was a fun little jaunt. Arcadia takes Groff’s lyrical style to a deeper level, telling a richly detailed story of a 1960s commune set in upstate New York. For baby boomers and children of baby boomers, it’s a delicious disillusionment of such famous utopian ideologies.
A Song of Ice and Fire (F) by G.R.R. Martin. Yes, this series has now been adapted into an HBO series (and a good one at that) and has been a bit trendy, but Martin’s masterful facility with the subject matters of winter, family, honor, and mother nature are simply stunning. There’s a reason the series is so popular. The following quote from the Book One sums it all up: “What is honor compared to a woman’s love? What is duty against the feel of a newborn son in your arms . . . or the memory of a brother’s smile? Wind and words. Wind and words. We are only human, and the gods have fashioned us for love. That is our great glory, and our great tragedy.”
Mountain Man (F) by Vardis Fisher. This one’s a bit of a classic Western and is famous for inspiring the Robert Redford film, Jeremiah Johnson. The book is so much more than that, though, and conveys a sense of beautifully tragic grandeur that truly stands alone. The sweeping landscapes, the harsh realities of life and loss, and the exquisite complexity of the main character make this book a bucket list kind of read.
An Unquenchable Thirst: A Memoir (NF) by Mary Johnson. Juicy, juicy, juicy memoir from a former nun who was very clearly born to be a writer. Johnson lets us in on the many secrets of life with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. She grapples with her faith, her sexuality, the politics of the order, and her complicated relationship with herself, and discovers truths about the world that will stay with readers for the rest of their lives. The old adage holds true in this case: great stories happen to those who can tell them.
On Writing (NF) by Stephen King. Technically, this is a book about how to be a writer—a sort of guidebook to the craft. And for other writers, this one stands alone and widely loved among a sea of writing primers. But for everyone else (and even for those who don’t care for King’s fiction work), On Writing holds so much that is of value. King becomes human in this book—real and flawed and vulnerable and immensely likeable—and, more importantly, he reveals a good deal more than just the inner workings of his creative process.
The Great Fires (F) by Jack Gilbert. Gilbert passed away only a month ago, and already the reverberations of such a powerful loss to the poetry community are beginning to feel like the stuff of legend. Gilbert did not publish often, was seen in public less, and could be a bit of a misogynist in his writing. But he also captures the most tender, vulnerable, meaningful moments of human existence in a way no one else will ever achieve again. He was an inimitable writer, and this collection showcases his skill without any pulled punches. Profoundly moving, deeply evocative poetry that doesn’t make you feel like you’re reading poetry.
***Let the Great World Spin (F) by Colum McCann
The China Study (NF) by T. Colin Cambell – read this and you’ll wonder why we all don’t become vegans. This is sound research from author and project director T. Colin Campbell (Cornell University) who “details the connection between nutrition and heart disease, diabetes and cancer.” Essentially, he concludes that a plant-based diet is healthier long-term vs. the consumption of animal products.
Born to Run (NF) by Christopher McDougall. “Christopher McDougall sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and learn their secrets, and in the process shows us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong.” Among several interesting characters, this book features the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, who display “techniques that allow them to run hundreds of miles without rest and chase down anything from a deer to an Olympic marathoner while enjoying every mile of it. Their superhuman talent is matched by uncanny health and serenity, leaving the Tarahumara immune to the diseases and strife that plague modern existence.
This was one of the most entertaining and inspiring books I’ve read for some time.
Far from the Tree (NF) by Andrew Solomon, who describes, through interviews with hundreds of families, how parents come to accept their exceptional children – autism, schizophrenia, criminality, deafness, and several other disabilities – this book helped me understand the struggles parents of these children go through, but more importantly, how they ultimately learn to love and accept them. The interview with the parents of Dylan Klebold (Columbine) is especially profound.
Shit My Dad Says (NF?) by Justin Halpern – humor – not for everyone, but I laughed throughout. Essentially about a relationship between a father and son, although the son has to put up with…well, what the title of the book is.
My Dear I Wanted to Tell You (F) by Louisa Young. World War I is not a topic that I would orientate towards in a bookshop. This book was lent by a friend and I feel privileged to have read it. The start was not promising, but stay with it and you will be enveloped. Relationships are explored within the context of the devastation of World War I. Themes explored include the fighting in the trenches, the effects of the war on women and the difficulties faced by men who survived in returning to normal life, often with horrific injuries.
***Bring up the Bodies (F) by Hiliary Mantel. The sequel to Wolf Hall…wonderful.
The Queen’s Agent Francis Walsingham at the Court of Elizabeth I (NF) by John Cooper….the best historical biography I read this year. The delicious first sentence sets the tone: “ On the feast day of St Bartholomew 1572 a marked man picked his way through the streets of Paris.”
*****The Hare with the Amber Eyes (NF) by Edmund de Waal. This book is unusual and a small gem. De Waal, a noted British ceramicist, traces the history of his family, which had been a prominent Jewish family whose wealth and estates once rivaled those of the Rothschilds. Absolutely fascinating – it is a very difficult book to describe and very interesting to read.
Prior to a wonderful visit to Burma (Myanmar) earlier this year, I re-read three books that provide very different kinds of insights and background on this very interesting country. They were all written between 2000 and 2005. They are:
The Piano Player (F) by Daniel Mason A young piano tuner in London in 1886 is sent by the British War Office to Burma, to tune the piano of an eccentric army surgeon who is living in a secret British outpost in the Shan territories in the northeast. It’s a journey full of wonders and intrigue. Beautifully written.
The Glass Palace (F) by Amitav Ghosh. A sweeping, epic story that follows several interrelated families over a century in time in what today is Burma, India and Malaysia.
Finding George Orwell in Burma (NF) by Emma Larkin. Larkin (a pseudonym) visits Burma to see what she can discover about Orwell’s life there. Because of the brutal repression at the time of her visit, she has huge challenges in being able to conduct her research, remain undercover about her purpose in being there, and to avoid getting those who befriend her into trouble. Under challenging circumstances, she is able to give a moving and eloquent account of a country living under a brutal dictatorship.
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (NF) by Jonathan Haidt. A provocative book that helps me understand the different frameworks out of which conservatives and liberals understand political and religious questions. I try the book’s ideas out regularly on my conservative friends and most tend to identify with Haidt’s emphasis on authority, hierarchy, and tradition as major pillars of the conservative framework.
**The Fiery Trial (NF) by Eric Foner. A major historical exploration of Abraham Lincoln’s journey of change on the related but different issues of slavery, emancipation, social and political equality, and colonization. I haven’t seen the movie Lincoln yet, but will be interested to see how the movie depicts Lincoln’s changing views on these subjects, especially during his presidency.
Heretics (NF) by Jonathan Wright. A breezy 300 page history of heresy and heretics in the last two millenia. Why do I almost always identify with the heretics and wonder why humans have a need to brand some ideas as not just wrong, but heretical?
Falling Upward (NF) by Richard Rohr. A short book on the second half of life, probably mainly for those of us who are in that part of life. A favorite author of mine, Rohr explores the framework and agenda of the promising second half in contrast with the first half tasks of career, family, and achievement.
**Truman (NF) by David McCoullough. I read this book in preparation for a car trip through Springfield, Hannibal, Independence, and Kansas City on our way to visit our son and his family in Minnesota. I gained a great appreciation for Truman, as a man and president, and longed for more forthright leadership from our presidents.
White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson (NF) by Brenda Wineapple
Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China (NF) by Ezra Vogel
Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher (NF) by Timothy Egan. I particularly enjoyed (this). It describes the life of Edward Curtis, the famous Seattle photographer who devoted his career in the first decades of the 1900s to photographing Native American ways of life before the tribes were assimilated. He produces some remarkable work, but it essentially destroys his life and career — Egan does a great job of describing the highs and the lows, both of the business and living in the wilderness, along with several prominent people (like JP Morgan and Teddy Roosevelt) who end up being roped into the project.
Sal Giambanco & Tom Perrault:
***The Art of Fielding (F) By Chad Harbach. “At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended. Henry’s fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry’s gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners’ team captain and Henry’s best friend, realizes he has guided Henry’s career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert’s daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life. As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment–to oneself and to others.”
The Leftovers (F) by Tom Perrotta. “The Leftovers is sort of an “Our Town” for End Times. Tom Perrotta, our Balzac of the burbs, has come up with a wild premise for his engaging, entertaining new novel. Suddenly, a huge number of people vanish from this earth. The only explanation is that The Rapture has occurred…He narrows his affectionate and gently satiric focus to the middle-American village of Mapleton and shows us a bunch of folks trying to get on with their lives…The novel intertwines these stories at a graceful pace in prose so affable that the pages keep turning without hesitation. With Perrotta at the controls, you buy the set-up and sit back as he takes off.”
The Tiger’s Wife (F) by Tea Obreht. “The sometimes crushing power of myth, story, and memory is explored in the brilliant debut of Obreht, the youngest of the New Yorker’s 20-under-40. Natalia Stefanovi, a doctor living (and, in between suspensions, practicing) in an unnamed country that’s a ringer for Obreht’s native Croatia, crosses the border in search of answers about the death of her beloved grandfather, who raised her on tales from the village he grew up in, and where, following German bombardment in 1941, a tiger escaped from the zoo in a nearby city and befriended a mysterious deaf-mute woman. The evolving story of the tiger’s wife, as the deaf-mute becomes known, forms one of three strands that sustain the novel, the other two being Natalia’s efforts to care for orphans and a wayward family who, to lift a curse, are searching for the bones of a long-dead relative; and several of her grandfather’s stories about Gavran Gailé, the deathless man, whose appearances coincide with catastrophe and who may hold the key to all the stories that ensnare Natalia.”
**Catherine the Great (NF) by Robert Massie
*******Behind the Beautiful Forevers (NF) by Katherine Boo
Breakout Nations (NF) Ruchir Sharma
The House in France (NF) by Gully Wells.
***Rules of Civility (F) Amor Towles
***Sweet Tooth (F) by Ian McEwan. A good read by a superb writer
Team of Rivals (NF) by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I came home from seeing Lincoln and started reading (it) and am loving it. One thing that was so interesting in Team of Rivals: Lincoln’s plan for motivating voters for his Congressional election read verbatim like Obama’s!
****The Sense of an Ending (F) by Julian Barnes. It won the 2011 Booker prize…and the more I delved into the book, the more I enjoyed it.
I love Daniel Silva, Lee Child, Vince Flynn, Follett, etc., too.
Phantom Tollbooth (F) by Norton Juster & illustrated by Jules Feiffer. A great book to read to kids but also a great allegory on how to navigate bureaucratic modern life. I read a chapter every now and then just to maintain sanity.
*****Cutting for Stone (F) by Abraham Verghese. Finally got to this after many MillersTime readers’ recommendations. An epic love, story, medical “thriller” and family saga – Just read it.
The Happiness Project (NF) by Gretchen Rubin. Not your typical self help book with fictional case studies and problems – a practical and well-researched guide to eking out more joy every day – through gratitude, order, friendship, etc. You can start at any chapter, and once you get over your feeling that the author might be an over-achiever, you will find small steps to change your own life.
Making Prayer Real (NF) by Rabbi Mike Comins. (Comins) treats prayer as a personal practice – not one based on liturgy and/or practiced in synagogue. A compendium of wisdom from contemporary Jewish thinkers PLUS practical exercises developed by the author. Despite the title, agnostics, cynics, and “cultural” Jews will not be turned off by this book!
Nothing completely “rocked my world” for 2012, but some highlights:
Little Bee (F) by Chris Cleave – a total page turner, sometimes horrific, pretty amazing.
Into the Wild (NF) by Jon Krakauer
The Great Gatsby (F) by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Reread. I hadn’t read since junior high or high school and hadn’t really liked (it) then. Really liked it this time.
The Haunting of Hill House (F) by Shirley Jackson (1959)
Maine (F) by Courtney Sullivan…about three generations of interesting women.
***The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (NF) by Rebecca Skloot. About a poor black woman in the 1950’s whose cells are still being used in medical research and still affecting her family today. A true story and I have heard that Oprah plans to make a movie out of it.
Night Circus (N) by Erin Morgenstern – a first novel, memorable, unusual, and fascinating.
The Uncommon Reader (F) by Alan Bennett – a novella, a charming little
book about Queen Elizabeth
The Paris Wife (F) by Paula McLain – interesting read about Ernest Hemingway’s early life and wife (now in paperback).
The Colour (or Color) of Tea (F) by Hannah Tunnecliffe
What the Dog Saw (NF) by Malcolm Gladwell – series of essays – fun to read and interesting take of sometimes very simple ideas.
Not an amazing reading year but here are a few I enjoyed:
****Language of Flowers (F) by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Story of a young woman who has grown up in foster care as she enters adulthood. Her passion for flowers gives her great strength and success. (Debut novel).
Tea Rose (F) by Jennifer Donnelley. Rags to riches American dream story about a young immigrant woman coming to America in late 1800s.
Distant Land of My Father (F) Bo Caldwell. (Another first novel) that is my other favorite of the year.
I want to read The Chaperone and House at Tyneford but have not gotten to them yet.
**In the Garden of the Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin (NF) by Erik Larson.
The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew and the Heart of the Middle East (NF) by Sandy Tolan
***The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (NF) by Rebecca Skloot
**State of Wonder (F) by Ann Pathcett
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (NF) by Michael Lewis
****Remarkable Creatures (F) by Tracy Chevalier
***The Art of Fielding (F) by Chad Harbach
**The Kitchen House (F) by Kathleen Grissom
***The Hunger Games (Catching Fire & Mockingjay) by Suzanne Collins
In the Lake of the Woods (F) by Tm O’Brien – must be 18 or 20 years old, but it’s the best book I read this year. O’Brien’s book gives an anatomy of PTSD along w/ a rich, imaginative experience.
Didn’t read many good books this year. 50 Shades of Grey was bad, Hunger Games was okay. Reread ***Let the Great World Spin, which is a great book.
***The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (NF) by Rebecca Skoot was good, great combo of science and biography.”
******This is How You Lose Her (F) by Junot Diaz was an entertaining collection of short stories.
*****Gone Girl (F) by Gillian Flynn was pretty suspenseful and a page turner.
*******Behind the Beautiful Forevers (NF) by Katherine Boo – best book I read all year, an intimate portrait of a Bombay slum and an astounding piece of journalism.
Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars (NF) by Sonia Faleiro
******This Is How You Lose Her (F) by Junot Diaz
**The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (NF) by Eric Foner. Won the Pulitzer Prize. One of our greatest historians (and a progressive) shows how Lincoln’s capacity to listen to those with views different than his own, and to grow his own understanding, was at the heart of his capacity to lead, along with his unusual strategic intelligence. You think you know the story? You’ve seen the film, what new can there be? The film covers two weeks in January, 1865. Foner shows us our culture of ethnic and value diversity. We see aggressively competing communities of self-interest and moral reasoning and how our greatest leader worked with these treacherous dynamics. Lincoln’s eyes were always focused on a constant but developing vision. The picture Foner paints for us is more refined and nuanced than what we were hurriedly taught in school. Lincoln became arguably the greatest person to be born in the Americas with more books written about him than any other person in history. He achieved what others never could have. Beyond repurposing our country, his greatest creation was himself. And the conquest of others he had to deal with in his life’s quest for prominence.
*****The Hare with Amber Eyes (NF) by Edmund de Waals. Family memoir.
**The Shoemaker’s Wife (F) by Adriana Trigiani. I loved this book, and I tried to ‘slow down’ the end of it…I didn’t want it to end. Basically a love story set in Italy and the United States…with wit, drama, humor, and heart. If you are a sentimental slob like me, you’ll enjoy this too…bring the tissues!
******The Passage of Power (NF) by Robert A. Caro. I won’t try to bore you with all the details of this book; MillerTime has done so effectively! BUT, this is a really good book – long! – and very interesting. Johnson was a political ‘giant’ in Texas, Washington, and anywhere else he went! This is the second or third book I’ve read on Johnson by Caro. He is a writer who makes Lyndon interesting, enjoyable, horrible, loving, mean, devoted, driven —- you get the point! You’ll enjoy this too, and you’ll say to yourself many times, “wow, that’s amazing” or “wow, that’s disgusting,” but you wont be able to put this BIG volume down until its done, and you’ve learned more than you’ll ever need to know about Lyndon B. Johnson.
Dropped Names (NF) by Frank Langella. Langella, as you know, is an actor who has been in movies, plays, etc., and has been around for a long time. I’ve always liked his roles, and when I heard him on PBS talking about his memoir, I picked it up. Easy read…talking about his personal life and the many famous and semi-famous people who he has known and/or worked with.
Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero (NF) by Chris Matthews. What can I say. I am a “Kennedyholic.” I’ll read about them anytime. They have been with me since I first got the “political bug” when Jack was running for Vice-President at the convention in 1956. So, when heard the Chris – never-had-an-unspoken-thought – Matthews wrote
this book, I had to get it. Yes, I enjoyed it….No, its not an earth-shattering book, but it is written well, and it kept my interest.
******This Is How You Lose Her (F) by Junot Diaz
***Broken Harbour (F) by Tanya French
Blue Heaven (F) by C.J. Box
*****Gone Girl (F) Gillian Flynn
The Year We Left Home (F) by Jean Thompson
The Tale of Halcyon Crane (F) by Wendy Webb
****A Real Emotional Girl (NF) by Tanya Chernov
**Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (NF) by Susan Cain
Going Solo: the Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone (NF) by Eric Klinenberg
MWF Seeking BFF: My Year Long Search for a New Best Friend (NF) by Rachel Bertsche
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (NF) by Charles Duhigg
I’m also adding LEAST Favorite: NW (F) by Zadie Smith and Back to Blood (F) by Tom Wolfe.
******This Is How You Lose Her (F) by Junot Diaz. I’ve long been a fan of this quirky Dominican/American writer who tells a story better and more gripingly than any other contemporary writer. He picks you up and dunks you in his world. Probably Diaz’s best and most memorable to date.
The Casual Vacancy (F) by JK Rowling. Filled with flawed but very real characters from a small (fictitious) English village and a story of race, class, generation, personal peccadilloes that I found intriguing from beginning to end.
****Remarkable Creatures (F) by Tracy Chevalier. A charming story of a relationship between generations and classes that develops over fossil hunting on the beaches in Western England. Surprisingly enjoyable.
***Rules of Civility (F) by Amor Towles. This is a first novel, a 1930s period piece filled with interesting characters, the dominate one of which is New York.
***The Cat’s Table (F) by Michael Ondaatje. The terrific story of the migration of a young Indian boy traveling aboard a ship from Sri Lanka to his new home in the UK. Filled with lots of touching moments. A good — and likely largely, I suspect, autobiographical — read.
The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Killer (NF) by Mark Seal. If there was one book that had that ‘OMG factor” from this year’s reading, this was it. The true story of a Rockefeller impersonator and what he got away with, proving that the truth is stranger than fiction.
*******Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (NF) Katherine Boo. A spectacular non-fiction book in how it was researched, written and annotated and how it told the story of what it’s like to live in an Indian slum. A must-read for India-philes and for anyone who wants to see how journalism should be done .It reads like a novel.
****A Real Emotional Girl: A Memoir of Love and Loss (NF) by Tanya Chernov. A real emotional book authored by a young woman who’s father died an early death due to cancer. Knowing the family (as we do) makes it heart-wrenching, but even without that, this is a well-written, strong, first book of pain and loss. We should all follow her career.
The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon (NF) by David Grann. Grann’s writing had been recommended before — a must read I’ve been told — and this book appealed because of our five days in the Amazon in the fall. He weaves a mix of the history and pieces together thousands of historic documents of the early explorers of the region and his own journey to repeat it. A must read if you are going there.
*******Behind the Beautiful Forevers (NF) by Katherine Boo. A wondrous account of life in the slums of Bombay by this prize winning journalist. Reviewed earlier on MillersTime.
******The Passage of Power (NF) by Robert Caro. The latest in Caro’s detailed and fascinating accounting of the life of LBJ. This volume covers the transition from the Senate to the VP to the Presidency and was also reviewed on MillersTime earlier.
****A Real Emotional Girl (NF) by Tanya Chernov. A memoir by the daughter of a friend. Tanya writes honestly about her feelings of her love for and her loss of her father and in the process of grieving and of writing finds a place for herself in the world. Another one I reviewed on MillersTime.
**Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail (NF) by Cheryl Strayed. Also a memoir by a young woman who underwent a journey and found herself as a result. This one had been on my ‘to read’ list for a while, but when Elliott Trummold raved about it, I moved it to the top of the list. He was right.
**The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds (NF) by Julie Zickifoose. I thought all birds were lbj’s (little brown jobbies) until my friend Judy White raved about this book. I ‘discovered’ there’s actually a whole myriad of various lbj behaviors, intelligences, and ways of existing that this wonderful author, an ethnologist and a painter, ‘brings to life,’ even (especially?) for an untutored one such as myself.
******This Is How You Lose Her (F) by Junot Diaz. A writer whose voice you will not be able to get out of your head.
**The Yellow Birds (F) by Kevin Powers. Perhaps the Iraqi equivalent of the Vietnam Matterhorn. A first book by a soldier whose accounts of this war from soldiers’ eyes read as if it were nonfiction.
****Remarkable Creatures (F) by Tracy Chevalier. Just a lovely story of two women who share a passion for fossil hunting and pursuing their interests despite what the world expects of them. Their lives intersect, and each affects the other. Chevalier wrote the wonderful The Girl with the Pearl Earring, and she has a new one about to be published, The Last Runaway.
**Caleb’s Crossing (F) by Geraldine Brooks. I listened to this while driving on a trip and loved it. It’s one that is particularly suited to listening to during a long drive. (I will gladly loan the CDs to anyone interested in listening to Caleb’s Crossing.)
**The Attack (F) by Yasmina Khadra. This one sneaks up on you and unfolds in a way you do not expect. Both the reader and the main character have something to learn, and you’ll come away understanding more of the ‘players’ in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than you did prior to reading it.
And some others I enjoyed even tho they may not be these authors’ best works: **Flight Behavior (F) by Barbara Kingsolver, The Beginner’s Goodbye (F) by Anne Tyler, ***The Round House (F) by Louise Erdrich, **Sutton (F) by J.R. Moehringer, ***Broken Harbour (F) by Tanya French, **Hallucinations (NF) by Oliver Sacks, Joseph Anton (NF) by Salmon Rushdie, Mortality, (NF) by Christopher Hitchens, and Alone Together (NF) by Sherry Turkle.
To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again: A True Story (NF) by Mary C Neal, M.D.
Eternal on the Water (F) by Joseph Monninger
Crossroads Cafe (F) by Deborah Smith
***The Round House (F) by Louise Erdich
**Unbroken (NF) by Laura Hillenbrand
****The Language of Flowers (F) by Vanessa Dffenbaugh
Elegance of the Hedgehog (F) Muriel Burberry
**The Attack (F) by Yasmina Khadra. A MillersTime recommendation that stands out for me. For anyone seeking a portrayal of significant elements within the Israeli and Palestinian societies, and were wowed or bored but wanted something that would go a bit deeper into the players of today’s conflict, the individual stories of the major characters of this novel can do that. One of the questions answered in the book was ‘what would cause someone to commit suicide and destroy others?’ There is a response. The reader might not like it because it comes out of nowhere.
Shadow Tag (F) Louise Erdrich. (This one) got my attention and kept it. Though I was disturbed by the struggle between the husband and wife, it was artistic and captivating.
Wrestling in the Dark: A Rabbi’s Path to Palestinian Solidarity (NF) by Brant Rosen. I heard Brant speak recently in Georgetown to a largely Jewish audience, and I found his responses to their questions thoughtful and courageous. The book is based upon a Blog that he kept over a three year period and tells the story of his personal Transformation. Rosen serves on the Advisory Council of our non-profit Friends of Tent of Nations North America.
**The Dovekeepers (F) by Alice Hoffman
***The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (F) by Rachel Joyce
**Defending Jacob (F) by William Landay
Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots (NF) by Deborah Feldman – The trials and tribulations of a young Hasidic woman and the challenges of the culture. (Not great literature but provides insight into the culture).
Hush (F) by Eishes Chayil – Gives insights into the ultra-orthodox Brooklyn “Ghetto” of current days.
Those Who Saved Us (F) by Jenna Blum
The Sandcastle Girls (F) by Chris Bohjalian
Coral Glynn (F) by Peter Cameron
****Remarkable Creatures (F) by Tracy Chevalier
Please Look After Mom (F) by Kyung-Soon Shin
Lower River (F) by Paul Theroux
The Orchardist (F) by Amanda Coplin
The City of Women (F) by David Gillham
***The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (F) by Rachel Joyce
I Am Forbidden (F) by Anouk Markovits
Shine, Shine, Shine (F) by Lydia Netzer
In the Shadow of the Banyon (F) by Vaddey Ratner
The Innocents (F) by Francesca Segal
The Light Between Oceans (F) by M.L. Stedman
High Crimes and Misdemeanors, International Intrigue and Spies, etc.
***Broken Harbor (F) by Tanya French
Istanbul Passage and Stardust (F) by Joseph Kanon
The Phantom (F) and other Harry Hole Series by Jo Nesbo
Blessed are the Dead (F) by Malia Nunn (Emmanuel Cooper Series, South Africa)
Criminal (F) by Karin Slaughter (suggestion, read Grant County and Will Trent series first)
*******Behind the Beautiful Forevers (NF) by Katherine Boo
**Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (NF) by Susan Cain
Some of My Best Friends are Black (NF) by Tanner Colby
Citizens of London (NF) by Lynn Olson
**The Yellow Birds (F) by Kevin Powers
***Rules of Civility (F) by Amor Towles
I am diffident about sharing my list – it’s all non-fiction, and I don’t think a western audience will connect to it.
Those I remember:
Ghengis Khan & the Making of the Modern World (NF) by Jack Weatherfield
Fault Lines (NF) by Raghuram Rajan
The Maruti Story (NF) by R.C. Bhargava
The Billionaire Who Wasn’t (NF) by Conor O’Clery
Hard Truths (NF) by Lee Kuan Yew
Civil Disobedience (NF) by LC Jain
*******Behind the Beautiful Forevers (NF) by Katherine Boo
******The Passage of Power (NF) by Robert Caro. Anyone else see the parallels between Lincoln and Johnson?
Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know (NF) by Julia Sweig. Put Cuban history and revolution in context for our trip to Cuba with Center for Cuban Studies.
Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest (NF) by Dan Buettner. This sounds crazy, but Blue Zones stands out as an excellent read this year. I picked it up in the pharmacy to read a chapter or so while I waited for a prescription to be filled. I was hooked to the point I finished it in two days, which is very unusual cuz I’m such a slow reader. The topic is longevity and was written by someone connected with National Geographic.
Beggar in Jerusalem (F) by Elie Weisel. It definitely is an oldie but a goodie that gets more meaningful with each read. As always, he writes in a manner that is so simple only the truly wise can accomplish.
Outside of that, Barbara Kingsolver and Tony Hillerman are my two favorite authors for fiction.
The Forgotten (F) by David Baldacci
The Innocent (F) by David Baldacci – Both are good.
The Racketeer (F) by John Grisham. Good plot and good writing as usual
Stay Close (F) by Harlan Coben. Not his best, but still OK.
**The Shoemaker’s Wife (F) by Adriana Trigiani. My personal favorite this year. Wonderfully written with great characterization and a moving story.
The Song of Achilles (F) by Madeline Miller – Set in the world of the Iliad, this imaginative book is narrated by Patroclus, close friend of Achilles. While the events of the Trojan War are familiar, the author manages to create a fresh and spellbinding story. Ms. Miller is a classical scholar, the novel is her first, and she won the Orange Prize for Fiction for 2012.
Kingdom of Strangers (F) by Zoe Ferraris – Third in a series of mysteries set in Saudi Arabia. A Bedouin discovers a mass grave in the desert containing 19 female bodies. Jeddah police inspector Ibrahim Zahrani, and Katya, a female lab tech with ambitions to become a detective, struggle with the criminal investigation, and complications in their personal lives, while hampered at almost every turn by the restrictions and repressions of Saudi society.
Are You My Mother? (F) by Alison Bechdel – An autobiographical graphic novel of a woman seeking to understand her mother and herself. Deeply felt, funny and poignant, the author’s musings include references to Virginia Woolf, psychoanalyst Dr. Donald Winnicott, Dr. Seuss, and others.
***The Round House (F) by Louise Erdrich – see review in MillersTime.
*****Gone Girl (F) by Gillian Flynn – see review in MillersTime.
******The Passage of Power (NF) by Robert Caro. Compelling. Now want to read Master of the Senate and send Harry Reid some pointers.
****Matterhorn (F) by Karl Marlantes. Obviously, you had to be there, but this is gripping. Furthers my anti-war sentiments.
Brothers, Rivals, Victors (NF) by Jonathan J. Jordan. Ike really had his hands full. Did he get throat cancer? If not, by the number of packs he was smoking, he should have. Also, discretion in his Kay affair means that Petraeus should never have been forced out of the CIA. A travesty.
Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and A Dream (NF) by H.G. Bissinger. Loved it. Does not make me want to move to TX.
Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America (NF) by Erik Larson. Evil personified in this day of mass killings. But, fortunately, the real hero is the 1893 World’s Fair.
*****Cutting for Stone (F) by Abraham Verghese
The Forty Rules of Love (F) by Elif Shafak
Turn of Mind (F) by Alice LaPlante
The World We Found (F) by Thrity Umrigar
****The Language of Flowers (F) by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives (NF) by Dr. Brian Weiss
****The Language of Flowers (F) by Jennifer Donnelly, lovely book about a girl growing up in foster care in the Bay Area
**The Dovekeepers (F) by Alice Hoffman, historical fiction set at the time of Masada.
The Baker’s Daughter (F) by Sarah McCoy, nice story alternating between Nazi Germany and the present.
*****Gone Girl (F), Gillian Flynn. This will probably be on lots of lists.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette (F) by Maria Semple, similar theme as Gone Girl but with a lighter feel.
***11/22/63 (F), by Stephen King. I normally don’t enjoy Stephen King or time travel but did like this re-visiting the 60’s and Kennedy’s assassination
***Defending Jacob (F) by William Landay, an excellent mystery about a detective having to solve a child’s murder when his own son is a suspect.
Love Medicine (F) by Louise Erdrich, family drama involving Native American reservation life; I am looking forward to reading her newest novel, The Round House, this year.
**State of Wonder (F) by Ann Patchett, adventure and mystery set in the Amazon jungle.
**The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (NF) by Isabel Wilkerson, interesting profile of the African American migration from the south to cities of the north.
Hologram for a King (F) by Dave Eggers. Top fiction. Reason: I love the simple way Eggers constructs his sentences and the pacing of his narratives and their structure. This book and Zeitoun are built on great journalistic skills, too, which I really admire.
Manhunt (NF) by Peter Bergen. Top nonfiction. I love CIA books, what can I say.
Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball (NF) by R.A. Dickey & Wayne Coffee. My favorite book this year was RA Dickey’s autobiography. Really interesting and inspirational. A real life Roy Hobbs story. I loved it.
Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip (NF) by Peter Hessler
***The Hunger Games trilogy (F) by Suzanne Collins
***11/22/63 (F) by Stephen King
**In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin (NF) by Erik Larson
The Victory Lab (NF) by Sasha Issenberg
The Gardens of Democracy (NF) by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer
The Daily You (NF) by Joseph Turow
Future, Perfect (NF) by Steven Johnson
The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism (NF) by Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson
Revolution 2.0: The Power of the People Is Greater Than the People in Power, A Memoir (NF) by Wael Ghonim
Fighting for Our Health (NF) by Richard Kirsch
This Crazy Time: Living Our Environmental Challenge (NF) by Tzeborah Berman
The Memory of Old Jack (F) by Wendell Berry (This is) the one I reread often and gain from each time.
The Hidden Wound (NF) by Wendell Barry, in which he digs deep to his own history and is a book I will have put on the night stand of every citizen when I’m installed as king. It offers much hope for changing our various futures in seeing how we may have gotten to where we are.
Lydia Hill Slaby:
I’ve been reading a lot of Bill Bryson in an effort to keep myself laughing:
A Short History of Nearly Everything (NF) by Bill Bryson
A Walk in the Woods (NF) by Bill Bryson
Notes from a Small Island (NF) by Bill Bryson
The Lost Continent (NF) by Bill Bryson
City of Thieves (F) by David Benioff
The Shadow of the Wind (F) by Carlos Luiz Safon, and they (these last two) both did a wonderful job of sucking me into a different world for a short time.
Shantaram (F) by Gregory David Roberts. Loved it.
Kim (F) by Rudyard Kipling. I had never read this before, but it is an excellent classic and a must for anyone who has travelled the Grand Trunk Road in India.
Carthage Must Be Destroyed (NF) by Richard Miles. This history of ancient Carthage is a must read for anyone interested in classical history. What surprised me was the extent of trade in the Mediterranean basin in ancient times and how similar were the political tensions to those of today – involving Libya, Egypt, Spain, etc.
The Prague Cemetery (F) by Umberto Eco. This book, by a major Italian writer, both fascinated and repelled me, and I couldn’t stop reading. It is a fictional biography of the forger who wrote The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, one of the most nefarious forgeries in history.
Escape Velocity (NF) by Charles Portis. This is a collection of essays by and about Charles Portis, whose True Grit is a major American classic novel. This is a must for all Portis fans, of whom I’m one.
David P. Stang:
Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain (NF) by David Eagleman. This books shows that our conscious mind is unaware of 99% of what the brain does.
Testimony of Light (NF) by Helen Greaves. This book concerns afterlife transmissions regarding the nature of afterlife by a deceased friend to Helen Greaves.
The Self Illusion, (NF) by Bruce Hood. This book contains a psychologist’s findings that our sense of self is a total illusion. Buddha said the same thing 2500 years ago.
Paranormal: My Life In Pursuit Of The Afterlife (NF) by Raymond Moody. This book is mainly about Dr. Moody’s life long work as a psychiatrist working with patients who had Near Death Experiences.
Revelations: Visions, Prophecy and Politics in the Book of Revelations (NF) by Elane Pagels, NF. This book “breaks the code” of the last book of the Christian Bible.
The Modern Book of the Dead (NF) by Ptolemy Tompkins. This book is a history (from The Egyptian Book of the Dead to the present) of beliefs and understandings of what happens to you when you die.
On Whitman (NF) by C.K. Williams. This book identifies and analyses the many themes of Walt Whitman’s poetry
**Hallucinations (NF) by Oliver Sachs. This book describes and analyzes hallucinations of this neurologist’s patients.
Proof of Heaven (NF) by Eben Alexander. This book details Dr. Alexanders’ Near Death Experiences in the afterlife realm while he was in a coma induced by bacterial meningitis of his flat-lined brain.
*****The Hare with Amber Eyes (NF) by Edward de Waal – a fascinating journey through the rise and fall of the Ephrussi family across generations and across continents, beautifully told through the lens of a ceramicist who is a descendent of the family.
Hope (F) by Toni Morrison. It’s a small book that unfolds a gut wrenching journey with a light almost ethereal touch. Elegant spare prose pacts a powerful punch about the cultural issues she examines – from the segregated culture of the 1950s to how we handle PTSD of soldiers returning from war. A unique little gem. Maybe my favorite of the year.
***Let the Great World Spin, (F) by Colum McCann. A sweeping, impressive effort. The fulcrum on which the book pivots is the still astonishing high-wire crossing of the Twin Towers by Philippe Petit in 1974. Having worked at One World Trade Center in 1990, I knew I had to read this book and was not disappointed.
**Train Dreams (F) by Denis Johnson. A slim, spare volume about a man whose lost his family trying to make sense of the rapidly changing world of the early twentieth century American West.
Freedom (F) by Jonathan Franzen. Franzen is an astute observer of people. Among other things, sentences like this one made the book enjoyable: “He was beginning to see, as he hadn’t in St. Paul, that things’ prices weren’t always evident at first glance: that the really big ballooning of the interest charges on his high-school pleasures might still lie ahead of him.”
New York (F) by Edward Rutherford. Great historical fiction spanning many years and many pages and worth the time.
The Catcher in the Rye (F) by J.D. Salinger. A classic that, somewhat shockingly, I never read before.
Killing Floor (F) and One Shot (F) by Lee Child. Quick reads, I enjoyed both. (While I’m on the subject, although Mr. Child appears fine with it, casting Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher irks me.)
******Passage of Power (NF) by Robert Caro. I did read and thoroughly enjoy Robert Caro’s and maybe that one took up about 3 “regular-size” books worth of reading time. Much of the fascination comes from Caro’s exhaustive research and presentation of enough detail and enough points of view so that you feel you are really beginning to understand LBJ and what was going on. For those of us who lived through this time it is rather astonishing to learn what was really going on in contrast to the impressions we had! And I must add– at times the most fascinating question was “Is this sentence ever going to end?”, for Caro can certainly spin a sentence out!
******This is How You Lose Her (F) by Junot Diaz–what a fun read, and what an engaging writing style. The central character, Yunior, makes Tiger Woods seem like a choir boy– so I reckon there is some voyeurism here, but the emotional story is terrific and well-told. I want to find his other books now.
The Little Book of Talent (NF) by Daniel Coyle. After a chat with my 19-year old nephew Hassler, I picked up (this book). Pretty fascinating stuff. Coyle started looking at what he termed “centers of excellence”, places that have a great record of producing exceptional talent, like a Moscow tennis club, a music camp in the Adirondacks, a ski academy in Vermont, etc. He wrote about this in The Talent Code a few years ago, and this is (I gather) a further distillation of that. I don’t usually like to pick up anything in the self-help department (!) but this one is fun to read, and makes me as a teacher wonder why some of these “tips” (there are 52 in the book) aren’t better known in educational circles.
Bulfinch’s Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch. Recently I have wanted to know classical mythology a lot better than I do, so I started reading (this). Only trouble is, my old paperback just fell apart whenever I turned a page, so I’ve bought a newer edition. This is kind of fun and I’d like to hear if anyone else has suggestions along those lines.
1861: The Civil War Awakening (NF) by Adam Goodheart. Read it very slowly because it was wonderfully detailed about years one already knows well — but didn’t know the detailed human side of many of the issues. Begins with the Wide Awakes (never knew their origin — probably early 1860 in Hartford) and ends with events in Juy 1861. I enjoyed the footnotes and fascinating postscripts.
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping (NF) by Rober Sapolsky. For anyone who feels stress is a problem in their lives consider treating it with Robert Sapolsky’s book. I read the 3rd edition 2004 (revised and updated) and it was fun. I no longer know stress as I did, thanks to baboons and zebras, Saplolsky, and testicular injections, glucocoriticoid secretions, knowing how and why my brain oozes hormones, and thanks to the comfort of knowing that an increasing number of psychoneuroimmunological gerontologists are earning a living believing they have answers to the unanswerable. Laughter usually offers relief to whatever affects me — and I knew nothing of this book till my wife brought it home. If you haven’t read it, read it or read in it — depending what stressor you want to attack and how much you want to laugh. I did alone and in company sharing some of the findings.
**Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (NF) by Cheryl Strayed. And while on the topic of stress, read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, published this year about a young woman’s search for relief from stress, from herself and her grief. You will laugh and cry and at the same time enjoy a gifted writer wrestling with herself as she takes an 1100 mile solo journal along the Pacific Crest Trail. She is an Oregonian and we hear her talk from time to time. You should too.
Triumph Over Tyranny (NF) written by my friend Philip Spiegel. True, first hand stories of how Chabad,activists in Europe, America and Israel worked clandestinely to keep Judaism alive in the Soviet Union during the reigns of Stalin and Khruschchev.They helped change the policies of a totalitarian regime which allowed 2,000,00 Soviet Jews to immigrate to Israel, the US and other countries.
The Truth about Money (NF) by Ric Edelman. Tells about the basics of personal finance in an understandable manner.It is fun and easy to read. Covers everything from getting out of debt to handling multimillion dollar estates.
Peony in Love (F) by Lisa See. A wonderful story of women and women writers in the 14th and 15th century. Intertwined with a love story of this world and an afterworld.
The Honor of Spies (F) by W.E.B. Griffin and E. Butterworth II. A story of espionage towards the end of World War II. Takes place in Argentina, where Germans have a secret plan to move high ranking Nazi officers to South America as Germany begins to lose the war. Easy to read and very exciting.
Nine Dragons (F) by Michael Connelly. Another Detective Harry Bosch murder mystery. A quick, exciting read. He ties a death in the US to a Hong Kong triad.
Conspirata (F) by Robert Harris. Although this is fiction, it tries to accurately describe the history of Marcus Cicero’s year as a consul of Rome. Very interesting and gives terrific descriptions of those times in Rome.
The Master and Margarita (F) by Mikhail Bulgakov. I know it has been around for a while and it very well regarded but I first learned of its existence listening to NPR about a month ago. The story is interesting but it is the writing style that was dynamite to me. It reminded me that it is possible to always find better ways to say things and even when I knew what was coming, so often it was expressed in a way that was so purely direct that one sentence alone moved the depth of the story to another level. When a writer is able to express ideas, thoughts or emotions very clearly, the quality of the exposition adds great credibility to the idea presented. Instead of fighting (as I tend to do) with the author about the choice of words, I was happily swept along on the active current of discovery.
The Fifty Year Sword (F) by Mark Danielewski who I heard being interviewed on NPR’s Bookworm. He was one of the smartest people I ever heard and when I read the book I found out why. He is a poet in everyday life and his way of expressing himself is novel, sparse, direct, and focused The book is rather unusual in its presentation and the amount of text offered is minimal but every word is so carefully crafted and presented that I did something I rarely do….I immediately reread the book. I was pleased but not completely surprised when I found that, since I knew the ending, the second reading told a different story. It was a poet writing to a legal wordsmith who has practiced a quite different kind of writing for many years and I truly appreciated reading his work.
**Half the Sky (NF) by Kristof and WuDunn — I seldom say this about a book, but I think everyone should read this. Although many stories are heartbreaking, the courage and successes described are stronger than the “downer” revelations.
**The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (NF) by Anne Fadiman.
This I Believe: Life Lessons (NF) by Dan Gediman. I think this is the best of this series of essays written by ordinary people about what experiences led them to their core beliefs.
**The Bluebird Effect (NF) by Julie Zickefoose. Amazing stories of what the author has learned about wild birds while rehabilitating them. Beautifully written, beautifully illustrated by the author, beautifully printed. It will change the way you see birds.
**The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, (NF) by Anne Fadiman, NF
**Half the Sky, Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, (NF) by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, NF
Winner Take All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — and Turned its Back on the Middle Class, (NF) by Jacob Hacker, NF
Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II, (NF) by Mitchell Zuckoff
****Matterhorn, (F) by Karl Marlantes, fiction but based on his own story
Red Ink: Inside the High-Stakes Politics of the Federal Budget, (NF) by David Wessel
*****Cutting for Stone (F), by Abraham Verghese,
* * * * * * *
If you are interested in seeing just a list of all of the books that were cited two or more times, you can use use this link.
If you want to go back to previous years’ lists, you can use one of the following three links:
Joe Chamberlin said:
Well, that is quite a list…maybe the best list of 2012. Thank you for taking the time to keep us informed on ways to make the best of use of our time. All the best for 2013.
Karen Pogoda said:
Just when I was looking for another book to read, you’re “List” arrived. I don’t know what to read first as there are so many good choices. Thanks for the effort! Wishing you all a healthy new year in which to enjoy your reading pursuits!