“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read”- A. Lincoln
Once again, you’re gonna need some time for this post.
And probably pen and paper to jot down some titles that you’ll likely want to add to your ‘to read’ list for 2015.
Despite a recurring theme in contributors’ emails about not reading as much this year, not finding as many memorable books and not remembering the titles read, I think you’ll find a diverse and rich list of titles and comments.
Seventy-four of you contributed this year, listing approximately 450 books, with fiction leading nonfiction 60% to 40%. At least 300 of the titles were only listed once. The female-male division of contributors was 56%-44% (F/M), about what it has been in the past. The contributors are listed alphabetically to make it easier to find specific individual’s choices.
Titles that appeared three times or more were:
- All the Light We Cannot See (F) by Anthony Doerr (12)
- The Goldfinch (F) by Donna Tartt (11)
- The Boys in the Boat (NF) by Daniel James Brown (6)
- No Place to Hide (NF) by Glenn Greenwald (6)
- Americanah (F) Chimananda Ngozi Adichie (6)
- The Lowland (F) by Jhumpa Lahiri (6)
- Stoner (F) by John Williams (6)
- The Invention of Wings (F) by Monk Kidd (5)
- A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (F) Anthony Marra (5)
- The Children’s Act (F) Ian McEwan (4)
- The Signature of All Things (F) by Elizabeth Gilbert (4)
- The Light Between the Oceans (F) by. M.L. Stedman (4)
- Gone Girl (F) by Gillian Flynn (4)
- Zealot (NF) by Resa Azlan (3)
- Wonder (F) by R.J. Palacio (3)
- The Woman Upstairs (F) by Claire Messud (3)
- The Narrow Road to the Deep North (F) by Richard Flanagan (3)
- Orphan Train (F) Christine Baker Kline (3)
- To Kill a Mockingbird, (F) Harper Lee (3)
For me, however, the strength and value of this (and previous) years’ lists have more to do with what contributors said about the books they enjoyed than the number of times a book was listed.
At the suggestion of one contributor, I have linked each book to Amazon’s site so you can read more about that particular book. I am not a fan of Amazon nor am I encouraging purchasing through them, but I did want to give readers a link to more information about each book. Hopefully, you will consider supporting your independent bookstore if you have one in your area.
Just a reminder that this list is not meant to be the best books published in 2014, but rather what the title of this posting states – The Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers in 2014.
I have marked (*) certain books that you should drop everything right now, order, and start reading immediately.
Novels: (Books are listed in no particular order.)
* The Goldfinch (F) by Donna Tartt. Marvelously-drawn characters, each of whom has attitude and flaws, a plot line that takes you to a new level each 50 pages, and thought grenades from the characters you like best, so that even if you aren’t in love with all the characters (except everyone loves Hobie and Boris), you absolutely must read on to find out what happens next. The publisher should have released one chapter each month for several years, the way Dickens was published; the current analogy is to a hot new weekly TV serial that everyone watches despite themselves.
The Snowman (F) by Jo Nesbo. The first I’ve read by this Norwegian author of crime novels. A detective solves a serial murder case in Oslo and Bergen. Gripping, a page-turner, good development of characters, fine attention to detail, evocation of place, a complicated but credible plot.
Stoner (F) by John Williams. Classic short American novel, in the form of a biography of a professor of English at a mid-western university. Moving. The book led to a spirited discussion at Richard and Ellen Miller’s dinner table.
Solitude of Prime Numbers (F) by Paolo Giordano. A short Italian novel, won the Italian national book award. A bildungsroman of two children/young adults, one of whom is on the Asperger spectrum, both of whom had traumatic childhood experiences, and who fall in love. Sweet, touching.
Nonfiction: (Once again I found more good nonfiction than fiction this year.)
An Army at Dawn (NF) by Rick Atkinson. A study of the Allied campaign in North Africa, 1942-43, with accounts from the Eisenhower-Rommel level down to the level of the lowest enlisted man, showing the hard lessons learned by the inexperienced U.S. Army and about the politics of a multinational force, and demonstrating why the this “sideshow” campaign was so important to the later Allied victory.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers (NF) by Katherine Boo. Finely captured life in a Mumbai slum out by the airport – deeply detailed reporting on dozens of individuals and families over several years. By an American journalist, a Pulitzer winner, who embedded her daily life in the community.
Provenance (NF) by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo. In societies that make art into a religious cult, the role of forgeries throws uncritical object-worship into sharp relief. In 1980s and 90s London, one man added a new dimension to art crime – creating forged provenance for phony artworks and smuggling the ersatz provenance (documents, catalog listings, letters, photographs, inventory entries) into gallery, auction house and museum archives. The crime was so successful that many forgeries are now “provably” genuine – the provenance is corrupted seamlessly and can’t be put right. A short book – once you start, it’s effortless to finish.
* Quiet (NF) by Susan Cain. Fascinating insights into the way introspective people think, process and participate in a culture that defers to and awards people who aren’t quiet. A must for anyone who runs part of an organization, is involved in community or group affairs, or chairs a committee. A best seller for a couple of years and still on the best-seller list.
* In Defense of Food (NF) by Michael Pollan – the best writing I’ve found about the U.S. diet and its health effects; I immediately sent copies to all my kids. Not new; it came out a few years ago. This book has changed my life.
The Swerve (NF) by Stephen Greenblatt. An exploration of humanism and the philosophy of Epicurus, presented, in part, in the form of the history of an Italian 16th-century papal official whose avocation was scouring Europe’s monastical libraries to find lost Greek and Roman classical works.
Flash Boys (NF) by Michael Lewis. The story of a private, for-profit investigation of how the scores of new, electronic American stock “exchanges” really work, how the investigation was done (new techniques), what the investigators (working for a Canadian bank) discovered (a complete surprise), and what they did about it (amazing and delightful). Lewis is one of the slickest storytellers around; you can read this short book in a day.
* Adventures on the Wine Route (NF) by Kevin Lynch. You should vow to drink only your favorite wines, and to find new favorites. The best book I’ve ever read on wine (maybe the only good one), and the only one that ever taught me anything useful that I could remember. Fun to boot.
The Code Book (NF) by Simon Singh. An excellent introduction to ciphers, codes and code-breaking; a historical and analytical approach. Eight chapters of increasing complexity, but the author kept me going (I could still understand how things worked) until about the year 1990, when I got lost.
The Men Who United the States (NF) by Simon Winchester. A study of American history by this superb writer – but a study through the actions of unrelated bit players, or young players who only became well-known decades later, when they had become national figures. Bit players whose actions in many cases changed the course of major events. The author recently became a U.S. citizen, and has settled in a rural town in Connecticut; his personal note about events in his new community is one of the most interesting pieces in the book.
Biography and Memoir:
Duveen (NF) by S.N. Behrman. Joseph Duveen was the most influential and successful art dealer of the last century, Andrew Mellon’s dealer and mentor, and the author of the idea for the National Gallery of Art. He was a master businessman and a genius at client relations. Behrman, a New Yorker writer and a major playwright and screenwriter, wrote this serious short biography with (typically Berhman) tongue gently in cheek, skewering both British and American pretension while illuminating how the art market of the day worked and how many major collectors think.
Lawrence in Arabia (NF) by Scott Anderson. A completely new examination of the life, career and fabled exploits of T.E. Lawrence, with many insights into why and how he did what he did. A full biography devoid of sensationalism and lucid in its explanations, including of Lawrence’s troubled, mysterious and short post-WWI years.
Setting the Table (NF) by Danny Meyer. Common sense and good employer values in the development of a significant East Coast high-end restaurant(s) business.
The Complete Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (NF) by Ulysses S. Grant. Superbly clear and concise writing and a completely non-self important style. Reputed to be the best memoir written by any U.S. President. You can learn a lot about the U.S. Army during the Mexican War, and the backgrounds and abilities of many of the generals on both sides of the Civil War, and the military tactics and grand strategy in 1861-65.
Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure (NF) by Artemis Cooper. Biography of British and master travel writer and war hero. Essential to fully appreciating Fermor’s work.
Passionate Minds (NF) by David Bodanis. The lives and the long Enlightenment love affair of Voltaire and the Marquise Emelie du Chatelet. du Chatelet was a gifted mathematician and scientist, the bearer of a noble French name and a wealthy woman. She published a number of works on physics and composed the first French translation and commentary on Newton and the calculus, still the standard French text of Newton’s Principia. A clear portrayal of the difficulty of doing science, or writing plays and novels, in an era when expression and publishing are controlled by church and state.
The Man Who Loved China (NF) also by Simon Winchester. This lengthy book traces the life of Joseph Needham, a Cambridge University professor, a prominent biologist, who fell in love with China and changed his career to that of a historian of Chinese technology and science, eventually producing a 17-volume encyclopedia on these subjects that is a major accomplishment of 20th-century classical scholarship.An American Education, Annie Dillard. Autobiographical, through age 18, by the Pulitzer-winning author. Some lovely writing.
Ender’s Game (F) by Orson Scott Card. This is the book on which the recent movie is based. A classic for any age group. The protagonists are a middle-school (and later) brother and sister, and their ingenious efforts and natural leadership abilities are an empowering example for young readers. The portrayal of life in a military school is spot-on.
The Blackwater Lightship (F) by Colm Toibin. A well crafted exploration into the dynamics of a family forced together due to a son suffering from AIDS.
The Good German (F) by Joesph Kanon. A thriller with a lot of WW II facts included.
In the Garden of the Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin (Creative NF) by Erik Larson . An account of the USA’s late 1930’s ambassador to Germany and his family. The book helped me to better understand some of the underlying forces that made the incomprehensible possible.
Bel Canto (F) by Ann Patchett. An opera themed novel loosely based on a terrorist capture of Japanese diplomats in Lima, Peru in 1996.
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (Mostly, NF) by Daniel James Brown. An in depth look at the harsh early life of one of the rowers on the University of Washington crew is the gateway to an absorbing account with an expected, but still surprising, conclusion. Some cold and rainy days here in Portland make me wonder at their perseverance in practicing in similar conditions.
Duel with the Devil (Creative NF) by Paul Collins. A telling of attorneys Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr teaming up to defend an accused murderer in “a crime of the century” in N.Y.C..
All the Light We Cannot See (F) by Anthony Doerr.
The Children Act (F) by Ian McEwan.
The Invention of Wings (F) by Sue Monk Kidd.
Absalom! Absalom! (F) by William Faulkner.
To the Lighthouse (F) by Virginia Woolf.
The Portrait of a Lady (F) by Henry James.
The Luminaries (F) by Eleanor Catton.
The Goldfinch (F) by Donna Tartt.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (NF) by Atul Gawande.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (NF) by Isabel Wilkerson.
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette (NF) by Hampton Sides. This fascinating book should appeal to many audiences. If you like true adventure stories, this one is a page turner. If you like history, you will be amazed at the events documented in this book that captured the attention of politicians, scientists and millions of people in multiple countries in the late 1870s and early 1880s. If you like science, and your are like me, you will find the state of knowledge about the Arctic 135 years ago jaw dropping. If you like characters that are bigger than life, wait till you meet the newspaper baron, James Gordon Bennett Jr. As the sponsor of the Jeannette’s expedition, Bennett was trying to equal or top his Stanley meets Livingston stunt. The big difference this time is that some people died and others suffered terribly, but at least he sold a lot of newspapers. If you like a love story, the letters of Emma De Long, the wife of the Jeannette’s captain, should inspire lots of emotion. And if you like heroes and villains, you will find both aplenty In The Kingdom of Ice.
Redeployment (F) by Phil Klay.This hugely powerful book won the National Book Award for fiction in November. It may be fiction but it has the feel of truth. Redeployment is a collection of short stories, inspired by Phil Klay’s experiences as a Marine in Iraq, which are about what their Iraq experiences did to the American soldiers who were there both while they were there and when they came home. I can’t do justice to this book in a few sentences or even many sentences, so if want more information, I recommend you read Dexter Filkins insightful review in the New York Times. Here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/09/books/review/redeployment-by-phil-klay.html
And keep this book in mind the next time you see a movie or TV show that glorifies war.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (F) by Anthony Marra. With all the human suffering caused by the ethnic and tribal wars in the current news, I was a bit hesitant to read a novel set in war-torn Chechnya. Yet I found the story immediately involving and the portrayal of sympathetic characters’ striving to act with human decency in the most brutal of landscapes a compelling story that stayed with me for a long time.
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? A Memoir (NF) by Roz Chast. The cartoonist’s account of her experiences coping – or not – with her parents’ aging and demise was poignant reading. The roller-coaster of emotions was familiar, yet the moments of humor and the graphic format helped to keep the story interesting and not overwhelmingly sad.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (F) by Haruki Murakami. The narrative is a distinctive and multifaceted story of a young Japanese man suddenly cut off by his four best friends without explanation. Tsukuru struggles with loss, mystery, supernatural elements, identity and a quest for understanding the defining tragedy of his life.
Deadline (F) by John Sandford. This cop mystery is the 8th novel featuring Virgil Flowers, who was described by critic Marilyn Stasio as “a happy-go-lucky hero” working for the Minnesota State Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Spending time with Virgil as he works to solve cases of dog-napping, embezzlement, murder, and meth manufacturing in a rural backwater is just plain fun and was my favorite escape read of the year.
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace (NF) by Jeff Hobbs. You might think the title says it all, but Hobbs goes so deeply into his Yale roommate’s life that you will feel as if you grew up as next door neighbors. Peace grew up in two worlds in inner city Newark, and although brilliant and talented, he could not escape one of them. The “why” remains a bit of mystery, just like real life.
My favorites of 2014:
The Patrick Melrose series (F) by Edward St. Aubyn. This is a series of five books (although the first four are now in one book) which are autobiographical material from the author. It deals with the vagaries of the English aristocracy of which the author is a member, trauma, drug addiction, marriage, life. It is written in that tone that the Brit’s do so well—humorous, ironical, and superbly descriptive.
In the Light of What We Know (F) by Zia Haider Rahman. A first novel by a man from Bangladesh who studied at Oxford, Cambridge and Yale and worked in Wall Street all of which is material for this book. I learned more about the history of Bangladesh from this book than anything else.
The Children Act (F) by Ian McEwan. I will read anything this man writes and once again he writes beautifully. Short, insightful; feel like you want to read it again.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North (F) by Richard Flanagan—this year’s Booker winner. Great story about one man’s life that provides us with a view of WWII for the Aussies; the experience of being a POW; romance and great passions.
The Bone Clocks (F) by David Mitchell. This is a great author, and I will read anything he writes, but this one goes into fantasy and sci fi which are not my genres. He is still a great storyteller if you don’t mind that.
Books I also enjoyed:
Dance, Dance, Dance (F) by Haruki Murakami.
My Brilliant Friend (F) by Elena Ferrante.
Both Flesh and Not (NF) by David Foster Wallace.
The Best American Essays 2013 (NF) ed. by Cheryl Strayed.
My Struggle, Book 1 (NF) by Karl Ove Knausgaard.
Wishin’ and Hopin’ (F) by Wally Lamb. A charming, laugh-out-loud book set in 1964 and told through the eye s of a bright fifth grader.
No Place to Hide (NF) by Glenn Greenwald. Well written account of Edward Snowden and the NSA. Reads like a novel and is hard to put down.
A Time to Kill (F) by John Grisham. A reread of Grisham’s first novel and in my opinion his best, set in 1984 about the trial of a black man who kills the men who raped his ten-year-old. The brutality, ignorance and prejudice of the perpetrators, unfortunately, could be taken from today’s news. I reread this book before reading…
Sycamore Row (F) by John Grisham. This is a sequel (sort of) to A Time to Kill. It is almost as good.
Still Life (F) by Louise Penny. Some of the most beautifully written fiction I’ve read comes from this Canadian author who has penned a series set in Quebec, about a senior policeman (a renaissance man) who solves murders in a quirky, idyllic town outside of Montreal. This is writing to be savored and reread. Penny is student of human behavior and is exceedingly adapt at describing relationships. She is also masterful with a pun.
The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself (NF) by Michael A. Singer. A book that has had a strong impact on me.
No Place To Hide (NF) by Glenn Greenwald. This book changed my way of thinking. Deals with one of the most important issues confronting modern life.
The Poisonwood Bible (F), Barbara Kingsolver. A marvelous story told by the wife and four daughters of an Evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959.
Off Season (F) by Anne Rivers Siddon. A beautifully rendered story about a young girl growing up, her first love, marriage and the secrets that determine our lives.
The Book Of Lost Things (F) by John Connolly. A 12-year-old loses his mother and takes refuge in his imagination and a journey through the loss of innocence into adulthood.
A Fighting Chance (NF) by Elizabeth Warren. A fun and “positive” read for those with a Progressive outlook in an otherwise dreary political landscape.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (F) by Lionel Shriver.
The Soul of Money (NF) by Lynne Twist.
Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life (NF) by Dr. Claudia Welch – a must read for all women of all ages.
Hope: A Tragedy (F) by Shalom Auslander. An absolutely outlandish premise sets this book apart from nearly every other I read this past year, but what kept me captivated is the author’s piercing observations on filial duty, the search for meaning, and those certain disquieting troubles that so often plague people of Jewish origin. Known for representing a modern American Jewish voice, Auslander does a fantastic job taking Jewish fiction out of the shtetl, beyond bagels and lox, and plunges us into deeply humorist–even absurdist territory, where–surprisingly, he makes wonderfully sad and poignant declarations about grief and loss.
Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever (F) by Justin Taylor. Short story collections are so rarely fantastic, and even more rarely remarkable when read cover to cover. This, however, is one of them. With a new collection, titled Flings (F), recently published, Justin Taylor quickly became a demi-god in my household. I carried these books everywhere, reading and re-reading his stories several times. Short, astute, and edgy, each story thinly veils a note of tragedy that slowly gnaws at you for weeks. Taylor’s work goes down so easily, but resonates in the gut. If that isn’t what we seek in literature, I don’t know what is.
The Death of Sweet Mister (F) by Daniel Woodrell. Many will recognize Woodrell as the author of Winter’s Bone, the 2010 movie of the same name starring Jennifer Lawrence. The desperation, poverty, dysfunction and sorrow of the Missouri Ozarks that was so gracefully displayed in Winter’s Bone is again portrayed in Sweet Mister, but the story is perhaps even richer in this novel, told through the eyes of a beautifully complicated 13-year-old boy. Think of this book like an Ozarkian Greek tragedy, full of grit and pain, sharp edges and universal truths.
Morals and Dogma (NF) by Albert Pike.
A Bridge to Light (NF) by Dr. Rex R. Hutchens.
Scottish Rite Ritual, Monitor & Guide (NF) by Arturo de Hoyos.
The Tolkein Reader (F) by JRR Tolkien (re-read).
The Tolkein Companion (NF) by J.E.A. Tyler (re-read).
The Silmarillion (NF) by JRR Tolkein (5th time studying this).
Killing Patton (NF) by Bill O’Reilly.
Killing Lincoln (NF) by Bill O’Reilly.
Killing Jesus (NF) by Bill O’Reilly (just started this).
Things That Matter (NF) by Charles Krauthammer.
Lately I’ve been reading memoirs about rock and rollers – but I also read Reggie Jackson’s book on being Mr. October (NF).
Here are the memoirs – and I liked every one of them:
Scar Tissue (NF) by Anthony Keadis.
Life (NF) by Keith Richards.
Just Kids (NF) by Patti Smith.
Rotten (NF) by John Lydon.
They are all interesting because of who they are as performers, but I highly recommend Just Kids – Patti is a poet to begin with, and this book really showcases her writing talent along with a very interesting part of her life and relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.
The Orphan Master’s Son (F) by Adam Johnson. Published in 2012 and awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, it is a fascinating look into North Korean society and a gripping read. My book club supplemented our discussion by having follow-up gatherings to view two excellent documentary films by Daniel Gordon, A State of Mind and Crossing the Line. This really complemented the experience of reading The Orphan Master’s Son and has given me a tremendous context for following the news about North Korea.
Americanah (F) Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Very popular last year and named by the New York Times as one of the ten best books of 2013. Beautifully written, it gives great insight into being black in Nigeria, the UK and the US – and much, much more.
The Housekeeper and the Professor (F) by Yoko Ogawa. First published in 2003 and translated from Japanese into English in 2009. When I heard what it was about – a famous mathematics professor whose memory is reduced to 80 minutes after a serious accident interacts with his housekeeper and her son, I was highly suspicious that this would be something I would enjoy. I read it and found it fascinating, unusual and full of insights. I loved it. And it was a quick read.
The Goldfinch (F) Donna Tartt. I’m sure that many readers will be mentioning this book, so I won’t try a thumbnail sketch but will just say that I thought this was an amazing book – great story, great writing and written by an author who can give great insight into the personalities of the people she writes about.
A Book Thief (F) by Marcus Zuzak. Paula and I saw the movie and then decided to read the book. The book was at the top of lists for adolescents, and I had good discussions with both of our ninth grade grandchildren, who had read the book over the summer and discussed it between the two of them. Highly recommended!
Stoner (F) by John Williams. Prodded and prodded by Rick, I read this on Kindle and finished it in two days. A quick read and interesting insights through many mundane activities. I’d need a strong advocate to lead me through a more thorough discussion.
At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years 1965-6, volume three (NF) by Taylor Branch. I’m reading this thick history to prepare for my participation in various 50th anniversary events commemorating the Selma voting rights marches in both Selma and Washington DC in early 2015. Lots of memories and even new information, such as the number of counties near Selma which had zero black voters in 1965. Of course, I’ll see the movie Selma in January.
The Climate Casino (NF) by William Nordhaus, a seasoned Yale economist. He undertakes to quantify the knowable costs and benefits of various possible methods of retarding climate change, and draws conclusions as to which, if any, make the most sense, recognizing that certain unknowable tipping points make the conclusions uncertain.
The Maine Wood (NF) by Henry David Thoreau. He describes three journeys he made into the wilderness in the 1840s and 1850s, and, in addition to describing vividly the local inhabitants, landscape, flora , and fauna, muses on the relationship between nature and man. I picked it up because Shep Erhart, my Hotchkiss roommate, and I had a sometimes-harrowing ascent to the peak of Mt. Katahdin in October, and Thoreau took roughly the same route, but the book’s interest extends, at least for me, well beyond that episode.
The Invention of Wings (N) by Sue Monk Kidd — The book is (I found out by reading the afterword) an historical novel that begins in the early 1800’s in Charleston SC when 11 year old Sarah is given a slave (Handful) for her birthday. The book alternates chapters with Sarah as the narrator and Handful as the narrator and tells the story of a wealthy Charleston family and the domestic slave “appendages”. The book is beautifully written and quite absorbing. I don’t want to give away the story but in the end, Sarah Grimke is a real person who was an early feminist and an early abolitionist. How this plays out in the book is wonderful — a must read!
Steve Jobs (NF) by Walter Isaacson. OK, I came late to reading the book but found it fascinating and very well written. Jobs is not an attractive character but you do get a good view of an ENTREPRENEUR! He knew what he wanted to “invent” but he did none of the invention — Steve Wozniak is really the brains behind the Apple computer — and others were the brains behind all the other Apple products. Jobs got pushback saying that this is not what the customer wants. Jobs’ response is that the customer doesn’t know what he (and she) wants. I will tell him/her what he wants. Jobs pushed his people very hard; some left (and came back); but he got what he wanted. And that really is what an entrepreneur is all about. And if you take Business Week (which isn’t worth taking) the December 9-14 issue has a great “cartoon” on what the iPhone has displaced! Really interesting. But the book is even better.
West with the Night (NF) by Beryl Markham — an oldie but goodie about life in Africa in the early 1900’s and what it was like then. BEAUTIFULLY written and if you have read it before, worth another read.
Crazy Is a Compliment (NF) by Linda Rottenberg — I generally do not recommend business press books to friends and family. That being said, Linda’s book is a well researched and reflected tome on the nature of global entrepreneurship. Sound data combined with inspiring anecdotes makes this book stand out beyond the rest.
The Illiad (F) Robert Fagles’ translation — I tend to try to re-read sections or the Illiad every year. It’s the grandmother of the western tradition – it affirms human existence in the midst of human frailties — both physical and emotional. The Fagles’ translation sings.
Philosophy as a Way of Life (NF) by Pierre Hadot. Perhaps, the best and most important philosophical text written in recent years — encourages us all to think through and reflect on how we mindfully live our lives — it was a wild best seller in France – originally written and published in French.
Constellation of Vital Phenomena (F) by Anthony Marra. This beautifully written book about Chechnya is full of “vital phenomena,” careful research, rich characters, intriguing plot, splendid description, and the sadness and joys that befit the setting.
Regeneration (NF) by Pat Barker The first in a trilogy concerning people affected by the horrors of World War I delves into the psyche of the psychiatrist and his patient, Siegfried Sassoon. The work is based on the notebooks of both and explores the moral dilemmas of wartime.
Harvest (F) by Jim Crace. An allegory set in late 16th-century England is a propos for our times and an “outsider,” wishing to be an “insider” sees the small village world he has come to love collapse from several changes. The writing is gorgeous. The characters are less well developed, but then it’s an allegory!
The Spectator Bird (F) by Wallace Stegner. Written in his inimitable prose in the mid-70’s, the style of the book – linking past and present through a series of journal entries – was new at that time. It still works beautifully. What is also timeless are the struggles of a disgruntled, arthritic, professional man approaching 70 who feels he has not been in control of anything in his life. If you read Stoner, it’s an interesting contrast.
The Paris Architect (F) by Charles Belfoure.
In The Blood (F) by Lisa Unger.
The Martian (F) by Andy Weir.
Breaking Point (F) by Suzanne Brockmann.
The Wolf In Winter (F) by John Connolly.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North (F) by Richard Flanagan. This is at the top of my list. My favorite Australian writer, now recognized by the British with the Man Booker prize.
The Bully Pulpit, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism (NF) by Doris Kearns Goodwin. What can be done when presidents with vision work with Congress and the press to make progressive change.
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (NF) by Reza Aslan. A readable scholarly work about the historical Jesus. Very good if you’re interested in religion and Christianity, which I am.
The Patrick Melrose Novels (F) by Edward St. Aubyn, Five short novels about life among the British aristocracy. Things you won’t see on Downton Abbey.
Stoner (F) by John Williams. Even better the second time.
The Children Act (F) by Ian McEwan. A mature, intelligent novel about a marriage, religion, ethics, and making judgments in private and public life. Not his best book, but McEwan is good even when not at his best.
All the Light We Cannot See (F) by Anthony Doerr. I thought I couldn’t bear another WWII story with all its horror, until this one came along.
The Art Forger (F) by B.A. Shapiro – entertaining once you get into it. I read on the recommendation of two friends and enjoyed it–made me think of Lee Krasner who lived her life for Jackson Pollack when hers was the greater talent.
The Hare with the Amber Eyes (NF) by Edward de Waal – very interesting book…lots of information about currents in the art world, fabulously wealthy people who lost everything, and the world before and between the world wars.
Dark Voyage (F) by Alan Furst – aspects and thrillers about WW II that are something different from Holocaust horrors. His books are great.
Gone Girl (F) by Gillian I liked it, thought it was clever and novel. I heard the movie is good but I’ve not seen it.
The Edge of Eternity (F) by Ken Follett, I just finished this, the third book in his trilogy, but I liked the first one better.
Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Woman’s Prison (NF) by Piper Kerman. Sure on many lists you have gotten.
Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen (NF) by David Sax- Read, reminisce, and salivate all at once. Includes a great travelogue of the best, still -existing delis, too.
The Holy or the Broken (NF) by Alan Light- a music journalist’s chronicle of the rise, covers, marketing, and meaning(s) of one amazing song: Leonard Cahen’s “Hallelujah”.
My Salinger Year (NF) by Joanne Rakoff – a young woman’s memoir of her life-changing year at a prestigious (pre-digital age) NY publishing house whose most famous (and mysterious) client is JD Salinger. She falls in and out of love with her work, makes some important personal choices, all the while reading all Salinger’s books. Will make you want to read or re-read them again too AND wish you were young and just starting out on post-college self-discovery again!
Americanah (F) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I see now that it made Millerstime’s List for 2013, but I read it this year. I feel like I didn’t read much this year, but I actually finished this and immediately started — and finished — it again.
Women in Clothes (NF) Edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton.
Check out the website: http://www.womeninclothes.com/
This is sort of like a magazine, a zine, or a blog, and I can’t put it
down. The description on the website works: Through original
interviews, conversations, surveys, projects, diagrams and drawings
from over six hundred contributors, [some famous, most not], Women in
Clothes explores the wide range of motives that inform how women
present themselves through clothes, and what style really means.
Lost Wife (F) by Alyson Richman. A young husband and wife separated by the Nazi’s, believing each other to be dead, find each other decades later.
Moving Day (F) by Jonathan Stone. A thriller. A moving company turns out to be thieves and the ensuing story of the pursuit to find belongings.
Orphan Train (F) by Christina Baker Kline. Orphans in Ireland and other European countries were brought to America in the early 1900’s to be put up for adoption. As I have a friend who’s mother-in-law was one of those orphans, it was very interesting to me.
River Cross My Heart (F) by Breena Clarke. This is an older book, but one of my fav’s. It takes place in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington DC. Since my family came from there, it explores a lot of the same landmarks but from a different perspective.
The End of your Life Bookclub (NF) by Nick Schwalbe. Interesting – and leads to other “must” reads or re-reads.
The Century Trilogy (F) by Ken Follet. The three books are the Fall of Giants, Winter of the World and Edge of Eternity. These books are historical fiction and trace the lives of four families, one Russian, one British, one German and one American whose lives intertwine as they live through the major moments in history from the 20th century (hence the name). Follet does an amazing job putting the reader in the middle of these historical events, and you get more, more than the facts of the time – you understand the psyche of the people and how it drove actions. The reader is put into the middle of the Russian revolution, both world wars, Cuban missile crisis, Berlin wall, civil rights, assignation of JFK, and much much more. Listening to it as an audio book is interesting because it is really almost more of a play or dramatic reading versus just having someone read the book.
All of my picks this year are historical fiction which I enjoy more and more.
The Invention of Wings (F) by Sue Monk Kidd. Wonderful story of slave life on a Plantation outside of Charleston, SC.
All the Light We Cannot See (F) by Anthony Doe. Set in France and Germany during WWII telling the alternating story between a young German soldier and a blind French girl whose father has fled with her out of Paris to the country.
Songs of Willow Frost (F) by Jamie Ford. Story of an orphan Chinese boy who is reunited with his mother who had given him up during the Depression in Seattle.
China Dolls (F) by Lisa See. Story of the friendship among three young Asian women making a living as dancers in San Francisco in the period leading up to and during WWII.
The Aviator’s Wife (F) by Melanie Benjamin. Story about the wife of Charles Lindbergh throughout their marriage and his career.
Thirty Girls (F) by Susan Minot. Absolutely luminous writing, while tackling a horrific subject – girls abducted by militants in Uganda (long before Boko Haram, but eerily timely…), and the journey of the journalist chronicling their story. One of those books where nearly every sentence is perfect.
Bark (F) by Lorrie Moore. Short stories, which aren’t always my thing, and I thought it was overrated (this book got a lot of hype), but a few of the stories resonated.
Bread and Butter (F) by Michelle Wildgen. A delight for any foodie, this vegan included. Two brothers open rival restaurants, and sibling rivalry and amazing food descriptions begin.
All the Light We Cannot See (F) by Anthony Doerr. I never participate in online voting. Well, not until Goodreads asked me to vote for the Best Book of the Year. I had to “click” my support for All the Light We Cannot See! Seeing not with the eyes, but with the heart. Here is yet another perspective of WWII through the eyes of children – a girl/Marie from Paris, blind at the age of 6 and a German orphan boy/Werner growing up at the same time. From childhoods that run in parallel time and introduces us to well-developed characters to brutal wartime experiences – every step of their actions, every word imagined, whispered, or shouted out loud, every beat and pulse of what is in their hearts has meaning.l
And yes, it won the Goodreads Historical Fiction category with over 42,000 votes (out of 200,500)!
Wonder (F) by R.J. Palacio.
The Rosie Project (F) by Graeme Simsion.
My Beloved World (NF) by Sonia Sotomayor.
Wonder of Wonders: The Cultural History of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ (NF) by Alisa Solomon, the best non-fiction book I read this year. It’s really not for a general audience, but it’s fabulous for musical theatre nerds. Also interesting is an internal story of Jews whose parents/grandparents/great grandparents arrived in the USA from various Polish/Russian/Ukrainian (et al.) villages; many of their American-born children learned more from this show than they had done from their relatives–and that included most of the people who created the show as well as its audience.
Freddy and Fredericka (F) by Mark Helprin. This 2005 novel showed me his comic skills. To call it picaresque may leave out some readers, but the writing resembles in prose Mel Brooks’ rule in writing dialogue: one laugh every 60 seconds. Yet the book retains Helprin’s usual warmth and humanity.
A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II. (F) by Adam Makos and Larry Alexander. It’s great, a page turner, wonderful story about WWII fighter pilots, US and German, and the mutual respect they had for one another. Well written, nice to read during the 60th anniversary of D-Day. Read with access to the internet so you can look up the aircraft as you go!
SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life (NF) by Julie Morgenstern. Best self-help book I’ve probably ever read. It’s an ongoing process but has helped tremendously with eliminating things from my life that no longer serve me. The “things” I’ve discarded have ranged from clothes, books, anything hiding in cabinets I didn’t really need, to behaviors, thoughts, and people. What I love about this book is that through this process of elimination, I have found clarity, and feel as if I’m living with more intention, and with more time for people who matter most in my life.
Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America (NF) by Bob Herbert. Deep diagnosis of our national ills by former NY Times columnist.
Sons of Wichita (NF) by Daniel Schulman. Definitive story of how the Koch Brothers got to be who they are.
No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State (NF) by Glenn Greenwald.
I Know This Much Is True (F) by Wally Lamb.
The Children Act (F) by Ian McEwan.
The Betrayers (F) by David Bezmozgis.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North (F) by Richard Flanagan. Just read this. Excellent.
Blue Pastures (F) by Mary Oliver. a slender, graceful nature prose poetry book.
In Search of Memory (NF) by Eric Kandel, the surprisingly engaging and humane autobiography of (this) Nobel-prizewinning neuroscientist.
Happiness (NF) by Matthieu Ricard, the monk who was on the cover of Time magazine as the “happiest man in the world” based on brain scans. Ricard is a philosopher/scientist/
Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West (NF) by Hampton Sides, A history of how the largely Anglo Easterners conquered the Spanish, Mexican, and Native American peoples who lived west of Missouri, eventually expelling the Spanish and Mexicans, and decimating, humiliating, and subjugating the Native American peoples. The book spans the centuries of time and vividly recreates in the reader’s mind what these people did to each other, what the land and life was like then, and some of the unforgettable personalities and events that made that history. Prominent among these, and most known though incorrectly, was Kit Carson. Everyone committed atrocities against everyone else. There were no noble ones. Everyone enslaved ‘the other’ people. Even the priests had slaves. Carson had Native American slaves, though one of his wives was a Native American. The Native Americans enslaved other Native Americans. This book tells us about our country. The picture is different than the majestic photos of the Grand Canyon and the Rockies.
Herndon’s Lincoln (NF) by William Herndon and Jesse Weik, edited by Wilson and Davis. Herndon was Abraham’s law partner for 16 years and knew him personally for 25 years. Herndon interviewed over 130 people who had known Abraham. It became one of the first interview-based biographies. Herndon also was in the office with Abraham every workday for 16 years. No one who has written about Abraham since can write a word without first reading Herndon. The stories are revealing of the man like no one else could tell. Professors Wilson and Davis have done yeoman’s work tracking down and validating every reference, and providing illuminating annotations.
The Signature of All Things (F) by Elizabeth Gilbert which I loved as I am interested in plants and botany.
The Lowland (F) by Jhumpa Lahiri.
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats (F) by Jan-Philip Sendker.
The Angel in My Pocket (F) by Sukey Forbes. An unusual book…about a Massachusetts family that loses their middle child at age six. It is heart wrenching but also bizarre as the mother connects with the child once she is gone. I’m not sure others would enjoy it..it’s a family I know and in part about their summer place in the Elizabeth Islands off the Cape… all this to say I’m not really suggesting it for your blog readers, but you might want to know about it.
A Prayer for Owen Meany (F) by John Irving.
The Dispossessed (F) by Ursula K. LeGuin.
Both were engaging and thought-provoking; neither was published this year.
Ready Player One (F) by Ernest Cline. This was a terrific, pulpy page-turning read that I blazed threw in just a few days. Recommended for anyone born between 1968-1978, especially if they’re at all geeky or into pop culture, especially video games and science fiction. It does skew a bit into the YA (young adult) genre and may not be for those who aren’t Gen X’ers or are not fans of dystopian future / cyberpunk sci-fi.
Redshirts (F) by John Scalzi. Just finished. Five stars.
The Woman Upstairs (F) by Claire Messud. Great story telling. Unpredictable and original novel.
Saigon: An Epic Novel of Vietnam (F) by Anthony Grey A Mitchner-like multi-generational story telling of the US relationships in Vietnam throughout the 20th century. It’s all sourced by historical documents. Not great writing but a memorable — if contrived — story to illustrate the human tragedy of the period.
The Son (F) by Philpp Meyer. Sweeping story of the history of Texas from the 18th to the 20th century. Great feminist characters.
All the Light We Cannot See (F) by Anthony Doerr. Loved the originality and writing of this WW II novel. Easy to see why it’s one of the few books this year on everyone’s must-read lists.
No Place to Hide: Edward Snodwen, the NSA and the U.S Surveillance ….. (NF) by Glenn Greewald. The must-read nonfiction book of the year. Also don’t miss Greenwald’s colleagues film of the same unveiling of Snowden.
One part of my reading this year came from books recommended last year by contributors to this site. I particularly enjoyed:
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (F) by Anthony Marra.
Americanah (F) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
The Woman Upstairs (F) by Claire Messud.
Lowland (F) by Jhumpa Lahiri.
The Dinner (F) by Herman Koch.
The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (NF/F?) by Sherman Alexiel.
Speak, Memory (NF) by Vladimir Nabokov.
How to live – or – A Life by Montaigne (NF) by Sarah Bakewel.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (NF) by Lionel Shriver.
Wild (NF) by Cheryl Strayed.
Other favorite reads include:
Stoner (F) by John Williams. A novel about the life of a somewhat ordinary man that for some reason grabbed me and proved a good subject for a dinner discussion with ten friends. I also enjoyed a second, very different book by Williams, Augustus (F), which I wrote a bit about here.
12 Years a Slave (NF) by Solomon Northup. The movie sent me to this one, and as quite often happens, the book trumps the (very good) movie.
The Goldfinch (F) by Donna Tartt. Despite being 200 hundred pages too long (and I’m not at all opposed to long books), there is much to be admired in this Pulitzer Prize winning novel.
Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life (Partially NF) by Tom Robbins. If you know and like Tom Robbins, you’ll like these somewhat true vignettes from his past.
All the Light We Cannot See (Historical F) by Anthony Doerr. Author JR Moehringer says Doerr “sees the world as a scientist but feels it as a poet.” Probably the best new novel I read this year.
No Place to Hide (NF) by Glenn Greenwald. Another book I wrote about previously. One of the more important books about what is going on in our country.
A Great and Glorious Game: Baseball Writings of A. Bartlett Giamatti (NF). Always there has to be a baseball book. This one gathers together some of Giamatti’s wonderful and beautifully written essays.
Vietnam: Rising Dragon (NF) by Bill Hayton. An example of the right book at the right time. I read this while traveling in Vietnam, and it gave me an understanding of what I was seeing and not seeing there. Ditto for Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land (NF) by Joel Brinkley and Cambodia Now: Life in the Wake of War (NF) by Karen Coates.
Wonder (F) by RJ Palacio. Story of a young boy with severe facial malformities and how he was accepted in a new 5th grade class. It touches on compassion, friendship, loyalty, love, forgiveness and all the social mores of society. It is a must read for all and a great one for families. My 5th grade grandsons urged me to read it. Glad I did. A children’s book but not a children’s book as the messages are for all.
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (NF) by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. Addresses the challenges for women in the work world today. Some of it reminds me of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique but there are good messages for women, husbands and the world of couples raising families in this generation. Good read.
The End of Your Life Book Club (NF) Will Schwalbe – former journalist with the NYTimes. Book is his relationship through books with his mother as she battles her cancer. Very poignant and so interesting.
Grain Brain (NF) David Perlmutter, MD. In spite of the endorsements, it is a worthwhile read on the topic of wheat, carbs, and sugar – the brain’s silent killers as he says. Very illuminating.
Gone Girl (F) Gillian Flynn: cannot rate it as am not sure what I think. Interested to see if others offer this suggestion and what they think. Want to read it before seeing the movie.
Just starting to learn about YA: Young Adult Literature. Apparently it is definitely a booming genre. Read Eleanor and Park (F) by Rainbow Rowell. Difficult read but certainly captures the young reader (teenager) more than it captured me.
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (NF) by Daniel James Brown. My parents both read this book and recommended it to me. My Dad worked at UW for 3 years, and I was born out there (although moved 6 weeks later). But, I loved the blended elements of history, sports, character development, etc. We read it for our book club, and every person enjoyed it!
The Light Between Oceans (F) by M.L. Stedman. Great story that weaves together many questions around right and wrong. This was another book we read at our book club, and a lot of discussion came afterwards.
Americanah (F) by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie . I really enjoyed this book as it gave me a new perspective of being an African Black in America and the different issues they are presented with in terms of race, cultural competency, diversity…
All the Light We Cannot See (F) by Anthony Doerr. I am almost done with this book but had to suggest it as I am really loving it. It is best to read when you have time to sit down and read for a few hours because it jumps around from narrator as well as time period. There is a moment in the middle of the book where it all comes together and the story becomes so much more than you originally thought. I have about 50 pages left and don’t want it to end!
A Tale for the Time Being (F) by Ruth Ozeki. I discovered Ruth Ozeki many years ago with her “My Year of Eating Meats” which was great though her obviousness in pushing a social agenda was a touch tiresome. This book suffers from a similar environmental agenda, but the plot is interesting and the concepts she discusses are big, meaty, and mind-bending. I enjoyed it and definitely worth reading.
TransAtlantic (F) by Colum McCann. If you haven’t read his “Let the Great World Spin”, read that instead. Still one of my favorite books. Just stunning. But I enjoyed this one – it just suffers in comparison.
Dust (F) by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor . Really beautiful and lovely with insight into a land very unfamiliar to me.
The Interestings (F) by Meg Wolitzer. I wanted to love this book… I like it a lot but not as much as I had hoped I would.
The Goldfinch (F) by Donna Tartt. I loved this book… I couldn’t put it down!
The Rosie Project (F) by Graeme Simsion. I thought this was a sweet and unconventional story.
Euphoria (F) by Lily Ling. Loosely based on the adventures of Margaret Mead in New Guinea. I really enjoyed this book.
Geek Love (F) by Katherine Dunn. This was a reread. The book is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I really love the characters.
Two of the books from last years list were outstanding for me:
God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine (NF) by Victoria Sweet.
Flight Behavior (F) by Barbara Kingsolver.
Then, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes (NF) by Belden C. Lane offers an experience for those who find the healing power of “mountain silence, desert indifference” and the cadence of ocean waters as I have come to appreciate them in contrast to my busier life. I often take my harmonica with me and play those landscapes and have discovered many rich spiritual moments at such times. Lane’s book speaks to me.
The Idea of Israel (NF) by Israeli scholar Han Pappe, who was one of the first historians to read the archives released in the 80’s, gives a compelling picture of the last 65+ years of history into the Post and Neo-Zionist eras. I had an opportunity to facilitate a panel discussion of which he was a member, and to share a few personal moments with him as well at a recent conference in Chicago. One of the most scholarly pieces I have read about the events since 1948.
Life After Life (F) by Kate Atkinson.
All the Light We Cannot See (F) by Anthony Doerr.
The Signature of All Things (F) by Elizabeth Gilbert.
And the Mountains Echoed (F) by Khaled Hosseini.
The Invention of Wings (F) by Sue Monk Kidd.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (F) by Anthony Marra.
The Son (F) by Philipp Meyer (Print and Audio).
The Hundred Year House (F) by Rebecca Makkai.
Tale for the Time Being (F) by Ruth Ozeki.
Unaccustomed Earth (F) by Jumphi Lahiri (Short Stories).
Lowland (F) by Jumpha Lahiri (Re-read).
A Man Called Ove (F) by Fredrik Backman.
We Are Not Ourselves (F) by Thomas Hughes.
We Are Called to Rise (F) by Laura McBride.
The Bone Season (F) by Samantha Shannon (Science Fiction, 1st in a Series).
People in the Trees (F) by Hanya Yanagihara (Audio).
Crime, Suspense, Thrillers, International Intrigue, etc.:
Missing You (F) by Harlan Coben.
The Son (F) by Jo Nesbo.
Unwanted (F) by Kristina Ohlsson (Frederika Bergman Series).
Night Film (F) by Marisha Pessl.
Zealot (NF) by Reza Aslan.
Five Days at Memorial Hospital (NF) by Sheri Fink.
Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism (NF) by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Journalism was once powerful. Interesting to read in year when the New Republic died and so called journalists think reporting on the stolen e-mail gossip of Sony is actually journalism. NOTE: I think this is a 2014 read and not last year. If reported last year you can delete.
The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and Rise of Reagan (NF) by Rick Perlstein. Have not finished it yet but fascinating so far.
No Place to Hide (NF) by Glenn Greenwald – not great writing but chilling nevertheless.
The Life and Opinions of the Housecat Hastings (N) by Harrison Wein, a fun read.
The Wizard of Us (NF) by Jean Houston was intriguing.
W is for Wasted (F) by Sue Grafton got me rereading her books for L and S (titles have left me at the moment). Her books are always fun.
The Future of God (NF) by Deepak Chopra came out last month. I want to read it over Christmas break.
Moby Dick (F) by Herman Melville. Finally read it. Wonderful. Not the slog I committed myself to under the pressure of appearing literate.
Home Town (NF) and Strength in What Remains (NF) by Tracy Kidder. The first a fine profile of a town/community and what pulls it together; the second the story of a Burundian, Deogratias, who narrowly escaped the slaughter, made his way to New York and segued from sleeping in Central Park (the shelter too grim) through Columbia and med school (didn’t take a degree) before returning to Burundi to start Village Healthworks. (Parenthetically, one of our Pangea members spent eight weeks with Deo and Village Healthworks last summer).
However Long The Night (NF) by Aimee Melloy. Molly Melching went to Senegal to study linguistics at the University of Dakar in the 70’s, fell in love with the country and never left. It’s not a long book but full of wisdom – and hope – about how to bring about change: respecting/working with indigenous culture, honoring the intelligence/wisdom of villagers in prioritizing their own needs, introducing women to their rights under international and Senegalise. Molly helped found Tostan, a group that among other achievements, has ended FGM among 90% of the Muslim populations (and 100% in Somaliland).
All the Light We Cannot See (F) by Anthonhy Doeg. Beautiful writing.
Wonder (F) by RJ Palacio. A compelling look at the power of the human spirit and a loving family….the main character, a fifth grade boy…told through his voice, as he faces the challenges of middle school with his own exceptionality, which produces all the expected responses of fifth graders but also the redeeming power of goodness to prevail. A read for anyone who has worked with kids or who cares about them.
A House in the Sky (NF) by Amanda Lindout. Riveting. Memoir of a woman’s 400 + day ordeal at the hands of Somali terrorists. As the previous book, the power of the spirit to prevail.
The Boys in the Boat (NF) by Daniel Brown. I imagine half of your readership read this book this year but a compelling book about an unusual group of young men who lacking the normal resources, prevail and emerge in the ’36 Olympics.
Brain on Fire (NF) by Susannah Cahalan. Another (memoir) one of the prevailing spirit to survive. We are all a step away from the ordeal she faced. Would we have her courage to survive.
Love and War (NF) by James Carville and Mary Matalin…if they can love each other despite their conflicting political beliefs…why can’t we all learn to get along (Rodney King???).
In the Garden of the Beasts (NF) by Eric Larson.
The Girls Who Went Away (NF) by Ann Fessler.
The Buddha in the Attic (F) by Julie Otsuka.
Five Days at Memorial (NF) by Sheri Fink.
Razor’s Edge (F) by Somerset Maugham.
Americanah (F) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
The Forgotten Garden (F) by Kate Morton.
The Lowland (F) by Jhumpa Lahiri.
Dear Life (F) by Alice Munro.
Zealot (NF) by Reza Aslan.
Wild (NF) by Sheryl Strayed.
The Goldfinch (F) Donna Tartt.
The Goldfinch (F) by Donna Tartt – Stolen art defines the life of a young child through his adulthood. It is a story of loss, obsession, and survival in a world alone, with a lot of emotion, twists, turns and detail. (700+ pages)
Wild – Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (NF) by Sheryl Strayed – Hikes solo and finds herself again after devastating life losses. Vivid portrayal of the experiences, scenery, and character’s personal exploration.
Gone Girl (F) by Gillian Flynn – I don’t know what to say about this one but it explores the mind of craziness
All The Light We Cannot See (F) by Anthony Doerr – Explores the unlikely crossing of the paths of a blind French girl and a German boy during occupied France. The descriptions of the occupation, feelings, emotions of the characters is keenly felt in the rich and vividly written descriptions. (600+ pages)
Orphan Train (F) by Christina Baker Kline – This is the story of one child, a young Irish immigrant who was put on the orphan train to the mid-west. During the depression it was common for orphan trains to run regularly from the east coast to mid-west carrying abandoned children to uncertain futures. Very engaging, illuminating and descriptive.
An author I thoroughly enjoy is Jodi Picoult. Anything she writes is the result of deep and extensive topical research as she weaves the unusually engaging stories. Following is a brief list of the books I have completed:
Perfect Match (F) – How far will a parent go in the name of love and to achieve justice for their child?
The 10th Circle (F) – A startling portrait of today’s youth culture, a shattered family and parental bonds.
Handle with Care (F) – Fragility of life, a moral dilemma with the topic of brittle bone disease and a child’s life at the center and a family torn apart.
Plain Truth (F) – A murder in Amish country thoroughly explores cultural norms and values and ways of the Amish in the search for the murderer.
Nineteen Minutes (F) – An act of violence shatters a small New England town. This book explores date rape, the victims, ramifications in depth.
House Rules (F) – a young boy with autism falsely accused of murder.
My Sister’s Keeper (F) – story of a girl who decides to sue her parents for the right to her own body – a family is torn apart by conflicting needs.
Lone Wolf (F) – Family secrets, love and letting go, family love, protection and and of life decisions, as well as nature, are the hallmarks of this well researched book.
I also like author Lisa Scottoline – prolific and detailed stories of families and individuals: Don’t Go (F) – about the return of an Afghanistan vet whose wife has died and Dead Ringer (F) – an atty is stalked by her sister.
And David Baldacci too – Mystery writer.
The Lowland (F) by Jhumpa Lahiri.
The Light Between the Oceans (F) by M.L. Stedman.
Songs of Willow Frost (F) by Jamie Ford.
The Husband’s Secret (F) by Liane Moriarty.
The White Tiger (F) by Aravind Adiga.
Open House (F) by Elizabeth Berg.
Two books that I particularly enjoyed this year were classics that I revisited.
To Kill a Mockingbird (F) Harper Lee. I actually listened to this as an audio book. Sissy Spacek read it; her performance, in and of itself, is more than worth the investment of time. Revisiting the novel from my perspective as an adult brought up an appreciation for the book’s language, meanings, and lessons that I never grasped (nor ever could have grasped) when I last read the book in high school.
The Caine Mutiny (F) by Herman Wouk. A wonderful, page-turner story that explores the complexities of leadership in the midst of conflicting ideas, agendas, and loyalties. The WWII battleship setting easily could be extrapolated to any contemporary office setting. The story also, in my view, speaks of the hard-earned wisdom that comes from trying to figure out what is true when events pressure one to make snap (and usually incorrect) judgements.
Someone (F) by Alice McDermott, A nice story of an Irish Catholic young woman in post World War II Brooklyn.
The Goldfinch (F) by Donna Tartt. Not my favorite book of the year but certainly a worthy, must read.
The Invention of Wings (F) by Sue Monk Kidd. A riveting story set in the pre-Civil War south contrasting the lives of a progressive southern women (based on the real life of Sarah Grimke) and her family’s young slave girl.
Orphan Train (F) by Christian Baker Kline. A good story about a piece of American history that I knew nothing about (orphans being sent out west on trains to be “adopted” along the way).
The Golem and the Jinni (F) by Helene Wecker. Fascinating combination of historical fiction and fantasy (normally I don’t enjoy fantasy but loved this book).
Half a Yellow Sun (F) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. A page turning novel set around events concerned with the birth of the short-lived independent country of Biafra in the 1960’s.
The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion (F) by Fannie Flagg. A fun novel bouncing between current times and WWII era highlighting US women pilots during the war who at the time received little recognition.
All the Light We Cannot See (F) by Anthony Doeer. This is probably on a lot of lists and clearly deserves to be named one of the best novels of the year.
The Silver Star (F) by Jeanette Walls. Similar in theme to The Glass Castle and not as compelling but still a pleasant read.
A Replacement Life (F) by Boris Fishman. Good story about the Russian immigrant experience (1980’s wave) set in Brooklyn in current time with flashbacks to Soviet Russia during World War II.
The House Girl (F) by Tara Conklin. Nice story of a young slave girl set in pre Civil War Virginia.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things (F) by Alice Hoffman. A quirky story set in Brooklyn early 20th century.
The Lowland (F) by Jhumpa Lahiri. A story of two brothers torn apart by historical events, set between Indian and America, by the same author as Namesake which I also liked.
China Dolls (F) by Lisa Sea. A story of young Chinese and Japanese women set in San Francisco prior to and during World War II.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (F) by local guy Anthony Marra. My number one book.
All the Light We Cannot See (F) by Anthony Doerr.
The Last Magazine (F) by Michael Hastings.
A Replacement Life (F) by Boris Fishman.
Being Mortal (NF) by Atul Gawande.
We are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: The Promise of Civic Renewal in America (NF) by Peter Levine.
The Responsive City (NF) by Susan Crawford and Stephen Goldsmith.
Now I Know Who My Comrades Are: Voices from the Internet Underground (NF) by Emily Parker.
Just Kids (NF) by Pattie Smith.
The Good Fundamentalist (F) by John Killinger is the story of a good man who has some trying times fine-tuning his beliefs with his heart as he goes along through his life. Leading, finally, up to the caregiver duties required by his wife as Alzheimer’s dwindles her down and down. He ages well, all along the path of his life, and his story will help us to imagine what we’ll do when our own forks arrive.
No Greatness Without Goodness: How a Father’s Love Changed a Company and Sparked a Movement (NF) by Randy Myers takes a family through the decades from the stunning discovery of an autistic child, into the steep and helpful learning curve’s patterns keeping love as their guide. And on to a father’s professional efforts to give his child, and others with similar beginnings, a chance to live a fuller and more complete life as working adults.
Among School Children (NF) by Tracy Kidder.
Feasting the Heart (NF) by Reynolds Price.
The Hidden Wound ((NF) by Wendell Berry.
Brief Encounters (NF) by Dick Cavett.
Stoner (F) by John Williams.
Nights at the Circus (F) by Angela Carter.
The Signature of All Things (F) by Elizabeth Gilbert.
Lydia Hill Slaby:
The entire Beekeepers Apprentice series (F) by Laurie King. I cannot recommend enough It kept me well-entertained for at least a month.
What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding: A Memoir (NF) by Kristin Newman, had me laughing out loud.
Wild (NF) by Cheryl Strayed. Of course.
We the Eaters (NF) by Ellen Gustafson is outstanding for why our food policy is totally broken.
A Writer at War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army, 1941-1945 (NF) edited and translated by Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova. This book gives the notebooks of Grossman, a Jewish writer, who reported on such major battles in Russia as Stalingrad and Kursk, and gives the perspective of World War II from the viewpoint of the Russian army. Grossman’s novel, Life and Fate (F), is one of the great novels of the 20th century, covering as it does, the Battle of Stalingrad and life under Stalin.
Rocket and Lightship (NF) by Adam Kirsch is a collection of literary essays covering a dispirit group of modern writers from Peter Sloterdijk to Slavoj Zizek, from Susan Sontag to Cynthia Ozick. These essays are the work of a brilliant literary and cultural critic.
The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us (NF) by Noson S. Yanofsky. This is a difficult but rewarding book which examines various philosophical conundrums and mathematical perplexities to understand what we can know, and what we cannot know or understand.
A Hazard of New Fortunes (F) by William Dean Howells. I am glad I finally read this novel. It is about a wealthy mid-Westerner’s attempt to found a literary magazine in New York immediately after the Civil War. If you have ever lived in or visited New York City, this is the book for you, as it gives a fascinating picture of literary life in that period. It’s description of apartment hunting in Manhattan is as true today as it was in the 1800’s.
The Last Days of California (F) by Mary Miller. This novel gives the thoughts and observations of a young teenage girl (15) as her family goes on a road trip across America to go to a religious apocalypse in California. It is wry, witty, funny, sad, heartbreaking and brilliant.
David P. Stang:
Updike (NF) by Adam Begley. A fascinating and revealing biography of one of America’s leading novelists of the latter half of the 20th century.
The Future of The Mind (NF) by Michio Kaku. The absurd speculations of a materialist reductionist physicist about a topic he knows little about.
A New Science of The Paranormal (NF) and Landscapes of the Mind (NF) by Lawrence LeShan. Two books out of 20 plus other books written by one of America’s leading paranormal psychologists, who at age 94 is writing still another.
The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope (NF) by Austen Ivereigh which reveals the mystical consciousness of the Argentine Jesuit who is Latin America’s first pope.
Return to Life: Extraordinary Cases of Children who Remember Past Lives (NF) by Jim B. Tucker, a University of Virginia Medical School faculty member, a pediatric psychiatrist who presents exhaustively researched accounts of children he examined who recall with stunning accuracy their former incarnations.
The Map of Heaven (NF) by Eben Alexanders and contributor Ptolemy Tompkins. An extensive description of afterlife phenomena with many insights regarding one’s spiritual evolution.
Resurrecting Lenora Piper (NF) by Michael Tymn. A brilliantly researched study of William James favorite “psychic” or medium which presents well marshaled evidence of Mrs. Piper’s authenticity.
Talking with the Spirits: Ethnographies From Between the Worlds (NF) by Jack Hunter and David Luke. A compilation of several paranthropologist scholars who report on their conversations with and observations of mediums.
The Authentic Life (NF) by Ezra Bayda. Another of several outstanding books written by the founder and director of the Zen Center in San Diego containing helpful insights on how we can evolve individually into better persons.
The Testament of Mary (F) by Colm Toibin. An imaginative pseudopigrapha of Mary’s agonizing reaction to her radical son’s ideas and behavior whose crucifixion precipitated the birth of Christianity.
An Army at Dawn (NF) by Rick Atkinson, the first part of his “liberation trilogy” about the Allied effort in Europe, particularly the US effort. I’d read the middle part a couple years ago (The Day of Battle) on a whim after a review I saw in the Economist, which focused on the invasion of Sicily and Italy and found I learned much. This volume is about the North Africa campaign – (largely omitting the British campaign against Rommel prior to late 1942. A fascinating history of politics, war, logistical failures, poor generalship, tactical screw-ups and successes. I was fascinated to learn we fought the French before they became allies (Vichy had to be conquered) and many French generals were suspect. Wandering in and out are the true locals, the Arabs who had been under the French yoke in Algeria and Tunisia and often tended to be either neutral or pro German (or at least anti-French) due to occupation. Some of the sources of Arab/Israeli conflict trace to German propaganda, although of course the French were often heavily anti-Semitic as well. Eisenhower is just learning how to lead. The inability of many US and British forces to get along. Churchill and Roosevelt. Debates about when to invade the mainland. All of this is covered at the same time we get down and dirty with the average soldier’s life, training, new equipment, and the slaughter (sometimes with reason, sometimes senseless) that first became part of war during the Civil War. German tactical mistakes are covered as well. I’m looking forward to reading the third part (The Guns at First Light). Atkinson is a solid narrative historian. It was not easy to put down as the events roll forward to eventual victory in Tunis.
The other book I technically did not read, but rather listened to – Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (F). I probably last read this in middle school or maybe 9th grade. I picked up a recording at the library to listen to while on vacation but instead mostly listened to it while commuting. Quite a revelation. There is so much more than just a trial of a falsely accused black man. Lee evokes so well a small southern town in the 30s – obsessions with heritage, families of good and ill repute, the utter separateness of black daily existence from that of whites except for contact in domestic service, the surprising existence of a white man living with a black woman, the tendency to shut away bad facts (Boo Radley’s misconduct in the past) – all coupled with coming of age as Scout learns about what is right and wrong and how to make her own way in this confused maelstrom, learns the difference between ignorant and mean, learns to understand a sick old woman’s effort to rid herself of drug addiction before she dies. All this and the trial. Not to mention the character of Dill, based in part on Truman Capote, who Lee leaves out of the defining moments at the end of the book. Okay, I’ve rambled, but I encourage folks to re-read (or read for the first time) or listen to the book and realize just how much Lee packed into the book – even if some parts are less than perfect. Not to mention, as we mark the fiftieth anniversaries of some of the key moments of the civil right movement, we get a good look at just how bad and bizarre things were just thirty years earlier (and really still at the time the novel came out). And really, isn’t Maudie Atkinson the most practical person in the whole book? Her house burns down and rather than mourn it, she looks forward to rebuilding a better place. We all can learn from her.
The Goldfinch (F) by Donna Tartt.
Me Before You (F) by Jojo Moyes….a wonderfully written book with a none typical ending. The cover jacket asks, “What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?”
****Schroder (F) by Amity Gaige.
Norwegian by Night (F) by Derek B. Miller – a well written book….a combination of memory and suspense. One wonders what is true and what is real.
***How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (F) by Mohsin Hamid. Love story written as a self-help book by the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Well written and not your usual plot
***The Johnstown Flood (NF) by David McCullough. A documentary of the May, 1889 flood caused by the breaking of a dam breaking. Well researched. A good book if you like history.
**Deadline (F) by Sandra Brown…..Good beach read. She is a master at surprise endings.
The Tigers Wife (F) by Tea Obreta.
The Forgotten (F) by David Baldacci – a good beach read by a popular author.
Empty Mansions (NF) by Dedman and Rewell Jr. about Hugutte Clark. A fascinating biography of a rich woman who, for many years, lives in a hospital where she finally dies at a ripe old age.
And the Mountains Echoed (F) by Khaled Hosseini – another good read by this popular author.
The Fault in Our Stars (F) by John Green. A teen book that is a good story of young love and a young woman with a fatal diagnosis. Full of wisdom and a surprise plot twist at the end.
The Paris Architect (F) by Charles Belfoure. Story of an architect, not Jewish, in Paris during the Nazi Occupation. He sells his soul to a Jew and winds up saving lives by designing ingenuous places for Jews to hide. He saves his soul be believing in what he does. Not particularly well written….but interesting.
The Forty Rules of Love (NF) by Elif Shafak. A fascinating book about the relationship between Rumi and his beloved Shams o Tabriz (the ywere not Lovers in our sense. Shams of Tabriz was Rumi’s spiritual guide, mentor, and soul mate. This is both a love story and a philosophical dissertation about love and life. A very worthwhile read, and a book I will read again and again, which is very unusual for me.
The Girl You Left Behind (F) by Jojo Moyes. A novel about a woman in France in 1916, her painter husband and the German occupation. The German officer in charge of her village fell in love with a painting of her that her husband did. Fast forward 60 years and the question of who owns the painting. More or less parallel stories. Well done except for the Hollywood ending.
The Light Between Oceans (F) by M.L. Stedman. A lovely, poignant story about a man, the woman who becomes his wife and their life as on an island where he is a light house keeper. The story gets complicated when they find a row-boat washed up on shore, with a dead man in it and a crying baby. Well written….It begs the question, what would you do in the circumstances they find themselves in.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things (F) by Alice Hoffman. A fascinating story of a Coney Island museum that houses differently abled people, (what in days before PC we would call Freaks) The daughter of the impresario has webbed fingers. The story is about her, her journey to independence. Life in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s is beautifully described. The murder is an added element. A good read.
A Team of Rivals (NF) Doris Kearns Goodwin.
The Overlook (F) by Michael Connelly.
Echo Burning (F) by Lee Child.
Hornet Flight (F) by Ken Follett.
Gone Girl (F) by Gillian Flynn.
The Goldfinch (F) by Donna Tartt.
The Signature of All Things (F) by Elizabeth Gilbert.
The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court (NF) by Jeffrey Toobin.
The Scar (F) by China Mieville. Gripping story and great writing. I’m not a big fan of fantasy but this was fun to get lost in for a while.
The Great Bridge (NF) by David McCullough. This story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge encompasses not only the engineering and construction of the bridge, but much of the politics of the time (1869 to 1883). The amazing Roeblings, father John and son Washington; Boss Tweed and his shenanigans; the saga of the caissons used to build the foundations; the human cost in these days before the “bends” were really understood. There are quite a few good illustrations in the book, but I sometimes felt the need for more (a little more David Macauley maybe!). The writing was mostly good, except for some awkward constructions that a better editor would have flagged.
Stoner (F) by John Williams. I am still a bit stunned that such a spare and
straightforward book can wrap you up so fully in the story and in its implications
and questions. I look forward to reading other books by Williams.
Sweet Thunder (F) by Ivan Doig. A great story featuring Morrie, a brilliant writer and lover of books with a background as a professional boxer; battles between rival newspapers in Butte, Montana; an almost Dickensian collection of quirky characters; bootleg operations; and lots more.
The Lives and Times of the Great Composers (NF) by Michael Steen. OK it’s a huge book and I’ve not read all of it, but I’ve read about some of my favorite composers and look forward to reading more. Another writer who could have used a little editing, but overall this is a very good reference and tells some good stories.
To Kill a Mockingbird (F) by Harper Lee. My niece was reading this, and I realized I had never read it; so I did. Wow, this is really good writing! I’m ticked off at myself for not having read it all these years, and kind of ticked off that Harper Lee didn’t write more books like it. Although I guess she helped Truman Capote with In Cold Blood.
A Separate Peace (F) by John Knowles. Another book my niece and nephew were reading reading that I should have read a long time ago. I really liked it. This story that takes place in a boys’ boarding school during WWII. But I got to wondering about the best age for someone to read this and whether my niece and nephew (14 and 11) might have read it before the best age to appreciate some of the troubling issues.
Books I Have Finished:
A New Earth (NF) by Eckhart Tolle.
The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives (NF) by Leonard Mlodinow.
Elizabeth Miller Tilis:
Everything I Never Told You (F) by Celeste Ng. A haunting story about a mixed race family in Ohio in the 1970s dealing with the death of their daughter.
The Secret Place (F) by Tana French. The next in the series of the Dublin Murder Squad, set at an all girls boarding school.
The Goldfinch (F) by Donna Tartt. Much has been written about this Pulitzer Prize winning book. Despite it’s length, I loved it.
Americanah (F) by Chimamanda Bgozi Adichie. MacArthur fellow Adichie does an excellent job with this epic story about a Nigerian immigrant in America and her return to her home country. Probably could have been edited down to make it even better.
Night Film (F) by Marisha Pessl. Page-turning thriller about a journalist who becomes involved in the mysterious death of a troubled prodigy who is the daughter of an iconic/reclusive filmmaker. Haunting but amazing. Pessl is author of another favorite book of mine, Special Topics in Calamity Physics. A big thanks to Millerstime reader Donna Pollet for alerting me about this one!
The Secret Keeper (F) by Kate Morton. A teenager witnesses her mother kill a man and keeps it a secret for decades. When her mother is lying on her deathbed it sends her daughter on a journey to discover what happened and who she truly is.
The Interestings (F) by Meg Wolitzer. A favorite MillersTime read of many from last year. Definitely worth reading. I started reading it on Dec. 31, 2013, so I suppose it qualifies for 2014.
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (NF) by James Brown. Well written, educational and entertaining book about the University of Washington’s Crew Team that competes for Gold at the “Hitler Olympics.” It’s already been optioned for a movie by the same studio that produced All the King’s Men.
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (NF) by Christopher McDougall. If you want to know anything about the elusive but greatest long distance runners in the world, this is your book.
Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brains’ Silent Killers (NF) by David Perlmutter. A good read about how the aforementioned foods impact your thinking and feeling.
The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload (NF) by Daniel Levitin. Ever ask yourself why in the digital age it’s harder and harder to remember things? Do you feel less put together with devices that are supposed to help you out? Read this book. You’ll know why.
Matterness: What Powerful People Know About the Power and Promise of Social Media (NF) by Allison Fine. For non-profits, foundations and businesses, a look at why and how leadership needs to ride the second wave of the social media revolution in order to succeed.
The Light Between Oceans (F) by M L Stedman. Really enjoyed it.
The Goldfinch (F) by Donna Tartt.
My Beloved World (NF) by Sonia Sotomayer. As the first Hispanic and third woman appointed to the Supreme Court, Ms.Sotomayor describes her life journey in a candid and intimate manner.
Pale Kings and Princes (F) by Robert B. Parker. Another Spenser novel. This time the private detective investigates the murder of a young reporter in Wheaton, Mass. Wheaton turns out to be the biggest cocaine distribution center above the Mason-Dixon line.
Midnight Runner (F) by Jack Higgins. Many thrills and action in this story of a British agent, White House operative and US Senator try to stop an oil heiress from getting revenge on the free world.
The Jericho Sanction (F) by Oliver North and Joe Musser. Each page of this thrilling fiction is filled with characters who could be real and events that could happen. A deranged despot tries to resell nuclear warheads to Sadaam and his sons. A US marine, Israeli agent and US general attempt to get the weapons back.
The Unlikely Spy (F) by Daniel Silva. A World War II novel about how British agents must stop an unknown German spy from sabotaging the battle plans for D-Day.
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (NF) by Daniel James Brown. The true story of how nine Americans, eight young midwest college students and their coach, prepare their team for the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (NF) by James Brown. — which others have mentioned. Beautiful read, wonderful story — all the more so for me because I had rowed with the 1956 Yale Crew that won the Olympics in what was billed as a Cold War meeting in Australia, 20 years after U of WA won in Germany. Yale beat the Soviet crew in a close finish — despite John Cooke catching a crab in the last 50 meters. When I say I rowed with that crew, it was because there was an empty seat during a practice in 1955, and coach Rathschmidt asked me (then a freshman) to fill in because I was standing on the dock, not good enough to row in the first 2 freshman boats. I recommended the book to Steve Gladstone, current Yale coach. He had read it, but more interesting, he had worked with Pocock, a major player in Boys in the Boat. And that began a delightful back and forth reminiscence.
A Tale for the Time Being (F) by Ruth Ozeki . A haunting story of how we spend the precious few moments we have on earth.
Going Somewhere: A Bicycle Journey Across America (NF) by Brian Benson. A pair of 20 somethings (the age of our bike riding grandchildren) ride (on bikes) from Wisconsin to the West Coast. My wife and I read it out loud to each other, a chapter per night. It will stretch your emotions, make you laugh and delight in the beauty of being human — and for us encouraged conversations we might not otherwise have had.
The Things They Carried (F) by Tim O’Brien. The first O’Brien book I read was If I Die in a Combat Zone. It was excellent. I then read Going after Cacciato and several others — but not this. An incredibly moving story that treats not just Vietnam War but war itself in a way I had not considered.
Book of Ages: The Life and Opinion of Jane Franklin (NF) by Jill Lepore . This definitely is not for everyone. I bought it because Jill Lepore wrote it. Like Meryl Streep, she never disappoints. But this is a book that demands discussion by historians and especially by all males like me who have not yet overcome their chauvinistic family and educational upbringing. I always think I have, but then a book like this makes me think anew. What I liked about this book was the messiness of Ben’s and Jane’s lives.
The Shift (NF) by Tory Johnson is a well written journal of the successful 12 month weight loss program of a Good Morning America contributor. What was revolutionary for me was the idea that, while everyone who has tried diets already knows that they are not likely to be successful, the essential element missing from every unsuccessful weight loss plan is the absolute necessity that weight loss will not, cannot happen unless the would-be loser shifts his/her way of thinking about food to clearly recognize and deeply believe that losing weight depends completely on changing the way that one, and only one, crucial decision is made every time food is available.
The books basic premise is that weight loss is a matter of Priority versus Preference and until weight loss becomes a priority, your devious mind (that is just cleverly trying to use the lessons that you carefully taught it over many years) will provide, one after another, really good reasons why losing weight should, indeed, be the priority 23 1/2 hours a day or 98% of the time but it’s OK to do what you prefer to do for 30 minutes a day or 2%.
(Do you realize how much disaster you can eat in 30 minutes, particularly when most of the food at any meal is eaten in less than 10 minutes after the meal starts)?
For weight loss to consistently occur, it must be a priority 100% of the time.
No exceptions. Not for birthday parties. Not for Thanksgiving. Not for back-yard BBQs or tail gate parties. Not because Mom or Grandma has fixed her special dish. Not for Super Bowl. Not because you got promoted. Not because you didn’t get promoted. Not because your spouse/child/parent/asks you to. No (Latin) Nada (Spanish) Keine (German) Aucune (French). Het (Russian) Tla (Cherokee) Zilch. Nil. Zero deviations.
Once you have made the mental Shift, the eating part is easy. Don’t count calories. Do count and severely limit carbs. Out with the sugar and fruit and dairy. Out with the fake sugar of all kinds. Out with white food. In with the meat and greens. Eat only until the first signal comes from the body that it has had enough then immediately put down the fork and push the plate away even if there is only one bite of good stuff still on it. The only diet that you must follow is to D.I.E.T. (Do It Every Time). And once the weight is off, you cannot go back to eating the meals or food that ruined your profile.
Exercise is acknowledged as being very helpful in burning calories and thereby cutting the time needed to reach the weight goal and leading to a healthier body but it isn’t essential. Walking several miles a day is recommended but anything else is optional.
This book is highly recommended if you are trying to decide how to lose weight or start a new company or save a marriage or learn to ski or do anything that is mostly mental.
The Half Has Never Been Told (NF) by Edward E. Baptist. A comprehensive scholarly examination of the thesis that it was the cotton that was grown in the South that vaulted the United States (both North and South) into its place as the second most powerful economy in the world and the residents of South Carolina into their position of being the most wealthy people on the entire planet, all because, after 80 years of experimenting with ways to compel slaves to produce more and more cotton, the owners of plantations in the Old South and their new colonies in Mississippi, Alabama, Texas,Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and westward had learned how to make their workers produce 500 pounds of cotton a year per person and how, to do this, they had completely shattered the stereotype of the benevolent slave holder and replaced it with a machine that crushed the few small shreds of humanity out of the entire process, for both slave and slaveholder.
The book also provides the data and information in support of the argument that one of the primary causes of the Civil War was not the call of the Abolitionists to curtail slavery but the great fear among the politicians in the Northern States that the growing political power of the Southern States was about to make it possible for this region to completely dominate Congress and enable it to continue deporting or killing the Indians to open up all of the Western lands of the United States to slavery, one new State at a time (that is why Southern Congressmen wanted to annex Texas and carve it up into five new States).
The descriptions, in cold scholarly terms, of the way slaves were routinelyand hideously treated to compel them to work faster and faster, from before sunrise to long after sundown with two 10 minute breaks and one 30 minute lunch break, is chilling and depressing. I also learned a new word “coffle” which I wish I didn’t know. This was the process of chaining 10-50 slaves together in a line and walking them rapidly for 12-14 hours a day for 600 miles or more to the plantation of their new owner or the auction block to be stripped naked and sold.
There is nothing about any of this in any history book I ever read in school.Shame on historians. Shame on textbook publishers. Shame on teachers. If they didn’t know, they were incompetent. If they did know and kept silent,they were liars because they only told the nicer half and omitted the horrible half.
This is a book that made me realize that while sometimes the truth canmake you free, other times the truth can make you cry. No wonder so few are willing to look at those years closely.
Highly recommended if you are willing to face history unflinchingly.
The Return of George Washington (NF) by Edward J. Larson, Law Professor at Pepperdine University who has once won the Pulitzer Prize for History and may do it again. This is an account of the six years from 1783 to 1789 in the life of George Washington, from the time he resigned his commission as Commanding General of the Revolutionary Army until he was elected President of the United States under the new Constitution.
Before I read this book, these were Washington’s lost years where he was always presented as being a gentleman farmer living a quiet life at Mt. Vernon until he was surprised at being called to again serve his country as President.
How little did I know.
As a result of Shay’s Rebellion in Massachusetts in 1786 and the political turmoil that led to this fiasco, it became apparent to Washington and to many others that the Articles of Confederation were incapable of keeping the rapidly diverging States together in one Nation. The author persuasively explains how the idea of a centralized government was vigorously promoted by Washington, in person and by numerous letters he wrote to leaders all over the country, because he early recognized that asking States to make voluntary contributions to funding the national government, to providing troops (at their discretion) to the national army and to cooperate in issuing their own State currencies and levying taxes and tariffs, was not going to work.
Despite his deep longing to remain at his beloved Mount Vernon, Washington allowed his name and prestige to be used to win the struggle to call a Constitutional Convention and to then have the new organizational structure adopted by at least nine of the thirteen States. And to promote that adoption, he also agreed to let it be known that he was willing to serve as the country’s new leader.
I now have a much better understanding of why George Washington is heralded as being the Father of the United States both militarily and politically.
The Man He Became (NF) by James Tobin. Attempts to answer the question “Would FDR have become President, and achieved what he achieved, if he hadn’t had polio?” Good writing, good research, an excellent read.
Losing Our Way (NF) by Bob Herbert . Puts a personal face on all the facts we read about the human cost of our continuing wars, income inequality, and unemployment. I had trouble putting it down.
The Underground Girls of Kabul (NF) by Jenny Nordberg. Tells of a little-known practice in Afghanistan in which families with mostly or all girls choose to raise one daughter as a son. Amazing glimpse into this culture.
An Altar in the World (NF) is one of three books I read by Barbara Brown Taylor who was raised in a non-religious family, became an Episcopal priest, and eventually left the church to practice her own very down-to-earth faith.
Water for Elephants (F) by Sara Gruen and Mountains Beyond Mountains (NF) by Tracy Kidder are two I re-read this year. Both were as enjoyable as the first time. (An advantage of getting older and having a less-sharp memory is being able to enjoy books again.)
The Century Trilogy, 3 Vols., (F) by Ken Follet. One of the best reads in along time especially if you like historical fiction. It follows five families, Welsh, English, German, American and Russian through the causes of WW I. The interplay between the fictional families and the real historical figures keeps you turning pages.
Fall of Giants, Vol. 1 – causes of WW I – political-economic- Russian Revolution the War, the impact on the five families and their nations.
Winter of the World, Vol. 2 – Guess what happened in a French railcar on November 11, 1918? The beginning of WW2. The sons and daughters of the families of Vol. 1 are now embroiled in the rise of National Socialism in Germany, Communism in Russia, the rise of the working man in England / Wales and the Roosevelt years in America. War in Europe, the Pacific, the frozen steppes of Russia. The sons and daughters are in the jungles, on the ships, in the parliaments, at Pearl Harbor, publishing underground newspapers in Germany and Moscow.
The Edge of Eternity, Vol. 3 – The Cold War. East and West Germany; Cuban Missile Crises; The Kennedy Brothers; Civil Rights; MLK’s letters from Birmingham jail. Moves the reader through the 60’s 70’s and 80’s with a glance at how those events are with us still.
It is a great read. I recommend trying to read the three volumes as closely together as possible. I had to separate my reading and at times found it hard to remember the flow of the past member of some of the families. One of the best historical trilogies I have read.
The Casual Vacancy (F) by J.K. Rowlings. Having liked and enjoyed the Harry Potter series so much, I was really ready for a new kind of book by an author I enjoyed reading. The title comes from the description of the seat in an assembly or in this case a town council that is vacated during the term of the assembly by a sudden death by stroke. Set in a small suburban town, the vacancy sets off a run to replace “Mr. Fairbrother”. In my estimation when Mr. Fairbrother died, the only good person in the town died. I found all of the characters to be selfish, mean and terrible people. More than once I was ready to slam it shut. I did finish it. And I must say that I agreed with my earlier take on the book. It is well written but there is no way I would stay one night in that town.
Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, Vol. 10 (F) by Jan Kron. I must be the only person in America who never heard of this series. Her first in the series, At Home in Mitford, was written 28 years ago in 1986.
The one I just finished and loved was #10. Now I have to download them all on my kindle and get to work. Mitford is an imaginary town (Brigadoon anyone) in the North Carolina mountains. It reminds me a lot of some of the small towns I know fairly well down along the NC Outer Banks. A couple hundred people there year round with tourist swelling their ranks seasonally.
The central character is Fr. Tim Kavanaugh. Raised as Baptist, he now serves his small parish as an Episcopal priest and the rest of the town as a wise and compassionate friend. I like Tim. He sees something good in everyone. He helps people who are lost come home. He brings laughter where there are only pain and tears. The book bring the miraculous out of the sullen, bruised angry young man who walks around with a chip on his shoulder so big it rubs you the wrong way when he passes. Tim knocks the chip off with the gift of a pool cue.
Perhaps, it’s because I read this book after The Casual Vacancy that caused me to enjoy this so much. But I think any book whose characters can make me laught out loud one minute and tear up in the next is worth the read. Do what I did. Ask your friends if they have read any of the series. See what they say.
The Mitford Years Series 1-9 (F) by Jan Karon. (Ed. note: there are 10 volumes now, tho only box set I could find was one that doesn’t include #10.)
** ** ** ** ** ** **
This list would not have been possible if those who contributed had not taken the time to send their favorite reads and their thoughtful comments. So, much thanks to all who did, those who have done so in the past — and continued to do so — and those who are new contributors.
Please forgive my endless reminders, tho the results, I believe, may have been worth the nagging. (Late additions — please feel free to send them — will be posted as they arrive, without any snarky comments from the editor.)
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.