"Burial Rights", "Just Mercy", "Lila", "Some Could Get Hurt", "The Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers in 2015", "The Door", "The Short & Tragic Life of Robert Peace", Bryan Stevenson, Drew Magary, Hannah Kent, Jeff Hobbs, Magda Szabo, Marilynne Robinson
Each year, I try to read at least 12 books (one a month) that contributors mentioned on their lists of favorite reads over the past year.
So far, in this new year, I’ve read four of those books and want to call your attention to all of them. Plus, I’ve added a fifth book here that a reader recently mentioned, even though it was not on her 2015 list.
As I’m exploring ways of having more exchanges on this website about books we’re enjoying without having to wait until the end of the year to do so, here are five that I have particularly enjoyed this year already:
The Short & Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs (NF), recommended by Anita Rechler (“Offers lessons about how hard it is to overcome life’s challenges even when there are opportunities, role models, and caring people.”), Cindy Olmstead (“Named a best book of the year by the NY Times Book Review…poignant yet tragic.”), Hugh Riddleberger (“This book is compelling for those of us interested in how to help kids of promise who come from challenging neighborhoods and backgrounds…explores the deepest questions of why…why did it happen to Robert and why do good intentions fall short…far too often?”), Matt Rechler (“A fascinating story that raises the question of how the death of someone with so much potential could have been avoided.”).
An accounting of what happened to a gifted African American young man from a troubled area of Newark who makes it to Yale and after graduation returns to his neighborhood. Written by his white roommate at Yale, it explores Robert Peace’s upbringing, his path to and through college, and what happens afterwards. It raises a myriad of questions, none easily answered, but worth thinking about and discussing.
Ellen and I are planning one of our Sunday night ‘pop up’ dinners and discussions around this book. Let us know if you are interested in joining us. We will probably schedule the evening for some time in April or May.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice & Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (NF), recommended by Sal Giambanco (“This may be the most important book of 2015.”) and Emily Nichols Grossi (“I haven’t been this moved by a non-fiction, book length work in some time.”).
This book is written by an African American man whose path through life turns out quite different from Robert Peace’s. After attending Harvard Law School, he moves to the South and devotes his life to working with individuals in prison on issues of the death penalty, life imprisonment, and youth sentencing.
It’s an interesting read in conjunction with the Robert Peace book, but that is not the (only) reason I found it so involving. It’s hard to put this book down once you’ve begun to read it. The accounts of his years working with prisoners, their families, prison officials, courts, prosecutors, judges, and our legal system will, I suspect, give you new understandings and insights into what has been called our carceral state. It’s one of the best presentations of those issues and of the changes we need to make in our society that I have read.
For me, Bryan Stevenson is truly a hero and deserves to be read, appreciated, and honored for what he has done with his life and for some of the most unfortunate citizens in our society. In addition to his work as a lawyer and advocate, he’s a good writer and a good story teller.
The Door by Magda Szabo (F), recommended by Larry Makinson (“Story of a cantankerous but unforgettable character in postwar Hungary.”)
Larry was at our house near the end of 2015 when he was reading The Door and couldn’t put the book down.
Now I understand why.
It’s a character study, the story of two women (one a writer and one a housekeeper) who are very different in many ways and whose lives become intertwined. One of the two women is unlike any individual I’ve encountered, in life or in literature. The setting is Budapest after World War II.
I’ll leave the rest for you to discover yourself.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (F), recommended by Fruzsina Harsanyi.
When we were recently traveling in Iceland, Fruzsina wrote to us that we had to read this book, set in the north of the island in the early 1800s.
Both Ellen and I started it while we were there (ah, the wonders of downloading books) and finished it shortly after we returned. We both found it fascinating.
It’s a first novel by a young woman from Australia, and it’s hard to believe she was only 28 when she wrote it. Although it is a novel, it is based on historical events that took place in northern Iceland in 1829. Two women and a man have been condemned to death for the killing of two men. The main focus is on one of the condemned women — and the young Reverend who has been appointed to minister to her. As in The Door, the portrait of the woman is riveting. The writing is superb, particularly when the ‘voice’ of the main character tells her story, and when the author describes life in rural Iceland in the early 1800’s.
Both The Door and Burial Rites remind me of my favorite Marilyn Robinson book, Lila. These are three stories of women we — I — rarely ever encounter.
Someone Could Get Hurt by Drew Magary (NF), recommended by Brandt Tilis (“Funny book that relieved some of the angst about becoming a father.”) In addition to being my son-in-law, Brandt is just a few weeks away from welcoming his first child into this world. He also recommended the book to my other son-in-law and reports that father of three found it hilarious.
Magary is a columnist (GQ magazine, Deadspin, Rolling Stone, Comedy Central, The Atlantic, etc.), interviewer, book author (The Postmortal — about a cure for aging — among other books), and humorist.
His memoir will resonate and will make you laugh, whether you’re about to be a father/parent, already are a father/parent, or once were a father/parent and now have entered the grand parent stage.
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If you’ve read and enjoyed one or more of the books recommended by others in the 2015 Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime readers, please let me know, (firstname.lastname@example.org), and I’ll pass those comments on to other MillersTime readers.
Nancy Cedar Wilson said:
I found Bryan Stevenson’s book superb also–It was designated an ‘all-congregation read” by the River Rd. Unitarian Universalist Congregation. We are working on structural racism awareness, and this is a moving personal account that illustrates one aspect of this enormous social problem.
He comes to DC fairly often, and I was able to hear him in person last fall–It is worth taking the trouble if you hear of him appearing anywhere nearby–(He will be in Frederick in April)
Good to know you found what he has done and written as worthy as those who recommended him to MillersTime readers.
He indeed deserves to be read and heard.
Helena S said:
I did read the book “The Doors” in Europe, and I am looking forward to rereading it now in English.
I am so happy you liked it. Not only is the author’s name the same as my mother-in-law’s, but also I could see some family members in this book.
This is one of very few books translated (I hope that translation is good) from contemporary young authors, especially one from Bratislava, Slovakia,
who is writing about his family history from 1918 Czechoslovakia.
Looking at your recommendations, you may like “The House of the Deaf Man” as well. For me, reading this was like reading about my own family members.
Larry M said:
One more book worthy of adding to your list, Richard: Dark Money by Jane Mayer. A thorough history and expose of the Koch Brothers network and its billionaire allies who have changed the course of American politics over the last 20 years and are still building steam. Must reading and a well-told story.
Ben Senturia said:
Beautiful Ruins…..best recently written novel that I have read (last year).