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

(Updated: 6/26/24)

Forty-two MillersTime readers contributed 67 books as favorite reads for the first half of 2024.

Contributors were equally divided between female and male, with Fiction (36) slightly ahead of Nonfiction (31).

Most contributors only named one or two favorites (as I asked), and so I’m not listing or highlighting the five titles that were duplicates.

As always, I’m thankful for and appreciative of contributors taking the time to participate and particularly for your comments about the books you listed. You are the reason this list exists and can be shared with various others who enjoy reading. As always, it is the comments about the books chosen that makes this list particularly valuable.

Contributors are listed below, alphabetically by first name.

2024 Mid-Year Favorites

Barbara Friedman:

The Sisterhood: The Secret History of Women at the CIA by Liza Mundy (NF) is an excellent read. The author has done an enormous amount of research — interviewing people and quoting them in the book – often under an assumed name.  With the onset of WW II, men were sent overseas and the spy work was left to the women. The women were unlikely spies – and that is one – and only one – reason why they were so successful at their job. One amusing incident was where one woman (a CIA station chief) was in Malta along with two Arab men dealing with a hijacked plane on the tarmac . . . when she needed to speak to her secretary on the phone, she spoke pig Latin! This book is a WONDERFUL READ – and even for men!

Empress of the East: How a European Slave Girl Became Queen of the Ottoman Empire (NF) by Leslie Peirce is a very interesting biography/history of the Ottoman Empire in the 1500’s. The book, certainly, is about Roxelana, a slave from Russia who eventually came to the Imperial Harem in Istanbul, rose through the ranks, and became the first and only Ottoman queen or Empress of the East. But more broadly the book covers the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Suleyman and his wife Roxelana and about his court, his ancestors, his followers, and his succeeders. Together they built new madrasas, hospitals, public soup kitchens, and other major public buildings. The book is well worth a read.

Bina Shah:

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (F).  

Little Lady Who Broke All the rules by Catherine Inglemam-Sundberg (F).

Bob Thurston: I may have read some of these in 2023, but I missed the call for books at the end of last year.

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese (F). What a wonderful adventure thisbook is! It pulled me in from the start in 1900 right through to the finish in 1977, through three generations of an amazing family in a part of southern India we now generalize as Kerela. I knew from Cutting for Stone to expect skillful writing and a lot of medical stories and detail, but I was surprised by how well Verghese pulled me into each character and every part of the culture, to the point where I felt like I really knew everyone and understood the culture. I think now I’d like to listen to Verghese’s reading of the book which has been praised by many.

Sticky: The Secret Science of Surfaces by Laure Winkless (NF). Aah, so many everyday things that we never think about—this book dives into a wide variety of everyday phenomena, taking us through the science of stickiness and smoothness. Lots of scientific research you wouldn’t have imagined—for example a centuries-long search for the secret of gecko adhesion—how do they keep their footing on glass and are upside down? It turns out they take advantage of what are called “vanderWaal forces”, which act on objects that are extremely close together. Lots of fun stuff in hereabout golf balls, race car tires, ice skating, airplanes . . . A real pleasure to read.

Medgar and Myrlie: Medgar Evers and the Love Story that Awakened America by Joy-Ann Reid (NF). This is the story of Medgar Evers and his wife Myrlie, based in part on (MSNBC host) Joy Reid’s extensive interviews with Medgar’s widow, Merlie (and many others). This is a fun read, despite our knowing “how the story will end”. Interesting to see the tension between Medgar, who boldly advocated for demonstrations and addressing injustice, and the national NAACP, which kept trying to hold him back. Medgar made a public statement that put him in increased danger, but the NAACP did not offer extra security for him. Also interesting was the bond that formed between the three widows Myrlie, Coretta Scott King, and Betty Shabazz as they became a team to support each other and continue pressing for reform. This is a short book and a fast read.

Brian Steinbach:

Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James McBride. (F). I’ve previously read both The Good Lord Bird and Deacon King Kong by McBride, and this latest entry did not disappoint. Somehow, he weaves together the lives of both African and American and Jewish residents of a poor neighborhood ofPottstown, PA during the 20’s and 30’s to lay bare not only the bigotry, hypocrisy and deceit of the other residents of the town but also to solve the mystery behind a set of bones discovered in 1973. In particular there is the story of a deaf black child and the community’s efforts to help him. There’s a bit ofa surprise ending in addition to the bones as well. McBride was inspired by the Jewish director of a camp for handicapped children for whom he worked for four summers.

The Iliad translated by Emily Wilson (HF?).  Somehow I never got through the Richard Lattimore translation I had for freshman English, or even an abridged kid’s version I had (although I did read the kids’ Odyssey). After reading several glowing reviews of Ms. Wilson’s translation, I decided to give it a whirl. What a treat. Both translation and explanations are great! First, she provided a lengthy introduction that did much to set the scene for the book and the context in which it originally was created and its history, as well as an overview. Also a section on translation and her choices. Then she provided notes for each of the 24 “books,” very helpful as you read along. The first couple were a bit slow going as I got used to the style, but by the second half I was getting into page-turning territory. Much of the story is quite bloody, but poetic in the description. Oddly, perhaps because I read portions of the Aeneid in Latin class and had never realized that the Iliad not only does not describe the end of Troy. It also stops before Achilles is killed. Rather, it is simply to story of a warrior who gets ticked off when the leader (Agamemnon) takes away his booty (a female) and refuses to fight until his best friend gets killed – after which he kills the Trojan’s hero, Hector. Next I think I will read her earlier translation of the Odyssey!

Carol Haile::

The Little Liar by Mitch Albom (F). Once again, I learned more about the Holocaust. The story is told by the voice of truth and begins set in Greece. I don’t believe I’ve read any books about Jews in Greece during Hitler’s regime. The Nazi’s hatred and vile behavior is the same, regardless of which country the Germans are “cleansing”.  Mitch Albom has taken a period in time and offered a different approach to telling yet another despicable way in which innocent children were manipulated by Germans. The parable spans across the pond to the United States and we learn of the lifelong effects of what the characters endured as children.  I read a lot of historical fiction about The Holocaust; this book is a unique approach and had me engrossed from the beginning. I listened to the narrated version on Libby, performed by the author. One of my top two of Albom’s books. The other being Finding Chika.

Here After by Amy Lin (NF). A debut release by Amy Lin. She shares her grief journey after the unexpected death of her young husband. As if that wasn’t enough, she is diagnosed with a critical medical condition, requiring her to make live saving decisions within weeks of Kurt’s death. The scattered timeline felt right to me. It mirrored her emotions, bouncing all over while processing what happened. The chapters are incredibly short, maybe suggesting her inability to focus for long periods of time.

I hope the publication of this book gives her the confidence to continue writing. Her ability to capture emotion through words is excellent. If you are grieving deeply or know someone who is, the book will help validate whatever feelings or emotions you are having. I pray she will learn to love again.

Charlie Atherton:

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (F). It reminded me of the years I lived in West Virginia and the people I didn’t know. But they lived just around the corner. This story is more current – in my day the ‘drug of choice’ was alcohol, oxy didn’t exist, firearms and gangs didn’t play as large a role – but the poverty and ignorance were all there, woven together by tribalism, love, and friendship.

Chris Boutourline:

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez (F). The novel explores relationships, often troubling in nature, through the musings of a writer/teacher who inherits a Great Dane after her mentor’s suicide. I loved the dark humor of the protagonist and the overall cleverness of Nunez’s yarn.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells (F). This short novel (beach read?) is something I would never have picked up on my own as I’m not much for science fiction, but, you know, book club. It ended up charming me as it brought to mind aspects of the classics High Noon and The Terminator, along with a plausible technological threat in a Lost in Space future.

Chris McCleary:

System Collapse (The Murderbot Diaries #7) by Martha Wells (F). The latest installment in the award-winning science fiction series, The Murderbot Diaries, about the cyborg, “SecUnit.”  An engrossing page-turner for fans of science fiction but I’d recommend reading the books in order.  Soon to be an Apple TV+ television series.

Slow Horses by Mick Herron (F): I have thoroughly enjoyed the eponymous Apple TV+ british spy thriller series and was inspired to read the novels on which it is based. Herron’s writing is excellent, and I recommend the book. However, the Apple TV series is very faithful to the source material so fans of the television show will find no real surprises in the book — other than Herron’s wonderful use of descriptive language.

Chuck Tilis:

Rock Me On the Water: 1974 – The Year That Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Politics and Television by Ronald Brownstein (NF). The acclaimed journalist, author and news television commentator intertwines the changing landscape of America from a social and political viewpoint with entertainment and politics all hitting a crescendo in Los Angeles in 1974. The stories he tells are part journalism and part gossip which creates for learning about the behind the scenes and the more salacious aspects of this era. Think Chinatown, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, The Eagles, Linda Rondstadt, Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Jerry Brown, Richard Nixon, All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore and then the business of show business with David Geffen among others. He makes an intriguing case which will bring back many fond memories in a different way.

Golda Meir: Israel’s Matriarch by Deborah Lipstadt (NF). Lipstadt, who fought for the truth as depicted in the movie Denial starring Rachel Weisz, took it upon herself to write a biography of America’s own Golda Mabovitch nee Meir. Simply stated, Golda Meir rose from an impoverished immigrant as a child, settling in Milwaukee, to a world leader like no other. Her story is inspiring, but moreover, her accomplishments in what was truly a “man’s world” are heroic. This is a very readable story about a woman who has been underappreciated by many.

The Jews Should Keep Quiet: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Stephen S. Wise and the Holocaust by Rafael Medoff (NF). Why didn’t the United States do more to help save Jews from the Holocaust? Medoff explores this issue by focusing on the relationship between FDR and Stephen Wise the leader of the American Jewish community. This book exposes the anti-semitism of FDR and many within his administration, despite having a number of Jews in his circle. Simultaneously, Medoff shows FDR’s manipulation of Stephen Wise, in particular, to “keep quiet.” Maybe the most important aspect though is learning from the past—and the issues we confront around immigration/discrimination today.

Cindy Olmstead:

Oath and Honor, A Memoir and a Warning by Liz Cheney (NF)…a Republican who tells the story of the perilous moment in our history from the time of the last presidential election and those who helped Trump spread the stolen election lie, events leading up to the January 6th insurrection and those whose actions preserved our constitutional framework. Plus, she is extremely candid about the risks we still face. I listened to this account which made it most interesting as Cheney read the book plus used live taping of various instrumental Congressional members’ comments. She is a woman of amazing courage and tremendous principles and has risked her political career to fight for our Constitution and the preservation of our democracy.

A Tattoo On My Brain by Dr. Dan Gibbs (NF)…written by a practicing neurologist who has helped many patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s only to discover that he too is a victim. His advocacy is for early detection as there are many steps that can be taken to slow the progression. Too often individuals wait too long to be diagnosed until they have advanced stages of the disease. Some of the information is not new, but his straightforward and sometimes very clinical presentation makes his case for early detection very convincing.

Donna Pollet:

Trees by Percival Everett (F). How do you take the subject of lynching, one of the most horrific episodes in American history and make it laugh out loud funny? Shrouded in humor, Everett has imaginatively and creatively written a page turning mystery about bigotry, murder, and retribution in the small town of Money, Mississippi. No character type escapes his keen observation and dissection, from the white sheriff to the two MBI Black investigators to a host of white and black denizens. There are twists, turns, and suspensions of believability, but it all mirrors This American Life, our national heritage and living legacy. (Suggestion, listen to the audio, narration at its best).

Ed Scholl:

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger (F). This is a delightful book about a life-changing odyssey by four orphans during the Great Depression. They manage to escape from the Lincoln Indian Training School and take off on a canoe to the Mississippi River in a search for freedom and self-discovery. 

Elizabeth Goodman:

Master Slave Husband Wife by Ilyon Woo (NF). This exceedingly well documented Pulitzer-prize winning history of the daring and creative escape of Harriet and William Craft from their enslavement in Georgia may be non-fiction, but its prose is so elegant that it reads like an adventure novel, even for those who know the end of the tale. Woo places the escape in a broad context from the US to Canada to England and her chapters on the Compromises of 1850 are the most clarifying history lessons one could have. 

Ellen Hoff:

The Shadow Docket: How the Supreme Court Uses Stealth Rulings to Amass Power and Undermine the Republic by Steve Vladeck (NF). Explains how unsigned and unexplained orders, in increasing use during the Trump administration, can allow the justices to act on a case while also shielding the legal analysis behind the decision and the views of each justice. This is in contrast to the court’s merits docket where a full briefing and hearing process produces formal opinions.

Ellen Miller:

Baumgartner by Paul Auster (F). Auster has always been a delightful read, and we readers lost a literary giant when he died last April. After his death I looked for his most recent book, and I will be forever grateful to have read it. When he finished writing it, he said that it was the last one he’d ever write. He was a right. He died five months later.

Baumgartner is Auster’s 18th novel, and it’s the story of an older man (Sy Baumgartner) who has lost the love of his life but who goes on to live joyously, although sometimes he struggles. The book is witty and the stories he tells us about his past are delightful. This is one of the books which grabs you from the very beginning. You won’t want to put it down, and you’ll be sorry when it’s over.

Baumgartner will certainly appeal to the older MillersTime readers. But everyone should read it.

Neighbors and Other Stories by Diane Oliver (F). This is a collection of stories from an author who died at the age of 22 in a motorcycle accident. She was still a graduate student at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workship when she died. The stories range in topic (and in quality), but each one
tells an intimate story about families who struggled under the overt racism of the 1950s and ‘60s. They illustrate the strengths and sometimes the weaknesses of families and their children, as they navigated their circumstances. I found each these stories very compelling. While I have read much about this topic, I found these short stories particularly intimate. I highly recommend them.

Ellen Shapira:

All the Broken Places by John Boyne (F).  All the Broken Places is a Holocaust story with an intriguing kind of focus. John Boyne had written the Boy with the Striped Pajamas, and this is a follow-up telling the story of Gretel, who was the young daughter of the Concentration Camp Commandant. The book alternates between a contemporary story involving Gretel as a 90-year-old woman living in London, having kept her past a secret, and showing flashback stories of what had occurred both during the war and after, shaping her life. The book has it all:  good plot development with several major plot surprises, high drama and suspense, and excellent character development while dealing with the moral dilemma of guilt and responsibility.  

James by Percival Everett (F): This is probably one of the “must” reads of the year as a Pulitzer finalist, and it lives up to its top billing.James is a re-telling of the story of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn told from the point of view of James (Jim in the original), and the results are brilliant, witty, and full of humanity. The new James is highly intelligent and compassionate, giving us a voice that gives new meaning to the contemporary term “code switching.” I found the book truly enjoyable.  

Elliott Trommold:

Two books that have rattled my head:

The Last Great Road Bum by Hector Tobar (F).

An Emancipation of the Mind: Radical Philosophy, the War Over Slavery, and the Refounding of America by Mathew Stewart (NF).

Emily Nichols Grossi:

Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence by R.F. Kuang (F). It was recommended to me by a friend who loves linguistics, etymology, and theories and principles of translation as much as I do. Historical fantasy, Babel takes place primarily at Oxford (University of) and the Royal Institute of Translation there. It concerns colonialism, the power of language, rapaciousness, and courage. Full of history, suspense, and deep knowledge of Oxford and various languages including Chinese, I adored it. Kuang obtained a MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies from Oxford and is now pursuing a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literature at Yale.

Fruzsina Harsanyi:

Budapest, Portrait of a City between East and West by Victor Sebestyen, (NF). An Economist best book from 2023, this history of Budapest is also a history of Hungary from 896 when the Magyar tribes first entered the Carpathian Basin to September 10, 1989 when Hungarians brought down the Iron Curtain by allowing any East German who wanted to do so to leave for Austria  — “a decision that led directly, two months later to the fall of the Berlin Wall.” 

This wasn’t the first time that Hungarians fought against a despotic government. Mongol hordes, Ottoman Turks, Hapsburgs, the USSR, two world wars, and the 1956 Revolution are all in this concise (377 pp.). well-documented, thoroughly interesting book, not just for someone who was born there and recently visited, but for anyone who is interested in a country that, according to the author “punched above its weight” for most of its history.   

An Unfinished Love Story, A Personal History of the 1960s by Doris Kearns Goodwin (NF). This is not DKG’s best book, but it is one of my favorites for the year so far. With her vast knowledge of US history and her amazing ability for storytelling, she takes us through the 1960’s, a period in which I grew up and she experienced personally. With Dick Goodwin, her late husband, she participated in large and small ways in the most famous events of that era: the people, politics, failure, and legacy. And now she shares with us the backstory. I loved it.

Two other books would easily make my list.  One, Prophet Song by Paul Lynch (F) won the Booker in 2023.  The other, Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck (NF) won the Booker this year.  

Garland Standrod:

Populus: Living and Dying in Ancient Rome by Guy de la Bédoyère (NF). Having studied Latin in high school and having visited Roman ruins in such places as Ephesus, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Rome, Leptis Magna, and Sabritha, I’ve retained an interest in Roman history. This book gives a gritty account of what daily life was like in Rome, with its baths, theatres, talking Ravens, and frenzied crowds. It seems not to have been all that nice, but beauty did flourish there in art, architecture, and poetry.

The Club: Johnson, Boswell and Friends Who Shaped an Age by Leo Damrosch (NF). Having seen Peter Ustinov play Samuel Johnson on television one Sunday afternoon many years ago, I became fascinated by him and his life. This book, many years later, brings alive a captivating group of characters (Johnson, Edmund Burke, Edward Gibbon, Adam Smith, Joshua Reynolds, and James Boswell) who gathered every Friday at the Turk’s Head Tavern in London to dine, drink, and talk about politics and philosophy and art until midnight. Begun around 1763, the group was known simply as “The Club”.

Haven Kennedy:

I haven’t read any books that stuck with me, but I did want to bring attention to Walter Mosley. I picked up his science fiction book Touched. I was talking to others about how excited I was that Mosley dipped his toes into sci-fi, only to discover many people were unfamiliar with Mosley.

Mosley is best known for his mystery novels featuring Easy Rawlins. They are brilliant books, and I recommend them, but they’re only the tip of the iceberg. He’s a prolific writer; he’s written non-fiction, plays, mysteries, graphic novels, and for film and television. He has a unique way of expressing himself. And as a gay, Jewish, African-American his experiences are varied and reflected in his work.

Mosley is an author who deserves more recognition and respect. All too often mystery and sci-fi writers don’t get the respect they deserve, and this is doubly true for authors of graphic novels. Mosley is a great start to exploring ignored and often mocked genres. And if you like Mosley, I recommend Octavia Butler; Ursula Le Guin, and Madeline L’Engle. These authors are remembered for writing sci-fi and children’s books, but their bibliography is full of books of all genres. L’Engle’s memoirs are especially beautiful. 

Note: Touched is a brilliant and well-written book, but it’s also bizarre. Its social commentary wrapped up in fantasy and sci-fi. It’s definitely an acquired taste; those not into sci-fi and fantasy wouldn’t care for it. 

Hugh Riddleberger:

The Whalebone Theater by Joanna Quinn (F). Absolutely endearing, riveting, and a must-read. Takes place in 1920’s, WWII era. Don’t believe the negative reviews. The main character, Cristabel, if you love creative and adventuresome kids, will enchant you.  

Jane Bradley:

An Unfinished Love Story:  A Personal History of the 1960’s by Doris Kearns Goodwin (NF) evoked memories of a time when I was just becoming interested in politics.

Pelosi by Molly Ball (NF) was a reminder of how much — and how little– American politics has changed since the 1960’s.

Jeff Friedman:

The Golden Mole and Other Hidden Treasure by Katherine Rundell (NF). A series of beautiful essays about some of the world’s most interesting animals. The title essay is about how the golden mole is the only mammal that is iridescent, even though it lives underground and is functionally blind. Greenland sharks live for >500 years; a spider web the thickness of a pen could stop a jumbo jet in flight; the book has a million fascinating details like this, and the writing is absolutely beautiful.

Jesse Leigh Maniff:

The Demon of Unrest: A Saga of Hubris, Heartbreak, and Heroism at the Dawn of the Civil War by Erik Larson (NF).

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Somebody by Benjamin Stephenson (F).

Joe Higdon:

The Demon of Unrest: A Saga of Hubris, Heartbreak, and Heroism at the Dawn of the Civil War by Erik Larson (NF) – the story of the run up to the Civil Was presented in vivid detail by this most engaging writer.

Table for Two by Amor Towles (F). Several short stories by one of the best story tellers around.

Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James McBride (F). If you liked the Color of Water and Deacon King Kong, you’ll love this.

Judy White:

Hands down my favorite book since January is The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony (NF).  Anthony grew up in Africa and now owns a large reserve in Zululand in South Africa. He took on a herd of traumatized elephants who were destined to be killed, and with enormous patience earned their trust and healed them. Mike and I read it individually and then, on a month-long camping trip, read it to one another. The insights kept coming.

Kate Latts:

I have not read anything amazing this year, (but) you can include this commentary on these books:

The Women by Kristin Hannah (F) is the highly anticipated next historical fiction book by the author of The Nightingale, The Great Alone and The Four Winds. Unfortunately this one did not live up to expectations. I am glad that I read it and learned a lot/was reminded about the Vietnam war and the experience of those who spent time in Vietnam. This book focused on a young woman from a well to do (likely republican) family in Southern California with a long line of military service who goes to Vietnam to serve as a nurse. The details of her time in service was well done, but the second half of the book when she returns to the US crams too many things in and seems a bit sloppy. I thought this book would be about several women who spent time in Vietnam, comparing their varying background and experiences. This book does that a smidge but largely just focuses on one woman. 

Only the Beautiful by Susan Meissner (HF) also did not live up to the writer’s previous book, The Nature of Fragile Things. Again this was a nice read with some twists and turns but largely a story told many times before with fairly predictable events. It is the story of a teen girl in the 1940s who is orphaned, ends up pregnant, goes to a home, and has to give the baby away. 

Kathleen Kroos:

The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee & David John (NF).  An extraordinary insight into life under one of the world’s most secretive dictatorships.

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel (F). Inspired by an astonishing true story from World War II, a young woman with a talent for forgery helps hundreds of Jewish children escape the Nazis.

Song Yet Sung by James McBride (HF). In the days before the Civil War a runaway slave breaks free from her captors and escapes into the labyrinthine swamps of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Kathryn Camicia:

This time it’s easy.  I’ve read two books that have stayed with me:

By The Sea by Abdulrazak Gurney (F). He won the 2021 Nobel Prize of literature which is why I picked it up and suggested it for my book group. It was a hit. It’s about the complications of immigration. Fiction but close to reality.

Faith, Hope and Carnage by Nick Cave (NF). Cave is a successful musician who lost his adolescent son. Unusually religious and he speaks poignantly about grief and belief. He made me reconsider some of my skeptical ideas about religion.

Larry Makinson:

New York Trilogy by Paul Auster (F). It shouldn’t take the death of an author to make you read their books, but that’s exactly what happened to me after I read the obituary for Paul Auster, who I’d never heard of before. So, I took a look at this, his most famous book (actually a collection of three shorter interconnected stories). I suppose you could call it a novel, since it’s fiction, though not with a normal plot and definitely not with normal characters. I was quickly drawn in, and it’s been my most enjoyable reading surprise of the year. 

Matt Rechler:

Road to Surrender: Three Men and the Countdown to the End of World War II by Evan Thomas (NF). Road to Surrender revisits the final weeks of World War II. Harry Truman became President when President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. Germany had given up, but not Japanese military despite huge numbers of starving people wanted to continue the war. Two Americans and one Japanese person had key roles in the bombing and the debates to end the war: a) Henry Stimson,Truman’s Secretary of State and Secretary of defense; b) Carl “Tooey” Spaatz, Dwight Eisenhower’s Commander of Strategic Bombing; c) Japanese Minister Shigenori Togo, Japanese Foreign Minister.

When the US used an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan still continued fighting. Only one Japanese minister, Shigenori Togo, wanted peace. Togo finally convinced the emperor, but not until after the second atom bomb destroyed much of Nagasaki, to sue for peace. Togo’s colleagues sent him to prison, but his efforts saved thousands, perhaps millions, of Japanese lives as well as American lives..

Mary Lincer:

Thanks to all the previous readers on this listserv. The best book I’ve read so far in 2024 is Why We Love Baseball by Joe Posnaski (NF). Trained by two NY grandfathers who liked each other though one was a Yankees fan and one was a Giants fan, I learned sportsmanship and how to pass the money to the vendor and the hot dogs back to the neighbor–all more reasons to love baseball.

Michael Slaby:

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (F). An exceptional and quietly beautiful examination of artificial intelligence development and bridging human-AI relationships. In a moment of all kinds of breathless, extreme ranting about AI and it’s effects, this story is an invitation to a much more complex conversation about identity, humanity, and meaning. We may look back on this book as the same kind of prescient science fiction about AI (along with films like Her) and the way I shifted cultural ideas about robotics.

Mike Weinroth:

My best book recommendation for this year is Kantika. This family saga was written by Elizabeth Graver. It is roughly non-fiction, and it follows the migration of a Sephardic family as they navigate issues of safety and well being, beginning in the early 20th century. It is beautifully written and well documented. We agreed with our book club facilitator that the title does not do justice to this novel. The title falls short of the vivid picture that you’ll remember well after you finish the last page.

Mike White:

Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo by Lawrence Anthony (NF). This book gives a whole different view of what was going on in Iraq and with the Iraqi people during the American invasion. It shows the determination and courage of a volunteer who comes there to rescue the wildlife and the people of Iraq. 

Nick Fels

Barbarian Days by William Finnegan (NF), a Pulitzer-Prize winning account of the author’s life-long obsession with surfing, and his experiences surfing around the globe.

Nicole Cate:

Bright Young Women by Jessica Knoll (F). Novel focused on women victims of serial killer Ted Bundy. The story is intense (actually gave me bad dreams while reading it), but I really loved it. Addresses dynamics around gender, violence, public perceptions, and power structures. My favorite and most memorable book of the year so far. 

Richard Margolies:

Democracy Awakening, Notes on the State of America by Heather Cox Richardson (NF). This engaged historian’s wide-awake assessment of the history of authoritarianism for centuries of American history, up to this moment. And the crucial choice we face in November. Clearly written, with short to-the-point chapters.  Can be worked easily into busy lives, or read in large pieces. Richardson is the I.F.Stone of our world today.

Richard Miller:

Road to Surrender: Three Men and the Countdown to the End of WWII by Evan Thomas (NF). Another ‘who knew’. Tells the story through the eyes (and diaries) of three men – Henry Stimson, US Sec. of State and Sec. of Defense; General Carl “Tooey” Spatz, US Commander of Strategic Bombing in Europe then Asia; and Shigenori Togo, Japan’s foreign minister – all central to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and decisions about the ending of WWII. Wonderful previously unknown insights into those days and weeks of decision. Short but fascinating read, especially about the struggles within the Japanese ruling elite as well as whether America should use nuclear weapons. Our book club had the pleasure of Thomas being present as we explored various aspects of this period of time. Definitely worth a read.

Tales of the Long Bow by G.K. Chesterton (F). My grandfather gave my father books on his birthday for many years. These have been passed on to me, and I am now reading one a month. This one has to do with the ‘Lunatic Asylum Club’ and eight episodes of people doing things that seem impossible. I suspect this one was given to my father for its humor and wisdom. Simply delightful.

Ron Goodman:

Times Echo by Jeremy Eichler (NF). It’s about the Holocaust and the music of remembrance. He’s a musician at the Boston Symphony, now retired, who has explored, discovered, and performed music that was composed in the camps. The book was just named History Book of the Year by the New York Times.

Ruth Quinet:

Three of my favorite books read since the start of the year — two are Booker Prize winners and the other won the Davy Byrnes Award, amongst others (all fiction):

Davy Byrnes award 2009: Foster by Claire Keegan (F). A neglected child during the Irish hunger strikes in 1981 spends a summer with a couple who encourage and love her with great care and tenderness. The book was made into a 2022 movie called The Quiet Girl.

Booker winner 2022: Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (F). A novella in length but powerful in impact and delivery, a delivery man runs into a sad situation at a Magdalene institution (Laundry) and, over time, comes to a quiet decision on what he must do. This has been made into a recent 2024 movie with Cillian Murphy.

Booker winner 2023: Prophet Song by Paul Lynch (F). This is an imaginative and forbidding take on the process by which a society (Northern Ireland) slips into anarchy. A mother endeavors to save her family amidst the rebellion, the vilification, and ultimate disintegration of all societal norms.

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(If you missed the deadline for submission of your 2024 mid-year favorites, I can add them to this list (send to Samesty84@gmail.com), or, hopefully, you can keep those titles for the end of the year list.

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To see previous years’ lists, click on any of these links: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015. 2016. 2017. 2018 Mid-Year, 2018, 2019 Mid-Year. 2019. 2020, Mid-Year 2021, 20221. 3/30/22. 7/16/22. Plus two mid-year posts:6/1/23, 7/16/23. 2023