“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read” – A. Lincoln
In this mid-year post of approximately 80 books, equally split between Fiction (F) and Non-Fiction (NF), I’m sure you’ll find two or three you’ll add to your ‘to read’ list (and at least one could likely to be on your end of the year favorites).
As usual, the value in what is below comes from what the 38 contributors (evenly divided between female and male) have written about the favorites they’ve cited.
And as always, I’m deeply appreciative and thankful for the contributors who have taken the time to participate and send in their current favorite reads. These posts only work because various friends take the time to respond to my call for books most enjoyed by MillersTime readers.
Alphabetical by first name:
Three Ordinary Girls by Tim Brady (NF) recounts the harrowing works of three teenage girls in Nazi-occupied Netherlands. They sheltered Jews and political dissidents, sabotaged bridges and railroads, transported weapons – and this is only a bit of what they did in defiance of the occupation. This is a different look at WWII heroism and worth a read.
Nancy Pelosi by Molly Bal (NF) is a very readable and enjoyable biography of a formidable lady, elected to Congress when she was 47 after she had raised 5 children but never held any elected or government position. The book highlights her hard work to realize many, many legislative accomplishments (and they may not be over yet). I wish we had more like her in government today!
In the Nation’s Service: The Life and Times of George P Shultz by Philip Taubman (NF) relates a remarkable life importantly covering four stints in government as head of major cabinets. You also learn early on that he has a tiger tattoo on his rear! Well worth a read.
My wife and I have begun reading (historical) novels by Kate Quinn, a NYT best selling author. We have read Rose Code (NF) and The Alice Network (F),both of which are based on women from WW I and WW II. The Rose Code focuses on three British female code breakers at Bletchley Park during WW II who are struggling in their private lives while trying to maintain strict secrecy around their jobs. The Alice Network is centered on a real-life female French spy network. Quinn’s character development and plot both drew us in and captivated us. I’m looking forward to the next one.
I continue to read read a variety of Harlan Coben mysteries including the Myron Bolitar (F) and the Mickey Bolitar (F) and numerous free standing books. Coben is a good writer with a wonderful story telling ability.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger (F) upon the recommendation by a longtime friend who has known me very well for many years and thought I might resonate with this book of adventure. I did!
The story surrounds four characters: Odie, Albert, and Emmy who find themselves in a boarding school for Native American children, but includes Mose, who is mute and only speaks in sign language. The four of them flee the scene in an existential struggle to find freedom from their past through various trials brilliantly set by Kruegger. These moments are accompanied by Odie’s playing of his harmonica along the river to their destination of St Louis in their bold escape from the boarding school and its past.
The story reminds me of Huck Finn, but grabs me more deeply because I have found that this simple instrument has been a vehicle for expressing God’s presence at certain moments of my life, and also as a link with humanity surrounding me at that time.
But what really made the novel by Krueger most meaningful to me, was that “just by a chance”, I had read Barbara Kingsolver’s latest book Demon Copperhead (F) previously. Her novel is about life for a young boy who struggles through his life of brokenness in the Appalachian world of SW Virginia, on a similar journey as Odie, but reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. Reading both by following the other is a dynamic experience worth three novels.
Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright (NF). An eye-opening book about cultural ideals and ways to identify where your workplace culture is and how to get it where you want it to be. The book puts organizations into five different buckets and has easy-to-understand but hard-to-accomplish methods to advance your organization into the coveted “Stage 5 Culture.” A useful book for leaders and people who want to lead.
Three Body Problemby Liu Cixin (F). A Sci-Fi book that has its roots in Cultural Revolution era China. I had a hard time starting it, but once I understood who the characters were, I was hooked. The Sci-Fi part gets a little technical, but it’s a fun adventure to figure out what’s going on. It has some shades of the show Lost.
Empire of Pain by Patrick Raden Keefe (NF). The combination of the excellent writing and the story itself makes this book read like fiction (you’re hopefully reading this before my Elizabeth’s review of the same book where she almost assuredly said the same thing). This is a book about the opioid epidemic, and it made me take a hard look at a lot of things in today’s world: community, religion, corporate culture, justice, and who I choose to support. It left me feeling both empty and motivated.
Chronicles by Bob Dylan (NF). This came out in 2004, but I picked up a used copy. Rather than a complete memoir, it is more a series of ruminations on five parts of his life – perhaps most interesting is the first part, which covers the time before he had a recording contract, adventures in the early 60’s NYC folk scene.
The Last Days of John Lennonby James Patterson with Casey Sherman & Dave Wedges (NF). Somewhat of a miss-title, as it actually covers most of his life, but the focus is on paralleling his last days with the Mark Chapman’s stalking and murder of him. This part is drawn from an article one of the co-authors first wrote, I believe. Well documented and interesting.
Renegades: Born in the USA by Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen (NF). Drawn from podcasts they did in 2020, with many photographs, copies of edited speeches and songs. The conversations have a wide range, from the personal to the future of the country. Almost worth it just for the picture of Obama driving Bruce’s ‘Vette.
Man In the White Sharkskin Suit–A Jewish Family”s Exodus From Old Cairo To The New Worldby Lucette Lagrnado (NF). An emotional story, told through a young girl’s eyes (the author-Lucette Lagnado)) of enjoying the comforts of life in a cosmopolitan Cairo, only to have Nasser rise to power and force this Jewish family to emigrate to Paris and then New York. “The Man” is her father who is a bon-vivant around Cairo, whom Lucette adores even through his many foibles which result in significant hardship for the entire family as they attempt to assimilate in New York as Egyptian Jews. Yet, Lucette perseveres through what one reviewer called an “inversion of the American Dream” as her father never finds financial footing upon leaving Egypt. This story is beautifully written and delves deeper into the complexities of family, religion and human resolve.
The Arrogant Years–One Girl’s Search For Her Lost Youth From Cairo to Brooklyn by Lucette Lagnado (NF). This is the sequel to the aforementioned Man in the White Sharkskin Suit. I was so moved by the author’s affinity towards her father, I wanted to learn more about her story. The untold hero is actually her mother, who is treated at best indifferent and at worst cruelly by her father throughout what was an arranged marriage of sorts–by him and his mother-in-law. Again, Lagnado’s writing style captures the essence of the family’s history and shows her mother’s resolve to provide for her family.
Elusive Links: A Story of Connection, Compassion and Competition by Dan Rosenberg (HF). How about a book that combines aspects of the Spanish Inquisition, history of golf, modern day relationships, and Maimonides that keeps you thinking the whole way through? Dan Rosenberg, a first time novelist, who came out of the business world put the pieces together in an incredibly well researched historical fiction story. Part of the fun in reading this book is thinking about how the author handled the research, writing, editing, story development, and all the other components for a successful novel.
The Women of Brewster Placeby Gloria Naylor (F). This book was our book club read that has truly stayed with me since reading it in early March. It is the story of the realities of life of seven Black women living in a bleak inner city housing project. It reads as seven separate stories, but truly their lives and survival are intertwined as they struggle to survive and come together at the end. Hopes, dreams, tragedy, disappointment and loving events punctuate their struggles as each woman faces often insurmountable challenges to forge ahead. It is very well written and the author creates very memorable characters in each woman easily pictured by the reader. It was Gloria Naylor’s debut novel. Hopes and dreams, challenges, strengths and weaknesses punctuate the stories that are simultaneously loving and painful. In 1989 there was a miniseries starring Oprah Winfrey and it is available on streaming services and served to powerfully galvanize the stories of each woman in the book.
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (F): tale of two brothers raised in the suburb of Calcutta, one brother shy and obedient, the other impulsive. Though inseparable as children their young adult and adult lives cause them to take different paths, one breaking rules or contradicting authority, joining a radical group of Maoists. The other goes to United States to get a PhD in Environmental Science. Compelling novel that deals with brotherly love, sacrifice, cultural norms and conflict, political violence, familial duty and personal commitments. An excellent novel.
The Huntress by Kristen Quinn (HF): set during and just after WWII, it features an English journalist and a Russian female bomber pilot hunting for a Nazi war criminal who has killed children as well as adults. Interwoven is the young photographer who suspects her widowed father’s new fiancée, a German widow. A heart-wrenching story that will keep you reading to the very last page. Filled with unexpected twists that make Kristen Quinn a memorable author.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel (F): this is a riveting story about a family with five boys, a pediatrician mother and a writer father. The youngest boy is Claude who, at the age of five, wants to be a girl when he grows up. His parents want him to be whoever he wants to be, yet are not sure how to share this with the world. Secrets are kept within the family so no one knows until… This novel caused me to address my own role as a parent and how I would manage such transformative situations in this ever changing world. Found it a soul-searching read.
Bibi: My Story by Benjamin Netanyahu (NF). Just finished reading BIBI. Great read, & I believe he was the Winston Churchill of Israel.
As a way of procrastination in order to avoid tedious administrative undertakings I have been escaping by reading a copy of the original addition of James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson (F), the creator of the first extensive dictionary of the English language which was published approximately 300 years ago, or, to be more specific, in 1747.
Boswell’s opus is published in redacted form, the length of which is only 440 pages. On a year by year basis Boswell delightfully reports about multitudes of Samuel Johnson’s activities and commentaries. His method each annual assessment is to record both the year itself as well as Johnson’s age.
It is a delight to behold his intriguing discussion of how Johnson went about publishing his dictionary, which was expanded from one volume to two volumes in its second edition. Boswell also covers nearly every spoken encounter as well as most written encounters which to his knowledge and research did in fact come to pass.
Boswell comments that some of the definitions included in Johnson’s dictionary are intended to be witty and are filled with hyperbole. Boswell also mentions and lists some of Johnson’s definitions that are just dead wrong. Also reported by Boswell is the manner in which Samuel Johnson researched and compiled his dictionary, which took Johnson only three years to complete.
In Memoriam by Alice Winn (F). A beautifully written love and coming of age story of two English boarding school boys and the horrid experience of trench warfare during The Great War.
Trust by Hernan Diaz (F). Immersive storytelling about capitalism and the art/skill of making ungodly amounts of money, odd and curious personalities, and the varied versions of truth we tell ourselves, we tell the world, and those that remain hidden. It reminded me of the classic film, Rashomon.
No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood (F). Life through the eyes of an internet influencer and life as felt and experienced as a sister, daughter, family are contrasted in witty, sharp tongued, and moving language. Leaves you with more questions.
Crazy ’08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History by Cait Murphy (NF). Baseball fans will especially enjoy this book about baseball in the “Deadball Era”, which was a lot more exciting than it sounds. It has more than baseball trivia…the author gives great contextual accounts of daily life in the cities where the big pennant races were taking place that year: New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Detroit. And there are also fascinating accounts of the greedy owners, corrupt officials, and gambling magnates that controlled the game. You come away with pity for the poor players of that era.
Elizabeth Fleming Frost:
1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies (NF) was a book I picked up from the neighborhood free library box. I like history but was unable to put this book down. What a treasure trove of new information about the history of map making, the navigation principles, and the importance of libraries.
This Other Eden by Paul Harding (HF). The story – based absolutely on historical events – concerns an island off the coast of Maine settled in 1780 by black Africans and their ultimate and tragic displacement. Written in dazzling prose, the book forces the reader to wrestle with the monstrous effects of eugenics and racism. Not a “happy” read.
Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe (NF): Best non-fiction read of the year so far for me. Got it from the Millerstime list from last year! Loved it. Want to watch “Dopesick” on Netflix next.
The Winners by Fredrik Backman (F): The final in the Beartown series trilogy. Loved it!
The Measure by Nikki Erlick (F): Loved this one too!
A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan’s Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them by Timothy Egan (NF). This is an extraordinary book. It tells of a time in the 1920s when the Ku Klux Klan was reconstituted in Indiana by a slick salesman and soon spread throughout the country, hoodwinking some, finding willing participants in many places, and paying off others to join with them to create a white supremacist movement.
I was glued to this book. This is history I didn’t (and probably you didn’t either) learn in school. It includes a horrific story of one woman who revealed the leaders’ moral hypocrisy. Soon their political and financial corruption was revealed, and leadership began to decline. Egan’s writing is engaging and vivid. It’s hard to put this book down. It is a frightening reminder of the dangers we face today.
Life Sentence: The Brief and Tragic Career of Baltimore’s Deadliest Gang Leader by MarkBowden (NF). This book was another compelling read (although I listened to it). It is a gripping and harrowing true-crime story that chronicles the life of a young man and his gang in Baltimore during the 1990s which started off by selling drugs and ended up as a kill for hire operation. It is the story of what it’s like to live on the streets of Baltimore and why the young men and women crave this despite the danger, jail terms, and potential retaliations. It is also the story of the failure of the myriad programs that were put into the place over the years designed to change their lives and the nature of their community. Bowden’s writing is compelling and detailed, and he provides a powerful insight into the social and economic conditions that contribute to the rise of gang violence in the city. This is a history you may know, but not in this detail or with this insight. By the end, you will find yourself stunned by the totality of it all.
Hello Beautifulby Ann Napolitano (F). My reading often runs in my favorite themes – racial inequality, Irish, Indian, African literature, historical fiction, the Holocaust, World War I and II. I rarely read what today is described as “literary fiction:” well told and written stories on other topics. This book — Hello Beautiful— proves to me that I should read more in this category more often. It is a story about love, commitment, and strong women. The writing is terrific – conveying tenderness and relationships so clearly. The unusual story drives this book, and the characters bring it home. You’ll be looking for more from the author when you finish it. It will be a great summer read, actually it was a great winter one.
West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge (HF): I found this to be a very enjoyable read, an extremely well written combination Water for Elephants and Lincoln Highway, two of my all time favorites. The story is based on a true event, the arrival from Africa of two giraffes in 1938 New York City during a severe hurricane and their subsequent cross-country drive to their eventual new home at the San Diego Zoo. There are three main characters, the zoo keeper in charge of the transport, the unlikely eighteen year old Okie who becomes the main driver, and a beautiful young women who is following along the way. The plot is simple but dynamic, with lots of drama and surprises. The characters are interesting and likable though all have mysterious pasts which become revealed along the way.
Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout (F). This is the latest in the Lucy series books and picks up with heroine Lucy later in life, spending the pandemic in isolation with her ex-husband William. Like her other books, Lucy by the Sea is beautifully written, hitting on all the right notes of love, loss, despair, and the unknowing anxiety of that first year of COVID. I have read several other books set during the pandemic, but none seemed to ring as true as this one does in capturing the emotional toil it took on everyone as we lived through it.
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (F). This is a real classic which I had read many years ago but re-read as a Book Club selection. The story is set in 1975 India during a tumultuous period of Indian history. Caste system violence is prevalent throughout the book and has various effects on the four main characters – a poor lower caste tailor and his nephew trying to escape their horrific past in their rural village, a middle class woman trying to make it on her own without a husband, and a young naive student who is uprooted from his idyllic town. These four characters end up sharing living arrangements, starting out with little trust or respect for each other and somehow develop bonds that go beyond a loving family. The four characters are joined by many colorful and intriguing characters who add much richness to the plot. The sweeping plot captures both the horrors and corruption of life in India during this period and also the strength and resilience of the human spirit.
Emily Nichols Grossi:
The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan (F), although based on a real story about a woman whose child was removed by CPS, this novel, Chan’s debut, felt both dystopian and possible. Frida, the main character, leaves her 18-month-old daughter at home unattended for two hours, the daughter is taken, Frida is heavily surveilled and ultimately sent to an experimental rehab facility for “bad mothers.” This is chilling in an Atwoodian sense, and I couldn’t put it down.
The Winter Guest by WC Ryan (F). This is a somewhat slow/quiet–but in the best way–mystery that takes place in 1921. Just years after the Easter Rising, Ireland is in a civil war. The daughter of a prominent landed family is murdered. She did participate in the Rising, but the IRA is suspected of killing her. Whodunnit?
The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder by David Grann (NF). I don’t use the words “page-turner” often, but I couldn’t put this book down. I read it on kindle and listened on audible, sometimes replaying a scene because the descriptions of life on a British man-of-war in 1740, on deserted islands off Patagonia, battles at sea and ship wrecks were riveting. This latest work by the superb author of Killers of the Flower Moon was so meticulously researched that even the 35 pages of notes were an interesting read. On another level, it’s also a moral tale of what it’s like to build an empire and who pays the cost.
The Daughters of Yalta,The Churchills, Roosevelts and Harrimans in Love and War by Catherine Grace Katz (NF). It’s February 1945. Sarah Churchill, Anna Roosevelt, and Kathleen Harriman are invited to accompany their fathers to Yalta. Each woman is an accomplished, trusted confidant of her famous father. Through their experience we get a glimpse of the public and private interactions — meetings, dinner parties, personal relationships — behind the decisions that shaped the post WWII world. What they witnessed at Yalta would be interesting enough, but we also see them through correspondence with their mothers and the other women in their fathers’ lives. The book ends with how they live out their lives after Yalta.
Demon Copperheadby Barbara Kingsolver (F). I’m a latecomer to this book, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and was reviewed by several Millerstime readers last year. Set in Appalachia, where Kingsolver lives, it’s a story of a boy, his family, and friends, and the people and institutions who use and abuse him. The writing is so pitch perfect that I felt like I was entering a world that no news report of this life so poor and hopeless could ever make real. It’s some of the same characters and scenes we found in J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, except in Kingsolver’s work there is also humanity and joy and people to love.
The Master Game: Unmasking the Secret Rulers of the World by Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval (NF).
The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Raner Maria Rilke (F). This was Rilke’s only novel, but it is available now in a new translation. Amazon says it best: “A groundbreaking masterpiece of early European modernism originally published in 1910. The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge unspools the vivid reflections of the titular young Danish nobleman and poet. From his Paris garret, Brigge records his encounters with the city and its outcasts, muses on his family history, and lays bare his earliest experiences of fear, tenderness, and desolation.”
All About H Hatterr by G.V. Desani (F). First published in 1948, this comic novel chronicles the adventures of an Anglo-Malay man seeking enlightenment and wisdom. His final glimpse of wisdom is this: “avoid charlatans and frauds as you would a venomous snake”, which is good advice indeed. Desani’s prose style is rather extravagant.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (F). Again Amazon says it best: “Arundhati Roy’s modern classic is equal parts powerful family saga, forbidden love story, and piercing political drama. The seven-year-old twins Estha and Rahel see their world shaken irrevocably by the arrival of their beautiful young cousin, Sophie. It is an event that will lead to an illicit liaison and tragedies accidental and intentional, exposing “big things [that] lurk unsaid” in a country drifting dangerously toward unrest.
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (F). This is one of the most interesting series I’ve ever read. It gets quite a bit of flak for ‘genre jumping’, and it’s undeserved. The book deftly weaves a variety of stories together, with imagery and stories borrowed from a variety of different cultures and mythologies. It’s excellent.
Naomi Novik: Everyone is aware of historical fiction, but how many are aware of historical fantasy? Novik started her writing career with a series of novels set during the Napoloenic Wars. The books are well-researched and have the added benefit of dragons. It’s absolutely as bizarre as it sounds, brilliantly so. Novik has also written two books based on fairy tales, both of which are written from a female perspective and allow the heroine to do the rescuing. Finally Novik wrote the Scholomance series (F), a far more realistic version of Harry Potter. She brilliantly wove in a variety of different cultures, her through research being seen in the character’s names, history, and demeanor.
Robert Jackson Bennett: Bennentt is a brilliant and interesting author. He writes about a world where the once-conquered rose up and became the domineering force. He’s also written several other books. The most interesting thing about Bennett is his large assortment of LGBTQ+ characters. His stories are excellent.
I have just read Rinker Buck’s book Life on the Mississippi(NF) and am part way through one of his earlier book The Oregon Trail (NF). Rinker is not a reenact-or, but he lived these two incredible journeys as a modern day explorer of history, fauna, and the challenges of outfitting a covered wagon or building a flat boat and traveling great distances…SLOWLY… (who would think one could write an entire but enjoyable chapter on MULES!!) In my opinion he is a true renaissance man, as what he does not know he learns through books, listening to people who know more than he does, and possesses an innate curiosity coupled with courage, perseverance and “gumption”. Both non-fiction and very readable.
The Covenant of Waterby Abraham Verghese (F). An unlikely story, set in the state of Kerala, India — full of surprises that will pull you in and keep your attention, maybe all summer long.
Finding Me by Viola Davis (NF). A very moving memoir, especially engaging as an audiobook read by the author.
G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Beverly Gage (NF). The book resembles biographies by Robert Caro with respect to its themes and its moral ambiguity (and its length!), but it’s somehow even more rigorous. Since Hoover was in power for so long, the biography engages an amazing breadth of U.S. political and social history.
High: A JourneyAcross the Himalaya through Pakistan, India, Bhutan, Nepal, and Chinaby Erika Fatland (NF). Highly absorbing travel journalism that focuses on the region’s unusual cultures. I enjoyed reading this while googling images of the places the author visited.
Jesse Leigh Maniff:
The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny, and Murder by David Grann (NF).
The Island of Extraordinary Captives by Simon Parkin (NF) is the story of German refugees that Churchill interned on the Isle of Man during WWII and how they organized themselves into a livable community.
American Midnight by Adam Hochchild (NF) is the chilling story of how Americans treated desenters during WWI and used the war as an excuse to try to destroy the labor movement.
The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams by Stacy Schiff (NF) about the most overlooked founding father. Some say there would never been a revolution had it not been for Samuel Adams. It colors the pre-revolutionary period in vivid detail.
Judy & Mike White:
Judy and Mike – Rough Sleepersby Tracy Kidder (NF). We’ve enjoyed everything we’ve read by Tracy Kidder, our favorite being Mountains Beyond Mountains in which Kidder learns of a person, Dr. Paul Farmer, whose work/mission in Haiti interests him, and shadows Farmer for years to understand the Haitian situation and understand Farmer. This new book, out this year, follows the same pattern with another doctor, Dr. Jim O’Connor, who took a “temporary” position just out of medical school to work with street people in Boston and makes it his lifetime work. O’Conner, the others (especially the nurses) working with him, and the street people (those who sleep outside, not in shelters) are all fascinating. We now have a better sense of why street people often stay in this lifestyle for most of their lives, even when other options might be possible. We were surprised by the number of women living on the streets, the size of the problem, and the difficulty of providing services; and re-learned the powers of just listening and accepting people to help them heal… as well as the lasting effects of childhood trauma.
Mike – Operation Pineapple Express by Scott Mann (former U.S. Special Forces) (NF). Amazing true story of an incredibly difficult effort to rescue Afghan allies and their families during the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Judy –His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, A Life, by Jonathan Alter (NF). Encyclopedic biography of Jimmy Carter from birth to this past year. The author learned so much about Carter and his family and those in his administration that reading it all can be overwhelming, but throughout it seems fair and thoughtful and very, very well researched. It’s possible to pick and choose chapters that interest you.
Apeirogon by Colum McCann (HF). A beautiful writer wrestling with another culture and twisting and turning to be as objective as possible.
The Years by Annie Ernaux (NF). If you want the French version of the life of a boomer, she does it very well.
100 Poems to Break Your Heart—ed. Edward Hirsch (F). If you have any interest whatsoever in poetry this book is a gift—short poems, two to three page explanations and the lovely resonance of a good poem.
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugo (F). Sam Hill’s mother promised he’d live an extraordinary life, and in time he finds out for himself.
The Girl with Seven Namesby Hyeonseo Lee (NF). A true story about her escaped from North Korea.
The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman (F). Her debut novel about love, loyalty, and long buried secrets.
Life Between the Tides by Adam Nicolson (NF). I start this submission trumpeting this as one of the finest pieces of writing I have EVER read. Concise. Knowledgeable. Thoroughly Human. Intelligently spanning the scope of inquiry both scientific and philosophical from specific to everyday relevant. (Heraclitus is an (un)acknowledged co-author). A detailed journal of the years of work invested by the author as he created three tidal pools at Rubbha an t-Sasunnaich on the Scottish coast on the Sound of Mull and then carefully followed the waves of life that followed until stability was reached years later. Who knew the storied Greeks and their acolytes knew so much about the way life populates large shallow pools of sea water that is refreshed twice daily and otherwise left to its own dramas.
This is a book that I will reread once a year and it will always be fresh and inspiring. (It is so well written that I promptly ordered five other books he has written—he is like my favorite professor in college…it mattered not what course he said he was teaching; I enrolled to study with the teacher).
Probable Impossibilities: Musings on Beginnings and Endings by Alan Lightman (NF). Professor at Harvard and MIT in Science and the Humanities, speculates at a very sophisticated level about the myriad of stories that connect the smallest in nature with the largest. Who knew such fascination awaits at either end of an extensive string of “0’s”. In each short essay, he explains his specific subject matter so well that his surprising revelations and digressions make sense. A worthwhile way of stretching the imagination.
God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson (NF). The story of how the King James version of the Bible came to be written with the full cooperation and deep scholarly input of both Catholics and Protestants despite their recent 200 years of bitter and bloody wrangling over every possible religious issue. Details how the newly crowned King James created the framework and the instructions for this to be done, chose the 51 senior scholars to do the work, and guided the six “teams” that met for more than 5 years to produce one of the most important pieces of writing in Western civilization. Crystal clear, adult writing (with a sprinkling of rarely used words (threnody, irenicon, encomium) properly used to keep the audience engaged). Each of the author’s sentences is a testament to the ability of a brilliant writer to make anything interesting, even the writing of an 800,000 word, 1200 page book that has been and will continue to be read cover-to-cover by less the 1% of its 1,000,000,000+ buyers.
I just downloaded a recommendation from Land Wayland titled “An Immense World.” Why this one out of all the choices? I was intrigued by his mention of “I didn’t know that,” and “So that’s how/why they do that.” I’ll let you know what I think of the book.
In the meantime, having read Letters Home, I think you might enjoy John Grisham’s Sooley (F).
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (HF). It’s historical fiction, extremely well written, set in 1954 during a 10 day journey across the U.S. It’s a coming of age story with an interesting cast of characters and stories touching on many important themes about life.
The Masters of Medicine by Andrew Lam, M.D. (NF). This is non-fiction and an extremely interesting historical recounting of “Our greatest triumphs in the race to cure humanity’s deadliest diseases”. Dr. Lam highlights many rivalries and feuds of scientists and doctors researching and making life saving breakthroughs in heart transplants, insulin, penicillin, polio vaccine, cancer, and childbirth. He is a local author (living in Longmeadow, MA) and an excellent retina surgeon, who has also written Saving Sight, Two Sons of China, and Repentance (the last two set in WWII).
Dinners with Ruth by Nina Totenberg (NF). This is an interesting quick read written by NPR legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg about the power of friendships,especially with Ruth Bader Ginsberg. It’s a touching book filled with interesting information about various political figures and journalists and also about her famous father, Roman Totenberg, violinist and teacher. One chapter features the discovery and return of his Stradivarius violin, which was stolen and hidden for 32 years.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (F), a novel about all the choices that go into a life well lived.
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (F). This book hit a lot of topics of interest for me, including poverty, opioid addiction, corporate greed, and “left behind” parts of America. The characters were complex and engaging, and I loved the writing style.
Never Simple by Liz Scheier (NF). Memoir of a woman raised by a single mother with significant mental health issues. Interesting and well-written story. The author used turns of phrase that were wise, spot-on, and funny.
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt (F). I am not one to tolerate a story featuring an octopus as one of the main characters, but I’m so glad I read this one. It’s a quick read with likable characters (even including the octopus) about family, parenthood, loss, and love.
What Ellen Miller and Fruzsina Harsanyi said (above), which allows me to list three different ones:
Elena Knows by Claudia Pineiro, translated by Francis Riddle (F). A reissue of a book written in 2007 that is simply outstanding. This short (145 page) novel is listed as a crime mystery, but that is the least important reason I loved this book and so enthusiastically recommend it. The writing (all done in the third person) and story explore a myriad of topics, including family issues – parent/child-mother/daughter: struggles with an incurable, progressive disease – Parkinsons; care giving; loneliness of ageing; issues of memory loss; suicide; religion; abortion, to mention just the most obvious ones. The final third of the book is particularly moving and revealing. While Elena Knows is a sad, difficult story, it hits honestly on the issues it explores. It was shortlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize. I’ve got to find out what won the prize as I cannot imagine why this one wasn’t chosen.
Finding Me by Viola Davis (NF). Superb memoir read/performed by Davis. An incredible telling of her life’s struggles and successes and her honesty about herself and her life. From a difficult early life in a family of poverty and violence, she finds ways to find her way in the world. Continually recommended by a number of MillersTime contributors.
The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese (F). Newest work by the author of Cutting for Stone, one of my long time favorite reads. While Covenant is not quite as wonderful, nevertheless, the characters are engaging, likeable, and memorable and their stories are also engaging and memorable. It’s long, but I suspect it will keep you entertained throughout. Verghese, a doctor as well as an author, is someone I’d love to know.
Tiffany Lopez Lee:
The Children of the Night: The Strange and Epic Story of Modern Romania by Paul Kenyon (NF). I read this book in preparation for a trip to Bucharest, and it was an incredible history lesson on Romania’s rich history, culture, politics, communism, and how the country’s geographical position between Western Europe and the East has been tricky to navigate. The author covers the 15th century through communism’s fall in 1989, skillfully fast-forwarding to the interesting points, and providing a perfect amount of detail.
Great Siege: Malta 1565by Ernle Bradford (NF). I picked this one up ahead of my trip to Malta and was truly mesmerized by the story told in this book, and a bit shocked. I had not heard much about this place beforehand. It’s geographic location played an interesting role during the spread of the Ottoman Empire. I highly recommend for anyone heading to Malta, or interested in a small island next door to Sicily, often overlooked by the average person.
*** *** *** ***
If you are still looking for book suggestions, just click on any of the links below to get to previous favorite reads from other contributors, some who have been participating in this ‘exercise’ since 2009!
(Note – 1/8/23: Some readers have expressed interest in having a printed list of just the titles, authors, and contributors. For some reason, I have not been able to embed it in this post, but if you send me your mailing address, I’d be glad to send it to you. RAM)
Sixty-fourcontributors responded to this 14th MillersTime call for favorite reads. Readers of this site offered 229 titles they identified as books they’ve particularly enjoyed over the past year. Nonfiction (NF) were cited far more often than Fiction (F), 58%-42%. The contributors were evenly divided between female and male – 32-32.
Books listed just below this paragraph are titles that appeared in two or more submissions:
*Demon Copperheadby Barbara Kingsolver
*Horse: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks
*Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmis
*The Last Green Valley by Mark Sullivan
*The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
*The Personal Librarian by Benedict & Murray
*The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
*Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
*Finding Me: A Memoirby Viola Davis
*How Civil Wars Start & How to End Themby Barbara Walter
*In Love: A Memoir of Love & Loss by Amy Bloom
*Invisible Stop by Jason Kander
*Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit
*Saints & Soldiers by Rita Katz
*Stolen Focus by Johann Hari
*The Code Breakerby Walter Isaacson
*The Grieving Brain by Mary-Frances O’Connor
*The Man Without a Face: Putin by Masha Gessen
*These Precious Days by Ann Patchett
*Walking the Bowl by Chris Lockhart & Daniel Chama
INDIVIDUAL FAVORITE READS
What makes the list below of particular value to me are the personal descriptions of why a book was a favorite. And for the time each contributor took to write and send in their (up to six) titles, I am deeply thankful.
Hopefully, you’ll return to this list throughout 2023 for possible new reads, many of which (most in fact) have not been listed in the various ‘Best Lists of 2022’ by ‘professional’ reviewers.
The list below is alphabetical by first name. Any errors are solely my responsibility. Let me know if I need to make corrections. And if you missed the deadline, you can still send in your favorites – Samesty84@gmail.com – and I can easily add them.
The Daughters of Yaltaby Catherine Grace Katz (HF). It was fascinating to read this segment of history from a woman’s perspective in a very masculine power centric world.
A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende (F). Oh my, Isabel Allende is such a reliable, spellbinding storyteller. This time her characters navigate challenging situations and family secrets.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (HF). Rich in literary language (Maggie is a walking thesaurus) and family Shakespearean history during pandemic times, this spellbinding story of relationships is provocative, complicated, and enlightening.
Change Your Questions, Change Your Lifeby Marilee Adams (NF). As always, navigating and creating the language of conversation is fascinating and compelling. The anatomy and choreography of questions is critical to leadership of self and others and key to my work in leadership coaching.
Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence by Ajay Agrawals, Avi Goldfarb, and Joshua Gan (NF). In Prediction Machines, three eminent economists recast the rise of AI as a drop in the cost of prediction (the computer revolution recast rise of computers in cutting the cost of calculations). With this single, masterful stroke, they lift the curtain on the AI-is-magic hype and show how basic tools from economics provide clarity about the AI revolution and a basis for action by CEOs, managers, policy makers, investors, and entrepreneurs.
How the Mountains Grew: A New Geological History of North America by John Dvorak (NF). After visiting Utah, I read this book on the geological history of the earth America. It was a little dense but really interesting tidbits of info. (I think this was this year…could have been last)
Mistborn Series by Brian Sanderson (F). I read this series…sci-fi / fantasy – Really great story line across five books.
Matters of race on my mind. Two very different books:
Horse: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks (HF). An easy read, interesting, though imperfect book (the ending is contrived). It is a story well told about a slave, the remarkable racehorse Lexington, their relationship, a mystery painting and its artist, a romantic relationship, and more. The story looks back to 1850’s Kentucky and forward to contemporary DC (folks who live in DC will recognize city landmarks), telling a story about racing and racism, then and now.
Douglas: Prophet of Freedom David Blight (NF) – This is a detailed biography of Fredrick Douglass and his emergence from slavery to a complicated life as a gifted orator, energetic proselytizer, friend, colleague, husband and father. I read the book imagining what he might say if reborn to this moment.
And recommend this and anything else Anand writes:
Winners Take Allby Anand Giridharadas (NF). The book is a devastating critique of the wealthiest who donate big bucks to various causes and charities of their own creation. Read it, and it is impossible to look at big philanthropy and its elite donors in the same way again.
Mary Churchill’s War: The Wartime Diaries of Churchill’s Youngest Daughter Mary Churchill edited by Emma Soames (NF) is a fascinating book even if you have read a lot about Churchill. You get an “inside” perspective on the family and the times. She provides interesting perspectives on the life of a young women in war times – the parties, the gaiety, and the bombing. In addition, you see life at the Admiralty and 10 Downing Street from the perspective of an insider.
Power and Liberty: Constitutionalism in the American Revolutionby Gordon Wood (NF) is an excellent book on the framers as they wrote the American Constitution, covering what they included and why, what they left for future consideration (slavery), and how it all came together. An excellent book of the times.
Forty Autumns: A Family’s Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall by Nina Willner (NF) is a wonderful book about her family (grandparents, mother, aunts, uncles, and cousins) who were born in East Germany and who lived behind the Berlin Wall. Aided by her grandfather, her mother escaped East Germany and eventually lived a normal American life while her mother’s family lived, suffered, endured, and made the best of living in East Germany. The author was the first female US Army Intelligence Officer to lead sensitive intelligence operations in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War. I found the book in a shop across from Checkpoint Charlie. It is a fascinating read.
The Death of Democracy by Benjamin Carter Hett (NF) is an excellent and well written history of the fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler in 1930’s Germany, the widespread use of lies and untruths among the Nazis and Hitler in particular, and the confidence of the conservative politicians who thought that Hitler and the Nazis would support but instead drove them out of power and created the Hitler regime. The parallels with today’s conservatives are eerie.
The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb (F) is a wonderful novel about Ray, a black boy/man who became a concert and prize-winning violinist, and his PopPop’s (his great grandfather’s) violin. This old, rosin encrusted violin turns out to be a Stradivarius and is stolen just as he is practicing for the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Did he win it? The book is not only a compelling story about Ray and his ascent up the path to becoming a professional violinist, but it also tackles the inevitable issues of discrimination and racism. The hurried pace at the end of the book to tie everything together is a bit disappointing, but the book remains a great read.
The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson (NF) is a MUST READ! The book focuses on the exploration and understanding of RNA and this part of the book was fascinating and written in English! However, what I found most interesting was the debate on gene editing – is it OK to correct genetic mutations by restoring a “normal” version of a gene – such as eliminating sickle cell anemia or Huntington’s disease? Probably yes. But if you do this gene editing, do you then affect genes that are resistant to malaria or West Nile virus? Not a great result! Is it okay to gene edit to make a newborn taller or have blue eyes, etc? Probably no! Great questions! The book ends with the work done in recent years regarding Covid 19. An interesting fact – Isaacson participated in the Pfizer-BioNtech clinical trials! Said again…a MUST read!!
Harlan Coben Series by Harlan Coben (F). I am continuing to read this series of mysteries which I love. The main character is a sports’ agent (Myron Bolitar). They are well written and fun.
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (NF). This is the story of the American rowers who competed in the 8-man (plus coxswain) boat that represented the US in the 1936 Olympic Games (“Hitler’s Games”). The author weaves many strands together: a picture of the sport of rowing, hitherto dominated by elite schools in the east; the program at U of Washington and its driven coach, Al Ubrickson; a sense of the mechanics and demands of rowing; and most compellingly, the story of one young man, Joe Rantz, who had to overcome incredible odds just to support himself, never mind getting to the U of Washington and its rowing program.
I had to keep reminding myself that this is a true story; it reads like a novel in that you want to keep turning the pages. Brown’s narration of the actual races was excellent and, in many cases, suspenseful. Each chapter is prefaced by a bit of wisdom from George Pocock, a boatman and aracing shell builder, sort of the Yoda of this story. The author includes some of the story of the Nazis, including the decision to make a grand show of the 1936 Olympics, and how the Olympic areas were “cleaned up” to impress visitors and hide evidence of atrocities. I found it inspiring to read about how the physical and mental toughness of the rowers allowed them to overcome situations that, at critical times, looked hopeless. Definitely a fun read.
Bittersweetby Susan Cain (NF). Why do we push people toward happiness instead of letting each other (and ourselves) just be? This book is about normalizing negative emotions and finding the good in our sadness.
Boom Townby Sam Anderson (NF). The history of Oklahoma City that you never knew you had to read. I have never been to Oklahoma City, and outside of the 1995 bombing and their basketball team (the Thunder), I have never thought much about it. This book goes through the history of the city from the Land Run (fascinating!) to the bombing (tragic). It is so well written and colors everything through the lens of the Thunder who have become a major part of the city’s identity. Boom Town is for people who like quirky history.
Mindsetby Carol Dweck (NF). This is not a new release, but it is timeless. Mindset is about the two different types of mindsets: Fixed and Growth, and how to identify and cultivate a Growth Mindset in ourselves, our children, and our workplace. This book changed the way I look at everyone, particularly my kids. If you have young children or grandchildren, Mindset will help you have meaningful, constructive dialogue with them beyond “Good Job.”
Quitby Annie Duke (NF). Quitting things is frowned upon in our society, but some great success stories are born from decisions to quit. This book will give you the confidence to quit and tips for how to know when it’s time
Stolen Focusby Johann Hari (NF). Our phones and social media are designed to distract us from what’s happening in front of our faces. Reading this book has given me a reason to look past my phone and live more intentionally (though I’m still striving for perfection there). If you think you spend too much time on your phone, do yourself a favor and read this book. It is eye-opening.
The Power of Regretby Daniel Pink (NF). Another book about normalizing negative emotions. This time, about feeling regret for past actions. This book breaks down different types of regret and shares some very poignant, real-life examples of people’s regrets. The author collected thousands of peoples’ greatest regrets in life and broke them down. This book helped me learn to appreciate my regrets instead of suppressing them.
Troubled Bloodby Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) (F). As I said last year about Lethal White, Rowling always writes a page-turner, and this is no exception. Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellicott remain engaging characters, and the story – involving a forty-year ago disappearance – kept me going even thought it was over 900 pages. I await her latest, The Ink Black Heart, to appear in paperback come next June. (The TV films aren’t bad, either.)
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (F). Several others have already commented onthis book last year and spring, I can’t add much. Very engaging, amusing and at time horrifying, a mostly satisfying ending.
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (F – mostly). A real tour de force telling the story of John Brown – both in Kansas and Harper’s Ferry – through the eyes of a enslaved youngboy who is taken in by Brown during Bleeding Kansas times, who believes he is a girl and a good luck charm. He separates from Brown and resides for a time in a brothel, then is reunited and accompanies Brown to Harper’s Ferry. Much of the account of Brown’s action is true. The boy escapes to live a long life. An adventure, but also a lot of insight into identity and survival.
All Roads Lead to the Birchmere by Gary Oelze & Stephen Moore (NF). The story of the“legendary music hall”, but also chock full of short biographies of the musicians and characters who have played there, most interconnected. Great for a history of the DC music scene and great stories.
Of The Land by Lou Stovall (NF). Mary [wife] knows Lou from her days at Sidwell and gifted me one of his prints before I had any idea who he was. (We have another one as well). We once went to his studio with our then young kids, and he worked with each to do abstract prints. More recently we attended his shows at the Kreeger Museum and the Phillips. Much of the former drew on this book, put together by his son Will. The book tells Lou’s life, but focuses on work done in 1974 and 1977, with accompanying poetry and a short autobiography. A great introduction to his work.
The Lobotomist’s Wifeby Samantha Greene Woodruff (HF). Very interesting book that delves into what actually happened to people who received lobotomies and what can occur when ego overtakes reason. As is often the case, the author’s notes were as captivating as the book.
Based on true events during the introduction of frontal lobotomy and movement to the “icepick” outpatient procedure. What seemed to be an effective procedure, was not followed up with objectively evaluated results for decades.
The Happiest Man on Earth by Eddie Jaku (NF). When you start a book and can’t put it down it’s a 5. I don’t remember how I learned of this book. After I closed the book, I needed some quiet time to digest it. What begins as a difficult to read Holocaust story, written so well that I verbally reacted to some of the atrocities, ends with Eddie completing his vow to smile every day and lead a happy life as a tribute to those that didn’t survive. His memoir succinctly presents his life before, during, and after his capture and imprisonment (more than once). He lived to 101, dying in 2021. I would have loved to have met him. He realized later in life that it was important to share his story to truly liberate himself and to ensure the youth today understand the Holocaust DID HAPPEN and 6 million Jews were killed. He’s done a Ted Talk as well. Would be great if this was required reading in high school.
The Last Stand of Payne Stewart by Kevin Robbins (NF). Listened on audio and highly recommend this format. The narrator brings the emotions of the story to life. This isn’t just about Payne Stewart’s career and untimely death. There’s a tremendous amount of golf history and trivia. What I enjoyed most was learning about the friendships and competitiveness between golfers and following Payne’s transition from a cocky kid to a thoughtful, caring, mature husband, father, and golfer. Who would have thought you’d need tissues for a golf book? You do! And after the epilogue, what resonates with me is that you never know when the last words you speak to someone may be your last. Make them count.
In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi (NF). Faludi, well-known American feminist (she wrote Backlash, which is just wonderful), tracks down her estranged Hungarian-born father, who had returned to Budapest, and discovers that he has transitioned and is now living as a woman. Absolutely fascinating.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (F). Loved this. Tackles the origins and nature of love, ideas about God and religion, class and talent and illness and alienation and loss. Ishiguro is just remarkable.
How Civil Wars Start by Barbara F. Walter (NF). Everyone should read this. Here’s the summary: Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve read any fiction worth reporting, but in July I started to get seriously involved in baking sourdough bread and have come across several good books which cover everything from creating your own starter to baking in a Dutch oven. The dough is the thing.
The first two books I read were:
The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Breadby Peter Reinhard (NF).
How to Make Bread: Step by Step Recipes for Yeasted Breads, Sourdoughs, Soda Breads and Pastriesby Emmanuel Hadjiandreou (NF).
Several others were:
Artisan Sourdough Made Simple: A Beginner’s Guide to Delicious Handcrafted Bread with Minimal Kneading by Emilie Raffa (NF).
New World Sourdough: Artisan Techniques for Creative Homemade Fermented Breads, With Recipes for Birote, Bagels, Pan de Coco, Beignets, and More by Brian Ford (NF).
Tartine Bread by Chad Roberston (NF).
I especially enjoyed the various authors’ descriptions of how it was that they became bakers and how they learned the trade. Then, of course, were all the descriptions of equipment and techniques for baking good sourdough bread. I’ve not got into their pastries, etc, I’m just a sourdough baker.
Freezing Order by Bill Browder (NF). The true story follow up of Red Notice, also by Mr. Browder. More murder and corruption in modern day Russia.
The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn. (F). A fictional story that is a cross between Girl on the Train and Rear Window.
The Golden Couple by Greer Hendricks (F). A fictional mystery of love and betrayal that puts a couple and their unlicensed therapists on a collision course.
Anxious Peopleby Fredrik Backman (F). I wasn’t loving it through the first 30 pages or so but it was well worth continuing on. The plot involves a bank robbery gone awry and the taking of a group of hostages in an apartment. I enjoyed he plot twists and the way the characters evolved.
Three Bags Fullby Leonie Swann. (F) I know, when you see the subtitle, “A Sheep Detective Story”, you think, “not another one of those”. Lots of fun to follow the flock.
The Lincoln Highwayby Amor Towles (F). A gritty, wild ride in this coming-of-age tale from the author of A Gentleman in Moscow.
Kathryn “Kate” Quinn is the author of three of the historical fiction books that I highly recommend. I became a fan after reading The Rose Code(F). Not always easy reads, the reader is transported to the frontline in each of these powerful stories. Also, in each book, Quinn’s notes help to understand her mindset and choices as she weaves the real history into the complex stories she creates.
The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn (F) is an unforgettable WW2 story of a quiet woman who becomes history’s deadliest female sniper. It is based on a true story and drawn from the personal memoir of Mila Pavlichenko. In 1937, Mila, a student and single mother in the Ukraine, is recruited to join the fight against the Nazi’s. Over time, she transforms from a student to a deadly sniper who becomes known as Lady Death. When news of her 300th kill makes her a national figure, she is sent to Washington DC on a goodwill tour. An unexpected friendship develops with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, which provides an unexpected twist to the story. When an old enemy from Mila’s past joins forces with a deadly new foe, Mila finds herself in the deadliest duel of her life. The story is a haunting story about heroism, desperation, and a woman who changed the course of history. This story tells a little-known story about the role females during WW2, and how heavy a blood price Russia paid to help defeat the Nazi regime. This well researched and well written novel conveys details about Soviet culture, the harsh landscape that is Russia and weaves an unforgettable story. You can practically smell the gunpowder and feel the frigid cold because the words are rich and vivid. There are great photos of the real Mila, and the author’s notes are very insightful as she portrays this strong woman, rich characters, and puts a human face to wartime. It is particularly meaningful as we understand facts about the past history of Russia and now read about the War in the Ukraine today.
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn (F) is the story about two women whose lives intertwine in WW1 and 2. Their story is told in dual timelines which alternating well with each chapter. It is another well researched story based on a real female spy ring in wartime France. The story is told from the perspective of two characters, “Charlie” and “Eve” in various English and French locations. The book centers on the search for Charlie’s Cousin Rose who is missing. Eve is a battle-scarred spy who has no interest in helping until she realizes her own hunt for a French collaborator and Charlie’s hunt may lead to the same man. The riveting and heartbreaking stories of their journey are well done. The characters are engaging and the settings of England, France, and Germany are vivid with a lot of period detail. Kathryn Quinn combines the two time periods well and brings the two stories together nicely. This covert story of spies who infiltrated German lines, memorable characters, a meaningful epilogue, and the themes of courage, guilt, redemption, and what it means to be a warrior woman are riveting.
The Huntress (F) is the story about Nina Markova who grows up in icy Russia and joins the infamous night witches, an all-female night bomber regiment that is charged with attacking Hitler’s Eastern Front. Shot down, she is thrown into the path of a Nazi murderess known as the Huntress, a ruthless murderer. Ian Graham is a British war correspondent who abandons journalism to become a Nazi hunter. He joins forces with Nina who is the only witness to escape the Huntress. Meanwhile, Jordan, a 17-year-old in Boston is very suspicious of the woman her father has chosen to marry. The characters of Nina, Ian, and Jordan converge and eventually they must come to terms with their pasts. The characters are vivid, themes of PTSD, survivor guilt, evil brutality, denial of truth are intertwined. Another fascinating story, based on true events, draws the reader into a world few know about or can even imagine as the hunter becomes the hunted. Be sure and read the author’s notes at the end.
The Terrorist Hunter: The Extraordinary Story of a Woman Who Went Undercover to Infiltrate the Radical Islamic Groups Operating in America Originally–by Anonymous and since revealed to be Rita Katz (NF). Want to read about one of the bravest women in America? Get this book and be inspired by Rita’s life story starting with her childhood in Iraq, escaping to Israel after her father was executed, making her way to the United States, raising a family and becoming a leading expert on terrorism in the United States. And, with all that going underground to infiltrate Islamic terrorism organizations to help expose the threats which our own government fails to detect. Issued in 2003, this is the classic must read to gain an appreciation of how terrorism organizations operate in the United States. While Rita’s story is one of triumph, the revelations are disturbing.
I read The Terrorist Hunter in anticipation of her second book Saints and Soldiers: Inside Internet-Age Terrorism, From Syria to the Capitol Siege by Rita Katz(NF) which was published this October. Rita’s second book, given the timeliness of the subject matter, mandates we remain vigilant to protect our democracy against the impact social media/on-line forums have in promoting extremist behavior and especially the antisemitic fervor being promoted today.
By The Grace of the Game: The Holocaust, a Basketball Legacy, and an Unprecedented American Dream by Dan Grunfeld (NF). THIS IS NOT A HOLOCAUST BOOK NOR A SPORTS BOOK. This is a book for entire families—Parents, children, and older grandchildren to enjoy reading about an incredible story of a grandmother who survived the Holocaust and her family’s story, especially her relationship with her grandson Dan, all as told through the lens of Dan himself. In the end it’s a love story—the love of family, the love of life, the love of bubby’s cooking and the love of a game– basketball–which provided so much to the Grunfeld family. Yes, Dan’s father is Ernie Grunfeld who is believed to be the only professional athlete in the U.S. to have parents who survived the Holocaust. Ernie was an acclaimed NCAA star at Tennessee, on a US Olympic Gold Medal winning team, NBA player for years and a NBA General Manager for several teams including the NY Knicks. Get multiple copies to share with family and friends as the story is inspiring on so many levels but, in particular, how to enjoy life by pursuing excellence as a person, in a career and through hardship. An added bonus is that I can say from first-hand knowledge having spent time corresponding with Dan–he is such a mensch. You don’t (want) me to say this though–the book speaks volumes.
The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson (NF). Isaacson covers the life of Jennifer Doudna, Nobel prize winner for developing CRISPR, gene editing that will help to cure diseases, viruses, as well as create healthier babies. Book covers the intense scientific research and competition to development of this methodology. It also highlights the moral issues that are emerging with the ability to manage future children’s DNA. Much scientific data but an excellent read even for the non-scientific. Certainly raised my awareness on the impact of our transitioning to the next great innovation revolution, the life-science revolution.
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams (HF). Delightful and interesting read about the formation of the Oxford English Dictionary as well as the importance of words that are missing. Given that the original OED words were compiled by educated men, Esme, the protagonist, collects her own words relating to women’s and common folks’ experiences that were not recorded. Set during the height of the women’s suffrage movement and pending Great War, the novel intertwines history and actual events.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (F). Ignore the cover! I thought it was some ditzy novel but actually was very surprised with the depth of the novel. It is a NYTimes bestseller and author’s first book. It is about Elizabeth Zott, single mother, dedicated scientist who is forced by life’s circumstances to take on a role outside of the science lab, a cooking show. Teaching cooking as a science she becomes a star and emboldens women to seek their own creativity. It is a great read that tends to stick in your thoughts once the book is closed.
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict & Victoria Christopher Murray (HF). Historical novel about JP Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle de Costa Greene, the Black American woman who hid her identity to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books and artwork for JP Morgan’s new Pierpoint Morgan Library. This is the story of an extraordinary woman known for her intellect, style (famous for her hats), and ability to mingle in society’s upper circles to accomplish what she knew she had to do. Excellent read!
How Civil Wars Start and How to Stop Them by Barbara Walter (NF). Walter is a professor of International Affairs at the Univ of California San Diego’s School of Global Policy. She is one of the world’s leading experts on civil wars, political violence, and terrorism. Her book examines the dramatic rise in violent extremism around the globe and exposes the increasing likelihood of a second civil war in the US. She reveals the warning signs of a civil war, where they tend to start, who initiates them and why some countries move to conflict while others remain stable. She identifies the crucial risk factors, democratic backsliding to factionalization and politics of resentment, all symptoms that are precipitated by social media. It is a very insightful book and one the made me realize how complacent we are towards this possible reality.
A repeat of my March submission: The Hare with Amber Eyes – A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund de Waal (NF). A cultural fresque through a family memoir — the Ephrussi’s — spanning the 19th and 20th C., three continents and many countries, all brilliantly tied by the travels of a collection of Japanese Netsuke’. Most painful descriptions of the Anschluss of Austria and the human devastation from WWII. Some passages reminiscent of what we are living today with Russia’s president. (PS. November/December 2022: During my recent visit, I was hoping to visit the Nissim de Camondo museum in Paris, which is mentioned in the book. Alas, not enough time…)
I will Never See the World Again: The Memoir of an Imprisoned Writer by Ahmet Atlan (NF). Atlan wrote this book while in prison for his political activism in 2018-2019. How to keep one’s sanity when in prison: dreams, memories of travels, the stories you write, the authors you revisit…
Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit (NF). A brilliant literary and political essay anchored in a reflection on Orwell’s life-long cultivation of roses, leading to a profound reflection on the 20th c. Solnit unfolds a tapestry covering the Bolshevik revolution, the emergence and evolution of the Soviet Union, the Spanish Civil War, and Western Europe in WWII, all woven with great dexterity with highlights of great literary, political, and artistic figures: Diego Rivera, Lenine, Trotsky and Tina Mondotti to name a few. A masterpiece that leads us to major contemporary issues: the preservation of our planet, the protection of our environment and the saving of modern democratic systems. A humorous wink: too bad she did not start with battle of Hastings in 1066 described in the Bayeux Tapestry….
The Man Without Face: the Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gassen (2012) (NF). A brilliant biography of Vladimir Putin that clearly explains what’s happening today in/with Russia. Nothing has changed since she wrote the 2014 Postface, except that everything got worse as she had predicted. After Crimea, the Donbass and now Ukraine, Russia is waging an ideological war against Europe and the West. How long will it be before Russians actually realize that he is actually destroying Russia? Once criticism though: she could have addressed better the role played by such Western economists as Jeffrey Sachs who arrogantly contributed to fostering the rise of the oligarchs through the privatization programs; they now protect the current regime.
And, if the following books are ever translated from the French, I highly recommend them: Cherif Mecheri: Courageous Prefect Under the Vichy Governmentby Boris Cyrulnik and Joe Lenzini (NF); Les enfants de Cadillac by François Noudelmann ( (NF); and Le Mage du Kremlin by Giuliano da Empoli (NF).
Cork O’Connor Series, 1-19 by William Kent Krueger (F) Audio and Print. More than good story telling and a compelling mystery and crime series, it is an insightful study of character, unimaginable ethical choices, Native American culture, and place, the north woods of Minnesota. Start with #1 Gailbraith (F) and meet Cork O’Connor, part Irish and part Anishinaabe, ex-sheriff turned private eye and be transported into his world. Other books by this author, not in the series, may also be of interest. This Tender Land (F) and Ordinary Grace(F).
Walking the Bowl, a true story of murder and surival among the street children of Lusakaby Chris Lockhart and Daniel Mulilo Chama (NF) Like Beyond the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo which told the story of India’s poorest of the poor children, this is another heart wrenching portrait of children surviving in the worst possible conditions imaginable. The place is the capital city of Zambia, where a child, horrifically disfigured, is found murdered and left in an alley way of garbage. The back story is daily survival as seen through the lives of four children. Heartbreaking tragedy abounds, but there are also glimmers of uplifting moments and experiences when resilience and “good” win out. This book has appeared on the list previously.
Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis (NF) Audio and Print. Viola Davis in her own words, an unvarnished telling of her rise to accomplished actor. It is gritty, difficult to read in parts, but also humorous and inspiring. It is also the story of race as it permeates theater and film. It is the very private and behind the scenes look at what it takes to be an actor.
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (F) Audio and Print. This is a fictionalized portrait of Belle de Costa Greene, the first librarian of the J Pierpont Morgan Library in NYC. It is a mesmerizing story of an accomplished, intelligent woman who rose to great professional heights in the world of rare books and art collecting all the while “passing” and hiding her true identity as African American throughout her entire career beginning in 1902 till her death in 1950. FYI: there is a work entitled An Illuminated Life, Bella De Costa Greene’s Journey from Prejudice to Privilege (NF).
The Inside Game: Bad Calls, Strange Moves, and What Baseball Behavior Teaches Us About Ourselves by Keith Law (NF). I really enjoyed this book, not only because I love baseball, but I loved how he analyzed baseball and decisions made in the game and by front office executives. He draws on knowledge from the fields of behavioral science and psychology to analyze how decisions in baseball are made (wisely or irrationally) and how they are rooted in how we make decisions in everyday life.
American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird (NF), 2005 (winner of the Pulitzer Prize). I listened to this as an audio book during a cross-country drive and it sure made the hours pass by. I knew only a little about this brilliant physicist who led the development of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos. I really that came to pass. It was fascinating to learn as well how he lost his security clearance and was unable to work as a result of McCarthy era hearings that maligned him for his past association with progressive causes that had real or perceived Communist associations.
Leonardo de Vinci by Walter Isaacson (NF). The 525 pages of this book is as close a meeting with a genius that I will ever have. Isaacson’s lucid writing unveils the mysteries of Leonardo’s scientific inquiry for the layperson, the exquisite nature of how that science informed the art, and the mystery that connects the man and his oeuvre: “But by the time the list (of inquiries) gets to an infant in a womb and the cause of sneezing, it is clear that he is looking for more than information that might help his brush.” While the book is stronger on the science than the art criticism, its encyclopedic quality does justice to the “uomo universalle” who is Leonardo. The quality of the paper and the clarity of the plates make this a book that belongs in your library.
Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng (F). Latest from the author of many fabulous books, but probably my favorite to date. Very poignant.
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow byGabrielle Zevin (F). Recommended by several other MillersTime readers, a story about two friends and how their lives intertwine over decades.
The Lincoln Highway byAmor Towles (F). A (very) long read about the story of three young men and a young kid traveling across the United States in 1954. Probably would have read another 500 pages if he’d written more.
The Last Green Valley byMark Sullivan (F). From the author of Beneath a Scarlet Sky, a work of historical fiction that takes place in the dark days at the end of World War II detailing the bravery and heroism of the Martel family, one of the many families of German heritage whose ancestors farmed in Ukraine for more than a century. I don’t typically love historical fiction, but this book was the exception.
Invisible Storm: A Soldier’s Memoir of Politics and PTSD by Jason Kander (NF). A progressive Kansas City politician icon opens up about his struggles in Afghanistan, his PTSD, and his family.
Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention – and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari (NF). Spend too much time on your phone? Or on any devices? Read this book, get your life back. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it.
The Prison Minyanby Jonathan Stone (F) – (amusing if it does rely on some stereotypes, but it still has a serious side). It is fiction, but it is based on the Federal Pen. in Cooksville NY, which is where Michael Cohen was imprisoned, so it is based on a real (semi-real) place with a large Jewish population.
The Thread Collectors by Shaunna Jones and Alyson Richman (F). Two Harvard- trained attys (I think-definitely lawyers) collaborated to present fascinating insights about Afro-American and Jewish soldiers in the Civil War. It does have a ring of truth, and both the authors are very impressive.
The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen (F). It wasn’t my favorite and some of the plot was a bit disappointing, but there was a romantic and Venetian sense that was pleasant–maybe a nice beach book? I loved to remember Venice reading this book.
From the Dark We Rise by Margarret Kommonow (F). I read this during my WWII novels-about -courageous women who saved thousands of lives by their activities but were ignored after the war and either forgotten or relegated to secretarial duties and completely forgotten.
Non-Fiction books are not my favorites generally, but during my WWII period, I read two that I can recommend.
A Woman of No Importanceby Sonia Hill about Virginia Hall (NF), a society kind of woman, who set up and managed an effective spy ring in Europe, saving so many lives. She was the subject of a special Gestapo squad. She saved so many lives and retrieved so much information. She accomplished all this despite her disabilities relating to the loss of her leg and managed daring trips at great physical pain. This was selected as THE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR by NPR & received many other awards. Apparently, she was mostly ignored by historians, but there has been increased information about her activities.
The Daughters of Yalta by Catherine Katz (NF)) about the daughters of FDR, Averill Harriman, and Winston Churchill who accompanied their fathers to Yalta and had important supportive functions. When I read about the book, I was fascinated and bought it immediately, but when I started reading it, it was rather ponderous–seemed dull despite the subject matter. I felt after reading it, as I often do when I read non-fiction, that I have improved myself but would have rather read a novel!
The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World by Jonathan Freedland (NF). Despite a promise (to myself) to read fewer books about the Holocaust this year, I was hooked by this nonfiction account after page two. The story is about a man named Rudolph Vrba who planned his escape from Auschwitz to let the world know what was happening there. He details his own time as a prisoner while he methodically memorizes the number of transports, the treatment of prisoners, and every detail of the exterminations. His goal is to let the world know what is happening in time to stop it. After the escape, he writes a report detailing all the horror, and points fingers and names names of all those in officialdom — throughout the world – who were in the position to try to stop the horrors of Auschwitz or acted too slowly, if at all, to do so. This book is a “tough” read. It’s another side of the story I haven’t read before.
Demon Copperhead (Barbara Kingsolver (F). This much-heralded book lives up to Kingsolver’s reputation and the critics’ praise of the book. Even without knowing that it is a reworking of the David Copperfield, it is a moving description of a boy’s challenges, as he grows up essentially, on his own. The book is set in Appalachia, where Demon is born to an unwed mother. It tells his life’s story, and the reader is engulfed by the challenges he faces: the “support” system offered by government agencies that fail him miserably; the mal and well-intentioned adults who shape his life, along with the good and bad choices he makes. The book uncomfortably reflects the reality of the American today for too many children and families. It’s must-read.
How Not to Drown in a Class of Water by Angie Cruz (F). This was one of the books I most thoroughly enjoyed this year. It’s a must-listen. It’s funny, it’s real, and it’s heartbreaking all at once. And it is another story about how we fail as a country to serve those who need just a little bit of help to raise themselves out of poverty. The heroine of this story is a woman – a factory worker for 25 years — named Cara Romero who was laid off in her md-50s. She turns to a government agency to help her find a new job. The book is comprised of “transcripts” from her many visits to a government agency which, after assessing her skills, will try to place her in a new position. This is a light “listen” that takes a hard look into how America fails those who need help. I highly recommend listening to this book.
Kiki Man Ray: Art, Love, and Rivalry in 1920s Paris by Mark Braude (NF). Freewheeling Paris in the 1920s, plus the artists, musicians, thinkers, and writers who gathered there, make for one heck a great story, especially when it’s about a woman unknown in today’s world, yet an artist and influential thinker. The captivating nightclub performer “Kiki” became a muse for Man Ray, the famous artist. She was good friends and a muse with others whose names you know, whose paintings you’ve seen, whose books you’ve read, and whose avant-guard movies you might have seen. Her story as an artist in her own right has never been told. Later in life she wrote a memoir, for which Ernest Hemingway wrote the introduction. The memoir made front-page news in France and was immediately banned in America. That’s another good reason to learn more about her.
Finding Me by Viola Davis (NF). I listened to this book which I enjoyed very much: it was read by the author, and it was superbly executed. I am certain it would be a good read too. This is the actress Viola Davis’ life story – rising from poverty to world- famous actor. It details the huge hurdles she faced and overcame along the way. But it is not just a story about rising up and out of poverty, but also a story of the institutional and systematic discrimination from the establishment artistic world as she struggled to advance her career. Reading biographies of famous people is not usually something I seek out. I am so glad I found this one. Anyone interested in the theater and film worlds will find this extremely enlightening.
Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took on a World at War by Deborah Cohen (NF). I loved this historian’s account of the band of famous American reporters who, in the run-up to World War II, from their posts in Paris told the story of what was happening in Europe at that time. The reporters — John Gunther, H. R. Knickerbocker, Vincent Sheean, and Dorothy Thompson — got exclusive interviews with Hitler and Mussolini, Nehru, and Gandhi. What they reported shaped what Americans knew about that world at that critical time. This book is also a personal story of what these reporters gained and lost as they aggressively pursued their truth telling. It’s a marvelous, engaging true story of real American heroes.
My favorite books for the second half of the year:
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Gramus (F) is one of the few books that I can say I loved in 2022. For me the book had all the elements that I love: set in the past (1950’s-60’s), interesting, quirky characters, some thoughtful issues to explore that resonate for a baby boomer woman coming of age in a male dominated society and above all, humor.
Horse, A Novel by Geraldine Brooks (F) is written by one of my favorite authors. All of her books are very different from each other and this one doesn’t disappoint. There are two story lines with the first one being about a Smithsonian bone researcher intrigued with knowing about a misplaced skeleton of a famous racehorse from the mid 1860’s and her relationship with the art historian who helps her unravel the mystery. The second story line is far more compelling, telling us the story of a famous racehorse and his slave trainer. While the horse, named Lexington, was an actual real champion, his Black slave trainers and jockeys are largely unknown. The story, set in the pre-Civil war years, that Brooks develops around the horse is captivating. I particularly loved to the tie-ins with Kentucky and art history.
The Latecomer: A Novel by Jean Hanff Korchlitz (F) tells the story of a wealthy New York family in conflict. A mis-matched couple has triplets by in vitro fertilization and then as an afterthought use the last of their fertilized eggs to have another child. I found the plot intriguing and the relationships explored compelling. The Last Green Valley: A Novel by Mark Sullivan (F) is a World War II novel. Mark Sullivan had written Beneath a Scarlet Sky which I had really enjoyed. This story centers on a group of German settlers in Ukraine who were caught between the opposing German and Russian armies. It was interesting to get a perspective on the Eastern Front of the war and to learn how European refugees had to survive during the war.
Call Your Daughter Home by Deb Spera (F) is set in South Carolina in the 1920’s in the aftermath of the boll weevil infestation that destroyed the cotton crops and the local economy. The story is told from the perspective of three different women whose lives intersect: one is a poor white mother, one a plantation mistress and one a black housekeeper. The characters are well developed, and the story moves at a pleasing pace with a few plot twists to keep the reader’s interest.
The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray (F) is another work of historical fiction though based on three very real women placed in three different periods of history. The first is the fascinating story of Adrienne Lafayette, the wife of the General Lafayette of the American Revolutionary War fame. I particularly liked learning of the political intrigue that she was involved with at the French Court during the 18th Century. The second story centered on an American woman residing in France during World War I who helped establish a home for war orphans at the ancestor Lafayette chateau and the third story is about one of the grown-up orphans who becomes involved in an elaborate resistance operation during World War II. The book is well written with exquisite details.
Emily Nichols Grossi:
The Yank: The True Story of a Former US Marine in the Irish Republican Army by John Crawley (NF). John Crawleywas born in New York to Irish immigrant parents and moved to Ireland as a young teenager to attend school. Inspired there by the struggle for Irish freedom against British rule in the North of Ireland, he returned to America to receive military training in an elite, special forces “Recon” unit of the US Marine Corps. Afterwards, he returned to Ireland to volunteer for the IRA and conducted many missions, including gun-running from the US, working with Boston criminal head Whitey Bulger. Crawley would be captured and imprisoned twice, both in Ireland and in England, while on major missions, done in both times by informers.
The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly (NF). In The Great Mortality, author John Kelly lends an air of immediacy and intimacy to his telling of the journey of the plague as it traveled from the steppes of Russia, across Europe, and into England, killing 75 million people—one third of the known population—before it vanished.
The Ruin.The Scholar. The Good Turn. The Murder Rule. all by Dervla McTiernan (F). Fabulous Irish-living-in-Australia crime writer. The first three books are a series. The Murder Rule is independent.
The Fell by Sarah Moss (F), although could easily be NF. Moss is queen of gorgeously written small books, and this story, which takes place in a small English town during the pandemic, is no different. I couldn’t put it down.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Toles (F).
Live by Night by Dennis Lehane (F).
The Overstory by Richard Powers (F).
The Grieving Brain: The Surprising Science of How We Learn from Love and Loss by Mary-Frances O’Connor (NF). This amazing book by a neuroscientist shares groundbreaking discoveries about how our brain handles grief and provides a new paradigm for understanding love, loss, and restoration. It was on my list in July and stays on.
Churchill’s Shadow: The Life and Afterlife of Winston Churchill by Geoffrey Wheatcroft (NF). In 535 pages I could not put down, Wheatcroft tells the good and the bad, the successes and failures, the passions and prejudices of this great man. Most interestingly, he describes Churchill’s afterlife, the evolution of a mythical figure whose legacy has been used and misused by today’s politicians.
And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle by Jon Meacham (NF). This is the best book on Lincoln written by my favorite Presidential historian. Meacham argues that 1) Lincoln believed from early in life that slavery was wrong; 2) nevertheless, he disappointed abolitionists time and again; 3) because Lincoln was not a full-time reformer but an office-seeker,” not “a preacher but a politician.” And yet, Meacham finds, it was his religious faith that guided him through the most consequential decisions of the “American struggle.” Not a surprising conclusion for a man of faith, but his massive endnotes and bibliography support this very readable book.
The Living Sea of Waking Dreamsby Richard Flanagan (F). A beautifully written book about life and death and how we adapt to our own extinction. It is told in the style of magic realism, which in this case is not a gimmick, but essential to telling the story.
What Storm, What Thunder by Myrian J.A. Chancy (F). This fictional account of the aftermath of the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti is based on interviews the author had with people who lived through and knew people who didn’t. The book is built around the story of 10 characters through whose experience she explores the horror of the earthquake and the desperate conditions in the camps. It’s heartbreaking for the people in Haiti and in a different way for the people who made it to an unwelcome America.
Braiding Sweetgrassby Robin Wall Kimmerer (NF). I’m just catching up with this wonderful book written in 2013 by a botanist and citizen of the Potawatomi Nation. Its subtitle: “Indigenous wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants” is a good description of the contents, which I read AND listened to with wonder.
Into the Great Emptiness: Peril and Survival on the Greenland Ice Cap by David Roberts (NF). I just received this book and couldn’t put it down. It details the story of the once famous, but now chiefly forgotten, British explorer, Henry George Watkins, and of his daring rescue expedition in Greenland in the 1930’s. It’s a fascinating read about someone of whom I knew nothing and a book which I quickly read.
Spadework for a Palace by Laszlo Krasznahorkai (F). This short, strange novel, by a Hungarian writer, written all in one sentence, consists of the thoughts of a librarian at the New York Public Library whose name is Herman Melville, and who spends the course of the book discussing the architecture and landscape of Manhattan and how Herman Melville, the author, and Malcolm Lowry, the author, and Bartok, the musician, related to Manhattan, all the while trying to explain the perfect Library Palace.
Leopoldstadt by Tom Stoppard (F). Stoppard’s latest play, in nine scenes, is a powerful, searing, intergenerational study of a two Viennese, inter-married, upper middle-class, Jewish families covering the years 1899 – 1955. Stoppard is usually known for his wordplay and comic sense, but in this play he is deadly serious, even with just a little word play and humor. Stoppard shows the vanity of ideas, especially political ideas, when confronted by the evil of racial hatred.
Bliss Montage by Ling Ma (F). The short stories in this collection tackles the troubles of the real world by transporting the reader to the indeterminate realm between sleeping and being awake. She contrasts the irretrievability of the past with the instability of our recollections. These are stories preoccupied with sudden, yet ordinary, schisms—death, violence, birth, infidelity, migration, publication, and the end of love.
The Last Days of the Dinosaurs: an Asteroid Extinction, and the Beginning of Our World by Riley Black (NF). Riley Black walks readers through what happened in the days, the years, the centuries, and the million years after the asteroid impact, tracking the sweeping disruptions that overtook this one spot, and imagining what might have been happening elsewhere on the globe. Most geological and ecological changes take enormous amounts of time to occur, but this extinction process started all in one day.
The Years by Annie Ernaux (F/NF). Ernaux, who won the Nobel Prize, writes auto-fiction—that is, a mixture of memoir and fiction. Ernaux’s The Years (2006) is a group autobiography, told in the first-person plural, of the generation that came of age in France after World War II. Ernaux tells her story not through the movements of history in any conventional sense but as a list of ordinary events, of television programs and advertisements and minor celebrity. She has been criticized as being too banal or sociological, but I found her work quite interesting, being of the same age group of which she writes. This could profitably be read in conjunction I Remember by George Peerec (NF).
Row House Blues-The Decline and Loss of the Old Philadelphia Neighborhoods during the Suburban Migrations 1966-1999 by Jack Myers (NF).I was born in West Philadelphia in April of 1941. We lived over a Butcher Shop during the early 40’s while my dad went off to War. When he came home, we couldn’t afford to stay there, so we moved closer to South Philadelphia because the apartments were cheaper there. My Dad took advantage of the GI Bill and went to Painting and Paperhanging school. We moved again to a Southwest Philadelphia Row House, a few houses away from my grandmother. Mom and Dad were both working, my sister and I were both in Catholic School and went to Granma’s until they got home.
I share this with you, good reader, because that is a prelude to this book about living in a city neighborhood about to suffer the great migration of families into and out of the various neighborhoods scattered throughout the City of Philadelphia.
Once I started reading this book I could not stop. I felt like I knew so many of the characters and locations by heart.
The Need to Be Whole: Patriotism and the History of Prejudice by Wendell Berry (NF) – a revisit of what he’s come to believe.
The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling by James Hillman (NF) – an excellent companion to The Need to Be Whole.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (F) – upper class man is forced to live out a long, and interesting, life under house arrest.
You Learn by Livingby Eleanor Roosevelt (NF). For a book written more than 50 years ago it’s incredibly relevant. Roosevelt takes a long look at privilege and the damage it does. Roosevelt also talks about dealing with pain, how to live with courage, and the importance of love.
Right after this book I read Nothing Was the Same by Kay Redfield Jamison (NF). Jamison wrote the groundbreaking book The Unquiet Mindher bipolar diagnosis, and I was curious about her other work. Nothing Was the Same was written after Jamison lost her husband to cancer. She is a brilliant writer and has a way with words. Jamison’s story resonated with me, as my own struggles with mental illness impacts my marriage. But – the book was lacking compassion and love towards others. The amount of privilege shown in the book was intense – her husband took part of clinical trials despite not qualifying for them. He held onto life even when it was clear that he was dying.
Roosevelt, on the other hand, shared a more pragmatic and compassionate way view of life and death. Roosevelt was matter of fact and aware of her privilege. Throughout the book she talks about the importance of service, of using your privilege to help others.
I understand that Jamison was grieving, and the book shared that. She wrote beautifully of her life with her husband, and the life they shared was beautiful. It is unfortunate, however, that Jamison never talked about her privilege. She talked about being attacked by a fellow doctor – he drunkenly told her that the only reason she wrote The Unquiet Mind was because of her privilege. She disagreed – mental illness affects everyone. What she failed to understand is that most people cannot talk about their mental illness. If I were to come into work and announce that I had anxiety and depression, I wouldn’t be greeted with applause. I would be avoided. Jamison just lost her private practice; she was still able to teach.
I recommend reading both these books and comparing the lessons in each. Read separately they are excellent books, but together they paint a picture of privilege. How to use it for good, and how to ignore the gifts it gives.
NEVER by Ken Follett (F)…pretty chilling..the only positive element is the President is a woman..and has to make the most difficult of all choices..but shows how easily “never” can happen.
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (HF). Did I read this one because it was on your readers’ list? But a story that shows the power of one’s ambitions and a willingness to compromise her family values to achieve something even greater.
The Palace Papers by Tina Brown (NF)…my wife does not agree with my including this book and my obsession with the Royals, but there! I’ve admitted it! Tina Brown does an excellent job writing the book. I liked it, but I will admit my monarchist support for a pretty dysfunctional family who cannot deal with their emotions should cause anyone to question my choice in books to read.
Dinners with Ruth by Nina Totenberg (NF) …while it hardly focused on the title, RBG obviously played a significant role in Nina’s life. Some criticize the “name dropping” that Nina seems to focus on…I prefer to think of the remarkable women she includes in her book, many at NPR/PBS, and in this year when Judy Woodruff retires, she is worthy of including in Nina’s next book.
In July I listedEmpire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynastyby Patrick Radden Keefe (NF), an extraordinary history of the family and marketing strategy at the heart of the opioid crisis. That book provides context for the compelling story of Demon Copperheadby Barbara Kingsolver (F), set in Appalachia where opioid addiction touches all the characters.
Recognizing that the inspiration for Kingsolver’s novel was David Copperfieldby Charles Dickens (F), I was prompted to read that charming classic and realized how much fun Kingsolver must have had creating and naming her characters. I recommend reading all three books in succession.
I don’t know how I missed reading David Copperfield before, but I also had never read Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev (F), a timeless novel about the generation gap and nineteenth century Russia.
Two other novels I found unforgettable are The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li (F); and The Slowworm’s Song by Andrew Miller (F) – both beautifully written and engaging. These are the first books I’ve read by those two novelists, and I’ll definitely read their earlier works.
Finally, Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout (F) left me eagerly awaiting Strout’s next book. I hope we haven’t seen the last of Lucy Barton.
Cheap Land Colorado: Off-Gridders at America’s Edge by Ted Conover (NF). The author spent four years living on the Colorado prairie, where land is basically free and there is essentially no government presence. He presents a captivating description of what that’s like and what these people are up to. The book has a lot of what people liked about Hillbilly Elegy and Strangers in their Own Land but it’s not particularly political. I really felt like I was there with them.
Putinby Philip Short (NF). A very interesting biography, particularly with respect to Putin’s early life. I learned a lot about Russian government and society. I also found it very interesting to see America’s foreign policy through Russian eyes.
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (NF).
Trustby Hernan Diaz (F).
Invisible Storm by Jason Kander (NF).
This is How They Tell Me the World Ends by Nicole Perlroth (NF).
Talking to GOATS by Jim Grey (NF). Interesting and funny. He has led a charmed life and had and still does, relationships with some of the most interesting people, on the planet. A lot of inside stuff.
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn (F) — I am rarely a fiction fan, but this book, adapted as fiction from a true story of British women breaking German codes during WWII, kept me turning pages.
West With Giraffes by Linda Rutledge (F). I also enjoyed this adaptation as fiction from a true story set in the Depression of the transport of two giraffes from New York to the San Diego zoo.
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman (NF) — A perennial favorite of mine, re-read during the pandemic, sensitive and perceptive story of attempts by the California medical system to work with Hmong refugees. Great cross-culture perceptions.
Native Voices: Listening to Native Americans by Alison Owings (NF) — Another re-read during Covid. I love this book, which gives a real feel for the breadth of experiences of Indians today. Seventeen different people from different tribes, some on reservations, some in cities. The author is obviously a great listener and gains trust, for people confide in her.
Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey (NF). The author, who had a tough childhood in an evangelical community, faces this question with honesty and without attempting a definitive answer. I especially was impressed by descriptions of communal prayer during historical crises and how that seemed to affect the resolution of the crisis.
Fifty Two Ways to Walk by Annabel Streets (NF) — Fun and inspiring set of, indeed, 52 ways to walk (think walking backwards, walking to smell, etc.) with pretty amazing research results of the benefits.
River of the Gods by Candace Millard (NF). I am a fan of anything by Candace Millard, and this one, about Burton and Speke’s explorations in East Africa, did not disappoint.
I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys (HF) takes place in Romania during the final days of communist dictatorship in 1989. It is told from the point of view of a 17-year-old boy who dreams of freedoms that don’t exist in Romania and instead finds himself caught up in the frightening citizen spy network that ultimately brings an end to the reign of terror. It is not the most sophisticated of writing but really interesting to read about the harsh conditions that still existed in Romania as Communist regimes were falling throughout rest of Europe.
Sparks Like Stars by Nadia Hashimi (HF) is about an Afghan woman in modern day still managing the trauma she suffered as a young girl when her family was killed during the communist takeover of Kabul. As she navigates her adult life in NYC, she decides to return to Kabul to explore what happened to her family. There are a few annoying coincidences but overall, an interesting book about another historical time period I did not know much about.
The Girl with Seven Namesby Hyeonseo Lee (NF) – a girl’s escape from North Korea.
In My Mother’s Footstepsby Mona Halaby (NF) – a Palestinian refugee returns home.
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hellby Robert Dugoni (F).
Lessons by Ian McEwan (F). Granted I like everything he writes, but this topic is unusual. If you want to understand how sexual grooming and trauma can determine the limits of a life, McEwan takes you through a full life that is never full.
Most of what I read is essays.
Essays 1 by Lydia Davis (NF) is outstanding as is the always reliable Best America Essays 2021 (NF).
Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit (NF) is a lovely meandering journey.
These Precious Days by Ann Patchett (NF) should be enjoyed all at once which is not hard to do.
On Getting Better by Adam Phillips (NF) is for anyone who wants what the title offers. Written by a leading British psychoanalyst it is an easy read without jargon and more about a sympathetic understanding of the human condition.
A Swim in a Pond in Rain by George Saunders (NF) is outstanding for any frustrated would-be English major. He teaches Russian short stories, and this is how he does it.
The Dirtbag’s Guide to Life: Eternal Truth for Hiker Trash, Ski Bums, and Vagabonds by Tim Mathis (NF). This is a great book if you are interested in maximizing more adventure in your life and minimizing the pressures of your career, that is, how to make your career something that supports your passion rather than a barrier to the adventures you wish to seek. The book is a guide on how to do this effectively, such as how to manage money (live a minimalist lifestyle), relationships (be around cool people who support you), and other responsibilities. As an avid hiker and trail runner (who wants to do more), I found it inspiring.
Smoke, Snort, Swallow, Shoot: Legendary Binges, Lost Weekends, and Other Feats of Rock ‘n’ Roll Incoherence Edited by Jacob Hoye (NF). This book is a compilation of stories of excess by famous/infamous rock and roll legends, centering on their use of substances of abuse. Stories (confessions) written by Johnny Cash, Marilyn Manson, Dee Dee Ramone, Lemmy, Greg Allman, Anthony Kiedis, Slash, and more, are mostly sad, often vulgar, and sometimes funny (I can admit it).
Other one’s I’d recommend:
Groupby Christie Tate (NF).
The Stranger in the Woods (by Michael Finkel (NF).
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (F).
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (F).
An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us by Ed Yong (NF). This is the most interesting/ amazing book I have read in seven years. It was like watching “Wizard of Oz” for the first time and coming to that magical moment when the door/camera in a black-and-white world opened onto the world of TECH-NICOLOR. This book, page after page, introduces, explains and accolades the thousand senses of every kind of animal on, over or under the face of this planet. Human beings are not in the top 100 of anything except ability to see subtle colors. Before reading, put on your chinstrap to hold your jaw mostly closed so you don’t keep muttering: “I didn’t know that”. “So that’s how/why they do that!”. Fives+ across the board Readability 5. Information 5. Credibility regrading physics 5. To be reread annually.
When We Cease to Understand The World by Benjamin Labatut (NF). Recommended for those somewhat familiar with atomic physics who have heard of Schrodinger’s Cat and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Starts with brilliant examples of science gone wrong or misused to establish the premise that the scientific view of reality is often quite at odds with the general view. Focuses on the story of the fall of the certainty of Newtonian physics (as represented by Schrodinger) and its replacement with the current incompatible and thus far irreconcilable views of uncertain reality espoused by the Heisen-berg school. Concludes with a discussion of the strange dichotomy of a princi-pal science whose fundamental basement stone is composed of two concepts that are incompatible but are which both needed to understand the existing structure of the field. Makes it clear that unraveling this conundrum will re-quire a genius of the magnitude of at least an Einstein or the patient work of 1000 lesser gifted souls. Distracting is the author’s gratuitous insertion of contrived scenes (most are sexual and libelous) portraying the fictitious private lives of some of the prin-cipal scientists. They are irrelevant and (worse) they are not interesting. If the author had wanted to produce a longer book, he should have edited the dross and provided more information about the certainty/uncertainty debate—but perhaps he wasn’t up to it and decided to write about something he was vague-ly familiar with. Readability 5. Information 5. Credibility regrading physics 5. Credibility regarding imaginative scenes .001 (they are written like a scientific report)
Periodic Table: A Cultural History of the Elements from Arsenic to Zinc by Hugh Aldersey-Williams (NF). A bright, chatty recounting of the history and interesting details of the elements that make up our universe. Well written. Easy to pickup and easy to put down to do something more pressing. Readability 4.8, Information 5. Credibility 4.8. (some of the abstruse elements could have been given more space but that was probably just my wishful thinking that something more interesting could have been said).
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg (NF). Random House/Penguin New York. Well established as a “go to” book to understand habits, what they are, why we rely on them, how to make ‘em and the struggle to break ‘em. Readability 4.8, Information 5.0, Credibility 4.8.
EDISON: A Biography by Edmund Morris (NF). Every possible detail about a very powerful, very boring man. Good attention to Edison’s process of invention or co-opting the work of others to create many of the essential items of everyday electrical life. The author is under no illusions about the subject he was working with and about halfway thru I mentally gave up hoping for more or for a hero to emerge. Readability 4.2, Information 4.1, Credibility 4.4. Perfect for long winter nights before the fireplace; it will take a month to get through it.
Deacon King Kong by James McBride (F). A cast of unforgettable characters in this novel of a rundown housing project in Brooklyn in 1969 and the people who live there. Enjoyable, complicated, often heartwarming. A supremely satisfying read.
The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putinby Masha Gessen (NF). Definitive biography of Vladimir Putin’s rise to power and the thuggish behavior he has exhibited ever since. This should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand what drives the world’s most dangerous man.
Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami (F). Marvelous novel about a Japanese artist who lives for a while on a mountaintop house once occupied by a great artist. He finds a hidden masterpiece in the attic, and everything changes from there. Wonderfully engaging, even to someone who doesn’t like the fantasy genre.
Walking the Bowl by Chris Lockhart & Daniel Mulilo Chama (NF). An immersive plunge into the world of the street children of Lusaka, Zambia. It reads like a novel, but it was co-written by anthropologists and based on a multi-year research project in the slums of Lusaka. Educational and absorbing.
Lydia Hill Slaby:
As you know I drift fiction, which (in one perspective) focuses on emotional truth over factual truth. The best series I read this year on that was the Rowland Sinclair mysteries by Sulari Gentill (F). Set in 1920s/30s Australia, the facts of those times told through fiction felt very true now, which triggered a lot of conversations in our house. Plus, I haven’t read a lot of Australian literature — fun to learn about a different culture.
Last Boat from Shanghai by Helen Zia (NF). This book chronicles the lives of four people who lived in Shanghai from 1939 until they each left for various destinations in the 50s and 60s. It is a fascinating view of Chinese history from the Japanese occupation through WWII to Chang Kai Chek to Mao and beyond.
Neither Wolf nor Dog and Wolf at Twilight by Ken Neubert (NF). These are two books of a trilogy, but I only read these two. Each gives a very in-depth insight to the native American’s experience and philosophies. You might think that you have read enough on this topic, as did I, but I learned a lot and got a different insight into the issue. It is spiritual, philosophical and at time brutal as the history is recounted.
The Last Green Valley by Mark Sullivan (NF). Initially drawn to this book as it is a Bozeman author, we live in Bozeman, and it is the story of a local family who eventually got here from Ukraine. Their story is of a harrowing escape from the Soviets and the Nazis, eventually making their way to Montana and an inspiring story of immigrant success. They defied all the odds to get here to to be successful in business once they got here.
The Tragic Muse by Henry James (F). He wanted to be a playwright, but his only play was his only failure. This book is after all that and features some features of the 19th century theatre world–one character is an actress. Great for me, but recommended only for other fans of Henry James.
Allegorizings by Jan Morris (NF). Her last book, it’s about life, the universe, and everything, as Douglas Adams would say. The essays are not connected, but in Morris’ world, everything is connected. As I said in 2020, she was a travel writer/essayist who creates prose as if she were a poet.
Grey Beesby Kurkov (F). Probably the best living writer in Ukraine today, Kurkov takes us into the country with an extraordinary, immersive look at the eastern Grey Zone through the eyes of a beekeeper. The emotional impact of a war’s deprivations and challenges plays a part in the novel’s lingering sentiment, and yet, the story takes place before the current Russian conflict. The characters feel real, and the story bends toward Ukraine’s present-day reality.
The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony (NF). This is an older (2009) non-fiction book about an animal reserve owner who is “gifted” a herd of elephants. A beautifully- told page-turner that grips your heart whether you love animals or not. It reads like a novel.
Voyage of the Morning Light by Endicott (F). An historical novel that transports the reader to the South Seas at the end of the 19th-century. It took me a while to get into the book because it moves as slowly as the sailing ship depicted. But soon the story engages, and the main characters’ lives take on a greater importance than their circumstances.
How the Word is Passedby Clint Smith (NF). Through travels and conversations, Smith looks at how slavery has left its mark on all of us. From Monticello to Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana, Smith peels away myths and sheds light on stories omitted from official tours. Angola prison for 4 million people and was the bloodiest prison in America. The book is informational without being confrontational. It won the National Book Critics Award for Nonfiction.
Meccaby Susan Straight (F). The book focuses on people of different backgrounds (Mexican, Mexican American, African Americans, indigenous peoples, white) who live and work at non-glamorous jobs in non-glamorous southern CA. There are several intertwining stories, for example, Johnny Frias, a California Highway Patrol officer and Ximena an 18 year old Mexican migrant pregnant from her human smugglers. These are honest stories about the lives of extraordinary people who are fragile and proud. I recommend reading the Boston Globe review by Lauren LeBlanc, “The Art of Listening in Susan Straight’s ‘Mecca’” to preview the book.
Finding Me: A Memoirby Viola Davis (NF). This is an honest, raw telling of a life from poverty to theatrical prominence. Davis’ father was an alcoholic and violent to her mother. The family was “po”: She had one skirt, few showers. She experienced racism and sexual abuse. Life was never easy but along the way she found role models and mentors, persevered, and survived as a dark-skinned, black woman who was often ignored or rejected.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (F). It was an easy read, and I found myself enjoying the quirky characters.
A World of Curiosities by Louise Penny (F) Her 18th book – worth reading if you are read her books – fiction- but one always feels that the town of Three Pines should exist.
Why We Did It by Tim Miller (NF): A both hilarious and sobering dissection of why so many Republicans who knew better went with Trump, by one who didn’t.
Gunfight by Ryan Busse (NF): A gun industry insider explains how it became radicalized.
Producing Politics by Daniel Laurison (NF): How and why the political campaign industry became a self-licking ice cream cone.
Sandy Hook by Elizabeth Williamson (NF): A wrenching portrait of how the misinformation industry led by Alex Jones fanned lies about the massacre and how the survivor families fought back.
The Quiet Before by Gal Beckerman (NF): An exploration of the settings and processes that incubate world changing new ideas, from the correspondence societies and cafes of the Renaissance to the manifestos of the Furturists and zines of the riot geeks to the Arab Soring and beyond.
In Love by Amy Bloom (NF): A personal memoir of caregiving when one’s partner chooses to die on his feet rather than live on his knees with Alzheimer’s.
Before Religion by Brent Nongbr (NF) is in fact a fascinating exploration of religion as a modern concept of sociology more than theology that actually helps break up some of the sclerosis around moral philosophy and civic life interestingly. Part of an entire curriculum of reading this year for me in the role of religion in society at Union.
Born to Be Good by Dacher Keltner (NF) not as new but a wonderful exploration of how our positive instincts are more at the heart of human nature and our capacities to thrive and survive.
Debt: The First 5000 Years by David Graeber (NF)..He was (sadly gone too soon) one of the most brilliant moral and anthropological thinkers of his generation. Debt takes us through history of money and upends a lot of bad unhelpful assumptions about barter and trade and debt and how by fixing those bad assumptions we can unlock different ways of thinking about concepts like public financing and mutual aid.
Operation Pineapple Express by Scott Mann (NF). Great story of the efforts of former Special Forces officers in Afghanistan to get their Afghan counterparts out of Afghanistan during the chaotic withdrawal of American forces.
Weapons of Mass Delusion by Robert Draper (NF, unfortunately). Wins for scariest book of the year.
Unthinkable by Jamie Raskin (NF). Very clear description of how close our government came to failing during the January 6 insurrection.
Tom Stoppard: A Lifeby Hermione Lee (NF). Recommending this and also Stoppard’s autobiographical play, Leopoldstadt, well worth the time, and even the money, required to see it on Broadway.
In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss by Amy Bloom (NF). A superb writer chronicling a brutal love story. The author writes beautifully about her husband’s decision to end his life after a diagnosis of dementia while in his mid-60s and the road map after that decision. The harrowing consequences of a deep love, interspersing humor alongside its grieving.
American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis by David (NF). Hochschild tells the story of an authoritarian government locking up dissidents, imprisoning a Presidential candidate, and permitting/encouraging mob violence against outgroups. Immensely readable, it moves quickly, covering a short and mostly unexamined slice of American history, 1917-21.
What it Took to Win: A History of the Democratic Party by Michael Kazin (NF). This biography of a political party traces the continuing thread of pragmatism through two centuries of shifting coalitions, forming, and re-forming to win the ability to govern. It provides an insightful lens for looking at both of our major parties today.
This year I decided to re-read series of books written by my favorite authors. I started with Louise Penny and her 17 novels based on Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Due to the continued character development, I read each book in the order they were written, starting with Still Life (F) and ending with The Madness of Crowds (F). The books were as good if not better than the first time around!
The second series of books, written by Donna Leon, are based on vice-commissario of police and detective genius, Guido Brunetti. There are 32 novels; so far I am in the middle of the 12th book Uniform Justice. (F). Excellent reading!
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrowby Gabrielle Zevin (F). Spanning thirty years, Sam, Sadie, and Marks grapple with success, joy, and tragedy, after creating a blockbuster video game. It explores friendship, art, creativity, and loss. It was my favorite book of 2022.
Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro (F). Everything changes for the Wilf family after a car accident which they never speak of again. Chapters flow between 1985, 2010, 1999, 2020, 2014, and 1970 and we see Mimi, Sarah, Theo, and Ben endure, sustain, and surprise each other.
The Matchmaker’s Gift by Lynda Cohen Loigman (F). The chapters alternate between two narrators: Sara, a young immigrant Jewish woman who serves as a matchmaker on the Lower East Side around World War I; and her granddaughter, Abby, who works for a 1990s law firm specializing in divorce. It is entertaining historical fiction with a touch of magic.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonie Garmis (F). Elizabeth is a chemist, forced to leave the lab due to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy in the 1960’s. She eventually becomes a star of a television program called Supper at Six takes American housewives by storm as she teaches them science and independent thinking.
Hello, Molly by Shannon (NF). Shannon begins with the loss of her mother and sister in a car accident when she was 4. Raised by her father with little rules, the author describes her childhood, including the time she snuck on a flight to New York City when she was 13 and her rise to SNL. Equal parts funny and sad.
The Measure by Nickki Erlick (F). This was another favorite.
The first four of these are on my list not because they are ‘favorites’ in the sense of good literature, enjoyable reading, good writing, or intriguing story telling. Each of the four, in their own way, took me beyond my previous knowledge and understanding of issues that confront us and our society. All four are eye opening, informing, and educating. Each is compelling.
Saints and Soldiers: Inside Internet-Age Terrorism, From Syria to the Capitol Siege by Rita Katz (NF). A wakeup call as to what is truly going on in terms of how the Internet is being used in ways that most of us don’t know. Katz is doing and has done an amazing service by exposing “the surprising connections between Islamist militants and violent groups on the far right and explains why the latter now poses a far graver threat to Americans and to democracies around the world. Through case studies recounted in alarming detail, Katz shows how radical organizations are exploiting social media to extend their reach and amplify their power.” — Joby Warrick.
Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention – and How to Think Deeply Againby Johann Hard (NF). If you are uncomfortable with the amount of time you spend on your phone, general screen time, or time on the internet, you’re not alone. Hari explores what has happened to his and our ability to pay attention to anything for longer than a short period of time. It’s not only about our personal inability to focus but goes much deeper. Definitely worth the time to understand what is happening to all of us and what we might do about it.
The Grieving Brain: The Surprising Science of How We Learn from Love and Loss by Mary-Francis O’Connor (NF). From earlier in the year. The most insightful explanation of anything I’ve read in connection with the topics of loss, grieving, and grief. O’Connor writes about what happens in our brain when we experience loss and why grief and grieving are so powerful. In helping us understand what science has recently learned about these issues, she shows us a new perspective and a new way to think about these powerful issues. O’Connor writes that The Grieving Brain is in no way an ‘advice book,’ yet for me it offers so many new insights on these subjects that I will return to it many times and highly recommend it to others. A good companion book is The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van her Kolk (NF).
Walking the Bowl: A True Story of Murder and Survival Among the Street Children of Lusaka by Chris Lockhart and Daniel Mulilo Chama (NF). Also from earlier in the year. An amazingly true story – narrated non-fiction – about the street children in Lusaka, Zambia (and by implication other street children around the world?). It took five plus years and eight individuals, including five embedded individuals, to gather, sift, and put together this story. The book reads like fiction. Were it so. Similar to Pulitzer Prize winner author Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers. But with a bit of a twist. This one also has a message about how one good deed, if walked forward, played forward, can have ripples of positive effect.
These Precious Day: Essays by Ann Patchett (NF). A longtime favorite writer of mine, these are personal stories of and from her life, told simply and honestly. I listened to them and felt she was a good friend, talking directly to me. I suspect reading them would have the same affect. She is a treasure.
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (F). The only fiction choice of the six books I’m allowed to favorite, Demon Copperhead is a riveting story of a young boy born in a trailer in southern Virginia to an addicted, single, teenage mother. It’s a tale that could easily have been overwhelming depressive – which it is on some accounts – but it’s told in the first person by this young boy who has a will to survive, a keen sense of humor, and in a language (Appalachian) that rings true. Kingsolver tells this coming-of-age story of a boy nobody wants, except to exploit, with a barely repressed sense of outrage. It mimics the Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield story, but you need not know anything about that to understand the value of what Kingsolver has written. Put this one on your ‘to read’ list.
Blonde Indian: A Native Memoir by Ernestine Hayes (NF). Recommended by Mary Bardone. How can one grow up in a compromised native American culture and still maintain links to its redeeming, lyrical links. Eloquent.
Grant by Ron Chernow (NF). The most extraordinary book about America I have read in a really long time. Chernow’s biography, simply titled Grant, tells the story of one of the most maligned American heroes – following his death. Grant is maligned because no other American President before or since tried to do true justice towards Black Americans – he almost succeeded. Think 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments – all exist because of Grant’s support. He defeated the first installment of the KKK across the South, etc. This book is a reminder that narratives and the stories we tell ourselves and our children really matter.
Best New Books:
The Anomaly by Herve Le Tellier (F). This book caused a sensation in France and Europe when it first came out, in 2020. Just translated into English and released in 2021. Set in the present with just a single but existential astrophysical twist. Unputdownable – and it leaves you with things to think about. Not overly long – you could read the whole book on just part of a transatlantic flight. Won the Prix Goncourt.
The Tyranny of Merit by Michael Sandel (NF). A careful analysis and evaluation of the history, rationale, and subtle biases of current American versions of meritocracy. Especially provocative on the rhetoric of Democratic candidates. The principal areas of focus are U.S. college admissions and U.S. national electoral politics. Essential.
The Dawn of Everything by Graeber and Wengrow (NF). Turns much of the last few hundred years of cultural anthropology, a k a the study of human prehistory, upside down. A fresh look at the evolution of human culture. Thought-provoking on every page. A magnificent accomplishment that involves the re-thinking of the received wisdom in almost an entire field.
All That She Carried by Tiya Miles (NF). Based on an exhibit in the African American Museum in Washington: a cloth sack given, with a few contents, by a mother to her 9-year-old daughter, Ashley, when their family, which was enslaved, was broken apart. The emotional reactions, to this exhibit, of hundreds of museum guests resulted in curators placing boxes of tissues alongside the display case. Starting with a description of the exhibit, the author traces Ashley to a place and time, traces her family to the past and almost to the present, and creates a tapestry of narrative and analysis out of this humblest of objects. By a woman historian, a professor at Harvard, the book digs into the history of materials, food, gender roles, culture, and the skewing of the historical record by the socially and economically dominant forces that create the records. (Ed. Winner, National Book Awards 2021 for Nonfiction)
A Brief History of Equality by Thomas Piketty (NF). The kind of book that gives you a new perspective on major issues every time you read a chapter. Based on the best set yet of compilations of the (historical, recent and current) nation-by-nation data on income and assets, and on the author’s deep thinking on the issues of equality. The analysis digs into what happened to wealth distribution after the end of slavery, and after the French revolution, and what are the arguments pro and con for compensation to those who were, or whose families were, enslaved. What causes changes in the distribution of wealth? What social principles underlie these changes? What political changes would be needed to bring about a more egalitarian distribution of income or wealth? The kind of book I may have to read more than once.
The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin (F). This was one of the most fascinating, mind-shifting books I have ever read. It is set during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and blends physics, philosophy, and a dystopian fantasy book into one incredible story that is somehow, not as far-fetched as it sounds. I was not aware of the Chinese cultural revolution, which has sent me down a very deep, dark rabbit hole, and many of the scenarios in the book made me pause and consider some pretty hefty questions. This book has been the topic of many interesting dinner conversations with friends, and I recommend it for anyone needing a good think.
Going Postal by Sir Terry Pratchett (F). This is a light-hearted, whimsical satire book I picked up as a recommendation from a friend. This is one book out of the Discworld series (41 books in total), but no previous knowledge of the other books was required. I loved the cheesiness, puns, and witty banter of the characters, and unbeknownst to me, every mention of anything ties into the greater Discworld, which is literally a disc-world (think flat planet) balancing on four elephants on the back of a turtle. So I guess it is sci-fi, too. It reminded me of Absurdistan or A Confederacy of Dunces, but with much, much more runway for future reading.
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (NF). This one has been on my reading list (MillersTime suggestion) for years, and I finally had the time to get through it this summer. It has been a beautiful book to read to better understand the evolution of civil rights and to learn about the great migration in the US. While living in Sweden, it has been interesting to reflect on what I was reading while also seeing a similar micro segregation here due to the influx of asylum seekers and refugees after several different humanitarian disasters in recent times.
Freezing Order by Bill Browder (NF). This is Bill Browder’s own account of following the trail of money laundering, leading to murder, and eventually surviving Putin’s wrath. I decided to try to understand more about Russia and the oligarchs after the war in Ukraine started this spring, since I am living a stone’s throw from Russia, in a land with a pending NATO application, realizing I know very little about our neighbors, and war feels much closer to home than it did when I was in the US. It is in large part to the work mentioned in this book that the world was able to sanction Russia during this war at the speed they could, but is it actually making an impact? Browder also follows the money right to Washington, where the picture he draws makes so much sense, and it just leaves me asking why we are not doing more.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (NF). I listened to this audiobook after seeing Trevor on tour this summer. This book really highlights his gift for storytelling, his playful energy, and his humble, human, real-life experiences. I understand so much more about South Africa from hearing his story and can truly relate to his account of growing up bi-racial and finding it hard to fit in with any group, regardless of how you identify. This light-hearted adventure with a serious underlying plot was a pleasure to hear read with the author’s own emotions.
Predictable Success by Les McKeown (NF). I enjoyed this relatively short book, and though it is very high-level, it is an simplified description of the lifecycle of companies, with some very tangible descriptions and stories of companies and leaders in each phase. I read this book during my most recent job transition and felt I could see how different areas of the business I was leaving was in different phases and how the attitudes and strategies of different individuals landed the company right where they were at during my tenure. I appreciated how the author gave some advice for transitioning from one phase to the next, and back, now if only it were that straight forward to pull off in real time.
Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown (NF). By the author of The Boys in the Boat, Facing the Mountain tells part of the story of how Japanese Americans fought for their rights and their place during World War II by fighting in Europe as part of the all-Japanese infantry unit (442nd Regimental Combat Team) and by challenging the Constitutionality of the forced removal of Japanese American from the west coast of the US.
Breakfast with Seneca: A Stoic Guide to the Art of Livingby David Fideler (NF) – I really enjoyed this easy-to-read distillation of Seneca’s writings into nine (or so) thoughtful ways to live your life. I still think about this book, and it has fundamentally altered my thoughts and behaviors.
Across the River: Life, Death, and Football in an American Cityby Kent Babb (NF) – It helps that the “American City” is New Orleans and feels intimately familiar so there’s that. But upon finishing, I felt compelled to tell almost everyone I could think of to read this book. It’s non-fiction but reads like a novel. I loved it.
Memorialby Bryan Washington (F) and100 Boyfriendsby Brontez Purnell (F) – Two LGBTQ choices that I lump together because a) I read them concurrently and b) they feel stylistically the same in spirit, if not in form. “Memorial” is the more “traditional” novel form but super offbeat characters and plot which kept me captivated. “100 Boyfriends” was more of experimental writing with amazing short stories, sometimes as small as a few paragraphs. Both written by gay Black authors that I’m grateful are finally getting a larger and louder platform in which to be heard.
SPQR: A History of Ancient Romeby Mary Beard (NF) – It was a (fun) slog but I *finally* understand ancient Roman history!! Worth the read.
As I have done for the past 13 years, I am asking for a list (anywhere from one to as many as six) of books you’ve most enjoyed reading in 2022.
There is no definition to the kind of book which you might add to this list. They can be fiction, non-fiction, science fiction, short stories, science, poetry, mystery, romance, hobbies, children’s books, etc. I’m most interested in what you truly enjoyed this past year (old or new books) with the thought that others might get some ideas for their reading in 2023.
Even if you think others may recommend a particular book that you liked, please include it on your list. Some of you like to know that more than one or two MillersTime readers have enjoyed a given title.
Also, if you want to include any of the books you cited from the March 30, 2022 or July 17, 2022, feel free to do so. You can review what you sent in here:
Send me your list (Samesty84@gmail.com) with the title, author and whether the book is fiction (F) or non-fiction (NF).
Please take the time to include a few sentences about the book and particularly what made this book(s) so enjoyable for you.For many of the contributors and readers of this annual list, it is the comments that are what’s most important about MillersTime Favorite Reads each year.
Send your list by December 20. Then I can post the results on Dec. 31, 2022.
Since it’s the middle of the year, and three months since the last Call for Favorite Reads, I thought it might be valuable to continue mid-year posting of books MillersTime readers are particularly enjoying.
For this mid-year call, I’m asking that you send in just one title and your accompanying remarks about why you enjoyed that book.
As usual, give the title, author, identify the book as F or NF, and, most importantly, write a few sentences or a paragraph of what it was/is about this book that makes it into your category of particularly enjoyable or exceptional.
If you do not have anything to add at this point, you might want to check out the 3/30/22 post, Winter-Spring 2022: Best Reads. There were a number of enticing reads in that post.
I already know what book I’ll select out of the several very good ones I’ve read in the last three months.
How about you?
Deadline for Submission – July 15th
Send to Samesty84@gmail.com
(But don’t wait – I don’t plan to send a reminder)
I recently came across a lengthy article by Andrew Sullivan I had read more than five years ago about being “a very early adopter of what we might now call living-in-the-web.”
See: I Use to Be a Human Being, by Andrew Sullivan, Sept. 19, 2016. New York Magazine. (If you are unable to open and read it, please let me know. I can paste it into an email.)
Upon my initial reading, it led to, though was not the total reason for, my withdrawal from Facebook. Now, upon rereading it five years later, it is leading to my withdrawal from Instagram and Twitter.
Sullivan nailed many of the factors in the addictive nature and power of the Web, Smart Phones, and similar devices and activities. Now, five years later, there is even more evidence of the negative impacts of what this is doing to us as individuals and as a society.
I am not withdrawing totally from that world (mainly the prime social media platforms). I will continue to use it for some connections and communications with others (i.e., MillersTime, The Family Foundation, Inc., email) and to keep in touch with many of my areas of interest – news, sports, weather, travel, etc. I hope, however, that I can significantly reduce the time I am involved with the iPhone and the time I spend on the Web.
Like many addictions, this one is powerful and perhaps more intense than any of us realize.
My hope is that I can get more control over it, spend less time with it, and when doing so, use it for its best attributes
A contributor to the 2021 MillersTime Favorite Reads recently wrote me with the following thought and idea:
Here’s a thought (more work for you): what about a corner on MillersTime like “staff picks” at Politics & Prose where we can post during the year, between the twice yearly list, when we want to share a book of exceptional interest?
I love that idea.
I like not waiting until midyear or the end of the year, often by which time it is easy to forget something I read much earlier in the year that was “of exceptional interest.”
So this is what I’ve decided, thanks to FH’s suggestion:
Whenever you finish a book that fits into the category of “exceptional interest,”please consider sending me (Samesty84@gmail.com) the title, the author, a description of what you just read, and why that book was particularly special for you.
Whenever I have three or four submissions, contributions, I will post what I have received. I foresee possibly doing this once a month if there are sufficient submissions.
And feel free to contribute to this new portion of MillersTime as frequently as you want with something you want to share with others
In light of that, I write below about a book I just finished that was a favorite read from 2021 from CL and for me fits into this category of “exceptional interest.”
The Beauty of What Remains: How Our Greatest Fear Becomes Our Greatest Giftby Steve Leder
It’s only the beginning of February, and I have what will undoubtedly be one of my favorites for 2022.
Leder’s book is one that I will reread as I do with two others that have similarities to this one. (The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister and Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande.)
This book is about aging, death and dying, loss and grief, and pain.
It is also a book about joy and comfort.
Leder has been a rabbi for more than 30 years at Wilshire Temple in Los Angeles and literally has sat by more than a thousand death beds and officiated at many of the ensuing funerals.
Yet it took the death and loss of his own father before Leder was able to write this book and to understand that what he thought he knew about loss and grief was in fact INcorrect.
He takes us on a journey through loss and grief that is inspiring and comforting, filled with wisdom of the ages but also his own journey of learning to face these issues and find the beauty of what remains.
The Beauty of What Remains is a small book, 288 pages that can be read in just a few hours, but it contains a great deal of understanding, many insights, and so much wisdom that it is a gem, uplifting, hopeful, and even practical.
It is an exceptional book that I am thankful for CL suggesting it and am delighted to recommend it — whether or not you have experienced a recent death or a loss, are facing an impending death or loss. or are just thinking about your own or someone else’s ageing and end of life issues.
For those who have long been readers of MillersTime, it will come as no surprise that I am a Liberal.
In any of the many definitions of that word, and the beliefs it indicates, I am without doubt a “person who believes that government should be active in supporting social and political change.”
Longtime readers of MillersTime are also probably aware that for the past several years, I have moved away from writing about politics and have largely refrained from posting articles about what is occurring in our country.
Nevertheless, I have continued to read, follow, and be absorbed by the state of our union. I believe the deep divisions throughout our nation, and what I believe are threats to the healthy functioning of our democracy, are distressing and ominous.
Rather than just continue to read and worry about these issues without trying to do something about them, increasingly seems foolish and a waste of time and energy.
I’ve seen seen numerous thoughtful and worthy suggestions to answer the question, “What Can I Do Now.” I have been particularly impressed by Robert Hubbell, the author of Today’s EditionNewsletter, who believes we need to “Do More, Worry Less.”
Hubbell focuses on a variety of organizations and possible ways to be involved, beyond just making donations, and has written about them over the last few months. These include:
Hubbell started his newsletter in February, 2017 “as an effort as to provide hope and perspective to his family after the unexpected results of the 2016 election. Over time, it was shared among friends and became of community of like-minded citizens devoted to preserving American democracy.”
Hubbell has also begun a Podcast where he interviews the individuals from each of the organizations listed above. See his Jan. 12 Newsletter: Do Not Relent (scroll to the bottom of his post).
While I do not plan to turn MillersTime into any kind of political blog, I am using this post to begin to “Do Something, Worry Less.”
Finally, if you know of or are involved in other efforts that you’ve found particularly useful and worthy, please post them in my Comment Section.
From today’s NYTimes Daily Briefing by David Leonhardt:
An Election Day Success:
Voters didn’t have to wait in long lines. Turnout was high. And result were available shortly after the polls closed.
Sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it?
It’s not. It is a description of yesterday’s primary in Colorado.
The sate avoided the miserable lines that voters in Georgia and Wisconsin recently endured — lines that are a waster of time and, even worse, a health risk during a pandemic.
And, unlike in Kentucky and New York, Colorado, didn’t take a week or more to count its ballots. It began counting before Election Day. After polls closed at 7 p.m., people quickly knew that John Hickenlooper had won the Demoncratic nomination in a closely watched Senate race.
Colorado accomplished all of this thanks to a universal system of voting by mail, which began in 2014. The state sends a ballot to every registered voter weeks before Election Day. Voters can return the ballot by mail, so long as it arrives by Election Day, or can drop it off at any of one of a dozen voting centers.
People can also vote in person, but fewer than 6 per cent of voters do so in a typical election, said Amber McReynolds, the former head of elections in Denver, who now runs Vote at Home, an advocacy group. The atmosphere at Denver polling places yesterday, she told me, was calm as can be.
Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington also created universal vote-by-mail systems before the pandemic struck. In all these dates, turnout has increase, with no net benefit for either party. Many other states are trying to expand mail voting this year, although often without universal mailing of ballots or as many drop-off locations as Colorado has.
What stuck me most about this article was what I learned when I pursued Leonardt’s statement that there was “no net benefit for either party.”
“The goal here is simple: We want you to take a moment and tip your cap to the Negro Leagues. We want you to take a moment to commemorate those baseball players who were denied even the hope of playing in the Major Leagues. They played baseball anyway, played it joyously and with breathtaking skill, played it because they loved the game and wanted to show their talents and because they refused to be defined by the segregation that marked baseball and America.
“Normally, for a campaign like this, you make the case and then ask for action.
“But I am asking for action first because you can feel the power of this moment. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues. And in celebration, we want you to take a photo or a short video of you tipping your cap to the Negro Leagues — it can be any cap at all — and add a few words and send it to email@example.com.
“We want you to join an extraordinary group of people who have already sent in their photos and videos and thoughts — we are officially launching the campaign this week at tippingyourcap.com and I think you will be a little bit blown away by some of the people you see joining us in this celebration.
“And then we hope you will tip your cap, challenge your friends and family to tip theirs, send us your photos and videos, post them on your social media platforms, and also consider donating some money to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.
“One hundred years ago, in 1920, a group of men met at the Paseo YMCA in Kansas City — right around the corner from where the museum now stands — and created a league for African Americans and dark-skinned Latin players who did not have a league. This centennial year was going to be a very special year for the Negro Leagues. Major League Baseball and the Players Association donated $1 million to the museum and announced what was supposed to be a yearlong celebration, including a day when every MLB player would tip his cap to the Negro Leagues players who helped baseball become a true national pastime.
“Obviously, the global pandemic shattered those plans.
“But it hasn’t stopped the goal. As Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Museum, says, those Negro Leagues players didn’t spend time feeling sorry for themselves. They played ball, even when denied a place to sleep, even when restaurants turned them away, even when they were told they couldn’t use a gas station bathroom. They played doubleheaders, tripleheaders, sometimes even quadrupleheaders.
“They played in big towns and small ones, they played in big league stadiums and on rock-strewn fields, they played in front of enormous crowds of people dressed in their church clothes and in front of sparse crowds of people who came to root against them. They played under makeshift lights that sounded like lawnmowers eating up sticks and they played exhibitions against Major League players, who mostly came to understand just how good they were.
“And so, as a tribute to their spirit, we have created this campaign. We hope you will be a part of it. Take a photo or video. Send it in. Encourage your friends. Visit the website. Donate if you can.
“Now, we can talk about why the story of the Negro Leagues matters now more than ever.
“More than a dozen years ago, I wrote a book called “The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America.” In it, I traveled around the country with Buck, who played and managed in the Negro Leagues and who dedicated his life to keeping the memory of those players alive.
“We were good!” Buck used to say, and it always warmed my heart that
by the end of his life people believed him. That wasn’t always true.
When Buck first started telling the story, back in the 1960s and ’70s
and ’80s and into the ’90s, people would shrug when he talked about how
good those Negro Leagues players were. They would roll their eyes. He
used to say that in those days more people would tell him how it was, an astonishing thing if you think about it.
“I would tell them, ‘That’s not true, I was there,’” Buck said. “But they wouldn’t listen.”
“When Buck and a few others started the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, it was a one-room office in a nondescript Kansas City office building. There were no visitors … there was nothing to see. The few archives were locked in filing cabinets. It was more an idea than a place, more a dream than a reality. Buck and the other co-founders used to take turns paying the monthly rent.
“Their goals were modest: They wanted only to share the story of these great players who were never given the opportunity to display their talents. It was such a rarely told story at the time. When I was writing “The Soul of Baseball,” I came across a story about a dark-skinned Cuban player named Luis Bustamante, who played in the early 1900s. Even now you can find almost nothing about him, even though John McGraw reportedly once called him “the perfect shortstop.” Bustamante was apparentlly an alcoholic, and he died young … it’s unclear how he died.
“According to one story I read, he died by suicide and left behind a note that said, simply: “They won’t let us prove.”
“Those five words are so haunting — and so important. For years, even after the Negro Leagues stopped, Buck found that people still refused to believe just how great so many of those players were. It’s hard to understand how anyone could miss the obvious. In the dozen or so years after Robinson broke through, an extraordinary collection of dark-skinned players played in the Major Leagues — Doby, Campanella, Paige, Irvin, Mays, Minnie Miñoso, Aaron, Banks, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, Bob Gibson, Willie McCovey. These are not just great players, they are, for the most part, inner-circle Hall of Famers, some of the greatest players in the history of the game.
“Every one of them would have spent their career in the Negro Leagues had they been born a few years earlier.
“So what does that say about the great players who were born a few years earlier? Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Turkey Stearnes, Ray Brown, Mule Suttles, Martín Dihigo, Ray Dandridge, Willie Wells, Buck Leonard, Biz Mackey, Newt Allen, Hilton Smith, Sam Bankhead, on and on and on.
“Buck found himself telling the story again and again to impassive faces. He kept meeting baseball fans who simply could not accept that these players who were denied their chance could have been the equals of the legendary major-league players fans had grown up believing in. Buck kept meeting people who had their own impressions of the Negro Leagues as a ragtag collection of semipro players who mostly clowned around and found them unwilling to take the players or Black baseball seriously.
“Negro Leagues baseball was probably the third-largest Black-owned
business in the country,” he used to tell people, and he would talk
about the pride that echoed throughout Black communities because of
their baseball teams. He would tell of his personal experiences of
playing baseball with Paige during the day, then going to see Count
Basie or Billie Holiday perform in the evening, and how extraordinary it
“And people didn’t listen … until Ken Burns featured Buck O’Neil on his “Baseball” PBS miniseries.
“Burns, Buck used to say, was the first prominent person he met who said, “Please just tell me your story.”
“If you have seen “Baseball,” you know just how magical Buck was.
“And you know what? After that, people started listening to him. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum became something more than just an idea — it grew into this beautiful place on the corner of 18th and Vine, a famous place in the world of jazz and baseball.
“Buck died in 2006, just a couple of months before President George W. Bush awarded him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I know that if he was with us today, in this unique American moment, he would be doing all he could to lead the charge for social justice. He was the most optimistic person I have ever known, and he believed deeply in the power good people have to change the world. I know he would be, once again, telling that timeless story of those players who followed their dreams, even when everything was against them.
“I’ve seen the world change so much,” Buck used to say. “People
always ask, ‘Were you sad that you couldn’t play in the Major Leagues?’
We didn’t even think about it. There was no reason to think about
something that wasn’t possible.
“You have to remember, when Jackie went to the Dodgers, that was
before Brown vs. Board of Education. That was before Sister Rosa Parks
said, ‘I don’t feel like going to the back of the bus.’ Martin Luther
King was a sophomore at Morehouse. Jackie Robinson went to the Major
Leagues and that’s what started the ball rolling. And Jackie was a
product of all those players who didn’t get that chance, who played
baseball because we loved the game.
“So, yes, we still have a long way to go. But we also have come a long way. That’s why I tell their story. Those players changed this country. They’re still changing this country.”
Ellen forwarded this article to me yesterday morning, saying you “must read every word” of this piece.
I didn’t read it immediately, but when I did, it put some of the current protests in a context that makes sense to me.
While George Packer, the author, doesn’t get everything right in his Shouting into an Institutional Void, I believe his article helps to explain where we are today, particularly in relationship to 1968.
Two quotes from his Shouting into the Institutional Void.
“The difference between 1968 and 2020 is the difference between a society that failed to solve its biggest problem and a society that no longer has the means to try.”
“This is where we are. Trust is missing everywhere—between black Americans and police, between experts and ordinary people, between the government and the governed, between citizens of different identities and beliefs.”
Readers of MillersTime may know that in January I stopped using Facebook. There were a number of reasons (see Goodbye Facebook), but an important one for me was my belief that FB was adding to the divisiveness in our country, in part because they could continue to build market share and make money from its usage.
A couple of days ago the Wall Street Journal posted an article that addressed this issue. The article began:
A Facebook team had a blunt message for senior executives. The company’s algorithms weren’t bringing people together. They were driving people apart.
“Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” read a slide from a 2018 presentation. “If left unchecked,” it warned, Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.”
A former colleague of Ellen’s sent this to her this morning, and Ellen sent it on to me. It’s a straight forward, up to date summary of how Dr. James Stein, cardiologist based at U-Wisconsin at Madison, sees where we are as parts of the country relax restrictions and how we individually can think about our personal decisions:
COVID-19 Update as We Start to Leave Our Cocoons
The purpose of this post is to provide a perspective on the intense but expected anxiety so many people are experiencing as they prepare to leave the shelter of their homes. My opinions are not those of my employers and are not meant to invalidate anyone else’s – they simply are my perspective on managing risk.
Key point #1: The COVID-19 we are facing now is the same disease it was 2 months ago. The “shelter at home” orders were the right step from a public health standpoint to make sure we flattened the curve and didn’t overrun the health care system which would have led to excess preventable deaths. It also bought us time to learn about the disease’s dynamics, preventive measures, and best treatment strategies – and we did.
For hospitalized patients, we have learned to avoid early intubation, to use prone ventilation, and that remdesivir probably reduces time to recovery. We have learned how to best use and preserve PPE. We also know that several therapies suggested early on probably don’t do much and may even cause harm (ie, azithromycin, chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir). But all of our social distancing did not change the disease.
Take home: We flattened the curve and with it our economy and psyches, but the disease itself is still here.
Key point #2: COVID-19 is more deadly than seasonal influenza (about 5-10x so), but not nearly as deadly as Ebola, Rabies, or Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever where 25-90% of people who get infected die. COVID-19’s case fatality rate is about 0.8-1.5% overall, but much higher if you are 60-69 years old (3-4%), 70-79 years old (7-9%), and especially so if you are over 80 years old (CFR 13-17%). It is much lower if you are under 50 years old (<0.6%). The infection fatality rate is about half of these numbers.
Take home: COVID-19 is dangerous, but the vast majority of people who get it, survive it. About 15% of people get very ill and could stay ill for a long time. We are going to be dealing with it for a long time.
Key point #3: SARS-CoV-2 is very contagious, but not as contagious as Measles, Mumps, or even certain strains of pandemic Influenza. It is spread by respiratory droplets and aerosols, not food and incidental contact.
Take home: social distancing, not touching our faces, and good hand hygiene are the key weapons to stop the spread. Masks could make a difference, too, especially in public places where people congregate. Incidental contact is not really an issue, nor is food.
What does this all mean as we return to work and public life? COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon. It may not go away for a year or two and may not be eradicated for many years, so we have to learn to live with it and do what we can to mitigate (reduce) risk. That means being willing to accept *some* level of risk to live our lives as we desire. I can’t decide that level of risk for you – only you can make that decision. There are few certainties in pandemic risk management other than that fact that some people will die, some people in low risk groups will die, and some people in high risk groups will survive. It’s about probability.
Here is some guidance – my point of view, not judging yours:
1. People over 60 years old are at higher risk of severe disease – people over 70 years old, even more so. They should be willing to tolerate less risk than people under 50 years old and should be extra careful. Some chronic diseases like heart disease and COPD increase risk, but it is not clear if other diseases like obesity, asthma, immune disorders, etc. increase risk appreciably. It looks like asthma and inflammatory bowel disease might not be as high risk as we thought, but we are not sure – their risks might be too small to pick up, or they might be associated with things that put them at higher risk.
People over 60-70 years old probably should continue to be very vigilant about limiting exposures if they can. However, not seeing family – especially children and grandchildren – can take a serious emotional toll, so I encourage people to be creative and flexible. For example, in-person visits are not crazy – consider one, especially if you have been isolated and have no symptoms. They are especially safe in the early days after restrictions are lifted in places like Madison or parts of major cities where there is very little community transmission. Families can decide how much mingling they are comfortable with – if they want to hug and eat together, distance together with masks, or just stay apart and continue using video-conferencing and the telephone to stay in contact. If you choose to intermingle, remember to practice good hand hygiene, don’t share plates/forks/spoons/cups, don’t share towels, and don’t sleep together.
2. Social distancing, not touching your face, and washing/sanitizing your hands are the key prevention interventions. They are vastly more important than anything else you do. Wearing a fabric mask is a good idea in crowded public place like a grocery store or public transportation, but you absolutely must distance, practice good hand hygiene, and don’t touch your face. Wearing gloves is not helpful (the virus does not get in through the skin) and may increase your risk because you likely won’t washing or sanitize your hands when they are on, you will drop things, and touch your face.
3. Be a good citizen. If you think you might be sick, stay home. If you are going to cough or sneeze, turn away from people, block it, and sanitize your hands immediately after.
4. Use common sense. Dial down the anxiety. If you are out taking a walk and someone walks past you, that brief (near) contact is so low risk that it doesn’t make sense to get scared. Smile at them as they approach, turn your head away as they pass, move on. The smile will be more therapeutic than the passing is dangerous. Similarly, if someone bumps into you at the grocery store or reaches past you for a loaf of bread, don’t stress – it is a very low risk encounter- as long as they didn’t cough in your face (one reason we wear cloth masks in public!).
5. Use common sense, part II. Dial down the obsessiveness. There really is no reason to go crazy sanitizing items that come into your house from outside, like groceries and packages. For it to be a risk, the delivery person would need to be infectious, cough or sneeze some droplets on your package, you touch the droplet, then touch your face, and then it invades your respiratory epithelium. There would need to be enough viral load and the virions would need to survive long enough for you to get infected. It could happen, but it’s pretty unlikely. If you want to have a staging station for 1-2 days before you put things away, sure, no problem. You also can simply wipe things off before they come in to your house – that is fine is fine too. For an isolated family, it makes no sense to obsessively wipe down every surface every day (or several times a day). Door knobs, toilet handles, commonly trafficked light switches could get a wipe off each day, but it takes a lot of time and emotional energy to do all those things and they have marginal benefits. We don’t need to create a sterile operating room-like living space. Compared to keeping your hands out of your mouth, good hand hygiene, and cleaning food before serving it, these behaviors might be more maladaptive than protective.
6. There are few absolutes, so please get comfortable accepting some calculated risks, otherwise you might be isolating yourself for a really, really long time. Figure out how you can be in public and interact with people without fear.
We are social creatures. We need each other. We will survive with and because of each other. Social distancing just means that we connect differently. Being afraid makes us contract and shut each other out. I hope we can fill that space created by fear and contraction with meaningful connections and learn to be less afraid of each of other.
We are social creatures. We need each other. We will survive with and because of each other. Social distancing just means that we connect differently. Being afraid makes us contract and shut each other out. I hope we can fill that space created by fear and contraction with meaningful connections and learn to be less afraid of each of other.
While I’ve cut back on how much time I am spending reading various articles, posts, news reports, and time spent on social media, tweets, etc. (Facebook is a thing of the past for me now), I continue to follow what for me are a few reliable sources of information.
In that vein, I came across something two days ago that I think is worthy of your time and consideration. It’s from The Atlantic magazine’s upcoming June 2020 publication, written by Franklin Foer, a staff writer for The Atlantic and the former editor of The New Republic. He clearly writes from a liberal perspective. Nevertheless, what he has to tell us in this somewhat lengthy article contains new and detailed information about the situation facing us vis-a-vis Russian interference in our elections, his view that it is going to happen again, and our lack of preparedness for it.
This article goes beyond anything I’ve read on this subject to date, and I hope you will spend the time to consider what he has uncovered and wants us to know:
As always, I am open to your reactions, whether you agree or disagree. Use the Comment section of this post to let me and others know your reaction to what for me is a very disturbing account of where we are headed for the upcoming elections.