Ellen and I recently had the good fortune to spend 10 days in Montana, three days visiting long time friends in Bozeman, and then seven days with our elder daughter and her family in the Big Sky area . It was a thoroughly delightful time: beautiful weather — clear skies, clean air, and day-time temperatures in the mid- 70’s; a homemade fire pit, wood gathering, and s’mores; rafting, hiking, biking, horseback riding, zip lining, kayaking; a wonderful house perched some 8,000 feet in the sky; evenings of good food (even the children tried bison one night!); and all of us working together on a 1,000 piece puzzle.
Today’s post is for those of you who enjoy seeing “Thru Ellen’s Lens” — her photos from our various travels. As she said repeatedly through out the trip, “They don’t call this Big Sky country for nothing.” You’ll see that and more.
If you want to see more than the 10 photos below, you can click on the link at the end of this page to see her full 40 photos on Flickr. (Snuck in between the landscapes you’ll even find a few pictures of our three oldest grandchildren, but you’ll have to click on the link below to do so.)
If you want to see more of Ellen’s photos of Montana (and a few of the grandchildren), use this link to Ellen’s slide show: Thru Ellen’s Lens: Montana.
Today, after 18 years as a full season ticket holder of the Washington Nationals, I informed the Nats that I am terminating my annual contract with the team and its owners.
Let me explain.
I love baseball.
Ever since my wonderful grandfather took me to Fenway Park and introduced me to the game, it’s been an important part of my life, including playing it in the street in front of our house and then moving on to Little League, listening to games on the radio, then watching on TV, and of course attending as many games as I could. (I use to gather baseballs hit over the fence at Tinker Field in Orlando, FL so I could turn them in for free entrance to Minnesota Twins Spring Training games.)
I’ll spare the reader any of the many baseball related stories with which I’ve burdened my children, my wife, and my friends over the years. Suffice it to say, as my favorite T-Shirt proclaims, “Any Team Can Have a Bad Century.”
In 2005 when the Montreal Expos were relocated to DC and became the Washington Nationals, I quickly teamed up with some friends to get season tickets to RFK Stadium (where they played until moving to their new stadium in 2008). So it’s been 18 years that I’ve been attending Nats’ games – and enriching its owners – largely because I simply love what baseball offers, even if it’s not watching the Red Sox. (In fact, attending Nats’ games is sometimes more relaxing than watching the Red Sox, where I am on edge on every pitch, etc.)
So why my decision to abandon my season ticket status?
Primarily, I do not want to continue to support a franchise that consistently refuses to keep players like Bryce Harper (not my favorite guy), Anthony Rendon, Trey Turner, Max Scherzer, and Juan Soto. The ownership’s model of largely acquiring outstanding players when they are young and relatively inexpensive and getting rid of them when they are reaching free agency and have become expensive may be financially smart for the owner, but is terrible for the fans. (My Bosox did that with Mookie Betts, and while I have still not forgiven them for that, at least they have not made it a way of continually ‘doing business’ as have the Nats.)
Try explaining to my perfect three eldest grandchildren**, one who ‘loved’ Bryce Harper, one who ‘loved’ Trey Turner, and one who ‘loved’ Juan Soto, why none of these players are still playing for the Nats. Although it’s not the only reason, none of these grandchildren have kept up interest in baseball, while they continue to be fans of other sports, particularly football.
The Lerner family paid $450 million to purchase the Nats. They are now in the process of considering offers to sell them, likely for perhaps as much $2,000,000,000 or more. Yes. two billion dollars.
The team has been decimated and is “rebuilding” for the future. But not with the help of my three ticket, full season income.
I will no doubt attend a few games next year, largely because I still love baseball. I enjoy going with others for an afternoon or evening at the park, and with the new schedule of every team playing every other team starting in 2023, there is the opportunity to see any team or player in either the American or National League.
I don’t think I’m the only baseball fan that is choosing to terminate their season plan or to reduce the number of games they will attend.
Caveat Emptor – Let the Buyer (of the Nats) Beware.
**My two youngest perfect granddaughters, six and five, perhaps wisely have chosen to live 1,055 miles away from DC, and so I have only just begun to work on their full baseball indoctrination. Unfortunately, on a recent trip to Kansas City where we attended a game together, the lowly Royals creamed the Sox 13-7. But then, as I learned from experience with my own daughters, it’s probably better not to instill too high expectations concerning my Bosox heroes.
This summer Richard and I had a chance to spend close to a week in Los Cabos, Mexico, a place we had never been.
I was lucky to have a new camera with me, and I spent part of every morning walking along the rock covered beach. I fastened my eye on the waves as they burst on the rocks, trying to capture their force and power. I was almost equally fascinated by the rocks themselves, many of which looked as though they were just mounds of sand, some of which create almost lunar type landscapes.
It wasn’t hardship photography.
I took at least 1,000 pictures over six days. Below are four of my favorites, and I winnowed the rest down to 20. You can find those in my Flickr Album. Look at them on a big screen if you can to understand the majesty of the sea.
PS from Richard: You gotta see these in the biggest format possible. When you get to the album of 20, click on each one to enlarge it and go through them one by one.
I’m pleased to post this list of 34 titles that were particular favorites to MillersTime readers and contributors over the past few months. (Note: contributors were limited to submitting just one title for this post, and one book was cited by two different contributors). The breakdown between female and male contributors favored females (23-11).
As has been the trend over the past few years, there were slightly more non fiction (NF) than fiction (F) titles (18-16). Also, almost half of the fiction titles were historical fiction (HF).
As always, the value of the list comes from the comments each contributor makes about her or his choice of a favorite read. And even if you don’t know the individual who cited a particular book, I think there’s value in reading all of the comments.
Enjoy the list, I think you’ll find a least a few that might appeal.
As always, this type of posting can only happen because of your willingness to participate.
Thanks to all.
Recent Favorite Reads – Alphabetical by First Name of Contributor
Abigail Wiebenson – A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende (HF). I loved it.
Anita Rechler –The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson (NF). I am not the most likely person to be drawn into a book that takes a deep dive into basic science. FWIW CRSPR could have been a drawer in my refrigerator for storing lettuce. (Well, not really.) For a novice, Isaacson makes the science of gene editing accessible. What kept me engaged were the human stories of people driven by camaraderie, curiosity, competition, collaboration, capitalism. I ‘read’ the book on audible.
Barbara Friedman – American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin (NF), is a fascinating biography of the brilliant theoretical physicist, the man who made the Manhattan Project (and the bombs) happen. He was caught up in the McCarthy Trials – was he a member of the Communist Party? – and ended his career as the head of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. There were heroic as well as tragic aspects of his life. The book is very much worth a read.
Charlie Atherton – When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut (NF), a National Book Award finalist and rated by the NYTimes as one of the ten best books of 2021. I must admit that I am usually a reader of fiction, crime fiction, but I most enjoyed the author’s combination of personal details from the lives of eminent scientists and mathematicians, many of which were undoubtedly fictitious, coupled with readable descriptions of ideas produced by the greatest minds of the modern era.
Chris Boutourline – Anxious People by Fredrik Backman (F) (author of A Man Called Ove). I read this after my wife started it and then put it down after 40 pages or so. She said that the transcripts of the police interviews of witnesses weren’t making sense and, that, overall, she just wasn’t enjoying it. Since it is an upcoming read for my book club I read it all the way through. The gist of the story is that a bank robbery goes bad, and the bank robber takes the attendees of a condo open house hostage while trying to figure out what to do next. Early on the novel does feel disjointed as the witness statements reveal more about those recounting than about the robber. Best not to say much more, other than I told my wife that I thought she’d be rewarded by picking up where she left off, and, after finishing it, she agreed. Suicide is one of the numerous themes the novel touches upon.
Cbris Rothenberger – The Four Windsby Kristen Hannah (F). This is the story of Elsa, unloved by her family, a hasty marriage, and abandonment by her family. The Dustbowl, Great Depression become the backdrop to the story of Elsa’s survival. Starvation and desperation punctuate this book. She leaves for California with her children in search of a better life and there endures the battle between the “haves” and “have nots,” a nation divided, and the rising up of migrant workers in her struggle to survive.
This book was a sad and difficult, but an illuminating read of an era that I knew little about. It puts a spotlight on the land, on love, the definition of hope and heroism, and a country in crisis. It is a very powerful story that has stayed with me and is a portrait of that time in our history as seen through Elsa’s eyes.
Chuck Tilis –Thou Shall Innovate—How Israeli IngenuityRepairs the Worldby Avi Jorisch (NF). A compendium of inspiring vignettes describing the incredible contributions “Israelis” created to improve the lives for all human-kind. Israelis in quotes as most inventions were due to the collaboration between Jews and Arabs. I liken this book as the sequel to Start Up Nation. Each story stands on its own and can be read one at a time at any pace.
Cindy Olmstead – The Personal Librarianby Marie Benedict and 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!
David Stang – Hair of the Dog to Paint the Town Red: The Curious Origins of Everyday Sayings and Fun Phrases by Andrew Thompson (NF), a lawyer obsessed with finding out the truth about over two hundred Idiomatic expressions and how they were derived. Thompson’s persevering scholarship traces the roots of several terms in his book as far back as the Fifteenth Century. For curious minds this book is a truly fascinating read.
Donna Pollet – Anil’s Ghostby Michael Ondaatje (HF). Given the most recent headlines about the uprising and collapse of the government in Sri Lanka, this novel written in 2000 characterizing an earlier and turbulent civil war of unrest, murder, and kidnapping will evoke interest. The writing is compelling, and the characters are multi-dimensional with absorbing back stories. Anil, a forensic pathologist called in by an international organization, teams up with Sarath, a local government official and archeologist to investigate a series of murders in violation of human rights. Their investigation leads to the discovery of an unidentified victim and becomes a mission to find justice for him and the countless other nameless murdered. It is a story of personal tragedy, individual integrity, and the spirit of human resilience.
Elizabeth Lewis – Walk with Me: A Biography of Fannie Lou Hamer by Kate Clifford Larson (NF). With its copious footnotes, this biography reads more like a thesis than a popular account of the life of a remarkable woman whose presence in and command of the Civil Rights Movement spanned much more than is popularly known. It is frightening, uplifting, and far too relevant for the faint of heart.
Elizabeth Tilis – Lily’s Promise: How I Survived Auschwitz and Found the Strength to Live by Lily Ebert (NF). The story of a Holocaust survivor from Hungary and her great-grandson Dov who used social media to track down the family of the GI who gave Lily a banknote on which he’d written “Good luck and happiness” the day she was liberated.
Ellen Kessler – Prison Minyan by Jonathan Stone (F). I recently read & enjoyed this novel. It is modeled after Otisville State Prison in Otisville, NY (Michael Cohen, personal atty for Trump before he started talking, went there). The book is very entertaining and often amusing. The rabbi conducting the minyan is one of three rabbis in prison! The characters are stereotypical in some ways, and there are some serious ideas to consider, but I enjoyed the book for the humor most of all. I have recommended it to some friends, and all of them have told me how enjoyable it is. A perfect vacation book!
Ellen Miller – The Twilight World by Werner Herzog (HF). The German filmmaker Werner Herzog’s first novel tells the story of a Japanese soldier — Hiroo Onoda — who defended a small island in the Pacific for 30 years after the end of World War II. It is an absolutely remarkable and mesmerizing story, from both how Herzog met Onoda to the long hours they spent together unraveling Onoda’s story. We learn how Onoda survived in the jungle and fought the enemy as he had been instructed by his superior officer in 1944, just as the Japanese troops began to withdraw from the island. He ignored repeated pleas to surrender throughout the years, thinking they were ‘enemy’ tricks.
Herzog brilliantly adds some details to the story, which are purely fictional, to fill in the blanks of the actual story and to keep the reader engaged. This is an unusual book, an unbelievable and unknown story brought to life by Herzong’s storytelling and literary talents.
Fran Renehan – The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (F) who also wrote A Gentleman in Moscow, which was one of the best books I have ever read. I think his writing is superb. This story is about a young boy just released from a detention center. He finds his brother, and they set off to find their mother. However, two other boys arrive on the scene that have escaped from the same institution. The stories are twisted, and there are way too many segues for me. But I still could not put it down.
Fruzsina Harsanyi – 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 neuro-scientist shares groundbreaking discoveries about how our brain handles grief and provides a new paradigm for understanding love, loss, and restoration. During the past 10 months I have read a lot of fiction and non-fiction about grieving, and this is by far the most helpful.
Garland Standrod –H of H Playbookby Anne Carson (F). Anne Carson is an eccentric and quite original poet and translator of ancient Greek texts, and for her translations, she uses modern language and contexts to bring out the depth and wit of the piece involved. H of H Playbook is a facsimile edition of her translation, with illustrations, of Euripides play Herakles. Anne Carson is also well known for her translations of Sappho and of the Oresteia.
Hugh Riddleberger – Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell (NF), author of best selling AWoman of No Importance. Well written, exploring the life of Clementine Churchill…once again confirms my belief that women are so much better in most things. Devoted to Winston, without her, most likely Britain would have fallen. His loyal advisor and critic, a complex woman. Worth a read.
Jane Bradley – Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynastyby Patrick Radden Kee (NF). This extraordinary history of the family and the marketing strategy at the heart of the opioid crisis helps you understand, and support, the movement to drop the Sackler name from the museums and galleries whose benefits so many have enjoyed.
Jeff Friedman – The Fall of Robespierreby Colin Jones (NF) provides a detailed, hour-by-hour account of the coup that ended Robespierre’s reign in 1794. The history alone is gripping, but the book also offers fascinating insights into the nature and fragility of political power.
Jesse Maniff – In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (NF). Set in Nazi Germany in 1933 and told from the perspective of the American ambassador’s family, this book was a terrifying reminder of what can happen when fringe beliefs become normalized in the pursuit of maintaining power.
Judy White – The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman (NF). I had read this some years ago and re-read it last winter, enjoying it again. The author becomes very involved with all the players in a real-life drama involving a Hmong family, whose young child has seizures that cannot be controlled, and the doctors and social workers who try to help. She (the author) is able to understand where each of these people is coming from and convey their positions beautifully, no easy task. The author, too, plays a role even as she observes. An all-time favorite — I’ll probably read it again in a few years.
Kate Latts – Hands down the best book I have read in the past few month is The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray (HF). There are three interwoven true stories about the women who were inspired by the legacy of Marquis de Lafayette and his castle in the French countryside. One of the stories set in the late 1700s chronicles Lafayette’s wife throughout their 34 year marriage and his journey to become a beloved hero. The second story is set during WWI and features the real life woman who created the Lafayette Foundation as she travels between NYC and France establishing Lafayette’s castle as an orphanage. The third story is set in WWII and focuses on a young woman who grew up the orphanage and joins the resistance movement during German occupation. The book is not short, but very good.
Kathleen Kroos –The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (F). This book has huge juicy secrets right up until the end.
Larry Maknson – Walking the Bowl: A True Story of Murder and Survival Among the Street Children of Lusaka by Christ Lockhart & Daniel Mulilo Chama (NF). An absorbing, immersive look at the lives of street children in Lusaka, Zambia. The book is a result of a multi-year anthropological study of the slum-dwelling kids, but it reads like a novel as it follows the lives of its four main characters. An absorbing read.
Marsha Harbinson – In the City of Bikes: The Story of The Amsterdam Cyclist by Pete Jordan (NF), It’s a fascinating history of cycling in Amsterdam & especially interesting to read of the cycling resistance to the Nazi occupation in WWII.
Martha Curtin – Pachinkoby Min Jin Lee, (HF). I recently read this historical fiction novel that explores life from the perspective of Koreans who emigrated to Japan during WW2. The book is presented in three parts, representing 3+ generations, but is a quick read due to it being well written. This rich time in history offers personal stories from so many perspectives… I’m hooked on historical fiction from this era.
Mike White — The Rose Code by Kate Quinn (HF). I don’t read much fiction but really enjoyed this novel, based on real events and people, about the codebreakers in England during World War II. Hard to put down; many twists and turns in the plot. Judy liked it too.
Mary L – Damon Runyan Omnibus by Damon Runyan (F). I finally finished 500 pages of Damon Runyon short stories which I’ve been sampling for four years. They are funniest when read one at a time as a pause between longer books. Available on-line in Australia: https://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks11/1100651h.html
The natural habitat of Harry the Horse and Nathan Detroit is the neighborhood of Manhattan where I was born. I even found a reference to the hospital where that occurred in one of the stories. Runyon’s stories are all in the present tense which makes them even livelier than they naturally are. I marvel that a man born in Kansas (Kansas!) could capture the ethos of 1920s/30s New York. Set aside all your modern concerns about sexism and representation and go to Guys and Dolls-land. This guy says the book can do.
Meg Gage – The Weight of Ink, Rachel Kadish (HF). A remarkable story that weaves an interconnected tale of two women: one a Jewish survivor of the Spanish Inquisition and a refuge from Amsterdam, who in London manages to become a scribe for a blind rabbi; the other a jaded and ailing London historian who has a deep personal and professional connection to Jewish history. The story and the connection of the two main characters is launched when a huge trove of 350 year old original Jewish letters and documents is found in the course of the renovation of an derilict mansion outside London. The book took Kadish over 10 years to write, which resulted in a deeply researched and poignant story with plot threads involving the likes of Shakespeare and Spinoza. Amazing details about life in London just before and during the plague — I felt like I was there! One of the most compelling books I’ve read in years.
Richard Miller – The Grieving Brain: The Surprising Science of How We Learn from Love and Loss by Mary-Francis O’Connnor (NF). Recently, I came across what has truly been 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 will certainly recommend it others.
Romana Campos – I just finished The Night Watchman (F) by Louise Erdrich and really enjoyed it. Can you fact check this, but I believe it won a Pulitzer Prize (Ed. Yup. 2021). So what did I like about it? Cultural perspective. The conversations that take place inside the homes and the workplaces of individuals and families make you feel like you’re sitting at the kitchen table with family, and you find out what’s important and relevant from the perspective of that person, that family, and that community’s lived experience.
Sam Black – Breaking the Age Code by Becca Levy (NF). Levy, a professor at Yale, develops the evidence that common American stereotypes about “senior citizens” are inaccurate and are quite different from the way society views these citizens in some other countries. Moreover, she builds the case that when society believes these things, senior citizens go along, to their detriment, and that these beliefs actually increase illness and death rates. So be warned!
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On a slightly different note, since there are so many books available and we have so many choices, I am curious about how each of you came to read the book you cited. If you have a few moments, please let me and others know in the Comment section of this post how you chose this particular book as well as generally how you go about picking the books you read.That may give all of us ideas of how to find good reads and not spend time on books that are not worthyof our reading time.
Following my bike trip from Belgium to the Netherlands, Ellen met me in Amsterdam where we spent four days in that vibrant city and several days in the northern part of the Netherlands. We had last been in Amsterdam more than 20 years ago.
We stayed in the Jordaan neighborhood wandering along the canals, by the cafes, restaurants, small shops and markets, and dodging the bicycles. We joined a demonstration in Dam Square in support of the people of Ukraine and visited the (former) Jewish Quarter and the stunning Holocaust Memorial.
Mostly we drank coffee (and had apple pie and scones) in various cafes and just enjoyed observing the exuberant activity in this part of Amsterdam. We did have two memorable meals (Restaurant Daalder and the Pesca Vis Seafood Restaurant).
We ventured by rented car out of the city, getting lost on numerous occasions but visited some of the small fishing villages and towns to the north. We also took a train one day to The Hague, specifically to revisit the three Vermeer’s and the Rembrandt’s at Mauritshuis.
Below you will see ten of Ellen’s favorite photos from this trip, and if you want to see more, check out the link below to her slide show.
If you want to see more of Ellen’s photos of Amsterdam and the northern part of the Netherlands, use this link to Ellen’s slide show:Thru Ellen’s Lens: Amsterdam
See all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either). They are much sharper, and the larger format presents them in much more detail than the ones above, or if you only look at the opening page of the slide show.
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)
A year ago my ‘older’ cousin and his wife (Ronald & Elizabeth) invited us to join them on a week-long VBT bike-barge trip from Bruges (Belgium) to Amsterdam (the Netherlands). Ellen, immediately, definitely, and wisely declined as she never learned to ride a bike as a child. I was intrigued, in large part because I enjoy being with Ron and Elizabeth. So, with Ellen’s encouragement, I agreed to go.
Basically, I didn’t think much about the trip until about six months ago, when I learned Ron and Elizabeth were ‘training’ for the ‘guided vacation.’ Having only ridden twice on a bike in the last four decades, I suddenly realized I’d better get serious about being prepared. So I rode on an indoor bike throughout this past winter, then borrowed an e- bike from my son–in-law two months ago so I could ride outside. Eventually, I was riding 20-30 miles a day around Washington. (The longest single day ride on the VBT trip would be 40 miles, divided between a morning and an afternoon ride. The approximate 160 miles we’d ride on the trip was on flat bike paths along canals, on country roads, and we’d have the assistance of an e-bike.) I was encouraged I could do it all.
Then, shortly before the trip was to begin June 1, sadly my cousin Elizabeth had to withdraw because of a foot injury, and Ron understandably did not want to go without her.
A dilemma for me. I’ll spare you the details, but ultimately I decided to go anyway.
On June 1 I flew to Brussels, where I was met by a VBT representative, and together with two other VBT ‘peddlers’ we were driven to Bruges. I was not happy to learn that 15 of the 18 people on the trip all knew each other and had been together for many previous bike trips. I was concerned that I was a novice at biking long distances and might be an outsider with so many people already knowing each other. But I did know one couple from a previous trip Ellen and I had made with Ron & Elizabeth.
I spent a couple of days walking around Bruges, a lovely Belgian city Ellen and I and our daughter Elizabeth had visited previously and remembered fondly. I marveled at Michelangelo’s magnificent Madonna and Child in the Church of Our Lady and climbed and descended the 366 steep steps of the
medieval Belfry Tower for a stunning view over city. Basically, however, I just wandered by myself in the city, spending much of my time sitting at the St. Joris Cafe overlooking the main square, eating apple strudel and frites, tasting various Belgian beers, listening to the tower bells, and observing a world away from Washington, DC.
It was a relaxing and lovely start in this quiet city dominated by bicycles.
Our group met one of our guides and walked with her for about an hour to the barge where we’d board, so to speak, for the next six days. Our rooms reminded me of the sleeping compartments on a train, though slightly larger. The barge, named Fiep after the captain’s daughter, had lots of common space inside and outside, space for all of our VBT provided bikes, and proved to be a comfortable home for the week.
We were immediately introduced to our e-bikes — and each other — and embarked on a 13 mile ‘get to know your bike’ ride along the Bruges-Ghent canal into the heart of Flanders, the Dutch speaking area of Belgium. As promised, the bike paths and roads were paved, flat, and well marked. Additionally, we each had a detailed GPS system installed on our smartphones which guided us with turn by turn navigation. So even though I was a novice, this warm-up ride was easy, and I had no trouble surviving my first bike excursion.
After this ride, we spent the first night on our ‘barge,’ moored near the beautiful city Ghent. Dinner aboard the Fiep was delightfully delicious as were all of the following meals on the barge. Following this very chatty and noisy dinner, we sat on the upper deck, introducing ourselves to each other. Despite my earlier fears, I found them to be an impressive group of people. I think most of the group were 70 or older and were mostly retired. (** See my apology in the COMMENT section of this post). Everyone seemed to have a special fondness for travel, for the outdoors, and obviously for biking. Everyone, except myself, had multiple experiences with biking trips in various parts of the world. Many of the group had gone to medical school together and had stayed in touch over the years. I was soon to learn that this group of 15 were warm, inclusive, and interesting fellow travelers. In addition, there were two ‘young’ women guides (in their mid 30s) and one male ‘trainee’. All three were more than just tour guides and experienced bikers as we were to discover in the days that followed. The small staff on the Fiep, including “Captain Harry Sir,” were also friendly and were important in making our time on the barge relaxing and enjoyable.
We spent part of the next day touring by a small boat through the canals of Ghent and then a few more hours wandering on foot through this enchanting town. In the afternoon, mostly in a steady rain, we biked along a river and through the countryside and a few small villages to the outskirts of Dendermonde. By the time we finished our 20 mile ride, I was soaked as I foolishly had not put on my rain pants. But I was pleased to have survived the distance and the weather without any difficulty. In the evening, our guides led us through a beer tasting session. There are 370 breweries in Belgium with more 1500 beer brands. We were limited to tasting just nine of them.
The next day we admired the charming square of the centuries-old city Dendermonde as we began our longest ride of the trip, 40 plus miles. We biked through the countryside and ferried across the Sheldt River before stopping in Basel for lunch. We continued through farmland and tiny villages and met our barge in Antwerp, Belgium’s second-largest city. I was delighted to find that I was having no issues with any aspect of the biking and realized that the superb GPS app could allow me to ride more slowly than most of the group without fear of getting lost. For the remainder of the trip, I pedaled more slowly, stopped more often, and took more time to appreciate all I was seeing.
On a non-biking day, our guide introduced us to Antwerp, the “Diamond City” and the home of Peter Paul Reubens. While I generally don’t spend much time in churches, I spent probably an hour almost mesmerized by the four Reubens (The Elevation of the Cross (triptych, 1609-1610), The Descent from the Cross (triptych, 1612), The Resurrection of Christ (triptych, 1612), and The Assumption of Mary (altarpiece, 1626) in Cathedral of Our Lady). I wandered a bit in the old city and enjoyed waffles with ice cream and chocolate sauce before returning to our barge. We spent the afternoon cruising along quiet canals and into the small town of Tholen in the Netherlands. That evening we were divided into small groups and spent several hours in the home(s) of local Dutch families.
The following day involved a 30 mile ride, at least 25 of which were in rainy, chilly weather. We rode through the town of Tholen, along small country lanes, and stopped in the village of Our-Vossemeer, the ancestral home of the Roosevelt family. I rode leisurely, stopping particularly to admire the old fashion windmills and the plethora of new wind turbines. We ended in the town of Dorderecht with its crooked church and buildings. It’s one of Holland’s oldest towns and the birthplace of the state of the Netherlands. Fortunately, I had remembered to wear my rain pants, and thus the rain was only a minor inconvenience and didn’t inhibit my enjoyment of the day.
The next day brought a 38+ mile ride in great weather. The highlight was A UNESCO World Heritage Site – the 19 windmills at Kinderdijk. The Dutch have a long history — more than 1000 years — of using windmills not only for power (e.g., grinding grain) but importantly for water management. As much of the country is below sea level, windmills were built to pump water out of the lowlands and back into the rivers beyond the dikes to deal with flooding issues. This day was particularly lovely, cycling through small towns and back roads with many dairy farms and numerous canals. We ended in the medieval town of Vianeh.
Our final day of biking was a mere 28 miles, starting in the little town of Bruekelen and across its white drawbridge, the original “Brooklyn” Bridge. We admired the large 17th-century summer mansions and country estates built by wealthy Amsterdam merchants. Following a picnic lunch next to a windmill and the River Vecht, we rode single file with the guidance of one of the trip leaders the final eight miles along the Amsterdam-Rhine canal all the way into the city of Amsterdam. That was the only portion of the entire 169 miles we cycled that presented a challenge. But we all made it without mishap.
Ellen had flown to Amsterdam a day or two before our group’s arrival there and joined us for the late afternoon and final evening dinner on the boat. We remained in and around the city for five days, and you will get the benefit of her photography of Amsterdam in another post. In the meantime, here is her photo of our group of 18 and our three guides.
My major takeaways:
Delight and pride in being able to bike comfortably long distances without difficulty, even in the rain. I might even do more biking in the coming months.
Enjoyment in exploring Belgium and the Netherlands from the perspective of a bicycle, a boat, and on foot.
Indulgence of being largely on my own without my usual need to be too concerned about others.
Stimulating conversations with the Dutch trip leaders, their backgrounds, lifestyle, and various vocations. They were far more than just guides.
Enjoyment of dinners, discussions, and riding with others of my age group who have chosen to be actively in the world. My initial concerns about being added on to an in-group of 15 were definitely unfounded.
Learning about the the people of the Netherlands (and the difference between Holland and the Netherlands), starting with the informative book Why the Dutch Are Different by Ben Coates.
In the notes I jotted down each evening, I listed 12 times I forgot something or needed help, starting with our drive to the airport when Ellen asked if I had my iPhone (I didn’t and needed to go back into the house to get it). Just some of the other assistance necessary included such things as forgetting evening pills, wallet, helmet, rain pants, backpack, getting my new earphones to work, help with getting the map app started each day, and daily reminders not to trip over the slightly raised doorstep entrance onto the barge.
VBT is terrific at all aspects of what they do – planning and executing bicycle vacations.
It was a wonderfully restorative week, and I owe thanks to Ron and Elizabeth, Hal & Rona Goodman, the other participants on the trip, the VBT organization, and particularly its guides. And certainly, Ellen’s and my sister’s encouragement was key.
Angell has helped us appreciate baseball by reaching deep into our chests and saying what we feel but cannot quite convey why we care so much about this odd and wonderful game. Joe Posnanski (Joe Blogs Baseball)
Over the past several days, many, many baseball writers have written about Roger Angell, one of baseballs best chroniclers, who died at Friday at the age of 101.
I’ve chosen to link to Posnanski’s post today as it captures why Angell stands in the very top tier of baseball’s best writers.
As I sat at Nat’s Park on Thursday, April 7th awaiting the start of the 2022 baseball season, I kept hearing the same comment all around me: “It’s so good to be back.”
And indeed it was.
No matter the rain which had delayed the game from 4:05 PM until the first pitch was finally thrown about 8:30 PM.
No matter the cold. I was wearing three layers and had a fourth, a knitted hat, and warm gloves close by.
No matter that Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, Ryan Zimmerman, Steven Strasburg, etc., etc. were nowhere in sight.
No matter that the Nats were simply awful, except for a 425 foot ‘useless’ home run from Juan Soto.
It was simply delightful to be back at the park with the green outfield, the freshly swept infield, and enough fans to cheer for either the Nats or the Mets.
And I went again two days later.
The weather was still cold.
There were fewer fans. Probably more Mets fans than Nats’.
The Nats were even worse..
But It was baseball again.
Plus, this was not my beloved Red Sox, who were soon to lose their first two games against those thugs from NY.
Watching the Nats is more relaxing. I want them to win, but if they don’t, it’s not a big deal.
It’s still baseball.
And I think there are some changes coming that will make things better. Wunderkid Theo Epstein (Red Sox and then Cubs GM) is heading an MLB effort to collaboratively evaluate the State of the Game, to look at the rules and institute some changes. His effort is how to make the game better for fans, to restore some action, some drama by putting more balls in play and speed up the game.
*Already there’s no Designated Hitter in the National League.
*Some teams are already using the electronic system between the pitcher and catcher to signal what pitch is to be thrown.
*And there’s a lot of experimenting going on in the minor leagues to evaluate a variety of changes, and some of those will likely make it to the majors during this season.
If you have the time, I high recommend you listen to the interview with Theo where he discusses what is being considered and why:
Whether you believe that nothing should change in baseball, that somethings need to change, or you’re somewhere in the middle, I think you’ll find Theo’s thoughtful approach could just be the best thing to happen to baseball in the foreseeable future. (You can skip the first part of the link above and go to the 13 minute portion of the broadcast. The most important part begins about 23 minutes into it.)
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MillersTime Baseball Contest Update:
It appears that more than 30 MLB sportswriters as well as those from The Athletic have been looking at what the brilliant (?) MillersTime Baseball Contest contributors have predicted for the 2022 season.
Everyone, it seems thinks the Dodgers and the Blue Jays will face each other in the World Series, with the Dodgers the more likely winner. There were a few scattered votes for the Rays and Yankees making it and possibly winning.
But I suspect that both the professionals and the MillersTime contestants will once again be surprised come October/November.
Like last year. Who predicted the Braves would win it all?
As for the first question on the MillersTime contests, there many thoughtful and informed submissions and only a few ‘Homers’. It seems many of you know your team and follow them without blinders (not so Chris E).
But I don’t think anyone will match the brilliance/luck of what Chris Ballard was able to ‘foresee’ last year (see2021 Contest #2 results).
Baseball is back
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If you’re interested in joining me for a Nats’ game this year, email me and indicate if you have a particular game that interests you and/or a particular say or time that works best for you.
Also, if you’re interested in purchasing seats for a game, I have a full season plan in Section 127, Row Z, Seats 1, 2, & 3. They are terrific seats, just about 20 rows off the field, between the catcher and first base. I also have parking next to the stadium. We can negotiate a good price, especially if it is not a game that I already plan to attend (e.g., Dodgers, Orioles).
At the suggestion of a long time contributor to MillersTime Favorite Books posts, I asked everyone on this mailing list to submit a title and a few sentences about a book or two that have been of exceptional interest in the first three months of ’22.
Of the 19 submissions and 30 books that have been submitted, one thing jumps out: NF topped F by 73% to 27%. Generally this division has been slightly weighted in F over NF, at least until the last two years, when NF began to outpace F. Also, there were many more females than males responding to this three-month call. In the past it’s been more equally divided. I have no idea if any of this is significant, especially since it’s a relatively small sample.
But I hope you can find one or two titles that may interest you.
Let me and others know what you think about the idea of this three-month post and any reactions you have to it. (You can use the Comment section of this post or email me directly at Samesty84@gmail.com.)
The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War by Stephen Kinzer (NF) is a fascinating biography of the two brothers. During WW II and afterwards, they were both in Switzerland getting to know and fraternizing with all of the relevant foreign leaders and “poohbahs”. The more interesting part was later in the 1950’s when Allen was the head of the CIA and Foster the Secretary of State – i.e. covert government/foreign affairs and overt government/foreign affairs. They spoke multiple times a day, saw each other almost every day, and there was no “separation of powers”. Together they “facilitated” the overthrow of the Iran and Guatemala governments (in the latter case changing it from a democracy to a dictatorship!) and tried but failed to unseat Sukarno and Ho Chi Minh. Astonishing! One piece of trivia: Ho Chi Minh for a short time was pastry chef at the Parker House in Boston.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (F). American Dirt follows a Mexican woman and her family as they try to escape the clutches of an all consuming drug cartel with a long reach. Well written, it gives you a picture behind the headlines of the hopes and travails of some of these desperate emigres.
Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (F). The author of A Gentlemen in Moscow again produces a beautifully written story. This time a 10-day trip as a number of young lost souls search for family, future, and heroes. Towles peals away the layers as we understand what drives each of the characters. I loved it.
The Future is Faster Than You Think by Peter Diamandis, Steven Kotler (NF). Taking each category of our lives (transportation, food, health, housing, etc), the authors project what the future holds which at first seems like a Jetsons make believe world. But they quickly show you it reflects real research and big time investment by major corporations, and thus the title. I tried to skip by chapters but became amazed by what’s around the corner.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (F). His previous novel, All the Light You Can Not See, captivated me. His new novel did the same. It focuses on five characters in VERY different time periods (Constantinople in the 1400s, the present day Midwest, and the distant future) and ties them together through a faux Greek novel. Doerr again shows a mastery of layering character development and plot and a beautiful writing style. Don’t miss it.
The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Edith Eger (NF). I couldn’t put it down and then kept thinking about this book long after I’d finished it. It’s the memoir of Edith Eger’s childhood during the Holocaust and subsequent liberation and adult transformation. She is an eminent therapist, and about half the book is centered around her providing guidance and therapy to others while still working through the trauma of her own life. She has a keen ability to meet people where they are and guide them with an approach suited to their personality and situation. I’d love to hear her speak. The atrocities she lived through are (as you can imagine) unspeakable, yet she came to America and made a successful life and career. She is still alive and practicing at 94 and has a 96 year old boyfriend! You gotta love that!!!
Forty Autumns: A Family’s Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall by Nina Willner (NF). I marked this as “To Read” in 2017. Don’t wait five years like I did. I was immediately drawn into this family and the events of the Cold War as it affected them and all East Germans. The author tells the story of her mother’s escape from East Germany and what transpired over the next 40+ years until the fall of the wall in 1989. How this family maintained their cohesiveness and strength to continue living under the communist regime (as all others did as well) is so difficult for me to wrap my head around. I bookmarked some passages because they are chilling to hear today…and too close to some current events to ignore. I’m anxious to learn more about the author and hope she will pen another book in the future. (Ironically, as the Olympics recently wrapped up, you learn how East Germany used the Olympics to create an image of a strong nation to the rest of the world, while controlling every move of their athletes. Nina’s cousin was selected and groomed as an Olympian in cycling. She was an alternate but went on to become a National Champion.) As I saw in one review…this should be required reading in High School.
The Right Side of the Fairway: 18 Golf Inspired Lessons for Healing by, Doug deGrood (NF). A superb quick read where the author shares his cancer diagnosis and journey using golf (a love of his) metaphors to express himself. This is not just for those living with cancer. He offers great perspective on how to live life positively. Infused with humor and reality.
The Four Winds by Kristen Hanneh (F). This is the story of Elsa, unloved by her family and abandoned after her marriage to Rafe Martinelli. These became the years of the Dust Bowl, The Great Depression which became synonymous with desperation, starvation, and a fight for survival. She left for California and endured the battle between the “haves” and “have nots”, a nation divided, and the rising up of the migrant worker. Sad and illuminating, it placed a spotlight on the story of the land, on enduring love and heroism, and of a country in crisis. This powerful and sad story of perseverance and will long resonate with me. I knew very little of this chapter in American History and the challenges and suffering of farmers. It was well researched and vividly told, as this era came to life on the pages.
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare (F). I listened to this book on Audible, and it was outstanding. Not sure how it reads in print, yet the story is so powerful I am sure the written word is just as poignant. Story of Adunni, a Nigerian child bride who wants to get an education and make a difference in the world. She becomes a house-girl to escape her marital situation, and the experiences that she encounters weave an incredibly moving and inspiring story. Well worth either listening to or reading to gain understanding of the intensity of the cultural mores and the bravery of the young heroine.
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.
Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy by Jamie Raskin (NF). Living with the wrenching pain of losing his son to suicide, Raskin confronts the assault of the Capitol on January 6, 2022, the day after he buried his son, and is then called to lead the impeachment effort against Trump for inciting the violence. Very painful to read, but a book full of lessons on humanity and on American institutions.
[ Bonus Books, only in French. Joseph Kessel : En Syrie. Explains incisively the situation resulting from the French Protectorate, the roots of today’s instability. Laurent Gaudé: Dans la nuit Mozambique. Brilliant short stories. Metin Arditi: Rachel et les siens. The story of a fascinating story teller through most of the xxth C, from her childhood in Jaffa where her Jewish family shared a house with an Arab family, then her time in Istanbul before finally settling in France where she becomes an outstanding playwright. Maybe, one day, these books will be translated into English! ]
If “exceptional interest” can mean books I’ve recommended in conversations recently, then this qualifies:
It Was All A Lie by Stuart Stevens (NF). Donald Trump is not an aberration, argues Stevens, a long -time Republican campaign strategist. His book traces the history of the party over the past 50 years and shows how the party itself “became Trump.” While his material is not news to us, it is a thoughtful treatise on how the Republican Party became “the white man’s grievance party.”
Sensationby Arnold Lehman (NF). The subtitle of the book “The Madonna, the Mayor, the Media, and the First Amendment” says it all. Written by the former director of the Brooklyn Museum about his battle with Mayor Giuliani over exhibiting Chris Ofili’s Black Madonna is a page-turner lesson in what happens when art collides with power politics.
Booth by Karen Joy Fowler (F). Give me a terrifically written historical novel, and I am hooked. Booth has it all. It’s a well-imagined story of a notorious American villain (John Wilkes Booth) and, more importantly, the story of his family where he was the favored son out of 10 siblings. It’s well researched; the characters are quirky and fascinating; the times are certainly historically interesting. It begins in Maryland in the Pre-Civil War era (1822) and ends shortly after Lincoln’s death in 1865. I knew nothing about Booth’s family and little about the details of the slavery in a so-called free state. The book is filled with fascinating details.
John Wilkes Booth only enters the story in the last third of the book, and his story is brilliantly intertwined with that of Abraham Lincoln. Booth is page-turner, and it doesn’t matter that you already know how it ends or that it is just under 500 pages.
Walking the Bowl: A True Story of Murder and Survival Among the Street Children of Lusakaby Chris Lockhart and Daniel Mulilo Chama (NF). This is one of the most stunning and shocking stories of poverty and deprivation I have ever read (a subspecialty of my reading for many years). It’s been compared to Beyond the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, which told the disturbing story of a slum in New Delhi. It’s a fair comparison.
But this story is worse. At the opening of the book an unknown child is found murdered in Lusaka, Zambia, lying on a trash heap with his eyes gorged out. Unlike hundreds of other children who die or are killed each year in this slum community, officials have an interest in who’s responsible. The story is told through the eyes and activities of several of the children.
The authors – one an American anthropologist and the other a social worker in the neighborhood where this boy was murdered – had dispatched researchers to document the day-to-day lives of the street children, a number of whom become the main characters in the context of the murder investigation. This is a crime story, a mystery story, a sociological case study. It’s also a story of survival, corruption, and lack of morality.
It’s a nightmare, and it’s true. I highly recommend it.
My most outstanding read was The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (F). I know it was mentioned as one of the most frequently read books on your end of the year list, and I absolutely loved it. As a novel it had everything that I appreciate in a good read: interesting and well developed characters who grow or change as the story progresses; a story that is unique and moves along at a good pace; writing that flows and offers good descriptions with a good balance between prose and dialogue; and finally a surprise ending that works well with the story.
Powers and Thrones by Dan Jones (NF). Reading a review several months ago, I realized how little I knew of the Middle Ages. It is about the most engaging history book I have ever read. It’s a history book written as a narrative. It’s the only book in which I read all the footnotes – they related what happened 1000 years ago to current world/human dynamics – you come away realizing we should learn from history and, while not the factual details, but the dynamics of human and national behavior do repeat.
Dolly Parton Is Magnificent by Mary Townsend (NF). An exceptional essay.. “The essay puts some heavyweight words behind the good feeling we’ve always had about her…The beloved Tennessee singer-songwriter gets the joke. Do the rest of us?”
South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon Line to Understand the Soul of a Nation by Imani Perry (NF).My feelings about the South are complicated, as I come from a Southern family but grew up in the DC area. So taking this journey with Imani Perry, whose work I know from The Atlantic, was a way to revisit my ambivalence about the South. I recommend the audiobook version, which is read by the author – a very insightful traveling companion.
I finally read a book this year worthy of mention, Power and Liberty by Gordon Wood (NF).The preeminent American historian writes (about) the 1787 Constitutional Convention was a claw back of power by the elite from the more democratic Articles of Confederation.
I am now re-reading a book I’d first read years ago,The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, by Anne Fadiman (NF). I would categorize it as a book of exceptional interest because it treats the beliefs of two very different cultures, Western scientific culture and traditional Hmong culture, with equal respect — more so than any book I’ve read. The author does far more than interview her subjects. She becomes intimate friends with the Hmong family whose daughter has severe epileptic attacks, as well as with the doctors who are treating her, and maintains these close friendships for many years. Learning about Hmong history and culture and why the Hmong have had a harder time integrating into U.S. culture, is eye-opening. Very readable.
My top book so far has been The Last Rose of Shanghai by Weina Dai Randel (F). It is set in Shanghai during WWII and alternates between two protagonists…a young Chinese woman running a nightclub and a Jewish refugee who has just arrived in Shanghai. The story is about love, loss, and choices made during the unstable period of Japanese occupation in China. It is well written and a fast read with many side characters supporting the stories of the two main ones.
Look, I Made a Hat and Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim (NF). March 22nd was Stephen Sondheim’s 92nd birthday. A few years ago, he wrote two books (non-fiction) about his creative processes making the musicals for which he will be eternally remembered. I didn’t read them this year, but they are fun, informative, entertaining, detailed in any year.
Nancy Cedar Wilson:
Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning by Philip Kennicott of the Washington Post and a Pulitzer Prize winning critic (NF). A combined autobiography and analysis of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and the impact Bach’s music has had on his life. Kennicott was a piano student himself, taught first by his very tough mother. He documents his struggles with trying to master this lovely piece of music as an adult, with both themes woven together in a cleverly written counterpoint. Quite an amazing feat, and one that I found truly engaging, especially with the sometimes delicate, other times firmly played notes playing on my Alexa in the background. (by Glenn Gould).
Walking the Bowl: A True Story of Murder and Survival Among the Street Children of Lusaka by Chris Lockhart and Daniel Mulilo Chama (NF). An amazingly true story – narrated non-fiction(?) – about the street children in Lusaka, Zambia (and by implication other street children around the world?). The fact gathering 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 toPulitzer 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.
Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City by Andrew Elliott (NF). The author, a NYTimes investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner, follows a family in NYC, largely through their eyes and also the life of Disani, the eldest of eight children. It is a riveting, true story of Disani’s eight years of being homeless and living in shelters as she tries to protect her siblings as well as escape the poverty and life she is living. One of the Ten Best Books of the Year 2021 by numerous publications and reminiscent of one of my long time favorites, Random Family by Adrian Nicole (NF). (I alternated between listening to and reading Invisible Child.)
The Method: How the 20th Century Learned to Act by Isaac Butler.(NF). Isaac–my son–writes this rollicking dive of the acting theory the Method from its beginnings in Russia to the end of the 20th Century. Now, don’t take his mother’s critical acclaim! The New Yorker said the book is “an entertaining, maximally informative new book by Isaac Butler;” The New Republic said, “compelling, meticulously new history,” and Nathan Lane wrote “The best and most important book about acting I’ve ever read.”
Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China by Paul French (NF). The grizzly murder of a young English woman in pre-World War II “Peking” may not have been solved because of social and political reasons, but the author figures it out. French interweaves the tale of the murder with the historical milieu of the Japanese and the social order in the city.
American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North Americaby Colin Woodard (NF). Forget the idea of the melting pot. Woodard’s thesis is that the United States was settled by 11 different and rival cultures that reverberate in America today. Why is New England (Yankeedom) so different from the South? Greater Appalachia stretches much further than we generally imagine it. Written in 2010, the epilogue attempts to look into the future.
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If you missed the deadline but have a book to add, go ahead and send it now as I can easily add it into the list above.
Now that we will have a full baseball season for 2022, I am announcing a slimmed down MillersTime Baseball Contest.
Since there was virtually no Hot Stove League this year, it is hard to know what team rosters will look like on Opening Day. Still, we have a bit of time to try to get a sense of what we might expect from our favorite teams, from our hated opponents, and for this frustratingly delayed season.
So, only two contests, and everyone has about three and a half weeks to sort out their own teams and the overall outlook for 2022.
The date for your submission is noon on Opening Day (likely to be April 7th.)
I suspect you will all need that time to make ‘informed’ predictions.
Choose your favorite team or a team you know well enough to prove you are not a ‘homer’ and answer the questions below. (My definition of “a homer” – a sports fan who is (so) loyal to their home team that it may be difficult to be objective about the team’s prospects for the coming year. Other definitions and synonyms: “a simple-minded person; moron; unintelligent person; idiot; someone who has a (too) close devotion to a sports team; not cognizant of the world around them.”
Name the team.
What will their season record be in 2022?
Where will they end up in their Division at the end of the regular season.
Will they make the 12 team playoffs?
If so, how far will they go in those playoffs.
What will be the reasons for how well or poorly they do this year? The more specific you are the better.
Prize: Two tickets to the 2023 All Star Game (Seattle Mariners, T-Mobile Park)or one ticket to the 2023 World Series.
Who will be the four teams to be playing in the League Championship series in 2022? (Name the two from the AL and the two from the NL).
What two teams will actually make it to the World Series.
For not the first time in the last two years, the pandemic interrupted our overseas travel. On deck for January ’22 was a winter train trip (and Northern Lights photography) across northwest Russia to the Scandinavian Arctic. (We know. We know. It’s crazy to do a winter train trip in that part of the world.)
So we pivoted to a warmer January trip…to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (SMA) where we had been four years earlier with cousins and other friends. We quickly rented a house for two weeks in the El Centro area of this World Heritage site, invited some friends to join us for parts of the two weeks, and gladly escaped the winter weather in DC.
We found SMA every bit as delightful as we remembered. And although we knew we were taking a heath risk to do this trip, we found – to our delight and relief – that everyone was fully-masked all the time, that workers stood outside of the famous markets to squirt your hands with sanitizer, and that everyone took the health precautions far more seriously than what we have experienced in any of our US travels.
After settling into a lovely house a few blocks from El Jardin, the major square in the city, we embarked on our exploration of SMA. Ellen had planned one major activity for each day – a walking tour of the city, a driving and walking tour of the murals in Barrios of SMA, a trip to small towns outside of SMA, a visit to the Jimmy Ray Chapel & Gallery, another day trip to the town of Dolores Hidalgo, a full day trip to the town of Guanajuato (also a World Heritage site), cooking lessons, including a trip to a local market with a wonderful chef (David Jahnke) and a lot of time for just wandering the streets of SMA.
The daily temps were in the mid 70s and the evenings were in the 50s. In addition to the planned activities, Ellen focused on photography, so to speak, spent some time in the local shops, and did a bit of sunbathing. Richard hung out on the fourth floor rooftop balcony, reading (and occasionally sleeping) and did purchase a used sombrero to add to his hat collection from near and far lands.
Of course, we ate at a number of restaurants, some with wonderful rooftop views of the city, some with courtyards, and some with just a few tables. There are so many truly enticing places to choose to eat, the main trouble was deciding which ones to try. (Everyone we talked to and every travel guide or internet site seemed to have a different list of the best places to eat.) Our most memorable meals were with the teaching chef and leisurely lunches or dinners with long time friends.
While Ellen doesn’t think that cities, or street photography, is her thing, you’ll find some lovely photos of all we saw: the cities, churches, the small towns we visited, and their intriguing windows and doors; the intriguing colors and intricacies of the market displays; the people who live in this town doing every day things: and generally the slightly seedy-old-world quality of San Miguel that still exists today. We both found the nighttime in the city magical, and Ellen was able to capture some of that as well.
San Miguel de Allende is indeed and continues to be a precious, small gem.
What you see below are 11 photos from a 59 photo slide show that Ellen has put together after culling from the more than 800 photos she took.
See all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either). They are much sharper, and the larger format presents them in much more detail than the ones above, or if you only look at the opening page of the slide show.
PS.1 – For restaurant recommendations, see the Comment section of this post.
PS.2 – For Ellen’s list of other recommendations – shopping, art, touring, send me an email (Samesty84@gmail.com).
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
Seventy-two* adult contributors (plus two children) responded to this 13th MillersTime call for favorite reads. Readers of this site, between the ages of 4 and 100, have offered 290 titles. Once again Nonfiction (NF) edged out Fiction (F), 51-49%. Women were 53% of the contributors; 47% were men.
(Asterix * indicates addition after the initial publication.)
Most Cited Titles:
Nine titles received three or more citings:
A Promised Land by Barak Obama (NF).
Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe (NF).
Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown (NF).
Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami. (F).
Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa (NF).
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (F).
The Magician by Colm Toibin (F).
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict & Victoria C. Murray (F).
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich (F).
Sixteen books received two nominations, and there were three books of poetry cited.
The remaining 272 titles were only mentioned once, but they too are worthy of your attention. What makes this list particularly valuable are the personal descriptions of why a particular book was a favorite.
Hopefully, you’ll return to this list throughout 2022 for possible new reads, many of which have not been listed in the various ‘Best Lists of 2021’ by ‘professional’ reviewers.
The list below is alphabetical by first name. Any errors are soley 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.
Without question most of my reading has been coaching related. The one total escape book was The Giver of Starsby JoJo Moyes (F). That woman can tell a tale!
Not a book, but like reading a chapter of one a day is Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American (NF). She brings historic context and sanity to the political nuttiness and scary stuff.
How the Mountains Grew by John Dvorak (NF). After visiting Zion National Park, I was curious about the geologic history of the of the US. This book basically explains the history of the continent over the last 4.6 billion years. Kind of geeky but non the less interesting.
Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence by Ajay Agrawal, Avi Goldfarb, and Joshua Gans (NF). More of a business book but basically explains artificial intelligence and how it will change business and the world.
No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer (NF). Reed is founder of Netflix. This book explains his management philosophy and the culture @ Netflix.
Power & Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages by Dan Jones (NF). End of Roman Empire through Reformation.
The True Americanby Anand Giridharadas (NF). After reading and recommending Winner Take All for the summer installment of Favorite Reads, I read The True American, also by Anand Giridharadas. It is a remarkable true story that reads like fiction about two people: one a terrorist and the other, an immigrant, his victim. The victim seeks mercy for the attacker. The book digs deep into the character, identity, and personal journey of both. I listened to this book narrated by the author. Check out his newsletter, The.Ink.
Perilby Bob Woodward and Robert Costa (NF). A page turner that I wish was a made-up thriller. Alas, it all really happened (unless of course you believe in fake news.) Woodward and Costa know how to research and document a story as well as write it like a page turner.
Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II by Daniel James Brown (NF). Rounding out my NF picks is another story of life in America. This one is about Japanese American soldiers who fought in WWII even as their families were being incarcerated. The story is all too familiar across racial and ethnic groups whether enslaved, incarcerated, detained.
And yes, for lighter entertainment I did read several Louise Penny books. Thank you to whomever suggested them.
Every Drop of Blood by Edward Achorn (NF) relates the days around Lincoln’s second inauguration and address (at 701 words was incredible). The book fleshes out the times and feelings of those days as well as the people surrounding Lincoln, including John Wilkes Booth, Frederick Douglass, Salmon Chase and his daughter Kate, Walt Whitman, and Clara Barton, to name a few. Even if you have read many books on Lincoln, this book is still worth a read.
Prisoner: My 544 Days in an Iranian Prison – Solitary Confinement, a Sham Trial, High Stakes Diplomacy and the Extraordinary Efforts It Took to Get Me Out by Jason Rezaian (NF). This short (!) book title gives you all that you need to know. The book was a fascinating read and worth the time. Spoiler alert: he was released, left Iran within some 12 hours of the release (there were more issues that needed to be resolved), and now works in DC.
A World Transformed by George H.W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft (NF) is a very informative read about foreign affairs during the Bush administration, primarily about the eventual breakup Soviet Union and Desert Storm and how the administration worked with European, Soviet, and Arabic leaders as a united front on these major events. Interestingly, it is written more like a dialogue/conversation between Bush and Scowcroft on each topic or event with background information added as needed.
Edison by Edmund Morris (NF) is a detailed and very interesting biography of a renowned inventor, not scientist, whose developments spanned some 80 years and products from electric light to the phonograph to much more. Oddly the book is written in decades starting at the end of Edison’s life and moving backwards! I quickly gave up on that and recommend reading the book from the last chapter to the first – in chronological order. It is well worth the effort!
The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel by Kati Marton (NF) is a “lite” biography with each chapter looking at one aspect of her life/chancellorship. It does not go into depth on her chancellorship and accomplishments but instead makes her seem like a real person who swears, laughs a lot, and doesn’t have too much invested in an ego (given what she has accomplished).
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (F) is a very well written and thoroughly enjoyable book about Emmett, a teenager from Nebraska who is released from a prison work camp, 2 stowaways from the work camp, and Emmett’s younger brother, Billy. The book takes place over 10 days as they – in very different ways – get to NYC (having intended to go to San Francisco), the adventures along the way, and the development of wonderful characters. This book is very different from A Gentleman in Moscow, but equally enjoyable.
Never by Ken Follett (F). As a lazy reader, I resist long books, but Ken Follett is the exception. This new novel is long (804 pgs) but is typically a well written, compelling, political novel that moves between the Sahara Desert, China, N Korea, and the White House. Terrifyingly realistic
Think Againby Adam Grant (NF). I am half way through Think Again by organizational psychologist Adam Grant. He tells stories supported by research in helping us understand and learn how to open peoples minds (including our own). He confronts the tendency to preach and defend our opinions versus being open to minded including how to deal with those who preach and defend. He includes how this applies to political conversations and to discussions with Yankee hating Red Sox fans (not that that would apply to anyone in this group). He writes well and avoids dry lectures.
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson (NF). This is a fascinating book that reads like a page-turning mystery, but it’s real! It’s the story of Winston Churchill as he leads his country through a really rough year, with intense bombing of London and the whole of England, trying to keep up the country’s defenses, and maybe more importantly, its spirit. Larson writes about so many WWII events and aspects that I never knew, but his great achievement is how he weaves together, from a great number of diaries, a personal narrative involving Churchill’s family, close associates, advisors, and more—including “inside” information from German diaries. Churchill comes across as a really wacky but lovable fellow, but you find yourself really rooting for him, and you understand how he was able to inspire his countrymen to keep up their morale.
This year I read a lot more fiction than usual, thanks to extra time during the winter months and action on reviews. I’ll skip the non-fiction (although I greatly enjoyed A Promised Land) and write about these five.
Deacon King Kong by James McBride (F). I read this based on an excerpt in the NYT, of all places, that left me asking for more. A tightly plotted story of the denizens of a multi-cultural housing project, a church, and some low-level mobsters. A main mystery hangs over all of them which I did guess but there were other whose solution was a surprise. Especially the cheese.
King Suckerman by George Pelacanos (F). I’ve often seen references to Pelacanos’ writing and decided it was time to read one of his crime stories. Believable characters and much fun about 70’s DC, and a shout out to the late, lamented Ben Bow.
Where the Crawdads Sing Delia Owen (F). A two track plot of an abandoned girl growing up on her own and a murder for which she is acquitted, that seems to resolve itself – until you get the what at first seems just like an afterword. A lot about the valued of wetlands. Couldn’t put it down.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Sanders (F). This was so much fun to read – back and forth between dead people talking who aren’t actually sure they are dead and real events, with a cross-section of classes of people and various musings on life and after life – a fantasy with messages.
Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) (F). Rowling always writes a page-turner and this is no exception. Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellicott are engaging characters, and the story – involving a possible long ago murder and a painting of a horse – kept me going .
Redeeming Justice by Jarrett Adams (NF). This book disturbed me to no end. Our justice system is in need of significant changes to ensure all people are given a fair trial and truly presumed innocent until proven guilty. I’m drawn to stories of wrongful incarceration, and, in particular, where the accused overcomes all obstacles to lead a productive life despite the time spent in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.
The Girl from the Channel Islands by Jenny LeCoat (HF). A departure from typical Holocaust books in that the focus is assimilating back into a broken world after the liberation. The author’s research is extensive, and she offers an appendix at the end that is as good as is the book. Each time I read a Holocaust book I am torn apart and also concerned that this piece of history is being diluted. There are twists and turns and of course a love story…but most importantly this book depicts the devastation of what families went through and the continued heartbreak for those that survived.
Finding Chika: A Little Girl, an Earthquake and the Making of a Family by Mitch Albom (NF). I’m a fan of Mitch Albom. His writing and books make me pause and really think about issues. This one is no different. You will fall in love with Chika, who was bornt hree days before the Haitian earthquake. Her mother dies during childbirth of her younger brother, and Chika lands in the Have Faith Haiti Orphanage, operated by Albom. Finding Chika reminds us of the strength and resiliency of children, the lessons they teach us as adults, and a portrayal of what a family is, regardless of bloodlines. Have tissues handy.
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (F). Just read it. One day in the life of NYC, the day that a tightrope walker crossed between the two towers of the World Trade Center.
A Hero of France by Alan Furst (F). Love all of his novels – dark, atmospheric, moving immersion in Europe as WW2 descended. Ordinary people being quietly heroic, or not.
The Beauty of What Remains by Steve Leder (NF). This rabbi’s practical discussion of the end of life is one that (in the marketers’ cliché) everyone should read.
Still Life, and A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny (F). The first two Armand Gamache murder mysteries, set in Quebec. Thoughtful, vivid, humane, well-written. These are people, moreover, who love books and food.
Setting the Table by Danny Meyer (NF). One of the best business books I’ve ever read, bar none, and particularly enjoyable if you love his restaurants.
Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World by Matt Alt (NF). Fascinating history, focusing within Japan’s rise from the ashes of WW2 on the creation of world-changing phenomena like karaoke machines, Tamagotchi and the Walkman – great fun.
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penney (F).
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (F).
Running All Over The World, Our Race Against Early Onset Alzheimer’s by Anthony L. Copeland-Parker (NF).
I thought the MillersTime readers might enjoy knowing that their submissions have real impact. Last year, for some strange reason, I had the notion that I might be doing more reading than usual so I mined the MT reader’s list for possibilities. The more interesting a review was, the greater the likelihood that it made my list. I enjoyed some books more than others but none was a “loser”, and some I would never have discovered if they didn’t make the list.
I ended up reading these MT readers suggested books: The Cold Millions by Jess Walter, Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu, Homeland Elegies by Ayad Ahtar, Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, The Searcher by Tana French, Deacon King Kong by James McBride, The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish, The Deepest South of All by Richard Grant, The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee, The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson, American Prison by Shane Bauer, The Genius of Dogs by Brian Hare, A Race to Splendor by Ciji Ware. Thanks MT readers :)
Some favorites I discovered on my own or through my book club:
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (F) was a standout for me. A creative “coming of age” story centering on a young girl and the artificially intelligent thing (“robot” seems demeaning) that becomes her friend. Interesting notions on the nature of attachment, love, growth and learning.
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead (F). This novel, set in 1960’s Harlem, is hard to categorize; it’s kind of a “who done it” but, with so much getting “done”, that that seems an insufficient description. It kept me turning pages and evoked a strong sense of a bygone place and time for this boomer.
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders (F). This work is an very enjoyable exercise in creative reading and writing. It’s based on a workshop that Saunders has taught for aspiring writers. A careful dissection of the short-story works by a selection of Russian authors is, overall, a joy to read (don’t give up after the first story, the manner of analysis changes as you read on). For me, it was worth it if only to read Leo Tolstoy’s “Master and Man” which I never would of come across otherwise
Offshoreby Penelope Fitzgerald (F). Fiction, with origins in fact. A woman, estranged from her husband, lives, with her two young daughters, on a barge that is anchored in London’s Battersea district. A cast of characters are moored on barges next to hers making up a strange community. Various challenges and situations arise. I liked the way the author’s subtle, “matter of fact”, manner drew me in. As a bonus, the daughters reminded me of a long forgotten, but, very much enjoyed movie of my youth, The World of Henry Orient (1964) starring Peter Sellers.
What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad (F). A beautifully, haunting tale of refugees and the perilous journey many make across the Mediterranean Sea told from the perspective of a young boy. Along with Klara and the Sun this was at the top of my year’s “best” list.
The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure (F). An emotionally charged story about choices, sacrifice and courage during the German occupation of Paris. Tense story of an architect hiding Jews from the Nazis is a definite page turner with its contradictions, horrors and ambivalence as the architect collaborates with the enemy in an attempt to prove his talent and survive. The book raises ethical questions and the descriptions and questions raised will stay with you long after the book is finished.
Eternal by Lisa Scottoline (F). Rome, Italy in 1937. Elizabetta, Marco and Sandro live there. Mussolini, war, German invasion, fascism themes are based on true historical occurrences. This is a story about love, war, losses, loyalties, families and betrayals. You can feel life in Rome, taste and “smell” the food, see the city, feel the deprivation in the Jewish ghetto in the telling of the events surrounding the 3 main characters. I read this book in days.
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn (F). Inside the lesser known world of cryptology, the code breakers of WW2 work tirelessly to turn the tide of the war in 1940. Well researched story of mousy Beth, debutante Osla and self made Mab as England readies to fight the Nazi’s. These women are called to break German military codes. War, loss, and the pressure of extreme secrecy tear the trio apart. Impeccable detail about cryptanalysis, translation, and registration are described. The three friends turned enemies are reunited by an encrypted letter, and they come together to crack one final code as they unite against a traitor. Gripping story and great character development. There is also a Netflix movie called Bletchley Park.
The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristen Harmel (F). Yona is stolen from her wealthy German parents and raised in Eastern Europe’s unforgiving woods. Based on true events (see Netflix movie Defiance). She is alone in 1941 when her kidnapper dies. She comes upon a group of Jewish people fleeing the Nazis and teaches them about survival and uses her skills to lead them to safety. They teach her about the outside world. Eventually her past collides with her present when she escapes into a German occupied village. Wrenching and suspenseful novel of historical fiction.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson (F). This is the story of Cussy Mary Carter of Troublesome Creek, Kentucky who is a worker in Roosevelt’s Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project. Hard scrabble, impoverished lives learn the joy of books because of her. Cussy is the last of her kind as her skin is a shade of blue from an inherited genetic mutation/gene. She lives with and confronts danger, prejudices and suspicion in the holler. It is a fascinating footnote in history. You come to know her patrons and cheer for her to be successful. The substory of methemoglobinemia is important, too, as it is based on in depth research. Financial obstacles, harshness of the land, and fierce mistrust had to be overcome. I have just learned that book #2 will appear in May 2022 which continues the story of Cussy’s daughter.
The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah (F). This is a story about surviving in the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness, off the grid and about growing up with an abusive and volatile father. Dad Ernt, Mother Cora, and 13 year old Leni and the dangers they face are juxtaposed against Alaska’s beauty in the 1970’s. Colorful characters, strong women, decent townsfolk are the background to their survival. Strong them of domestic violence in this book which may be unappealing to some readers as the father was mentally unstable after his time in the Vietnam war. Author did extensive research and created a vivid background to create this authentic narrative which I read in two days!
Theodore Herzl: The Charismatic Leader by Derek Penslar (NF). For those wanting to learn more than Herzl was the father of Zionism from Sunday school, this book may be the answer. The story of Herzl’s rise to fame is not well understood nor the demons affecting him. Penslar weaves his biography between these two aspects of his life with the chutzpah (aka charisma) it took to achieve his ambitions in a short time period given his death at the age of 44.
Bugsy Siegel: The Dark Side of the American Dream by Michael Shnayerson (NF). Many of us saw the movie “Bugsy” with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. The book tells a more sordid story of a Jewish mobster who would do anything and kill anybody to achieve his goals. This is a short read–and yes, Bugsy achieved notoriety and to an extent was hailed as the inspiration behind the Las Vegas we know today. Not sure this is the role model of the American Dream any of us dreamt of.
The Spy and the Traitor–The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintyre (NF). I can’t vouch for the truthfulness of the title–but–this is a gripping story which exposes the workings of double agents and the havoc they cause. Macintyre, a Brit, is a preeminent authority on spies and shows his knowledge when telling the story of a man who has been referred to as the most consequential Russian double agent (ie he spied on his home country) during the Cold War who ultimately had audiences with Thatcher and Reagan. Yet at times it reads like Inspector Clousseau was in charge.
Is Paris Burning? by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins (NF). A 1965 book and later a movie with an all star cast. This is an incredible story of how “we” almost lost Paris to the evilness of Hitler’s madness. And of course the story must include the dysfunction of the French political parties, the hubris of Charles DeGaulle and yes, the incredible sacrifice of many ordinary citizens to protect their homeland.
People Love Dead Jewsby Dara Horn (NF). I read the book and listened to it on Audible which is narrated beautifully. Suffice it to say “Just Read It or Listen To It or Both.”
On Rockingham Street: Reclaiming My Family’s Jewish Identity-Our Journey from Vilna to the Suburban South by David Kuney (NF). David, an attorney by background with outstanding writing talent, turns a box of family mementos into a full-fledged investigation of his family’s migration from Vilna to the US and ultimately Arlington, Va. His own story has some interesting twists and turns especially during the Viet Nam Era. David asks all of us to consider our views of what it means to be Jewish in America today.
The Jewish Life of Alexander Hamiltonby Andrew Porwancher (NF). Who knew? An incredibly well researched book which is sure to cause conversation and multiple spontaneous Google searches while doing so. The question of “was he or wasn’t he?” is just a thread of learning about the social/political situation confronting Jews during revolutionary times, their contributions to the formation of the United States and Hamilton’s association with Jews from birth through death.
Saddened by the passing of poet Robert Bly a month ago at age 94, I’ve been appreciating how his work stimulated my love of poetry. Although he’s famous for his men’s movement work, it’s his translations of poets from around the world that I will remember. Richard (my husband), introduced me to Bly’s work back in the late 60’s. He was drawn to it in part because of Bly’s activism and poems against the Vietnam War (such as The Teeth Mother Naked at Last, which included such powerful lines as “Helicopters flutter overhead. The deathbee is coming.”)
Bly was partial to poems that pack an emotional wollop. He came to focus on spiritual, transcendent poets who wrote about the inner life and nature. He wrote and translated poems (in collaboration with native speakers) in books such as Leaping Poetryand The Sea and the Honeycomb: A Book of Tiny Poems, two of my favorites. Richard and I would read many of these to each other as we drove to and from Maine during summers (before children).
All In by Billie Jean King (NF-Autobiography). What a woman! This book captures her self-portrait of her striving for equality not only for women on the tennis court but her activism and unending commitment to fairness and social justice in life. The book is loaded with every match she played (which can be a bit tedious even to tennis lovers). Yet she lets the reader know so much about her personal struggles and demons which she has worked hard to overcome. So glad I read this after seeing her interviewed. New admiration for the woman!
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (NF). My admiration for Wilkerson as a journalist and author soared after reading this epic. (I was very impressed with Caste, but this is equally as powerful). It is the well-documented study of the Great Migration of the black population from the south to the north between 1915-1970 to escape the brutality of the Jim Crow laws to find a better life. To read in detail the hardships, injustices, hopes and dashed hopes of the realities of their plight is overpowering. Wilkerson weaves the story of three individuals, who made their journeys north, amidst loads of astonishing facts and data about this historical saga. A long read but well worth it.
The Book of Lost Names by Kristen Hammel (HF historical fiction). Inspired by a true story from WWII. Main character, Eva, is a young woman who uses her forgery talents to help hundreds of Jewish children flee the Nazis. Determines a way to preserve the real names of the children who are too young to remember who they really are. It is a compelling and moving read.
Midnight Library by Matt Haig (F). Novel is about choices in life and what could of/should of/might have been. Main character Nora, upon her suicide, experiences various ways her life could have unfolded if she had made different decisions. Thought provoking, yet obtuse, read. Once I figured out the story line and the significance of the library, I was able to enjoy a well-constructed read.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (F). I enjoyed the way it is written like an African Tale, in rich and evocative language. The book also brings an interesting perspective on colonization and the evangelization of the African continent, the destruction of local ancestral religious and spiritual practices without even understanding some of their fundamental values. Having worked for decades in Africa, it took me back to some evenings by camp-fires (no electricity in some parts where I was working), listening to my African colleagues tell stories. I learned through on of my Book Clubs that the book used to be assigned in Middle or High Schools…. This left me quandering how educators could provide all the needed context to understand the key messages of the book.
Trailblazer by Dorothy Butler Gilliam (NF). Autobiography of Dorothy Gilliam, first African American woman to be hired by the Washington Post in 1961, and wife of the artist Sam Gilliam. Fascinating story not only about her own achievements against the odds, but also about racism in Washington DC and in the newspaper industry. Also led me to dig deeper into the work of Sam Gilliam.
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande (NF). [This} practicing surgeon, reveals the struggles of his profession and medicine in general. He examines the limitations and failures of his profession as life draws to a close. And he discovers how we can do better. He follows a hospice nurse on her rounds, a geriatrician in his clinic, and reformers turning nursing homes upside down. He finds people who show us how to have the hard conversations and how to ensure we never sacrifice what people really care about. He shows that the ultimate goal is not a good death but a good life – all the way to the very end. The book gives helpful suggestions on how to ask some ‘hard questions’ and accept that the point comes when family and friends need to let go.
A Bookshop in Berlinby Francioise Frankel (NF). Fascinating memoir of a Jewish woman from Poland who created the first French bookstore in Berlin in the 1920s, managed to escape to France, where she spent most of WWII, then escape from France to Switzerland. A story of resilience and a strong spirit, but also of the kindness and courage of those who took risks to help her.
Spark: How Genius Ignites, From Child Prodigies to Late Bloomers by Claudia Kalb (NF). The legacy, the lasting impact made by some people is one of the criteria Kalb has used to choose the 13 “geniuses” covered in her book. In this series of linked biographies, Kalb follows the journeys of thirteen remarkable individuals–from Shirley Temple to Alexander Fleming, to Isaac Newton, to Eleanor Roosevelt, to GrandMa Moses, Bill Gates, Yo-Yo Ma, Maya Angelou , John Goodenough, Picasso, Julia Child, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin and Marilyn Monroe –to discover the secrets behind their talents. Each possessed a unique arc of inspiration. Each–through science, art, music, theater, and politics–reached extraordinary success at different stages of life. And each offers us a chance to explore the genesis–and experience–of genius. The introductory chapter is possibly the best. The linkages between the biographies are somewhat ‘tenuous’ to say the least, and Kalb does not deliver what she sets out to do. However, I enjoyed reading most about Yo-Yo-Ma, Maya Angelou, Eleanor Roosevelt, and GrandMa Moses. It made me ponder as to what I can do to bring out the genius in any of my grandchildren… of course I should have asked myself that question, when I was raising my kids!!!
L’homme qui peignait les âmes (The Man Who Painted the Souls)by Metin Arditi (F). A beautiful tale of a Jewish boy who learns how to paint icons in an Christian Orthodox Monastery, in Acre, in 1078. With a Muslim merchant he discovers Islam, travels from Acre to Nazareth, Cesarea, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the Mar Saba Monastery. There he becomes the best icon painter, until he is cast out, for painting the faces of ordinary people, searching to represent what is divine and beautiful in each person. Arditi’s language and his story telling talent are worth discovering, but I don’t know if the book will be translated into English.
Sam Wu Is Not Afraid of the Dark by Katie and Kevin Tsang (F for kids). I read the book with my 9-year old grandson, and we loved it. He could really identify with Sam Wu, a rather shy boy, going through various adventures and how he tried to overcome his fears.
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cept (NF). A bizarre true crime case reminiscent of a southern gothic replete with larger than life characters, racial politics, and courtroom drama and shenanigans, and the sorrowful story of the inability of a revered author to bring it to life on the page.
Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey (NF). A beautifully expressed elegy to her mother and a poignant memoir of racism, domestic abuse, and her mother’s murder which gave voice to the consummate and lyrical writer and poet she became.
Iron Lake (Cork O’Connor Series) by William Kent Krueger (F) Print and Audio. The first book in an enduring mystery series which is part crime, part Native American folklore and history, and part stunning descriptions of Northern Minnesota. The characters are multidimensional and the plots compelling not just for the mystery reader.
Win by Harlan Coben (F). A Harlan Coben mystery at its best. Win, the primary character, is one of the mainstays of Coben’s Myron Bolitar Mystery series, a violent and shadowy figure. The plot is riveting. The repartee is fast and furious. It’s all about Win, his luxurious wealth, family lineage, and the very dirty family secrets even he is unaware.
The Arsonist’s City by Hala Ayan (F). A not so traditional family and immigrant saga of Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian refugee culture set in contemporary times which spans decades. The expectations and allure of the American dream and how it is experienced by a Lebanese/ Syrian couple is complicated by long held secrets and unresolved longings. The children are all affected in trying to find their niche. The return to a ravaged Beirut where the fate of the family home as legacy must be resolved is the perfect gathering to unleash family drama and reveal all.
Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood by Mark Oppenheimer (NF) Print and Audio. The book is all about the “soul” of this community, its diverse residents, it’s history and evolving changes as a neighborhood, and, most importantly, its resilience even before the horrific shooting. Squirrel Hill comes alive and inspires on the page through insightful interviews and the voices of its residents.
The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told By the Men Who Played It by Lawrence Ritter (NF). This is one of the greatest books ever written about baseball (which I happened to receive as a prize for winning a MillersTime baseball contest!). It’s a collection of recordings the author made between 1962-1966 of his interviews with old time baseball players. Told in their own words, it’s a fascinating step back into time. My only regret is that the author did not interview any black players from the Negro Leagues that featured so many great baseball players before the Major Leagues were integrated by Jackie Robinson in 1947.
The Master: The Long Run and Beautiful Game of Roger Federer by Christopher Clarey (NF). O.K., I confess I’m a tennis and baseball junkie, as revealed by these two book selections. I’ve long admired Roger Federer’s game and his behavior on and off the tennis court (though he was quite a brat as a teenager!). This book did not disappoint.
A History of the United States in Five Crashes: Stock Market Meltdowns That Defined a Nation by Scott Nations(NF). Mr. Nations identifies contributing events and connections between the crashes of 1907, 1929, 1987, 2008 and 2010. I defy anyone to read about the “Panic of 1907” and not see the parallels between then and now. Human nature does not change!
As I attempt to record some of my memories, I am attracted to reading memoirs. Both of these are unusually well written.
The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His Mother by James McBride (NF).
Winter Journal by Paul Auster (NF).
Apeirogon by Colum McCann (F or NF, take your pick). An apeirogon is a polygon with an infinite number of sides and angles. And as such this novel, based on real events, traces the lives of two fathers—one Israeli, the other Palestinian – linked in tragedy by the killing of their daughters – through countless angles and events. The book, arranged like 1001 Nights, is smart with flights of fancy and information all linked back to the two main events. Beware: it is not “balanced.”
My goal for the year was to read 52 books and as of Dec. 1, I’m at 50 (and halfway through number 51). Here are my top six:
Grouping these two together because they’re by the same author: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid (F).
The Pale-Faced Lie by David Crow (NF).
The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins (F).
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (F) – also watched the Netflix mini-series based on the book and enjoyed it.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (F). I’ve read almost all of her books and think this is her best one.
Dragons Love Tacos and Dragons Love Tacos Too by Adam Rubin (a repeat from last year!)
Brooklyn Tilis – 4:
How to Catch a Santa by Jean Reagan
The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone and Mike Smollin
The Little Red Hen by J.P. Miller
Once again it is hard to pick my favorite top reads (and I promise not to cheat this year) out of the 100+ books that I read or listened to in 2021. Generally, I focus my reading on new releases. I follow at least a half dozen sources, and I use my own assessment to figure out which to try. (Sometimes I think I spend as much time reading ‘about’ books as I do reading them.) I enjoy all parts of the process.
Hell of a Bookby Jason Mott (F) This IS one hell of a book, and as such, it won the National Book Award for Fiction. It is a cleverly written semi-autobiographical story of an African-American fiction writer who started his life learning to be ‘invisible’ as his parents put it “to keep him out of harm’s way in a white world.” This book is sobering, very funny, weird, and highly imaginative, and a very good read with serious lessons.
The Promiseby Damon Galgut (F). This was the Booker Prize winner this year, and I’d say it was well deserved. The book tells a unique story of racial injustice in South Africa (a favorite reading topic of mine), a story of a declining white family’s unfulfilled pledge to their Black maid servant. It is beautifully written and heart wrenching, and it was hard to put down. The characters are well drawn and the story is intense.
The Magicianby Colm Toibin (F). I’m pretty much a sucker for anything that Tobin writes, which is why I picked this book up to read 500 hundred pages about an author – Thomas Mann – I cared very little about. And not only did I get fully sucked into the (barely) fictionalized account of the life of Mann and the times in which he lived, but as soon as I finished the book I picked up Mann’s A Death In Venice to read, and loved it! The Magician is engaging, based on historical records of Thomas Mann’s genius and life, and a delight to read.
The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje (F).Here’s an off-beat choice for me, an exception to my rule of reading recently released books. This book was written in 1970 and is a mixture of actual history, pure fiction, and imagination — informed by secondary accounts and period photographs — that tells the story of this famed outlaw. It’s made up of cleverly written and imagine episodes of Henry McCarty’s life and death at the age of 21.
Notes on Grief by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (NF). A mediation on the death of her father. It was first written for The New Yorker and is a beautiful tribute to the man, elegantly written (although I would recommend listening to it). It is in part a love letter, in part a statement of extreme grief and loss. Reading this book is a kind of visceral punch to the gut that rings true.
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead (F). A Pulitzer Prize winner just keeps getting better and better! In this suspenseful crime thriller the writing is exquisite, the plot entertaining, and the characters are quirky and memorable. Harlem Shuffle is also very funny which is a delightful surprise after his other more serious books.
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich (F). I have read several of her books, but this may be my favorite. This is a sweeping novel about the attempt to move Native Americans off their reservations in the 1950’s. There are many characters in many subplots to keep track of; however they are all interrelated and interesting.
The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai (F). This is an epic account of Viet Nam’s painful 20th century history told through three generations of one family dealing with war, famine, and class struggle. The writing was beautiful which is amazing considering that English is not the author’s native language.
When All Is Said: A Novel by Anne Griffin (F). I enjoy discovering new authors, and Griffin’s first novel centers around an Irishman, near the end of his life spending one last evening at a hotel bar. The story is moving, and the plot is structured in an imaginative and clever way.
What Could be Saved by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz (F). The novel tells the story of a family torn apart by the disappearance of an American child in 1970’s Thailand who suddenly reappears 40 years later. Alternating between the 70’s and the present, the story gradually reveals the sequence of events that led to the disappearance and the subsequent disintegration of the remaining family. There is some distressing content, but there is a good balance between the seedy side of Bangkok and the beauty of its culture and art.
Bewilderment by Richard Powers (F) — a kind of next step from his Overstory to questions about life throughout the cosmos intertwined with a father’s relationship with a unique son..profound questions raised..gripping emotional story.
The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris (F) – a first time novel by a young writer is set in Georgia at the close of the Civil War as Union soldiers move through the South with the news of emancipation with a focus on the complicated relationships between and among races and genders.
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich (F) – Erdrich has always been one of my favorite authors writing passionately about native American experiences.. always with compelling characters. This book begins with a wacky heist of a dead body by the central character named Tookie.. and becomes a moving, multi-layered complex ghost story,…a story of unequal justice, complex motherhood and marriage and the native American experience in the year of George Floyd and the pandemic. Most takes place in and around a Minneapolis bookstore like the one owned by Erdrich. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a fiction book set in this last year…This one is a book for book lovers and lovers of bookstores…and a great read.
All In by Billy Jean King (NF) — This is my nonfiction recommendation for readers who follow professional tennis, especially women’s tennis. This memoir provides a history of US professional tennis through the lens of King’s tennis career with a focus on the intersectionality of professional tennis with sexism, racism and homophobia. Billy Jean King is a remarkable woman who had an incredible career as a player, organizer, business person and advocate. The book reminds all of us of a certain age what the preTitle IX era was like in the white male dominated sports world … and what it took to force the tennis establishment to provide some equity for women.
Emily Nichols Grossi:
Endurance by Alfred Lansing (NF). This book, published in 1959, is the can’t-put-it-down tale of Ernest Shackleton’s 1914(-1917) Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition. Lansing pored through records and spoke in depth to all in Shackleton’s team who were still alive when he started writing in the ’50s. What a thrilling, incredible story. You can’t believe it’s true, but it is
Greenwood by Michael Christie (F).A quiet, slow-at-times but never boring book that spans multiple generations in Canada. It’s a family saga about greed, love, and the environment. The author is a knowledgeable forrester and skilled carpenter and these skills enrich this book and its message immeasurably.
A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa (NF). INCREDIBLE. Memoir, literary study, translation…this book is a wonder. Ní Ghriofa is fascinated/obsessed by an old Irish poem, “Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill’s Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire, famously referred to by Peter Levi as ‘the greatest poem written in either Ireland or Britain during the eighteenth century.’” She writes about and translates in parallel with writing about her own life as a young mother. This is a magnificent work.
Boys Don’t Cry by Fiona Scarlett (F). Ireland, family, death. What does it mean to be a man? To be male and to cry. This is a heart breaker, but I couldn’t put it down. Great book.
My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal (F). A biracial boy, Leon, adores his younger, white half-brother, Jake, but when they are put into foster care because their mother can no longer care for them, Jake is quickly adopted while Leon is not. That they are separated at all is wrenching, but what this book also says about race, family, what makes a family, and love is also enormously powerful.
Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe (NF). Enough said.
Stardust by Joseph Kanon (F) interesting fictional look at Hollywood’s “Golden Era”)
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe (NF). I was reading this around the same time I saw Hidden Figures, which made both more interesting.
Paris in the Fifties by Stanley Karnow (NF). Karnow was a keen observer who sprinkled interesting French history lessons into the book.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (F). Lydia Quixano Perez has her whole family murdered by the cartel. Her son survived also. The story chronicles their journey to escape the cartel. A well written story. Heart wrenching! Worth the read!
One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus (F). Takes place in 1875. May Todd participates in a government program where the Cheyenne warriors offer 1000 horses for 1000 white women. May Todd writes about the experience. Again, well written.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, (NF). I read this book when it first came out. Re-reading it now, I find her voice pitch-perfect as she describes her experience of living with loss, disbelief, loneliness, and memories after her husband’s sudden death. Together with Julian Barnes’s, Levels of Life(NF) and Tim Finch’s Peace Talks (F), books about love and loss were comforting.
Beginner’s Mind, Yo-Yo Ma (NF) (Audible). This is a book to listen to again and again. It is a memoir narrated by Ma with musical interludes. It is so engaging as an autobiography and so beautifully rendered that Ray and I listened to it several times.
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (HF) the story of Belle da Costa Greene, the Black woman who was JP Morgan’s personal librarian. She “passed” in New York high society while building Morgan’s famed library. The book was so compelling, it prompted a visit to the famed library and a planned visit next year when there will be a special exhibit about her.
Tunnel 29 by Helena Merriman (NF) (audible) The incredible story of a tunnel dug under the Berlin Wall, the people involved, the people who escaped, the authorities who tried to prevent it, the geopolitical background against which it all took place.
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen (F). Strange but engaging about a minister, his family, and each person’s relationship with God and their life as they lived it. At 650 pages it’s daunting, but I found I came to “live” with the family, as one does with a Franzen book, and looked forward to spending time with them.
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe (NF). Great journalism and a page-turner. It’s about the Sacklers and opioids, but my interest was also in their special contribution to how drugs are marketed today and how philanthropy can be used as cover for greed.
This past year many worthwhile books were published, including great thick biographies of Tom Stoppard, Fernando Pessoa, Robert Walser, and Nathalie Sarraute, but I am going to list the motley crew which gave me the most reading pleasure.
Nonrequired Reading by Wislawa Szymborska (NF) This is a collection of delightful, humane reviews by a Polish poet of a wide variety of books translated into Polish. She won the Nobel prize, and anyone interested in the craft of writing should also get a copy of her acerbic replies when she conducted, anonymously, an advice column for writers: How to Start Writing (and When to Stop) Advice for Authors.
Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis by Wendy Cope (F), This is a collection Wendy Cope’s light verse and it is a fun book to read, especially her parody of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” It is good to read light verse in heavy times.
In the Cafe of Lost Youth by Patrick Modiano (F). Modiano, who also won the Nobel Prize, writes haunting, addictive, and profoundly vague narratives about an older person trying to figure out the events, and persons, of his youth. Most of his novels explore and evoke the city of Paris and the various kinds of people who spend time in cafes.
Fatale by Jean-Patrick Manchette (F). This French writer writes crime novels, not detective fictions, and is like a combination of Camus and Mickey Spillane. If ever a book needed a trigger warning, his does. His novels are extremely violent, so violent that they cross over into black humor and absurd comedy. Fatale concerns a femme fatale who wrecks havoc on a French town, and it is, weirdly, fun to watch.
The Cult of We, Wework, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion by Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell (NF) [and] Bad Blood, Secrets and Lies in a Silicon ValleyStartup by John Carreyrou (NF). These two non-fiction books are compelling and riveting, as fascinating as a novel by Balzac or Michael Crichton. They detail the rise and fall of two start ups and take you into the strange world of tech start ups, venture capital, and IPOs. I never realized that companies could get millions, and even billions, of dollars without ever having made a profit. Both these companies operated as if they were cults, which is ominous, as there seem to be several very large tech companies today which seem to operate like cults.
Having had a lot of time to recuperate from my recent surgery, I decided to return to one of my favorite authors, Vince Flynn. All of these novels (F) have the same hero, Mitch Rapp, a highly trained CIA operative who begins his career after the Lockerbie Plane Explosion. They are very well written and keep you waiting for the next book. I managed to reread: Transfer of Power, The Third Option, Separation of Power, Memorial Day, Consent to Kill, Act of Treason, Protect and Defend, Extreme Measures, Pursuit of Honor,American Assassin, Kill Shot, The Last Man. Mr. Flynn passed away June 13th, 2013, and his associate, Kyle Mills, has continued the series with his last book, Enemy at the Gates (NF).
Another favorite-same genre, Daniel Silva, The Cellist (F). The author incorporates the events of Jan. 6th 2021- Central Character-Gabriel Allon-Israeli Intelligence.
Finally, I read and enjoyed The Gracelin O’Malley Triology by Ann Moore (F). Begins with the Famine and moves thru Ireland to America. A great read.
The End of Your Life Bookclub by Will Schwalbe (NF). A mother and son re-visitation.
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch (NF). A teacher, father, husband takes a last look back.
Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent’s Expectations by Ron Fournier (NF). Parenting, first class.
Belle by Sarah Price (F). The Beauty and the Beast fairy tale beautifully reset in Amish country.
Lives on the Boundary: A Moving Account of the Struggles and Achievements of America’s Educationally Underprepared by Mike Rose. (NF). Including his own life.
Why School? Reclaiming Education for All of Us by Mike Rose (NF). Written at the back end of a life of trying to provide it.
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (F). Life, wild and otherwise, reached for and found.
The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katherine Green (F). Agatha Christie was influenced by her. There was an actual court case to determine whether or not the book could have been written by a woman due to usage of forensic and blood evidence. I just finished it and found it brilliant – far better than Christie’s books. That said – I’ve never really been a Christie fan. I also read some mysteries by Edmund Crispin. They are a ton of fun, Crispin has a love of language and it’s evident in the book.
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (F). Reading it and loving it.
The Undertaking by Thomas Lynch (NF), The Year of Magical Thinking by the wonderful Joan Didion (NF), and The Florist’s Daughter by Patricia Hampl (NF). I’ve been thinking of these books recently and using the lessons I learned from them.
I was thinking of taking a break this year but have always enjoyed reading what others have enjoyed…recently, I got on a Jeff Shaara kick and read several of his books on the Civil War and WWII…and also read Amor Towles The Lincoln Highway (F) in past month but not nearly as good as Gentleman in Moscow…I guess to be expected…
This year I relied a lot on the book recommendations on MillersTime, and I read several books that prompted me to read more works by the same author, or more of the same genre. These are in addition to the books I listed asmid-year favorites:
The Magician by Colm Tóibín (F) – one of my favorite writers. This is an intimately biographical novel about Thomas Mann, a novelist whose works I hadn’t yet read. It prompted me to read The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (F), a delightful parody that takes place in the early 1900s in a tuberculosis sanitarium in the Swiss Alps. From reading Tóibín’s book, it’s evident that parts of The Magic Mountain are autobiographical.
The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (F). 2021 was a good time to read this powerful novel, one of those books that you can re-read and learn things you missed the first time around.
First Person Singular: Stories by Haruki Murakami (F). Recommended by another MillersTime reader, it was the best collection of short stories I read this year. It reminded me how much I’d enjoyed Kafka on the Shore (F) by Murakami, which I’d listed as a favorite for MillersTime in 2015. It also prompted me to read Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami (F), an imaginative novel with a haunted narrator.
The Makioka Sisters by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (F). This classic novel paints a vivid picture of the lives of Japanese women and Japanese family life before World War II changed everything.
A Promised Land by Barack Obama (NF).
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich (F).
The vast majority of books I ‘read’ this year were audiobooks and — as always — I especially enjoyed those that were read by the author, either as chronicler (Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren) or storyteller (Louise Erdrich). Erdrich’s novel (another ghost story) was particularly timely, set during the current pandemic.
The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea by Jack E. Davis (NF). (Ed. 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner in history.)
Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard (NF).
The Wandering Earth, by Cixin Liu (F). A collection of short stories from China’s top sci-fi writer. Some of them are quite striking and beautiful, especially the one that gives the book its title, which I read several times over.
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (F). Kathryn and I read it aloud to baby Violet. We had a lot of fun with it. Ishmael’s desire to identify the limits of human knowledge, Starbuck’s struggle to reason with his crew, and Steelkilt’s ambiguous morality were three themes we found particularly interesting.
Caffeine by Michael Pollan (NF). A short audiobook on the history and science of caffeine; only about 2.5 hours, quite insightful, ideal for a long drive.
It’s Better to Be Fearedby Seth Wickersham (NF). A deeply reported book about the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick era with the Patriots. It’s basically catnip for New England sports fans, but I suspect others would also enjoy the author’s insights about what made Brady and Belichick so effective, how they are also sort of odd characters, and how the modern NFL operates.
[Also, I found a great podcast readers might like, called Overdue. Each episode the hosts talk about a book. There are more than 500 episodes so there’s bound to be some of your favorites in there. I listen to it often while walking Violet around to put her to sleep.]
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner (F).
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn (F).
Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed (NF).
Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica’s Journey into the Dark Anarctic Night by Julian Sancton (NF).
First Principles: What America’s Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country by Thomas Ricks (NF) explores the origins of ideas that shaped America’s foundation.
If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future by Jill Lepore (NF) explores the political dynamics that led to the development of the internet.
And since then:
Master of the Game: Henry Kissinger and the Art of Middle East Diplomacy by Martin Indyk (NF). Only for people who want a very detailed description of how things evolved.
The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doubna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson, (NF). The last time I had a biology class was in 1950, and a lot has happened in the field since then, so this book about developments in DNA and RNA was tough reading for me. But Isaacson writes a good detective story and keeps you turning the pages so I stuck with this long story to the end, which includes 2021 and the vaccines for the coronavirus. The non-technical parts are wonderful writing and it’s an amazing story.
Out of Many, OnebyGeorge W. Bush (NF). I have never been a fan of President Bush so it amazed me to appreciate so much his coffee-table sized book about individual immigrants he has made connections with and clearly cares deeply about, accompanied by his painted portraits of them. Just goes to show me that people are multi-faceted.
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (NF). I had read this book when it was first published and re-read it for a book club. It stood up well the second time. It’s a monumental work and if people haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. Very personal stories from interviewing and befriending the same 4 people, who were part of the Black migration to the north in the early 20th century, through many years. I will never forget these people.
Deep Down Dark (also published later as The 33) by Hector Tobar (NF). Detailed, engrossing story of the 33 miners who were trapped far underground for 3 months with almost no food or light. Fascinating how that affected them both physically and mentally. Writer Ann Patchett said it was her favorite book of the year.
Indian Voices by Alison Owings (NF). Owings is able to gain the trust of Native Americans from many tribes, locations, and situations so that they will share with her intimate details about their lives. I think (and hope) that the next group, after Black Americans, whose experiences we need to understand, are Native Americans. This is an excellent start.
The Personal Librarianby Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (HF). An historical fiction novel based on the real life story of Bella de la Costa Greene who served as J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian during the early part of the 20th Century. Bella becomes one of the leading business women of her time as she curates Morgan’s rare book and art collection and skillfully navigates NYC society and fineryal while hiding her secret identity of being black. I loved everything about this book from the female achievements outsmarting many of the men around her to the style and party scene of the 1910s era and the personal choices and challenges Bella faces.
The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner (HF). An historical fiction novel set in San Francisco in the months before and after the 1906 earthquake. The heroine of the book Sophie Whalen is a young Irish woman who moves from NYC to San Francisco accepting the offer as a mail order bride, largely to fulfill the role of step mother to her husband’s daughter from his first marriage. While Sophie adjusts well for the first few months and quickly develops a loving relationship with the daughter, suspicions about her husband start to emerge. The book then unfolds during the aftermath of the earthquake as Sophie seeks the truth about who her husband really is.
Going Thereby Katie Couric (NF). Growing up watching Katie Couric on the Today Show, I have always been a huge fan. She was a fun, successful female role model that seemed to have it all. I remember being devasted both when her husband Jay died and later when she left NBC. I listened to her new book, narrated by her, and it has been awesome. Love hearing her tell so much raw detail of her growing up years, climb to success, personal journey and regrets. She tells her story with honesty and humor so characteristic of her. LOVED it.
Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami (F). If you are a fan of his work (which includes me), this is one of his best. He’s one of the few authors who takes you from an opera (Don Giovanni) to a contemporary mystery.
Find Me by Andre Aciman (F) – the follow up to Call Me by Your Name (F).
Orwell’s Rose by Rebecca Solnit (NF) – essays in the for of W.G. Sebald, a free-association travelogue through history, literature, and Orwell’s life.
The Essays of Virginia Woolf, Vol. 4 (NF) — What a brilliant woman!
Wild by Cheryl Strayed (NF).
Townie by Andres Dubus III (NF) – terrific memoir, but pretty violent throughout. Dubus lived a rough life
Creatures of a Day: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy by Irvin Yalom (NF) – Collection of short stories, no doubt based on Yalom’s work with his own clients, all centered on themes of existential crises, death anxiety, and how to live a meaningful life
Still Running: The Art of Meditation in Motion by Vanessa Zuisei Goddard. (NF). Self-help for those who want to understand a different form of meditation.
The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson (NF). Recounts the 1854 Cholera epidemic that literally double decimated the Golden Square community in Lon-don and the efforts of a data nerd and two persistent amateur investigators (a doctor and a curate) who lived in the affected neighborhood who created and implemented the concepts of statistical mapping and contact tracing and whose joint efforts led to a refutation of the prevailing theory of disease causation (bad air) and brought the pending disaster to an end with the removal of the water pump handle on a community well and whose work forever changed the way science gathers information. Highly informative about epidemics of all types and their potential for wreaking immense harm on this crowded planet. When you finish, you will appreciate how fortunate we have been with the relative mildness of COVID 19 (2% mortality) and how we have thus far dodged the disasters of diseases such as SARS (14%), Avian Flu/H5N1 (60%), or Ebola (50%) which are far more deadly. Clearly written, well organized, pages turn easily. Readability 5, Information 5, Credibility 5
Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth by Bryan Burroughs, Chris Tomlinson, Jason Stanford (NF). With careful analysis, the authors focus on the founding myth of Texas to expose the befuddled way that incompetent sillywits and egotistical doyens have badly misused this symbol to promote a grossly inaccurate story of the founding event of this State. They are particularly critical of the continued refusal of Texans to acknowledge that the war was fought because Mexican President Santa Ana was determined to keep slavery out of Texas and the Tejano settlers were determined that Texas was to be a slave based economy. They propose a new context that would make the site, and its entire story, much more compelling. Readability 4, Information 4.8, Credibility 4.9 (As a Texan raised by a Texan, I can confirm that no one from Texas, not even respected professors or me, can ever be believed 100% of the time – although I have been known to exaggerate a bit about Texan’s lack of credibility).
Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear (NF). The author has spent almost 30 years studying habits and learning how to use short simple sentences to explain how and why they work and how to change them. This resulted in a do-it-yourself book that is detailed, accurate, intelligent, and comprehensive. The first book in my life where I underlined 4-6 statements on every page from beginning to end. Readability 5+++, Information 5, Credibility 4.8 (I can’t give it a 5 until I truly break some bad habits and create some good ones)
How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe by Thomas Cahill. (NF). A very readable story of the successful efforts of a very small group of monks and priests to preserve the intellectual history of the Roman Empire for 400 years. Seldom have so many owed so much to so few. Readability 4.8, Information 5.0, Credibility 5.0
Anything Can Happen by George and Helen Waite Papashvily (NF). A delightful series of short tales recounting the coming to America in 1923 of a 25 year old swordmaker from the Balkan country of Georgia and some of his ventures and adventures over the next 20 years as he moved from town to town, job to job, as he became an American. Book of the Month Club selection. A book Richard Miller read repeatedly as a youngster and highly recommended for this very good reason. Readability 5.0 Info 5.0 Credibility (?) Can any autobiography be judged on this scale?
When the World Had Two Moons: Cannibal Planets, Icy Giants, Dirty Comets, Dreadful Orbits, and the Origins of the Night Sky. by Erik Asphaug (NF). Written by a Professor of Planetary Science at the U. of Arizona, explains in clear language how the solar system came into being and has evolved (a lot) over the last 4 billion years. Readability 4.8, Information 5.0, Credibility 5.0.
The three best books I read this year.
The Every by Dave Eggers (F). Set in the near future, this is the story of a super-powerful company – Google, Facebook and Amazon rolled into one – and the woman who plots to infiltrate and destroy it. Chillingly familiar.
Nightmare Scenario by Yasmeen Abutaleb & Damian Paletta (NF). Definitive account of the Trump administration’s handling of the covid pandemic. Nearly as scary (and dispiriting) as the disease.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (F). Extraordinary novel about a 50-something concierge and a 12-year-old girl who live in a Paris apartment building, when a Japanese gentleman moves in and everything quickly changes. A huge amount of wisdom in this book.
JFK Coming of Age in the American Century 1917-1956 by Fedrik Logevall (NF). No matter how much you have read about Kennedy, you will find this full of new revelations and insights. A scholarly, thorough study of the man and our country approaching mid-century.
First Friends: The Powerful, Unsung (and Unelected) People Who Shaped Our Presidents by Gary Ginsburg (NF). Nine presidential relationships that helped to change history, including those of Abraham LIncoln and Joshua Speed, FDR and his cousin Daisy Suckley, and Franklin Pierce and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Battle Hymn of the TIger Mother by Amy Chua (NF) – An Asian mother’s account of a clash of parenting cultures. The book has been very controversial, and many including myself, don’t really know what to make of the narrator and the outcome of her over the top parenting style.
Moonglow by Michael Chabon (F). Michael Chabon traveled to his mother’s home in Oakland, California, to visit his terminally ill grandfather. Tongue loosened by powerful painkillers, memory stirred by the imminence of death, Chabon’s grandfather shared recollections and told stories the younger man had never heard before, uncovering bits and pieces of a history long buried and forgotten. That dreamlike week of revelations forms the basis for the novel.
The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett (HF). Examines sisterhood, black identity, and parenthood with compassion and conviction. The Vignes twins grew up inseparable in the ’60s in Mallard, Louisiana, a small town reserved for black residents with light skin. Stella and Desiree Vignes are tall and beautiful, and they dream of lives beyond the lynching of their father and housekeeping for white people, like their mother does. When they flee to New Orleans as teenagers, Stella discovers that she can pass as white, and so begins the fracture that will forever separate the twins. Stella disappears in California and continues to play the part of a white woman, keeping her past a secret from her husband and daughter. After leaving her abusive marriage, Desiree returns to Mallard with her daughter, Jude, who is “black as tar” and desperate to find a place where she fits in..At college in California discovers she was searching not just for herself but for her mother’s sister. Told in flashbacks and alternating points of view, this novel asks what is personal identity, if not your past and the bonds of sisterhood.
Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening by Manal Sharif (NF). The fiercely intimate memoir of an accidental activist, a powerfully vivid story of a young Muslim woman who stood up to a kingdom of men, and won. Writing on the cusp of history, Manal offers a rare glimpse into the lives of women in Saudi Arabia today. Her memoir is a remarkable celebration of resilience in the face of tyranny, the extraordinary power of education and female solidarity, and the difficulties, absurdities, and joys of making your voice heard.
The Library Book by Susan Orlean (NF). Susan Orlean reopens the unsolved mystery of the most catastrophic library fire in American history, and delivers a dazzling love letter to the beloved institution of libraries. The NY Times Review commented that it was surprised at this topic for a book but felt that the mystery and the writing of Susan Orlean made the story a good read.
Lydia Hill Slaby:
I continue to read the Beekeeper’s Apprenticeseries by Laurie King (F) — she releases a new book every year or so, and it’s wonderful. Sherlock Holmes marries a fantastic character, Mary Russell, shortly before World War I, and chaos predictably ensues.
Also on this list is the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear (F) — British female private detective set shortly after WWI in London trying to heal from personal and collective heartbreak.
Throne of Glass fantasy series by Sarah Maas (F) is wonderful. Court of Thorns and Roses series less so, but both have compelling strong heroines. They make for great rereading in this era where time has no meaning.
Rereading the DaVinci Code by Dan Brown (F) sent me down a spiral of wonderful follow-ups. The Gospel of Phillip and The Gospel of Mary [Magdalene] are each eye opening (both rejected during the Council of Nicaea for making Jesus look human instead of divine).
Mary Magdalene Revealed by Meggan Watterson (F) carries Mary’s story forward in a delightful way.
The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe by Sharon MacLeod (NF) speaks to the culture that Christianity wiped out and rings a strong planetary warning bell about the danger of a culture that continues to bow to a dogmatic patriarchy.
A Woman’s Book of Life by Joan Borysenko (NF) and Christian’s Northrup’s
The Wisdom of Menopause by Christian Northrup (NF) have both been wonderful companions.
Toscaniniby George Marek (NF) which I’ve been carrying around un-read since before I sang the Verdi Requiem in 1971. Toscanini was playing in the cello section when Verdi conducted the world premiere of his Otello in 1877. Marek’s work brings such connections into vivid focus.
Letters Home by Richard Miller (NF). In addition to being a charming memoir of service as a PCV, Richard fearlessly points out such important truths as the fact the PCVs often benefited more from the work than the host countries and the fact that the volunteers carried 1960s racial tension with them. It’s the June 7 letter that I keep re-reading.
For the Time Being by Annie Dillard (NF). A poet of prose, she sui generis. Just read her.
Beautiful Country: A Memoirby Qian Julie Wang (NF).”Beautiful Country” (Chinese for America) is a memoir of Qian Wang. She came to Brooklyn with her mother when she was 7 years old. Her parents, highly educated college professors in China, fled Communism. “Hunger was a constant”, absolute poverty, undocumented, one set of clothes, and racism. Her mother had low paying jobs. Qian shared one room with her parents. On her first day in school and not speaking English, she went into the boys’ bathroom; there was only one bathroom at home. The boys had racist fun of her.
Qian’s father found an old TV in the trash, which she used to learn English. Several teachers were helpful. When she walked to school, she recognized a public library. She read in the library every day. Qian took full advantage of New York to develop her skills and appreciate America as a Beautiful Country.
Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II by Daniel James Brown (NF). Daniel James Brown is the author of The Boys in the Boat. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Japanese people living in Hawaii for centuries were considered “enemy aliens” and were relocated to concentration camps destroying their lives. Their sons wanted to join the army, but weren’t accepted for several years. The book focuses on 4 sons (3 soldiers and a Quaker conscientious objector), and their parents. The Japanese sons were extraordinary battlefield leaders against German soldiers in France, Germany and Italy. Their heroism and dedication to America is a startling contrast with American racism against the Japanese.
Perilby Bob Woodward and Robert Costa (NF).Fantastic.
Middlemarch by George Eliot (F). Somehow, I got to this point in life without having read George Eliot’s Middlemarch, so I suggested it to our book group, doubting I would get through an 830-page novel without peer pressure. Having read it, I shouldn’t have been so intimidated! As advertised, it is a remarkable book with complex and evolving characters who are living out their lives in early 19 th Century England, in the years leading up to the First Reform Bill in 1832. It’s a novel about the changing world of that time and the changing realities of the characters Eliot has created. Think railroads, Luddites and the eroding class system and the impact of those changes on lives and relationships! England was rapidly moving from agrarian to industrialization and the book touches on everything – art, religion, science, politics, society, emerging technology and human relations. But these insights are very much in the background of this epic story. Lots of humor and ridiculous characters who also evolve and learn. Dorothea Brooke is touching with her naïve passion for living a worthy life but changing her understanding of worthy as she matures and becomes wiser. Eliot (aka Mary Anne Evans) published Middlemarch in 1872 and apparently expected her story placed in Midlands, England 50 years earlier to be a commentary on her era as well. I will read it again!
Circe by Madeline Miller (F). A novel about the life of Circe, daughter of the sun god Helios and the ocean nymph Perse. In spite of her noble birth, she is an odd child who eventually is able to find her place only as a witch, with fantastic magical powers. Zeus banishes her to a deserted island where the plot develops with drama and surprising emotion. Circe develops her magical talents by taming wild beasts and engaging with various characters of Greek mythology – the Minitour, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, vicious Medea and particularly with wily Odysseus, who becomes Circe’s lover and stays quite a while on the island with his band of men, waylaid one more time on their very long trip back home. But eventually Circe triggers the wrath of the gods and in some very poignant writing, she struggles with where she belongs, finally choosing to live among the mortals and abandon her magical powers. This was a surprisingly moving tale.
The American Spy by Lauren Wilkerson (F but based on a true story). This is a thrilling Cold War spy story, set in 1986, about Marie Mitchell, an FBI intelligence Officer, a tale that is apparently inspired by real events. She’s brilliant, but she also a Black woman working in mostly white, male club and resigned to a job of administrative paperwork. She is also grieving over her sister’s mysterious death, and believes working for the FBI will help her solve it. She gets her opportunity when asked to join an undercover operation to infiltrate the government of Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary, communist president of Burkina Faso known familiarly as the Che Guevara of Africa. Complicated because she privately admires what he is trying to do. She infiltrates his government, seduces him, seems to fall in love with him, and plays a key role in the coup that brings down the government. A very moving and complex emotional story about spies, passionate romance, race and family tragedy.
The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams (F). I love the connections in this book between both the characters but also novels that I haven’t thought about for years!
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Kline (F). This was a cute whimsical read. Reminded me of Harry Potter as well as Fredrick Backman and I didn’t want it to end.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (F). I was late to this book by about 10 years but wanted to read the sequel, and I really enjoyed the characters and story of the virtual OASIS. The sequel was OK in comparison.
This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel (F). I enjoyed the complex emotions of this book and as a new parent, felt such empathy for the parents who maybe didn’t make the best decisions but always were trying to do best by their kids.
Judith and Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (NF)
Five Little Indians by Margaret Goode (NF).
How to Blow Up a Pipeline by Andreas Malm (NF). Like Kim Stanley Robinson’s work of didactic climate fiction, Ministry for the Future, Malm will leave you thinking: at what point does the global movement to avert climate disaster start using sabotage and vandalism against property?
Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake (NF). If you were paying close attention to the Ted Lasso show, you might remember the episode where Coach Beard is seen reading this book and then blurts out something about how our whole paradigm for thinking about forests is wrong. “Trees don’t compete for resources with each other, they’re socialists and they help each other,” he says, or something to that effect. Sheldrake is a wizard with words and will remake your understanding of the natural world. We are long past the time where “going viral” could be seen as something good (things that grow exponentially are cancers) and instead it’s time we start thinking about how we “go fungal.”
The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart by Alicia Garza (NF). I read this brave and candid memoir by one of the three co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement at a moment earlier this year when my own faith in the prospects of progressive organizing was at a low point. Garza’s honesty and soul-searching revived me. This is a rare book for a national political activist; she pulls no punches and doesn’t dance away from wrestling with hard problems, including internal ones.
The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee (NF). I had the privilege of serving alongside Heather for a few years together on the Consumer Reports board so I’m personally biased. But, that said, this is a wonderful and optimistic book about a hard subject: how racism harms all of us and how we might move forward together.
Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America by Alec MacGillis (NF). Even though MacGillis’ primary subject is Amazon’s sprawling business empire, he uses the company to paint a bigger canvas on what life under cowboy capitalism has become. As he illustrates in great detail, Amazon has made an art form of avoiding taxes, squeezing tax subsidies from local authorities (the department inside Amazon in charge of that is brazenly called “economic development”), using economic blackmail to crush local efforts to get it to pay back taxes, perfecting the use of tech to track employee performance down to the length of bathroom breaks, segmenting its workforce into “engineering and soft-ware developer towns…data-center towns and … warehouse towns,” rigging government RFPs in its favor, all while currying the favor of top politicians from Barack Obama on down and blithely ignoring the needs of the communities it has hollowed out. The best business book I read this year.
Three Girls from Bronzeville by Dawn Turner (NF) and Greenlights by by Matthew McConaughey (NF – especially the audio version — he reads it). Two memoirs that center around coming of age and discovering self. Seemingly disparate circumstances: one Black, urban experience of the 80s and 90s; one White, working class in Texas. Interesting commentaries on both, but a surprising number of common experiences.
Nick & Susan Fels:
The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson (NF).
The Money Hackers: How a Group of Misfits Took on Wall Street and Changed Finance Forever by Daniel Simon (NF).
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson (NF).
This is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan (NF) and a couple of baseball biographies (Babe Ruth and Ted Williams).
Tom Stoppard: A Life by Hermione Lee (NF).
The Great Dissenter, the Story of John Marshall Harlan, America’s Judicial Hero by Peter Canellos (NF). I hesitate to suggest it because it is about a lawyer and the Supreme Court, but it is not overly about the law. A good portion of the book traces the life of Robert Harlan, a black raised by Harlan’s father in the same household. Robert Harlan was a successful businessman and politician and a close confidant of Justice Harlan, who eventually suffered from the Jim Crow laws that gained prominence after Reconstruction. Justice Harlan was remarkable in his own evolution from an opponent of the 13th Amendment to the lone dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson. The book paints a picture of a Supreme Court dominated by Republican conservatives not unlike today. The parallels give some perspective on the current Court. Canellos went to law school but is by profession a journalist and is now executive editor of Politico.
The Overstory by Richard Powers (F). I just finished this for a second time. It deserved the Pulitzer Prize for teaching us how to view the natural world.
The Killer Angelsby Michael Shaara (F). Another re-read and another Pulitzer Prize winner. One of the best civil war novels.
I Heard The Owl Call My Nameby Margaret Craven (F). I read this years ago and was delighted to find it again. About a young minister who is sent by his bishop to live with Indians in rural British Columbia. He is terminally ill and the experience teaches him about the meaning of life and death.
The Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead (F). An epic intertwined journey of an aviatrix born in 1914 and an actress cast to play her a century later.
We Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride (F). Best friends Rylie, a black newscaster, and Jen, a white woman married to a cop, are tested when Jen’s husband, a cop, shoots a black 14-year-old. Can their friendship survive?
The Guncle by Christine Pride (F). A funny and sad book about a once-famous gay sitcom star whose unexpected family tragedy leaves him taking care of his niece and nephew for the summer.
Jews Don’t Count by David Baddiel (NF). Baddiel argues that those who think themselves as on the “right side of history” have often ignored the history of anti-Semitism. I listened to it on Audible two different times.
Nowhere Girl: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood by Cheryl Diamond (NF). An incredible true story about growing as a fugitive. (By the time she is 9, she has 6 identities). Eventually, she will have lived on five continents. The author must fight to prove she actually exists (there’s no proof) and learn how to survive on her own.
Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad (NF). This was my fav read of 2021. It’s her story of her early cancer diagnosis (age 23) to remission to re-entry into “normal” life— including a 15,000 miles road trip to meet some of the strangers who wrote to her in the hospital (where she wrote a column for the NYT).
Breath: The New Science of A Lost Art by James Nestor (NF). If you are not breathing properly, then your health and well being will suffer. Nester researches all over the world (San Paulo, New Jersey, ancient burial sites), explores ancient breathing practices, and reviews medical texts. See why humans have lost the ability to breathe properly.
In the past 30 years historians have flipped the tradition of describing how 55 signers of the Declaration and the Constitution created a new nation. This was top-down history telling: White men of largely comfortable lives, some based on the exploitation and slow torture of African Americans, made the United States out of high ideals they held dear. But starting about a generation and a half ago, historians started looking at what the American people were experiencing under British tyranny, and what they felt and did about it. The Will of the People: The Revolutionary Birth of America by T.H. Breen (NF) published in 2019 is a fine explanation in that new tradition. By the way, this was not published by a small leftist press, it was published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University. Breen’s study was shocking to me in some of its revelations, as I was raised with the top-down perspective. We hear much, too much, today about the smug right-wingers who lament the ‘politically correct’ ethos of those they fear will initiate the dreaded ‘socialism’ and ‘equality’. Breen studied the records of the Committees of Security in the still British colonies, when the colonists no longer gave allegiance to the legal state governments of the British authorities. Breen also studied the local newspapers, and the letters and memoirs of the colonists living in the small communities outside the few large cities. An example of what he describes: groups of citizens who supported the move against the British in these small towns would get together and knock on the doors of their neighbors and ask them what they felt about the political situation. Often when the neighbor opened the door he or she would see 10 or 12 of their neighbors standing there, and beyond them in the yard were 20 more. If they said they wanted to stay British their names would be published in the local newspaper, and they would be visited again to see if they had changed their minds, etc. Breen focuses his brilliant book on the emotions and attitudes of these ordinary people; as much social psychology as political history. His chapter titles are such as: ‘Rejection’; ‘Assurance’; ‘Fear’; ‘Justice’; ‘Betrayal’. Did you know that Loyalist marauders would sometimes rampage through farms and small towns and burn down the homes and barns of citizens who supported Independence. You will likely never think of our founding in the same way after reading this book. And it puts in perspective our treacherous country today.
Three from my mid-year list and three since then. But of 60 books I read this year, I gave five stars to 20 of them. Remind me why the limit is six.
The Book Collectors: The Secret Library of Daraya by Delphine Minoui (NF). This true story recounts how for four years a band of Syrian citizens, just five miles from Damascus, were able to ‘construct’ a secret library that gave them a purpose, a haven, and hope in a time when Bashar al-Assad kept them constantly under siege. Journalist Minoui writes, “The library is their hidden fortress against the bombs. Books are their weapons of mass instruction.” Although author Minoui was never able to go to the town of Daraya, she tells their story which I found riveting as well as inspiring and tragic.
At Night All Blood Is Black by David Drop (F). Audible. A superb performance by Dion Graham in the narration of this unusual and captivating novel. It is the story of a Senegalese man who had previously never left his village as he attempts to avenge the death of a friend and find forgiveness for his own actions fighting for the French army in WWI. Prose as poetry.
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynastyby Patrick Radden Keefe (NF). An engrossing account of how the three generations of Sacklers were able to acquire billions of dollars selling opioids. Truly, tragically, a very American story about how this family gamed the system, until they couldn’t anymore.
Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown (NF). The Boys in the Boat author about the patriotism, “contributions, and sacrifices that Japanese immigrants and their American born children made for the sake of the national: the courageous Japanese-American Arm unit that overcame brutal odds in Europe; their families, incarcerated back home; and a young man who refused to surrender his constitutional rights, even if it meant imprisonment.” Another “Who Knew” story that was well told.
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (HF). The story of a young girl passing as white as she becomes the librarian for JP Morgan and helps build his great collection of ancient manuscripts and other objets d’art, all the while struggling with hiding her secret. Listened to it and loved it. And it sent me to see the Morgan Library in NYC.
Their Eyes Were Watching Godby Zora Neale Hurston (F). Published in 1937 and ‘rediscovered’ by a number of black authors in the ‘60s and and ‘’70s and particularly from an Alice Walker essay in 1972. It’s the story of a Southern black woman in the ‘30s as she progresses from a young girl to a thrice married woman. Wonderful poetic type presentation that speaks in a vernacular that rings true.
An Anthology of Turqouise by Ellen Meloy (NF). A superb nature writer, her turf is the desert of the southwest with sentences that frequently spin into magic. This book was a Pulitzer finalist, published shortly before she died, unexpectedly and quietly, at 58.
The Echo Maker by Richard Powers (F). I read The Overstory, my first experience with the author, and followed with this earlier book. A good story interspersed with exhilarating passages of the migratory journey of cranes to and from the Platte River to the artic.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (F). I’ve never read a book from the viewpoint of a peasant Korean woman living in Japan during Japan’s colonial period in Korea and during WW2. The larger issues of war and colonialism are not the main stage but backdrops to a peasant life and the generations that follow. What I really liked about this book is that I could “walk in the shoes” of a woman that lived during this time and whose main focus was her children and whose aim in life was to create opportunity for those children despite the poverty, racism and discrimination faced by Koreans in Japan. As a daughter of immigrants, I could sense some of the same struggles faced by other immigrants in the US, but I had never heard a story of an immigrant in Japan.
Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard (NF). This reads more like a journal than a scientific book about trees, but it has both components. Dr. Simard is the leading scientist behind the newest research about tree communication. If you love trees and the science behind all things trees, you’ll love this book.
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson (NF). Pulitzer Prize author of The Warmth of Other Suns. Troubling and challenging theory about how America and many other societies have been shaped by a caste system melded by racism, gender type casting, and power as part of its DNA. Wilkerson is brilliant. Do we have a caste system in the US? Wilkerson argues that we do. It was very complex and revealing. Like eating bitter fruit but surviving with a stronger stomach. I need to reread this book.
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler (F). I’m quoting this from my Libby App, it says that this is the “first science fiction written by a Black woman.” Really? The first sci-fi book? Anyway, I found this book frustrating, enthralling, upsetting, and addicting. I couldn’t put it down and at the same time I was mad at the characters. It involves time travel from the mid 70’s in LA to the antebellum South in Maryland. If you suspend your wish for realism and just go with it for the ride, it’s a heck of an interesting read. You get a sneak peak of life on a plantation from an insider view of someone who happens to land there from another time period who is Black and educated. Reminds me a bit of Outlander.
The most interesting book I’ve read so far this year is Amia Srinivasan’s recent collection of essays, The Right to Sex – Feminism in the Twenty-First Century (NF). Shrinivasan, a 36 year old philosopher and social and political theory professor at Oxford, takes her title from the rantings of the infamous incel, Elliot Rodger, who murdered six people and wounded many others in a rampage protesting his inability to find a suitably gorgeous sexual partner. Shrinivasan’s essays on pornography, rape, racism, Brock Turner and Brett Kavanaugh, and feminist political views over the decades are well researched, provocative, and thoughtful.
Second Place by Rachel Cusk (F). British writer, Cusk has a unique and oblique writing style, very spare and unrevealing. The story is based on a true event involving Mabel Dodge Luhan when she hosted D.H. Lawrence and then memorialized in “Lorenzo in Taos.” It’s an interesting study of the psychological tension in male-female power struggles and artistic vanity and failure.
Monogamy by Sue Miller (F). Miller is a subtle and deft chronicler of a 30 year marriage, the memory of which is almost destroyed after the husband’s death when his betrayal becomes known. The wife is an almost successful photographer, he was an exuberant, larger-than-life bookstore owner in Cambridge, Mass. This is another psychological study of two people where memory and trust are intertwined.
Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy (F). Swiss writer who lives in Italy and writes in Italian. This story about an obsessive but platonic love at a Swiss boarding school for girls is replete with cunning, cruelty and regret.
Never Mind by Edward St. Aubyn (F). A memoir in the guise of fiction by this British writer. Whenever I feel like reading a merciless dissection of the English class hierarchy, I turn to St. Aubyn and re-read his first book in his Patrick Melrose trilogy. It is witty, damning and brilliant.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (NF). This is a commitment at more than 700+ pages – but I absolutely enjoyed this biography that reads like a novel. My respect for Hamilton has soared – my regard for Jefferson (prior to becoming President) has been seriously challenged. I have new regard for the NY Post – but most of all I have such gratitude to the person who laid the abiding foundations of our country.
The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered by Laura Auricchio (NF). I keep coming back to the original promise of the French Revolution had the Marquis been successful during the brief period that he was Commander in Chief of the French National Guard. A close friend of Alexander Hamilton – his support of the American Revolution with King Louis XVI and his battlefield exploits alongside George Washington make him a towering hero of the successful American Revolution – nearly every community in every state of America has a place named after the Marquis.
Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America by John Barry (NF). Author of 1918, Barry goes back over a hundred years to tell the story of the Mississippi and how this flood in 1927 affected racial politics, demographics and politics in America.
An Ambush of Widows by Jeff Abbott (F). Jeff went to college with my husband Tom at Rice University – and writes another spellbound thriller. I cannot put down Jeff’s books – and this may be his best with amazing psychological insights and tensions – haunting.
What You Have Heard Is True by Carolyn Forche (NF). A first-person account, by Washington’s own author and poet, of the beginnings of the ongoing revolution in El Salvador, written with emotion, intelligence and personal risk, following in particular the work of a behind-the-scenes hero of the struggle. A compelling addition to the literature of conscience and witness.
Fundamentals by Frank Wilczek (NF). An accessible short summary of where part of science stands today, in a unified view of particle physics and astrophysics by a Nobel laureate who is an accomplished author and a master of explaining the complex in a straightforward manner.
A Stab in the Dark by Lawrence Block (F). A perfect story of detection. Block is a master of NYC noir who was new to me but who has written dozens of novels. As my lifelong friend David Banks said of a Jo Nesbo novel, “You’ve got to love an alcoholic detective.” A cold case investigation story. I went on to read more by Block, but of what I’ve read so far, AStab in theDark is the best.
The Train by Georges Simenon (F). I dipped into Simenon’s mysteries this year and was disappointed. Nevertheless, The Train, the story of a couple fleeing the Nazi army across France in 1940, rings uncannily true as an historical novel and as a portrait of two people swept up in large-scale events. (It’s not part of the Maigret mystery series.) My mother-in-law was in France at the time and in a memoir told of events that evoked the same feeling.
The Good Shepherd by C.S. Forester (F). Awake 96 straight hours with the U.S. captain of a destroyer flotilla escorting a convoy across the North Atlantic in 1941 and undergoing a continuous U-boat attack. The tension never lets up. Recently made into a Tom Hanks movie, but the book is much better.
Under the Volcanoby Malcolm Lowry (F). It has lots of symbolism, references, and allusions to other literary works. Influenced by Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal. Lots of Dante’s Divine Comedy in there too. Set in post war Mexico, it tells the story of a washed up consul struggling with alcohol and getting his marriage back together. Not sure the ending is it’s strong point though!
Essays on Ethics by recently deceased Rabbi Johnathan Sacks (NF). I’m rereading this weekly reading of the Jewish Bible (Torah). While I am not a religious person, nor observant, I feel I have been an ethical and moral person……and I feel the roots of which came from our Jewish history and background.
His book explains and expands on the philosophical, moral, and basis of our and the Jewish contribution to our worldly understanding. Obviously, I strongly recommend this book to all, Jewish persons, non Jews, and persons interested in the ethical history and development of societal issues.
Risk Pool by my old reliable Richard Russo (F).
The Power of Scenery: Frederick Law Olmsted and the Origin of National Parks by Dennis Drabelle (NF).
Letters Home by Richard Miller (NF): I really enjoyed what a young Rick Miller wrote about and how he expressed his thoughts and feelings. I especially enjoyed his change and growth from the Peace Corps experience.
Fight to the Finish by Thomas Boswell (NF). (I’m not sure this counts as a book. But, reading and rereading this anthology of the 2019 Washington Nationals journey to become World Series champs always picks me up)
America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States by Erika Lee (NF). I see that immigration and anti-immigration books dominated my reading in 2021.
The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics, and the Law that Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America by Daniel Okrent (NF).
The Spoilage: Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement by Dorothy Swaine Thomas and Richard Nishimoto (NF).
The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr (F). Same-sex love story set during slavery. It really stayed with me and has gotten a lot of buzz though I did have some quibbles with it. Still, definitely an original.
Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton (F). Coming of age story set in a dysfunctional family in Australia. Absolutely not a book I would’ve normally chosen, but I’m glad I did. Such odd and interesting characters and a fun ride of a book.
SPQR by Mary Beard (NF). An imminently readable and riveting book on the history of History of Rome up to 220AD – I *finally* understand it! Frankly, she writes clearly and concisely it would be hard not to…. I’m so glad I read it.
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (F). Prepare for tears…. Story of the AIDS crisis through the decades as seen in a group of gay men’s friendships in Chicago in the 1980s.
Malibu Rising Taylor by Jenkins Reid (F). I read her previous book, “Daisy Jones & the Six” and really enjoyed it so thought I would read this one, as well. It’s an entertaining beach read, for sure. It’s not in the category of the others above but I had a hard time putting it down, so there’s that….
[PS – I will update this list for those readers/contributors who send in their favorites after this initial posting. I will put an asterisk * adjacent to the names I’ve add. I hope readers will return to this list throughout the year for possible titles of interest, and some that may not have been here Dec. 31.]
As I have done for the past 12 years, I am asking for a list (anywhere from one to as many as six) of the books you’ve most enjoyed reading in 2021.
There is no definition to the kind of book which you might add to this list. They can be fiction, non-fiction, science fiction, science, mystery, romance, hobbies, children’s books, etc. I am just looking for what you truly enjoyed this past year (old or new books) with the thought that others might get some ideas for their reading in 2022.
Even if you think others may recommend a particular book that you liked, please include it on your list. Some folks like to know that more than one or two MillersTime readers have enjoyed a given title.
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 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.
Please send your list by December 20. Then I can post the results by January 1.