And the first Spring Training games are today, Feb. 28, 2021.
Opening Day is scheduled for April 1. (Hopefully that will not turn into an April Fools’ Day hoax.)
Despite some concerns about less interest in baseball this year, there seemed to be good support for continuing the MillersTime Baseball Contests.
So here we go with the four contests for this year:
2021 MillersTime Baseball Contests
How will the COVID-19 virus affect the 2021 MLB season? Include some Overall Predictions as well as some Specific Ones. Creativity is encouraged. I’ll choose the five best submissions and have MillersTime baseball contestants vote on the winner.
Pick your favorite MLB team (or the team you know the best) and outline how they will do in the 2021 season compared to last year. Again, include both general predictions and specific ones in your submission and your reasons for those predictions.
Prize: Join me for a Nats’ game next year, or I’ll get tickets and try to join you for a regular season game of a team of your choice anywhere you choose.
Fill in the Blank:
Which teams will have the most wins in the AL & NL__________________ ___________________
Which team will be the King of New York _______________________(Tim M.)
Number of hitters who will strike out more than 200 times (three did in 2018, none did that in 2019)_________________(Zach H.)
Who will be the Manager of the Year in either the AL or NL (name one) _________________
Which Al & NL teams will have the most improved record from 2020___________________ ___________________
6.______Every team below the league average in payroll (currently $118,485,369) will miss the playoffs. (These teams currently are the Twins, Reds, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Royals, A’s, Rangers, Brewers, Tigers, Mariners, Rays, Marlins, Orioles, Pirates & Indians). (Zach H.)
7.______Dodgers & Padres will combine to win 200 or more games. (Dawn W.)
8.______There will be more HRs in 2021 on per game basis than in 2019 or 2018. (In 2019–6,776 home runs, all-time high for MLB. Broke previous record (2017) by 671 homers for an average of 1.39 homers per team game. (In 2018–5,585 home runs for an average of 1.15 homers per team game (Steve K.)
9.______No MLB Team will play all 162 games.
10.______No MLB pitcher will have an ERA below 2.00.
Prize: Join me for a Nats’ game next year, or if you’re not able to make it to DC, perhaps I can make it to where you live, and we’ll see a regular season game together.
Assuming there is a World Series in 2021,
Name the two teams who will make it into the WS
Which one will win?
In How many games?
Explain in some detail what will be the biggest specific factor determining the winner?
Tie-Breaker: AL & NL Division winners?
Prize: One ticket to the 2022 World Series or two tickets to the 2022 All Star Game in Los Angeles.
All winners and those whose questions were chosen for this contest get the ‘one-of-a kind,’ specially designed and updated MillersTime Baseball Winner T-Shirt.
Enter as many or as few of the contests as you want.
If you get a friend (or foe) to participate in these contests, and he or she wins and mentions your name in the submission, you’ll get a choice of receiving one the 25 best baseball books as your prize.
Any two-generation submission that wins will get a special prize.
GET YOUR PREDICTIONS IN EARLY. In case of a tie, the individual who submitted his/her prediction first will be the winner. In previous years, this has been a factor in declaring a winner.
Well now that that Super Bowl thing is over, and those of us who wanted the Chiefs to win have recovered, it’s time to focus on baseball.
Pitchers and catchers are gathering this week and full Spring Training, though with restrictions, will be underway shortly.
It’s hard to imagine what the 2021 MLB season will be with the continuation of the COVID virus – how many games will actually be played; will fans be able to attend games; and if so, will they; how much enthusiasm has faded for baseball, which was already in decline in some ways; and if there is a credible season, what teams will do well; and what players will shine; and which will falter?
Let me know if you are interested in the continuation the MillersTime Baseball Contests.
If you are interested, please help on the questions. Are there totally different types of questions to ask this year and which, if any, questions from the past continue to be part of the contests (e.g., How will your favorite team do in 2021; T/F questions; WS contestants and winners)?
Please send me any thoughts you have. Use either the Comments section of this post or send them to me at Samesty84@gmail.com.
The last two times Ellen and I posted reviews about films was in April and May of 2020, and all of those were films we had seen at home. (If you didn’t read or don’t remember either of those posts, you might find some films of interest in this link. (See: Our Movie Reviews Are Back, 4/7/2020 and Eight Films & One Guest Review, 5/9/2020). As you may recall, Ellen in particular, is not a great fan of watching movies at home.
Last night, however, we hit on one that we both thought worthy of mentioning to others:
The Dig (Directed by Simon Stone, on Netflix)
Ellen rated it ***** and said, “it was the best thing she’d seen since the coronavirus quarantine began, and we stopped writing about films.”
I rated it **** 1/2 and agree it was the most satisfying film we’d seen in many months.
The story is adapted from a novel by John Preston and is fictional account about the 1939 excavation in Suffolk, England of an archeological site on the property of Edith Pretty, just as World War II was about to begin. (This excavation did in fact take place and has been called “one of the biggest archeological finds of the 20th Century.”) Neither Ellen nor I had read the novel nor knew about this ‘expedition’.
For us, The Dig hit on many of the factors that we like in a film: a good story that does more than entertain; one that educates and provokes; one with fine acting (particularly by the two leads Carey Milligan as Edith Pretty and Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown, the excavator); and a film that has wonderful cinematography with images that remain in one’s mind well after seeing the film. It is visually beautiful.
Perhaps the film may be more suited to a slightly older audience, one not looking for fast moving scenes and exciting action. The director chooses to move away from the main story of this coastal England countryside dig to include some secondary characters. Fortunately, he returns to his main themes of the discovery and outcome of this dig and questions of who owns history, issues of class inequality, and portrayal of British life, all done in an understated way.
You don’t need to know any more than that, but if you’re interested in some of the background information, you can check out:
Thanks to Hugh Riddleberger’s recommendation in December, I signed up for and began to read Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American which arrives in a daily email (actually it usually seems to arrive well after I’ve gone to sleep).
Richardson is a history professor at Boston College has also taught at MIT & U of Mass, and is the author of a number of books, her most recent being How the South Won the Civil War.
It is the most informative single piece of reporting on the daily political news that I have found. She is able to put together day after day not just what is happening in our country but is able to put it in context.
During the final month and a half of the Trump administration, it was without a doubt the most comprehensive and important account of what occurred each day that I read.
It will no doubt not appeal to all readers of the MillersTime website, but for me, it is the first thing I read each morning, after having read a variety of news sources before going to sleep each night. And I always find insights that I had not discovered elsewhere.
In her own words, Heather Cox Richardson writes about her Newsletter:
About Letters from an American
Historians are fond of saying that the past doesn’t repeat itself; it rhymes.
To understand the present, we have to understand how we got here.
That’s where this newsletter comes in.
I’m a professor of American history. This is a chronicle of today’s political landscape, but because you can’t get a grip on today’s politics without an outline of America’s Constitution, and laws, and the economy, and social customs, this newsletter explores what it means, and what it has meant, to be an American.
These were the same questions a famous observer asked in a book of letters he published in 1782, the year before the Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War.
Hector St. John de Crevecoeur called his book “Letters from an American Farmer.”
Like I say, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure rhymes.
If you want to check out a few of her daily writings, you can get access to her recent and past daily emails here.
But what about the headline of this blog post?
Letters from an American is free for simply adding your email address to her site. But I believe it is worth paying for, contributing to her for the hard work she does each day. As the sources for news and daily information are both shrinking (fewer local newspapers for example) and exploding (particularly through social media), I am pleased to support her work even though I am not at present using any of the added features the $50 a year subscription offers me.
I believe you can start receiving her daily emails by going here, where you have several options, including free access, $5 a month, or $50 year. The latter two options have added features to the daily emails.
Richardson has promised: Letters from an American will always be free, but we also have a community behind a paywall to expand on the ideas in the Letters without the help of trolls. If you’d like to join us for discussion and more thoughts from me, you’re most welcome. It’s $5 a month.
I just finished reading what will definitely be one of my Favorite Reads of 2021: Anything Can Happen by George & Helen Waite Papashvily (NF).
I know. I know. I just posted the 2020 Favorite Reads, and here I am already making a list for this new year. But there’s no doubt this wonderful, uplifting story will be at the top of my list, and I’ll reread before the end of the year and encourage others to read it too.
But first, how I came to find and read Anything Can Happen:
My father, Sam Miller, was not a person who cared about acquisitions, except for his books and his chess table. When my mother died in Florida and he subsequentially came to live in DC, the one thing he wanted to bring was his library. And of course, we readily agreed. When he died, I inherited that collection.
I always knew that Sam’s father, Tom, had frequently given him books on his birthday, and these were Sam’s most prized possessions. For years now I have been meaning to look more closely at the books Tom gave Sam, with the possible idea of reading every one.
And so with the ‘enforced’ and extended time at home, four days ago I went through Sam’s treasures. I was surprised to find there were 40 books from his father, each inscribed, including the date given.
(I was also surprised to find five volumes Sam had taken from the University of New Hampshire Library, where he had been a student for a year and a half before leaving college to go to work and also a half dozen books from the Orland Public Library, where Sam was a known offender for keeping books long overdue before, sometimes, returning them.)
There were other books in Sam’s collection that I didn’t remember ever seeing – three from Tom to me and one from my mother’s parents.
Since I wasn’t ready to commit to reading the 40, I thought I’d start with the one from Esty’s parents, Anything Can Happen, a slim volume given to her and Sam when I was just two years old.
What a pure delight.
And not just because it was from my grandparents to my parents and was now in my book collection.
Anything Can Happen (hereafter referred to as ACH) was originally published in serialized form and became a Book of the Month Club best seller in January 1945 (600,000 copies sold in the US and 1.5 million worldwide). It was also turned into a movie directed by George Seaton and starring Jose Ferrer & Kim Hunter.
ACH is the (mostly?) true story of George Papashvily, an immigrant from a village in Caucasian Georgia who came to Ellis Island in 1923 after being an apprenticed sword maker and ornamental leather worker. He was a sniper in the Russian army in WWI, and after his return to Georgia, he fought against the Red Army before fleeing to Istanbul and then on to the US.
Together with the writing assistance of his American born wife, Helen Waite, ACH tells in broken English about his life from the time he arrived here and continues through one memorable experience after another. It is told with a wonderful sense of self-deprecating humor as he discovers that his new country is not exactly a “land of milk and honey.”
It is the quintessential story of an immigrant, one who is able to find humor in situations that could easily be overwhelming and discouraging to many others. Helen helps George tell his stories, many of which are “foibles of his own making.” (see NYTimes article, March 31, 1978 upon his death).
While Anything Can Happen can stand alone because of how well these stories are told and who George happens to be – a loving, decent, creative, curious, clever, hardworking immigrant with dreams and never-ending optimism, I think it is also one of the stories of America, one that some of us may recognize, and many can appreciate.
I suspect I will not be the only MillersTime reader too have Anything Can Happen on his or her Favorite Reads list 11 months from now.
[Updating: I am constantly updating this list as a few readers have sent in their favorites after its initial posting. I’m putting an asterisk * adjacent to the names of those whom I’ve added. 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.]
Easily this post is my Favorite (‘Book’) of the year.
Amidst some controversy, I limited contributors to just four titles with the intent of focusing more on what readers were saying about their favorites and less emphasis on how many books were cited multiple times. Whether I achieved that or not, you will no doubt tell me. Some of you have already done so, and I look forward to hearing from others about this year’s format.
To the results:
There are 228 books listed from 68 contributors, 34 female, 34 male. Nonfiction (NF) submissions slightly outweighed Fiction (F), 52%-48%, only the second time that has occurred in the 12 years we’ve been doing this.
Seven titles received three or more citing:
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson (NF) (7)
The Splendid & the Vile by Erik Larson (NF) (5)
A Promised Land by Barack Obama (NF) (3)
Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar (F) (3)
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek (F) by Kim Michele Richardson (NF) (3).
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (F) (3)
Deacon King Kong by James McBride (F) (3)
Seventeen others were cited twice. Had contributors been able to submit more than four favorites, I suspect there would have been a significant increase of these and other titles cited.
I hope you will take the time not only to check out your own submissions and those of people you know but of other contributors too, readers you don’t know. For me, everyone participating is a friend (some of whom I’ve known more than 50 years), and I have interest in what they’re reading and enjoying and think you may also. Some of their choices I can assure you will be unfamiliar to you but certainly are ones worth considering.
If you’re frustrated by not being able to list more than four, you’ll see at the end of the post how you might add more of your own favorites to this year’s post. You’ll also see what others are adding.
Additionally, you’ll find links to the three 2020 mid-year posts, and for those who really have little to do, you can link to any or all of the annual lists starting in 2009.
The list below is alphabetical by first name, and any errors are solely my responsibility. Let me know if I need to make corrections.
The 2020 Favorite Reads from MillersTime Contributors
As for what I’ve been reading, it’s yin and yang. On the one hand I have delved deeply and continuously into Casteby Isabel Wilkerson (NF) and been a part of several discussion groups about it. That woman is a genius writer — how she did all that research and then crafted the information without sounding like a rant is astounding.
On the other hand, I’ve done some lighter reading, prompted by my book group that wanted an escape. I’ve now read a couple of British writer Jojo Moyes books. That woman can write in a page-turner way. I was ready for a “happy ending/bad guys lose/good guys win” book. The two titles I consumed are The Giver of Stars (F) and One Plus One (F).
The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund de Waal (NF). Memoir of ceramicist Edmund de Waal, his family, the Ephrussis Family – which was a Jewish banking family in Paris/Vienna in the 19th Century. The story is told by tracing the history of Japanese netsuke (small carved figures) which were passed down through 5 generations of the family. Can be a little slow at times but the family’s story is very interesting.
Billion Dollar Brand Club by Lawrence Ingrassia (NF). Interesting story about all of the billion dollar internet brands including Dollar Shave Club and Warby Parker.
The Warburgs by Ron Chernow (NF). Long but amazing story about an amazing Jewish banking family
TheLast Kings of Shanghai by Jonthan Kaufman (NF). Maybe my favorite of the year. Gives the reader a great understand about how China developed its relationship with the west today told through the story of two Jewish families that emigrated to China from Iraq.
Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar (F). I usually read books instead of listening. This book changed my thinking about audio books. Akhtar is a story teller whose compelling voice explores family, identity, relationships, and allegiances. Though fiction, it richly borrows from Akhtar’s experiences growing up in an immigrant family in a frayed America. This is fiction that feels like nonfiction.
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson (NF). If Homeland Elegies is fiction that reads like nonfiction, this is the opposite: nonfiction that reads like fiction. A portrait of leadership during a most troubled time May 1940 – May 1941, I valued reading about how a great, though flawed, statesman rescued civilization. Stark contrast to the dangerous leadership of this country’s last four years.
The Deepest South of All by Richard Grant (NF). (Thank you Ellen Miller for recommending this book.) It is about Natchez, MS: the eclectic, colorful locals; the city’s culture, social, class and caste systems; the legacies of its slave owner families; its struggles with its past and present racism; its future viability. If you know New Orleans and its idiosyncrasies, Natchez makes NOLA seem rather dull. The book is alternately amusing, poignant, nauseating, and cringe worthy.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle. (NF). An excellent read for anyone who is looking to work on themselves and find their power. It is more geared toward women but also good for anyone going through a divorce.
Any and all books by Anthony Williams, the Medical Medium. I read his books ten years ago and thought he was too extreme, but now I find that I love most of what he says. He is the person behind the celery juice craze. His Liver Cleanse book (NF) is superb, as well as his Life Changing Foods book (NF). I drink celery juice all the time and also drink his detox smoothie almost every day.
I am now reading the book Too Much and Never Enough by Mary Trump (NF) about DT. She really understands his mental illness issues so well, and I find it all fascinating and disgusting and sad all at the same time.
The Final Four of favorite reads: I have clearly read a lot this year with not much else to do. I prefer the historical books, as you will note below, but I do enjoy sprinkling in the mysteries and novels. So here are my four — a VERY difficult choice
Return to the Reich: A Holocaust Refugee’s Secret Mission to Defeat the Nazis by Eric Lichtblau (NF). A German Jew escapes Nazi Germany, fleeing to the US, joins the US forces and infiltrates back into Nazi Germany to help win the war.
A Rumored Fortune by Joanna Politano. (HF). Tressa Harlowe and her mother return to an estate in southern England where her father, recently deceased, has buried a fortune . . . but has told no one where it is. In dire financial straits but with the assistance of the vineyard manager, she works to find the treasure . . . does she find it? A fun and well-written mystery which is a good relief in these times.
The Indomitable Florence Finch by Robert Mrazek (NF). A true WWII story, but it takes place in the Phillippines. Finch, a Fillipino, is a go-getter and brave woman who defies the Japanese occupiers, diverts tons of oil which is sold on the black market to provide funds which she uses to buy food and medicine which is secretly diverted to American POWs. She wins the Presidential Medal of Freedom but never tells her family about her heroics for 50 years. This is an amazing story and very much worth the read. And it is a very different take on WWII as it focuses on the war in the Pacific arena.
The Honjin Murdersby Seishi Yokomizo (F). If you like mysteries, try Yokomizo; her Japanese mysteries are very good.
I have devoured Ken Follett’s beautifully written trilogy’s. The Evening and the Morning (F) (prequel to Pillars of the Earth), and it does not disappoint. It’s a long and wonderful read.
My favorite novel of all times is Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (F). Walter’s latest novel, The Cold Millions (F), is focused two brothers trying to find their way during Wobblie organizing in the Northwest US. I couldn’t put it down.
I picked up Deacon King Kong by James McBride (F) from the Miller Time list and was not disappointed.
I haven’t read as much as I wanted to this year. Been kind of busy, busier than I ever imagined.
Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman (NF). For many years, my image of humans left to their own devices would resort to mayhem and chaos. Well not totally. I didn’t want to go that route since it seemed so dark and unforgiving. I must admit that the story of schoolboys gone mad in the Lord of the Flies by William Golding (which I used in my classes for years), and the research on the “Zimbardo Effect” at Stanford in 1971, and by Stanley Milgram’s research with a “Shock Machine,” influenced my attitude for a long time. Spending a few days as an inmate in the Colorado State Penitentiary myself in that same year also had an effect on my beliefs.
Bregman poses a different perspective, sparked by the discovery of a moment when some Australian school boys, who were marooned on an island for a little more than a year together, suggested a different view of human kind faced with crisis. The author discloses some fallacies in previous research and provides an argument for his thesis that humans basically believe in the goodness of human kind. I found this refreshing given what we see and hear about today’s world.
Out of this reading sparked a song I wrote with my wife Kay called: “Loving Acts of Kindness”. “The Kindness of Strangers” movie is also complementary (Prime Video 2020).
An American Marriage by Taiyari Jones (F).
The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay (F). (Ed. This book won many prizes and was award as a ‘Best Book of 2019’ by numerous reviews.)
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (F). A psychological thriller.
It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell (F).
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (F). I got this based on an NPR story. The structure was fascinating, as two different stories starting some 17 years apart gradually merged into a true murder mystery as well a a love story, while on the way you get a picture of live in the wetlands of North Carolina. I found the ending very satisfying although others apparently haven’t
Deacon King Kong by James McBride (F). This one first came to me as an excerpt in the NYT. The book delivered. Totally absorbing story of late 60’s Brooklyn (or was it Queens) where life in a project rubs up against smuggling and organized crime in a decaying waterfront, but faith prevails in the end.
Imperfect Union by Stephen Inskeep (NF). A biography of Stephen Fremont and his wife Jessie. Fremont was a self-aggrandizing explorer who played a surprising role in the “acquisition” of California from Mexico and later as the first Republican presidential candidate, on an anti-slavery platform; Jessie publicized his adventures and provided much needed political support. Fascinating look at a lesser known piece of US history.
Grant by Ron Chernow (NF). Chernow tells us all you would ever want to know about Grant, his family., is early failures, and the less covered western campaigns in the Civil War, as well as the denouement in Virginia in 1865-65. A timely history for a our time – I’m looking forward to finishing it with his presidency and Reconstruction in the new year
Recently, I read three books by the same author because I enjoyed her writing style and because all included some accurate historical elements:
A Race to Splendor by Ciji Ware (HF). Following the 1806 devastating San Francisco fire, two woman architects rebuild two famous hotels.
That Autumn in Edinburg by Ciji Ware (HF). A compelling mystical attraction draws an American designer and a visiting Scotsman to work together to save their respective firms.
The Summer in Cornwall by Ciji Ware (HF). An American nurse and dog trainer takes her spoiled ward to her English cousins to help the youngster adjust to her Mother’s sudden death and her father’s abandonment. In Cornwall, the nurse meets a troubled veteran and together they help save the family’s estate.
I was absolutely enthralled this past year by The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish (NF). The novel is long,and I was completely absorbed, transported to another world (two of them, actually) in a way I don’t remember feeling since I was a child known to be a Bookworm. It reminds you of the sheer joy of great fiction, but also of the beauty of scholarship, history, philosophy… I could go on. Strongly recommended!
Asymmetryby Lisa Halliday (F) is the best thing I’ve read this year. This debut novel consists of two novellas and a coda, all seemingly unrelated, folded into a remarkable whole. The first novella follows a young editor’s affair with a decades older novelist (inspired by the author’s affair with Philip Roth). In the second novella an Iraqi-American, detained by airport customs agents, endures a wait, worthy of Kafka, while he considers the arc of his life and the country his parents left behind. The coda uses an imagined episode of Desert Island Discs (a actual BBC broadcast that explores the music that influenced, and chronicled, the lives of celebrities) to further explore some of the books themes. As a bonus, for this reader, and the Massachusetts born author, the first novella is set in NYC with the 2004 MLB Red Sox-Yankees playoff series playing in the background.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (F) tells the story of young lovers who, separately, leave Nigeria, at the time under military rule, for the West. The tale is told through the eyes of the female protagonist, Ifemelu, who punctuates her story with blog entries on issues facing Black Americans, offered by a non-American Black. My favorite aspect of the book was the author’s success in having the reader feel he was in the hairdresser’s chair, along with Ifemelu, as she had her hair braided over the course of many hours.
The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintyre (HF). Given the recent infiltration of U.S. intelligence by Russian actors this might seem an anachronistic tale from a simpler time for spying. This account reads like the best spy novels, with twists, turns and near-misses, but is based on fact. If nothing else the description of the qualities the Russians look for in recruiting will stick with me – they sought a promiscuous, greedy and egotistic man.
Hillbilly Elegyby JD Vance (NF). This family memoir of growing up in Appalachia, dirt poor, without opportunity will stay with the reader long after the book is done. The cultural and family dynamics contributing to the economics and disintegration of the white working class there underscores his struggle. He amazingly manages to find a path out and his success is astonishing. With it comes ambivalence and maturity as life progresses. It is a passionate and personal story about loyalties, family, love and survival. It would be a great Book Club read, as well.
The Girl with Seven Names by Hyoseon Lee (NF). Unbelievable and true story of a woman’s defection from North Korea. Her perilous escape, identity crisis, family, loyalties, and brutality of the Communist regime are very real and keep the reader on edge to travel with her through the uncertainties, real danger and challenges lead to eventual success. Very engaging true story. This too is a good Book Club read.
The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate (HF). An account of three young women searching for family in the post Civil War era in the South to a modern day (1980’s) teacher who learns of their story and its vital connection to her students’ lives in Louisiana. Set in 1875 Louisiana, Hannie (freed slave), Lavinia (pampered heir to a failed plantation), and Juneau Jane (Lavinia’s Creole half sister) set off to find a stolen inheritance, and lost slave family members. Teacher Benedetta Silver gets a job at a poor school in Louisiana and stumbles upon the century old story of the three women, a long ago journey and a hidden book that reveals everything.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller (NF). This is her journey after being sexually abused by a Stanford Univ student. I listened on Audible as she reads the narrative. It is extremely poignant and shows how the victim (in 2016) is still viewed as guilty. Chanel does an excellent yet laborious job of sharing her struggle to find her voice, ultimately being able to get the legal system to change. Meaningful to me as it shows how the role of woman in rape is still victimized and subjugated. Miller courageously attempts to dispel this reoccurring issue.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson (F). Historical novel. First mobile library in Kentucky thanks to Roosevelt’s Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project. These traveling librarians went into the Appalachia’s to dispense books to those who had no other access. Main character is part of a breed whose skin is blue, unlike others. Poignant, courageous, confronting intolerance, overcoming horrific odds…..very moving and inspiring story about the power of books.
The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates (NF). Her work with the Gates Foundation to lift up women worldwide to bring economic and health security. It is not a typical feminist approach but her strength is as an advocate based on her personal awareness from her global travels to aid the needy. Meaningful to me to see how Melinda came into her own voice to influence powerful changes in the world.
APromised Land by Barack Obama (NF). Currently listening to it on Audible. Liking what I hear as it is Obama’s voice doing the reading.
Found “reading” was a mixture of paper and audible. More disturbing was my lack of ability to concentrate. Not sure if that was because I was reading heavy BLM books, like Kendi and Wilkerson, or because it was the sign of my mental stay home state.
David P. Stang:
Biography of Silenceby Pablo d’Ors (NF). Pablo d’ Ors is a 57-year-old Spanish Catholic priest, novelist and Zen meditator…whose remarkable Biography of Silence is largely about how disciplined meditation can exponentially expand your consciousness and your quality of life. His book is not meant to be a step-by-step beginner’s manual on how to meditate, but rather it explores the “what” and why” of meditation. Is intended to take you on a journey into your interior mind and demonstrate to you what can happen to your consciousness when you meditate.
The Gift Of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister (NF). The author is a Catholic nun and well known spiritual writer. She encourages us to cherish the blessings of aging and to overcome its challenges, and shows us that this is a special period of life – may be the most special of them all. Older age gives us wisdom, freedom, and prosperity of another kind. Older age enlightens – not simply ourselves but also those around us. To live these years well, we need to look at every one of them head up and alive. Life is not about the length of years we managed to get out of it rather it is about living into the values offered every day about growing older with grace.
The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Thinkby Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods (NF). Hare is an ethologist and evolutionary anthropologist who founded the Duke Canine Cognition Center. His wife Vanessa Woods is a researcher at that facility…In the past decade, we have learned more about how dogs think than in the last century. Breakthroughs in cognitive science, pioneered by Brian Hare, have proven dogs of a kind of genius for getting along with people that is unique in the animal kingdom. This dog genius revolution is transforming how we live and work with our canine friends, including how we train them. In their book they compare the consciousness of dogs to wolves, foxes, chimpanzees and bonobos and conclude that dogs are able to communicate with humans better than any of these other animals.
The Quest For Hermes Trismegistus From Ancient Egypt To The Modern Worldby Gary Lachman (NF). The author has published several books regarding the links between consciousness, culture, and the Western esoteric tradition…(this) spiritual adventure story traces the profound influence of Hermes Trismegistus on the Western mind. For centuries his name ranked among the most illustrious of the ancient world. Considered by some a contemporary of Moses and a forerunner of Christ…Trismegistus is one of the most influential fountainheads of spiritual consciousness and human wisdom.
These are my three memorable books. Two were read electronically. Squeeze me was in paper. I read serendipitously, no rhyme or reason. Additionally, I read less than in past years and also looked for well written and well-plotted escapism. My personal preference is for psychological suspense and page turning mysteries, spy thrillers, and police/crime procedurals filled with dramatic characters and complicated twists. Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker (NF). An in-depth portrait of a family plagued by schizophrenia as well as a critical and insider commentary on psychiatric trends, reflecting profound diagnostic and treatment divisions. Written with compassion and empathy and analytical insight, it is the perfect blend of compelling storytelling and methodical investigation.
Squeeze Me by Carl Hiassen (F). Just for escapist fun. Laugh out loud passages. Hiassen knows his colorful south Florida characters well. With his talent for political humor, irreverence and outrageous plots, the former President, the First Lady, political supporters and a cast of quirky players are grist for his caricature and hilarious mill.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (F). It’s all about identity—race and gender. Shades of complexion, how we truly see ourselves, what the world sees, and what we wish the world to see are the themes of this multi-generational family drama. Once the light skin African-American twins, Stella and Desiree, choose separate paths, based on race and the ability to “pass” a lifetime of serious, secret, and complicated consequences are put into motion for them and their progeny.
These are my favorite reads from 2020, a year that I’ve had more time to read than usual because of Covid. Two of these books I also read in the e-book version, downloading them from my public library account (something else I discovered because of the difficulties of browsing the library).
Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 by Stephen Ambrose (NF). I read this before my train trip across America last summer, and I’m glad I did, as we followed part of the original transcontinental railroad route from Sacramento to Omaha. Building that railroad, especially through the sierra Nevada mountains, was an engineering marvel, and Ambrose tells the story in a very engaging way. The Language of God by Francis Collins (NF). I was given this book by my son, and I really enjoyed it. It is written by the Director of the National Institutes of Health (Anthony Fauci’s boss), and he argues for the compatibility of science and faith. Given that much of the US population sees an inherent conflict between science and religion, it is a refreshing reminder that they need not be.
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (F). I wanted to read some good fiction, and this was very much a page turner. It’s a novel based on a damaged Vietnam Vet who takes his wife and daughter to the wilds of Alaska to begin a new life.
Educated by Tara Westover (NF). An awe-inspiring memoir about the author’s upbringing in a fundamentalist Mormon family in Idaho. The author received no formal education growing up, but eventually got into the Brigham Young University and later earned a PhD from Cambridge. A great story of grit and determination and succeeding against all odds.
As to my reading, it is one of the things that occupy much of my time. After having been so pleased with The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkinson I read her new work, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (NF). In spite of being very well documented, it reads almost like a novel. Amazing.
I am now reading Obama’s latest, A Promised Land (NF). He could have had a great career primarily as a writer; he is so talented. No ghost writer for him. What a mind!!!! His insight into what it takes to mount a campaign was overwhelming.
I didn’t read that much this year but here are a few notables. I read ZERO non-fiction this year. I guess the whole point of any limited reading I did was to escape and turn my brain off. My book club has been on hiatus since we haven’t been able to meet outside. Samantha and Brooke’s [Ed. Elizabeth’s daughters] favorites are below mine!
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (F). We read this for my Kansas City Book Club, and while I did not particularly “enjoy” reading it, it was one of the most thought provoking books I read all year. I say I didn’t enjoy it because I felt it was very hard to read and was almost painful at points, and I had to put it down. It made me feel so uncomfortable, but it was extremely gripping and made for an interesting conversation. I definitely recommend reading it, with that caveat that it’s not going to be a fun/light read. It’s sort of like how “Six Feet Under” was one of my favorite TV shows, despite how depressing, raw, and unsettling the entire series was, just because it made you feel so much.
All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth (F). Pick a book with an eerie mystery and throw in a boarding school and there’s probably a good shot that it’s going to be one of my favorite books of the year. No exception here; it was an enjoyable read that I couldn’t put down that helped me escape!
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (F). Suggested by many other MillersTime readers, it was a great psychological thriller. I did not see the twist at the end. A good thriller will always make a reader second-guess himself/herself, right?
The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney (F). According to Goodreads, I didn’t give any books five stars in 2020 (maybe I was grumpy for some reason), but I would have given this one 4.5. It tells the story of two tragedies that happen in the summer of 1986 in Oklahoma and what happens twenty-five years later when those people attempting to solve the cases come together.
Brooklyn Tilis, 3+
The Monster at the End of This Book, part of the Sesame Street Books
The Ten Thank You Letters by Daniel Kirk
Should I Share My Ice-Cream by Mo Willems
The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! by Mo Willems
Samantha Tilis, 4 3/4
Dragons Love Tacos and Dragons Love Tacos 2 by Adam Rubin
Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems
Mix It Up, Press Here, Let’s Play (3 separate books) by Herve Tullet
There were many good books this year to choose from – and so, so much time. In addition to the best-sellers and prize-winners that I read and that truly deserved high praise (ones the ‘Editor’ of this blog refused to let me include here, but ones I will list AFTER this post is published…see Footnotes in the Comment section under my name). I also thought very highly of a number of books by authors whose work received less attention.
Here are the four outstanding ones that I want to recommend this year.
If you’re from the South, The Deepest South of All: True Stories from Natchez, Mississippi by Richard Grant (NF) was an outstanding glimpse of a modern day city still coping with its past. A story of a southern town and how it reconciled (or not) time-worn traditions and racial justice. The book is full of wonderful characters and stories.
If you’re interested in new authors, especially with a gift for slightly off-beat story-telling, you want to get to know Ottessa Moshfegh. This year she released Death in Her Hands (F). It’s a fascinating book about aging and reality, art and imagination and as a bonus it starts with a murder “mystery.” Stylistically, it reminded me of one of my previous favorites — Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones.
I loved the book Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor (F). It fictionalizes an account of the real-life relationship between Bram Stoker (the author of Dracula) and the two stars of Victorian theatre Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. It takes place in Victorian London in the late 1800’s and is a clever story of friendship, love and loyalty, and a whole lot more. Besides the story, the characters and the gifted writing, my admiration for this book was likely increased by my lack of ability to attend live theater in 2020.
And one other to add to the list: Soul Full of Coal Dust: A Fight for Breath and Justice in Appalachia by Chris Hamby (NF). I just finished this book before this writing deadline and moved it to the top of my “don’t miss” list. It tells a story of the miners who since the 1960s have fought for their rights to benefits for their illnesses and the attorneys, doctors, judges, and mining companies who fought them (and some who fought with them). You may know of the general outline of this story, but it’s the details that grab you all along the way. The work leading up to the book earned the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting.
I have been reading much more than usual during the last 9 months with my preference being for fiction, especially historical fiction, mostly read on a Kindle. Being very visual, I get too distracted listening to audio books. Also I like not having the clutter of books hanging around and I like being able to hold my kindle comfortably with one hand while lying on my back or sitting in a recliner! I prefer newly published novels and discovering new authors, but I also enjoy reading highly claimed novels that are decades old.
I have already talked about my two most favorite books of the Covid months in previous posts, here and here. Since that last book list, I have read a few more books I have liked, three of them on similar themes dealing with racial and family conflict in the south set in the first half of the 20th century. I have been drawn to exploring issues of the origins of our country’s racial inequity.
Call Your Daughter Home by Deb Spera (F). It’s set in 1920’s South Carolina and focuses on three women, one black, two white whose stories intertwine. Their family dramas are set against the cotton decline in the South due to a boll weevil infestation. The characters are richly depicted and the mother daughter relationships are compelling.
The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate (F) has two major story lines, alternating between a contemporary new teacher trying to motivate her impoverished students and a story of their ancestors. The most interesting story was the one set in Louisiana in the years right after the Civil War focusing on three young women, black, white and biracial who are searching for family and identity in the years right after the Civil War.
The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau (F) is a beautifully written Pulitzer Prize winning novel from the early 1960’s about prejudice and family secrets over several generations. Again themes of strong southern women and racial prejudice dominate.
The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue (F), author of Room, is probably my favorite book of the last few months. Set in Ireland in 1918, the book tells the story of a nurse/midwife working in a maternity ward of a hospital caring for several pregnant women, all with Spanish Flu. Not only was it fascinating to learn more about that pandemic and early 20the century obstetrics, but the character relationships were richly described and developed. Themes around War World I, Irish Independence, feminism, sexual identity, love and death made this a very satisfying read.
Emily Nichols Grossi:
Thank god you limited us to four. I have hardly been able to read or focus this year so was feeling sheepish about what would have been a minimalist list. And now that’s the goal! :)
I really, really struggled to read this year. My overarching stresses were the pandemic and having everyone home + the election. Those left me with little ability to sleep, focus, or read beyond brief works, and although I missed reading, I will bid farewell to 2020 with some wonderful books in memory and on my shelf of favorites.
The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien, (F). I’m still on my Irish literature tear and have been meaning to read O’Brien. Recently, I heard that The Country Girls, three novels (written: 1960, 1962, 1964) and an epilogue in one book, was an inspiration for Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. While I have not been able to get into My Brilliant Friend, I was nonetheless intrigued by The Country Girls being even more of a seminal work than I’d thought. So, I jumped in and, thirty pages later, was hooked.
The story follows two “country” girls from Western Ireland through child- and adulthood and all the associated angst and joy and reality. The characters are flawed but real, and I often disliked them even when I wanted to hug and help them. I really, really enjoyed this compilation. Irish writers so often have phenomenal character development and can really tell a story, with depth, empathy, candor, and fun.
In the Garden of Beastsby Erik Larson (NF) was absolutely excellent and terrifyingly relevant. A must-read about the American ambassador to Germany, stationed in Berlin, during Hitler’s ascent prior to WWII, I was riveted and both marginally comforted and significantly freaked out by the ways in which history seems to repeat itself because of human fallibility, thirst for power, unwillingness to face reality, ignorance, and hope.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (F). This novel, about a Mexican woman and her son escaping cartel violence in Acapulco by attempting to get to el norte, is riveting, horrific, gorgeous, educational, and unforgettable. It’s nearly 400 pages long, and I read it in maybe two days; I couldn’t, and didn’t want to, put it down. You may have heard about the backlash against American Dirt, based on Cummins’ being only partly Latina: who gets to tell whose stories? I found the book magnificent and moving and think it’s absolutely worth reading.
Everybook by Tana French, (F). Her mysteries are utterly transportive, well-written tales with terrific characters and terrific senses of place.
Absolutely American by David Lipsky (NF).
Less by Andrew Sean Greer (F).
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (F).
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan (F).
I did not read to escape from this strange year. I read to understand better the challenges confronting us. I picked three challenges — the pandemic, institutional racism, and the environment (see here) — and the books that brought me a deeper understanding.
The Great Influenza by John M. Barry (NF). The information about the so-called Spanish Flu was fascinating. But Barry’s “side trips” into the history of medicine in the US, the founding of Johns Hopkins University, the role of the media, Woodrow Wilson’s leadership (or lack thereof) and the Versailles Peace Conference were all fascinating and relevant to our time.
For a deeper understanding of institutional racism, in and outside America, against African-Americans and other races and ethnic groups:
The Yield by Tara June Winch (F) showed institutional racism in Australia and won that country’s top literary award. Written by an Aboriginal woman, it described centuries of racism, colonial violence, oppression and environmental destruction. But it also offered hope through a new generation and a celebration of the Wiradjuri people through their language.
The Hemingses of Monticello, An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed(NF). In this meticulously researched work, Gordon-Reed tells the Jefferson/Hemings story by focusing on the Hemings family, the enslaved women and men who worked in Jefferson’s house and lived there as servants to their father and siblings. An important read for me in the time of Black Lives Matter as I try to understand systemic racism more deeply.
Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar(F).In this searing work of auto-fiction an American-Pakistani Muslim man describes America today, the promise and the reality; what it means to be treated as an outsider and to want to belong without losing your identity.
During the quarantine lock down, (which still goes on; I’m an introvert but this is ridiculous), I decided to read four long poems in English about which I had heard but never read. So I read one by Wordsworth, one by Melville, and one by Lord Byron. The final one of the four leads my list for 2020. (Note from the Editor: These final two sentences have been edited to keep Garland within the prescribed four submissions.)
The Ring and the Bookby Robert Browning (Poem). This long dramatic poem, of 21,000 lines, was Robert Browning’s best work and was a bestseller in the 1800s. It tells the story, in 12 books of a murder trial in Rome in 1698. Each book is narrated by a different person involved with the trial, thus giving a Roshomon effect way before Roshomon the short story and the film. Browning focuses on human nature and the meaning of truth in human affairs. Browning also tells how he found the description of the trial in a used bookstore in Rome.
The Good Shepherd by C.S. Forester (F). Tom Hanks wandered into a used book store in New York and found this novel, first published in 1955. Hanks liked the novel so much, he made a film, Greyhound, based on it. Unfortunately the Covid epidemic prevented the film from being released. The longest battle of World War II was the battle against U-boats in the Atlantic, and one of the hardest tasks was to shepherd convoys across the Atlantic. The splendid novel puts us inside the head of Ernie Krause, the captain of the Keeling, a destroyer and the lead ship of a convoy of 37 boats traveling across the North Atlantic in 1942. The reader is never permitted a moment’s escape from Krause’s brain. The Good Shepherd takes place over 48 sleepless hours as Krause’s convoy comes under attack from the Nazi submarines—the U-boats that sank nearly 4,000 Allied vessels over five years and caused the loss of more than 70,000 men in what came to be known as the Battle of the Atlantic.
Norwood by Charles Portis (F). This road trip novel of the 1960s is my favorite novel. I am not saying that it’s a great novel, but it is either a minor great novel, or a great minor novel. It certainly is not a minor novel. Like Charles Portis, I am from Arkansas, and like Charles Portis, I worked at the New York Herald Tribune. Portis died in February at the age of 86 and was one of the great American chroniclers of the 20th-century bizarre, erasing the distinctions between normal and abnormal. This novel like his others is characterized by dry ice witty dialog and a vivid sense of the absurd.
Out of the American Neon Desert of Roller Dromes, chili parlors, The Grand Ole Opry, and girls who want “to live in a trailer and play records all night” comes ex-marine and troubadour Norwood Pratt. Sent on a mission to New York by Grady Fring, the Kredit King, Norwood has visions of “speeding across the country in a late model car, seeing all the sights.” Instead, he gets involved in a wild journey that takes him in and out of stolen cars, freight trains, and buses. By the time he returns home, Norwood has met his true love, Rita Lee, on a Trailways bus; befriended Edmund B. Ratner, the second shortest midget in show business and “the world’s smallest perfect fat man”; and helped Joann, “the chicken with a college education, ” realize her true potential in life.” — goodreads.com
Actually it is a great novel.
The Book of Forgotten Authorsby Christopher Fowler (NF). For book lovers, this book is a snare and an enchantment, or entrapment. The author, who is British, gives brief vignettes of 99 authors who have been successful but are now largely forgotten. He concentrates primarily on British authors, but the book is endlessly fascinating. Each reader will think of authors he should have included and will learn of authors of whom had no knowledge. Many of the authors were monstrously productive. Fowler, the author of this book has also been monstrously productive, and it is perhaps ironic that I had never heard of him. It is also ironic, perhaps deliberately, that one of the authors he discusses is Brigid Brophy who in 1967 published Fifty Works of British and American Literature We Could Do Without.
Way Back in 1989 I read a book called, The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I have always had a taste for historical novels, and this one caught my eye. It was the beginning of four novels set in medieval twelfth century England. Pillars of the Earth follows the careers of Tom, a master builder and an ambitious monk dreaming of building the world’s largest Cathedral.
Volume two: World Without End is set two hundred years after Pillars of the Earth. Like our own time, the history, science, and politics are overshadowed by the single most destructive disaster to affect humanity until that time, The Black Death.
Volume Three, Kingsbridge continues the story. Kingsbridge Cathedral watched the 15th century unfold with religious, civil and wars tearing their culture apart.
Which brings me to the book I just read.
The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett (F). This is a prequel to the other three novels. Set in 997 CE, the participants are on the footnote of a new historical time, The Middle Ages. The Characters are rich and colorful. Like the first Robin Hood movie I ever saw.
Edgar, a boat builder whose natural talents inspire him to go build buildings, bridges and ultimately establish the first footprints of the town that one day will be called “Knightsbridge.” I found the book to be a page turner.
My 98-year-old Aunt and I share Kindles. So, we read a lot of books at the same time. I thought I would ask her for a review. She had a little trouble remembering the whole story, but when I pressed her, she said, “Since when do history books have so much sex in them?”
Maybe a new Netflix movie.
The Way Forward Is With a Broken Heart by Alice Walker (F). A quote from the back cover says, “Alice Walker gives us stories based on the rich wisdom of her own experience.” In the Reader’s Guide which follows she says, “I started thinking that it would be interesting to write fiction as a mature adult and know exactly where the characters and themes came from.”
The Work: My Search for a Life That Matters by Wes Moore (NF). A memoir by a talented and high achieving young man looking deeply into his life, and with a lot of gas still left in his tank.
Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship by Michelle Kuo (NF). The daughter of immigrants goes to the Mississippi Delta “to teach American History” and has her life changed.
The Hidden Garden by Kate Morton (F). A mystery with several related characters written with their several points of view, moving back and forth in time and place from 2005 to 1905, all in search of the identity of a grandmother, who at the age of four, had been put on ocean going boat. The novel’s structure is unique and important to the telling in a way that contributes to the unraveling of her life.
Giovanni’s Room (F) and The Fire Next Time (NF) by James Baldwin. I just discovered him. He’s a brilliant author.
In the past year I’ve started reading books that gave me a clearer view into history. I read Uncommon Arrangments: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1919-1939 by Katie Roiphe (NF), a book discussing the unique relationships of many couples in the literary world.
Female Husbands: A Trans History by Jen Manion (NF), an historical account of women who posed as men and married women. It’s important to understand that LGBTQA+ and trans issues aren’t modern, and they aren’t new. It’s even more important to understand how they aren’t ‘white’ problems. Too often people of color get left behind when people demand recognition of their gender identity. We saw this with the woman’s movement, with suffragism. This is why I loved reading Baldwin’s work; he spoke clearly of his pain of being both black & gay.
This is the time when people’s stories of not fitting in, of being different, of hiding, need to come out.
I do have one recommendation…though not a book.
Heather Cox Richardson writes a daily post. called Letters from an American (NF). She is a BC history professor and author, and Louise and I read her column daily and know that one day she will turn her postings into a book…so call this an advanced review. Her columns are thoughtful, often historical in nature, helping us understand the progression of America to its present place on the world stage.
Of Ants and Dinosaurs by Cixin Liu (F).
State of Emergency by Jeremy Tiang (F). Winner of the 2018 Singapore Literature Prize for Fiction.
The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (NF), authors of Why Nations Fail.
The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous by Joseph Henrich (NF). A New York Times Notable Book of 2020.
I narrowed 56 down to 10, then 8; then had a tough time winnowing to 4. Strange year for books – and read a lot of Atlantic and New Yorker articles instead.
Transcendent Kingdomby Yaa Gyasi (F). A moving story about a Ghanaian family living in Alabama, from the author of Homegoing, which was on my list of favorites in 2018. Yaa Gyasi’s characters are unforgettable.
Memorial Drive – A Daughter’s Memoirby Natasha Tretheway (NF). Like Transcendent Kingdom, this book also tells a moving mother-daughter story, but as a gripping memoir of life in the segregated South.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontentsby Isabel Wilkerson(NF).This book was especially timely for the summer of 2020, giving us another perspective on racial injustice. Her earlier book, The Warmth of Other Suns, was on my list of favorites in 2014.
The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson (NF).Though I’ve read several books about Churchill (and especially liked Franklin and Winston by Jon Meacham), I learned even more in this fascinating history. A great diversion from current events.
Always an end-of-year highlight!
The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser (NF). The book focuses on Baker’s staff work, which included running five presidential campaigns, serving as White House Chief of Staff, and Baker’s work on the Bush v. Gore lawsuit and the Iraq Study Group. That gives the book a different emphasis and content from standard political biographies, though the descriptions of Baker’s terms as Secretary of Treasury and Secretary of State are interesting, too. Baker and Glasser are terrific writers and researchers.
Alien Oceans: The Search for Life in the Depths of Space by Kevin Peter Hand (NF). While earth-like planets are very rare, it appears that a surprisingly large number of planets and moons have underground bodies of water that could feasibly support life. The book is fascinating in two ways. First, you learn a lot about how astronomers and physicists draw inferences about objects in the universe. Second, the book makes a surprisingly strong case that we might find other forms of life in our solar system within the next few decades.
The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous by Joseph Henrich (NF). The book explains how people living in the West have psychological profiles that are distinct from people living in other parts of the world. Henrich traces that psychological divergence to the Catholic church’s unique regulation of marriage. Then he argues that those restrictions reshaped social relations in ways that laid the foundations for modern economic development. This gives the reader a ton of interesting knowledge about the “deep histories” of psychology, culture, and economics.
The Secret Life of Groceries by Benjamin Lorr (NF). A fascinating assessment of what it takes to make supermarkets function. My favorite chapters involved a deep-dive into the strategic concept behind Trader Joe’s, a discussion of how supermarkets negotiate with producers, and an investigation of labor practices in Thailand’s shrimping industry. All of the essays are beautifully written and well researched.
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson (NF).
His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope by Jon Meacham (NF) .
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (F). Occasionally you pick up the right book at the right time: with all the seriousness of 2020, I needed a book about septuagenarians who solve crime.
Stalin Waiting for Hitler 1929-1940 by Stephen Kotkin (NF).
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson (NF).
The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer (NF).
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (NF). Like her previous book, The Warmth of Other Suns, Wilkerson has written a scholarly yet passionate, dense but highly readable book explaining the origins of the racial divide. Though thoroughly researched, her points are mostly supported by stories — wonderful, memorable stories. Each chapter gave me a new idea to think about, and I thought I had a pretty good grasp of this subject. Only once we understand it can we resolve it. Don’t miss this one.
Off the Radar by Cyrus Copeland (NF). My favorite reads are well-written books about real people doing amazing things, and this book, recommended by the national Chautauqua reading group, fits that description (as do the next two books). Copeland grew up in Iran, son of an Iranian mother and an American father. Years after his father’s death, he feels the need to learn more about his father, who was not one of the American hostages in the 1970s but who was imprisoned in Iran during the exact same time. Was his father a spy? That question hangs over much of the book, so we have an international suspense story and an autobiography as well as a biography of both his parents. It was hard to put down.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (F). I reviewed this book a few years ago, re-read it this year, and it holds as one of the best fiction books I’ve ever read. World War II, love story between a blind French girl and a German soldier, but much more. Each chapter is very short, and at first they seem disconnected; one of the treats of reading it is seeing how they all converge. It spares none of the horrors of the war in Europe but balances that with much beauty of spirit.
Another repeat read during Covid,The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (NF). Like Seabiscuit, another book I loved, this is about a subject I had no interest in: competitive rowing. But the best writers can tell a tale about almost anything and draw the reader in. This one held up to a second reading well. Real people, real life can be as amazing as any fiction.
This Tender Land by William Kent Kruger (F). This was a favorite from the first half of the year but remains high on my list. It is about four orphans who flee from the Lincoln Indian Training School and travel by canoe down the northern Mississippi River during the summer of 1932. Their journey is full of the people they meet along the way and the life changing experiences they have. Each of the kids struggles with their own tragedies and demons and find peace as the book unfolds.
The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See (F). This is a multi generational book set on the island of Jeu in Korea between the 1930s and present time that chronicles the lives of two female friends and the twists and turns that their lives take them and the ensuing impact on their friendship. The book is focused on the traditional custom of women divers who are the primary income earners for their families. I did not know about this custom and family dynamic in this secluded area of Korea and was fascinated to learn about it as well as how a small island in Korea weathered the world’s events of the 20th Century, including Japanese Colonialism, WWII, and the Korean War.
The Gilded Years by Karen Tanabe (F). This book is about a young African American women from Boston who attends Vassar College in the late 1890s passing as a white girl. The book takes place during her senior year when she becomes friends with a most influential group of white girls. She knows that pursuing this high life including, a wealthy white suitor from Harvard, is putting her secret at risk. This was an interesting read this summer as the topics of continuing prejudices and social injustices were so heightened.
Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie (F). This book is set in Japan post WWII and is about a young girl abandoned by her birth mom with her imperial grandparents. The grandparents are worried that she will put a blemish on the family name and banish her to the attic. Fortunately her half-brother comes into her life and through him she is able to find her own way as she navigates her childhood, teen years, and young adult life. This read is not dissimilar to other Asian family stories but a nice read.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Mitchell Richardson (F). There is some interesting history behind the story and the author and an excellent read.
Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano (F) which is based on a true story of a young Dutch boy who like Edward was the sole survivor of a plane crash.
Cannot possibly limit it to four, but here’s my favorites:
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo (F).- Booker winner and deserved it .
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (F). Well written saga of a failing marriage and our failing all children at the border.
Read lots of good old stuff—D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Wolf
Coventry: Essaysby Rachel Cusk (NF).
Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light, 100 Art Writings 1988-2018 by Peter Schjeldah (NF). Brilliant essays from the soon to be deceased New Yorker art critic.
Going to try to read The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart by Alicia Garza. Our university is coordinating a sort of reading group/book club over the winter break. Garza founded the Black Lives Matter movement.
My reads below:
Misplaced by Gabriell Struble(F). This is a novel written by one of my graduate students in our Mental Health Counseling program at Alfred University. It concerns a young person living in a residential treatment setting who struggles with mental illness. Struble originally developed it as a screenplay for her undergraduate theater class. The book follows the main character’s recovery as he is “forced to relive his past and prepare himself for a future in a society that makes him feel so out of place.”
Ham on Ryeby Charles Bukowski (F). Cannot believe it took me this long to read a Bukowski book – glad I started with this one, a real shit-show (in a good way) and what has been hailed as his best novel. My son was reading it for a college class and recommended it. This one is the first of a trilogy that details the character’s childhood and adolescence experiences, which are rough, even cruel at times, and yet Bukowski manages to provide humor throughout. Sadly during his adolescence he learns to cope through alcohol use (too much), but at the same time discovers his gift for poetry.
Not Without Peril:150 Years Of Misadventure On The Presidential Range Of New Hampshire by Nicholas Howe (NF).
This past summer I completed my 46th High Peak (Mount Skylight) in the Adirondack Mountains, so I was intrigued to read up on a different mountain range that was somewhat close by. This book is a collection of several different true-to-life stories, beginning in the late 19th century up through the present day, in which the author investigates the many tragedies of hikers attempting various ascents in the Presidential Range of New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
Mindful Runningby Mackenzie Havey (NF): Mindful Running is an area of interest to me, both personally and professionally. This book is a guide for how individuals can incorporate mindfulness into their running routine in order to improve overall well-being. What I most liked about this book is that it is written from a foundation of scientific research, offers anecdotal contributions from professional runners, and has a number of practical strategies that can be applied during runs.
China’s Good War: How World War II Is Shaping a New Nationalism by Rana Mitter (NF). This Oxford Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China writes well and very deeply about the changing ways that China’s war with Japan from 1931 to 1945 has been viewed, and used, by Chinese scholars and the government to shape China’s perception about its rightful place in the history of the world and of Asia in particular. If you want to have any possibility of understand what China is trying to do on many fronts, the way it sees its role during this period is crucial.
Invisible China: How the Urban-Rural Divide Threatens China’s Riseby Scott Roselle and Natale Hell (NF). The focus is on the huge educational divide between the (relatively few) students in Chinese urban areas (who are being educated to high standards) and the majority of the country’s students who live in rural areas (70% of the country) who are hopelessly not prepared to participate in China’s future economy. Based on REAPs work in China for the past two decades, as China’s economy changes to embrace computers and technology and sophisticated manufacturing and as it engages in direct competition with the economies of the growing countries in Asia, this lack of basic education of 2/3 of its population will gravely affect China’s efforts to raise its economy into the top rank. A failure would have a major international impact. China is aware of the problem but is uncertain how to deal with it.
The Emperor’s New Road: China and the Project of the Century by Jonathan E. Hillman (NF). China has undertaken an enormous program of expanding its trade routes into Europe, the Middle East and Africa by high speed train and very large container-carrying freighters, and they are doing this in ways that are clearly designed to give them control of this trade, its ports and rail-lines and, by extension, the economies of its “partners”. A careful study of the many ways this is playing out and the many reasons that it is a very difficult stumbling gamble for China.
Garner’s Quotations: A Modern Miscellany by Dwight Garner (Ref.), former Senior Editor of the NYT’s Book Review and a person in love with writers and their skill at putting words together to generate memorable lines or phrases. He collected them for years and one day decided to shake the bag, dump everything out, and found that it was filled with gorgeous nuggets of wisdom, wit, sorrow, wonder, scorn, humor, and all of the other reasons for writing. A book of quotations for the perceptive reader who enjoys one-sentence perfect summaries of many, many topics. Pleasant to open to any page and get lost.
The Perfect Weapon by David Sanger (NF). Fascinating survey of the development, usage, and future of cyber warfare, by the NY Times’ top national security reporter. Even beyond today’s headlines, the future is frightening.
Facebook by Steven Levy (NF). The inside story of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. If you haven’t already dumped Facebook, you probably will after reading this.
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (F). Lovely story about an elderly Polish woman who loves animals more than humans. Extremely so.
Miss Iceland by Audur Ava Olafsdottir (F). A delightful little book about a young Icelandic woman in the early 1960s who wants to be a novelist, and her unconventional relationships with a gay man and a poet. Straightforward and charming – an excellent literary sorbet to offset a terrible year.
How It All Began by Penelope Lively (F). A wry, wise story about the surprising ways lives intersect. An easy, but thoughtful, read.
The Storyteller’s Secret by Sejal Badani (F). Nothing prepares Jaya, a New York journalist, for the heartbreak of her third miscarriage and the slow unraveling of her marriage in its wake. Desperate to assuage her deep anguish, she decides to go to India to uncover answers to her family’s past.
Dutch House by Ann Patchett (F). The story explores the indelible bond between two siblings, the house of their childhood, and a past that will not let them go. “‘Do you think it’s possible to ever see the past as it actually was?’ Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.
American Prison by Shane Bauer (NF). In 2014, Shane Bauer was hired for $9 an hour to work as an entry-level prison guard at a private prison in Winnfield, Louisiana. An award-winning investigative journalist, he used his real name; there was no meaningful background check. Four months later, his employment came to an abrupt end. But he had seen enough, and in short order he wrote an expose about his experiences and the history of American prisons.
Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East by Kim Ghattis (NF).
The New York Times book review said it was “fascinating. A sweeping and authoritative history,” and named it one of its notable books of 2020.
Ghattis seamlessly weaves together history, geopolitics and culture to deliver a gripping read of the largely unexplored story of the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, born from the sparks of the 1979 Iranian revolution and fueled by American policy. She explores how Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shea Iran, once allies and twin pillars of US strategy in the region, became mortal enemies after 1979. Ghattis dispels accepted truths about a region she calls home.
Lydia Hill Slaby:
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (F) and The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss (F), both of which I talked about in one of your previous posts, still haunt.)
The Story of B by Daniel Quinn (F). Daniel Quinn has a recipe for his books, starting with Ishmael, that generally involves a teacher and a student, teaching and learning about a different perspective on the evolution of humanity, why we are so convinced of our own superiority, and how that perspective is driving us to extinction. The wonderful thing about B is that the teachings are all summarized in a series of “speeches” in the back of the book, so the reader doesn’t need to be dragged through the Socratic aspects of Ishmael to get the point. And quite a point it is.
The Woods by Tana French (F). The entire series of crime novels set in and about Dublin by Tana French are extraordinary. (The Woods is simply the first — reading them in order is not necessary.) Beautifully written with a wry perspective on humanity, they are complex, well-plotted, and entirely consuming.
The Paris Hours by Alex George (F). Set in 1927, this short novel feels like taking a walking tour through Paris. One encounters familiar residents of the time along with a cast of very different characters who tell engaging stories. I couldn’t put it down.
I did not read much this year…but I did read and really enjoyed:
The Captured by Scott Zesche (NF), a rather obscure book as it is an example of a slice of US History that I knew nothing about. It is a true story of abduction by the Indians on the Texas frontier. It was fascinating on several levels: the life of those settles in N Texas after the Civil War, the inside view of the life of the Indians during that time period, and the experience the white kids who were abducted had and what happened to them when they were returned to their families.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson (F). It is based on history in 1936 in the hollers of Kentucky and illustrates the plight of coal miners, poverty, and the Blue People. It is well written, well researched, and gave me an insight into that area and Blue People with just the right amount of intrigue.
I only read books. However, because DC Public Schools is only on-line, and I had to read The Other Wes Moore and The Narrative of the Life of a Slave to help the students @ McKinley Tech, I read them on my computer. Hated every minute of that, though the books were good.
The four best books I’ve read in 2020:
The Bluest Eye Toni Morrison (F) I’ve read a couple of her later books, but I’d never read this one. The DC Schools kids who I tutor read it in maybe 9th grade. I work w/ 10-12, but it helps if I’ve read what they’ve read. NOBODY does what Morrison does—emotional & cerebral at the same time.
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens (F). I read it because I’m going to read “all of Dickens.” By 1855, when publication started, he had serialization nailed, so the book is longer than it ought to be (b/c that’s good for sales—he kept it going for two years—he would’ve loved writing for TV). What’s interesting is watching his female characters evolve and become more three-dimensional as his career moved forward.
No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg (NF). It’s just a slender collection of her speeches. She repeats herself in them (fortunately), but that is not a negative. It’s exciting that a young lady on the spectrum has such a voice and now reaches such a wide audience. Our planet depends on people like her.
A Writer’s House in Wales by Jan Morris (NF). I’ve been on a Wales kick since visiting there in 2018. When I read this, she wasn’t yet The Late Jan Morris. She writes about place the way Simon Schama writes about the intersections of culture and the way Mark Helprin writes about people and the way Lewis Thomas writes about biology and the way Annie Dillard writes about, um, everything. Jan Morris was a “travel writer,” but she was also a poet.
White Too Long by Robert P Jones (NF). This short book documents the link between White Christianity and White Supremacy in the US. The author grew up in Georgia, Texas and Mississippi, and was fully involved as a child in church activities. At a seminar at age 20 he become aware of the white supremacist roots of his family’s Christianity. He now is the CEO and founder of Public Religion Research Institute that focuses on religion, culture and politics.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (F). Marina works in a pharmaceutical company in Minnesota. The company learned from Dr. Swenson that Marina’s research partner died in a fever in remote Brazil where he was working. Marina was sent to Brazil to find out why he died, and to understand the status of Dr. Swenson’s project. Dr. Swenson is trying to develop a drug to simulate the ability of the women of the Lakashi tribe who are able to have children even when they are quite old. Ironically, Dr. Swenson was a medical school professor of Marina’s who was so cruel and demanding to her that Marina left medical school. The story develops in the remote Amazon, with multiple complex personal interactions. I found it a great read. Each step opens new exciting hypotheses.
Here are a few books. All of these were nonfiction, three were hardbacks, and one was on an iPad.
Herbert Hoover: A Life by Glen Jeansone (NF). During his life span from 1874 to 1964, Hoover saw and was intimately involved in a broad spectrum of changes in the world and the US. Perhaps the most qualified person ever to be involved in government, the range of his accomplishments reveal insights that have long been obscured.
The Last Kings of Shanghai by Jonathan Kaufman (NF). A fascinating history of two competitive Jewish families who helped shape modern China with influence extending to this day.
The Jewish Confederates by Robert N. Rosen (NF). Who knew about the deep involvement of Jewish Americans in the Civil War? This book explains in great detail who they were and what roles they played from Senior members of the Confederate Government to soldiers on the front line.
The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James Baker by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser (NF). A look at how our Federal Government actually runs and how policy is developed and implemented through the maze of government bureaucracy. Over several decades, James Baker held many senior roles from Chief of Staff to several presidents to cabinet positions, all the while affecting major domestic and international initiatives.
I have had a hard time focusing on reading since this horrible plague started but nonetheless have read several recommendable books. I’ve found fiction easier to get into these days which is what I’m reporting on. Hard to choose only four.
Sula by Toni Morrison (F). Morrison’s second novel, short and brilliant, about black women, sexuality and resistance. Morrison was such a gifted writer, and I hope to work my way back through reading and rereading all of her writing. Sula tells the story of two black girls, and then women, living in a small, segregated Ohio town just after WW I, who choose different paths. Sula escapes, goes to college, rejects a future as a mother and wife and lives 10 years in a series of mysterious tristes. She returns to the Ohio hometown, and is seen as rakish and a profligate. Morrison writes: “Outlaw women are fascinating – not always for their behavior, but because historically women are seen as naturally disruptive and their status is an illegal one from birth if it is not under the rule of men.” I loved this book! Much more to say, but Richard requested only a few sentences. Toni Morrison was a genius writer.
(Walking around the bookshelves, trying to decide what’s next…)
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo (F). Everisto shared the Booker with Margaret Atwood, which I thought was the Booker folks not quite ready to award what is arguably the most prestigious literary award to a little-known black author’s first novel Sigh … This energetic novel follows the adventures of 12 people, mostly women, all Black and British, many artists and performers, as they work their way through the late 20th Century. The characters are fabulous and hilarious. The novel gives the reader a terrific picture of the dynamic theater and arts scene in London and the emerging role of Black artists. It was a bit challenging to move from one character to another because I wanted to read more about each, but worth the effort.
(And now… what’s next … hmmm)
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (F).
It’s the 50th anniversary of the publishing of Bulgakov’s radical novel, although it should be the 70th anniversary because it was unpublishable during the Stalin regime when Bulgakov wrote it. This is a tough book to get into until you realize that it’s satire about Stalin and the Soviet Union and fantastic along the lines of magical realism. It retells the stories of Faust and Pontius Pilate in order to present a ferocious accounting of the Stalin period. The Devil is a hilarious character who appears here and there, often with his enormous black cat, screwing things up and making things right. Bulgakov demonstrates the deep intellectual underground resistance culture in the Soviet Union. I didn’t read the Burgin-O’Connor translation that is recommended, but I thought my translation (Pevear and Volokhonsky) was very good. My description here doesn’t do this novel justice. It’s a complicated and surreal novel. Also very funny.
(Hmmm … only one to go …. Dang …)
Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (F). (Because Ann Patchett newest doesn’t need promotion although I loved it – such fun to read – how’s that for introducing a 5th recommendation?)
Crawdads is a riveting novel about a ‘swamp girl’ who (unbelievably) raises herself from age six when her father abandons her, after her mother has also left the shabby South Carolina coastal cabin. Nonetheless, unlikely as it is, this novel weaves a compelling story about her life living by her wits, ostracized by the established community but in sync with nature and the giving and taking ocean. There’s lots of South Carolina nature, drama, and a surprise ending. Great distracting read during a pandemic.
This Tender Land by Willam Kent Krueger (F).
The Searcher by Tana French (F).
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman (F)
Pretty Things by Janelle Brown (F).
Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward (NF).
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (F). 2009.
Numerous Books by Tony Hillerman (F) about Navajo Indian Reservation (Four Corners area).
Agency by William Gibson (F). The sequel to The Peripheral, though it stands alone as well. Gibson’s vision of an alternative to “the Jackpot”—his term for the accelerating cascade of societal failures that may be in our future—is daring and fun to imagine. Gibson, who has a knack for coining words and phrases—“cyberspace” is his, as is the saying “the future is here but it is unevenly distributed”—says the Jackpot is what survivors of the coming collapse say to each other: I guess I hit the Jackpot. But expecting a benevolent artificial intelligence to save us from that outcome because it also wants to save itself is perhaps just too much of a technological solution to expect.
Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson (F). This can almost be read as Robinson’s answer to Gibson, for in his version of the near future, humankind starts to experience the accelerating effects of climate change, but that prompts radical action. I enjoyed how Robinson set his story in motion (with the world reeling from the effects of a massive heatwave that strikes India, killing tens of millions in a few days), but after a while his story-telling turned into didactic policy promotion, and I found myself skimming the latter half of the book. Still, Ezra Klein said this was the most important book he had read this year, and I can see why it hit home with him. Robinson has a plausible vision for how we can avert disaster. In part, we may shift away from the carbon-based global economy because the people who are most victimized by it will turn to targeted violence to put a stop to whole industries (like oil and gas, air travel, and cattle farming). But, as Robinson suggests, the world’s central bankers could also remake the global economy by creating a new currency, the “carbon coin,” that will reward people who choose to keep carbon assets in the ground or sequester it successfully.
A Promised Land by Barack Obama (NF). After four years of the most impulsive and dangerous president of our lifetimes, it’s a tonic to read Obama on his own presidency. But as I said in my review in The American Prospect, I was surprised that his memoir doesn’t wrestle at all with one of his cardinal political failures—his abandonment of his grassroots base after it got him elected in 2008. That said, if you’re a serious politics junkie, Obama’s retelling of most of his first term is required reading. But then you should also make sure to read several other books on his presidency, including Ron Suskind’s Confidence Men, Reed Hundt’s A Crisis Wasted, Ryan Grim’s We Got People, and Michael Grunwald’s New New Deal. The first three are quite critical; the last is more sympathetic. But we still don’t have the full measure of this very talented but also flawed politician.
A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit (NF). A tour de force. Connects many dots between seemingly disparate crises and shows how fundamentally cooperative humans are when circumstances require them to be, and they can break free of capitalist labor assumptions. Also very relevant to the Covid-19 crisis. As I read her description of the phenomenon of “elite panic,” when elected officials and other authorities hold back on warning the public of an impending disaster because they (stupidly) assume the masses will panic, or clamp down over harshly after a disaster strikes because they believe false reports of mayhem and rioting (such as post Katrina), I couldn’t help but think how here in NY where I live, our leadership class hesitated to take swifter action back in early March because, in part, they feared public panic. Hollywood has fed us too many stories of dystopia after disaster, when in fact, as this book shows, sometimes there is utopia instead.
My Seditious Heart by Arundahti Roy (NF). Best known for fiction, especially The God of Small Things, Roy is a poet and activist of exceptional power. Her nonfiction writing is every bit as poetic and beautiful and has a moral clarity that I found incredibly edifying this year and helped clarify my own thinking about how democracy and capitalism can be re-imagined.
What Money Can’t Buy AND The Tyranny of Merit by Michael Sandel (NF). One of the great liberal thinkers since Rawls. Sandel has a beautiful communitarian worldview and really thoughtful critique of both American capitalism and politics — both very needed to refresh our debate about the kind of country we want and want to be.
I was also going to do Story of B by Daniel Quinn (F), but Lydia beat me to it.
It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump by Stuart Stevens (NF). The author’s career was to help the party get Republicans elected, up to the Presidential level. He has moved from being a staunch Republican to being unable to support the party. Eye-opening and food for thought, especially considering what Trump is doing now.
Ancestral Passions by Virginia Morrell (NF). Extensive, fascinating history of the Leakey family of Kenya and their archaeological work.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (NF). Every American should read this book as the first step to finally resolving our racial issues. Long but very readable.
On Desperate Ground by Hampton Sides (NF). Excellent history of a little known part of the Korean conflict. I’ve liked everything I’ve read by this author.
The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson (NF). It covers the first year of Winston Churchill’s WW II tenure as prime minister of England, when the threat of a German invasion of England loomed large and Luftwaffe bombing raids were a nightly reality across that nation. The book details Churchill’s leadership and family life during that period (who knew he fancied pink PJ’s), with compelling storytelling that easily pulled me through its 500 pages, night after night. It’s an example of charismatic leadership that put country first at a time of existential crisis.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson (NF). After reading Larson’s Churchill book, I thought I’d try his look at the flipside – life in Berlin as Hitler was consolidating his power, told through his experiences of the American ambassador and his daughter (and her many boyfriends). The ambassador and his family are far less compelling than Churchill’s entourage, but it is worth reading because of the parallels one sees with our own recent experience – the establishment accommodated Hitler, viewing him as inept as weak politically, and most likely to fail. Remarkably, the book was written prior to Trump’s ascension, but it should be seen as a warning.
How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America by Heather Cox Richardson (NF). A lot has been written the past few years about the way slavery, racism, and the Civil War reverberate through our current politics. Richardson, who writes an excellent current events daily newsletter, does the history well and homes in on the way conservative politics within the American West intertwine with the better-known southern aspect of the story. Net of footnotes, it is just over 200 pages, a quick read that fills out our understanding of the current times.
Serena by Ron Rash (F). Crime fiction is my escape reading, with Appalachian Noir the subgenre I’ve embraced most recently. Serena is the story of the ruthless co-owner of logging land in the Great Smokies during the Great Depression. Serena masters the wild, the loggers, her husband, and almost everyone else in her path. Blood is shed. It’s a gripping allegory for the bare knuckled version of capitalism, written both lushly and sparely.
Peter Heng Yan Soon:
The Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Differenceby Timothy Keller & John Inazu (NF), a collaborative book, practical and insightful on how faith-based organizations can lead and facilitate the healing process in USA.
I started reading Timothy Keller’s books about five years ago with Every Good Endeavour. It resonated with me as I had just left a job that gave me the opportunity to discover my ability to forge the common ground among conflicting parties and to work towards the common good.
So when my daughter alerted me in early 2020 that a new book, Uncommon Ground (UG), was in the works, I got in touch with my bookshop to reserve a copy. It came in May, when Singapore, like the rest of the world, was locked-down to tame the Covid-19 virus.
UG is the first book written by Timothy Keller and John Inazu with contributions from ten collaborators. With Tim and John’s first-hand narratives and masterful synthesis of each collaborator’s invaluable perspectives, UG offers rare insights and practical lessons on how to overcome the deep divides in the USA which also transcend geography and culture.
Personally, UG is a timely reminder of how my work to forge the common ground and common good is compromised when I over-identify with any political party/leader or platform as I could be living in a silo with its reinforcing echo chambers. The biggest takeaway is that “culture is a garden to be cultivated rather than a war to be won or lost” – an endeavor that requires one to reach out to others with patience, tolerance, and humility.
Deacon King Kong by James McBride (F). Rollicking fun and suffused with issues of race, religion, and identity.
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates (F). A dramatic story that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.
Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (F). A beautiful coming of age narrative and celebration of nature.
The Good Guy List by Russ Vanderboom (F). A beautifully written story about the Joyce twins, polar opposites, coming of age during the 1960’s mid-America.
Group by Christie Tate (NF). Christie Tate enters group therapy, but she’s skeptical it can help. But the group ultimately transforms Christie, breaking down her guard, helping her process grief, and then building her back up. For fans of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, Good Morning Monster, He Came In With It, or Modern Madness: An Owners Manuel.
Sway by Mathew John Bocchi (NF). Bocchi’s obsessive quest to find out exactly how his dad died on 9/11. As he searches, he is abused by an uncle, and spirals in drug abuse. Ultimately, this book is about overcoming heartbreak and shame.
Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb (NF). This memoir brings her grandma Bobby’s voice back to life, a force full of stories and wit. (The author saved every voicemail from her grandma). We learn about her great-grandma who escaped the pogroms, her grandmother, her mother, and herself. A celebration between a grandmother and granddaughter & a tribute to fierce and funny Jewish women.
Filthy Beasts: A Memoir by Kirkland Hamill (NF). For fans of difficult family novels – the author struggles and comes to terms with his mother’s alcoholism. A riches to rag story. Good for fans of A Wild Game, Inheritance, Long Way Home, or Running with Scissors.
In retrospect, I mostly read tragicomic memoirs in 2020 – a good reminder for me of life’s big ups and downs – and ultimately getting through it on the other side….here’s to 2021, and a brighter future.
Our Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore (NF). Starting over 400 years ago, Harvard Professor of History and New Yorker essayist, Dr. Lepore describes threads in our tangled history that have led to the soon-to-depart president and the political culture that spawned him. Deeply-researched, brilliantly constructed, powerfully-expressed, Lepore gives us the history that was left out of our civics and history courses. Written in relatively short sections, allowing easy digestion, she often builds up with specific details and ends a section with a punch that reveals a ‘truth’ we hadn’t quite seen before…and connects it to our current turmoil. A friend who is a retired college professor of history, an author, and now a State Department manager, said, “This is brilliant. I am going to read it again.” Given that it’s 800 pages, that says it all.
We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the Twenty-First Century by Erwin Chemerinsky, the Dean of the Berkeley School of Law (NF). Mr. Chemerinsky shows there is no value-neutral judging, debunking faux ‘originalism’, he shows our charter’s purpose is democratic and effective governance, justice, liberty, and equality. As a non-lawyer this was clearly written, and not mired in the arcane details of cases. This relatively brief book makes evident the foundational values of our charter and country. Given that one party has been packing the Supreme Court, which gave the presidency to one candidate in 2000, and just decided not to take the presidency away from the candidate who won in 2020, this book is a good way to look at the Court going forward
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (NF). Cindy and I are listening to this breathtaking book as we drive out and back from West Virginia visiting our daughter, son-in-law, and their little dude, Kai, 7 months old. This book is arguably the most insightful book on American history and culture written in our lifetimes. There are times when it is so painful to listen to we have to stop listening to absorb and discuss it. Wilkerson, a NYTimes journalist, has done unusual research into American, Indian, and Nazi caste systems. Reading this book one will have difficulty seeing our country again as they had before. An example, did you know that the Nazis based the anti-Jewish Nuremburg laws of 1934 on American laws?
Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution by StephenBreyer (NF). In 135 pages our brilliant and arguably most intellectually articulate jurist establishes that liberty is not just about keeping government from intruding on our freedom. Liberty means freedom to actively govern ourselves. He grounds his understanding in history, and illuminates its meaning, as interpreted by the Court, in key cases. While some of his sentences are tightly and extensively expressed, requiring a rereading to grasp their subtle and complex meaning, he is always satisfying, artful, and ingenious. This voyage is still under sail.
What could I have been thinking when I restricted the submissions to four? Hopefully some of you will click to the links below for the other ones I (and others) submitted in the three earlier Favorite Reads posts this year.
Men We Reaped: A Memoirby Jesmyn Ward (NF). As good as a memoir gets…about her life in Mississippi and the five men, boys, who died, how and why they died. Also about the women in her life, particularly her mother, who taught her about family and survival, about her grief, and what it means to be black in Mississippi, in the South, and in much of America. She won the National Book Award twice for Fiction – Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied, Sing. Ward is more than a gifted writer. She is a treasure and a voice and a mind that deserves to be ‘heard’.
Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar (F). Presented as fiction but clearly very much ‘informed’ by the author’s life and life experiences. I listened to it – which I highly recommend as Akhtar’s reading contributes immeasurably to the power of what he is imparting. Not only is he a Pulitzer award winning playwright, he is also an actor. And now he’s a novelist/memoirist as well. You feel he is telling his life story, tho he insists, in interviews, etc., that he never considered a nonfiction telling of his life because that would have been boring compared to the freedom to use the characters and circumstances to tell a story he wanted to tell. It’s a work worth your time, whether through reading or listening. Definitely one of my favorite books of the year.
Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Familyby Robert Kolker(NF). Fascinating and heart-wrenching account of a family where six of the 12 children had some form of schizophrenia. Kolker was somehow able to get most of the family to participate in his research on the details of their life. The result of his balanced and thorough reporting has much to teach us, not only about what we know and don’t know about this disease, but also about parenting and family life. A chilling, true story told with great compassion, and a worthy read you will not forget.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontentsby Isabel Wilkerson(NF) A new way of seeing who we are, our history, and against what we are struggling…a caste society…that continues to trap us all.
As I did the Trans Siberian Express trip in September/October 2019 my reading list is heavily weighted towards Russia and its people. However, I have allowed my self to select two out of the four books from that genre.
Midnight In Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia by David Greene (NF). A wonderful in depth description of the people of Russia. The mood, the fears, and the attitudes are all communicated in an easy to read manner giving the reader the opportunity to understand the dilemma of Russians today.
The New Tzar. The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin by Steven Lee Myers (NF). A chilling account of the rise of Putin to political power and how a spy became the leader of the Russian people, hated by many but revered by more.
Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump by Michael Cohen (NF). Fascinated by Donald Trump led me to reading most of the recent books published about him and his behaviour. I found the account by his lawyer to be perhaps the most interesting and revealing.
The Land Wars: The Dispossession of the Khoisan and AmaXhosa in the Cape Colony by John Laband (NF). The issue of land redistribution is a hot topic in South Africa today. Laband uses his knowledge of history to describe in detail the nine frontier wars between colonists (Dutch and then English) which drove the Xhosa nation out of tribal land.
All four are by Thor Hanson, a conservation biologist and an engrossing writer.
The Impenetrable Forest: My Gorilla Years in Uganda by Thor Hanson (NF). Hanson spent two Peace Corps years in the early 1990’s charged with habituating gorilla groups to increase tourism for the local economy (and save gorillas).
Feathers, Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson (NF).
The Triumph of Seeds; How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, & Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human Historyby Thor Hanson (NF).
Buzz, The Nature and Necessity of Beesby Thor Hanson. (NF).
The Giver of Starsby Jojo Moyes (F) (but based on a true story). The plot of the book covers the travails of a traveling library service carried out by women on horseback in rural Kentucky. I love the language of the characters and the imagery of the countryside. The author does not ignore social and political issues affecting the rural communities such as coal mining, worker exploitation, racism, oppression against women and inequality in marriage.
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (F). I really enjoyed this audiobook based on a quirky set of characters with a strong will for survival in a small town in Alaska. The characters are fiercely independent, and they look out for each other. The book sheds light on domestic abuse and why women tend to stay in abusive relationships.
An American Marriageby Tayari Jones (F), Audiobook. This was the perfect audiobook. The chapters were based on letters to and from a prisoner from different family members. There’s a lot to unpack about marriage, love, sex, race, commitment, fatherhood, motherhood, and family.
Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry(F). This is the type of book that is better at being remembered than read. It’s hard to watch the characters degenerate as they start to take care of the elderly patriarch of the family and start looking for ways to take short-cuts and shirk off responsibilities, setting off a series of decisions that cross moral and ethical lines.
Books I enjoyed most – the top three:
Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry (NF). In the 2011 tsunami one and only one school in all of Japan experienced the deaths of several score children and faculty. What did the surviving faculty say happened? What really happened? What was the effect on the children’s families? What transpired in the years afterward? What were the emotional effects of the tsunami on people elsewhere in northern Japan? Gifted and sensitive observation and reporting. Beautiful, luminous. By a British journalist resident in Japan for several decades and I thought it might have been the best book I read this year.
The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright (NF). Winner of a Pulitzer Prize. A history of al-Qaeda to 9/11. Among many high points, the book recounts the uses of religion to justify mass murder, mass attacks on civilians of all faiths, and genocide. Of the Taliban, Wright posits that the “movement never had a clear idea of governing, or even much interest in it … Purification was the goal; and whenever purity is paramount, terror is close at hand.” (This warning, however, goes beyond the Taliban; al-Qaeda was not part of the Taliban.) Wright documents the uncountable times that one part of the U.S. executive branch had important evidence of the plot and refused, even when asked, to share it with another. A gripping narrative; indispensable.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou (NF). The story of Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes (who grew up in D.C.) and her unicorn wunder-startup Theranos — instant complex blood analysis from a finger prick — until the company crashed and burned. Stunning and enthralling. A triumph of investigative journalism by the Wall Street Journal; the genesis and publication of this book included exemplary courage, ethics, and integrity. It may make you want to stay up all night reading.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (F). This book gives thirteen different viewpoints with sometimes only most tenuous of links between characters to achieve a darkly funny, often traumatic and wholly rewarding novel. I loved how it bounced around.
Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin (F). It’s great stuff. Gutsy, direct writing that asks you to get caught up in its violent sweep all taking place in a single day. Like the book of revelations in the way it moves you back and forth. The structure alone is worth the effort of reading this book.
The most enjoyable book I read all year is Essays on Ethics by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (NF). Rabbi Sacks, unfortunately passed away recently. He was a scholar extraordinary. In this book, he took a weekly reading of the Jewish Bible, the Torah, and gave it the ethical meaning. As the editor describes,”Torah means teaching or instruction…The moral life is about learning and growing….calling for humility about ourselves, generosity honesty and integrity towards all.” This book gave me an understanding of our heritage , a contribution to civilization, and how I have tried to live my life…Without being didactic.
The Overstory by Richard Powers (F). Powers, who is now our neighbor in the Great Smoky Mountains, won the Pulitzer Prize for this masterpiece. Since everybody is talking about this book, you might as well go ahead and read it. I guarantee you will never look at trees, the forest, or your fellow humans exactly the same again.
Two by Richard Russo: Straight Man(F) and Everybody’s Fool (F). Russo just never lets me down. Although some of his books are quite dark, these two comedies are exquisite. For anyone who has ever worked in Academe, attended college, or been curious about what goes on behind the ivy walls, you just gotta read Straight Man.
Tanya Chernov Smith:
Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby (NF). Never before have the woes and privileges of aging been so warmly and hilariously captured. Irby has a wry style: smart without being overly intellectual. If you need a book that can be read in small bites that keep you satiated for hours or days, this is your book.
Educatedby Tara Westover (NF). Likely a favorite for lots of people, this memoir had me staying up way too late because I just had to keep turning the pages. It’s a story of discovery, of determination, and the power of the will to learn at all costs.
The Body: A Guide for Occupantsby Bill Bryson (NF). Bryson is a delight and a national treasure (though he’s lived in England for decades, we can still claim him as one of our own, methinks). His latest work is perhaps a bit dry in a few places, but so overflowing with interesting tidbits about human physiology that you forgive the author any mild digressions or arterial topics. For those who are fascinated by medicine and the miracle that is the human body, this is a must-read.
All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Heriot (NF). I’m still reading him every night before bed. Those tales are chicken soup for the soul.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (F). The last book I read was from your list actually. I liked the writer’s style, although I confess that I wasn’t sure why I should care about the mysterious Julian Carax. Also, I felt the device of the Library of Forgotten Books should have been the central point of the book. Weird that it played but a bit part. I did enjoy it! I guess I just didn’t really care for the story, if that makes sense.
A Gentleman in Paris by Amor Towles (F). This was a wonderfully understated book where not a lot “happens” and yet a lot happens, leading to a wonderfully suspenseful and clever climax. I so enjoyed this book.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron (F). A total classic and I understand why. I couldn’t stop thinking about this book after finishing it. It’s completely engrossing, and even as I write about it, I’m thinking all over again about it. :)
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (F). This book caught a lot of flak when it was published as a non-Mexican author wrote a book about Mexican migrants. Annnnnyway, that’s too bad because the book was a page turner and completely engrossing and totally worth a read.
The Color of Water by James McBride (NF). A Black man writes about growing up with a white, Jewish mother and a house full of siblings. This book is now taught in classrooms, and I see why. It’s an interesting read, for sure.
*** *** ***
To add to you own list above, click on the Comments Section at the top of this post and list as many more as you’d like.
To see any of the three 2020 mid-year posts, click on the links below:
For this annual post about what books have been your most favorite reads over the past year, I’m asking that we limit our submissions to just four titles.
While this may seem restrictive to some of you, I think it will make for a somewhat different post than in previous years (our 12th year). I’m aiming for less emphasis on what books got the ‘most favorite’ label from MillersTime readers (not trying to compete with all those other year end book lists) and more emphasis on why certain books were individual’s favorites.
Thus, I urge you to write a few sentences about each of your choices, explaining what was particularly meaningful to you about a chosen favorite. Why was a particular book most enjoyable, most important, most thought provoking, the best written, the ones you may go back and read again, the ones you reread this year, and/or the ones you may have suggested to others that they might enjoy?
Additionally, please feel free to add either at the beginning or the end of your submission, a couple of sentences about your reading overall this year. For instance, did you concentrate on new books, older titles, rereads, more fiction or nonfiction than in the past, etc.? Did you read electronically or in paper, did you listen to books, and generally did you read more or less than in previous years?
To make my task of putting the list together a bit easier, please given the full title of the book, followed by the author’s name, and whether the book was F or NF. If any of the ‘books’ on your list were ones you enjoyed audibly, please indicate that.
Feel free to include any favorites that you may have submitted to any of the three earlier book posts this year:
Don’t be concerned about whether others will have the same book(s) on their lists or that a particular book might not be a popular choice as those are not the most important aspects of this year’s list. Contributors use the list to find reading options they may not know about or have considered. Your reasons for your favorites this year are what I hope readers will find most valuable.
Please send me (Samesty84@gmail.com) your submission by Sunday, Dec. 20 so I will have enough time to collate the list and post it by the end of the month.
Ellen and I have been extremely fortunate throughout this Covid-19 pandemic. Our health has been good; we’re both retired from our major life’s work (Adulthood I); our children are grown (and have children of their own), yet we have opportunities to see them and our five grandchildren; since we both are basically introverts, we’ve been able to enjoy the extended time at home with various projects. We’ve found new ways to stay in touch, and occasionally be, with friends. And we continue to enjoy the outdoors, particularly the joys of kayaking.
What about traveling, you might ask? You will see from the photos below, we have also found ways to pursue our passion for traveling.
Basically, we’ve stayed closer to home and explored near-by parks and trails as close as just two miles from our house. Additionally, we’ve take several car trips that have allowed us to discover some of our country’s treasures that had previously escaped us.
Today’s post, the 11 photos below and the linked slide show, feature Ellen’s continued fascination with her cameras and her ability to capture what her unique eye sees. (Maybe it’s her missed career?) These photos are all from a recent second trip to a small, mountaintop lodge, The Swag, near Waynesville, NC, where we were able to spend days simply wandering among the many, many trails in The Great Smoky Mountains.
As some of you may have read in earlier posts on this website, thirteen months ago on a trip to Greenland I purchased a 65 inch model kayak replica entitled Qayag (which is the name of the traditional Inuit sealskin hunting boat). It had been created more than 50 years ago by an artist, Jesse Thorn, who is no longer alive.
(If you missed the first Parts of this saga, and you have time on your hands, see these two posts – A Qayaq (Kayak) Saga and Continuing the Saga of the Kayak – for the details of its disputed’ purchase: Ellen had told me, “Don’t. Even. Consider. It.” Then, it took almost seven months to get it home, unpacked, and into house.
Now, after another extended period, the Qayag has finally found its resting place.
As you will see in the picture below, it now ‘floats’ out from the wall of our living room (where we display some of the crafts gathered over the years from our many trips). It is on the wall, below one of our stained glass windows created by a friend 50 years ago.
We never thought it would take so long for the Qayag to settle on its final resting place. Actually, Ellen had warned me that we didn’t really have room for it, and it would overwhelm any place we tried to put it in our house. I had three possible places for it and several back up plans if those didn’t work.
None of my carefully considered placements made Ellen, the Qayaq, or me very happy.
So we called upon Vincent Sagart, the wonderful designer who has had such a significant influence on many rooms in our house. He immediately saw where it wanted to go and over the next month or so figured out how to get it there.
It took another two months to get it there successfully. COVID-19 caused interruptions, including time for a metal worker to fashion an 11 by 17 inch platform on which it could rest, Petr to affix it to the wall, and Vincent to be satisfied with the exact placement. He had Petr reverse the platform and then reattach it to the wall.
But as the Little Prince has taught us, “It’s the time you spend for your ‘Qayaq’ that makes your Qayaq so important.”
And I’m happy to write that Ellen and I have survived this 13-month effort and to report that Ellen readily agreed to use her photographic skills so MillersTime readers can see how happy the Qayaq is in its new home. Indeed, Ellen not only approves of its placement, she readily says she likes it.
For me, I’m beyond thrilled as every time I pass anywhere near the living room, which is easily 20 times a day, I look at it and appreciate this truly wonderful treasure.
If you’re ever in DC, and if we are allowed to be together, you are invited to come visit the Qayag.
The Library of Congress National Book Festival which has taken place for 19 years in Washington, DC will be virtual this year, September 25-27, 2020.
In one place (on your own Internet ‘device,’ over one weekend) you will be able to hear, see, and interact with some of the authors you no doubt follow and treasure. As opposed to trying to get in line to ‘fight’ the crowds that have now increased every year, you can schedule to hear and to see them on line.
‘Live’ and in Q & A sessions, there are categories that include authors for Children, for Teens, for Family, Food, and Field, Fiction, Genre Fiction, History and Biograpjhy, Poetry and Prose, Science, and Understanding Our World. (See Schedule for names of specific authors and times and dates of their presentations.)
Here are the books that 37 MillersTime readers have identified as recent favorites, 54% fiction, 46% nonfiction.
Grant by Ron Chernow (NF). Chernow writes an excellent biography of Grant. Grant was an interesting person – not too scholarly, a masterful military strategist, an honest person, not necessarily primed to be a US President, and at many times too innocent. Grant has been described as the most underrated President, and that is probably correct. He was an honest person, but surrounded by corruption during his presidency and stuck with friends even when they were not honest. He fought for the rights of the Southern blacks and fought hard against the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction. The biography is excellent in portraying the good and the less good and brings to life a man who was probably underrated. I highly recommend the book.
The Splendid and the Vile by EriK Larson (NF). This latest Larson biography is about Winston Churchill in his first year of Prime Minister in the UK. We know the story – he supplanted Neville Chamberlain as PM, the year was a rough one with the Battle of Britain, and the UK survived this first year. What makes the book so interesting is Larson’s extensive use of Jock Colville’s diaries and the diaries of Mary Churchill to give the book a more personal feel and texture. Larson writes so well, and this is a book worth reading as an interesting perspective on that year.
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (NF) is a well written and researched book on the Great Migration which took place between roughly 1917 to 1975 as blacks migrated from various parts of the South to northern and western cities looking for between opportunities. In particular, the books traces the lives of three migrants— Ida Mae Brandon Gladney who migrated in 1937 from Mississippi to Chicago; George Swanson Starling who migrated in 1945 from Florida to NYC; and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster who migrated in 1953 From Louisiana to Los Angeles. She really got to know these three individuals and around and through them told the amazing story of migrants.
A Game of Birds and Wolves by Simon Parkin (NF). This is a fascinating and largely unknown story of a “for real” board game “played” at Derby House in Liverpool during WWII. In the early years the efforts focused on how the Royal Navy could have more success against the U-boats (the wolves) which were destroying the Merchant ships bringing badly needed food and supplies into the British Isles in the Battle of the Atlantic. (Have You ever played the game Battleship? This was the origin of the game). The Birds were the WRENS, an auxiliary unit of the Royal Navy of very young but very bright women who helped devise, improve and run the games. Navy officers would spend time at Derby House And play the games to learn new strategies to combat the U-boats. Because of the success of these games in Navy training, Britain essentially won the Battle of the Atlantic by early 1943 and the U-boats were withdrawn. The book is actually more about Gilbert Roberts who designed the games and masterminded the effort. The book looks at a largely unknown but very successful effort in Britain’s war efforts.. . . and largely done by women!
Countdown 1945 by Chris Wallace (NF) is a wonderful book recounting the 116 days between when Harry Truman became President, the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, and the beginning of the atomic age. While we all know the basic story, in this book you learn more about the scientists, the military, the President, the incredible co-operation among the various parties, the absolute precision among the various parties, the angst around whether to drop the bomb or not, and ultimately the dropping of the bomb.
Reading seems to go to the bottom of my “to do” every day.
I’m not sure where the time goes, although there is an increasing number of on-line lectures and performances that attract us, and thanks to my daughter I’ve become a podcast listener as well.
I’m still slowly working my way through These Truths by Jill Lepore (NF), which I am enjoying but which seems best in short bursts. I then discovered her podcast, which has become another time sink.
Although I have worked part time and been busy with online meetings. I definitely have been escaping the virus and political turmoil by reading a lot. I especially liked the following two books:
A Race to Splendor by Ciji Ware (HF).This is a wonderful historical fiction about two woman architects in the early 1900’s. They rebuild two famous hotels after the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.
Women of a Dangerous Age by Fanny Blake (F) .A story of two middle age women starting over.
I”m currently two-thirds of the way through The Hours by Michael Cunningham (F), and liking it. (It was a bit hard to follow at first). Drawing inspiration from the life, and death, of Virginia Woolf, the author artfully weaves together the stories of three women to reveal their complicated, interior lives. (Ed. It won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the 1999 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction).
I enjoyed Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday (F). It follows a modern-day “Alice” down a rabbit hole when she enters a relationship with a man 30 years her senior. To some extent, based on the author’s affair with Philip Roth.
Reading (and listening) more to non-fiction, specifically to understand my views on racism. Need to open my eyes to my “hidden” biases. Read How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi (NF). It is a tough read but very enlightening. Also rereading White Fragility, Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (NF).
Also found these to be good reads:
The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates (NF). Her work with the Gates Foundation to lift up women worldwide to bring economic and health security. It is not a typical feminist approach but her strength as an advocate based on her personal awareness from her global travels to the needy.
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hellby Robert Dugoni (F): Story of young boy bullied due to his physical disability, ocular albinism, which makes his eyes red. it is a very inspiring and moving read.
David P. Stang:
The Gift Of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister (NF). Written by a Benedictine nun, spiritual teacher, and executive director of Benetvision, a resource and research Center for contemporary spirituality in Erie, Pennsylvania. Her book contains 40, three to five to page essays on dimensions of consciousness experienced by geriatrics. She begins each essay with a quotation, then describes the particular experience or perception explaining both the defeatist, hopeless way of interpreting the topic, but also provides a far more constructive, optimistic and inspiring interpretation. My friend Rick Miller gave me the book and every night I read at least one of the little chapters before going to bed. I’ve nearly completed my second reading of her entire book. That before bed, nightly experience reminds me of my mother reading me nursery stories before I fell asleep at night as a small child. In her Gift Of Years Joan Chittister has become a substitute for my long deceased mother. As I experience it, Joan Chittister’s written words become spoken words of a compassionate mother telling her sleepy-eyed octoctogenarian son that this is a time of life about which he should become most cheerful.
Biography of Silenceby Pablo d’Ors (NF) is all about the phenomenology of meditation. Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object. Applying this dimension of consciousness to the writing of Biography of Silence d’Ors makes phenomenological reference to all the ideas that pop into a person’s head while meditating. D’Ors is concomitantly a Spanish Catholic priest and Zen meditator. Among other things his book on meditation teaches us is how to notice but ignore all of these thoughts that pop into our consciousness when we are seeking to be silently receptive to a greater reality. His precisely described perceptions of what he experiences while meditating are awe inspiring.
I’ve probably been reading a bit more during this time of Covid than before. Two books that I have read and enjoyed in recent months are:
The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough (NF). It is the story of the founding of Marietta Ohio – the first settlement in the northwest territory in 1788 by the Ohio Company.
Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 by Stephen Ambrose (NF). I wanted to read this book to give me more background information for our transcontinental railroad exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History where I volunteer. But I especially wanted to read it prior to our train trip across America, which will include part of the original transcontinental railroad route from Sacramento to Omaha. Building that railroad, especially through the sierra Nevada mountains, was an engineering marvel, and Ambrose tells the story in a very engaging way.
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (F), but seems pretty close to his real family history: How could I have missed this gem (not a little gem, a generous epic of a book) before? But now, with more time for leisurely reading, I have immersed myself in the life of the characters and of the land. And where else could I find such sentences as “She instructed me as out of bitter personal experience, she brooded along the edges of my childhood like someone living out a long Tennysonian regret. *** Gentility is inherited through the female line like hemophilia, and is all but incurable.”
Here are six very different reads from me in the last four months, each of them I highly recommend for various reasons.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (NF). This much-anticipated book by the author of the prize winning The Warmth of Other Suns won’t disappoint. It is a deeply researched, anecdote-illustrated, clear-eyed discussion of race and class in America that puts systemic discrimination in this country into a global framework. It makes a strong case of the similarities to the ancient caste system of India and the Nazi-created caste system for Jews. (One of the many fascinating insights is that Nazi officials came to the US to study our laws concerning racial separation, as they designed their Nuremberg Laws.)
The book reads a bit like sociology textbook, one I would have happily read in my college days. It is engagingly written and her argument adds a new depth and understanding to our country’s system of racial injustice. It offers many examples and insights that at times I found shocking. It is a must read.
Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh (F). Over the past several compilations of ‘best reads” I have recommended this author’s previous two award winning novels (Eileen and My Year of Rest and Relaxation) by this new writer. Each of her books is provocative, a little off-beat, with consistently superb writing.
Her latest is no exception. Death in Her Hands tells a haunting story about an elderly woman living alone who stumbles on a possible murder. Her suppositions about this possible murder grow into a full-blown obsession as she pursues solving the mystery to the point where she looses her grip on the real world. It’s a fascinating and well-paced and in some ways reminiscent of Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, which I also highly recommend,
Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey (NF). This book, by the African-American, Pulitzer Prize winning poet who served as United States Poet Laureate in 2012 and 2013, is a deeply personal and chilling memoir of her mother, who was brutally murdered by her second husband. Trethewey tells her own story as a mixed-race child in Mississippi history in the deeply segregated South. Her insight is sharp and her voice clear as she explores the loss and grief in trying to understand her mother’s tragic life. The writing is sensitive and engaging, the story of racism and abuse riveting. You won’t want to put this down.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (F). I recommend this book highly but cautiously. I strongly urge you to read ABOUT this book, before you read it. Hamnet (another spelling of “Hamlet”) is a fictional portrayal based on little known facts of the death of Shakespeare’s son. It does not focus only on his play “Hamlet” (written four years after the child’s death) but instead it is an imagined full-blown story of Shakespeare’s wife and family, their life and times (the 1580’s) and the plague that killed their 11-year old boy. None of the characters have their historical names (other than Hamnet and his twin sister Judith), which I found confusing. But it’s well worth struggling through that in this splendidly told story. It’s a beautiful book, superbly written, a tale of family and loss.
The Yield: A Novel by Tara June Winch (F). This book is written by an Aboriginal author and it tells the story of a young woman returning to her native home after the death of her grandfather, Albert Goondiwindi, who was determined to pass on the language of his people to those he would leave behind.
The book is divided into alternating chapters of his explanations of native wordsand phrases, the reactions of the granddaughter who has returned home from London for the first time in 10 years, and others with critical pieces of the story to tell. Woven into this tale is the news that his native place is to be repossessed by a mining company and the granddaughter’s attempts to save their land. This is essentially a story of a dispossessed culture and the attempts to reclaim it. It’s a moving, well-written, and very real story.
Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict (HF.) Even when I startedthis book, I wondered why I had chosen it, even as a “summer” read. But after the first ten pages I was hooked on the story of life of the famous film star – the Austrian-born Hedy Lamarr (ne: Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) – the glamorous Hollywood actor who began er career in 1938. My mother was an admirer.
The book deftly tells the story of an early marriage to an Austrian arms dealer very riendly with senor Nazi officials (she was of Jewish heritage), and how she became privy to many of the Third Reich’s plans while at her husband’s side. She fled him and his world and ended up in Hollywood where she was featured in 30 films in an acting career spanned nearly three decades. It also details how she struggled to use her scientific knowledge, and what she had learned about Nazi plans, to help the war effort against the Nazis by co-developing a radio guidance system for allied torpedoes. (This involved developing technology that led to both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth innovations.)
This is a great story and an engaging summer read.
I have been doing lots of reading the last few months, and actually I have enjoyed some good ones so here are a few for your list.
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd (HF). I have loved Sue Monk Kidd’s previous books and was anxious to read this, though the subject was questionable, imagining Jesus having a wife in the years before he was known as a prophet in the Galilee. The book did not disappoint, being beautifully written and focusing on the character of Ana, as she uses her cunning and wit to navigate a life of intrigue, romance, and treachery in the 1st century. It is a masterpiece of historical fiction reminiscent of The Red Tent.
All Adults Here by Emma Straub (F) is a charming story of a widow living in upstate New York struggling with her relationships with her three grown children and their issues, a granddaughter who comes to live with her and a new lover. The book touches on many contemporary themes including bullying, sexual identity, adultry, surrogate pregnancies to name a few. This is definitely a feel good read and a pleasant respite from the more serious issues of the day.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (F) is a hot book of the moment and worth the attention. It is a multi-generational saga with a different take on racism reflected in the context of the decades between the 1940’s and the present. Twins, who are very light skinned from a Louisiana small town, are inseparable growing up until one of them decides to “disappear” and pass for white. The story has many twists and turns; however, the strength of the book lies in the depth of the relationships between the various characters.
Emily Nichols Grossi:
The Secret Place by Tana French (F). Sob, I am now done with the Dublin Murder Squad books. They are all so damn thrilling and good, even if you must suspend belief in certain moments. It pains me to find the female detective annoying, but she is overwritten in my opinion. Nonetheless, a read that renders the rest of the world invisible in the moment which is, at present, the best sort of escapism.
I’m not done with but am loving Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson (NF). Suspect this will be on many a list this time around.
And I thought In the Garden of Beastsby Erik Larson (NF) was absolutely excellent and terrifyingly relevant. A must-read, IMO.
About my reading in the time of Covid (and Black Lives Matter): 1) I’ve always been interested in how ordinary people handle extraordinary situations. Now in this extraordinary time, I’ve expanded this focus to reflect on leaders; 2) Also, I’m reading more mindfully and exploring new subjects.
The Yield by Tara June Winch (F) is at the top of my list. Australia’s top award (Miles Franklin) went to this Aboriginal writer who says it broke her heart to write it. It’s about colonial violence, oppression and environmental destruction, but also a celebration of the Wiradjuri people through their language. A must on Audible.
Inge’s War, A German Woman’s Story of Family, Secrets, and Survival Under Hitler by Svenja O’Donnell (NF) The subtitle describes the book. This WWII book focuses on ordinary German people — what they knew, what they did or did not do, how they got through the war with madmen at the helm.
The Great Influenza by John M. Barry (NF), a book I wish I had read in print! The information about the so-called Spanish Flu in itself was fascinating. But Barry’s “side trips” into the history of medicine in the US, Johns Hopkins University, the role of the media, Woodrow Wilson and the Peace Conference were all fascinating and relevant to our time. It’s not really 546 pages; lots of footnotes.
The Hemingses of Monticello, An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed (NF) I couldn’t put this book down, though it was often repetitious. In this meticulously researched work, Gordon-Reed tells the Jefferson/Hemings story by focusing on the Hemings family, the enslaved women and men who worked in Jefferson’s house and lived there as servants to their father and siblings. It takes repetition to get one’s head around that. An important read for me in the time of Black Lives Matter as I try to understand systemic racism more deeply. On to Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste!
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson (NF). Larson’s purpose here is not another Churchill biography but an account of how Churchill, his family and the people around him lived, worked, and loved during the first year of WWII. This was the year Churchill became the leader history remembers.
Shadowland by Joseph O’Connor (HF) In the genre of historical fiction, this book is a delight to read any time. It captures the world of late 19th century theater in London, the charisma of two of its leading actors Henry Irving and Ellen Terry and their relationship with Irving’s business manager Bram Stoker, the creator of Dracula. It’s pure magic to read and, I’m told, even better to listen to.
I have wanted to read items completely away from the current Covid calamity. So:
For this enforced quarantine interregnum of unknown duration, I decided to read some very long poems—written in English. These have been:
William Wordsworth, The Prelude (1850). Wordsworth worked on this autobiographical poem his entire life, and it details his interactions with nature and the development of his poetry. Quite moving in parts.
Herman Melville, Clarel(1876). This is the longest poem in American literature, and one of the longest in world literature. It took some time to read, but that was the point. It describes how a traveller named Clarel visits the Middle East and his struggles with his religious faith. Extremely interesting, in parts, and quite philosophical, it is now considered one of Melville’s major works.
Lord Byron, Don Juan (1819 – 1824). This satiric epic poem of 16,000 lines is a parody of an epic poem, and is quite witty, in parts. The involuted plot involves the life history of Don Juan and pirates and Turkish mercenaries and the Russian army and Catherine the great… and on and on. I am in the midst of this tale. His gibes at Wordsworth are quite funny.
My favorite book in this period was The Order by Daniel Silva (F). My 98 year old aunt turned me on to Silva many years ago so we have read all of his books together. We share Kindles so I know exactly what page she is on and see that I am always playing catch up.
Silva has as his central character, Gabriel Allon , an artist, a spy, an assassin, high up in the Israeli Intelligence and also a close friend of several Popes with many contacts in the Vatican. This book begins with the assassination of his friend Pope Paul VII and the attempt of an ultra-right religious Order trying to undo the reforms of that Pope ( Think Francis) so they can take over the Catholic church.
I find his books to be real page turners and the story filled with an accuracy of his subjects, Since Allon is a known and respected as an artist specializing in restoration of great art, there is always a masterpiece or two to discuss. In this book, besides the story, I found his Author’s Note at the end of the book to be fascinating.
He takes the time to discuss the sub-plot of anti-Semitism in the church, in the current European Union etc., in our own country, and the controversies concerning Pius XII in WWII;
Since the time frame is present day he also covers the story within the current pandemic.He also takes the time to share a well written history of antisemitism in the ancient texts and scriptures. I felt I leaned so much in the afterward of the story. He quotes some of the truly great theologians as apologists for alternative opinions of many of the arguments used to support antisemitism. I strongly recommend this book as a great read.
The Stand by Stephen King (F). A truly terrific book to read during this time of the Coved 19 virus, self- quarantine; masks, personal and self-distancing;
I first read this book in 1978 when I was teaching religion at Holy Names Academy with Gilbert Brennan. We discussed the book in terms of fundamental choices we all have, What’s it going to be? Good or Evil. It was a very successful discussion. It was Stephen King’ s fourth novel and the longest he had written to that time. To sum up, it is an apocalyptic story about a killer flu, released by the military and spreading throughout the world killing 2/3 of the population in 2 weeks. SOUND FAMILIAR?
The survivors in the US develop into two groups, those who dream of a dark man, Randall Flagg, who has his headquarters in Las Vegas; the others dream of an elderly black woman, Mother Abigail, sitting in a rocking chair on her farm in Nebraska waiting for those who are drawn to her. Obviously the book personifies the attraction in the new world of some to good and some to evil.
The book when originally published had to be revised due to the length and cost. In 2011 the Book was revised again by Mr. King to include the original chapters as well as add some more insight into some of the characters. It was also a made for TV film and a miniseries.
It is a long book but fascinating in the story and the characters. Given the times we are living in, I recommend the Audible version. Sit back, close your eyes, and LISTEN!!!!!! It’s my favorite is Stephen King novel.
Haven Kennedy & Daughter Miriam:
Here is something from me and Miriam:
Reading is, as always, my escape. It allows me to fall into another world. When I’m stressed, I read science-fiction and fantasy – books from my childhood. I’ve been reading an incredible amount of Terry Pratchett’s work. Miriam (my six year old) has been enjoying the books about Tiffany Aching. Pratchett interweaves social commentary and morality in his books, causing you to think. Right now I’m reading Prachett’s Thud (F) , a book about the tension between dwarves and trolls. The book is perfect for the times we are living in.
I’ve also read:
Horace by George Sand (F) – this book was very hard to find. Most of Sand’s work has not been translated into English. It took getting an inter-library loan to receive it. It’s a beautiful book, set in France during the late 18th century. It’s well-written with an emphasis on social commentary.
Lucky Us by Amy Bloom (F) – I read this book in a matter of days. It’s beautifully written with engaging characters. It’s set in WWII. After I finished the book, I began to think about it, finally deciding that it was a well-written, intelligent soap opera. I still recommend reading it, just for the way Bloom writes.
Beyond that, it’s all comfort reads. It’s Terry Pratchett, Jasper Fforde, The Chronicles of Narnia. It’s books of my childhood. It’s books written with my daughter in my lap. It’s reading to my daughter about different cultures, different religions, different ways of thinking. So much of what is going on in the political world is hate and fear – fear of what is different. I want my daughter to turn to reading as a comfort, to seek knowledge, to explore different worlds. Reading is what is needed more than anything. It’s unfortunate that so much of what we read is on social media, which is an echo chamber of what we are already thinking. Reading is a great way to escape the echo chamber. And even in the silliest books – Pratchett’s for example – we can learn something.
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (F) – lets you escape to an island off the coast of Finland, where you get to know a grandmother and her granddaughter spending a quiet summer there.
Throughout the pandemic, I’ve tried to engage in long-term reading projects — that is, reading a coherent series of books one after the other as opposed to moving among topics. I try to start every morning by spending at least 30-60 minutes on that project before the workday starts. That gives my days a nice rhythm and progressing through the books helps to “mark time” across weeks that might otherwise seem interchangeable.
I started by reading a series of memoirs/biographies of foreign policy-makers, in chronological order. Then I started reading a series of books that the Kennedy School publishes after every presidential election, based on conferences that it holds with presidential campaign managers. The books are called Campaign for President(NF). I’ve learned a lot of history from them, I’ve gotten a better sense of how presidential campaigns view the world, and that has given me some useful perspective on current events.
Jesse Leigh Maniff:
During this time of uncertainty, I’ve been drawn to the familiar, re-reading fictional books that provide an escape from reality and where good triumphs over evil: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (F), Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend (F), second of the Nevermoor series, and the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman (F).
Blue Nile by Virginia Morell (NF). Interested Mike and me especially because it is a true adventure story of an international group who were the first to raft the full length of the very wild and dangerous Blue Nile River from the Ethiopian highlands to Sudan. Interesting on human, adventure, historical levels. (We lived in Ethiopia for two years and have returned three times.)
Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker (NF). Amazing true story of a very large family with many cases of schizophrenia and how their experience added to the understanding of the disease.
Becoming by Michelle Obama (NF) Candid, well-written autobiography.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (NF) Amazingly, I had never read this. I loved it.
The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson (NF). Classic Bryson, funny, informative, surprising.
What It’s Like to Be a Bird by David Allen Sibley (NF). \Big, beautiful book about how birds live, not a identification guide but just amazing facts and beautiful paintings.
I just finished the book The Gilded Years by Karen Tanabe (F). It is based on the true story of the first African American woman to attend Vassar College in the late 1890s while passing as a white girl. I loved reading about the exploits of the girls with the Ivy League boys as they navigated their futures after graduation balancing their interests in careers and exploring the world with the realities of marriage and motherhood. The focus of the book is really though on the protagonist and the double life she leads pretending to be white.
Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini (HF). It is a good historical novel.
Bit chilly in Maine but that’s perfect reading weather for me. Here’s my current list for the year of reads worth reading:
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston (F) and The Wedding by Dorothy West (F). My book club is focusing on African American women authors. I enjoyed both of these, particularly Dorothy West’s book about the upper class African American community in Martha’s Vineyard; race and class explored from several perspectives.
The Mirror and The Light by Hillary Mantel (HF). What can I say? It’s just as brilliant as Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Best read in a long time and it’s a long book.
Lane Brisson Retallick:
Crisis in the Red Zone by Richard Preston (NF). This non-fiction book is subtitled “The Story of the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History, and of the Outbreaks To Come.” The author writes in his Preface that this book is the successor to his 1994 book, The Hot Zone. The story covers the Ebola Outbreak of 2013-2014 in the West African area of the Makona Triangle, which includes parts of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia.
The author is an excellent writer, and he tells a complicated and dramatic story, with a large cast of characters and dire situations, in a suspenseful manner which kept me engaged.
Lydia Hill Slaby:
Just finished reading The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (F). (Did you ever read her first novel, The Night Circus? It is gorgeous and haunting and I strongly recommend it.) My sister had come home from the library with it a few days ago and got annoyed with it and handed it to me. (Has DC sorted it’s libraries yet? We’re not allowed in, but we can pick up a pile of books from the front door.)
Perhaps it’s because she has children, so everything causes a small amount of annoyance these days.
Halfway through this book I realized I was going to read it at least two more times, so I bought it from our local bookstore and returned the original.
I’m not quite sure what is happening with me and the pandemic and books these days, but I’m finding myself entranced by stories whose plots are hidden (or happen mostly underground?). It started with The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss (F), a novella that describes the life of Auri, his most enigmatic character from the Kingkiller series, and her home in the Underthing. It is more of a character study than an actual story with a beginning, middle, and end, but all stories start somewhere and then end somewhere else, so in a way it is a complete story. Either way, when I fell asleep the night of the day I read it, I felt like my time had been well spent.
The Starless Sea is much longer (so a few days, not just one, of devoted, well-spent reading) and has overlapping and intertwining fairy tales that build into the overarching plot. It is beautifully written, and, if The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a character study of Auri, The Starless Sea is a character study of story itself. How it grows, lives, and dies in one author’s imagination. How one can be chosen or disregarded. How we can pass by another in our search for the obvious, or disregard the obvious in our search for the subtle.
In a sense, a wonderful book for our current time. Strong recommend.
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson (NF) has occupied my last week or so. Erik Larson takes us on Winston Churchill’s journey through the very beginning of WW II in Britain. Yes, we know the story, but this is a a beautifully documented and highly readable account, and it includes the side stories of several Churchill family members and close confidantes.
ML – Anonymous
I received Franny and Zooey (by J.D.Salinger – F) in 1961, the year of its publication…I read it, and shelved it perfectly ignorant of its predecessors.
Well before my teaching career began, some English prof. probably suggested that everyone ought to have read The Catcher in the Rye. Done, done, and taught it.
In the early 21st century, in a second hand bookstore, I found Salinger’s Nine Stories. Forty years later, the name “Seymour Glass” in some of the stories sounded vaguely familiar; and the internet got me up to speed. I’d broken my own cardinal rule (read multiple works by an author in the order s/he wrote them) without knowing it. Finally, in 2020 (in a second hand bookstore) I found Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters/Seymour, An Introduction.
So somewhere vaguely in April or May (do we still have months?), I read the whole thing in order, concluding with an affecting re-read of Franny and Zooey (you asked about re-reading at some point, but when?!). All of them are better in chronological order, but the body of work is also changed and enhanced by the recent documentary on Salinger which included the info that he suffered lifelong PTSD from having “liberated” Dachau & something else. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/j-d-salinger
An upshot of this whole thing is that male academics “decided” that Holden Caulfield represented some thang about the American experience. It is the female characters in the Glass Family books & stories–Franny, Esme, Seymour’s sister and mother–who are the most remarkable–at least by comparison to Caulfield.
Meggie Patterson Herlinger:
I have been reading a lot of lighter things more recently but some of the books that I have given five stars to are:
Pretty Things by Janelle Brown (F).
This Tender Land by Willam Kent Krueger (F).
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (NF).
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (F).
(My reading in August…interruptions by too much TV news – National Conventions – and now Hurricane Watches –
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder (NF).
Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston (F). Fictional account of the rise of Joey Smallwood – New Foundland)
Ancestral Passions: The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind’s Beginnings by Virginia Morell (NF).
Blue Nile by Virginia Morell (NF).
I had to reach across my train-fogged mind to remember a couple books that stand out. I read an oldie called My Antonia by Willa Cather (F). It was a cross cultural experience for me to learn about early settlers of the American frontier: Bohemian immigrants from a region in the Czech Republic. The sensitivity and imagery used in this book was nothing short of poetic, and it is clear that the author has lived the experience and loved the forsaken prairie land.
Because my husband lived in the Dominican Republic for six years, I try to read the literature of Hispanic authors from that region, and I zeroed in on this book called Dominicana by Angie Cruz (F). It was about a young immigrant family trying to “make it” in the Bronx. I didn’t love it, but it did keep my interest, and I recommend it because it would be a cross-cultural experience for others who want to understand the experience of Dominican immigrants told from the perspective of a young, relatively powerless and poor young girl.
Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age by Bruce Feller (NF) A timely read about pivotal moments in our lives and adapting to change. Using different stories, he shows us ways to adapt to involuntary and voluntary lifequakes.
The Only Plane in the Sky: OralHistory of 9/11 by Garrett Graff (NF). I read this right when Covid-19 started in the US, in particular NYC in March. The reader is transported back in time, recounting that day from multiple perspectives and first-hand accounts. Although heartbreaking, the book is filled with courage and resilience. It reminded me we will get through hard times.
Filthy Beasts by Kirkland Hamill (NF). A riches to rags, tragic-comedy about three boys, an alcoholic mother, indifferent father. It’s perfect for people who like difficult family memoirs and complicated parents.
Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kokler (NF): A true story about a family of 12, six of the boys with schizophrenia. It’s a story about mental illness that defined their entire lives.
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (F). The story alternates from the AIDS pandemic in the 80’s in Chicago to modern day Paris. Amazing characters and a good glimpse into multi-generational trauma as a mom tries to track down-her estranged daughter. Very haunting and well-written.
The Last Flight by Julie Clark (F) Two different women at dangerous crossroads change places by switching airplane tickets.
The Hate U Give by Angie Clark (F): Heartbreaking young adult book about a racism, police brutality, and interracial dating.
I initially had five favorite reads, some of which were rereads, for this period: Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor (F), Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (F), A Burning by Megha Majumdar (F), Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey (NF), and Levels of Life by Julian Barnes (NF).
Then I read Caste: The Origins of Our Discontentsby IsabelWilkerson (NF) and decided that it was so compelling that I only wanted to focus on that single book. (See Ellen Miller’s account above.)
Some of you know of Wilkerson from her Pulitzer Prize winning reporting for feature writing at the NY Times. A number of you, including myself, have previously cited as a favorite her 2010 The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (NF), winner of the National Book Critic Circle Award and one of the NY Times’s Best Nonfiction books of 2010.
In this new eye-opening account of how our society is organized, Wilkerson captured me and held me throughout with her focus on caste as a way of understanding my country, our history, and our current divisions in a way I had never truly seen it.
In linking her examination of how our (hidden) caste system is similar to those of India and Nazi Germany and with compelling stories that we can all understand, she accomplishes her goal of making the reader see perhaps what we have never clearly seen: the effects that our caste system has played and continues to play in shaping what kind of country we have.
In her Epilogue, “A World Without Caste,” Wilkerson pulls together what she wants us all to understand: that once we truly see what caste has done and continues to do, we can choose individually and as a country to do something about it.
The book is a call to look at ourselves in a different way than perhaps we have until now.
It is compelling.
Brian Doyle’s Mink River (F). I recently read this a second time and now know I will read it again. And quite likely again. Along with re-reading Frances Itani – Requiem, Deafening(HF) – books, words, authors that hold you quietly in place, not for plot but for the solace and joy and surprise of words. (I’m thinking of launching again on Dorothy Dunnett’s The House of Nicolo for months of an amazing, gripping ride. Takes patience, but oh boy….)
Jeff Abbott’s new page turner, Never Ask Me (F). Follows the fast pace of his last best seller, The Three Beths. Jeff’s work for me is an absolute page turner, and I generally stay up all night reading him.
On the nonfiction side; a hero in America but not so much in his native France, The Marquis, Lafayette Reconsidered by Laura Auricchio (NF) is a sobering reminder how reason and moderation often cannot succeed in the midst of a radically polarized society. Opposed by both the Jacobins and the monarchists, they could all agree on their hatred of Lafayette, the author of The Declaration of the Rights of Men and a genuine hero of the American Revolution whose very life was only spared because of the interventions of President George Washington. Later in life, Lafayette opposed both the excesses of Napoleon and France’s last king Louis XVIII.
From the American Presidents series sponsored by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Franklin Pierce by Michael Holt (NF) and James Buchanan by Jean Baker (NF). Spurred by the bitter politics of today, I have been doing a deep dive into the most divisive politics in American history, America in the 1850s, the politics that led to the Civil War.
Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan were our 14h and 15th Presidents in the eight years just before Lincoln was elected President in 1860. Both men are ranked towards the bottom of any rankings of America’s 45 Presidents – but I expect Mr Trump will tank just ahead of Buchanan.
James Buchanan, America’s only bachelor President, may be the most disappointing. An ambitious politician who served and loved his country and who helped add more territory to the United States as Polk’s Secretary of State than any other administration (think Mexican cession – larger than the Louisiana Purchase – and the person who negotiated our final borders with Canada. Buchanan was less successful as President when he tried to add both Cuba and Baja California.
Virtually everything both Pierce and Buchanan did as President blatantly favored the South (four of Buchanan’s cabinet members would serve as high ranking leaders of the Confederacy- including its President, Jefferson Davis.)
After Lincoln’s election and after South Carolina’s secession a month later in December 1860 (Lincoln would not assume the Presidency until March 1861); unlike his hero, Andrew Jackson during the 1830s nullification crisis, Buchanan inexplicably did nothing. He even allowed virtually all federal munitions in the South to fall into the hands of the Confederacy.
Jean Baker argues that if Buchanan had just taken basic steps to preserve the Union he took an oath to serve, the Civil War may have been entirely avoidable – and that Buchanan’s actions would have been considered treason during any other time.
Both Franklin and Buchanan failed to understand the depth of Northern opposition not only to the institution of slavery itself – but Northerners were resentful of a small anti democratic Southern aristocratic elite that seemed to dominate every lever of our nation’s national government.
Inferno by Max Hastings (NF). The best one-volume history of WW2. The author is a master of strategy and offers unvarnished opinions about many of the prominent WW2 generals and politicians. The book also quotes from hundreds of diaries and letters to provide views of what happened from a ground-level perspective. Revelatory on the overwhelming contribution of the Soviet Union to the Allied victory. A masterpiece.
The Man Who Broke Napoleon’s Codes by George Scovell (NF). The British army under Wellington vanquished Napoleon’s forces in a multi-year campaign in Spain. This came about in part because of the code-breaking efforts of a British officer who is finally getting a secure place in history as the result of this book. Amazing detail and lucid narrative and description.
Sashenka by Simon Sebag Montefiore (F), a prequel to Red Sky at Noon. Not as good, but enjoyable.
From Russia with Blood: The Kremlin’s Ruthless Assassination Program and Vladimir Putin’s Secret War on the West by Heidi Blake, Marisa Calin, et al. (NF). Very well sourced, scary stuff connecting the dots of Putin’s killing regime
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (NF). Anthro 101 for people like me who didn’t take it in college. inspiration in every chapter.
All Creatures Great and Small by James Harriot (NF). A vet recounts his life in Yorkshire in the 30s. Incredibly enjoyable.
Uncle Fred in the Springtime by P.G. Wodehouse (F). My favorite of PG Wodehouse’s characters, Frederick Alamont Cornwallis Twistleton III, the Earl of Ickenham. Like uncorking a vial of laughing gas.
Now reading the second book, All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Harriot (NF). Reread Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (F). Managed to fit in a reread of The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham (F), my favorite book. Just started Jean Genet’s Prisoner of Love (NF). Have you ever read him? What a life!
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (F). I’ve loved Ann Patchett since Bel Canto and keep waiting for that lightening to strike again. It doesn’t quite happen here, but it was an interesting read and worth it.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (F). I just loved this book. Such an odd premise he begins with an a leisurely pace until the end and yet super compelling. I’m a fan.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron (F). A total classic and I understand why. I couldn’t stop thinking about this book after finishing it. It’s completely engrossing and even as I write about it, I’m thinking all over again about it. :)
Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (F) – I was put off by the telling of the story: it reads like a transcript of an “interview” between multiple people spliced in with one another to tell a story. And then I was hooked. She’s a good storyteller after all.
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Mink Kidd (F) – More of a “feel good” beach read than anything, but if you’re at a beach and want something light and lovely, read this.
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (F) – Her debut novel from 2017 got a ton of buzz so I read it. Interesting. She’s a good writer with a modern take on relationships so there’s that. I prob didn’t love as much as others did, however.
Here’s the second round of films and TV series that some of you reported enjoying.
Somehow this post disappeared from MillersTime when I ‘thought’ I had posted it a month or so ago.
Ozark(TV Series). Despite being very dark with some violence, we found ourselves captivated by the “page turner” story and drawn to the characters…..despite their flaws. The setting in the Ozarks which is 150 miles from St Louis added to the attraction.
Russian Doll (TV Series). A wonderful, unique story about a woman dealing with a “groundhog day” phenomenon. The lead character has to understand herself in order to understand her dilemma. We were riveted.
Dead To Me (TV Series). Two women mourning the loss of their husbands meet in a grief group and a friendship results. As we learn who they really are…the story twists and turns in interesting ways.
Unorthodox(Film in four episodes). A woman from an insular Brooklyn orthodox Jewish community seeks separation. The urgency of her situation was compelling as was learning about her community. The progression of the story was ok….not great. Overall it was worthwhile.
And we watched The Secret Of Roan Inish (Film) last night. A charming Irish story by John Sayles
Bordertown (TV Series). Features a quirky detective and his family that uses memory mnemonic to solve serious crimes in a “small” town on the Russia Finland boarder.
Midnight Diner (TV Series). Sweet vignettes centered around a small Tokyo restaurant that opens at midnight till 7AM, the chef and his patrons.
For those who enjoy or wish to experience anime: HBO MAX now has the Studio Ghibli catalog available. Spirited Away – Princess Mononoke.
I Am Not Your Negro (Film). Black Panthers (PBS – Film). Marc Maron 2020
I have another which is really really good—-McMillions on HBO (TV Series) six-part documentary series about the fraud from McDonalds Monopoly Game.
Hey! How did I miss this? Has everyone seen the HBO miniseries Chernobyl (TV Series)…..FASCINATING, and masterfully done. Additional context is a podcast with the producer with each episode.
My Brilliant Friend (TV Series).I enjoyed reading the Neapolitan series by Elena Ferrante and was pleased to see how well this Italian TV series captures the novels.
Honeyland (Film). This extraordinary documentary about a Macedonian beekeeper tells a moving story with amazing cinematography.
I am currently watching and enjoying The Miniaturist on Amazon/PBS Masterpiece (TV Series). I love Holland–especially 17C–and this series is visually brooding and romantic. The plot takes twists and turns
Unorthodox (Film – four episodes.) I liked that and went on to binge Shtisel (TV Series) and then Fauda (TV Series)–totally different one from another–but I was in a Jewish/Israeli mood, I guess. (Film – four episodes.)
Finally I want to endorse someone else’s suggestion of Schitt’s Creek (TV Series). It feels a bit silly for this blog, but I found it so relevant to today’s world. Failure and redemption. Life without prejudice–life as it should be. Extravagant fashion. So many laughs. Lifted my spirits.
Two old movies we’ve really enjoyed again: Moonstruck, with Cher and Nicholas Cage and In the Heat of the Night, Sydney Poitier and Rod Steiger. Both are wonderfully acted, both have soundtracks that keep me humming for days after; Moonstruck is hilarious while the Sydney Poitier one is amazingly contemporary in theme. From two dinosaurs in Ohi
I also heartily recommend Unorthodox (Film – four episodes).
I was going to say Unorthodox (Film – four episodes) and Ozark (TV Series), but I see people already mentioned them, unsurprisingly!
We also were hooked on Good Girls (TV Series) for a long time.
Also watched a lot of Harrow (TV Series) –an Australian show about a forensic pathologist- not particularly highbrow, and kind of goofy, but fun.
Overlooked are the following:
Godfather Series (all three Films)
Spaghetti Westerns – The Good the Bad and the Ugly, A Fist Full of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More (Films).
War Films: Guns of Navarone, The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen, The Longest Day, Where Eagles Dare
Let’s share the titles and a few comments about some of the books we’ve each been reading over the past few months. With one addition.
First, write a few sentences about your reading during these troubled times. Are you reading more, less, more fiction or more non-fiction, different genres than you usually choose, rereading, more use of an audible format, etc.? Basically, what is holding your interest now, and is that different than in more ‘normal’ times?
Then cite just a couple of books that have been particularly satisfying along with a few sentences as to the reason(s) those two books have been captivating or significant. Include the title, author, and whether the book is fiction or nonfiction.
Email me (Samesty84@gmail.com) with your responses by Aug. 22 so I can post them by the end of the month.
Thanks to our travel agent, aka Ellen Miller, we were able to get away from DC for five days after almost five months of staying at home. Ellen found a small mountain inn – The Swag – in the Great Smoky Mountains near Waynesville, NC. It turned out to be just what we hoped for – individual, lovely cabins, just a few guests (we never saw more than 20 people the four days and nights we were there), good food, careful attention to virus safety precautions, and best of all, a wonderful setting.
Ellen had never been to the Smokies – they are called “Smokies” for short but are often spelled “Smokey” Mountains by those on the western North Carolina side of the mountains. I had only once drive through them on a trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway many years ago with our younger daughter. So a week ago, Ellen and I set out on a seven-hour drive and arrived at the inn late in the afternoon to find both a setting and place to explore that more than met our needs and expectations. Plus the 70 degree temperature was almost 30 degrees cooler than what we left in DC.
Each morning, following a healthy breakfast on a porch overlooking the spectacular landscape, we’d pick up our packed lunch, a walking stick for me and two cameras for Ellen and head out for a three or four-hour walk-hike in the mountains. Several days we were accompanied by two naturalists — a husband and wife team that knew the Smoky Mountain area well and were able to introduce us to the flora and fauna (mostly flora, tho we did see one non-poisonous snake and bear scat and footprints). Other days we headed out on our own along ‘well defined’ trails and didn’t get too lost, though one day we didn’t make it back before the heavens unloaded on us.
In the late afternoons we hung out and read on the porch of our cabin and watched the afternoon rain, sometimes by a fire in one of the two fireplaces in the cabin. We’d join other guests for a ‘masked’ drink and then socially distanced dinners at the main lodge, usually on the porch. Returning to the cabin, we’d again ‘build’ a fire until either it went out or we fell asleep.
The short trip ended all too soon, and we are already planning to return to this “most visited National Park in the US,” which did not seem to us to have many visitors at all.
Although Ellen had not planned to create a slide show or do one of her many photo books, once home, she found she had enough worthy photos for us to post. Below are a half dozen, and if you want to see more, which I strongly recommend, you can link to a slide show at the end of this post.
For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the linkto start the slide show. Definitely 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 show more detail than the ones above.