On a recent month-long stay just outside of Santa Fe (more on that in a future post), Ellen and I and a longtime friend and colleague were able to spend a long half-day exploring the San Juan Bisti Badlands of New Mexico.
Ellen had this area on her radar for several years (source: Atlas Obscura) as a place she wanted to see and to photograph. Using her Internet sleuthing skills, she found a Navajo Travel Group (the area borders the Navajo Reservation in northwestern New Mexico) and arranged for a guide who met us early one morning at one of the two entrances to this remarkable 4,000 acres of unusually eroded rocks (called Hoodoos) and undulating mounds in the high desert of the San Juan Basin.
You won’t stumble across the Bisti Badlands (a three and half hour drive from Santa Fe), but when you get there, park your car and walk about a quarter of a mile, you will think you’ve been transported to the moon. The ground is easy to hike, and strange formations are everywhere. You can see how wind, sun and water have shaped everything you see and wonder at how so much of it remains standing. Put this “moonscape” against a New Mexico blue sky, and you have a natural marvel.
Our guide was wonderful, and he not only guided us through our four-hour walk through a portion of this unusual natural wonder but also shared with us many aspects of his life and his community’s life, including, of course, the terrible toll of Covid-19.
We find natural beauty almost everywhere you cast your eye in New Mexico, but this area is unique in its size, scope, and the variety of its windswept beauty. We highly recommend it.
Below are a few of Ellen’s favorite photos from this excursion, and if you want to enjoy a few more, see the link at the end of these 10 to access her slide show.
For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show. If the slide show appears to start in the middle, scroll to the top of the page where you’ll see the little arrow in a box. Click on it.
See all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either). They are much sharper and the larger format presents them in much more detail than the 10 you have seen above. They’re wonderous.
Fifty contributors responded to the MillersTime call for favorite reads from the first ‘half’ of 2021. Fans of this site between the ages of 30 and 80 have offered 137 titles (with approximately 100 different ones). Just over half are nonfiction (NF), the rest are fiction (F). Women represent 58% of the contributors; 42% are men.
There are not as many similar titles, I think, because I limited the number of submissions. (I know, I know, everyone including me hated that, but I do think it will make for a more compelling list.) Here are the books that were cited by more than one reader:
A Promised Land by Barack Obama (NF)
Bruno, Chief of Police, Martin Walker, (F)
Caste, Isabel Wilkerson (NF)
Empire of Pain, Patrick Radden Keefe (NF)
Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar (F)
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (F)
TheBest American Essays of 2020, Andre Aciman, Editor (NF)
The Four Winds by Kristen Hannah (F)
The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante (F).
The Man Who Ran Washington by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser (NF)
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (F)
As always, what readers have to say about the books they have most enjoyed so far this year are what makes this list particularly valuable.
The contributors are listed below in alphabetical order, starting with their first name. Do check out what your friends have enjoyed, but also see what others have favored.
Many thanks to each of you who have taken the time to respond to this midyear call for favorite reads.
Winner Take All by Anand Giridharadas (NF). Challenges many assumptions of so called win-win strategies for social investments.
The Last Kings of Shanghai by Jonathan Kaufman (NF). Knew about Jews in Shanghai WWW II. Knew none of this story starting in Iraq way back in the day. Amazing read.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (F) is a wonderful, although a bit weird, book about Nora Seed who has done nothing with her life and is depressed. She arrives (and I won’t tell you how) at the Midnight Library and is allowed to go back to various parts of her life and see what each would have been like if she had done that. Most of the time, she arrives in this life, doesn’t know the names of the people or what she has done – so she googles herself and looks on Facebook for hints. I won’t tell you how it ends, but it is an uplifting (not sappy) ending. Have fun reading this book!
The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III by Peter Baker (NF) (no relation) and Susan Glasser is a fascinating look at Baker’s multiple positions in DC power over two decades as presidential campaign manager, Chief of Staff, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of State under Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush.
Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of Stateby George Schultz (NF) is his recounting of his six and a half years as Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan. It shows the amount of work that went into policy making and rapport with various world leaders – in particular his work with Gorbachev. It is also an interesting comparison to subsequent time when James Baker was also the Secretary of State – a very good and interesting read.
Religion and the Rise of Capitalism by Benjamin M. Friedman (NF) explains in plain and very readable English the end of Calvinism (otherwise known as predestination) and the rise of modern day economics by Adam Smith and David Hume. A fascinating work and a must read.
I am a third of the way through Stacy Abrams new political thriller While Justice Sleeps(F) that was released in early May. It is a gripping, fast moving story focused on the Supreme Court and the world of genetics and biotech with a minor chess theme thrown in for good measure. It is a page turner that reminds me a bit of The Pelican Brief. The book is plot driven with less emphasis on insight into the characters inner life or motivation. If you are looking for pure entertainment, While Justice Sleeps qualifies. It seems almost unfair that a such a smart effective political leader should be this good of a writer. I am loving it.
Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (NF).
Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind by Yuval Noah Harari, (NF).
Guns, Steel, and Germs: The Fate of Human Societies by Jared Diamond (NF).
Lions of 5th Avenue by Fiona Davis (F). A mystery in early 1900’s and current times regarding missing items from New York City’s great library.
Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Richardson (F). Wonderful historical fiction about a blue skinned woman who delivers books to the most poor and isolated Kentuckians.
We Were Strangers Once by Betsy Carter (F). Historical fiction about German Jews in pre Hitler Germany who come to America. Also about the experience of Irish immigrants.
I’ve just found a series of murder mysteries by Robert Galbraith (J.K.Rowling) (F) which I am quite enjoying.
How to Forget: A Daughter’s Memoir by Kate Mulgrew (NF). Award winning actress returns home to the mid west to care for her father with brain cancer and mother with Alzheimer’s Disease. Wonderful and visual language and descriptions, writing, and depiction of family dynamics, disease and finding oneself in the process of coming home. While the illness aspect is difficult and probably not a read for everyone, this memoir is illuminating and helpful experientially as it reveals feelings, challenges of care and generational failures.
Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris (F). A sign (for sale), a photograph, a news story, the Great Depression in 1931, a mother’s impossible choices and the consequences of poverty and a poor decision by journalist to use a photo. Story of love, making it right, and the journey Ellis and Lilly take toward mending a fractured family. Based on a real newspaper photograph of 1948.
The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure (F). An emotionally charged story about choices, sacrifice and courage during the German occupation of Paris. Tense story of an architect hiding Jews from the Nazis is a definite page turner with its contradictions, horrors and ambivalence as the architect collaborates with the enemy in an attempt to prove his talent and survive. The book raises ethical questions and the descriptions and questions raised will stay with you long after the book is finished.
Just as I Am: A Memoir byCicely Tyson (NF), published just before she died at age 96. Interesting life story including years of being wife of Miles Davis.
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn (F). Explores Bletchley Park and three women who became codebreakers during WWII. Theplot was suspenseful, vivid and gripping. A good read. Historical fiction.
My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (NF) I listened to this book which included audios of her speech during her confirmation to Supreme Court. What an iconic woman!! We do miss her!!!
David P. Stang:
My wife Sarah, who died twelve years ago, possessed a remarkable (and what seemed to be an almost miraculous) ability to communicate telepathically with all kinds of beings ranging from flies and spiders to lions and tigers. I personally observed her doing so with these four named species of beings. But her abilities to communicate telepathically extended far beyond those four species alone and included not only all forms of living animals and people, but also to spirit beings. Another long-term, dear friend, Dan Dreyfus, who died only a few months ago, demonstrated to me on numerous occasions at his McLean, Virginia home his ability to communicate telepathically with birds, regular gray squirrels, flying squirrels, chipmunks, foxes and of course dogs and cats. How both he and Sarah managed to acquire the skills completely amazed me and inculcated within me a passionate hunger to learn more about how this process functions and perhaps acquire for myself the ability to communicate telepathically with animals.
About eight years ago I began writing reviews of books and recently decided to write an essay which not only reviewed the books but also chronicled personal experiences I encountered which gave rise to an increasing ability to communicate telepathically with animals.
Tells the story—about the Great Migration of southern blacks to the north—and documents the true significance of that migration. Beautifully written. Very poignant personal stories and recaps of historical facts. I learned a lot!
Bordersby Kapka Kassabova (NF). Having left in 1992 as a young girl, the author returns to Bulgaria in 2017. She travels to the southern region bordering Turkey and Greece. She collects stories from the people she meets in the border areas of the three countries. Written in a very rich and colorful language, Kapka makes us discover the history of these regions and the ruthlessness with which governments push people from one area to another on account of their religion, assumed political allegiance etc… or simply kill them when they try to leave the Eastern Block in search of freedom. The story of the young East German guys who were caught amd imprisoned particularly resonated with me, reminded me of those who asked me to help them flee when I was in East Germany before coming to the US.
The Color of Law by Richard Rothestein (NF). A very enlightening book on the role of federal institutions, in addition to local governments (state, county and municipal), in limiting access to decent housing for African Americans and other minorities. A lot more than the “red-lining” I had read about, implemented by realtors and banks. I was pretty inspired by the remarks on how American History is taught and textbooks barely mention key historical facts. Very clearly written, and the notes support the remarkable research done to support the book.
The Kitchen Godby Amy Tan (F). The story sweeps from the 1920s in a small island off Shanghai, across a ravaged China during WWII and eventually to the United States. Worth reading through the first rather longish 60-70 pages to move into the heart of the story — a story of courage and resilience where domestic violence against women cannot leave you unscathed. The book also confers the strength of mother-daughter bonds when both take time to listen! I do enjoy Amy Tan’s prose and her talent as a story-teller. Also I always enjoy learning something I did not know about China. This said, I have not sensed among my Chinese friends the same kind of lingering trauma from WWII as I have experienced amongst Europeans.
Two bonus books
Anything Can Happen by G. & H. Papashvili (NF). I could not resist getting it when Rick shared it. Having worked and traveled extensively in Georgia, I felt I was living the experience of these wonderful people, and sharing with them all the wonderful meals and flavors. The story also reminded me of my first steps in America in the early 1970s.
The Sensational Tale of Nathan the Baker by Romain David Angelettie (F). (Translated from original version in French). Nathan inherits his grandfather’s bakery. Before he can start baking, he goes on a horseback journey in search of his grandfather’s secret recipe, traveling across forests, deserts, rivers etc… and meets all kinds of extraordinary people. It’s a fairy tale of bread-making. As I write this, I smell the warm bread coming out of Nathan’s oven…. I read it in French (of course), and therefore cannot comment on the English translation!
Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963 by Taylor Branch (NF). This is part 1 of the 3 part series about MLK written in 1988, which won Branch the Pulitzer Price.
A Promised Land by Barack Obama (NF). This is his first installment on a planned two volume memoir. Very well written and even though I think I knew a lot about Obama’s first term (the subject of this volume), I learned a lot about that challenging period of 2009-2013.
Book of Eels by Patrik Svensson (NF). As much philosophy as natural science, this book takes the reader into the author’s relationship with his father, back to Aristotle, and along the water currents from the Sargasso Sea to Europe.
The Secret Life of Groceries by Benjamin Lott (NF): A bit of modern day muckraking coupled with insight into the economics of food sales, marketing new niche products, the brilliance of Trader Joe’s founder, the life of shrimpers in Asia, and the experiences of truckers. Not a deep book, but one that is both well researched and character-building!!
Winby Harlan Coben (F). The latest Coben thriller, great mystery, story, and characters. I loved it!
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (F). Great portrait of America and the American Dream during the Great Depression. Probably my favorite book of hers so far, and I’ve read almost all of them.
Behind Her Eyesby SarahPinborough (F). Good mystery with a twist. Read it and then watched the Netflix series afterwards. Very fun.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (F). Picked this one up in early January when I saw it on a lot of people’s lists last year. Had a hard time getting into it, but I put it down and came back to it and ended up really loving it.
I highly recommend James Gleick’s Chaos: Making a New Science(NF).
Facing the Mountain. A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II by Daniel James Brown (NF). This just-released book is about the truly extraordinary heroism of young Japanese-American men who fought for their country (including the story of one war resister) in World War II as their parents and families were incarcerated in concentration camps throughout the U.S. It’s a phenomenal story superbly told by Brown, who also wrote The Boys in the Boat, a popular book among MillersTime readers.
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynastyby Patrick Radden Keefe (NF). This is a 500 page book you can’t put down even though it tells a story ripped from the headlines with which you are familiar. You might think you know the story, but this book provides detailed accounting of how the ultra rich wield power to protect them from accountability for their actions, and, quite literally, how they get away with murder. Some of the characters in this story feel made up: lots of villains, and a few heroes and heroines. But it’s all too true. This author also wrote the much heralded Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland that many MillersTime readers also liked.
My Heart: A Novel by Semezdin Mehmedinović (F). This book is described as “autobiographical fiction,” and it reads like non-fiction. It’s the heart-warming story of a family that fled the Bosnian war to live in the United States and of the love and care the family has for each other. It’s exquisitely written and thoroughly engaging. You’re left wishing you could actually know these people.
Klara and the Sunby Kazuo Ishiguro (F). And now for something completely different. This is a book, a societal critique, that begins with the story of matching “artificial friends” with real world young people to help them through their difficult teen years. It takes off from there with astute – and often frightening – observations of the “modern” world. Delightfully narrated by the “artificial friend” – Klara – you find yourself engulfed in a “brave new world.” Ishiguro wins again.
Hamnet by Maggie O’farrell (F) – clever, brilliant, intense…..After a year of intense reading have now moved to trying to get some laughs
The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed Massod (F) is serious while offering smiles.
Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heinz (F) is pure fun..especially for those of us from the Midwest or small rural communities.
Emily Nichols Grossi:
Yearbook by Seth Rogen (NF). Personal essays and real life stories.
Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe (NF). Based on first chapters, I can recommend (this book) about the Sacklers and opioids),
Eric Stravitz: ..
The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Clotaire Rapaille (NF) was interesting, though I disagree with some of his conclusions.
The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante (F).
At the suggestion of Joe Higdon, via Sam, I have gotten delightedly hooked on the Martin Walker series Bruno, Chief of Police(F). Never before a mystery reader, I will read every one of these I can lay my hands on! Not only do they draw you forward through the compelling intrigue and mystery narrative, but you learn about things like Basque separatists, and most delightfully, about French cooking and food culture. These books don’t share recipes a’ la Under the Tuscan Sun, but they so richly describe the Perigord region in France, that one wants immediately to visit!
I have read : Bruno, Chief of Police, The Dark Vineyard, Black Diamond, The Crowded Grave. Each as good as the last, unlike another of his I read with no pleasure, precursor to the Bruno Series, The Caves of Perigord.
Eternal by Lisa Scottoline (F). I enjoyed this one. It is about three teenagers in Rome during WWII.Very well written
After much thought:
The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson (NF). This book is a must-read to understanding what Isaacson calls the third great revolution of modern times, “the life-science revolution.” It’s about the invention of CRISPR, the global nature of scientific research, and the moral issues raised by the ability to alter the genetic code of future generations.
The Committed by Viet Thanh Ngyuen (F). The writing is so good I wanted to read it out loud and at least listen to it on Audible. A sequel to The Sympathizer, it is a “crime” story wrapped in a rage against ideologies of all kinds.
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley (F). Am I the last person to discover Mosley? Being Black in L.A. in the 1950’s. Fiction can help us feel what history only describes.
Peace Talks by Tim Finch (F). This is a book on many levels: diplomacy, violence, politics and personalities, but mostly about love and loss (reminiscent of Julian Barnes’s Levels of Life — oops! did I sneak in another book?)
APromised Land by Barack Obama (NF). As presidential memoirs go, this one is worth reading. It is personal, although not self- serving. His detailed account of events and decisions make the case for why it does matter who is president and should be required reading for civic education.
Antiquities by Cynthia Ozick (F). A brilliant, subtly dark, novella about growing old.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (F). A complex novel about the struggles of a family from Ghana living in the contemporary South.
Terminal Boredom: Stories by Izumi Susuki (F). Seven odd science fiction stories by a female Japanese punk rocker who killed herself.
Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind by Peter Godfrey-Smith (NF). A philosopher and deep sea diver, the author examines what ocean life can teach us about life, and its meaning. The chapter on the octopus is especially beguiling.
Having reread the Ken Follett four books on Medieval England and the building of the great Cathedrals, I opted for a Trilogy about Ireland called Gracelin O’Malley by Ann Moore (F). Takes place during the potato famine with Gracelin as the country girl getting married to the wealthy British land owner. It makes for a good read with lots of Irish History in between the lines.
I also read one of my favorite authors Dale Brown’s Target Utopia:A Dreamland Thriller(F). It is a high tech aircraft probably stolen from the UFO community. Great read.
A while back I read a great review in the Post book reviews about Tana French and her book called The Searcher(F). It’s about an American cop who retires to Ireland. Soon he is up to his fishing boots in mystery. A good read.
Finally, I read Jeff Shaara’s book about Pearl Harbor, To Wake the Giant: A Novel About Pearl Harbor(F). A great book with lots of little known facts about the beginnings of WWII.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (F) for sure, and Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly (NF), both book club selections of my County Library’s book club.
The Humorous Mr. Lincoln by Keith W, Jennison (NF) published in 1965 and has many of Mr. Lincoln’s stories I hadn’t heard.
Ring Shout by P. Djieli Clark (F). I have been telling multiple people about this book. It is science fiction, an acquired taste I know. However, it’s a brilliant book. The book is set after WWI and the rising of the KKK. The book especially deals with the film Birth of a Nation, and its effect on American society. The author skillfully brings to life the idea of hate, how it spreads, and how it can be defeated. I recommend this book to everyone, regardless of whether or not you are a fan of science fiction.
CraftLit Podcast: I know this bends the rules, however it’s still a book recommendation of sorts. I have never been a fan of classic literature, often finding it heavy and boring. Then I discovered CraftLit. Each week the podcast will read one or two chapters from a classic book. Before reading the book begins, the host will give you information about the author, the time period, and vocabulary used in the book. It’s fun, informative, and relaxing. The current books is Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. I enjoyed the podcast enough to subscribe to it on Pateron, allowing me to access previous episodes. My daughter and I are now listening to Anne of Green Gables. It’s an enjoyable way to catch up on classical literature, enjoy humor, and learn cool facts. It’s also a great springboard into finding new authors, movies, and music.
Just beginning Michael Lewis’s book, The Premonition(NF) …. great reviews, very readable…heard his interview on NPR…I know it will be well written, and as Louise’s cousin said, she could not put it down…and a NOLA boy!!! Can’t go wrong with that.
Klara and the Sunby Kazuo Ishiguro (F).
East West Street (NF), andThe Ratline: Love, Lies and Justice on the Trail of a Nazi Fugitive (NF) by Philippe Sands.
Persistby Elizabeth Warren (NF). [audiobook read by the author]
The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante (F).
First Person Singularby Haruku Murakami (F) [audiobook]. I just finished it and really enjoyed it – and thank Ellen for recommending it!
His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, A Lifeby Jonathan Alter (NF). A terrific political biography which presents a lot of interesting information on Carter’s strengths and weaknesses, and convinced me that Carter is substantially underrated.
Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City by Rosa Brooks (NF). A human rights lawyer joins the Washington DC Police Department’s civilian reserve force and reports on her experiences. The book is exactly what you’d want it to be: a really smart outsider tells you “what it’s like” to police and how that influenced her perceptions of controversial issues.
Jesse Leigh Maniff:
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner (F).
Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed (NF).
First Principles: What America’s Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country by Thomas Ricks (NF) explores the origins of ideas that shaped America’s foundation.
If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future by Jill Lepore (NF) explores the political dynamics that led to the development of the internet.
I’ve mostly re-read books we have in the past few months. Here are three I particularly enjoyed.
A Primate’s Memoir, Robert Sapolsky (NF). I can do no better than pass on Oliver Sacks’ review: “Robert Sapolsky is one of the best scientist-writers of our time, able to deal with the weightiest topics both authoritatively and wittily, with so light a touch they become accessible to all.” This 2001 memoir covers his early years as a researcher in Kenya, living with and observing a pack of baboons. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant, he perfectly describes what it was like to live in Africa. I look forward to reading a more recent book of his recommended by my daughter Lisa, Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst.”
Mountains Beyond Mountains, Tracy Kidder (NF). Always an excellent writer, Tracy Kidder here tells the story of Dr. Paul Farmer, who started Partners in Health in Haiti. Farmer’s story itself is an amazing one, and the way Kidder formed a close relationship with him adds another layer of interest.
A Life On Our Planet, David Attenborough (NF). We watched a lot of David Attenborough’s nature videos during the pandemic, and this book taught us even more about how we got to the perilous place the earth is in and what are the most realistic ways to fix things.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (F). I probably didn’t enjoy it as much as The Great Alone, but it was an engaging and compelling story of a woman and her family managing the hardships of farm life in Texas during the Great Depression and Great Plains drought. The main character is a very likeable, loving, committed and hard working woman who has one bad hand dealt after another. Some might find the book too depressing, but I enjoyed the saga and learning more about just how devastating the drought was for the south central and western parts of America.
Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker (NF). This based on a true story is about an American family with twelve children, six of whom battle schizophrenia and other related mental health disorders through out their lives. The book starts in the 1940s when the first child is born and chronicles through the decades each child’s diagnosis and ensuing challenges the family faces. The family’s story is interspersed with descriptions of the mental health research that was being done at the time. These chapters do get a bit tedious. I actually enjoyed listening to the book on audible.
The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Velezos (F). Bucharest 1941 during German Occupation.
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood (F). A very different family dynamic.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (F). The strength of a family during the great depression and dust bowl.
I enjoyed all three books, and they were all very different.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (F).
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (F).
The Best American Essays of 2020, ed. Andre Aciman (NF).
The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World by Steven Johnson (NF). Two amateurs invented epidemiology and identified the probable source of a cholera epidemic that paralyzed the city. They then persuaded the authorities to eliminate this source by a simple step that saved thousands of lives. Real life detective story. 4.9 out of 5.0
How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America by Heather Cox Richardson (NF). Lucid and persuasive discourse on the proposition that the same arguments that kept the Southern Aristocracy in power for 200 years were the founding principals used in the establishment of many of the post Civil War States and that continue to wreak havoc today. Very well researched and written by a Professor of History at Boston College and author of the thoughtful daily email newsletter–“Letters from an American” 5.0 out of 5.0
The Genome Odyssey: Medical Mysteries and the Incredible Quest to Solve Them by Euan Angus Ashley, Professor of Medicine and Genetics, Stanford University (NF). An educated layman’s guide to the foundation and growth of the science of genetics, how it works, and what lies ahead in this most important new area of science since the creation of artificial ways to split untold numbers of atoms at the same instant. 4.8 out of 5.00
The Best American Essays of 2020byAndre Aciman, editor (NF). Charming collection of 24 diverse essays published in 2020 in 22 different publications. As expected, each is very well written and leads the reader into expressing thoughts that are illuminating and mind-growing. A good way to spend ruminating 26 minutes of each day. 4.8 out of 5.0 (Two should not have been included, but you will have to read them all to identify the outliers. The others are well worth the effort.)
The End of October by Lawrence Wright (F).
Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore (F).
Missing and Endangered: A Brady Novel of Suspense by J. A. Jance (F).
The Man Who Ran Washington by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser (NF).
Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir by A.E. Hotchner, his close friend of a lifetime (NF).
Paris: A Love Story: A Memoirby Kati Marton (NF), TV journalist and wife of Peter Jennings and Richard Holbrooke.
JFK – Coming of Age in the American Century 1917-1956 by Fredrik Logevall (NF).
Lydia Hill Slaby:
I reread the trilogy Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (F) in March. I don’t remember if I’ve already told you about this series, but it’s a wonderful adult fantasy world of witches and daemons and vampires — intelligently written, thoughtfully plotted, and immersive. Nice and distracting for however long you want it to be. It’s in the process of being turned into a mini-series on Sundance — as per usual, the books are better than the tv show, but the tv show isn’t bad.
So far, the best book I’ve read in 2021 is a re-read: Thornton Wilder’s The Ides of March(F). Treating the period leading up to Caesar’s demise as both historical fiction and domestic soap opera, Wilder weaves real characters with invented ones to humanize the events. Why did I re-read it? Well, 60 years ago, when I was still in someone’s Latin class, it was a library copy. So this was my own book–found in a secondhand bookstore somewhere once upon a time; and 1961 really is a galaxy far, far away.
Unconventional Vehicles: Forty-Five of the Strangest Cars, Trains, Planes, Submersibles, Dirigibles, and Rockets EVER by Michael Hearst and illustrated by Hans Jenssen, released May 18, 2021 (NF). This is the fourth in a series of “children’s books” – for children of any age – The earlier three books are Unusual Creatures, Extraordinary People, and Curious Constructions. (Major disclaimer: Michael Hearst is my nephew).
The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson (NF).
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (F).
Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder (NF). Audiobook and Movie – good listening while traveling from Tucson to New Orleans (20 hrs) with a 17ft Casita trailer.
My favorite so far this year: Azadi by Arundati Roy (NF). Continues her exceptionally poetic and unparringly critical essay work looking at the world in the time of COVID and beyond.
Also reread A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (F), and it’s still really wonderful.
The audio-book version of my book just came out too ;) – [Ed note: For ALL the People: Redeeming the Broken Promises of Modern Media and Reclaiming Our Civic Life by Michael Slaby, NF]
Mike White (as told to Judy White):
The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee (NF). When Mike finished this, he immediately started again at the beginning, for it’s not a simple book. But it’s awareness-building in the same way that Isabel Wilkerson’sCasteis. As a renowned economist, the author demonstrates how racism affects economics for everyone: the subtitle is What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.
Our Team: The Epic Story of Four Men and the World Series That Changed Baseball Luke Epplin, (NF). Epplin skillfully tells a great story, the years up to and culminating on the Cleveland Indians winning the World Series in 1948. I wanted to skim over it to see if I wanted to send a copy to my sister and brother-in-law, who are huge Indians fans (in Iowa!) But I got quite absorbed in it, finished it, and then Mike took it over and liked it too. Focuses on four characters: Satchel Paige, Larry Doby, Bob Feller, and Bill Veeck (the owner). I was a fan as a kid and remember all of these as well as others in the book. But even for non-Ohioans, it’s a window into what baseball was like in the late 30s and forties, and how racial integration happened. This is just out this year.
The Pioneers by David McCullough (NF). It describes the early settlement of a portion of the Northwest Territories along the Ohio River by veterans of the American Revolution and others.
Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar (F). A novel that reads like a series of personal essays that asks what it means to be an American. Parts are fiction but based in autobiography.
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason (F). When Martha was 17, a little bomb went off in her brain, and she was never the same. A very funny, sad, witty novel with great psychologist insight about mental health.
This Close to Okay by Lisa Cross-Smith (F). A novel about a life-changing weekend and connections. Hopeful and helpful in 2021.
We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker (F). Thriller/Coming of Age crime story with a memorable character, Duchess, a thirteen-year-old who wrecks and tries to save everything around her.
Pretty Things by Janelle Brown (F). A thriller with a grifter and heiress. Good escape novel.
Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us about Raising Children by Michaeleen Doucleff (NF). NPR Correspondent Michaeleen Doucleff traveled around the world and documented the different ways parents communicate with their children.
Bah. Humbug on whoever came up with the idea of limiting submissions. Oh, wait……While I am generally stingy with giving five star rating to books I read, I’ve given five stars to 14 books already in 2021. So how am I supposed to limit my submissions?
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynastyby Patrick Radden Keefe (NF). Ellen has already written above about this engrossing account of how the three generations of Sacklers were able to acquire billions of dollars selling opioids. Truly, tragically, a very American story about how this family gamed the system, until they couldn’t any more.
A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom by Brittany K. Barnett (NF). Along the lines of Bryan Stevenson’s inspiring Just Mercy. This one is written by a African American women lawyer who experienced the incarceration of her mother and which led to her own work with prison inmates sentenced to lifetime incarceration for drug offenses. Another captivating example of how much one person can accomplish when committed to righting wrongs.
The Book Collectors: The Secret Library of Daraya by Delphine Minoui (NF). This true story recounts how for four years a band of Syrian citizens, just five miles from Damascus, were able to ‘construct’ a secret library that gave them a purpose, a haven, and hope in a time when Bashar al-Assad kept them constantly under siege. Journalist Minoui writes, “The library is their hidden fortress against the bombs. Books are their weapons of mass instruction.” Although Minoui was never able to go to the town of Daraya, she tells their story which I found riveting as well as inspiring and tragic.
At Night All Blood Is Black by David Drop (F). Audible. A superb performance by Dion Graham in the narration of this unusual and captivating novel. It is the story of a Senegalese man who had previously never left his village as he attempts to avenge the death of a friend and find forgiveness for his own actions fighting for the French army in WWI. Prose translated into poetry.
I re-read the entire House of Nicolo by Dorothy Dunnett (F) and have whittled away at natural history books and a couple of mindless mysteries. I loaned another Dunnett series to my vet – she loved it – and, in return, she just loaned me the first few volumes of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (F), a somewhat trashy opener, but I trust her enough to continue and am finding it to be swashbuckling but interesting and well written around life in mid-18thc. Scotland.
The best books read so far this year:
What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Resistance & Resistance by Carolyn Forche (NF). A first-person account by Washington’s own author and poet Carolyn Forche of the beginnings of the ongoing revolution in El Salvador, written with emotion, intelligence and personal risk, following in particular the work of a behind-the-scenes hero of the struggle.
Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality by Frank Wilczek (NF). An accessible short summary of where science stands today in a unified view of particle physics and astrophysics.
Naturalist by E. O. Wilson (NF). A memoir by one of the world’s leading scientists, an American biologist who has led in the effort to bring traditional zoology into the 21st century. Written with modesty and understatement. A classic.
Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker (F). See Esther Barazzone’s review above of this delightful series. Bruno, Chief of Police — the first title in a delightful series. He’s police chief (and only member of the force) in a small Perigord town and is a former soldier who has never had to use his gun while on duty. He’s a devoted high school coach, cook and ladies’ man. He finds cooking less confusing than women. He loves his dog and you will love him.
Three outstanding and very short novels:
A Stab in the Dark by Lawrence Block (NF). A perfect story of detection. Block is a master of NYC noir who was new to me but who has written dozens of novels. As my friend David Banks said, “You got to love an alcoholic detective.”
The Train by Georges Simenon (F). I dipped into Simenon’s mysteries this year and was disappointed. But The Train, the story of a couple fleeing the Nazi army across France in 1940, rings true as an historical novel and as a portrait of two people swept up in large-scale events.
The Good Shepherd by C.S. Forester (F). Awake 96 straight hours with the U.S. captain of a destroyer flotilla escorting a convoy across the North Atlantic in 1941 and undergoing a continuous U-boat attack. Recently made into a Tom Hanks movie, but the book is better.
Currently reading The Body: A Guide for Occupants by fellow Iowan Bill Bryson (NF). It’s a gem!
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (F). The second novel by this American born daughter of Ghanaian immigrants, this book follows the life of the narrator Gifty as she navigates her life within her family and the larger societies around her which are usually hostile to a gifted Black woman scientist. It is beautifully written.
Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar (F). The plural in the title is correct. Akhtar explores his protagonist’s and his father’s yearning to belong to their countries: Pakistan and the United States. Akhtar is a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, and while this reads like a memoir, it is a work of fiction.
Tom Stoppard: A Life by Hermione Lee (NF), a new biography. As you would expect, it is nicely written, and also offers a lot of insights into the plays and how they came to be written — a big fat book that allows total immersion in the subject. Loved it!
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (NF).
She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan (NF).
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (F). Epic story of four generations of a Korean family living in Japan. A total page-turner and so happy I read it.
The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr. (F). Story of two male slaves in romantic relationship on a plantation in Mississippi.
The Vanishing Half: A Novel by Britt Bennett(F). Based mostly in my small hometown in Louisiana, I was predisposed to like it. And I did *alot* for the first half or so then it ran out of steam for me by the end. But still enjoyable.
*** *** ***
To see a previous year’s’ list of MillersTime readers favorite books, click on any of these links:
[Ed. Note: Because this post was far too long to include in any of the MillersTime Favorite Reads lists, I am posting it here for those readers who have interest in this topic as well as in David’s personal experiences with telepathic communication with animals.]
Many decades ago when I first began to read ancient Buddhist texts in English translation I became quite curious about what the sage old Buddhist authors meant when they employed the term “Sentient Beings.”During my high school and college years I remember being taught that only human beings can be considered to possess consciousness. The Skinnerian Behaviorist writings asserted that the most intellectually advanced animals are capable of nothing more sophisticated than a simple reflex derived from “operant conditioning”.
Part of the reason why I became so confused about the meaning of the term “Sentient Beings” was that I got sucked into believing that B.F. Skinner knew what he was talking about. One magical and unforgettable day about a couple of decades ago I was enriched by an epiphany concerning the consciousness of animals and how we are capable of relating to and communicating with them. This sudden understanding occurred during a visit to the home of my good friend, Dan Dreyfus, who lived in McLean, Virginia. Dan was very bright, earned a Ph.D., and whose cognitive reasoning was consistently quite exceptional. Yet I discerned that neither his doctorate nor his well-honed cognitive and empirical skills constitute the energetic essence of his feeling vibrantly connected to creatures of Nature.
My friend Dan, in order to expose me to how he connects to and communicates with such lovely creatures, took me out on his patio and asked me to sit very still. Then he went inside and came out with food for the birds, squirrels and chipmunks. As he sat down in his chair the birds dropped down from the trees, perched on his arms and wrists and ate the seeds out of his hands. They also flew down to feed on those that had fallen to the patio floor next to his feet. Then the squirrels scampered down from the branches above and ate seeds out of the cup which my friend held firmly against the trunk of the tree.
After he had finished feeding the birds and the squirrels my friend noticed that a chipmunk had arrived on the scene. Dan poured some seeds into the palm of his right hand and sat down holding his hand about three inches above the patio’s red brick floor. The chipmunk headed straight for the hand holding the seeds then stopped dead in its tracks as he noticed my presence. Dan said to the chipmunk, “Don’t be afraid. He won’t hurt you. He’s just a spectator. Now come and eat your seeds.” The chipmunk trotted over to my friend, rubbed his nose against his forearm, then hopped up on my friend’s wrist and ate contentedly out of his hand. The little furry creature filled his mouth with seeds until his cheeks puffed out like little balloons. Then he hopped down and scampered over to the edge of the patio to masticate his mouth full of seeds.
Just then about seven or eight of the birds who had just previously eaten their fill re-landed on the fence at the edge of the patio chirping away as they looked down at my friend. Facing the birds Dan said, “Did you have a good feed?” He then looked at me and said, “They have returned just for the company. They do it all the time.”
He told me that several days each week a wild Fox in his neighborhood walks to the edge of his patio while he is sitting in his chair. The fox will simply stand there and look at my friend and he at the fox. Dan told me that this communion with the wild animals means a lot to him. He said, “I really feel connected to these critters and they to me. I talk to them and they understand me. You can imagine what a transformational effect my experiences with these wild creatures has had upon me.”
As I reflected upon this astounding experience it occurred to me that without a shadow of a doubt both wild and tame animals as well as humans are sentient beings.
I began to wonder if other forms of life could also be considered sentient beings. This curiosity resulted in my discovering a number of fascinating books which shed much light on my longtime quest to understand the nature of sentient beings and their diverse interconnections. I’ll discuss each publication briefly below in the form of mini-book reviews. But having read most of them over the past at least eight or ten years and begun to experiment with communicating with non-human sentient beings I became quite interested in learning more about their consciousness and our consciousness of them and the realities of how we communicate with each other.
What I discovered is that there are a number of different ways of learning about and communicating with non-human sentient beings. First, we exhibit an intensifying curiosity about them. We observe them. We read about them and we ask ourselves a number of questions concerning them. This often becomes a subject-object undertaking. By this I mean that we employ our analytical minds in the exploration of a particular object such as, for example, a dog or a cat or a horse or a cow. Then we make mental notes about what we observe as we continue our intellectual quest to learn more. Now if we become fanatically curious and therefore obsessively pursue our investigations we can spend nearly a decade earning a PhD and doing postdoctoral studies pertaining to our animals or plants of choice. There are a multitude of scientific or quasi-scientific academic disciplines of various sorts that focus on animal behavior, cognition and other faculties. There are yet comparatively few academic investigators of plant consciousness as many scientists remain persuaded that no plant possesses any kind of sensibility equivalent to an animal brain. Accordingly, they are persuaded that plants neither possess what could be called a mind or are capable of any kind of complex thought.
While some of us who are less academically inclined tend to prefer relating to animals than intellectualizing about them. Everyone who has ever had a pet of any kind quickly learned to appreciate the day-to-day experience of relating to that animal. Yet academic scientists who become fond of the animals they study usually go out of their way to prove that what they hypothesize about such animals is irrefutably empirical, avoids all subjectivity and is experimentally replicable.
Then there are psychically gifted human beings who were born with, and came to further develop, an ability to communicate telepathically with animals. They prefer to ask the animals to explain themselves telepathically rather than conduct laboratory experiments to find their answers. Beginning with the next paragraph we will briefly explore several books written by authors devoted to all kinds of sentient beings with a focus on the nature of the connectedness between humans and other types of living organisms.
With the restrictions brought about by COVID-19, we curtailed our travel and largely stayed closer to home. But we did not stop exploring, and Ellen continued to develop her skills at capturing what she sees wherever she is.
The 10 photos below as well as the 49 in the slide show (see link below) were all taken within just a few miles of our home in Washington, DC.
For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the linkto start the slide show. If the slide show appears to start in the middle, scroll to the top of the page where you’ll see the little arrow in a box. Click on it.
See all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either). They are much sharper and the larger format presents them in much more detail than the 10 you have seen above. They are breathtaking in that format.
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.
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.)