Adults Read, Too
You probably already enjoy reading or you wouldn't be browsing these pages. But just in case you haven't become a true reader, I beg you to behave like one for a few months until you are hooked.
If this year is going to be as stressful as recent ones have been, we are all going to need a good laugh on a regular basis. For that reason, most titles suggested here are upbeat, punctuated by wonderful mysteries and history titles. Laughter boosts your immune system, and that's a medical fact.
First, cast your eyes on the Young Adult list. Most of the books there make excellent reading, remember? I often prefer them to "adult" books because the pace is fast, the writing excellent, and the material typically more hopeful and uplifting.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Olive Kitteridge is this year's Pulitzer prize-winning short story collection. Now, you may not be a fan of short stories, but you will probably appreciate the fine writing of Elizabeth Strout. Set in Crosby, Maine, the character Olive appears in all the stories, even if she is only mentioned by name. As a teacher, Olive knows a great many people in town, some of whom we get to know in these stories. Here, readers see the complexity of human beings, giving us insight into our own involved personalities. If you're a reader who's retired, you'll especially enjoy Olive's experiences after retirement.
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time by Greg
Mortenson and David Olive Relin.
Yes, I'm late reviewing this book, but I wait for several reader-buddies to comment on books before I read one or review it. Slow process, but worth it, I think. There are way too many tempting books! This one is a factual account of American Greg Mortenson's change of direction in his life. While attempting to climb the 2nd highest mountain peak, Pakistan's K2 , Mortenson fails, but happens upon a remote mountain village that cares for him, despite its obvious poverty. He is so touched that he vows to build this community a school, and how that happens is the remarkable story of this book. Relin's writing is not first-rate, but it's okay, and the story is unforgettable. People who generally avoid non-fiction love this book.
See also Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs by Greg Mortenson.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
I truly loved this book, told in letters written during WW II, from a London writer named Juliet to people on Guernsey Island, and later, from her on Guernsey out to her publisher and others. More letters from a man on Guernsey, who later becomes a suitor, from Juliet's publisher, and from several Guernsey townsfolk weave a captivating story of life on this island during and after the war. As I read, I kept thinking, "Well, gee…I had no idea!" It was hard to put this book down, so I read during lunch and dinner…most rude…but it is THAT good! This endearing, funny story makes a great gift.
New York, A Novel by Edward Rutherfurd.
You may remember Rutherfurd from his other books, Sarum, London, and The Rebels of Ireland, to mention a few. Here's a new one, the somewhat fictional story of New York City from the 1600s till now, and it's full of fascinating fictional characters along with the real ones such as George Washington, Lincoln, Churchill, and Boss Tweed. I like history best when it comes alive, as it does here in historical fiction, or in the rare, gifted hand of a factual historian. Truth is riveting when told well. So for all the folks who enjoy American history, here's a treat for the holidays and beyond.
People of the Book, A Novel by Geraldine Brooks.
Brooks is my new favorite author! I thoroughly enjoyed and learned from this story of an ancient haggadah, a treasured Jewish book commonly used for the family seder. According to Leo Rosten, author of one of my all-time favorite books: The Education of Hyman Kaplan, the haggadah always "appealed to the common people, for it contains a wealth of enchanting episodes and marvelous stories about scholars and saints and martyrs." Rosten goes on to quote a Jewish scholar who praised the book for its "charm, extraodinary piety, ethical fervour, and affirmation of God's love for the children of Israel."
The book referred to in the title is the Sarajevo Haggadah that surfaced in the 1990s, and dates back to 15th Century Spain. It's exquisitely, expensively illuminated, an historical anomaly, as these books normally lacked illustrations. It is minus what must have been a heavy clasp. It has the wing of a butterfly or moth trapped in its binding. There is one white hair. Many clues--and one young book restorer named Dr. Hanna Heath pursues each one. Chapters alternate between her pursuit of the truth, and the life of the book itself--who owned it, suffered for it, hid it, or illustrated it. Thus, Hanna is a gimmick, if you will, to take readers on the book's journey through time. She's an engaging character linking all the separate mysteries of the book, and that was enough to create an enjoyable, illuminating novel for me.
Brooks has also written March(Pulitzer Prize winner) and Year of Wonders, A novel of the Plague, which I'm reading now. It is fascinating!
Blood and Guts: A Short History of Medicine by Roy Porter.
Here's a truthful look at the bumpy road to modern medicine. It's not pretty--note the accurate title--but it certainly is interesting. While there's undoubtedly a long way to go in medical care, we are much better off than our ancestors and it is reassuring to learn just HOW MUCH BETTER. You can find longer, more detailed histories of medicine, but this one is just right for most of us.
Rising Sun by Michael Crichton.
Everyone knows that Crichton writes great thrillers! Here's one you may have missed back in 1992, and it's well worth your time. Based partly on a Japanese saying, "Business is war," this book combines critical technology, industrial intrigue, and suspense, spiced with some Japanese paranoia that was appropriate at the time. The topic of who owns what, who controls what, and who's producing what is still highly relevant, of course!
The protagonist is Peter James Smith, who's a lieutenant in Special Services Division of the Los Angeles Police department. And right away there's murder--a beautiful woman, dead on the floor in a vacant room in the Nakamoto tower in downtown Los Angeles. Okay, no more details. I'm just recommending this book as the page-turner it is, full of excellent dialogue, believable characters, a sense of humor, and a terrific story. Hey! That's fun fiction. Other, outstanding titles from Crichton include: Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, Sphere, and Disclosure.
The Miracle at Speedy Motors (in the #1 Ladies Detective series), by Alexander McCall Smith.
I rejoice that there is still a place in the publishing world for the gentle, humorous novel, minus crassness, vulgarity, and the obvious motive of "selling lotsa books." In this installment of the series, Precious Ramotswe, our beloved Botswanan detective of "traditional build," takes on the case of a woman who has no family and wants Mma Ramotswe to find her one. The detective agency's assistant, Mma Makutsi-she of the over-large glasses-receives an elegant gift from her fiance, Phuti Radiphuti…yet it's a gift laden with problems. Meanwhile, the good husband of Zebra Drive, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, believes the alluring talk of a doctor who holds out promise of a cure for his and Mma Ramotswe's adopted daughter, Motholeli, who is confined to a wheelchair. Much to ponder in this charming tale. I look forward to the next one.
All Aunt Hagar's Children by Edward P. Jones.
Author of Pulitzer Prize novel, The Known World , Jones here offers us 14 stories, five of which have appeared in The New Yorker. The everyday citizens of Washington D.C. live in these pages, with their complex moral and intellectual problems, just like all of us. The publisher writes, "With the legacy of slavery just a stone's throw away and the future uncertain," Jones's cornucopia of characters will haunt readers for years to come." I found that to be true, and I also found outstanding, memorable writing that took me into another world.
Booked to Die (Cliff Janeway series) by John Dunning.
Dunning is a Nero Wolfe award winner, and this series showcases his storytelling art and excellent writing. It features Cliff Janeway, a retired police detective, who becomes a "bookman," following the trail of rare books and dangerous books that inevitably lead to trouble. I've read several Cliff Janeway mysteries and loved each one, so I'm listing a few here. If you enjoy strong characterization, solid research, and intriguing plots, then you'll be happy with this series.
Also The Bookman's Wake ; The Sign of the Book ; The Bookwoman's Last Fling ; and The Bookman's Promise .
Snowflower And The Secret Fan by Lisa See.
Once you read one Lisa See book, you will want another. Her elegant prose reflects so much truth. If you're like me, you will re-read sentences and paragraphs before going on to follow the story of Snowflower and Lily, two girls in 19th century China. Intensive research underlies the story that illuminates Chinese feminine history and world history. Both women follow different paths, yet they were meant to be bosom buddies, as we say. How their lives differ, how they intertwine, how the bond breaks and is rejoined-all is here and it is fascinating. I have three of these books to give as gifts this holiday. See also Peony in Love: A Novel and The Interior: A Red Princess Mystery.
Eat Dessert First! The Red Hat Society Dessert Cookbook (2007)
All new recipes here, all terribly delicious, of course. I've rarely met a dessert I didn't like. In addition to wonderful new recipes for cakes, pies, meringues, and cookies are special recipes that are no-fuss, no-bother, and quick-fix for those of us who have little time. At $14.99 on amazon.com, this book makes a great gift. See also The Red Hat Society Cookbook (2006)
Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War (2007) by Nathaniel Philbrick.
Philbrick is a widely admired author, historian, and spirited recorder of critical events, perhaps best known for In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex . In Mayflower, readers get a fuller sense of the voyage to America, life aboard a crowded, stinking ship, and the barrenness of the shore that the Pilgrims claimed. This book covers more than the first Thanksgiving, instead delving into the 50 years that followed, when Pilgrims and Native Americans found themselves embroiled in what is called King Philip's war.
This fine book will also be a holiday gift under our tree!
All New Square-Foot Gardening (2006), by Mel Bartholomew.
The idea is to grow more in less space and better space, and to grow it more easily. You know that homegrown veggies and fruits taste better, and with the big green movement afoot in the land, you must be itching to participate, right? Well, this is a most helpful book. It offers instructions on how to locate and build a growing box, on top of existing soil-no digging of old soil, yeeha! And no fertilizer either, provided you begin with the right soil mix. Many more tips and advice plus building diagrams for anyone who wants to garden, but is hesitating.
Tell Me Where It Hurts, A Day of Humor, Healing, and Hope in my Life as a Veterinary Surgeon by Dr. Nick Trout.
If you enjoy animals or have ever thought of becoming a veterinarian, this book is a treat. Dr. Trout is a fine writer, though rather fond of adjectives, but hey! he’s a famous surgeon so we can allow him a few extra adjectives. Most people will enjoy this humorous, episodic book for the same reasons we enjoyed James Herriot’s work—inside stories on animals and the job itself. In this case, the stories take place in a famous clinic, the Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston. Seeking cures to difficult problems through surgery is one theme, along with the recurrent theme of ethics as we live with and care for our furry companions. I enjoyed this book immensely, cover to cover.
World Without End by Ken Follett.
Follett is the author of the beloved best-seller, The Pillars of the Earth, set in Kingsbridge, in 12th century England. As medieval historical novels go, both of these are winners! (You can read this one now, and Pillars next; it doesn’t matter.) In Pillars, the people were busy constructing the magnificent Gothic cathedral that became the heart of their town.
World Without End is set in the same town, in the 14th century. Again, intrigues flouish, as do greed, envy, love, and revenge, all discouraged by the Good Book. Yet the friars collect indulgences, promising parishioners less time in purgatory. The preaching, the intrigues within the church, and the reality are at odds. Plague stalks the country, too, and a murder influences many lives at the core of this book. Very meaty and satisfying!
If you enjoy these books, you’ll want to check out other Follet best-sellers, including: Eye of the Needle; Jackdaws; Hornet Flight; and Whiteout.
Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin.
You can tell by Martin’s essays in The New Yorker that he’s an extremely good writer. He carries the reader right along by being specific, insightful, and witty—a winning combination. His autobiography is a personal, thoughtful look back at how he became a comedian—apparently because he focused on becoming one! He talks about his early jobs at Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, developing a comedy and magic act. He is right beside you on the couch, chatting with you as you read his story. If all autobiographies were this good, we’d be reading more of them!
The Subtle Serpent; The Spider's Web; and Suffer Little Children — Peter Tremayne’s Mysteries of Ancient Ireland. This series stars Sister Fidelma, who is an advocate for the court. In The Subtle Serpent, set in 666 A.D., she is sent to investigate a murder at an abbey. While she’s there, more murder happens, and the good Sister becomes aware of many problems at this particular abbey. You’ll enjoy the setting and details of this carefully researched group of books. You’ll appreciate the good writing, too! Many events are based on actual facts, so that you are transported to 7th century Ireland—much more fun than obsessing over the price of gas and groceries.
Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes.
Here we go again, more advice on what to eat or not eat. The science here is solid, so we’d better pay attention…or at least add this information to all the other dietary advice we’ve been given. Taubes’s main discussion concerns carbohydrates, which he believes have been proved to be bad for us. White rice, white bread, and pasta cause us to pack on weight and lead directly to heart problems. Of course there’s a lot more, but you should probably be reading the book, not just this review. Enjoy!
The Blue Star by Tony Earley.
Here’s the sequel to a well-loved book by this author, Jim the Boy. Both books are set in a cotton town—Aliceville, NC, in the mid-1900s. In this story, Jim has progressed to his senior high school year, always a turbulent time in a person’s life, but more so for Jim, as he contemplates the troop trains on their way to World War II. Should he go? If he goes, why is he going? Both young people and adults will appreciate the authentic voice in this story and the engaging characters.
Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink. by David Remnick
A charming book, this one, but then, I’m a fan of New Yorker cartoons and writers. In this chunky volume you’ll get both, and what writers! Malcolm Gladwell writes about creating better ketchup; Dorthothy Parker speaks about dinner conversation; and Steve Martin writes on “menu mores,” while many more writers chat about a wide variety of kitchen topics. I’ve given two of these books as gifts, but it must be time to get one that lives at our house!
The Christmas Pearl by Dorothea Benton Frank.
Nostalgia well with the Christmas season, and here it is, hoping you’ll take some time to enjoy the season. Set in Charleston, this bit from the past is narrated by 93-year-old Theodora, who recalls “old” Christmases, when so much in her family’s life was managed by Pearl, the family’s housekeeper-center-of-life. At times funny, other times touching or thought-provoking, this story asks us to think about “rush, rush, rush” and why we’re rushing. Because food is a central character in this quintessentially Southern book, there’s a section devoted to the author’s family’s favorite recipes. Traditions DO matter.
The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George.
Always a fascinating figure, Cleopatra VII of Egypt is even more so in this well-researched and well-written novel. The author is widely acclaimed for her vivid, authentic historical fiction, for instance: Mary Queen of Scotland & The Isles; The Autobiography of Henry VIII; Helen of Troy; and Mary, Called Magdalene.
As for Cleopatra, she really was an intriguing woman. If you enjoy historical fiction, or want to give a big fat wonderful book to someone who does, this trip to ancient Egypt in eloquent prose is just right. Plunge right in. You’ll be sorry when this one ends.
Mediterranean Summer, A Season on France’s Cote D’Azur and Italy’s Costa Bella by David Shalleck and Erol Munuz.
This one is for the chef in all of us. As David Shalleck accepts a job as chef aboard a luxury yacht, he probably doesn’t know the size of the challenge. He must take his turn at watch, learn to furl the sails, and produce superb meals for the wealthy Italian couple who hired him. He must sleep when he can, eat when has two minutes, and be an uber-chef, too. His story brings to life the varied people and cultures that the yacht visits, his adventures procuring foodstuffs, and his experiments with languages. It’s amusing, and very interesting. Enjoy!
Three Bags Full a sheep detective story by Leonie Swann.
You may not have read about crime-busting sheep before, but this is your chance. Meet Maude, with her excellent sense of smell, and the lead ram, Sir Ritchfield whose eyes are still keen even if he’s old and hard of hearing, plus 17 other sheep, especially Miss Maple. She will shake up your notions about dimwitted sheep, for sure. Here also is Othello, “a black Hebridean four-horned ram with a mysterious past,” and “the winter lamb, a difficult lamb, a troublemaker.” What fun! Laughter and mysteries don’t often get to blend, but here they do! The interior, endearing sketches of sheep are an extra gift!
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen.
The Waverley family has always lived in Bascom, North Carolina, where they are considered odd. Their garden has a reputation, too, especially the apple tree that bears “prophetic fruit.” Sarah Waverley, a successful caterer, uses the “mystical plants” from her garden in her cooking—the nasturtiums, supposed to help in keeping secrets—and pansies, and snapdragons. What do they do?
This “debut novel” is creating a stir, and what I’ve read so far tells me I need to keep on reading. There’s something different here, to keep my mind aquiver.
How To Raise a Jewish Dog by Rabbis of Boca Raton Theological Seminary (fictional) and Barbara Davilman.
So…how are Jewish dogs different from other people’s dogs? They are “guilted” into good behavior. They are trained to be perfect. They listen as we tell them how terrible we feel when they disappoint us. Luckily you do not have to be Jewish in order to raise your dog Jewish, but you do have to know how to laugh and laugh at yourself. There’s a deal of thought behind the lines in this book, and a great deal of hilarity.
Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World by Jessica Snyder Sachs.
Talk about a timely topic! We’ve been worrying about diseases that resist our antibiotics, about illnesses that mutate and become worse, etc., until the topic is scaring us silly. I’d rather be educated on the topic and this engrossing book does just that. Which germs should we be grateful for, and which ones should we learn to manage better or differently? What is the proper role of antibiotics? Sachs, a well-respected science researcher-writer shows us why we need to get know our microbes much better. How much medicine are you taking? Could you try an alternate strategy to control your medical problems? We all need to know the answers to these questions, because no medicine is as powerful as a well-informed patient.
Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century Ed. by Alex Steffen.
Packaged protectively in a slipcase, this important volume gives us dozens of ideas on living a “green” life in a reasonable way, so that this world we now inhabit will be as good as humanly possible for our children and grandchildren. These are practical solutions, not unrealistic ones, to the many unhealthy developments in the world. For instance, “if you’re under 30, you can expect to see a post-oil civilization in your lifetime.” What can you do now? Do you harvest rainwater? Why not? And food--do you know how to obtain healthful food for your family? This book offers some answers, many books to read, websites to study, and movies to watch. Each separate essay is followed with information sources. If, as editor Steffen says, you want to live in a future that is “bright, green, free, and tough,” you will want to own this book.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.
This book is not only a bestseller, it is a good book. [Remember, “bestseller” means only that people bought lots of it.] In this story, Jacob Jancowski as a ninety year-old man, AND as a young man, tells the story of his last day of veterinary school at Cornell and his time with a small traveling circus—remembering, learning, and falling in love. The insights into life as an elderly person in a nursing home are poignant and truthful, as well as humorous. But the real star here is the little circus, trying to make a success of it while Barnum & Bailey rule their industry. The book is populated with memorable characters: the Polish elephant Rosie (my favorite); Marlena, sadly married to August, the schizophrenic animal trainer; Kinko the dwarf and his dog Queenie; well, actually, ALL the characters are memorable.
This is a fast-moving, occasionally raw story that immerses you in “the midway writhing with people” and an age when tatty little circuses fought for their share of the scarce entertainment money in the 1930’s—depression era America.
One Step Behind and other mysteries by Henning Mankell.
Mankell’s mysteries, which are renowned world-wide, are set in Sweden. One Step Behind stars police detective Kurt Wallander, a large, lumbering man around 50 who thinks his way through crimes, but isn’t afraid to pursue a murderer even when he has no gun. Like Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, Wallander uses “the little grey cells.” I found this mystery different and compelling, and stayed up too late reading it. Other dedicated readers in my neighborhood have all of Mankell’s books. Have fun!
The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw.
Having just heard Linda Greeenlaw speak, I became intensely interested in her works of non-fiction and her new fiction book, a mystery titled Slipknot.
This small woman with a love for fishing the Atlantic burst upon the scene as part of Sebastian Junger’s book, The Perfect Storm. Junger termed her “one of the best sea captains, period, on the East Coast,” and she was the last captain to be in touch with the Andrea Gail before she went down in the storm. This book is the story of Greenlaw’s journey on the Hannah Boden with 5 fishermen as they hunt swordfish. If you are interested in how commercial fishing happens, and who does this demanding, dangerous job, then this is the book for you. It’s laced with dry humor, tough weather, and problems finding fish.
Kabul Beauty School, An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil by Deborah Rodriguez and Kristin Ohlson.
One of many highly-recommended books on the pile in my bedroom is this witty, revealing memoir of a hairdresser from Michigan who goes to Kabul, Afghanistan, and opens a beauty school. She makes it sound funny, according to my friends who love this book, but it doesn’t sound easy! She gets in trouble with governing officials for the darndest things: too much laughing in her school, for instance. The real story, of course, is that of the courageous Afghan women who learn a trade and are able to support their families, an unimaginable miracle before strong-willed, brave Deborah Rodriguez came to town.
Plenty: One Man, One Woman, And a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon.
The topic of healthy, local food is a hot one right now. Remember The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan? (See prior set of reviews for adults.)
This is a new title in the same genre that again asks us to consider WHAT we are putting into our bodies. If we gardened a bit ourselves, or foraged and shopped locally, would we not be healthier? Millions live by this creed. Consider the time you spend driving and shopping at supermarkets. What if you spent that time buying and preparing local produce and meats? Though this book delivers the occasional sermon, it’s mainly light-hearted and includes menu ideas.
Yet another book along these lines is Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. The Kingsolver family resolved to spend a year growing and eating their own food, or else local food, and this is the story of that year. I’m told it’s a tad preachy here and there, but Kingsolver is one fine writer and naturalist, so we can depend on the quality of this offering. Happy eating in the months to come!
Dog Days: Dispatches from Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz.
I cannot resist a good dog book. This latest in Katz’s string of philosophical dog books is another charmer. Here, we mosey across the hillsides and pastures of Katz’s farm in upstate New York, just across the border from Vermont. He gives us a complete picture of all the inhabitants and necessary people on the farm—a series of loving portraits. The Farm Goddess is a woman named Annie, who speaks to the creatures, heals the creatures, and argues with Katz about who deserves treats and when, while she’s there working. All of the farm dogs—Rose and Izzy, the hyper-energetic border collies and Pearl and Clementine, the laid-back Labs—come fully alive for readers. The whole farm springs to life, in fact, a nostalgic trip to a hard-working, no-nonsense farm that is nonetheless an idyllic haven for its owner. Anyone who loves animals will love this book.
Rita Mae Brown's Foxhunting Mysteries by Rita Mae Brown
This are purely for fun and laughs. In these tales, a Virginia foxhunting club forms the base of characters. You might try The Hunt Ball or The Hounds and the Fury or Full Cry for starters, and prepare to suspend disbelief and enjoy all those talking animals, given full personalities for your pleasure. These books are like jellybeans…I need some now and then!
Stealth Health: How To Sneak Age-defying, Disease-fighting Habits Into Your Life Without
Really Trying by Deborah L. Gordon and David Katz.
The authors have collected 1,200 simple, practical ideas for modifying your life in order to promote health and wellness. While I haven’t read this book yet, the recommendations from friends and online reviews are uniformly positive, even loudly enthusiastic. If benefits result from simple changes, why not try them? Many small changes in lifestyle add up to a large, noticeable change over-all.
The Restless Sleep by Stacy Horn.
Because Stacy Horn, skilled writer and contributor to NPR, has access to police files, these tales of policemen who take on “cold cases” is un-put-down-able. Here, Horn features four unsolvable crimes that receive dedicated attention from dedicated people. Readers tell me this book reads like good fiction because the people are so “believable and real and heartbreaking.” If you like true crime stories and details of how detectives work, you’ll enjoy this well-written book.
Give Peas a Chance! Organic Gardening, Cartoon Science by Peter Barbarow.
Gardeners and wannabe gardeners, this funny book is for you. You’ll get expert advice on all the critical topics such as soil fertility, prepping the soil for a garden, composting (always a focal point), watering, planning the garden, pest control, well…all you need to know. Cartoons here are not just funny, they may be critical, as gardening can be grim when no rain falls or the grubs take over.
Amazing Gracie: A Dog's Story by Dan Dye and Mark Beckloff.
Because of Gracie, born deaf and partly blind, the writers of this story began Three Dog Bakery, to provide gourmet/healthful dog food. Readers will fall in love with Gracie (duhh) and be intrigued by the ins and outs of beginning a business. Raves pour in about this small book, saying it’s uplifting, touching, spiritual—all the adjectives that describe a truly good book featuring an animal. Sounds like this warm, funny book appeals even to people who just tolerate dogs.
The Greek Treasure by Irving Stone.
A real treasure here—one of my best reading experiences in historical fiction! The story of Heinrich Schliemann, the real self-taught archaeologist and linguist who discovered the ancient city of Troy, is balanced by serious research and insightful characterizations. The older Schliemann falls in love with a young Greek girl, Sophia, and together they proceed to the spot Homer described in The Iliad, which most maintained was pure fiction. Defying all the science and advice available, they achieved astonishing success, and actually altered the thinking in academic archaeology.
The Omnivore's Dilemma Michael Pollan.
I enjoy Michael Pollan’s writing immensely, and I respect his vast understanding of food, diet, the history of food, chemistry, and so on. While it’s easy to get confused about what to eat and why, Pollan sorts it all out in an entertaining way so that readers remember why they want to eat that salmon. Why it’s okay, even good, to spread that lovely avocado on toast, decorate it with lemon drops and a touch of salt, and gobble it down. Food plays such a vital role in our lives, yet the food “rules” keep changing! Pollan’s excellent writing makes it a pleasure to consider this major topic. I put our copy by our reading chair so that I can digest a chapter whenever I sit down. Reads best in hunks, I think, not all at once.
Mysteries by Dorothy Sayers, e.g., The Documents in the Case
While I always enjoy Agatha Christie’s mysteries, especially her sense of humor, I am a huge fan of Dorothy Sayers, an English author who wrote in the first half of the 19th century, like Christie. In this story, the corpse is found in a Devonshire shack, and by his side sits a deadly dish of mushrooms. Yet the corpse was an expert on fungi. Clues exist in a case full of documents, love notes and letters home—that make up a good share of the book. Fine suspense here in this novel written with a collaborator, Robert Eustace. Also recommended: The Five Red Herrings, Whose Body?; Murder Must Advertise ; The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, etc.
Talk To The Hand, The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door, by Lunne Truss.
If you read Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Truss’s first best seller, you will know that this writer has a wicked sense of humor and a skewer at the ready. Like me, she sees no excuse for rudeness. No excuse for talking on your cell phone wherever and whenever about whomever…in a loud voice! As the jacket copy says, “When did the world stop valuing basic courtesy and respect?” I loved this funny book. Except, rudeness and lack of consideration ARE NOT FUNNY. I am impressed that Truss can entertain her readers while she raps them on the knuckles.
Sophie's World, by Jostein Gaarder.
While I haven’t finished this history of philosophy yet, I am enjoying the learning process. I had no time to study philosophy in college, but wanted to fill that gap…and this book is good, because it isn’t any “heavier” than it needs to be. However…the device used to lead us through the historical evolution of philosophical thought is a bit creaky—a mysterious person leaving clues and then enlightening young Sophie so that she will ponder two questions: Who are you? and Where does the world come from? I read this in spurts, not extended sittings, but I’m finding it most interesting. A good book for the breakfast table, perhaps, or the bathroom?
The $64 Tomato, by William Alexander.
An editor by trade, Alexander is a most enjoyable, humorous writer who is compelled to garden. When he and his wife bought an acreage outside of New York in a small town, Alexander began gardening big-time. Grassy paths ran between the many cultivated beds where many crops could be grown to demand constant work and something—anything—to enrich the hard, clay-ey soil. But for Alexander it’s all worth it if you can grow heirloom tomatoes—Brandywines—like no other tomato on earth. This autobiography of a man and his garden is a delightful read. If you’ve fought bugs and heat and drought in a garden as I have, you’ll identify instantly.
City Boy, The Adventures of Herbie Bookbinder by Herman Wouk.
You may remember Wouk as the author of The Caine Mutiny and The Winds of War. This is NOT like that; it’s very funny, and was written even before Caine Mutiny. I’m about to re-read it, but here’s what I remember. I learned what it was like to live in the Bronx in the twenties. I identified with Herbie, even though I’m a girl, because he came to life in this book—he was real. The entire story was a trip back in time that I felt had to be largely autobiographical, and that made it even more appealing. I remember laughing repeatedly and reading bits aloud to our family. I remember being determined to re-read this book…so it’s on my stack.
Fix-it and Forget-it Cookbook: Feasting With Your Slow Cooker by Dawn J. Ranck and Phyllis Pellman Good.
Country-fried pork chops cooked in a crockpot? My friends say they’re delicious. This title is one of those NY Times Best Sellers that a great many people depend on. It has over 800 recipes in a wide range of categories, and a HUGE fan base attesting to their quality.
Even newer is Fix-It & Forget-It Lightly: Healthy Low-Fat Recipes for Your Slow Cooker) by Phyllis Pellman Good. These recipes are revised for those of us watching our health and our figures. The nutritional analysis accompanies each recipe.
Morte D'Urban by J.F. Powers.
Father Urban is an urbane, witty priest who can kick back with his Catholic parishioners, especially if he is seeking money to expand and glorify his church. But his efforts are, shall we say unappreciated? by those in higher positions, and Father Urban is packed off to Minnesota, where he must work with a crew of midwestern pennypinchers in a most traditional church. Remember Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry ? Powers’s book shares its theme—religious hypocrisy—yet I believe Powers’s book is much better.
If I say this is an exquisitely crafted tale of materialism vs. morality, don’t be put off, because this book is lit by dry and subtle humor—it is deep—it is beautiful—it is memorable, and it is penetrating—all at once. It is a true classic, although known to relatively few people. (National Book Award Winner, 1963)
What Are People For? by Wendell Berry
Berry is one of my favorite authors—a fellow who lives a deliberately simple life on a farm in the country while he contemplates life’s basics. Some topics he discusses are God and Country; Damage; Healing; the author Wallace Stegner; Economy and Pleasure; and Why I am Not Going to Buy a Computer. Although Berry is a thoughtful and thought-provoking writer, his sturdy independence and sense of humor set him apart from most.
Prayers for Rain by Dennis Lehane
This is the fifth book in the Patrick Kenzie/Angela Gennaro series of detective mysteries set in Boston. As they stamp around eagerly waiting for Lehane's next book, eager readers tell me this is a terrific writer who ought to be better known. If you enjoy detective mysteries and what appears to be really good writing, then you should try this title, which is getting great reviews and now sits atop my pile of Books To Read.
The Patient From Hell, How I Worked With My Doctors to Get the Best of Modern Medicine, and How You Can, Too by Stephen Schneider
When diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma, the author determined to fight back as effectively as possible. His battle against a terrifying disease is detailed in this book, along with informative sections that show us how we can derive the most benefit possible from today’s medical system. While we’re not all scientists like Schneider, we can all learn how to be better patients.
The Magnificent Ambersons (Pulitzer Prize Winner) by Booth Tarkington
Many people think of Tarkington as the author of Seventeen and the various Penrod adventures, which he was, but how many have read The Magnificent Ambersons? Published in 1918, it is probably Tarkington’s best book. (Out now in a new edition from Modern Library.) It’s the story of three generations of Ambersons, a midwestern family of great influence, and how changing times affect their lives. Few books depict the Victorian era in America this well; few have such interesting, believable characters. This book qualifies as a “great read”—one that you make sure your kids read as they grow up.
Tarkington received a second Pulitzer for Alice Adams (Library of Indiana Classics). Enjoy!
A David Lodge trilogy: Changing Places (1975), Small World(1984), and Nice Work (1988).
These British satires are prime treasures in my collection of humor writing. Lodge is dependable: witty, observant, and original. In Changing Places, an English professor and an American one trade places for a year…and they trade other things as well, even wives for a brief time, although that was thoroughly unexpected.
After reading that title, and Small World, you’ll have a new--not entirely respectful--perspective on academia. A “delectable comedy of bad manners…infused with a rare creative exuberance,” according to the Washington Post Book World.
In Nice Work, life in academia is still the topic, but here the focus shifts to how a town can manage to coexist happily with a college. Really?
These are charming, perceptive titles perfect for Anglophiles, of course, but just as enjoyable for anyone with a sense of humor.
Being Dead Is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies’ Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral by G. Metcalfe and C. Hays
This is a great book to have in the house. Great for guests to peruse if they retire early. Great for you to have in the kitchen for its outstanding recipes. Great to pick up, read a chapter, and laugh—whenever you need a laugh. Are the Episcopalians really Whiskeypalians? Do the Methodists insist on casseroles at their funerals—with no booze at all? I’m really enjoying this book!
The Minotaur, by Barbara Vine (aka Ruth Rendell)
If you like British mysteries, here’s one with comforting traditional ingredients: an eccentric family in an old, strange house. There’s an heir in the house named John Cosway, who is tended by a Swedish nurse. Is John autistic and innocent, or simply odd, very clever, and evil? Given the other family members in the house, it’s hard to tell. Ah, the world would be a sad place without a good new British mystery every so often!!
Eating for Life: Your Guide to Great Health, Fat Loss, and Increased Energy! by Bill Phillips
The author’s premise is that all diets are guaranteed to fail in the long run. He explains that people need to learn how and when and what to eat so that food remains a satisfactoy, joyful experience. He is a proponent of more frequent meals, smaller meals, distributed throughout the day in a way that suits YOUR lifestyle. Recipes included. Cooking suggestions and meal plans included. I’d bet that all of our kitchens would benefit from having this book handy.
Running to the Mountain, A Midlife Adventure, by Jon Katz.
In midlife, Jon Katz decides to change. Too sedentary, he takes up running. Not accustomed to lengthy self-introspection, he takes that up, too. Eventually, with his two labrador dogs as friends and kindly listeners, he moves to the mountains of upstate New York where he renovates a dilapidated cabin and considers how he wants to live whatever remains of his life. This is a candid, witty, warm, and inspiring memoir. It is about change, a monumentally important topic that affects all of us. I will be giving this book as a gift to friends, I’m sure.
Marley and Me, by John Grogan
As young newlyweds, the author and his wife Jenny adopt a pale golden labrador retriever puppy whom they name Marley. While Marley is lovable, devoted, and forgiving, he is more than a little loopy. Terrified of thunderstorms, he leads a tortured life at home in Florida, where storms are frequent. The result of this abject fear is destruction of the author’s house and possessions, but Marley’s family loves him anyway. This book has been on the non-fiction best-seller list since a few weeks after I bought it, last December, and I understand why. It is honest, tender, funny, and appealingly well written. Teenagers, too, would love this book.
Open House, by Elizabeth Berg.
Samantha and David are separating as this story opens, and they go on to get a divorce. Samantha will now be raising their teenage son, Travis. It sounds like so many stories, I thought, but I continued to read. Result? This is a very good book. Sam puts herself together, bit by bit, and is better for it. Here’s a novel both thoughtful and true—a thoroughly good read, as reviewers like to say.
Trowel and Error (garden tips), by Sharon Lovejoy.
A charming, useful, witty book like this belongs in every gardener’s library. I began reading it for the fun of it, fell in love with the illustrations, and then became hooked on Lovejoy’s practical, earth-friendly approach to gardening. Excellent index. Outstanding gift!
Dakota, A Spiritual Geography, by Kathleen Norris.
Norris, known for Amazing Grace, writes a personal, spiritual book that is typically calm, peaceful, and reflective. This title is all those things, and more, as the author analyzes how the Dakotas have changed, how they have stayed the same, and how small-town America still has much to offer. The prose is poetic because Norris is a poet. Here is a book to savor.
The Maul and The Pear Tree, by P.D. James.
A true account from a beloved author of many mysteries, this book depicts crimes that actually happened near the London Docks in 1811, known as the Radcliffe Highway murders. James shows how one crime followed another as the London constabulary struggled to stop the serial murderer. As usual, James’s writing is outstanding.
What Western Do I Read Next? A Reader’s Guide, by Wayne Barton.
The title says it all. This is a very expensive book, but neighbors could share a copy! Or you could buy a used copy for roughly $83.00. Share with just two other people and it’s a heckuva deal. A wonderfully helpful book.
I’m Just Here For The Food, by Alton Brown
Fans of Alton Brown say that if they had only one cookbook, this would be it. Brown explains why cooking works the way it does. He is half scientist, half chef, but all teacher and a darned good one. His eye-opening books feature recipes that always work. Terrific gift at holiday time.
Crossing To Safety, by Wallace Stegner.
If you haven’t read this yet, well…now’s the time. Because everybody with even half a brain needs to know this book. The prose is as good as it gets, and the characters will live in your head while you read and for long afterwards. It’s a story of two couples, their friendship, and the ways that friendship changes over time. Reading this will show you vividly why Stegner is so respected as an author.
Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry.
One of our best writers today is Wendell Berry, who wrote this spare and elegant novel set in Port William, Kentucky. This book doesn’t race along, it flows, like a river. Jayber is a barber, so he sees life going past his shop’s windows, and occasionally coming inside. In a few pages, the reader meets life alongside Jayber and travels with him throughout the narrative. A plot summary would ruin this gem of a book, so I’ll just say, Read It. It is well worth your time.
The Philosopher’s Kitchen, by Francine Segan.
This unusual, beautifully illustrated cookbook features foods of the ancient Greeks and Romans, adjusted for today’s cook. It offers a wide variety of recipes from appetizers through soups, stews, and salads to seafood, poultry, meats, and on to breads and desserts. The fish cooked in parchment, which I ate, is not difficult, and it was absolutely delicious.
Kitchen Table Wisdom, Stories That Heal, by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.
This is a much-beloved book, recommended by one woman to all other women wherever they gather and chat. The author has her own debilitating illness, so she understands how other chronically ill people feel. She is more than encouraging; she is inspiring. We can all use some of the wisdom in these pages. We can all identify with at least one of these stories.
Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, by Susan Jane Gilman.
An occasionally laugh-out-loud, humorous read, with a few cuss words. I haven’t read it yet, but all who did absolutely loved it. No question that the writer is observant, shrewd, and witty. So it’s partly brain candy, but not entirely, and from a talented wordsmith. Readers all report being VERY sorry when this book ended.
Gods, Graves, and Scholars, by C.W. Ceram.
If you’ve always been fascinated by artifacts from the distant past, then you’ll enjoy this history of archaeology told in a relaxed, unpretentious way. The stories that Ceram (pen name) tells are fascinating, allowing the archaeologist to come alive through personal anecdotes, their writings, and photographs. The great archaeological discoveries are here in story form, and they are gripping. This book has been in print and popular for over 50 years and is a fine fit in any home library. Appendices in the back, plus a timeline.
OTHER RECOMMENDED BOOKS:
The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde.
Terrific fun here, especially for English majors and literature nuts. So many lines have literary puns or allusions, and a few places have famous phrases inserted into sentences…just waiting for you to find them and guffaw. The heroine is Thursday Next (Brit-speak for our “next Thursday” phrase), who is a detective, and this is a veddy English book. It’s also a literary mystery, science fiction, time travel, fantasy, and a chase. Since it came out in 2001, more Thursday Next mysteries have followed.
Life of Pi, by Yann Martel.
Told in first person, the story of Pi Patel, son of a gifted zookeeper (Trust me, this is relevant) kept me turning pages happily. I knew from the cover of the book that Pi and a Bengal tiger would eventually be at sea together in a small boat. How they got there and how Pi manages not to be eaten, is for you to discover. What we can all discover in only a few pages is that Yann Martel writes beautifully. He explores many religious themes in many religions as he seeks answers. Read this book when you can savor it. Winner of Man Booker prize.
A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry.
“You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.” Although I have enjoyed nearly all of the “Oprah Books,” I struggled with this one. It’s won many prizes and people kept urging me to read it, so I did. I regard finishing it as one of my lifetime achievements, as it has to be among the most depressing books on the planet. Nevertheless…it is also one of the best-written books. It covers roughly a year (plus flashbacks and a brief postscript) in the lives of a few highly unfortunate people in India, in 1975. [Except for those in power, it seems as though most people in India were unfortunate.] I read doggedly on because I hoped that the characters I had come to love would find happy lives, or at least something resembling fair treatment from those in power. No such luck. Happiness, when it came, flickered like a candle stub and went out. This is a novel, yet it reads like the raw truth, and makes the reader ache for the people of India.
Tender At The Bone: Growing Up at the Table, by Ruth Reichl.
Lucky you, if you have not yet read this book by witty, perceptive Ruth Reichl, restaurant critic for the New York Times. She seems to be naturally funny—something that I know occurs on paper only after great and careful attention—and she writes charmingly about food. With recipes! I laughed out loud in so many places that the planeload of people around me began to openly watch me as we flew from Des Moines to Charlotte. Reichl has other books—all recommended—but this one explains how she became a professional food critic, and it’s fascinating.
Straight Man, by Richard Russo.
Russo (Pulitzer winner for Empire Falls, a helluva fine book) is the acclaimed author of several books. I am partial to this one because it’s about English teachers—the over-worked, impassioned-but-cursed clan to which I belong. In this story, William Henry Devereaux becomes chairman of his college English department in a surprising and unwelcome turn of events. Who is he, he moans, to unite a department more divided by tribal strife than Iraq??
Like the folks in Empire Falls (2001) and Nobody’s Fool (1993), these characters quickly become believable people for the reader. They are lovable, pitiable, hilarious, and frustrating all at once. This laugh-aloud story made me feel good all the way through…a rare and special achievement.
Truman, by David McCullough.
This extremely well-written biography covers so much American ground that any fan of our history will enjoy it. I'm an Independent voter, so I'm not just politicking here. I really believe that this is one of the finest presidential biographies ever written, and it is highly readable. Truman was an "ordinary American," and he never really changed. At the end of his presidency, he and Bess packed their own suitcases and took a cab to the train station to go back home. What a change from the hype, stardom, and hoopla of modern presidencies.
Mama Makes Up Her Mind by Bailey White.
This collection of wryly humorous essays belong to a genre called "Southern eccentricity," which my family calls "Southern Dysfunctional." White's style of writing results in readers who wear smiles and who chuckle now and then, AND who recommend her books to others. As you may know, Bailey White is an NPR commentator, beloved by many. When I read her kind of literature, I feel good…happy…comfortable, knowing that the world is a pretty fine, funny place after all.
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Prof. Jared Diamond.
Once again, here's the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel. Luckily, he's still possessed of the writing skill and observant eye that marked his prize-winner. Publishers Weekly heralds this new book as "enthralling and disturbing," so we know it won't be "lit lite," but it's no doubt important literature.
This book deals with lost societies like that of Easter Island and the Viking colonies in Greenland, civilizations that either failed to adapt old ways to new territory (the Vikings), or those who stressed the ecosystem beyond its ability to recover (mining communities in current-day Montana). It's all about geography, in other words. Diamond's historical account notes that economic interests and ecological ones are so often the same--not enemies.
I've read only bits so far, and I doubt that I can read this book at one sitting, but it's on the top of my pile.
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.
This really is an oldie, published first in 1932 by the English novelist, poet, and short-story writer, Stella Dorothea Gibbons. It was beloved on its first publication and had a well-deserved revival in the U.K. as well as here a few years ago. If you enjoy wry, British comedy, you’ll delight in this book. If you like excellent characterization and fine writing, you’ll find it here. You’ll go right along with orphaned Flora Poste, age 20, as she moves into Cold Comfort farm and finds herself surrounded by her wildly eccentric relatives. Enjoy!
Don’t Stop The Carnival by Herman Wouk.
Wouk is typically known for his other books: The Caine Mutiny; War and Remembrance; The Winds of War. Those titles made him famous, and I enjoyed them, but Don’t Stop The Carnival made me laugh—-loudly and often. This is the story of a successful New Yorker who “chucks it all to buy a hotel on the island of Amerigo, in the Caribbean Sea.” Norman Paperman did what so many have only dreamed about, and boy, is his experience memorable! Wouk tells a great story .
The Lives of a Cell; The Medusa and the Snail; The Youngest Science, by Lewis Thomas.
Here are three selections by one of the handful of American scientists who are gifted writers. Thomas is a must-read for anyone interested in the biological sciences…and in life. He’s a philosopher-scientist, actually. His essays that form Lives of a Cell originally appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, beginning in the early 70s, but most are still highly relevant and every one of them is outstanding literature. Thomas writes about everything under the sun! About warts, the socialness of our species related to that of other creatures, about pheromones, termites, and computers—-always with a dry humor that makes me smile…or think very deeply. If Lewis Thomas writes about it, I will always want to read it. (He died in ’93, but left behind an exquisite legacy in his work and words. Want a most impressive biography? Look up Lewis Thomas on the internet.)
Flight of the Iguana, by David Quammen.
One of my favorite non-fiction writers, Quammen has another success in this book about a variety of biological, marine science, avian--you name it--fascinating topics. If one essay doesn't seem interesting, flip to the next. I found wonderful insight in this book, excellent scholarship, and outstanding humor. If Quammen and Bill Bryson ever appear on the same program, I'll go if I have to crawl on my knees.
Mysteries by Ngaio Marsh.
All of them (Overture to Death ; Death in Ecstasy; Hand in Glove; Death on the Air and Other Stories; Photo Finish and two other great mysteries; A Man Lay Dead; Death of a Peer and many more.
If you enjoy mysteries, you won't be able to resist the English whodunits by this gifted author. You might start with Artists in Crime, featuring Marsh's famous detective, Roderick Alleyn. Once hooked, you can rest easy. There are lots more mysteries by this talented writer. I haunt used bookstores and buy them second-hand.
Life With Father, by Clarence Day.
This old charmer is a contemporary of The Egg and I by MacDonald and Cheaper by the Dozen, by 2 of the 13 Gilbreth kids. All three of these autobiographical humor classics will send you on your way chuckling, but I have a soft spot for Life With Father, who was an old-fashioned (even for the early 20th century) gentleman who ruled his roost of one wife and 4 boys with a firm and righteous hand. Well, that's what he meant to do. The reality was a bit different, and awfully funny.
Hash by Torgny Lindgren. Because an admired writer-friend of mine loves this book, it appears here, with her review. Translated from Swedish in 2004 by Tom Geddes, it was created by an internationally famous writer who is not yet well known here--pity. The book is narrated by a fictional 107 year-old former journalist "silenced in mid-life for making things up" who is now "making up for lost time, composing in a senior-citizen home." The result is "all about writing, imagination, memory--and cooking. I can't begin to say what a pleasure reading it was, or recommend it highly enough to readers who care about such things." Wow, I can't wait. I love books recommended by friends.
Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss.
This book is sub-titled "The Zero-Tolerance Approach to Punctuation," and it is a hoot. Yes, it's about punctuation. Written from the British point of view, not every word applies to American English, but you won't care. This book is FUN to read. Hilarious examples, exemplied by the title. As you well know, a panda eats shoots and leaves. But look at what that misplaced comma did!
Sick Puppy by Carl Hiassen.
Warning: Hiassen is a brilliant writer, an ecologist and biologist, and a conservationist who writes to show us what a mess we are making of our planet. His characters swear colorfully and often. If that offends you, don't read his wickedly funny books. In his books, very bad people are doing very bad things to the country we call home. His heroes are not perfect--sympathetic, yes, but not perfect. His satire is right on target, wholly uncensored, and when I read his work, tears of laughter and righteous anger roll down my face.
The Education of Hyman Kaplan by Leo Rosten.
This is one of my 25 books I'd take to a desert island--one I've been hollering about since I "discovered" it. The irrepressible immigrant, Hyman Kaplan, captured hearts the moment he first appeared in a short story in the New Yorker,. A zealous English student, eager to become a U.S. citizen, Kaplan gives the principal parts of verbs in a most creative way, for example, "die, died, funeral." When comparing adjectives, he says, "poor, poorer, bankropt." Still in print after 70 years, this book is now a humor classic. I own nearly everything Rosten has written, and I won't lend them for fear the books might get lost!
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.
Here's another one of my 25 favorites going to the desert island. I so loved this book when it first came out that I rationed myself to reading 40 pages a day so that it would last longer. Frazier takes us back in time so meticulously that we see each detail of the tools used in the mid-1800s, smell the pine trees in the southern Blue Ridge mountains, and walk every step of the painful journey back to Cold Mountain with the hero, who has left the Civil War behind him in a search for peace and commonsense. This is a saga--a a masterpiece of fine writing and storytelling. When it won the National Book Award in 1998, I said, "Well, of course!"
Skipping Christmas by John Grisham.
Although Grisham usually writes legal thrillers, this novel is humorous. How many adults would like to avoid the hassle and commercialism that Christmas has become? Nearly all of them, as it turns out, but eluding this holiday is not simple. Why this couple decide to skip Christmas and how they do it (or don't) is a secret--until you read the book, that is. Enjoy!
Will In The World by Stephen Greenblatt.
Here's the much-touted new biography of William Shakespeare, based on vast amounts of research by a careful biographer. I haven't read it yet, but I mean to. Those who have, give it rave reviews. For anyone who loves the Elizabethan period or plays or England or Shakespeare, this book sounds like a winner.
Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie by Barbara Goldsmith.
Here's another biography, on the top of my reading pile for the new year. Marie Curie has long been an idol of mine as she was the pioneer scientist who studied uranium and radioactivity, thereby becoming the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. Now, thanks to the patient study and careful attention of author Goldsmith, we can learn much more about this female in the vanguard of the woman's movement. Again, the reviews from picky readers are all praises. I can't wait!
The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini.
The author, who grew up in Kabul and moved to California in the eighties, has given us a book that has created a devoted following among book clubs, librarians, and bookstore owners. It's the tale of an Afghanistan boy, Amir, who becomes a young adult just before the Russian invasion in the last century. Reviews say that this is a powerful book--fierce and sometimes angry like the Afghani people who have waited a long time to know peace. It's a family story, with some raw parts "excruciating to read" according to the Washington Post Book World, but also one that is "lovingly written." Hoo boy. What if we just "skipped Christmas" and took to our couches with some hot tea and all these books?
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
Surprisingly, many adults have not read this modern classic. I re-read it periodically just to remind myself what a magnificent book it is. It's set in the South and stars a girl, her older brother, and her lawyer father, played by Gregory Peck in the movie. He said Atticus Finch was his favorite role.
The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl.
In this Civil War era mystery set in Boston, famous American authors come to life. Oliver Wendell Homes, James Russell Lowell, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and others move through these pages and take the reader back in time. It's not for the faint-hearted, though. There are some grisly murders, all copies of crimes from Dante's Inferno. Although it doesn't start swiftly, this is one of the most original, engrossing books I've read in a long time.
The Glorious Cause by Jeff M. Shaara.
In this novel, which seems almost like a non-fiction account of the Revolutionary War, the author brings history to vivid life. George Washington practically strides off the pages and into your house. You can't beat outstanding research, a great true story, and real writing ability. Even people who don't usually enjoy history like books by this author.
The Woman Warrior, by Maxine Hong Kingston.
As a Chinese girl growing up on the west coast of the United States, the author felt pulled first by one culture, then another. She recalls the voices and stories of her Chinese relatives, yet she is maturing as an American. I have never forgotten this book and continue to rave about it. The writing is simply terrific.
Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman by Richard Feynman.
This autobiography is like having Feynman sitting next to you; it is told exactly the way he would tell-not write-it. One of the great minds of the 20th century, the witty Feynman spent his working life as a physicist. He also played the bongo drums and studied safe-cracking because both interested him. He was the fellow who understood why the Challenger crashed. For the TV audience, he dipped the O rings into ice water so that everyone could understand the physics. His amazing life revolved around asking and answering intriguing questions.
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.
If you read no other French novel, you must read this classic. It's one of the longest books I have read, yet perhaps the most satisfactory...in too many ways to list. Its hero is Jean Valjean, who in desperation stole a loaf of bread to feed his family, and was thrown into prison, eventually manacled to oars as a galley slave. When he finally escapes, he constructs a life that is good in all ways, a life that reflects who he really is. But Inspector Javert is on his trail obsessively, which makes for amazing suspense. The reader knows a showdown will come. While introducing you to some wonderful, sympathetic characters, the novel also depicts France after the Revolution, and on into the 1800's, to the time of the Peasant Uprising. (Avoid the modern Penguin transation and stick with the original Wilbour one, or the new MacAfee translation from Signet Classics.)