Thursday, July 19, 2007

The 2007 List: Top Picks

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert. Everyone seems to be talking about this book: "Fun quick read for travel and food lovers." … "Read it on vacation and thoroughly enjoyed it." … "A journalist recounts a whirlwind year of self-exploration in three countries. This woman experiences more in one year than most of us experience in a decade! Warning: the section on Italy caused me to crave pasta and wine--well, more than usual. This woman's life experiences are so different from mine. I had trouble identifying with the author, but I still enjoyed the book and found it very worthwhile."

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky: Several people mentioned this book to me in person, plus I got the following reviews: "Beautifully written tale about life during WWII. The book is wonderful, but three times as good once you read the appendix." … "Loved this book. Story is so interesting as is the story of the author."

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Kholed Hosseini No surprise here, I guess. Here are your reviews: "Follow-up to The Kite Runner. Challenging life of women in Afghanistan during the Taliban rule." … "I am enjoying it, though it's depressing! I preferred Kite Runner I think but am only half way through and it's picking up... it's a good read if you are interested in the plight of women in Afghanistan...not light summer reading!" … "I started reading this one, and it's a page- turner. It' got a historic backdrop of some 30 years of Afghanistan turmoil." … "Unbelievably sad yet uplifting, this story centers on two women in modern Afghanistan and the men who love or abuse them. Not for the faint of heart -- I cried like a baby."

The 2007 List: New (or Newish) Fiction

Fiction recommendations published more recently (in the past few years):

Boomsday Christopher Buckley -- "If you liked the satire 'Thank you for Smoking,' you’ll like Boomsday, about a 29-year old blogger who turns the Washington political establishment on its end by suggesting 'voluntary transistioning' (aka suicide) for Baby Boomers to solve the nation’s looming fiscal crisis."

Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient. “It’s beautifully written, very vivid. Sometimes dark but I have enjoyed it.” The Washington Post reviewed this. See here.

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian. This book is pretty flawed (see "old favorites for a review of Midwives by Bohjalian, which is way better). You could wind up annoyed at forking over the cost of hardback, rather than waiting for paperback. That said, it is a pretty psychological thriller, and I read it in a matter of days.

Esperanza Rising and Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan. "Two great, 'pre-teen,' page-turners for the young at heart!" (Only one of these qualifies as new fiction, but they were reviewed as one).

Gravedigger’s Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates. One of you had it on deck, and it was reviewed in the Washington Post (here). Reminds me that I also recently read "The Falls," by Oates. She's a good storyteller, and this was no exception.

I'm Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti. This thriller is a quick read and very engaging. Sparely written. (It's translated from Italian -- it was evidently an enormous hit in Italy. They made a movie out of it.)

The Inheritance of Loss- by Kiran Desai. “A beautifully written story. Takes place in US and India.”
The Memory Keepers Daughter by Kim Edwards. I had to look back at the old lists, thinking this must have appeared before, but it apparently hadn't. I know many of you have read and enjoyed this book.

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife: Pride and Prejudice Continues by Linda Berdoll. "I haven’t read it yet, but everyone in my book club was talking about by it. For those who enjoy Pride and Prejudice. Supposed to be very racy, so a nice summer read."

On Chesil Beach by Ian McKewan -- "I have not read it, but I love everything he writes so I am going on faith." … "Beautiful prose as you would expect from him. Short quick read." FYI, Jonathan Yardley reviewed this book in Washington Post. Click here for that review.
Popco by Scarlett Thomas. Borrowed from an Amazon reader review: "If you want a fast-paced action adventure story with lots of movement and dialogue, this isn't it. Instead, this story explores fascinating topics well and with depth, while keeping several mysteries humming along. Cryptology, the hierarchies of teen girls, marketing, virtual worlds, math, religion..." I haven't read it, but the cover is appealing!

Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I'm kind of surprised this never made the list before -- at least I don’t think it did. It's REALLY engaging and fun. Has a slight DaVinci code thing going on, although I almost hate to say that since it makes it sound like a Davinci Code knock-off, which it's not. A couple of you mentioned it. I loved it.

Shantaram. "It's awesome. I'm 700 pages into it (it's about 1000 pages) Good story, thought provoking and fascinating. My husband's reading it too and loving it."

Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. Several of you recommended this book. "GREAT summer READ!! Loved it! Beautiful tale of two women in China...hard to put down, easy read." Someone also mentioned enjoying the new novel Peony in Love by the same author.

Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier (Cold Mountain). “I am enjoying it. While it's got a good love story, would not call it a chick lit by any means.”

Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich. "The latest in the adventures of Stephanie Plum, lingerie buyer turned bounty hunter. A hoot."

Water for Elephants: A Novel by Sara Gruen. "The tale of an old man reflecting on his life, including the time he joined the circus during the Depression. Excellent writing." … "Great book and fun summer read!" … "Borrowed review: I really have no right to proclaim that one day this book will be a classic, but I am going to stick my neck out. What a powerful read. This book puts you into circus life in the Depression, shakes you until you are groggy and then wakes you up to find that you can't stop thinking about the story.”

Wild Fire Nelson Demille --- "Not his best effort. U.S. businessmen conspire to launch a nuclear attack of the Middle East." (See the Old Favorites section below for more titles by Nelson Demille … the quintessential beach book author.)

The 2007 List: New (or Newish) Non-Fiction

An American Childhood by Annie Dillard. "I read it through a book club, the author and book club member both attended Hollins. Charming recount of growing up."

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingslover. "This is about a year spent eating food grown by the author's family or within 100 miles of their home -- but written by a fiction writer, who I like - and its supposed to be great. I have not read it yet, but one the customer reviews on amazon says 'This is a must-read for anyone who eats' -- so I guess that includes most of us?"

The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis (NB: I think this one might be more for the men in your life -- it was recommended by Drew, the one male contributor to this list.) "Football version of Lewis’ “Moneyball” (baseball). The quarterback is the highest played player on all NFL teams. What position usually garners the second highest paycheck? Read The Blind Side to find out.

Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee. One of you recommended this biography of an iconic American writer.

Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Issacson. I love his style of writing. This book starts off dense with Scientific stuff then becomes very readable and interesting
Fiasco by Tom Ricks. "Lots of policy makers changed from optimism to pessimism after reading this book. Great overview of how things went wrong in different parts of the government, and intelligible to non-military folks."

Free Gift with Purchase: My Improbable Career in Magazines and Makeup – by Jean Godfry-June, editor of Lucky Magazine. The daughter of Intellectuals finds career in the cosmetic industry. This looks dishy and fun.

French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano. "Enchanting, and not much like a 'diet' book."

I Feel Bad About my Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron. I really enjoyed this entertaining little book. The bonus for book lovers is her chapter devoted to reading wherein she lists some of her favorite books of all time. It inspired me to buy The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I've not read it yet. Next year I will let you know if I liked it as much as Nora Ephron did.

If These Walls Could Talk: Thoughts of Home (House Beautiful) This is a collection of 33 essays published in House Beautiful’s “Thoughts of Home” column.

It's Hard to Make a Difference when you Can't Find your Keys: The 7-Step Path to Becoming Truly Organized by Marilyn Paul. One of you recommended this. I read a similar book this year – I think it was called Eliminate Chaos – about getting organized. However, we're under construction and I can't find the book. (So you can see how well that's going).

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. I spend enough time in Starbucks (where this has long been on display), I ought to have picked it up by now. But while I have not, one of you had read and recommended it.

My Losing Season by Pat Conroy – (NB: This one, like Blind Side, also recommended by Drew and perhaps more interesting for your husbands/fathers/etc.) "Great read for anyone who has played competitive basketball. True story of Pat Conroy’s senior season at the Citidel with life lessons he learned from basketball. Great themes for younger readers, but some rough language."

The Parents Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents by William Martin. "Quick snippets when you feel you need a little parenting boost."

Porn for Women by the Cambridge Women's Pornography Cooperative. "Hilarious book with photographs things like hot men doing household chores." (click on the link and check out the cover… steamy!)

Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America 1789-1989 by Michael Beschloss. "My husband just read it and liked it."
The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids (Hardcover) "One of the best parenting books I've read for our set." (This review is from a school guidance counselor!)
The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands by Laura Schlessinger. I bought this book for my husband and we both thoroughly enjoyed it!

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. This is one of those books in the Malcolm Gladwell tradition. (He wrote Blink and the Tipping Point, both of which I think were recommended in years past). I enjoyed this book, but like others in this category, I tend to put them down once I get the gist. "Stumbling…" is about what bad predictors we are of what will make us happy. It's not a self-help book, more of an interesting discussion of memory and the brain, and how that affects our perspective. He explains complicated ideas well.

The Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln -- "I'm about to read this NYT bestseller about Abraham Lincoln."

Tender Bar – Memoir of NY Times/LA Tribune reporter who grew up fatherless on Long Island raised by his uncle bartenders. Graduated from Yale in 1986. Sort of an American Angela’s Ashes.

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. "An incredibly inspiring book about a man who is building schools all over Pakistan and Afghanistan. His story makes you understand that we can each make a difference. Everyone who has read it has bought it for three more people."
Through the Children's Gate by Adam Gopnik. A collection recent essays by the humorous New Yorker writer.

Thunderstruck by Erik Larsen – "Larsen writes about parallel historical events, such as in Devil in the White City about the architects of the Chicago’s World Fair in 1893 and a serial killer who stalked women at the World’s Fair. In Thunderstruck he follows the first international dragnet involving wireless communication when a London murder is captured at sea through wireless technology invented by Marconi. He parallels this manhunt with Marconi’s rise from an inventor to a shrewd businessman."

West with the Night: autobiography of aviator Beryl Markham. One reviewer said she enjoyed this book. The Amazon reader reviews are rhapsodic.

The 2007 List: Old Favorites/Classics

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie -- "I loved this book! Good review: This book was a charming vignette about a most unlikely subject: the re-education of two city boys during Mao's cultural revolution in China. The two young men are sent to a remote mountain called Phoenix of the Sky where they work like peasants in the fields and are allowed no books. But life in the remote mountains is never dull.”

Belle Canto by Anne Patchett. I think everyone's book club read this in 2005, but for those of you who didn't have the pleasure…

Blindness by Jose Saramago. A description from Amazon: "In an unnamed city in an unnamed country, a man sitting in his car waiting for a traffic light to change is suddenly struck blind….Within a day the man's wife, the taxi driver, the doctor and his patients, and the car thief have all succumbed to blindness…So begins Portuguese author José Saramago's gripping story of humanity under siege…"

Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd. "Everyone in my book club was crazy about it. The description doesn’t do it justice, as it’s a really compelling read…"

The Complete Stories of Truman Capote by Truman Capote. "Short stories make for great beach reads." This is the first collection of all the author's short stories.

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. I read this on a plane, and it was perfect for that setting. Not great literature, but great fun.

Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch: My Dutch friend recommends this book by a Dutch author. From Amazon: An "epic tale of love, friendship, and divine intervention in this cerebral story of heavenly influence." One Amazon reviewer says it starts off like 'It's a Wonderful Life,' with a conversation between two people in Heaven talking about how they influence events on earth.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck and Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. “Both beautifully written, both also on Oprah's book list (not that I usually consider this a source of great literature but it did inspire me to read the above two).”

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

The Gold Coast and The Charm Schoolby Nelson Demille. Demille's got loads of books to read, and I envy you your trip to the beach if you've not read any of them. These two are his best. Very different stories – both incredible page turners.

Growing Up and The Good Times by Russell Baker. These memoirs of the NY Times columnist's childhood in Baltimore and (Good Times) early career as a journalist are wonderful. It looks like The Good Times is out of print, but I bet you could find it at the library, and there is always ebay.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (and all that follow) by JK Rowling. "If you haven't read the Harry Potter books yet -- and I know many women my age who haven't -- now is the time. The last book in the series is due out shortly. If you've seen the movies, you still should read the books. Adults will appreciate the books' allusions to myths, literature, and history; these subtleties are lost in the movies." I agree! And for those of you who have read 1 - 6, enjoy Deathly Hallows!

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean. "Historical fictiony book about a women sliding into Alzheimers whose most vivid memories are those from her time hunkered down in the Hermitage during the siege of Leningrad during WWII."
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I thought this book was totally weird and engaging and kind of creepy.

Night by Elie Wiesel. “A scholarly, pious teenager is wracked with guilt at having survived the horror of the Holocaust and the genocidal campaign that consumed his family.lie Wiesel.” This has regained interest since it became an Oprah book club pick.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. I don’t think this appeared on any previous list. This is one of my all time favorite books. It’s beautiful and readable and images from it have stuck with me for the years since I read it.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind. Several of you recommended this one. "Well written, but too horrific for me. My sister thought it was fantastic!" Book Description: An acclaimed bestseller and international sensation, Patrick Suskind's classic novel provokes a terrifying examination of what happens when one man's indulgence in his greatest passion—his sense of smell—leads to murder.
Plainsong by Kent Haruf. I don’t know anyone who didn’t like this book. They made a TV movie out of it, but it is not TV-movie-cheesy, by any stretch. It’s a lovely book about people in a small town whose lives intertwine in unexpected ways.

Range of Motion by Elizabeth Berg. If you haven’t read any Elizabeth Berg, I’d suggest checking one of her books out of the library (I liked this one best) and see what you think. She has a simple writing style. Very beach booky, I think, though her writing has a certain elegance.

Tears of Autumn: A Paul Christopher Novel (and others) by Charles McCarry. “I am rereading the titles of this author, thankfully back in print. He is a former spook who wrote a series about Paul Christopher, a tactiturn poet/spy. Beautiful writing. McCarry gets the political machinations just right. Tears of Autumn is a plausible explanation of the Kennedy assassination.”

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. I liked it. It is an odd book in many ways, but I found it really engaging. One of you said you were "struggling through it” and had “started it several times and found something else more appealing that pulls me away.” But another reviewer said, "It’s easily the best book I’ve read in the past year.” That same reviewer said, "People who liked it might also like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, who is Krauss’ husband. Their styles are similar. Krauss pulls it off a little better, in my view, but Extremely Loud is a very good read as well (though it centers on 9/11, which some people might not be ready to read about)."

The House of Mirth (and other titles) by Edith Wharton. One of you recommended this old favorite about New York at the turn of the century.

The Last Convertible by Anton Myrer: A wonderful story about five young men who go to Harvard together in the 1940s. It spans many decades, and is a wonderful read. A PERFECT beach book.

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Visions of Glory and The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940 by William Manchester. These are the first two in what was to be a trilogy of Churchill biographies by Manchester. Manchester died in 2004, but journalist Paul Reid is finishing the third one, and it's supposed to be published late this year. So let's read the first two and then we can all go to the party at midnight at Barnes & Noble on the eve of the release of the third and final volume. (Ha Ha)

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian. I read this (before Oprah picked it, mind you) about a Midwife in Vermont and a birth that goes wrong. It is narrated by her 14-year-old daughter. It's a pretty riveting courtroom drama.

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy It “never gets old for me.”

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway. One friend who just climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro this year said, "naturally, I particularly enjoyed this as I felt like Hemingway and I were kindred spirits- HA! Good for beach reading."

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar. "My old favorite … a great book about friendship and class struggle in India."

The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo. “A destined-to-be-a-classic children’s story of mouse who saves a princess.”

Victoria's Daughters by Jerrold M. Packard. Character studies of Queen Victoria's five daughters. Fun look at late 18th/early 19th century Britain. Queen Victoria considered the marrying off of her offspring to be one of her highest callings.

Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. I am just getting into this book, and admit to having had to really soldier through the first 80 or so pages, despite the interesting characters and absolutely exquisite writing. Now I’m hitting a groove with it. I was going to wait until next year to recommend, but then I though, “why wait?” Read the Amazon reviews. It’s interesting how many people cite this as an “all time favorite.”

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. "I recently re-read and enjoyed it (I hadn't read it since 6th grade and was looking for books for my son and this just popped out as something I wanted to reread."
Wuthering Heights I loved re-reading this and The Great Gatsby. “It’s interesting reading books about adults that you read when you were a teenager -- and now they take on a slightly different meaning when you read them with a ‘grown up’ perspective.”

The 2007 List: Favorites from Previous Years' Lists

The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to his White Mother by James McBride

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller. "I also loved it and despite having read it about three years ago, it’s one of those books that stayed with me and I think about often."

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls This continues to get raves, so those of you who haven't read it should consider it. (71 weeks on the Washington Post non-fiction bestsellers list!)

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl about her years as a food critic for the New York Times.

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. “I loved it and was sad when it ended.”

The Known World by Edward P. Jones. "Just fabulous. It jumps around a bit, but the language is accessible and the story is great."

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith. "Not perfect, but an interesting read with a good plot. If you happen to have read 'Howard’s End' (or seen the movie) it is interesting to think about the parallels between the two."

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. “I highly recommend it. Not only is it a discussion of literature, but also a window into some of the challenges to which women in the Mideast are subjected.” “I did enjoy ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran,’ despite having gotten through only the first 5 pages of the Nabokov book – I found it to be an interesting insight into the Iranian revolution and women’s roles there.”

Saturday by Ian McKewan. “Very good – not as good as Atonement but is an enjoyable read and quick, as it only covers a 24 hour period. The plot is a bit slow, especially at the outset, but picks up."

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. “Much more interesting than I thought it would be, not a classic beach read but my book group had such a great discussion about it. People might be more interested in it now given the attention that Mitt Romney’s candidacy is bringing to Mormonism.”

What Jackie Taught Us: Lessons from the Remarkable Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by Tina Santi Flaherty. “I enjoyed it pretty well -- good for beach reading.”

The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin. “Great detective read in the Agatha Christie tradition.” There is one of a series, by the way.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. “not a beach read. It’s about the Black Death, so maybe I don’t need to say more, but I found it very depressing – think the literary equivalent of a trip to the Holocaust Museum – so not beach compatible in my book.

The 2006 List: Top Picks

­The Glass Castle
By Jeannette Walls. This emerged as the “must read” for the summer. An autobiography published in March of 2005 that is now out in paperback. Three of you raved about it. Now I can’t swing a cat without hitting someone who’s read and loved this book. It’s supposed to be like Angela’s Ashes, but set in America. “So touching, sweet, sad and hilariously funny. Page one and you are hooked. You MUST read it!” I already bought and started it and agree that it’s immediately engaging.

The History of Love
By Nicole Krauss also got three votes. It’s out in paperback, too. Not much commentary from you all, but there are lots of reviews on Amazon.

Alexander McCall Smith series
I was surprised at how many mentioned this series. I read
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and have kind of idly assumed that the rest might not be as good. From the comments it seems the subsequent books could be worth checking out. One of you all said, “The latest installment (Blue Shoes and Happiness) was on the bestseller list earlier this year, but you need to read them in order. This book is more about the characters and the land and the move away from the ‘old ways’ than about mysteries. The characters really grow on you.” My mother-in-law also enjoyed 44 Scotland Street by Smith.

The 2006 List: Fiction Recommendations

Fiction Recommendations

Cage of Stars: By Jacquelyn Mitchard. I just read this. Mitchard also wrote The Deep End of the Ocean. Like “Deep End,” it’s a great read (I finished it in two days). It’s flawed and the dialogue is not credible dialogue, but it’s a compelling and eminently readable. (Beach book defined, right?) It’s about a Mormon girl whose sisters are murdered, and her journey following the crime.

Confessions of a Shopaholic
By Sophie Kinsella: “This and other books in the Shopaholic series are total beach reading; I just bought my fifth one.” Another reader recommended
Undomestic Goddess, another in this series. I’ve heard these are great fun.

The Death of the Heart and The House in Paris.
By Elizabeth Bowen. One of you was about to dig in to these books, saying, “They were re-reviewed in the Post as must-reads & look delicious (in the Somerset Maugham-kind of tradition I think).”

Digging to America
By Anne Tyler. “It was a departure from her previous works, but I loved the characters she created. The book chronicles two families who adopt girls from Korea. The families are quite different—one is a white, suburban family who lives outside of Baltimore and the other is an Iranian couple. The book structures itself on the arrival parties the families throw each year to celebrate their daughter’s arrival.”

Frangipani By Celeste Vaite. “A great summer read. Has that feel of the The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency without the mystery, but it’s about a woman in Tahiti.”

The Good Life By Jay McInerney

The Known World
By Edward P. Jones. Pulitzer Prize winning novel about a black slaveowner two decades before the start of the Civil War. From the Amazon reviews, I gather it’s not an easy read, but is wonderful.

March By Geraldine Brooks. “Sort of the male version of Little Women and it's not too long. Just started it so I can't give you first hand knowledge, but my sister-in-law is an avid reader and really liked it.” Another Geraldine Brooks title (Year of Wonders) was also recommended. See below.

Missing Mom By Joyce Carol Oates. This is a good read about a somewhat aimless 31-year-old woman whose mother is murdered, and the year that follows the crime. I still recommend We Were the Mulvaneys by Oates as a great beach read.

On Beauty By Zadie Smith. This looks interesting. This is a novel patterned on E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End. This book is set outside Boston in contemporary times. The story revolves around two academic families. I haven’t read this yet, but one of you all recommended it. (Side note: Another book about the world of American academia is Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, one of my all time favorites. Stegner for the beach.)

Skinny Dip By Carl Hiasson (The same reader recommended Murder on Naked Beach. It appears this is the year for nudist beach reading.)

The Smell of the Night
By Andrea Camellieri is “a light and fun mystery written by an Italian and translated into English. Great read – light, but smart.”

Three Junes “It is about a family in England with three sons and it chronicles their lives. It is not high brow lit; I would put it in the mid brow category.” [side note: I struggled with this book, but I think most people I know really liked it.]
Wicked, the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
By Gregory Maguire. “FANTASTIC. Has that Harry Potter kind of feel with a lot of themes about evil, religion, politics, human nature… Long, but fun and good summer reading.”

The Winter Queen
by Boris Akunin. (Also recommends others in the
Erast Fandorin series.) “This book is set in Russia in the late 1870s, it's beautifully written. Kind of reminds me of Dorothy Sayers' work. Anyway, if you like brilliantly crafted books with deft psychological portraits, read this series.”

A Year in the Merde
By Stephen Clarke – “Hilarious! It's like the Englishman's version of Bridget Jones goes to Paris. I laughed out loud. Apparently, there is a sequel which is also very funny.”

The Year of Magical Thinking
By Joan Didion – “Very heavy, but beautifully written and very insightful and honest. Apparently it is in the process of being produced as a Broadway play with Vanessa Redgrave.”

Year of Wonders
By Geraldine Brooks. “It is about a small village ravaged by a plague in 1666. Although it sounds depressing, it really was very captivating and inspirational. This is the second Geraldine Brooks title on the list (see “March” above).

The 2006 List: Non-Fiction

A.L.T.: A Memoir
By Andre Leon Talley. “The autobiography of a Vogue editor, who leaves the deep South and family traditions to become a gay NYC fashionista, meeting the who’s who of pop culture along the way. (Also, he went to Brown & was art history major so there’s a lot of art stuff in it too) Really well told. Made a big impression on me – e.g., how certain moments in your childhood, and little things you take for granted, can stay with you long after you’ve left…”

The City of Falling Angels
By John Berendt. He’s the author of
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. This book traces the events surrounding the fire which destroyed an opera house in Venice. Some have told me that this was not as gripping as “midnight,” but the Amazon reviews were pretty good.

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to his White Mother
By James McBride.

Courtesans: Money Sex and Fame in the 19th Century
By Katie Hickman. Biography of five “kept women” of the 19th century. Very interesting and dishy. These women were total rule-breakers in that Victorian era, yet they were enormously influential and quite famous.

Five Sisters By James Fox. This is another biography about a Virginia family, in this case the Langhorne sisters, who include Irene (the original Gibson girl) and Nancy Astor. Their family was remarkable – almost Kennedyesque. It was a quick read, and very entertaining.

Finding George Orwell in Burma
By Emma Larkin. Travel memoir, literary biography of George Orwell and political analysis all in one.

Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship
By Jon Meacham. This recounts the complicated friendship of FDR and Churchill. “It was great.”

Garlic and Sapphires: : The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise
By Ruth Reichl. This is the autobiography of a New York Times food critic. “It's humorous and light and not too long. The book also includes some of her reviews and recipes. An engaging and easy read.”

Lee Miller: A Life
By Carolyn Burke. “Lee Miller is the Forest Gump of the art & photography world….was a muse of Man Ray, Conde Nast & other arty men….then ended up taking all the most amazing photos of WW2 as a correspondent for Vogue (inc. bathing in Hitler’s tub). Wild.”

Magical Thinking
By Augusten Burroughs. “This is more like a composition of short stories about the author and so far it is very funny - a good light and quick read for the beach.” This is the guy who wrote
Running with Scissors and Dry. I haven’t read any of his works, but they have all been popular, and people have appreciated his entertaining them with his basket-casedness

My Life in France
By Julia Child and Alex Prud’Homme. “Lots of food talk, haven't finished yet.” Looks like a good one for the “foodies” among you.

Night By Elie Wiesel. “His acct of the Holocaust, I hadn’t read it since I was in 8th grade & clearly didn’t get it all. Unbelievable. Short & dense.”

Reading Lolita in Tehran
By Azar Nafisi. Two of you mentioned this, though I’ve heard mixed reviews since its publication. One of you offered a possible explanation, saying, “I think Reading Lolita in Tehran is only enjoyable if you've read Lolita.”

The Sisters: the Saga of the Mitford Family:
By Mary S. Lovell. This was a fantastic book about an absolutely astonishing family. The parents were “middling” British aristocracy. The daughters, however, include Nancy Mitford, who was a best-selling novelist; Diana Mitford, the great beauty who left her prominent husband for the head of the brownshirts (Fascists) and was a friend of Hitler’s; Unity, who also became a great friend of Hitler’s; and Jessica who eloped at 18, became a communist, moved to America and also became a best-selling author. The youngest married a man who became Duke of Devonshire. If any of you read it, please tell me, as I’m dying to discuss it. Only thing is, don’t bring it on a plane, as they would probably make you count it as a carry-on.

Time To Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind
By Nancy Kline….”kind of a philosophical book about ‘seeking first to understand,’ how to get calm in our every day busy lives…. “
Unwise Passions
By Alan Pell Crawford. I read this recently and found it riveting. The subtitle is, “A True Story of a Remarkable Woman---and the First Great Scandal of Eighteenth-Century America.” It’s an accessible biography, a potboiler but true story. I thought it was great fun. .

Under the Banner of Heaven: a Story of Violent Faith
By Jon Krakauer. “It might be a bit heavy for the summer but fascinating.” It’s the story of homicidal Mormon fundamentalists. This is the guy who wrote
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, which I know Drew really liked.

Ultraprevention: The Six-Week Plan that Will Make you Healthy for Life
By Mark Hyman, Mark Liponis. (co-directors of Medicine at the Canyon Ranch) “I had to read this for work & it’s just fascinating. Shows you the importance of certain habits, really eye-opening – how you CAN outwit certain traits/genes. Not the usual health fare.”

Waiting for Snow in Havana
By Carolos Eire. “This isn’t bad for the non-fiction types. It’s about a Cuban boy who is one of 14000 children who were flown out of Havana w/o their parents during the first years of the Castro regime.”

What Would Jackie Do: An Inspired Guide to Distinctive Living
By Shelly Branch and Sue Callaway. “I’m not afraid to say I paid full fare for this book while waiting for a flight. It’s hilarious! Very useful too.” A self-help/etiquette book with Jackie O as role model.

Not Buying It By Judith Levine. “The author, a writer, chronicles her year without spending. It's a bit high brow and delves into philosophy, anthropology, and economics. A bit heavy for the beach but thought provoking.”

Wine and War: the French, the Nazis and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure
By Donald and Petie Kladstrup. “I heard this was really good about 2nd WW and germans stealing wine from the french -- and more...”

The 2006 List: Old Favorites/classics/previous years' lists

The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home
By George Howe Cult. I thoroughly enjoyed this book from last year’s list, the history of a summer house on Cape Cod. It helped that I read it while I was staying in a house that had been in a family (not mine) for generations and had to be sold, mirroring exactly what was in the book.

The Complete Stories of Truman Capote
“A newly issued volume.”

Don’t Let’s go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood
By Alexandra Fuller. A riveting autobiography from last year’s list by a woman whose European family who farmed in Africa. Moments of utter horror and sorrow, but somehow bearable, even enjoyable.

The Mermaid Chair
By Sue Monk Kidd. Also from last year’s list/ I read this over the winter and found it a readable and interesting story. Others recommended it this year, too. I liked the
Secret Life of Bees better, but this was good, too.

Poisonwood Bible
By Barbara Kingsolver. This was recommended this year. I really love Kingsolver’s early books, for those who haven’t read them …
The Bean Trees, in particular.

A Prayer for Owen Meany
By John Irving. So many people cite this as their favorite book ever, including (for a spell, at least) my husband.
Vanity Fair. “Someone else I know suggested it. It's good, but there is no one good to pull for.”

The 2005 Beach Books List

1776, by David McCullough. Does this need description? No one on the distribution list recommended it, but I figured I couldn’t do a 2005 book list without including this book. I think I’m going to try it. “Try” being the operative word. ;-)

After all these Years, by Susan Isaacs: Since I’m among friends, I’ll share this and some other lowbrow suggestions (for those of you who are secretly yearning for “commercially successful” reads.) Susan Isaacs is the ultimate beach book author. Her books are fun, engaging, usually murder mysteries. This is one of the best.

Aristocrats: Sarah, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox: by Stella Tillyard. I can’t remember who told me about this book, but it’s about an 18th century British aristocratic family. Non-fiction.

Bergdorf Blondes by Plum Sykes “A total beach read, but it does have something to say and it's pretty darn funny.”

The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home, by George Howe Cult.

Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell; and Freakanomics by Steven Levitt: Leland thought everyone would have read these, but I, for one, have not.

Colony, by Anne Rivers Siddons: Another of my more “accessible” recommendations. Siddons writes total beach books, (many literally, as they are set at beaches) with many books to choose from. Susan Isaacs (mentioned above) is Long Island sarcasm, while Anne Rivers Siddons is southern melodrama.

Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole: “hilarious.” An old favorite of many.

Confessions of a Slacker Wife, by Muffy Mead-Ferro: “written by 40something mom who posits that today’s moms are actually wildly more domestic than the moms of the 1950s.”

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime: by Mark Haddon. “Quirky but good.”

DaVinci Code (great read if you haven’t gotten to it yet.)

Don't Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller (This got two recommendations. Krista Meisel even dropped it off at my house! Woo hoo! ).

Dress Your Family in Denim & Corduroy Holidays on Ice. Or anything by David Sedaris [wrote “Me Talk Pretty One Day”]: “I devoured them all on spring break.”

Falls, by Joyce Carol Oates: Again, this got some good reviews. Seemed like a good beach read. I really liked and continue to recommend We Were the Mulvaneys, which she wrote a few years back.

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson: Very well reviewed. Multi generational story told through a letter by a dying Iowa preacher to his children.

Girl with the Pearl Earring: Good read if you haven’t gotten to it yet.

The History of the Siege of Lisbon, by Jose Saramago: “Won a Nobel Lit. Prize.”

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent, by Julia Alvarez
I Am Madame X, by Gioia Dilberto: “it's a part historical documentation and part fictionalized memoir of the storied, risque model in the famous John Singer Sargent painting and a fun read... similar to Girl with A Pearl Earring.”

The Kite Runner, by Khalid Hosseini. I loved it. Most everyone I know really enjoyed it.

The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B, by Sandra Gulland: This is the first in a series of three historical fiction novels about Josephine Bonaparte. Interesting, fun.

The Mermaid Chair, by Sue Monk Kidd: This has gotten several “thumbs ups.” It might be the “buy it in hardback” suggestion for 2005.

Metropolis, by Elizabeth Gaffney: “This got great reviews. It's historical fiction set in NYC during building of Brooklyn Bridge...”

Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides: “Dark but good.”

The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri: This got more than one recommendation.

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro: This is one I’d read about, but for which I don’t have a “live” recommendation. It’s by the author of Remains of the Day. From Amazon: “the students of an elite English school are so special that visitors shun them, and only by rumor and the occasional fleeting remark by a teacher do they discover their unconventional origins and strange destiny.”

The Other Boleyn Girl

Oh the Glory of it All by Sean Wilsey: “A much talked about memoir...some of us know the players...I found it sad, funny, insightful, and a little self-serving.”

Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination, by Helen Fielding: “I just started reading [it] and am enjoying so far (30 pages in), I'm laughing out loud, etc.”

The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio

The Red Tent: “Heard it’s great.”

Saturday, by Ian McEwan:. “It has a slow start but then his writing sweeps you in just like Atonement.”

Social Crimes by Jane Hitchcock.

Snobbery, by Joseph Epstein: “Rave reviews in NY TIMES; I’ve only read intro so far – kind of a New Yorker mag approach to social critiques, what makes people tick….very humorous.”

Snobs, by Julian Fellowes: Above suggestion made me realize that I forgot to mention this one to you all. This is a WONDERFUL British novel of manners by Julian Fellowes who wrote Gosford Park. It is superbly written, very entertaining.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. “Recommended from a friend but haven’t read it yet.”

Watermelon, by Marian Keyes. “Easy summer reading.” This Irish author has written a bunch of other books, too. I also like Maeve Binchy for beach reading.

While I Was Gone, by Sue Miller. She wrote the Good Mother. This is another one I forgot to recommend. Definitely in the beach book category. Kind of suspenseful.

The World is Flat by NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman.