Sunday, June 21, 2009
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbury.
"Reading it now and while it took me a while to get into it, I am completely caught in its spell now. Set in Paris, it is about a combination of intriguing and surprising people who all live in a well-to-do apartment building in Paris. It’s a major life themes kind of book with lots of humor and kindness to offset some of the heavy stuff. " Same contributor, about a day later: "Okay I confess that I just read then end of the Hedgehog and it was really wonderful. One of the best books ever. Practically sobbing, but not in a miserably sad way. It was just beautiful and is one of those books that gathers steam."
"A wonderful story about a child living in a crazy French apartment building and considering killing herself. I did love this book. Apparently child psychiatrists make it mandatory reading for their patients."
The Help by Kathryn Stockett.
"Initially I thought it would be one more (deserved) stab at racism in the South, but this is different. A very different voice and very real. Great book for discussion. Easy to read, good beach book."
"This book, set in the 60s in the South, against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, explores those timeless bonds between women --regardless of race, of age, or of position in life." And another:
"This is my favorite book of the year and it should definitely qualify as a beach book. It is a page- turner for sure. I told a friend about it and she told me that she stayed up until three in the morning to finish it (she has small kids so this is no small sacrifice) … It’s just so engrossing, I wish I could start it over again. Walked by a woman the other day who was reading it sitting on a bench – she said she cannot put it down."
I am on vacation with a friend who bought the book last night and was immediately engaged, saying it had changed her vacation. Now she “really has a book.” You know that feeling.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
"Delightful light summer reading. Great version on audio book if you have a long drive to your vacation spot. Our little ones didn't mind listenting to this -- they found the British accents endearing."
(Ed: I flew through this book and enjoyed the history, but it's an epistolary novel, and I did feel that the letters were written in the same overly ingenuous style. But I think I might be the lone crank on the subject, so don't let me stop you.)
Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Stout
"My favorite fiction book this year. So many facets of one life with perspectives from many. Half way through the book I looked at the questions in the back and one asked if I liked the main character Olive at which point I thought ‘No, absolutely not!" but by the end of the book I really did like and appreciate her.’
"Great writing. It weaves subtle, sad, and at times shocking life stories in a Maine town."
"Top of the list" of books enjoyed in the previous year.
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. Yes, I'm serious! A lot of you are reading this and assuring me that I can easily get beyond my doubts. (You know … doubting that I can enjoy a teen vampire book?) Truly, though… The series seems to have gone viral from teens to their curious moms to the big world beyond. Some of your comments:
"My No. 1 beach read ... I can't think of anything more perfect to get absorbed in while ignoring the kids at the beach and engaging your 10th grade babysitter in the whole Edward vs. Jacob debate."
"I am so enjoying these books."
"If you like Jane Austen, you will like these."
"If you have been hesitant because of that "vampire thing," jump right in. There's so much more than that, including an amazing love story, you almost forget the vampire thing. And this was a great series to share with my 12 year old daughter (Note: Definitely pre-read the first part of the fourth book in the series before handing over to a daughter!)”
" CRACK! Pure crack. I was a huge doubter ... and now I am hooked. I wish I had saved them for the beach .. They would have been perfect, mindless, a one-sitting- book-a-day reads."
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. "A sweet, allegorical novel. Quick read." And: “The type of book I'll read and reread, it inspires one to waste no time in pursuing their dreams.”
American Wife by Curtis Sittenfield. "Fun easy read – Laura Bush story with a Midwest twist! High school tragedy, survival, falling in love to someone out of your element, questioning a marriage, repenting husband, finding religion, power, wealth, white house Read the 500 page book in four days. A real ego boost when you haven’t finished a book in a year. Very light, but not Danielle Steele." And, “am embarrassed, but whipped through American Wife and fully enjoyed the trash.”
Beneath the Marble Sky by John Shors. "a love story of the building of the Taj Mahal.....most excellent read."
Body and Soul by Frank Conroy. "Unusual subject matter (story of a piano prodigy growing up poor in NYC and how his talent sets his life in various different directions) but very compelling -- a good read."
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. "The most elegantly written, takes you to the depths of life, book I have read in years.
The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.
The Castaways (and other titles) by Elin Hilderbrand. "This is perfect beach reading. She writes well, her characters, dialogue and plots ring true, and they are all set on Nantucket, so it’s like a mini-vacation just reading her books."
Cost by Roxana Robinson "This carried my book club through two meetings. No one could put it down, and we couldn't stop talking about it. Problem is, if I tell you too much of what it's about, you won't want to read it. But here's the basic premise: a mother of two grown sons finds herself sandwiched between their tremendous problems and her aging parents' aches and dementia. The tension runs so high in this novel that after every page you want just one more... a little like what drug addiction must be. Very well done, and deeply interesting as it explores the bonds between parents and children, and how they're broken."
Crow Lake by Mary Lawson. This is a Today Show Book Club pick, and is also on the list for one contributor's book club. From Amazon: "Four children living in northern Ontario struggle to stay together after their parents die in an auto accident in Lawson's fascinating debut, a compelling and lovely study of sibling rivalry and family dynamics in which the land literally becomes a character. Kate Morrison narrates the tale in flashback mode, starting with the fatal car accident that leaves seven-year-old Kate; her toddler sister, Bo; 19-year-old Luke; and 17-year-old Matt to fend for themselves. At first they are divided up among relatives, but the plan changes when Luke gives up his teaching college scholarship to get a job and try to keep them together."
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. Gripping beach read. Drew and I listened to it on CD on a car trip, but didn't finish it on that voyage. I had to go buy a "real" copy of it because Drew got first dibs to finish it in the car on HIS commute, and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened. This is not great literature, but neither is it trash. From Amazon: "If all that Tom Rob Smith had done was to re-create Stalinist Russia, with all its double-speak hypocrisy, he would have written a worthwhile novel. He did so much more than that in Child 44, a frightening, chilling, almost unbelievable horror story about the very worst that Stalin's henchmen could manage."
Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese My goodness, I loved this book. Sweeping, yet intimate family saga of twin brothers born to a doctor and a nun-nurse and how their lives unfold. Stranger in a strange land, what is home, what is family -- all themes in this beautifully written book.
Death in Holy Orders by PD James. "a beach read for fans of Adam Dalgliesh."
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo By Stieg Larssen. From Amazon: Once you start The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, there's no turning back. This debut thriller--the first in a trilogy from the late Stieg Larsson--is a serious page-turner ... Mikael Blomkvist, a once-respected financial journalist, watches his professional life rapidly crumble around him. Prospects appear bleak until an unexpected (and unsettling) offer to resurrect his name is extended by an old-school titan of Swedish industry. The catch--and there's always a catch--is that Blomkvist must first spend a year researching a mysterious disappearance that has remained unsolved for nearly four decades. With few other options, he accepts and enlists the help of investigator Lisbeth Salander, a misunderstood genius with a cache of authority issues. Little is as it seems in Larsson's novel, but there is at least one constant: you really don't want to mess with the girl with the dragon tattoo.
Home by Marilynne Robinson "Gilead, Housekeeping, the Death of Adam--I've read pretty much everything she's written and held on to each word for dear life. I really enjoyed Home--it's easier though perhaps, in my opinion, not as profound as Gilead. Just won the Orange Prize in England. Its main character, Glory Boughton, is a marvelous creation."
The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl "A historical mystery, this is a lovely, exciting read. Charles Dickens has died during the writing of Edwin Drood, leaving the work unfinished. Or did he finish it? You'll see."
The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa. “Seems like a good summertime read. Mid-19th century Sicily, summer house, sunny and blue, and crumbling, with good food descriptions even, while from it the famous quote about in order to stay the same everything had to change.‘’
The Manny by Holly Peterson. "The ultimate junky, funny, easy beach read."
Netherland by Joseph O'Neill. In case you (like me) have a vague sense you've heard of this book, it was made famous when Barack Obama told the New York Times Magazine he was reading it. " This is a good one. Haven't finished it yet, but like it so far." It is not to be confused with …
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman "If you like weird fantasy, this is the book for you. Honest. I loved it."
The Nose by Nikolai Gogol. “A little fantasy and a lot reality about bureaucrats (not in DC)”
Sacred Games by Vikram Seth. "One of the best books I’ve read in a LONG time. Completely got lost in it. Fell in love with one of the characters – it won’t take you 5 pages before you figure out who – and became mesmerized by the relationship btw India and Pakistan that the book traces. Maxing out around 900 pages, it is a commitment – not a beach fling – but you won’t regret it."
Sara's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. " De Rosnay's U.S. debut fictionalizes the 1942 Paris roundups and deportations, in which thousands of Jewish families were arrested, held at the Vélodrome d'Hiver outside the city, then transported to Auschwitz."
Secrets of My Hollywood Life by Jen Calonita. "Tween Mother-Daughter reading. There are four books in this series and my daughter and I have read each one and talk about them. In depth. No swear words, some kissing, no sex, no weirdness. Just a fun story of a girl (think Miley Cyrus) who is a huge TV star and longs for a normal life. Light, fluffy, fun."
The Shack by William P. Young. (Christian). From Amazon: "Mackenzie Allen Philips' youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later … Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend… What he finds there will change Mack's world forever. In a world where religion seems to grow increasingly irrelevant "The Shack" wrestles with the timeless question, 'Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?'
Song Yet Sung by James McBride. "A beautiful writer – also the author of Miracle at St. Anna’s. This book is about the Underground Railroad on the Eastern Shore of Maryland (Harriet Tubman’s route, btw) and tells the story of whites and blacks living there during the 1850’s against the backdrop of the gorgeous forests and waterways that make the area unique. It provides some of the contentious history of slavery in Maryland within an interesting fictional story.
The Sorrows of an American by Siri Hustvedt “Great family storytelling with Siri Hustvedt's "The Sorrows of An American". What a nuanced telling of an immigrant family, with a little mystery, great page turner.
The Sot Weed Factor by John Barth "a really hard read but worth it."
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. This book came out last summer, and I read all bazillion pages in about four days (on vacation). You all have probably heard about it, as it's an Oprah book pick. I liked it, but rather wish I'd known it was based on Hamlet. Some of your comments: "I would put it at the top of my list. Absolute favorite book of the last few years. It is one of those absorbing books where you can actually ignore everything around you and read. Perfect vacation book! Amazing character development and story line. I wish I could write or even just imagine like him."
Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith. "Another beach read for fans of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency."
What is the What by Dave Eggers. From the Washington Post: "God has a problem with me," complains Valentino Achak Deng, the subject of Dave Eggers's extraordinary new novel, What Is the What. Coming from almost any other person on the planet, this lament would appear hopelessly self-pitying. But coming from Valentino, a Sudanese refugee, it sounds almost like an understatement. At a time when the field of autobiography seems dominated by hyperbolic accounts of what might be called dramas of privilege (substance abuse, eating disorders, unloving parents, etc.), [this] is a story of real global catastrophe -- a work of such simple power, straightforward emotion and genuine gravitas that it reminds us how memoirs can transcend the personal to illuminate large, public tragedies as well."
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. This book came close to "top pick" status this year. Many of you mentioned that you were reading it or planned to. "This is about modern day India but another side that is not exposed in Slumdog Millionaire. An interesting read that I might not have chosen if not for book group but very glad I read it."
Pere Goriot by Honore d Balzac by Pere Goriot. "It really is not that heavy, in English at least!"
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. "I read it recently and found it fascinating. you would perhaps, like me, see echoes of our endless quest for amelioration (a school in Arizona where it is illegal to touch another student?!) in this hyper-controlled, slave-like society."
East of Eden by John Steinbeck. "Again, big commitment, but worth it. Troubling characters, mediations on free will and the human character. Still second to Grapes of Wrath but Steinbeck is always worth the effort."
English Passengers by Matthew Kneale. This was on last year's list, and it is the best book I read all year. It's an award-winner, and perhaps not a beach read, per se. It is about smugglers from the Isle of Man who are forced to charter their boat and take an incredibly odd group of passengers to Tasmania. It is hilarious, utterly horrifying, insightful, ambitious and amazingly well written. I highly recommend it.
The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald. “I am on a reread the classics romp and this seemed a perfect summer starting point.”
I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallmann “A good read for anyone who's taken a safari in Africa, who wants to go on safari or who just loves animals. It's a story of a family who relocates from Europe to Kenya and the ensuing love, adventure and heartbreak. It's disturbingly sad at times.” FYI, I know several people who LOVED this book. I am not one of them. The Amazon reviews are very polarized .. it’s one of those “love it or hate it” books, I think.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. “Fun to reread from an adult perspective.”
The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan "Quick, funny, heart wrenching read - very enjoyable. I am looking forward to her next novel."
Midwives by Chris Bojalian “…I read it at the beach, actually, and was completely absorbed. It’s hard to know where you come out on the characters – you are entirely sympathetic, but it just isn’t that simple. It reads like a murder mystery/court room drama and it is captivating.”
Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air and Into the Wild) “…A fascinating discussion about the Mormon religion. (I think it may be one side of the argument and I am dying to read the other side of the argument.) Talks about the founder of the religion, the subsequent leaders of the church, the fundamentalist groups which have spun out, and some gruesome murders which were the doings of some fundamentalist -- God told them to do it.”
Out Stealing Horses by Per Patterson.
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. "Never read the original before – FABULOUS, and the illustrations, to die for."
Walden by Henry David Thoreau "I picked this up for the first time because I read that it had no real readership until the Depression--when people were forced to think of the virtues of the simple life--and it seemed like something that would speak to our own time. I wasn't disappointed. So much of our American identity comes straight from Thoreau's sensibility--it was enlightening to that end and inspiring in these materialistic times. And it's beautifully written, quite thought provoking."
Being Catholic Now edited by Kerry Kennedy “A just-published collection of short interviews with prominent Catholic Americans, including Peggy Noonan, Cardinal McCarrick, E.J. Dionne, Dan Ackroyd, Bill O’Reilly, Andrew Sullivan and Anna Quindlen on where they see the Catholic Church in the wake of the abuse scandal, what their Catholic upbringing was like and what they’d do if they were Pope for a year. Kerry Kennedy, who is Robert Kennedy’s daughter, tells her own story as well. Fascinating.”
Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King “about the master who built the Duomo in Florence (since I went there in April it was particularly relevant). "This is short, historical, but interesting enough to read like fiction. Was probably more engaging since I was reading it while I was actually viewing the building. So if anyone is heading to Florence this summer, this is the book for them."
Conversations with Kennedy by Ben Bradlee “Ben Bradlee, who was then the White House correspondent for Newsweek, and his first wife and their young kids lived around the corner in Georgetown from Senator Jack Kennedy and his wife and young kids. Then Kennedy won the presidency. The two couples hung out a lot -- many private dinners at the WH just the four of them, often after the switchboard would call the Bradlees at 6 p.m. and ask if they’d be able to come over for a quick dinner. Bradlee kept a diary of every conversation he had with the president, with the promise that it wouldn’t be published until after he’d been out of office for many years. Some of the conversations were pretty unbelievable. The tension builds as the dates of the diary entries progress until November of 1963. Riveting. Plus, you can’t help but think: what would it be like if your friend got elected president?”
A Course Called Ireland: A Long Walk in Search of a Country, a Pint, and the Next Tee by Tom Coyne “The true story of a Sports Illustrated writer who decides to play every links course in Ireland traveling on foot -- he walks the entire coast of Ireland, playing forty courses, carrying a backpack and his clubs and staying in B&Bs along the way. It takes him four months and he meets all kinds of characters. He plays 963 holes of golf at 635 over par, and it seems like he hits every single pub along the way. A very funny, light read with great reviews of all the courses. Makes you want to go play golf in Ireland.”
Clapton: The Autobiography “read it for my book club ... and I really liked it .. interesting.”
Escape: Carolyn Jessop "Hmmm, I’m detecting a theme here – women escaping religions and cultures determined to keep them enslaved. I found this book the most satisfying of the recent books that have been written about the Fundamentalist Mormon Church. It is a sincere and shocking account of the inside workings of the cult of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints and how the church leaders manipulate their members to keep control. Her story (eight children by the age of 30!) and how she persevered, escaped and rebuilt her life is fascinating. Again, a way to understand why those women with the long braids and dresses allow themselves to stay in a culture where they are treated as breeding machines."
Escape From Cubicle Nation by Pam Slim. "Written by my friend, Pam Slim, this is the go-to book if you're considering starting your own business or freelancing. Funny, heartfelt, instructive -- a great book."
Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser “If you eat fast food, you owe it to yourself to understand what is behind the burger and fries!”
Freakanomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. “This books applies economic principles (I know, but they make it totally easy to understand) to explain social phenomenon (why decrease in urban crime relates to the Roe v Wade decision, why backyard swimming pools are more dangerous than guns and more).”
The Heminsges of Monticello by Annette Gordon Reed. "I'm not finished with this yet but have enjoyed it thus far. If you are a history buff you will love it. Get past the deep detail in the beginning and it is very readable. You will see a whole new side of Thomas Jefferson.”
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan “an interesting read about what we eat/food/health in America. Not sure it is a beach read, but I enjoyed it.”
John Adams David McCullough "it will weigh down your beach bag terribly, but worth every sandy page! Really brings the history to page-turning life!"The Journal of Helene Berr by Helene Berr: This is the adult version of the Diary of Anne Frank. Helene Berr was an incredibly bright and well-educated young French Jewish woman. She began a journal as the Germans occupied Paris and details what happened to her family and how they were affected by the war and occupation, but also how their normal life was conducted and how they tried to maintain that normalcy. What is so affecting about it is the insight it gives into why she and part of her family decided to stay in Paris rather than trying to escape. It is gripping and heartbreaking and so illuminating of the personal side of the war and its effect on Jewish families. One needs to read about one quarter of the book before it becomes entrancing, but it is well worth it.
A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich “Sort of a Cliff Notes of world history, from the Stone Age to the atomic bomb, written for younger readers (so not a lot of dates and names) with a wry sense of humor. Get the full sweep of human history -- including the rise of fall of civilizations, great works of art and the progress of science -- in forty very short chapters. Gombrich wrote it at age 26 before WWII in Vienna, but then at age 92 updated it to include the rise of the Nazis (who banned the book) and his own escape from the Holocaust. Beautifully written and concise. Originally written in German, now published in twenty-five languages. I read it out loud to our kids a few years ago and am currently re-reading it. Also comes as an audiobook, for long car rides.”
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, Pulitzer Prize-winning author. "Kidder chronicles several year in the life of a doctor who turns his life to helping Haiti’s poor." Annie Dillard writes: “Here is a genuine hero alive in our times. [It] unfolds with the force of gathering revelation. Like all of Tracy Kidder’s books, it is as hard to put down as any good and true story.” Note: This got several positive mentions.
My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. "inspirational and educational story of this 37-year-old Harvard brain scientist’s massive stroke."
Oracle Bones, Peter Hessler. “A view of contemporary China and its ongoing changes through the experiences of a journalist (Peter Hessler) living there. It reads like part travel journal, part novel. At times I found the book fascinating and witty through the descriptions of the characters that Hessler encounters, whose lives weave through the book. At other times I found myself skimming through pages to get to something more interesting. In the end, it is an interesting read and one that certainly illuminates why I feel so lucky to have been born in this country.”
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. "I hope everyone has read this by now!" And: "It is a statisticians view of what makes people successful. Hard to describe, but really interesting."
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi “Cartoon style written book about the Iranian revolution through the eyes of a child. Charming and interesting, this book is also inspired me to cherish the freedoms we so often take for granted here. (Being made into a movie)”
A Place of My Own, Michael Pollan. “An interesting read about one man's (author of Omnivore's Dilemma) journey in building his own Walden Pond type house and historically, spiritually and intellectually what makes certain spaces more appealing than others. Good for architecture/design geeks.”
Princess by Jean Sassoon “This book is about the life of a royal Saudi princess. I was so intrigued with Princess Sultana's story, and the insight into the complete lack of freedom for women in this country. It touched me so deeply, I found myself practically touching the ground in gratitude for being born in America.”
Same Kind of Different as Me: : A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together by Ron Hall and Denver Moore.
Second Acts That Change Lives by Mary Beth Sammons "Final book by a friend of mine. If you are at mid-life and want to achieve greater meaning, read these inspiring stories of people who chucked what they were 'supposed' to do in favor of what they love doing -- and creating meaningful, enriching new careers."
Smart Networking by Liz Lynch "Another friend's book -- wonderful for those for whom networking inspires the heebie-jeebies. Liz Lynch hated networking, too, until she found a way to do it, authentically."
Somewhere Towards the End by Diana Athill. Book Editor (Jean Rhys, Naipaul). “I know it is about death but it is not sad and depressing, just makes us award in captivating language about the adventure of life and death. It is actually a little bit of a fun read...”
When The Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd A perennial favorite of mine from a wonderful writer. Sue Monk Kidd took her journals from her mid-life passage and put them into this thoughtful, inspirational book which is a must read for any woman in mid-life who is seeking. Something. That thing. Y'know. It. With this book's help, my bet is: you'll start finding.A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. “This was a fun non-fiction read. We're through the agricultural, industrial, and now the information age; next up: the Conceptual Age. So says Pink. Creative, right-brain thinkers will rule the world. All the number-crunching analysts are going overseas, so don't think about coaching little Tommy or Suzy toward a business degree without first developing amazing creative talents. I don't think he's 100 percent on the mark, but the book's informative, and it's exciting to think about all the implications, especially for our children.”
Why Women Should Rule the World by Dee Dee Myers "A great case for why women should rule the world, with all kinds of examples and research to make the case. Not an attack on men, just what would happen in our society if the women were in charge, and the type of leadership they’d bring to the table. She also draws on her experience in the Clinton White House and tells a few stories.”
The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century by Thomas Friedman. “Friedman makes highly accessible an understanding of how the technological revolution is changing our world and how it is not driven by large, anonymous corporations, but by individuals and innovation.”
The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex. By Nathaniel Philbrook. "He lives in Nantucket and is a fabulous writer - I love all his work. This is the true story of a nantucket whaleship attacked by a whale in the 1800s and how the crew survived. It is the story moby dick was based on. Melville came to nantucket to interview the captain. Its a great read - and historical. Always nice to actually learn some history while enjoying the pure ecapism of reading a great book!" I have to get this for Drew. He loves death and dismemberment.