July 1 – September 30
It’s always easier to make time to read after the NHL hockey playoffs end, and since the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup this year, all of that viewing was fantastic.
Books I loved:
THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES: A BIOGRAPHY OF CANCER BY Siddhartha Mukherjee.
This isn’t a new book. It was published in 2010 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011. I think every human being alive knows someone who is dealing with cancer. This book should be handed to each person newly diagnosed. It is beautifully humane and personal, while also explaining this disease that has been a human scourge since the first homo sapiens emerged. It is helpful. It is hopeful. I loved it! (There’s also a Ken Burns documentary based upon it that you can watch on PBS.)
PARTING THE WATERS: AMERICA IN THE KING YEARS 1954-1963 by Taylor Branch.
Another older book that I finally read, and another Pulitzer Prize winner. “Hailed as the most masterful story ever told of the America Civil Rights movement,” it’s the powerful true story of a time many of us lived through but were too young to fully understand. I’m a History person so I devoured it, but it may be too detailed and annotated for the casual reader.
LEAVING TIME by Jodi Picoult.
“When someone leaves you once, you expect it to happen again. Eventually you stop getting close enough to people to let them become important to you, because then you don’t notice when they drop out of your world.”
And “…an entertaining tale about parental love, friendship, loss — and, well, elephants. Picoult mostly manages to blend all of these diverse elements into a cohesive whole, wrapping up her tale with an ending so surprising that she has asked reviewers not to reveal spoilers on social media. Suffice it to say that readers of “Leaving Time” are unlikely to forget these formidable animals that are so different from us in appearance but so similar when it comes to saying goodbye to those they love.” (Washington Post)
THE BLUEST EYE by Toni Morrison.
Talk about old, this was published in 1970, and I first read it at Vanderbilt in 1971. One of the few books I’ve read twice, it was just as moving and powerful this time as the first. “A little black girl yearns for the blue eyes of a little white girl, and the horror at the heart of her yearning is exceeded only by the evil of fulfillment.”
SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE: A NOVEL by Kurt Vonnegut.
Another oldie that I read when at Vandy and the anti-war movement was coursing through campus. I liked it even more this time, I think because of conversations I had with my father in the year before his death about his personal experiences as a POW in WW2. If you’ve never read it, please do.
HORSE: A NOVEL by Geraldine Brooks.
Recommended by a former schoolmate in Singapore, it’s a powerful story about the greatest race horse that ever lived. I don’t even like horse racing, but I loved this book! “The care with which Brooks crafts each character’s voice is a plea to look past the categorical labels and legends with which we describe each other, to truly see the individual. Paired with a compelling plot, the evocative voices create a story so powerful, reading it feels like watching a neck-and-neck horse race, galloping to its conclusion—you just can’t look away.”
BEWILDERMENT by Richard Powers.
No, it is not as good as The Overstory, but it’s still a beautiful read that left me in tears. “Tragedy, it turns out, is always lurking at the edges of hope.” ~ The Harvard Review
THE AGE OF THE STRONGMAN: HOW THE CULT OF THE LEADER THREATENS DEMOCRACY AROUND THE WORLD by Gideon Rachman.
I know many are actively avoiding any books about the world’s current state, but I think this is as important a book as you can read this year. “There are four cross-cutting characteristics that are common to the strongman style: the creation of a cult of personality; contempt for the rule of law; the claim to represent the real people against the elites (otherwise known as populism); and a politics driven by fear and nationalism.” This IS America in 2022.
THE DIVIDER: TRUMP IN THE WHITE HOUSE 2017-2021 by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser.
A husband and wife team (He writes for the NY TIMES, and she for The New Yorker) who here provide the most comprehensive and detailed account of Trump’s years in the White House. It’s absolutely terrifying, and yet impossible to put down. “He (Trump) weaponized his prolific lies for his political benefit and bullied any who opposed him, setting up his administration as an endless series of loyalty tests. He hijacked a Republican Party that was riven and ailing—a party that has now lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections—and turned it into a cult of personality so dedicated to him that instead of producing a policy platform at its last convention it simply issued a resolution saying it was for Trump.”
BITTERSWEET: HOW SORROW AND LONGING MAKE US WHOLE by Susan Cain.
I loved her first book, Quiet, but this one struck a deeper chord within me. “If you’ve ever wondered why you like sad music … If you find comfort or inspiration in a rainy day … If you react intensely to music, art, nature, and beauty … Then you probably identify with the bittersweet state of mind.”
BABETTE’S FEAST by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen).
A tiny little read, a story of sacrifice and grace. This lovely, small story reminded me a bit of The Gift of The Magi by O’Henry. A tale of love and loss and the human need for purpose in our lives. What a writer she is!
‘So you will be poor now all your life, Babette?’
“I shall never be poor. I told you that I am a great artist. A great artist, Mesdames, is never poor. We have something, Mesdames, of which other people know nothing.”
BTW, the film, Babette’s Feast, won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1987.
ALL OF THIS: A MEMOIR OF DEATH AND DESIRE by Rebecca Woolf.
This was my least favorite read. Not really my cup of tea, but I chose it because of the personal connection to pancreatic cancer. I decided an older, happily married man was not her target reader. “…as competently as Woolf handles the death, the desire leaves rather too much lying naked on the page, simultaneously overwrought and undercooked…” (NY TIMES) And “Compelling and brilliantly nuanced, All of This is one woman’s story of what it means to be a mother, a widow, and a sexual being, finding freedom on the other side of a relationship that nearly broke her.” (GOODREADS)