I was somewhat of a light leisure reader this year, and a lighter, yet, blogger. So, I thought I’d write an end-of-year list of some of the books I read in 2019 to catch you up. It’s not an exhaustive list. I did not include the ones I already wrote to you about. And I didn’t include ones I read because I read about them here. (Circe was helluva enjoyable read, though, wasn’t it!). And I also didn’t include the very few that I didn’t like but finished anyway. What would be the point? So, here’s a partial list of the meager dent I made in the lists and lists of books I wish to read some day…
Good Riddance by Eleanor Lipman was a nice light read. Daphne’s mother, a teacher, held dear a yearbook that was dedicated to her in her early years of teaching. She attended every class reunion for that class following graduation and made updated notations in the yearbook. The yearbook is such a treasured possession that her mom bequeaths it to Daphne after her death. However, Daphne holds no ties to the yearbook or people in it, so she heaves it in the trash bin. She does not expect her documentary film-making neighbor to dumpster dive it and use it as material for her next project. This ignites a new interest in the old annual and creates a series of plot events that kept me turning the pages.
Ready player One, by Ernest Cline, is not a typical doomsday apocalyptic tale. It is a story about virtual reality taking over real life in an inventive sci-fi/buddy thriller. If the 80s were part of your formative years, this book is for you. The me-decade references are endless and span the media continuum from TV, video, books, music, movies, magazines, advertising, sports, politics …etc. It’s a fun read, and also one to follow-up with a not great, but totally watchable movie.
I listened to The Fishermen by Chigozie Obiama. It made a literary splash back in 2015 and was a big deal here because Obiama is a writing professor at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. The book is about a family in a small town in Nigeria. Two working parents and three smart and rambunctious boys. It has all the epic literary themes – father/son, mother/son, brother/brother relationships; good versus evil; crime and punishment; religion and demons and mental illness. This is a big work. It’s good. Meaty. If you are in the mood for a literary novel to chew on, consider this one.
Eric Buchanan recommended Hondo to me. I had never read it or any of the other 100 novels written by Louis Lamour. Nor I had never seen the John Wayne version of the movie. I gotta say, this was one good Western. Published in 1953, this book has a female character that will make today’s “nasty women” swell with pride. A follow-up with the movie after the book, will only enhance your enjoyment. I’ll set Hondo in my top westerns list.
Eric also gave me a copy of The Cuban Affair – a Nelson DeMille. I read it one weekend during the summer, when it was hot as could be outside. I wasn’t on a summer vacation, but this book made me feel like I was. Suave, witty, dry-humored detective, reluctantly getting into a dangerous adventure with a beautiful lady. Page-turning fun.
Speaking of reading on vacation:
We were getting an early start in August, on the way to a Missouri, for a get-away at The Elms Hotel and Spa right outside of Kansas City (recommended, by the way). So, we decided to stop at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Trails and Visitor Center in Nebraska City. L&CIT&VC is one of those interactive centers with installations (e.g. a replica of the L&C keelboat, lists and samples of all the specimens they brought back to Washington DC after their journey, a taxidermy buffalo…etc.). It’s well done. It will keep a kid interested, including this big kid. With the food provisions and the medical practices alone, it is a wonder they all survived (except for poor Mr. Floyd who died of appendicitis, unrelated to the trip). I bought a version of the Lewis and Clark Journals before we left the center, and read it on our long weekend get-away. Looking at this exploration from the perspective of the time in which it took place (setting current-day politics aside), it really was an extraordinary expedition. And it makes a pretty exciting read.
Killing the Commentadore is a fan’s Haruki Murakami story. It includes all the Murakami themes and elements – solitude, journeys both geographical and of the mind, color and design, music, and of course, alternate worlds. In this case, the alternate world is a painting, or perhaps the painting is just the conduit to another time and place. Regardless, a bossy tiny soldier – the Commentadore – is set free from a painting and serves as a link between what might be simply the past, an evil universe, or the tormented memories of the painting’s creator. I liked this book. It is slow and you can feel the give and take, ease and tension, between every character. Each chapter brings a new plot twist and it kept me reading. But I’m not sure it would keep everyone reading. It’s 700+ pages – a tome. And honestly, there is not a huge pay-off at the end. If you’ve never read a Haruki Murakami book, I’ll suggest Kafka on the Shore. If you have, then you know his style, and be warned, this one is a slow mover.
So many words
Years ago, I loved a book by Elizabeth McCracken. I haven’t kept up on her writing much. So, this year I was excited to lean that Bowlaway was coming out. A story about a town, its people, and the bowling alley that was a part of all their lives. Sounded like just the unconventional type of story I remember in The Giant’s House. And much of it was lovable. But also…as Dr. Dan would say… it had a lot of words. I read them, and there were a lot.
More Books from 2019:
Women Rowing North by, Mary Pipher, is about women approaching, in, and beyond their 60s. Non-fiction is not usually my cup of tea. I liked this book though. Mary, from Lincoln NE, follows a few women and their unique stories and how they unfold over a period of time. She focuses on how they adapt and change as each woman’s life moves from one stage to another. It was a nice read, humorous at times, and very positive.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides was a best seller this year. Intriguing and mysterious. I kept turning pages and didn’t guess the end until I was supposed to, I think. Good one.
In West Mills by DeShawn Charles Winslow, was one of this year’s literary dears. It’s about a community of friends in North Carolina from the 1940s through the 80s. They revolve around one character, Azalea “Knot” Centre. Even her name indicates she is the center of all the action and ties them all together. Family, chosen or inherited, is the main theme throughout. It’s a well written good read.
I always look forward to the next book by Anne Patchett. The Dutch House came out this year and did not disappoint. It’s the story of a brother and sister, Maeve and Danny, and their house. The Dutch House is a stately mansion in a suburb of Philadelphia. Their father bought the house as a symbol of his prestige. Their mother could not square the house with her socialist tendencies. And without saying more, readers, the House becomes a character throughout the course of Maeve and Danny’s lives. All the characters read true as we see them at each stage of their lives. I really liked
I picked up another book that came out this year simply based on its name and cover. The Grammarians. I didn’t know until I read the inside pages that the author, Cathleen Schine, wrote a book I gushed about in these pages a couple of years back called Fin and Lady. I should be paying more attention. Schine, is a big deal. The Grammarians is wonderful. Two twins who start out alienating (and charming) their parents with their own language, grow up to be two equally famous writers. And as much as their words tie them together when they are young, words and language come between them as adults, as the writers publicly and famously feud. This book is charming, and smart and witty. You’ll stop to appreciate Schine’s words and sentences and to read them over and again. It’s a lovely book. Put this one on your to-read pile.
I’ve never written here about Rainbow Rowell. I should. She’s a Nebraskan. She wrote for the Daily Nebraskan (the DN) in the late 80s when going to college here. Then she was a columnist for the Omaha World Herald. And then she started publishing YA books. She’s a good writer, both critics and teenagers agree. But so do lots of adult readers who appreciate good stories. Her stories move along, her characters are likeable and real (even her fantasy fiction characters). Out this year, I read Carry On, which is about a vampire and a wizard she created as fan fiction for another story called Fan Girl. I would recommend starting with Eleanor and Park or Fan Girl if you’re new to her books. If you don’t move on from there, fine, but you won’t have wasted your time. If you’re from Nebraska, especially Lincoln or Omaha, you will enjoy when Love Library, East Campus, Highway Diner, the Old Market, and other landmarks make the scene.
Famous People by Justin Kuritzkes is written first person as if it is the voice-journal of a Justin Bieber-like celebrity, who became famous at 12 and is now a 19 or 20-year-old multi-billionaire. He writes in the language of the day throwing in “LOLs” “bro” “dope. “ as if is one of today’s teenage YouTube Stars giving a shout-out to his fans. But the message and content are far deeper than the words. Kuritzkes’ narrator clearly has a grasp on how fame and fortune has changed him and those around him, and has a sense of his global outreach. He registers some responsibility for his brand. This book makes you consider the notion that not all of the 20-year-olds are idiots, though there are some of those characters in this tory too. LOL. A little over a couple hundred pages, I read this on a work-trip, and it was refreshing and entertaining.
Happy New Year Scramblers.