Sunday, December 31, 2017

Thoughts on 2017 reading

182 books read in 2017. The fewest since 175 in 2014.

I started keeping this list in 1996 and have now exceeded 3,100 books read.

So, what were my favorites? The books I’d recommend? The year started out slowly, but finished strong with some excellent books — both fiction and non-fiction.

Here’s what I liked the most (in no particular order).

Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman
Abide With Me, Elizabeth Strout
The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George
Camino Island, John Grisham
Birdcage Walk, Helen Dunmore
The Force, Don Winslow
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O, Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland
The Ninth Hour, Alice McDermott
A Legacy of Spies, John Le Carrè
Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan
The Last Ballad, Wiley Cash
A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
Winter, Ali Smith
Righteous, Joe Ide
IQ, Joe Ide
Going Into Town, A Love Letter to New York, Roz Chast
Women Crime Writers, Suspense Novels of the 1940s
Women Crime Writers, Suspense Novels of the 1950s

I completed a trifecta of sorts with Norse Mythology. I read the book, listened to an audio book (Gaiman is the reader) and attended a reading by Gaiman in Seattle. Thor, Odin, Loki, Frost Giants. What’s not to like?

My great friend, Ralph Yaniz, recommended both The Little Paris Bookshop and Camino Island. Both books were about books; one a love story, the other a mystery.   

I really enjoyed The Force by Don Winslow, but his The Cartel didn’t make the list. 

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland was fun, mixing magic, time travel and a mysterious governmental agency.

Joe Ide’s two books, IQ and Righteous, feature a new and novel detective. Think Sherlock Holmes set in the Hood.  

Women Crime Writers featured eight novels in a two-book set from the Library of America. A fabulous introduction to (for me) little-known women writers from the 1940s and ‘50s.

I highly recommend Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan and The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash.  

My favorite book, though, was A Gentlemen in Moscow by Amor Towles. It was delightful, full of humor and warmth, and superbly written.   It’s exactly what I look for in a novel. I am grateful for the recommendation from Diane Renzuli.   How I missed Towles until now, I’ll never know. 

White Trash, The 400-year Untold History of Class in America,  Nancy Isenberg
You  Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, Sherman Alexie
Cover Me, Ray Padgett
Huè 1968, Mark Bowden
Grant, Ron Chernow

I think the titles give you an idea of what you’re getting here. Alexie’s book is a memoir. Bowden writes about a critical battle in Vietnam and Chernow continues to produce highly readable biographies about notable figures from America’s past.  He’s tackled George Washington and  Alexander Hamilton. Grant runs to almost 1,000 pages, but it worth the effort.

The non-fiction book that I enjoyed the most was Cover Me by Ray Padgett.  The book’s sub-title sums it up neatly: The Stories Behind the Great Cover Songs of All Time. A sample: Johnny Cash singing “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails, the Fugees recording “Killing Me Softly” by Roberta Flack, Patti Smith riffing on Van Morrison’s “Gloria”.

Finally, I’d like to mention Janet Reno, Doing the Right Thing, a biography of the former attorney general by Paul Anderson. Paul was my supervisor for several years when I worked for AARP in Washington. It’s always a joy to read a work by someone you know. That’s was especially true here.  It’s an excellent book, suggesting a second career for Paul when he retires.   

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