During these cold winter months I love to curl up with a book and escape to other worlds between the pages. I bet you do, too. Finding more time to enjoy reading for pleasure is the best gift you can give yourself this year.
When I think about the books I’ve read during the last year there are some which stayed with me a long time. I thought I’d share this list with you. If you’re looking for a good book to read or one to give as a gift, these may please you as much as they did me.
Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart. This sequel to her first novel, Girl Waits With Gun, continues the escapades of Constance Kopp as one of the nation’s first deputy sheriffs. Based on a true story, this second installment has me begging for more. I first became a fan of Amy Stewart’s writing when she was a nonfiction author. I loved The Drunken Botanist and you’ll find the anthology she edited this year under my nonfiction book recommendations. She has successfully crossed over from nonfiction to fiction with critical and popular acclaim.
Barkskins: A Novel by Annie Proulx. Not many writers can sustain my interest on a history of the timber industry. Even more beautifully than she did in Shipping News, Annie Proulx pulled off a masterpiece. Every sentence breathes life into this incredible multi-generational family saga. As Europeans arrived in the New World in search of old growth timber to build more ships after deforesting most of the old continent, Proulx narrates these encounters between and among the French, British and indigenous peoples who worked for lumber. From east to west, she moves forward through the generations as a family timber company becomes an empire. No spoilers here, but Proulx is at her finest here in plot.
LaRose: A Novel by Louise Erdrich. One of my favorite writers, Erdrich’s new novel touched me deeply. Her story is about complicated grief and how in the Ojibwe culture there is a tradition to heal the heart. When a man accidently shoots a boy and it’s his best friend’s son, he and his wife send their surviving child to live with the grieving parents. The story is about the child, LaRose, whose friend and playmate died and was sent away by his birth parents and adopted by the parents whose son died.
Brown Dog: Novellas by Jim Harrison. When he died earlier this year, Harrison’s voice went silent. Since Legends of the Fall, I had read all his novels and poetry and considered him a rare literary voice of the Midwest. I bought the anthology when he was still alive and hadn’t had time to read it until he passed. These novellas are interrelated as he shifts POV from himself as narrator to the characters. And Brown Dog is as much a curmudgeon character as Harrison ever was.
Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon. Set in 1920s New England against the political backdrop of Saccho and Vanzetti and the suffragette movement, two women are mothers to the same girl, Lucy. One, an unwed mother from a wealthy Jewish family of industrialists who is destined for Bryn Mawr and training as a classical pianist, Beatrice left her shameful secret behind her when she abandons her infant daughter in her uncle’s pear orchard for the gleaners to find. The second woman, Irish Catholic Emma Murphy, mothers Lucy like one of her own brood and raises a girl who dresses and acts like a boy in their family enterprise of running a peary – distilling pears into alcohol during this period of Prohibition – to make ends meet. Months after I finished reading this book, the story lingers for the more universal themes of mother-daughter relations, family secrets, and what women do because the circumstances make them.
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016 edited by Amy Stewart. “From a Pulitzer Prize–winning essay on the earthquake that could decimate the Pacific Northwest to the astonishing work of investigative journalism that transformed the nail salon industry, this is a collection of hard-hitting and beautifully composed writing on the wonders, dangers, and oddities of scientific innovation and our natural world.” Kathryn Schulz, Sarah Maslin Nir, Charles C. Mann, Oliver Sacks, Elizabeth Kolbert, Gretel Ehrlich, and others are included in this wonderful anthology.
The Politics of Resentment by Katherine J. Cramer. Now that the election is over, everyone is reading this fascinating work of scholarship on American public opinion. Cramer is a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and she spent years listening carefully to ordinary people across the state which elected Scott Walker.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. She was born in small-town southeastern Minnesota and grew up to be a biogeologist. A memoir of a woman in science, this book is about performing lab work with “both the heart and the hands.” It’s a story of friendship and rogue science adventures as much as her brilliant insights into the world of botany. Sacrifices, disappointments, and triumphs of the scientific process make an astonishingly good read.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. When diagnosed with lung cancer on the verge of completing his medical training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi began to come face to face with his own mortality and wrote about it. The clarity of his prose, the insightful reflections, the humility and lack of sentimentality take your breath away.
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty. I fell in love with this picture book. Like the characters in Beaty’s other books, Ada is a character of color who is hopelessly curious and has a wild imagination. When her house fills with a terrible smell, Ada embarks on a fact-finding mission and conducts experiments to discover the source of the stink.
Debbie Levy, I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy. This is a wonderful story for middle-grade (nonfiction). To disagree, is not be disagreeable. When Cathryn Prince interviewed the author for The Times of Israel, I had to read this book.
George by Alex Gino. I wept when I read this book. How to be your true self and gain social acceptance and popular approval is a universal theme and a sympathetic protagonist makes this a touching story. This story is about a boy who knows she’s a girl. And George wants to play Charlotte in the school play.
What’s on my holiday reading list?
Cruel Beautiful World: A Novel by Caroline Leavitt
Stolen Legacy by Dina Gold
What good books can you recommend? What will you be reading over the holiday season?
Six or seven years ago my advice to aspiring authors of nonfiction books was to build an audience platform by blogging. An example of how critical blogging could be to securing a publishing contract can be found in the case of Ann Marie Ackermann, author of Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee. After an initial assessment of her manuscript, I had recommended she start a historical true-crime blog, and she did. In fact, the editor of the ideal book series at Kent State University Press became a fan ofRead more…