“The Dry Grass of August,” by Anna Jean Mayhew. The story is set in the South in 1954 and told through the eyes of a 13-year-old girl. It offers a riveting depiction of Southern life in the throes of segregation. It is simply and beautifully written, but describes powerful events and beliefs during a time of tremendous change.
I thoroughly enjoyed witnessing the girl’s coming-of-age and found it easy to identify with her and her conflicting thoughts and feelings.
Best book read so far this year: “Stoner,” by John Williams.
Why it’s good: The characters are engaging, honest, and recognizably human. Stoner himself is an archetypal American, a college English Professor and scholar with a touch of existential hero, quietly eloquent in his marginality, who endures in a career he loves uncomplainingly, but ultimately suffers in undeservedly. He creates a life worth living out of disappointments and sacrifices, and finds some degree of warmth and meaning in his literature and himself in a cold world.
Second-best book: “The Good Lord Bird,” by James McBride.
Why it’s good: Henry Shackleford is a 12-year-old, black, Huck Finn-like first-person narrator and picaresque anti-hero who journeys around having rip-roaring adventures in the mid-19th century with John Brown (yes, that John Brown), climaxing at Harpers Ferry. Young Henry is as disrespectful, illiterate, innocent, and sound-hearted as Huck, and belongs to a cadre of thoroughly likable rascals and scamps in American literature — from Rip Van Winkle and Huck, to Dean Moriarty, Holden Caulfield, Augie March, and even Bart Simpson. A kind of Huck Finn meets Billy the Kid and Billy Sunday at Harpers Ferry. With humor.
Hands down, the best book I’ve read this year is “Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King. It was so nice to re-visit a character from long ago and he did an excellent job of protraying a recovering addict’s mind set. Reading Stephen King is like catching up with an old friend!
“The Musician’s Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance and Wellness,” by Gerald Klickstein. My trio all read this book and declared it very helpful in learning to look at music, planning a practice session, overcoming performance anxiety, playing well with other musicians, avoiding injuries and staying healthy as a musician. Music is food for the soul.
The best book I read this year is the one I just finished, fittingly on Veterans’ Day, entitled “Thank You for Your Service,” by David Finkel. Finkel does an extraordinary job of describing the difficulties faced by a handful of men who were together in Iraq, as well as their spouses (including widows) and families, once they returned to the U.S. Dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, terrifying nightmares of memories, and few if any job prospects, these men feel anything but thanked. Finkel has entered the lives of these men and their families, building their trust to share their harsh and raw realities and by telling their stories reveals to the reader that war is no good for anyone.
“TransAtlantic” by Colum McCann is the most stunning literary work I have read this year.
Within this story McCann describes a notable author’s ability to reach down and pull up the most specific, meaningful word for his intent.
McCann clearly demonstrates his own art as a wordsmith. For example, “The grass was exhausted by the shape of war.” is how he depicts the ground where wagon loads of bodies of Civil War soldiers were unloaded and left for a day before being buried. For me, it is a concise metaphor for the United States, both then and now.
I was very surprised that TransAtlantic did not make the short list for the National Book Award.
Martha C. Brown
Among the best books I’ve read this year is “The Shoemaker’s Wife,” by Adriana Trigiani. It was recommended by my sister, Marie, as a glimpse into the lives of an immigrant family from Italy to New York and Minnesota in the early 1900s. Our great-grandfather and great-grandmother had immigrated from Germany in the 1890s; he was a shoemaker in St. Paul until she died, and the children (including our grandfather) were raised by relatives or foster families; we think our great-grandfather may have gone back to Europe. Since retiring a year ago, I’ve been keeping a list of the books I’m reading (more than 50 so far, non-fiction, fiction, poetry). Both my grandfather and father kept track of the books they read during retirement, so I decided to keep up the tradition.
Anthony A. Bibus III
I happened to just finish a book by a first-time author, M.L. Stedman, “The Light Between Oceans,” which I think is one of the best books I have read in a long time! It is fictional, location Australia in the 1930’s about a young couple who maintain a lighthouse and by fate, what occurs when they are living there, and the consequences of the choices they make, over a period of many years.
Clear Lake, Minn.
“Particularly Cats,” by Doris Lessing. The cover of this book caught my eye in a used book store. I’ve never read anything by Doris Lessing, I like cats, so I gave it a try. Nothing really happens, it is just Lessing’s memories of cats in her life, starting very gruesomely during her childhood in South Africa when a beloved cat’s tail is mistaken for a deadly snake. But then it becomes comforting and easy in England, the cats get pregnant, they have their cat affairs, they explore the garden, they grow old. Lessing simply watches them and writes what she sees. She loves them, and gives them each a good story to tell.
I recently finished the Leo Demidov trilogy (“Child 44”; “The Secret Speech”; “Agent 6”), by Tom Rob Smith. All three books are awesome and I recommend them highly. Some might say they don’t have to be read in order, but I would disagree. I am looking forward to the film version of “Child 44,” which is now in production.