A couple of weeks ago, I got a letter — a real letter, handwritten in ink on paper — from a reader named Jean Segerstrom. “I have never in my 90 years of life felt compelled to accept a newspaper invitation” to write in, she said. Until now. She could not resist my request that readers share the books they loved in 2018.
I wish I had room to list all of your books. I wish I had room to list all of Jean’s books. (She read 111 books in 2018, though she only mentioned six of them in her letter.)
Rest assured that reading is alive and well; people continue to love all kinds of books; and lots of you are reading way more than I am. Your recommendations compelled me to add a lot of titles to my TBRAR list. (To Be Read After Retirement.)
Jean’s top book of 2018 was “The Which Way Tree,” by Elizabeth Crook. “The main boy character is an absolute delight,” she wrote. The book is “written in letters to the judge hearing a case involving his sister. The brother and sister are deeply drawn characters — the form and people make it great.”
Marilyn Reilly reads a book a week, sometimes two. “I can’t even remember all the books I read this year,” she said. But she does remember several that she loved, including “Eternal on the Water,” by Joseph Monninger. “It’s a love story set in the beautiful outdoors of New Hampshire. A very different book, but so worth the read.”
Gretchen Heath loved Minnesota writer Patricia Hampl’s memoir, “The Art of the Wasted Day,” which is, she says, “an examination of leisure and stillness. She delves into time, loss and being present in the moment. This was a memorable read on the North Shore sans television and Wi-Fi.”
Joan McGrath was blown away by Ian McEwan’s “Nutshell,” a novel “written from the point of view of a soon-to-be-born fetus,” she said. “With a plotline like that, you’re either hooked or you’re not. You either want to see how McEwan creates a tone, sustained throughout an entire novel, in which some [of us] find humor as well as suspense — or you don’t.”
Jodi James loved “News of the World,” by Paulette Jiles, and there’s no arguing with that wonderful choice.
“Though historical (which made it interesting) and published two years ago,” James said, “the novel was prescient about the issues of the safety of girls/women, race, small town politics, and political sensitivities in what is happening now in our times.”
Pam Troje had a long list, including, “Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine,” by Gail Honeyman. “It is an unusual novel that keeps you guessing why the main character is such a misfit. There are many twists and turns with a mystery and some deep relationships. “
Lloyd Stuve’s favorite read of 2018 was “Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine,” by Alan Lightman. “It is a wonderful book, a series of ruminations on subjects like Longing for Absolutes in a Relative World, Stars, Atoms, Truth, Death and so on,” he wrote. “I first borrowed it from my library, but then bought it so I could refer to it whenever I wished.”
Eva Lockhart had not been prepared for how “laugh-out-loud funny” Julie Schumacher’s The Shakespeare Requirement was. “It was so fabulous,” she writes.
Minnesota writer “Schumacher creates these crazy but lovable characters who are so endearing and who are so real with their quirks and foibles. If you like humor, or if the dark days of winter are making you feel dour,” then this is the book for you.
Hanna Hill of Plymouth recommends “Women in Sunlight,” by Frances Mayes. “Three women who met at an open house for a retirement housing and decided it was not for them, rented a villa, instead, in Tuscany. Clearly a love song for Tuscany and for Italy, but what I liked was how these ‘elderly’ women rediscovered themselves and bloomed there.”
Kacey Hruby Wyttenhove said she was excited to send in her titles because in 2018 she had kept track for the first time. In addition to Dessa’s memoir “My Own Devices” and Lesley Nneka Arimah’s “What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky” (“riveting from start to finish”), Wyttenhove recommends “Exit West,” a novel by Mohsin Hamid.
“Part love story and part dystopian drama,” she wrote. “I found this book fascinating for exploring what would happen if humans could be transported to any other random country simply by stepping through a door.”
Sort of what happens when we open up a book.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune senior editor for books. On Twitter: @StribBooks. www.facebook.com/startribunebooks