Recommended books: Christmas 2017

recommended books

Reading time: Just over 3 minutes

Looking for some recommended books in time for holiday reading? Here’s my semi-annual roundup of books I’ve read this year.  

I aim to read 52 books every 12 months and my habit is to post a complete list of the names of them for you, in June and November. Here is a description of the remaining 25 books I’ve enjoyed this year. (In my summer list, I told you about the 27 books I’d finished earlier.)

Yes, I really do read more than a book a week! I give you this list at the end of November to help you with your Christmas shopping and your own holiday reading. 

Please note I don’t generally read mystery/thrillers, sci-fi or fantasy. I pass no judgment on those who do; my tastes don’t usually run in those directions.  

NON-FICTION (in order of preference)

  1. Norris, Mary. Between You & Me. Delightful book about copy editing and punctuation. This New Yorker copy editor [pictured above] has a great sense of humour. Tried reading some of it aloud to my family and, puzzlingly, they didn’t find it as amusing as I did. Perhaps you have to be a writer to appreciate the especially funny bits? (Would be a great Christmas gift for any writer.)
  2. Holiday, Ryan. Ego is the Enemy. Want to become less invested in your own specialness? This book will help you do that with a vast array of stories and examples from literature, philosophy, politics, sports and business. It’s a helpful corrective handbook in this age of personal branding, social media and selfies.
  3. Doidge, Norman. The Brain’s Way of Healing. An interesting and thoughtful examination of some “outside of the box” ways of healing. I have chronic back pain so I read this book with extra careful attention.
  4. Krakauer, John. Missoula. Shocking and very hard-to-read account of rape culture in North America, skillfully executed by turning the lens on the city of Missoula. Parents of college-age children should read this book.
  5. Richards, Keith. Life. Overly long but nonetheless interesting story from one of the baddest boys of rock and roll. He needed a better editor but, overall, I could only conclude he was smarter than I’d ever given him credit for being.
  6. Paul, Pamela. My Life with BOB. Author Pamela Paul keeps a BOB – Book of Books, as do I. In it, we both note the title and author of every book we have read. This memoir examines her habit and other details of her life and history. She’s the current editor of the New York Times book review.
  7. Lindhout, Amanda & Corbett, Sara. A House in the Sky. The story of a young Canadian woman (Lindhout) — an aspiring TV reporter — who is kidnapped in Somalia for 15 months. This story won’t suit everyone; the description of torture at the end of the book is graphic and hard to take. 

FICTION (in order of preference) 

  1. Wang, Weike. Chemistry. By Weike Wang, 2017. A quirky and distinctive novel about a young female scientist whose academic (and personal) life goes surprisingly off track. Incredibly distinctive voice. Won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I loved this book.
  2. Semple, Maria. Where’d you go, Bernadette? Maria Semple, 2012. Some might call this chick lit, but I call it a screamingly funny book about a dysfunctional family living in Seattle. Would be a terrific holiday read, far more sophisticated than most. Will appeal equally to men and women.
  3. Straub, Emma. Modern Lovers. Another possible chick lit title (honestly, I don’t normally read this stuff!) but this one was also highly sophisticated. Funny, charming plot, interesting characters, great figurative language. A winner.
  4. Messud, Claire. The Burning Girl. By Claire Messud, 2017. A beautifully written coming-of-age story about two young girls that skillfully captures the hard-to-explain intensity of young female friendship.
  5. Thuy, Kim. Ru. Sort of a cross between a novel, memoir and poetry, this very short book — the story of a Vietnamese refugee family — is exquisitely written and lovely to read.
  6. Heiny, Katherine. Standard Deviation. Very little happens in this novel about New-York-based Graham and Audra, who have a 10-year-old socially awkward son, Matthew, who is obsessed with origami. Still, I’d describe the writing as top-notch and funny. Another entertaining holiday read.
  7. Harris, Robert. The Conclave. Interesting to see a thriller writer tackle a religious subject — the election of a pope. Harris does a pretty credible job, and I found the book both engaging and well written.
  8. Harris, Robert. Enigma. My positive experience reading The Conclave (above) led me to another Harris book — this best-selling piece of historical fiction set during the Second World War. A brilliant British mathematician is working as a member of the team struggling to crack the Nazi Enigma code. Made into a 2001 film starring Kate Winslet.
  9. Ng, Celeste. Little Fires Everywhere. The story of a traditional six-member family mired in consumerism vs a two-member family living a poor but artistically affluent life reads like a bestseller. Interesting, well-developed characters make provocative choices. Still, I found the book vastly inferior to Ng’s luminescent first novel, Everything I Never Told You.
  10. Fallis, Terry. One Brother Shy. Not as funny as Fallis’s first book, The Best Laid Plans, but a fun, easy read — about a painfully shy software engineer. It would be a good book to take to a beach or a skiing lodge.
  11. Vermette, Katherena. The Break. I started off really liking this book and the author clearly knows how to write but, over time, found the story too dispiriting. Not much redemption in here, but perhaps that reflects the reality of life for many Métis?
  12. Perrotta, Tom. Mrs. Fletcher. The story of a divorced mom and her college-aged child is not as funny as other Tom Perrotta books (Election, Little Children), but it’s an easy read focusing on sex, parenting and identity.
  13. Green, John. Turtles All the Way Down. I liked this book so much less than Green’s earlier novel for young adults The Fault In Our Stars that I was prepared to write it off. Then, I read the ending. Wow! It’s almost worth reading just for the writing in the final chapter.
  14. Barton, Fiona. The Child. Pretty good murder mystery (although note that I don’t usually read them) about a baby skeleton discovered in the rubble of a demolished house.
  15. Whittall, Zoe. The Best Kind of People. The story of a man arrested for sexual impropriety and the impact this arrest has on his family. Unevenly written and a bit too much like a “movie of the week,” but otherwise okay. 

Not recommended fiction (alphabetical order, by author)

  1. Ellis, Helen. Eating the Cheshire Cat.
  2. Lees, Judi. Lester’s Gift.
  3. Umrigar, Thirty. Everybody’s Son.
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My 4-minute video podcast last week aimed to help writers produce better introductions for their books. See it here and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
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What are the best books you’ve read this year? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Nov. 30/17, will be put in a draw for a copy of Metaphorically Selling by Anne Miller. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.

Posted November 21st, 2017 in Power Writing

  • littlenovember

    Your descriptions for some of these books pique my interest. Thank you!

    • Thanks for your kind words! Can you possibly share some titles that have moved you this year?

  • I always look forward to your book posts – we definitely have cross-over in our tastes but I learn about books I hadn’t heard of (going to get Chemistry for sure, agree about Best Kind of People.)

    I know what you mean by using “chick lit” – there’s a lot of pure fluff aimed at women that makes me cringe – but I think the term is overused to dismiss writing by women featuring women’s lives. Maria Semple and Emma Straub are fine writers with compelling protagonists, regardless of gender.

    • I agree with you about the term “chick lit,” Diane. It’s often unfairly dismissive (and I’m as guilty as many others of using it in such a fashion.) And I totally agree that Maria Semple and Emma Straub are both marvellous writers. My husband enjoyed both of their books as well.

      • I had to go through my Kindle app to remind myself which books I particularly enjoyed this year but I’d say Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (I was completely drawn into the story but I also kept marveling over how adept she is at structure and a beautiful turn of phrase), Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (odd and lovely), Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (though at the start I felt too much like yeah yeah, sisters who are exact opposites, I get it), Frog Music as well as The Wonder by Emma Donoghue (very different from her Room), All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen (young adult fiction – I sort-of know her which is why I started reading her, but I love all her stuff so far). I’m currently reading Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown which I’m finding thought-provoking and helpful.

        I was irritated by but still compulsively read The Best Kind of People, Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte and Watermelon by Marian Keyes.

        • Thanks for this marvellous plethora of titles, Diane! Of all the books you mention, I have read only The Wonder by Emma Donoghue, which I loved!

  • Vicky

    Love your lists Daphne. The only one here that I’ve read is Where’d you go Bernadette, which I enjoyed. I really appreciate having your recommendations as we have similar tastes. Thanks for doing the work to narrow my list of reading possibilities somewhat. Happy holidays to you.

    • Glad you find the list helpful, Vicky. And please tell me some of YOUR favourite books of the year! I am always looking for new titles.

  • JoyB

    Daphne, it’s so impressive that you read 52 books a year! How do you do it? I’m guessing the process may use the similar muscles as writing every day? 🙂 How much time do you spend reading each day?

  • David Carlson

    1. The Radical King, by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, with updated Introduction as of 2015. All of his speeches, sermons, and letters.

    2. The Book of Joy, Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu. On the topic of compassionate consultation, and effective non-violent social action and social justice. Excellent meditation practices in the Appendix.

    3. The Interpreter of Maladies, Lahiri Jhumpa, fictional memoir written by a woman speaking with the voice of a young man. Coming out of the violence and natural destruction of Bangladesh in the 1960’s, deals with successful emigration to Bengali India, then Boston, overcoming racial and class prejudice, achieving wealth and citizenship in America.

    4. The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling, on my theme of reading classics I had not read. Read this first, then the Interpreter of Maladies. Both authors use your imagination as how all of Nature speaks to and about us.

    5. Until They Bring the streetcars Back, Stanley Gordon West. Underlying theme about streetcars involves organized crime as it dominated business in the Twin Cities. One of the best metropolitan electric transit networks literally was ripped out of the streets from 1950-53. What a mess! All of the the places, the character types and dialogues were still in 1957 when I was traveling that neighborhood from my home on St. Paul’s East Side. Still true in the 1980’s and 90’s when our daughters attended Central High School, where the main characters went.

    6. Montana 1948, the author Larry Watson won the 1993 National Fiction Prize. A good example of how to write about social action, promote effective social justice, and get your story published. How a white man can tell the story of flagrant sexual violence by a trusted physician against Native American women and girls.

    • Thanks so much for your wonderfully detailed list, David. I can see some titles in there that I’ll want to read!

  • kayross

    I’ve been following you online for several years and I love your book lists, Daphne. And yes, as an editor I loved “Between You & Me”.

    My favourite non-fiction book that I’ve read so far this year is “Z.B.A. – Zen of Business Administration – How Zen Practice Can Transform Your Work and Your Life” by corporate CEO and Zen priest Marc Lesser. I don’t label myself a Buddhist, yet I find that every page in the book is full of inspiring and practical wisdom. And I like that he mentions how the principles and mindset of improvisation apply in life and business (I’m an improv performer).

    I also loved these non-fiction books:
    “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott – astonished that I hadn’t read it years ago. Required reading for any writer.

    “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot – the fascinating true story of how cancer cells were taken from an African American woman in the 1950s without her permission, and grown in culture to create the “HeLa” cells that were (and still are) used in medical research.

    “Wait – The Art and Science of Delay” by Frank Partnoy – a fascinating book about decision-making strategies. He writes about Stephen Porges, heart rate variability and the vagus nerve; calmness and panic; how expert tennis players wait until the last possible split second before returning a serve; stock trading; acting; firefighters, fighter pilots and soldiers; subliminal messages; first dates; how long to wait before apologising; procrastination; innovation; our experience of time…

    “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly – the true story of the black female mathematicians who worked at NASA (and its predecessor, NACA) from the 1940s through to the first Moon landing and beyond.

    Disappointing non-fiction book:
    “Victoria & Abdul” by Shrabani Basu – the true story of Queen Victoria and her Indian personal attendant, Urdu teacher and confidant. I’d read positive reviews of the book and seen the trailer of the movie with Judi Dench, so I was looking forward to reading it. The story is interesting, but the book was very badly written (at the level of sentences) – it needed a good editor. I also found the author’s insertion of impossible-to-prove conjectures about people’s feelings very annoying: “He felt a catch in this throat as Bombay port disappeared from sight…” and “As he rose, young Karim’s dark eyes fleetingly met the Queen’s gaze. Suddenly Victoria no longer felt as tired.” That second example sounds like a Mills & Boon novel. I gave up in disgust at the end of Chapter 2.

    My favourite fiction book:
    “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi – Stunning. Heart-rending. Unputdownable. It ranges from 18th-century Ghana to modern-day America, exploring the effects of the British and American slave trade in Ghana on one fractured family over several generations.

  • Rickey Gold

    I really enjoyed Where’d You Go, Bernadette as well. The email-based writing was fresh and fun to read. Other books I liked this year: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, When I’m Gone by Emily Bleeker, The Nightengale by Kristen Hannah. Love this list. Always see something intriguing that I put on my “to read” list. Thanks, Daphne!

    • And thanks for your suggestions, too, Rickey. I always appreciate having more books to read on my list.

  • Pat Bowden

    You might be interested in “People of the Book” by Australian author Geraldine Brooks. Well researched and well written, in my opinion. My daughter borrowed it from a friend and loaned it to me. I enjoyed it so much (despite some harrowing scenes), I immediately bought my own Kindle copy and started reading it over again.

    • Thanks for the recommendation, Pat. I’m a HUGE Geraldine Brooks fan. Her book March is on my lifetime top 10 list! I’m going to be on an airplane later this month so I’ll be sure to grab a copy of People of the Book before I go. THANKS so much!

      • Pat Bowden

        “March” is now on my To Read list.