Recommended books: Summer 2011

Word count: 783 words

Reading time: About 3 minutes

If you’re looking for holiday reading, here is part one of my annual book list!

I always set myself an annual target of reading at least 52 books and when I hit my total in 2010 (last November) I published a summary. Trouble was, some people would have preferred to see my list in time for summer reading! As a result, I’ve decided to unveil this year’s reading list in two chunks: one in time for August (I’ve read 31 books so far this year) and the rest (at least another 21 titles but likely more) closer to Christmas.

So far, this has been a good year for fiction. Please note that I don’t generally read murder mysteries, sci fi or fantasy. I pass no judgment on those who do; my tastes just don’t run in those directions! I tend to favour literary fiction, strong character-driven stories and biographies.

Please note: I’m not implying that all the books in the “other” categories, below, are bad (although in my view, a few are truly dreadful.) Mainly, I just didn’t like them enough to recommend them.

FICTION in order of preference (within this category)

1. O’Nan, Stewart. Emily, Alone. The affecting story of a new widow. Almost nothing happens in this book but, oh, the writing is exquisite!
2. Cunningham, Michael. By Nightfall. I was a big fan of his earlier novel, The Hours,and liked this one as well. I particularly admired his technique of revealing the characters’ thoughts before letting them speak.
3. Atkinson, Kate. Started Early, Took My Dog. A highbrow English detective story. Deliberately confusing in spots but well handled. Won’t be to everyone’s taste, though.
4. Stegner, Wallace. The Angle of Repose. The story of the settling of the American west as told through the eyes of one family. Took me forever to read but well worth the effort.
5. Stockett, Kathryn. The Help. Historical fiction about African American maids working in white households in Mississippi in the 1960s. Riveting plot; easy reading.
6. Hay, Elizabeth. Alone in the Classroom. A beautifully written novel about a teacher in Saskatchewan with finely etched portraits of all the characters.
7. Winter, Kathleen. Annabel. Couldn’t put the book down — although I must note that the same topic (hermaphroditism) was handled even more skillfully by Jeffrey Eugenides in Middlesex.
8. Waters, Sarah. The Little Stranger. I’d almost call this a horror novel. Very well written and pretty creepy. Would make a fabulous movie. The author’s earlier book,Fingersmith, is even better.
9. Patchett, Ann. State of Wonder. Good book set in the Brazillian rain forest, although not quite as engaging as Bel Canto. The end was also a little flat for me. But she displays some marvelous writing along the way.
10. Brooks, Geraldine. Caleb’s Crossing. Interesting, well written novel about the first Native American to graduate from Harvard and his best friend (a young woman).
11. Fallis, Terry. The Best-Laid Plans. I love that this book was originally self-published then picked up by a traditional publisher! You may have to be Canadian and you certainly have to be interested in politics to enjoy it. But if that describes you, pick it up. Unevenly written but very funny!
12. Fallis, Terry. The High Road. Solid sequel to the book above.

Other fiction (alphabetical by author)

13.  Bergen, David. The Matter with Morris.
14. Bloom, Amy. Away.
15. Lyon, Annabel. The Golden Mean.
16.  Packer, Ann. The Dive from Clausen’s Pier.
17. Waldman, Ayelet. Red Hook Road.

RECOMMENDED NON-FICTION in order of preference (within this category)

18. Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. I used to be a vegetarian but resumed eating meat when I became pregnant with triplets. This book has me re-thinking that decision. Well written, disturbing, utterly fascinating.
19. Mukherjee, Siddhartha. The Emperor of All Maladies. Subtitled “A Biography of Cancer,” this dense, scientific book is completely engaging. Strangely enough, it made cancer seem less frightening.
20. Kawasaki, Guy. Enchantment. How to influence people while remaining ethical. The book is truly enchanting.
21. Plotnik, Arthur. Better Than Great. A vertitable reference work on adjectives and adverbs. The title sums up exactly what I think about it!
22. Steel, Piers. The Procrastination Equation. Although unevenly written, this book offers really excellent advice for any procrastinators. Perfect for anyone with writer’s block.

Other non-fiction (alphabetical by author)

23. Bruno, Frank. Born Round: The Secret History of a Fulltime Eater.
24. Cunxin, Li. Mao’s Last Dancer.
25. de Rossi, Portia. Unbearable Lightness.
26. Ellsberg, Michael. The Power of Eye Contact.
27. Hamilton, Gabrielle. Blood, Bones and Butter.
28. Karr, Mary. The Liar’s Club.
29. Nestor, Theo Pauline. How to Sleep Alone in a King-Sized Bed.
30. Niesslein, Jennifer. Practically Perfect in Every Way.
31. Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

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