Recommended books: Christmas 2011

Word count: 575 words

Reading time: Just over 2 minutes

Looking for a gift? Wanting some interesting reading for yourself over the holidays? Here are 21 books for you to consider….

I made it, just in time! Last week I finally achieved my annual goal of reading 52 books this year. I gave you a partial report in July, featuring 31 books, so you’d have some recommendations for summer reading. Now you can see the rest of my 2011 books (all 21 of them) in time for last minute Christmas gifts or your own holiday reading.

Please note: I’m not implying that all the books in the “other” categories, below, are bad. Mainly, I just didn’t like them enough to recommend them. (That said, I was extraordinarily disappointed by both the Eugenides and the Patchett books because I’ve adored their other works.)

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

1. Didion, Joan. Blue Nights. This exquisitely written book — about parenthood and the death of a child — is not as bleak as you might imagine. I bought it and will read it again.

2. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Invigorating perhaps even life-changing book with many direct application for writers.

3. Bailey, Elisabeth Tova. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. Thoroughly delightful (true) story of a terribly ill woman who befriends a snail. A perfect gift for a biologist or anyone who enjoys fine writing.

4. Bregman, Peter. 18 minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done. Engagingly written business book about how to make your work more meaningful and how to manage your time better.

5. Taubes, Gary. Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It. Provocative ideas about diet really well explained. (In a sentence: Low-fat diets aren’t a good idea for losing weight!)

6. Hanson, Rick and Mendius, Richard. Buddha’s Brain. A kind of a “neuroscience for dummies” this book merges scientific information with contemplative practice. Best of all, it’s written in plain English.

7. Hitchens, Christopher. Arguably. Whether you agree with the late Hitchen’s views or not, you have to be impressed with his output. This 810-page collection of his essays — many about other writers — reveals him to be articulate, well-educated and perhaps the best read contemporary writer of our day.

Other non-fiction (alphabetical by author)

8. Chua, Amy. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

9. McIntosh, Barbara-jo. Cooking for Me and Sometimes You

10. Patchett, Ann. Truth and Beauty: A Friendship

11. Simon, Rachel. The Story of Beautiful Girl

12. Winters, Ben. Bedbugs

FICTION in order of preference (within this category)

13. Simonson, Helen. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. This delightful comedy of manners is set in small town England and captures perfectly the strengths and foibles of a certain generation in a certain class. Enthralling, funny and very sophisticated. Hard to believe it’s a first novel! (Many of my friends have loved it, too.)

14. Haien, Jeannette. The All of It. This book won’t be to everyone’s taste and I’ll confess I found the plot weak and a bit too “mannered” But I adored the writing. Very lyrical.

15. Wolitzer, Meg. The Wife: A Novel. Truth be told? The plot of this one sucks. But, oh, the writing is utterly remarkable.

Other fiction (alphabetical by author)

16. Badami, Anita Rau. Tell it to the Trees

17. Eugenides, Jeffrey. The Marriage Plot

18. Haigh, Jennifer. Faith: A Novel

19. Nicholls, David. One Day

20. Schulman, Helen. This Beautiful Life

21. Sussman, Ellen. French Lessons: A Novel

Happy holidays to all my readers!