Recommended books: Christmas 2017

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.
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.
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.
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