Reading time: Just over 4 minutes
Looking for some recommended books in time for Christmas reading or gift-giving? Here’s my semi-annual roundup of books I’ve read this year.
I aim to read at least 52 books every 12 months and my habit is to post a complete list of the names of them for you, in November and June. Here is a description of the remaining 28 books I’ve enjoyed this year. (In my summer list, I told you about the 24 books I’d finished earlier this year.)
Following my format, I list my top five fiction reads followed by my top five non-fiction ones. After these highlighted titles, I’ll name the other books I’ve read in each category, in order of preference.
Please note I don’t generally read mysteries, sci-fi or fantasy. I pass no judgment on those who do; my tastes don’t usually run in those directions.
If you’re looking for advice about how you can read more, check out my post on the topic, or my video.
TOP 5 FICTION TITLES:
1-Garmus, Bonnie. Lessons in Chemistry. I found this wildly over-the-top book, set in the 1950s, to be laugh-out-loud funny and exceptionally well written. It focuses on a single mom — who happens to be a chemist — who makes her money by hosting a TV cooking show in a most unusual manner. Hilarity ensues.
2-Rawley, Steven. The Editor. This charming book set in the 1990s — about a struggling novelist who finally gets his first big break — has a delicious conceit. His editor is none other than Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. (She is lovely.)
3-Perrotta, Tom. Tracy Flick Can’t Win. This comic novel tells a pretty good story — a sequel to the 1998 bestseller Election — and does so in a highly readable way.
4-Ali, Monica. Love Marriage: A Novel. The story about a young woman training to be a doctor and her fiancé didn’t grab me as much as Ali’s previous novel, Brick Lane. But, wow, she can really write.
5-Williams, Katie. Tell the Machine Goodnight. This book doesn’t quite feel like sci-fi (my son calls it speculative fiction) which perhaps explains why I could read and enjoy it. The book is set in a society when people can get advice from computer-assisted technology on how to make their lives happier. It’s the hat-trick of funny, charming and interesting.
OTHER FICTION (in order of preference):
6-Fesperman, Dan. Winter Work. This spy thriller — set in East Berlin, at the time of the collapse of the Berlin wall — kept me well engaged once I’d sorted out all the names!
7-Coe, Jonathan. The House of Sleep. Anyone who has sleep problems (like me) will likely enjoy this novel about a sleep disorders clinic filled with interesting and provocative people.
8-Echenoz, Jean. Ravel: A Novel. Exquisitely written book addressing the last 10 years of the life of composer Maurice Ravel, 1875-1937. If I were braver (smarter?) I would have read it in French but it’s a lovely portrait, even in English.
9-Wright, Lawrence. The End of October. Written before the outbreak of Covid, this prescient novel imagines the outbreak of a worldwide pandemic (close enough to Covid to make your flesh crawl just a little bit.) I enjoyed the book but found the ending to be weak.
10-Brooks, Geraldine. Horse. An historical novel based on the true story of a recording-breaking horse named Lexington. Interesting and well written but, sadly, not nearly as good as other truly remarkable books by Brooks that I’ve read (especially Year of Wonders and People of the Book.)
11-Swanson, Peter. Eight Perfect Murders. Pretty well written murder mystery but the plot didn’t do it for me. Felt a bit worked-over.
12-Shriver, Lionel. The Post-Birthday World. I’ve not been a huge fan of Shriver’s work (I found the fuss about her 2003 novel We Need to Talk About Kevin to be overblown.) This one didn’t do it for me either although I found the book’s structure intriguing. She follows one character’s life through a “parallel-universe” concept, with different chapters exploring the same story lines with the same characters who have evolved differently.
TOP 5 NON-FICTION TITLES:
1-Keefe, Patrick Radden. Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks. Remarkable collection of stories (all from the New Yorker) by master reporter and story-teller Keefe. I will read anything and everything that this man writes. (His earlier book, Say Nothing, is on my lifetime top 10 list.)
2-Forte, Tiago. Building a Second Brain. This book won’t be to everyone’s taste but it suited me to a tee, given my passion for organizing things. It describes how to create a personal system for knowledge management, otherwise known as a Second Brain.
3-Sissay, Lemn. My Name is Why. Heartbreaking and true story of a young Ethiopian boy, born in the US, who was taken away from his single mother at birth and raised in the foster care and child services system. And what a horrible system it was. No thanks to them, Sissay became a famous British author and broadcaster and his book is both shocking and unputdownable.
4-Kay, Adam. This is Going to Hurt. Very funny and well written diary about what it’s like to be a doctor in the medical health services in England. Sad ending though.
5-Larson, Eric. In the Garden of the Beasts. This book tells the story of Nazi Germany, through the eyes of one family – that of the American ambassador to Germany in 1933. A remarkable feat of reporting.
TITLES by my clients
This is a new category. Two clients from my Get It Done group have been able to secure traditional publishing deals this year. I’ve put them in their own category so as to be transparent, but they are both truly excellent books. They are listed here in alpha order by last name.
6-Estes, Fred. Teen Innovators. This book tells the stories of nine young students who have created remarkable inventions, including an improved pancreatic cancer test and a device to detect lead in drinking water.
7-Gomez, Ann. Workday Warrior: A Proven Path to Reclaiming Your Time. Learn from a productivity expert how to regain control of your workday. (The book doesn’t go on sale until Dec. 13 but I was lucky enough to read an advance proof.)
OTHER NON-FICTION (in order of preference)
8-Wyner, Gabriel. Fluent Forever. I’ve been diligently working to improve my French for five years now but this book gave me a much-needed shot in the arm. (Hmm, what’s the translation for that idiom, en francais?) Wyner is a former opera singer who puts high stock in correct pronunciation.
9-Pagels, Elaine. Why Religion: A Personal Story. A professor of religion at Princeton University, Elaine Pagels lost her young son at age six, then her husband a year later. The book explores losses in the context of religious belief.
10-Tur, Katy. Unbelievable. Easy-to-read book written by a journalist who had a front seat to the history of Donald Trump’s first presidential run.
11-Johannesen, Jennifer. No Ordinary Boy.This is the story of a profoundly disabled son, his family, his caregivers and his doctors. It is a sharply evocative, sometimes humorous, never sentimental story. Well written.
12-Bernstein, Carl. Chasing History. Interesting but somewhat dry recounting of journalism and American politics in the 1960s. I think you need to have been a journalist (as I was) to enjoy this book.
13-Acheson, Alison. Dance Me to the End. A good friend of mine died of ALS this year and that’s partly why I read this memoir. It explores the emotional impact of witnessing a loved one suffer from a neurological, degenerative, and terminal disease.
14-Schulz, Kathryn. Lost and Found. An interesting exploration of grief and while some of the book was stunningly insightful, I found much of it to be too dry for my tastes.
15-Bloom, Amy. In Love. Memoir of an American writer and psychotherapist whose husband is diagnosed with early-onset dementia and who decides to end his life with medically assisted death at Dignitas in Switzerland.
16-McLaren, Leah. Where You End and I Begin. This writer has absolutely no boundaries. She writes about feelings and incidents that deserve privacy and respect. (I’m not talking about the sexual abuse, suffered by her mother, but the more day-to-day conflicts between mother and daughter.) The writer seems to be a bit of an attention hound.
My video podcast last week discussed which is better: writing by hand or by keyboard. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.
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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. 30/22 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!