Recommended books: Summer 2014

Reading time: About 3 minutes

Looking for summer book suggestions? I’m on track for reaching my year-end goal of reading 52 books and here is my semi-annual accounting that may give you some reading ideas of your own.

My habit is to post for you the names of ALL the books I’ve read, twice a year – once at the beginning of July to give you some holiday recommendations (I’ve read 25 titles so far this year) and the second batch in early December, for gift ideas.

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.

I name the books I like in the “recommended” category. Books I didn’t enjoy so much (remember: reading is personal!) I’ve placed in alphabetical order in the “other” list.

FICTION in order of preference

  1. Egan, Jennifer. Look at Me. Richly well written and surprising story about a fashion model who’s in a disfiguring car accident. The book also features a plethora of remarkable metaphors.
  2. Stein, Garth. The Art of Racing in the Rain. I have little interest in dogs (I’m a cat person) and none in car-racing but I found this novel about a dog with a car-racing master to be thoroughly engaging.
  3. Rakoff, David. Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish. Slow reading at first but I’m delighted I stuck with this clever and deeply creative novel, written entirely in rhyming couplets.
  4. Gilbert, Elizabeth. The Signature of All Things. Long but engaging bit of historical fiction, about a wealthy female botanist in the mid-nineteenth century.
  5. Vickers, Salley. The Cleaner of Chartres. Charming book about an adult orphan who grew up in a religious community. Really well written.
  6. Echlin, Kim. The Disappeared. This novel about the Cambodian genocide was a bit disjointed but powerfully unforgettable.
  7. Tartt, Donna. The Goldfinch. Fans consider Tartt a literary marvel. I simply think she writes a moderately decent slightly upscale thriller.
  8. Jonasson, Jonas. The 100-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared. Quirky, amusing book that was lots of fun at the beginning but wore thin a bit too quickly. Would be good beach reading, though.
  9. Harbach, Chad. The Art of Fielding. This struck me as the male equivalent of “chick-lit” — a thoroughly predictable story about baseball. Still, it was engaging. 

Other fiction 

  1. Oyeyemi, Helen. Boy, Snow, Bird.
  2. Leavitt, David. The Two Hotel Francforts.
  3. Perry, Anne. A Christmas Hope.
  4. Urquhart, Jane. Sanctuary Line.

NON-FICTION in order of preference

  1. Brown, Ian. The Boy in the Moon. Beautifully written, heartbreaking little book about journalist Ian Brown’s profoundly disabled son.
  2. Harris, Dan. 10% Happier. Pretty funny, useful book about meditation that inspired me to start meditating again. Like many TV people, he’s a little self-obsessed, but his advice is really solid.
  3. Patchett, Ann. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Excellent selection of Patchett’s non-fiction pieces from magazines such as The Atlantic, Vogue and Granta. I liked the title story a lot.
  4. Guise, Stephen. Mini-Habits: Smaller habits, bigger results. Not terribly well written but still worthwhile for the content.
  5. Dixon, Dale. Sweating Bullets: A Story About Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking. Another not well written book. But it offers terrific advice for anyone who needs to give speeches. You could read it in an hour.
  6. Worth, Jennifer. Call The Midwife. By Jennifer Worth, 2002. Not quite as well written as I’d been led to believe by the luscious narration of Vanessa Redgrave on the TV show. Still, the book is charming and interesting.
  7. Sixsmith, Martin. The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. Seeing the movie should not stop you from reading this book. The movie explores the mother’s story. The book focuses on the son’s.
  8. Barnes, Julian. The Pedant in the Kitchen. Erudite reflections on the way cookbooks work, or, more often, don’t. Some of this stuff is both interesting and amusing but I do find him a wee bit too pedantic.
  9. Reichl, Ruth. Tender at the Bone. I typically adore cooking memoirs. But I found this one only so-so. Felt a bit overworked, like tough pastry. 

Other non-fiction 

  1. Lasdun, James. Give Me Everything You Have.
  2. Bard, Elizabeth. Lunch in Paris.
  3. Millburn, Joshua Fields  & Nicodemus, Ryan. Minimalism.

PS: I wish a splendid Canada Day to my fellow Canadians and a happy July 4th to my American readers.

What books have you enjoyed so far this year? What will you be reading this summer? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section. (If you don’t see the comments, go here and then scroll to the very end.) And, congratulations to Gillian Moore, the winner of this month’s book prize, Start with Why for her June 3rd comment on my blog. Anyone who comments on today’s blog post (or any others) by July 31, 2014 will be put in a draw for a copy of the very useful book The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, by Noah Lukeman.  

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