Believe it, folks. There were some of us in elementary school who loved going to the library as much as the rest of you loved serving the tether balls at our faces when we did venture outside.
I love reading like Brigitta Von Trapp loves reading.
In 2009 I started tracking every book I read and what I thought of it. Upon arrival in DC I promptly lost the USB drive holding the now-massive spreadsheet and my efforts from the last years vanished.
I called 2009 The Year of Ten Thousand Pages, and made it my goal to read that many in one calendar year. Alas, despite my best efforts–which included Gone with the Wind and Atlas Shrugged–the final count was roughly 8,900.
Let us now consider this page a memorial to the departed USB drive and homage to the written word. And a place where I can have an opinion on other people’s work.
Hereafter, some things worth reading, or not, and why. In no particular order.
Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff
Former NY Times journalist and Detroit-area native LeDuff returns to Detroit and takes a job with the Detroit News as the city continues its decline. He experiences the city as it is now and compares it–there’s not too much that’s different, he finds–to the city he grew up in forty years ago. The writing is great while the language is crass throughout. The story itself is about as sad as you can get in non-fiction.
Read it if you’re from the area, curious about the area, or work in government at any level.
Don’t read it if none of the above apply to you.
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
Now this was interesting. I read the book to see what the fuss is about and because I bet women who think they’ll agree with her will read it and say “yep, I was right, I agree” and women who don’t think they’ll agree with her won’t read it in the first place. The book reads more like a commencement address to grown ups than anything else. The writing itself was on the slightly amateur side of professional, which speaks to a ghost writer who can really capture Sandberg’s voice or a COO who totally rocked her first book. I think she makes a good point for the most part, that point being whatever you decide to do with your life, be all in. Go big or go home, whether that’s at work or volunteering at your kid’s school. I could probably write a thesis on what I think of this book in great detail.
Read it if you want to know what the discussion is about or if you are a professional woman and/or admire successful professional women.
Don’t read it if you couldn’t care less.
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
Loved it. Robert Galbraith is a pen name for J.K. Rowling and although the book is nothing like the Harry Potter series, it is also nothing like her other book which I was so disgusted with I won’t even name here. This book has fantastic character development, a classic without being old-fashioned detective story, and turns of phrase that make me excited to read it again. Considering the way it ends, I can virtually guarantee there will be another with these characters and I can’t wait. I couldn’t put this book down but it also took me over a week to read it, and that gives it double points.
Read it if you need some plain old good fiction in your life.
Don’t read it if you don’t like mysteries or have a short attention span.
Life of Pi by Yann Martell
This book was fun to read and was much quicker and lighter than I expected it to be. (The movie, however, in true castaway-movie fashion, was a letdown.) The concept was unique and well-executed.
Read it if you need some bedtime reading.
Don’t read it if you’re looking for a deep tome about the meaning of life, solitude, and connection with nature.
The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher
Part memoir, part emotional denouement the book chronicles the author’s early life and relationship with his sister and how that relationship, to his family and to his small southern hometown, changes when that sister, the eponymous Ruthie Leming, is diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer and then passes away.With Ruthie’s passing and the reestablishment of relationships during time spent in Louisiana over the course of her illness, Dreher reassesses his own life’s trajectory. Dreher is an established journalist and the writing is easy narration with what seem to be very genuine portraits of all leading characters. By the end of the book I had two thoughts: 1) Wow, this guy just needed to get all this off his chest and 2) Can I blame him?
Read it if you like memoirs, live away from family, or like well-written stories of other people’s real lives.
Don’t read it if you can’t relate to loss, family contention, or second guessing yourself.
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Get ready people–I read this book on a Kindle. A Kindle! Me! The dear friends gave us their Kindle and I vowed to put it to use. This is the first book I read on it. The story is told from the dog’s perspective and it’s an incredibly sad story but everything turns out ok in the end, mostly.
Read it if you like quirky narrators and stories that aren’t about everything going well.
Don’t read it if you don’t like quirky narrators or are in a sad place in your life.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
The historical-but-fictionalized story of Hemingway and his first wife. They meet in the States but pursue their dreams of living overseas, becoming part of the famed Lost Generation in 1920s and 1930s Paris. The story is told from Hadley’s point of view and is as much about Hemingway’s rising star as it is about her self-realization. I found it a very sad story, really. The writing was excellent.
Read it if you like historical fiction, Hemingway, or an untold side of a story.
Don’t read it if you’re a just-the-facts-ma’am kind of reader.
The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, M.D.
A somewhat-repetitive-but-not-too-annoyingly-so how-to book about calming a colicky baby, why babies fuss when they are young, and how to make one’s baby the happiest baby on the block. The husband and I both read the book and took a lot from it, although it does bug me that the subtitle is “The New Way to Calm…” and then the book talks about how calming a crying baby is an art that dates back millenia. Whatever. It seems natural, doable, and practical so we’ll plan to swaddle and swing and shhush and all that good stuff to keep the oyster snug and happy.
Read it if you have a baby on the way.
Don’t read it if you don’t.
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
The book is a memoir of growing up white and off the beaten path in a very unsettled, semi-post-colonial Africa. The stories are fascinating and the retelling is funny or sad or unemotional as needed. I started this book years ago and never finished it but always wanted to. I chose it for our book club last month and was glad to finally get around to reading the whole thing.
Read it if Africa or post-colonialism appeal to your interests.
Don’t read it if memoirs aren’t your thing or you like your stories to be perfectly chronological.
The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander
Meh. Told from the first-person POV of a kitchen boy employed by the exiled Romanovs in their last days, the book is slow, shallow, and not original. Any astute reader knows where it is going from the start, catches all the foreshadowing and knows what it means, and can skip to the final chapters to confirm all suspicions, which is what I did. And yes, my suspicions were correct. Go me. The writing drags, the empress “falls into her beloved Nicky’s arms” one too many times, and then the family is killed, mostly. Nothing new under the sun.
Read it if you are fascinated by all things Romanov.
Don’t read it if you have anything else handy.
Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman
The American expatriate author finds herself noticing and often humiliated by the differences between her parenting style and children’s behavior and that of the French parents around her. She considers the main differences–French children are more patient, obedient, well-behaved, and better eaters than American children, generally speaking–and how or why those differences exist between the cultures. While I think the author slightly understates the impact cultural diversity has on a country and its offspring and borders on being a little too harsh on American parents as a breed, I also think that her observations are astute, articulate, and accurate. This is a definite re-read, and I have asked the husband to put it on his list, too.
Read it if you roll your eyes and grit your teeth at the way kids behave around you or in public. And if you know and disagree with people like Time Magazine’s cover models.
Don’t read it if the latest parenting research is your Bible or you aren’t interested in parenting issues at all.
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
The real life story of a rambunctious young-man-turned-Olympic-athlete-turned-WWII-airman. The story, which is gorgeously written, is riveting and fast-paced for a book that spans an entire lifetime. The subtitle is a completely accurate summation of the book. The husband and I gave this book as a gift for Christmas and then received our own copy in lieu of an Easter basket this year. It’s an excellent gift for any reader.
Read it if you have an interest in WWII, history, or non-fiction best sellers.
Don’t read it if you have a weak stomach.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
In a post-apocalyptic world in what was once North America, the evil Capitol gathers one young man and one young woman from each of twelve districts to compete in the annual fight to the death called The Hunger Games. Written for young adults but with fans of all ages and both sexes, I figured this would be a good way to loosen up on my reading choices and I was right. The book has an original plot line, dynamic characters, and good (but not excellent) writing and I liked it more than I thought I would and as much as I hoped I would.
Read it if the premise sounds even a little interesting to you, or you need to be less of a curmudgeon in your reading selections.
Don’t read it if light and fluffy is your standard reading fare and you cringe at the mildest of graphic descriptions.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Non-fiction exploration of what allows people to succeed, but not how to succeed. The subtitle sums it up pretty well. It’s an interesting read, almost engrossing, and easy to follow. Unlike Gladwell’s other books, I feel like he sticks to the topic at all times in this one. Read it for a book club.
Read it if the back sounds interesting to you, or you need a break from longer or more serious reading.
Don’t read it if you only care for fiction.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The Civil War staple that made Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler classic characters in American fiction. Amazingly unlike the movie in many details, it’s truly an epic tale that spans time and distance while never wandering aimlessly. Like The Help, it is incredibly impressive for a first book.
Read it if you like Scarlett, Rhett, the movie, the Civil War, or sweeping epics.
Don’t read it if none of the above apply to you.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
The classic story of what happens when the smart, creative, productive people all disappear from society, allowing the world as they know it to implode. While it’s an interesting concept and mostly a very well-written book, it could stand to be 2/3 the length it is, although the Ayn Rand Society or whatever its called won’t stand for that.
Read it if your book club picked it or you have always felt like you should.
Don’t read it if you are even a little wary–you’ll never pick up a book again.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
A recent college graduate and aspiring journalist collaborates with the town’s black maids on a book of real-life stories about working for the local white families. Set in 1960s Mississippi and told flawlessly from three different first-person points of view, the book was inspired in part by the author’s own experience and is brilliantly written, particularly for a first book.
Read it if you’re looking for a smart, engrossing read that lasts longer than a weekend. It’s also a good gift book.
Don’t read it if you dislike stories told from different points of view or need to get up early for something.
Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan by Del Quentin Wilber
The play-by-play of the day of and the days following the assassination attempt on President Reagan in 1981, gathered from a variety of meticulously researched sources. The quality of the writing and the pace of the narrative made the book all too short.
Read it if you like true stories that read like thrillers or have an interest in political history even just a little.
Don’t read it if you have no tolerance for graphic descriptions of physical or mental distress.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Fiction is almost never my first choice for something to read but this book, which I chose for my book club to read one month, is simply stunning. Loosely based on actual events, its a compelling story with brilliant writing and nuance that I haven’t seen in much other writing.
Read it if you have eyes, or can find the Braille copy.
Don’t read it if you think Twilight is good literature.
Wait for Me! Memoirs by Deborah Mitford, Duchess of DevonshireI wanted to read this book since it was released and when I found it on the New In Paperback! table at Barnes and Noble, I realized that good things come (out in paperback) to those who wait. The youngest Mitford sister (Google them) tells her side of the story and includes super interesting photographs of rather famous personalities to boot.
Read it if you like memoirs, British nobility, know who the Mitfords were, or have a big family.
Don’t read it if you get bored easily or don’t like history.
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
So this is who we named the dog after. A privileged, educated young German man who grew up in a moral but non-religious home and eventually became a Christian and giant of 20th century theology and paid for his role in the anti-Nazi, anti-Hitler movement with his life. (No, that doesn’t ruin anything. Read the subtitle on the book.)
Read it if you like history, are fascinated by the anti-Hitler efforts within Germany during WWII, enjoy theology and its modern development, or want to learn something new.
Don’t read it if you get bored easily.
The Spellman Series by Lisa LutzI reviewed this series as a freelance book reviewer and will now quote myself:
‘in a culture where books sell…or get uploaded to e-readers…because the New York Times tells us they’re good, the Spellman series truly has good old-fashioned great writing on its side. Dialogue is witty, characters are real and develop throughout the series, and the story lines are original every time…’
Read it if you like smart writing, imperfect characters, unpredictable plot twists, and families that actually gets along.
Don’t read it if you get annoyed with bad decisions or multiple plot lines.