Almost two months into the new year, it’s past time to take stock of what I read last year, and to share some gems in fiction and non-fiction. Looks like this will take two posts, though, so let’s start with fiction.
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
A professor of linguistics in her fifties and her family confront a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimers. I could identify with Alice, and asked myself more than once if I would pass the memory test her doctor uses to test Alice’s memory. Could I, after five minutes or so, recall and restate the name, occupation, and address of an arbitary person with no significance in my life at all, given to me only orally? The answer to that question has frightened me since I read the book and saw the movie. Julianne Moore won an Oscar for her portrayal of Alice. In the novel, Alice’s agency with respect to her illness builds hope and meaning for herself and others afflicted with the disease; the movie, though, ends gripped in stark reality. Read and view with caution.
A masterful storyteller who creates memorable and complex characters involved in unpredictable intrigue, Regina’s Gail Bowen is always a good read. I look forward to the ongoing events in the life of her heroine, Joann Kilbourn.
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Gallagher
A senior teacher of English I met in a workshop I facilitated recommended this book to me, and it did not disappoint. After twenty-two people in a bread line in Sarajevo die in a mortar shell attack, a cellist performs the same piece of music in the square every afternoon, despite the real threat of death by sniper, to honor each of the victims. The story is even more relevant in the current political context, as we witness virulent polarization of ideas, and as people value their individual ideologies more than solutions and the good of their country. See my piece on this novel from October 2015.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
This American young adult novel takes up the racial issues that arise when a white police officer assaults Rashad, an African-American youth he (unjustly) suspects of shoplifting. Quinn, a member of Rashad’s basketball team, becomes involved when he witnesses the beating and realizes that the police officer is his best friend’s big brother.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer
This Pulitzer-prize winner recounts the story of a blind Jewish girl in Nazi-occupied France. Yes, the story is captivating; it’s the language, however, that mesmerizes me. Example: “His voice is low and soft, a piece of silk you might keep in a drawer and pull out only on rare occasions, just to feel it between your fingers.”
La femme au carnet rouge (The Red Notebook) by Antoine Laurain
When I saw the title recommended in an email from Kobo, I thought I would rather read in French than use a translation. What a delightful experience! The language is poetic and original, yet accessible. What can happen when a woman’s purse is stolen? This simple plot springboard becomes a complex character study and love story.
Le chapeau de Mittérand (The President’s Hat) by Antoine Laurain
French author Antoine Laurain once more weaves an insightful tale about human motivation and the factors that support achievement. What if you found yourself in a restaurant booth across from François Mittérand (president of France 1981 – 1995), and the latter forgot his hat when he left? What if you took the hat? Another simple premise drives a very intricate tale.
I will highight professional reads and non-fiction in the next post.