By Carole Reedy
Many books on this list were not new in 2018, but rather those that caught my eye due to a recent event, a subject matter that intrigued me, or simply a recommendation from a friend. Some of my favorite authors are on this list. As you may know, I tend to read all the books an author has written if I feel the writer gives us food for thought in a daring style. Plus, the longer the book, the more satisfying! Here are my selections with a few comments on each.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
“A 468-page book about a man who lives in a Moscow hotel during Stalin’s reign? No way!” That was the common reaction when I relayed the central theme of this novel to friends. A man and his post-revolution environment, culture, relationships, and desires mixed with a bit of Russian history makes for one of the most charming reads of our time. I, too, resisted at first but was glad in the end that I listened to the recommendation of an editor-friend. Don’t wait to read this one!
Four books by Lionel Shriver.
Since I couldn’t choose just one from the four that I read this year. I’d been impressed by Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, published several years ago, so I decided to sample some of her other novels. Shriver is strong on developing a solid plot combined with animated characterization, as well as possessing a wicked sense of humor.
·Property. A collection of novellas and short stories about property: a look at its role in our lives and the control it exercises over us.
·So Much For That. Perhaps my favorite book of the year. The story of two couples and their ups and downs in the present day, with a delightful ending after the years of seemingly endless modern-day struggles that Shriver so astutely describes in spot-on detail.
·Big Brother. As the title implies, the novel centers around a woman’s relationship with her brother. Shriver, as always, surprises us with her literary twists in plot and action.
·A Perfectly Good Family. The story of three siblings after the death of their parents, the central plot dealing with decisions about what to do with the family home.
Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
The writing is pristine in this saga of a Jewish family told from the perspective of the great grandfather, grandfather, parents, and children. Each voice is distinct, credible, and quite entertaining. I understood each character’s concerns and rationalizations.
The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
I was probably one of the few members of my 22-person book club who had not read Winchester’s 1998 classic. What a delightful surprise I had in store! It’s a beautiful interweaving of the history of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary and two of its main contributors—indeed, a professor and a madman.
Flaneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London by Lauren Elkin
Charles Baudelaire first presented a portrait of the flaneur to us in the 19th century, the term coming from the Old Norse flana, which means to wander with no purpose. Edmund White first introduced me to the concept of “flaneuring” with his descriptive long essay The Flaneur: A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris (2015). The realization that my love of walking and observing actually had a name attached to it sparked my interest in this new book by Elkin, who takes the idea a step further by shifting the gender to include women, thus the flaneuse. Elkin takes us to a variety of cities where she and other famous women explore their environments, both inward and outward.
The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers
Dave Eggers is one of the men I admire most in our world. In addition to being an entertaining writer, Eggers is the founder of McSweeney’s independent publishing house; publisher of a nonprofit organization, Voice of Witness, which puts out a book series that uses oral history to illuminate human rights crises around the world; and co-founder of 826 National, a network of youth writing and tutoring centers around the United States. Eggers’ books nearly always delve into present-day human nature, injustice, and challenges. This latest is the story of a Yemeni American whose desire is to introduce the coffee beans found in Yemen (the best in the world, he claims) to the US. As with many of Eggers’ books dealing with individual struggle, the profits from sales are donated to correspondingly related organizations.
The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington by Johanna Morehead
Those of us who live in Mexico have great interest in famous ex-pats, and Leonora Carrington is among those at the top of the list. Her adventurous and rebellious life, from her rejection of a British aristocratic family and travels through World War II Europe with artist Max Ernst to her work as a surrealist painter in Mexico, makes fascinating reading. This version is especially significant and credible since it is written by a distant cousin who spent a considerable amount of time with Carrington in the years before her death in 2011 at age 94.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
Who else hasn’t read this book? Inspired by a short book called The Trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by Sybille Bedford, I was compelled to read the novel itself, which I somehow missed in my youth. Lawrence’s usual descriptive prose, engaging plot and progressive point of view ensures this classic will continue to be to be read and reread for many years. The reasons for the refusal of editorial houses to publish the book seem insipid now. The book’s intrinsic beauty assures its status as a literary classic.
The Great American Novel by Philip Roth
The death of Philip Roth in May 2018 sent me to my bookshelves to find a book of his I hadn’t read. The reader definitely needs to be a baseball fan to appreciate the humor and sarcasm behind this 1973 novel, decidedly set in the US political climate of the time. As always, Roth doesn’t disappoint.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
When I heard the announcement that a novel and author about whom I knew nothing had won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, I immediately downloaded it onto my iPad, started reading, and didn’t stop. This is the story of a middle-aged writer and his travels, relationships, successes, and failures, as well as his struggle to understand his path and place in the world. Greer’s talent lies in the poignant description of the main character, accompanied by a well-paced plot that takes the reader to many cities across the globe.
Looking forward to many great reads in 2019. Happy new year!