Bibliophile recounts favorite books of year

Got books? If you were me, the answer would be, “Ohhh, yeah!” Shelves of them, in fact. Over the last 52 weeks,  here are some of the better choices I read, in no particular order:

Fiction

I’m not sure why, but I couldn’t stop touching “I Will Send Rain” by Rae Meadows when I first got it. The cover pulled at me, but the story? Oh, my. It’s the tale of a family of four during the Dust Bowl years. The mother, Annie Bell, is trying desperately to hold her family together while her daughter dreams a dangerous dream. Her son is mute, and her husband slowly goes mad. There’s a surprise in here, a fifth main character, and that’s the dust. Do. Not. Miss. This. Book.

Not normally a big fan of fictionalized biographies, “Mrs. Houdini” by Victoria Kelly nonetheless captivated me with its magic. It’s a tale of love and illusion, believing and trust, and it includes a gauzy ending that might seem implausible, but who knows?  Hint: If you can bear it, save your gift card. This book comes out in paperback in March.

Generally speaking, I’ll read anything by Emma Donoghue. She has a way of turning a tiny, true event into a novel that sticks in your head, and “The Wonder” is no exception. It’s the story of a very confident, almost haughty nurse who served with Florence Nightingale and seems to think that stint confers some sort of specialness. When she’s hired to watch a child who claims not to eat or drink, the nurse thinks the girl is a scammer — but, of course, there’s so much more to the story and an ending that’s so perfect, it’s stunning. Write this title down. It’s another book you can’t miss.

A vision of the apocalypse is at root in “The Fireman” by Joe Hill. It’s a novel about a virus that’s infected the world, and if you catch it, you burn; poof, up in flames. It’s pitting neighbor against neighbor and husband against wife. There’s a surprising romance in this book, thrills, a chase and humor, with shades of Hill’s father, legendary horror author Stephen King, in here.

For my fifth pick, I debated: “Britt-Marie Was Here” or “And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer,” both by Fredrik Backman. I finally decided on the latter, the story of life and loss, forgetting and trying hard not to. But here’s the thing to know: the first go-around won’t make much sense. Turn around and read it again — it’s really short, so no problem — and bring tissues that time. It’s truly a lovely book.

Hint: “Britt-Marie”is a close – very close –second pick.

Nonfiction

As I was looking over the list of things I read, I was surprised to remember how much I enjoyed “Neither Snow nor Rain” by Devin Leonard. Overall, this book is about the U.S. Postal Service and its history. The thing that makes this book so much fun, though, is that Leonard also includes so many side-stories that it becomes more of a general history that’s light and fun. Fans of Bill Bryson, take note.

Another book that’s informative and a little on the light side is “Playing Dead” by Elizabeth Greenwood. I mean, how many times a week does the average person wish they could chuck it all and disappear somewhere?  Greenwood looks into that: how it’s done, what it’s like, and the impacts it has on loved ones. You might change your mind. Or you might want to disappear even more.

As a Baby Boomer, “They Left Us Every­thing” by Plum Johnson particularly resonated with me, which is why it really has to be on this list. Johnson’s parents were both elderly and had lived in their oversized house for decades. When they died relatively close in time, Johnson and her brothers were tasked with cleaning up, but not just the house. They also had memories to examine and scrub. This is a book for daughters, particularly, but also for anyone who’s facing the downsizing of a home or end-of-life caretaking.

In a political year, you might guess that an abundance of political books might be published. My pick for the best in that category is “Nixon’s Gamble” by Ray Locker, who takes a brief look at Nixon’s early career before digging into the moves that the President made, starting on the day of his inauguration. Even if you think you know what happened nearly half a century ago, you don’t. For history lovers of any age, this is an eye-opener.

I don’t think I would have liked “Another Day in the Death of America” by Gary Younge quite as much if it had been laser-focused. Nope, Younge took one random day in recent years, and he writes about the 10 children who died of gunshot wounds in the U.S. on that day. It’s that randomness that’s so shocking, especially when you consider the statistic he cites: an average of seven children die by gun every day in America — and the circumstances Younge found make this book more impactful.

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