Top Ten Books of 2017

Top10-2-300x300David Letterman may not have known what he was starting with his top ten list; this Sunday the New York Times not only identified their top ten books of the year, Blake Wilson also wrote “The Top 10 Things About Top 10 Lists” for the second page of the paper.

I’ve read three of the five on the fiction list – and concur – great books.  One I do not plan to read, but will defer from naming it to avoid influencing you.  I may look for the other one.

Since I rarely read nonfiction, I’ve added 5 from my reading this year to round out the list.

New York Times Top 10 Books for 2017

Fiction

  1. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – (informative) read my review here   
  2. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  3. The Power by Naomi Alderman (timely) – read my review here  
  4. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  5. Autumn (read but not reviewed) by Ali Smith

Five More I Would Nominate

  1. Dunbar by Edward St. Albyn
  2. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  3. Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
  4. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
  5. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Have you read any of them? What would you add to the list?

 

 

 

 

 

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Picture Books

This year, for the first time in their 65 years of identifying the best illustrated children’s books for the year,  the New York Times partnered with the New York Public Library.  The books range from informative historical notes to mesmerizing introspection.  I found one in my local library, and ordered two for my shelf – a Christmas present to myself.
51Q0bHbJwzL._AC_US218_My favorite is Feather written and illustrated by Remi Courgeon, about a feisty girl who learns how to box to defend herself from bullies.  After she wins a match, she returns to her first love – playing Mozart on the piano.

518znkdSPNL._AC_US218_      In Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin’s King of the Sky, a racing homing pigeon and an old man help a lost immigant boy from Italy finally feel at home in the United States.

51JvlVhTAPL._SX352_BO1,204,203,200_  In Beatrice Alemagna’s On a Magical Do-Nothing Day, a little girl is sent outside to play on a rainy day.  After she accidentally loses her handheld video game, she discovers the wonders of the world around her.

The Ten Best Illustrated Books of 2017

        from the New York Times and the New York Public Library

  1. Muddy: The story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters 
  2. Ruth Bader Ginsberg: The Case of R.B.G vs Inequality
  3. Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos
  4. On a Magical Do-Nothing Day
  5. The Way Home in the Night
  6. King of the Sky
  7. Town Is By the Sea
  8. A River
  9. Plume
  10. Feather

 

Sourdough: A Novel

51lUUj3WwAL._AC_US218_    Robin Sloan’s Sourdough had me craving for bread as I read the adventurous tale of a young computer geek turned baker.

Although the dough itself is the main character in the novel, Lois Clary expedites its coming of age.  The dough grows from a lump in a crock owned by two undocumented cooks with a take-out business who leave town quickly, to a starring role in a futuristic farmer’s market of experimental foods.  Along the way, Computer Lois finds her calling and is able to use her expertise programming industrial robot arms to streamline the process of baking loaves of bread.

Most of the story is tantalizingly fun, but some conflict is created by the challenge between eating for pleasure and feeding the masses.  It’s Alice Waters vs the scientists, home-grown tomatoes vs nutritious Slurry.  The ending gets a little wild – as yeasty dough can get if left unattended, as Sloan tries to accommodate old world with new age in a strange marriage of breadcrumbs.

This is a book for all the senses: the yeasty smell of the starter dough percolating in its crock; the sounds of the background music motivating the sourdough starter as it whistles and pops through the night; the taste of soft bread in a crispy crust smothered in butter with a sprinkling of salt; the sight of the strange markings on the baked crust, possibly channeling the Madonna on a potato chip; and, finally the squeeze of the dough kneaded into the final heft of a crusty loaf.  You will need some good bread nearby to eat as you read, preferably one with character.

My favorite scene was Lois teaching the robot arm to crack an egg.  Cracking an egg, one-handed, is no easy feat.  Julia Child made it look simple, but have you ever tried it?  One of my favorite elements of satire is the idea of losing weight eating only bread (Oprah, take note – no bad carbs here).  The story spoofs the modern and the conventional – a Lois Club for women named Lois, the nutritive gel replacing real food, the strangely isolating workplace environment, the identify of the mysterious benefactor.

Sourdough, like the bread, has more heft than first appears.  Sloan has filled it with mysterious and satisfying ingredients; let your senses fill up while you read and enjoy.  I plan to bake some bread today.

Related:

A friend was listening to the book on Audible while I was reading it on my iPhone.  When she described how the author incorporated the sounds of the starter dough as it morphed as well as the baker’s music into the reading of the book, it made me want to listen to it.  We also started sharing bread recipes.  I’ve included one of my favorites – here.

A Look Back at Book Club Picks

Unknown  When I was coordinating a book club years ago, I tried unsuccessfully to incorporate the discussion into my online site – posting reviews of current club picks, encouraging comments from readers. Sadly, not many members used computers to communicate – about books, anyway.  Undaunted, I have posted the year’s picks of the group annually, and it has become a popular click for the curious.  Although it goes back to 2009, someone recently accessed the slate for 2012 – so that’s where I started – and ended with this year’s selections.

The Book Club Slate for 2012 included one of my favorite books – Jane Gardam’s Old Filth, and a reminder of how long Ann Patchett has been popular with State of Wonder on the list.  Skipping over to the Book Club Picks for 2015, I was reminded of my introduction to Maria Semple in Where’s You Go Bernadette?  and Hector Tobar with The Barbarian Nurseries. In The 2016 Club Picks, Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train demonstrated the range of books discussed.  Last year  brought back Ann Patchett with Commonwealth.  The slate for 2018 has one of my favorites – Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow.  

Are any of these on your book club list this year?

2018 Book Club Picks

Monthly Meetings (except November and December)

  1. Handling Sin by Michael Malone
  2. The Hynotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty
  3. Small Great Things by Jody Picoult
  4. The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman
  5. Midnight in Broad Daylight by Pamela Rotner Sakamoto
  6. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
  7. The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
  8. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
  9. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  10. American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee

Another Book Club Plans for Half Year at a Time:

  1. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith
  2. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
  3. My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
  4. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian/Between the World and Me by Sherman Alexie/Ta-Nehisi Coates
  5. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by Maria Rosa Menocal

 

Dunbar – King Lear As Media Mogul

51xZlUBbLOL._SX307_BO1,204,203,200_ Greed, betrayal, lust, murder, sibling rivalry, and jealousy – St. Aubyn’s Dunbar shows how Shakespeare is still relevant. Edward St. Aubyn’s Hogarth Shakespeare update of King Lear channels today’s headlines, with the wealthy children salivating at their chance to control the money of their paternal media mogul.  If you remember your Shakespeare, one good soul tries to rise above the fray, but Florence has no more luck reining in her two sisters than Cordelia had with Regan and Goneril in King Lear.

This is a tragedy with the expectation of dead bodies littering the stage at the end, but St. Aubyn manages to create hope that the billionaire mogul who had been imprisoned in an isolated sanitarium while his two daughters conspire in a company takeover, will prevail.  The eighty year old’s escape into the snowy hills has traces of the St. Aubyn witty banter, sustaining the delusion, and when Florence comes to the rescue in a helicopter and later in her Gulfstream jet, it seems all will be well.   If you don’t remember your reading of Lear, I won’t spoil your anticipation, but St. Aubyn manages to make the ending realistic in today’s terms.

Of all the Hogarth translations into contemporary settings, this is my favorite.  St. Aubyn has chronicled the life of privilege in his Patrick Melrose novels across five novels, one a Man Booker finalist, and I can think of no one better to expose the painful flaws of  the wealthy, including frustrated power and familial resentment.  Rupert Murdoch – beware.

It would be fun to dissect St. Aubyn’s version of an old, powerful man losing everything and match it to Shakespeare’s play, but, if you only read the novel as is, St. Aubyn makes a sad tale enjoyable.