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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In the Midst of Winter

51lKIT-x2jL._SY346_     In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende is a wild ride in the middle of a snowstorm to dispose of a dead body in the trunk of a Lexus. The life stories of Lucia, Evelyn, and Richard as they tell each other about their past are more compelling than their adventure.

At the end of the ebook on my iPhone, I found  a summary for the reading group guide  – I could not have said it any better.

“A blizzard in New York City brings together three strikingly different people, each burdened with a difficult past. Lucia, an aging Chilean writer who has survived political exile, disease, and betrayal, is marooned with her dog in a basement apartment in Brooklyn. Richard, an academic chairman at NYU, is a broken man haunted by guilt for his fatal failures as a husband and father. And Evelyn, a brave young Guatemalan woman, is an undocumented home health aide who fled her native country due to gang violence, which claimed the lives of her two brothers and very nearly destroyed her own.

Over the course of several days, these three—each a misfit in a different way—are forced by circumstances into a rare level of intimacy. As the result of a shocking crime, they depart on a precarious epic journey that reveals their painful inner demons and ultimately enables them to forge a tentative peace with their pasts.”

My favorite quotes from the book:

  • {Despite the} “atrocious weather, fleas, food poisoning, his ulcer, and his own and the moose’s shit,” Richard falls in love with Lucia.

  • From Albert Camus: “In the midst of winter, I finally found there was within me an invincible summer. ”

And, I found Lucia’s recipe for  comforting Chilean cazuela – homemade stew made with beef, potato, pumpkin and corn on the cob – click here to see it.

Allende cleverly connects immigration, political turmoil and history, family loyalty, and cultural divides, through a murder mystery.  The murder with the disposal of the dead body in the trunk of a car in the middle of a snowstorm and the revelation of whodunit at the end is almost an aside to the harrowing backstories of the three who become friends under strained circumstances.   Despite the confusing jumps back and forth through lives and times,  the journey of the three disparate lives, as they reveal their backgrounds, is the real story, providing important history and information; the murder plot and the final reveal of whodunit is secondary.

Pachinko

Unknown  Far into this saga of a Korean family in Japan, Min Jin Lee offers the reason for naming her book – Pachinko – for a popular Japanese pinball gambling game:

“Mozasu believed life was like this game where the player could adjust the dials yet also expect the uncertainty of factors he couldn’t control…something that looked fixed but which also left room for randomness and hope.”

Across four generations of Koreans, Min Jin Lee follows the history of Korea as it struggles through poverty, sublimation under Japanese rule, and the famous war dividing the country as it is today.  Nominated for the National Book Award, Pachinko captivates the reader with its characters while revealing their long and continuing effort for freedom and prosperity.

The timeline begins in Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 20th century, continues to Japan before World War II and finally to the late 1980s in Japan.. The novel opens with an arranged marriage in a fishing village in what would be South Korea today.  The one daughter from the marriage, Sunja, is the continuing fulcrum for the story of her progeny.  When Sunja falls in love with a prominent and older married mobster, Hansu,  she becomes pregnant.  After declining Hansu’s offer to be his Korean mistress, she accepts the offer of marriage from a local Presbyterian minister from the North visiting her parents’ boarding house.    She escapes her disgrace by marrying him and immigrating to his brother’s house in an ethnic Korean neighborhood in Osaka, Japan.  Throughout the novel, Hansu’s influence acts as a counterbalance.  His world of gambling seems innocuous until an incident reveals his cruelty and mobster power against anyone who crosses him.

Koreans in Japan were noncitizens, forced to change their names and regularly reapply for passports within a country where they might have been born.  Discrimination against them ranged from outright hostility to snobbish avoidance.  Sonja’s sons do not escape being ostracized; Noa, the son of the gangster and first in his family with a university education, yearns to be Japanese, his younger brother, Mozasu never seems to attain social status despite his wealth and connections.  Both sons eventually become pachinko house managers.

As time goes on, with each generation trying for a better life than their parents, the world changes but prejudicial attitudes seem to remain.  The last hope for equality among peers seems to be with Soloman, Sunja’s grandson, an American educated banker who has a promising career with a Japanese bank.  But not all is as it seems.   Sadly yet hopefully, Min Jin Lee ends the saga, true to her words:

“…life’s going to keep pushing you around, but you have to keep playing…”

The author successfully reveals the complicated state of Koreans in Japan, covering difficult topics from the yakuza, immigration, and real estate deals to personal views of expatriate life, religion, and, of course, the pachinko industry.    A book of substance and introspection, Pachinko is a story worth reading and discussing; this reader will never make the mistake of forgetting the history and individualism of Asians.

 

Man Booker Prize 2017

9780812995343_p0_v2_s192x300   220px-The_Man_Booker_Prize_2015_logoLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is the winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize.

Not an easy read but a worthwhile immersion into the mind of Lincoln as he tried to manage a country in conflict and, at the same time, his grief over the death of his young son.

Have you read it yet?

Read My Review – here

Degrees of Separation

Using a fellow writer’s suggestion of six degrees of separation connecting books, authors, and articles, I started with the travel section of the New York Times and found 1) an artist, who led to 2) an author, 3) a new book, 4) a reminder of a novel reviewed, 5) an obituary, and ended with 6) a slight deviation off course to books on psychology.
content   Starting with Suzanne MacNeil’s description of Vancouver Island’s lush beauty, I found Canadian artist Emily Carr, whose famous work documented the beauty of the region.  Her book Klee Wyck (“Laughing One”) was published in 1941 to document her efforts to sketch and paint the totem poles found on the Queen Charlotte Islands.

“And, who, you might ask is Emily Carr?…Painter, writer, admirer of forests and totem poles…environmentalist before the word was popular…an ardently independent woman at a time when women weren’t necessarily applauded for striking out on their own…Besides the statue and all the things named after her, including a university in Vancouver, she has been the subject of biographies, films and a novel (by an American, no less — the late Susan Vreeland). “

fl-cover-2-200   I wondered about the mention of a novel based on the artist,  and found Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland, historical fiction based on Carr’s life as a Canadian artist.  The book includes some of Carr’s paintings.  Had I read anything by Susan Vreeland? Why did her name sound familiar? A quick search led me to my review of Clara and Mr. Tiffany. 225x225bb   MacNeil referred to the author as “the late Susan Vreeland”?  Her recent obituary from this past August noted her breakout novel in 1999 – The Girl in Hyacinth Blue, and another I’d read – Lisette’s List.

51ZfXSH8Y-L._AC_US218_  MacNeil described Carr as “an ardently independent woman at a time when women weren’t necessarily applauded for striking out on their own…” diverting me to Penelope Green’s article in the Style section on Gretchen Rubin’s new book The Four Tendencies.   Rubin’s theory proposes that everone falls into one of four personality types (the new Myers Briggs categorization), depending on their answers to a short quiz asking how they respond to expectations.   I wondered how Emily Carr fit into Rubin’s classifications. Would Emily Carr be a Questioner, an Upholder, an Obliger, or a Rebel? Maybe a little of the first and last, or maybe leaning to the label I received after taking Rubin’s test – Questioner.

51np2MaD5FL._AC_US218_  Rubin’s mention of the Harry Potter sorting hat led to Carol Dweck’s Mindset, a book advising readers of their possibilities when they change their view about themselves – “rigid thinking benefits no one, least of all yourself.”  According to Dweck, everyone has the ability to change their minds about what they can do and who they are, no matter what the personality test label or the sorting hat has identified them as,  and Bill Gates’s review of the book offered more insights.

The article in the Style section was right above an article by Gabrielle Zevin. Hadn’t I just read snd reviewed her new book Young Jane Young? This article had a funny and inviting title – The Secret to Marriage is Never Getting Married.

And so I ended my degrees quest connecting with:

  1. Klee Wyck by Emily Carr
  2. Forest Lover Fby Susan Vreeland
  3. Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
  4. The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin
  5. Mindset  by Carol Dweck
  6. The Secret to Marriage is Not Getting Married by Gabrielle Zevin

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