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Readers & Writers: Winter Reading Call-in

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Our annual holiday and winter reading list call-in. Hosted by Ellen Rocco, Chris Robinson and John Ernst, the show solicits listeners suggestions for great books--new and classic--for gift-giving or deep winter reading. If you'd like to share more suggestions, use the comment form below or, email ellen@ncpr.org.

The list is complete. Well, for now. Here's wishing you enough wintry weather to justify reading as much as you want to without feeling guilty.

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Follow this link to the NY Times 100 Notable Books of 2010 List.

National Book Award winners for 2010:

Non-fiction-  Just Kids, Patti Smith

Fiction- Lord of Misrule, Jaimy Gordon

Poetry- Lighthead, Terrance Hayes

Young Adult- Mockingbird, Kathryn Erskine

FROM OUR STAFF AND LISTENERS:

John Ernst, Elk Lake/NYC, call-in co-host

The big discovery in my reading life recently is Maile Meloy. I started with Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It — a dazzling short story collection that was on last years's New York Times 10 best list. Most of the stories take place in Montana and they have something of the edge of Annie Proulx's Wyoming stories and Richard Ford's Montana stories.

I then moved on to an earlier Meloy novel — Liars and Saints. This is an absolutely astonishing piece of work, a slight 260 pages that covers 50 years and four generations of a Catholic family living (mostly) in California from the time of World War ll to the millennium.

Having been thinking of Annie Proulx, I went back and managed to find a collection I had missed in the past, Heart Songs and Other Stories. The stories are set in Chipping County, a New England working class environment where most residents are hanging on by their fingernails. For me, reading the first sentence of a Proulx story triggers a kind of addiction; I can't stop until I come to the end.

Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem. This novel, winner of the National Book Critic Circle Award when it was published 11 years ago, is a glorious romp. Motherless Brooklyn is the collective name of four dead-end kids, who have been co-opted by a small-time hoodlum. The main figure among the boys, Lionel Essrog, is a victim of Tourette's Syndrome, and his obsessive touching, tapping and explosive, inappropriate outtbursts lend a constant tension (and humor) to the narrative. The book is a knowing, effective and dead-on take-off on Phillip Marlowe noir detective novels.

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel. 2009 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I'm not usually a great admirer of historical fiction, but Hilary Mantel made me forget all about that prejudice. From the first scene, in which young Thomas Cromwell is beaten bloody and nearly blinded by his drunken oaf of a father, I was under the spell. One of the things Mantel does surpassingly well is the layering of particularity of detail—the smells and sounds and looks and feelings that bring the early 16th century to life. Even the weather seems to play a role in the chronicle of events. Mantel completely overturns the conventional view of Thomas Cromwell as a crafty schemer and rebel. Here we see Cromwell as an indefatigable worker, a brilliant politician, a master strategist and a man of high moral standard and great human sympathy.

Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes, Stephen Sondheim. For anyone interested in the development of musical theatre this book is a joy and a necessity. Over the past fifty years or so, since 1954, Stephen Sondheim has dominated the field like a colossus. He first appeared as the lyricist of West Side Story and then of Gypsy. Later he made history with shows for which he was the composer, as well—shows like Company, A Little Night Music, follies, and Sweeney Todd—all included here. These are the brilliant lyrics and illuminating notes by a man who is articulate, smart, critical and, let's admit it, a genius.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Massim Nicholas Taleb. This is a book I read when it first appeared several years ago. I found it fascinating but mistakenly assumed it would not appeal to many general readers. It is now on many paperback best-seller lists which proves how wrong I was. Taleb combines mathematics and philosophy to examine "black swans"—highly improbable events that are unpredictable, have huge consequences, and, after the fact, lead to explanations that make them SEEM explainable. A stock market crash or an earthquake are examples of negative black swans. The success of Google is an example of a positive black swan. Taleb writes in a completely non-technical, highly entertaining way, replete with jokes, interesting anecdotes, and clear examples to punch up his text. What is so unusual about this book is that it actually tells you something new about the world.

The Good Soldiers, David Finkel. The author is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and a Washington Post editor. This is his account of the formation and launching of an 800-soldier battalion (the 2-16) led by a God-fearing, relentlessly patriotic and positive-thinking Lt. Colonel named Ralph Kauzlarich (later to become known to some of his men as "the lost kauz). Finkel follows the 2-16 from Fort Riley, Kansas to a particularly ugly and dangerous outpost in Eastern Iraq—Rustimayah—as part of George W. Bush's surge in April 2007. In the face of the Lt. Colonol's continual pronouncement of "it's all good," the killing and dismemberment of his troops continues for 15 terrible months. Finally, with the death toll at 14 and many more injured and maimed, the troops of the 2-16 return to Fort Riley. Few would honestly answer that the mission has been a success.

The Master, Colm Toibin. This is a stunningly complex and successful piece of work. It is a novel about Henry James that might have been written by Henry James. Toibin is unerring in capturing the patrician world of Cambridge and Newport, where Henry and William James and their sister, Alice, grew up and became friends with people like Oliver Wendell Holmes and William Dean Howells. The book coaxed me back to re-reading James, which after college, I never imagined I would do.

Ellen Rocco, NCPR station manager, call-in co-host

I'm going to shout out about Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes, a novel about Vietnam from the perspective of a Marine grunt.

Just finished a new collection of poems by a long-time favorite, W.D. Ehrhart, The Bodies Beneath the Table. Actually a perfect companion to Matterhorn. While not a collection centered on Vietnam, all of Ehrhart poetry is shaped and colored by his experience as a Marine in Vietnam.

Tinkers, Paul Harding. This won the Pulitzer for fiction last year. A novel of interwoven and convoluted perspectives but somehow moving and subtley observant. Mixed reviews from my colleagues, but I liked it a lot.

Insectopedia, Hugh Raffles. Yes, an encyclopedia of insects—chock full of interesting information and humor.

Endangered Alphabets, Tim Brookes. A beautiful essay in a beautifully produced book. If you love written language—not just for the knowledge it holds and communicates but for the physical beautiful of alphabets—this is a treasure.

Chris Robinson, Clarkson University, call-in co-host

I’m writing a book now that requires me to read deeply and intensely in the fields of economics, ecology, and environmental political theory.  Two of these fields are well outside my comfort zone, and I’m struggling to write clearly about them both. The scholar’s tendency is to focus attention on work like this. But as soon as I allow this kind of reading to monopolize my time, I find my ability to think creatively impaired. There is only one remedy for this symptom of focused staleness: reading fiction, poetry, and nonfiction works that have nothing to do with the project.  I think about this relation between reading-as-work and reading-for-pleasure a lot. By the end of a typical work day, I have been reading, staring at the computer screen, and talking to students about their reading in philosophy and political science for hours. My brain starts to flat-line.  But this is really a form of craving for something different to read that takes me into a story, or informs me of something in the world that I don’t know about.  The result?  Reading at night washes over me like a refreshing wave, and I feel my batteries recharge. Isn’t this the best part of reading that we need to pass onto our children and grandchildren?

Nonfiction and Memoir

Nelson Mandela, Conversations with Myself.  Reading this autobiographical study constructed from correspondence, bits of recorded conversation, and an unpublished prison memoir is to place yourself in the presence of one of the most important political figures of the last two centuries. What I found most important in this book were Mandela’s reflections on his own political strategies from the late forties to the present.  This included a turn toward adherence to violence as a means to overthrow an unjust government and a turn toward nonviolence that does not involve a repudiation of violence.  This transition reveals Mandela to be reflective on the demands of a just life, and a far more spiritual person than I thought he was.

Patti Smith, Just Kids.  I damn near wept when I heard that this book won the National Book Award. Smith’s memoir is a moving tribute to both her relationship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and to the early struggle of every genuine artist to find their voice. This is a book that reads like poetry, evokes life in Manhattan in the early seventies, and presents an emotionally-fraught portrait of a loving and supportive relationship that formed the foundation of two remarkable, creative lives.

Sarah Blackwell, How to Live: A Life of Montaigne.  Yes, a lot of what counts as “real” philosophy is hopelessly abstract. But there is a line of philosophical authors, beginning with Michel de Montaigne, who addressed issues vital to human life. Montaigne’s Essays have been bestsellers for centuries. In this book, Sarah Blackwell brings the writings and life of Montaigne together in such intense and lively prose that the skeptical philosopher can speak to the contemporary age as a contemporary himself.  Every chapter is a life lesson that can change you.

Orhan Pamuk, Other Colors.  If you love Pamuk’s Nobel Prize winning novels, then you will find that he is just as interesting writing about other people’s writing, politics, and the arts of writing and reading.  To me, Pamuk represents the excitement of Istanbul and life along the Occident/Oriental divide. 

Terry Castle, The Professor and Other Writings.  A few years ago, I read Castle’s memoir of her friendship with Susan Sontag in a magazine. I thought it terrifically funny and began to search out other writings. Most of these turned out to be very academic. But this collection is just great. Castle writes evocatively about her sexuality, relationships, and her mother in these essays (that includes the Sontag piece).

Cornel West, Brother West.  I remember thinking while watching and admiring Bill Marr’s film “Religuous” that I wished he had interviewed Cornel West.  West is an adherent to “prophetic Christianity,” as opposed to Constantinian Christianity, which he describes in explicitly political terms that are reverent and sane. I was actually disappointed in this memoir on a number of levels. But West is an extremely interesting thinker who more people should know.

Howard Zinn, The Zinn Reader. Howard Zinn died this past January and I had a chance to participate on a panel devoted to his life and thought in November. In preparing for the panel, I read just about every word he published.  What an amazing writer, scholar, teacher, and activist! He was everywhere and knew everyone in the Civil Rights and Peace Movements.  And his People’s History of the United States remains a book I pass on to every teenager I hear complaining about their boring Social Studies or American History class.

Nduka Anyanwu, Fit-tionary.  Let me first repeat the complaint of every teacher working today, and that is our students don’t read enough (or at all).  At the end of each semester I beseech students to read at least one book over the winter or summer break. This past summer, however, one of my students actually wrote a book. Nduka is a personal trainer when he is not studying engineering and management. In this book, Nduka addresses college students everywhere, and shows them how to stay fit, avoid the “freshman fifteen,” and use exercise to enhance their academic performances. 

Simon Critchley, How to Stop Living and Start Worrying.  Critchley is one of those philosophers who can write for both general audiences and for his colleagues in Continental Philosophy. If you’ve ever picked up a book by Derrida, Heidegger, Blanchot, or Levinas, then you sense how difficult a trick this is to pull off.  This volume is actually a collection of interviews, but they focus on basic topics like love and death, humor and life. These are areas of general concern that we have all thought about and discussed, but Critchley manages to travel some lines of reflection that you will find genuinely profound and, more importantly, accessible.

Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land; and The Memory Chalet. We lost Tony Judt to ALS this year, and he will be missed. Ill Fares the Land is a powerful defense of social democracy that stands in stark contrast to economic trends in the United States today. We have replaced moral and political thinking with cost benefit analysis, to our shame. And taxes have become a dirty word never to be uttered in public. The Memory Chalet is a book of essays composed at night as Judt, in a state of near complete paralysis, tried to sleep. They are little autobiographical moments that are strident in places and poignant always.

Marietta McCarthy,  How Philosophy Can Save Your Life.  This is less a survival guide than a nice and thoughtful examination of the central ideas of Western Philosophy combined with a healthy dose of Buddhism. The central theme of the book is simplification achieved through detachment from material things. 

Fiction and Poetry

Cormac McCarthy, The Road.  Yes, I know this has been on our list several times before, but I just finished a two week discussion of the novel with my first year students at Clarkson. They were all over the great moral dilemma posed by McCarthy: Can morality survive in an era of unremitting moral darkness. I know there are a lot of McCarthy fans among our listeners, and I want to remind you how great this book is, and even urge you to read it again.  This was my fourth time through it, and I remain in awe of how McCarthy brings together Scripture and classical American fiction in the lines uttered by a father and son as they struggle to live in a post-apocalyptic world. 

Geoff Dyer, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi; Paris Trance; Out of Sheer Rage; Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It; The Ongoing Moment.  A few years ago I included Dyrer’s novel on jazz musicians, But Beautiful, on my summer reading list. This past few months I have read through all of his other works, including his newest book, Jeff in Venice.  Dyer is a quirky, hilarious, and moving writer who is almost impossible to categorize. Whether he is writing on photography (The Ongoing Moment) or on not writing a biographical study of D.H. Lawrence (Out of Sheer Rage), Dyer is an exciting writer who is capable of surprising you at every turn.  He’d better come out with something new very soon.  I’m going through a painful withdrawal from his work.

Rafael Yglesias, A Happy Marriage.  A husband has surrendered his life to help his dying wife through her last year.  The tale is told beautifully by juxtaposing the sad present against the hopeful beginning of the relationship.  The narrative allows deep and dark secrets to find their way to the surface. We are reminded in a fresh way how hard a marriage is to maintain, but also how beautiful the result of great effort can be.

Richard Russo, That Old Cape Magic.  No one who has read Empire Falls will consider this new novel one of Russo’s best works. But I genuinely liked the relationship at the center of the book. I’m a sucker for tales of resiliency in marriages.  The back story of a marriage enduring disappointment and infidelity thanks to summers in Cape Cod is both funny and tragic.  Russo has a great sense of how to pace a story, and so I found this an enjoyable read that absorbed my attention, offered a reward at the end, and that left me unembarrassed to recommend to my North Country friends.

George Saunders, Civilwarland in Decline; and Pastoralia.  Saunders was a guest this past Fall on Readers and Writers.  Our conversation focused on his collection of essays on media and politics, The Brain-Dead Megaphone.  But Saunders is known best for his short fiction.  He packs a wallop, and as Ellen noted during the show, he hits you hard in the very first paragraph. There is no quiet lead up to a climax in these works. It’s all climax.

Seamus Heaney,  Human Chain.  Because Heaney is a couple of decades older than me, when I first started reading him in my twenties, I took him on as a teacher and guide. In this collection, the poems take a reflective turn toward physical decline – Heaney had a stroke a few years back – and the death of friends.  I think this a very strong collection where a lot of the intellectual fervor of his earlier work is supplanted by emotion expressed intelligently.

Wislawa Szymborska, Here.  I will always be indebted to my friend Joe Duemer for introducing me to Szymborska’s poetry about ten years ago.  I use one of her poems, “Discovery,” in just about every course I teach because it speaks so darkly about the price of the pursuit of knowledge and the ethics of science.  In this new collection, Szymborska explores the terrain of the sacred in the ordinary in surprising turns of phrase and incendiary moments of poetic imagination.

Kelly Trombley, NCPR development assistant

My all-time favorites:

Water for Elephants: A Novel by Sara Gruen

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother and Daughter Journey to the Sacred Places of Greece, Turkey and France by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

Ambulance Girl: How I Saved Myself by Becoming an EMT by Jane Stern

Food Rules by Michael Pollan

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

David Sommerstein, News reporter/Beat Authority host

The Brothers K by David James Duncan — one of my favorite books.  Incredible plot and characters, set in the changing ‘60s, and rooted in a worldview formed by baseball.  What more could you ask for?

Consider the Lobster and/or A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace – one of America’s greatest young writers who cut his life short.  His epic novel, Infinite Jest, may occupy you for the rest of your life.  But in the meanwhile, his collection of narrative journalism are some of the funniest, most perceptive and poignant things you’ll ever read.

Connie Meng, NCPR theater critic

Beatrice & Virgil by Jann Martel (LIFE OF PI) - Not everyone's cup of tea - very powerful and disturbing.  In an odd way it reminded me of the film PAN'S LABYRINTH.

The Elephant to Hollywood by Michael Caine - Very entertaining autobiography  

The Once and Future King by T.H. White — A classic. The best King Arthur book ever. I re-read it every few years.

Dale Hobson, NCPR Web Manager

Poetry:

My favorite find of the year was our recent Readers & Writers guest: Peter Campion. I can recommend either of his two volumes, The Lions, or his debut collection, Other People. My old friend Allen Hoey pased away in June. You can start anywhere in his works, but his last collection is firmly set in the North Country, at the intersection of country and college town life—Once Upon a Time at Blanche's.

Science Fiction:

I ran across this novel over the Thanksgiving break:

The Unincorporated Man, Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin. The Kollins are new on the SF scene, but belong within the lineage of the greats from the 50s and 60s. Their liberterian futurism, combined with strong characters and plausible science, is enough to make a Heinlein fan homesick.

Jackie Sauter, NCPR Program Director:

What I’ve read lately:

The Hidden Life of Deer,  by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. A naturalist spends a year observing deer on her New Hampshire property and learns a lot about what deer do and why. Essential and fascinating for all of us who live with deer on the roads and in our yards.

Bury Your Dead, by Louise Penny. The latest in the cozy mystery series that features Montreal-based Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete Quebec. This one is set in Quebec City in the middle of winter. It snows, it blows, the food is great, and there’s a lot to learn about Samuel de Champlain.

And books I’m looking forward to this winter, suggested by CBC’s Canada Reads competition:

The Best Laid Plans, by Terry Fallis. Canadian political satire. A burnt-out political aide quits just before an election - but is forced to run a hopeless campaign. He makes a deal with a crusty old Scot, Angus McLintock - an engineering professor who will do anything, anything, to avoid teaching English to engineers - to let his name stand in the election. No need to campaign, certain to lose, and so on - the results are hilarious - and with chess, a hovercraft, and the love of a good woman thrown in, this very funny book has something for everyone.

Changing My Mind by Margaret Trudeau. Margaret Trudeau speaks with candour and insight about the illness that silently shaped her life — a life lived often in turbulence and in the public eye, and her eventual understanding and acceptance of the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Since regaining control of her life, she has brought her formidable passion to helping others. A recipient of the Society of Biological Psychiatry Humanitarian Award, she now offers her journey of recovery, acceptance and hope, in one of the most important and moving memoirs to come out of Canada.

The Birth House, by Ami McKay. The miracle of birth and the struggle to live a good life are among the themes explored in this poignant debut novel, set in a small Nova Scotia community during a period of great change: in Europe, the First World War is raging and in North America advances in medicine and social organization are radically altering they way people live. Dora Rare is the daughter of an East Coast shipbuilder. As a teenager, she becomes apprenticed to the local midwife, from whom she learns about the ancient, almost mystical traditions of midwifery. But there are challenges when an obstetrics practice come to town. A national bestseller, this was named one of bets books of the decade by Canadian bookseller Chapters Indigo.

Essex County by Jeff Lemire. Three interconnected graphic novels: Tales from the Farm, Ghost Stories and The Country Nurse. Winner of several major awards in the world of comics, it was hailed by reviewers as "the comics medium at its best" (Booklist) and "a quiet, somber, haunting masterpiece" (The Oregonian). The minimalistic though intensely emotional trilogy gives form to the author's inspired vision of what it means to live, work, dream and even die in a Southwestern Ontario rural community.

 

Betsy Folwell, Blue Mountain Lake

One new audiobook that has been great listening is The Geography of Bliss by NPR reporter Eric Weiner. Insightful and well researched and very interesting to consider in light of how environment makes us happy.

Christopher Dunn, Potsdam

NON-FICTION

Hail, Hail, Euphoria! by Roy Blount,Jr. (2010) About the greatest of the moves of the greatest of comedy teams, Julius, Adolph, Leonard and Herbert. (Maybe I should say that Julius took the name "Groucho.") This is, to paraphrase something said years ago about American foreign policy, a Marxist book—not Karl, Groucho. I have no idea how else to describe it, except to say Mr. Blount has organized it perfectly, along, around and in among the sequence of the movie. AND that the very last paragraphs lead up to the very last word that's the punchline of the book, prepared for over 144 pages—well, at least from page 3. The full title of the book, after the above line, is: "Presenting the Mar Brothers in DUCK SOUP, The Greatest War Movie Ever Made."

The King's Peace: 1637-1641 by C.V. Wedgewood (1954) It is, of course, given the author, excellent and most readable history. But it serves in ages like ours as a cautionary tale like no other Almost too extraordinarily apt. King Charles Stuart was absolutely sure of his rights and religion; so were his subjects in England and Scotland. But they disagreed on what those were—radically. So far as the King was concerned, real compromise was against God and the divine sanction of his authority, and all his conciliation was only playing for time. That was what his enemies thought, too. The kind did not try to, perhaps could not understand what was moving his subjects—and besides that, he was also almost as lazy, indecisive and inept—and subject to a groundless optimism—as his opposition was, stern, determined and active. It all ended in the English Civil War. It's the first of the three books Wedgewood wrote on that subject, the other two books, equally good, are The King's War: 1641-1647 and A Coffin For King Charles—which suggests, if you didn't know, how it all turned out. I could wish everybody in the current administration and the current and the new Congress, would read it.

Casanova's Women by Judith Summers (2006) Since I recommended Casanova's memoirs, which were and are fascinating accounts of his century as much as of his adventures and encounters, it seems only fair to mention this account of him, too. I saw a clip from a review written as if the book were merely an excuse to rehearse C's adventures all over again, but it's not that at all. Summers is very clear about the cold, dark side of Casanova, and the later lives of some of those he encountered—some quite sad. Casanovva's included, in the end—but read it and see.

FICTION

Somehow last time I forgot that there are a couple of new Terry Pratchett books out about Discworld: Unseen Academicals and I Shall Wear Midnight. Nobody should forget Pratchett. Pratchett you can always count on.

And speaking of a reliable storyteller, it brings up the work of Robertson Davies. I can't remember if some past booklist recommended this fine Canadian writer who died in 1995; I hope so, but let me do it anyway. There was no storyteller like him. The mainspring of his novels (not the storyline which is a different thing) was a strong sense of good and evil, and of spirit. I don't mean his stories were novelized preachings; a storyteller, whose characters carried the tales without straining. What interests them will hold you.

Besides Davies' many novels—The Lyre of Orpheus, World of Wonders, The Rebel Angels, What's Bred in the Bone, The Cunning Man and many many others (one or two trilogies among them), there is The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks. S.M. is too real to be just a pen-name or even an alter ego; his struggles with the 20th century (mostly in the 1940s) and with his old iron furnace were unyielding and epic. I wish there was space to quote him—but I wouldn't know where to stop.

And there is a volumne of his (Davies) letters from 1976 to 1995, For Your Eyes Alone, edited by Judith Grant.

Davies, in one of his columns from 1955, reminded me of a book I know but have never thought of recommending before: Robert Browning's The Ring and The Book (written 1868-69) about a sensational murder, and the trial—and the final appeal to the Pope—in Rome in 1968. Davies says, "...a story told to us by a variety of people, each from his own point of view, each stressing what he thinks important, and each bringing his own understanding of life and his own store of wisdom and egotism to the problem. There are poeple who find it a bore, and certainly it demands application. [There is great] psychological insight...power to create people and set them up on their own legs, bearing their own faults and their own greatness of spirt." All this is true and more than true; bear with The Ring and The Book and you hear the victim, the murderer, and even general opinion speaking in its own true voice. It's a real shame that somebody like Audio Editions hasn't produced it with a full cast. It deserves as much as Shakespeare does. It's great drama, only of voices and pure character rather than action.

Roseanne Gallagher, Malone

Blessed Are the Cheesemakers, Sarah-Kate Lynch. The best cheese in the world requires milk from cows that are hand milked by unwed mothers-to-be that are listening to the theme from "The Sound of Music." Of course the cheesemakers have to possess the magic that makes the best cheese in the world also...This is for pure good fun and pleasure. It is a delightful, whimsical, unpredictable, imaginative, hard to put down story—just because it is so much fun.

Kathleen Wiley, (via email, Essex area)

Of course, Kristin Kimball's just published, The Dirty Life.  I may be biased being a farm member, but it is an amazing insight into the agrarian lifestyle that many of us have moved away from.

Jon Krakauer's, Where Men WIn Glory.  He is an inquisitive author who digs beneath the surface in a story. 

Donna Herbold (via email)

For non-fiction, Tracy Kidder's Strength in What Remains. Our book club takes its members' recommendations for our monthly reads so I recommended Tracy Kidder's story of Diogratias Niyizonkiza, founder of Village Health Works.  Deo is a Burundian and lived through times of civil war and finally, when the genocide exploded, fastastically, he escaped to NYC. After the book club read Kidder's book they all came away with the same reactions as mine:  grateful to have read of such an astounding man, the people he was inspired by and of those who were inspired by him. 

 And for fiction, Paulo Coelho's The Witch of Portobello. With every book I read of his, he becomes more and more my numero uno author of stories of searchers.  This one is of a captivating woman whose spiritual search transforms herself, her family, friends and others.  I think Coelho is superb in how he injects so much love and passion and spirituality into his characters and can only believe it's because he exists within these characters. 

In these times it's good for the soul to read about people who are able to remain true to themselves.

Carol Scofield, Lake Placid

A Reckoning by May Sarton

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese

The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto

Let the world Spin by Colum McCan

Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

The Poet of Tolstoy Park by Sonny Brewer

Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada

New York by Edwin Rutherford

From the author, Nelly Case:

Helen Hosmer: The Spirit of Crane, by Nelly Case. It is available at the SUNY Potsdam bookstore, and sometime in the near future there should also be a book-signing session at the St. Lawrence Brewer Bookstore, although we don't have a date for that yet. Anyway the book is about 350 pages long, includes 18 photos of Helen from throughout her life, and chapter eleven is made up of over 100 reminiscences from former students, colleagues, and friends. Martha's [Foley, from a radio portrait done for NCPR] 1986 "audio-biography" of Helen also figures significantly in a number of spots. Much of the book is based on Helen's correspondence with every imaginable type of person ranging from F.D.R. (when he was still governor of NY) to Thornton Wilder, who came to Crane's Spring Festival year after year. All profits from the book, over and above the cut the bookstore takes, go directly to Crane, so it is a kind of fundraiser in connection with Crane's 125th anniversary celebration, which starts in the spring of 2011.

Alan McLeod, Kingston ON

I just finished The Civil War of 1812 by Pulitzer prize winner Alan Taylor and highly recommend it.  It covers upstate NY happenings and has plenty of local information about the War on both sides of the river from Sackets to Cornwall.

For example, one of Madison's financial backers was a big landowner in the Ogdensburg area. As a result, the orders were mostly that peace shall reign in this part of the war. Money made peace. Who knew that was possible?

Sue Davis, North Creek

The Berlin-Baghdad Express by Sean McMeekin. The author lives in the Adirondacks (Brant Lake) in the summer, but is a professor in Turkey during the school year. It is a history book, but each chapter is written as an adventure with colorful characters and intrigue. Essentially, it was the fight for which side Turkey was going to fight on in World War I. When Germany won its loyalty, the two countries together tried to get all the Muslims under French and British rule to rise up in jihad. The Germans had adventurers more colorful than Lawrence of Arabia, but we don't hear about them because they lost!

Sandra Rooney, via email

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.

The Blackwater Lightship, by Colm Toibin.

Barbara Lang, via email

At Home In The World - Joyce Maynard

Labor Day - Joyce Maynard

Fear & Trembling - Amelie Nothomb

Interpreter of Maladies - Jumpu Lahiri

Unaccustomed Earth - Jumpu Lahiri

City of Thieves - David Benioff

World Made By Hand - James Howard Kunstler

Juliet Naked - Nick Hornby

A Country Called Home - Kim Barnes

The Great Man - Kate Christensen

A Blade of Grass - Lewis De Soto

The Wreckage - Michael Crummey

Lullabies for Little Criminals - Heather O'Neill

 

Michael Hanley, via email

I would like to recommend two non-fiction books published in 2010.

1.     Atul Gawande The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

This covers the benefits of simple checklists in medicine and other fields.  The implication is that they are underutilized in many context.

2.     Robert Whitaker, Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America. This is an extension of his early book Mad in America.

It outlines the forces that have supported the present model of mental health services. He criticizes the science on which it is based and the poor outcomes it has produced.  Excellent review and integration of information.  Very readable. Very upsetting.  

Samuel Press, Burlington

The Places In Between by Rory Stewart, recounting his walk across Afghanistan in 2001 w/o a weapon and a big dog for company. This stands on its own as a ripping yarn but imparts a lot of the history, geography, and culture of the country, much more informative than the popular novel The Kite Runner. It ranks with the great first person narratives like Dana's Two Years Before the Mast and Parkman's Oregon Trail. Stewart has a clean, erudite style and has since taught at the Harvard Kennedy School. He's now an MP for Cumbria and rumored to be headed for higher office. He's the subject of a profile in the New Yorker of November 15.

Marcia Shambo, via email

Here is a book I wouldn't normally put on your list but it has stayed with me and I think it is a good read. It is John Grisham's newest novel The Confession. It is about a young man who is on death row for murder. It takes an uneasy turn mid-book that I can't seem to get off my mind. It will make you ponder the question of capital punishment once again.

Anonymous, via email

Two of these recommendations are extraordinary novels that might fit into a “rediscoveries” category, and may be harder to find, but are surely deep winter reading in all senses of that phrase.

One is translated from the French as “The River Below,” by Francois Cheng (Welcome Rain Publishers, New York, 2000).  It’s about the inner life of a Chinese artist, his encounter with the West and his mostly brutal re-acquaintance with mid 20th-century China.  It’s meditative, lyrical and ultimately enthralling.  Scenes set in China’s Far North, where “spring is only a prolongation of winter,” will resonate with north country readers.

The other book, a 1935 novel by the great French writer Jean Giono, is translated as “Joy of Man’s Desiring.”  A strange sense of timelessness pervades the setting in the central French uplands, a sense and setting that can have an affinity with the Adirondacks or any mountain region.  The characters are mostly French peasants, and their interaction with the elements, with the land and with each other seem to pre-figure, in a way, South American magical realism.  This interaction, so much of it evolving outdoors, will again resonate with some in the north country.

Valerie Moody, via email

My friends and I have all been reading:

      The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Have also read:

     The Legend of Colton H Bryant by Alexandra Fuller

     The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

     The World According to Garp by John Irving

Wishing you all a happy holiday season overflowing with great reads!

Jan van Stralen, via email

While visiting Holland in September, I saw an inverview of a 100 year old writer, who just now had been discovered! His name is Hans Keilson, and Francine Prose wrote in the New york Times book review: "Read these books and add Hans Keilson, just like I did, to the list of books (every one has to make there own list)  of the world's best writers." I translated these words from my Dutch copy of this book. Interestingly, the Dutch title actually translates to: "In the trance of the adversary." One of the questions asked of the author, a jewish WW2 surviver, was whether he would be up to it to go on a book tour in the USA!

Kathy Rivet, Old Forge

As in the past, my grown-up reading suffers as my husband and I strive to help our 8 year old grow into an appreciative and voracious reader.  I am sending along books that we have enjoyed as a family.

1.  Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

      This is the story of a young girl named Min-Li that is determined to change her family's fortune.  She sets out on a journey to Never Ending Mountain to find the answer to her troubles from the Old Man of the Moon.  Along the way, she meets a flightless dragon, a mean green tiger, the Happy Family and talks with the king of the City of Bright Moonlight.  There's even a talking goldfish!  The author intertwines beautiful folk tales into each chapter with mesmerizing illustrations.  This book immediately brings to mind Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz as Min Li discovers the true meaning of happiness.  I was also reminded of past favorites - Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and My Father's Dragon.  We could not put this book down.

2.  The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

      Argh.  It is Star Wars all the time in our house right now.  In an attempt to find something related that I can stomach, we came across this fun little book.  I must say that I was more interested in actually making the origami Yoda than reading the book. (which we have done by the way - there are instructions at the end of the book)  I admit that this was a fun lighthearted story.  A nerdy kid named Dwight starts wearing an origami Yoda finger puppet to school. Origami Yoda, in true Yoda fashion, starts dispensing sage-like advice to kids.  Is origami Yoda real or is Dwight making the predictions?  It's a typical plot of losers trying to be popular, but clever and entertaining.  Diary of a Wimpy Kid meets Star Wars.

 3.  MESS The Manual of Accidents and Mistakes by Keri Smith

      This book was given to my son for his birthday.  It is so much fun!  It is not a book to read, it is a book to do.  The first page warns:  Do not try to make something beautiful.  Do not throw this book out when you dislike a page you created.  Do not play it safe.  Do have fun.  Do get dirty.  Do try something you've never tried before.  Don't think too much. Each page is a mini art lesson or activity.  You must think outside the box.  I recommend it for any age, for anybody.  I am smitten with this book!

 4.  A Pebble for Your Pocket by Thich Nhat Hanh

      A little gem.  Through simple stories, this book explains the basic teachings of Buddha.  It is excellent for helping kids handle emotions, connect with nature and learn easy mindfulness practices.  This book reminds us to be generous and kind every day and to find the joy of living in the present.  We read a little bit in the morning at breakfast to try and start our day in a calm place  and understand simple and practical ways to be peaceful.

Cris Winters, Saranac Lake

I am sorry to say I can't listen to the Winter Reads program in real time tonight but glad to say it is because my friend Susan Mitchell and I have started a Science and Nature Book Club, and tonight is our first meeting at the Saranac Lake Library. We are discussing Climate Change in the Adirondacks by Jerry Jenkins. I want to recommend this book to your readers - very well-written and so important, I believe. All the information seems to be brought together in one book that is very pertinent to the North Country.

I also want to mention that I am on a John Steinbeck kick right now. I'm holding off on Grapes of Wrath  and Log from the Sea of Cortez until my winter vacation, but I highly recommend East of Eden, and everything else (The Pearl, The Wayward Bus, The Moon is Down, etc.). It doesn't take long to understand Steinbeck's approach to life and writing and, further, to understand why he received a Nobel Prize for Literature.

Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna is also way up on my list favorites. I was SO sorry it wasn't longer - I wanted lots more of this amazingly-told story!


Shirley Wolfe, South Burlington

Citizens of London by Lynne Olson.  This is a well-researched, well-written non-fiction book, which centers on three American citizens in London during WWII.  The three men are: John Gilbert Winant, US Ambassador to Great Britain 1941-1947; Averill Harriman, US administrator of the Lend-Lease aid; and Edward R. Murrow, the head of CBS radio in Europe, stationed in London from 1937 to 1947.  The book has interesting information on politics, military actions, love affairs, personalities, issues between America and England as well as between FDR and Churchill, the American pilots, Eisenhower, etc. It is a very good read.

Suzanne Miller, Saranac Lake

(NOTE FROM ELLEN: Suzanne reports that she is just a few books away from completing 100 books before December 31.)

1.    The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

A story of a woman photojournalist in the Vietnam War – very powerful, wonderfully written.  I had to put this one down frequently, as I found myself sobbing.

2.    Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Wow – perhaps the seminal look at post- 9/11, late 20th/early 21st century  America.  This is just a superbly rendered story, with a sharp eye for the “details” of Americans in our ugliness.

3.    Room by Emma Donoghue

I had read Ms. Donoghue’s Slammerkin, and found it well written, but gruesome (it takes place in the time of Jack the Ripper). 

This book was astonishing – both in its characters and their very strongly portrayed “voices”, and in their circumstances.  Truly a remarkable book.

4.    Generosity: An Enhancement by Richard Powers

Another wonderful portrayal of the ultimate selfishness of the “ME” times we live in – Mr. Powers is an intelligent writer who uses astonishing vocabulary throughout this not too futuristic look at how genetics, and the “marketing” of the outcomes of this science, might play themselves out.

5.    The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors by Michele Young-Stone

Part “handbook” for lightning strike survivors (and “how to” as in avoiding such), and part relationship study, I really liked the characters portrayed, and their interactions across and among one another.

6.    The Island Beneath the Sea by Isabelle Allende

This is a wonderful multi-generational story that travels from Haiti to New Orleans in the 1700s/1800s.  This book has wonderfully developed characters, and a wonderful portrayal of the very real dilemmas of race and class, and how they converged, in that time and place.  I thought this was onee of her best.

7.    The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry

I loved her first book, The Lace Reader.  I also loved this book – wonderful characters, the city of Salem, Massachusetts, and a story that really pulls you in – I had a difficult time putting this one down.

8.    The Walking People by Mary Beth Keane

A story initially set in the west of Ireland, where my Grandmother hailed from, which follows several characters (one of whom is one of “the walking people, as gypsies are referred in Ireland), from the west of Ireland, to the US.  Multi-generational, and wonderfully well written, I really liked this.

9.    The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

This was a delightful tale of people caught unawares of their feelings, and how that resolves itself.  One of the characters is a book collector, and a rare cookbook lends itself to an interesting self-realization and finding what that particular heart truly sought. 

10. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

An interesting story, set in late 18th century Japan.  Young Jacob de Zoet is a bookkeeper for the Dutch East India Company, who falls in love with a Japanese woman raised under extraordinary circumstances.  Not what I expected at all, but I enjoyed it very much.

11. The Elephant Keeper by Christopher Nicholson

The young protagonist in the story becomes the “keeper” of a pair of elephants who come to the estate upon which he works with his family in England.  This story follows the relationship between the elephant keeper and his elephant – a wonderful tale.

12. The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo/ The Girl Who Played with Fire/ The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

Initially, I had absolutely NO interest in reading these.  A recommendation from a dear friend at the Saranac Lake Free Library made me reconsider this, and I am pleased to say I am really glad I did.  Thrilling, addictive and filled with twists and turns, all I can say is the revenge scene in the first book was just so RIGHT.  Not sure what that may say about me….  These three are really, really good reads.

13. My Name is Memory by Ann Brasheres

A beautiful love story - it follows an individual from earliest time through present day, as he seeks his long lost love, through his (and her) various incarnations.  Intriguing in its premise, and well written.

14. Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian

I have absolutely loved all of Chris Bohjalian’s books (I especially like that he is “local”, hailing from Vermont).  This book is a wonderful tale of disillusionment, belief, relationships, and with a twist ending that really makes it a first-rate read.

15. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

I loved the descriptions of the era in this World War II novel, which examines relationships and responsibilities from a unique perspective.

16. The House on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

A wonderfully told tale of World War II, a young man of Chinese descent and a young woman of Japanese descent whose family is relocated.  The story paints a wonderful and vivid picture of the era, and the story arcs to the present day.  I found this to be very engaging.

17. That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

Richard Russo is one of my favorites – he has written a wonderful story that is funny, sad and everything in between.  The relationships in the life of one man play out on the canvas of this book. 

18. House Rules by Jodi Picoult

This is my favorite Jodi Picoult book since Nineteen Minutes.  A great look at Asperger’s Syndrome, and its impact on the life of a young man and his family.  A wonderfully well-written book.

19. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

The fictionalized telling of Mamah Borthwick Cheney and Frank Lloyd Wright’s love affair, a tremendous story.  Mamah was such an amazing woman, and Frank Lloyd Wright was certainly so much more than the architectural genius he has long been known – much more of a cad than I ever knew.  A novel with a similar plot line, which I did not much care for (and I generally LOVE T. C.Boyle’s books), is The Women.

20. The Historian and The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

These are both incredibly well-written stories.  The Historian tells the story of individuals hunting Dracula (sounds simplistic – it is not, and the tale is quite complex and complicated).  The Swan Thieves is the story of an artist who attacks a painting and the psychiatrist who treats him (in simplest terms).  A complex and intriguing story.

21. The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee

A wonderful story of a survivor of the Korean War, and the US GI she becomes involved with.    It follows the characters from Korea to the present day US, and then on a journey they undertake together.  Very powerfully written.

22. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

A delightful tale of a former English military officer of a certain class who becomes involved with a Pakistani shopkeeper, to the horror of everyone in his life except himself.  A delightful look at how one’s views can be changed, particularly by love.  I loved this book.

23. The Night Counter by Alia Yunis

The intertwined stories of a huge Arab American family, and their grandmother, with whom Scheherzade shares nights and stories.  A delight.

24. The Swimming Pool by Holly LeCraw

A great tale of tragedy that plays out on multiple stages, examined through the eyes of one woman who is central to the story.  I liked it very much.

25. Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay

A story that examines the removal of French Jews to the camps in World War II told through the eyes of a 21st century American born French journalist.  I did not know anything about this story – well written and engaging.

Adding to her first top 25, Suzanne just sent in these additional titles:

The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood, Jane Leavy.

The Marriage Artist, Andrew Winer. A great read, a complicated multi-generational tale.

Submitted online as we built the list prior to the December 9 broadcast:

Nancy Allen

I just finished E.L. Doctorow's World's Fair, about a young boy growing up in the Bronx in the late 1930s. I highly recommend it.

Claudia MacDonald

I'm a fan of Per Peterson. Love his Out Stealing Horses and just finished reading I Curse the River of Time. In the same vein (excellent writers who carry you out of your head and into their world with polished prose, sparingly written, evoking as yet unknown experiences) is Howard Norman, What is Left: The Daughter and The Bird Artist. For me, mysteries are like watching television only better as I can savor the good parts and skip over the bad or scary ones. I've been reading novels and mysteries written by Icelandic, Swedish and Norwegian authors: Steig Larsson, whose triology is, if nothing else, surprising; Kakan Nasser, Karin Fossum and Arnaldur Indridason. To add to the list, I've enjoyed several mysteries by Chinese writer Qiu Xiaolong. The author who made me want to move out west (which I did and stayed for 8 years) is Gretel Erhlich, The Solace of Open Spaces. She has a new book out which I hope to read soon, In the Empire of Ice: Encounters in a Changing Landscape. All good reads for now and for our chilly days to come.

Louis Falzerano, North River

Still Alice, Lisa Genova. About a 50-year old Harvard professor with early onset Alzheimer's.

City of Thieves, David Benioff. A 17-year old on a quest in Leningrad during the WWII siege of that city.

Ann Adams

House Rules, Jodi Piccoult.

Parmelee Tolkan

I have recently read two wonderful books.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell. A wonderful historical novel set in the Dutch trading post in Japan in 1600-1700s.

The Hare With Amber Eyes, Edmund de Waal. An examination of his banking family's past, following the route of a netsuke collection that has been in his family since 1850. Absolutely fascinating views of European history from an art collector's point of view.

Jeff

Bush at War, Bob Woodward. Not like I heard in the news.

Interesting what a $2 bag of library books can hold. Book on CD acquired at Salvation Army, Halsey's Typhoon: The True Story of a Fighting Admiral, an Epic Storm and an Untold Rescue, Bob Drury and Tom Clavin. Makes the road trips tolerable, looking forward to the road again tomorrow as the story is getting intense. I heard the author interviewed on NPR.

Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation, Peter L. Bernstein.

Forty Years a Fur Trader on the Upper Missouri: The Personal Narrative of Charles Larpenteur, 1833-1872, Charles Larpenteur and Elliott Coues.

Books on CD has been a good way to do books on the road. I listened to the whole Harry Potter series unabridged. I let the kids listen to the first four and they had to read the last ones themselves and wait until they were done before seeing the movie.

Pat Bramhall

I am reading the first book in the Stieg Larsson triology:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; The Girl Who Played with Fire; The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Real page-turners, tough to put down.

Dave Iasevoli

The tenth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center looms less than a year away, so I picked up John Updike's Terrorist. It certainly takes you back—in a vital, nerve-wracking, perhaps necessary, way. And its intensity increases with the sad fact of Updike's recent passing: the Nobel Committee done him wrong.

Jan Holman

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel.

Parrot and Olivier in America, Peter Carey.

Matterhorn, Karl Marlantes.

They are all historical fiction and really engrossing reads.

Hypothermia, Arnaldur Indridason. The latest from the Icelandic author, and in my opinion his best so far.

The Information Officer and Amagansett, Mark Mills. The first is set in Malta during WWII and is really well-written.

And, I finally went back to Walter Mosley and read The Long Fall. His books never disappoint.

Sarah Prince

A Dirty Life, Kristen Kimball.

Helene Vanderburgh

Fall on Your Knees, Ann Marie MacDonald. About several generations of a family from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Excellent writing! 

CALLED IN DURING OUR SHOW DECEMBER 9:

Linda Cohen, Old Forge

New York Amish: Life in the Plain Communities of the Empire State, Karen Johnson-Weiner.

Colonel Roosevelt, Edmund Morris. The final volume in the trilogy about Theodore Roosevelt.

Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titantic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories, Simon Winchester.

A Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love, Kristen Kimball.

Margaret, Potsdam

Q, Luther Blisset.

Scott, Boonville

Lenin Rediscovered: What is to be done?, Lars T. Lih.

Selected Stories, William Trevor.

Joel Hurd, NCPR production manager

Guitar: An American Life, Tim Brookes.

Trixie, Boonville (15-year old reader)

Running With Scissors: A Memoir, Augusten Burroughs.

The True Deceiver and The Summer Book or anything else by Tove Jansson.

bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com — great blog written by Eban Weiss.

Nora, from Phoenix Books in Burlington

Bird Cloud: A Memoir, Annie Proulx (due out in January 2011).

Dylan in America, Sean Wilentz.

Waiting for Columbus, Thomas Trofimuk.

Leslie Ann, listening online from Owego

Little Bee, Chris Cleave.

Jane, Jericho, VT

The Glass Room and The Fall, Simon Mawer.

The Passages of H.M.: A Novel of Herman Melville, Jay Parini.

Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese.

Any poetry by Elizabeth Bishop.

Sandy, Watertown

The Clarkenwell Tales, Peter Ackroyd.

The Uncommon Reader: A Novella, Alan Bennett.

Brandon, Watertown

Driving on the Rim, Thomas McGuane.

Why We re Here: New York Essayists on Living Upstate, Robert Cowser, Jr., ed.

 

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