2011 Readers & Writers
Winter Reading List

So many good ideas for winter reading came our way, via calls, email and the blog. Perhaps we should maintain the blog space on the Readers & Writers page all year round. What do you think? Email me: ellen@ncpr.org.

Host and staff recommendations

Ellen Rocco, NCPR station manager and co-host Readers & Writers


  • Quiet Americans, Erika Dreifus. A collection of stories about how the Holocaust shaped the lives of several generations, beginning before WWII and moving into present time. Very quietly written, sensitive and moving.

  • In the Garden of the Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, Erik Larson. A conservative American diplomat and his unconservative daughter living in pre-WWII Berlin…fresh storytelling set in a well-cultivated, maybe overworked, ground.

  • 22 Britannia Road, Amanda Hodgkinson. Set at the end of WWII, Polish survivors relocate to England but events that took place during the war continue to haunt.

From authors whose earlier work I've liked

  • The Empty Family: Stories, Colm Toibin. Longing, detachment from roots, poignancy. I heard the voice of Brooklyn in this one. (Also wrote The Master.)

  • Nightwoods, Charles Frazier. Set in Appalachia, a self-contained and detached woman inherits her sister's twins. (Also wrote Cold Mountain.)

  • The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides. Early '80s coming of age story of three college friends at the end of their school years and beginning of adult life. (Also wrote Middlesex, The Virgin Suicides.)

  • The Cat's Table, Michael Ondaatje. A youthful voyage teaches a young boy lessons that he takes forward into adulthood. Set on a ship in the Indian Ocean.

Other stuff

  • Inferno: (A Poet's Novel), Eileen Myles. A young working-class woman from Boston moves to NYC in the late '60s to find her identity as a poet and adult. Smart, shart, insightful and beautifully written.

  • The Autobiography of Jenny X, Lisa Dierbeck. Smart and funny. Remaking oneself and one's life.

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot. This book kicked around my house for several years before I finally opened it…and couldn't put it down.

  • Damascus, Joshua Mohr. A novel about the war in Iraq set in a bar in San Francisco in 2003. A great cast of characters, and points of view.

  • Highwater, TJ Brearton. Brearton has roots in the Adirondacks. His work was recommended by at least a dozen people.

John Ernst, Elk Lake and NYC, co-host Winter Reading Call-in Show

  • The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes.  This is a short, mesmerizing novel that focuses on a man's re-discovery of his past and his forcible re-examination of his entire life.  This is a thrilling book – a triumph of subtlety and insight by a master at the top of his form.

  • Gringos, Charles Portis.  This is an electric-charged, funny, moving novel populated by a rag tag bunch of crackpots, dumbsters, lunatics and drifty souls hanging out in Merida, on the Yucatan peninsula. This is a novel that leaps off the page and sears its way into your head.

  • Blue Nights, Joan Didion.  In this memoir, named for the long evening hours of the summer solstice, Didion deals with the death of her 39-year-old adopted daughter that followed her husband's death by less than two years.  This is a emotionally raw book in which Didion exposes herself to a series of harsh self-evaluations.

  • Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, Candace Millard.  This is a compelling, brilliant piece of research and writing that rescues the remarkable James A. Garfield from the dustbin of historical obscurity.  Millard builds her portrait of Garfield – his impoverished childhood, his rise to become a scholar, college president, Civil War general, congressman, and candidate for U.S. president.  This is a magnificent piece of historical narrative – human in scale, suspenseful, and sharply detailed.

  • Ashbel P. Fitch: Champion of New York, David F. Remington.  This is a New York City political story with strong Adirondack roots.  Ashbel Fitch, a four-term Congressman from New York City, was born ten miles west of Lake Champlain.  150 years ago he built a family retreat at Matemek, near Owl's Head, that his great grandson and biographer, David Remington, still helps preserve, along with other Fitch descendants.  There the author discovered 45 bound volumes of newspaper clippings, invitations and announcements that formed the basis for this fast-paced, highly entertaining historical biography.

  • Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, Michael Lewis.  Here Lewis looks at three of the main international perpetrators of the debt crisis – Iceland, Greece and Ireland.  In his typical graphic way Lewis reduces each country's disaster to a compelling metaphor: sitting in a dark room with all the money in the world, what would each choose.  Lewis takes great complexities and makes them clear and vivid.

  • I Was a Dancer, Jacques D'Amboise.  This is an absolutely captivating book – a memoir told in a voice uniquely his own by one of the great American dancers of the century.  D'Amboise's joyful appreciation of life and people and experience is infectious.

  • The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, Siddartha Mukherjee.  This book traces the history of cancer back to ancient Egypt, through the classical Greek period, to the Middle Ages and right up to the latest research developing cancer genomes.  The author makes the complexities of cancer completely clear for a lay reader.  No scientific background is assumed or required.

  • The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America's Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson.  This book tackles the enormous subject of the migration of Southern blacks to cities in the North and West that took place between 1915 and about 1970.  Wilkerson builds her book around the personal stories of three different individuals.  Through these stories the reader comes to understand why such people left the South and their family and friends, how they reacted to the disappointment of their new surroundings, and what they managed to make of their lives.

Jackie Sauter, NCPR program director

  • Moby-Duck, Donovn Hohn.  The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them

  • The mysteries written by Louise Penny.  Set in an imaginary small village in the Quebec townships...good writing, great characters, complex plotting.

  • Winter in Madrid, C.J. Sansom. I heartily recommend his historical novel about the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War…romantic, atmospheric, suspenseful.

  • Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell.  An illuminating exploration of the assassinated presidents...who they really were, who killed them and why...and of course Vowell makes it all sadly entertaining.

Brian Mann, NCPR Adirondack Bureau Chief

  • A series called The Culture Novels by Ian M. Banks – sweeping and fun science fiction.

  • The Prince of Nothing series by Scott Bakker

  • A series of graphic novels by Mike Mignola – explores mythology and fairy tales and the ideas underneath

Chris Robinson, Clarkson University and co-host Readers & Writers (ViA skype from South Korea!)

  • To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild 

  • Brooklyn by Colm Toibin 

  • Falling Man by Don Delillo 

  • Underworld by Don Delillo --- "the great American novel" 

  • Angel Esmeralda by Don Delillo 

  • Remainder by Tom McCarthy 

  • On Writing by Stephen King --- "a great book about writing" 

  • Caucasia by Danzi Senna

Connie Meng, NCPR Theatre Critic

  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (Fiction) If you're not familiar with his books, try "Kafka on the Shore" first to see if you like his style, as this new one is over 900 pages. His novels usually have more or less contemporary Japanese settings and are realistic, but with unexpected shifts into surrealism. They're not everyone's cup of green tea, but personally I find an unexplained downpour of fish refreshing. 

  • Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams. (Non-fiction) The author, an experienced travel writer, set out to re-trace the route of Hiram Bingham, who discovered the Inca city in 1911. The book is a wonderful combination of Inca history, Bingham's explorations and the author's experiences. If you've never been to Machu Picchu, this book will have you phoning airlines. If you have, you'll want to go back and do it his way. 

  • Night Soldiers by Alan Furst (Fiction) The novels of Alan Furst are set in the period leading up to and including WWII. Set primarily in Europe and the Balkans, his well-researched books paint a picture of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events. One of my favorites, "Night Soldiers," follows a young Bulgarian's life from 1934-1945, from the NKVD in Russia through the Spanish civil war to Paris and the French underground. It's a panoramic journey through a fascinating period. 

  • In the Garden of Beasts by Eric Larson. (Non-fiction) This is a meticulously researched account of William A. Dodd who, in 1933, was appointed America's first ambassador to Hitler's Germany. He took with him his wife, son and flirtatious daughter Martha, who was initially enamored with the "new Germany" and the handsome young Nazis. It's a sad tale of futile early warnings to a hidebound and indifferent U.S. State Department.

Dale Hobson, NCPR web manager

Two Poetry picks: 

  • Dear Darkness by Kevin Young, Knopf 2008. A great bluesy personal and family memoir in verse, including some of the best food poetry ever. I ate the whole thing. 

  • Happy Life by David Budbill, Copper Canyon, 2011. Ancient Chinese hermit Judevine returns to Vermont's Green Mountains. Doesn't get better than Budbill--plain talk, slightly curmudgeonly, with a great appetite for the complications of the simple life. 

And some light fare: 

  • Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen. In 1930s London, Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, threadbare, but 34th in line to the throne, keeps body and soul together with a little light maid's work and sleuthcraft among the toffs.

Recommendations via web, email and phone

Claudia MacDonald

  • I've been reading dark, grim, stark mysteries when not reading young adult novels. Some Nordic authors I've enjoyed this past year: Ake Edwardson, Arnaldur Indridason, Hakan Nasser, Karin Alvtegen, Karin Fossum and Asa Larson. Also Chinese mystery writer and poet, Qui Xiaolong. Not to be discounted are Canadian writer Kate Atkinson or Minnette Walters. None of these are for the faint of heart. Any titles I could find were excellent. 

  • Just finished reading Lisa Genova's 'Left Disabled'...moving and inspiring and learned about a malady I had not heard of.

Anonymous in Watson, NY

  • The novels of Wilkie Collins including The Moonstone.

Dan in Canton, NY

  • I second the recommendations of the Candice Millard books 

  • Books by Neil Stephenson inluding Cryptonomicon  

  • Tension City by Jim Lehrer 

  • Disappearing Spoon by -Sam Kean-- a history of the periodic table of the elements

Robert in Ogdensberg, NY

  • What about the old novels? Like The Song of Roland

Celia in Canton, NY

  • Mysteries by CJ Sansome from the era of Henry the 8th, including Dissolution.  And the books about Artemis Fowl by Eion Colfer.

Chris Morris

  • On a Scandinavian crime fiction binge including The Snowman by Jo Nesbo. Really, my recommendation would be to start with the early books in this series, which centers on Oslo Crime Squad inspector Harry Hole, and read them through. I've just completed the series, and I'm waiting for the newest addition to be released in the U.S. But if you want to pick one, pick The Snowman. Utterly skin-crawling, fast-paced crime literature. Great stuff. Also, try Zone One by Colson Whitehead. And I hear you talking about short stories, how about a classic? Rock Springs by Richard Ford!

Sandy in Watertown, NY

  • Netherland by Joseph O'Neill

  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

  • Looking for My Country by Robert MacNeil

Ann in Burlington, VT

  • A new translation of Siddhartha by Susan Bernofsky.  The works of the poet Mark Doty including Fire to Fire, and his memoir Dog Years.  Also, That Distant Land: The Collected Stories by Wendell Berry.

Leslie Ann in Oswego, NY

  • Room by Emma Donoghue

  • Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Linda in Old Forge, NY

  • The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje

  • The Mirador by Elisabeth Gille

  • To a Mountain in Tibet by Colin Thubron

  • The Art Museum – a history of the art of the world – pricey but worth it!

Chris Winters

  • Last winter I read everything I could find by John Steinbeck - highly recommended. What an adventure! I finally found Sweet Thursday and am reading it now. My favorite (as a biologist/naturalist) was Log From the Sea of Cortez, but they were all great. Wish I had known him for the great personality and conversations I would have experienced. Not read yet but greatly anticipated - When a Woman Gets the Blues by Rory Block.

Jan van Stralen in Brockville

  • I enjoyed reading The Way of a Boy, written by Ernest Hillen, Editor of "Saturday Night", a Canadian weekly.  A coming of age story of a boy caught up in the 2nd world war in Indonesia.  Even though he was in the Japanese camps, he does not dwell extensively on the details of the brutalities there.  Great read. 

Kathleen Rivet in Old Forge, NY

  • Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  I didn't want to like this book, but I did. I picked up Hunger Games after reading a review by a trusted blogger, and I read it first because I wasn't sure how appropriate it would be for our son. I couldn't put it down! It is a story that takes place in North America's future. The heroine, Katniss, lives in District 12 in the country of Panem. Every year, two children from each of 12 districts are drafted, by lottery, to compete in the Hunger Games. The kids are dropped into a televised arena with traps and weapons. The last child alive wins a lifetime of riches and celebrity and the district they are from benefits greatly from the "win". It is the first book of a trilogy. And yes, we are onto book 2, Catching Fire. 

  • Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse.  I was lucky to have recently participated in a family Book Group at our local library. The group read Letters from Rifka. It was definitely everyone's (adults and kids) favorite of all we read. It is the story of a 12 year old girl and her family that is running away from the Germans in Russia to get to America. Rifka's story is told through a series of letters to her cousin, Tovah. The letters are beautifully written on the pages of a Pushkin book. The family endures many hardships from typhus and ringworm to a terrible voyage through a storm on a ship. It is an unforgettable picture of the life of immigrants coming to America. 

  •  The Giver by Lois Lowry. This has been on the nightstand for some time. After reading Hunger Games, this seemed an obvious next read. Many similar themes in the books. The novel begins with Jonas preparing for The Cermony of Twelve. Jonas is nervousabout the cermony and what it means for him. He will be assigned an occupation. His parents warn him that he may not see his friends much after the cermony and that it is the beginning of a new life, his adulthood. His assignment is life changing. Jonas must now begin to grasp the realities of his world. Also part of a trilogy. 

  •  Oh also... I did read a novel that I really enjoyed. An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin. Survival in NYC!

Theresa Devlin in Queensbury

  • A classic novel you may enjoy, Anthony Adverse by Hervey Allen, 1933. I picked this book up at a garage sale knowing nothing about it. Apparently it was a best seller in 1934, and there was even a movie made. The book is a little over 1,200 pages, but worth it. Historical fiction (18th to early 19th century) which takes the main character all over the world with lots of adventures and some romance as well.


  • City of Thieves by David Benioff

  • Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

  • People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Sally Lynch

  • First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by H. W. Brands. Fascinating man and times. A Pulitzer Prize finalist 

  • Gospel Truth: the New Image of Jesus Emerging from Science and Technology and Why It matters by Russell Shorto. Riveting nonfiction. 

  • Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller. A memoir set in Africa, with good pacing and heart, very original and funny. 

  • The Gasa Gasa Girl, a mystery by Naomi Hirahara. The detective is a Japanese American landscape gardener. Excellent characterization and pacing.

Valerie Moody in Saranac Lake, NY

  • Ghost Trai to the Eastern Star by Paul Theroux. Wonderful, melancholy. 

  • The Last Season by Eric Blehm.  Nonfiction account of the disappearance of and search for veteran Sierra backcountry ranger Randy Morganson. Excellent journalism. 

  • Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson.  As good as everyone said it would be. 

  • If a Tree Falls by Jennifer Rosner.  Nonfiction - a family's search through their history to reveal generational deafness 

  • The Mission Song by John

  • All Our Yesterdays by Robert B. Parker. A reread for me; much greater depth than his shorter books

  • Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin.  A hard-to-describe fantasy, took some work to get into but well worth it. 

  • The Night Journal by Elizabeth Crook.

  • The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett  - evokes an incredible sense of place. 

  • The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

  • The Lost Get Back Boogie by James Lee Burke.  Why didn't anyone tell me about this guy?? Great read! 

  • Two Rivers  by T. Greenwood

Bruce Post in Essex, VT

  • If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland. This book is about writing ... and more. Much of it is taken from her reflections on helping budding writers while she was teaching at the Minneapolis YWCA, which is a lot different than teaching at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference or the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop.

  • The Soccer War by Ryszard Kapuscinski. Kapuscinski was a foreign correspondent for the Polish News Service from the late 1950's to 1980. He died a few years ago. Kapuscinski wrote a ton of stuff and was described by many as a "literary journalist." He did not just report facts and events; as a matter of fact, some critics felt he often sprinkled fiction among the realities. Kapuscinski, though, was an elegant writer and globe-trotting journalist. Only one chapter in this book is devoted to the so-called soccer war between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969. Other chapters are about his adventures in Africa, as that continent was riven by wars while emerging from the colonial period. 

Suzanne Miller in Saranac Lake, NY

  • Father of the Rain by Lily King. The powerful, haunting story of an alcoholic father, and the impact of  his alcoholism on his family, through the course of their lives, told theory the eyes of his daughter, Daley. Unforgettable.

  • Townie: A Memoir byAndre Dubus III.  The author of The House of Sand and Fog lays bare his youth - growing  up with a single Mom and three siblings in an old, dying mill town in Massachusetts.  Honest, painful, real, masterful.

  • Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna.  The tale of the life of a young woman from childhood through adulthood, in Coorg, India. Intriguing, interesting, intensely emotional.

  • Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks.  Her latest in a line of OUTSTANDING OFFERINGS. An outstanding fictionalized account of the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk,  a member of the Wopanaak (Wompanoac) tribe of Martha's Vineyard, in the  late 17th/early 18th century, who was the first Native American to graduate from  Harvard. Excellent and compelling. 

  • The Informationist by Taylor Stevens.  A thriller set in Africa, featuring Vanessa "Michael" Munroe - as satisfying  as The Girl … books by Steig Larsson. Couldn't put it down…

  • The Astounding, The Amazing and The Unknown byPaul Malmont. Not something I would generally read, but I thought it was readable and  great fun. From the front flap: "Based on an incredible true episode of World War II  history, Paul Malmont's new novel is a rollicking blend of fact and fiction about the men and women who were recruited to defeat the Nazis and ended up creating the future."

  • The Philosopher's Kiss by Peter Prange,  A historical novel, based upon the events leading up to the Revolution in France. Readable and well written. It includes a historical timeline at the end, which the author incorporates with remarkable accuracy to bring this story of the battle between faith and reason to vivid and memorable life. 

  • Doc by Mary Doria Russell.  The extraordinarily well-written, fictional account of the life of the larger-than-life Western myth and legend, John Henry "Doc" Holliday. I LOVED this book - had a very hard time putting it down!           

  • The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. A beautifully written tale of a young woman, abandoned at birth, who travels through the foster care system, and her life post-emancipation (after she ages out of the foster care system at 18). She learns the language of flowers from Elizabeth, the woman whose own painful childhood and past drive her to attempt to adopt Victoria; also a tale of the power of love. I really, really loved these characters - their resilience in the face of fragility was astonishing.  The story was beautiful, as well.

  • The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen.  The extraordinary tale of a family, whose grief over the loss of their stillborn son, immerses them in a grief that finds its way intermingled with the grief of the husband's daughter from an early relationship (whom he has not really known well), and that of a young man, who has lost his mother early in his life, and his father, with whom he has lived his whole life, very recently. Wonderfully heartfelt characters, and a very rich story.           

  • The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian.  An extraordinary ghost story, steeped in the struggles of a young pilot and his family, in the aftermath of his unsuccessful attempt to land a plane in Lake Champlain. They move to a remote town in New Hampshire, to begin life anew, only to meet up with a group of "herbalists" intent on using the family's twin daughters in a bizarre "ritual". Amazing and very different - kept me reading.

  • The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman. This extraordinary novel, set during and after the fall of Jerusalem (70 C.E.) and which covers the  four year period during which the Romans waged war against the Jewish strong hold of Masada, is told through the interwoven stories of four women. Unforgettable, enthralling and deeply moving.    

  • The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.  A fictionalized account of the marriage of Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway, and their life as newlywed ex-pats in Paris of the 1920s. Superb.

Michael Smith in Star Lake, NY

  • I just read Adirondack Treasure: The Bonaparte Legacy on my Kindle. Could not put it down.  Great story with unexpected twists and turns and lots of interesting local history.

Valerie Summer

  • I'm reading Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. It's a book that I'm very happy will go on for awhile; I'm halfway through. The author brings you into the world of twin boys in Ethiopia, their story is thick with history and poitical drama. If you like reading about medicine, anatomy and surgery as well as politics and great characters, you'll love this one. 

  • I enjoyed Audrey Hefenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry. Also happens to be about twins. A great exploration of life along with some wonderful landscapes.

Jane Ambrose in Jericho, VT

  • Two terrific mystery series are by Benjamin Black (pseudonym for Booker Prize winner, John Banville), starting with Christine Falls and Susan Hill, author of The Woman in Black starting with The Various Haunts of Men. I am currently reading two excellent novels: Nothing Can Make me do This by my colleague at UVM, David Huddle and Calling Mr. King by Ronald De Feo about a hit man who develops and obsession with Georgian architecture.


  • I discovered Rysard Kapuscinski, Polish roving journalist, who wrote extensively and with great heart, from Africa and a jewel of a book from the Central American soccer war.  This man's warm, personable style was devoted to reporting on the de-evolution of post-colonial Africa. Tragic stories where author and reader learn many tribal/ cultural norms and meet a great group of colorful characters with mixed motives…Helped me make it through last winter…also enjoying Neal Ascherson immensely.

To contact North Country Public Radio, view our reading lists online, or send a book title or comment to Ellen Rocco:

St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY 13617
1- 877-388-6277