Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Book Picks of the Year

Today, instead of menus, I'd like to look over my favorite books from last year. I had my best reading year ever, at least according to my stats on Goodreads; I finished 36 books, and rated 14 of them at 4 out of 5 stars.

Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry, was one I never would have read without my book club 'making' me; but it turned out to be wonderful. Really very sentimental, despite its Wild West fa├žade.

The best part about it, though, was reading large chunks of it out loud with my husband. He'd read it before, of course, but it had been a while and it was a tender experience to go through it together. And maybe we both cried, I won't tell...

Then we had a movie marathon night as book club ladies and watched the miniseries, which was also just delightful.

Gorky Park, by Martin Cruz Smith, was another stellar book, though it was probably R-rated. But it was just so good, and again, it was one my husband and I found to read out loud and really enjoyed. During that book, we looked forward to bedtime like never before, and scrambled to get the kids down and go relax and read together.

The story is a police procedural-type mystery set in 1980's Russia, and it was really hard to put it down and go to sleep when every chapter felt like a cliff-hanger. The main character is well-drawn and intriguing, and both S. and I have now read the next two books in the same series, though not out loud. There are 3 or 4 more with that main character, and I plan to get through all of them eventually -- though it's good to take breaks between such intense books.

Post Captain, by Patrick O'Brian, is another book that's part of a large series; in this case it's book #2 of the Aubrey & Maturin epic, which runs to 21 volumes. It's basically my husband's favorite series and author in the entire world (closely followed by Elmore Leonard), and he's wanted me to read some for years.

I tried a time or two but couldn't get into it, though we read #3 (H.M.S. Surprise) out loud ten years ago, not long after the movie Master and Commander, and I found it all right with his company helping me enjoy it. I didn't take up the series on my own, however.

But it seems that for some reason, this author's style and flow is much better when spoken aloud with your favorite person, because I thought this recent book was so interesting and funny. We laughed out loud often and heartily, and still can make each other instantly smile with inside-joke quotes from the story.

This particular volume is set mostly on land, though it's a naval series, and S. likes to describe it as Jane Austen-esque in its attention to dialogue. All the naval officers (Napoleonic era) who are so comfortable commanding a ship, braving the seaman's life of danger and uncertainty, are completely out of their element when 'peace breaks out' and they're subject to a gauntlet of debt-collectors and ladies in upper-class drawing rooms. Though of course, there are still great sea battles in the story to round things out as needed.

I won't go into intense detail on the rest of the books I might recommend from my 2015 list, but here are a few more, both fiction and nonfiction.

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal -- A lightly magicalized version of Pride and Prejudice.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple -- A funny send-up of suburban mommyhood, with a little bit of a mystery woven in.
All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr -- A surprisingly good addition to the WWII historical fiction genre, this book has won so many literary prizes that it can be quite a wait to get it from the library. Worth the wait.

Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order, by Steven Strogatz -- This went right along with some of the online courses I've taken in chaos theory and dynamical systems, but even aside from that, a good and interesting layman's read as well.
The Legal Analyst: A Toolkit for Thinking about the Law, by Ward Farnsworth -- We had to get this one on interlibrary loan, but my husband and I both found it very clear and insightful. (And he's already a lawyer!)
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert -- This was fascinating and eye-opening, and I found myself talking about it and thinking about it a lot in other contexts while I was reading it.

Oddly, I only read one food-related book in 2015 (if you don't count cookbooks) -- The Third Plate, by Dan Barber. I only rated it 3 stars at the time and felt like it was a little too, I don't know, esoteric and on the fringes of what average citizens like myself could care about. But then throughout the rest of the year (I read it in January), I kept seeing news and ideas and farm philosophies (as I got my new job at the farm) that went right back to a lot of what he had written. So it turns out the book had more relevance than I expected, and I'd say it's a decent pick to read.


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