With just a couple of weeks left in 2015, I thought I’d compile my annual list of “books I read”.
I keep the list every year, but I don’t always share it. Lately, though, I’ve found myself recommending a lot of books or just discussing what I’ve read, even if it I didn’t love it. So I thought it worthwhile to share my list with you.
The books are listed in the order that I finished them (vs any kind of ranking order), along with some general thoughts. Don’t be misled by the “finished reading” dates. I’m often reading several books at one time, so it’s not unusual to finish a couple of books within days of each other – although I have definitely been known to stay up for a few days straight reading (“Dead Wake”) or read a book in one day (“Nothing But The Truth”). Also understand that inclusion on the list isn’t necessarily an endorsement; a book is on the list simply because I read it in 2015.
Finished reading 1/1/15
Since I finished this book on the first day of the new year, I clearly started reading it in 2014. It was a really gripping thriller about a lawyer whose son is accused of murdering a young boy. As the investigation continues, the whole thing takes a toll on his family. It’s got twists and turns and holy crap moments. Good way to kick off the year, reading-wise.
I started doing improv in 2014, and ever since have been fascinated with the craft, both as an art form and also therapy. We’d been doing some long form classes and to be honest, the whole Harold thing was going over my head. This book helped give me a clearer idea of what a Harold was. Then we stopped doing the class. But I was so intrigued, I found another place to take some long for classes, and eventually joined a Long Form League. We just had our last show of the season on December 8. So yeah, if you’re curious about a Harold, this is a good book to read.
It Happened in Boston?, by Russell H. Greenan
Finished reading 1/14/15
My copy of this book is from 1970s, and has a marked price of 15 cents from the used bookstore (original price, 95 cents). It probably came from the used bookstore that used to be in Westgate Plaza, where we frequently spent time as a kid. The owner, Mike, is responsible for my book addiction. He’s since moved his store to Spencerport, and I’ve visited there often as an adult. What an adventure – piles and piles and endless piles of books. Books! Books! More books! He recently closed the store, which makes me sad. But back to this book. Awesome. I mean, really awesome. It’s got a mystical bent, it’s also got a mystery, it’s a study in madness, it’s captivating reading. Read it. I’ve read it at least three times already over the years. I mean, how can you resist a book that begins, “Lately I have come to feel that the pigeons are spying on me. What other explanation can there be?”
You’re Lucky You’re Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom, by Phil Rosenthal
Finished reading 1/16/15
I love memoirs like this, that not only share fun stories but teach me something, in this case how a sitcom is run. Just part of my fascination with learning about humor and comedy.
The First Phone Call from Heaven: A Novel, by Mitch Albom
Finished reading 1/25/15
Honestly, I love Mitch Albom, so I’m sure I loved this. But it’s been almost a year. I don’t remember it.
Before I Go to Sleep: A Novel, by SJ Watson
Finished reading 2/15/15
This was a pretty compelling read, if I remember. A woman wakes up every morning not remembering who she is, so her husband has to remind her. The problem, if I remember, is that the ending underwhelmed me, or at least wasn’t the “OMG” moment I’d been anticipating.
The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout, PhD
Finished reading 2/16/15
Clearly I was reading more than one book at a time, because I didn’t read this overnight. But pretty close. I’m convinced I have at least one, possibly two, sociopaths in my life. No, they’re not the murderous sociopathic types; but they are the make-your-life-hell type. This a) helped me identify them and b) helped me better understand how to create boundaries. Really quite an interesting read.
The Writing Circle, by Connie Demas
Finished reading 2/23/15
Dollar Store purchase. Probably worth about 99 cents.
Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things, by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie
If there’s one book I read this year that I would urge you to read, this is it. It’ll change the way you view toxins, plastics, your food, the environment – and not in a tree hugging way. I mean, we are literally poisoning ourselves every day. This book will inform you, and maybe scare you a bit. That is a good thing.
The Girl Below: A Novel, by Bianca Zander
Another Dollar Store purchase, and worth it. This was a well-crafted mystery about a girl who goes back to visit her childhood home. It’s twisty and mystical.
A Beautiful Blue Death (Charles Lenox Mysteries), by Charles Finch
Finished reading 3/14/15
Another Dollar Store book. Don’t hate me but I can’t remember reading this.
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson
Finished 3/23/15 (I read this entire book in 3 days)
YAY!!! One of my favorite authors is back with yet another amazing historical read, this time about the sinking of the Lusthitania. I’m in awe of Erik Larson; the first book of his I read was Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, an amazing book about a hurricane that almost wiped Galveston off the map and also about the early days of the weather service. I’ve been hooked ever since. He’s gifted in a way few historical writers are, weaving together massive amounts of historical information into a compelling narrative that reads like fiction. Someday, if I could write even a fraction as well as him, I’d be happy.
The Rochester I Know, by Henry Clune
As part of my research for my next book – about people buried in Rochester who made significant contributions to the world – I’ve been so grateful to writers like Henry Clune, newspaperman and author, who left behind a legacy of first hand stories about the people and places that made Rochester such a fascinating place in the late 19th and early 20th century. Even better, he’s a great story teller so the books are really enjoyable. I’ve been fortunate to find copies of his books at the local used bookstores; in fact, I just picked up three more this week
Shadow of Ashland, by Terence, M Green
Another Dollar Store purchase. Seriously, you can find really good books at the Dollar Store. This is one of them.
Twelve Drummers Drumming: A Father Christmas Mystery, by C. C. Benison
Another Dollar Store score. I love watching quaint British mysteries on Acorn TV streaming, and this was right up that same alley. For a buck? A lovely read.
The Hand on the Mirror: A True Story of Life Beyond Death, by Janis Heaphy Durham
I read this book and blogged about it as part of the Patheos roundtable, but I was intrigued because of my interest in recent years in the supernatural beyond the church walls. It was fairly well-written; a bit dry considering the subject matter. I mean, if I started receiving the signs that Durham did? I’d be freaking out and you’d feel it on every page. But it definitely offered a lot of food for thought about whether or not our loved ones can speak to us from beyond the grave.
True Story tie-in edition: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa, by Michael Finkel
I’m a true crime story addict, so I was intrigued about the story of a renowned journalist who fell from grace (translation: made up stories, passed them off as fact and got caught) and how he developed an interest and then a friendship with a murderer. I remember seeing the murder story on “48 Hours Mystery” or one of those shows. This was really an interesting read.
Then We Came to the End: A Novel, by Joshua Ferris
This is one of my all time favorite novels, so much so that this is the second time I’ve read it. It’s satirical, it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s though provoking. If you work in an office, have co-workers of any kind, or find yourself dealing with the daily grind and wondering if there’s more to life – in other words, if you exist in community with other humans – give this a read. You won’t be disappointed. It’s brilliant.
The Lazlo Letters by Don Novello
Finished in a day, I’m sure
Remember Father Guido Sarducci on Saturday Night Live? Years ago, I got to meet him at the Erma Bombeck conference and was turned onto his books, which are basically a compilation of letters written as Lazlo Toth to various celebrities, world leaders, and heads of companies – and their responses. And not just oners; some of these are hilarious and ridiculous ongoing correspondence between this fictional man and real people who try to address his absurd questions, from the customer service department at McDonalds to the Queen of England to the President of the US. There are a few books in the series and they’re all a riot.
In fact …
From Bush to Bush: The Lazlo Toth Letters, by Don Novello
Seriously. Just go read his books. It’ll make your day.
The Mermaid’s Sister, by Carrie Ann Noble
I attended the St. David’s Writer’s Conference this summer and had the honor of sharing a suite with Carrie Ann Noble, winner of the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel of the Year in the Young Adult category. This is a beautiful story, inspired by the death of her Carrie’s sister from colon cancer. As she watched her sister’s body deteriorate, Carrie wondered what it would be like if, instead, she was turning into something beautiful instead of having this terrible thing happen. So instead of cancer, the main character is becoming a mermaid. There’s still loss, and love, and life. And it’s beautiful. This is a YA book, but really it’s such a beautiful story adults will love it too. It had a feel of “Tuck Everlasting” to it.
amazing, Grace, by Roberta Gore
Another of my suitemates at the St. David’s conference was Roberta Gore, and while her book isn’t an official award winner, it’s no less worthy of mention. Another YA book that adults will love. “amazing, Grace” is a supernatural thriller – trust me, once you start reading, you’ll want to make sure you leave time to read just one more page, and just one more page, and just one more page …
Go Set a Watchman: A Novel, by Harper Lee
I’m writer, I love “To Kill A Mockingbird,” I really didn’t have a choice. I had to read it. It wasn’t as bad or as good as anyone claimed. I didn’t read it as an early Mockingbird. It’s just a book. Meh, a few lovely passages, but overall I should have waited to get it at the used bookstore instead of buying it new.
I always liked it here: Reminiscences of a Rochesterian, by Henry Clune
Another great read by one of Rochester’s premiere historian storytellers, who gives first person accounts of mingling with captains of industry like George Eastman, celebrities, and newsmakers of the day. Just another book in my research, but one I’d have read anyway.
Silver Linings Playbook, by Matthew Quick
Didn’t see the movie, but I loved the book. Loved it. I’ve been told to skip the movie, because it misses the point of the book and I’ll be disappointed.
A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
I think this is the third time I’ve read this book. A classic that makes me laugh, think, and laugh some more. That this wasn’t published until after Toole committed suicide makes me very sad. He never got to see his brilliant work of art became a classic.
So Much for That , by Lionel Shriver
OK, so I love Lionel Shriver, but this was one heavy book. It was just all kinds of depressing. But still really good. I started it months and months before I finally finished it because I had to read and then put it away for a while. I’m glad I finished it but if you read it just know it weighs a lot, emotionally. Then again, her books usually do, don’t they?
Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book, by TJ Jagadowski and David Pasquesi
Another in my ongoing study of humor and comedy, but this book really hit home for me as a manual for life. Listen. See what’s already happening in front of you and then see how you can step into that energy. Don’t force things to happen. Oh, and listen.
Working Stiff (A Mattie Winston Mystery), by Annalise Ryan
Another Dollar Store mystery. Cute, quick, easy reading.
Improvise.: Scene from the Inside Out, by Mick Napier
Another in my ongoing humor/comedy reading. This one had been recommended by my former improv teacher, so I waited till the new edition came out. Definitely worth reading. I learned a lot.
Wings of Madness: Alberto Santos-Dumont and the Invention of Flight, by Paul Hoffman
Another Dollar Store score. Honestly, there are treasures in those Dollar Store shelves and this was one. I love history, I was fascinated by Albert Santos-Dumas’ story, and I’m glad I grabbed this one for a buck.
Billy Budd and The Piazza Tales (Barnes & Noble Classics Series), by Herman Melville
So I didn’t actually finish this book, but I did read the stories “Bartlby” and “Piazza”, so I’m including it. It’s my list, and I can include whatever I want. I visited the Melville House in Pittsfield, MA when I was there in October, so I had to embark on a Melville reading journey, especially since Ron Howard has a movie coming out about the whaling ship Essex, which inspired Melville’s actual journey’s and therefore his writing. I may attempt “Moby Dick” again in 2016.
This Is Where I Leave You: A Novel, by Jonathan Tropper
Another “didn’t see the movie but loved the book”. In fact, loved it so much I just read it right through in three days. I was entertained and just kept reading.
The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction), by Donna Tartt
This is one of those books that leaves me in awe that someone could craft something so brilliant. It’s long, and it takes some twists and turns and a bit of a meander in tone here and there, but good grief, it all comes together brilliantly. I don’t remember who suggested I read this, but whoever it was, thank you.
The Martian, by Andy Weir
So I was standing by the escalator in Barnes & Noble, and there was a display of these books with the movie tie in. I had a coupon, this book wasn’t on my radar, but as I was about to get on the escalator to go up to the fiction section, I stopped and picked up a copy and started reading the back cover. A guy came behind me and as he went up the escalator said, “THAT was a great book. Really great. I read it from the library before it became a hot read. Really enjoyed it.” So I bought it, based solely on that. And he was right. It was great. I mean, really great. As in, I couldn’t but the damn thing down. So thank you, stranger in the bookstore, for that recommendation. And you know what is really amazing? Weir first self published the book! Gave it away, then sold it for the minimum required on Amazon, and then ta da, major publisher, major bestseller, movie. He’s an inspiration to every writer pecking away at a keyboard. For the record, I haven’t seen this movie, either, although I’ve been told that it’s almost exactly like the book except for one scene at the end, and I should see it.
The Borrowers, by Mary Norton
When I was a child, I read “The Borrowers” and wanted more than anything to find small people living in the walls of our house. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated with all things miniature and magical. Alas, the only things I’ve ever had in the walls of my house are bats that travel from the attic to the rest of the house. But I still loved re-reading this book, and hoping that someplace in Casa de Brokaw, there is a family of wee people making good use of all of those bobby pins I lose every day.
Nothing But The Truth, by Avi
This is one of those rare books that I think should be required reading for every American, because it highlights in a very clear way how one incident can be blown out of proportion as one exaggeration or misunderstanding or misinterpretation is added to another as personal agendas are furthered and exploited by media interests, until lives are ruined while the media moves on to the next sound bite. It’s written for young adults, but it’s got a message for everyone, especially in this new age of split second social media. This is another book I’ve read several times already and read again just to remind myself that everything that blasts across the news headlines isn’t truth.
A Monk Swimming A Memoir, by Malachy McCourt
One last book for the list. I’m a huge fan of Frank McCourt’s memoir’s “Angela’s Ashes” and “Tis”, so it would make sense that I’d enjoy his brother Malachy’s memoir, “A Monk Swimming”. Meh, maybe not. While it is entertaining in parts, it’s less Irish storytelling and more “Hey, I’m a big jerk and I should write a book about it and tell you all of the drunken details.” If you’ve not read “Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir“, that’s probably a better choice.
WHAT I’M STILL READING:
At any one time, I have about a dozen books in progress, stacked next to my bed and waiting to be finished. I may finish one or two in early January or they may sit here unfinished for years. For what it’s worth, here’s a peek at what’s in the “currently reading” pile:
I heard Paul Bogard talking on NPR about light pollution. It was fascinating. I started reading this, and it’s really, really interesting.
I bought this book because it contained “Ten Days In A Madhouse,” which I wanted for some research I’m doing. But there are a lot of interesting pieces in there on women’s rights.
Main Street Beat, by Henry Clune
Another book about Rochester, for research and also enjoyment.
Theater Games for the Lone Actor, by Viola Spolin
Another theater/improv book.
I love odd stories about science and history, although with this book I have to admit I’m getting a lesson in chemistry that I didn’t expect (and am struggling with more than I probably should be).
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
Another untold, but so important, story about health, science, history, ethics and the sanctity of all human life.