Christmas is almost here and you still have shopping to do? Or you’re planning to take some time off work and you need to find something to do? Have no fear. Here’s my annual list of great reads: my gift to you.
I read (or re-read) all of these books in 2015, but they’re not all new this year. I’ve found that sometimes it’s better to read a book after all the initial hubbub has worn off, so I can appreciate it with a fresh, personal, and objective eye. And a couple of the books on this list are quite old, but it’s always good to dust off some old ones now and then and study them from a new perspective. After all, we’re different people than we were years ago.
So here goes, starting with fiction.
All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr (2014)
A powerful World War II about war, or orphanhood, or blindness or disorder, or the burden of horrible secrets, or fear, or grief, or guilt, or sorrow, or disability.
Quote: “Time is a slippery thing; lose hold of it once, and its string might sail out of your hands forever.”
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet – Jamie Ford (2009)
Another World War II story, this one surrounding the internment of Japanese-American citizens in the Pacific Northwest. Particularly timely now.
Quote: “It didn’t matter. He’d learned long ago: perfection isn’t what families are all about.”
Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng (2014)
A haunting story about family, death, and generational rebellion.
Quote: “You loved so hard and hoped so much and then you ended up with nothing. Children who no longer needed you. A husband who no longer wanted you. Nothing left but you, alone, and empty space.”
The Jaguar’s Children – John Vaillant (2015)
A border-crossing novel that takes on the complexities and horrors of contemporary humanity.
Opening quote: “hello i am sorry to bother you but i need your assistance — ”
The Possibilities – Kaui Hart Hemmings (2014)
A story that, although it starts with tragedy, inspires the reader to watch more intently for uplifting possibilities that might arise from sorrow.
Quote: “You can’t compare and rank heartache. Pain is pain is pain. There is no precise measurement. No quarter cup.”
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee (1960)
Let’s just say, for now, it’s about racial injustice, morality, and courage. But of course it’s about so much more.
Quote: “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
A Scandinavian crime thriller with chilling landscape, clever wordsmithing, and social commentary.
Quote: “Harry … regarded himself in the mirror. November there, too: drawn, grayish pale, and overcast…he had begun to resemble the photograph he had once seen of a skinned polar bear: a muscular but shockingly gaunt predator. Quite simply, he was fading away. Not that it actually mattered.”
The Boys in the Boat – Daniel James Brown (2014)
The perfect underdog story about nine college boys, a boat, and a war
Quote: “The brutal afternoon workouts left him exhausted and sore but feeling cleansed, as if someone had scrubbed out his soul with a stiff wire brush.”
A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson (2006)
An entertaining and educational antidote to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.
Quote: “All the books tell you that if the grizzly comes for you, on no account should you run. This is the sort of advice you get from someone who is sitting at a keyboard when he gives it. Take it from me, if you are in an open space with no weapons and a grizzly comes for you, run. You may as well. If nothing else, it will give you something to do with the last seven seconds of your life.’
A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf (1929)
A literal and figurative essay about the needs of women. Although it’s told from a fictional perspective, it’s really an essay.
Quote: “It would be a thousand pities if women wrote like men, or lived like men, or looked liked men, for if two sexes are quite inadequate, considering the vastness and variety of the world, how should we manage with one only?”
How to Sit – Thich Nhat Hanh (2014)
Inspirational commentary by a wise, old Zen master.
Quote: “Sometimes we do a lot, but we don’t really do anything.”
Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax – Michael N. McGregor (2015)
A beautiful meditaton not only about the poet Robert Lax but about admiration, self-discovery, poetry, grace, and peace.
Quote: “One of the most notable things about [Lax] is how important he considered the search to be and how long he kept at it–long enough not only to see his authentic self emerge but to understand it had been there all
* * *
So there you have it. Another year, another list. Happy gifting. Happy reading. Happy New Year!