Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Books, Books, Books

Ian has made a tradition of giving me books for Christmas.  I know what's in his gift just as soon as it appears under the tree - a book!  But not just any book.  He spends hours and weeks reading reviews and listening to author interviews until he has whittled down the selection to one fiction and and one nonfiction book.  The 2016 finalists are The Undoing Project: a Friendship that Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis (about the workings of the human mind) and My Name is Red by Orphan Pamuk, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. The setting is 16th century Istanbul and it will dovetail perfectly with the book I'm currently reading and loving, The Silk Roads: a New History of the World.

I was leaving for tai chi but got him to take a picture of me and my books this year to replace my Facebook photo which is me and my books from last year.  I think it's a nice tradition.  Here are five books that I enjoyed this year.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi  This is my absolute favorite book of this year.  Deschutes Public Library has a program called Author! Author!, a sort of community reads program, with tie-ins from other institutions like the High Desert Museum, the Deschutes Historical Society and Art in the Desert.  This is the book they've selected for 2017 which means I'll finally get to talk about it in a book club setting.

This is actually a loosely connected collection of short stories moving forward in time, beginning in 1763 with the slave trade on the Gold Coast of Africa.  Each story begins with the name of the individual whose story it is, someone whose parents appeared in an earlier story, and everyone is born of either Effia or Esi, half sisters from different tribes who never knew each other, having been separated from each other by the wars and raids.   The book begins with the tribal wars and proceeds through slavery to the current racial tensions in America today.  The stories are heart breaking and the characters are brave.

Siracusa by Delia Ephron   Two couples vacationing together on a small Sicilian island, five thoroughly unlikeable people.  What could possibly go wrong?  Not since Jonathan Franzen's book Corrections can I remember a book populated with such unsympathetic characters.  There is yet one more, a sixth character and it's around her that the ending resolves.  This isn't great literature but it's good entertainment.  It's well paced and perfect for a vacation read.

The Whistling Season by Evan Doig  The setting is the Big Ditch project in 1909 Montana.  A desperate widower hires a housekeeper for this three sons.  Rose, whose ad starts with "Can't cook but doesn't bite," appears with her unaforementioned brother in tow, a rather peculiar man who becomes the school teacher when that position is unexpectedly vacated.  This was an easy book, some history, some humor, lots of likeable characters and a surprise ending, the frosting on the cake.

Patty Jane's House of Curl by Lorna Landvik:  For fans of Billie Letts and Fannie Flagg

The Nix by Nathan Hill  I struggled with the first two chapters.  I was reading about unlikeable people and couldn't think that I'd enjoy a whole book about them, but I was wrong.  I loved this book, it's one the the best I've read this year.  The characters grew on me but with the underlying theme of Choose Your Own Adventure books, you begin to realize that nothing and no on is as they seem.  And I discovered that the unlikable Samuel became very likable, just a well-meaning, misguided and disappointed man.  Late in the book he realizes that everything he thought he had accomplished was because someone owed his mom a favor - his whole life was a sham.  As a boy he would bookmark a difficult chapter decision and if he didn't like the ending, he'd go back to his bookmark and choose a different ending.  He recognized that you can't go back to an earlier chapter in real life and choose a different ending.

Because the setting is today and also 1968, the story is both historical and political.  I love the way the author wrote parallel stories like Faye's father's pregnancy situation and his rage when he thinks Faye is pregnant.  Samuel refused to accept a student's paper based on principle, then is faced with being asked to put his name as author of a book he didn't write.  According to Periwinkle, idealism is overrated:  that is, if you don't worry about doing the right thing, then you'll have nothing to regret.

This really is a fun book with lots of food for thought.  In the end Samuel and Faye both make do-over decisions on a late voyage of self-discovery.  Or - with the all Choose Your Own Adventure segments in the book, is the ending really just a happy chapter choice that we made?

I'll close with the snowflake my mother crocheted when she was 90.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

I love that Ian puts so much thought and research into your gift!