The 2014 Winter Reading and Holiday Giving Booklist

Photo: Gerald Streiter, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: Gerald Streiter, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Readers & Writers hosts Ellen Rocco and Chris Robinson, book maven John Ernst, NCPR staff and friends, and listeners share their picks for the best books to read by the fireside or to give to friends and family this holiday season.

Here’s our book list–for winter reading and holiday gift giving.

Please add titles in the comment section or email them to me: [email protected].


From co-host John Ernst

NORA WEBSTER – Colm Toibin (2014)
Also: The Master, Brooklyn
Many readers will remember Colm Toibin as the author of The Master and of Brooklyn. Here he was written a novel that is quiet on the surface but packs an immensely powerful emotional punch. It may be his best book yet.
Nora Webster is widowed in her forties in the prime of her life, losing a husband who was her best friend and who balanced her perfectly. She is left with four children, two houses, no job, no savings and few prospects. She fiercely resists the sympathy of neighbors and family, and struggles to re-define her life. She feels as though she is, “alone in a sea of people.” The time is the late 1960s in Wexford, Ireland with battles breaking out in Northern Ireland and men walking on the moon.
The striking thing about the novel is the sheer dailiness that Toibin instills with such charged interest. Nora makes painful decisions. She sells a beach house without consulting her stunned children. She reclaims a job she left 25 years before, only to confront a supervisor with a bitter grudge against her. She battles on behalf of her oldest son, who has developed a stutter after his father’s death and is struggling in school. Most important, she finds a new outlet through music that lets her grow and develop. Toibin’s diction is unadorned and direct, but he has used it masterfully to create a character whom we may be discussing for years to come. Nora Webster is indelible.

A MISPLACED MASSACRE: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek – -Ari Kelman (2013)

The 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek massacre, which took place on November 29, 1864, is just days past. It marks the date on which the 1st and 3rd Colorado volunteer regiments, commanded by Colonel John Chivington, attacked hundreds of peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho people camped in southeastern Colorado under a white flag and an American flag, having been promised protection by the U. S. Army. Over 150 of them, mainly women, children and the elderly were callously slaughtered, their bodies hideously mutilated.

This book by Ari Kelman, an Assistant Professor of history at the University of California, is not mainly about the massacre but about its effect on Native people and on Coloradans. It goes to the heart of local history and of the Civil War, which has been used by some to excuse the unprovoked  attack. The story here is of the painful struggle to organize a memorial at a National Historic Site in 2007.

Nothing about the project was simple. Even the exact site of the event was in dispute. Native leaders, descendants of survivors, historians, politicians, ranchers, and Park Service employees argued and negotiated. Sometimes the atmosphere was explosive. What happened and how it happened make compelling reading with a narrative drive like a novel. The knowledge achieved here was bought in blood.

LET ME BE FRANK WITH YOU – Richard Ford (2014)
Also: Sportswriter, Independence Day (Pulitzer) The Lay of the Land

In these four linked stories, Richard Ford revives his most famous and beloved character, Frank Bascombe, whose life readers have followed from Sportswriter, through Independence Day (a Pulitzer Prize winner) to The Lay of the Land. Here is an older, crustier Frank. He is 68 and has returned to the New Jersey town of Haddam. The time is shortly after Hurricane Sandy’s devastation.  In the first story, Frank reluctantly visits the site of his former beach-front house, now destroyed, at the invitation of the man to whom he sold it, feeling undeserved guilt and some trepidation. These days Frank speaks of his “default self,” a kinder, more generous person than the cynical, death-haunted, cancer-survivor that he really is. In each of these stories he attempts to perform a humane act. He brings a special pillow to his ex-wife, Ann, who is suffering from an incurable disease in a toney extended care facility. Frank must undergo a humiliating security probe and endure his beneficiary’s cool sarcasm. In another story, he responds to an urgent call to make a death-bed visit to an old acquaintance who wants to tell him that he slept with Ann years before. In another, he accepts an unannounced visit by a black woman who needs to re-live a terrible event that happened 20 years before in Frank’s house. As in the novels, the stories are set in a holiday season, in this case Christmas, which lends a subtext to the action. Like Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom and Roth’s Zuckerman, Frank is an old friend, as decent and non-politically-correct as ever. We forgive him because he’s a guy we wouldn’t mind having a beer with. Before or after Christmas.

OFF THE SIDELINES: Raise Your Voice, Change the World
Kirsten Gillibrand with Elizabeth Weil. Foreword by Hillary Rodham Clinton (2014)
Kirsten Gillibrand comes from an old Albany political family and ran for Congress in the 20th district, a race she won against a long-time incumbent (John Sweeney). If that is not enough reason to talk about this book, let me say that it is a powerful and sincere call for women to make themselves heard in the political arena — on their local school boards, in town politics, and on the national level — in other words, to get off the sidelines. Gillibrand outlines her route from corporate law to working for Andrew Cuomo at HUD in Washington, winning the congressional race in the 20th, being appointed to Hillary Clinton’s vacant Senate seat and then winning two tough races in four years, ending with 70% of the vote. The issues on which Gillibrand has led in the Senate — don’t ask, don’t tell; medical care for 9/11 first responders; sexual assault in the military — are important ones and reflect her vital concerns. But the book also gives one a sense of a real person, making mistakes and recovering, struggling to mesh her career with a marriage and two young boys, even dealing with weight gain on a very public stage. This is not a plastic campaign bio. Gillibrand is a voice for those who have no other champion

LILA – Marilynne Robinson (2014)
Also: Housekeeping, Gilead, Home
Lila is Marilynne Robinson’s third novel set in the small, tired Iowa town that gave its name to her luminous Pulitzer-winning novel, Gilead. Lila picks up the story of the hard-bitten drifter who enters a church to get out of the rain and catches the eye of the minister, John Ames, a widower thirty years her senior.
The novel is a kind of contemplation – it looks back at Lila’s beginnings as a neglected infant stolen away by a rootless woman called Doll and growing up among a company of migrants, weaving that story through the contemporary events of Lila’s meeting and marrying Ames, having a child, struggling with an understanding of the Bible under the gentle instruction of her husband, learning gradually to trust and to accept a tentative happiness she never expected.
Robinson’s biblically ornate language is as powerful as ever, but as others have pointed out, telling this story in the third person distances the reader from Lila and makes her harshness and continual suspicion hard to accept. In the end it seems as though the first novel, Gilead, is the brilliant centerpiece of a triptych in which the other pieces, Home and Lila, are peripheral. To switch metaphors they are mildly interesting glosses on a masterful original text.

QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking –
Susan Cain (2012)
Susan Cain left a career as a corporate lawyer to research and write this book, a sensitive and wide-ranging look at the 30 to 50% of the population who fall somewhere along the spectrum of introversion. Cain investigates the qualities that make one an introvert and explores how introverts react in society, how they change, how they develop. She outlines the life strategies that make the best use of the positive qualities of introverts in a country like the U.S. that particularly values the qualities of an extrovert.
Cain tackles the subject of how parents, teachers and employers can evoke the best qualities of people who are put off by intense stimulus, who work best alone, who can be socially adept but require down-time to re-charge their batteries. They are scholars, thinkers, writers, artists. They are leaders like Rosa Parks – quiet and dignified. They are corporate lawyers, like the author, who– facing a high-powered Wall Street team in a tense negotiation– avoids a battle and finds middle ground – and is later offered a job by the opposing firm.
This is a book full of anecdote and lively research. It is a much-needed hymn to the quiet, reflective life in a noisy and self-aggrandizing society.

Edward Kanze (2014)
Also: The World of John Burroughs
Edward Kanze, a writer, guide and naturalist has written a book that is part family history, part guide to the North Country, and part natural inventory of the 18 acres where he lives, acres on which sits a house that has all the challenges of Mr. Blandings’ dream house of the 1950s book and film.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the house is a wreck. He is advised by contractors to tear it down, but he decides to rebuild. The descriptions of its horrors, such as hundreds of dead mouse skeletons behind walls, and of the heroic exertions required to make it semi-habitable, as well as the challenges it poses to his new marriage are very entertaining.
Kanze also writes of his deep family roots in the town that became known as Bloomingdale, going back through 4 greats of grandfather, about he and his wife Debbie’s struggles to have children late in life, and about the financial pressures of his chosen life style. And he writes of finding the overgrown camp he remembers being taken to as a child by his beloved grandfather.
But most of all, Kanze conveys his pleasure in documenting the plants and animals and insects among which he lives and his pride in a Park where people have lived for generations.

The Children Act – Ian McEwan

The Passage to Power, Vol. 4 of the Years of Lyndon Johnson – Robert M. Caro

Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity – Andrew Solomon

The Patriarch – David Nasaw

Chris Robinson

The windows are closed and outdoor sounds are muffled by snow.  This quiet of winter leaves me feeling ambitious. I can take on more challenging reading assignments.  It is time for Proust, or fat Russian novels and multi-volume Nordic memoirs. The slowness and solitude of a North Country winter feels like a great gift.  But there is danger lurking too.  The other morning, I watched a panel on Book TV composed of Ann Patchett, Francine Prose, Nicholson Baker and Walter Moseley. These are all formidable voices of and for literature. We’ve interviewed Patchett and Prose on Readers and Writers. They were asked a simple question: Why do you like to read?

I’m fairly certain I’ve never been asked this question. It has not been a question I have posed to myself. Immediately, I fell in love with its simplicity and elegance. I waited anxiously for the answer offered by these authors.  Moseley loved reading because his parents loved it. For Nicholson Baker and Francine Prose, they began their love of reading because of the relief it offered from childhood fears and boredom.  Ann Patchett’s response was less direct and exposed the danger of winter reading.  Indeed, she slipped the whole question of why she loves to read to admit that she loved reading above all else. She now resents invitations to parties or other social engagements because they   interfere with her reading time.

I found something of myself in each of the responses from the panelists. I know I read for information and to stimulate my own thinking. I read to write. I read for both comfort and for discomfort. The only thing better than picking up a beloved author, is picking up someone who I disagree with and even hate.  The works of those I conceive to be enemies demand a written response. They spur me to think for myself.  So leave me to it.

Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:


  • Amy Bloom, Lucky Us.  I interviewed Ms. Bloom this past September, and you can find it archived at the Readers and Writers page.  Amy Bloom is a brilliant writer on the theme of love.  Lucky Us is a deep and moving exploration of how love works in a human life. It brings strangers together for lifelong commitments. It is a source of joy and subversion. It can lead to betrayal and the experience of loss so deep that you never recover.  Bloom is a major talent with a gift for recreating time periods. When you finish this book, turn directly to her earlier novel, Away and her story collection, Where the God of Love Hangs Out.
  • Lars Iyer, Wittgenstein Jr,, A Novel. Iyer is a professor of Philosophy who has written two books on Maurice Blanchot.  Several years ago he turned to fiction, first with a blog, and then with a trilogy of comic novels that recall Samuel Beckett and Grouch Marx. Wittgenstein Jr is a different sort of novel. Yes, it is funny, in spots. But it is mainly an arresting character study of a philosophy professor who comes to be called “Wittgenstein Jr” by his students.  I was surprised by how moving this novel is. Iyer is capable of writing on the most central of emotions in human life with perspicacity and empathy. I loved this book.
  • Jonathan Lethem, Dissident Gardens. I read everything that Jonathan Lethem writes.  I look forward to his novels like I used to look forward to Woody Allen movies, and with the same expectation that I would be enlightened in some way. Dissident Gardens is Lethem’s most ambitious book to date. You start with Rose Zimmer, loyal Communist in the forties and fifties, only to be corrupted by the civil rights movement in the sixties. Then you turn to Rose’s daughter Miriam, hippy and activist who married an Irish folksinger. Finally you skip to the contemporary era, the War on Terror, and experience the traumas of the past and the loss of liberty in the present through Miriam’s son, Sergius, and Rose’s stepson (it’s more complicated than this) Cicero Lookins.  What a fantastic world this book is.
  • Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping to Gilead.  Last year, I interviewed the great essayist and memoirist, Richard Rodriguez.  We talked a lot about the literature of spirituality from St. Augustine to St. Theresa Avila, and from Tolstoy to Thomas Merton.  We could have included the writings of Marilynne Robinson in this list.  Robinson’s novels are works of great beauty in language. This quality serves her subject well.  It is nothing less than the uncanny sacredness of ordinary life. While reading her novels I kept thinking of Socrates’ great line about being kind to everyone you meet because they are fighting unimaginable battles within. These spiritual struggles are made visible in deceivingly simple and clear ways in Robinson’s work.
  • Stuart Neville, The Ghosts of Belfast.  The path to contemporary sciences – robotics, virtual reality, quantum physics, and so on – were paved by science fiction writers from Asimov to Phillip K. Dick. In the same vein, contemporary examinations of justice in a world of genocide, torture, pre-emptive wars, terrorism and Apartheid have been paved by crime novels.  Neville’s novel is a thriller set in Dublin and Belfast.  It is a profound study of humanity, psychic trauma and legal systems in times of war.


  • Danielle Allen, Our Declaration.  Allen is a political theorist who writes on both ancient and modern political themes.  Her book on civil rights and equality, Talking to Strangers, is an extraordinary study of race in America and deserves to be considered a modern classic. Her new book, Our Declaration, is a close reading of the Declaration of Independence. When was the last time you read this document?  Allen offers you a thoughtful, scholarly and provocative reading of this founding document.
  • Charles D’Ambrosio, Loitering, New and Collected Essays.  Prior to picking up this volume, I had read only one D’Ambrosio essay, and it was on “Hell House,” a Halloween treat constructed from the horrifying fantasies of punishment of fundamentalist Christians. This essay is included here. D’Ambrosio thinks of the essay in much the same way as Montaigne: it is a space for reflection and uncertainty to be explored. It is experimental ground for writing and thinking. D’Ambrosio is no cupcake.  He is a perfect representative of Seattle culture. He’s dark and rainy, wet and uncomfortable, but innovative and passionate too.  You can overdose on his world, so be careful.
  • Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything. I can’t think of a more incisive and important social commentator working today than Naomi Klein. No Logo and The Shock Doctrine were stunning inquiries into marketing and economic theory.  Her new work is a study of climate change.  Klein takes on climate science deniers in the book, but her real target are mainstream environmentalists and environmental groups that express agreement with climate science, but fail to grasp and articulate the political and ecological consequences of that science.  If I could, I would put this book in the hands of every college first year student.  The study of global climate change should be central to their education.
  • Cornel West, Black Prophetic Fire. This book is a series of conversations between West and German scholar Christa Buchendorf on Frederick Douglass, WEB DuBois, MLK Jr., Malcolm X, Ella Baker and Ida B. Wells.  It is a fine primer on these thinkers and activists.  I was ashamed to say that I knew very little about Ida B. Wells.  Her works in opposition to lynching are sadly timely today.
  • Simon Wiesenthal, The Sunflower. This is a work that blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction. It is a fascinating project.  The book opens with a story told by Wiesenthal.  While in a concentration camp, Wiesenthal is called to the bed of a dying SS officer.  The Nazi asks the Jew for forgiveness for his participation in an atrocity.  Should the Jewish prisoner forgive the Nazi?  This question is then answered by a sizable list of contemporary thinkers, scholars and religious figures.
  • Atul Gawande, Being Human. Medical science and technology have altered the line between life and death. Generally, this is a good thing. But the alteration of these categories has profound ethical consequences for doctors and patients alike. Moreover, it demands contemporary reflection on what it means to be human, today, and without resort to answers from past ages. Gawande is an especially thoughtful writer on that region where medicine, politics and philosophy intersect.
  • Barron H. Lerner, The Good Doctor: A Father, A Son, and the Evolution of Medical Ethics.  Okay, so I admit that I will be teaching Medical Ethics in the Spring and so I had to read through a fairly large pile of new books. The Gawande volume above was the best of these. But I liked Lerner’s book too.  What Lerner offers is a comparison of the practice of medicine from his father’s practice to his own.
  • Lisa Bloom, Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It.  The issue of mass incarceration reveals an American criminal justice system infected by racism. Bloom studies the Trayvon Martin case closely, and then uses it as a window onto the distortions of justice that have engendered a growing protest movement.
  • Michael Nieto Garcia, Autobiography in Black and Brown.  Garcia has produced a fascinating reading of the role of ethnic identity – being black or being brown — in the works of Richard Wright and Richard Rodriguez. Sometimes, odd combinations of writers produce profound insights, and this is the case in this book.  What lies behind the form of autobiography and ethnic identity in the hands of literary masters is a liberated and experimental inquiry into the self that uses strictures to incite the imagination.  Thanks to Garcia’s study, I will be re-reading Wright and Rodriguez in the very near future.

Ellen Rocco

Short fiction–new and classic; some Man Booker finalists; and some western U.S.-based fiction I’ve revisited.

David Means, The Secret Goldfish stories (2005); Assorted Fire Events (2012)

Michael Coffey, The Business of Naming Things

Flannery O’Connor, The Complete Stories

Anton Chekhov, The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories, or Delphi Complete Works of Anton Chekhov ($2 on Kindle)

Francis King, The Man on the Rock (set in modern Greece, protagonist a consummate manipulator and opportunist), Man Booker finalist

Neel Mukherjee, The Lives of Others (how Islamic extremism takes hold inside a moderate Calcutta family), Man Booker finalist

David Mitchell – The Bone Clocks (a life and a mystery, lived in England and Ireland), Man Booker finalist

Rabih Alameddine – An Unnecessary Woman (a Beirut spinster translates books into Arabic that no one ever reads), National Book Award finalist

Philipp Meyer, The Son, Texas settlement and conflict, Pulitzer finalist

Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, and The Border Trilogy

Zach Hirsch (NCPR Plattsburgh/Champlain Bureau reporter)

In the winter, I find myself getting into old classics. I just zipped through Demian by Herman Hesse. It’s a quick, dark, bizarre Bildungsroman. Probably not most people’s cup of tea – but I found it to be a perfect little read for the end of autumn. I’ve always felt there’s a peculiar, lonesome feeling to the start of winter, and this book captures that nicely. Here’s a passage I liked:

“It was the beginning of November. I had become used to taking short meditative walks during all kinds of weather, walks on which I often enjoyed a kind of rapture tinged with melancholy… Thus I roamed in the foggy dusk one evening through the town. The broad avenue of a public park stood deserted, beckoning me to enter; the path lay thickly carpeted with fallen leaves which I stirred angrily with my feet. There was a damp, bitter smell, and distant trees, shadowy as ghosts, loomed huge out of the midst.”

Now I’m reading some Kurt Vonnegut. It’s like candy.

Charles Haverty (a writer, and reporter Natasha Haverty’s dad), had this to share with us on Facebook:

The Splendid Things We Planned, Blake Bailey’s “darkly funny account of growing up in the shadow of an erratic and increasingly dangerous brother, an exhilarating and sometimes harrowing story that culminates in one unforgettable Christmas.” Also: So We Read On, Maureen Corrigan’s terrific book all about The Great Gatsby; Updike by Adam Begley; and The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum.  Two other recent reads (novels) that fall into the “Where Have You Been All My Life?” category: The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald and The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford.

Sam Donato posted this to Facebook:

I  love the book Endurance which is the account of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew trying to cross Antarctica in the early 1900’s. If you think this is cold, this will make the North Country seem warm! A great survival story.

Plus, all of these suggestions from our Facebook friends:

Frederick Kaselow — Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

Ellen Beberman — Let Me Be Frank With You, by Richard Ford. And if you haven’t read Independence Day, read that one next.

Virginia Burnett — I am re-reading Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett: The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky , The Wintersmith, and I Shall Wear Midnight. Not only are they excellent fun, they also contain some insightful social commentary that is particularly pertinent right now.

Sue Novak — I’m sure you don’t want to know about Communication and the Law, so how about Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half for some grins?

Bake This Cake — Searching for historic cake recipes in a lovely old recipe book, American Economical Housekeeper, 1845, (second edition) by Mrs. E. A Howland. Just delightful and so fun to read!

Rita Grinbergs — The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje (audio download from the library).

Diane LeifheitThe Night Circus by Eren Morgenstern. Magical, memorable, sparkly writing.

Amy DiStefano — Loved Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent . Also, Alexander McCall Smith’s The Number 1 Ladies a Detective Agency series is great.

Stephen Trinder Urban Mass Transportation: A Dozen Years of Federal Policy by George M. Smerk.

Mary Sullivan SagerThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

C.J. RudyThree Soldiers by John Dos Passos.

Ben Hamelin Tibetan Peach Pie , Tom Robbins’ “True Account of an Imaginative Life.”

Rob SprogellGone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Linda Garrett The Unexpected Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.

Louisa Burnham Charity and Sylvia: A Same Sex Marriage in Early America by Rachel Hope Cleves.

Tom KinslowMy Losing Season by Pat Conroy.

Marcia Clifton RobbinsThe Firebird by Susanna Kearsley.

Colleen Pelletier Blood Red by Mercedes Lackey. Excellent read. She takes fairy tales and gives them a whole new story and twist. This one is about Little Red Riding Hood.

Jennifer Chasalow VanBenschotenLight on Life by Ivengar.

Les Tuttle — Currently, One Basket by Edna Ferber; before that, Home Country by Ernie Pyle (which I loved). Got ’em both in the Salvation Army thrift store.

William Bruce Matthews — I am re-reading Promises to Keep by north country author Jamie Sheffield. Other titles by him: Here Be Monsters, Caretakers, The Weaving.

Elaine L. LemieuxThe Wisdom of Jesus and the Yoga Siddhas by Marshall Govindan.

Nancy Linge Currier — Absolute favorite holiday book: A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. Read it every year.

Di Fineout  — An Open Heart by the Dalai Lama.

Deirdre O’CallaghanThe Hare with  Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

Jim TracySycamore Row by John Grisham.

Jule BeileinA Good Marriage by Stephen King.

Wendy Purcell Saving Simon by Jon Katz; The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless; and Off the Leash by Matthew Gilbert.

Love ResilienceThe Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman. As a recent transplant from NYC, I really enjoyed blowing through this book. I highly recommend it.

Deanna Suciu Heermann — I just started The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. Loved Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler, and thought Factory Man by Beth Macy was a good read as well.

Paula Di BernardoWalkable Westchester by Jane and Walt Daniels, and in the evenings, Catching Fire (book 2 in the Hunger Games Trilogy).

Laura Cordts — Currently reading Cooked by Michael Pollan. Recently zoomed through The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.

Vera LaRoeThe Stone Wife by Peter Lovesey. Chaucer and mystery.

Susan Washburn — Just finished Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. Favorites of this year: And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini,  and The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt.

Kristin Rehder — Best book of essays I have read in a long time: Catherine Reid’s Falling into Place.

Arpad Gerster The World We Create by Frances Beinecke, President of NRDC and a Long Laker. Also, The 100 Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais.

Peter RowleyLila by Marilynne Robinson and All the Light You Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

Diane Blakey MinutilliStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, National Book Award nominee.

Dick Donovan — For political junkies: On His Own Terms-A Life of Nelson Rockefeller. Richard Norton Smith has written a richly researched bio that is a great story about an energetic life. Most interesting to me is Rockefeller’s determination to work around his dyslexia. Rocky was a flawed and fascinating guy.

Wendy GordonMansfield Park, for Austen completists.

Debbie Shonio MarshallThe Red Tent by Anita Diamant, before the miniseries begins.

Bob Maswick — My pick for non-fiction is Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. Fiction? It’s been a long time since I found a really good book but Tod Goldberg’s Gangsterland gets my vote.

Susan Therio — I just told someone the other night to make sure they read The Dirty Life by Kristan Kimball. I love the story……. It’s not a new one, but it’s a GREAT one.

Danielle EdwardsAngora Alibi by Sally Goldenbaum . I love those knitting mysteries!

Barbara Strowger — Currently, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Bill ShortThe Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. Non-fiction.

Shari Barnhart City of Bones by Cassandra Clarke. First in a long series.

Ellen BrownHeaven, Your Real Home by Joni Eareckson Tada.

Valerie Summer — My favorite book of the year: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. A great read heavy on nature and botany, strong female protagonist. The Orphan Train was wonderful, especially read aloud on the DVD.

Chris Bigelow — Too many books, so little time! These are some of the books I enjoyed this year:
Frog Music by Emma Donoghue, very different from Room, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, TransAtlantic by Colum McCann, The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, and Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. This is nonfiction and a true story of determination, trials, and endurance. I have not started Nora Webster by Colm Toibin. I have heard great thing about this book. Thanks again for having this program each year. I love to know what your listeners are reading.

Valerie Moody

Here are my recommendations from this year:

Women with Altitude by Carol Stone White (stories of women winter 46ers)

Close Range, Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx (one of my favorite collections to return to)

The Third Life of Grange Copeland by Alice Walker

Spirit of Steamboat by Craig Johnson (a feel-good Longmire holiday story)

* And for the horse friends we know:

The Eighty-Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts (great read, great gift!)

Barbara Phillip-Farley

Best new book: Gutenberg’s Apprentice, by Alix Christie

Next-best new book: One Summer: America, 1927, by Bill Bryson

Most disappointing newer book: The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

Best old book: Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy  (trans. Magarshack)

Fine biography:  Jack London: An American Life, by Earle Labor

Barrie GilbertIn the Shadow of the Sabertooth: Global Warming, the Origins of the First Americans, and the Terrible Beasts of the Pleistocene, by Doug Peacock (Counterpunch) 2015

Kristin RehderFalling into Place by Catherine Reid; For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey by Richard Blanco. An old favorite of mine is a book of photographs by Mary Randlett called Landscapes.

Paul DuffeeThe Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (Winner of the Man Booker Prize).

Bridget –By far, the most thought provoking, well written book I read in 2014 was We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. Also, The Homesmen by Glendon Swarthout – now a movie starring Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones. Both are books that stay with you.

From the Kaczka family

  1. A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson.   You don’t have to be a birder to enjoy this little gem penned by an Australian naturalist.
  2. The 100 year Old Man who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson.  Oh the adventures he has as he is pursued by police and criminals and the people he meets.  The journey reveals the colorful life he has led meeting some of the 20th century’s global leaders as  his explosive skills take him to significant events.  It is a delicious smorgasbord of satire and wit that will tickle your funny bone.
  3. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.  A disgruntled pensioner receives a note that prompts a written response.  The walk to post the letter extends to a longer ramble that brings notoriety and revelatory turns in Harold and the reader.  Take this gentle journey with this Englishman and share in the joy of discovery and renewal.
  4. A Sudden Country: A Novel by Karen Fisher.  For a journey of another kind, read this fact based novel describing events on an 1840 wagon train emigration to Oregon.  It is not a shoot’em up  western tale but the story of a Midwestern family uprooted from their home to pursue a dream.  Love, loss, hardship, harsh beauty and untimely deaths marks the days of the naïve travelers as the make their way west.  It is well written hard to put down as you wonder how they endured.
  5. Snow Child: A Novel by Eowyn Ivey.  Travelling further west and north and nearer in time, this novel describes the life of a childless couple who immigrate to Alaska in the 1920.  What begins as a tale of a couple struggling to survive to the harsh realities on their frontier homestead as winter is approaching, takes a fairy tale like turn.  A snow child they build in a moment of leads to some unanticipated developments.  The writing beautifully captures the austerity of of the Alaskan environment and the enchantment of the tale.
  6. Garden of the Evening Mists and The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng.  I re commend both of these books by this Malaysian author because once most people read one, they want to read the other.   The Garden is set in the aftermath of World War II, a woman scarred by the war tries to full fill a wish of her dead sister develops a relationship with an exiled Japanese gardener.  The beautifully written story evolves with many twists and turns.  The Gift, Eng’s debut novel begins in pre WWII Penang with the Hutton family, but the focus evolves to Hutton’s Chinese-English son and a Japanese diplomat aikido master.  When the Japanese invade Maylaysia loyalties and friendships evolve and are tested.  A lot historical and socio cultural information is wrapped around this compelling novel.
  7. The Light Between the Oceans by M.L.Stedman.  Returning home after four years of WWI an Australian veteran seeks a position a lighthouse keeper on a lonely island a half day journey from the coast of Western Australia.   He brings a young wife to the island and after two failed pregnancies a rowboat washes ashore with a young infant.  A gift from God marks a joyous turn and eventual tragedy as morality and values are tested.  There is much to find is this fine complex novel.
  8. The Orchardist, The Language of Flowers and Beyond the Beautiful Forevers are also good reads.

Steve Comstock 

1. Ava’s Man by Rick Bragg – phenomenal story about a working class southern roofer with a big heart and even bigger helping of mischevious spirit.

2. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt – A young girl coming of age through the loss of her uncle to aids. Beautifully written.

3. Hello Everybody!: The Dawn of American Radio by Anthony Rudel – A truly engaging work dealing with the characters and stories that dominated the wild-westlike frontier of American Radio in infancy.

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53 Comments on “The 2014 Winter Reading and Holiday Giving Booklist”

  1. Ellen Rocco says:

    This email from Jessica Mulvey:

    Hi Ellen,
    Called too late. bummer. I find I need some humor this time of year…Here’s what I’m reading/have read and love:

    Local Author (part time Wilmington, NY)

    Author Jack Riepe 2 collections of essays are just great:
    1999, Politically Correct Cigar Smoking for Social Terrorists
    2012, Conversations with a Motorcycle

    Both are ‘fall out of bed laughing’ at times, very human at others. It appeals to me (a woman) not only because the writing is truly fine, but the (obvious) very male perspective and humor provides some unexpected insights to the male psyche. Bravado and humility go side by side with an elegance I didn’t epect. The most recent book is more autobiographical and covers his coming of age about 19-about 21 years old. His description in the first chapter describes so beautifully a teen’s love of cycling, the rest are chronological entries after getting his first motorcycle accompanied by all the landmark events we all have in late teens to early twenties. And the most personal events are written with compassion as well as passion. Again somewhat unexpected as it’s mixed with the kick-ass harshness he developed growing up in working class Jersey. Jack provided bookend for my own feminism that I find palatable. (also good to know someone else besides myself who has owned a vehicle that converses with them.)
    I would give this book to men and women. But definately men friends whrther they rode a motorcycle or not. (And definately any man who is going thru an emasculating divorce and needs a boost!!)

    Currently reading:
    Tina Fey; Bossypants
    Gives more real insight to being a writer at Sat Nite Live then taking her improv background to acting AND writing in 30 Rock. I had not known her other than as a Weekend Update, Palen impression and 30 Rock. Love the unbending yet approachable feminism. And the humor–just great. Again, like Jack’s writing, I’m waking family members up at night laughing out loud.

    This last one is not as humorous but so good I have to mention it:
    Ruby: An Ordinary Woman ;Ruby Alice Side Thompson
    Her actual diaries of her everyday life and frustrations as a mother and wife in early 1900’s America. Well edited by her granddaughter and a psychologist add great footnotes to help paint the life even fuller. I wish my own diaries were written as beautifully…

    From My Children
    My 9 year old LOVES Tove Jansson’s Moomintroll series. Wish I’d read it myself at that age and read it to my now 15 yr old. Adventurous but not scary in the usual ways. Not patronizing. Great family interactions in a captivating fantasy of (thankfully non-disney) characters.

  2. jeanne whyte says:

    i would like to add Renovation, by jeanne elizabeth whyte, of inlet NY.
    a story about an architect who renovates an old ruin of a camp, and inadvertently, her entire life.
    available at local bookstores in the ADK and at Amazon.

  3. Ellen Rocco says:

    This addition from Nick:
    An old story I love to read over and over: In the Shadow of a Rainbow by Robert Franklin Leslie is the true story of a man’s experiences with a wolf pack in the northwest territories and one wolf in particular. Also, and this is an old classic that you somehow rarely hear of: Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens. For murder mystery buffs Stephen Head’s Deadline for Death is tops.

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