Build/read the 2016 Winter Reading List


It’s time for our annual holiday gift-giving/winter reading list…and call in. Co-hosts John Ernst and Chris Robinson will join me on Tuesday, December 6 from 10-noon to talk about books they recommend, and to take your calls and suggestions. After the show, we’ll build out this list to include all of the titles from the show, from our Facebook page, and from your emails (you can send suggestions to me [email protected]). The phone number to use on Tuesday is 877-388-6277. It’s always a lively two hours–and there’s never enough time to talk about all of the books we’ve read lately–but we hope you’ll jump in.

Here’s a first pass at some of the titles we’re starting with:

Ellen Rocco, NCPR

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness – Sy Montgomery (fiction)

The Geography of Water – Mary Emerick (nonfiction)

The Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen (this Pulitzer-winner is on the top of my must-read pile)

The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead (just under the previous book on my bedside pile)

John Ernst, Elk Lake

The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead (2016)

Also: John Henry Days; Sag Harbor; & 5 others

Colson Whitehead’s seventh novel was published to critical effusions, comparing The Underground Railroad to Toni Morrison’s Beloved, to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and to works by Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka and Jonathan Swift. It is already being discussed as a new American classic.

In telling the story of a young woman (Cora) escaping from a Georgia cotton plantation, Whitehead in effect deconstructs the record of slavery in the antebellum South. He exposes the ugly corners of slavery in a combination of a realistic flight-and-chase narrative (a duel between Cora and a relentless slave-catcher named Richardson) and an imaginative shifting of history in which, for example, the metaphorical underground railroad becomes an actual blackened tunnel with fanciful stations on the way, lying under various cellars and barns.

For perspective, Whitehead shifts the story back to the time of Cora’s grandmother, captured from West Africa, and to Cora’s mother, another escapee. In a brilliant historical imaginative act, he portrays in South Carolina what looks like a progressive program of work, education, and decent housing for former slaves, which turns out, horrifyingly, to be an experiment in eugenics. By contrast, North Carolina has used violence to systematically remove all blacks from the state. Cora spends several uncomfortable months in a cramped attic crawl space, watching this unfold, in murder. And finally, Whitehead imagines a model farm cooperative run by black people in Indiana that meets a tragic end.

The pace of the narrative is compelling and the writing is direct and vivid, effective but never showy. Clearly this is an important book.

News of the World — Paulette Jiles (2016)

Also: Enemy Women; Stormy Weather

This is a tough little nugget of a novel, unsentimental but with a heart. It is 1870 in North Texas, a country still prey to Kiowa and Comanche raids. 72-year old Captain Jefferson Kidd, recently widowed, separated from his adult children and depressed, is a news reader, bringing stories from newspapers around the world to sodden little backcountry towns, surviving on dimes collected in a tin can at the door. Kidd, a veteran of two wars going back to 1814, undertakes a mission of honor for which he is paid a $50 gold piece. He is to return a recently-ransomed Kiowa captive, a blue-eyed ten year old girl named Johanna, to her aunt and uncle near San Antonio, a journey of 400 miles through dangerous and lawless country.

Johanna, whose parents and sister were murdered by Kiowa, has spent 4 years with the tribe, has forgotten most of her English and considers herself Kiowa. Attempting to escape at every opportunity, she struggles to avoid shoes, dresses and the constraints of eating with utensils. The grizzled Captain patiently tries to bring the near-feral child back into the world from which she was torn and to protect her against the dangers of the trail, Including white slavers, ex-Confederates, and the U.S. Army. Together they fight an epic battle using dimes from the proceeds of readings to load shotgun shells.

Giles has a fresh view of the world and her descriptive prose is vivid. The novel bears comparison to Charles Portis’ classic, True Grit, and in fact, Rooster Cogburn and the Captain would certainly have a fine time hoisting a glass together.

Avid Reader – Robert Gottlieb (2016)

As Maxwell Perkins at Scribner’s was to a previous generation of writers (people like Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald) Bob Gottlieb is for the generation from Joseph Heller to Toni Morrison – the quintessential book editor, working mainly at the quintessential publisher, 100-year-old Alfred A. Knopf.

This is his memoir, bursting with energy and anecdotes and people. Gottlieb broke into publishing at Simon and Schuster, where he promptly found and shepherded Catch-22 to bestseller status. Later, at Knopf, his authors included John le Carre, Robert Caro, Barbara Tuchman, John Lennon, Katharine Hepburn, and Doris Lessing. This would be a full career for any ordinary mortal but after almost 20 years, he left for The New Yorker, where he replaced the legendary William Shawn as editor and took the magazine from moribund to vibrant, managing the bruised egos on the staff and bringing in a whole new cast of contributors. Along the way he managed to devote time to his other enthusiasms – ballet (especially those of George Balanchine), old films, collecting plastic handbags of the 1950s and 60s and finally, writing of his own.

What is the secret of Gottlieb’s success? He is an omnivorous reader with a sharp eye for talent and enough confidence in himself to allow the writer always to come first. He has a prodigious appetite for verbal communication and experiences a palpable joy in engaging with people who share his many interests. With these qualities he seems to find literary gold wherever he turns.

This is an indispensable book for anyone interested in writing and publishing of the past 50 years.

Nutshell – Ian McEwan (2016)

Also: Saturday; Atonement; On Chesil Beach

The first line of this black comedy is, ”So here I am, upside down in a woman.” The narrator is a nine-month-old unborn child who attempts to interpret the world mostly based on his overhearing the podcasts that his mother listens to. So you might say that this is a perfect story for a radio audience.

Unfortunately, our narrator also over-hears his young mother plotting with her lover to murder his father. Very upsetting. The scene is an expensive London town house in which the mother is living in squalor, having banished her husband, a rather naïve poet. This is a crime story told from a very unusual point of view, with the fetus imagining the look of people and events, tasting the prodigious amounts of alcohol being consumed, and swinging emotionally from one participant in the drama to another. Cruelly, none of them consider him in any of their manipulations until the conclusion, when his sudden birth brings the plot to its inevitable resolution.

Nutshell has a lot in common with McEwan’s last few novels — Solar; Sweet Tooth; and The Children’s Act – all short, bleak, and populated mostly with repellent people. This one is, I think, the best and most original of the group. The writing is, as always, deft and compelling, and the novel has a real suspense that may have you rooting for the bad guys. I would prefer another Atonement or Saturday, but beggars can’t be choosers.

The Vanishing Velazquez: A 19th Century Bookseller’s Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece – Laura Cumming (2016)

Also: A Face in the World: On Self Portraits

Laura Cummings is the long-time art critic of the Observer and arts editor of the New Statesman. In this new book she explores the mystery of what may be a lost masterpiece. The story begins in 1845 at a provincial auction when a local bookseller and printer, John Snare, pays a pittance for a dirt-smeared portrait of Charles I of England. When the painting is cleaned, Snare is astonished; it appears to be a Velazquez painted in Spain when young Charles was there on an unsuccessful mission to marry the Infanta, of the Spanish royal family, and unite the two nations.

Expert opinion varied on the authenticity of the work, but for Snare the painting turned into an obsession that cost him his business, his family, and his country. He lived for years by periodically exhibiting the work but died impoverished in New York, forty years after having discovered it.

Cummings packs her interesting but tenuous narrative with pages of appreciation for Velazquez and details of his life as court painter to Philip iv of Spain. In the end, the trail peters out, despite heroic research efforts. The painting has disappeared, leaving no visual record. All leads to possible earlier owners, such as the Earl of Fife, prove to be dead ends. The questions remain. Was Snare’s painting a Velazquez? Does it still exist in the attic of some country house? Was Snare’s conviction a delusion? We may never know the answers, but the search is entertaining and instructive.

Weathering – Lucy Wood (2016)

Also: Diving Belles (short stories)

This is a first novel that has a strange, haunting and compelling mood. It  bears comparison to Marilynne Robinson’s memorable first novel, Housekeeping. The elements are simple and spare. A mother and her 6-year old daughter, Pepper, return to the damp, crumbling, barely-heated river-side house where she grew up. They intend to stay only long enough to collect some belongings after her own mother’s death, patch up the house, sell it, and move on. But circumstances are more complicated than they seem. For one thing there is a hunched, grey figure by the river who surfaces as Pearl, the mother/grandmother who doesn’t know she is dead and makes matter-of-fact appearances dripping river ice and snow on the cottage floors.

The river itself and the incessant rain of the fall season and then the snow, and cold and thaw of winter are themselves characters in the story, as are the quirky neighbors and the twisting, murderous roads that link residents to the village and the world beyond.

The people and then setting get under your skin and the dampness and desolation are strong enough impressions to stick with you after you put the novel down. Joy Williams calls this,” an absolutely irresistible tale of ghosts, grace and perseverance.” That says it.

The Gene: An Intimate History — Siddhartha Mukherjee (2016)

Also: The Emperor of all Maladies

Doctor Mukherjee, who won a Pulitzer for his magisterial biography of cancer – The Emperor of All Maladies – is a Rhodes Scholar who trained at Stanford, Oxford and Harvard. He is now a professor at Columbia University and a staff physician at Columbia University Medical Center.

With all those heavy-weight credentials, perhaps the most impressive thing about him is his ability to describe complex matters not only clearly, but with an actual sense of what can only be called poetry. Here he traces the history of our knowledge of the gene, the basic element of inheritance, through Gregor Mendel’s pea studies in Moravia in 1856, through Charles Darwin’s work, to Crick and Watson and the discovery of the double-helix form of DNA, right up to studies going on today. The author provides hints of the promising but also frightening capability to re-engineer human genes by editing them but also by radically changing them. This could lead to the elimination of terrible diseases, such as Huntington’s disease and cystic fibrosis, but the shadow of Nazi-era eugenics, also described here, gives one pause.

Throughout the book, Dr. Mukherjee weaves the personal story of his own family and its recurring theme of schizophrenia, the knowledge that he may bear a ticking genetic time bomb.

This is an important book for the understanding of humanity. No other life form has been able to re-design itself. That is a powerful and sobering idea.

Chris Robinson, Clarkson

The campaign and election of Donald Trump has been informing my reading over the last few months. I suspect this will be the case for the next four years. As a political theorist, I have been trained to analyze the way passions, like fear, and irrationalities, like racism, become governing forces in the political sphere. The election of Trump came as no surprise. Darkness is upon us. Politics as entertainment now reigns. Hateful spectacle is the new normal. My reading needs to complement and support the hard work of cultivating a politics of love that resists the white supremacy, climate change denial, plutocracy and xenophobia of Trump while creating and cultivating an effective and democratic counter-movement that will engender hope for the future. But it will also recognize the need to escape and relax into fiction that permits recovery and nourishes the imagination.


  • Mychal Denzel Smith, Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching. Smith is a writer for The Nation and an important commentator on issues of mass incarceration and police violence. This is the memoir of a man who didn’t think he would live to 25 because of his skin color. It is a dazzling portrait of how one learns to be black in America, and the consequences of this education for Smith mentally and physically. His insights into homophobia and sexism among people of color are brilliant and rich.
  • W. Watkins, The Beast Side: Living and Dying While Black In America. Watkins is a Baltimore native who has developed a readership for his newspaper columns because of their moral urgency and range. Watkins grew up on the streets of the east side (“beast side”) of Baltimore (“Bloody-more”). He survived the drug trade while he pursued undergraduate and graduate degrees. His columns read like dispatches from a war zone.
  • Nick Hornby, Songbook. I’m reading a lot of Hornby these days because my dear colleague Joseph Duemer retired and I inherited his Hornby collection. But I’m also reading because Hornby’s various takes on popular music comport with my own. This is not to say that we like the same music. Rather, we agree on the importance of music for life. We live through the music we love, and we organize our memories around the songs that moved us back when. Songbook is an intimate and learned study of the music of Hornby’s life.
  • R. MacNeill and Peter Engelke, The Great Acceleration. We live in an era called “The Anthropocene.” With this era comes a paradox: How is it that humans can alter climate by our fossil fuel use and profess to love their children and grandchildren, and yet lack the power to save future generations from the more dire consequences of anthropogenic climate change? This remarkable book documents the unsustainable way we live today. We have all known only a world where fossil fuel use is rampant and damaging, where human populations increases by a billion every few years, and where abundance seems limitless. The first step toward sustainability, then, is to challenge this image of what is normal.
  • Sarah Blakewell, At the Existentialist Café. I loved Blakewell’s last book on Montaigne. This book looks at the entire generation of French Existentialists, but focuses on Sartre, DeBeauvoir, Camus and Merleau-Ponty. These figures wrote the first works of philosophy I ever read with some degree of comprehension. Reading Blakewell’s group biography taught me some new things about these philosophers and it was like a trip down memory lane.
  • Asne Seierstad, One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway –And Its Aftermath. This is the story of mass murderer Anders Brevik, told masterfully by journalist Seierstad. What turns a person into a monster who could detonate a bomb in Oslo killing eight people, and then travel to an isolated island and shoot and kill 69 teenage members of the Norwegian Labor Party? Brevik is a true sociopath, but he is also a window onto right-wing extremism in Europe.
  • Carol Anderson, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. This is a remarkable study of the history of white backlash to all forms of black progress in America, from Reconstruction to the election of Barack Obama to Ferguson. In reference to Ferguson, Anderson observed how press accounts remarked on black rage, but failed to observe the white rage that killed Michael Brown. “With so much attention on the flames,” she wrote, “everyone had ignored the kindling.” The study of lynching in America is gripping, horrifying and ultimately the best proof of Anderson’s thesis.
  • Marc Lamont Hill, Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond. This book covers territory similar to Anderson, but Hill examines the intersection of ethnicity and class to depict the plight of the most vulnerable of people in America. The closing chapter offers a fine analysis of how the children of Flint Michigan came to be poisoned by unelected officials.
  • Jesmyn Ward, ed., The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race. Some of the nation’s finest writers contributed to this volume of reflections on the Baldwin classic and how it speaks to the contemporary era. There are essays by Isabel Wilkerson, Claudia Rankine, Natasha Trethewey, and others that challenge various claims about progress and a post-racial America.
  • Stuart Jeffries, Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School. Like the Blakewell volume on the Existentialists, Jeffries’ book is a group portrait. His subjects were the members of the Frankfurt School – Max Horkheimer, T.W. Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, and others – who took up important questions about capitalism in the belly of the Nazi beast. The writings of these thinkers can be really tough going. You have to have grounding in a lot of philosophy and social science to get the importance of their arguments. Jeffries has a gift for discussing these works in accessible terms, and without sacrificing the technical complexities of the thinking.
  • Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run. I loved this memoir, but I suppose I could quibble and say it could have been a hundred pages shorter. You get two entwined Springsteens in this work. The first is that amazing rock and roll hero who entertains stadiums of people with 3 to 4 hour shows. The second is the son of a harsh father, a hardworking songwriter and artist, and a man who has known the darkness of manic depression and bipolar disorder.  If you have a daughter or son who aspires to be a musician, then this would be a fine gift for them. Springsteen is blunt on what it takes to make it in the business.
  • Teju Cole, Known and Strange Things. This is a book of essays by the Nigerian author of the fantastic novel, Open City. There are autobiographical essays that give you a sense of the world from which Cole emerged. He was born in Ohio, grew up in Nigeria, and lives now in NYC. He is a cosmopolitan thinker and writer. He is an insightful art critic. He is a fine photographer and, as we know, a talented writer.
  • Michael Berube, Life As Jamie Knows It. I have been waiting for this book for twenty years. I was moved completely by the first volume by Berube that chronicled the life of his son James. Listeners may recall the interview I did with Berube during our year dedicated to disabilities in literature. We discussed Life as We Know It, a family memoir that examined the challenges of raising a baby and toddler with Down Syndrome, and I remember asking the author if there would be a second volume. Here it is. James is in his mid-twenties now. He has grown out of the educational supports available. But along the way he defied every attempt to categorize and limit his abilities. This is a triumphant story, to be sure. But it is clear in Berube’s critical encounters with the literature and legalities of disabilities that we are not, as a society, doing enough to care for our brothers and sisters on the disability spectrum.
  • Liel Liebovitz, A Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen. I picked this up in the hope that I could keep Cohen alive in my head for a while. And it worked. But this book also gave me a chance to reflect on what it was about Cohen’s songs that I loved so much. That quality of spiritual longing resonates with me. Cohen was a believer in a very unusual, but Liebovitz argues convincingly, orthodox way. To question G-d is a Talmudic tradition. But what I cling to is Cohen’s ability to give voice to that human misery that is also pregnant with the contrary impulse of hopefulness. Finally, much of this book is dedicated to answering the question: How the hell did Leonard Cohen become a rock star?


  • Haruki Murakami, 1Q84. This may count as cheating, but I discussed this novel on our summer show. But I was halfway through this doorstopper of a novel. It covers a lot of the same creepy ground as the magisterial Kafka on the Shore, but the characters are better drawn and more memorable. This is a must read for Murakami fans.
  • Dana Spiotta, Eat the Document; Innocents and Others; and Stone Arabia. Yes, I talked about Dana Spiotta in the summer, too. But I had read only Eat the Document. Since then I have read two more novels and I am now a convinced admirer of her work. It is absolutely accurate to place Spiotta in league with Don DeLillo. You have the same intelligence and incisiveness in response to the politics of our age. But in Spiotta, you also have a deep student of film, of vinyl records, of collecting that produces endlessly entertaining images and thoughts on contemporary culture.
  • Kevin Brockmeier, The Brief History of the Dead. To be honest, 2016 has been a year of loss for me. Yes, we all lost Gordie Howe, Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and others, but I lost my father in August. Mourning always seems to entail reflection on immortality framed by a vocabulary I inherited as child growing up in an Irish Catholic household and neighborhood. Reading Brockmeier’s fine novel added to this vocabulary and presented insight into an afterlife (which I do not believe in) where existence continues so long as there are people alive who still remember you. When the last person who possesses memory of you dies, then you move to another realm. This novel is set in the end of time and the end of memory. It has a unique power and continues to resonate with me.
  • Nick Hornby, High Fidelity. I have a standard that I live by called my “The Color Purple Rule.” Basically this is a promise to myself to never see a film based on a novel I love. This is because of Spielberg’s horrible version of “The Color Purple.”  With “High Fidelity” I learned that the reverse is not true. I can read a novel after seeing and really enjoying a film based on the novel. High Fidelity contains some of the best insights on monogamy and horrible male behavior since Philip Roth.
  • Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending. I had a discussion with a colleague about Barnes. I had read Flaubert’s Parrot years ago, and I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. So I decided I didn’t like Barnes all that much and made it a point not to read anything by him. My colleague told me my judgment was premature and that I was depriving myself of a true literary artist. She was right. I was wrong. Barnes, in a very short novel, presents an amazing account of how much a person can get wrong in their life. I probably won’t talk about this book on air. It is too delicate a work to discuss well. But it is well worth your time. I say this to you as one limited and stupid human to another,
  • Zadie Smith, Swing Time. God, I love reading Zadie Smith novels. You feel like you are in capable hands the whole time. Swing Time is something of a follow-up to NW, but it is a much more straightforward narrative offered by a single narrator. While it is not as experimental as NW, Swing Time still originates in and emerges from that northwest London neighborhood. It continues to explore themes and characters involving ethnicity, class and gender. Here, the focus is on two childhood friends, united by a love of dance, growing up and apart. As with most Smith novels, I find myself drawn to a peripheral character – here the narrator’s mother – when I think I should be looking at the protagonist(s). This is such a consistent effect of Smith’s writing that I have come to expect it. Critics have been fairly lukewarm on this novel. Many really didn’t like NW. Once again, they are all wrong. Swing Time is a brilliant piece of fiction.
  • Gemma Files, Experimental Film. This novel makes a lot of lists for best novel by a Canadian writer in recent memory. It is a hybrid work that teaches fascinating lessons about film and film history, but it also belongs to the horror/suspense genre. That is to say, this is a ghost story. At the turn-of-the-century, a woman in the throes of mourning a lost child begins experimenting with film as a medium of expression and as a, well, medium.  Then she goes missing from a moving train. Cut to the present. A young, contemporary experimental filmmaker decides to make a documentary on the missing woman’s work. Eerie coincidences pave the way to an explosive climax.
  • George Orwell, Will a novel that reflects the trends in totalitarianism in the mid-20th Century help us to reflect on the forms of totalitarianism we are experiencing at the beginning of the 21st Century? Orwell’s famous “Room 101” is consonant with the acceptance of torture as a cost effective way of reshaping a human to become a warning to others about the dangers of thought. The centralized unity of big government and big business remains. The pointless ness of individual action and the impossibility of collective dissent also seem accurate. The election of Donald Trump must be seen as the culmination of irrational forces in society – sexism, racism, fear, etc. – that Orwell grasped all too well.

Jackie Sauter, NCPR

Two books in the Kopp Sisters series, Girl Waits With Gun and  the sequel, Lady Cop Makes Trouble, both by Amy Stewart (author of The Drunken Botanist.)  Charming and lots of fun, based on the forgotten true story of one of America’s first woman detectives.

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny. The latest novel in the Inspector Gamache series, set in Quebec. This one’s on all the “best mystery/thrillers of 2016.”

The Tana  (pronounced TAH-nah)French Dublin detective series, 6 books in all. Great writing, deep, suspenseful, start one and it’s impossible to stop reading.  Tana French is an Irish actress and author, based in Dublin. Her latest, The Trespasser, is currently on the best-seller lists. (Jackie’s story: I mentioned on my show today that I loved her writing, and got a call from a listener is Vermont who is the aunt of Tana French, who in fact was born in Burlington. Who knew!)

Radio Bob, NCPR

The Man Who Bailed Out the Beatles, Made the Stones, and Transformed Rock & Roll – Alan Klein

Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock and Roll – Peter Guralnick

Kill Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul, James McBride

Jon Sklaroff, NCPR

The Zipper Club – Tom Mannella. A memoir about growing up and dealing with serious heart health issues and surgeries, while trying to fit in and just be a teen/young adult. (Tom is a SLU grad.)

Connie Meng, Canton (former NCPR announcer/theatre critic)

The Pigeon Tunnel – John LeCarre. Fascinating memoir of his life in the British Intelligence Service and researching his books.  For example, an account of 2 different lunches with 2 retiring heads of the KGB.  (Non-fiction)

Epitaph – Maria Doria Russell. A fictional but historically accurate account of the people and events leading up to the famous OK Corral gunfight.  There really were no “good guys.”  It has the same gritty reality of “Lonesome Dove”  and was recommended by Doug Rose who taught a SOAR course on the gunfight.  She also wrote “Doc,” an equally interesting account of the life of Doc Holliday and his struggle with TB.

Rebecca Donnelly, Director, Norwood Public Library

2016 has been a great year for diverse children’s books. Some of my favorite middle grade novels this year were TWO NAOMIS by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick, told in alternating chapters by two girls named Naomi, one black, one white, whose parents are dating and who have to learn to get along despite very different personalities.

ONE HALF FROM THE EAST by Nadia Hashimi is the fascinating story of an Afghan girl, Obayda, whose family falls on hard times. Her aunt suggests that they bring good luck to the family by turning Obayda into a bacha posh–a girl-boy, a custom in some parts of Afghanistan. Obayda, now Obayd, lives as a boy, attends school, and meets a mysterious friend who seems to understand her position.

Finally, UNIDENTIFIED SUBURBAN OBJECT by Mike Jung is a contemporary story of a Korean-American girl whose family seems to act like they’re from outer space. Chloe starts a family history project for class to learn more about her family’s experience immigrating to the US, but she gets a totally different story than she expected.

Linda Cohen, Old Forge Hardware Store book department

Daughters of the Samurai – Janice Nimura

Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts –
Joshua Hammer

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right – Arlie Russell Hochschild

Jodi, Old Forge Hardware bookstore manager

All of John Green including the new Let It Snow, written with Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle.

12 Short Hikes…around Old Forge…Lake Placid…Keene Valley…and the New State Lands, Phil Brown. Great stocking-stuffers.

Nancy Rosenthal, Charlotte/Lake Placid

Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child Bob Spitz

RaeLouise Tate, Star Lake

A Violent End – Maggie Wheeler

Maggie, Queesnbury

Crow Fair – Tom McGuane

Chris Shaw, Bristol VT

On Trails – Rob Moor. Rob is one of our Middlebury environmental journalism fellows. At 31, he walked 3000 miles to write the story of human trails and trail systems from origins in one-celled animal movement to the AT, PCT and even more grandly conceived trail systems. Rich in deep meditations on walking, beauty, the accidental meaningful meetings that take place along the way. A book that will last.

Elizabeth Sarfaty, Malone

Thomas Merton, Peacemaker – John Dear, plus these other John Dear titles: Seeds of Nonviolence, Peace Behind Bars, Jesus the Rebel, The Sounding of Listening

Lois, Indian Lake

Carry On: A STory of Resilience, Redemption, and an Unlikely Family – Lisa Fenn

Dakota, Massena

The Orenda – Joseph Boyden

Eva Marie, Shamokin PA

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis – J.D. Vance

West With the Night – Beryl Markham

Whit McDermott, Boomba

Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest

Alan Brown, Wadhams/Westport

Alexander Hamilton – Ron Cernow

Reading the Alexander Hamilton biography by Ron Cernow has made me realize that the ugliness of this election season is nothing new when compared with the political ugliness that took place after the American constitution was ratified. Alexander Hamilton was attacked mercilessly and Jefferson and Monroe did everything they could to try to undermine his position. Not to mention throwing down the gauntlet and challenging your opponent to a duel if you felt like your honor had been insulted.

Heather Spencer, Clayton

I highly recommend a nonfiction book called “The Black Earth – the Holocaust as History and Warning” published this year by Timothy Snyder about the origins and evolution of the Holocaust as a failure of institutions.  The author documents how the Holocaust developed almost exclusively in “stateless” places where state institutions had failed. This book has particular relevance and lessons for today’s world events (e.g. refugee crisis, right wing nationalists, Syria etc).

Parmelee Tolkan, Lake Placid

Nutshell – Ian McEwan

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America – Colin Woodward. An explanation of the division of our country by the various settles, and the groups and religions that moved into each section of the country.

From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia – Pankaj Mishra

Suzanne Miller, Saranac Lake

Colson Whitehead’s profound, amazing,beautifully written, and at times, so difficult to read, THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD.  Made even more profound after standing inside an actual slave catcher’s holding pen, in the National Underground RailRoad Freedom Center, in Cincinnati.

And, recent National Book Award winner, THE SELLOUT, by Paul Beatty. Laugh out loud funny, at times; profoundly thought-provoking at others.  I am STILL thinking about all this contained.  Beautifully written.

Finally, ZERO K by Don DeLillo.  I SWORE I would not read any more DeLillo after COSMOPOLIS scared the pants off me, with its prescient brilliance.  And, when I encountered it on the library shelf, ZERO K drew me in, like the moth to the flame …… is a look at a bleak future, where rich folk cryogenically preserve themselves, in hope of re-constitution in a better world.  My description here is NOT doing it justice, in any way.  It is as harrowing a read as COSMOPOLIS, for what it touches upon.  I was left pondering whether DeLillo is a narcissistic madman, or prescient genius.  I ponder still…….

The New York Times Ten Best Books of 2016

The Association of Small Bombs – Karan Mahajan

The North Water – Ian McGuire

The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead

The Vegetarian – Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith

War and Turpentine – Stefan Hertmans, translated by David McKay

At the Existential Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails – Sarah Bakewell

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right – Jane Mayer

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City – Matthew Desmond

In the Darkroom, Susan Faludi

The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between – Hisham Matar

And here’s the link to the On Point best books lists:


8 Comments on “Build/read the 2016 Winter Reading List”

  1. Chris Morris says:

    My usual crime fiction recommendations:

    – Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series – just finished Broken Harbor, which wasn’t her best effort, but gripping nonetheless. Currently reading The Trespasser, which is fantastic so far.

    – I’m about half way through Pierre Lemaitre’s Commandant Camille Verhoeven trilogy. Brutal at times, but great crime fiction.

    – Not sure anyone here is into comics or graphic novels, but Ta Nehisi Coates is writing the current run of Black Panther, and it’s great.

    Looking forward to all of the other recommendations! The Underground Railroad by Whitehead is most definitely on my list — I loved Zone One.

  2. Melissa says:

    I recently read “The great gatsby” and I loved it. Next on the list: Stephen hawking – a brief history of time and The Lord of the rings

  3. Christy says:

    I love anything written by Kate Morton. My favorite is “The Lake House”. She develops the characters, and leads you down this path, and when you get to the end of her books, the conclusion is something you never expected. The best comment from a book club member, was “I never saw that coming!” Great escapist reading.

    I also recommend “A Man Called Ove”, which is now a motion picture. It starts slowly, so don’t lose hope in the book, keep going and you will be rewarded in the end.

  4. Jackie Sauter says:

    The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
    The Soul of an Octopuss, Sy Montgomery
    The Gene, Siddhartha Mukherjee
    From Elizabeth in Malone: Thomas Merton, Peacemaker, John Dear
    Seeds of Nonviolence, Peace Behind Bars, Jesus the Rebel, The Sound of Listening, all by John Dear
    Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
    From Connie Meng in Canton: The Pigeon Tunnel by John LeCarre. Also Epitaph and Doc, both by Maria Doria Russell
    The Geography of Water, Mary Emerick
    News of the World: A Novel, Paula Jiles
    High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
    Lois from Indian Lake: Carry On: A Story of Resilience, Redemption, and an Unlikely Family, Lisa Fenn
    Avid Reader: A Life, Robert Gottlieb
    From Dakota in Massena: The Orenda, Joseph Boyden
    From Rebecca Donnelly in Norwood, books for children/young adults: Two Naomis, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick; One Half from the East, Nadia Hashimi: Unidentified Suburban Object, Mike Jung
    Swingtime, Zadie Smith
    From Eva Marie in Shamokin, PA: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis, J.D. Vance; West with the Night, Beryl Markham
    Nutshell, Ian McEwan
    Life as Jamie Knows it; Michael Berube
    From Whit in Bombay: Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest
    The Sympathizer: A Novel, Viet Thanh Nguyen,
    From Jon Sklaroff: The Zipper Club: A Memoir, Tom Mannella
    A listener in Westport: Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow
    From Bob Sauter: The Man Who Bailed Out the Beatles, Made the Stones, and Transformed Rock & Roll, Alan Klein; Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock and Roll, Peter Guralnick; Kill Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul , James McBride,
    My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout,
    From Nancy in Charlotte: Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, Bob Spitz
    Invisible Man: Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education, Mychael Denzel Smith
    From Rae Louise is Star Lake: A Violent End, MaggieWheeler
    From a listener: Crow Fair, Tom McGuane
    The Vanishing Velazquez: A 19th Century Bookseller’s Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece, Laura Cumming
    The North Water: A Novel, Ian McGuire
    A Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen, Liel Leibovitz
    At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Others , Sarah Blakewell
    Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School, Stuart Jeffries
    Weathering, Lucy Wood

  5. Linda Hayes says:

    The Improbability of Love
    Lilac Girls

  6. Ellen B says:

    Books in translation are my choice this year.
    “The Hidden Life of Trees’ by Peter Wohlleben, translated from the German by Jane Billinghurst. The author asks (and answers, for the most part), What does a tree need, how does a forest knit together, what do trees DO? I will never think of forests in the same way again.
    “The Three-Body Problem” by Cixin Liu, translated from the Chinese by Ken Liu. The first of a sci-fi trilogy in which extraterrestrial contact is only one of the overarching themes. This book was an enormous hit in China when it came out about 10 years ago. Ken Liu’s translation keeps the Chinese flavor of the original. The second book has a different translator; the final book came out just this year in English, again translated by Ken Liu.
    If the Three-Body trilogy whetted your appetite for Chinese sci-fi, Ken Liu has also collected some brand new short stories in a second release of 2016, “Invisible Planets.” Half a dozen authors are represented, each with a strong and unique voice.

  7. Mr. Wakiki says:


    Listened to (read by the author) Insightful and touching book…

    Ghosts of War: The True Story of a 19-Year-Old GI
    by Ryan Smithson

    Ryan Smithson joined the Army Reserve when he was seventeen. Two years later, he was deployed to Iraq as an Army engineer. In this extraordinary and harrowing memoir, readers march along one GI’s tour of duty. It will change the way you feel about what it means to be an American.

  8. Deanna MS Heermann says:

    A Little Life
    My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry
    Favorite Sons & A Brilliant Death – Robin Yocum
    Voices from Chernobyl
    A Great Reckoning
    Born a Crime

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