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Sunday, December 30, 2012

My Favorite Books of 2012

Here's a list of my favorite books, out of all the books I read in 2012:

Stiltsville  by  Susanna Daniel
Lizzie's War  by  Tim Farrington
Gone Girl  by  Gillian Flynn
The Newlyweds  by  Nell Freudenberger
The Cellist of Sarajevo  by  Steven Galloway
Still Alice  by  Lisa Genova
Obligate Carnivore  by  Jed Gillen
Arcadia  by  Lauren Groff
The Dog Stars  by  Peter Heller
Open Wound  by  Jason Karlawish
1493  by  Charles C. Mann
Bring Up the Bodies  by  Hilary Mantel
When Tito Loved Clara  by  Jon Michaud
Destiny of the Republic  by  Candice Millard
Americana  by  Hampton Sides
The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection  by  Alexander McCall Smith
The Lotus Eaters  by  Tatjana Soli
Wild  by  Cheryl Strayed
The Sex Lives of Cannibals  by  J. Maarten Troost
The Beginner's Goodbye  by  Anne Tyler
A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard  by  Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
Nixon Under the Bodhi Tree  by  Kate Wheeler

Friday, December 14, 2012

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice is one of those different novels.  It's written from the point of view of a woman going through Early Onset Alzheimer's.  Alice is a brilliant Psychology Professor at Harvard, and is only 50 years old when she realizes she's forgetting things--it might be a recipe she's been making for decades, or how to get home.  The cast of characters includes Alice's husband and children, and takes us from diagnosis to deep into the disease.  The author, Lisa Genova, is perhaps the perfect person to have written this book, being that she holds a PhD. in neuroscience from Harvard, and is an online columnist for the National Alzheimer's Association.  Genova's expertise  lends this novel both complexity and authenticity.  For example, we learn what Alice's diagnosis means for her children on a genetic level--in other words, what are their chances of getting it?  Also, one of the daughters is undergoing fertility treatments, and so her embryos are tested and selected accordingly.  We watch as Alice's husband John goes through the stages of grief, and like any family member,  we might not always agree with the decisions of the main caretaker.  Most fascinating to me is Alice's exit strategy for when things get really bad.  Will she be cognizant enough to execute her plans?  Lisa Genova says she came to write this novel because her own grandmother suffered from Alzheimer's.   She began to research Alzheimer's to support her Aunts who were caregiving.  Genova wondered what it was like for those with Early Onset, and specifically what it was like for someone relatively young to fail out of their job.  Alice as the main character is someone who thinks for a living.  Some might feel that when Alice is no longer able to think, she will have no value, but Genova says the most important thing she knows about Alzheimer's is that you are more than what you can remember, and the ending of this book reflects that.  Genova found an online support group for those with Early Onset, and asked permission to lurk and learn, and she was welcomed in because the patients said they normally don't get a say, that most decisions and conversation are directed to caretakers and family members.  In this easily-understandable-but-brilliant novel, Genova has given them a wonderful voice.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Nixon Under the Bodhi Tree

Have you ever been curious about Buddhism?  I have.  Having been a rabid Oprah fan, I too read A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, highlighting passages as I went.  A few years ago, a book club i was in read You Are Not Here and Other Works of Buddhist Fiction and we had a great discussion about it.  Then i read the charming novel Breakfast With Buddha, just for fun.  Recently, my friend Emily recommended The Tao of Pooh, so I gave that a whirl.  When I was a kid, my adopted Grandma practiced Shinto, complete with a little shrine on the living room wall, where she would place a perfect tangerine as a New Year offering.  She took us to the Byodo-In Temple at the foot of the Ko'olau Mountains.  We rang the sacred bell, removed our rubber slippers, lit incense and gazed at the giant golden Buddha.  And I wondered what it was all about . . . and I still wonder sometimes.  Although I remember liking You Are Not Here, I possibly like Nixon Under the Bodhi Tree better overall.  Both are collections of short stories, and both offer some excellent reads within.  There is a short story here and there in each of them that I wasn't fond of, but overall, I enjoyed them.  There is something alluring about the idea of Buddhism; the peace of acceptance, the heightened consciousness, the basic tenet of ahimsa (doing no harm), and living simply while allowing others to simply live.   Although I'm not a Buddhist, I am having fun dipping my toes in the awakened waters of Buddhist fiction, and you can too!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Arcadia by Lauren Groff

Some novels allow you to step into a different time and place, and more-fully inhabit it than other books do.  Arcadia  by  Lauren Groff is one such read.   Not since reading the excellent Drop City  by  T. C. Boyle, have I felt like a voyeur at a hippie commune.  Arcadia is a crumbling mansion in the 1970's countryside of New York state, where a small group of idealistic hippies set out to create their own Utopian society.  They are The Free People, and they wish to harm no one.  Unfortunately, they also wish to welcome everyone, and that is their eventual downfall.  But in between the beginning and the end of this long, strange trip, there are moments of peace and love.  The women are strong and lovely, and there are a few able and willing men.  But most of all, there is Bit, a tiny boy with a huge heart.  We see this insular world through Bit's eyes, and so we are at the heart of the story.  There are a few strong metaphors to classic fairy tales in this novel, but I didn't find them too overdone when seen from little Bit's point of view.   There is a hint of cult mentality but not in the sinister way seen in the movie Martha Marcy May Marlene (although it was an excellent movie).  As Bit grows up, we see the lasting effects that the dream of Arcadia has on him, his family and the girl he loves.

So, put some flowers in your hair, drop out and listen to some Canned Heat, or read this amazing book.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


For some years now, I've compiled a list of my favorite books that I read in the previous 12 months.  I tuck this list into Christmas cards and my hairdresser posts it on her salon wall and copies it for customers, some of whom ask for it each year.  Here's my list for 2011:

The Taliban Shuffle  by  Kimberly Barker
Caleb's Crossing  by  Geraldine Brooks
Crazy Sexy Diet  by  Kris Carr
Little Bee  by  Chris Cleave
Girls in White Dresses  by  Jennifer Close
The Marriage Plot  by  Jeffrey Eugenides
The Whistling Season  by  Ivan Doig
Room  by  Emma Donoghue
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down  by  Anne Fadiman
Freedom  by  Jonathan Franzen
The Veganist  by  Kathy Freston
Little Princes  by  Conor Grennan
The Litigators  by  John Grisham
Turn of Mind  by  Alice LaPlante
The White  by  Deborah Larsen
In the Garden of Beasts  by  Erik Larson
An Object of Beauty  by  Steve Martin
Emily, Alone  by  Stewart O'Nan
Swim Back to Me  by  Ann Packer
State of Wonder  by  Anne Patchett
Wench  by  Valdez Dolen Perkins
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks  by  Rebecca Skloot
The Art of Racing in the Rain  by  Garth Stein