Welp, everyone, no more “I don’t have time to read” excuses. Once you’re done hoarding toilet paper and you’ve worked out that new dance step called “The Social Distance” you will definitely have time to sit down and read. And I just happen to have the ten most wonderful books of my year’s reading to recommend. Here are the first half:
10. The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis. Kindle, 287 pages. Published 2010. 4 stars.
Yes, this one has been out for awhile. I’m still having nightmares about the 2008-09 financial crisis and just couldn’t bear to go there for the longest time, even though I heard the book (and the movie) were terrific. Still haven’t seen the film, but yes, the book is terrific and no, you don’t have to understand finance to read it. Essentially, a couple of outlier iconoclast investors got a whiff as early as 2005 that all was not going to be well with the “let’s hand out mortgages to all the people who can’t afford to pay them back and what could possibly go wrong” subprime mortgage market. Steve Eisman and Michael Burry were among the few who called BS on it and made a killing, but the real hero of this book is the author who manages to write a page-turner about credit default swaps. Brilliant. Highly recommended.
9. Milkman: A Novel by Anna Burns. Audiobook, narrated by Brid Brennan, 360 pages. Published 2018. 4 stars.
Winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize, this is a novel unlike any other. I’ll say up front, okay, maybe it isn’t for everyone. The writing, a staccato, almost stream-of-consciousness first person account of one young woman’s entrapment in the Troubles in Northern Ireland, is perhaps best described as experimental. None of the characters or places are named. This may initially bother you, but you have to trust the author here and stay with it. If you really want to get it right, first read Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe to understand the particulars of a civil struggle that has defined the lives of generations of Irish.
8. A Sand County Almanac (with Essays on Conservation from Round River) by Aldo Leopold. Paperback, 295 pages. Published 1949. 4.5 stars.
A classic of the conservation genre, this book and its author popped up in my other reading often enough that I finally succumbed. I expected eco-preaching but what I found instead was a loving and lyrical paean to the natural world, especially that sliver of it that comprises the sand counties of Wisconsin. Leopold appreciated the natural world with an almost holy reverence, celebrating “the quail’s Ave Maria in the hush of dawn” and quoting Thoreau: “In wildness is the preservation of the world“. He speaks gently but wisely of the individual’s and governing bodies’ responsibility to nature. And he speaks bemusedly of how leisure time should be spent: “a satisfactory hobby must be in large degree useless, inefficient, laborious, or irrelevant“. (A particular friend of mine will be pleased to know he identified falconry as “the perfect hobby 😉 This was a book to get lost in and to make you look with a bit more grace and gratitude at God’s creation. Highly recommended.
7. City of Thieves by David Benioff. Audiobook, narrated by Ron Perlman. 258 pages. Published 2008. 4 stars.
Yes, his name sounds familiar. He is the co-creator of the Game of Thrones television series. So you know he is a master storyteller. Here, he imagines what I believe must be the true, or partially true, experience of his grandfather, who was a teen during the 1941-1944 Siege of Leningrad. Faced with execution at the hands of the Soviets for looting, young Lev, along with fellow prisoner Kolya, is given the alternative of performing the impossible mission of procuring a dozen eggs for the wedding cake of a Colonel’s daughter. This book is by turns, funny, horror-inducing, sweet and completely unputdownable. Highly, highly recommended.
6. Circe: A Novel by Madeline Miller. Kindle, 353 pages. Published 2018. 4 stars.
It should be a Top Ten book for the cover art alone, right? This is Miller’s second highly praised book, the first being her 2011 debut novel The Song of Achilles. She appears willing to take on the (Herculean? Promethean?) task of honoring ancient mythology with modern prose and she is just the goddess to do it! This book began a bit slow for me but once it picked up steam, it was absolutely splendid. Circe is, to most, a minor Greek goddess but let’s just say she had friends (and enemies) in high places. Does the name Odysseus ring a bell? Highly, highly recommended.
Next week, the best of the best of the best. We may all be in enforced isolation, but with a good book we’re never alone. Happy reading!