English reading


Planning to read 

Every Day is a Good Day; The Visual Art of John Cage
Shoob gave me this for Christmas
(Planning to read)

The In the Company of the Poor: Conversations with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez
by Paul Farmer et. al.
(Planning to read)

Dark Dude
Oscar Hijuelos
(Planning to read)

Labyrinths
Jorge Luis Borges
(Planning to read)

Black Swan
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
(Planning to read)

Currently Reading

1491
Charles C Mann
Unless you have read this fascinating book everything you thought you knew about pre-Columbus America is probably wrong.
(Currently reading)

Bouncing Back
Linda Graham
(Reading)

 

Read

Sag Harbor
Colson Whitehead
Read in July 2017
It took me a while to get into this book, to get the flow of descriptions and to appreciate the presentation of the experiences of a group of black kids coming together each summer over several years in the African American beach community of Sag Harbor. Also to appreciate the humor of their adventures, relationships, and interactions with the parents and other adults.
**** (4 stars)

The Course of Love
Alain de Botton
Read in January 2017
Great insight into all phases of a relationship from infatuation through maturity, with kids, work, friends, attractions, doubts and hopes all examined. In the form of a novel, de Botton looks at many different stages of the life long relationship of one couple, providing insight and guidance on the many complexities of learning to love
***** (5 stars)

The Clock Winder
Anne Tyler
Read in June 2017
I never really got into this book. Plot seemed a little far-fetched. Characters a bit contrived. Some of the descriptions forced. Over all, a depressing read about people stumbling through their lives.
*** (3 stars)

44 Scotland Street
Alexander McCall Smith
Read in June 2017
A wonderful book, written originally as a newspaper serial. Great characters, including several residents of the apartment building at 44 Scotland Street. Insight, humor, intrigue, interlocking plots, great Edinburgh color all contribute to a delightful story. I’m glad I ‘discovered’ this author.
**** (4 stars)

The Great Man
Kate Christensen
Read in May 2017
Oscar is a renowned painter, deceased. This novel is about the women in his life and their interrelated stories.
*** (3 stars)

Unforbidden Pleasures
Adam Phillips
Read in January 2017
The author suggests that we might pay more attention to Unforbidden Pleasures and less to the Forbidden. Dense book, I found my self rereading many sections. Certainly thought provoking, providing lots of ideas and perspectives to consider.
**** (4 stars)

Between the World and Me
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Read sometime in 2016
I learned a lot about race in the USA. Gained some understanding of what it’s like to be black, especially a young black man, in America.
**** (4 stars)

The Bell Jar
Sylvia Plath
Read sometime in 2016
***** (5 stars)

Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas
James Patterson
Read sometime in 2015
A good summer read. A love story, love overcomes tragedy  for a happy ending, page turner, feel good, well written novel..
**** (4 stars)

Lila
Marilynne Robinson
Read sometime in 2015
A wonderful, gripping story about a semi-abandoned, abused, homeless girl (Lila) rescued (or stolen) by a drifter woman, an itinerant worker. They travel by foot around Iowa, eking out a barely subsistence living. The story follows Lila through the stages of her life. Robinson makes Lila’s experience and consciousness accessible: how Lila understands her surroundings, how she learns to survive, how she grows and accommodates new experiences. In the process the reader’s understanding of the complexity and variety of existence expands. I knew the author casually years ago in Amherst, MA when I played on a softball team with her (now ex for many years) husband.
***** (5 stars)

Stoner
John WIlliams
Read sometime in 2015
Amazing book. So well written. A masterpiece. The story of WIlliam Stoner, son of poor, struggling farmer parents, living barely a notch above subsistence. Stoner against all odds makes it to university to study agronomy so as to be able to run and improve the farm. Despite huge disincentives he switches to what he has come to love – literature, and spends the rest of his live studying an teaching at the university. A deeply moving novel.
***** (5 stars)

The Law of Similars
Chris Bohjalian
Read sometime in 2015
Good read.  A love story about a lawyer and a homeopath. Fast moving story with enough depth to provide food for thought.
**** (4 stars)

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
Alexander McCall Smith
Read August 2015
Good
***** (5 stars)

Something to Be Desired
Thomas McGuane
Read August 2015
Lucien, Emily the murderer, the hot spring, Suzanne, son James, Montana, Peru, the ranch, lawyers, floating on the river, lyrical description, Dee, poetry.
**** (4 stars)

The Sixteen Pleaures
Robert Hellenga
Read August 2015
Really nice story about 29 year old Margot Harrington who leaves the USA to work as a book conservator in Florence Italy after serious floods there. Story revolves around a special book, an Italian Kama Sutra, bound together with a prayer book, most likely to hide it from church censors. Power struggles, love, sex, self discovery, friendships, professional growth, betrayal, conniving, ego, incompetence, high stakes art auctions, Italy, London, Catholic hierarchy, nuns, lovers, paths not taken, self acceptance, and more. Surprisingly, written by a man. I was totally engrossed in reading this book with 100 pages to go when we landed in Holguin on the return flight from Santiago de Cuba. We had to deplane so the plane could be cleaned. I put my water bottle and the book on my seat – 3 rows from the back of the plane – and ducked into the bathroom. When I came out, about 2 minutes later, the book was gone! Taken by someone. I asked 2 or 3 members of the crew and cleaning crew if they had seen it. No one had. In despair I realized someone had picked it up. We spent an hour in the Holguin airport where, being the big spender, I ordered Havana Club shots for a few folks I was traveling with (had to get rid of my remaining Cuban CUC currency in any case) while lamenting my misfortune. I was able to come to terms with my loss. It was the first theft or any other type of unfriendly encounter on the trip though, so I was still disappointed. Back on the plane, en route again to Montreal, I was reading my backup book – Something to be Desired (notice any trend in title topics here) – when my traveling buddy, Chakri, came up to my new seat in the center of the plane to inform me that he had seen a woman sitting just in front of him reading Sixteen Pleasures! Her own copy? Unlikely! The culprit? Almost for sure. I went to her seat and explained that I had not abandoned the book but just left it on my seat while I used the restroom. Somewhat guiltily she admitted picking it up, and, appropriately chagrined, returned it to me. This little  event/resolution filled me with happiness.
***** (5 stars)

Sunset Park
Paul Auster
Read April 2015
Excellent book with lots of interesting stuff. Sunset park is a Brooklyn neighborhood where four folks occupy an abandoned house and make it into a community of sorts. Miles is a main character, moving back to Brooklyn to escape complications arising from a love affair with a very young Latina woman in Florida, with whom he is still in love. Lots of characters and local color. The tales of these folks combine to create a captivating story.
**** (4 stars)

This I Believe
Edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman
Read March 2015
The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women. A collection of approximately 80 2-4 page essays about what is essentially important to the authors. The writers vary widely across occupation, experience, and age. Several are well known, including Bill Gates, Newt Gingrich, Thomas Mann, and Eleanor Roosevelt. My favorite is I ‘Agree With a Pagan’ by Arnold Toynbee. My son Jonah gave me the book a few years ago.
**** (4 stars)

A Walk To Remember
Nichholas Sparks
Read February 2015
Landon Carter falls for Jaime, the ministers daughter. After actively ignoring her for quite awhile he joins the school play at her request and gets more involved (with the play and with her) than he had anticipated. It gets more involved yet when we learn that Jamie is dying from something – I think it is lukemia. Still, a touching love story and a tale of personal growth and discovery.
*** (3.5 stars)

Back When We Were Grownups
Anne Tyler
Read January 2015
Rebecca Davitch got married almost by mistake, inheriting several daughters from her new husband. She spends the next several decades in the middle of the large extended family, running the family event/party business and venue. Is she fulfilled? Should she pick up her old life as aspiring academic researcher? Or reconnect with her old college boyfriend? Would the path not taken be more rewarding? Has she been supressing her true self all these years? Read this book, if you have nothing better to do, to find out.
*** (3.5 stars)

Midnight’s Children
Salman Rushdie
Read December 2014
I bought this book in Barcelona a couple of years ago to read on the plane to JFK. Since then I’ve put it aside and picked it up again several times. It was a challange: many characters, historical and cultural references, time jumps, mysticism,  and unusual style elements. Fascinating. The author’s birth and life parallel the independence and development of India. This is a book you could read again and again, gaining more each time.
***** (5 stars)

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter
Kim Edwards
Read December 2014
When the second baby/twin is born and shows Down syndrome symptoms, the doctor/father hands him to his nurse/assistant (who is in love with him) and tells her to deliver the baby to an institution. After arriving at the institution she decides instead to keep and raise the girl. She disappears, telling no one. The book, well written, tells of the impact  of those decisions on the doctor, his wife and son, and the girl who thrives thanks to the efforts of her adoptive mom. I liked the lean, consistent, precise style.
*** (3.5 stars)

The Pilot’s Wife
Anita Shreve
Read November 2014
Published in 1998. A page turner about a woman whose husband dies in a plane crash. In grief, she discovers things she never expected, about her husband and herself.
***** (5 stars)

Love, then Comes Malaria
Eva Brown-Waite
Read September 2014
The author gave me a copy of this book at a get together in Hatfield, MA of RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) last summer. It is a charming book, humorous and poignant. Although my Peace Corps experience was different, reading the book brought back many memories. Eva is aware of the us/them dichotomy but still falls into excessively viewing her new surroundings and experiences through the lens of her own familiar American culture and background.
***** (4 stars)

Middlesex
Jeffrey Eugenides
Read October 2014
Wonderful book, mixing the story of a family emigration from Greece to Detroit with the genetic history that led to the main character being born a hermaphrodite.
***** (5 stars)

A Tale for the Time Being
Ruth Ozeki
Read May 2014
Terrific book about a teenage girl in Japan around the time of the Tsunami writing to an unknown woman living on an island near Vancouver who by chance picked up a plastic package on the beach, containing the girl’s writing and carried by the currents from Japan, about her life and family including suicidal Dad and Grandmother Buddhist priest.
****

Red Azalea
Anchee Min
Read June 2014
This is an amazing book, an autobiography written like a novel. The author grew up in China during the time of Mao. As a very young she was assigned to Red Fire Farm, a massive militarily run agriculture operation. Her description of life there portrays the massive madness of the farm and the entire country, Eventually she was chosen to become an actress in a propaganda film – an unlikely but apparently true development. How could someone survive such a repressive, warped, insane time and later in life manage to write such a wonderful book?
***** (5 stars)

This Is How You Lose Her
Junot Díaz
Read Jan 2014
A favorite author, capturing the sense of Dominicans living in New York and Boston.
*****

White Teeth
Zadie Smith
I saw her speak at UMass in Amherst. I think she is an excellent writer. During her talk she advocated writing really good sentences, and that she does. But I did not feel that the world she created, and the characters, were especially compelling. Everyone was a little too much, a bit extreme.
Read December 2013
****

Stay With Me, Lella
Marissa Labozzetta
Read December 2013
I really liked the characters and the evolution of the big family over several decades.
****

The Lovely Bones
Alice Sebold
Read October 2013
For some reason this book did not hold my interest. I found I was often unsure about what was happening, who was speaking and from what perspective. I never quite caught on to the voice of the dead girl, observing and also participating to various degrees in the life she left behind. I think the book deserves more careful reading than I was prepared to do.
***

The Sweet Hereafter
Russell Banks
Read September 2013
I loved reading this book even though the main theme is a terrible tragedy that occurs in a small town in upstate New York. The aftermath of the tragedy is presented through the perspective of several characters, each with a different connection to the disaster. The people are so real, I felt as if I was almost living their lives.
*****

Black and Blue
Anna Quindlin
Read August 2013
Continuing on the theme of abusive husbands. I really like Anna Quindlin’s writing (especially after she was so nice to Siobhan on Freshman move-in day at Barnard).  You get insight into the experience of a woman in hiding and her son, and the difficulties of starting a new life with new identities. I liked the way Quindlin presented the woman’s confused ambivalence about having left her potentially murderous husband.
***

Safe Haven
Nicholas Sparks
Read August 2013
For the first 5 chapters of this book I was constantly ready to quit reading it, finding it boring and awkwardly written. But then in chapter 6 I got hooked and was totally into finding out if Katie’s abusive husband would find her and kill or kidnap her (I knew he would not succeed) or if her unexpected, incipient relationship with wonderful Alex would flourish (I knew it would).
****

Thinking Fast and Slow
Daniel Kahneman
Read June 2013
Combines insight into psychology, statistics, and economics to explain how the human mind works. Ever wonder why you were so confident about something that turned out to be completely wrong? Wonder why people tend to be so dogmatic in their political beliefs? This book will help you understand. Many fascinating experiments and examples are presented in an engaging, fascinating way.
*****

Terrorist
John Updike
Read May 2013
I read this soon after the Boston Marathon bombing and it helped me understand the mind of a bomber. At least it provided a perspective that was consistent and plausible of how one young man could get to the point of committing a terrorist act. While pondering how he (the terrorist) came to his world view I came to find myself asking the same thing about my own very different world view.
*****

Strong Motion
Jonathan Franzen
Read May 2013
I’ll probably read this again
*****

Still Alice
Lisa Genova
Read May 2013
Learn a lot about Alzheimer’s and growing old. Written from the perspective of a woman in her 50′s with early onset Alzheimer’s. But what is it like if you are not wealthy, successful, otherwise healthy, with an extensive support system of family and friends?
****

The Tennis Partner (P.S.)
Abraham Verghese
Read Jan 2012
*****

 

Drown
Junot Diaz
A book of great stories, set in New York City and the Dominican Republic.
Read December 2012
*****

Bel Canto
Ann Patchett
Read 2012
Kind of a condescending story about the ‘wilds’ of the Brazilian Amazon Got that wrong. That was another Ann Patchett book. Bel Canto is about some South Americans and others including an opera singer and the vice president of the unspecified country who get taken hostage by a group of revolutionaries or rebels, . It is an engaging story and well written. Thoughtful too.
****

So Brave, Young, and Handsome
Leif Enger
A very touching, sometimes disturbing story.
Read Jan 2013
*****

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Haruki Murakami
Read Jan 2012
***

Peace Like a River
Leif Enger
This guy knows how to tell a story!
Read Jan 2013
*****

Cutting for Stone
Abraham Verghese
India, Ethiopia, Brooklyn – a thought provoking tale about people, hospitals, unexpected twists and turns in life, joy, disaster, recovery.
Read Jan 2013
*****

The Sense of an Ending
Julian Barnes
Read Nov 2012
I liked this book, about what is personal history. A man has to change his whole understanding of his life as he learns the truth about events that occurred years before.
****

Netherland
Joseph O’Neil
New York, London, Cricket, Friendship, Relationships
Read 2012
****

Havana Real
Yoani Sanchez
Reading Jan 2012
Shoob gave me this collection of Yoani’s blog posts for Christmas
****

A Widow for One Year
John Irving
Used to like John Erving. Now he just seems clumsy and striving too hard to connect with reality
Read 2012
**

Honeymoon with My Brother
Franz Wisner
I found this book in my apartment. Jonah told me his friend had left it there and that I should read it. He didn’t tell me he was joking. Thanks Jonah, for a bum steer! (It wasn’t that bad.)
Read 2012
**

The Big Short
Michael Lewis
Reading Jan 2011
So far this is pretty good but not especially enlightening or gripping. Thought it might be good to read while I’m working on Loan Modification for JPMC
Jan 2013 – I quit reading this – too boring.
**

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman
Richard P Feynman
May 2011
One of the best books to read. Inspirational, funny, thoughtful.
****

Point Omega
Don DeLillo
Jan 2011
So good and thought provoking I had to read it twice.
*****

A Simple Habana Melody
Oscar Hijuelos
Dec 2010
Not as engaging as Mambo Kings. Sort of ethereal. Always looking in from the outside as Israel Levis, the musician, live the various stages of his life.
****

Beautiful Maria of my Soul
Oscar Hijuelos
Oct 2010
Mambo Kings related, from the perspective of Maria. Really liked reading this.
*****

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love
by Oscar Hijuelos
Good story. Great characters.
*****

The Girl Who Played with Fire
by Stieg Larsson
It’s a page turner, but if someone stole it when I was half way through I wouldn’t have bothered getting another copy.
***

The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo
by Stieg Larsson
No comment
**

Telex from Cuba: A Novel
by Rachel Kushner
First book I’ve read twice in a long time.
*****

Freedom: A Novel
by Jonathan Franzen
I guess I have to give this 3 stars, but I don’t think it was that great. I don’t like writing that tries to make you think the ‘unconventional’ is so special, especially when the unconventional has to do with sex and relationships. I just wasn’t impressed or scandalized.
***

The Tender Bar: A Memoir
by J. R. Moehringer
I read this on vacation. A memoir about a guy and his bar. The people he knew there, etc. Not bad, well written, good story – but do you really want to spend your time reading it?
***

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
by Nicholas D. Kristof
If you feel like you should ‘do something’ read this book for ideas and inspiration.
*****

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
by Michael Pollan
Must read. Thoughtful consideration of the issues of what to eat and how to eat. (Sept 2009)
*****

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
by Barack Obama
Pretty interesting reading to learn some fascinating things about our president, including that he is thoughtful and can write.
****

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A Novel
by Jonathan Safran Foer
I liked the story of the boy searching NYC for a person with the surname of Black.
****

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia
by Elizabeth Gilbert
Excellent
****

Pronto
by Elmore Leonard
Good read
****

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
by Junot Díaz
People say this is a really great book to read – a ‘can’t put it down’ novel. It’s true.
*****

Cuban Fire: The Story of Salsa and Latin Jazz (Bayou Press)
by Isabelle Leymarie
If you want to know something about Cuban music, read this book. (Currently reading – never really finished this; had to return it)

Roma: Novel of Ancient Rome
by Steven W. Saylor
From the founding of Rome up to 1 BC. Interesting but a challenge to the writer to turn this long, tumultuous history into a novel. Too many characters and events strung together, too many names for me. Still, I now know more about this period than I did.
**

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
by Mark Haddon
Great book written from the perspective of a kid with autistic symptoms.
****

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe: and Other Stories
by Carson McCullers
The characters and the locations are described so well you feel that you are part of the story.
*****

The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google
by Nicholas Carr
Fine book, but who really cares if computing will be provided like a utility.
***

The Wild Trees
by Richard Preston
Who knew tall trees could be so interesting, not to mention the people who spend their lives climbing around in them?
*****

The Member of the Wedding
by Carson McCullers
A wonderfully written book.
*****

Planning to read:

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