Goodreads, the book review and recommendations website I use to record my reading, reported that during my journey in books for 2019 so far, I have read 11,971 pages across 34 books with an average rating of 3.9 (on a 1 to 5 scale). I consider it a very good year.
I’ve reviewed some of these books in this column. Here are the ones I strongly recommend—as gifts to yourself or fellow bibliophiles, to indulge in on snow days, on planes and trains, or, of course, whenever you please.
My first book of the year, Michelle Obama’s “Becoming,” earned my highest rating (5). The former First Lady is foremost among my pantheon of “sheroes.” She has it all when it comes to brains, beauty, family and friends, yet is humble about her multitude of accomplishments.
As a committed public library user, I rarely buy books. This autobiographical memoir, full of compelling stories about race, politics and love, was an exception.
Everyone I know who has read “Becoming” sings its praises. Whenever and wherever I took the book along—at the DMV, the hair salon—people stopped to express interest. Although I typically read about a book a week, I luxuriated in this 400-plus pager (plus photographs) for nearly three weeks. As my daughter-in-law said, “I just didn’t want it to end.”
Tessa Hadley: “Late in the Day” (5). I loved this novel—for its elegant yet simple language, its evocative ambiances, its insights about long-term marriage and relationships, its nonjudgmental attitude and its observations on the imbalances between men and women. I acknowledge that two of the main characters are mostly unlikeable, but that is reality.
Kate Quinn: “The Huntress” (5). Three connected stories told by three narrators. Wonderful, complex characters with powerful and suspenseful tales—where the action transpires in alternative chapters in locations including pre-WW II Siberia, WW II Europe and 1940s-50s Boston. Deals with issues of justice and feminism.
Jamie Ford: “Love and Other Consolation Prizes” (5). A deceptively simple, moving story based on an actual event. An innocent boy is raffled off at the 1901 World’s Fair in Seattle and becomes a houseboy in a brothel. He forges intense relationships with the residents amid a world where everything is for sale. Chapters alternate in time as he looks back 50 years later.
Ann Patchett: “The Dutch House” (4+). Patchett is a wonderful writer. This story of two siblings and the effects of the past that shaped them—embodied by the Dutch house of the title—was compelling, though few books will ever earn the place that her extraordinary 2001 novel “Bel Canto” has for me.
Madeline Miller: “Circe” (4+). Miller reimagines the story of Circe, the daughter of the mighty sun god Helios and the water nymph Perse, who is mostly remembered as the sorceress who turned Odysseus’ men into swine. Here she is recast as a powerful and resourceful heroine who narrates her own perspective of the mortals and immortals, both good and evil, she encounters; of her expertise in witchcraft and on her personal experiences of love and motherhood.
Rebecca Makkai: “The Borrower” (4). This well-written and thoughtful first novel is full of humor, a true passion for libraries and fiction (that I share) and a multitude of references to quality children’s literature. The unlikely relationship between the oddly-matched protagonist runaways and the extremely eccentric secondary characters they encounter was very entertaining. I look forward to reading more by this author.