Book reports from the DecafNation — 2016
On Jan. 1 every year, the DecafNation presents its annual collective Book Report. I know what you’re thinking, “Hey, this is the first time I’ve seen this Book Report.” You’re right, because the DecafNation didn’t exist on Jan. 1, 2016. But we plan to make this an annual tradition.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to share short reports of books they enjoyed reading during the past year. First off, submissions from some Facebook Friends.
Jackie Barrett Sharar
Capital Dames by Cokie Roberts — It’s a history of women (both sides) in DC before during and at the end of the Civil War. Illuminating.
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen — My teenage working-class hero explores his darkest moments and provides a ray of hope in what’s sure to be a very challenging period of American history. Master storyteller.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara — One of the best books I have ever read. The characterization is incredible.
I second this (A Little Life). Best book I’ve read in years. Very emotional. really appreciated how, over many years, it portrays love between four young men — sometimes platonic, sometime brotherly, sometimes romantic. It was difficult to read at times because of the raw emotionality of it, but ultimately rang very true for me. The relationships feel like actual relationships — with highs, lows, anger, sadness, joy and love.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah — The less explored perspective of women during wartime (WWII occupied France). How easy it is to misunderstand motivation-your own, your family, your country. Sacrifice, enduring, love. Finding meaning and fully committing to that, in ways small and large, regardless of the possible cost.
A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron — As a dog lover with a new Lab puppy teaching me how to be her servant, I was drawn to this book. I am intrigued by the thought of a dog’s reincarnation.
The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner — A thoughtful study of happiness defined by happy places around the world. Eric travels to all parts of the globe trying to understand what makes people happy. Educational, very fun writing and your left with your thoughts about … what creates an environment for bliss.
Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman — I am not usually drawn to books of this type. It was loaned to me for a post-Christmas vacation read last year, and I couldn’t put it down. I found every aspect of Huguette’s eccentricity and the amazing life of her wealthy wild-west father endlessly fascinating. I could say more, but do not want to spoil it for anyone.
Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant — Grant is originally from U.K. and a travel writer. He buys a large farm home in the Mississippi Delta, sharing real stories about the folk there that seem unreal, and they are true. He captures the culture of this place so vividly.
Danube by Claudio Magris –During the Cold War’s final years Magris followed the legendary river from its source in the Black Forest to its terminus at the Black Sea. Fusing reportage and personal recollections with musings on history, philosophy, and the arts, Magris’s account is an erudite and stunningly written portrait of Mitteleuropa. I found it wildly informative, professionally inspiring and packed with gorgeous prose. A gem.
The Remnants by Robert Hill — For the last year of unending politics spiraling downward, it was comforting to find an enjoyable, easy-read novel about the lives of aging citizens of a dying town near Somewhere, USA.
Robert Hill’s prose rambles from hilarious to sly to clever, and then doubles back so it can dive right off into beautiful, heartsick, and poignant. A standout story with unbelievably effective prose. An enjoyable read.
Being Mortal, Medicine and what matters in life by Atul Gawande — This book is written for both physician and patient. I wish I had read it when I was a 30-year-old physician. Gives some practical advice about how all of us should approach the end of our life.
And here’s a few more from other friends.
Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson — The author believes the human race is on a path toward catastrophe, and probable extinction. But he’s an optimist, and proposes a solution to save our planet. There’s enough of the Earth’s natural ecosystem and biodiversity left to sustain the planet and the modern lifestyle of humans. He suggests breaking the planet down into spheres, leaving areas such as the Amazon, the Pacific Northwest forests, Antarctica, the oceans etc. undisturbed in their natural state, while humans live in the remaining sphere and take a custodian role. Of course, (my comment) this will require some serious population controls.
Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein — The struggle for women’s rights is not over, and may intensify during the Drumpf presidency. But this book goes deeper, suggesting that (American) people generally have no understanding of women’s sexuality. Technology, images and marketing present young women with new, perhaps greater challenges.
A Rap on Race by James Baldwin and Margaret Mead — This is not a new book, but I reread most of it this year to recall all of its insights on race, immigration, gender and other questions that people think we’ve resolved, but remain just as troubling today.
And, finally, my contribution to this list.
A Voice in the Night by Andrea Camilleri — This is the 20th installment of the 91-year-old Italian author’s Inspector Montalbano series, but not the best. I chose this book, however, to alert others to this series of humorous and poignant mysteries by a little-known writer. Start at the beginning of the series with “The Shape of Water” to follow the threads that weave through the life of a mustachioed, short-tempered and food-obsessed police detective. I particularly enjoy the translator’s notes at the back of each book explaining the Italian nuances and references. There are four more Montalbano novels yet to be translated.