Saturday, December 20, 2014

Best Books of 2014 - NYTimes recommendations

Redeployment by Phil Klay

Little Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart

The Dog: Stories by Jack Livings

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

Foreign Gods, Inc. by Okey Ndibe

Being Mortal by Atuil Gawande

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

Art in America, 1945-1970 edited by Jed Perl

The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison

10:04 by Ben Lerner

How to Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran

My Struggle: Book Three: Boyhood by Karl Ove Knausgaaard

Slant Six by Erin Belieu


Alvin Blackshear said...

I had to give up on two of these recommendations. After wading into 40 to 50 pages, I just couldn't connect with the story. Maybe it is my need for a traditional story or that I am uncomfortable with newer forms of style - but I found myself wondering "what is going on here?" At that point I usually give up. Sorry, these two should not have made the list: "A Brief History of Seven Killings" by Marlon James and "10:04" by Ben Lerner. I just started "I'll Take You There: Mavis Staples, The Staple Singers, and the March Up Freedom's Highway" by Greg Kot and "Fourth of July Creek" by Smith Henderson. I'll keep you posted.

Alvin Blackshear said...

I’ve read three more from this list and I can highly recommend one, “Every Day is for the Thief” by Teju Cole. It is short and easy read (162 pages) comprised of short vignettes about his short visit back home to Lagos, Nigeria. It contained what I expected from a personal travel journal: reconnection with family and friends; bubbling up of childhood memories; and food – one of our most important connections to memory and relationship. What I didn’t expect – which I have to applaud the author is his insightfulness of the human spirit and emotion. His stories reveal an understanding and examination that I envy. I can’t say too much without giving much away, so I will say only that his writing is masterful.

I also read, or I tried to read, “I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, The Staple Singers, and the March Up Freedom’s Highway” by Greg Kot. I have to admit that I didn’t listen to much R&B or the Motown sound while growing up. It was a conscious decision that I regret to today. I was willful and defiant and thought classical music would somehow make me an intellectual. At that it did was make me a musical snob and I missed out on experiencing some great music while growing up. Nevertheless, I couldn’t connect to the story and again found my mind wandering and wondering “why am I reading this”. At that point I had to put it down – not because the story was unentertained or poorly written, but because I failed to connect with the emotion and meaning of the story.

And I couldn’t read, “Fourth of July Creek” by Smith Henderson. I can’t understand how this novel made the list. I gave up on page 15, barely into it. The beginning struck me as odd and confusing and I remained confused with each page turn. Again, it must be me, not you, me.

I also finished “Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman” by Robert L. O’Connell. I as history and Civil War buff, this speaks to me. Robert O’Connell is an outstanding historian and writer. He has done an excellent job at pulling together the massive personal, military and political history of General Sherman. In school we are only taught two items about Sherman: his March Through the South and his ying-yang partnership with General Grant. Sherman was a far more complicated individual: he married his step-sister; he was a racist and did not support abolition; and he was Ulysses S. Grant’s strongest supporter and defender. This is an excellent work of scholarship and is a necessary part of your library if you have that bent that I posses.

Alvin Blackshear said...

Just finished reading two titles from the Recommended 2014 book list. I can recommend them both even though they both have the same theme at their core: death.

“The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace” by Jeff Hobbs is biograph of a young man who despite the long odds moves out of a life of poverty and crime towards the realization of the American Dream. “Robert Peace was born outside Newark in a ghetto known as “Illtown.” His charismatic father was later convicted of a double murder. Peace’s intellectual brilliance and hard-won determination earned him a full scholarship to Yale University. At college, while majoring in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, he straddled the world of academic and the world of the street, never revealing his full self in either place. Upon graduation from Yale, he went home to reach at the Catholic high school he’d attended, slid into the drug trade, and was brutally murdered at age thirty.” This summary does not do justice to the writing and complexity of the story of Robert Peace. It is an excellent snapshot of the lost potential of thousands, possibly a million, young men of color in America. A loss that our country and our future cannot afford.

“Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” by Roz Chast. After listening to an interview of Roz Chast by Terry Gorss on NPR, I decided to move this work up the list. I was already familiar with the cartoons by Roz Chast which frequently appear in the New Yorker magazine, so it was her story I found interesting. “Roz Chast and her parents were practitioners of denial: if you don’t ever think about death, it will never happen. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? Is the story of an only child watching her parents age well into their nineties and die.” Like Roz I witnessed my father’s “long good-bye” – so I found many parallel situations chronicled in her memoir. It was a well worked sad reminder of the road we all may have to travel.