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Wednesday, January 25, 2006



One of my favorite books this past year was Case Histories by Kate Atkinson - it is a mix of literary fiction and mystery novel and it manages to be both funny and tragic.

You read comics and grapic novels sometimes, right? You might want to try the manga Yotsuba&!, which is a hilarious book about a little girl with a very unique perspective on life who moves to a new town with her father.


A couple of favorites (and since you have Neal Stephenson on your list, I gather you're not anti-SF!):

Beggars in Spain, Nancy Kress (SF): Scientists find a way to engineer people to not have to sleep. Not everyone does it for their kids (or can), so you have two very different groups in society trying to deal with this (wow, I made that sound boring; it's not, it has a lot of character development and I find social commentary/thoughs interesting).

Parable of the Sower, Octavia E Butler (SF): Another SF book (sometimes labelled "speculative fiction") dealing with society. The world has become very ugly and the teenage girl takes off to take care of herself and anyone else who joins up with her group.

I also really like Kindred by Octavia E Butler (SF again). Timetravel by an African-American woman living in present day back to slavery days in the south anytime her master's life is threatened, she is pulled back to the slavery days to save/protect him.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon (Fiction): A good coming-of-age story. Apparently most of his stuff is pretty good non-fluffy fiction but this is all I've read so far.

There are pretty decent reviews on amazon for all of these books if you want to take a look at what everyone else thinks. Hope you find some more things to read!


I recommend a very old book entitled "The Female Quixote" by Charlotte Lennox. It is definitely an 18th-century novel, but it manages to be interesting to read from the beginning, satisfying at the end, and extremely funny along the way.


Night of the Avenging Blowfish by John Welter. Because it's really really funny.

Gina Beirne

My top 9 reads of 2005:

Terry Ryan - The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio
Emyl Jenkins - Stealing with Style
Julie Kenner - Carpe Demon
Laura Pedersen - Beginner's Luck
Laura Pedersen - Heart's Desire
Jennifer Weiner - Goodnight Nobody
Amanda Eyre Ward - Sleep Toward Heaven
Amanda Eyre Ward - How to Be Lost
Gabrielle Zevin - Elsewhere


Recommending books is always dangerous - people's tastes normally vary so much... but... If you liked Bill Bryson's 'Walk in the Woods' - you might also like most things written by Michael Pollen - particularly Second Nature and Botany of Desire.

Other suggestions include the two books by John Harris "No voice from the Hall - Early Memories of a Country House Snooper" and "Echoing Voices" - Harris is english and has spent most of his professional life working with historical houses. Good prose and poignant / humourous.

and completely different - Anna Funder's 'Stasiland'- hidden history of the impact on eastern Germany of the Stasi - good prose and insightful without being too weighty. A good read.


One book I like to recommend to people is Orlando, by Virginia Woolf. I've read it several times, and have found it's one of those books that captivates me on every reading. And I've found it's a good one to recommend because so many people haven't read it.

It's actually the only Woolf book I've read, so I decided to pick up Mrs. Dalloway at the library recently. I'm not that far into it, but I'm enjoying it immensely. It actually reminds me a lot of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, a favorite of mine as a daydreamy girl growing up in Brooklyn, herself. The description and internal monologue of the main character are so rich. I find myself rereading paragraphs a lot, because there's just so much to get from every word and sentence that you have to pay more attention to the actual language than with many books. It's great!


I'm currently most of the way through reading "Good Time Girls of the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush" by Lael Morgan. It's a factual account of prostitution during the gold rush. The stories are fascinating, and the Alaskan prostitutes have a unique twist to their lives in that several of them went on to be quite respectable. It's got passion, intrigue, suicides and murders, and the quest for gold! And it's interesting non-fiction!


I don't do reading lists for myself, but I DO keep track of what I've read. Here're my favorites from 2005: http://chappysmom.typepad.com/bookworm/2006/01/favorite_books_.html

And, nonfiction? American Brutus about John Wilkes Booth. The Great Influenza was amazing. (As was Rising Tide, by the same author.) April 1865 was amazingly good. Bird by Bird a delightful writing book. . . . Really, I could keep going . . .


You need nonfic? I love nonfic, and I get to select nonfic for a public library (best part of my job). If you have any interest in the Civil Rights mov't, I loved The Children by David Halberstam and Freedom's Daughters by Lynne Olson. Haven Kimmel's 2 memoirs are a hoot (2nd one just published). I just finished The Woman at the Washington Zoo by Marjorie Williams. Wonderful writer. Anne Lamott is one of my favorites, especially Traveling Mercies.


my mother's group has a yearly recommendation with the head buyer of one of the northeast's largest independent bookstores... he recommends a ton to us with full descriptions. Go to www.156mothers.org and click on book club.

I personally loved Time Traveler's Wife and I love everything by Banana Yoshimoto.


no laughing... my favorite so far was Anne Rice's Christ The Lord. one of the things i always enjoyed about her vampire stories was how well researched her settings and time periods were. it figures she'd put the same attention into this story as well. i was skeptical... but given a chance, it was really good. also dr norell & jonathan strange. just started it, but its REALLY cool.


For nonfiction, I would recommend John McPhee (who is a Pulitzer winner). A good one to start with (particularly in light of some of last year's events) is The Control of Nature. He looks at three places in the world that humans are trying to control nature - the Mississippi Delta, a volcanic eruption (Greenland??), and the mudslides in southern California.

Haruki Murakami has a non-fiction book called Underground, which is about the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway in the 1990s. I found it a fascinating read after the 9/11 terror attacks...

For something a bit lighter, I recommend Bellwether by Connie Willis. I believe that Willis has won more Hugos and Nebulas than anyone else... Bellwether is about a researching trying to figure out how fads start. There are sheep in the book. :) Willis' book To Say Nothing of the Dog (or How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last) is a rolicking good read - but you have to persist through the first 100 pages. You will be incredibly confused. So is the narrator. You're in his head space. It's ok.


I recall you said you enjoyed Marian Keyes. For a bit of light reading may I suggest Sarah-Kate Lynch: Blessed Are the Cheesemakers & By Bread Alone.
Alexander McCall Smith:The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series
These I loved.
Anita Rau Badami: The Hero's Walk & Tamarind Mem
Salley Vickers: Miss Garnet's Angel, Mr Golightly's Holiday
Joanne Harris: Five Quarters of the Orange
These next authors are Canadian, I only mention this as I'm not sure if you will be able to get the books in the States.
Alistair Macleod: No Great Mischief & Island.
Donna Morrissey: Kit's Law,Downhill Chance, & Sylvanus Now.
Beatrice Macneil: Butterflies Dance in the Dark.
Frank Parker Day:Rockbound
If you want the IBSN I have links on my reading Blog.
My reading taste is fairly eclectic at the best of times, however this last year & a half was an extremely distressful time in my life so... on the lefthand column of my reading blog you will see some very light fiction mixed with some more melancholy topics. In between all that there are some really great books


My favorite nonfiction books are Salt: A History, and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. The first, while obviously about salt, also covers many aspects of history, science, legend, and cooking. I listened to this book via Audible, and every night had a new factoid with which to regale my husband. The second book is about a Hmong child with epilepsy, and how her culture views her and her illness, and the impact on her family when so-called modern medical approaches intersect with traditional ones. I gained a new appreciation for cultural differences through reading this book, and I return to it again and again.


You and I seem to have very similar taste in books, but you read a lot more than I do, so I hesitate to make suggestions because I'm sure you've already read them. But, I'll go ahead anyway.

You mentioned non-fiction - I'd recommend "New Jack" written by a journalist who goes undercover as a guard in Sing Sing - I found it fascinating. I saw you are interested in graphic novels and one that went over well in my book club is "Epileptic", written by a guy whose brother is epileptic and how that affected his whole family. There are a couple of books I haven't yet read but are in my list - "Stiff" and "Team of Rivals". The latter is the new book about Lincoln. If you like political biographies the Truman and Johnson biographies are very good too.

Some of my favorite authors - anything by Nick Hornby, John Irving or Barbara Kingsolver. I'm also a huge Larry McMurtry fan and with all the pub around his screenplay for "Brokeback Mountain" I'm itching to re-read Lonesome Dove. One of my favorite thrillers is "the Alienist" by Caleb Carr.

I'll be watching your posts to see what you do read and end up recommending!


They Went Whistling: Women Wayfarers, Warriors, Runaways and Renegades by Barbara Holland (Non-Fiction) - A funny and thought-provoking look at the wild women of history.

Who Cooked the Last Supper: The Women's History of the World by Rosalind Miles (Nonfiction) - A look at the unwritten history of women. A lot of things to think about.

Kushiel Series(Kushiel's Dart, Kushiel's Chosen, Kushiel's Avatar) by Jacqueline Carey (Fiction) - They say it's fantasy, but it's more...alternate history. A story of a woman courtesan/spy who is a true masochist. It's a little racy, and not to everyone's taste, but the intricacies of court and politics and motives are fascinating.

The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Prachett - To be honest, it's been a long time since I've read this book, and I can't tell you why I love it beyond the fact that it has stuck in my mind for over ten years now. A simultaneously sad and beautiful look at love.


I highly recommend The House of Spirit by Isabel Allende.

Reading Lotlita in Tehran is sitting on my book stack to be read and it looks quite intriguing.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is also excellent...I found myself dismayed by most modern fiction and it was suggested by a friend. Quite different, but very well written.

And for a long time favorite of mine:

Watership Down by Richard Adams


I forgot the "s" on the end of The House of Spirits.

Also, I forgot to mention, the nonficton book: Stiff. It has been on my reading list for awhile after discussing it with classmates--it is supposed to be facinating.

I will warn you though, that I am finding that what I and my classmates consider facinating is starting to gross people out (vet school).


Anything by David Sedaris is always great, and it looks like your reading list could do with a laugh :)


from the top of my head some favorites fro mthe past 5 years or so:
Zadie Smith: White Teeth, Jonathan Coe: The Rotters Club (there is a sequel called the Closed Circle that I am about to start), Alan Lightman The Diagnosis (I also loved his first novel Einstein's Dreams), Dave Eggers "A heartbreaking work of staggering genius", Jonathan Franzen The Corrections - I suppose you could say that these all deal with modern Western life in some way or other, but here's something completely different: Erik Fosnes Hansen "Tales of Protection" - it travels back and forth between centuries and countries. It's a fantastic novel,but I have to warn you that the author promised a sequel that was due four years ago, but is not yet out, which is very frustrating. I'm sorry that I don't have time to write more about them, but I'm at work now, and suppossed to be working ;-)


1. Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart

Like Croching Tiger, Hidden Dragon crossed with Christopher Moore and J.R.R. Tolkein. This book is funny, there are lots of characters and it's a great adventure tale. [IF YOU LIKE, THEN TRY: Across the Nightingale Floor (Tales of the Otori, Book 1) by Lean Hearn. Not as comical, but has that Crouching Tiger feel)

2. Box Office Poison by Alex Robinson

For me, sometimes graphic novels can end too quickly but THIS one is dense. It's like watching a whole season of a television drama starring people you know. Very real, very funny. [IF YOU LIKE, THEN TRY: Bone (One Volume Edition) by Jeff Smith. This is the whole series in one huge (1,300 page) book. Think Disney meets Lord of the Rings. Funny, exciting, epic.]

3. Under the Skin by Michel Faber

PLEASE don't read anything about this book before reading it. I happened to pick up a copy at a used book store and started reading it- I was surprised (and entertained). It's like when you see a movie you love and tell someone, "DON'T watch previews! Don't read the reviews! Don't talk to anyone who has seen it- you'll ruin the surprise!" Nothing like The Crimson Petal and the White (I can't even believe it's the same author).

4. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

I don't read much non-fiction, but this one really pulled me in and basically read itself. I feel like I learned a lot about the history of the Mormon faith (although I feel like the source was biased).

5. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. Loved this book, thought it was funny and entertaining. Like watching a really good movie.


I'm a big fan of Umberto Eco, but not his newest. Baudolino and The Name of the Rose were my favorites. I've also recently enjoyed Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist and Gabriel Garcia Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude. As for nonfiction, I'd like to not recommend Stiff, as she gets off-topic a lot, seemingly pulling at straws to fill out a skinny book. Other recommendations for NF:

- Seeds of Change, Henry Hobhouse
- The Battle for Christmas, Nissenbaum
- Changes in the Land, Cronon
- The Beak of the Finch, Weiner
- The Age of Homespun, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
- Captains of Consciousness, Ewen
I'd claim that this is all strong scholarly nonfiction without it being inaccessible or too dry.


I agree with Anita about Middlesex. Great book!


Last year I really enjoyed Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. Hard to describe the book, it's a series of linked tales, set in different places and times, brilliantly executed.



I'm sure you're already aware of my recent faves, but to recap:

William Trevor, The Story of Lucy Gault
Davy Rothbart, The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas
Joe Sacco, Palestine
Aleksandar Hemon, Nowhere Man
Kirby Gann, Our Napoleon in Rags
Ward Just, An Unfinished Season
Michael Chabon, The Final Solution


Another vote for Middlesex if you haven't already. Did you read Upside Down Dog in the Nighttime? (or something like that) anyhoos, pretty darned interesting. I dunno if you're into crime/law fiction but I'm exploring that genre and in the middle of Reasonable Doubt and it's pretty good so far.


OK, here are my recommendations:
fiction -
A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

nonfiction -
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers - Mary Roach
Cunt - Inga Muscio
Assassination Vacation - Sarah Vowell

Right now I'm closing in on the end of I, Elizabeth, which I'm digging. And for the rest of the Winter I've got Freethinkers : A History of American Secularism, and Granny Made Me an Anarchist.


Since it doesn't look like anyone has mentioned them, I'll add a couple of books that I enjoyed this year -- I hope it counts that I enjoyed them as audio books!

1776 by David McCullough which focuses on the year 1775-1776 in the American Revolution. Definitely non-fiction, but non-fiction that tries to give you insight into the personalities of the people who participated. Much of it is supported by letters and other documents from the time that help bring the people to life. It's not a long book, and even if you're not a big history fan, it's still a good read.

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. It talks about the life and works of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Harvard doctor who sets up a clinic in Haiti and takes on big problems in health care for the poor. It's an inspiring book about what one person can do to make the world a better place.

Soul of a New Machine, also by Tracy Kidder. A wonderful book in the "geek history" collection that describes the development of the first "minicomputers" at DEC. It really captures the hard work and enthusiasm and heartbreak of an era in the computer industry.


kay, a couple of recs and then i'm gonna go read the other comments!!

1. The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay, my favorite book of all time. It's just really beautifully written with wonderful character development. Love.

2. pretty much anything by Malcolm Gladwell, specifically The Tipping Point and Blink. Non-fiction and so fascinating. As soon as I finished TTP, I wanted to flip right back to the front and read it all over again.


I can heartily recommend anything by the Irish travel writer Dervla Murphy. Her first book (Full Tilt) was written after she rode her bicycle from Ireland to India. In 1963. Here is here wikipedia listing:
What you don't get from that entry is her wonderful sense of humor, her willingness to embrace other cultures and her dry, biting wit. She always seems to get sick, or injured, or into some kind of trouble, but she comes out of it just fine. And usually the bottle of whiskey she brought with her is gone by the end of the first week.

Also, anything by SF writer Octavia Butler is a good choice.

Betty MacDonald books are mostly out of print, except my least favorite, The Egg and I, but are well worth the effort to find them. She's warm and funny, and gives a window into a different time(1930's through 1950's).


I reccently read a wonderful young adult book, "The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things" by Carolyn Mackler. Funny and heartbreaking all at once, and really heartwarming too. Definitely a quick read, but good.


I second the following two recommendations:
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
Stiff: The Curious Life of Cadavers by Mary Roach

I would also recommend:
Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins
Neuromancer by William Gibson
A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews


While certainly not new the Lymond Chronicles & The Niccolo series by Dorthy Dunnett are my hands down favorite books ever.

Gory mystery books - try Karin Slaughter - quite good.

P.s. I agree with the lack of decent reading material this year - i can't stay awake past two pages on anything I have tried in the last 6 months!


You have a number of books on your 2005 list which I liked a lot, so hopefully these recommendations won't be way off the mark. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is one of my favorites (he also wrote The Virgin Suicides), as is Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Both are beautifully written and emotionally powerful. A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee and Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (just finished the latter) are both notable for their detail and their interesting narrative voices. Nonfiction? If you're a dog lover try The Hidden Life of Dogs by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas; another good nonfiction read is Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich.


I just finished Becoming Justice Blackmun by Linda Greenhouse. I think it says a lot for a non-fiction book when you stay up all night reading it, as I did. Staying up all night to read fiction is not unusual for me - I actually don't allow myself to start a novel after 8pm because if it's good I won't go to bed - but I'd never stayed up reading non-fiction before.

Basically it is a biography of Justice Blackmun drawn from his personal papers donated to the library of congress, but it's also much more. If you have any interest in American legal history, I really recommend this book.


Like Water for Chocolate-Laura Esquivel

How to make an American Quilt-Whitney Otto

My Antonia'-Willa Cather

Tales of the South Seas-James Michener

What Men Live By - Leo Tolstoy
(short story)

These are my favorites.


I'm not much for book recommendations, but here are a couple of books that I've read recently that I really enjoyed:
Growing Up X by Ilyasah Shabazz, a memoir of one of Malcolm X's daughter and how growing up as one of his daughter's who had a faint memory of her father was like. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is one of my favorite books, so I was very interested to read this book and it was just very easy to read. And told you more about their life after Malcolm's death and the incredible strength of his widow, Betty Shabazz, before, during and after his death, raising 6 daughters.

Also, Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni, an Iranian-American who grew up in America, but always had a longing for Iran. After college, working as a journalist, she moved to Iran in 2000 to cover the political reform movement and how she realized she was only Iranian in the sense of her culture, but not truly and realized she could never go "home" here. She gives a great view of life in Iran, especially the lack of freedoms experienced by all, but especially women and what that climate became after 9/11.

Those are just some nonfiction books that I read. There were more fiction, but I'll leave you with those.

Lisa Dusseault

For non-fiction, I enjoyed reading about Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (the Lyndall Gordon biography) and Madame de Stael (the Maria Fairweather biography). Both of these biographies are more for learning about the women, and their time, than about their work, which was fine with me. I've been enjoying biographies of women for a number of years now because I find that I remember the history and the reasons better when they're grounded in a personal and emotional basis -- the kind of thing that biographies of important men often leave out.


I'm catching up on blogs, and am probably too late for this, but I'd suggest This Body by Laurel Doud, I believe the name is? This Body was recommended by a friend...a 39 year old woman, dies, and wakes up in the body of a 22 year old drug addict. She has to try to fit in with her new family, and discover who the person she is now, was.
And if you like long epic fantasy sort of novels, I loved the Kushiel's Dart trilogy. It's a little dark, as the main character is basically a prostitute, with a penchant for S&M, (the scenes aren't uncomfortable to read at all though, and I can be squeamish)who becomes a spy. The books are large, but they fly by. Absolutely brilliant writing, and I've found quite a following for them online.

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