First half of 2013:
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway is a really dark book with just a little dash of hope at the end. But if you want insight into what’s going on in Syria and now Boston (!), this book will help you understand what it’s like to live in fear of random violence. The Siege of Sarajevo was the longest city siege in the history of modern warfare, stretching from April 5, 1992 to February 29, 1996–longer than the 900-day siege of Leningrad in WW II (see The Madonnas of Leningrad). In May, 1992 several mortar shells struck a group of people waiting to buy bread at a market in Sarajevo. Twenty-two people were killed and seventy wounded. For the next 22 days Vedran Smailovic, a courageous local cellist, played Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor at the site in honor of the dead. With the unknown help of a remarkable female sniper, he was not shot. I listened to the Adagio on You Tube (click on this hyperlink) and thought of the burnt-out buildings Lilli and I saw in Beirut in 2001. After hearing the shocking news about bombings at the Boston Marathon today, I listened to it again and appreciated once more the power of music to represent the best of human civilization, in contrast to the worst.
Until I Say Good-Bye: My Year of Living with Joy by Susan Spencer-Wendel and Bret Witter. Susan Spencer-Wendel has reported on Florida courts for the Palm Beach Post over the last 20 years. Ms Spencer-Wendel has now published a book about her diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and how she is using the limited time she has left. While still able, she investigated the lives of her birth parents and took special trips with her husband, her three children, her sister and her best friend. Then with only one thumb still working and all her reporting skills intact, she pecked out a remarkable memoir. This book could have been maudlin, but instead it reflects feisty intelligence and honest self-examination. She leaves a lasting legacy that inspires me to work harder on writing this blog with all ten fingers.
All-Time Favorites: absorbing novels I have read more than once: A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving, A Soldier of the Great War – Mark Helprin (especially p. 50 about the moon rising over the hills south of Rome, a perfect image for Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata), A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute, Housekeeping and Gilead – Marilynne Robinson, Let the Great World Spin – Colum McCann, The Glass Room – Simon Mawer, Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks, Crossing to Safety – Wallace Stegner, Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe, Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston, Cutting for Stone – Abraham Verghese, The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing, The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri
Books about China: River Town, Oracle Bones and Driving in China – Peter Hessler; Wild Swans – Jung Chang; Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress – Dai Sijie
Books about Texas: A Woman of Independent Means – Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey, The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes – Bryan Burrough, The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of THose Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl (like my parents) – Timothy Egan, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History – S.C. Gwynne, Ride the Wind – Lucia St. Clair Robson (also about Quanah Parker and his mother Cynthia Parker). My brother-in-law Joe adds the following fiction choices set in Texas:
Remember Ben Clayton – Stephen Harrigan, who also wrote Gates of the AlamoThe Wake of Forgiveness – Bruce MachartRainwater – Sandra Brown
Non-fiction: The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration – Isabel Wilkerson, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa – Adam Hochschild, River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey – Candice Millard, The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court – Jeffrey Toobin, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary – Simon Winchester, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How It Can Renew America – Thomas Friedman, Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee – Jeff Himmelman, Reading Lolita in Tehran – Azar Nafisi, The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr. – selected by Coretta Scott King
Children’s Books: Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes – James Dean & Eric Litwin