Monday, December 29, 2014

My Year-End Book Recommendations

Just like the book challenge I did in 2013, I was pushing myself to read 40 books this year. Because it's been such a rough year for my family, I only ended up reading 24 of the 40, and many of them were deep and emotional reads involving the subject death (ex. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, Night by Elie Weisel, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion). My mentality was sort of, "Well, I am already sad, so I might as well read the sad books and wallow in it." I don't know if that was the smartest strategy for catharsis, but at least I was feeling my emotions of grief instead of masking them.

That being said, I have a few book recommendations. These were my favorite reads this year.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
I am a big fan of Jhumpa Lahiri. Ever since I read her first short story collection, The Interpreter of Maladies, I have been hooked. The Lowland is probably my second favorite book of hers yet (my favorite being Unaccustomed Earth). It is the story of two close brothers who are of totally different mindsets politically and the different paths that their lives take. When one brother dies, the other returns to the lowland where their family lives to try to pick up the pieces, but it is complicated. This was a very interesting read.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
This book was fun. When Clay goes to work for Mr. Penumbra's bookstore, he is not really sure what he is in for. Open 24-hours, the store is rarely visited, and the patrons who do stop in are often borrowing books instead of buying them. At once mysterious and modern, this book was a page-turner. The parts about Google definitely made me laugh!

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Another fun read! The story of Bernadette is an interesting web you have to unravel through correspondence, as her daughter Bee did, when Bernadette goes missing. From the wacky over-bearing parents at Bee's school to Bee's Microsoft-guru Dad, the characters are highly entertaining. I thoroughly enjoyed putting the puzzle together with Bee.

The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat
This book was the most random choice for me all year. We were cleaning out a closet at the non-profit where I work and there was a stack of unclaimed books of fiction. I took them home thinking I could sell them at Half-Price books and ended up reading this one. I am so glad that I did! This collection of short stories follows characters of Haitian descent as they deal with their lives in Haiti during the 1960's or in the aftermath of what happened during that time. Dew breaker was a Creole nickname for the torturers under the regimes of Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier. Although each story focuses on different characters, there are threads linking them together which are so interesting to unravel.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
 A collection of essays, this book made me laugh out loud. I have to admit that this was the first David Sedaris book that I had ever read, but I definitely will seek him out again. My favorite essay is the last one where he details traveling to Tokyo to quit smoking, and discovers several safety pamphlets in his hotel, including one with steps to take "When You Are Engulfed in Flames." A very funny, very interesting group of essays.

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