The following are six books I read in the past year (check out years one and two) and very much recommend for any season, however, year three makes this a “thing” now, so we’re gonna stick with it. They are in no particular order, but #1 very well might be my favorite book since the last list.
- The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (2015)
Told from the perspective of the prophet Nathan (Natan in the book), The Secret Chord is a massively powerful read that provides an account of King David unlike anything I could’ve expected. Beginning from before David was more than a glorified raider, Brooks creates a world that treats slavery, rape, and murder with ambivalence — oftentimes a justified means to an end. The Machiavellian character, receiving messages from God through Nathan, also happens to be as blessed a musician as he is a King.
Bracketed passage in my book: “To me, even now, after so many years of hearing him play almost every day, it remains a marvel, that a man can draw forth such sounds from a piece of wood and some strands of gut. His overlapping harmonies, the way the plucked strings swell and ebb, and every minut, every instant, he is overlaying new, fresh melodies as the old harmonies linger and resonate. Not only the ears feel the pleasure of it. You feel the vibration on your skin. The hairs rise on your arms. The pulse, the breath, the very heartbeat. It’s a kind of sorcery, a possession of body and spirit. Yet a wholesome one. And there is one chord, one perfect assembly of notes no other hand can play. The sound of it — pure, rinsing sound, void, so that your spirit seems to rush in to fill the space between the notes. So sublime that the priests asked David to offer it at the sacrifice… the music rising up to heaven with the sacred smoke. Every soul that hears it is refreshed and restored.”
I loved this book. It may have been my favorite of the year.
2. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1985)
To begin, the title is fantastic. The first chapter, wherein Juvenal Urbino unsuccessfully (and fatally) attempts to retrieve his pet parrot from a mango tree, sits as vividly in my mind as the moment I read it. Marquez writes long, beautiful prose that is as enjoyable in English as it is in Spanish. This is a novel that renders lovesickness an illness, and how the human — in both body and spirit — can overcome the affliction.
Bracketed passage: “Life in the world, which had caused her so much uncertainty before she was familiar with it, was nothing more than a system of atavistic contracts, banal ceremonies, preordained words, with which people entertained each other in society in order not to commit murder.” I feel that.
3. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)
This novel follows two Nigerians — Ifemelu and Obinze — as they pummel through the formative twenties and thirties outside of their home country; in the USA and UK, respectively. An absolute page-turner, I enjoyed this book way more than I had expected. I gave it a shot because I had listened to Adichie give a talk about writing that was so spot-on that I wanted to support her. Although I caught myself savoring Ifemelu’s chapters and almost speeding through Obinze’s, the book as a whole is excellent and I plan to read her other work soon.
While I don’t have a bracketed passage for this one, moments and themes that stuck with me were Ifemelu’s experiences at the hair salon (where the book gets its title), with Curt’s mother, with Blaine’s sister, the women of Lagos, and, of course, the horrible experience she had with the tennis coach when she first arrived in America.
4. City of Thieves by David Benioff (2008)
Two youths are tasked with finding a dozen eggs in frigid Russia during the Nazi-led Siege of Leningrad so a colonel can have a birthday cake made for his ice-skating daughter or else they’ll be executed… Okay, I’m hooked.
We know Benioff from co-creating, co-producing, co-directing, sometimes even co-writing the HBO series Game of Thrones. At first, I even had to double-check that the author was the same guy. His novel has the same grimness and dark humor as GoT, laced with the unjustness and despair that comes to a city’s inhabitants when the barbarians are at the gates. I finished City of Thieves in a few long summer days.
No bracketed passages in this one either, but from start to finish, Benioff’s book is a gripping coming-of-age historical-fiction adventure. A must-read.
5. The Children of Men by P.D. James (1992)
I’m not sure why it took me so long to read the novel that turned into my favorite film of all-time (Children of Men (2006) — check out its rating on my movie ratings list here), but James’ work is a master exposition on story-telling. Taking place on an isolated Britain in a world-dystopian not as a product of nuclear holocaust or virus outbreak, but from global infertility. The Omegas, or the last generation of the human race, live lavishly and can (literally) get away with murder — except for those sacrificed in fertility rituals around the world. Mass state-sponsored suicides, puppies and kittens pushed in prams like children, revolutionaries undermining the despotic regime that attempts to brainwash the masses of Britain into believing they’re living in an egalitarian society, The Children of Men offers a powerful reading experience.
Bracketed passage: “After all, if our sex life were determined by our first youthful experiments, most of the world would be doomed to celibacy. In no area of human experience are human beings more convinced that something better can be had if only they persevere.”
(*My favorite passage is the final of the entire book and didn’t want to spoil the ending.*)
6. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
This novel predates the American Civil War; let that sink in. Sure, I may have “read” it in high school, and I may have had a general-enough idea of the plot to put off reading the beautiful “modern library” version my grandmother had given me years ago as a gift, but Moby Dick is as incredible a read in 2019 as it probably was over 160 years ago.
Yes, there are parts where Melville is simply flexing his maritime-knowledge muscle that can get a little dry, but there are other times, many times, where the book is hilarious, horrifying, depressing.
Ahab is a cajoling sociopath you kinda root for. The crew is a diverse mix of races, religions, and backgrounds. The writing is beautiful.
The concept of “the white whale” is still referenced in today’s language.
Living steps from the Atlantic Ocean, I had known that when I was going to dive into this book, I wanted to do so in winter when the frigid wind came whipping off the coast. But I don’t put out a “Winter Reading List,” so I’m putting it here.
Definitely the most “bracketed” book I’ve read in the past year, I won’t do it justice unless I provide you with more than one passage.
Bracketed passage: “Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing in particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.” → Unfortunately, this is technically the second line of the book. (“Call me Ishmael.” is first.) If only Melville knew how obsessed so many readers are with opening lines. But whatever, I think it should still count.
Bracketed passage: “You cannot hide the soul.”
Bracketed passage: “Queequeg was George Washington cannibalistically developed.”
Bracketed passage: “For a Khan of the plank, and a king of the sea, and a great lord of Leviathans was Ahab.”
Me yelling in my bed: “Queequeg lives!”