Many great books have been written about the refugee experience – Nguyen estimates that today the worldwide refugee population has swelled to 60 million people.
Literature and storytelling are full of what today we would call “frenemies.” In many great stories there are two characters who oppose each other bitterly, but in some ways are very much alike. Ian Rankin’s Detective John Rebus and Edinburgh gangster “Big Ger” Cafferty are such a pair.
To me, that makes the people who write about this loss of memory are heroes – those, like Gerda Saunders, who suffer from a form of dementia themselves, friends or family searching for a better way to care for a loved one, or scientists seeking a cure for a terrible disease.
Infidelity has been a staple of good storytelling since the Greeks lapped up stories of their gods’ bad behavior. Here are some novels that focus on infidelity. They’re from all kinds of writers, which says something about our enduring fascination with the topic.
I’m not a Catholic, but I am fascinated by the Roman Catholic Church. So much history. Such an enigmatic power structure. My task this week is easy, because there are many books that will feed the curiosity of students of Roman Catholicism
Dava Sobel makes natural history readable and moving. It is a rare gift. Her breakout book, Longitude, was an international bestseller, so I’m going to start my list of books about scientific outliers with that amazing story.
Often, in odd couple pairings we find in books, two heads are better than one – the partners complement each other. Here are some well-known couples in crime fiction.
I grew up in the blues country of the Mississippi Delta, so I have a number of blues books on my list. But I want to briefly mention Kunzru’s first published novel, The Impressionist, about a cultural mashup of a different sort and another look at how race divides people.
Ann Cleeves has a beautifully developed sense of place – in the Vera series, it’s northern England, and in the Shetland series, it’s the Shetland Islands, so far north they are almost as close to Norway as they are to Scotland. Here's al ist of other books with this sense of place.
Collection of interesting books - fiction and non-fiction - from countries in turmoil and the authors who life there.
I am fascinated by what makes humanitarians like Dr. Larry Brilliant tick and their will to help the world’s oppressed, whether oppression takes the form of poor health care, lack of economic opportunity or religious discrimination.
Garth Stein and Mary Ann Gwinn mentioned a few books to get the writer writing. Here is that list.
Emma Donoghue likes to get beneath the surfaces of women’s lives to see what lies beneath. Sometimes they are women in the here-and-now; more often, as with The Wonder, they are women from the past. Her writing is vivid, suspenseful and at times disturbing, but you will never be bored reading an Emma Donoghue books.
When I was a little girl, I was horse crazy. I read every book about horses I could get my hands on, and longed to have a horse of my own, which would have been a fairy tale come true. Alas - the fairy tale did not pan out, but I did live the horsing life through the books.
One thing I love about Maria Semple’s storytelling is her fabulous comic timing, which she uses to great effect in her dialogue. Here are my suggestions if you are looking for comic relief without sacrificing great writing.
Many authors known for their books for adults have tried their hand at writing for children, sometimes with great success. Here's five to try.
Anyone who loves to walk knows how it clears the head. As Robert Moor points out in his lovely book On Trails, there’s an almost meditative quality to it. Anyone who loves to walk knows how it clears the head. As Robert Moor points out in his lovely book On Trails, there’s an almost meditative quality to it.
It’s no surprise that many great American novels have examined slavery, its damage and its aftermath. Here are five of the best, all by prize-winning African American authors to check out.
I once heard Alexander McCall Smith’s hometown of Edinburgh called a “hotbed of genius,” and I’m a believer. The capital of Scotland is the home of all kinds of geniuses, but I’m most interested in the writing kind.
Tracy Kidder is one of the best nonfiction writers working today. When I read a book by Kidder I almost forget he’s there, as if I’m experiencing the story firsthand.
Philbrick has written many fine books of American history. I’m going to mention those books but first, I’m going to give the nod to three books that look at our history from a different perspective – that of the British.
Amor Towles first book was impossible to put down. Follow that with books on Russia's intriguing history and you have a full reading list.
It wasn't easy to choose but here are five books to start your Ann Patchett reading.
India is such a complicated place, with its rich, if often tragic history, its confounding extremes of wealth and poverty and its enormous 21st century vitality – well, every time I finish a book about India I say to myself, I REALLY have to go there. Here are some books to take you there.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a voice for social injustice but he is also a lover of history and a good story. Here are a couple of other works by Abdul-Jabbar worth a look. Plus three books about champions of change.
Mary Ann and Elisa have put together some waning days of summer reads for you to check out.
If not for many brave people battling enormous odds, things could have gone much differently in World War II. World War II remains one of my favorite subjects for that reason– so much hung in the balance, and things looked so very dark for so very long. I’m recommending another book by Neal Bascomb, a thriller by a Norwegian writer, then three books by one of my favorite writers.
Most of us have fathers we can admire and respect, but fathers are fallible, just like everyone else. A few fathers are flat-out scoundrels. That creates its own kind of dynamic – not of loss, but of a lack of trust. Here are some of the best books I’ve read by authors writing about either absent or troubled fathers.
Someone once said that in a novel, a small town is a perfect stage for a group of players. Here are some of Russo’s books where a small town, usually in New York or New England, has served as a place where people know each other all too well.
For Cleave’s latest novel, Everyone Brave is Forgiven. That’s in Britain in the time leading up to and during World War II. How many great novels have been set by this era? Novelists will never run out of material – here are three I love that focus on people who are serving the war effort at home, not on the front.
A writer with Louise Erdrich’s gifts does something few authors can pull off – she transports the reader into the lives of people whose existence might be far different from our own, but who after all, have the same hopes and fears as the rest of us.
Librarians pop up in books - a lot. No surprise there – they are, after all, the guardians of books and reading. Sometimes the character is the conventional spinster-with-a-bun stereotype, shushing the patrons and frowning at any sort of disturbance. But more often, librarians get some very interesting roles.
(Link to expanded Bookmarks content: Oyeyemi Extended) Helen Oyeyemi belongs to a group of contemporary writers who have roots in Africa, but their reach is international. They are the sons and daughters of parents who fled African countries during the turbulent era of political revolution in the 1960s and 1970s. These writers have a point of view that spans divisions of country, race and class.
Timothy Egan brings a lot of energy as a guest and as a writer. His books are always full of great characters. The timing of his book about an Irishman can’t be a coincidence. And to recognize the 100th Anniversary of the Easter Rising in Ireland, I have a reading list from Ireland-born authors… writing Irish-themed stories.
When I first read that Jim Lynch was going to publish a novel, I thought, hmmmm, we’ll see. Jim is a former newspaper reporter – he worked for a time at my own newspaper, the Seattle Times. Journalists, even the finest ones, often have a hard time making the transition from reporting the facts to, well, making things up. He made the leap. (Read the full story here: Bookmarks Expanded)
I am a big admirer of Geraldine Brooks. She stretches herself with every book – they all have different settings, different historical periods, and different stories to tell. Her background as a reporter makes her a meticulous historical researcher. Finally, her experience as a war correspondent has forced her to confront some of the more tragic aspects of the human experience.
(Link to expanded Bookmarks content: Hochschild Extended) Adam Hochschild has made social justice his lifelong subject. An urgency pervades all his books – in Spain in Our Hearts, the reader can’t help but be affected by the commitment of the Americans who went to Spain to fight on the side of the Spanish Republic. Here's my list for your consideration of books on the subject of social justice.
Pamela Sakamoto's book, "Midnight in Broad Daylight," is about a family who endured unbelievable circurcumstances. My further readling list suggestions this week focus on the history of Japanese American relations.
Geniuses have hatched many of the ideas that have taken mankind out of the cave and into the 21st century. Here are some books about troubled geniuses who battled many demons, but still left their mark on science, economics, literature, technology and music.
Ethan Canin – what an extraordinary writer. When you’re done with his books you feel like you have looked deep into his characters’ essence, but his stories also expand the reader’s mind outward.
Reading an Elizabeth Strout book is like unlocking a different psychological puzzle. The relationships she developes between her characters - mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, sisters and brothers - is the hallmark of a Stout book.
But to me, political families are fascinating. They reinforce the idea that certain traits and preferences actually run in families.
The rational part of the human mind wants to believe that people are well intentioned and logical. Well…..sometimes they are. Sometimes they definitely are not. This book got me thinking about witches, and how they are believed to be either forces of evil (more the historical view) or good (the modern view).
I love books that have a strong sense of place. The plot whizzes by so fast in Grant Park, the reader’s glimpses of Chicago are tantalizingly brief. So here are some books that delve more deeply into America’s Second City.
There are other wonderful popular history writers out there, authors who love history but who know how to grab your attention. Here are some of their books, all by history geeks of the first order.
Ruiz’ body of work made me think of Carlos Castaneda, another highly educated man who went back to the ancient knowledge of the Toltecs to gain insight into how humans think, feel and perceive.
When I started to read Jesse Eisenberg’s book of short fiction, “Bream Gives Me Hiccups,” it got me thinking of what a powerful punch a good short story can pack. Here’s a list of short story collections worth checking out. A couple are must-reads.
Hector Tobar's book Deep Down Dark is one of the best and most impressive books I have read in the last year. This week, I'm recommending books Hector read to prepare himself to write his book. Also, adding a few more great reads set int he world of mining.
I had the unique opportunity to share the stage with Elizabeth Gilbert to recommend books to further the creative agenda. This is the list we came up with.
Becoming a widow or widower is a huge life passage. Many book have used this life to drive their plots. Here are a few worth a look.
I’ve seldom encountered a more masterful mix of investigative reporting and writing. The Pentagon’s Brain was the first Annie Jacobsen book i have read. It won’t be the last. Here is more reading of Annie Jacobsen's work plus a few others that go deep into our nation's military secrets.
We have to confront the fact that we are not going to live forever. This is a list of books that go boldly into that territory.
Like Salman Rushdie's newest book, there are a number of book that chronicle some kind of war between supernatual powers, one faction struggling to save humanity, teh other faction working to obliterate it.
Don Winslow is my kind of writer – he has a passion for research, combined with a vivid imagination and the kind of humor that can embrace the good, the bad and the incomprehensible. New York Times book critic Janet Maslin praised one of his books for fusing “the grave and the playful, the body blow and the joke, the nightmare and the pipe dream.”
People develop relationships with animals for a variety of reasons. Often one of those reasons is that it can be very hard, at times, to be a human.
I believe The Dying Grass hooked me because it is about one of our great national tragedies – the wars waged against Native Americans that drove them from their homelands, all over the country.
McCullough’s secret - he puts his readers under that spell. I can’t mention every book he has written, but here are some of the more noteworthy.
I really think David Brooks hit the nail on the head with his book The Road to Character. Like a lot of baby boomers, I was raised by parents who believed that human beings were fallible, and that constant vigilance was required to ensure that their children were shaped into something worthwhile. (Read my full commentary in 'The Word').
The spiritual memoir is an engaging, thought-provoking genre. Here are some favorites.
No writer of equivalent literary stature has been as prolific as the award-winning and bestselling Oates.
I asked our recent guest Jim Neff, who was on Well Read to talk about his book Vendetta, for his suggestions of best books about the Kennedys. What a star-crossed family they were; so gifted, and so dogged by tragedy. I think those of us of a certain age will never lose their fascination with this amazing family of men and women.
Poetry requires powers of concentration that I just don’t have at the moment, though I aspire to read more of it in the future. I have read enough poetry to compile a short list of poets I can recommend.
Books to help students and parents understand and navigate the complex system of college admissions.
Author Neal Stephenson is a master crafter of combining science fiction and historical portrayals into fantastical tales laced with a touch of mindbending wit.
British author Kazuo Ishiguro is a talented, versatile writer with a powerful ability to get the reader to empathize with his characters. He’s also a writer who loves to try out different forms.
Some of David Treuer’s most notable works of nonfiction, as well as a list of the author’s favorite books.
The occupation of France by the Germans during World War II, and the French resistance that sprang up to fight them, was an epic period of great drama and tragedy.
Dennis Lehane is a take-no-prisoners writer. He just grabs the reader and doesn’t let go.
Jane Smiley's work spans decades and locations around the country, but one thing remains the same: Her phenomenal sense of place. Here are some of my favorite of her works.
Maybe everyone wants to believe, at some level, in an afterlife. Maybe everyone just wants the bejesus scared out of them. For whatever reason, people love a good ghost story.
William Gibson is so aware of the interface between technology and humanity, it’s as if he can see what’s coming in our hyper-connected world well before anyone else.
Books about people with Asberger's synderome
Some characters just can't rest -- such as the ones in these series with recurring characters.
Anne Lamott is one-of-a-kind. Her ability to capture moments we all have -- though we often feel alone in the experience. These authors share that sensibility.
The British author John Lanchester is one of my great reading pleasures. I was introduced to his work through his 2012 novel, “Capital,” which I still recommend to anyone who can get their hands on it. He's back with "How to Speak Money."
Jamaica and the Caribbean are known for their beauty -- but the area has a rich history with many intriguing tales. "A Brief History of Seven Kilings" is the latest, and here are more.
Cold cases are timelessly fascinating because they represent justice denied. For a novelist, they provide a structure for going back to a long-ago event and revisiting it from a contemporary perspective. And with scientific advances in evaluating evidence, including advanced DNA testing, there is a resurgence of interest in and hope for solving cold cases.
Many writers have a passion for causes and their books give readers all kinds of practical avenues for helping to make the world a better place.
It's striking how many historic leaders look like saints in retrospect, but in their day had a very difficult time choosing to do what’s “right” because the prevailing ethos in society was so overwhelmingly wrong.
Novelists love to write stories about love triangles because they feature heightened emotion and impulsive behavior, as the participants struggle to escape the trap they’ve created for themselves by trying to love and possess someone who is loved and possessed by someone else.
Bryan Stevenson's book, "just Mercy" called to mind other famous books about justice and the death penalty. Here are some of the most noteworthy.
Inspired by Louise Penny's "The Long Way Home," I've compiled a list of some fascinating mysteries set in France.
Why does Ireland produce such wonderful writers? There are many possible answers to that question. One version: the Irish have a particular gift for the gab that translates well into print. I don’t know if that’s true, but these are some of my favorite Irish writers who are still alive and writing -- good news!
Paul Roberts covers a lot of ground in “The Impulse Society" -- as well as his earlier books, "The End of Oil" and "The End of Food." Here are other thought provoking books on changes that are transforming society at lightning speed.
So many American authors have made literary hay from this tempestuous time, one of our country’s great tragedies and one that still haunts us today.
Sibling relationships are fascinating, rewarding and, often, complicated. Our siblings both inspire and perplex us, but it’s one of the richest of human relationships.
There’s a real flowering of literature recently by American immigrants with African heritage. Several contemporary writers of African heritage are doing some of the best work in fiction today.
Paris has always had a magnetic attraction for Americans, and Mary Cassatt was by far from the only one who made her way there.
Novelists use this form as a very effective device to convince you that you are hearing the voice of a real person, even though it’s entirely made up. It’s so personal; it’s like the character’s voice is traveling directly from his or her mouth to your ear.
Like Alma, Elizabeth Gilbert’s heroine in “The Signature of All Things,” women have pursued knowledge throughout history, but also like Alma, they have not always had an easy time of it.
Before World War II, the world was in upheaval and the different sides in the war were coalescing. If only the world could have been more prescient about what was in store – as a reader you know the outcome, and that makes these books doubly mesmerizing.
It takes authors whose sensibilities transcend nationalities to adequately portray life in the Middle East.
You do have to have a flexible imagination to go along with some of these premises, but what’s reading for?
Our neighbor to the North has a lot of great authors. But because Canada has separate publishers and book distribution networks, it seems to take a very long time for awareness of them to build south of the border.
Just about everyone has either been through this or is going through this – the struggle with parents to accept both help and mortality. Nobody likes to accept that they’re getting older, and that the end point of getting older is, well, dying.
These are books about people who, well, love books.
Several books use brain disease, brain injury or brain malfunction to illustrate how the brain works. Others take a broader scope – nothing less than how the brain works in general.
How do these doctors have the time to write such good books? And I must say, writing seems much more a right brain occupation – creative and divergent – and medicine seems more left brain, logical and deductive.
A few books that will help understand the interlocking wheels that power life on earth, and the forces that threaten to gum up the works.
Diaries – the day-by-day recording of events, thoughts, ruminations and moods that help the reader relive the existence of another person in all its glory and tedium. I love reading them.
Recreating the world of, say, seventh-century Britain in ways that make me want to jump into the way-back machine and leave immediately.
The novelist writing a serialized story has to capture the reader and keep them coming back for more, which is one reason they incorporate a lot of action and drama.
Dubbed “The Paris of the Orient,” Shanghai was an incredibly wealthy place where money was made and people, mostly foreigners, enjoyed a life of luxury as everyday people, including many Chinese, lived in poverty. All this came crashing down when the Japanese attacked Shanghai in 1937, a very pivotal year for the city, and for China.
The success of Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” is based on his return, again and again, to the fictional town of Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, the men are good looking and the children are all above average.
It’s very interesting how many great books set in this New York City borough are by immigrants or their descendants.
The job of newspaper journalist provides one element almost irresistible to any novelist – access to just about anybody, regardless of class and position. Like cops, journalists are among the few with a profession that can cut across the many layers that make up contemporary society. And newspaper offices can be such a collection of eccentrics, they provide a ready-made cast of characters.
Star-crossed lovers is a plot line that has been around since the age of telling stories around the campfire. But here are some great books that have stood the test of time.
This gathering business is really like a treasure hunt, isn’t it? It appeals to a very primitive part of us – find something cool and undiscovered…and pick it up.
Detective couples that are both great and odd are an interesting concept, but one that must be successful because there are so many popular odd couples in crime fiction.
How often do we go to novels to experience what otherwise would be unimaginable – like the loss of a child, a love or a way of life?
These stories vividly illustrate the unease roiling beneath the laid back surface of the Caribbean.
Starting with the English Holmes, we also jump over the channel for a few mysteries set in France that mystery readers are duty-bound to check out.
Literally dozens of books have been adapted for “Masterpiece” programs. Here are a couple folks may not have heard of, and a few favorites.
You can read about historical tragedies until your eyes grow dim, but they don’t really hit home until you hear the stories of individuals swept up in them.
So many wonderful books have been published by people who are in thrall to the spell that the state of Montana casts.
The fact that a criminal like Charles Manson could intersect with the worlds of music and entertainment in California is something that could only have happened in that wild and wide-open time, when people seemed to be willing to try anything.
The lone wolf is popular in storytelling, fiction, films, you name it – he’s virtually an archetype, and he’s usually a man. This kind of individualism can be lonely, but something in our makeup longs for it.
The Great Depression affected every aspect of life, virtually worldwide, in the 1930s, and was one key reason the Nazis were able to rise to power.
Twins – their relationship, their identities, their eerie connections – have been a staple of many readable books, especially novels.
A number of my favorite books and authors take an historical period, or the history of an individual and a group, and use elements of that history in the creation of a fantasy. The imagination is liberated when a story isn’t anchored in a “real” place.
Most family memoirs invoke some kind of loss, either of an actual person or of the person the author thought they knew.
Often, these stories feature some kind of science or technology run amok on earth and in space. After humans create amazing technology – as we so often say – what could possibly go wrong?
There are so many strains of connection in a brother relationship; besides love, there can be envy and anger, competition and hurt. Not surprisingly, a number of great books have picked up on the brother theme.
When I read these kinds of books, I feel like: a. I lead, comparatively, a very dull life; and b. I’m glad that I lead a very dull life.
Many of these books I read as a child. Which is not to say that they are children’s books – it’s just that children have such a powerful connection with dogs, any book about them will really go to the heart of that relationship.
One of the things that makes Grandin’s writing so fascinating is that, though most of her readers may be “normal,” they can relate to the feelings she has. Somehow her condition has helped her be very precise in describing mental states that many of us have, though not to the degree she does.
Afghanistan is such an absorbing topic, some of the world's finest writers have turned their attention to this troubled country.