It’s the time of year when we are beginning to see “best of” book lists

The one from the Library Journal is below.  I have read only two of these titles – The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell which is a long complicated book that begins with magic and ends in a dystopian world and The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin which is a warm lovely story of a widower in a book store who finds an abandoned child that turns his life around.

So here’s my question -how do you decide on what’s a best book?  What are your criteria and how broad does it have to be to encompass two such different books? (both recommended by the way).

Best Books 2014: Top Ten

By Bette-Lee Fox, Liz French, Barbara Hoffert, Stephanie Klose, Amanda Mastrull, Annalisa Pesek, Stephanie Sendaula, Henrietta Verma, and Wilda Williams

state Best Books 2014: Top TenGay, Roxane. An Untamed State. Grove. ISBN 9780802122513. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780802192677. F
In Gay’s debut novel, Mireille Jameson is kidnapped while visiting her parents in Haiti with her American husband and their son. Her father will not pay the ransom, despite being well able to afford it, and Mireille’s awareness of his refusal magnifies the horrors she endures. Though she is eventually released, she struggles to adjust to life after the ordeal. Gripping, harrowing, and unforgettable. (LJ 2/1/14)—SK

hide Best Books 2014: Top TenGreenwald, Glenn. No Place to Hide. Metropolitan: Holt.ISBN 9781627790734; pap. ISBN 9781250062581. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781627790741. POL SCI
Greenwald provides the authoritative story of the 2013 national security leak by National Security Agency (NSA) whistle-blower Edward Snowden. A Guardian columnist at the time, Greenwald here details meeting Snowden in Hong Kong and the legalities and logistics of publishing articles about leaked material while criticizing the media’s response. Particularly noteworthy is his comprehensive and fascinating examination of the documents—including why the NSA’s actions should matter to all citizens. (LJ 6/15/14)—AM

five Best Books 2014: Top TenHarris, Mark. Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War. Penguin. ISBN 9781594486005. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698170506. FILM
Film historian extraordinaire Harris (Pictures at a Revolution) conveys the very different personalities of award-winning directors John Huston, George Stevens, William Wyler, Frank Capra, and John Ford as they went to war for the United States. We see how their experiences shaped their work when they returned to Hollywood—and how they helped to transform the U.S. War Department’s propaganda machine. (LJ 3/1/14)—LF

brief Best Books 2014: Top TenJames, Marlon. A Brief History of Seven Killings. Penguin.ISBN 9781594486005. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698170506. F
Ironically, this stunning fictional investigation of the attempted assassination of reggae star Bob Marley days before Jamaica’s 1976 general election isn’t about Marley, who hardly appears. It’s about Jamaica itself, as we’ve never seen it, revealed in a lush, intensive outpouring of voices that range from lowlifes and CIA agents to a naïve reporter and a woman on the make. As the accumulated detail reveals, this history could never have been brief; there’s too much to learn. (LJ 7/1/14)—BH

sixth Best Books 2014: Top TenKolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction. Holt. ISBN 9780805092998. $28; pap. ISBN 9781250062185. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780805099799NAT HIST
There have been five major species extinctions over the past half billion years, the result of natural catastrophes. Earth is now in the midst of a sixth extinction, says New Yorker writer Kolbert, and we humans are the primary cause. Drawing on the research of marine biologists, atmospheric scientists, geologists, forest ecologists, and paleontologists, her eye-opening and movingly written report is science journalism at its finest and an important wake-up call. (LJ 2/15/14)—WW

sin Best Books 2014: Top TenKrist, GaryEmpire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans. Crown. ISBN 9780770437060. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780770437077. HIST
Join the eccentric coterie within Storyville, New Orleans’s red-light district. There’s resolute saloon owner Tom Anderson, the “Mayor of Storyville”; thriving madam Josie Arlington; determined musician Louis Armstrong; and a serial killer colloquially referred to as the “Ax-Man.” Moments of vigilante justice and loose affiliations with the Mafia complete this gripping true-crime narrative. (LJ 10/1/14)—SS

clocks Best Books 2014: Top TenMitchell, David. The Bone Clocks. Random. ISBN 9781400065677. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780812994735. F
In this breathtaking, audaciously brilliant book, Holly Sykes gets caught in the battle between good Horologists and evil soul decanters, fleeing her grubby English hometown after her brother’s disappearance for a fling with amoral Hugo in the snowy Alps, marriage to urgently rational war reporter Ed, and beyond. The book isn’t about Holly, though, but about the variety of fantastically rendered worlds we move through as her story—which is to say our story, past, present, and future—unfolds. (LJXpress Reviews, 10/9/14)—BH

us Best Books 2014: Top TenNicholls, David. Us. Harper. ISBN 9780062365583. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062365606. F
Meet the Petersens, off on a summer grand tour of Europe. Son Albie, heading to university in the fall, isn’t totally on board, while artist Connie and biochemist Douglas skirt around the disintegration of their 24-year marriage. It could all turn into a ghastly mess, but in the hands of the astute and fulgent Nicholls, this family tale probes the true value and power of love. (LJ9/15/14)—BLF

luck Best Books 2014: Top TenSmiley, Jane. Some Luck. Knopf. ISBN 9780307700315. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385350396. F
In a work both grand and intimate, about parents and children, hope and disappointment, countryside and country, Smiley moves from the 1920s to the 1950s as she unfurls the life of Iowa farmers Rosanna and Walter Langdon. Then, as their children grow up and sometimes move away, she steps back to offer a wide-angle view of the country midcentury. The beautiful, you-are-there language allows ordinary events to amass, giving us a significant feel for life at the time. (LJ 7/14)—BH

life Best Books 2014: Top TenZevin, Gabrielle. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. AlgonquinISBN 9781616203214. $24.95;
pap. ISBN 9781616204518. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616203948. F
A.J. Fikry, a young widower, is the owner of Island Books on Alice Island, trying to heal and keep his bookstore and himself from going under. A.J.’s life takes a wondrous turn when he happens upon an abandoned two-year-old in the store. Maya is clever and charming and quickly captures his curmudgeon heart. Zevin’s adult fiction debut, “about a life of books, redemption, and second chances…reminds us exactly why we read and why we love.” (LJ 2/1/14)—AP

It’s already November

Getting ready for our first meeting this session on Saturday, November 15 at 11 a.m. – subject – in case you forgot is WWI.

I just got back from a trip to Eastern Europe where WWI was much discussed as the ending of empires as we traveled across countries much involved in that war.  And just started reading The Sleepwalkers which is touted as one of the best explanations of how this war came to be.

If it is confession time, I carried Parade’s End with me on the trip and I tried to read it – I really did.  But it turns out to be a compilation of 4 books and at least the first one Some Do Not seems much more about the character of Christopher Tietjens and his very bored wife than about the period around the war. So while I may come back to it, it won’t be discussed at this meeting.

Hope you have found something interesting to read – remember that Jeremy put a display upstairs with some appropriate titles.  Looking forward to seeing you at the meeting.


Getting ready for the November start up of this year’s Bagels and Books ( Nov 15 – 11 a.m.) which focuses on WWI and that time period, I decided I wanted to read Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford.  This would be my classics choice.  I ordered a copy and it came yesterday.    836 pages

So I plan to read it anyway because it looks really interesting and I don’t read nearly enough classics.

But … 836 pages.

Do you have things you check before you decide to invest your reading time in a book?


Our first meeting will be November 15 at 11 a.m.  The subject will be WWI – and as you know we are very loose in our definition.  This can be any thing – fiction or non-fiction – related in some way to WWI.  Perhaps it just took place during that period and WWI had an impact on the plot.  As promised, I am including some recommendations if you don’t already have something you’d like to read and discuss.  And as further promised, it is limited to 4 recommendations.  I am working very hard to pare down my personal recommendations.  I have tried – in coming up with these recommendations – to provide a variety of choices.  But these are – of course – not something you need to read.  Tell us what books you have found interesting and appealing.

  • CLASSIC HISTORY:  *The Guns of August – Barbara Tuchman - Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time The Proud Tower, the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Guns of August, and The Zimmerman Telegram comprise Barbara W. Tuchman’s classic histories of the First World War era In this landmark, Pulitzer Prize–winning account, renowned historian Barbara W. Tuchman re-creates the first month of World War I: thirty days in the summer of 1914 that determined the course of the conflict, the century, and ultimately our present world. Beginning with the funeral of Edward VII, Tuchman traces each step that led to the inevitable clash. And inevitable it was, with all sides plotting their war for a generation. Dizzyingly comprehensive and spectacularly portrayed with her famous talent for evoking the characters of the war’s key players, Tuchman’s magnum opus is a classic for the ages.
  • NOVEL: *Regeneration – Pat Barker -  “The trilogy is trying to tell something about the parts of war that don’t get into the official accounts” Pat Barker The first book of the Regeneration Trilogy and a Booker Prize nominee.   In 1917 Siegfried Sasson, noted poet and decorated war hero, publicly refused to continue serving as a British officer in World War I. His reason: the war was a senseless slaughter. He was officially classified “mentally unsound” and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital. There a brilliant psychiatrist, Dr. William Rivers, set about restoring Sassoon’s “sanity” and sending him back to the trenches. This novel tells what happened as only a novel can. It is a war saga in which not a shot is fired. It is a story of a battle for a man’s mind in which only the reader can decide who is the victor, who the vanquished, and who the victim.
  • AUTOBIOGRAPHY: *Goodbye to all That – Robert Graves - In this autobiography, first published in 1929, poet Robert Graves traces the monumental and universal loss of innocence that occurred as a result of the First World War. Written after the war and as he was leaving his birthplace, he thought, forever, Good-Bye to All That bids farewell not only to England and his English family and friends, but also to a way of life. Tracing his upbringing from his solidly middle-class Victorian childhood through his entry into the war at age twenty-one as a patriotic captain in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, this dramatic, poignant, often wry autobiography goes on to depict the horrors and disillusionment of the Great War, from life in the trenches and the loss of dear friends, to the stupidity of government bureaucracy and the absurdity of English class stratification. Paul Fussell has hailed it as “”the best memoir of the First World War”” and has written the introduction to this new edition that marks the eightieth anniversary of the end of the war. An enormous success when it was first issued, it continues to find new readers in the thousands each year and has earned its designation as a true classic.  (not in Maynard library)
    • NEW NON-FICTION ASSESSMENT: *The War That Ended Peace – Margaret Macmillan – From the bestselling and award-winning author of Paris 1919 comes a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, a fascinating portrait of Europe from 1900 up to the outbreak of World War I. The century since the end of the Napoleonic wars had been the most peaceful era Europe had known since the fall of the Roman Empire. In the first years of the twentieth century, Europe believed it was marching to a golden, happy, and prosperous future. But instead, complex personalities and rivalries, colonialism and ethnic nationalisms, and shifting alliances helped to bring about the failure of the long peace and the outbreak of a war that transformed Europe and the world. Taut, suspenseful, and impossible to put down, The War That Ended Peace is also a wise cautionary reminder of how wars happen in spite of the near-universal desire to keep the peace. Destined to become a classic in the tradition of Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, The War That Ended Peace enriches our understanding of one of the defining periods and events of the twentieth century.