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2017 Book List - Top Picks

Do the Work by Steven Pressfield.  This is a little book. A very little book.  But it’s the most wonderful volume for anyone with creative ambition.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.  This isn’t exactly a revelation.  Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility was a previous top pick, and this book was much-anticipated and was an immediate hit.  But I can’t not include it as a top pick, because it just IS a top pick. The story follows an aristocrat who is sentenced to house arrest in a luxury hotel in Moscow during the Russian Revolution and stays there for decades.  "The book is a lot more fun than it sounds.  Well written and the narrator is quite an engaging character.  There are some implausible plot twists but otherwise a very good book."  “Loved it.  What a wonderful character.  So much to chew on and think about, but also just a rollicking good story.”  “Loved it. My whole book club loved it.”

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne.  Since this list is supposed to be “beach books,” I’m adding this enjoyable, lightweight novel.  It’s about colleagues, a man and a woman, who cordially despise one another.  Gee? I wonder what happens.  It is chick-lit, I suppose, but well-written and fun, and richer than it first appears.  Five stars for beach-worthiness.

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance. "An amazing story of one extraordinary man’s climb out of Appalachian poverty and into the elite halls of Yale Law School.  Along the way, JD Vance describes in detail his upbringing, the problems with Appalachian culture as he sees them, his time in the armed services, and his ideas on the difficult task of helping those people left behind in the current economy.  It helped me understand, if not sympathize with, parts of America whose votes and actions are affecting all of our lives, whether we live there or not". "There is a reason why this book has created so much buzz.   Yes, it is a story of forgotten America -  white Appalachia, the Rust belt, etc, but Vance’s voice makes it worth reading.  He shows remarkable objectivity and humanity in his writing and analysis.  He seamlessly connects his family’s experience to larger historical, economic and demographic developments".  "A book is for the geeky beach reader. This is the book that made the rounds of discussions among parent gatherings this winter and spring. It is a story about the struggle of poor, white Americans told from the perspective of one who made it to Yale law school via the Marines. JD Vance has been touted by book clubs as a window into the most recent election of Donald Trump and thus he has made it onto the pages of The Washington Post and other newspapers. I would say the book only explains a piece of the November election, but it is a fascinating piece told with a mix of pride and humility."

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh.  "Allie, where have you been all my life?  I read some of blogger Allie Brosh’s humoristic memoir (which also features quirky cartoon drawings) to my teen daughter. We were laughing so hard we cried.  Brosh’s life has not been easy, and she is raw and honest in taking on tough topics, but she’s SO DAMNED FUNNY."

Lincoln at the Bardo by George Saunders "This is such a different way of story telling (including quotes - real and fictional - about Lincoln and the historical setting). I think going in without a lot of preconceived ideas and just letting the story unfold is the best way to go. The premise is Lincoln visiting his eleven year old son's grave the day of his burial. But really the heart of the book for me was the wide ranging cast of characters who are between the worlds - in the Bardo of the title - and their touching, funny, tragic, and heart breaking stories. I listened to this book on audio which I highly recommend. There are over 160 voices and they all bring these characters to life (so to speak). Many of the characters make fairly brief appearances but they are vivid in my memory.”

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You I'm Sorry by Fredrik Backman. Elsa is seven years old. She is brilliant and bullied.  Before her grandmother (who had been her best – really only – friend) dies, she gives Elsa a letter and asks her to deliver it.  This is the beginning of what turns out to be a great odyssey, with Elsa delivering letters to various people to whom her grandmother wished to extend posthumous apologies.  In the process, Elsa learns about herself and her family.  It’s a heartwarming and engaging story.

sorry you are not an instant winner by Doritt Carroll. Another midsummer addition to the 2017 Great Beach Books top picks list!  Doritt's poems are powerful, so candid and true.  In reviewing one of Doritt's earlier chapbooks, Grace Caveliari of the Washington Independent Review of Books said it best: Doritt "hones each thought diligently until it acts  precisely the way she chooses. These are carefully made poems from  templates that have antecedents in our craft, but that are particularly  targeted on a page that could belong to no one else."  I owe Doritt a debt of gratitude. She, along with Kristina Bicher, whose book Just Now Alive was on the list a few years ago, reignited my love of poetry.  Poems, I've realized, make great vacation reading, wonderful for digesting and enjoying when our minds have some room to run.

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny.  This is a "stop the presses" addition to the 2017 top picks list.  This novel features my new favorite character in fiction, the pathologically uncensored Audra.  It's a wonderfully readable story, tailor-made for the crowd.  I read most of it on a long flight, and I laughed out loud more times than I can count.  Everyone must read it, then we can all get together and talk about who among our mutual acquaintances have strains of Audra running through them.  If you want to learn more, read this Washington Post review, which does a good job enumerating the book's virtues.