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Kathy Sullivan: My holiday reading recommendations

December 11. 2017 9:02PM

Downtown Manchester's book store drought is ending next year with the welcome opening of The Bookery Manchester. One of the owners, Liz Cipriano, says they intend to have “a selection of everything you didn’t know you should read.” On that note, here is a selection of some books I read this year, as suggestions for your own reading list or possible presents for the holidays.

My personal favorite book of the year is “Moonglow” by Michael Chabon. It is a fictional “memoir” about family, the United States rocket program, World War II, lunacy (in the Luna sense of the word) and finally, again, family. Reading Chabon is a joy. His descriptions are perfect, such as this first impression a woman has of her future husband: “...she thought he had an American face, an American body. Buick shoulders, bulldozer jaw.”

Alan Towles’ “A Gentleman In Moscow” is nearly perfect. It centers on the fictional Count Alexander Rostov, who is sentenced to life imprisonment in the luxurious Metropol Hotel in Moscow in the early days of the Soviet Union. How does one live a meaningful life in a cage, even a cage as gilded and wondrous as the Metropol? In Rostov’s case, with elegance.

An enjoyable non-fiction book is “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly, the basis for the film. Suffice it to say that the bigotry and prejudice faced by the female African American “computers” who were an integral and vital part of the space program were worse than portrayed in the movie. How much talent and innovation has been, and is, wasted due to the idiocy of white supremacism and male supremacism?

There are a lot of books I would miss but for library used book sales. This year’s big $1 find was “Into The Beautiful North”, by Luis Alberto Urrea. This novel follows the journey of four young friends from Mexico to the United States. Inspired by The Magnificent Seven, their goal is to recruit seven emigrants to return to Mexico to help rid their town of drug dealers. The characters were well written, and the serious overtones were offset by a healthy dose of humor. I’m particularly glad I read this book in the age of Trump and anti-immigrant bigotry.

As a Three Musketeers fan, the publication of the “lost” Alexandre Dumas novel “The Red Sphinx,” was welcome news, although the marketing as a sequel to the Musketeers was misleading. While Cardinal Richelieu plays a leading role, there is nary an Athos, Aramis, Porthos, nor d’Artagnan to be found. Despite that, there are plenty of buckles to be swashed, court intrigues and romances. It is a bit of a heavy lift, especially if you do not have a working knowledge of 17th-century French history. I had to make frequent use of the glossary of characters to keep the Comtes and Madames straight. But it is worth the work.

If you have not read it yet, do read “KooKoo Land” by Manchester native Gloria Norris. Before I did, I mistakenly thought it was about the Piasecny/Betley murders that occurred in the North End back in the 1960s. While the murders do play a role, the book really is about is the Norris family, and how Gloria, unlike her friend Susan Piasecny, was able to break free of an abusive, violent family situation. Come for the bits about growing up in Manchester, but stay for that smart, determined, brave little girl named Gloria.

My major undertaking was reading all four of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. I wish I had stopped with the first, “My Brilliant Friend.” It follows the friendship of two girls growing up in poverty in Naples. I enjoyed that one and recommend it. By the end of the fourth book, however, it was like watching the last two seasons of “Lost” — I just wanted it to end.

Call me shallow, but reading Carl Hiaasen’s “Razor Girl” was a welcome relief after that. It is Hiaasen’s second novel featuring former detective and now food inspector Andrew Yancy. There is zero heavy lifting in this fun book set in the Florida Keys. If you are looking for light fare, Hiaasen is a good place to start.

Manchester’s Kathy Sullivan is the former chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

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