IN 2018, I READ a little history, some biography, mysteries, a couple of literary novels, a few less literary historical novels and some classics. Here are several books I enjoyed and recommend.
My two favorite books could not have been more different. The first, “How It All Began” by Penelope Lively, centers around a group of people affected by a random mugging in London. It is not a tragedy or a crime book, but rather a lovely, sometimes sad story about the ordinary yet singular lives of each of these individuals. Lively is a great writer.
The second is “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah. Given that Noah is the host of the Daily Show, I expected it to be funny, and it can be humorous. But it is a memoir about growing up in apartheid South Africa. As the child of a white father and a black mother, Noah literally was the product of a criminal relationship. At a time when white nationalism is on the rise in America, this is a good book to read, as it is a reminder of how stupid and dangerous racism is. Yet it also is an optimistic book.
Speaking of good books to read at a time of growing intolerance, the New Hampshire Institute of Art made an excellent choice when it selected “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid as the first book of Manchester’s One City One Book program. I fortuitously found a copy in the used book fundraiser rack at Hannaford’s while grocery shopping. It is an over simplification to say “Exit West” is a novel about refugees and immigration, as it also is about love, religion, friendship, memory, transition, as well as magical doors that render borders useless. It is an optimistic counterbalance to the use of the “immigration issue” to sow fear and division.
Perhaps Donald Trump would not be so cavalier about using tear gas at the border on mothers and children if he gave up Twitter and Fox News for a few hours and read “Exit West”.
Somehow, I reached the age of 64 without ever reading Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Book Sings”. Like “Born a Crime”, this is a memoir about growing up in a segregated society, in this case the American rural south and also urban California in the 1930s and 1940s. Angelou was a strong woman, but she had a strong grandmother and mother. This is a book that should be required reading in high school.
If you are a student of New Hampshire politics and/or history, go to Gutenberg, the online free service, or your local library, and look for two books by Winston Churchill. No, not the British prime minister — the New Hampshire politician and author. He was a state representative and unsuccessful candidate for governor about 110 years ago. “Coniston”, set in a state with a distinct similarity to New Hampshire, was America’s best-selling novel in 1906, and its follow up, “Mr. Crewe’s Career” topped the lists in 1908. I liked “Mr. Crewe’s Career” more. It is set against the beginning of the reform movement in the early 1900s and the end of control by the railroads over the state’s political institutions. Both books are entertaining and must reads for anyone who is a student of Granite State political history.
For a more serious look at history, read “Grant” by Ron Chernow. It is a bit of a heavy lift because of its length, but Chernow is a good writer so it moves along. It makes a strong case against the historical revisionism that gave rise to the myth of the South’s heroic “Lost Cause”. It also builds an equally strong case for Ulysses S. Grant as both a great general and a great President.
My two favorite mysteries of the year were “Lethal White,” the latest in the Cormoran Strike series by J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith, and “The Punishment She Deserves”, the newest Inspector Lynley novel by Elizabeth George.
Enjoy the holidays, and stop by one of our local bookstores to pick up a present for someone — you just cannot go wrong with a good book.