I’m still participating in (and running) two book clubs.
As always, we read some great books and some OK books.
So, what did we read? Strong recommendations are in bold.
In one club, we read:
- The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua
This was a fun read, and very interesting to a Silicon Valley book club, but I’m not sure if the appeal will generalize. We were able to follow up with a book club trip to the Computer History Museum to see a working modern production of a Babbage Engine.
- God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
- The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
This book was unlike anything else I’ve read. It was creepy, disturbing, and beautifully written. It mixed ghosts and ballerinas and a maximum security Juvenile Detention Center. It has depth and texture and ambiguity. It has amazing characters that are terrible and sympathetic at times, and sometimes simultaneously. It has black and white and shifting shades of grey, and led to a great book club discussion.
- A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
- Digging to America by Anne Tyler
A book with perspective on what it means to be a parent and what it means to be an American. As character perspectives change, so do the reader’s view of the events in the story.
- Euphoria by Lily King
An entirely unexpected view of the world of an anthropologist in the 1930s.
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Quite literally a tale of life and death, or rather thoughts on life and death. The writings of approaching death by someone who understdands it well from an intellectual perspective, but who has to learn about the more personal side.
- My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
- Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson
An insightful and laugh out loud funny view of living with mental illness.
- The Railwayman’s Wife by Ashley Hay
A beautifully written book on learning to live with loss, both as an individual and as a town.
- My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
An inspirational view of how to make a difference in society. The timing of this, coming right after the election, made this discussion mean even more to our group.
- The Year We Turned Forty by Liz Fenton
And the other:
- Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta (Silicon Valley Reads)
- Sherwood Nation by Benjamin Parzybok (Silicon Valley Reads)
- Speak by Louisa Hall
Overall, this book looks at what it means to be human, or to have a soul, or to really understand and empathize with what someone says. The different views range from a young woman traveling to America in 1663 (who has a closer bond to her dog than the people around her) to people dealing with modern (and the nest generation) of artificial intelligence. The book gave us rich material for discussion. Based on the experience of my book club, it is of interest and accessible to people regardless of their level of interest in and understanding of technology. It is one of my favorite books I read this year.
- Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
I wasn’t looking forward to reading this book, but in the end I was very glad I did. It is an overview of various approaches to care for people approaching the end of their lives, and what helps, and what doesn’t. As the title says, it is about what matters in the end. I’d go as far as saying that most adults over age 40 or so should read it, to start thinking about the issues around life, death, aging, and terminal illness as they start to be inevitable in most families.
- The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos
The strength of this book is in the characters, which I loved.
- The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Zevin Gabrielle
This is a fun choice for reading group discussion because of being a book about books and bookish people.
- The Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
- American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis
- Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt
This is a book about an important current issue, told about a family who never expected to have to face the situation. I particularly liked the balance of their personal story and looks at the research into the science behind gender. It was ver readable and relateable.
- Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
I didn’t know anything about the story of this sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in WWII. The story is beautifully told from the perspective of seveal different characters, which lead to an understanding of how many different kinds of people were affected by the war and by this particular incident.
- The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
Another book about an aspect of WWII I (and my book club) knew nothing about going in. This is in the US, the side of the Manhattan Project working with materials. I liked the balance between the personal, the historical and the scientific. The book lead to great discussion about the time period, about living in a time of war, and about differences between now and then, as well as about the process of writing a book like this.
- Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe
In the end, there is only one of these 24 books that I don’t think was a good choice for book club discussion. Even the ones I didn’t comment on generally lead to good conversation, whether we liked them, or just thought they were ok.
I was surprised at how much I liked many of the non-fiction books we read, and how good the discussion was on these.
Anyone have books to recommend for reading (and talking about) in 2017?