I read over 140 books in 2008. Here are some that I really enjoyed and would highly recommend.
How Doctors Think, Jerome Groopman – A very interesting insight into how doctors think and how you can communicate more effectively with them. I found it helpful.
Troublesome Young Men, Lynne Olson – Britain has always had strong ties with Germany, and the upper classes in particular really didn’t want to enter into a second world war. So the British government, headed by Chamberlain, tried very hard to appease Hitler and stay at peace. A group of young MPs saw things differently, and they brought Churchill to power and made sure that England did go to war with Germany. An interesting insight into British politics in the 30s and 40s.
Farthing, Jo Walton – This book is a mystery, but it provides a disturbing picture of what life could have been like in Britain if the country had not gone to war.
The Scent Trail, Celia Lyttleton – The author designs her own perfume and then travels to each of the countries where the different elements of her scent are grown and harvested – iris root in Italy, roses in Turkey, jasmine in India, frankincense in Yemen, etc.
The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken : a search for food and family, Laura Schenone – History is so often portrayed as a dry list of dates and rulers. But it is really the story of people – how they live, how they work, their dreams and desires. The Scent Trail explores culture and industry. The Lost Ravioli Recipes looks at a family which immigrated to the United States from Italy, its roots in Italy and how it maintained elements of its culture in North America.
The Widow Clicquot: the story of a champagne empire and the woman who ruled it, Tilar J. Mazzeo – The history of women often goes unrecorded, and the author had to piece together fragments of information about the woman who initiated the Clicquot champagne business. It’s an interesting look at life after the French revolution and conducting international trade while Europe is at war.
I’ll Drink to That: Beaujolais and the French peasant who made it the world’s most popular wine, Rudolph Chelminski – Walk into any liquor store, and you can buy wine with Georges Duboeuf’s name on the bottle. But like Clicquot, he established his business from scratch. He was honest; he was innovative; and he was proud of his product.
To Cork or not to Cork, George Taber – This is history again, in this case the evolution of closures for wine bottles. The author describes the cork manufacturing businesses in Portugal, introduces the reader to innovative wine producers in New Zealand and Australia who wholeheartedly adopt screw caps, and other producers who develop artificial corks.
Lady Macbeth, Susan Fraser King – Shakespeare portrays Lady Macbeth as cruel and heartless. King provides a more sympathetic interpretation of the story providing background on inheritance and the ties binding different Scottish nobles together and forcing them apart.
Hunting and Gathering, Anna Gavalda – Translated from the French, this novel introduces a fascinating assortment of people with all their fears and anxieties. Together they create a community to help and support each other. It’s a heart-warming book that left me feeling very optimistic about human nature.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows – Through a series of letters, the authors introduce a diverse set of characters on the island of Guernsey as it is recovering from occupation during World War II. They also introduce an author and her publisher. I was delightfully surprised that the authors could create such solid characters and such a compelling story within the framework of a series of letters. I wished the book would never end.
To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis – With the help of a time machine, a group of people go back in time to look for artifacts from Coventry Cathedral before it was bombed. It’s a very funny book and provides an outsiders’ perspective on a past culture. The book partially reenacts Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of a dog), an account of a boating trip down the Thames published in 1889. There are some very funny portrayals of absent-minded Oxford professors.
Un Lun Dun, China Mieville – Again, an alternate universe as some young children travel between present-day London and Un-London. The author has an amazingly fertile imagination, and his alternate version of London takes elements of the real city and transforms them into something completely different. It’s very clever and fun to read.
Roar of the Butterflies, Reginald Hill – This book centres around one of Hill’s lesser-known characters, Joe Sixsmith. Joe is black and overweight and lives in Luton, England. He stumbles over solutions and is certainly no Sherlock Holmes – but he’s very lovable.
Bruno, Chief of Police, Martin Walker – This is a idealized version of life in small-town Dordogne as the locals make wine from green walnuts and try to outwit the agricultural inspectors from the European Union. It’s not realistic, but it’s very pleasant – especially if you’re a francophile.