The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. A story about two brothers, Emmett and Billy, who lost their dad and want to take a road trip on the Lincoln Highway to find their mom in California. Their plans get disrupted when two young men, Woolly and Duchess, show up and try to convince them to go to New York where Woolly has a $150,000 inheritance. Emmett doesn’t go for it, but Duchess steals Emmett’s car and goes east, so Emmett and Billy follow them. Their past, their stories, their families are revealed as they travel. The Lincoln Highway, 4th of July, and fireworks are mentioned repeatedly, and I wonder if the boys were all following their version of the American Dream. Some found it; others didn’t.
Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts. This novel is about the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Frank Baum, from his wife Maud’s perspective. Maud was raised in a home with Matilda Gage, who was an outspoken activist for women’s right to vote and a good friend of Susan B. Anthony. The book describes Somewhere Over the Rainbow as communicating everyone’s desire to get to a better place, which Frank was sure existed. “‘I think that somewhere,’ she told Judy (Garland), ‘there is a little boy or a little girl who is feeling sad and hopeless right now, and when they hear you sing, they are going to dream of a better world. And that – that is magic.'” p. 336. Frank died at age 62 and never saw the movie The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Matilda did not live to see women get the right to vote, but her great-granddaughter, Jocelyn Burdick, was the first woman to serve as a US senator from North Dakota. It’s the story of desire for a better world. That world has a name, which wasn’t addressed in the book: the Kingdom of God. I know there will be a perfect place somewhere over the rainbow.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. A complex and wonderful book about stories, how they distract us, entertain us, change us, challenge us and are preserved. Libraries and books take center stage in this novel that is four stories: Anna and Omeir set in Constantinople in the 1400s; Zeno’s life and learning Greek through his interaction with his friend Rex that begins in the Korean war; Konstance and her family who are aboard the Argos in 2060 or so; Seymour in the 2000s to the present day. All of these narratives are about a book that is kept from decay by Anna, translated by Zeno, found by Konstance, and Seymour provided an important clue for Konstance. The work of each character helped to preserve a story over centuries.
We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker. A novel about motivations for our choices, most of which we don’t understand, and how they impact others. Walk is a policeman in a small town, and Vincent was his best friend. Vincent accidentally killed a young girl for which he stoically spent 30 years in prison. Shortly after he was released, Vincent was in the room with Star when she was shot and was accused of the crime. Walk doesn’t believe he did it. Star had two children, Duchess and Robin, and Duchess acts in ways that have unintended consequences.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. An interesting look at regrets and finding happiness and fulfillment in the ordinary. Nora, a 35-year-old woman who felt she had disappointed everyone, including herself, decided she didn’t want to live anymore. She couldn’t even kill herself and ends up in a “midnight library” – a space between life and death in which she can choose a life based on different decisions. If she liked one of the multiple lives available to her, she could stay in it, and if not, she’d come back to the midnight library. Does she find a better life?
Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff. Two 11-year-old boys, Fish and Bread, fear they have killed Bear’s father. They escape into the woods, build a raft, face hunger, coyotes and bears, while four adults are trying to find them. Fish’s mom, Miranda, and Tiffany, a lonely poet who kept the sheriff’s dog while he (Cal) went with Fish’s grandpa (Ted) also in search of the boys. Every one of the people in the woods is working something out, and the difficulty of the journey causes them to see things from a different perspective. It is well written and enjoyable, but what I particularly liked were the occasional glimmers of God.
The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny. Abigail Robinson was a statistician who proposed that Canada enact euthanasia, but more than that, that they target people who were old, sick or children who were handicapped, and she used the ironic line with her presentation: all will be well. She speaks near Three Pines, and Gamache is tasked with overseeing the event and making sure there are no problems. Of course, there are problems. The title is from the book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, published in 1841 by Charles Mackay which is “a series of nonfiction essays looking at why sane people believe the nuttiest things.” (p. 434).
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Shelley writes of science run amok and what happens when people create something that they cannot handle. One of the biggest themes of the book was community; how we all need close friends and people with whom we can share our struggles.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab. Addie, born in the 1700s in France, makes a deal with the “darkness” (devil) to live freely when she is faced with marrying a man she doesn’t love. What she doesn’t realize is that no one will remember her. Ever. The darkness waits for her to give him her soul, but she lives for more than 300 years without giving in. Finally, she meets a man, Henry, who remembers her, and she learns that it is because he too has made a deal with the devil. He wanted to be loved, but he can tell that those who act like they love him are not really themselves. But Addie finally lives, because Henry writes her stories in a journal – Addie couldn’t write them because every word she wrote disintegrated. Addie is an artist who has given ideas, songs, portraits, to creative people throughout her lifetime, but no one remembers her. Is an idea more important than the one who initiated it? What is life? What is love? What is memory? If you make your mark but no one remembers, is that enough? I enjoyed the philosophical questions this book raised.
American Dirt by Jeannie Cummins. Lydia, her journalist husband, Sebastian, and their son, Luca, had a good life in Acapulco, until Lydia’s entire family was wiped out by a cartel that Sebastian had written about. Javier is the leader of the cartel, and Lydia had become friends with him without realizing who he was. Lydia left with Luca, hid, traveled on top of trains, faced danger, and used every last peso to pay a coyote to get them into the US. It’s a disturbing book, but I realize that many people are living exactly what it portrayed.
I read a lot of fiction last year and also enjoyed the following books: Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce; The Dutch House by Ann Patchett; A Piece of the Moon by Chris Fabry; The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult; Send Down the Rain by Charles Martin; The Exiles by Christine Baker Kline; The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate; The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg; Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis; The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson; The Cold Millions by Jess Walter; The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah; Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell; The Signature of all Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.
What books do you recommend?