(Titles are links to Amazon)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay - Michael Chabon
2002's Pulitzer Prize winner, this book is for gourmets. Not that it's about food, but it is a feast for people who like good writing. There are so many passages I underlined and sentences I marked because they were written so beautifully that my copy of this terrific book is a mess. You may also need a good dictionary because his vocabulary is astounding. It's a great epic story about two boys who make it big in New York just before the start of WWII, a saga about love and desperation, triumph and the power of imagination. Probably my favorite book of all time.
Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A tale of one man's 50 years of unrequited love for a childhood sweetheart. Similar to Edith Wharton's 'Age of Innocence', the book covers the entire life of the three main characters, and is about one man's (Florentino) passion for a woman (Fermina) he cannot have, a woman who did not marry for love but nevertheless is devoted to her husband. Only when her husband dies does the door open again for Florentino. Will he be able to rekindle a love that Fermina has renounced for over half a century? Read the book, get transported to a magical Carribean setting, and find out.
The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton
A love story written for men - because many men will be able to identify with Newland Archer, a man in a 'perfect' marriage who is drawn to an exciting and passionate woman not considered 'proper society'. Unfortunately he doesn't have the courage to follow his heart and thus must wait a life time (his wife's life time) to get another chance at true happiness. With incisive and sarcastic observations about high society, marital conventions, and courtship etiquette, this book made me nod quite often in agreement and made the greatest impression on me when I was married to my first wife.
The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen
I read this book before it was picked by Oprah and thought I had come across one of the great novels of our time. I loved it for the clear and witty writing, the characters that come alive, the situations that all of us can identify with, and his wide range of topics covered expertly in this family saga about a dysfunctional family that is trying (or trying to avoid) to get together for one last Christmas. I was disappointed when Oprah picked it because it diminished its artistic appeal and value to me, knowing how she panders to the lowest common denominator of her show's audience. However, when it won the National Book Award I felt my high opinion redeemed again. It's full of sarcasm and irony, makes fun of today's culture and thus is a must-read for anyone who likes to read good literature.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Jean-Dominique Bauby
Written by the former editor of Elle in France after he was struck by a disease that left him motionless (he dictated the book by blinking his eyes!). I cried and marveled at the strength of human willpower and determination. Far better than 'Tuesdays with Morrie'.
I'm a Stranger here Myself - Bill Bryson
Hilarious vignettes poking fun at everything that most people would consider quite normal in this country... Good bedtime reading as each 3-5 page chapter is a column in itself and sure to make you laugh at yourself or fellow Americans.
The Lost Continent - Bill Bryson
I snorted out loud way too often, so don't read it in public. But also a heart-warming reminder of how the rest of the country lives and thinks. He describes a journey through America's heartland, gently ridiculing everything he sees.
Headlong - Michael Frayn
I can see this book turning into a play, the kind of farce that Brits are known for. All about one man's attempts to con his neighbor out of a painting he thinks is invaluable, without anyone, including his wife, finding out about it. Lots of complications, misunderstandings, double-entendres, while providing lots of interesting facts on old masters, the art market and Breughel.
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader - Anne Fadiman
For those who read a lot, you will enjoy this anthology of essays about books, reading, libraries, etc
Highbrow ruminations on the lost art of reading and everything else having to do with books, yet very enjoyable.
The last time they met - Anita Shreve
Bittersweet memories of a woman's relationship with a man who resurfaces into her life after a long absence - wonderful descriptions and a good twist to the story - it moves backwards in time. Have a hanky ready when you get to the last 3 pages. More of a woman's book maybe, but I enjoyed it. Beware, author was an Oprah selection for her first book, "The Pilot's Wife."
The Sixteen Pleasures - Robert Hellenga
A young woman goes to Florence to help with art restoration after a flood, gets romantically involved and matures over the course of her stay. Hard to believe that it is written by a man! Wonderful evocations of life in Tuscany and Florence, art history, Italian food - it makes you want to go to Florence.
Letters to a Young Contrarian - Christopher Hitchens
A tougher read because highly philosophical, but thought-provoking and a well-reasoned reminder to not blindly follow the crowd. Don't read it if you are religious because he bashes organized religion quite a bit for producing non-critically thinking people. I found that I could only read a few chapters at a time, but found it worth the while in the end.
The Professor and the Madman - Simon Winchester
All about the development of the Oxford English Dictionary in the 1700's. Ever wonder who compiles all those entries and how they ensure that EVERY word is covered? This is a lively coverage of a dry topic, and for those who appreciate the power of words and enjoy knowing their origin, this is a great tale about one man's lifelong achievement of compiling a dictionary. Similar to 'Longitude' by Dava Sobel (about the man who found a way to determine longitude for English Naval vessels -- also a good read), it's a tale about something that we take for granted but which has a fascinating history that is worth knowing.
The Mezzanine - Nicholson Baker
If you like Seinfeld, this one's for you -- it's a book about nothing, yet terrifically funny. This slender book describes the musings of one man while he is ascending an escalator to his office. How can one possibly fill a book about that, you ask? He manages to fill it with witty observations about life's normal routines, whether it's about how one ties their shoelaces to how one's brain works, what it says about someone when they stand or walk on an upward escalator - you name it, he's got a wry view on most things that the rest of the world takes for granted.
Girl with a Pearl Earring - Tracy Chevalier
Overly hyped, so I didn't get around to it for a long time. But after finally succumbing to peer pressure, I found that it is a remarkable description of Flemish life at the time of Vermeer. I was completely mesmerized by the author's ability to write as if it were a memoir. Gives you a whole new appreciation for all those old Dutch masterpieces.