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Monday, January 6, 2020

Best Books Read in 2019

Do you know what is special about this picture? It's got sun on it. This is January in Michigan, but we've seen the sun quite a lot! I'm still coughing, but I took myself out for a stroll and managed two miles.

sun on wetland

I read 102 books this year for a total of 30,026 pages. 23 of them were non-fiction. Most of the fiction were mysteries (cozy, thriller, traditional, whatever). I doubt you'll be surprised by that!

Anyway, here are the ten I have selected as the best reads of 2019, in alphabetical order.

Brief Review
The Black HandSteven Tallytrue crime
I did not know much about this gangster era, and it was well-written, so it hits the top ten. This is about the early days of Italian protection rackets in New York City, and the man who broke the ring.
Darwin DevolvesMichael Behescience
Although this topic and author are much poo-poohed by mainstream science, Behe is a solid voice in a growing sea of people who say that natural evolution beyond the Family level of zoological heirarchy (not general genetic change) is a chemical impossibility. The more we learn about genes and chromosomes, the more we understand that evolution is a breaking down of genetic material rather than a building up.
Digital FortressDan Browntechnothriller
This is a little outdated, but it was still a great read. It was written in 1998. A great supercomputer has been built and housed to protect US government encrypted materials. But the battle still rages over whether the government should be able to access everyone's information while giving out nothing of their own. It's the old question put so succinctly in The King and I, "If I trust somebody to protect me, might he not protect me out of all I own?" Definitely techno, definitely thriller
Faith and PhysicsJim CallendarChristian science
A fascinating book. Callendar is Mormon, and draws heavily on Mormon Scriptures, but also from the Bible, Hebrew writings, and eastern sacred scriptures. As a scientist, he attempts to draw together the mystical religious passages that refer to time-space, omnipresence, dimensionality, and other such mysteries with the current state of scientific knowledge. I suppose we all like books that tend to verify our own beliefs, but he proposed a lot of ways in which I already think science and faith are perfectly interwoven, and in almost the same ways I think. And he's a more educated scientist in the areas of astrophysics and things like that than I am. I enjoyed this book immensely.
Glass HousesLouise Pennymystery
This book was a real surprise to me. It's apparently part of a mystery series with a recurring detective, but it was definitely a literary work as well. A strange hooded and robed figure appears in the center of a tiny village in Quebec. He or she stands there and does nothing at all for days. How do the villagers react? Who is this person? Is it a throwback to some ancient Spanish ritual for public shaming? What will happen? Couldn't put it down.
Guilt in HidingDonald Levinmystery
My good friend, Don, made the list again. He just writes good books. The recurring Detective, Martin Preuss, has a disabled son (based on Levin's own grandson). When a van with a young disabled man disappears, Preuss becomes emotionally involved with the case. Things become more and more complex the closer he comes to discovering what happened to the van, its driver, and the young man. I can't figure out why Don's books haven't broken out big-time yet. He's a fantastic writer.
In a Sunburned CountryBill Brysontravel
Bryson in top form. He travels through Australia explaining the land and its people in his typical witty and detailed way. I read it both for the somewhat exotic info about the country, and as a textbook of how to write humor.
A Life on the RoadCharles Kuralttravel
My kind of book, written my favorite way. This is filled with hilarious and touching stories of Kuralt's lifetime of loving travel and being a reporter. I think he had wanderlust greater than mine. He became a reporter because it allowed him to travel. And then he invented "On the Road," the long-running CBS news feature, so he could keep doing it all, indefinitely. I read it once, and then Marie and I read it aloud again. On a par with Blue Highways and States of Mind.
The Professor and the MadmanSimon Winchesterhistory
This is sort of a parallel biography of two men who were instrumental in the development of the Oxford Dictionary. Not a topic that seems exciting, at first glance. But the story is told with such wit and honesty that it is eminently readable. Stuffed full of new, old, forgotten and discarded words for logophiles and diepnosophists, it's both a brain twister, and a tender tale of two very different men who worked hand in hand, although not side by side, on what was perhaps the greatest lexicographical work of all time.
When Evil Came to Good HartMardi Linktrue crime
This was a shorter book about an actual crime, one that took place at a cabin in Michigan, not all that far from me, in 1968. The brutal murders of an entire family were never solved. It's well written, and the situation was so eerie and bizarre, and yet occurred in such an ordinary and peaceful setting, that it just makes you shiver. Link presents a likely suspect, but there was never enough evidence to charge this person. True crime books are stuck with the facts as they are. Because there were so many dead ends in this case, it won't read like novel with twist after twist. The brutality and seeming senselessness of the whole crime make for a tough writing assignment, but a memorable story.

In other news: wrote all morning, formatted 9 pages, and then started working on preparing photo releases to send to people. I have few outside activities this week, so I'm trying to hunker down and work like a maniac on the book.

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J.Q. Rose said...

Thanks for sharing this diverse list of books. More for my TBR pile. Janet Glaser

Ann said...

All 10 sound like good reads.

Jeff said...

Some interesting reads. I think "Sunburnt Country" to be one of Bryson's bests. I haven't read "Prof and Madman" but I have read five or six of Winchester's books and have enjoyed them all.


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