Books I’ve Read (or Heard) This Year, Part I

So I thought this would be a good time to go back over the books I’ve either read or listened to this year. I’m making a note of which ones I listened to via audio book, as the experience is quite different from reading.

what a plant knows

I spend a lot of time driving for work, and I’m one of those people who prefer stories to music, most of the time at least. Though listening to audio books in the car has occasionally resulted in awkward moments at the drive-through, especially during poorly-timed salacious passages. More than once I’ve had to point out to the cashier that I was listening to LITERATURE.

Anyway, here’s the first installment of this year’s books, organized alphabetically by author.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah. Fiction. A Nigerian woman chooses between two possible futures: in America or in her home country. Lots of interesting stuff on being an African in the United States, and the complications of relating to both white and black Americans. Some wry humor that I enjoyed.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hyacinth. Fiction. A young girl in Nigeria confronts domestic violence and religious fanaticism in her own family.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun. Fiction. The Nigerian Civil War as experienced by one family who supported Biafran independence. The story shows how ethnic divisions made war inescapable but also that the new nation was almost certainly doomed from the start. I couldn’t help but feel emotionally invested in the complicated, admirable, but flawed characters. A painful and engrossing story though not without hope. Highly recommend.

Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye (Audio Book). Fiction. So for a long time I was convinced that I didn’t like Margaret Atwood. Recently I came across one of her short stories and realized that she is actually a good writer. In this novel a Canadian artist considers her past, and in particular the toxic childhood friendship that was a formative experience. Though the artist grows into a reasonably rewarding life, her childhood tormentor does not.

Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride (Audio Book). Fiction. Another novel about friendships, toxic or sustaining, among several women with little in common. Amusing, a bit horrifying at times, with lots of local Toronto color.

Margaret Atwood, Hagseed (Audio Book). Fiction. This is a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest (which I knew nothing about until I read this book), but it takes place in the inmate theater program of an Ontario prison. Very funny – or at least I thought so. Plus I learned a lot about Shakespeare. Highly recommend.

ed ayers
Edward Ayers

Edward Ayers, In the Presence of Mine Enemies. Non-Fiction. The American Civil War as experienced by two towns that lay in the path of conflcit: Staunton, Virginia, and Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. This book covers the period from the 1850s through the eve of the Battle of Gettysburg. Lots of primary materials – letters, diaries, and home town newspapers – enables the reader to view historic events from a more intimate angle. The author emphasizes the experience of African Americans on both sides of the border.

Daniel Chamovitz, What  a Plant Knows. Non-Fiction. Last year I started to get tired of gardening books (gasp!), so this year I’ve really avoided them. I made exceptions for this book and a few others, though. Chamovitz, a noted biologist, walks us through how plants experience their own version of the senses that we associate only with animals (sight, touch, smell, etc.). For more detail, here’s a review I wrote earlier this year.

Have you read any of these books? Did you enjoy or dislike them?

More books to come.

30 Comments on “Books I’ve Read (or Heard) This Year, Part I”

  1. Thanks for the recommendations! I’ll pass along “Hagseed” (Atwood) and “Half of a Yellow Sun” (Agichie) to my book club. Those were two you rated highly.
    I enjoyed “Reservoir 13” by Jon McGregor. Spare writing style, yet full of atmosphere and “Transcription” by Kate Atkinson, recently published. Set in 1940 World War II and 1950 post-war London. A young woman is recruited into MI5. Well written, astute observation, and witty at times, yet unsettling as are many of Atkinson’s books. Both fiction.

  2. Welcome to the Peggy Atwood fan club, Jason. I think I’ve read all her novels and much of her poetry and other works. I don’t like all of it but on balance, I’m pro.

    I’m struck by the three books you read that relate to Nigeria. Any reason for this? I also read and enjoyed Americanah.

  3. Before the Big American Read I had never heard of Adichie and here you have read several of her books. I haven’t but thought I would give Americanah a try sometime. I haven’t read any of the others either.

  4. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood was one of the first audio books I listened to… very very good & from memory Atwood was the narrator..
    I’ve just been given a fabulous non fiction book called “Around the World in 80 trees” by Jonathan Drori & Illustrated by Lucille Clerc. Not much more than a page per tree but full of history & interesting facts & lovely illustrations. A special book .

  5. My mom is a huge fan of Margaret Atwood although I’ve not read any of her books (yet). I haven’t read any fiction in a couple of years, I think, and currently have a stack of garden books in my bedroom bookcase that I’ve been trying to get through. It’s been slow going as it’s usually late and I’m knackered by the time I get to bed (if only the kids would settle down for the night earlier…!)

  6. Thank you for this review of books. Like you, I have an idea I don’t like Margaret Atwood and so haven’t sampled these. Now I have some new titles to watch for when I visit the library. Cat’s Eye in particular sounds interesting. Usually I alternate between garden books (although you’re right~that can get old) and mysteries. I prefer my fiction to be light and fluffy to balance the science. And the news.

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