Last Week’s Links

Here are some of the articles from around the web that I’ve been looking at recently.

Protecting Your Digital Life in 7 Easy Steps

Some suggestions for how to make your personal data”more difficult for attackers to obtain.”

Excavations at Shakespeare’s Curtain Theatre Reveal Elizabethan Secrets

Fascinating discoveries from excavation of the Curtain Theatre, a site for performances of Shakespeare’s works that precedes the more famous Globe Theatre.

Stamp Your Literary Passport: 7 Great Books to Take You Around the World

Now that it has become more important than ever for us to learn about people from other cultures, here are some book recommendations for doing just that.

All thrillers or mysteries of a sort, these are books by authors who have been bestsellers in their own countries and whose works you won’t want to miss.

Move over Freud: literary fiction is the best therapy

As a follow-up to the previous entry, here is one of the best explanations I’ve seen in a long time about why we read:

So reading is not merely a diversion or distraction from present pain; it is also an enlarging of our universe, our sympathies, wisdom and experience. The act of entering into the consciousness of another being, another sex, or sexual preference, social group, political outlook or religious persuasion, allows a respite from private and parochial preoccupations. That widening of our concerns may entail entering another location, or period in history – or an arena of which we would otherwise be ignorant. Education, as people are never tired of repeating, is a process of leading out, which suggests another benefit: that in being led by reading into previously unknown territory, we learn.


© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

More Best Books of 2016 Lists

The King County Library System’s five top books of 2016

The King County Library System, one of the largest public library systems in America with a lot of avid readers among its patrons, has released its list of the five most popular books of 2016. The library measures popularity by the number of holds placed on a title.

King County Best Books: Librarians’ Choices

The top four entries in this listing are for the current year:

  • Best Books 2016 — Teen
  • Best Books 2016 — Kids
  • Best Books 2016 — Nonfiction
  • Best Books 2016 — Fiction

And, in case you missed the entries for previous years, there are links for those here as well.

The best books of 2016, from our critics

A list from book reviewers for The Seattle Times, divided into fiction and nonfiction sections.

The 10 Best Books of 2016

The editors of The New York Times Book Review offer their choices as the year’s 10 best books, five fiction and five nonfiction.

Notable Children’s Books of 2016

The best in picture books, middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction, selected by the children’s books editor of The New York Times Book Review.


© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Books You Can Read in One Day

The countdown to year’s end has begun. If you’re behind on your reading challenge for 2016 or just want to pad your statistics, here are some books you can easily read in a day or less.


My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Dubliners by James Joyce

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Of the Farm by John Updike

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club by Virginia Ironside

A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh

The Pearl by John Steinbeck

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

Where Are the Children? by Mary Higgins Clark

Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, translated by Sora Kim-Russell

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector

Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick

The Plains by Gerald Murnane

The Beauty of the Husband by Anne Carson

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West

The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra by Pedro Mairal

Not to Disturb by Muriel Spark


Slow Reading by John Miedema

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

The Ancient Art of Tea by Warren Peltier

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

Days on the Road: Crossing the Plains in 1865 by Sarah Raymond Herndon

The Tao of Psychology by Jean Shinoda Bolen

Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle by C.G. Jung, trans. R.F.C. Hull

Writing in an Age of Silence by Sara Paretsky

Comfort: A Journey Through Grief by Ann Hood

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art by Joyce Carol Oates

Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life by Douglas Wilson

In Addition

19 Wonderful Short Books and Stories to Read Now


© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

They’re Back: Best Books of the Year Lists

The best books of the year lists seem to appear earlier and earlier every year. Here’s a first look at some of the offerings.

100 Notable Books of 2016

The New York Times announces its choices in the following categories:

  • Fiction & Poetry
  • Nonfiction

Emily Temple isn’t satisfied with the New York Times list because it omits several books that she thinks it should include. She offers her list of notable omissions here.

Best books of 2016 – part one

A list from The Guardian, in which “writers choose their best reads of 2016.” Selections include fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.

Best books of 2016 – part two

A companion to (or, rather, a continuation of) the entry above.

Best Philosophy Books of 2016

Philosophy raises fundamental questions about the world around us and how we should live our lives. Fortunately, a range of popular books now available mean you too can grapple with some of these issues. Philosopher and author Nigel Warburton picks his favourite philosophy books of 2016.


© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Happy Thanksgiving

Last Week’s Links

‘The Girl on the Train’: Here’s What It’s Really About

I read Paula Hawkins’s novel The Girl on the Train eagerly because it was touted as a book for fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, which I loved. But I was disappointed in Train, which I found nowhere near as suspenseful or as psychologically adept as Gone Girl. Nonetheless, I did intend to see the film of Girl on the Train; however, life intervened and I still haven’t seen it.

This article by Lisa Rosman is about the film, which Rosman calls “a wonderfully faithful adaptation” of the book. Here’s Rosman’s description of what the book/film is “really about”:

What fascinates me most about this “Girl on the Train” … is that it has the audacity to embrace unlikeable female protagonists who don’t even like themselves. What’s more, the film asks us to do the same. Rachel is a self-pitying, explosive drunk; Anna, an unrepentant Stepford mom; Megan, an unreflective viper whose self-esteem relies on male surrender. Yet because we are shown the fissures in their self-reflections and the strength lurking beneath their surfaces, we root for them while accepting their limitations.

I did not have this reaction to the book, which I found shallow and therefore not very engaging. Rosman also raises an issue that has gotten a lot of play recently, namely the question of whether we need to like characters in order to assess a book as “good.” I don’t need to like characters, but I do need to understand them in order to consider a book good.

At any rate, I still want to see this movie, even though I think I’ve missed its run in theaters. Perhaps I’ll find the film more compelling than the book.

What about you?
Have you read the book and/or seen the film? What was your reaction?

Undead on the brain: What we talk about when we talk about zombies

I’ve frequently written that I don’t read books about zombies, werewolves, or vampires. Even though I understand that such creatures often represent certain cultural issues, I just don’t like to read about them. To each his own, I guess.

Nonetheless, Seattle Times writer Brendan Kiley does a good job here of explaining what zombies are all about:

Spoiler alert: This article isn’t really about zombies, and neither is “The Walking Dead,” one of the most popular cable-TV series in U.S. history.

They’re both about people, our anxieties about catastrophe and what kinds of communities we might form if central authority collapses. No government, no Wall Street, no power grid — just you, the strangers you stumble across and a kaleidoscope of dangers roaming the landscape. As the show’s human characters bounce around the southern U.S., they run into a spectrum of mini-societies (dictatorships, democracies, theocracies, loosely organized bands of feral killers) and try to figure out what kind of world they want to live in.


Catherine LaSota carries on an email interview with prolific author Joyce Carol Oates:

Oates’s latest book, Soul at the White Heat, is a collection of her essays on the writing life and her insightful reviews of the work of more than two dozen writers, including H.P. Lovecraft, Lorrie Moore, Paul Auster, and Zadie Smith. The title of the book is taken from its epigraph, an Emily Dickinson poem about the passions that burn brightly within us, and it serves as apt introduction to Oates’s close analysis of writing in the pages to follow. In her dissection of an author’s work, Oates searches for that which drives the artist to create. She is clearly engaged with the writing she consumes, making her essays hugely useful to writers and other students of literature.


© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Colson Whitehead Wins National Book Award for ‘The Underground Railroad’

Politics intruded on this year’s awards ceremony, where Mr. Whitehead, whose novel explores the horrors of American slavery, urged writers to “fight the power.”

Source: Colson Whitehead Wins National Book Award for ‘The Underground Railroad’

C. E. Morgan Among Winners of $50,000 Kirkus Book Prizes – The New York Times

C.E. Morgan, Susan Faludi and Jason Reynolds were honored on Thursday at the third annual Kirkus Prizes ceremony in Austin, Tex. Each prize comes with an award of $50,000.

Source: C. E. Morgan Among Winners of $50,000 Kirkus Book Prizes – The New York Times

Books I Finished in October

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
Viking, 2016

couple-next-doorAnne and Marco Conti appear to have an ideal life: a loving marriage, a nice home, and a beautiful baby daughter, Cora. One summer night they are invited to have dinner at the home of the neighbors with whom they share a duplex wall. When the baby sitter cancels at the last minute, they decide it will be all right if they take the baby monitor with them and run home to check on Cora periodically.

And of course the unthinkable happens: on one check-in, Cora has vanished. Anne is swamped by guilt because she agreed to go next door and leave the baby home alone. Marco comforts her, saying that using the baby monitor was not an unreasonable solution. The police believe that the Contis are hiding something and begin to suspect them. Because Anne’s mother and stepfather are extremely wealthy, the police and family anxiously await a ransom call.

This is a pretty typical thriller, with information gradually emerging about the secrets each of the major players is hiding. As usual in this genre, things are not always as they seem and darkness swirls below the surface of life. And the ending involves a standard trope of the genre that I particularly dislike.

This is not a bad book, just an ordinary one that breaks no new ground in the insights it presents. It’s appropriate for reading on a long airplane flight, as I did on a recent coast-to-coast trip.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Knopf, 2015

souls-at-nightIn the fictional small town of Holt, Colorado, the setting of Haruf’s earlier novels, Addie Moore, age 70, offers a proposition to her neighbor, Louis Waters. Their spouses died years ago and their children live far away. Now each lives alone and lonely. Addie asks Louis if he’d be willing to spend nights with her so that they’d have someone to talk to and share stories with. Louis initially is stunned but then realizes that he’d like some company just as much as Addie does.

The two soon develop a comfortable relationship, not caring that other people in the town think. When Addie’s son decides he can’t handle his own son, he drops the boy off at his grandmother’s house. Addie, Louis, and the boy bond, creating a surrogate family that enriches all their lives.

The book’s bittersweet ending probes the significance of relationships and of fulfilling other people’s expectations. This is the last book Kent Haruf completed before his death in 2014 at age 71. In its look at the lives of older adults, this short novel is a fitting and large-hearted conclusion to Kent Haruf’s body of work.

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
Simon & Schuster, 2010

distant-hoursThe description on the back cover of the paperback edition explains, “In this enthralling novel, Morton pays homage to the classics of gothic fiction, spinning a rich and intricate web of mystery, suspense, and lost love.” The novel is full of gothic trappings: a huge old castle, full of secret passages and creaking stairs, that looms over the surrounding land like a living, breathing entity; eccentric and isolated long-time inhabitants of the castle who harbor long-suppressed secrets; and a mysterious, long-ago story that continues to dominate lives in the present. (For more about gothic literature, see Gothic Elements in Shirley Jackson’s “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” .)

The story opens with a letter delivered 50 years after it was sent—a typical quirky and mysterious catalyst for gothic storytelling. Edith Burchill, an editor at a small publishing firm, is helping her mother, Meredith, peel potatoes when the letter arrives. Meredith doesn’t want to talk about the letter and is vague about its origin and contents. Eventually, though, Edith gets the germ of the story out of her mother: during World War II, at the age of 12 or 13, Meredith was sent away from London to avoid the German bombing. In the country Meredith lived at Milderhurst Castle with the Blythe sisters, a pair of twins and their much younger sister. The girls’ father, Raymond Blythe, wrote a tremendously popular children’s book, The True History of the Mud Man, which Meredith had read to Edith as a child.

Edith and Meredith have always had a troubled relationship. With an interest in literary matters and a desire to learn more about her mother’s background, Edith sets out to visit Milderhurst and discover what her mother experienced there so long ago. Under the guise of a gothic tale, The Distant Hours examines the power of long-kept secrets and their power to continue to dominate lives.

I don’t remember how I heard about this book or why I picked it up, but I came to it at a significant time in my life. Like Edith and Meredith, my mother and I have always had a strained relationship. Reading this novel while my mother was dying helped me to realize that healing can come through trying to understand life from the other person’s point of view. Like Edith, I began to see how the past can influence the present and how learning about the past can help us understand and accept the present.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Quirk Books, 2011

miss-peregrines-homeAs a young child, Jacob was always fascinated by his grandfather’s box of unusual photos. Then, when Jacob is 16, his grandfather is brutally killed in what police call a dog mauling. But Jacob suspects something else killed him, and he goes off in search of the place where his grandfather came across the peculiar children of the photographs.

When I started reading this book, I thought it would be a typical coming-of-age story coupled with a typical hero’s journey quest. But somewhere along the line these notions evaporated. The book becomes an unfocused wandering in search of something that may or may not exist. The children’s peculiarities are not anything like super powers; they are simply peculiar.

Jacob’s search is sloooooowww,, and I found each plot complication more annoying than the previous one. The book ends with a cliffhanger, with no resolution of Jacob’s search. To be fair, Riggs has published two more books in the series, so I imagine that I’d have to look at the series as a whole to see and understand the resolution. However, I disliked this book so much that I’m not going to spend the time to read two more.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

For Your Halloween Entertainment

Here are a couple of articles full of suggestions from The Seattle Times:

  1. What’s on your Halloween reading list?
  2. What to watch on TV this Halloween weekend