Local author and book critic, Ellen Heltzel, was here with her take on the best books of 2008.
BEST READS OF 2008: A COUNTDOWN
From Ellen Heltzel and the Book Babes
DOG DAYS: “Izzy and Lenore: Two Dogs, an Unexpected Journey and Me,” by Jon Katz. Well-known dog writer Katz tells a tear-jerking tale of adopting one mistreated border collie who has an instinct for comforting others and joins him as a hospice volunteer – and a golden retriever who helped him through a bout of depression.
LINCOLN REVIVED: “The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage,” by Daniel Mark Epstein. Lincoln books have been big this year, and this one will tug at your heartstrings. Poet Epstein frames an already familiar story with style in his well-told account of the relationship between the brooding president and his erratic wife.
SWEET ROMANCE: “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This is a delightful piece of fiction composed of letters, many of them exchanged between a London writer named Juliet and a pig farmer in Guernsey, an island off the British coast, right after World War II. It’s the story of what happened on that little island during the Nazi occupation and about friendship evolving into romantic love.
GOOD GOSSIP: “Audition,” by Barbara Walters. The doyenne of TV interviewers turns the camera on herself and tells not just a good story, but also an honest and even self-reflective one. The book has received a lot of press for revealing her long-past affair with a black U.S. Senator. But there’s so much more – about her showbiz father, her disabled sister, her adopted daughter, three failed marriages – and what you sacrifice for fame and fortune.
BEST FROM THE NORTHWEST: “The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman’s Fight to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Bird,” by Bruce Barcott, a Seattle writer. Meet Sharon Matola, zookeeper of Belize. This is a woman who can hold a tarantula in her hand and used to wrestle big cats for a living. She’s also tough enough to take on the powers that be and try to stop a dam from being built in her tiny Central American country.
COP SHOP: “The Given Day,” by Dennis Lehane. The author of “Mystic River” sets a novel about two families, one black and one white, against the backdrop of the Boston policeman’s strike of 1919. The mystery writer’s first novel of historical fiction is his best yet. Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge and playwright Eugene O’Neill all have a role. Think of Doctorow’s novel “Ragtime,” only in Boston instead of New York.
BOOMER HEAVEN: “John Lennon: The Life,” by Philip Norman. OK, this book doesn’t go that far inside Lennon’s head. But it does a good job of capturing a man of so many gifts and such insecurity – not that unusual a package, actually. The only one in the family who had no self-doubts was Yoko Ono, which may help explain why Lennon clung to her as his exit vehicle from the Beatles.
RIVETING AND SEXY: “The Garden of Last Days,” by Andre Dubus III. The handsome hunk who wrote “The House of Sand and Fog” produces another compelling novel by bringing together a Muslim terrorist and an exotic dancer on the eve of the 9/11 attack. Most of the story takes place in a Florida stripper’s club where you see how different the world looks to a lonely man holding a drink and some twenties and a naked woman who needs his money.
SPIRIT QUENCHER: “Finding Beauty in a Broken World,” by Terry Tempest Williams. Nature lovers adore Williams for her ability to write about the landscape. Here she contemplates mosaics in Italy, prairie dogs in Utah, and the death of her brother in a search for the connectedness of all things. As one critic put it, “How a book could be simultaneously this heartbreaking and gentle, I don’t know.”
“A MERCY,” by Toni Morrison. You don’t win the Nobel Prize for Literature unless you can write luminous prose and make a few political points at the same time, and that’s what Morrison does in her newest novel. It’s the story of the household of immigrant Jacob Vaark, circa 1690. Exploring the twin evils of sexism and racism, Morrison proves that therre’s a more poetic way of restating that old line: Follow the money!
For more recommendations by Ellen Heltzel, check out her website.