Book Recommendations–Fashionable

Growing up with a fashionable mother who designed and made most of her own clothing (and ours), I had no choice but to adopt a love of textiles, clothing design and sewing from an early age. My alter-ego is a fashion designer, I am quite sure.  So I collect coffee table books about sewing and fashion, embellish and restyle vintage clothing, still read Vogue magazine, and think a vacation should always include a leisurely visit to a unique fabric store or exhibit of a famous designer’s clothes at a museum. When I visited Britex Fabrics in San Francisco a couple years ago, I knew I was close to heaven!

 

Advanced Style, by Ari Seth Cohen

If there is one book that always gives me delight when I look at it, it is this one; incredible photos of older (at least mid-60’s and as old as 103!) women who have9781576875926_p0_v1_s118x184 original style.  Inspired by his own grandmother’s sense of fashion, Cohen set about photographing and interviewing women in New York and published the book in 2012. It quickly became not only a best seller, but a whole “enterprise”, with related documentaries, a blog, and a second volume (just published) titled Advanced Style: Older and Wiser. The best take-away here is that what comes through is the self-confidence with which these women wear their unique clothing, accessories and make-up.  Why should I worry about my sagging neck or failing upper arm muscles when I have these imaginative fashionistas to inspire me?

 

9780812993356_p0_v1_s118x184Grace: a Memoir, by Grace Coddington

An even more charming book, by the now-famous Grace Coddington (of The September Issue documentary fame).  She started work as a fashion model in England in the 1960’s, then as a stylist for British Vogue before leaping to America in the 1980’s, and her story is not that unexpected in some ways (except that she works closely and successfully with the infamous Vogue editor Anna Wintour (of The Devil Wears Prada fame) and has for many years.  She is the designer and creative genius behind most of Vogue Magazine’s success over the past 30 years, and I have to believe one of the most delightful and talented sketch artists around.  The book’s design, heft, generous photographs and especially the sketches on nearly every page make it a unique work of art.  And any fashion guru who can include several chapters about her cats and still hold my interest is well worth reading about! A yummy delight.

 

One Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes

I had never read this tender book, written in 1944, which was a Newberry Award Honor Book (for juvenile fiction).  The story, about the exclusion of a young girl raised in poverty in a small town, shows the impact on the lives of all children when class 9780152052607_p0_v2_s118x184differences arise and are accentuated.  Young Wanda is constantly teased by her classmates for wearing the same faded blue denim dress each day, and to defend herself tells them she has “one hundred dresses, all lined up” in her closet.  This leads to even more teasing and name-calling.  Then an art contest at school confirms that Wanda did indeed have a hundred dresses–all her own designs illustrated and colored on paper.  She won the school illustration contest, and her former tormentors were ashamed, but by that time it was too late: her father had moved the family to a bigger city, where he hoped they would be more accepted. Subtly  illustrated by Louis Slobodkin, a Caldecott Medal Winner for 1943, a memorable story for children and adults alike.

 

The Language of Clothes, by Alison Lurie

Over 30 years ago, one of my favorite novelists of that time period (Foreign AffairsThe War Between the Tates) surprised readers by writing this informal history of fashion.  She particularly focused on how politics, class, and sexual mores influence 9780805062441_p0_v1_s118x184fashion trends.  One particular chapter that fascinated me was on hair styles, beards, and hats, in which she cleverly demonstrates the correlation between length and style of facial hair with artistic and creative self-expression.  In another, she analyzes color and patterns (grey, for example, symbolizing modesty or mystery, and sometimes both).  The book is well-illustrated, although in black and white, and while it does not cover contemporary fashion, it does cover a great deal of the history of fashion in a witty, easy to read style.  I enjoyed reading it again even more now than I did 25 years ago!

 

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, by Elizabeth Cline

This is a “trend” I have been following for years–whenever I go to Macy’s or Target or the Gap (which is blessedly not too often), I see racks and racks of flimsy, mostly 9781591846543_p0_v3_s118x184garish, unimaginative cheap clothes. When I see acquaintances  and family members buying these clothes, many of which are never worn, I wonder how we got to this place.  Surely it is not all about free trade, but much of it is.  I wish I could force everyone who buys clothes to read this book, and I hope a few of you will.  When it comes to clothing nowadays, I either buy from a consignment store, make my own, or purchase new with the plan to pay more now, but make it last longer.  Sounds suspiciously like my father’s “you get what you pay for”.  To that I would add: the cheaper the item, the more likely it was made on the backs of child labor, underpaid workers, and in unsafe working conditions in another country.

 

Women in Clothes, by Heti, Julavits, and Shapton (editors)

Here is a book I would rather label a catalog; over 600 women weigh in on clothes and fashion with photographs, interviews, short essays and plenty of humor.  I would say it 9780399166563_p0_v4_s118x184is beyond eclectic, and though it was published in 2014, it is not that easy to find. Still, it is worth it for entries such as “the ring cycle” where 15 women photograph their hands and talk about their rings, or musings from “an older woman going through her closet”. Particularly unexpected and familiar is a dialog between two friends (Helen King and Sheila Heti) who go bra shopping together!  Pick almost any page, and find amusement, creative ideas, poignant memories, hilarious photographs, historical reminiscences, and more aspects about clothing and dress than I have ever seen in one place. A book to own, for sure!

 

Book Recommendations–Marriage

Since getting married this past summer for the second time in my life, the subject of marriage has been on my mind a lot.  I often wonder what marriage actually is: mostly a financial contract, a steady undying love, a deep, deep friendship, a caring of another person and being cared for in return, a respectability hideout, an antiquated political or religious institution?  All of the above? The topic is rich and varied. Here are some favorite reads that cover a wide range of the above aspects of an old tradition that does not seem to be dying out, regardless of the reasons for entering into it.

 

9781594634475_p0_v3_s118x184Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff

Marriage from both sides is vividly delineated in this award winner from Groff, author of acclaimed novels Arcadia and The Monsters of Templeton.  One may not have to think too hard about which side is the “furies”.  The “fates” part of the story features the husband, Lotto, an actor from a wealthy family who struggles before finally becoming a famous playwright (somewhat by accident rather than hard work and talent). He marries the striking and regal Mathilde (the “furies” part), who had been his classmate at Vassar.  She adores him, supporting and smoothing the way for him both before and during his career rise, but she also keeps some deep secrets from him. And one cannot disregard the sex in this book: Groff throws her best and nearly limitless prose at it like a blizzard. Her writing almost overwhelms at times, yet it is also impossible to ignore. The writing and surprises and sudden curves at the end make it a most unique read.

 

By the Iowa Sea, by Joe Blair9781451636062_p0_v3_s118x184

What stuck me so strongly about this memoir was its unadorned, brutal honesty about a man’s mid-life affair, and its impact on him, his wife and children. When Joe and Deb got married, they jumped on a motorcycle and took the whirlwind trip of their dreams.  They then settled in Iowa City, bought a small house had four children (one severely autistic), then discovered their golden dreams turned dull and rusty. Joe’s challenging family life finally led him to have a brief affair.  Why and how he went back to his family was riveting, painful and courageous. I have often wondered what the “guts” of infidelity must feel like, and how it would affect a marriage. This beautifully written memoir has echoed again and again in my consciousness. I keep wondering what Joe’s wife felt upon reading this story; there are obviously two courageous people in this vivid, memorable memoir.

 

iuMrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge, by Evan S. Connell9781593760601_p0_v1_s118x184

Favorites from years ago (Mrs. was first published in 1959, and Mr. ten years later). Set just before WWII in an upper middle class family in the Midwest, it would be easy to underestimate the depth and nuance of both characters.  Mr. Bridge is a successful lawyer, who is all about gaining affluence and respectability in his community.  Mrs. Bridge, a traditional housewife seems weak, passive, and unaware when first introduced. Yet Connell ‘s understated writing and droll wit captures the characters and their times perfectly.  Also made into a lovely movie a number of years ago with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward as the Mr. and Mrs.  Read the books, see the movie, or better yet, do both: they are that closely matched!

 

9780393341744_p0_v3_s118x184One Hundred Names for Love, by Diane Ackerman

If ever there was a beautiful testament to married love and deep friendship, it was this story of acclaimed author Ackerman and her care for her novelist husband Paul West after his debilitating stroke at age 74.  They had met when he was a literature professor at Penn State, and she a somewhat hippie undergraduate.  Together, they explored and kindled each other’s passion for words and writing. So it was an ironic tragedy that West’s stroke affected the language center of his brain, and he was not expected to recover.  Ackerman has explored the realm of the mind before, in her 2004 book An Alchemy of Mind. But this very different challenge was not academic–it was a fight for his survival, his ability to recover communication and a fight for their marriage.  Ackerman’s work to help her husband heal and recover is breathtaking in its energy and stamina and unequaled in its commitment.  Now this is a true love story.

 

The Journal of Best Practices, by David Finch9781439189740_p0_v1_s118x184

What if your marriage partner sat you down at a computer one night and made you take an online test that would change your life?  Finch experienced just that when his wife confronted him with the fact that she thought he might have Asperger Syndrome.  He was 30 years old, his work life was successful, but after five years his marriage was in shambles.  He “passed” the Asperger test, and found he was relieved to find an explanation for challenges like his “clinical strength inflexibility”, his meltdowns in social situations, and his inability or unwillingness to communicate in general. Finch decided to embark on a self-help plan by keeping a notebook of the things he needed to change, doing journaling, and having “performance feedback” with his wife. The story is at once hilarious, poignant, and demonstrates that marriage challenges can be mastered if both parties are equally committed. Unique and charming.

 

9780307277893_p0_v1_s118x184Nothing Was the Same, by Kay Redfield Jamison

In many memoirs, the wider view of what a marriage has meant and how it worked does not happen until one loses a spouse. Hence the popularity of memoirs such as Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. For Jamison, who has written several brilliant books (An Unquiet Mind,  Exuberance, and Night Falls Fast), the loss of her second husband was devastating. She married Dr. Richard Wyatt, a noted authority on schizophrenia, in 1994. He was diagnosed as having inoperable cancer fifteen years after they were married, and died in 2002.  By any standards, it was a warm, loving marriage, challenged by Jamison’s long diagnosed bi-polar disorder, for which she was treated. Her mental illness stretched the bonds of their relationship many times, yet their marriage was rich and full, both professionally (both were doctors in the mental health field) and personally.  Jamison’s portrayal of Wyatt is fully fleshed out–I felt like I had known him and lost a valued scientist and friend. And her journey after his death is nuanced and just as full, trying to keep mentally balanced while riding the tidal waves of her grief.  Excellent!

 

Also recommended:  Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill; Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages, by Phyllis Rose, Then Comes Marriage, by Robert Kaplan with Lisa Dickey.

 

 

 

 

Book Recommendations–Books about Books

 

If there is a favorite avocation of mine, it is discovering titles that I have not yet read, have forgotten about, or never heard of:  that is the reason I hang out in bookstores and libraries so much.  The fabulous (and my former SPL co-worker) Nancy Pearl has done all readers a great favor by publishing her three Book Lust volumes, and there are more of my favorite “books about books” below.  I recommend not trying all these at once, lest you become so overwhelmed with suggestions you cannot ever decide what to read.

 

9781846682667_p0_v1_s192x300Howards End is on the Landing: a Year of Reading from Home, by Susan Hill

Charming and meandering (in the best sense of both words), is this 2010 memoir about reading, by well-known British author (the Simon Serrailler crime series) and blogger Susan Hill. While looking for a book she had”misplaced” one day, Hill realized that she had enough books at home she had not yet read (who can imagine!?) to last at least a year.  “I wanted to repossess my books,” she wrote, “to explore what I had accumulated over a lifetime of reading.” Her choices were varied and eclectic, if decidedly British:  books by Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Elizabeth Bowen, George Orwell and many others.  Her comments about Iris Murdoch not being read very much anymore are ones I agree with, yet lots of people giving her feedback on her book blog disagreed.  Yes, the book was very satisfying, as it reminds me there are many others who also can’t possibly read all the books they buy and stack around the house.

 

Read This! Handpicked Favorites from America’s Indie Bookstores, Hans Weyandt, editor

Many of the greatest indie bookstores in the US are featured in this compact and valuable Read-this-97815668931381-370x535guidebook to reading, compiled in 2012 and published by Coffee House press.  You could not ask for a better list when looking for a great read in a library, bookstore, or online.  Small and compact, it will fit in a back pocket or purse, and covers booksellers from 25 top independent bookstores.  Each bookstore owner is briefly interviewed, the bookstore described, and lists of 20-50 of their favorite recommendations.  Just last week, I was inspired to pick up two titles I had not yet read:  James Agee’s A Death in the Family, and J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace. What amazing reads! What eclectic picks!

 

9781631490675_p0_v2_s192x300The World Between Two Covers, by Ann Morgan

Morgan, a book blogger and author, decided in 2012 that she would read one book from every country during the course of a year (196+ books!) because she felt she was too limited in her reading. But unlike many books about books, this explores the ideas around thinking about what you read, and why you read it, rather than recapping each book she chose. One of the unique aspects of this book is how difficult it was for her to find publishers and examples from each country, which reinforces how Anglo-centric the publishing world remains. A few examples are rather unimaginative (James Joyce representing Ireland, for example). But most were unfamiliar to me, and will open up a “whole new world” for any adventurous reader. There is a list in the back of the book with the titles and countries they represent, and I counted over 180 authors and titles I have yet to explore. Such potential riches!

 

By the Book; Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from the NYT Book Review, Pamela Paul, editor

I slavishly read the column “By the Book” in the New York Times Book Review9781250074690_p0_v3_s192x300 every Sunday, and am seldom disappointed.  Of course, reading the columns only prompts me to add to my bulging list of “books I have not read but must do so soon”.  On the plus side, I find out more about favorite authors and am never bored reading the answers to questions such as “what books are overrated, disappointing or just not good”.  Some 65 of these columns have been collected in book form, complete with the articulate drawings of authors by Jillian Tamaki.  I can pretty much guarantee you will find these articles fascinating, enlightening, and you will come away with your own list of books you will want to (or not want to) read.  Great book for  book groups, too.

 

84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff

9780140143508_p0_v1_s192x300 I would have felt ashamed to leave this title off the list. There must be a few of you readers out there who have not read it; it is short and lovely. And those of us who have read it should re-read it every few years.  A true story, the book consists of letters between Hanff, a rather flamboyant American writer searching for cheap books, and Frank Doel, and rather staid and buttoned-up antiquarian English bookstore (Marks & Company) employee. The correspondence between them lasted from 1949 through the mid-1960s, and beautifully illuminates their different personalities, tastes in literature, and growing friendship.  Hanff ultimately became friends with Doel’s wife and other bookstore employees. Another enlightening aspect of the book are the discussions about politics and cultural changes happening in both England and the United States after WWII. A beloved classic!

 

When Books Went to War, by Molly Guptill Manning

Because my own father was in WWII, and often wrote to my Mom about what he was9780544570405_p0_v2_s118x184 reading, I sometimes wondered if he had access to a library while in the Army. So this book caught my eye when published a couple of years ago.  What an eye-opener!  I knew that the Nazi had burned 100 million books starting in the early 1930’s as a way to exert their own agenda.  But I had no idea that librarians, in an uproar over the book burnings, collected 20 million hardback books to send to U.S. troops.  Then in 1943 the War Department and the publishing industry enlarged the program by producing 120 million lightweight paperbacks to distribute to troops. Called Armed Services Editions, the list of authors and titles (in the back of this book) is amazing.  And just as amazing is the list of authors “banned” by the government for printing and distribution. A fascinating read, for anyone interested in history.

 

 

Book Recommendations–Black Lives (more than) Matter

Growing up in a small, WASPy town, I had no idea of what slavery was, and what black lives were like until I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin in sixth grade.  It had a profound impact on me, and I began to support the civil rights movement in the 1960’s. There are so many amazing writers of the black experience; I feel I have only begun to scratch the surface. I have already reviewed three titles in this blog that were the most resonant for me: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Jesmyn Ward’s  Salvage the Bones. Much of the best American literature and art has been born out of America’s agonizing legacy of racism. Here are some of my recent favorites that deliver a variety of perspectives about being black in America.

 

9781608197651_p0_v4_s192x300Men We Reaped, by Jesmyn Ward

Ward wrote one of my all-time favorite novels, Salvage the Bones; this was her first non-fiction, equally poignant and remarkable.  Five young black men who were close to her died within a four year period, and her reactions to those losses are skillfully woven into this memoir of her growing up in the bayou country of Louisiana. This narrative is not for the faint of heart–but for those who want to read an exceptionally well-written story and also learn the reality of the fate of so many black men in America (one in ten is the statistic she quotes).  She reveals the complexities of gender in this story–the black women are protective, angry and disappointed in both their men and the poverty and racism that continues to spawn these astounding losses. Her mood is melancholy, yet deeply compassionate. An important and top rated memoir.

 

Black Man in a White Coat, by Damon Tweedy, M.D.9781250044631_p0_v3_s192x300

Here is a take on being black in America that I hadn’t thought about before–the trials of becoming a doctor, then encountering and understanding the unique needs of black patients.  Tweedy describes his medical schooling with a unique blend of humility and intelligence (after all, he had to be exceptionally bright to even be accepted into medical school).  There were enough challenges in that, but even more when he became a practicing physician, encountering diseases and high mortality rates unique to the rural, mostly black impoverished communities he often served.  That blacks suffer more hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and many other severe conditions at earlier ages than whites should not surprise, but Tweedy’s encounters with the epidemic proportions of those conditions does.  He illustrates this with personal stories that shock more than a battery of statistics would, yet he has a grace and humanity about him that made me believe everything he wrote was no exaggeration. And he made me wish he were able to be my doctor.

 

The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin

9780679744726_p0_v1_s118x184I have loved Baldwin since an English teacher in college introduced his work and built a whole semester exploring his writings. Reading Baldwin taught me how to compose an essay, and he is still considered a master of the form. But I have trouble picking my favorite–Giovanni’s Room, a haunting love story, Another Country, a novel of tortured relationships and alienation, Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems, among others.  But this book, originally published as a two-part essay in the New Yorker, was the one that catapulted Baldwin into America’s public eye as an early spokesperson for the civil rights movement.  The long essay also explores the tenuous and uneasy relationship between the Black Muslim movement in America and Christianity. Baldwin had lived in France for a number of years by this time, and his distance from the US seemed to give him a perspective and credibility in his writing and speaking that helped him become such a well-known figure. I reread this book after Between the World and Me, to compare and contrast. I highly recommend doing the same, as they are a stunning pair.

 

The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride

Though I knew the old hymn “….John Brown’s body lies…” and had read about the Civil War in school, I knew very little about Brown’s work and the raid on Harper’s Ferry9781594632785_p0_v2_s118x184 that ultimately led to the start of that war.  This imaginative book is hilarious and true to the history of abolitionist John Brown, who in 1859 led an unsuccessful raid on the federal armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia.  Brown charged clumsily into slave territory, armed with his personal edict from God and an unusual assortment of slaves who were motivated to follow him for various reasons.  The story is told by a naive yet witty young male slave, Henry, who passes for “Henrietta” with his own story to tell about gender issues and a unique perspective on Brown and other famous black abolitionists that are portrayed along the way.  This disarming and vivid novel won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2013–more than well-deserved.

 

9781476731919_p0_v2_s192x300The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, by Jeff Hobbs

When Robert Peace, who was raised by a single mother in a poverty and crime-ridden neighborhood outside Newark, won a full scholarship to Yale, the hope and ambition that accompanied him was profound.  Peace was extremely bright and had worked hard to realize the dream of a way out of his upbringing.  Many a sociologist has pointed to education as the way out of “the life”, yet the prescription is not so simple, as evidenced in this fascinating and tragic story.  Peace’s college roommate wrote this to try to make sense of what went wrong: how Peace graduated from Yale and returned home to teach at the high school he had attended in New Jersey.  He was known as an involved, hands-on teacher.  Yet underneath Peace’s life of seeming accomplishment was the pull of the streets and dealing drugs. First quietly selling to fellow students at Yale, then back in his old neighborhood. Peace was dead by age 30.  The emotional and spiritual complexities of dividing his life between two worlds took a toll that was devastating.  There are no easy answers here, but it does not mean there are no answers. Hobbs has rendered a remarkable portrait of this unforgettable life.

 

Slaves in the Family, by Edward Ball

Ball’s book, the National Book Award Winner for non-fiction in 1998, still stands out 9780374534455_p0_v1_s118x184in my mind as an extremely brave and important look at slavery and its aftermath.  Ball’s family several generations back were owners of one of the largest rice plantations in the South (South Carolina), owning thousands of acres and thousands of slaves between the 1700’s until after the Civil War. When Ball’s father died, Edward started investigating one of the family “secrets” his father had alluded to–the fact that the family had owned slaves.  Ball’s impeccable research and determination to meet and interview families who had descended from those slaves could not be more gripping.  This is American history at its core–a powerful story, seldom told, and needing to be told more often.  Feelings about the legacy of slavery in the families Ball encountered during his research were varied and complex, and Ball’s own feelings of guilt and shame took unexpected turns.  Unforgettable!

 

Also on my reading list, to be reviewed later:

Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson

The Other Wes Moore, by Wes Moore

The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander

This Bridge Called My Back, by Cherrie Moraga

 

Book Recommendations–Best of 2015

This is the time of year that every newspaper, web site, magazine and public radio station announces their “favorite books of the year”, so who am I to not chime in with my opinion, too?  More of my favorite reads this past year (not all were published in 2015) are non-fiction, but there are a couple of standouts in the fiction category too.  My reviews of each are shorter this month, so I could list more titles. A couple I have already reviewed in previous posts, so I include the date of the review.  Enjoy, if you have not read any of these, or if you did, I hope you loved them also.

 

9780385539258_p0_v1_s118x184A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara

The top of my list of fiction reads–Yanagihara follows the lives of four young men, close friends from college, in a story that fascinates, troubles, and exposes the emotional exertion  it takes to find and nurture deep, intimate relationships. Just beautiful;  Yanagihara writes so effortlessly, mining the lives of four memorable characters that I will never forget.

 

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson9780312424404_p0_v5_s118x184

It took reading Lila  (National Book Award finalist in fiction, 2014) this year for me to then pick up Gilead (2005 Pulitzer Prize), part of a trilogy that follows the life of a small town preacher from the Midwest. There is so much to think about in this story, that I found myself rereading passages, putting it down to contemplate the rich ideas and language, then reading it again. I can hardly wait to tackle Home (the other book in this trio).

 

9780316176538_p0_v3_s118x184A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson

A follow-up story to Atkinson’s rewarding book Life After Life, this story (reviewed in June 2015’s blog), follows the life of Teddy Todd from that previous novel.  A WWII pilot who miraculously survives the war, Teddy returns to civilian life  to cobble together a “normal” existence,  including marrying and having a child, then grandchildren.  The character of Teddy’s child is particularly complex and fascinating.  A sprawling and really engaging novel of post-war England.

 

A Manual for Cleaning Women, by Lucia Berlin9780374202392_p0_v2_s118x184

Berlin’s name is not one many (including myself) may recognize, but she deserves to be on a small list of top short story writers with Carver, Munro, et al.  Her stories in this collection alternate emotions and sensory details swiftly and smoothly–just when you relax into one scene, it changes and whisks you away to someplace else.  Comic and tragic, the stories reflect many of the lives she herself has lived. Wow, was all I could say after reading each one!

 

9780812993547_p0_v4_s118x184Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

A most important non-fiction book of the year for me, and many others, judging from its continuing success on the best seller lists.  I, for one, cannot imaging what it must be like to be a black man in America (or almost any country).  Coates writes this as a letter/manifesto to his son, telling him what it is like for him to live in almost constant physical and mental fear and anger. He does not sugar-coat his experience. It should be required reading!

 

Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande9780805095159_p0_v5_s118x184

See my blog post from June 2015 for a review of this book, which I highly recommended for everyone!  One of Gawande’s major points is that the amazing advances in medical care in the past century have left most health care providers with a laser focus on saving a life, and almost none on the quality of life the patient will have after being subjected to those techniques and medications. Prolong life, yet at what cost?

 

9780393089998_p0_v1_s192x300All the Wild that Remains, by David Gessner

Part biography of the famous writers Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey, part travelog, and part environmental protest, this was the best nature/philosophy book that I read this year.  Abbey (the renegade) and Stegner (the professor) knew each other and did not always rub elbows fondly, but the story of their individual impacts on environmental activism reminded me how much they each have influenced stewardship of the enormous, arid, stunning land that is the West.

 

H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald9780802123411_p0_v4_s118x184

Probably my favorite in the non-fiction category, this razor-sharp memoir about the author’s loss of her father, and her determination to train a hawk as a diversionary (healing) action is a truly original story.  Macdonald slyly intertwines T. H. White’s chronicle (1951) The Goshawk into her memoir.  His experience with the same kind of bird, and his struggles to train the bird with traditional, rather than modern techniques fascinated and challenged Macdonald, who had her own set of struggles and rewards while working with hers.