A selection of the best books I’ve read in recent years, as logged in my most recent five-year diary. I looked back at the book log in my first five-year diary as well, but that book list reads more like a combination of things I barely remember and classic favorites I’m ready to revisit. Anyway if you’re looking for something to read this winter, here are some highlights that I would definitely recommend…
In a Sunburned Country, also called Down Under, by the inimitably funny Bill Bryson. It’s not often that a book makes you laugh out loud this much, especially a non-fiction book. Bryson describes the vastness of Australia and the strange people and creatures that fill it with his superb humor; reading this was definitely part of my inspiration to move to Australia.
Written by Vera Brittain in 1933, Testament of Youth is a vivid memoir of the First World War, written before the Second World War could overshadow it. Brittain signs up as a nurse and has some truly extraordinary life experiences, like being chased through the Mediterranean by a German U-boat on a hospital ship that was built as a sister ship to the Titanic. Her writing engrosses you in the time and leaves you feeling like you were there. The memoir is adventurous and page-turning, but also extremely poignant. The quote on the front of the book, “A haunting elegy for a lost generation,” really couldn’t say it better.
Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life, is an autobiography of the wonderful Tom Robbins and is actually possibly my favorite book by him. Robbins has led a fabulously adventurous life from a childhood in Appalachia to psychedelic San Francisco in the 60s, from international escapades to obtaining cosmic oneness by sighting an illuminated golf ball in a blizzard. Funny, top-shelf writing and full of those once-in-a-lifetime Tom Robbins sentences of which no one else is really capable.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, partly because of the very vivid depictions of London in the Blitz. The premise of the book is that the main character, every time she dies, starts life again. It sounds hokey but it comes off as unique and intricate, not hokey. Each life starts with new angles of the same scenes and builds back to where you were before as you wonder what will happen differently for her to survive this time. Some of the lives are radically different, some very similar. An elaborate and well-executed, unique novel.
The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford. I’ve already mentioned these books as I read a very compelling biography of the Mitford sisters recently, but really these are some of my all-time favorite novels. I read them twice in a row and laughed out loud both times. The characters grow up and find romance in the interwar/WWII period (they were published in 1945 and 1949, respectively) and the novels are both a time capsule of an era and perfectly current in sentiment. And did I mention they are hysterically funny…
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. A really fun read. On the tail of the Russian revolution Count Alexander Rostov is confined to house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel, from the windows of which he watches the next thirty years of social and political change go by. Restricted in setting, this novel is rich in characters, humor, and fine-dining. One of the most enjoyable reads I’ve encountered in a while.