By the Book: Last year’s book list gets a report card


2016. The years tick by like that stopwatch on “60 Minutes.” As I did last year, I’m reviewing the 2015 selections from the Southold Free Library Book Club. The opinions are mine and mine alone. 

‘The Invisible Thread’ (Laura Schroff): The true story of a sophisticated New York woman and an 11-year-old panhandler. He asks for loose change, she walks away. She reconsiders, walks back and buys him breakfast, beginning a 30-year friendship during which each life is forever changed. My grade: B

‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ (Maya Angelou): I rarely use the word “soaring,” but this memoir soars. From stifling racism and through unspeakable physical abuse, Angelou rises to literary heights with her majestic poetry/prose. A+

‘Flight Behavior’ (Barbara Kingsolver): I love Kingsolver and am awed by monarch butterflies. But I dislike crusading fiction that uses a thin, unlikely story to endlessly hammer home science/nature problems and how we must resolve them. C+

‘To End All Wars’ (Adam Hochschild) A mix-mastered examination of World War I generals (vain, clueless), Allied troops (misused, doomed) and politicians (uh-oh), generally inept. Some of it interesting, much of it stiff and stolid. B-

‘Women in Love’ (D.H. Lawrence): I’ve concluded that I’m not an intellectual. I got through maybe 25 percent of this famous author/famous book, ostensibly about love but actually about supercilious, self-centered people, and realized I’d fallen asleep seven times. I thought it stilted. F

‘Moon Tiger’ (Penelope Lively): I liked this quite a bit yet I’m having trouble pinning it down. An elderly woman, not well, sifting through her life’s marker points — most poignantly, her love affair with a British officer who was killed in battle. A strong, fearless woman. B

‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ (Erich Maria Remarque): This heralded antiwar classic takes us into the mud and misery of World War I’s trenches. The binding friendship of the young soldiers is central, the pointlessness of the war is apparent, the ending as sad as you knew it would be. B+

‘The Accidental Universe’ (Alan Lightman): The blurb said “ … explores the emotional and philosophical questions of the human condition” and I inwardly blanched. Surprise! It was my favorite book of the year. Wonderfully constructed and written in beautiful, simple language, it was constantly thought-provoking. I strongly recommend it. A+

Their Eyes Were Watching God’ (Zora Neale Thurston): This started slowly, but perked up when Jamie Crawford married and moved to a lively community in Florida. I was uncertain about her brash husband but he proved himself wonderfully as their joyful story unfolded. B+

‘Orphan Train’ (Christina Baker Kline): Events bring Molly, 16, and Vivian, 80, together. Molly is a footloose orphan; Vivian, years ago, had ridden an orphan train. Such trains moved hundreds of orphans from New York City to the Midwest in the early 1900s. The two women soon discover they’re more alike than they first thought. A+

‘Lawrence in Arabia’ (Scott Anderson): Hundreds of pages long. Hundreds. Endless references to men involved in World War I, men I’d never heard of. Lots of camels, dry as the desert it told of. I knew it would go on and on and dismounted on page 31. F

‘Rabbit is Rich’ (John Updike): I actually finished this, desperately searching for a redeeming feature. Overwritten, over-celebrated and over the top. I found it dreadful. Perhaps meant as a cynical slice of America, but I’ve been around for many moons and don’t know anyone resembling such graceless people. F

I thought it was just an OK year, certainly heavy on acknowledging the 75th anniversary of World War I.

TR050808_book_Case_R.jpgMr. Case, of Southold, is retired from Oxford University Press. He can be reached at [email protected].

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