Sunday, January 12, 2020

Books and a Movie

As I have done over the past couple years I take a look back at the books I read in 2019. Most of the books I read on my Kindle, but every now and then I sit down with a "real" book. Some books are very impractical for the Kindle, like art and photography books, cookbooks etc.

In 2019 I read 60 books including two audiobooks that we listened to while traveling to Arizona. I always write the titles down in a big notebook, noting the author and when I have finished it. I also scribble a little star next to the title if I really liked the book. When I look at that list now I see that I was far less generous with those stars in 2019, but I also introduced the two-stars for excellent reads. And I'm happy to see that there are three of them.

These three novels are "The Summer Guest" by Justin Cronin - a story about a family and their summer guest set in a remote area in Maine that pulls you in right from the beginning with well developed characters and written in a beautiful language -, "When we Believed in Mermaids" by Barbara O'Neal - the story of two sisters who had lived apart for many years, believing that one of them was dead; set in Santa Cruz and New Zealand I was drawn in by the unusual story line and the many questions that came up about my own life while reading this novel - and "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" by Gabrielle Zevin - a very slow, beautiful story about a book seller whose life gets shaken up and takes an interesting and wonderful turn when he finds a mysterious package at his store. Other books I liked are "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine" by Gail Honeyman, "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens, "To See and See Again" by Tara Bahrampour and "The Trouble with Goats and Sheep" by Joanna Cannon. There were also books I truly disliked, eventually only scanned or didn't finish at all, like "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood. I also read Margaret Craven's "I Heard the Owl Call my Name" again, my all-time favorite.

Over the summer break I took home a few books from the high school library because I thought it's a good idea if I knew what the students are reading in English class, and there were quite some books I hadn't read before.

My favorite among these books is "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie which is hilariously funny and sad at the same time. Great read for high school students!

But there were also other books in 2019 - like this wonderful cookbook. I had read about it in our local paper's "Home" section and was intrigued. It's full of recipes of immigrant women, who were trying to bring some of their home countries to their new home by cooking the familiar food. But it's not only recipes you can find in this gem of a cookbook. It's the stories of the immigrant women that makes this book so precious to me since I am an immigrant myself. I still have to try any of the recipes, but I'm determined that 2020 is the year for that.

Of course there were books about photography, some of them I pull out again and again.

David DuChemin is one of my favorite photographers, but as a humanitarian he is also a tremendously inspiring personality. I love to listen to his podcasts, he has a very open mind and what I love about him so much is that he has a lot of advice and inspiring ideas, but he never uses the words "you should". In contrast to that, "Shooting with Soul" was a bit disappointing - some nice ideas, but it certainly didn't inspire me in the way "The Soul of the Camera" did. I'm working my way through "Zen Camera" bit by bit and can't say very much about it at this time.

Just like last year I couldn't resist some "drool" books. "Chasing Light" had been on my mind for quite some time. I had first seen it in one of the visitor centers in Yellowstone National Park in 2017, but had opted for a different book back then. When I saw it again in the visitor center of Saguaro National Park last spring I saw that as a "sign" and bought it. I did not regret it.

There are two more "difficult" books I want to talk about here, books about local matters. About the October 2017 firestorm, to be precise, the one that wiped out several neighborhoods in my town. "Pointe Patrol" is the very personal story of one home owner who along with some neighbors and his dog patrolled their neighborhood after that fateful night on the one hand to prevent further fires since there were still some smoldering and on the other hand to deter people from looting. I was only able to read it in bits and pieces since it brings back so many painful memories. Brian Fies' "A Fire Story" is a graphic novel that he started right after the first night when he had lost his home and tells his own personal story. The first "chapters" of his book appeared within the first week of the fire if I recall correctly. It is raw and very emotional.

Before I leave I want to mention a very special movie I watched (again) this year. I had shown it to my German students at the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It describes the events before November 9th, 1989, particularly what happened in the West German embassy in Prague. "Zug in die Freiheit" (Train to Freedom) is a documentary with time witnesses, original footage and played scenes. I have seen it several times, but every time I feel the same emotions, the tight knot in my stomach, the utter relief at the end. Even though I know how these events ended, it keeps the moment of that autumn 30 years ago very real and alive for me. You can find a preview of the movie here: and it is possible to rent it on Vimeo. Luckily the violent scenes you see in the preview are only rare ones in the movie, but they are heartbreaking nevertheless.

What were you reading in 2019? Tell me in the comments.


Elephant's Child said...

Thank you for this - it included some books I thoroughly enjoyed, and others to tempt me.
I am an avid (greedy) reader. I read from almost all genres and I refuse to let suggested age groups limit me.
I don't think I can read the works you mentioned about fires yet. Later.
Quite a lot of what I read last year was memoirs, particularly those from cultures different/alien to my own.
Happy reading in 2020 - and all the years to come.

David M. Gascoigne, said...

I can never remember when books were not part of my life and there is no question that I am drawn to people who love books equally, who love learning in fact. I was commenting to someone else recently that the first time I went into Miriam's house, a couple of weeks after we had met, I heard classical music playing as she opened the door and there were books everywhere. I knew I had made the right choice! Now classical music plays in OUR house and there are more books everywhere!

My name is Erika. said...

I love reading book posts and you have some interesting books here. I am going to go check out that immigrant cookbook. It sounds fantastic and sounds like it has some great stories as well as recipes. And I also need o check out those photography books. Have a wonderful new reading year. Hugs-Erika

Iris Flavia said...

Hiroshima und The True Diary klingen sehr interessant.
Und das Kochbuch!!
Himmel. Jetzt muss ich aber mal... so viele Bücher! Zu denen, die der Kindle schon hat! ;-)

Danke für den tollen Tipp, der .pdf von David DuChemin ist bereits da!

Ja, das waren Momente, damals, 1989...

Jeanie said...

Thanks so much for this great post, Carola. I see lots of titles I'm not familiar with and that look very good indeed. I love the diversity -- the fiction but the cooking, the camera (of course) and so much more. I need to bookmark your book post! This is a good one.

Karen Lakis said...

You've read quite a lot in 2019. I see some familiar titles in your list - books I've read either recently or in the past - and many books that I am not familiar with. I also like to follow David Duchemin - I find him inspiring and encouraging in his approach towards photography. I also have the Shooting with Soul book, and started to do the exercises, but haven't gotten very far with it. Last year, I read a fairly eclectic variety of current fiction (Where the Crawdad Sings was one), mysteries, art and photography books... I look forward to looking up some of the books on your list.

Lowcarb team member said...

It is lovely to sit down with a good book isn't it.
I always enjoy visits to book shops and enjoy browsing the shelves and choosing a good book. We are so fortunate to have many genres to choose from.

I like the look of The Heritage Cook Book in your post.

My good wishes for 2020.

All the best Jan

Barb said...

I loved The Summer Guest, too - afterward I read his Mary and O'Neil which I also enjoyed. I've read several of your 2019 books. I always have a book waiting to be read when I get my chores finished! I've heard that Educated is very good - I have it as a sample on my Kindle but haven't gotten to it yet. Have you read The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion? I read it several years ago, but Bob just finished it and all his chuckling makes me want to reread it. The main character has Asperger's. Happy reading in 2020, Carola!

Mae Travels said...

Your book choices are very interesting to me, as you seem to like the same types of reading that I like, but to have read almost completely different specific books. I guess that suggests that the number of books to choose from is enormous. Happy reading in 2020!

best... mae at

alexa said...

Thank-you for so many interesting books and notes/reviews of them. I am especially intrigued by the photography ones and have made a note for my upcoming birthday! Hoping you continue to enjoy such a wide and varied bookshelf (real or virtual) this year too.