Too Many Books, Too Little Time

An inveterate reader, I used to be very caught up in my reading. By that I mean I would have read a majority of the titles mentioned in all those end of the year "best book" lists that appear everywhere. If I read a favorable review of a book, I would make sure to read that book. Or, if a friend recommended a book to me I would read it within a reasonable time frame to be able to discuss it with her while she still remembered the book. Of course, I would always have read the latest books by my favorite authors. I had a habit of finishing a book even when I did not much care for the story or the writing style. But lately, it seems I never have enough time to read all the books I like and want to read, let alone read books that do not hold my interest. So, now if a book does not grab and hold my interest by the first fifty pages, I discard it and move on to another book. Which means that a book has to be pretty darn good for me to finish reading it. Be it the powerful characterization of a place or the people, a gripping story or a complex mystery, the books I read, and actually finish, have to have a lot recommending them. I would like to share with you some of the books that I read in 2014. All of the books that I mention in this blog are well written: interesting subjects, thoroughly researched nonfiction books, and finely nuanced portrayal of characters and places in the fiction books made these part of my "best books" list. In fact, I stayed up late at night finishing some of them since they were impossible to put down.

Children, Lovers, Panic

The Children Act by Ian McEwan
An avid fan of McEwan, I have read all the books written by him. Some I loved, (Atonement, Amsterdam and On Chesil Beach) and others (Solar and Sweet Tooth) not so much. McEwan's newest is well worth the read. Intricately plotted, and beautifully written, it is a story about a British High Court judge, Fiona Maye, who faces a crisis in her personal and professional life. Her well-ordered life is shaken when her husband of many years wants to have a last fling with a twenty something statistician. On the professional front, Fiona has to rule on a case about a seventeen year old leukemia patient, whose parents are Jehovah's Witnesses and refuse a life-saving blood transfusion. How will she rule? Read the book and find out for yourself!

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose
Set in Paris, just before World War II, this novel was inspired by the subject of a 1932 photograph by Hungarian-born French photographer, Brassaï. The said photograph features two women sitting at a table, one wearing a dress and the other, a tuxedo. The woman in male clothing, Violette Morris, was a cross-dressing, professional athlete and race car driver, who worked for the Gestapo and was eventually executed by the French Resistance. In Francine Prose’s book, Violette Morris becomes Lou Villars and the line between fact and fiction blurs in this genuine page turner written in different voices giving us five different perspectives.

Two impressive debut novels about new immigrants in search of the American Dream are both well written and a pleasure to read. Born in Odessa, but raised in Brooklyn, the author, Yelena Akhtiorskaya, writes movingly about Ukrainian émigrés trying to reinvent themselves in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach in her book, Panic in a Suitcase. The Nasmertov family move from Odessa, Ukraine to Brighton Beach and struggle to assimilate while resisting the pull of their native land. Spanning fifteen years, the Nasmertovs' story is the universal tale of people who leave their homeland in search of a better life in America.

Replacement, Little, Mind

A Replacement Life by Boris Fishman is a humorous and provocative story about a middling writer, Salva Gelman, who helps Russian Jews in Brooklyn forge documents and falsely claim Holocaust restitution funds for Holocaust survivors from the German government. It all starts with his grandfather, who urges Salva to use his writing skills and concoct a story about the grandfather being a Holocaust survivor so that he can get money from the German government. Word of Salva's imaginative skill gets around and soon Salva is creating scores of falsified documents for the old Jewish men in Brooklyn’s Soviet émigré community. Will Salva's fraud be discovered? Funny and sad, this remarkable debut novel has been hailed as “bold, ambitious and wickedly smart" by Patricia O'Conner in the Sunday Book Review of The New York Times.
O'Conner, Patricia. "Missed Connections." The New York Times 15 June 2014, Sunday Book Review sec. Print.

Little Failure is another story about Russian Jewish immigrants, a tale of exile and assimilation. But wait! This is a true story - a memoir. Written with ferocious wit and unsparing honesty, this is a wonderful book by Gary Shteyngart, who was born in Leningrad and then immigrated to America at the age of seven.

With great insight and clarity, Daniel J. Levitin explains how we can organize our personal and professional lives and be more efficient in our data-driven world in his book, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. This book is a must-read for everyone who has a Facebook account, communicates by email, uses a smartphone or is on Twitter. We are all doing more, and at a faster pace, in our personal and professional lives. We tend to multitask. Read this book and discover why multitasking does not always make us more efficient.

Spy, Capital

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre reads like a le Carré thriller except, of course, this is a thoroughly researched true story. We have all heard and/or read about Kim Philby, the top-level British Spy who was a double agent for the Russians. Macintyre, a British journalist, pens an amusing and entertaining account of this double agent that had me frequently wondering if I was reading a novel or a nonfiction book. And, oh yes, there is an afterword by John le Carré in this book.

Capital: The Eruption of Delhi by Rana Dasgupta is an eloquent and erudite book packed with historical details about one of the largest cities in the world. The author provides a detailed portrait of this historical city and goes on to analyze the cultural and social changes brought about by globalization. Beautifully written, with scores of interviews with local residents, this book helps us understand the downside of free-market economy when combined with self interest and corrupt politics.

Rina B.


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