Not as much time as I would have liked for reading this year but still I managed 63 books in total. Four of my top ten reads were books suggested by Mary the owner of Schrodinger’s Books in Petone for our monthly book discussion group. Another four were books I bought from Schrodingers and two were borrowed from the library, so a big thanks to my local bookstore – NZ Bookshop of the year in 2021 and still going strong. Here’s the stats:
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
At first I thought this was going to be a wacky ghost story set in a Minneapolis bookstore but then it expands into a wonderful novel about indigenous rights, the murder of George Floyd and love in the time of Covid.
Mrs Jewell and the wreck of the General Grant by Cristina Sanders
See my previous post with a longer review of this book. The author has used the little we know about the shipwreck to weave a compelling and plausible story about the sole woman survivor.
Booth by Karen Joy Fowler
Junius Booth is a celebrated Shakespearean actor touring 19th century America. An erratic, alcoholic spendthrift with ten children and a long-suffering 2nd wife. One of his children turns out to be the infamous John Wilkes Booth but the story is told by his siblings.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
What a fun read this was! Elizabeth Zott wants to study chemistry but she comes up against the 1960s patriarchy at every turn. Instead she presents a television cooking show where her uncompromising feminist ideals become an instant hit.
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
Martha has an unspecified mental illness, a devoted husband, a supportive sister, a hopeless father and an awful mother. It’s funny, clever, and sad but – I hasten to add – not a depressing read.
Tenderness by Alison MacLeod
I’m not a fan of D.H. Lawrence but this book was about the writing of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Jackie Kennedy, and J. Edgar Hoover – trust me there’s a connection. Even though it was a bit baggy and rambling in places, I loved it.
Ancestry by Simon Mawer
A novel that is part historical fiction and part non-fiction. Working from a few artefacts, a distorted family story and the bare bones of census, birth, marriage and death records the author reconstructs the lives of four of his great-great grandparents. An inspiring example of how to put flesh on the bones of your ancestors.
The Bookseller at the End of the World by Ruth Shaw
No, not the apocalypse but possibly the world’s southernmost bookshop(s) in Manapouri, Fiordland, New Zealand. A memoir full of adventure, tragedy, love and books.
Trust by Hernan Diaz
Based around the 1929 stockmarket crash with a clever four-part structure. Part one is a novel about a Gatsby-like tycoon supposedly based on the fictional Andrew Bevel. He wants to set the record straight in part two, an outline of his autobiography. The third part is the memoir of Ida Partenza hired to ghostwrite Bevel’s life. The final part is the diary of Bevel’s wife.
Downfall by Paul Diamond
Wanganui was shocked in 1920 when the Mayor, Charles McKay, shot and wounded the poet, D’Arcy Cresswell who had threatened to out him as a homosexual. The author explores the possible motivations behind this long forgotten scandal. A well-researched and illustrated book.
I lived in Maungaraki for 3.5 years, and was regularly down in Petone, and visiting Shrodingers, while I lived there. I’m kicking myself that I never thought to ask if they had a book club.
I’ve been eyeing up Mrs Jewell for a while and thinking I should read it. I do love thought experiment books that are based on a handful of known facts. Have you read The Sealwoman’s Gift? It is another one that does this and was my top read of 2018.