2020 books read

I have a goal to increase the number of books I read each year. In 2019, I read 29 books. So far this year, I’ve read these 19 books:

Ratings legend:

★★★★★ Completely enthralling, couldn’t put it down. and/or More than just entertaining (e.g., educational, enlightening). Definitely recommend.
★★★★☆ Really great book in all respects with perhaps some minor flaws. Would highly recommend.
★★★☆☆ Average. An entertaining read but probably forgettable. Might or might not recommend.
★★☆☆☆ Finished, but did not like. Would not recommend.
★☆☆☆☆ Abandoned before finishing, usually because it was poorly written or just uninteresting to me.

The books I’ve read so far in 2020—summary
Clicking on the title of a book will take you to its detailed entry further down on the page, which contains a description of the book and some thoughts I had about it.

Title Author Pages Duration Rating Genres
The Husband’s Secret Liane Moriarty 498 03/31/20 – 04/04/20 (5 days) ★★★★★ fiction, mystery, psychology
The Obituary Society Jessica L. Randall 216 03/28/20 – 03/30/20 (3 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, mystery, romance
Be Frank With Me Julia Claiborne Johnson 309 03/24/20 – 03/27/20 (4 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, humor
Postcards from a Stranger Imogen Clark 348 03/21/20 – 03/23/20 (3 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, mystery
Everything My Mother Taught Me Alice Hoffman 24 03/21/20 – 03/21/20 (1 day) ★★★★☆ fiction, historical, short stories
The Last Thing She Ever Did Gregg Olsen 372 03/17/20 – 03/19/20 (3 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, mystery, thriller
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know Malcolm Gladwell 388 03/15/20 – 03/16/20 (2 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, psychology, sociology
Break in Case of Emergency Jessica Winter 269 03/08/20 – 03/12/20 (5 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, women, humor
Property: Stories Between Two Novellas Lionel Shriver 317 02/29/20 – 03/06/20 (7 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, short stories
The Road Home Kathleen Shoop 503 02/25/20 – 02/28/20 (4 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, historical
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Maya Angelou 317 02/15/20 – 02/17/20 (3 days) ★★★★★ nonfiction, memoir, classics
The Bookshop of Yesterdays Amy Meyerson 364 02/12/20 – 02/14/20 (3 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, books about books, mystery
The Elegance of the Hedgehog Muriel Barbery 325 02/08/20 – 02/11/20 (4 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, philosophy, French culture
The Underground Railroad Colson Whitehead 336 02/02/20 – 02/06/20 (5 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, historical
The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses) Terri-Lynne DeFino 336 01/21/20 – 02/01/20 (12 days) ★★★★☆ fiction, writing, books about books, contemporary
After the Funeral Agatha Christie Audio 01/17/20 – 01/18/20 (2 days) ★★★☆☆ fiction, mystery
My Year of Rest and Relaxation Ottessa Moshfegh 304 01/13/20 – 01/16/20 (4 days) ★★★★★ fiction, contemporary
The Once and Future King (Abandoned) T.H. White 647 01/12/20 – 01/13/20 (2 days) ★☆☆☆☆ fiction, fantasy, classics, mythology, literature, young adult
What Alice Forgot Liane Moriarty 476 01/03/20 – 01/09/20 (7 days) ★★★★★ fiction, contemporary, romance, Australian culture, mystery
How Will You Measure Your Life Clayton M. Christensen 240 12/31/19 – 01/02/20 (3 days) ★★★☆☆ business, leadership, management, personal development, philosophy, productivity, psychology, self-help

 

The books I’ve read so far in 2020—details

Book cover Book: The Husband’s Secret Author: Liane Moriarty
Pages: 498 Duration: 03/31/20 – 04/04/20 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, mystery, psychology
🔖10-word summary: A man’s posthumous-intended, found letter shatters the lives around him
🖌6-word review: Gripping, thought-provoking, and best epilogue ever
Description: Your husband’s letter to be opened after his death contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Then imagine stumbling across it while he’s still very much alive. Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter has earth-shattering repercussions that’s about to change everything, and not just for her.
Thoughts: I loved this book—hence the 5-star rating. This is my second Liane Moriarty book this year, and I gave What Alice Forgot a 5-star rating, too. I guess you could say I like this author. I did have a little trouble keeping the characters (or should I say families) straight for the first couple of chapters and when their interconnections first became apparent. But once into the groove, I was interested in each family’s own little sub-drama and even more so in how intertwined they eventually all became. The epilogue is probably the best ending to a book I’ve ever read. I found it analogous to the final scene (which I loved) of the final episode of the final season of Six Feet Under if you ever watched that HBO series. But I loved this book’s epilogue 100 times more than I loved that final scene.




Book cover Book: The Obituary Society Author: Jessica L. Randall
Pages: 216 Duration: 03/28/20 – 03/30/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, mystery, romance
🔖10-word summary: A granddaughter’s inherited house houses incriminating and dangerous family secrets
🖌6-word review: Finished, one notch above didn’t like
Description: Lila Moore inherits her grandfather’s house in a small Midwestern town. She’s charmed by the people of Auburn, from the blue-eyed lawyer with the southern drawl to the little old lady who unceasingly tries to set Lila up with her grandson. But when strange things begin to happen, Lila realizes some of her new friends are guarding a secret like it’s a precious family heirloom. It’s a dangerous secret, and it has come back to haunt them.
Thoughts: I found this book just good enough to finish, but neither loving it nor likely to recommend it. I was having a hard time putting my finger on exactly why it didn’t grab me, but when I was creating this entry for it and saw that one of the genres that Goodreads classified this book as was “romance,” a light bulb went off. I’m not a big fan of romance novels. Also, one of the main draws of this book was the word “obituary” in the title, but there was very little information about the The Obituary Society’s actual meetings, which is what I wanted to know about. I didn’t find out that this book was the first in a 3-book series until I was well into it, and presumably they talk more about the meetings in the subsequent books, but I wasn’t intrigued enough in this one to read on.




Book cover Book: Be Frank With Me Author: Julia Claiborne Johnson
Pages: 309 Duration: 03/24/20 – 03/27/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, humor
🔖10-word summary: A brilliantly precocious boy’s life with his famous-author, dysfunctional mother
🖌6-word review: At times humorous, at times heartbreaking
Description: When Alice Whitley arrives at the Banning mansion, she’s put to work right away—as a full-time companion to Frank, the 9-year-old son of Mimi, an eccentric author mother. He’s a boy with the wit of Noël Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth graders. As she gets to know Frank, Alice becomes consumed with finding out who his father is, how his gorgeous “piano teacher and itinerant male role model” Xander fits into the Banning family equation, and whether Mimi will ever finish that book.
Thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this tale—but not without frequently being confounded, infuriated, and exasperated by Frank’s mother, for which I’ll credit good character development by Julia Claiborne Johnson. This is the kind of book that I could easily see turned into a movie, although a child actor doesn’t come to mind who could pull off Frank. He was quite the character. I highly recommend this book.




Book cover Book: Postcards from a Stranger Author: Imogen Clark
Pages: 348 Duration: 03/21/20 – 03/23/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, mystery
🔖10-word summary: Old postcards in attic expose a lifetime of family lies
🖌6-word review: Entertaining investigative work by female protagonist
Description: When Cara stumbles across a stash of old postcards in the attic, their contents make her question everything she thought she knew. The story she pieces together is confusing and unsettling, and appears to have been patched over with lies. But who can tell her the truth? With her father sinking into Alzheimer’s and her brother reluctant to help, it seems Cara will never find the answers to her questions. One thing is clear, though: someone knows more than they’re letting on. The picture that begins to emerge is not at all the one she’d expected—because as she soon discovers, lies have a habit of multiplying.
Thoughts: This was a well-told story—a mystery that unfolded at a nice clip, never keeping me waiting very long for the next revelation to satisfy me and keep me wanting to know what would happen next.




Book cover Book: Everything My Mother Taught Me Author: Alive Hoffman
Pages: 24 Duration: 03/21/20 – 03/21/20 (1 day)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, historical, short stories
🔖10-word summary: Mute girl survives her father’s death and mother’s mean selfishness
🖌6-word review: An impressively succinct, well-written short story
Description: For fatefully observant Adeline, growing up carries an ominous warning from her adulterous mother: don’t say a word. Adeline vows to never speak again. But that’s not her only secret. After her mother takes a housekeeping job at a lighthouse off the tip of Cape Ann, a local woman vanishes. The key to the mystery lies with Adeline, the silent witness.
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this short (24-page) story. A lot of themes were covered in a very short time—loyalty, betrayal, adultery, revenge, and love. The 4- as opposed to 5-star rating was due to “some minor flaws,” namely with questions about some plot points that I didn’t think about, but Bob pointed out when I described the story to him. I still would recommend the book, though, because they obviously didn’t bother me, since I didn’t even notice them.




Book cover Book: The Last Thing She Ever Did Author: Gregg Olsen
Pages: 372 Duration: 03/17/20 – 03/19/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, mystery, thriller
🔖10-word summary: A trio of neighbors involved in a little boy’s disappearance
🖌6-word review: A compelling, well-written, plot-driven, page-turning mystery
Description: The community along Oregon’s Deschutes River is one of successful careers and perfect families. For years, up-and-comers Liz and Owen have admired their good friends and neighbors, Carole and David. They appear to have it all–security, happiness, and a beautiful young son, Charlie. Then Charlie vanishes without a trace, and all that seemed safe is shattered by a tragedy that is incomprehensible—except to Liz. There’s another good neighbor who has his own secrets, his own pain, and his own reasons for watching Liz’s every move.
Thoughts: I flew through this book, because it was well-written and plot-driven, two very important factors in how much I like a book. I also found myself yelling at the characters, “How stupid can you be?” And, “No, no, no, don’t do that!” A couple of the things a couple of the characters did at times, seemed a little far-fetched, which is the only reason I gave it 4 stars instead of 5. I do highly recommend it, though, if you like a quick-moving, plot-driven mystery.




Book cover Book: Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Pages: 388 Duration: 03/15/20 – 03/16/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: nonfiction, psychology, sociology
🔖10-word summary: Complex human psychology that explains societal atrocities that confound us
🖌6-word review: Credible. Famous examples. Accessible psychological concepts.
Description: How did Fidel Castro fool the CIA for a generation? Why did Neville Chamberlain think he could trust Adolf Hitler? Why are campus sexual assaults on the rise? Do television sitcoms teach us something about the way we relate to each other that isn’t true? Something is very wrong, Gladwell argues, with the tools and strategies we use to make sense of people we don’t know. And because we don’t know how to talk to strangers, we are inviting conflict and misunderstanding in ways that have a profound effect on our lives and our world.
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book, and it answered a lot of questions I had about the Brock Turner, Amanda Knox, Jerry Sandusky, Larry Nasser, and Michael Brown incidents, which he uses as examples to explain how complex human psychology is at work in these situations. The most enlightening thing to me, perhaps, was the well-explained section on (alcohol) blackouts. Fascinating. And the thing that contributed the most to my 5-star rating is the part of the criteria that says, “More than just entertaining (e.g., educational, enlightening).” Note: I also loved Outliers and The Tipping Point, the only 2 of his other books that I’ve read, so I may just be a fan of his writing and/or sociology and psychology books.




Book cover Book: Break in Case of Emergency Author: Jessica Winter
Pages: 269 Duration: 03/08/20 – 03/12/20 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, women, humor
🔖10-word summary: Friendship, fertility, and fighting for sanity in a toxic workplace
🖌6-word review: Karina was a strongly written character
Description: Jen has reached her early thirties and has all but abandoned a once-promising painting career when, spurred by the 2008 economic crisis, she takes a poorly defined job at a feminist nonprofit. The foundation’s ostensible aim is to empower women, but staffers spend all their time devising acronyms for imaginary programs, ruthlessly undermining one another, and stroking the ego of their boss, the larger-than-life celebrity philanthropist Leora Infinitas. Jen’s complicity in this passive-aggressive hellscape only intensifies her feelings of inferiority compared to her two best friends—one a wealthy attorney with a picture-perfect family, the other a passionately committed artist—and so does Jen’s apparent inability to have a baby, a source of existential panic that begins to affect her marriage and her already precarious status at the office. As Break in Case of Emergency unfolds, a fateful art exhibition, a surreal boondoggle adventure in Belize, and a devastating personal loss conspire to force Jen to reckon with some hard truths about herself and the people she loves most.
Thoughts: It wasn’t until about a third of the way into this book that I was sure I was going to stick with it. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t compelling to me either. I’m aware that I’m less tolerant of humorous books these days, with the most recent example being Rue McClanahan’s book that I abandoned in my 2019 reading. Humor in writing is tenuous for me and requires a certain level of rapport with the reader to be effective. In the case of Rue’s book, I got the distinct impression that she thought she was funnier than I did, as the reader, and that didn’t work for me. That’s what I was working through during the first third of this book. Perhaps because this humor was satire, and I like good satire, I was able to hang. I mentioned “Karina” in my 6-word review, and her character really was the saving grace of this book for me. Don’t get me wrong, as a “person,” she was infuriating, but I like when an author can get me riled up about a fictional character. For all of my ambivalence about it, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend this book, but I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it.




Book cover Book: Property: Stories Between Two Novellas Author: Lionel Shriver
Pages: 317 Duration: 02/29/20 – 03/06/20 (7 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, short stories
🔖10-word summary: Ten short stories sandwiched between two novellas each about property
🖌6-word review: Different meanings of property. Smart writing.
Description: Because this book consists of 12 stories, I’m just going to provide a 10-word summary and 6-word review of each of them instead of detailing what each is about:
Novella 1: The Standing Chandelier
Summary: An enormous personal art piece wedding gift becomes problematic property
Review: A tightly wound tale of love
Shorty story 1: The Self-Seeding Sycamore
Summary: A widow’s property-line tree imbues grief, anger, rebirth, and love
Review: Neighbors come to a surprising resolution
Short story 2: Domestic Terrorism
Summary: Live-in son won’t vacate his family’s property no matter what
Review: A tightly wound tale of love
Shorty story 3: The Royal Male
Summary: A postman plays God with other people’s property—their mail
Review: A deceitful meeting “frontfires”—ending smashingly
Shorty story 4: Exchange Rates
Summary: London property ownership dreams constrained by money, family, and time
Review: Dad comes. Dad goes. Goal achieved.
Short story 5: Kilifi Creek
Summary: Female protagonist runs out of luck on Manhattan property rooftop
Review: Close calls finally close in completely
Shorty story 6: Repossession
Summary: Helen buys possessed repossessed property—it’s all downhill from there
Review: Circuitous road to the repo man
Shorty story 7: The ChapStick
Summary: Unlikely personal property—a ChapStick tube—has not inconsequential consequences
Review: A deceitful meeting “frontfires”—ending smashingly
Shorty story 8: Negative Equity
Summary: A couple’s “underwater” property complicates their impending separate living arrangements
Review: A restaurateur and a hygienist resuscitate
Short story 9: Vermin
Summary: The “Little Dump” Brooklyn property becomes overrun with raucous raccoons
Review: An imperfect purchase and relationship deteriorates
Shorty story 10: Paradise to Perdition
Summary: Tainted property—embezzled money—can’t buy happiness or even enjoyment
Review: A modern-day Crime and Punishment story
Novella 2: The Subletter
Summary: Emer sublets Sara’s flat with an overlapping period of calamity
Review: Too politically heavy, but otherwise compelling
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. I haven’t read a novella or a short story in a while, so it was a nice change of pace. I liked how the kind of “property” at the center of each story varied, nicely described in this New York Times review: “From one story to the next, the acquisition of things—land, money, empty nests—rarely leads to happiness and often stimulates character traits that might better be kept in check.” My favorite story was The Royal Male (one of the 10 short stories) and my least favorite story (although I loved the beginning and the end of it) was The Subletter (one of the novellas and the last story in the book, unfortunately).


 

Book cover Book: The Road Home Author: Kathleen Shoop
Pages: 503 Duration: 02/25/20 – 02/28/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, historical
🔖10-word summary: The long road back from a dramatic, circumstantial family separation
🖌6-word review: 3-POV, well-told saga penned in flashbacks
Description:
1905—Tearful mourners at Katherine’s mother’s funeral force her to revisit a time in her life that both harmed and saved her in the most unexpected ways. Her also-grieving brother Tommy is thrust backward, compelled to rediscover the events in his life that shaped the man he’s become. They come to understand that forgiveness is the only way back to hope, the only way to find all that was good in the misfortune that transformed their lives forever.
1891—Living separately for 3 years, 14-year-old twins, Katherine and Tommy Arthur, have done their best to make each boarding house feel like home. But unrest grows as they are driven to questionable actions just to survive. Meanwhile their desperate mother is confronted with breaking yet another promise to her children. Hope rises on a cold, rainy night and changes everything. If their mother Jeanie could just get word to Katherine and Tommy, she knows she can set their lives right again. Agitators, angels, and dangerous “saviors” illuminate the Arthurs’ unmatched determination and smarts.
Thoughts: I found this a quick and easy read, told in flashbacks between two years—1905 and 1891—and across 3 points-of-view: Jeanie (mother, first-person narrator), Katherine (daughter/sister, third-person narrator), and Tommy (son/brother, third-person narrator). That’s also in the order of how much I liked each person’s story. In terms of present and flashback, I liked when the story returned to the present—1905—the most. I found this a well-told story about a very dramatic family break-up. Oddly enough, the beginning of it reminded me of the very first episode of Schitt’s Creek: When the wealthy family—video store magnate Johnny, his wife and former soap opera actress Moira, and their adult children David and Alexis lose their fortune after being defrauded by their business manager, the IRS enters their home to seize their assets. This story, at times, also reminded me of that song from Hee Haw: “Gloom despair, and agony on me. Deep, dark depression, excessive misery. If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”

This is a book I downloaded for free from BookBub, and like several of the other books they’ve offered free, it turned out to be one book of a series. (Book 2 of 7, as it turns out.) I would never purposely start reading a book series without starting with the first book and without reading them in order, but this is now the third time I’ve done it, and it’s not bad. I do have interest in reading the first and third books in the series, but if history repeats itself, I won’t—especially if I can’t get the other books from the library. With all that said, as my 4-star review intimates, I’d highly recommend this book.




 

Book cover Book: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Author: Maya Angelou
Pages: 317 Duration: 02/15/20 – 02/17/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: nonfiction, memoir, classics
🔖10-word summary: Maya Angelou from three to seventeen—resisting racism in America.
🖌6-word review: On identity, racism, rape, and literacy.
Description: Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.
Thoughts: I’m happy to have finally read this book. In no surprise whatsoever, the writing was exquisite and the story compelling. In devising my 2020 reading list, I didn’t purposefully schedule two books with a racism theme during Black History Month, but I’m glad it worked out that way. I had no idea Maya was the first African American streetcar conductor in San Francisco, and I enjoyed her telling of how she made that happen. My favorite scene in this book was when Maya’s grandmother was out on the front porch of her house, standing still, singing continuously and without wavering as little white kids abased her, calling her names and making fun of her. Powerful.



 

Book cover Book: The Bookshop of Yesterdays Author: Amy Meryerson
Pages: 364 Duration: 02/12/20 – 02/14/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, books about books, mystery
🔖10-word summary: Girl inherits bookshop that holds clues to her family’s past.
🖌6-word review: Family secrets. Mostly believable. Implausible moments.
Description: Miranda Brooks grew up in the stacks of her eccentric Uncle Billy’s bookstore, solving the inventive scavenger hunts he created just for her. But on Miranda’s twelfth birthday, Billy has a mysterious falling-out with her mother and suddenly disappears from Miranda’s life. She doesn’t hear from him again until sixteen years later when she receives unexpected news: Billy has died and left her Prospero Books, which is teetering on bankruptcy—and one final scavenger hunt.
Thoughts: This was a “refreshingly light read” after The Elegance of the Hedgehog. The scavenger hunt thing got old by the end, but I enjoyed it overall, just more so at the beginning. The “family secrets” part of this book reminded me of my favorite book of a 2019, The Secrets Mothers Keep. The female protagonist annoyed me at times—her character being portrayed, not the writing about her, which is a compliment to the author. I’m pretty sure there was one editing error (which I have little patience for) where one character was referred to with the wrong name.



 

Book cover Book: The Elegance of the Hedgehog Author: Muriel Barbery
Pages: 325 Duration: 02/08/20 – 02/11/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, philosophy, French culture
🔖10-word summary: A 54-year-old and a 12-year-old contemplate the meaning of life.
🖌6-word review: Big words. Deep thoughts. Great ending.
Description: Paloma (a 12-year old resident) and Renée (the 54-year old concierge) both hide their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he can gain Paloma’s trust and see through Renée’s timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her. This is a moving, funny, triumphant novel that exalts the quiet victories of the inconspicuous among us.
Thoughts: Be prepared to look up a lot of words reading this book. It has to be written at a grade 16 (or higher) level. This is a typical example of the high level of writing: instead of just writing, “How crazy that yesterday no one cared about my place, but today everyone does,” she writes, “How extraordinary that this loge, which yesterday was of no interest to anyone, seems today to be the focus of global attention.” The large amount of philosophical discussion in the book reminded me of my philosophy (& logic) courses in college, which I really enjoyed. It was nice to revisit that kind of writing, but it’s definitely not “easy” reading for me—and one book like it this year will be plenty.

I didn’t like that the author used the r-word at least 4 times. I did like that Renée’s deceased husband’s name was Lucien, which was my paternal grandfather’s name. I enjoyed the parallel stories of the 54-year-old concierge and the 12-year-old child who were the two (alternating, for the most part) narrators. I particularly liked when it happened that you heard one side of a scene from one of them and the very next chapter revealed the same scene from the other one’s perspective. I also liked that the 12-year-old girl was planning to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. (Not a spoiler; it’s revealed early on in the book.) And finally, I liked the ending, and if you know me at all—with regards to the endings of books or movies—then you can guess what happens.




 

Book cover Book: The Underground Railroad Author: Colson Whitehead
Pages: 417 Duration: 02/02/20 – 02/06/20 (5 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, historical
🔖10-word summary: Cora flees Georgia plantation for a life on the run.
🖌6-word review: Unspeakable acts of racist American history.
Description: Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned.
Thoughts: This was one of our Mostly Social Book Club books. I really struggled rating this book in my (admittedly, self-imposed) rating system, and if I’d’ve allowed myself half-stars, I easily would have given this one 3½ stars. In the end, I couldn’t go to my 4-star rating, because I couldn’t “highly” recommend this book, but in the 3-star rating, which says I “might or might not recommend” this book, I would recommend it in most cases—depending on how much I knew about the person asking about it.

I didn’t find this book too tedious to read, as a couple of my friends seem to have—according to some Facebook comments about it. I did find it difficult to read because of the graphic descriptions (as they should be) of the horrific things we did to slaves in this country. I’d never heard of the “underground railroad” before reading this book. I had a white history teacher who was a memorize-these-events-and-dates kind of teacher, so I never found it interesting, and I’d be very surprised if he ever even mentioned the underground railroad. If I hadn’t read the Wikipedia entry about it, this book would have led me to believe the myth that it was an actual, physical railroad. )Yes, I know the book is a novel, so I shouldn’t have assumed that, but I did.) And finally, I’m glad this was a book club book, because I’m sure I wouldn’t have read it otherwise, and I’m very glad I did.



 

Book cover Book: The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses) Author: Terri-Lynne DeFino
Pages: 336 Duration: 01/21/20 – 02/01/20 (12 days)
Rating: ★★★★☆ Genres: fiction, writing, books about books, contemporary
🔖10-word summary: Authors living assisted in their twilight years. Book-within-a-book literary device.
🖌6-word review: The last small-font book I’ll read.
Description: A whimsical, moving novel about a retirement home for literary legends who spar, conjure up new stories, and almost magically change the lives of the people around them. As the edges between story and reality blur, a world within a world is created. It’s a place where the old are made young, the damaged are made whole, and anything is possible.
Thoughts: It took me a little while to get into the book within this book, which was being written collaboratively by the residents of the retirement home. I didn’t really like the characters in the book within the book in the beginning of their story, but they grew on me. I had a little trouble keeping track of who was related to whom in that story, too. I was definitely more interested in the characters outside of the inner book, or inside of the outer book. (Ugh!) With that said, at the end, I was interested to see what choice the main female character in the “inner book” was going to make. I would have enjoyed this book more, and read it in half the time I’m sure, if the font wasn’t so small. In fact, I have now vowed not to read any more books with font this small. Large-print books and e-books on Kindle are definitely the way to go for me here on out.



 

Book cover Book: After the Funeral Author: Agatha Christie
Pages: Audio Duration: 01/17/20 – 01/18/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: fiction, mystery
🔖10-word summary: Classic Agatha Christie who-done-it with murderer confessing at the end.
🖌6-word review: Amusing and mysterious. British and entertaining.
Description: Hercule Poirot is called on to investigate the murder of a brother and sister in this classic from the Queen of Mystery. When Cora Lansquenet is savagely murdered, the odd remark she made the day before at her brother’s funeral becomes chillingly important: “It’s been hushed up very nicely, hasn’t it. But he was murdered, wasn’t he?” Desperate to learn more about both deaths, the family solicitor turns to detective extraordinaire Hercule Poirot to unravel the mystery.
Thoughts: This is classic Agatha Christie, so if you like her stuff, you’ll like this. Her Hercule Poirot books are among my favorites, so I enjoyed this book.



 

Book cover Book: My Year of Rest and Relaxation Author: Ottessa Moshfegh
Pages: 304 Duration: 01/13/20 – 01/16/20 (4 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, contemporary
🔖10-word summary: Woman drugs herself out for a year to supposedly heal.
🖌6-word review: Train wreck you can’t not watch.
Description: Our narrator should be happy, shouldn’t she? She’s young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, works an easy job at a hip art gallery, lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance. But there is a dark and vacuous hole in her heart, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her best friend, Reva. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong? Through the story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs designed to heal our heroine from her alienation from this world, Moshfegh shows us how reasonable, even necessary, alienation can be.
Thoughts: This story is an absolute train wreck in progress, and like the train wreck cliché, it was impossible to “look away.” Like this author’s book, Eileen, which I read last year, the storytelling was so compelling that I read large parts of it at a time and returned to it quickly for another dose. Also like Eileen, the story bordered on the bizarre. I wondered a lot about the sheer number—and combination—of drugs the unnamed narrator was taking (assuming they were all real, because most of them were, which made me assume the made up ones were just ones I’d never heard of). At least once I thought about the myriad of medication ingested by the elderly and the—at least 15—prescriptions my mother was on toward the end of her life. There were so many that she became unable to keep track of them herself, and we ended up paying the assisted living place $500 a month to manage them (and at times, and more often that we wanted to at that price, mismanage). In the end, after her year of “rest and relaxation,” the narrator claims that it accomplished her goal, but as the reader I thought, “That remains to be seen.”



 

Book cover Book: The Once and Future King (Abandoned) Author: T.H. White
Pages: 647 Duration: 01/12/20 – 01/13/20 (2 days)
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ Genres: fiction, fantasy, classics, mythology, literature, young adult
🔖10-word summary: Arthurian characters with more complex and contradictory traits and motives.
🖌6-word review: Abandoned. Excessive description stalled plot interminably.
Description: T.H White′s masterful retelling of the Arthurian legend is an abiding classic. Here all five volumes that make up the story are published in one volume, as White himself always wished. Exquisite comedy offsets the tragedy of Arthur′s personal doom as White brings to life the major British epic of all time with brilliance, grandeur, warmth and charm.
Thoughts: I was inspired to read this book after seeing the play, Camelot; hearing about how much other people enjoyed reading it at various times in their lives; and how it’s considered by many as a seminal work. For me, it had too much description, with not enough plot movement. I mean 3 super long paragraphs describing the outside of a castle in excruciating detail and then the next paragraph starting, “So much for the outer defences. Once you were inside the curtain wall, you found yourself in a kind of wide alley-way, probably full of frightened sheep, with another complete castle in front of you,” followed by paragraph after paragraph describing that. Nope. That, together with my dislike of fantasy! Merlyn’s says “Wash up!” and “At this all the china and cutlery scrambled down off the table, the cloth emptied the crumbs out of the window, and the napkins folded themselves up.” Add to that, super small font with over 600 more pages to go. Just wasn’t willing to do it. I abandoned this book on page 35.



 

Book cover Book: What Alice Forgot Author: Liane Moriarty
Pages: 476 Duration: 01/03/20 – 01/09/20 (7 days)
Rating: ★★★★★ Genres: fiction, romance, Australian culture, mystery
🔖10-word summary: Woman tries to adjust to 10 lost years of memories.
🖌6-word review: Definite page turner. Realistic and thought-provoking.
Description: Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes. Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over.
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. I thought it did a good job of capturing things you might not consider if you lost a 10-year period of your memory. I also liked how it made me think about how you might react to realizing you didn’t really like the person you’d become during the gap, and how you might resolve that. I read this author’s book Nine Perfect Strangers last year, which I only liked okay. I liked this one much, much better, and I’d highly recommend it.



 

Book cover Book: How Will You Measure Your Life? Author: Clayton M. Christensen
Pages: 240 Duration: 12/31/20 – 01/02/20 (3 days)
Rating: ★★★☆☆ Genres: business, leadership, management, psychology, self-help
🔖10-word summary: Criteria to measure your life and propel yourself to happiness.
🖌6-word review: Unengaged by kids and religion chapters.
Description: In this groundbreaking book, Christensen puts forth a series of questions: How can I be sure that I’ll find satisfaction in my career? How can I be sure that my personal relationships become enduring sources of happiness? How can I avoid compromising my integrity—and stay out of jail? Using lessons from some of the world’s greatest businesses, he provides incredible insights into these challenging questions. How Will You Measure Your Life? is full of inspiration and wisdom, and will help students, midcareer professionals, and parents alike forge their own paths to fulfillment.
Thoughts: Overall, this book didn’t resonate with me. I did get one important thing out of it, and that’s the notion of asking yourself what “job” something is doing for you. The example that stands out was his talking about what (different) “job” getting a milkshake in a fast-food restaurant is doing for both adult commuters in the morning and for kids after dinner in the evening. Several chapters were devoted to applying the theories in the book to raising children, which didn’t interest me much, and the ending was a lot about God, which didn’t interest me at all. I’d recommend this book for younger people—those still early in their careers or just starting a family.


2019 books read

I have a goal to increase the number of books I read each year. In 2018, I read 26 books. This year, I read 29.

 

Here are some fun facts about the books I read in 2019:

Cost and sources
I spent $0.00 in 2019 for the 29 books I read this year. The source of my books included:

  • 21 borrowed from the Wake County Public Library (including regular-print, large-print, e-book, and audiobook editions)
  • 6 as free downloads from amazon.com via BookBub
  • 2 from Books at Amazon—1 as a free download and 1 that I paid $2.17 for back in 2017

Favorites/least favorites

Abandoned books
In addition to the 29 books I read this year, I abandoned 4:

Book club books
6 of the 29 books I read as part of The Mostly Social Book Club that I’m in:

Author diversity

  • 12 male writers
  • 15 female writers
  • 1 non-binary writer

New authors
26 of the authors I read this year, I was reading for the first time:

Albert Camus, Clive Barker, David Levithan, Delia Owens, Elin Hilderbrand, Emma Jameson, Franny Moyle, Garrard Conley, Gemma Jackson, Greer Hendricks, Haruki Murakami, Jacob Tobia, Jacquie Underdown, Jason Mott, Jeff Shelby, Judy Blume, Kevin Allison, Liane Moriarty, Marlene Wagman-Geller, Michelle Obama, Shayne Parkinson, Silk White, Stephen Chbosky, Tara Conklin, Will Schwalbe, Simon Winchester

Repeat authors
I’d read at least one other book by 2 of the authors of the books I read this year:

Most ambitious month
In September, I read 5 books:

Genres

  • Nonfiction: 8
  • Fiction: 21
  • Others: autobiography, biography, books about books, chick lit, classics, contemporary, French culture, Japanese culture, fantasy, feminism, history, horror, humanities, Irish culture, language, LGBT, literature, literary fiction, magical realism, memoir, mystery, paranormal, philosophy, queer, romance, science fiction, short stories, suspense, thriller, womens fiction, writing, young adult

Shortest / longest

Number of books read by pages

  • 7% (2 books) with fewer than 200 pages
  • 21% (6 books) with between 200-299 pages
  • 41% (12 books) with between 300-399 pages
  • 28% (8 books) with between 400-499 pages
  • 3% (1 book) with more than 500 pages


The 29 books I read in 2019—summary

Clicking on the title of a book will take you to its detailed entry below, which contains a description of the book and some thoughts I had about it.

Title Author Pages Duration Rating Genres
Two Henrys Kevin Allison 35 01/04/19 – 01/06/19 (3 days) 4 stars nonfiction, short stories, LGBT, queer
1Q84 Haruki Murakami 1318 01/07/19 – 01/23/19 (17 days) 5 stars fiction, fantasy, science fiction, magical realism, Japanese culture
A Spool of Blue Thread Anne Tyler 358 01/28/19 – 02/10/19 (14 days) 3 stars fiction, contemporary, literary fiction
Nine Perfect Strangers Liane Moriarty 453 02/09/19 – 02/14/19 (6 days) 3 stars fiction, contemporary, womens fiction
Becoming Michelle Obama 428 02/24/19 – 04/28/19 (63 days) 5 stars nonfiction, autobiography, memoir
The Last Romantics Tara Conklin 368 02/15/19 – 05/21/19 (96 days) 5 stars fiction, contemporary
Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story Jacob Tobia 336 06/09/19 – 06/19/19 (11 days) 5 stars nonfiction, autobiography, memoir, LGBT, queer
The Murder Pit Jeff Shelby 326 05/19/19 – 06/23/19 (36 days) 3 stars fiction, mystery
Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde Franny Moyle 336 06/08/17 – 06/26/19 (2 years, 19 days) 4 stars nonfiction, biography, history
The Professor & the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity & the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary Simon Winchester 288 06/27/19 – 07/03/19 (7 days) 5 stars nonfiction, history, biography, humanities, language, writing, books about books
The Wife Between Us Greer Hendricks 416 07/07/19 – 07/14/19 (8 days) 4 stars fiction, thriller, mystery, suspense
The Stranger Albert Camus 123 07/16/19 – 07/18/19 (3 days) 5 stars fiction, classics, philosophy, French culture, literature
The Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky 222 07/19/19 – 07/23/19 (5 days) 5 stars fiction, young adult, contemporary
One Plus One Jojo Moyes 369 07/25/19 – 08/02/19 (9 days) 4 stars fiction, contemporary, romance, womens fiction, adult
Winter in Paradise Elin Hilderbrand 320 08/10/19 – 08/11/19 (2 days) 5 stars fiction, womens fiction, mystery
Summer Sisters Judy Blume 416 08/24/19 – 08/25/19 (2 days) 4 stars fiction, womens fiction, young adult, romance
The Secrets Mothers Keep Jacquie Underdown 266 09/02/19 – 09/04/19 (3 days) 5 stars fiction, womens fiction
Never Be The Same Silk White 210 09/08/19 – 09/08/19 (1 days) 4 stars fiction, mystery, African American
Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family Garrard Conley 340 09/10/19 – 09/19/19 (10 days) 5 stars nonfiction, biography, autobiography, memoir, LGBT, queer
The Wonder of All Things Jason Mott 400 09/20/19 – 09/21/19 (2 days) 5 stars fiction, fantasy, paranormal, contemporary
Two Boys Kissing David Levithan 200 09/23/19 – 09/23/19 (1 days) 5 stars fiction, young adult, romance, contemporary, LGBT, queer
Abarat Clive Barker 393 09/24/19 – 10/09/19 (16 days) 3 stars fiction, young adult, fantasy, horror
Marriage Can Be Murder Emma Jameson 282 10/10/19 – 10/15/19 (6 days) 3 stars fiction, historical fiction, mystery
Behind Every Great Man: Women in the Shadows of History’s Alpha Males Marlene Wagman-Geller 369 10/17/19 – 10/23/19 (7 days) 4 stars nonfiction, women, history, feminism, short stories
Sentence of Marriage Shayne Parkinson 415 10/10/19 – 10/29/19 (20 days) 5 stars fiction, historical fiction, romance
What Happens in Paradise Elin Hilderbrand 432 10/30/19 – 11/03/19 (5 days) 5 stars fiction, womens fiction
The End of Your Life Book Club Will Schwalbe 336 11/04/19 – 11/09/19 (6 days) 5 stars nonfiction, biography, autobiography, memoir, writing, books about books
Where the Crawdads Sing Delia Owens 384 12/19/19 – 12/20/19 (2 days) 5 stars fiction, historical fiction, mystery
Through Streets Narrow and Broad Gemma Jackson 464 12/27/19 – 12/30/19 (4 days) 5 stars fiction, historical fiction, Irish culture


The 29 books I read in 2019—details

Book cover Book: Two Henrys Author: Kevin Allison
Pages: 35 Duration: 01/04/19 – 01/06/19 (3 days)
Rating: 4 stars Genres: nonfiction, short stories, LGBT, queer
Description:
Coming out can be awkward enough—let alone coming out in the 1970s, in Ohio, as a Catholic schoolboy. In this fearless and funny true story, the host and founder of the hit podcast RISK! shares all. From first grade through junior high, twelve-year-old Kevin and his best friend, Ben, were inseparable. But when Kevin divulged his biggest secret, Ben froze him out. The pint-size cold war lasted two years—until they went head-to-head for student council president. Team Ben’s smear campaign began. The school took sides. And Kevin decided to run with it.
Thoughts:
Just a short, fun, little read. If you’re queer and have been in the closet or come out, you’re sure to relate to this short narrative. If you’re straight, you might gain some insight into why it’s such a big deal to the person, especially a kid, going through it all.


Book cover Book: 1Q84 Author: Haruki Murakami
Pages: 1318 Duration: 01/07/19 – 01/23/19 (17 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, fantasy, magical realism, Japanese culture, science fiction
Description:
The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo. A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 – Q is for “A world that bears a question.” A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.
Thoughts:
This was a challenging read for me, not because of its length, but because it contains elements of—as enumerated in its genre list—fantasy, magical realism, and science fiction, none of which do I care for. However, it’s a compelling enough story that kept raising questions that I wanted to know the answers to, which kept me reading. And not unlike The Goldfinch, which I read last year, I felt a real sense of accomplishment when I finished reading its 1318 pages.


Book cover Book: A Spool of Blue Thread Author: Anne Tyler
Pages: 358 Duration: 01/28/19 – 02/10/19 (14 days)
Rating: 3 stars Genres: fiction, contemporary, literary fiction
Description:
The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate togetherness: an indefinable, enviable kind of specialness. But they are also like all families, in that the stories they tell themselves reveal only part of the picture. Abby and Red and their four grown children have accumulated not only tender moments, laughter, and celebrations, but also jealousies, disappointments, and carefully guarded secrets. from Red’s father and mother, newly-arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to Abby and Red’s grandchildren carrying the family legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century, here are four generations of Whitshanks, their lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn Baltimore house that has always been their anchor.
Thoughts:
Surprisingly, this was one of my least favorite books of the year. There just wasn’t anything remarkable that happened to the characters in this story. And although that’s probably representative of a lot of people’s lives, it just didn’t make for very interesting reading to me. One reviewer, who regularly gives Anne Tyler high marks, pretty well summed up my sense of it: “It recycles virtually every theme and major plot she has used in the past and does so in the most perfunctory manner imaginable. A disappointing performance by this talented author, who seems to be coasting on automatic pilot.”

Book cover Book: Nine Perfect Strangers Author: Liane Moriarty
Pages: 453 Duration: 02/09/19 – 02/14/19 (6 days)
Rating: 3 stars Genres: fiction, contemporary, womens fiction
Description:
Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be. It’s not long before every guest at Tranquillum House is asking exactly the same question.
Thoughts:
This was among my least favorite fiction books of the year. The premise was interesting enough, but it dragged at times, and it got quite preposterous at others.


Book cover Book: Becoming Author: Michelle Obama
Pages: 428 Duration: 02/24/19 – 04/28/19 (63 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: nonfiction, autobiography, memoir
Description:
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.
Thoughts:
This book made me ache for the days when class and civility inhabited The White House. I read this book as part of our Mostly Social Book Club.


Book cover Book: The Last Romantics Author: Tara Conklin
Pages: 368 Duration: 02/15/19 – 05/21/19 (96 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, contemporary
Description:
A sweeping yet intimate epic about one American family, The Last Romantics is an unforgettable exploration of the ties that bind us together, the responsibilities we embrace and the duties we resent, and how we can lose – and sometimes rescue – the ones we love. A novel that pierces the heart and lingers in the mind, it is also a beautiful meditation on the power of stories – how they navigate us through difficult times, help us understand the past, and point the way toward our future
Thoughts:
This book immediately reminded me of the first line from Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It’s so interesting to me how siblings who grow up in the same family and household can turn out so differently and how so much dysfunction can take place in one family. Also, I love how this book starts at a funeral. I read this book as part of our Mostly Social Book Club.


Book cover Book: Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story Author: Jacob Tobia
Pages: 336 Duration: 06/09/19 – 06/19/19 (11 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: nonfiction, autobiography, memoir, LGBT, queer
Description:
Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story charts those decades, from Jacob’s Methodist childhood to the hallowed halls of Duke University and the portrait-laden parlors of the White House, taking you on a gender odyssey you won’t soon forget. With the snarky voice and wrenching vulnerability that have made them a media sensation, Jacob shatters the long-held notion that people are easily sortable into “men” and “women.” Sissy guarantees that you’ll never think about gender—both other people’s and your own—the same way again.
Thoughts:
The last serious book I read on gender was My Lips: Sexual Subversion and the End of Gender by Riki Anne Wilchins’Read back in 2003. It, too, tried many of my misconceptions and disinformation about gender. I enjoyed reading this book much more than that one, though, because of Jacob’s impressive ability to share his humanity in a deep, yet relatable way that challenges one’s thinking about gender. And there definitely was a remarkable Aha! moment in it for me. I recommended this book for our Mostly Social Book Club, and here’s a 7-minute clip of Jacob with Trevor Noah on The Daily Show.


Book cover Book: The Murder Pit Author: Jeff Shelby
Pages: 326 Duration: 05/19/19 – 06/23/19 (36 days)
Rating: 3 stars Genres: fiction, mystery
Description:
Daisy Savage finally has everything she wants. A new husband. A bunch of kids. A charming old house. What she doesn’t want is a dead body. When a frozen pipe in the basement of her century-old home leads her and her husband downstairs into a newly discovered crawl space, they find a coal chute they didn’t know they had. And a corpse inside of it.
Thoughts:
I can’t really put my finger on why this book didn’t captivate me, but it didn’t. A reviewer, who really liked it, noted, “For me, the first 3 chapters, while charming, were a little slow. Not slow enough for me to put the book aside, but not as fastly paced as the rest of the story. It was right about chapter 4… right there at the end of it… that the novel really took off and never faltered. And I gotta confess… no, not to the murder… but to the fact that I had way too much fun flying through the pages!” I gotta confess that all of those ellipses in that review annoyed me, but with that said, I didn’t like it, but YMMV.


Book cover Book: Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde Author: Franny Moyle
Pages: 336 Duration: 06/08/17 – 06/26/19 (2 years, 19 days)
Rating: 4 stars Genres: nonfiction, biography, history
Description:
In the spring of 1895 the life of Constance Wilde changed irrevocably. Up until the conviction of her husband, Oscar, for homosexual crimes, she had held a privileged position in society. Part of a gilded couple, she was a popular children’s author, a fashion icon, and a leading campaigner for women’s rights. A founding member of the magical society The Golden Dawn, her pioneering and questioning spirit encouraged her to sample some of the more controversial aspects of her time. Mrs. Oscar Wilde was a phenomenon in her own right.
Thoughts:
I wanted to—more like, felt like I should—like this book way more than I did. Obviously, I didn’t hate it, since I never abandoned it over the ample just-over 2 years it took me to read it. In the end, I think who I really wanted to read about was Oscar, not Constance, and the dalliances that led to his social demise didn’t happen until well into the second half of the book. She was also very much into fashion, about which I have little-to-no interest in. With all that said, I’m glad I finally finished it.


Book cover Book: The Professor & the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity & the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary Author: Simon Winchester
Pages: 288 Duration: 06/27/19 – 07/03/19 (7 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: nonfiction, history, biography, humanities, language, writing, books about books
Description:
A masterfully researched, and eloquently written, extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)—and literary history. The compilation of the OED, begun in 1857, was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.
Thoughts:
I, of course, knew what the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was before I read this book, but I didn’t know the breadth and depth of it. Knowing what I now know about its origin and development, it’s quite inconceivable how much of it was done without the aid of computers. This was also my first Simon Winchester book, and it piqued my interest in other books of his. After I finished reading this one, Bob and I watched the movie based on this book.


Book cover Book: The Wife Between Us Authors: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Pages: 416 Duration: 07/07/19 – 07/14/19 (8 days)
Rating: 4 stars Genres: fiction, thriller, mystery, suspense
Description:
When you read this book, you will make many assumptions. You will assume you are reading about a jealous ex-wife. You will assume she is obsessed with her replacement—a beautiful, younger woman who is about to marry the man they both love. You will assume you know the anatomy of this tangled love triangle. Assume nothing.
Thoughts:
I’m not a huge fan of psychological thrillers, but I do like the unreliable narrator literary device, which this book certainly employs. It did keep me guessing and wanting to know what the “truth” was.


Book cover Book: The Stranger Author: Albert Camus
Pages: 123 Duration: 07/16/19 – 07/18/19 (3 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, classics, philosophy, French culture, literature
Description:
Through the story of an ordinary man unwittingly drawn into a senseless murder on an Algerian beach, Camus explored what he termed “the nakedness of man faced with the absurd.” In January 1955, Camus wrote: I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: “In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.” I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.
Thoughts:
In spite of always being in “advanced placement” English classes (of course, I was) and the tremendous amount of reading I’ve done in my life, I’d never read this novella. I loved this existential inquiry into the cost of not being willing to do what society expects.


Book cover Book: The Perks of Being a Wallflower Author: Stephen Chbosky
Pages: 222 Duration: 07/19/19 – 07/23/19 (5 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, young adult, contemporary
Description:
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a story about what it’s like to travel that strange course through the uncharted territory of high school. The world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. Of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Of those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.
Thoughts:
I enjoy the epistolary novel device of books like this, and I liked that there was a main character who is gay. There is a certain underlying darkness to this story, which also appealed to me. After I finished reading it, Bob and I watched the movie based on this book.


Book cover Book: One Plus One Author: Jojo Moyes
Pages: 369 Duration: 07/25/19 – 08/02/19 (9 days)
Rating: 4 stars Genres: fiction, contemporary, romance, womens fiction, adult
Description:
Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages… maybe ever.
Thoughts:
I first read this author, JoJo Moyes, last year with the first book of her trilogy: Me Before You, After You, and Still Me. I enjoyed the writing and storytelling so much in the first one that I went on to read the second two in the series. One Plus One landed on our Mostly Social Book Club agenda for this year, and unfortunately, I found it a bit tedious and frustrating, but I did finish it, because it was a book club book. With that said, the other members of the book club enjoyed it more than I did.


Book cover Book: Winter in Paradise Author: Elin Hilderbrand
Pages: 320 Duration: 08/10/19 – 08/11/19 (2 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, womens fiction, mystery
Description:
Irene Steele’s idyllic life—house, husband, family—is shattered when she is woken up by a late-night phone call. Her beloved husband has been found dead, but before Irene can process this tragic news, she must confront the perplexing details of her husband’s death. He was found on St. John island, a tropical paradise far removed from their suburban life. Leaving the cold winter behind, Irene flies down to the beautiful Caribbean beaches of St. John only to make another shocking discovery: her husband had a secret second family. As Irene investigates the mysterious circumstances of her husband’s death, she is plunged into a web of intrigue and deceit belied by the pristine white-sand beaches of St. John’s.
Thoughts:
I devoured this book, my first by author Elin Hilderbrand even though she’s written 30 books. I didn’t know when I started that it was the first in a series of 3 books of which the second two were not yet available. A few months after I finished this one, the second one, What Happens in Paradise, came out and it’s further down my list. This was billed as “an easy, summer read,” and it certainly lived up to its claim. I essentially read it in a day-and-a-half, and it kept me intrigued throughout as well as looking forward to the second book in the series to get some answers. I recommended we read this book as part of our Mostly Social Book Club.


Book cover Book: Summer Sisters Author: Judy Blume
Pages: 416 Duration: 08/24/19 – 08/25/19 (2 days)
Rating: 4 stars Genres: fiction, womens fiction, young adult, romance
Description:
In the summer of 1977, Victoria Leonard’s world changes forever when Caitlin Somers chooses her as a friend. Dazzling, reckless Caitlin welcomes Vix into the heart of her sprawling, eccentric family, opening doors to a world of unimaginable privilege, sweeping her away to vacations on Martha’s Vineyard, an enchanting place where the two friends become “summer sisters.” Now, years later, Vix is working in New York City. Caitlin is getting married on the Vineyard. And the early magic of their long, complicated friendship has faded. But Caitlin begs Vix to come to her wedding, to be her maid of honor. And Vix knows that she will go—because she wants to understand what happened during that last shattering summer. And, after all these years, she needs to know why her best friend—her summer sister—still has the power to break her heart.
Thoughts:
Although she’s touted as “a writer who has won the hearts and minds of readers of all generations,” I abandoned the first book of hers that I read shortly before trying this one—In the Unlikely Event. There were too many characters that I couldn’t keep track of and it wasn’t bringing me joy. This book brought me enough joy to keep reading it, and I did come to understand the fuss about Judy Blume’s writing. I’m glad I read it.


Book cover Book: The Secrets Mothers Keep Author: Jacquie Underdown
Pages: 266 Duration: 09/02/19 – 09/04/19 (3 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, womens fiction
Description:
One Family. Three generations. A common goal to unite them. A lifetime of secrets to divide them. But could uncovering the truth be the only way that this family can finally heal? Three generations of women find their way back home to Tasmania. They embark on a project together to renovate the family manor and convert it into a bed and breakfast. With the family now under the one roof, and the past tampered with, the foundations of this secret are shaken.
Thoughts:
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and in fact had a hard time naming Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story over this one as my favorite book of the year. I just thought it did a great job of slowly unfolding enormous family secrets as the story progressed and enjoyed the portrayal of the characters’ responses to them.


Book cover Book: Never Be The Same Author: Silk White
Pages: 210 Duration: 09/08/19 – 09/08/19 (1 days
Rating: 4 stars Genres: fiction, mystery, African American
Description:
Meet Paige, a famous actress whose career is on the come up. Things couldn’t be better, until her front door is kicked in by the police. After being forced to snitch on her fiance or go to jail, Paige makes a decision that is sure to change her life forever. Meanwhile, Paige’s fiance Jeezy has problems of his own. The kind of problems that can get him killed or placed in jail for the rest of his life. With his back to the wall and a gun in his hand the only way out is for him to shoot his way out. When it’s all said and done both of their lives will never be the same. Join Silk White as he once again takes you on a ride that you won’t soon forget. Once readers put this book down they to will never be the same.
Thoughts:
The story line of this book is what kept me reading it, because the writing was not easy for me to read. Also, I wanted to read (at least) one book classified in the African American genre.


Book cover Book: Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family Author: Garrard Conley
Pages: 340 Duration: 09/10/19 – 09/19/19 (10 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: nonfiction, biography, autobiography, memoir, LGBT, queer
Description:
The son of a Baptist pastor and deeply embedded in church life in small town Arkansas, as a young man Garrard Conley was terrified and conflicted about his sexuality. When Garrard was a 19-year-old college student, he was outed to his parents, and was forced to make a life-changing decision: either agree to attend a church-supported conversion therapy program that promised to “cure” him of homosexuality; or risk losing family, friends, and the God he had prayed to every day of his life. By confronting his buried past and the burden of a life lived in shadow, Garrard traces the complex relationships among family, faith, and community. At times heart-breaking, at times triumphant, this memoir is a testament to love that survives despite all odds.
Thoughts:
This book surprised me in that I thought I was going to be angry the whole time reading it, but wasn’t. From all that I heard about it, which was about the movie, and with the subject of conversion therapy being a good part of it, well, I just thought it was going to enrage me. I have to think it was the voice of the narrator (the young boy that all this happened to) that kept me calm.


Book cover Book: The Wonder of All Things Author: Jason Mott
Pages: 400 Duration: 09/20/19 – 09/21/19 (2 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, fantasy, paranormal, contemporary
Description:
On an ordinary day, at an air show like that in any small town across the country, a plane crashes into a crowd of spectators. After the dust clears, a thirteen-year-old girl named Ava is found huddled beneath a pocket of rubble with her best friend, Wash. He is injured and bleeding, and when Ava places her hands over him, his wounds disappear. Ava has an unusual gift: she can heal others of their physical ailments. Until the air show tragedy, her gift was a secret. Now the whole world knows, and suddenly people from all over the globe begin flocking to her small town, looking for healing and eager to catch a glimpse of The Miracle Child. But Ava’s unique ability comes at a great cost, and as she grows weaker with each healing, she soon finds herself having to decide just how much she’s willing to give up in order to save the ones she loves most.
Thoughts:
In general, I’m not a big fan of fantasy, but this book had just a touch of it with one character having paranormal powers. What I did like about it was that it raised questions about morality and explored the question of whether one has an obligation to do good for the others at the expense of oneself, if one has the ability to. I read this book as part of our Mostly Social Book Club.


Book cover Book: Two Boys Kissing Author: David Levithan
Pages: 200 Duration: 09/23/19 – 09/23/19 (1 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, young adult, romance, contemporary, LGBT, queer
Description:
David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS. While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.
Thoughts:
I learned about this book through a friend’s Facebook posting about books that have been banned, which immediately made me interested in reading it. I really liked the writing device of a past generation of gay men who have died from AIDS being a sort of “Greek chorus” for what’s going on in the present in the book. There’s a 4.5-minute podcast about it being banned, if you’re interested.


Book cover Book: Abarat Author: Clive Barker
Pages: 393 Duration: 09/24/19 – 10/09/19 (16 days)
Rating: 3 stars Genres: fiction, young adult, fantasy, horror
Description:
Candy lives in Chickentown USA: the most boring place in the world, her heart bursting for some clue as to what her future may hold. She is soon to find out: swept out of our world by a giant wave, she finds herself in another place entirely… The Abarat is a vast archipelago where every island is a different hour of the day, from the sunlit wonders of Three in the Afternoon, where dragons roam, to the dark terrors of the island of Midnight, ruled by Christopher Carrion. Candy has a place in this extraordinary world: she has been brought here to help save the Abarat from the dark forces that are stirring at its heart. Forces older than time itself, and more evil than anything Candy has ever encountered.
Thoughts:
I am not a fan of science fiction or fantasy, and I only learned of this book seeing it posted on a Friend’s Facebook timeline saying that they were reading it. And the only thing that intrigued me about the plot synopsis was the description of the Abarat as “a vast archipelago where every island is a different hour of the day.” As was no surprise, it was one of my least favorite books of the year, but I obviously didn’t hate it, since I finished it.


Book cover Book: Marriage Can Be Murder Author: Emma Jameson
Pages: 282 Duration: 10/10/19 – 10/15/19 (6 days)
Rating: 4 stars Genres: fiction, historical fiction, mystery
Description:
On the eve of World War II, Dr. Benjamin Bones is at war with himself. While most young men are being sent away to fight the Germans, Ben is chosen to serve on English soil. Ordered to move to wild, beautiful Cornwall, he must trade his posh London office and stylish city life for the tiny village of Birdswing, population 1,221 souls. But leaving his home and shelving his career ambitions aren’t the only sacrifices facing Ben. His unfaithful wife, Penny, is accompanying him to Cornwall in a last-ditch effort to save their marriage. But moments after their arrival, Penny is run down in the street, and Ben is almost fatally injured. And while the villagers assume Penny’s death to be an accident, Ben quickly deduces it was murder. While adapting to life during Britain’s “War at Home,” a time of ration books, victory gardens, bomb shelters, and the Blackout, Ben sets about solving the mystery of Penny’s murder.
Thoughts:
This book was described as a “cozy mystery.” I’m not sure what makes a mystery cozy, but it’s not an adjective I personally would have associated with this book. I liked the Lady Juliet Linton character a lot. The “Fenton House ghost,” not so much. I gave it a 4, because the writing was pretty good, but the story was just meh to me.


Book cover Book: Behind Every Great Man: Women in the Shadows of History’s Alpha Males Author: Marlene Wagman-Geller
Pages: 369 Duration: 10/17/19 – 10/23/19 (7 days)
Rating: 3 stars Genres: nonfiction, women, history, feminism, short stories
Description:
Throughout history, men have gotten most of the good ink. Often overlooked are the extraordinary wives, mistresses, and companions who were every bit as instrumental in shaping their destinies. Discover Emma Wedgewood (Mrs. Charles Darwin), Alma Reveille (Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock), and 26 more women who stood behind their alpha males, for better or worse, and helped steer the course of history.
Thoughts:
I really thought I was going to like this book way more than I did. I think there were too many people chosen to write about, and after a while they all ran together to me. When I tried to remember back at any point, I had a hard time remembering (if I could at all) which woman went with which man and what her contribution is. I know that’s sad, but that’s how it went down with me. One other thing that bugged me was, that although I was happy that a Lesbian couple was included, I can’t resolve that with the very title of the book. But, that’s just me.


Book cover Book: Sentence of Marriage Author: Shayne Parkinson
Pages: 415 Duration: 10/10/19 – 10/29/19 (20 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, historical fiction, romance
Description:
In nineteenth century New Zealand, there are few choices for a farm girl like Amy. Her life seems mapped out for her by the time she is twelve. Amy dreams of an exciting life in the world beyond her narrow boundaries. But it is the two people who come to the farm from outside the valley who change her life forever, and Amy learns the high cost of making the wrong choice.
Thoughts:
I really got into this book, partly because the writing that described the tension between the daughter and her father’s new girlfriend was so well done. I like it when an author can really make you hate a character coming by it honestly. It wasn’t until I was done that I learned this was book #1 of a 4-part series. I do plan on reading at least part #2—after which I decide on going on to the others.


Book cover Book: What Happens in Paradise Author: Elin Hilderbrand
Pages: 432 Duration: 10/30/19 – 11/03/19 (5 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, womens fiction
Description:
A year ago, Irene Steele had the shock of her life: her loving husband, father to their grown sons and successful businessman, was killed in a helicopter crash. But that wasn’t Irene’s only shattering news: he’d also been leading a double life on the island of St. John, where another woman loved him, too. Now Irene and her sons are back on St. John, determined to learn the truth about the mysterious life — and death — of a man they thought they knew. Along the way, they’re about to learn some surprising truths about their own lives, and their futures.
Thoughts:
This is the sequel to Winter in Paradise, which I read back in August. It read just as quickly as the first one, answered a few of the questions I had about Russell & Rosie’s relationship and Russell’s business goings-on, but in general, it spent too much time on the two sons and their romantic shenanigans back on St. John. With all that said, I will read the third—and final—book once it becomes available.


Book cover Book: The End of Your Life Book Club Author: Will Schwalbe
Pages: 336 Duration: 11/04/19 – 11/09/19 (6 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: nonfiction, biography, autobiography, memoir, writing, books about books
Description:
The inspiring story of a son and his dying mother, who form a “book club” that brings them together as her life comes to a close. Mary Anne Schwalbe is waiting for her chemotherapy treatments when Will casually asks her what she’s reading. The conversation they have grows into tradition: soon they are reading the same books so they can have something to talk about in the hospital waiting room. The ones they choose range from classic to popular, from fantastic to spiritual, and we hear their passion for reading and their love for each other in their intimate and searching discussions. A profoundly moving testament to the power of love between a child and parent, and the power of reading in our lives.
Thoughts:
I was amazed at the sheer volume of books this mother and son read in their lives, and especially in the final 2 years of the mother’s life. At one point, I thought I might try to make a list of them all when, but when I got to the end of the story, there was an appendix with that already done!


Book cover Book: Where the Crawdads Sing Author: Delia Owens/strong>
Pages: 384 Duration: 12/19/19 – 12/20/19 (2 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, historical fiction, mystery
Description:
For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.
Thoughts:
Several people told me told me that they thought the story was just okay in this book, but that the writing was beautiful. But, I liked both the story and the writing.


Book cover Book: Through Streets Broad and Narrow Author: Gemma Jackson
Pages: 464 Duration: 12/27/19 – 12/30/19 (4 days)
Rating: 5 stars Genres: fiction, historical fiction, Irish culture
Description:
On New Year’s Day 1925 Ivy Rose Murphy awakes to find her world changed forever. Her irresponsible Da is dead. She is grief-stricken and alone – but for the first time in her life free to please herself. After her mother deserted the family, Ivy became the sole provider for her Da and three brothers. Pushing a pram around the well-to-do areas of Dublin every day, she begged for the discards of the wealthy which she then turned into items she could sell around Dublin’s markets. As she visits the morgue to pay her respects to her Da, a chance meeting introduces Ivy to a new world of money and privilege, her mother’s world. Ivy is suddenly a woman on a mission to improve herself and her lot in life.
Thoughts:
This is another one of those books that captivated me right from the beginning and which I plowed through. It also makes the third series (1st of 4 books) in this “Ivy Rose” series), I read this year, joining Elin Hilderbrand’s “Paradise” series (3 books) and Shayne Parkinson’s “Promises to Keep” series (4 books)

Attack of the 50-ft Woman…

In this, our sixth movie from the collection of various and sundry movie posters Bob has framed and hanging around our house, I found myself prepared for the worst. The kind of movie that I imagine going with a poster like this is not one that compels me. In retrospect, I didn’t find it that bad, which I guess is why it’s often characterized as one of those movies that’s “so bad it’s good.”

Random thoughts I had during this movie:

  • At about 45 minutes into the 65-minute film: “I’m concerned that we still haven’t seen the film’s eponymous protagonist.”
  • Once the giants appear: “Why are they sometimes opaque and sometimes translucent?”

    Giant_man
    Giant_woman
  • At the first glimpses of the giant woman, which only shows her right hand: “They sure are getting their money’s worth out of that huge paper mâché hand prop.”

    Nancy's hand
  • At the first appearance of the alien space craft: “Why are they calling it a satellite instead of a space ship or UFO?” (There is a short discussion about this in one of the FAQs on the IMDB page, if you’re interested in a possible explanation.)

In the end, the 2 things that bothered me the most were:

  • In the movie, they refer to the woman as a “30-foot giant,” but the very name of the movie is “Attack of the 50-ft. Woman.”
  • The poster for this movie is a scene that never even remotely appears in this movie. I mean the setting is essentially a rural one-stoplight town. The only infrastructure the 30-foot woman hovers over is the town hotel and bar shown in the bottom right quadrant of the collage picture below.

    Poster vs. reality

But as it turns out, there was so much more to be bothered by that I didn’t even notice. Here are some from the goofs page of the IMDB entry for this film:

  • When Nancy is normal-sized, she is a brunette with a short, styled hairdo. But when she’s super-sized, she’s suddenly a blonde with long curly hair.
  • Although the alien is a giant, when the sheriff and Jess go into the “satellite” (the alien spacecraft), the passageways and interiors are for human-sized inhabitants.
  • Clothes are sticking out of Harry’s suitcase as he hurriedly brings it out of the bedroom. In the next shot, the suitcase appears neatly packed. (I actually noticed this one.)
  • When Nancy is lying on the ground dead, one of her eyelids moves. (I sure wish I’d noticed that!)
  • About 40 minutes in, Harry is filling a large (~30 CC) syringe in an attempt to kill his wife, but after he and the nurse are shocked to see she has become a giant, he is only holding a small (~ 1 CC) syringe. (And Bob pointed out that nobody wipes the needle with alcohol before they use it.)
  • How Allison Hayes can be fifty feet tall and yet remain in a standard size room is never explained. (In her defense, she was lying down, so maybe the room was 60-feet long.)
  • The giant picks up Nancy’s 1958 Plymouth station wagon, throws it to the ground and, mysteriously, the Plymouth station wagon turns into a 1949 Chevrolet Station Wagon. Also, when the giant alien picks up the Plymouth wagon, the scene behind it, the still frame cut from the movie ad, is moved about to simulate the car’s movement. The slow motion action reveals the 1949 Chevrolet Styleline Deluxe Woody Wagon.

In the end, I’m glad I watched this to have an idea what’s behind the poster that I see practically every day in our living room.

An unidentified man…

Last night I listened to a podcast episode of Snap Judgment, called Counted: An Oakland Story. The episode was about how Oakland’s homicide rate has declined from a high point of 140 one year to 77 in 2017.

“And about those 77, we wanted to let you know about these artists, singers, students, activists, teachers—they are the Oakland family. They are what make beautiful Oakland, edgy Oakland, woke Oakland. Every loss, makes this place less special. So we’re going to do something a little different in this episode. We’re going to tell you who some of these people were.”

There’s a website associated with the project, and on its “In memory of” page each victim is featured—all with their date of death, some with sketches of them, and most with their names included. But 7 of them—with a sketch of either a rose or a candle in the place of their face—say, “Unidentified man.”

This morning I was still thinking about those unidentified men. How does that happen? And I wrote this short contemplation.


The unidentified man

I’m one of 7. I died in Oakland in 2017 on:

  1. February 15 or
  2. May 30 or
  3. September 28 or
  4. October 21 or
  5. November 23 or
  6. December 12 or
  7. December 16.

Imagine for a minute that you—yes you—are walking down the street, late tonight on your way home, and you get killed. Can you think of 3 people who could identify you? How about 5? 10?

There are so many ways to identify me, but they had no luck. No luck for me that my fingerprints or DNA weren’t in “the database.” And I thought that was a good thing.

I didn’t have good teeth. That wasn’t the reason there were no dental records to match. There were no dentists in my life.

I know why my family isn’t looking for me. There was no father, or mother, in my life. They had their own lives to live. And I was an inconvenience in them.

And don’t think nobody on the street knew me. I did know one other member of this club, a club none of us wanted to join. And that person definitely knew me. But someone got revenge on him for someone he killed.

My favorite member of the club? It has to be Jason. They said about him: “He actually didn’t live on the streets, but inside them. Inside the hollow cement pillars that hold up that off-ramp, where he made a room for himself—he even wired cable and internet inside with a projector, a couch, and a mini-fridge.” That cat was hooked up. I was not so resourceful.

But resources can’t help me now. At least I count. I count among the 77 of 2017—even as I lie in an unguarded tomb, unknown.

Riff on a connection mnemonic…

Like I’m sure a lot of people did last night, I thought about the old adage, “Spring forward, fall back.” But probably unlike a lot of people, this morning I contemplated mnemonics—those memory aids we employ for those things we do either so infrequently or that aren’t so meaningful that they’re hard to remember. A quick search on Wikipedia reveals these 9 types of mnemonics:

1. Music mnemonics: Songs and jingles can be used as a mnemonic. A common example is how children remember the alphabet by singing the ABC’s.

2. Name mnemonics (acronym): The first letter of each word is combined into a new word. For example: VIBGYOR (or ROY G BIV) for the colors of the rainbow or HOMES for the Great Lakes.

3. Expression or word mnemonics: The first letter of each word is combined to form a phrase or sentence — e.g. “Richard of York gave battle in vain” for the colors of the rainbow.

4. Model mnemonics: Some type of representation is constructed to help with understanding and recalling important information.

5. Ode mnemonics: The information is placed into a poem or doggerel, — e.g. ‘Note socer, gener, liberi, and Liber god of revelry, like puer these retain the ‘e (most Latin nouns of the second declension ending in -er drop the -e in all of the oblique cases except the vocative, these are the exceptions).

6. Note organization mnemonics: The way textbook and lecture notes are organized (e.g., notecards, outlines) can inhibit learning and recall or promote it.

7. Image mnemonics: The information is constructed into a picture — e.g. the German weak declension can be remembered as five ‘-e’s’, looking rather like the state of Oklahoma in America, in a sea of ‘-en’s’.

8. Connection mnemonics: New knowledge is connected to knowledge already known.

9. Spelling mnemonics: An example is “i before e except after c” or “when sounding like a in neighbor and weigh.”

I decided that “spring forward, fall back” is a connection mnemonic, and to that end I wrote this piece, which I call “Riff on a Connection Mnemonic,” because there just aren’t enough riffs on connection mnemonics, or any other kind of mnemonic, really.


A CONNECTION MNEMONIC

Spring forward. Going forward. Fast forward. Forward, March.

Spring forward.
Spring has sprung.
Sprung a leak.
Take a leak.
Take a break.
Break a leg.
Get a leg up on it.
Have a leg to stand on.

Going forward.
Going strong.
Strong women.
Women of color.
Color my world.
World peace.
Peace and quiet.
Quietly changing the world.

Fast forward.
Fast as lightning.
Lightning bugs.
The light of a thousand stars.
Star light, star bright.
Bright lights, big city.
City by the sea.
See the light at the end of the tunnel.

Forward, March.
Forward thinking.
Thinking too much.
Too much to handle.
Handle the hands on your clock.
Clean someone’s clock.
Clean up your act.
It’s a balancing act.

Spring forward. Going forward. Fast forward. Forward, March.

My 50th birthday

~Friday, 10/13/17~

Birthday day countdown

Here are 4 highlights of my life that stand out over these last 10 years. I just couldn’t narrow it down to 3—too much has happened this decade.

50 – 59 years old (2007 – 2016)

CELEBRATING TWO MILESTONE BIRTHDAYS. For my 50th birthday, I went to 3 places in Australia that were listed in the book, “1000 Places to See Before You Die.” One was in the Blue Mountains just outside of Sydney, one was Seven Spirit Bay on a private island in the outback that you had to be taken to by private plane, and the third was Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef. For my 55th birthday, I saw Barbra Streisand in concert in Brooklyn. It’s something I’d wanted to do all my life and had been willing to spend up to $1000 for a ticket. You can just imagine my delight when I scored a seat for $399.

RETIRING (THE FIRST TIME). On my October 13, 2014, I gave myself the birthday gift of a lifetime—I retired. My boss and my team were so gracious and supportive of my decision and they gave me a wonderful send-off, complete with limericks, haiku, and love. I enjoyed being retired for one year and three months, and then as it so often will, life happened. Eventually, I’d have the second biggest coming out in my life, coming out of retirement in February of 2016. You can read why if you’re interested.

LOSING A PARENT. On Tuesday, September 8, 2015, I had the hardest conversation in my life with my dad about entering him into hospice. He died three days later.

LEGALLY MARRYING A PHENOMENAL HUMAN BEING WHO JUST HAPPENS TO BE A MAN. On June 26, 2015 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of same-sex marriage and that night, I asked Robert Anthony McVeigh to marry me, which he did on November 28th. With Bob’s family of 14 siblings, I picked up a cool 108 in-laws in one day, while he inherited a grand total of 8. We had an unbelievable November weather day and married in our backyard with heartwarming support from family who traveled near and far to be there, including my ex-wife.

Other reflections: Birth – 9 years old | 10 – 19 years old | 20 – 29 years old | 30 – 39 years old | 40 – 49 years old

The penultimate day leading up to my birthday

~Thursday, 10/12/17~

Birthday countdown

As I countdown to my 60th birthday tomorrow, here are 3 highlights of my life that stand out for these years.

40 – 49 years old (1997 – 2006)

CRUISING THE GREEK ISLES. In 1999, I toured the Greek Isles on the now-defunct Renaissance Cruise Lines. Our itineary consisted of two days in Athens, port calls in Santorini, Rhodes, Kusadasi, and one day at sea cruising The Dardenelles. It ended with two days in Istanbul.

A SURPRISE PARTY FOR MOM AND DAD’S 50TH ANNIVERSARY. In September of 2003, my sister and I organized a suprise party in Orlando for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. We had invited several of their brothers and sisters to join us there, offering to pick up their 3-day, 2-night hotel tabs and dinner the actual anniversary night. We hadn’t told anyone that we were eating at Emeril’s Orlando , and since some of them came to the event from Fall River, MA, and my parents were born and grew up in that city, and that’s where Emeril is from, and we’re all Portuguese… well you can imagine how excited everyone was when we arrived there. I picked up the tab, which to this day remains the most I’ve ever paid for a dinner at $1503.00, which included the $364 tip. Worth every penny. Read about the details, including the exquisite customer service.

CRUISING ALASKA WITH FAMILY. In 2005, I went on an Alaskan cruise with my sister, my parents, my aunt and uncle and their daughter, and my aunt’s sister and her husband. The itinerary included: one day cruising the Inside Passage, a Ketchikan port call, a Juneau port call, a Skagway port call, a Wrangell port call, and a final day at sea.

Other reflections: Birth – 9 years old | 10 – 19 years old | 20 – 29 years old | 30 – 39 years old | 50 – 59 years old

The antepenultimate day leading up to my birthday

~Wednesday, 10/11/17~

Birthday countdown

As I countdown to my 60th birthday on Friday, here are 3 highlights of my life that stand out for these years.

Note: The coincidence is not lost on me of this post falling on National Coming Out Day.

30 – 39 years old (1987 – 1996)

TOUR OF EUROPE WITH OUR PARENTS. In 1987, my wife and I treated both sets of our parents to a 13-city bus tour of Europe with stops in London, England; Paris, France; Italy (The Italian Lakes, Rome, Ostia, Florence, Venice, and Verona); Innsbruck, Austria; Germany (Munich, Heidelberg, and a Rhine River Cruise); and Amsterdam, Holland. It was challenging at times, but so worth it as my mother still gets a charge out of saying, when someone mentions one of those European cities, “Oh, I’ve been there.” As I write this, it occurs to me that that was 30 years ago this year, and my parents were 5 years younger than I’ll be on Friday.

QUITTING IBM AND WORKING ON MY NOVEL. In 1993, IBM offered the first “package,” in which they paid employees to leave the company. Since my wife worked there, too, and we were DINKs (double income, no kids) making a ton of money, I applied for it and was accepted, taking a $30,000 payout to do what I wanted to do anyway—leave. For the next year, I worked on a novel, got as far as chapter 9, and then couldn’t figure out a believeable way to get my protagonist pregnant. Shortly after that I came out.

COMING OUT. One day in 1994, on my way home from IBM to our quarter-of-a-million house, in our BMW, I wondered, “Is there any way I could drive this ‘ultimate performance machine’ into that roadside ravine in such a way that I could be sure I wouldn’t have to live with an ‘intending to die’ for the rest of my life?” That’s when I knew it was time to start living my authentic life here. My beautiful, loving, and incredibly generous wife’s response to my coming out? “I’m so sorry that we live in a society where you’ve felt like you couldn’t be who you really are your entire life.” As we were packing to sell the house we’d custom built, we glanced at each other from the rooms on opposite sides of the upstairs shared bathroom while Whitney sang, “I Will Always Love You.” I can still tear up when I hear that song today, especially the lines, “Bittersweet memories – That is all I’m taking with me. So good-bye. Please don’t cry: We both know I’m not what you, you need…”

Other reflections: Birth – 9 years old | 10 – 19 years old | 20 – 29 years old | 40 – 49 years old | 50 – 59 years old

60th birthday trip day 6: Hyannis morning, home in the evening

​~Wednesday, 10/11/17~ I got up at 8 o’clock. I had breakfast across the street at The Coffee Table Café, having a sausage, egg, and cheese bagel and a cup of coffee.

Back at my room, I wrote out a couple of postcards and worked on my blog entry about the three highlights of my 30 – 39 years decade, arguably the most significant decade of my life until this past one, the 50 – 59 years decade. The three 30 – 39 years highlights were: 1) touring Europe with our parents, 2) quitting IBM and working on my novel, and 3) coming out.

I had asked for a noon, instead of 11 o’clock, check out and did so right at noon.


LUNCH

On my walk to the free shuttle at The Steamship Authority to take me to the park-and-ride to catch the Plymouth & Brockton bus to Logan Airport, I passed a place called Spanky’s Clam Shack & Seaside Saloon.

I decided to go in and have lunch to avoid the over-priced food at Logan airport, and I opted for the clam chowder and two stuffed quahogs, both of which were delicious.

Menu description:

Cape Cod Clam Chowdah: House made, New England style. Cup $6.49 Bowl $7.99

Clam chowder

Menu description:

Stuffed Quahog: Cape Cod favorite, house-made quahog stuffed and served with lemon.
$5.99 for one, or two for $9.99

Stuffed quahogs start

Me eating quahogs

1/2 quahog left

Inside the restaurant was this saying:

Happy as a clam sign

which always makes me think of the origin of the idiom: “Happy as a clam at high tide.” Over the years, it has been abbreviated to just “Happy as a clam,” which really leaves you to wonder why a clam is associated with being happy.


BUS RIDE TO LOGAN AIRPORT

I walked the rest of the way to the Steamship Authority, caught the free shuttle to the Hyannis Transportation Center, and waited for the next trip to Logan to leave. It was about 20 minutes late, and there were a lot of people waiting to get on it.

We picked up a bunch of people at the four stops along the route. When we got to the final one, in Rockland, there were three people waiting who couldn’t get on because there was no more room.

Although the bus advertised:

Bus provides free wifi and outlets

the outlets weren’t working, so my phone battery was desperately low by the time we got to Logan.


STANDBY ATTEMPT AND RUNNING INTO BROOKE

My flight to Raleigh wasn’t until 8:55 PM, but I was hoping to catch the 5:05 flight. I did get on the standby list, and made it to the gate on time, but there was one guy ahead of me on the list, and he got the only seat that became available.

A colleague of mine, Brooke Beasley, was on the 5:05 flight, and we chatted until she boarded. A guy next to us saw my Red Hat t-shirt on and struck up a conversation with his. He worked for Microsoft and was familiar with our Red Hat® Enterprise Linux® on Microsoft Azure and other Red Hat and Microsoft partnership products.

Since I had four hours to kill, I had some dinner, and then worked on my blog entries for yesterday and today.


THE FLIGHT

I was in seat 1A again, and the guy in 1C, seeing my shirt, asked me if I worked for Red Hat.

“I do,” I said.

“I just had drinks last night with my friend who works for Red Hat,” he said.

“Cool,” I said, “But I’m not traveling on business; I’m on a vacation trip here. I’ve just been on Nantucket for two days, Martha’s Vineyard for two days, and spent one day in Hyannis. I’m celebrating my 60th birthday, which is on Friday.”

The guy sitting in 1B, being talked across, took a quick glance at me, and then another hard look.

“Yes, this is what 60 looks like, handsome, and your day will come,” I thought.

My trip ended fortuitously with my two bags waiting for me when I landed, since although I hadn’t made the 5:05 flight they had.

And then, the best part of all, Bob picked me up.

60th birthday trip day 5: Martha’s Vineyard morning, Hyannis evening

~Tuesday, October 10, 2017~ I woke up before my alarm, and when I looked out the window I saw that the sun was about to rise. I set my phone camera to time-lapse mode and recorded it for posterity. What it looked like as it started:

Balcony sunrise still

Another sunrise shot


BREAKFAST

I waffled about where to go for breakfast (but didn’t have waffles)—between going back to the bagel place or the diner. Murdick’s won out. Today I chose a cinnamon and raisin bagel with some garden veggie cream cheese. Once again, the bagel was incredibly soft and delicious.

I took a seat at the counter that faced outside, and after a while a truck pulled up with a classic Portuguese name in the name of its business.

Medeiros Appliance


RETRIEVING MY CREDIT CARD

When I went to pay for my breakfast, I noticed that I was missing my credit card, so I walked back to where I had dinner last:

The Seafood Shanty

The hostess told me the bartender on the second floor would have any card left there last night, and I was greatly relieved when he found mine in his pile. I had to wait a minute for him to finish making two Bloody Marys he was in the midst of when I walked up, and I found myself drooling when he added the stalk of celery and two huge shrimps—cocktail style.

Back at The Harborside Inn, I captured the doors of two of the buildings that make up the inn, one of which is the one I’m staying in, The Ripley House.

The Chappaquiddick House

The Ripley House


ROAMING THE HARBORSIDE INN PROPERTY

I took some pictures of the harbor in the mid-morning sun and then walked around the conglomeration of buildings that make up The Harborside Inn and took some more:

Looking left from my balcony
Looking left from my balcony

Looking straight out from my balcony
Straight out from my balcony

Looking right from my balcony
Looking to the right off my balcony

My balcony
My balcony looking in

Looking to the left below
Looking to the left below

Looking straight out below
Looking straight out below

Looking to the right below
Looking to the right below

Hall door to my room
Room 417 in The Riply House

Stairway to my room
Stairwell to my room

Poolside grills
Poolside grills

The Ripley House (my room is the top, middle one)
The Ripley House


LUNCH AT THE DINER REDUX

On the way to lunch I stopped at Edgartown Books again to pick up a card for the mother of a friend of mine who has asked all of her friends to send cards to her mother for her 87th birthday on October 16. I passed this fabulous item on the way to the card section:

What would Jesus wear

I returned to the diner determined to have something other than seafood for lunch. I settled on the great American hamburger and fries and topped it all off with a coffee-flavored milkshake.

Hamburger and fries

Coffee-flavored milkshake


MAKING MY WAY BACK TO THE FERRY

While out walking around yesterday, I found the Edgartown Visitor Center, which is where the city bus picks up, and I found out that I needed to catch the #13 to Oak Bluffs, it came pretty much every hour, and the fare would be $2.50.

So, today, I knew right and where to go. The bus was a little late, but I was catching one an hour ahead of the one I probably could have made it in time on, for this very reason.

Back at the ferry, there was a huge tour group (at least 100, if not 150, people) waiting for the same ferry I was getting again. I listened to several of them having conversations, and in that short amount of time, I’d picked out a few people who would be getting on my nerves if I were traveling with them.

I made this facebook posting about one of them:

PSA: If you fancy yourself a talented whistler, and you do it all the time in public, I’m going to tell you what your friends won’t: It’s annoying as hell.

I did this same thing—being judgmental about people in a group tour—back in Nantucket at The Nantucket Inn. Ironically, I chose that hotel, and The Harborside Inn that I stayed at here on Martha’s Vineyard, because they were the accommodations used for a Road Scholar trip that I’d consider taking before deciding to book this trip myself.

I’m happy to say that this ferry ride was completely calm, I didn’t even think about being on a boat most of the way, and it was only an hour long.


THE HYANNIS HARBOR HOTEL

When the ferry started slowing down indicating we were close to port, I checked how far it was to walk to my hotel, because I knew it was close by, and I laughed out loud to myself thinking, “If only I could walk on water.”

Google maps walk from ferry to hotel

The Hyannis Harbor Hotel was right across the street from the pier we arrived at, which was great. I got this cute little map when I checked in:

Hyannis town map

Once in my room, I had a few cocktails—I’m committed to not having to throw away any of the bourbon I bought last Friday when I arrived—and I wrote for a couple of hours.

I loved that they’d thought to provide extra outlets for us gadget-loving people in such a convenient way:

Clock outlets


DINNER

At around 7:30, after googling “Gay Hyannis,” I set out to have dinner at emBargo—where Tuesday night is ½-priced tapas night.

On my walk, I passed the local library, which I so would have stopped in if it were open. I love visiting libraries in the towns I vacation in.

Public Library

I also passed the JFK Museum, which I would have stopped in, too, if it were open or if I were going to be in Hyannis longer.

JFK Museum entrance

I arrived at my destination, and I liked the way the sign emphasized the word bar in the middle of it. Where I’d seen it advertised, it was written as “emBargo,” which didn’t really capture it.

emBARgo sign

The bartender explained to me that not all of the tapas on the extensive list were half-price—that the ones that had an asterisk by them were not. Those aside, the list was plenty long enough to easily choose two that I wanted to try:

Tapas Littlenecks menua

Tapas Littlenecks dish

Tapas noodles menu

Tapas noodles dish

I considered getting dessert there, but I neither wanted anything that would stuff me nor break the bank, so I decided to wait. I asked the waiter if it was going to get “any gayer than this” in here, which would mean “gay at all,” and he laughed saying there was a drag show at 11:30 and that I should stick around.

Seeing how it was only 10:00, I didn’t want to wait around that long, so I left. Once outside I walked past a convenience store and got the hankering for an ice cream sandwich, which met both of my criteria—wouldn’t make me stuffed or break the bank. It was perfect.

Walking back to my hotel, I felt my back pocket where my wallet was and panicked, because it wasn’t there. I thought, “Oh my goodness; I must have left it on the counter when I paid for my ice cream sandwich.”

I turned around and headed back, but then felt down in the bottom left pocket of my cargo pants (so many pockets, so little time), and there it was. Whew!


LATE-NIGHT STORIES AROUND THE FIRE PIT

When I got back to the hotel, the huge sit-around fire pit was going (pretty sure it was a gas fire pit) and there were three people sitting around it.

They saw me looking, and said, “Come on over.”

There was one woman and two men there. From what I could surmise, the man and woman sitting near each other were both on the same tour, but weren’t a couple.

The other man sat opposite from them and only participated in their conversation intermittently, mostly to give his take on some matter of the local area.

Fire pit

Once the two tourists left, the night grew colder and darker as the remaining man and I talked about a number of things. He was a pilot who hasn’t flown for a year, because he’s out on disability with knee issues and his response time can’t be counted on in dire situations.

We commiserated about failing knees, as I shared about my two arthroscopic surgeries on my left knee, how aging in general pretty much sucks, and how we were both too familiar with elder care and the role reversal that often comes with it.

When I mentioned that my birthday was coming up on Friday, he shared, “Mine was a couple of months ago and my mom died that day.”