WHAT WE READ IN 2004

 

TITLE

AUTHOR

COMMENTS

Runaway

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Alice Munro

This wonderful set of short stories is on everyone's top ten list for 2004.  All are about women of various ages coping with unsettling situations.  My favorite is Trespasses, a story about a school  girl who is pursued by an older woman who has a mysterious connection to the girl's past.  Munro has an amazing ability to fully flesh out  characters in a very few pages.  Put this on your to read list. (12/04)

The House Without A Key

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Earl Derr Biggs

The original Charlie Chan novel.  The writing is pretty bad, and the racial stereotypes embarrassing, but the story is good.  Of particular interest are the descriptons of life in Honolulu in the 1920's.  Even then, long time residents were complaining about development, and longing for the good old days.  (12/04) 

The Summer Guest

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Justin Cronin

A great story about a fishing camp in Maine and the people who own and visit the camp.  Very good writing that never drags as it spans three generations.  My urologist recommended this one saying he thought it was the best book of the year.  He may have been right.  (11/04)

The Mystery of Capitalism

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Hernando De Soto

Why does capitalism succeed in the West and fail in developing and former communist countries?  De Soto thinks it's because only in the West can people get clear title to assets.  Assets without clear title can't be used as collateral for obtaining funds to expand.  In short, capitalism needs access to capital.  This is an important book but not one you'd take to the beach for a little light reading.  (11/04)

Morality For Beautiful Girls

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Alexander McCall Smith

Third in a series.  Our lady detective moves her office to her fiancé's garage.  Her assistant works on a case for a beauty contest promoter.  Not as good as the first two, but still worth a read. (10/04)

The Last Juror

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John Grisham

More about desegregation in Mississippi than crime this drags a little in the middle, but the last third moves along nicely.  Great literature it is not, but Grisham knows how to entertain. (10/04)

Harbor

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Lorraine Adams

A very impressive first novel.  The story revolves around and Algerian who leaves home to escape Islamic terrorists and illegally enters the United States as a stowaway on a container ship.  As he struggles to survive, he falls under the surveillance of a government task force looking for Al Queda links.  Riveting.  (10/04)

The Known World

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Edward P. Jones

A remarkable novel about the last years of slavery in Virginia.  The book's central character begins life as a slave.  After gaining his freedom he becomes a slave owner himself.  Evidently there weren't many black slave owners in the South, but the author discovered that they did exist, inspiring him to write this book.  The Known World received this year's Pulitzer Prize for literature.  (9/04) 

Tears of the Giraffe

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Alexander McCall Smith

Part of a series (see No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency) about life in Botswana through the eyes of an enterprising young woman.  Nice stories and very fast reading. The characters are somewhat shallow and predictable, but that's OK.  A little light reading is good for the soul.  (9/04)

Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway

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Dave Barry

Barry reveals everything you ever wanted to know about politics, politicians, and the federal government.   Democrats and Republicans are skewered impartially.  As a bonus, the politics of South Florida is discussed in detail.  Carl Hiassen says he has trouble making up stuff about South Florida that is weirder than real life.  Barry has an advantage - he just reports the facts.  (9/04)

Edward R. Murrow

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Bob Edwards

Public Radio's Bob Edwards pays homage to the man who literally invented broadcast journalism.  To his credit, Edwards doesn't omit Murrow's faults, including the use of a phony resume to get his first job in radio.  Also, he does not try to impress by using arcane words and documenting his research with copious footnotes.  Thoroughly enjoyable. (09/04)

In the Moon of the Red Ponies

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James Lee Burke

Good characters and a plot line that moves right along make this an enjoyable read.  THe action takes place in Montana, and it features everything from eco-terrorists, Discrimination against Native Americans. the Patriot Act, sales of WMD to Iraq, and a lot of good old-fashioned torture.  In other words, something for everyone. (08/04)

The Meaning of Everything

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Simon Winchester

This history of the project to produce the Oxford English Dictionary may not be for everyone.  But for those interested in words, it is a gem.  It took thirty years for the first few pages to be printed, and almost another forty before the first edition was complete.  The people who dedicated themselves to the task were, to say the least, odd, but in their own way, fascinating.  (8/04)

American Soldier

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Gen. Tommy Franks

Franks figured out how to harness the strength of the information age to wage war effectively with a minimum of manpower.  He also learned how to use all service branches in conjunction with on the ground CIA operatives.  The end result was a quick victory with about a third of the force used in Desert Storm.  Agree with his politics or not (I don't) you have to admire the man. (08/04)

Skinny Dip

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Carl Hiaasen

If Hiaasen isn't the funniest man in America, I'd like to know who is.  He claims it's easy to be funny when you live in south Florida.  Every time he creates a character or situation that strains credulity, something happens in Miami that make his look mundane.  Don't read this shortly after having abdominal surgery (as I did) as you may put your the integrity of your stitches in jeopardy. (08/04)

Hard Revolution

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George Pelecanos

A tough, but very readable novel about cops and robbers in Washington, D.C. just before and just after the assassination of Martin Luther King.  Strong characters  and a good story make this one move right along. (08/04)

World on Fire

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Amy Chua

Here is a book that should be read by all Americans.  Chua's premise is that by fostering unbridled free markets and instant democracy throughout the world, the U.S. is not acting in its own self-interest.  Globalization and structural reforms imposed on developing countries by the World Bank and the IMF are contributing to political instability and resentment of America throughout the Third World. (07/04).

Headlong

Michael Frayn

Not an easy read.  A British philosophy professor tries to outwit an unsophisticated neighbor at his summer home in the country.  Quite funny, but much of the book deals with the details of sixteenth century Dutch art and history.  You’ll learn more about Brueghel the artist than you care to know.  (07/04)

Plan of Attack

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Bob Woodward

This is excellent objective reporting.  The book studies the decision-making process that led to the war in Iraq.  Gen. Franks and some of the lower level CIA people are brilliant, but some of the administration leaders, particularly Dick Cheney and George Tenet are not flatteringly portrayed.  (6/04)

No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

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Alexander McCall Smith

Delightful stories about a lady in Botswana who decides to open a detective agency.  Nothing too brain-taxing here, but very enjoyable and a fast read. (5/31)

Eats, Shoots, and Leaves

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Lynne Truss

Who would ever believe that a book about punctuation would rise to the top of the TImes best-seller list.  I read the book and found out that you don't put a question mark after questions like this.  Good fun and instructive. (5/31)

What Went Wrong?

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Bernard Lewis

This highly-regarded book by a well-known Princeton history professor explores the roots of Islamic rage.  Written prior to the events of 9/11/01,  Lewis had predicted increased attacks by Muslim suicide bombers.  The only problem with the book is that it is dead boring.  (5/04)

The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living

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Martin Clark

A small town judge in North Carolina gets involved with a strange band of characters in trying to recapture a mysterious family heirloom.  This is a very funny book written by a real Carolina judge.  All of the characters are well-developed and the story moves right along to a satisfying conclusion.  (5/04)

Bringing Down the House

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Ben Mezrich

A group of MIT students figure out how to win big at blackjack by working as a team.  A fascinating story with a system that anyone can adopt on a small-scale to improve the odds.  When done on a million dollar scale, the casinos are not amused.  (5/04)

Absolute Friends

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John Le Carré

The Cold War is over, but the same players are still in place so they fill their days fighting the War on Terrorism.  Things haven't changed much since The Spy Who Came In From The Cold - lot's of victims and very few heroes.  As always the writing is first rate. (04/04)

The Murder Room

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P.D. James

Now in her 80's, James is still the best mystery writer around.  At one point, our hero Adam Dalgleish, poet/police officer, says to his assistant that he knows the identity of the murderer.  I had figured it out also.  I wonder if it's too late to start another career. (03/04)

The Price of Loyalty

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Ron Suskind

The story of Paul O'Neill's tumultuous experience as Treasury Secretary in the Bush administration.  O'Neill had been a CEO so long that he forgot how to report to someone else.  It was only a matter of time before he was shown the door.  The portraits of W's inner circle are not very flattering. First class writing by Suskind.  (03/04)

Reading Lolita in Tehran

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Azar Nafisi

The author is an English literature scholar and Iranian activist.  For two years before leaving permanently for the US in 1997, she started teaching a good books seminar to a group of five young women in her home.  The books, such as Lolita, Daisy Miller and The Great Gatsby had been banned.  Descriptions of the ubiquitous stifling presence of the Islamic fundamentalist government in everyday life is chilling. (2/04)

Birds of America

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Lorrie Moore

This is a fine collection of short stories.  Moore has a way of getting the reader into the protagonist's head within a paragraph or two.  The characters are all flawed and in some way alienated from family, companion or spouse.  Sounds like a downer, but really isn't - there is a ray of hope in each (2/04)

The Zanzibar Chest

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Aidan Hartley

The central African wars in the 1990's were pretty much off the radar screens in the West.  This book by a former Reuters correspondent brings them to life.  He weaves his anecdotes with stories about his father and a friend of his father, British colonials who stayed on after the empire dissolved.  The stories about Rwanda and Somalia are unforgettable.  The author has a website where you can read excerpts and see some interesting pictures www.thezanzibarchest.com .(01/04)

 

Books read in 2003

Books read in 2002

Books read in 2001