“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” —Anna Quindlen

Friends & Fellow Readers,

Six weeks ago, I promised to send you a weekly book list for the duration of the shelter-in-place order. As we gradually return to pre-COVID life, we are nearing the end of shelter-in-place. As such, this will be my last book list. Thank you again for your continued friendship & support, and – as always – Happy Reading!

1: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (fiction, published in 1964)

My friend & neighbor Lisa Jacobs recently suggested that I include some books for kids, so I thought I would start with this classic.  If you have young children, please sit down and read this book to them. It will make a lasting impression – I know it did for me. I remember when my Mom read this to me that she cried at the end.  At four years old, I didn’t understand why. Now I do. You see, “once there was a tree . . . and she loved a little boy.”  At some point in your life, you will be the tree — and if you are really, really lucky, you will also be the boy. I hope you are one of the lucky ones, but if not, make sure your kids are.  Enough said.

2: Where the Crawdad’s Sing by Delia Owens (fiction, published in 2018)

This is the first and so far the only novel by Delia Owens – and she published it at 69 years old!  Perhaps her many years of latent talent is what makes this book so powerful:  It topped The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers of 2019 AND 2020 for a combined 30 non-consecutive weeks, and was selected as Barnes & Nobles’s ‘Best Book of 2018.’  Yes, it really is that good.   It sold more print copies in 2019 than any other adult title, fiction or non-fiction.  I am tempted to try and explain the deep messaging in this book, but I know my limitations.  All I can say is that it reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were.  If you only read one book on this week’s list, this should be it. But really, why would you read only one?

3: The Lost City of Z by by David Grann  (nonfiction, published in 2009)

This is another first book for the author, and it is an epic read. New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani described it aptly as “at once a biography, a detective story and a wonderfully vivid piece of travel writing.”  It tells the story of British explorer and all-round badass Percy Fawcett and his mission to find an ancient lost city in the Amazon.  He was never heard from again, but he left clues which sparked almost a  hundred years of speculation & legends – and inspired multiple expeditions of explorers to venture into the Amazon to retrace his steps.   This book was fascinating – I did not want it to end.

4: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, (fiction-or maybe not-published in 1957)

Ayn Rand’s 4th and final novel, this was considered her magnum opus – and it truly is.  Many people shy away from reading this because they believe it’s a book about politics – but it’s not – it’s just a damn good story of science fiction, mystery, and romance. But like every good story, it has a message for the reader.  That message encapsulates everything I believe but don’t have the words to articulate.  Who is John Galt?  You should find out.

5: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (fiction, published in 2014)

I stumbled across this book just browsing through my local library, picked it up on a whim, and it has sort of haunted me ever since. The plot is set in the Great Lakes area after a swine flu pandemic known as the “Georgia Flu” has killed most of the world’s population.  But that part is only peripheral to the real story, which is about the parts of our culture that we chose to hang on to when everything goes to hell.  And the parts that we chose define what it is that make us human.  That is my amateur analysis of the book. I hope it hits you the same way.  On a related note, I saw this article last month in the newspaper. I haven’t read it yet, but plan to.

6: I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes (fiction, published in 2013)

This is yet another first novel that knocked it out of the park!  It’s a Jason Bourne-like super spy novel, but way better – one of the best suspense novels you will read.  In July 2014, MGM bought the movie rights for the book and are set to target a series of films, similar to the Bond franchise.  As far as spy thrillers go, this is hands down the best, and relegates the likes of Clancy, Ludlum and LeCarre (as good as they are) into the also ran section. I just could not leave this one off the list.  You will thank me!

Your Suggestions

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (fiction, published in 2016) – This recommendation was submitted by my friend and our next Lee County Tax Collector Noelle Branning.  The theme of this book may seem familiar – it is about a man ordered by the government to remain in his home under house arrest for life; while this a relatively new phenomenon in the United States, apparently this has been commonplace in Russia (where the story takes place) for hundreds of years.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (fiction, published in 2019) – This recommendation was submitted by my friend Tracy Caruso, who runs a book club of her own.  This setting for the book is New York and Florida, and it is based on true story of the Dozier School, a reform school in Florida that operated for 111 years and had its history exposed by a university’s investigation. It was named one of TIME’S best books of the decade.  It is the follow-up to Whitehead’s 2016 novel The Underground Railroad which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  The Nickel Boys won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, making Whitehead only the fourth writer in history to have won the prize for fiction twice.  Judges of the prize called the novel “a spare and devastating exploration of abuse at a reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida that is ultimately a powerful tale of human perseverance, dignity and redemption.”

Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill (historical fiction, published in 2007) – This book comes highly recommended by my friend Germaine Hyatt; she rates this as one of her top reads.  I’ve read some reviews and this book has been compared with Harper Lee’s seminal work To Kill A Mockingbird.  For this comparison to even be made is enough for me – I look forward to giving this a read.  The plot is certainly intriguing: kidnapped from Africa as a child, Aminata Diallo is enslaved in South Carolina but escapes during the chaos of the Revolutionary War.  BET has produced an award-winning miniseries based on the book.

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Thank you again for your interest in my reading list. When I started this project, I had no idea how much positive feedback I would get – thank you for that.  This has become my favorite part of the week, as I truly enjoy writing these lists and playing amateur critic. Can you tell that as a kid I wanted to be a writer when I grew up? I hope that I have introduced you to a book or two that you will love a much as I do.    And because there are so, so many more books that I want to share with you, I may pick this up again at a later date.  But for now, take care, keep in touch, and keep reading.

Sincerely,

Spencer Roach