New(ish) fiction: Gentleman in Moscow Amor Towles

Classic fiction: Red Sorghum Mo Yan

Non-fiction: How We Got to Now Steven Johnson (tough decision)

Short Stories: Wine John Fante

Poetry: Selected Poems Donald Hall (not much competition here, need to read more poetry!)

Re-read: Stories William Faulkner

New (to me) writer:  Kazuo Ishiguru


Book of Aron Jim Shepard:  Really enjoyed his short stories but this one let me down.  Based on true events the book takes a lighter almost parallel tone to the heaviness that surrounds the Warsaw ghetto.  The character of Janus who runs the orphanage comes out as the only character we have a real depth of feeling for as life is debased to another token of bartering in the system of survival portrayed in the novel.  Back to the shorter works by Shepard!


Change Mo Yan:  A semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in China when new ideas are starting to foment.  Very under-stated account compared to the highly censored or highly agitated versions of a similar time period.  A fantastic writing style as to be expected from a Nobel laureate—READ MORE!

Black Swan Green David Mitchell:  An engaging English bildungsroman with only a touch of the fantastical that pervades his other books.

Purity Jonathan Franzen:  Well-written, of course, and topical with a lot of the action in Santa Cruz, Felton…and Colorado.  The plot itself wasn’t especially to my liking but still provided some thought-provoking thematic content.

Red Sorghum* Mo Yan:  An epic treatment of Chinese laborers during fighting with Japan.  A brutal, real-life portrayal conveyed with an almost elegiac style.

Selected Poems Donald Hall:  Basically a poetic biography in an unassuming, simplistic style by the poet laureate of 2006-07.  “Love is like sounds, whose last reverberations/Hang on the leaves of strange trees…”


Revival Stephen King:  A pretty good one about drug abuse and a carny reverend who curiously cures all.


Rimbaud Edmund White:  Classic example of the literary biographer inserting themselves into their subject matter.  Still a serviceable account of a fascinating life.

Grant Park Leonard Pitts, Jr:  A suspense/thriller novel with a racial discourse problem.  Not as entertaining as other Miami Herald writers foray into fiction but possibly a weightier message.

number9dream David Mitchell:  A bit of the fantastical in this one but still an engaging interplay of dreams and reality and their contributions to the meaning of life.  Keep reading his work!

The Generals Winston Groom:  An informative account of the lives and careers of Marshall, Patton and MacArthur.  Not necessarily a direct comparison or argument about who was better but objectively displays the strengths and weaknesses of each.  Nice biographical style!

The Promise Robert Crais:  Entertaining cheese read…a cheese read being a book that’s enjoyable while reading but not much substance, much like those delightful cheese puffs from Cheetos.  I’ll sheepishly return for more…

The View from Castle Rock Alice Munro:  Definitely read some more by her!  Short Stories all about different tendrils of the same family as it moves and tries to survive from Scotland to North America.

 Half a Life V.S. Naipul:  A disappointing, character-driven novel surrounding the un-involving life of an Indian writer and sexual vagabond.  Maybe try the non-fiction.

The Wine of Youth John Fante:  Great collection of stories a majority of which take place before his somewhat more well-known LA novels.  A gritty but fun look at growing up Italian in Denver.

Half an Inch of Water Percival Everett:  Really accessible short stories of the West.  Check out more stories and maybe try his strange-sounding novels.

Waterman:  The Life and Times of Duke Kahanamoku David Davis:  Comprehensive look at the real-life Hawaiian Sup’pa man and the development of Hawaii, the Olympics and both World Wars.  What a life!

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet  David Mitchell:  Another challenging read but so enriching…an almost fable-istic account of a Dutch merchant trying to come to grips with being in a very foreign land.

Prodigal Summer Barbara Kingsolver:  Metaphor-ific (meaning there’s a lot of, possibly unnecessary, metaphors) tale of Appalachia.  Three intertwining stories on love and/of nature.  A paperbound chick flick, if you will.

Closely Watched Trains Bohumil Hrabal:  Baroque portrait of a boy becoming a man in more ways than one in a Czechoslavakian train depot.  Didn’t live up to the hype but will read more. 

Other Side of Silence Phillip Kerr:  A cheese read with literary implications as W. Somerset Maugham makes an appearance.

Wandering* Herman Hesse:  Sketches (sometimes literally) of wandering the Swiss and Italian countryside.  Very near my heart…and very dangerous.

The Longmire Series Craig Johnson:  Read a few of these cheese reads that started out as a promising series but quickly turned wooden and self-indulgent.


The High Mountains of Portugal Yann Martel:  Not sure what to make of him as a writer but he sure tells a good story.  Two of the three sections were absorbing but you get the feeling the writer is writing just for the fun of it…not that there’s anything wrong with that!

After Dark  Haruki Murakami:  Very similar themes and characterizations as “The Colorless Life”.  Clear and descriptive writing style but some issues with plot development in this one.  Always worth reading!

Selected Stories William Faulkner:  Good to re-visit for some new takes on classic stories, keep on reading…

A Brief History of Seven Killings Marlon James:  What to say about this 700 page behemoth?  Best look at Jamaica since Russell Banks.  In short, a fictionalized account of the assault on Bob Marley at the Smile concert with an impressive cast of characters sharing the build-up and un-intended consequences.

January Window Phillip Kerr:  Solid cheese read revolving around soccer.  Borderline too cheesey much like cheesey poofs themselves.

Refund Karen E. Bender:  Nicely accessible short stories about families and finances and the trials of attaining and maintaining both.

Pearl S Buck in China* Hilary Spurling:  Enlightening bio of her early years before the publication of ‘Good Earth’.  Unexpectedly details the life of a missionary with their expectations and interactions with the locals.


East Wind: West Wind Pearl S Buck:  Attempted this book before but got nowhere with it.  It helped immensely to read the bio as it shows the challenges of ancient Eastern traditions meeting and understanding the cultural concepts from the West.


For a Little While Rick Bass:  New stories and a ton of old ones-a pretty complete collection.  So-so on the likeability meter.  Some seemed to have a resonating quality but generally hard-luck cases with no-luck resolutions.

Native Believer Ali Ersatz:  An exploration of the Muslim identity in America but a rather insipid perspective that didn’t garner much emotional insight.  Maybe try his short stories.

My Father’s Tears John Updike:  His last published collection of stories so feels dated but accessible as ever.

Barkskins Annie Proulx:  Epic exploration of French Canada and a burgeoning America through the timber industry and exploitation of the native people and their lands.  Allegorical inclinations included.  Interesting narrative to put alongside the non-fiction “American Canopy”, definitely a paper there.

Open Range Zane Grey:  From now on I want to be referred to as “Panhandle” Smith.  Total revenge western.

King of Lies John Hart:  Grisham-lite, probably won’t be going back for more.

Lily and the Octopus Stevan Rowley:  A quirky and “fun” pet-centric book on death.   Pretty complete storyline of living gay in LA in the 80s til today.  Some poignant insights but after all…it’s a dog and a weiner dog at that.  Still, very recommendable.

The Buried Giant* Kazuo Ishiguro:  Metaphoric adventure tale of Arthurian proportions that begs comparison to “The Hobbit” albeit shorter in breadth and length.  Despite the foreign atmosphere of the novel it’s highly relatable and a fun read.  Read more of him!

Whistlestop John Dickerson:  Anecdotes on favorite campaigns melodramas from colonial times to today.  Gives great perspective as it was written this year and contains some prescient observations re: the Clinton/Trump fiasco.

Anatomy of a Soldier* Harry Parker:  Intensely emotional read about both sides of war in the Middle East.  Told from the p.o.v. of different pieces of equipment, it’s a little “cute-fusing” (confusing by being cute) but eventually the engaging stories of a British soldier and an enemy combatant unfold.

Divine and Human and Other Stories* Leo Tolstoy:  An enlightening edition of original stories and re-tellings of traditional tales. Spiritual selections with heavy Christian over/undertones.

How We Got to Now:  Six Innovations that Made the Modern World* Steven Johnson:  Such an enriching read, I’ll recommend to everyone.  Each chapter follows the path from ideation to unrealized consequence:  Glass, Cold, Sound, Clean, Time, Light.  At times common-sensical and other times mind-blowing…kapow!

A Gentleman in Moscow* Amor Towles:  A fabulous rendering of life in 20th Century Russia.  You would think it would get claustrophobic but not so with the amazing characterizations of the denizens of the Metropol Hotel.

With the Old Breed E. B. Sledge:  Detailed, first-person account from the Pacific theater of WWII (also the basis for the HBO mini-series which is a must-watch follow-up to the book).  Follows the day-in-the-life of a Marine infantryman who survived and recounts the horrors in the battles for Peleliu and the more familiar Okinawa.  Made “PT-109” seem like a day at the beach!

The Bridegroom and Other Stories Ha Jin:  A look at a very different China than what was shown in the Buck years.  Contemporary stories on the surreal existence in a communist society.

The Knight in Rusty Armor Robert Fisher:  A fairly transparent fable which was a little basic for grand revelations.  A fun little read but didn’t live up to the “J-Gull”, ie Jonathan Livingston Seagull, comparisons.

The World of Raymond Chandler in His Own Words  Barry Day, ed:  Apt title in that it’s a great retrospective of LA noir.  Never read any of his books but it was interesting to see the era from a successful yet bitter perspective.  Also was inspired to watch The Big Sleep over the holidays and thoroughly enjoyed it!

Books I started and couldn’t do:

The Nix  Nathan Hill:  Story line seemed attractive and had good reviews.  Writing style not for me.

Last Night in Twisted River John Irving:  Was so into the first section of the book that I almost cried but the switch in narrative voice thereafter had me in tears for different reasons.