What did I read this past year that I recommend?
From the Classics Club Challenge list: Silas Marner by George Eliot, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, and Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens.
Other good novels included Home by Toni Morrison, which I wrote about here, and Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple, where the writing is painfully lovely as the story unfolds of a marriage breaking apart due to infidelity.
For a light-hearted, funny novel, I recommend Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp; though it’s set shortly before WWII in England, it has little to do with the upcoming war, and focuses on the amusing characters, with most of the action in a country house and small neighboring village.
For detective novels, I read two by P.D. James that I liked, less for the mystery and more for the way she writes characters and scenes. They’re The Black Tower and Death of an Expert Witness. (Both of them feature Adam Dalgliesh as the detective.)
Just a couple of days ago, I finished reading The Ladies Auxiliary by Tova Mirvis, a novel set in the small Orthodox Jewish community in Memphis; a new arrival stirs up fresh life and energy, even as her presence causes underlying tensions in the community to surface as well.
Also, I’ve continued discovering good short fiction and adding it to the ongoing rec list.
Moving on to nonfiction. I recommend Sightlines by Kathleen Jamie, a collection of essays focused on the natural world (I wrote about one of them here). Also, Living an Examined Life by James Hollis, which could give you much to think about
Then there’s Voices From Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich, an oral history of the disaster told from a variety of perspectives; much of it is gut wrenching, how people struggled with the effects and the uprooting of their lives, how they faced the sickness and deaths of family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues, how much they knew or wanted to know, the lies they heard, the way some of them didn’t want to leave no matter what had happened to the land.
I also recommend No One Cares About Crazy People by Ron Powers. Powers provides an overview of mental health treatments (or “treatments”) in the western world and the present failures in the U.S. to help people suffering from schizophrenia and other serious conditions; many end up in jail, repeatedly hospitalized, or on the streets. Along with discussions of policies and attitudes, there’s the author’s personal story; both his sons developed schizophrenia, and one committed suicide. What would it take to improve mental health care, which is underfunded, fragmented, and full of misconceptions?