It’s November already, and time for my 2014 list of favorite books. This year, I’m including audiobooks as well, which have been a real life saver during another dreadful commute from Brooklyn to Newark. Enjoy!
The Martian by Andy Weir
An astronaut is left behind on Mars when his crew mistakenly thinks he’s dead. To write anything more about the plot is to leak spoilers, so I will just say that this thoroughly entertaining and suspenseful story is an even more impressive achievement when you consider that The Martian was written by a first time author, was self-published on Amazon in 2012, and is now on its way to becoming a film by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Beautifully written, with more twists and turns than the Amazon river itself, this elegant novel follows the story of Dr Marina Singh, a Minnesota-based scientist, who must track down a colleague who has disappeared in the Brazilian rainforest during a research trip. This provocative and ambitious story revolves around an environmental message that is as subtle and significant as James Cameron’s Avatar is overwrought.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
“Bildungsroman” is a fancy word for a coming-of-age novel, and man, does Donna Tartt nail this genre. A Dickensian story with a McGuffin plot device, this is a tale of two incidents in extremis: a terrorist bombing followed by a tiny gesture of a dying man set our young hero Theo on an adventure bigger than he ever could have imagined. Abandoned then orphaned, Theo bounces around the world, from multiple locations in New York City, to Las Vegas and finally to Amsterdam where all the stories that Tartt has set in motion come to a surprising conclusion.
This biography should be a mini series if it has not been optioned already. And if not, will somebody obtain the film rights for me?? Chang’s description of the 16 year old’s journey from the Chinese countryside to the Forbidden City to take her place as concubine #7 leaps off the page and is begging to be seen. Long vilified by historians both in China and abroad as a despot, CiXi ruled China for nearly 50 years, implemented sweeping political reforms and laid the foundation for democratic transition towards constitutional monarchy before her death. And she did so from behind a screen at a time when women were viewed as property of their families.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
I’m late to the party with this book that was first published back in 2000. However, my experience was enhanced by listening to the audiobook read by Mr Bourdain, himself. This was the first book to peel back the curtain of the unglamorous life of a restaurant chef, and it launched Bourdain’s career out of the kitchen and on to television. It’s irreverent, crude and sharply written. No wonder his weltanschauung has successfully translated to the small screen. If I take away anything, it’s don’t go out to brunch, but if you must, for godsake, do not order the hollandaise.
The Elementalists by C. Sharp
My friend Chris Sharp has just published his first book of the young adult series “The Tipping Point Prophesy”. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s getting great buzz. If you like dragons and teen angst, this is a book for you.