Brenda’s Best Book Club Ever!

This is a new page for me and nothing directly related to photography, but directly related to great reads and great friends – a way to share books which have the ability to make all of our lives richer. Three years ago I sent out a request to my friends asking them to share a favorite book  that I could read during recovery from surgery – and I ended up with one of  the most wonderful and eclectic set of reads imaginable. Some are deep, some are funny, some will make you look at life with fresh eyes, all are worth a look.

Many of my friends are always asking each other, “what are you reading?”. I am always reading something, but half the time I forget what it was I really liked six months ago,  so I am hoping this list will help me remember.  Hey, maybe you will add your favorites along the way and suddenly we will have the benefits of  a book club without having to joining a book club!  I have nothing against book clubs. Someday, I may even join one, but right now on top of photographic pursuits I have a marriage, three kids, a snake, a bird, a dog, a cat, a mouse, a horse and a weed infested vegetable garden. That is really about as much commitment as  I can possibly handle right now.  The great thing about joining this book club, the “best-book-club-ever!” Is that you can read any, all or none of the books on your own time frame. The only requirement is that you add a title or two of your own at the bottom of the list.

Lastly, to all my friends that shared, cared and indulged my habit of sending books to you over the years – and those that have sent and shared books with me – I love you for it! Because of the pages I have turned, I have lived many lives, courted adventure, endured broken hearts, explored new worlds, pondered many thoughts deep and wide. You encouraged me to live lives that I would have missed had I never cracked open a book.

I will annoy you with short comments on the books later, but here is what you shared, and I read in no particular order:

Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
The Painted Canoe by Anthony Winkler
Open Secrets by Alice Munro
Sarah’s Key
Brideshead Revisted by Evelyn Waugh
Teaching a Stone to Talk, and For the Time Being by Anne Dillard
The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron
50 Shades of Grey ( Can’t say why this came to mind right after the above title!)
The Power of One  by Bryce Courtenay
For the Love of Physics by Walter Lewin
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
An Abundance of Katherine’s by John Green
Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Searching for Alaska by John Green
A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver
What is the What by David Egger
Life in the Valley of Death by Alan Rabinowitz
The River Why by David James Duncan
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
The Worst Thing I’ve Done by Ursula Heggi
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace
9 1/2 Seconds by ????
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintaince
1491 by Charles C. Mann
Longitude by Dava Sobel
The Elegant Universe by Brain Greene
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell
A Mercy by Toni Morrison
Good Poems for Hard Times by Garrison Keillor

Ok, Time to add some new favorites!

Lately I have been on a short story binge. Binge is the right word. I read short stories like I eat potato chips, just one more, just one more, wait- they are small, just one more, until the bag or entire book is gone. Short stories are greatly underrated in my opinion; they are perfect for travel or sitting in your car while your kid plays soccer or hockey, and you can read the entire story without falling asleep.
One of the undisputed masters of the form is Alice Munro. If you want to dispute that comment, well, we are going to have to step outside. I returned to a great collection from 2001: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
Anything by Alice Munro is worth the read.

Second pick for a short story collection: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett.
If you have enjoyed any of her novels -(State of Wonder, Bel Canto..)and you will if you read them, you will really enjoy this collection of stories. You will put it down and immediately feel like she is now your newest/oldest best friend and you want to have coffee with her tomorrow. The stories offer keen insights about the process of writing, the vagaries of love, and the simple joy in being human. This is a tears and laughter book. If you have ever loved a dog- or man- or parent- or nun- or friend, well pull up a chair and dive in.

Fun Fact: Not only is an Ann Patchett an award wining and talented author, she is also the co-owner of Parnassus,an independent bookstore in Nashville, TN. If you love books, and love brick and mortal independent bookstores, don’t forgot to buy some books from one whenever you can. Yes,there is most certainly a place for Amazon Prime, but the world would be a sadder more sterile place without the Eagle Harbor Books, the Powell’s, the Strand’s of the world. Do you remember being a little kid and heading to the Children’s Section, or leafing thru the huge photo books that held the whole world between the covers? What about going into a local bookstore where the person selling the books has actually read them, and knows you and what you like to read? It’s hard to put a price tag on those things, but to me they are invaluable.

There is a nice article in The Atlantic about Ann Patchett deciding to open a bookstore in the age of Amazon. Check it out – it is well written, by Ann herself:

So, send me your favorite recent reads. I am doing a “friends picks” list to end 2014. So far Boys in the Boat is leading ….
And, while you are at it, send me the name and town of your favorite local bookstore, that would be a neat list to have as well. That way whenever I am on the road, or you are, you can find the bookstore – while there still is one to find…

Oh, and a huge oversight, as several of you have pointed out:

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

H is for Hawka memoir by British author Helen Macdonald. It won the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize in 2014. One of the best books I’ve read this year by far.

Keep them coming!!!



  • Reply
    John Hanson
    November 15, 2014 at 11:56 am

    I highly recommend a trio of books by Peter May, a star Scottish writer. The Black House, Lewis Man and Chess Man are all about life on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Part crime stories, part love story and the tough life of the hardy people there. All of it is painted with the beautiful prose of this gifted writer. There is a thread of the same people in each book but they can also stand alone. They take place in the order listed above.

  • Reply
    Betsy Carroll
    November 15, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    Snowchild–absolute fav also excellent for discussion
    Women of Berlin–great read
    Code Name Verity–great for discussion
    Unbroken–hard to believe it’s a true story

    • Reply
      November 15, 2014 at 11:46 pm

      “They were all excellent- couldn’t pick just one. :p

      If I HAD to pick just one it would be The Glass Castle.


      Yes, it does seem awful to pick just one… loving the list already.

      Mariane weighed in with the Boys in the Boat with no equivocation!

  • Reply
    Peter Felsenthal
    November 16, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Farmacology by Daphne Miller, MD a series of essays and visits to organic farms and such like with a scientific discussion of the benefit of making food choices away from the mainstream. Not a thriller but good for anyone,especially those responsible for family food buying

  • Reply
    Liz Kline
    November 16, 2014 at 10:44 am

    Brenda, your request for titles is quite timely — I have just started keeping a list of what I am reading. My wonderful, tastefully well-read husband Paul gave me a Kindle last Christmas with access to his library. I asked him for some recommendations to get me started and from there I randomly decided to read woman authors. I have not read a bad one yet. I list them below in the order I read them.

    If you choose The Goldfinch, be prepared to abandon yourself (and responsibilities) to a highly compelling 700 page ride. Most recently I have finished the Neopolitan novels by Elena Ferrante which I inhaled back to back — warning she is still writing the fourth in the series for which her fans must wait. Interestingly, her identity is unknown, even by her translators. As for short stories, next on my list are The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis.

    These titles are all critically acclaimed prize winners. I would love to hear your feedback if you read them.

    The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
    The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
    The Goldfinch by Donna Tart
    Above the East China Sea by Sarah Bird
    Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    Telex From Cuba by Rachel Kushner
    A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
    The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
    My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
    The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
    Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
    The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis by Lydia Davis

    • Reply
      November 16, 2014 at 12:22 pm

      It seems that most of us have a really hard time picking a single favorite! So many good reads out there,so little time… Ok, Erin – I owe you an apology for giving you a hard time. Thanks Peter for your suggestion. Shall I start a gender discussion by mentioning that the men seem more able to pick a favorite, and my gal pals are throwing huge lists at me? Just, an observation… keep it coming!

  • Reply
    December 2, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    From my pal Bob Wildman:

    Huckleberry Finn tops the list.

    More recent reads that have earned my award for literary excellence:

    The Orchardist: A sensitive and insightful look at trauma, intimacy and compassion
    Jayber Crowe: Wendell Berry is a master of giving a sense of place, change leading you into the lives of his characters
    The Long-Legged House, Wendell Berry: A memoir of his house on the Kentucky River. Ecologically sensitive.
    A Book of Tea: This is a classic that helps understand Japanese art and attention to detail. The edition with an introduction by Bruce Richardson is my favorite.

  • Reply
    August 18, 2015 at 9:45 pm

    One of my faves is Fool on the Hill – Matt Ruff

  • Reply
    September 9, 2015 at 7:09 pm

    An Island Within by Richard Nelson
    The Complete Works of Calvin and Hobbs by Bill Waterson
    Solace of Open Space by Gretel Ehrlich
    All Creatures Great and Small (etc) by James Herriot
    Never Cry Wolf/The Boat that wouldn’t Float by Farley Mowat
    The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen
    The Stars by H.A Rey

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