Between the Lines: San Diegans’ Favorite Books

| January 1, 2013 | 0 Comments

I look forward to them every December—the “best” lists. My favorites are the book lists, especially in The New York Times: the top 100 of the year, then narrowed down to ten. The L.A. Times, Washington Post, NPR, Slate, Amazon, Barnes & Noble— everyone gets into the act, and I like to see the differences and the duplications (Hilary Mantel’s extraordinary “Bring Up the Bodies” is on almost every 2012 list).

It occurs to me with a shiver of glee that I have a forum too; I can publish a list! I read dozens of books every year (ah, the joys of retirement): some are new releases, but more are older, some obscure, plus a number of rereads. It would be easy to pick ten favorites, but, once the power surge subsides, it feels narcissistic.

I like The New Yorker’s eclectic list, the favorites of a number of their contributors. So I asked some San Diego book lovers to tell me about their best read of 2012. It didn’t have to be a newly published book, but it should be one they’d read for the first time—no umpteenth reading of “Pride and Prejudice” or “The Great Gatsby.” Everyone had a hard time choosing just one, but once they did they were enthusiastic about their selections.

Susan McBeth, founder of Adventures by the Book, said that “The Yellow Birds” by Kevin Powers had the most profound impact on her. It’s more than just another war novel, Susan says: “It is poetic, insightful, moving, and most of all, unimaginable, so that we start measuring war not in terms of economics or politics, but in terms of the human spirit.”

Steve Wheeler, Mission Hills Branch Library manager, chose “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” by Jonathan Evison, about a man whose two preschoolers die in a horrible accident. He becomes a caregiver for a teenager with muscular dystrophy with whom he develops a strong bond. Wheeler, the father of two young sons, found it “a moving book about parents’ profound love for their children, the importance of connections with others, and resilience after devastating loss.”

The same theme dominates the selection of Judy Reeves, writer and teacher. She was moved by Emma Donoghue’s powerful “Room.” This riveting story is told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, who has lived his entire life in one 11×11 room with his mother, who was kidnapped and held captive. Judy observes that, “Their physical space may be limited but their love and their spirits are not.”

Kirby Kendrick, Mission Hills artist, selected “In the Garden of Beasts” by Erik Larson. This saga of an American family who found themselves transported to the heart of Hitler’s Berlin in
1933 is, according to Kirby, “Nonfiction that reads like a thriller.”

Carol Jahnkow, director emerita of the Peace Resource Center, was drawn by her Celtic heritage to “The Dream of the Celt,” a novel based on the true story of Irishman Roger Casement, by Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa. He observes abuses by imperialist nations in the Belgian Congo and in Peru and then by British rule in Ireland. During World War I some Irish nationalists supported Germany in hopes of winning Ireland’s independence, and the book sets forth the ethical dilemmas, which, according to Jahnkow, “seem clearer to us in hindsight, but weren’t as clear at the time.”

Encinitas attorney and yoga instructor Lynn Coulston chose “The Hare with Amber Eyes” by Edmund deWaal. Coulston: “When deWaal inherited a collection of 264 tiny Japanese wood and ivory carvings, called netsuke, he wanted to know who had touched and held them, and how the collection had managed to survive.” It’s a memoir and family history spanning Paris, Vienna, London and Tokyo from the 1890s to the present.

Finally, my choice is “Evidence of Things Unseen” by Marianne Wiggins. It’s a chilling account of America at the brink of the Atomic Age through the life of a WWI veteran in Tennessee, a photographer who was swept up in the growing fascination with x-ray technology, leading to the invention of the atomic bomb. Remember those foot x-rays in shoe shops that were later found to be lethal? He traveled with one as a carnival attraction, demonstrating it on his wife, inviting everyone to try it.

Happy reading in 2013!

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