I did it – I finished all 24 of the books recommended to me by esteemed readers of this blog! I started in November 2016, so it took me almost two years. I interspersed the 24 selected books with other reading including some for my local book club, and lots I chose myself.
The Just-for-Me Book Club never once felt like a chore. I always looked forward to reading the next one!
The final three were:
- Fools Rush In by Bill Carter – recommended by Sarah at Live to List
- The Secret History by Donna Tartt – recommended by reader Margie in Toronto
- Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? By Michael J. Sandel – recommended by Rom
Fools Rush In is a rookie journalist’s account of the siege of Sarajevo in 1994. Carter works with a rogue humanitarian group, providing food to citizens hidden in the city’s wreckage. He visits the same people many times and tracks their “progress” throughout the war. Carter ends up bonding with local residents including artists and musicians, teens and children. He feels the world is not taking the Bosnian War seriously and he tries to bring it more media attention. I had watched news about the war back when it happened, and I had forgotten the part in which he recruits some famous folks to help him! But the most unexpected part of the book was the incredible love story that started in Alaska before the war.
After I read this, I ordered a copy of the documentary the author made while he was in Sarajevo. It appeared to have been mailed directly from the author’s house! It was amazing to see him chat with the people who were featured in the book, to realize how young and inexperienced he was then, and to see what an impact he was able to make.
The Secret History is literary star Donna Tartt’s first novel. It revolves around a young man who joins a small group of dedicated Classics scholars at a New England college. As the story begins, we hear that a murder has been covered up. The rest of the book tells us how it transpired, revealing many secrets about each of the students. The writing is especially good – I love the “scene” in which Richard spends a lonely, freezing winter in Vermont. One of the themes of the book is belonging: trying to become an insider in an exclusive group. In this way it reminded me of Brideshead Revisited and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. Intensely burdened by the murder, the group begins to unravel.
I look forward to reading one of Tartt’s subsequent books – either The Little Friend or The Goldfinch.
Justice began as a course in political philosophy at Harvard. Much of the style is similar to Freakonomics. It gives real-life examples of public dilemmas, such as: Should governments bail out failing banks? Should you be allowed to sell one of your kidneys? Should you turn in a close family member if they commit a serious crime? Should military service be mandatory? You can see why this course would appeal to undergrads! The examples are used to highlight passages from philosophers such as Aristotle, Kant, Rawls and Mill. The chapters explain utilitarianism, libertarianism, and other belief systems. I really liked how it made me examine my beliefs and try to make them more consistent. I also liked the author’s reasoning about which moral system is “best.”
OK! Now here are some random notes and facts about the 24 Just-for-Me books:
- Shortest: Superhuman by Habit by Tynan (101 pages)
- Longest: Shake Hands with the Devil by Romeo Dallaire (562 pages)
- Oldest (first published): Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell, 1936
- Newest (last published): The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, 2017
- Best Selling on Amazon.com: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (#742 of all books on Amazon)
- Highest Rating on Goodreads: Strength to Love by Martin Luther King Jr. (4.6 out of 5)
- Easiest to get: Justice by Michael Sandel – in the house because Rom owns it (that’s why I read it last)
- Hardest to get: Cripple Creek Days by Mabel Barbee Lee and Fools Rush In by Bill Carter – placed interlibrary loans for both
- Most evocative (sense of place): Breath by Tim Winton – coast of Western Australia
- Most relatable character: Jacqueline in Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
- Shocker ending: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
- Challenging: Riddley Walker (in a made-up language) by Russell Hoban
- Most likely I would have read without this book club: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, which my local book club assigned later
- Least likely I would have read without this book club: Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand – I don’t consider myself a horsey person!
- How many were not dark or serious books? At most, 8 of 24
- Glad I read: ALL!!!
Well, readers, you have made me very happy indeed by recommending these fine and varied books. I am much richer for the experience!
Can you guess what my next reading challenge will be? It’s no surprise: I need another round of Reading Down the House!
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What have you been reading lately?