Monday, August 13, 2012

10 Books I Have Loved

I grew up in a house full of books. My parents each had a pile by the bed. My father had five he was reading simultaneously, alongside the Times crossword puzzle and Wisden (the cricketer's bible). My Mother always read broadly and still does, bringing me armfuls of books most recently including The Language of Flowers(see below), whenever she comes to visit from London. 

I thought that every home was the same. I had a rude awakening in my first year at university. For a "Teaching literature to children course" we spent a morning in a local primary school asking 9 year olds about their reading habits. We had to ask them questions such as......

Does someone read to you every day?
Do you own a book? 
Do you go to the library? 
Does your home have a daily newspaper/magazines? 
Do other people in your family read? 
Have you ever been given a book as a gift? 

In my own home the answers to these questions were so obviously YES, that I was staggered as child after child replied NO to 2 or 3 or even all the questions.

As an aspiring teacher this confirmed for me, the importance of reading to my future students every day and having quiet time for them to read themselves. I realized that  immersing them in the pleasure of the written word as much as possible was a lofty goal perhaps, but a priority.

As an 18 year old I realized how incredibly lucky I was, that a love of books had been instilled in me and that in my gilded world books, newsprint and literature were the norm.

As a parent I am passionate that my three boys enjoy reading for pleasure. As I tell them it is something you can do for your whole life, by yourself and for free with the library system!

So I am an avid reader and since we are back at the beach with a pile of books and kindle on my ipad I thought I would share some of my favorite reads with you. Some are old some are new, but the fact that they have stuck in my memory, unlike most things, sets them apart.
So in no particular order  here they are:- 

( You can read more about every book I recommend  on the Amazon link on the right of this post.)

1. Year of Wonders By Geraldine Brooks
Don't let the fact that this is a book about the plague put you off. The year is 1666 in a small village in England. The plague has struck and the village magnanimously decides to shut its gates allowing noone in or out to keep the plague from spreading.The  female protagonist is gutsy and dynamic in a world where women are maids and playthings. I read it 9 years ago and heard Geraldine Brooks speak about it at Barnes and Noble. It only made me love the book more.

2. My Year of Meat By Ruth L Ozeki
I read this in Hong Kong before coming to America. It is a story at one level about hormones in the American meat industry,but it is also about housewives in America showcasing, how to cook meat to the Japanese market so that they will buy more American beef. Politics, culture clash and early puberty collide in this expose of the meat industry. I loved it.

3.The Poisonwood Bible and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbera Kingsolver ( I know-I can't count)
I have a very soft spot for The Poisonwood Bible. I read it every night when I was feeding Jacob as a newborn 11 1/2 years ago. I actually was pleased when he woke so that I could carry on reading! 

A bullying  missionary, Nathan Price and his wife and four daughters  head to  the Congo to "save" their new flock.This epic story  tells of how unprepared they are for living in a different culture. How they survive in the midst of political conflict, heat, changed diets and culture shock and how each three dimensional  member of the family fares as they grow up and make their way in the world.

Animal,Vegetable, Miracle is Kingsolver's autobiographical tale of how she and her family choose to live self sufficiently on a farm only eating what they can grow or find locally. It is wonderful to read in contrast to the Price family's change of location in  The Poisonwood Bible.

4. Expecting Adam By Martha Beck
This is an autobiography that me laugh and cry in the same paragraph. I love Martha Beck's writing and in another life I would like to come back with her gift. 

She begins her story  as a Harvard postdoctoral student when she finds out that the baby she is expecting has Downs syndrome. The academics around her expect that she will abort a Downs child who would get in the way of her research. But she is determined to keep him and this book tells the story of her pregnancy and the spiritual experiences she has during that time. If you choose only one book from this list choose this one.

5. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Twins abandoned at birth in a hospital where their British doctor  father and Indian  nun mother had worked, are adopted by remaining staff and grow up to become doctors themselves. Their relationships, passions and intelligence develop in different ways, but blood is thicker than water and the need to find out who they are is crucial. This is set against the backdrop of Ethiopia on the verge of revolution and spans continents and life times.This is a rich, engrossing, medically accurate book(the author is a doctor). Once you get into it, this book is gripping.

6.The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
This is a perfect beach read. Victoria Jones has spent her childhood in a harsh foster care system and at 18 is tossed out into the world to fend for herself. She has learned two things-to  keep her emotional distance from others and the Victorian language of flowers which helps her secure a job in a florist  and discover a gift for picking the right flowers for each person who comes to buy them. Even though prickly Victoria is emotionally damaged, the flowers help her thaw and through a tentative relationship, she confronts her painful past. I couldn't put it down.

7.The Devil in The White City by Erik Larson ( Jonny picked this!) 
Set at the time of the World fair in 1893, this novel is a work of historical fiction, based on the true story of the architect of the world fair and a skillful serial killer who designed and built The World Fair Hotel to use to lure his victims to their deaths. This book  is gripping because of its artful narration and factual basis.

8.The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
This book was intended for a young adult readership,but if it has passed you by then pick it up quickly for a remarkable read. The simplicity of it only heightens its power. It is the story of Liesel Meminger a foster child in Germany during WWII who, owning nothing, chooses of all things to steal books. With the help of her foster father,she learns to read, read to others in air raid shelters and the Jewish man hiding in their basement. It is narrated by death who comes over as a sympathetic presence who reluctantly takes the bodies he has to acquire. You will not be able to put this book down and it will stay with you long after you have read the final page.

9. Bel Canto, The Patron Saint of Liars and State Of Wonder by Ann Patchett (OK this is 3 books but I couldn't choose just one!)
I think you either love or hate Ann Patchett. I am a big fan. Each of these is very different and each is placed in an unusual setting.. The first is about a hostage taking in an embassy and the relationships that develop between captors and captives. The second is about a home for unwed expectant mothers to go to to have their babies in secret and the third focuses on a scientist who is sent into the jungle to look into the mysterious death of her colleague and the authenticity of the research that is supposedly taking place there.

10.The Invisible Bridge
This is an evocative saga that stretches from Hungary to Paris and back from 1939 to 1945 and follows the children of a Jewish family who set off with such high hopes and dreams -one to be an architect another a doctor but who's lives are interrupted by the onset of the second world war. It is a study of the Jews of Hungary not often a focus of Holocaust literature and the fallout they suffered indirectly from the rise of Nazi Germany.I particularly loved the descriptions of the Paris scenes-I wanted to rush to Paris and follow the protagonist's footsteps through the streets and be with him as he created his architectural designs in 3 D models,never mind swooning for him as an almost too perfect lover!

If you have a favorite book or a comment on one I have suggested -please share it in the comments section-we all need good recommendations.

Happy reading!


Many thanks to you all for your support of  Brainstorm. Please help spread the blog readership by sharing this post or others to your face book page. It's very simple to do.  Click on the F icon at the very bottom of this post, write a comment if you like and post the link. 
Thank you! 

* Please email me at or leave a comment on this post below. I'd love to have your feedback. 
*Thank you for visiting Brainstorm. If you want to receive future posts by email please enter your address on the right hand side of this post,where it says "follow by email."  Remember to look for the verification link when it comes into your inbox or hides in your spam folder.


  1. How could I not write something after reading this post? I would only like to add that books have also been the cement between relationships as they most certainly have with ours! Here's to sharing many many more books together for years to come!

    1. Suzette-that is so true. We have shared a lot of great books together and many other things. I think that's why book clubs are so successful- books initially bringing people together and then the club becomes a support for its members in a myriad of ways.I hope you will continue to share great books with me. What would be one of your favorites?

  2. My parents were not really book buyers - although we had quite a few shelves of reference and cookery books etc... but they never bought novels.... I on the other hand have way too many books - I actually thought it was normal to have a lot of books (most of my lift was made up of books), and realized it wasn't when I moved into an apartment in Yokneam, and neighbours knocked on the door because they had heard from another neighbour we had an unbelievable amount of books... I think it is one of the reasons that my house will never look really tidy... all the Israelis I know with tidy houses have no books....

    I have read only 2 on your list - I recently finished the Invisible Bridge and years ago read the Poisonwood Bible. I am now on a book diet - am not buying any more books until I have read the ones that I have on my shelves....

    1. Hi Janice -of all the books on your bookshelf what is your favorite? Is there an English library you can borrow from?....or maybe with your collection you should start one!
      Thanks for commenting.

  3. I loved Poisonwood - the irony of a man out to save so many souls oblivious to the fact that he's ruining the lives of his family. I also loved the Year of Meat. I just wish everyone would vote with their feet on this - I've heard Japanese food is delicious.

    This post makes me want to go and see what's on my shelves. Gilly you would love two books I've read recently. Gentlemen and Something (can't remember what) by Joanne Harris (Chocolat) and To Miss With Love by can't remember. Both with a school backdrop and both rivetting.

    1. Rachel-Japanese food is delicious! We ate a lot of it when we lived in Asia.Thank you very much for the recommendations.I'm always looking for new books to read. Sometimes someone recommends a book and I think I must read it and then find a copy on my bookshelf.Its often one my Mum has left from one of her visits but I had no idea it was I will check the bookshelves first to see if ones you are recommending are sitting there already.I'll let you know when I've read them.

  4. Gilly, my parents always read and my dad is in the library every few days. we both read and one son does, other not unless its required from school, frustrating. I read two on your list and will look for some of the others for a change of pace as they all sound good. I just finished reading Loving Frank - came out and was popular a few years ago, you might enjoy too, and just took Lord of Flies off my mohter in laws shelf as its one the kids have to read for school this year. See you soon! Hi from South Africa

    1. Jill- I haven't read Loving Frank.Who wrote it?Thanks for the recommendation.Have a great trip and thanks for reading the blog in SA!

  5. Jane Taubenfeld CohenAugust 14, 2012 at 7:43 PM

    I read most of these, Gilly, and loved them. My favorite book of the last year was "The Language of Flowers" I love blogposts like this as it reminds me how much I love to read!

    1. I agree with you Jane I The Language of Flowers was definitely my favorite this year. Such a sad indictment of the foster care system and how the children who are victims of their own circumstances become the enemy that the system wages war with and then tosses out. I also loved learning about the meaning of giving certain flowers. It's made me think once or twice about buying certain flowers!Thanks for taking the time to tell me about your favorite book.

  6. Gilly,
    You left out books by an author you introduced me to many years ago: Barbara Trapido and her book "Brother of the More Famous Jack" and others. Just recently read a beautiful book recommended by our friend Tami: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, which is a beautiful read. Happy reading!! Sx

  7. Shani- It's funny you mention that book.I considered putting it on the list and then forgot about it.I read it such a long time ago! I will definitely add it to my next list.Thanks to you I first read Ann Patchett and My Year Of Meat! Tami just wrote to me aboutThe Art of Hearing Heartbeats. I will definitely read it now.Please keep in touch with your recommendations.They are always great.Love to you and everyone inHong Kong.
    thanks for commenting on the blog.I really appreciate it.

  8. I don't go to the library. I feel bad not supporting authors. We also don't have a newspaper or other daily magazine, but since the internet became a better faster source for news.

  9. Corey -I asked those questions to 9 year olds almost 30 years ago( although I am sure I cannot be that old). That was the age before computers and the internet. I like to think that children who do not get to the library/ own a book may at least be reading on the computer. What they may be reading is a whole other issue. I know my teenagers glean all their news from reading and following newspapers/Reddit/Twitter recommendations/links from Facebook on line even though we have a daily newspaper delivered to our home. They are often more up to date with the news than I am from reading the paper.I think doing a survey like that 30 years on would have to include some very different /relevant to the times, questions.
    However I think it's harder to cuddle with a child and a computer at night to read a story, than with a book!