Gina is a circulation specialist at the library and also oversees our virtual book sale. Check out some of her favorite books that she read this past year!
The Thursday Murder Club series (to date) by Richard Osman
This series was made for me. I love British humor, charming characters of a certain age, and juicy murder mysteries that manage to be both clever and surprising. I've spent a lot of the past year reading various "cozies" and there are enough in print that I'll probably spend 2024 doing the same. I've learned that most cozy series are pleasantly mediocre and the greats are few and far between. The Thursday Murder Club series is, to me, among the best. Four mystery novels have been released since 2020, and the most recent was so achingly beautiful I get misty when I think of certain passages. I'm looking forward to both the next book and the inevitable TV/film adaptation. Steven Spielberg won the bidding war for the rights to adapt these books, so that's certainly an encouraging sign for the quality of what's to come.
Poverty, by America and Evicted by Matthew Desmond
Between Evicted and Poverty, Matthew Desmond is becoming the great American prophet of the poor. He won the Pulitzer Prize for 2017's Evicted, which I actually prefer over 2023's Poverty because it follows several families you get to know through their harrowing and frustrating ordeals with the eviction process. In Poverty, he takes more of a big picture approach, continuing to cover the housing market's key role in keeping poor people poor, but also broadening his scope to other areas of our culture to explain how and why we have so much poverty in such a rich country. Vitally, he also includes ideas for how to help fix the problem -- on an individual level, but also with our all-powerful votes to make systemic change. However, Poverty turned out to be shorter than I expected or would've liked, since the last quarter of the book is all source notes and references. I'm certainly glad he included notes to back up all of his statistics and assertions, but I also would've liked even more details and personal case studies instead of the book feeling more like an extended essay than an exhaustive report.
American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin
When I heard Christopher Nolan would be basing his 2023 movie Oppenheimer on this particular biography, I ordered it from another library. But as they say, great minds think alike, and I was far from the only one to want to take a crash course in the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer before watching Cillian Murphy's performance. It took a couple of renewals to be able to finish this book, since it's painstakingly researched and practically day-by-day during the key parts of Oppenheimer's life. Oppenheimer is remembered as The Father of the Atomic Bomb, and I appreciated getting a level of detail beyond the brush strokes I knew from history books and documentaries. But it's the personal details I found most intriguing, based on the authors' numerous interviews with people close to Oppenheimer. The full picture shows a man of many contradictions, both noble and maddening, and altogether worthy of being remembered with such attention.
Doctored and Intern by Dr. Sandeep Jauhar
Doctored was on our book sale shelf and for some reason it called to me. (I suspect my undying love for ER had a hand in that call.) Doctored chronicles "the disillusionment of an American physician" in the middle of his career. Dr. Sandeep Jauhar, a cardiologist on Long Island, presents a brutally honest and cynical look at the state of the medical industry. He near-drowns in self-pity at times -- it's hard to empathize with his struggle to pay for a Manhattan apartment and private school for his kids -- but his breakdown of both the big picture and day-to-day realities of modern medicine enlightened and sometimes shocked me. After Doctored, I read Intern, which is technically reading out of order; Dr. Jauhar wrote Intern after being a young doctor at a prestigious New York City hospital, many years before the events of Doctored. Intern does not exactly capture the idealism of youth, as Dr. Jauhar is already openly ambivalent about medicine at that point in his life. But it's interesting to follow a doctor's career in different stages. I appreciated Doctored's jaded insights in particular, with Dr. Jauhar frankly admitting that one of the problems with modern hospital care is doctors like himself.
The Devil in the White City
by Erik Larson
Whenever I hear someone say they struggle to read non-fiction, I recommend Erik Larson. His writing is as clear and gripping as any thriller, with the bonus that it's all true. I've been a fan since I stumbled on Isaac's Storm many moons ago, then followed with Thunderstruck and Dead Wake. The Devil in the White City came out back in 2003 and for whatever reason it took me 10 full years to get to it. The book is billed as "Murder, magic, and madness at the fair that changed America," and I'm ashamed to admit I wasn't familiar with most of what happened until this fascinating read. It doesn't just follow sinister serial killer Henry H. Holmes, it also covers architect Daniel Burnham and the creation of Chicago's famed 1893 World's Fair. This is my favorite kind of nonfiction book -- equally educational and entertaining, like getting your vegetables and dessert in one sitting.
Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am by Julia Cooke
Until making this list, I didn't realize how much I preferred nonfiction to fiction this year. I always read at least two books at a time, usually one fiction and one non-fiction. I spent an embarrassing amount of time reading Agatha Raisin mystery books this year, and even though I'm on number 18 I still wouldn't add them to a best-of list, they're just comfort food. Anyway, this book was a real trip. Come Fly the World came out in 2022, but that still lands it in our "new" section, which I like to peruse for fresh reads. I'm fascinated by all aspects of flight, especially the old world glamour of the '60s jet set. I wasn't alive for this particular period of history and needed a reality check on my assumptions about the "stewardesses" of the age. I knew Pam Am and other airlines had certainly physical requirements for flight attendants, but the women Pan Am hired also had to speak multiple languages, have college degrees, and essentially be diplomats diffusing political bombs during delicate situations, as outlined beautifully in this book. These ladies are astonishing and their stories should be widely known.