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My year in books

3 Jan

3 January 2020.

Year-end lists are more numerous than diet plans in this first week of January. From Barack Obama’s 19 books for 2019 to who died in 2019, there seems to be no escape from the wrap-ups.

Girovaga is no different. As I started a new book on New Year’s Eve, I felt the need to reflect on my 2019 reading. Thanks to Goodreads, it’s easy to do.

According to Goodreads, I read 32 books and almost 16,000 pages in 2019, about equal to 2018 but up significantly from 2017 when I last wrote about my year’s reading.

By genre

  • World War II novels, 9 books
  • Travel, 8
  • Spy/Mystery/Intrigue, 6
  • Non-fiction, 3
  • Other fiction, 6

Favorites

42421761. sy475 Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is at the top of my 2019 list. Set in the deep south of the 1960s, Owens presents a rare combination of intelligent plot, rich characters, and talented writing. She carries the reader along effortlessly. A pleasure from start to finish and an amazing first novel.

Nearly as wonderful as Crawdads are William Kent Krueger’s This Tender Land and Ordinary Grace. How this author’s work has escaped me for so long I cannot imagine.

In This Tender Land, the story, the characters, and the landscape all conspire to pull the reader along in a compelling journey. Reminiscent of Huck Finn, but deeper, with a plausible realism of the era – 1930s Minnesota –  that at times is painful to imagine. Krueger is a truly gifted writer.

Krueger’s Ordinary Grace is set in a small Minnesota town with many flawed and interesting characters. In a way, it is a coming-of-age story for the protagonist, Frank, but it is equally a mystery and a study of the changes occurring in the 1960s. Krueger’s depictions stirred in me fond memories of Minnesota summers and small-town living.

Oddball

34729689. sy475 One oddball to share, Sourdough by Robin Sloan. Not quite as good as Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, but engaging nonetheless. The protagonist, Lois, is an iconoclast and the people she meets unique in their own ways as well. A fun intersection of technology and food. San Francisco seems more of a small town than a major city in Sloane’s world.

World War II

This era continues to inspire stories of courage and survival. I am drawn to these stories whether in books or movies. Of the nine novels I read that are set in WWII, there are two standouts: The Huntress by Kate Quinn and The Winemaker’s Wife by Kristin Harmel. In each book the plot kept me guessing and even when the dawn of understanding hit me, the stories kept me on the edge of my chair.

Travel

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Invariably there are travel books on my list. Trip planning and execution have me delving into one of more volumes almost daily. In fact, while on-the-road, I seldom have time for recreational reading as I juggle our daily activities. SInce we were abroad for 12 weeks in 2019, my nose was often in a travel guide.

A standout in my Travel genre was not a guide, rather a collection of writings by Beppe Severgnini entitled Off the RailsSevergnini is an Italian journalist, writer, and columnist. Not only does he write for the Corriere della Sera, he is a contributing writer for the New York Times. What I enjoyed about this book is the curiosity and humor with which Beppe travels. He is obsessed with trains and amusing situations seem to find him wherever he goes. Maybe in 2020 I will try to read one of his books in Italian.

What to read in 2020? My first book is thanks to Barack Obama, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell. I am not far into the book as yet but from the book’s overview this description caught my interest.42771901

“Jenny Odell sends up a flare from the heart of Silicon Valley, delivering an action plan to resist capitalist narratives of productivity and techno-determinism, and to become more meaningfully connected in the process.”

I am weary of paying attention to every twist and turn in the 24-hour news cycle. I am tired of scandals, lies, deception, and unrelenting opinions. There’s too much noise, too much input.

Here’s to tuning-out some of the cacophony and tuning-in to friends, family, travel, good food, the natural world, and great books.

What have you read that I might like? If you are on Goodreads, please connect with me (Laurel Barton) and we can inspire one another’s reading in 2020. Cheers and Buon anno!

Second edition: “Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena”

2 Feb
2 February 2019.
If anyone ever tells you writing a book is difficult, ask them how the editing and publishing process went.  Publishing is to writing as cooking is to eating: It takes a lot longer to create the meal than to eat it. At least it does for me, self-published as I am. The writing process was a piece of cake. Floundering through Kindle Direct Publishing gave me a stomach ache.  In fact, the author page links still are not working on all Amazon sites. Grrrr.

Ric on a new walk at Passo Gardena, with Jimmy Hutte in the distance. Many of our walks feature great places to relax and have lunch along the trail.

It has been a while since I last posted in November. We’ve been very busy. The last trip was, in part, to update our book and at last, we have published the second edition of “Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena!” Now containing 23 hikes (previously 20) and updated information as of autumn 2018, this is the book to take along on a trip to Ortisei or anywhere in Italy’s Val Gardena. There’s not much written in English in detail on this part of Italy. 
We had such a magnificent trip again last fall that I could hardly wait to get this published. Alas, the writing and (worse) editing process did take some time, but now the content is fresca fresca fresca, as our Italian friend Pellegrino used to say.

The approach to Fermeda on one of our new walks. How about having pizza with this view?

If you have never been to the Dolomites, put it on your list and spend a week. Heck, spend a month if you love hiking and mountains. Our best trip ever was passing the month of July parked in Ortisei while we did the initial research and writing the first edition.
Click on over to Amazon.com and get your copy, paperback or Kindle. Also available worldwide on Amazon.it, Amazon.co.UK, Amazon.de, or any other country Amazon site you buy from.
Note the first edition is still out there because that is where the reviews are. I am hoping to see some reviews of the Second Edition soon! (Hint Hint.)
I will be back with a new post soon about cooking while traveling. Until then, Ciao!

This little marmot was hanging out with his “madness” at Seceda, above Ortisei. Hiking directions are in our book.

We make a point of hiking to this little chapel at Rasciesa each trip.

Also from one of our new walks at Passo Gardena. What a view!

On the trail from Ciampinoi to Passo Sella, a marvelous view of the Sciliar.

Reading list

9 Jan
15 January 2018
My dear friend Jonnie Martin reads cerebral books. If she recommends a book to me I know it will be not only well-written but a lot of work to read. She calls then “chewy” reads.
Books are an escape for me and while I love to read, I do not read enough. There are too many distractions out there. When I do read, I do not like it to be too much work, so my reading list for 2017 is more pedestrian than Jonnie’s. I am not, however, a reader of graphic novels nor bodice-rippers. (Although the Outlander series remains one of my all-time favorites and I anxiously await Book #9).
I averaged 2.3 books per month in 2017 and a total of some 12,000 pages according to www.GoodReads.com. That number does not include the various travel books and guides I consumed for trip planning and execution, and I read hundreds if not thousands of pages in these books. Nor does it include books I disliked and did not read to completion. I have no tolerance for being bored by a book and will delete it from my Kindle if the first 50-to-100 pages do not satisfy me.
It is fun to look back and see what attracted my attention. My favorite genre is historical fiction and this was my year of WWII novels. I am drawn to books about WWII whether fiction or non-fiction. Something about that era entrances me and the “unknown” stories that have come to light in the past decade-or-so amaze me.
My favorite book of that period was a work of historical fiction, “Beneath a Scarlet Sky” by Mark Sullivan. It is the story of an unsung civilian hero. Set in Italy under Nazi occupation one would almost believe this was the stuff of an over-active imagination, a story filled with betrayal, love, crime, death, family, faith, encounters with historical characters, and so much pure luck. I dislike calling it fiction as it is based on a true story corroborated by the protagonist and historical research done by Sullivan. Do yourself a favor and read it before the movie comes out.
Other WWII-era books I read:
“The Paris Architect” by Charles Belfoure– Malcolm Gladwell recommended this book which interested me. It is a good story, although some of the dialogue is a bit contrived. A wealthy industrialist hires an architect, who has little empathy for Jews, to construct foolproof hiding places where Jews can be safe during searches. It is a moving and dramatic tale of heroism during the occupation of Paris. 
“The Lilac Girls” by Martha Hall Kelly – Another story inspired by a real person, a woman this time. The Lilac Girls tells the intersecting stories of a New York socialite, a Nazi doctor, and a Polish teenager. It is a story of WWII horrors but also of altruism and justice.
“The Orphan’s Tale” by Pam Jenoff – A Dutch runaway, a traveling circus, high wire artists, and a boxcar full of infants. Jews were sometimes hidden as performers in circuses. Yeah, I didn’t know that either. While not specifically a true story, but is based on true elements cobbled together in a story that is ultimately about chances taken, bravery, and human bonds.
“The Women in the Castle” by Jessica Shattuck – This is another tale of intertwined lives and strong women in post-war Germany. The three protagonists come from different walks of life but have survived the war. Their efforts to find a way forward result in saving one another. This book comes from a very different viewpoint given its post-war setting in Germany and female perspective.
“The Girl from Venice” – I have not read a Martin Cruz Smith book in years. I am so happy I found this one. The story is set in the waning days of WWII. This thriller/mystery/romance/historical fiction work features vivid characters and a seldom-described culture of fisherman in the Venetian Lagoon. Gripping.
“In Farleigh Field” by Rhys Bowen – With a dead paratrooper, MI5, the aristocracy, spies, traitors, and Bletchley Park, this mystery moves along briskly demanding little from the reader but delivering a good read.
I am not sure where my reading will go in 2018. I am in love with downloading samples from Amazon, where I can read a few pages and see if I like the book rather than spending $11.99 only to discard the book after 50 pages. Right now I have eight samples to read so we’ll see how many make it to purchase.
What are you reading? What was your favorite book of 2017?
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