By the Book: An assessment of a book-filled year

01/25/2015 7:00 AM |

2015! I’m doing quickie overviews of the dozen books the Southold library book club read in 2014 — neither recommending nor dismissing, just personal impressions and conclusions. 

The year began with Mark Twain’s ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.’ Some members really liked it, others found it reasonably amusing. I couldn’t finish it — dated humor, awkward constructions, unbelievably unbelievable. An F.

February brought ‘The Yellow Birds’ (Kevin Powers), a grim look at the effects of war on those who fight them. The writing was excellent, almost lyrical, as we followed one man’s agonizing battle with loss and post-traumatic stress. A

‘Out Stealing Horses’ (Per Petterson) was the first A+ of the year. World War II, the Swedish resistance, Nazis, townspeople — all mixed together in a twisting tale with many flashbacks and puzzling events. Everything came together in a bang-up finish in this economically written book.

April. ‘Beyond the Beautiful Forever’ (Katherine Boo). A Pulitzer Prize-winner, I thought it an appalling, forlorn book. India’s slums, abject poverty, scant food, zero sanitation, pervasive graft — all too depressing for me to assimilate, or even wish to. F

Sonia Sotomayor’s ‘My Beloved World’ brightened May. The relentless challenges of the Bronx projects were no match for Sotomayor’s brilliance, unfailing optimism and unswerving determination as she conquered first Princeton, then Yale Law, on her journey to the United States Supreme Court. A

June. ‘The Manor’ (Mac Griswold) details the past and present of Shelter Island’s standout mansion, Sylvester Manor. I found it overwritten, too many words about too few viable topics. The Manor itself is of great historical interest, the book pedantic and yawn-producing. D

July’s ‘The Light Between the Oceans’ (M.L. Stedman): A young married couple, a lighthouse, a shipwreck, a bundled-up surviving baby, a questionable decision — all in a touching story of love and hope, despair and heartbreak. Well written, a book that plucked at all the emotions. A

August. ‘The Eighth Day’ (Thornton Wilder). This received very mixed and very strong reactions. Some loved it, others hated it, all were vociferous about it. I thought it was good — a murder, an escape, a far-flung adventure and a happy enough ending. And, yes, Wilder is a bit windy. B

September’s ‘The Angle of Repose’ (William Stegner) got the same sort of reception Wilder did. I enjoyed it — interesting people caught in an unreasonable situation. Sometimes a bit muddy, a few too many pages. It tested my patience, but satisfactory enough. B

‘The Warmth of Other Suns’ (Isabel Wilkinson). This one surprised me. It sounded awfully sociological — the 65-year-long immigration of 6,000,000 black people from the South to northern cities — but it was wonderfully human as it followed three disparate people’s stories while detailing the wider history of this little-realized movement. A+

November. ‘Transatlantic’ (Colum McCann), the third A+. McCann is tantalizing as he takes several different characters, fictional and non-fictional, on two different continents, over three different centuries, mix-masters it all together and seems to say, “Go ahead, figure it out.” It was agreeably challenging and very enjoyable.

December. Upton Sinclair. ‘Oil.’ Is there an F-? Plodding, stilted, endless — although I have to add that several members liked it. De gustibus non est disputandem.

Thank you, Caroline MacArthur, for imagining the club and for leading it as John Williams led the Boston Symphony.

TR050808_book_Case_R.jpgMr. Case, of Southold, is retired from Oxford University Press. He can be reached at [email protected].