Books I Read in 2019 and Recommend

I read 37 books this year – 13 were non-fiction, 2 were collections of short stories, and the rest were fiction. I’m pleased with the variety in this group of books.

I rated each book from 1 to 5. Eight earned my solid “3” rating, 11 got a very good rating of “4” and another 11 earned a superlative “5.”

I can recommend the ones I rated “4” as very good and well worth reading. They include (in the order I read them):

      • Seeds of Deception by Jeffrey Smith
      • The Library Book by Susan Orlean
      • 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
      • Baby, You’re Going To Be Mine by Kevin Wilson
      • The Circadian Code by Sachin Panda
      • Your Duck is my Duck by Deborah Eisenberg
      • The seven Pete Thorsten mysteries by Robert Wangard
      • Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World by Tim Marshall
      • City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
      • The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
      • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The ones I thought merited a “5” were so amazing, I still cannot believe I got to read them. I hope to revisit them, or other books by these authors, in the coming months.

The Overstory by Richard Powers
A long book – 500 pages – this Man Booker runner up is a giant in every way. The story is unique, the language precise, and the world created as the story unfolds is exquisite. Barbara Kingsolver called it “A gigantic fable of genuine truths.” I’d tell you it’s about trees and people, and taking non-human life seriously.

Virgil Wander by Leif Engler
This author tells a good story about some interesting characters in a small town, and he does so with language so precise and a voice so clear that it made my heart skip. His voice is perfectly that of the upper midwest in the United States. I know these people, and Engler knows their story.

The Endurance, Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Adventure by Caroline Alexander
I read a good chunk of this on an iPhone, sitting on an airplane, surrounded by modernity – and this book transported me right back to 1915-1917. I could feel the cold hopelessness of these 28 men struggling to stay alive. An incredible true story I had missed somehow until now.

The Uninhabitable Earth, Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells
A survey of today’s climate change references – from science, culture, and literature. I found this compelling. “I am like every other American who has spent their life fatally complacent, and willfully deluded, about climate change, which is not just the biggest threat human life on the planet has ever faced but a threat of an entirely different category and scale. That is, the scale of life itself.”

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Traces a Korean family dynasty over seven decades of the kind of everyday adventure that makes up all our lives. This book draws you into the family drama and stays with you for a long time afterwards.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
“Painful and beautiful” one reviewer says. Barry is one of my favorite authors, and he outdoes himself here. He transports you into the rough tumble of western America in the 1860’s – the west with its Indian wars, the civil war – told in a unique voice. Lots of surprises from his beautiful and complex characters.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabelle Wilkerson
Epic. This book is huge in scale, masterfully researched, extremely well written. It was a great read, and it taught me a ton of stuff I never realized about the white privilege I have enjoyed my whole life. Highly recommended.

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne
A thriller on multiple levels, including a finely drawn psychological portrait of a 14 year old girl growing up under extremely unusual circumstances. Set in a remote area of Michigan’s upper peninsula.

Normal People by Sally Rooney
On the Man Booker long list in 2018, Normal People is “is a nuanced and flinty love story about two young people who ‘get’ each other, despite class differences and the interference of their own vigorous personal demons.” Her writing is fabulous, and the story feels modern and true.

The Parade by Dave Eggers
Described as an “allegory” for our times, this short book pulls you forward with a feeling of dread, as the characters Four and Nine are caught up in something bigger than themselves, embodying each of us. Barely a novella, it tells us about ourselves now, a dark joke with a final gut-punch punchline.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
Covers the rise and fall of the firm Theranos, the multibillion-dollar biotech startup headed by Elizabeth Holmes, as well as the value of listening to your gut. When something is wrong, there are red flags everywhere. A page turner by a WSJ journalist. Couldn’t put it down.

Time to Read – Q1 Books

One thing about retirement: I finally have enough time to read as much as I wish. In the first quarter of 2018 I read 15 books. Given how much time I actually have, this number begs the question, why so few? Anyway, I’d highly recommend the first six on this list:

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
I loved this novel and read it in one big gulp. It is about a single historical incident, but structurally it paints a whole sweep of history. The concept is a bit Thornton Wilder, but the execution, well, the execution is marvelous.  The “Bardo” is a Buddhist liminal state between death and rebirth; Saunders imagines a whole world there with multiple voices. This books reads like a work of poetry (or like the play Saunders said he started to write), it is funny and sad and beautiful all in one.
A $500 House in Detroit: Rebuilding an Abandoned Home and an American City by Drew Philp
An amazing first non-fiction work. The story is structured around Drew’s complete rebuild of an auctioned house, while articulating how to rebuild a community. He gets, and articulates well, the big issues that have been facing Detroit for years. Very excited to see him speak in Traverse City in April.
The Sympathizer: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) by Viet Thanh Nguyen
A contemporary novel about Vietnam, and the experience of Vietnamese immigrants, told by a narrator who is amazingly honest – also funny, crass, scary, and meditative. Fantastic and beautiful use of the English language.
City of Thieves: A Novel by David Benioff
A good, fast, interesting historical novel set in St. Petersburg during WWII. Reminded me a little of All the Light We Cannot See.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J D Vance
A straight up memoir, of a young man’s escape from the path his parents took. I liked it very much. J D Vance’s Mamaw is a character that will be with me for a long time. This is an important story about what the American dream has become in the 21st century.
First Snow, Last Light by Wayne Johnston
I really enjoyed this mysterious novel, set in Newfoundland.  The writing style was a bit different than any I have read before, and the story was compelling.  I liked the characters and wanted to follow them for all their quirks. I recommend this, and plan to pick up another novel by Wayne Johnson soon.
These were also good reads, and I recommend them in this order:
Celine by Peter Heller
The Painter by Peter Heller
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
The Tenth of December by George Saunders
Tribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferriss
The Nest by Cynthia d’Aprix Sweeney
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
A Good Cry, poetry by Nikki Giovanni

The End of Alzheimer’s by Dr Dale Bredesen

I have watched several different interviews with Dr Dale Bredesen, and am posting the link to this one – an interview by Dr Steven Gundry – because I believe it gives the best overview of Dr Bredesen’s new book. Three takeaways for me from this interview:

  • Mutations in mitochondrial DNA are what collects as we age. This reinforces all the information now emerging about mitochondrial dysfunction causing most of our cognitive decline with age.
  • We cannot overstate the role of nutrition + exercise + sleep + stress reduction in healing our age-related diseases
  • Most M.D.’s will give you the normal range for the things they test for. Remember, normal ≠ optimal.

The Plant Paradox by Steven Gundry MD

I found this book on the goop page on Instagram (I know, I know). I’m not sure what grabbed my attention, but I read it and the science seemed sound. We have been following the diet for just over 3 weeks now. We have both lost weight, and are feeling good about what we feel going on in our gut. I am hopeful that eliminating lectins from my diet will boost my immune system, breed healthier mitochondria in the future, and stop causing stress on my vagus nerve. It is thought that if Parkinson’s Disease begins in the gut, it is this vagus nerve that allows it to travel to the brain. Obviously I need to learn more about this mechanism, but I like what I am eating and I like how I feel.

“If you are experiencing memory loss, Parkinson’s, or neuropathy, exciting research suggests that the exhausted Mighty Mice (mitochondria) in your nerve cells can come back to life if they are fed ketones instead of sugar.” Gundry, Steven R., M.D.

It is easy to look up research, references, and resources in this book, using the footnotes. In this case, here is what researchers Maalouf, Rho, and Mattson conclude from their study “The neuroprotective properties of calorie restriction, the ketogenic diet, and ketone bodies.”

“Calorie restriction and the ketogenic diet share two characteristics: reduced carbohydrate intake and a compensatory rise in ketone bodies. The neuroprotective effects of reduced carbohydrate per se are being investigated by several research groups (Mattson et al. 2003; Ingram et al. 2006). We have evaluated the possibility that ketone bodies might mediate the neuroprotective effects of calorie restriction and of the ketogenic diet. An expanding body of evidence indicates that ketone bodies are indeed neuroprotective and that the underlying mechanisms are similar to those associated with calorie restriction – specifically at the mitochondrial level.

However, several important questions remain unanswered. The effects of ketone bodies on gene expression have not been investigated, although inhibition of glycolysis with 2-deoxyglucose (which blocks phosphofructose isomerase) has been reported to inhibit BDNF expression and kindling progression in rats (Garriga-Canut et al, 2006). Moreover, the neuroprotective of ketone bodies in vivo have not been thoroughly examined. For instance, it is imperative to demonstrate that the neuroprotective effects of ketone bodies are associated with a preservation of clinically relevant functions such as cognition. Finally, it is crucial to determine if the anti-apoptotic properties of ketone bodies might potentially increase the risk of carcinogenesis. Intriguingly, both the calorie restriction and the ketogenic diet have been associated with anti-neoplastic properties and similarly, preliminary data suggest that the ketone bodies β-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate have anti-neoplastic effects on human glioblastoma cell lines (Patel et al. 2004; Jolly 2006 Zhou et al. 2007). Further research will hopefully further clarify the mechanisms underlying the neuroprotective properties of calorie restriction and ketone bodies and explain the counter-intuitive effects on carcinogenesis.”