Recent good reads

Not quite beach fare, but worthwhile reading. . . .

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese:

I’ve been reading less and less fiction over the past year; it seems like the writing just gets crappier and crappier. This book renewed my faith in fiction: it tells a good story that is engaging, yet detailed enough so that I didn’t gallop through to find out what happened in the end, but savored the descriptions of an Ethiopia of a not so distant past. The ending is just slightly contrived, but still a surprise.

I’ve never been to Ethiopia, and I don’t even think I personally know anyone who’s been there (shocker!?), but now it’s on my to-go-to list. (Even though I’m sure it’s very different now. When Naguib Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize for literature, I read his novels and ended up going to Egypt, expecting to find real settings of those stories. Not quite.)

Like Khaled Hosseini, Verghese is a doctor, and lives locally. It blows my mind that someone so smart, and who is probably very busy professionally, has written a beautiful book. How they find the time, discipline and stamina to do so staggers and humbles me.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell: I enjoyed this book almost as much as ‘Cutting for Stone’. It’s set in time/place I know little about: the Dutch trading post in historic Japan. “Shogun” it is not . . . quite, even if there’s a white guy and a Japanese chick for the love interest angle. In fact, the plot splits into two threads, one of which is bizarre and macabre.

The following two books are non-fiction, but are fairly good reads also. They both deal arts/antiques: specifically the twists and turns of the somewhat dodgy journeys by which artifacts end up in, or exit museums, even prominent ones. As someone who enjoys spending time in museums (and used to do so quite often), I find the background dirt fascinating.

Priceless: How I Went Undercover to recover the World’s Stolen Treasures, by Robert K. Wittman

Loot, by Sharon Waxman