I’m finally getting around to posting this – it’s been sitting in my drafts for awhile now! 2019 was a busy year for me, and I didn’t read nearly as much as I would’ve liked to. Among the many great books I came across last year, there were six that stood out, ranging in genre from historical fiction to short story to memoir to spiritual.
1. The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict – Both my mom and I read this one – it was one of the rare books that we both loved. It’s a historical fiction novel, and tells the real life story of Mileva (Mitza) Maric, Albert Einstein’s wife, who unknown to many, was equally charismatic, clever, and a mathematical genius. She was the only woman in Einstein’s class at Zurich Polytechnic, where she studied mathematics and physics. “Math is an easier path than marriage,” one review says, and this seems to be the case for her. She loses herself in her studies and friendships as well as her deep love for her daughter Lieserl, but it seems that it is Einstein that drives her a little crazy. I have to say that my impression of Einstein changed considerably after reading this book. A legendary genius, he also had a definite mean streak. In a letter that he wrote in the 1920’s to Mileva, he says: “You will make sure: that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order; that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room; that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only.” He continues, “You will obey the following points in your relations with me: you will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way; you will stop talking to me if I request it; you will leave my bedroom or study immediately without protest if I request it.” At first she agrees to these heinous conditions, but then thankfully decides to leave him a few months later, taking their two sons with her. The voice of Mileva in this book is clear and genuine, and her struggles to follow her own path, get credit for her work, and remain a devoted wife and mother are the essence of the novel.
2. You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld – A witty and clever collection of short stories by a gifted storyteller. I borrowed this one from the library and couldn’t find it when it came due – I had to pay a $30 replacement fee and a few months later I found it behind my bed! Each story introduces memorable characters and scenarios with a touch of humour – among them, a woman who has a fling with a taxi cab driver after a heated political discussion about Donald Trump, a couple on their honeymoon who run into a past acquaintance that force them to confront uncomfortable truths, and married friends that play a dangerous game. You will lose yourself in each story, read them and muse about them, and be grateful when you stumble across the book again and find one that you haven’t read.
3. Must Write: Edna Staebler’s Diaries – A famous author of cookbooks, Edna was a devoted diary writer from a young age. Her diaries are reminiscent of Anne Frank, setting out rules on how to live best, seeing the beauty in life and wanting to squeeze out every drop of it, and engaging in a deep inner struggle with herself. Edna’s struggle was her ability to write – not just to think about writing, but to actually sit down and do it. I could relate to a lot of her struggles as I was revising my draft of my creative writing final project. The book also includes a few of her published stories, including Cape Breton Harbour and The Great Cookie War. Her diaries also describe her complicated relationship with a man named Keith, who seems to hinder her growth.
Another day that has made me feel like living a thousand years so that I can learn more and feel more and live more.Edna Staebler
4. Everybody’s Son by Thrity Umrigar – A compelling novel that touches on race relations in the U.S. This was a book club read – I just joined a new book club in Ottawa late last year (a group of very lovely ladies!) and this was one of the first books I read. I read it mostly at home and on the train to Toronto. The main character, Anton, is neglected as a child and adopted by a wealthy family that does everything in their power to give him the perfect life. However there are secrets lurking in the background that could tear the family apart. The author, who is Indian, was unfairly criticized for writing about African American relations even though it’s not her background. She responded that she has spent years of research in this area and her deep knowledge of the subject matter. A fast-paced, intense, and thoughtful read.
5. Warrior of the Light by Paulo Coelho – A beautiful poetic book, written in aphoristic style, that describes how to stay the course of the light throughout uncertain times, and what to do when you feel indecisive or lost. The warrior follows through, even though it may not be the best decision, and always learns from his mistakes. He does not succumb to the fears of others or get too involved, but never makes them feel inferior, and makes it clear that he loves them. The words in this book come to my mind whenever I’m uncertain on which way to go.
The warrior knows that he is free to choose his desires, and he makes these decisions with courage, detachment, and — sometimes — with just a touch of madness.Paulo Coelho
6. Educated by Tara Westover. This book was also on Bill Gates’ top books of the year. I really enjoyed it, my sister didn’t like it so much, and my mom hated it (it just went ‘on and on’ she said). Tara writes about her traumatic childhood and upbringing, being brought up in a Mormon family with extreme beliefs. She suppresses the trauma that results from the abuse she suffers at the hands of a family member, and is somehow able to educate herself (since her parents forbade her to attend school) and go on to Brigham Young University, and eventually to Harvard. A courageous, gritty, and brilliant woman, she chronicles her tale with honesty and vulnerability. A must read.
- Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens