Ranking All the Books I’ve Read During the Pandemic

I’ve honestly never been much of a reader. I dreaded it in school growing up and that continued through high school and even college. I always felt it was a chore, and was often unmotivated by the books selected for assignments. Sure there were a few books that were required reading that I did enjoy, like The Giver, Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn, Moby Dick and Death of A Salesman. But looking back now, I’m not sure how much I really enjoyed them. I know they weren’t as bad as others, and the fact that I actually did read them, instead of using Sparknotes shows I must have been interested at least a little. Again though, this is just from memory – I remember liking them, but it’s not like I’ve gone back and re-read any of them (I’d like to now though).

I think because I associated books with homework, even reading for pleasure didn’t attract me. I’d say I only read a handful of books outside of school and it wasn’t until after I graduated college that I started to become interested in reading leisurely. I’d read the occasional book or two on the beach in the summer, but none at home. I don’t know why. Maybe I was still trying to break the “chore” affect reading has on me. And each New Year, I’d challenge myself to read more and then find myself only finishing one to three books a year. And they weren’t even always ones I liked all that much. Then March 2020 hit us. I absolutely hate this pandemic if we’re being honest, but am sometimes reminded of the silver linings. There are many for each of us, and it’s important to think about them, so that we’re not always stuck in such a negative mindset. I have a bunch, and one of them is that I’ve been reading way more than ever before! Below you’ll see the nine books I’ve read since March. To some, I’m sure you’ll say nine? that’s not a lot! But to me, it is. And I’m very happy about it! I even downloaded the app GoodReads to keep track of what I’ve read, am reading, and want to read.

I’d love to hear what you’ve read too or if you have any “must-reads” for me, so drop a comment below!!

9. Independence Day by Richard Ford (1995)

From GoodReads: Another title for Ford’s 1996 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel might be “The Return of Frank Bascombe.” Bascombe, in this sequel to Ford’s 10-year-old The Sportswriter, comes close to taking his place with John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom in the pantheon of confused white middle-class American literary protagonists. At age 44 he has entered what Bascombe calls “the Existence Period, the high-wire act of normalcy, the part that comes after the big struggle which led to the big blowup.” Bascombe’s almost comic indecisiveness has led to the breakup of his marriage, a detached, wary affair, and an achingly fragile relationship with his troubled teenage son, Paul. Ford details Bascombe’s Fourth of July weekend in leisurely, measured prose, crafting scenes of muted heartbreak.

In March, I asked my father if he had any book recommendations for me. He’s a big reader, and has literally dozens at his house, so he said he’d pick out a few. He gave me three to start, and after I read those, I went back for more. This was one of them and he told me it was one of his favorites. As similar as the two of us are, we differ here. This book was wayyy too slow for me and I was pretty surprised to see it won the Pulitzer Prize! Maybe it’s just not my style though. Or maybe I can’t relate to it yet. My main complaint was that seemingly nothing really happens.. The guy is just going about his days. Then finally towards the end, something happens, but even that is only a couple pages worth. Perhaps I’ll go back and re-read it later in my life.

8. Founding Martyr: The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution’s Lost Hero by Christian di Spigna (2018)

From GoodReads: A rich and illuminating biography of America’s forgotten Founding Father, the patriot physician and major general who fomented rebellion and died heroically at the battle of Bunker Hill on the brink of revolution. 

Little has been known of one of the most important figures in early American history, Dr. Joseph Warren, an architect of the colonial rebellion, and a man who might have led the country as Washington or Jefferson did had he not been martyred at Bunker Hill in 1775. Warren was involved in almost every major insurrectionary act in the Boston area for a decade, from the Stamp Act protests to the Boston Massacre to the Boston Tea Party, and his incendiary writings included the famous Suffolk Resolves, which helped unite the colonies against Britain and inspired the Declaration of Independence. Yet after his death, his life and legend faded, leaving his contemporaries to rise to fame in his place and obscuring his essential role in bringing America to independence.

Ok so confession – I’m still reading this. This book had been on my list for a while, but I can’t remember how it was brought to my attention. I do like learning about Boston, so perhaps that was it? I had never heard of the guy before though! One thing I’ve learned so far and was amazed at was that Dr. Warren graduated from Harvard at 18! Was that a thing back in the 18th century? College kids being 15-18? Amazing if so, especially because many of them went into politics, medicine, military, etc at such a young age. It’s also extremely fascinating how involved he was, whether it be as a leader or member of the various patriot organizations that formed Massachusetts and our country.

7. The Street Lawyer by John Grisham (1998)

From GoodReads: Michael was in a hurry. He was scrambling up the ladder at Drake & Sweeney, a giant D.C. law firm with eight hundred lawyers. The money was good and getting better; a partnership was three years away. He was a rising star with no time to waste, no time to stop, no time to toss a few coins into the cups of panhandlers. No time for a conscience. But a violent encounter with a homeless man stopped him cold. Michael survived; his assailant did not. Who was this man? Michael did some digging, and learned that he was a mentally ill veteran who’d been in and out of shelters for many years. Then Michael dug a little deeper, and found a dirty secret, and the secret involved Drake & Sweeney. The fast track derailed; the ladder collapsed. Michael bolted the firm and took a top-secret file with him. He landed in the streets, an advocate for the homeless, a street lawyer. And a thief. 

This is a good, easy read and puts things in perspective. Like how much time (and money) to we give to the disadvantaged, what more can we do for our community, etc. It doesn’t read like it’s a guilt trip though, it’s just a good story.

6. For One More Day by Mitch Albom (2006)

From GoodReads: “Every family is a ghost story…” For One More Day is the story of a mother and a son, and a relationship that covers a lifetime and beyond. It explores the question: What would you do if you could spend one more day with a lost loved one?

As a child, Charley “Chick” Benetto was told by his father, “You can be a mama’s boy or a daddy’s boy, but you can’t be both.” So he chooses his father, only to see the man disappear when Charley is on the verge of adolescence. Decades later, Charley is a broken man. His life has been crumbled by alcohol and regret. He loses his job. He leaves his family. He hits bottom after discovering his only daughter has shut him out of her wedding. And he decides to take his own life. He makes a midnight ride to his small hometown, with plans to do himself in. But upon failing even to do that, he staggers back to his old house, only to make an astonishing discovery. His mother, who died eight years earlier, is still living there, and welcomes him home as if nothing ever happened.. What follows is the one “ordinary” day so many of us yearn for, a chance to make good with a lost parent, to explain the family secrets, and to seek forgiveness. Somewhere between this life and the next, Charley learns the astonishing things he never knew about his mother and her sacrifices. And he tries, with her tender guidance, to put the crumbled pieces of his life back together.

Speaking of putting things in perspective, this quick book is pretty inspiring. I had never read Tuesdays With Morrie or any of his other books so this was my first real introduction to Albom. I wasn’t blown away by the story, but it was still good and encourages new appreciation of the people you love which is always welcomed. It’s never too late to make amends!

5. Sacred by Dennis Lehane (1997)

From GoodReads: Dennis Lehane won a Shamus Award for A Drink Before the War, his first book about working-class Boston detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. His second in the series, Darkness, Take My Hand, got the kind of high octane reviews that careers are made of. Now Lehane not only survives the dreaded third-book curse, he beats it to death with a stick. Sacred is a dark and dangerous updating of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, as dying billionaire Trevor Stone hires Kenzie and Gennaro to find his daughter, Desiree. Patrick’s mentor, a wonderfully devious detective named Jay Becker, has already disappeared in St. Petersburg, Florida, while working the case, so the two head there to pick up a trail. Desiree, of course, is nothing like the sweet and simple beauty described by her father, and even Chandler would have been amazed by the plot twists that Lehane manages to keep coming.

As you’ll see, I’ve become a big Dennis Lehane fan. Part of it is because he’s OFD, part because he went to BC High and partly because his books are absolute homeruns each time. This, if you read the summary above, is his third book in the Kenzie/Gennaro series. I read the two before this and thought they were both better, but this was still very good. His writing is so top notch, and it was somewhat refreshing to have a slight change of scenery in the story.

4. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

From GoodReads: “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.” So begins the Pulitzer Prize winning memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank’s mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank’s father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy– exasperating, irresponsible and beguiling– does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father’s tales of Cú Chulainn, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel on the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies. Perhaps it is story that accounts for Frank’s survival. Wearing rags for diapers, begging a pig’s head for Christmas dinner and gathering coal from the roadside to light a fire, Frank endures poverty, near-starvation and the casual cruelty of relatives and neighbors–yet lives to tell his tale with eloquence, exuberance and remarkable forgiveness.

I’ve always been interested in my Irish heritage (even though I’m only like 3rd generation) and I really enjoy learning about Ireland. Admittedly though, most of my knowledge comes from songs, movies or random Wiki-searches. Not that Angela’s Ashes is about this history of the country, it really gave an in-depth look at growing up Irish Catholic in Ireland during the 30s and 40s. Frank McCourt can really paint a picture, as depressing as it may be, and also provides humor and empathy. “Never smoke another man’s pipe.”

3. Hammurabi’s Code by Charles Kenney (1995)

From GoodReads: When Boston’s most beloved public figure, Councilor Philip Stewart, is murdered in his home, the city is stricken with grief. As Boston reels from the shock of such a tragedy, newspapers across the city scramble to get the biggest story in this city’s recent history. Who would wish harm upon a man regarded as a sainted soul who dedicated his life to helping the poor and downtrodden? The Boston Post has put its best investigative reporter on the case. Frank Cronin has achieved near celebrity status himself as a shrewd, tireless journalist who always manages to get his story – even if it means bending the rules, ignoring conventional wisdom, or bucking political pressures. Before long, while rival papers are still printing their glowing eulogies, Cronin is hunting down the story no one else wants to know about. In death, facts about Councilor Philip Stewart are emerging that raise troubling questions about the true nature of his life, his character, and his deeds. As Cronin persists in stripping back the façade that in life made Stewart such a beloved public figure, the trouble begins. With pressure mounting to leave the dead man’s reputation alone, Cronin must put everything on the line – his job, his reputation, even his life – as he decides just how much of the truth to tell. Digging ever deeper into Stewart’s past, Cronin moves inexorably closer to unmasking the killer and his motive – but just when you think you know exactly what to expect, the story takes a stunning turn.

This was the first book of quarantine that I read and I really enjoyed it! Super easy to read and an interesting murder-mystery that is definitely a page turner. One thing I liked about this was that at times it would break off from the direct story and give you some background on a character, place or situation. So you’d be reading about what’s going on current day and be introduced to a new character, and the next couple pages (or chapter) were then dedicated to that character to kind of throw you off what you think you know about what happened. Hammurabi’s Code, for those who don’t know, is a collection of laws that includes the saying “an eye for an eye”.

2. A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane (1994)

From GoodReads: Kenzie and Gennaro are private investigators in the blue-collar neighborhoods and ghettos of South Boston-they know it as only natives can. Working out of an old church belfry, Kenzie and Gennaro take on a seemingly simple assignment for a prominent politician: to uncover the whereabouts of Jenna Angeline, a black cleaning woman who has allegedly stolen confidential state documents. Finding Jenna, however, is easy compared to staying alive once they’ve got her. The investigation escalates, implicating members of Jenna’s family and rival gang leaders while uncovering extortion, assassination, and child prostitution extending from bombed-out ghetto streets to the highest levels of government.

If you’re unfamiliar, this is the same series that gave us Gone, Baby, Gone (#4), which I haven’t read yet, but have seen the movie many years ago. This is Lehane’s first book ever (and #1 in the Kenzie/Gennaro series) and it is close to perfect as any book I’ve read. From page 1 you are hooked on this crime-thriller-mystery and it’s a bonus if you’re familiar with Boston in the 90s. I would say it’s tough to put down, but there are times when you almost have to put the book down because of how disturbing some parts are. And if you are wondering, yes, read them in order. There are returning characters and you’ll be able to understand all of the characters better as you read the series.

1. Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane (1996)

From Amazon: Master of new noir Dennis Lehane magnificently evokes the dignity and savagery of working-class Boston in Darkness, Take My Hand, a terrifying tale of redemption. Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro’s latest client is a prominent Boston psychiatrist, running scared from a vengeful Irish mob. The private investigators know about cold-blooded retribution. Born and bred on the mean streets of blue-collar Dorchester, they’ve seen the darkness that lives in the hearts of the unfortunate. But an evil for which even they are unprepared is about to strike, as secrets that have long lain dormant erupt, setting off a chain of violent murders that will stain everything – including the truth. With razor-sharp dialogue and penetrating prose, Darkness, Take My Hand is another superior crime novel from the author of Mystic River; Gone, Baby, Gone; and Shutter Island.

I think it’s clear now what my favorite type of books are – crime/mystery fiction. And obviously I’ve said a lot about Lehane. This is his second in the same series, and a few chapters in I had already determined I didn’t think it was better than A Drink Before the War, but then it got to some part and it absolutely surpassed it. For Lehane fans, I honestly think it’d be like debating The Godfather v. The Godfather 2. He writes such great, complicated characters, who you get really attached to and extremely vivid details about feelings and situations. By far the best book I read in 2020.

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