Natalie’s Favorite Books in 2015

Natalie at Persephone Books (jet-lagged but excited to be in this lovely book shop)
Natalie at Persephone Books in London (jet-lagged but excited to be in this wonderful book shop). A post is forthcoming about Persephone Books.

Given that we are now 16 days into 2016 (how did that happen?!), this post is a little late…. Nevertheless, below is a short list of a few of my favorite reads of 2015. May your New Year be filled with thought-provoking, fascinating, and delicious books!

Haven by Ruth Gruber — In 1944, Gruber (a journalist, photographer and humanitarian who is now 104 years old) embarked on a little known journey to bring 1000 European refugees to the US. “Haven” is her moving account of the refugees’ journey and their resettlement in New York. It is a story about courage, compassion, and persistence; as I wrote upon finishing it, “I now officially have a hero: Ruth Gruber.” Moreover, this is relevant reading in light of the current debate regarding US immigration and refugee policy. As is written on the Jewish Women’s Archive website, “The story of these European refugees stands out as a momentary relaxation of America’s restrictive immigration policy…While Roosevelt planned to allow the 984 refugees to reside in the United States only until the end of hostilities, when the end of the war came, Gruber lobbied the President and Congress…and convinced the officials to let the refugees stay.” I am looking forward to reading Gruber’s autobiography Ahead of Time about her life as a foreign correspondent.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith — An unexpectedly enjoyable read that ended up reminding me of Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery, one of my favorite books. Although Emily grows up in rural Prince Edward Island and Francie (of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) in New York tenements, both are aspiring writers who are observant, reflective, and profoundly affected by the beauty and tragedy of life.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley — Disturbing that so many of the issues addressed here (mass incarceration of black men, school-to-prison pipeline etc.) are so relevant 50 years later…. One quote I found particularly illuminating was this: “Despite my firm convictions, I have been always a man that tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.” By working with Malcolm X, Alex Haley was inspired to investigate his heritage, which resulted in his book Roots.

Davita’s Harp by Chaim Potok — Chaim Potok is the author of “The Chosen,” another of my all-time favorite novels. Davita’s Harp is a simple but genuine story—very beautiful. From the back cover: “For Davita Chandal, growing up in New York in the 1930s and ‘40s is an experience of indescribable joy—and unfathomable sadness. Her loving parents, both fervent radicals, fill her with the fiercely bright hope for a new, better world. But the deprivations of war and the Depression take their ruthless toll. And Davita, unexpectedly, finds in the Jewish faith that her mother had long ago abandoned both a solace to her questioning inner pain and a test of her budding spirit of independence. To her, life’s elusive possibilities for happiness, for fulfillment, for decency, become as real and resonant as the music of the small harp that hangs on her door….”

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor — Justice Sotomayor says so many intelligent, brave, and wise things. And what a pleasure it was to hear her speak at Pomona College in October!

Woman in a straw hat reading a letter 1886/1892  (oil) CRE WHISTLER, Beatrix; (English; 1857-1896)
“Woman in a straw hat reading a letter,” oil painting by Beatrix Whistler (1857-1896)

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