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The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson

Having admired his book about Steve Jobs, I knew I would appreciate Isaacson’s book about Jennifer Doudna. He does a good job of explaining the how scientists learned about RNA and CRISPR, but it’s still a big mystery to me. I now recognize a lot more words on the topic, but wow, it remains an alien world to me. First, CRISPR:  it is a relatively quick and easy way to edit the DNA in...

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton

This account of a fictitious popular interracial music duo begins in the 1970s and ends with their revival in 2016 and is a tour de force. Opal and Nev are an unlikely twosome; when they met, Opal was an amateur with barely any experience and Nev had recently arrived from Britain with more expectations than promise in his musical ambitions. The story is told from the vantage point a year or so...

When All Is Said by Anne Griffin

I listened to this audiobook after reading the review in Reading Matters, a lover of Irish literature. I almost gave it up when I began to recall that I am often not entertained by reminiscences of elderly Irish men, but kept going and found it worth the occasional irritation. It is a good story, especially impressive as it is a debut work. Over the course of a long night, Maurice Hannigan toasts...

The Promise by Damon Galgut

This 2021 Booker Prize winner is set in South Africa and spans the time from deepest apartheid years (mid-1980s) through the euphoric times of the mid-1990s when South Africa was allowed to rejoin the community of nations and for some years beyond that time. Each chapter centers on the funeral of a member of the Swart family until the only member left is Amor who checked out of the family as soon...

Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson

This is the second book I’ve enjoyed from the list of comfort reads that A Life in Books recommends. It is an epistolary novel; in this case the letters are exchanged between Tina Hopgood, a farmer’s wife in East Anglia, and Anders Larsen, a museum curator in Denmark. They are both mature adults with grown children who find companionship with each other that is lacking in their own...

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

This book features a person who works in a bookstore having to deal with the ghost of an annoying former customer who was haunting the store. Anyone who has worked with the public can identify with such a scenario, imagining someone so troublesome that even death would not stop them. And it’s true that when Flora comes to the store, she knocks over stacks of books, rustles around, and even...

The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain

I came upon this book in a list of comfort reads in A Life in Books and have been completely charmed by it. First published in 2013 in France, it is set in the mid-1980s and begins with the President of France François Mitterrand leaving his hat in a restaurant. It is picked up by a young bureaucrat thrilled to be dining next to the President; he is unable to resist stealing the hat. Daniel...

Still Life by Sarah Winman

It was Ron Charles’ review in the Washington Post that took me to this audiobook. And what a treat it was; I spent 15 hours with these lovely characters, most of the time in Florence. Such a comfort. It begins during World War II when a young British soldier named Ulysses meets a 64-year old woman named Evelyn Skinner in Italy as she was working on identifying and protecting art works...

Favorite Books for 2021

This year I read 43 books, fewer than usual. Though I recovered quickly from cataract surgery, I wasn’t comfortable reading for a month. I read 16 non-fiction books; perhaps the higher percentage of non-fiction this year and last will continue. Intimations by Zadie Smith. The author wrote this short book of essays in May 2020 and noted that many books would be written about the pandemic. In...

Matrix by Lauren Groff

I expected that a book set in 1158 which begins with the main character Marie on her way to the abbey where she has been sent by Eleanor of Aquitaine was going to be hard-going. And to be sure there were countless words I had to look up, but it was certainly worth the effort. The story was of an undervalued woman sent to an impoverished nunnery who overcomes many obstacles and brings wealth and...

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