By Claudia Waldman
- “Bee Season” by Myla Goldberg: Fifth-grader and perennial underachiever Eliza upsets her family’s precarious dynamics when she unexpectedly wins the school spelling bee. Eliza’s apparent prodigy ends up radically changing her own self-perception when her father introduces her to the shadowy world of Jewish mysticism. This novel is beautifully written from the perspective of each family member and its effect is bittersweet.
- “Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past” by Giles Tremlett: Seventy years after Spain’s brutal Civil War and 30 years after the demise of the dictatorship that followed, British journalist Tremlett explores all corners of modern Spain through a series of detailed vignettes. The chapters involving Galician religious processions and gypsy culture in Seville’s most dangerous neighborhood are particularly interesting, though the book as a whole does an excellent job of portraying the diverse and often conflicting facets of Spanish society and politics.
- “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” by Richard Feynman and Ralph Leighton: The late Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman was as renowned for his extroverted character as his intellectual prowess. This autobiographical collection of anecdotes, which describe Feynman’s adventures at “faking it” in gambling, safecracking and more, is the kind of book that, upon re-reading, always reveals something new and delightful.
- “The Mother Tongue” by Bill Bryson: Essentially a history of the English language, this book is humorous and appealing to even those who aren’t language buffs. It’s fascinating to trace the evolution of the world’s new lingua franca from the days of William the Conqueror to the varied dialects that appear even within our own country. Bryson is a talented and very versatile writer, and his enjoyment of the subject at hand is clear.
- “Confederates in the Attic” by Tony Horwitz: Though this book is 15 years old and thus a bit dated, it’s still a fascinating look at how the American South continues to be socially affected by the repercussions of the Civil War. Journalist Horwitz, motivated by a boyhood fixation on the War, tries his best to both cast a broad and balanced subject pool and provide the reader with a few history lessons along the way. The best parts of Horwitz’s narrative are the time he devotes to the especially eccentric individuals he met.