The best books we've read recently ...


We're recommending our favorite books that we've read outside of work in the last six months. Look for more locally-sourced literary content in this space in the weeks to come!

"The Big Fella" by Jane Leavy

If you've read her biographies of Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle, then you know Jane Leavy is a master of telling compelling stories about baseball's larger-than-life personalities, whether they were the life of the party (Mantle) or guarded their privacy fiercely (Koufax). But when you talk about big personalities, not only in sports but in all of modern public life, none loom larger than Babe Ruth. In "The Big Fella," Leavy's commitment to journalism shines through with the sort of rich detail and historical context that you only get from dedicated, thorough detective work. Strong biographies of Ruth have been written in the modern era; Leigh Montville's "The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth" is an excellent example. So Leavy doesn't try to reinvent the wheel. Instead, she digs a little deeper, using a post-1927 World Series barnstorming tour as narrative, and offers a fascinating portrait of how Ruth, in large part thanks to the genius of his agent, Christy Walsh, pioneered much of what we take for granted about the making and marketing of a legend. In Ruth's case, where myth and reality were so closely intertwined, it was hard to tell which was which. The narrative can't be anything but fascinating. You need not be a baseball fan to appreciate Ruth, or Leavy's writing; anyone who wants to understand the star-making machinery, and how the media willingly plays a role, would do well to check out "The Big Fella."

-- Greg Sukiennik, Southern Vermont Landscapes editor

"The Tattooist of Auschwitz" by Heather Morris

"The Tattooist of Auschwitz," a novel by first-time author Heather Morris, tells the story of Lale (Lali in the book) Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, who was imprisoned at Auschwitz in 1942, and forced to tattoo numbers onto the arms of thousands of incoming prisoners. The T towierer (tattooist in German) holds a privileged position in the camp and, risking his own life, Sokolov uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money, taken off the bodies of murdered Jews, for food and medicines to keep his fellow prisoners alive. At the camp, Sokolov meets a Slovakian girl, Gita, and they fall in love. The book glosses over many of the horrors of the concentration camp, only briefly mentioning the gas chambers and crematoria and the deplorable treatment of the prisoners, focusing more on Sokolov's survival and love for Gita. Sokolov is a true survivor and stops at nothing to help other prisoners and secure his own position in the camp. This unlikely love story is mostly true. The real-life Sokolov was a tattooist at Auschwitz, where he met Gita Furman. The couple later married and moved to Melbourne, Australia, where they raised a son. Morris interviewed Sokolov over several years before his death in 2006. The book was truly compelling and utterly un-put-downable. It's without a doubt a book that will stay with me a very long time — it's that unforgettable and will keep you thinking about the story well after you've put it down.

— Margaret Button, associate features editor

"The Similars" by Rebecca Hanover

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Right around the time spring is supposed to arrive, I'm looking to read something simple and angsty. I usually reach for a book from the Young Adult section. Rebecca Hanover's "The Similars" checked all of my boxes — angsty teens, a private school, clones and forbidden love/love triangle. As a bonus, the author is a writer for the soap opera, "Guiding Light." The first half of the book was a dream. Emma returns to her exclusive boarding school in Vermont (a plus for this girl from the Berkshires, a stone's throw away from the border of Vermont) just months after the suicide of her best friend, Oliver. Beginning junior year would be hard enough with that fact alone, but the campus is all a-Twitter about the arrival of The Similars, six clones who were created outside of the law. Not only that, but the clones, made without the consent of the families of the children they are identical too, are copies of Darkwood Academy students. Much to Emma's dismay, one clone shares Oliver's DNA. The book raises wonderful questions about human rights, citizenship and ethics, all while following Emma as she becomes a member of The Ten, Darkwood's secret society. And just when you think the book can't get any better, Hanover's soap opera background comes into play with so many twists and turns — there's the reclusive (and evil) billionaire guardian of the clones; the connection shared by The Ten's parents, secret messages, a secret lab, a kidnapping, truth serums, secret identities, secret siblings, sibling rivalries, revenge plots and secret twins. It's almost too much of a good thing. The book was a quick, fun read. My only regret is having until January to read the next book.

— Jennifer Huberdeau, UpCountry Magazine editor

"Educated" by Tara Westover

As an avid memoir reader who loves real-life stories about ordinary people who live in and rise above extraordinary circumstances, I couldn't put down Tara Westover's best-selling book "Educated." The back story of Westover's life is enough to draw you in — raised by survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she didn't step foot in a classroom until she was 17, wasn't vaccinated or given antibiotics until she was in college and was essentially raised off the grid without a birth certificate or school records — but it's her ultimate story of survival that makes this book stay with you long after you finish it. Behind all the bizarre, often frightening stories of her childhood is a woman grappling with the mental and physical abuse she withstood at the hands of her older brother and father. She struggles not only with understanding the basics of hygiene when she leaves her home to go to college — using too much soap was considered wasteful and unnecessary by her parents, who used herbs and home remedies instead of traditional medicine — but also with the lasting effects of coming to terms with the abuse she withstood. Like so many women in her position, she makes excuses for their behavior, forgives and more than once returns to her childhood home putting her education, future and her life in danger. You can't help but root for Westover as she beats unimaginable odds to go on to study history at Harvard and Cambridge. It's all so extraordinary, it's almost unbelievable if it wasn't for the small voice threaded throughout the story of a young woman still looking to feel at home in a place so far away from where and how she was raised.

— Lindsey Hollenbaugh, Berkshire Eagle features editor

Heart Berries: A Memoir" by Terese Marie Mailhot

Coming off of reading Tommy Orange's "There There," for The Eagle book club, I decided I hadn't read enough works by Native American authors and really wanted to fill in some of those gaps in my literary background. I picked up "Heart Berries: A Memoir," by First Nation Canadian writer Terese Marie Mailhot, and spent most of the two hours it took to read it sort of awestruck, wishing desperately I had someone to read it aloud to. "Heart Berries" is Mailhot's story, and she puts it all out there, discussing her childhood on a reservation, her race and gender and the relationships she has made complicated by her mental illness, with an honesty and rawness that is remarkable. This memoir sort of eschews a structure in a way that does at times get slightly difficult to follow, and Mailhot's stunning prose — I can't say works against her, because it's so gorgeous, but it does in places steal the show, catching you so far up in how beautifully she's saying something you find you've failed to pay attention to what she's saying. That's OK though, you can always read it twice. In fact, you should.

— Meggie Baker, calendar editor


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