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Best reads span from classics to brand new

Newsroom picks 2014’s favorite page-turners

Perusing the variety of lists of favorite books this time of year is a great way to whet your appetite for reading. I asked my newsroom colleagues to list a favorite book or two that they read in 2014. Not all of their choices were published this year, another testament to the enduring life of good works and the written word. The books are listed here in no particular order.

• Gary Graham, editor, who has far too many unread books on his shelves : “Gone Girl,” by Gillian Flynn, was my favorite novel of the year. The movie, however, seemed lame by comparison. “Sons of Wichita,” by Daniel Schulman, was my favorite nonfiction read for 2014. It’s the story of the Koch empire and drew me in because I worked at the newspaper in Wichita for 13 years.

• Addy Hatch, city editor : “The Cuckoo’s Calling” and “The Silkworm.” Detective novels by Robert Galbraith, the nom de plume of J.K. Rowling. “The Boys in the Boat,” by James Brown, about the Husky crew team. Excellent book and a great read for Huskies in particular.

• Carolyn Lamberson, features editor : “The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac,” by Sharma Shields (being released this month). A whimsical and weird meditation on fairy tales, myths and obsessions, Shields tells the story of a boy who watches his mother run off with a Sasquatch named Mr. Krantz. The boy grows up into a dedicated cryptozoologist who wants to prove Bigfoot is real. How weird? On page 5, we meet a Sasquatch dressed in an ill-fitting pinstripe suit. Swoon.

  “Bugle,” by Tod Marshall. I don’t read a lot of poetry – scarred from high school, where poetry is treated like medicine you have to swallow. But these dark poems are helping turn me around. They’re short. They’re easy to read, but they’re not easy. Marshall gets at some tough stuff here.

  “The Hour of Lead,” by Bruce Holbert. In this second novel from the Mt. Spokane High School teacher, Holbert tells us of families wrecked and remade. Set in the Palouse and Grand Coulee regions and covering a time from 1918 through the 1950s, the novel is as much about a boy becoming a man and a father as it is about a region growing into an economic powerhouse. Holbert’s language is striking, his descriptions stark and his actions violent at times. A must read for locals who enjoy historical fiction. 

  • John Webster, editorial operations director : “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II,” by Douglas A. Blackmon. This won a 2009 Pulitzer for nonfiction. It began as a front-page story in The Wall Street Journal, then exploded into a book and a PBS special. The story it tells is staggering, and to me it says much about why race remains such a raw wound in our country, even now so long after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream and Barack Obama’s election.

• Gina Boysun, online director : “We were Liars,” by E. Lockhart. It’s a young adult book but perfectly readable for adults. It’s about a wealthy family in New England and how it spends its annual summers on its own private island. 

• Audrey Connor, photo archivist : “Wild,” by Cheryl Strayed. It seems this year didn’t allow me as much reading as is typical for me. However, the book that I recently devoured, “Wild,” hits a lot of notes with me. It’s as much a record of one woman’s journey of self-realization as it is an exploration of all the flaws, trials and beauty relative to humanity. Strayed’s voice is authentic in her reassurance that being a woman at the end of her rope is sometimes a necessary path. Combined with the lush portrayal of the Pacific Crest Trail (which she hikes for the duration of the book), it stands apart from most modern female-oriented publications with a solid dose of narcissism, desperation, freedom and grit.

• Kimberly Lusk, deputy features editor : I’ve been reading the “Narnia” books by C.S. Lewis with my kids this fall. It’s amazing to watch my 5-year-old soak up the stories and notice the connections among them – especially with “The Magician’s Nephew” and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” We’re on the third book ( “The Horse and his Boy”) now, so we’ll be continuing this through 2015. And even though I’ve already read all the books in the series at least once, I’m looking forward to reading them again.

Gary Crooks, associate editor: “Nobody’s Fool” and “Risk Pool,” by Richard Russo. These are not new books. The first is about a middle-aged man being forced to assess his failures and regrets. Circumstances force him to finish growing up. Paul Newman played this character in the movie. The second is also about such a man, though told from the viewpoint of his son. Russo drops in plenty of funny dialogue and small-town zaniness to keep it entertaining. Liked them because the characters are my age, for the most part, with relatable concerns.

  Jim Camden, Olympia bureau reporter: “The Orphan Master’s Son,” by Adam Johnson, which was a critical look at North Korea before Sony’s goofy movie.

• Becky Kramer, Coeur d’Alene bureau  reporter : “American Masculine,” by Shann Ray. Short stories from Montana by a local author and psychologist. The stories, mostly about men, deal with the difficult themes of family violence and addiction, yet they are hopeful.

• Erica Curless, features reporter : Keeping with my passionate love of Montana, I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed “Empty Mansions,” by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr., about the mysterious Huguette Clark – daughter of Montana copper king and Senator W.A. Clark. What a bizarre story! I also enjoyed the recent Ivan Doig novel “Bartender’s Tale.”

  • Kip Hill, county government reporter : “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail,” by Ben Montgomery.  Emma Gatewood, affectionately known to her followers as “Grandma,” stepped onto the Appalachian Trail at the age of 67 with her Keds and a homemade bag in 1955, setting off on a more than 2,000-mile adventure that reinvigorated America’s love of the outdoors. Montgomery spins a yarn using newspaper clippings, personal interviews and Gatewood’s own diary that will appeal to lovers of nonfiction, the outdoors and biography.

• Bert Caldwell, editorial page editor : “The Sense of an Ending,” by Julian Barnes. It’s a 123-page novella about the clueless protagonist’s determination to find the why of a classmate’s suicide years after it occurred. The “sense of the ending” is devastating.

• Kenny Ocker, former copy editor : “The Miracle of Castel di Sangro,” by Joe McGinniss, made for a fascinating read about the tale of a small-town soccer team in the rugged heart of Italy making it to the second-highest level of soccer there – and somehow managing to hold on and make it to a second season. I’m not a huge fan of first-person nonfiction writing, but the passion McGinniss showed for a sports team even he had not known of until shortly before he arrived in Abruzzo resonated with me and made the book read like something half its length. I couldn’t put it down, and found myself milking every second out of my lunch breaks to finish it as quickly as possible.

This article originally appeared on The Spokesman-Review’s Editor’s Notes blog, blogs/editors-notes/.
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