Women are pretty good about organizing and religiously attending book club month in and month out, even if we all know it’s really about the food and wine. We know some guys have participated in book clubs, even if we know it’s more about the food and scotch. Our sense is the women still excel at the book club game.
However, one of the core ideas behind the Think Beyond the Nest blog is to share things that empty nesters, both male and female, can enjoy together. So in that spirit, we are introducing the TBTN Book Club – our list of “best sellers” or in reality, a list of books that we both agree are top notch and worthy of a read. We’re going big right from the git go – here are the books we both love and actually still keep a hard copy of around the house. In no particular order here we go:
A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
GOODREADS: Eleven-year-old Owen Meany, playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire, hits a foul ball and kills his best friend’s mother. Owen doesn’t believe in accidents; he believes he is God’s instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul is both extraordinary and terrifying. At moments a comic, self-deluded victim, but in the end the principal, tragic actor in a divine plan, Owen Meany is the most heartbreaking hero John Irving has yet created.
PHIL: If I have one book left to read in my life it would be this one. I love it. I’ve already read it several times and I’m entertained and moved every time. Owen is an extraordinary literary character and encounters many interesting, and sometimes funny, situations. I always finish this book thinking, “Who among us, even those we least suspect, could truly be an instrument of God?”
LAILAN: This book has always been on my top 5 list. It is so profound, touching, and beautifully written. It is definitely due for a reread.
Boys in the Boat (Daniel James Brown)
GOODREADS: Daniel James Brown’s robust book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.
LAILAN: A few years ago, Phil and I were in Seattle and our first stop was not the Space Needle, but the Conibear Shellhouse at the University of Washington. It was a beautiful fall day, and I remember searching and searching for the boat house. It was so rewarding when we finally found it! I loved the Husky Clipper shell hanging from the ceiling and other memorabilia. It’s easy to stand out on the dock and imagine the crew team training hard out on Lake Washington.
PHIL: Joe Rantz. What a boss. We can all learn from his work ethic, persistence and leadership. I think there’s also something cool about the magic that happens when the team of eight reaches pure synchronicity on the water.
John Adams (David McCullough)
GOODREADS: In this powerful, epic biography, David McCullough unfolds the adventurous life-journey of John Adams, the brilliant, fiercely independent, often irascible, always honest Yankee patriot — “the colossus of independence,” as Thomas Jefferson called him — who spared nothing in his zeal for the American Revolution; who rose to become the second President of the United States and saved the country from blundering into an unnecessary war; who was learned beyond all but a few and regarded by some as “out of his senses”; and whose marriage to the wise and valiant Abigail Adams is one of the moving love stories in American history.
LAILAN: I absolutely loved this book and enjoyed learning more about John Adams and of course the huge influence Abigail Adams had on our country. The HBO mini-series featuring Paul Giamatti(John Adams) and Laura Linney(Abigail Adams) was equally as good. I think I’ve watched the mini-series at least three times. I loved it that much.
PHIL: Such motivating and inspiration read, and another great reminder of the sacrifice and huge impact a handful of Founding Fathers had on our country – then and now. LAILAN: Agree!:)
Hillbilly Elegy (J.D. Vance)
GOODREADS: From a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream.
LAILAN: Our book club read this recently, and we had a great discussion. We were also incredibly inspired by J.D. Vance and his drive to endure and make a better life for himself. I immediately told Phil and our boys that they had to read it!
PHIL: Interesting read about a segment of our population that I think exists in many parts of our country, not just Appalachia. I’m sure many of us are naive to the struggles so many people face right in our own backyards.
Being Mortal (Atul Gawande)
GOODREADS: In Being Mortal, bestselling author Atul Gawande tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending. Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit.
LAILAN: There’s not enough room here to explain what this book means to me. Let me just say it’s been very helpful as I care and cope with my 91-year old mom who is currently in assisted living in Hawaii. Thank you, Atul Gawande, for helping me better understand end-of-life and hospice.
PHIL: Fascinating section fairly early on in the book explaining how society has moved away from families taking care of the aging parents/grandparents to today’s reliance on technology and health care facilities to keep a body alive.
The Nightengale (Kristin Hannah)
GOODREADS: Despite their differences, sisters Vianne and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Vianne finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her. As the war progresses, the sisters’ relationship and strength are tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Vianne and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.
LAILAN: This is another fairly recent contribution from my book club, but it’s quickly risen to be one our favorites. Such inspiration from such strong women during WWII. And of course, there are many, many other courageous stories out there from that awful time that haven’t been recognized in book form. If you liked The Nightingale, you will should try Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly as well.
PHIL: OK, guys. Lailan suggested this one after she read it for book club. I have to admit my first thought is, “chick book.” I found this to be anything but! This is an amazing story from World War II and I thought looking at war through the lens of two sisters was very fresh, very interesting, sad, and inspiring all at the same time.
Lone Survivor (Marcus Lutrell)
GOODREADS: On a clear night in late June 2005, four U.S. Navy SEALs left their base in northern Afghanistan for the mountainous Pakistani border. Their mission was to capture or kill a notorious al Qaeda leader known to be ensconced in a Taliban stronghold surrounded by a small but heavily armed force. Less then twenty-four hours later, only one of those Navy SEALs remained alive.
LAILAN: We recently spent time out in Coronado where we actually witnessed Navy SEAL training. All I could think of was this book and the mothers that were thinking of their sons going through that brutal training.
PHIL: All I can say is stop whatever you’re doing right now, pause, and say a prayer for the men and women serving our country so bravely. Someone is out there right now on a dangerous mission – prayer works.
Unbroken (Lauren Hillenbrand)
GOODREADS: On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.
LAILAN: I often cover my eyes at movies when things get too intense. If I could cover my eyes while reading, I probably would have done so with this book. While an amazing story all the way around, I have hard time not feeling so sad for how Louis Zamperini was treated.
PHIL: You’re probably aware of this one, but if you haven’t read this or seen the movie, run, don’t walk to pick this one up. This has to be a Top 5 true story of life and the desire to survive anything. It’s almost too unbelievable to be true.
Hope Unseen (Scotty Smiley)
GOODREADS: Hope Unseen challenges readers to question their doubts, not their beliefs, and depend upon God no matter what—the inspiring true story of “blind” faith. A nervous glance from a man in a parked car. Muted instincts from a soldier on patrol. Violent destruction followed by total darkness. Two weeks later, Scotty Smiley woke up in Walter Reed Army Medical Center, helpless . . . and blind.
LAILAN: I love Scotty Smiley. I love his wife, and I love his family. I’ll never forget what he said as we observed him teaching our son Ryan’s ROTC class. He basically said, “When you’re in the Army there will be tough times. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. No ‘woe is me, sad Eeyore quotes.’ That all coming from a blind man who has chosen to carry on with life. Let’s just say Captain Smiley made a huge impact on all of us that day.
PHIL: Here’s one you probably don’t know. Lailan and I had the opportunity to meet Captain Smiley when he was an instructor with the ROTC program at Gonzaga University. Our son, Ryan, was a cadet there and had the privilege of learning from Smiley. This is another amazing story of personal sacrifice, the will to endure, incredible support from family and God’s love working through special people.
Lunchmeat & Life Lessons (Mary B. Lucas)
GOODREADS: John Bichelmeyer dispensed much more than ground beef and bacon to his customers. A man with only an eighth-grade education and father of 10 children, he offered rare wisdom and compassion to his clientele, friends and family that came from the heart.
LAILAN: Mary Lucas lives in Kansas City and I’ve had the honor of meeting her on several occasions, including Beta Mom’s Weekend at MU. In addition to her professional wisdom, she’s such a great person to be around. It’s so cool that she has such a motivating, personal story to tell!
PHIL: Bring on the “comeback sauce!”
Destiny of the Republic (Candice Millard)
GOODREADS: James A. Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men ever elected president. Born into abject poverty, he rose to become a wunderkind scholar, a Civil War hero, and a renowned and admired reformist congressman. Nominated for president against his will, he engaged in a fierce battle with the corrupt political establishment. But four months after his inauguration, a deranged office seeker tracked Garfield down and shot him in the back. But the shot didn’t kill Garfield. The drama of what happened subsequently is a powerful story of a nation in turmoil.
PHIL: Toss a coin on the best Candice Millard book. My favorite is The River of Doubt (Teddy Roosevelt the first to navigate a remote tributary of the Amazon River), but Destiny of the Republic is probably a close second.
LAILAN: No tossing a coin for me! This is definitely my favorite Candice Millard book to date. I am indeed a lover of historical fiction and this one, I thought, was amazing! I loved learning so much about a time and a President that I really knew nothing about. Crazy that doctors didn’t have the knowledge back then. Amazing to think that Garfield died from infection and not by the bullet.
Mating for Life (Laura Abbot)
GOODREADS: SOMETIMES…YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN. And sometimes that’s where you find your life, your love, your destiny. It’s what happens when Josie Calhoun returns home to Maizeville, Kansas. She’s got some work to finish up, she’s tired of city life and she wants to spend a few months with her grandfather. But those calm, well-ordered plans fly off in all directions when she meets sheriff’s deputy Mackenzie Scott.
PHIL: So proud of romance author, Laura Abbot, also known as my mom. Following a long career in secondary education (and expert on Shakespeare, Browning, Wharton and so many others), she explored a dream and became a published author. Mating for Life was her first of eighteen total books. I only blushed a couple of times!
LAILAN: My mother-in-law truly is an amazing writer, and it’s so wonderful seeing that talent shine through her romance novels! I don’t blush like Phil does. I tend to shed a few tears because the endings are always so sweet!
Very cute photo of you two! And wow! That’s a lot of books you’ve reviewed!
Lailan photographs well! Haha – we didn’t read all of those in just the last week! We’ve had a few years! Thanks for commenting!
We clearly have similar taste in books. Some of my favorites are on your list, and I now have a couple new books to look forward to reading. Thanks Phil and Lailan!! Keep them coming.
What an inspiring gesture you two have put forward! You’ve always been an A+ lady Lailan…so happy to enjoy this share. May I suggest ‘Shadow of the wind’ by Carlos Ruiz Falcon. A straight up fiction read of the first order! Mahalo again🌺