Read any good books lately? We open the phone lines to get listener picks for the most memorable books of the year, the best books to give as gifts and other suggestions for life-changing reads.

Here is a list of books mentioned on air during the show.

If you are interested in buying one of these books, you can support KQED by clicking on the title, which will take you to that book on A portion of the profit will go to KQED.

These titles are also available from your local independent bookseller. You can find the one nearest you at The Northern California Independent Booksellers Assocation's website.



Christin Evans, owner of Booksmith in San Francisco and Kepler's in Menlo Park
Kevin Hunsanger, co-owner of San Francisco's Green Apple Books

  • Mary Ladd

    My favorite books this year are: The Lifeboat, How to Lose Her and Donnybrook. Varied yet all have stellar and vibrant prose.

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    I only give non fiction books and love non fiction books as gifts. This year I have bought over 100 non fiction books, some from authors I heard on FORUM.

    This past week I bought some books for family, friends (which they wanted) and alas a couple for myself.

    Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks,
    How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance by Marilyn Yalom,

    Chloe’s Kitchen: 125 Easy, Delicious Recipes for Making the Food You Love the Vegan Way by Chloe Coscarelli
    In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson (book still gives me the chills)

    Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light by David Downie
    Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings from the Road by Willie Nelson
    Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon

    And some sex related books (laughing) from some of the authors in the book Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God: 51 Women Reveal the Power of Positive Female Connection

  • Debbie Duncan

    I review books for young people, so it’s not surprising that my favorites are YAs. But even TIME magazine agrees that John Green’s THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is the novel of the year. It’s a heartbreakingly honest story of young adults dealing with life and death and literature, family, relationships and friends. It’ll make you laugh AND cry.
    Elizabeth Wein’s CODE NAME VERITY is another Young Adult book that’s showing up on every best-of-the-year list. It’s a WWII friendship story starring two strong women: one an English motorcycle mechanic turned pilot, the other a Scottish intellectual/spy who’s captured by the Nazis and confesses all. Or does she? Worth reading and then re-reading for clues.
    The audio versions of both these books are also best-of-the-year material.

  • nathanhj

    The one book from 2012 that changed the way I look at the world and how I interact with it is Anat Shenker-Osorio’s analysis of how we talk and think about “the economy”. It’s called “Don’t Buy It” and it breaks down, using cognitive psychology and other brain research, how the words we use to talk about “the economy” (fiscal cliff, it’s sick, it’s hurting, etc.) shape how we think about what we can and can’t do to make our way in it. Most of the words we use now make it seem like a natural phenomenom – cliff – or a living being – sick and hurting – when in reality it is the result of choice we make as human beings, not the end product of some mysterious, Heaven-sent process.

    This has changed how I think about who benefits from economic policy making and how the metaphors we use about that disempower most of the people who are already struggling with less power in the system to begin with. I think that having a discussion about this on Book Forum would be a great bit of public service and an enlightening conversation.

    • nathanhj

      Also Shenker-Osorio lives in Oakland, so she’s a local!

  • Melinda Moreaux

    “Going To Solace” by Bay Area author Amanda McTigue. A touching and beautiful read.

  • michael

    Kenzaburo Oe’s “A Personal Matter”

  • DerekOfDublin

    I recommend Happiness is a Chemical in the Brain – a collection of short stories by Pulitzer Prize winner Lucia Perillo. Lyrical writing, set mostly in the Pacific Northwest. Not for the faint of heart.

  • Stephen Schmid

    Although “life-changing” might be a bit extreme, I highly recommend the book “Ubiquity – Why Catastrophes Happen” by Mark Buchanan. It may at least change the way you think about the world. The thesis is that many complex phenomeona, such as earthquakes, forest fires, species extinction, the stock market, and others, are unpredictable in nature and yet share an underlying structure governed by a relatively simple mathematical law. The implications of the insight are fascinating.

  • Gone Girl is riveting. One of the books that you cannot put down, and you wind up staying up too late reading.

  • lani20

    Please mention books on tape, as some of us have to read thru our ears.

    • Debbie Duncan

      Lani, I did a Perspective this last summer about audiobooks. Some of my favorites published in the last year include CODE NAME VERITY (it’s brilliant); THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT, a novel of the Titanic with about 30 voices, including the iceberg!; Anne Hathaway performing THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ; Tim Robbins reading THE GREAT GATSBY. And if you haven’t listened to Mark Bramhall read Wallace Stegner’s ANGLE OF REPOSE or THE BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN, you’re in for a treat.

  • Heidi

    The best book I read this year was The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. It’s beautifully written and readable, even though it is an intense topic. She compellingly walks the reader through her rationale that the concepts of “war on drugs” and “tough on crime” in this country has, since the mid-80’s, actually been targeted toward black and brown communities, almost exclusively, in order to disenfranchise those communities much the way slavery did.

    Just reading what I wrote will make many people think “oh that is crazy,” but don’t let that stop you reading the book. I didn’t believe it at first, but she makes her points so strongly with real information that by the end, I realized that my notion on how to achieve racial equity in this country needs to change entirely.

    All of this and it’s really readable too!

  • nicole

    “Zoobiquity” which I originally heard about from a KQED program. The book does a lovely job highlighting the similarities between animal and human medicine and how we can learn from our co-inhabitators.

  • Must read for humanity! The Source Field Investigations by David Wilcock. The book explains the most cutting edge research about the nature of this reality we inhabit and how it goes about constructing itself.
    A perfect book!
    Thank You, Adam!

  • Lori Michelon

    HI! Great program. My 20-year-old daughter recommended “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller. I just finished it – it’s a good read. It’s a retelling of the Achilles’ myth and is a poignant love-story.

  • I would like to recommend a real sleeper: Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos. I would not have picked this book up myself, by the cover, but I found it on a park bench (in a bag with other books?!!!) and I am so glad I FOUND it! It was lauded by Sue Monk Kidd (The Secret Life of Bees) and she was absolutely correct! It was also on the Today’s Book Club Selection. It was moving, poignant, funny, many-layered, and compelling. Great message!

  • Alana Price

    I’d like to recommend “Embracing Israel/Palestine” by Rabbi Michael Lerner — it explores the history and current situation of the conflict in the Middle East in a deeply empathetic way that looks at the psychological trauma behind the actions of both Palestinians and Israelis. It is careful not to obscure the giant structural inequality between the Israeli government and the Palestinians, but rather than offering narratives oriented toward blame, it explores what sorts of shifts are necessary — both legal and territorial shifts, as well as psychological shifts in consciousness — in order for peace in the region to become possible.

  • michael

    i’d like to recommend César Aira’s “An Episode in the Life of a
    Landscape Painter” a chilling, surreal portrait of a young landscape
    painters travels through south american. Dark, bizarre, and truly

  • Kat

    Hiding in the Open by Zenon Neumark. An amazing and true story how Mr. Neumark, a Jew, escaped from the Nazi labor camps, fought for 2 resistance groups and lived as a Catholic in Poland and Austria. It is a brilliantly written book, a quick read and a gripping story.

  • Amanda

    Sacre Blue: A comedy d’art by Christopher Moore.

    This was a fun read about the color blue and impressionist
    artists. The names of the artists are real, but the rest is pure fiction.
    Christopher Moore is one of those authors that I will read anything he writes.
    If you are not familiar with this Bay Area author check out any of his books.

    An Apple for the Creature by various Sci-fi and fantasy

    The first story is a new Sookie Stackhouse short. I enjoy
    reading short story compilations to find new authors and stories.

  • Stacy

    Nate Silver – The Signal and the Noise. Great book on a range of interesting topics that is accessible beyond stat nerds.

  • Baraka

    The Booksmith hosted a wonderful reading around Valentine’s Day for the non-fiction anthology called “Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women”.

    25 American Muslim women sharing their unheard stories on love, intimacy, loss and longing. The only stories we hear about Muslims generally are in a terrorism or national security frame, so this was a surprising and stunning read.

  • Tony Acarasiddhi Press

    The QUEEN OF AMERICA, by Luis Alberto Urrea, is wonderful. (I recommend reading the earlier HUMMINGBIRD’S DAUGHTER, first – it, too, is great.

  • Amy

    The Angel’s Share, the first novel by local (Palo Alto) author Rayme Waters, is a must read. The main character, Cinnamon Monday, is a flawed but extraordinarily likable young woman struggling to overcome a troubling childhood and some unfortunate adolescent choices. A true to life, beautifully told story.

  • sabi jolin

    I’d like to recommend “Arcadia” by Lauren Groff — set in the late 1960’s in upstate NY, some idealists start a commune which becomes infamous, and has it’s predictable Hippie highlights, but the voice it’s narrated through is just iconic…Bit, the first child born in Arcadia travels from child to youth, to adult to middle age–narrating the view through his thoughtful, perspective. The writing is wonderfully lyrical, hypnotic and frankly I found it addicting, it keeps you tightly bound to the page. I was sad to not be reading it anymore.

  • Jasna Hodzic

    Bel Canto by Ann Patchett is an extraordinary book with a great story, beautifully developed characters, and profound themes concerning the human spirit. Her newer novel, State of Wonder, is also a good read.

    • Tony Acarasiddhi Press

      Oh, yes. BEL CANTO, this year, any year – what a book!

  • Marco Aurelio de Carvalho

    A great book that is coming in English is “the manuscript found in Accra” by Paulo Coelho. The novels is based on the manuscript found in 1974 by a English archeologist, that tells the history. Of the people that is living in Jerusalem in the night before the crusade invasion on the first century of the first millenium. A life change book!!!!

  • I recommend Zoobiquity, written by Barbar Natterson-Horowitz, MD, a cardiologist at UCLA, and Kathryn Bowers, a journalist. A fascinating, beautifully-written, and remarkably funny consideration of the commonalities and intersection of human and non-human health and medicine.

  • Ramona

    For cycling fans, Tyler Hamilton’s book “The Secret Race” co-written by
    Daniel Coyle is a must read for anyone following the Lance Armstrong
    fall from grace. Incredibly well-written and beyond damning, this book
    exposes the “omerta” (code of silence) responsible for the ruin of many
    of the sport’s top athletes.

  • Erica Bell

    One of my all time favorite books is Bayou Farewell by Mike Tidwell. In line with the Forum program on earlier this morning, Ethical Traveling, where someone wrote in about their wonderful travel to New Orleans, Bayou Farewell, The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisianan’s Cajun Coast is non-fiction AND reads like a novel. There is also a new introduction that speaks to the effects of the BP oil disaster, and in the book there is even a scary prediction of Hurricane Katrina, pre-Katrina.

    James Lee Burke says it best, “Stunning, beautifully written, the best book on Louisiana I have ever read. Tidewell has captured the soul and heart of the Cajun people.”

  • michael

    i’d like to recommend César Aira’s “An Episode in the Life of a
    Landscape Painter” a chilling, surreal portrait of a young landscape
    painters travels through south america. Dark, bizarre, and truly

  • I would recommend “Alif the Unseen” by G. Willow Wilson…It’s about the Arab Spring, computer hackers, and Genies. Awesome read.

  • Jon Walter

    An ideal Christmas gift: Jonathan Walter’s, The Christmas that Dan Won the Best Lights Contest . After a wild morning at a Black Friday sale, Dan’s descent into holiday madness is stalled by a call for help from a long lost uncle living near the Salton Sea. This short is available online in paperback and as an

    Yes, I’m the author. I had a great time writing this story, and have been very happy with the reviews. Please drop me a line and let me know what you think.

  • I’m sorry I just have to post again and recommend Autobiography of a Yogi by Parahamansa Yogananda. I recommend this book to all people devoted to eliminating unnecessary suffering and learning as much about love and God as possible. I would also like to suggest The Holographic Universe by Micheal Talbot if everyone on this planet read this book this planet would be a paradise within months.
    Huge fan of Forum thank you for your great solid service.
    Love, Adam!

  • Jessica

    The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant was one of the best books I’ve ever read. Vaillant tells the gripping story of a series of Siberian tiger attacks, conveying character and place and delving deeply into the relationship between humans and nature in the aftermath of the Cold War and globalism. Amazing page turner, entertaining, informative, and terrifying.

  • nehemiah james

    Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power, by Seth Rosenfeld. This is a great read about the sixties in Berkeley and how the FBI secretly worked with Governor Ronald Reagan to get University of California President Clark Kerr fired and to stifle Free Speech Movement leader Mario Savio and other campus protesters. Rosenfeld was an investigative reporter for the S.F. Chronicle and he sued the FBI to get 300,000 pages of FBI documents. The book is really well researched, the story is vividly told through these epic characters and it reads like a novel. Wonderful local/national history with lots of surprises. I loved it!

  • Guest

    “Data Insights: New Ways to Visualize and Make Sense of Data” is a newly published book by Hunter Whitney.

    For anyone interested in data visualization it offers some useful ideas and interesting perspectives. Interspersed with good humor, it will very likely bring an occasional smile to its readers. It is intended to be a little unconventional and accessible to a broader range of readers than many technically oriented books. “Data Insights” convincingly makes the case that data visualization is not just about technology but also involves a deeply human process.

    I thoroughly enjoyed it and think you will, too.

  • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

    Seven Books to Change Life and Society:

    “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck, MD
    “Eat That Frog!” by Brian Tracy (on Time, Planning, & Priorities)
    “Catching the Big Fish” by (filmmaker) David Lynch

    “Secrets of High States” by Jim Dines
    “The End of Chaos: Quality Laws and the Ascendancy of Democracy”
    by David G. Schrunk
    “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose” by Eckhart Tolle
    “Self Matters” by Phillip C. McGraw, PhD

  • A Mermaid’s Tale, by Bay Area author Amanda Adams.

  • Ladies of the Field: Early Women Archaeologists and
    Their Search for Adventure, by Amanda Adams. Read the chapter on
    Agatha Christie!

  • Pam

    I have to recommend 4 Seasons in 4 Weeks by Suzanne Mathis McQueen, it takes you through the symbolic journey of a woman’s hormonal rhythm, including her libido cycle. It provides that missing piece for men, helping them to better understand the female as a sexual partner. The book is also a feast for the eyes with beautiful artwork from artists from around the world. It’s as beautiful as it is enlightening.

  • Bryan Ness

    A must read for anyone who still thinks the autism/vaccination connection is still an open question is Autism’s False Prophets by Paul A. Offit. It is not an open question and vaccinations have no connection with autism whatsoever. Offit provides a very thorough overview of how the original connection became so well known and how difficult it has been to get the truth out about the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      Took his course on Vaccines via the U of PA and would remind folks that Dr Offit has a vested interest financially in creating vaccines. Thus is not truly un biased.

  • dmacsfo

    A thoughtful and provocative courtroom drama by D.W. Buffa, “The Dark Backward”. Buffa, a Bay Area native, approaches the arrest of a mysterious young man, arrested on a remote Pacific island for the crimes of murder, incest and rape. These seemingly indefensible crimes are the backdrop for a deep examination of values, as well as a love story, and a compelling tapestry that links the ancient city of Atlantis to the Incas. Fascinating.

  • Arne Folkedal

    Just published: “Desert Air”, by George Steinmetz

    DESERT AIR For the past fifteen years George has been working on a somewhat obsessive project to photograph all of the world’s hyper arid regions. The idea came to him when he started flying his motorized paraglider over the Sahara in the late 90s, and has taken him to 27 countries plus Antarctica. What he found on this oddyssey was a collection of co-evolved landscapes, like a disparate family, with each desert having unique variations on the common dry-land features of sand dunes, salt lakes, and wind erosion. He also discovered the highly developed strategies that allow man, vegetation, and wildlife to endure on the outer limits of survival. This portfolio is a small selection of this work that is appearing in George’s latest book, Desert Air.

  • ‘The Art of Non-Conformity’ has had a huge impact on my life. The author, Chris Guillebeau, teaches you how to live the life you want by setting your own rules. The concept that has probably had the most profound effect on me is how the author teaches you to think about the legacy you’ll leave behind.

    Chris encourages you to take the time to think about what you want to accomplish in YOUR LIFE, no matter how big or small and then start out with small incremental steps towards that goal. He explains to the readers that even dedicating 1% of your time towards this life goal will eventually lead you to a path where you will find yourself spending majority of your time on the goal that matters to you the most while making a comfortable living.

    This book has completely changed my perception of ‘work’, living and life. I highly recommend it to everyone, young and old.

  • WelcomeOm

    If you’re curious about the UFO phenomenon (Are we being visited by ETs? If so, who are they and why are they here, and why haven’t they made their presence more public?), I recommend The Allies of Humanity Briefings. They can be found at Be prepared for a paradigm-shifting read!

  • Anne Fox

    I sought out “Lunch Bucket Paradise” by Fred Setterberg after hearing your interview with him on Forum a while back. This true-life novel reveals the telling years between 1950 and 1970 when American values and history made their remarkable shift in unexpected ways.

  • Anton Ness

    If you like the local performing arts and in particular, San Francisco Ballet, I wrote a small book about the time when we in San Francisco and the Bay Area almost lost our ballet company. It’s an easy read with historical pictures, and ideal for young dancers and those vaguely familiar with our local company. You can find it on Face Book by typing in the search box, Save Our Ballet and links are provided if anyone wishes to enjoy my tale.

  • Local author William Cone’s book “Dead Ringer” is a wonderful WWII suspense/spy thriller. It’s available at Amazon and Kindle also at Books, Inc. on Chestnut St. Google up the recent Historical Novel Society review for a synopsis.

  • “David Park: A Painter’s Life” by Nancy Boas is a landmark labor of love that documents the development of modern art in San Francisco through the life of the painter David Park. Decades in the making with a wealth of original material, no one else could have told this story. Through original interviews, voices lost to us since their passing come back to life- artist-colleagues like Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff, but also fellow travelers who led fascinating lives like Gloria Stuart. Incredibly the first biography of a bay area artist, this is is an invaluable contribution to the art history of the bay area. Not a coffee table book just for looking at (as many fine books on art are), this is worth reading as it will change the way you look at art.

  • For a lighthearted read I have to recommend Tuscan Blood by Dick Rosano. It’s a vicarious romp through Tuscany filled with food and wine.

  • Guest

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