"Very esoteric this year," said Glenna Nowell, who started the celebrity reading list in 1988 when she was librarian in this small southern Maine city. "There's such a diversity of books, and not well-known, not best sellers." Nowell also notices a lot of nonfiction this year.
One best seller that did turn up on the list was "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini. It's a book listed by best-selling author Mary Higgins Clark. Sci-fi master Ray Bradbury, meanwhile, turned to a classic, "The Friendly Persuasion" by Jessamyn West.
The list, which Nowell compiles to invigorate people's interest in reading, has drawn responses in past years from several U.S. presidents and other world leaders, athletes, actors and authors. This year's list, released to coincide with National Library Week, runs the gamut from consumer activist Ralph Nader to Oakland Athletics pitcher Barry Zito.
Nader was one of three who included "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain on his list, which also included a selection of heavier books, such as "The Standard Oil Company" by Ida M. Tarbell. But the former presidential candidate was tight with his words of literary praise, offering none in his response to Nowell.
Zito was nearly as frugal with his praise, offering a single word — "Life!" — when describing his reaction to the spiritualist "Creative Mind" by Earnest Holmes.
Some of this year's contributors noted the power books had over them.
Author Reed Arvin, who writes courtroom thrillers, said Mark Danielewsky's "House of Leaves" was so creepy that "there were times when reading this book I threw it down on the floor in a combination of awe and horror." Helmuth von Moltke's "Letters to Freya," which bares the spiritual side of a Nazi intelligence officer, "burned a hole in my heart," Arvin wrote.
Susan Elizabeth Phillips, whose books have romantic themes, called "Flowers From the Storm" by Laura Kinsale "one of the best historical romances ever."
Phillips also listed "Shadow Divers" by Robert Kurson as a prized page-turner. "A so-called 'guy's book,"' wrote Phillips, "but I couldn't put it down."
Bradbury told Nowell that he considers "The Friendly Persuasion" one of the best books of short stories published in a half-century. "It is warm, beautiful and round as a freshly laid egg," he wrote.
Actress Bonnie Bedelia called "The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener" by Martin Gardner "compelling and unpretentious musings of one of the greatest freethinking minds of the 20th Century."
Toronto Sun foreign columnist Eric Margolis revealed his taste for books with spy themes, including this year's favorites "Special Tasks" by Pavel Sudoplatov, a former Soviet KGB general who writes about the inner workings of the Soviet secret police from the 1920s to 1980s. Margolis calls "Imperial Hubris" by former CIA terrorism analyst Michael Scheuer a "must read for all interested in politics and Mideast."
By Glenn Adams