Here’s a list of books I encountered this year and really liked.
- Chasing the Rodeo, WK Stratton: A memoir and a history of rodeo. Really good. If you haven’t watched the PBR on TV (as I hadn’t before starting this book) you have missed a treat.
- The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan: A look at our place in the food chain. Worth it if only for the chapters on why corn may be the most successful
pantplant on the planet. I liked Pollan’s “Bottany of Desire” so much that I bought this in hardcover, something I almost never do.
- The Reluctant Mr. Darwin, David Quammen: There are a lot of really good writers writing about science these days (see Pollan, above, and Richard Rhodes). Quammen is my favorite. He writes non-fiction in a narrative style that takes the risks and jumps of fiction without ever leaving the facts behind.
- Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Alison Bechdel: Thanks to Art Spiegelman & Maus, the graphic memoir is now an accepted form of story telling. Bechdel, a wonderful cartoonist (“Dykes to Watch Out For”), tells a story that is in a smaller way just as fine as Maus. That’s pretty much the highest praise that I can give to anything.
- Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, Michael R. Gordon and Gen. Bernard E. Trainor: Feeling too good about things or maybe even too happy? This will take care of it. Watch as a series of assumptions that could rival the assumptions the French made going into Dien Bien Phu snowball into The Mess. Weep. Repeat as needed.
- Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death of a Great American City, Jed Horne: As above, except even closer to home.
- Wintersmith, Terry Pratchett: The funniest writer going. If it’s not quite up there with The Wee Free Men, Jingo, Mort, Pyramids, or The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, that’s because those set the bar so high.
- The Amulet of Samarkand, Jonathan Stroud: Part one of a trilogy (shudder … WHY???) telling a story of magic and politics from the POV of an enslaved djinni. I read a lot of YA fiction. Fortunately there’s a lot out there that’s really, really good and this is one.
- The City of Ember, Jeanne DuPrau: This story about escaping from a dying, post-apocalyptic city can be read as allegory or just as a really good story.
- The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray, Chris Wooding: How dark can YA fantasy get? Pretty damn dark. A great book and one that hasn’t been spoiled by a sequel.
- Abarat, Clive Barker: A strange and totally unexpected fantasy world with strange and totally unexpected paintings by the author. Sadly, it is part of a trilogy. What are you going to do?
- The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov: OK, so it was a re-read. Sue me. Of all the eastern European fabulists whom I love — I.B. Singer, Gogol, Kafka, Lem — he is my favorite. M&M is the story of the devil coming to the USSR in the 1920s interwoven with a retelling of the crucifiction. It reminds me of Miyazake’s Swept Away. Like that wonderful movie it bends reality superbly and after my first go around with it I didn’t really have a clue what it was about. But it has amply rewarded each return visit.
- World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, Max Brooks: If you read only one post-apocalyptic fictitious history of a world wide war with zombies this year, this is the one. Some reviewers found it humorous (perhaps because Mr. Brook’s father is Mel Brooks?), I didn’t. Funny & Zombie? That’s Shaun of the Dead. This is a horrifying look at what it would be like if the entire world were engulfed in modern war made more marketable because the bad guys are zombies.