2006: My favorite books

Here’s a list of books I encountered this year and really liked.



  • 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.

All the news that’s fit to eat

  • A day late and a fad short: In an effort to capitalize on the dying-if-not-dead low-carb diet fad, President's Choice has brought out Crispy Lettuce Wraps. "Crisp and sweet-tasting but flexible enough for folding, this versatile cross between romaine and iceberg lettuce is the perfect holder for all your favourite sandwich fillings. Great for hot & cold foods, tacos, Asian lettuce wraps and salads." Tip of the hat to Strange New Products for this one.
  • I know it's for a good cause but …PINK BAGELS? "Celebrate Mother's Day With Einstein Bros. Pink Bagels." During the Mother's Day weekend, Einstein Bros. Bagels is going to sell pink bagels for each one sold they will donate $.10 to the the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Isn't it bad enough that most Americans now think bagels have the consistency of Wonder Bread®, but do we have to make them pink? They're trying to do good but is it OK if I go in, order my regular bagels and then pretend they're pink? I'll even cough up an extra dime per for the company to donate. [Fittingly colorful quote from the press release: Einstein Bros., one of the brands under the New World Restaurant Group, Inc. (Pink Sheets: NWRG) Pink sheet companies are ones that issue and trade stocks without needing to meet minimum requirements or file with the SEC. They got their name because they were actually printed on pink paper, not because they donate ten cents to charity or because they have the consistency of a bagel made at one of these chain bagel shops.]
  • Just because you've taken a survey doesn't mean you should keep it: "According to a nationwide survey released today by Whole Foods Market , Americans eat meat an average of 4.2 times a week — that's 218 times a year. Flavor, safety and humane treatment of animals are the top drivers for choosing high-quality meat and poultry." Ummmm … what exactly does your first point have to do with your second point? Other survey highlights:
    • 65 percent of Americans want a guarantee that all meat and poultry products are free from added growth hormones and antibiotics, and that the animals were humanely raised.
    • 61 percent felt it important that meat and poultry products' compliance to these standards should be labeled.
    • 51 percent said having set standards for meat products is a key factor in deciding where to shop for meat.
    • However, when asked if they'd ever purchased products meeting such standards, 51 percent said they were "not sure."

The first two points basically are like asking if you're in favor of mom and/or apple pie. The final point is the rub. Yeah yeah yeah we all think we should exercise more & eat better but actually do it? Hmmmm. How much a pound? (To understand the short-sightedness of consumer's calculation around the cost of meat — or the cynicism of those selling it — I suggest reading Michael Pollan's new book The Omnivore's Dilemma. It's wonderfully written, but a bit too long. If Fast Food Nation didn't already convince you that corn is a blight upon the nation, this will. Ban "High fructose corn syrup," that's my new cause.