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New to me in 2011 recommended book list

Here are some of the books that I enjoyed reading over the past year. I love lists of books (I think you know that) so all of these Best of 2011 lists floating around both charm and alarm me: so many books! Must read faster! The books on my list aren't all recent, of course, just recently read by me.

23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism
by Ha-Joon Chang

It's hard not to take all economic theory with a grain of salt, but this is very readable and thought-provoking.

Archaic Smile
by A. E. Stallings

I read a lot of extra poetry this year for a project, which is probably how I came across this book. I love the way these poems draw ancient ideas through familiar scenes, but also the affectionate regard the poet has for the world in general.

The Cowboy and the Cossack
by Clair Huffaker

A genre-busting western set in Siberia, a fun story.

by Gregory David Roberts

This book was intriguingly suggested to Brian by some Canadian at a bar. I found it at the library and knew at once Brian would never tackle a novel of 900+ pages so I gave it a shot. It's one of those I Love India stories but with a whole lot of kee-razy underworld adventure and romance and high-falutin' philosophizing AND it is semi-autobiographical, calling to mind Slavomir Rawicz's improbable The Long Walk--which Brian did read and like.

Teaching What Really Happened: How to Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks & Get Students Excited About Doing History
by James W. Loewen

Loewen is the author of Lies my Teacher Told Me and Lies Across America, two other books I loved reading more than a year ago but have sneakily included in this list just now. Teaching really is a book for history teachers, but regular people might enjoy seeing how he suggests bringing kids into a questioning and researching model for learning history. I did.

The Wordy Shipmates
by Sarah Vowell

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which is a description of the Puritans settling Massachusetts. I'm impressed by the author's ability to draw life from the fairly dry source documents and round out characters that I had previously considered one-sided, when I considered them at all. Moreover, I had just read Vowell's Radio On and could really appreciate her growth as a writer since that effort. (I don't recommend Radio On unless you are almost exactly my age and think you can bear page after page of cooler-than-thou musings in the pursuit of some nostalgic strains.)

Year of Wonders: a novel of the plague
by Geraldine Brooks

Historical fiction with an unbelievably sophisticated narrator, but it's very easy to get past that. The language grabbed me right away and I appreciated the detail lavished on the daily existence of the people in a village beset by plague. Once their ordeal was over, though, the story kind of packs up and leaves in a hurry--the ending was so rushed as to be ridiculous. It's not a perfect book, but well worth a read.

Okay, so those are the favorites I can recall readily from this year. Your turn!


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Virginia Herold Gerhart
Dec. 16th, 2011 07:26 pm (UTC)
Books I read in 2011
From Ginny Gerhart

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
by Jared Diamond
was the most fascinating book I read this year. It discusses how Montana came to be one of the poorest states in the union, and how for the same reasons—land erosion being one of them—ancient societies such as the Maya, Easter Islanders, and Norse Greenland failed and died out.

Life in the Time of Butterflies
by Julia Alvarez
I loved this book because of how the author made the four sisters, living in the Dominican Republic under the brutal rule of Trujillo, come to life. Interesting to me, in light of having read Collapse first, which contrasts the DR and Haiti, is that the one good thing Trujillo did was conserve the mountain forests. In contrast, Haiti's decline has a lot to do with total forest destruction and the resulting land erosion and destruction of farmland.

Angle of Repose
by Wallace Stegner
A stunning book about a mismatched couple who marry and live out West during the frontier days. I thought the narrator, the couple's grandson, was a reliable narrator till something he said toward the end about his grandmother. Would love to discuss this book with someone else.

Too Much Happiness
by Alice Munro (longish short stories). I think she's one of the best living fiction writers most people have never heard of, probably because she's Canadian.

Suitable for Giving
by Jayne Martin
is a short book of humor essays by a friend I met through blogging. Her site is http://injaynesworld.blogspot.com/.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Death in the Family by James Agee, which I'd read before in high school.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

And, last but not least, to try to understand the crash of 2008:
Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System—and Themselves by Andrew Ross Sorkin

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis (of Liar's Poker and Moneyball fame)

Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Breed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon by Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner.

Too Big to Fail and Reckless Endangerment are excellent.
Dec. 17th, 2011 05:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Books I read in 2011
Thanks, Ginny! I haven't read Collapse but I will put it on my list. I remember liking Angle of Repose but I read it about 20 years ago--let me take another look and then we will do some discussing. I usually love anything Michael Lewis churns out but I could not finish The Big Short; I'll look at the other two, although the topic makes me queasy.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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