10 January 2007

2006 in books

Taking a cue from Kim, I bring you the list of books I read in 2006:

1. Mismeasure of Women: Why Women Are Not the Better Sex, the Inferior Sex, or the Opposite Sex by Carol Tavris
2. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
3. God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian by Kurt Vonnegut
4. The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service by Laura Kaplan
5. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood +
6. Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey
7. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie +
8. Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream by Barbara Ehrenreich
9. Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut +
10. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry *
11. 1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies
12. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown +
13. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
14. When the Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holthe *
15. Return to Wild America: A Yearlong Search for the Continent's Natural Soul by Scott Weidensaul
16. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
17. White Oleander by Janet Fitch
18. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond *
19. Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer
20. Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions it Aroused by Mike Dash
21. Under a Wild Sky: John James Audubon and the Making of Birds of America by William Souder
22. The Conjurer's Bird by Martin Davies
23. The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
24. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
25. Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry

+ = re-read
* = book club selection

Kind of a small list, for me, this year, but I did not include all of the cookbooks, graphic novels or children's books I read, and there were several of each of those, particularly children's books that I read with James.

Now for the awards!

Best Fiction: The Rohinton Mistry books win hands-down in this category. Both are dense, rich, moving stories with lots of character development. Historical setting and background are also important to both books, and I learned a bit about India as a result. Mistry is a really talented author, propelling his characters through multiple interwoven plots over many years without losing momentum. These are two of the best novels I've ever read, let alone this year.

Runner-up: Black Swan Green. David Mitchell is not for everyone -- his novel is not plot-driven, but more character driven, and instead of a straightforward story we are given periodic glimpses into the life of a thirteen-year-old boy. Some things are not resolved, and it feels a little incomplete, but it kind of feels more realistic that way, as if we're reading selected passages from the protagonist's diary. One of my favorite things about David Mitchell (this is true of his novel Cloud Atlas as well) is his ability to seamlessly, flawlessly slip into the voices of his characters.

Honorable Mentions: Song of Solomon, Never Let Me Go.

Best Non-fiction: This would have to be Collapse, simply because it covers so much and does it so well. It's almost like reading a textbook, but it's very well-written, accessible, well-researched, and convincing. It ties societal collapse to environmental destruction, and it made me start looking differently at the ways in which we live in the world. It's a little bleak -- mostly because of the enormity of the damage we've inflicted on the planet -- but that's almost a good thing, because it emphasises the severity of the problems we had in the past, the problems we're having in the present, and the problems we're likely to face in the future.

Runner-up: Return to Wild America. It covers some of my favorite stuff -- conservatoin, ecology, history -- while comparing the environmental status of today to that of America in 1953 as observed by Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher in their book Wild America. Weidensaul, like Peterson & Fisher before him, focuses primarily on birds, but looks at them all across the continent and as part of the larger picture of the environment. He also manages to throw in some subtle digs at the Bush administration, which is always a plus in my book.

Honorable Mentions: Gorillas in the Mist, Under the Banner of Heaven, Under a Wild Sky.

Worst Non-fiction: I only put this category in because there was a book I really wanted to like, but just couldn't, and that's 1421: The Year China Discovered America. Menzies had a really intriguing premise (that the Chinese reached the Americas before Europeans did) and some interesting, if debatable, supporting evidence, but there were parts of his book that were so bad, I just couldn't take the rest of it seriously. For example, when presenting the evidence for your case, who writes something to the effect of "I've asked professionals to evaluate this, but they've refused my request, so until I find someone to authenticate my hunch, I'm going to assume it's true" or "I haven't yet finished this research, but by the time you read this book it should be on my website"? Sloppy and un-academic, and these methods turned me off to what otherwise might have been a pretty decent read.

Best Fluff: The Conjurer's Bird. I got this book from the library because I liked the title and the cover art, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that I liked the story as well. Part mystery, part romance, with some history and nature thrown in, it was a quick and entertaining read.

Runner-up: The Historian. Another mystery, this one suspenseful, and incorporating history and vampire legends into its plot. Overall it was pretty entertaining, and it went a lot quicker than its imposing 600+ pages would suggest. I thought the ending was kind of a cop-out, and it could have easily been a couple of hundred pages shorter, but I did rather like it for what it is.

So there's my year in books. I have to say, most of them I really did enjoy, and in some cases (non-fiction especially) it was hard to choose a favorite. And there were actually no books that I flat-out didn't like -- 1421 annoyed me, but it was interesting, and yes, I did enjoy The DaVinci Code, which is why I've read it twice. To paraphrase something I once read (I can't remember where now), filet mignon is clearly superior, but sometimes you just want a burger.

1 comment:

and rudeness said...

WOW! Great post...

I absolutely love to read, however, since my daughter was born I havent been able to do as much as I want, only getting to sneak in about 4 books last year.

I will have to grab your "Fluff Choice" The Conjurer's Bird because I only get a chance for the quick ones.