This is the time of the year that those Best Books of the Year lists start turning up. So for what it's worth, here is my list of the Best Books I have read this year.
Fiction: Our son Mark is teaching an Asian/ African unit in his literature class so he put me onto some authors I had not heard of before. One of those was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her novel is Half of a Yellow Sun. The setting is the Nigerian/Biafran civil war in the 60s. The main characters are educated in England and are part of a rising middle class. They are of the Igbo tribe who largely make up the new nation of Biafra and while they are hopeful about the birth of their new nation everything goes horribly wrong while the world stands by and does nothing.
The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen Carter. This is the year of Lincoln with Spielberg's movie just released and Lincoln and vampires out on dvd. Carter's book supposes that Lincoln did not die from Booth's bullet and lived on to fight a congress that was bent on impeaching him for his disregard of the constitution during the civil war. Good Lincoln study and a good mystery, too.
The Cutting Season by Attica Locke. This is the author's second novel. Her first one is pretty good, too. This one is set in Louisiana on an old plantation that has been restored as a tourist attraction complete with slaves quarters. A cast of Black and White are on hand to re-enact early plantation life. The director/manager of the modern plantation/resort grew up on it when it was a working plantation and her mother was the cook. Interesting intersection of race and culture and a good mystery, too.
We love Ann Patchett's novels. State of Wonder was one of my all time favorites. Run (technically not a new book this year but it is my list) is about race and politics and family in Boston and equally as good.
The Unlikely Pilgrimmage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is, well, unlikely. It is full of quirky characters surrounding Harold on a late life journey that gives him purpose.
The Long Halftime Walk of Billy Lynn by Ben Fountain takes place during halftime of a Dallas Cowboys Game. The whole novel! Billy Lynn is with a group of soldiers being honored at halftime. It is an amazing collision of American life and values as these soldiers try to make sense out the society they are risking their lives for.
Barry Unsworth's Sacred Hunger and The Quality of Mercy. Unsworth's historical fiction follows the building of a slave ship, its maiden voyage, the mutiny of the crew, the wreckage of the ship and subsequent founding of an interracial community in Florida and the slave ship builders son's journey of revenge - it's quite a story.
Non - Fiction
My favorite book of the year was Faith of Cranes by Hank Rentorf. It is set in Alaska and it's about faith, family and love of place.
God's Hotel was a close second. Dr. Vi Sweet writes about medical care; the way it was, the way it is no more but the way it should be.
And my other favorite book.... was Katherine Boo's haunting tale of day to day life and the people who live that life - in the slums of Mumbai, India.
Zeitoun was my first David Eggars book but it will not be my last. It takes place in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and is chilling in its implications for a modern state where security and surveillance take precedence over everything else.
Empire of the Summer Moon by SC Wynne and Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Tim Egan go together. They are Native American history books, cover some of the same ground, and it's historical ground most of us know nothing about - and need to.
Peter Brown, the Princeton historian of late antiquity, has written a classic on wealth, the fall of Rome and the making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD. Thats the subtitle of the book. It is massive and while some of it is only of interest to a small group of academics, most of it is fascinating and surprisingly relevant. The Church has always needed money to operate and the challenges of finding that money and using it well have really never changed all that much.
Of course, every year when spring training opens there has to be a baseball book. This year it was written by knuckleballer R.A. Dickey of the NY Mets who just won the Cy Young. How does a knuckleballer win the Cy Young? Its a great story even if you can't hit a knuckleball or don't even know what one is.
There. So many good books and so little time to read them.