Saturday, January 09, 2010

Best Books I Read Last Year

Below is a list of the 11 best books I read in 2009. These books weren't necessarily published in 2009; that's just when I read them. These are in no particular order, but my top four are in bold text:

1) Nisa, the Life and Words of a !Kung Woman - by Marjorie Shastak; An engrossing antrhropological account of a group of !Kung San hunter-gatherers in the Kalahari desert, full of lessons that civilization continues to ignore.

2) Resistance - by Derrick Jensen; This is volume II of the two-volume Endgame, and it argues for the forceful dismantling of civilization. Needless to say it is provocative, if not an argument I've been able to get behind. Jensen is also a great writer of personal narrative.

3) The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith - by Peter Carey; Carey creates a convincing and telling slightly alternate universe and a great twist on the nerd done good genre, in which the plucky kid with immense physical challenge is also a hard-to-love know-nothing brat.

4) Lost Highway - by David Adams Richards; He has an unusual, rambling kind of writing style that goes to great lengths to rationalize the morally ambiguous, leaving you sympathetic to the most dastardly and confused as to what is right. This is my favourite by him so far, a work of art.

5) Dust From Our Eyes - by Joan Baxter; The straight truth on what rich countries have done to Africa, and the resilience and beauty of that continent, by a journalist who has spent much of her adult life reporting from there.

6) Through Black Spruce - by Joseph Boyden; Some of the best, tautest prose I've ever read, such beauty in a bleak tale. The best book I read last year.

7) Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - by Barbara Kingsolver; Fantastic personal narrative of a locavore family growing their own food, and the challenges and joys therein.

8) Nova Scotia: Visions of the Future - edited by Lesley Choyce; For full disclosure I had a chapter in this book, which I loved reading mainly because it revealed the depths of talent in this province, and the brilliant array of ideas. I hope all the newly elected officials read it, and the old bureaucrats too.

9) The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss - by Claire Nouvian; The gorgeous images of deep deep aquatic life in this book look alien because we are so unfamiliar with what lies beneath. Many of them can't be studied out of water because they explode when removed from the extreme pressure of the deeps. And there are countless more species down there yet to be seen, let alone understood. I felt like a kid again reading this book, full of the excitement of new discovery.

10) Amphibian - by Carla Gunn; Nine-year-old Phin Walsh is the narrator, and he's all wound up in knots over the destruction of the earth. Despite the adults' best efforts to reassure him, his logic is indisputable. How I wished I could stamp his earnest, honest lack of cynacism on every adult.

11) Imani's Music - by Sheron Williams; This is the first kid's book I've ever put on a best of list, but then I probably read more kids books last year than anything else. The writing is superb and the tale is complex, weaving in the transatlantic slave trade in a way kids can understand (as well as anyone can) without being trite, and exploring the immense power of music, culture and tradition.

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Nice list ... I particularly like Amphibian. I haven't read it but it strikes a chord. I am very, very angry as to how the government is telling kids how important it is to save the earth instead of telling them that the earth can definitely take care of itself but that the kids' own future is at stake here.

So, yeah, this kids struggle warms my heart.
MD: well said. I also think we have become very good at explaining everything wrong with the world, but have yet to learn how to envision a better version of it, and articulate that version. If we can do that, kids (and adults) will have something worth grabbing onto, and working toward, rather than just feeling generally anxious and scared.
Wow-Benji-thanks for doing this-I hadn't read any of the ones you have listed.
I will check into them.
I have been meaning to do something like this too-as it seems I have read more last year than in a "normal" two or three years.
I have been enjoying the Derrick Jensen quotes all last year-so I will look into that first-they all sound wonderful-would like to check out the one about Africa after that.
best as always to you and yours!!
I'm still trying to get through 'War and Peace' which I started in February.

But books I did finish?

12 Curious Deaths in France, by John Goldsmith - a collection of stories with overlapping themes encompassing the various emotional facets of mortality. Stylistically diverse and difficult to put down. Ought to be on shelves right now.

Down & Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film, by Malcolm Biskind. Spills the dirt on the Weinsteins and Redford. Exhaustively researched and thoroughly entertaining.

Better Than Sex, by Hunter S. Thompson. Gonzo coverage of the '92 presidential fumble by George H.W into the hands of Bill Clinton. Worth reading for his savage obituary of Nixon alone.
Devin: Yes I think you'd enjoy the Jensen book, it's well written with a lot of provocative thinking.

Toast: I'd like to read more Hunter S. - loved Fear & Loathing. How are you finding War & Peace? It's probably the best novel I've ever read.
Thanks Benji. A fascinating list. Though I would almost surely disagree, #2 sounds fascinating.
interesting list!
i'm taking note on some of the books. i have a gift card to a bookstore.
TC: he slays a lot of sacred liberal goats, and makes you enjoy the process.

Foam: Through Black Spruce is the way to go.
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