Monday, December 29, 2008

2009 Reading List

I’m dangerously low on my supply of books to read. I’m currently reading three: The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton; a wonderful history of cats that was a perfect Christmas gift; and The Telltale Lilac Bush, a book of ghost stories in West Virginia that I got in a local bookshop on one of my WV trips this year. Once these three are gone, I will have but a single new book, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. Because I’m so close to the library, I’ve tried borrowing books—especially those my book club selects because they’re sometimes stinkers. But it’s just kind of gross knowing that dozens if not hundreds of people have dirtied the pages with grubby fingers and food crumbs before me. I like books to be clean and fresh and new. Unlike New York Times columnist David Streitfeld, I don’t mind buying new books—especially when I now have gift cards just begging to be used. So, here are my top picks for new books. Any other must-reads I should add?

Shut Up, I’m Talking: And Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government by Gregory Levey
My co-worker loved this book. Description: “New York law student and speechwriter for Ariel Sharon describes his surprising placement at the Israeli Consulate, attendance of U.N. sessions, and insider witness to Middle-Eastern politics and upheavals.

The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood by David Simon and Edward Burns
The miniseries is hauntingly depressing but good. I bet the book is better. Description: “A yearlong portrait of everyday lives that intersect at the corner of West Fayette and Monroe streets, a notoriously crime-ridden intersection in Baltimore. Through the lens of one family in an inner-city neighborhood, this incisive piece of investigative journalism has much to say about hope and hopelessness on an individual and group level. The authors are an award-winning novelist and a public schoolteacher who retired from the city police force after 20 years."

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon
I know Kate T. loved this book. Description: “An account of a year inside a city homicide unit focuses on three detectives investigating murders in Baltimore--a city torn by racial tensions and plagued by drugs and crime."

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
Description: “After a 10-year hiatus from fiction, bestseller Wally Lamb returns with The Hour I First Believed, a sprawling, emotionally rich novel about two married high-school teachers who work at Columbine High School during the deadly shooting of 1999."

The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
I so enjoyed The Old Pantagonian Express and Dark Star Safari and am excited to read this classic in travel writing. Description: “Paul Theroux revolutionized travel writing with his 1975 book The Great Railway Bazaar, a stirring and very personal account of his travels by railway from London to Tokyo and back. Choosing to go by train, alone, and with minimal gear, afforded the intrepid Theroux the opportunity of encountering a fascinating galaxy of fellow travelers (who range from merely colorful to downright eccentric) as he makes his way across the continents of Europe and Asia, and of seeing the ever-changing landscape close-up. Theroux himself is, of course, the main character--sometimes arrogant, often impatient, always bluntly realistic, and ever-curious, eloquent, and very, very funny."

What Happened to Anna K. by Irina Rehn
This local Pittsburgh author is a friend of a friend, who highly recommends this book about a modern day Anna Karenina. Description: “Married unhappily to a prominent member of her tight-knit Russian immigrant community, vivacious Anna K. engages in a reckless affair with an outsider on whom she has pinned fleeting hopes for freedom, while in a neighboring community, Bukharian-Jewish pharmacist Lev harbors a consuming love for Anna`s cousin."

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Anything by Murakami has to be good. Description: “Kafka Tamura lives with his father in Tokyo, but at 15 he takes to the road, hoping to locate his mother and his sister, who left when he was four. Meanwhile, an elderly and possibly retarded man named Nakata, who survived a mysterious (and still unexplained) event many years ago, is able to talk to cats. These two story lines converge in Haruki Murakami`s seventh novel, a winsomely odd tale full of eccentric characters, surreal details, and unexpected subplots. Named one of the 10 Best Books of 2005 by the New York Times."

Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog by John Grogan
I can’t remember how many times I’ve picked this up and then put it back again. If I learned one lesson from all those many, many animal books I read as a child, it’s this: the animals eventually die, and I will cry. This book has tearjerker written all over it. Still, I think I’m going to succumb to the inevitable tears and finally read this. Description: “Marley is a hyperactive, intractable, mischievous, and entirely lovable yellow Lab, acquired by John Grogan and his wife because they thought having a dog would prepare them for parenthood. Not only did Marley take over their lives, but when children did eventually come along, Marley retained his place as firstborn and supremely difficult child. Grogan`s very amusing chronicle of Marley`s life and adventures is a first-rate memoir of a memorable pet."

Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food by Gene Bauer
Speaking of tearjerkers, I’m sure there will be sad scenes a-plenty in this book from the founder of Farm Sanctuary, but I think it’s a must-read for me. Description: “A founder of an organization dedicated to promoting the compassionate treatment of animals and combating factory farming addresses key questions about the ethics of breeding animals for food, exposing inhumane practices utilized by typical food-production companies."