I asked some serious readers (my definition: people who read at least one book a week, not counting technical manuals, feasibility studies, things required at work) to name the five best books they read in 2006 (they don’t have to be recent publications). The lists will be posted as they arrive.
Reader: Jaime Augusto Zobel, candidate for cloning
An off-the-cuff list:
Imperium by Robert Harris. Set in ancient Rome, feels modern.
Pathfinders by Felipe Fernandez Armesto
Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald
The Riders by Tim Winton, and Winton’s story collection, The Turning. The stories are linked across time. Excellent characterization, painfully raw at times in its depiction of individuals in “small town” Australia. This writer deserves far greater recognition globally.
The Lighthouse by P.D. James
Reader: Mario Taguiwalo, information cruncher
1. The Unschooled Mind by Howard Gardner: lots of respect for the enduring mind formed at 5-6 years old.
2. The Moral Foundations of Politics by Ian Shapiro: why GMA has no moral basis for legitimacy from utilitarian, marxist or democratic perspectives.
3. Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett: it’s time to examine religion as a natural phenomenon.
4. 1776 by David McCullough: The USA was neither inevitable nor destined; it was improvised through one accident after another.
5. The Wisdom Paradox by Elkhonon Goldberg: latest synthesis of neurosciences says the more we use our minds, the healthier they are; lots of really neat stuff about the organ above the neck.
Reader: Uro de la Cruz, compulsive theorizer
Xerxes Invades Greece by Herodotus, the Penguin edition
Adios Hemingway by Leonardo Fuentes
Caligari to Hitler by Siegfried Kracauer
Infidelities by Josip Novakovich
I wish I had not bothered to read The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco.
Reader: Tina Cuyugan, scourge of the asinine
Philip Larkin: Collected Poems. Mercilessly bleak, hilarious, and unforgettable. Concentrated misogyny guaranteed to send feminists into foaming frenzy. The perfect antidote to any gooey feelings left over from Christmas.
The Places In Between by Rory Stewart (travel). Skinny, intrepid Englishman takes two years to cross (on foot) the frozen wastes of war-torn Afghanistan, clad in itchy woolen robes, and with only a toothless mastiff for company. I’m marrying this man.
The People’s Act of Love by James Meek (novel). More frozen wastes, this time in Siberia. Anarchy. Shamans. Revolution. Exile. Christian madness. Nobility in extreme circumstances. Cannibalism of the most pragmatic kind. Oh, and true love.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (family memoir) Brilliant, irresponsible parents create a hell of poverty and dislocation for their kids–who, despite everything, still love mom and pop with clear-eyed compassion. Stop whining about your own childhood.
King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild (history) The true heart of darkness beat in the breast of this 19th-century European monarch who plundered and terrorized the Congo. Prototype of many a 20th-century megalomaniac.
Reader: Din Atienza, masticator of worlds
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller Jr.
My umpteenth re-read, obviously a personal favorite. Random quote: “I am the Immaculate Conception. Accurate am I the exception. I commensurate the deception. Am.” Brilliant!
Blink: the power of thinking without thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
The lazy, Jabba-the-Hutt side of me was immediately attracted to its title. Better-written and more thoughtful than its predecessor The Tipping Point, although I am still undecided if its thesis is brilliantly profound or profoundly stupid.
Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon
Revered among the science fiction cognoscenti as a seminal work. Found it somewhat odd, as it is not really a novel, but a big picture summary of the history of mankind narrated by an omniscient being. It’s obvious he laid the groundwork for many SF writers, although many of these ideas we take for granted now. Ironic though, almost like some college punk reading a Greek tragedy and saying, Hey, they ripped off Star Wars!
The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
Bottom line: the wife was reading it and I had nothing new to read in the house for the entire weekend.
Star Trek: Star Fleet Technical Manual by Franz Joseph
Hi, my name is *** and Iâ€™m a Star Trek fan. Dark, guilty pleasure, but no shame there. I am large, I contain multitudes.
Reader: Grace Subido, recovering academic
Boswell’s Clap and Other Essays by William B. Ober – medical analyses of literary men’s afflictions
Lives of Muses by Francine Prose
Letters Of A Nation, edited by Andrew Carrol – appeals to the voyeur in me. Particularly amused by letter from Earl Stanley Gardner to Black Mask magazine: ” ‘Three O’Clock in the Morning’ is a damn good story. If you have any comments, write ’em on the back of a check.”
Contemporary Fiction, 50 Short Stories since 1970, edited by Lex Williford.
The Art of Literary Research by Richard Altick – puts a different ante on academic writing, especially as a lot of writers in the academe have to realize that “language. . .is not to be treated like a wrestling opponent.”
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