I’m delighted to announce that it’s time, once again, for the annual Newley.com Bloggers’ Favorite Books survey.
For the fourth year running, I asked some of my favorite bloggers to tell me about their favorite books of the year.
Respondents weren’t limited to titles published in 2006, but were free to pick any book they discovered during the last 12 months that they found particularly compelling.
Here’s what they said:
Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis (1992, available for free on Project Gutenberg)
George Babbitt is a successful real estate agent in the city of Zenith (a mythical midwestern burg). He has plenty of friends and belongs to clubs and organizations of like-minded men. On the outside he is jolly and gregarious. But in his dreams and quiet moments, he realizes his life didn’t go they way he wanted it. When he decides to change, just a little, the community responds like a kicked nest of hornets. What will he do, and how will he live with his decision?
Blog: (the late, great) #1 Hit Song
So. OK, I read a number of highly acclaimed books this year, but I want to endorse three books that might not have gotten much attention, plus one that wasn’t published in 2006 but which was probably one of the best books I’ve read in forever.
So, the first book that I so loved in 2006 is called “Visigoth,” by Gary Amdahl.
Although it is imperfect, it is truly breathtaking, and deserves wider recognition. In a literary world glutted (in my opinion) by Raymond Carver wannabes, this guy is the real deal.
The second “book” I read and absolutely loved is called “Happyland,” by J. Robert Lennon.
I put “book” in quotes because it was actually serialized by Harper’s over the summer. Apparently WW Norton dropped it at the last moment, because of fear of being sued for libel. There’s nothing I love more than satire, because I am an equal-opportunity misanthropist, and Happyland, to me, is a more refined version of Ishmael Reed’s “Japanese by Spring.”
In the “Incomplete” category, I haven’t finished Chris Adrian’s “Children’s Hospital,” but I’m completely in awe of his facility with magical realism.
As for books that are great but weren’t published in 2006, I heartily endorse Jon Krakauer’s “Under the Banner of Heaven.”
It’s an investigation of a particularly gruesome double murder, committed by fundamentalist Mormons, but it’s also an intimate examination of the LDS church and of fundamentalist branches of the LDS. It’s just…overpowering. I found myself reading full paragraphs from it to whoever happened to be in the room. It was perversely fascinating, and written with remarkable restraint, given its subject matter. I really think that anyone with a passing interest in the Mormons pick it up and give it a read. Wow.
Blogger: Jason Kottke
I read Charles Mann‘s 1491 while on my honeymoon in Mexico. In the book, Mann compiles a bunch of recent research that suggests that what American kids are taught in history class about the Americas before Columbus is wrong and grossly misleading. Did you know that the Peruvians may have independently formed one of the world’s earliest civilizations, contemporary with Sumer and Egypt? Or that a surprising amount of the Amazon was farmed/cultivated by humans? (Untouched wilderness? What wilderness?) Or that the population of the Americas, devastated upon the arrival of the Europeans and their diseases, was a significant portion of the world’s total population, with large civilizations and population to be found everywhere? And that’s just to whet your appetite. Most interesting (and important) book I read all year.
Blogger: The Taipei Kid
Blog: The Taipei Kid
The Taipei Kid writes:
What to Eat, by Marion Nestle — This giant book reads like Fast Food Nation from a nutritionist’s standpoint and covers far beyond the world of fast food. It also reminds me of Susan Powter’s book Food, but without all the yelling. Starting with the basic layout of a typical supermarket (designed to snag you into buying more), Nestle works readers through the food pyramid and then some. You won’t look at yogurt—harmless yogurt, healthy yogurt (NOT!)—the same way again. In fact, you won’t look at a lot of your favorite foods the same way again. Arm yourself with this book before you hit the food stores!
Blogger: Wendy Harman
Blog: Harmany Music
Indecision by Benjamin Kunkel
Published in 2005, it’s a great read! For all late 20ish and early 30ish single people like me, Indecision offers funny insights into our sometimes ridiculous outlook on life. I laughed, I cried, and I felt embarrassed at how well I could identify with protagonist Dwight Wilmerding. The pharmaceutical industry is probably in the lab right now creating a pill to cure indecision that’ll allow us to bypass growing up altogether. After reading this book, I most likely won’t pop it.
Wow. I’ve spent my life studying music + the biz, but this examination of hip-hop’s creation, evolution, and impact on our society schooled me. It’s a well-written page-turner that parses the beats to reveal a chronology not just of hip-hop, but our entire culture since the early 1970’s. I don’t know how he uncovered so many oral stories that get to the heart of why and how we have hip-hop, but I’m glad he did. Author Jeff Chang is a fellow blogger to boot.
Blogger: Lee LeFever
Blog: The World Is Not Flat
“A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson. I was surprised to be so enthralled and interested in a big book of stories about the sciences. I got smarter!
Blog: Time I’ll Never Get Back
I read a lot of biographies and baseball books this year, and — combining both elements — the best book I read was Jonathan Eig’s biography of Lou Gehrig, “Luckiest Man.” It reads like a novel, and I found it quite suspenseful given that I already knew how it would end. Any baseball fan, even a Yankee-hater, can find something to love about his story, and it’s a very interesting read when one considers Gehrig in contrast to the modern baseball culture and the steroid scandals that plague the game today.
And as for yours truly, my favorite book of 2006 — and I say this having only read half of it, I’m that smitten with it already — is Richard Ford’s recently-released novel “The Lay of the Land,” which follows Frank Bascombe, the protagonist from “The Sportswriter” and “Independence Day.” The level of detail is astounding; Ford’s understanding of the nuances of American culture is simply amazing. His prose is lyrical, his pacing is spot-on, and his characters are vivid. Ford is incredible.
Thanks to all of this year’s respondents for taking the time to contribute.
Here’s last year’s list, in case you’re feeling nostalgic.
Happy reading in 2007.