I'm taking a short break from baby pictures to engage in my only real blog tradition: the end-of-year, best-of lists. (OK, I know you're thinking, What do I care about your stupid lists? We want more baby pictures! And I totally understand and apologize. I promise the baby pics will return soon, and to tide you over, Laura Jean will post some extra cute ones over at her blog.)
Anyway, first up are the best books I've read over the past year (movies and music to follow in separate posts).
7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling -- I thought Deathly Hallows was a very satisfying end to an excellent series. But will we care about the movies now that we know how it ends?
6. Storm World, by Chris Mooney -- The best of several popular science books I read this year. The topic is the contentious and very current question of whether global warming is making hurricanes more intense (and/or more frequent). To his eternal credit, Mooney digs deep into the scientific details of hurricane science and offers a cautious and nuanced verdict of "yes, probably, but also consider this ..." The book also has a clear-eyed understanding of how science actually works, especially how new ideas confront entrenched schools of thought and the way progress is made despite the messy requirement that it be done by human beings.
5. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi -- This guy was the movie reviewer for the Fresno Bee when I was in high school, and I always figured he was destined for bigger and better things. I was right: these days he's an award-winning sci-fi novelist (with a blog!). His first novel is military sci-fi a la Ender's Game or Starship Troopers -- advanced weaponry, bug-eyed predatory aliens, the survival of the human race and all that. Plus, it's ridiculously entertaining.
4. What's the Matter With Kansas, by Thomas Frank -- Fascinating book about how the Republican party has used culture war ideas to wrest big swaths of the heartland away from the Democrats. The book is a little dated (see, for example, the 2006 elections and the recent reconfiguring of the evangelical movement) but still full of fascinating insights.
3. (tie) Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville; Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman -- I'm planning a longer post about these two books, but for now, I'll just say that fantasy is moving rapidly beyond dwarves 'n' swords (the late, great Robert Jordan notwithstanding), and these are two terrific places to start.
2. Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie -- Review here.
1. The Known World, by Edward Jones -- A nearly perfect novel about Black slaveowners in antebellum Virginia. After finishing, I read an interview where the author confessed that he actually didn't do very much historical research for the book. Weirdly, I felt almost betrayed by that fact; how could these characters not be "real"? Anyway, Black slaveowners are the controversial hook for the story but aren't the limit of Jones's imagination. The Known World somehow revisits a time and place we think we already know (this ain't Gone With The Wind) and finds a wealth of new stories just waiting to be told.
Honorable Mention: The Long Loneliness, by Dorothy Day; Zodiac, by Neal Stephenson; What's My Name, Fool?, by Dave Zirin; Coraline, by Neil Gaiman; Toxic Sludge is Good For You, by John Stauber & Sheldon Rampton
Website Shoutout: GoodReads.com. It's fun, it lets you organize and review the books you've been reading and you can be my friend.