The holidays are right around the corner and I find, to my surprise, that I don't have much in mind in the way of books that I'd like to give or receive. In an attempt to remedy that situation, I'm going to list five titles that I've read and enjoyed in the last year or so that are in print or readily available and exhort various literary, knowledgeable and interesting(fascinating, hot) bloggers, as well as anyone who might read this, to contribute their recommendations. Fiction, popular science, popular history, biography, good stuff that might not come to one's attention absent a suggestion. The things that have made the biggest impression on me in the last year or so aren't exactly obscure and some are a couple of years old, but I don't hesitate in recommending any of the following:
1) 1491 by Charles Mann. Really, really interesting. Fantastic compendium of new theory and knowledge about that population and landscape of the Americas before European arrival and record keeping. One of these days I hope to get around to working through some of the material in his bibliography.
2) Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. A look at food production and a meditation on modern Americans' connection or lack of connection to their food. Lots of interesting information about growing corn, feed lots, organic farming, mushroom hunting, and an interesting look at hunting itself.
3) Heat by Bill Buford. A really interesting look at working in a commercial kitchen (Mario Batali's Babbo!), traditional Italian cooking, and, somewhat tangentially, Batali himself. Not at all like Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" except that it draws several pictures of a busy New York commercial kitchen, I found myself reminded of Bourdain's book frequently but enjoyed this one more.
4) 1634:The Baltic War by Eric Flint and David Weber. This is more a recommendation for an alternate history series, which starts with "1632" than the specific book, which is not the strongest in that series. Interesting premise and a very active publishing schedule from Flint, who does a lot of editing of and collaborating with other authors he's invited to participate in this setting. This is a good introduction to alternate history for non-science fiction fans. It is also good for fans and has the added benefit of a pretty big back catalog with more books forthcoming. I do wish Flint would return to his core characters a bit more, but that's me.
5)Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen. Fun mystery/thriller with an ecological bent by Hiassen, who sets his books in southern Florida and populates them with very eccentric characters. I can't imagine anyone not laughing out loud at least a few times when reading a Hiaasen novel.
Lagniappe: Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett. Most recent in a series of young adult novels. If you're not allergic to fiction for juveniles or have an eight to fourteen year old who needs a book to read, get this or, better yet, start with "The Wee Free Men", the first of the books involving Tiffany Aching. For that matter, if you can stand to read things in a fantastic setting at all and haven't read Pratchett, you're really missing something. I hadn't read any of his books before a couple of years ago and ripped through his back catalog in no time at all. Suggested beginnings are "Guards, Guards!", "Reaper Man" or "Small Gods".
So, what made an impression on you all? Comments solicited!