Thursday, November 29, 2007

Book meme/request

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!


Matt Mullenix said...

Hey now: How come we're "various" and Henry gets to be "literary?"

Reid Farmer said...

Lagniappe?!? When were you in New Orleans? People outside of Louisiana aren't supposed to know that word!

Chas S. Clifton said...

Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides (Doubleday, 2006). Kit Carson, the Navajos, the New Mexicans -- Sides handles multiple narratives skillfully and humanely, without propagandizing or handing out "victim points."

Rebecca K. O'Connor said...

As a recent writing MFA grad I'll pretent to be literary and recommend "God is Dead" a collection of fantasticly dry and biting shorts by Ron Currie, Jr. and "Out Stealing Horses," by Per Petterson.

For junk food, I suggest all of the Dresden Files books by Jim Butcher -- 6 of which I devoured in two months this year. Smart-ass wizard detective in Chicago battling demons, vampires, werewolves and the mafia...awesome.

mdmnm said...

Matt- I worried about it! Since you guys are multiple multiply published authors (just got "In Season", by the way) you have to be various.

Reid- the good times rolled in the Crescent City for me from ages 3 to 6.

Chas & Rebecca- Thanks!

Rebecca K. O'Connor said...

Yeah-- and to follow up on Matt's comment, I want to be FASCINATING. "Interesting" is just a pleasantry...although HOT would work too. ;-)

Matt Mullenix said...

I hope you enjoy the book! You'll find it highly various, no question about that. :-)

Anonymous said...

Well, if you enjoy sharp foodie writing, you'd probably get a kick out of Jeffrey Steingarten's books. For a lawyer that writes for Vogue, he's got a great wit and a large body of knowledge, as well as being a holy terror of nutritionists and faddists. You might also like Calvin Trillin's Tummy Trilogy; he was basically America's first real food writer. For a more scientific outlook, there's always Harold McGee's On Food And Cooking, which is pretty much the last word on popular food science; it's very dense but also extremely thorough. I hear Alton Brown genuflects at the mention of McGee's name.

For science and history, I recommend Jared Diamond, pretty much any Jared Diamond. His books on ecology and history, Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse, drew a lot of critical fire from both the left and the right, but from what I read of the negative reviews the reviewers either didn't actually read the books or missed his point(s) entirely.

I think I'll do one of these later, so there'll be a lot more there. :)

Henry Chappell said...

I'll recommend Jim Harrison's most recent novel, Returing to Earth. I found his last collection of novellas a bit disappointing, but he's definitely back in form.

Also, Deep Economy by Bill McKibben. Yes, we're beating the eat and buy local theme to death, but McKibben's is one of the more sensible and adult voices in the din.

And One Hundred Great Essays, edited by Robert Diyanni. I stumbled across this one a couple of weeks ago. I've read several of these essays in other collections, and many are familiar from my college literature courses. Still, I've enjoyed re-reading old favorites such as Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant," and "Politics and the English Language," and Emerson's "Nature." But now I can work my way through so many others that I've wanted to read but never quite got around to, such as James Baldwin's "Notes of a Native Son," and Scott Russell Sanders' "Under the Influence." You'll also find everyone from Dave Barry to Francis Bacon. If you love essays, you'll love this book.

mdmnm said...

LabRat & Henry- Thanks!

I enjoyed Harrison's "Dalva" and a couple of others, particularly his essays in "Just Before Dark". I really like essays so I'll check out the Diyanni, blogs have provided much of that sort of reading of late.

Matt: I completely identify with the feeling of the need to be a better naturalist while hunting. Enjoying the McGuane, too. Have you read "An Outside Chance"? Some of the same essays, but more varied. From "The Heart of the Game" in that collection- "Hunting in your own back yard becomes with time, if you love hunting, less and less expeditionary." First sentence in one of the best essays on hunting.

Rebecca- appropriate editing accomplished.

dr. hypercube said...

I'll throw out three I've read recently/am reading:

Spook County - William Gibson. I liked it a lot. Suspenseful, w/ lots of action w/o being franic.

The Jennifer Morgue - Charlie Stross. Cthulhu-y goodness.

The Black Dossier - Moore/O'Neill. I'm loving it - graphic novel w/ the dossier itself doing much of the storytelling.

mdmnm said...

Doc Hypercube- thanks! I didn't realize Gibson has a new one out. I enjoyed Stross' "Atrocity Archive" so "The Jennifer Morgue" will definitely get a look.

Rebecca K. O'Connor said...