Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Best of the Year (Part Whatever), or Books of 2009

Unlike last year, which was filled with tons of great new books, this year was a mediocre one for reading. At least for reading for enjoyment. I read about half as many books this year, too. However, there are a few that I read that were quite notable:

1. The Gathering Storm, Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson.

This was a relief. This is the 12th book in a series I started in 4th grade. The author died of a type of blood cancer a few years ago, and fans despaired of ever seeing the end. Brandon Sanderson was brought on board, and then the worry became how he could ever take over the reins of such a massive project. Well, he not only took the reins, he whipped the horses into a gallop. It was a great book, and made me very excited for the next two volumes.

2. The Perfect Mile, Neal Bascomb. A prize-winning book, this told the story of not only Bannister’s 4-min mile, but also of the other athletes at the time who were chasing the records and the amazing show-down race that occurred between them shortly thereafter. Tightly written and fun, unlike many history books, this book also captured the excitement of track racing quite well.

3. Born to Run, Chris McDougall.

As many of you know, I have started doing a fair amount of my running barefoot. I came across this book late in my research on unshod running, but it is a very fun and interesting read that does a good job of not only telling the important anthropologic story of the Tara Humara Native Americans, it also presents some of the research that has been done on footwear.

4. Cat’s Cradle, Vonnegut.

My friend Mark recommended this to me, but warned me that everything Vonnegut wrote related to how messed up living through the firebombing of Dresden had made him. The book was fantastic, but definitely endorsed a bleak/nihilistic outlook on life. It is told with the frame of a made-up, ultimately pointless religion called Bokononism. Below is a quote from the last chapter.

“’Maturity, the way I understand it,’ he told me, ‘is knowing what your limitations are.’ / He wasn’t far from Bokonon in defining maturity. Maturity,’ Bokonon tells us, ‘is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.’”

5. The Alchemist, Coelho

This was an interesting little metaphysical piece that explores the idea of growth through adversity. It endorses a type of foreordination that seems popular – if you are determined to accomplish something, all of the universe will bend to try and help you accomplish it. I read it immediately after reading Cat’s Cradle, and to say it was jarring is an understatement.

6. Pride & Prejudice, Austen

Although I’ve been through her home/museum, this was my first introduction to Austen. I found it intriguing, and disappointing. Let me first say this. Elizabeth Bennet kicks some serious ass. I was so impressed with this novel from a feminist perspective. Written in the early 19th C, this strong female protagonist with very clear individualistic ideas and actions was interesting. I was, however, very disappointed in Mr. Darcy and the “romance” that developed. He seemed a flat character, and I was confused as to the passion that developed between these two characters. But maybe I’m just bitter.

7. When You Are Engulfed in Flames, David Sedaris

Actually, I did the right thing and let David Sedaris read this book to me. He is hilarious. I do, however, take some serious issue with the Sedaris family point-of-view on the bowtie.

8. Best Served Cold, Joe Abercrombie

Abercrombie really loves dark, flawed characters. The development he takes them through somewhat reminds me of Ludlum’s Jason Borne (the book is far better than the excellent movie, by the way).

9. Once A Runner
, John L Parker, Jr

If only I could run two miles, every day. Every day. And grow a beard. Or read an hour a day.

I read a handful of others, but these were the best. As you can see, it’s mostly a list of running books and fantasy novels, but I promise I like to read other things too. If you have any comments or recommendations, I would love to hear them.

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