Thursday, December 28, 2006

The best of books, part 1

Today's subject: Best non-fiction books I've read this year!

But first, a little insight into why I loved some books and sent others back to the library...

I think it can be summed up in the two anthologies Santa left me under the tree on Sunday night - one of great sports writing, the other chronicling the year's best travel tales. Now, those of you who have been reading this blog for awhile know that my travel in 2006 was limited to trips to Altoona, Kansas and St. Louis, Missouri, and that I spent my childhood spinning - and falling - in the driveway, chasing after my baton. Given this history, you can see that these were obvious must-have gifts for someone as worldly and athletically inclined as me :)

Seriously, though - This is the first year I've kept track of the books I've read (thank you, Amazon, for your handy wish-list feature), and scrolling through it gave me a chance to think about what works for me in reading and what doesn't (even if, according to my demographic/life experience/prior reading choices, it should). Here's what I learned: as much as I love non-fiction - essays, memoirs - I really only love them if the author is doing something, not just thinking. I've attempted several much-heralded books of deep rumination regarding the meaning of life, death, relationships, family, pets, etc. and failed to connect. But give me a book about someone who is has to line up their green beans in one-inch parallel lines before eating them, or shuffling around a cancer ward messing with the nurses, or breaking up with their high school sweetheart/being wooed by a husband they just divorced, or chasing their mud-covered dog through a crowded shopping mall, and THAT keeps me reading.

I need action. If you're writing about travel or sports, chances are you're doing something. In contrast, when I read the review for the collection of great essays from this year, one of the opening lines said something like, "The theme of these works seems to be death..." For that reason, said book was not on my wish list to Santa, as it seemed like a rather grim lump of coal.

So in what may be the worlds longest preface, there you have a little insight into why these books were my favorite non-fiction reads this year (I also left out blockbuster bestsellers that need no more hype, and books I've raved about endlessly already). Here are a few you might not have thought of:

5. But Enough About Me: A Jersey Girl's Unlikely Adventures Among the Absurdly Famous by Jancee Dunn
I loved Dunn's fun honesty - she does a great job of being among the fabulous people without needing to convince us that she was accepted as one of their own. She leans heavily on self-deprecating humor and tales of her ultra-normal family, which makes a pointed contrast to what she encounters in the celebs she meets.

4. Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood by Jennifer Traig
This book is David Sedaris-level funny.

3. EAT, PRAY, LOVE: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert
This book is beautifully written, full of direction changes and adventure, and allowed me to live vicariously through some three adventures I have almost no desire to try myself. What more can you ask of a memoir???

2. THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeannette Walls
This story of Walls' childhood is so grim, but her description of the ways she and her siblings coped made me see that we totally underestimate kids in this country. This is a fabulous book on every level.

1. THE LAST SHOT: City Streets, Basketball Dreams by Darcy Frey.
A tale of four kids being courted by the NBA, trying to get out of the Coney Island projects. This is a fabulous, gripping read about two worlds I never would have known about. It changed the way I watch basketball, and the way I think about opportunity in this country.

There you have it! I'll be back tomorrow with the top five fiction picks. (And for fuller reviews and a longer list, check out my book log.)

What have your favorites been this year???


Swishy said...

I liked The Glass Castle, too. Haven't read the others, but I've heard good things about them. I need to get reading again in '07!

Sarakastic said...

I'll be sure & write these on the back of Rory's booklist so I can add them in over time. No one will ever know.

Deb R said...

GMTA - I just posted my favorite fiction of '06 about an hour ago. :-)

Stacy said...

Great list. I'd post my own favorites of the year, but I'm not so good at keeping track of what I've read. Perhaps that can be a New Years resolution for 2007.

Kim Stagliano said...

Jumping to fiction: I just read Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris (she of the Sookie Stackhouse vampires freely wander society series.) Talk about a hook! Grabbed me from the first paragraph and didn't let go. Check it out!

Happy New Year and thanks for not telling me you assumed I was a dog and were pleasantly surprised at my elfin photo. Jeez, talk about a back handed compliment!

red sun said...

cheers to 3 & 4!
and thanks for tips on the other ones. also, i've heard great things about Running with Scissors. have you read this one, and what are your thoughts?

LEstes65 said...

Do the books made from marker on paper stapled together by Liam count?

Karen said...

I loved the Glass Castle so much! When I bought it, the clerk told me I'd be very disturbed when I read it and I was a little, but not as much she seemed to suggest I would be. Anyway, I concur. I really liked Devil in the Details too.

Beck said...

You know what really depressed me about The Glass Castle is that I have many, many friends who have somewhat similar depressing hippy childhoods. It made for interesting reading!
Great list!