Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Read These Books

A couple weeks ago my little sister Dom* asked for book suggestions. I used moving as an excuse to procrastinate for a while, but finally got around to pulling together a list of some of my favorite books from this year.

(Okay, the capsule reviews are kind of cheating, since I totally intended to write more about these books. But it's better than just intending and forgetting, right?)

Poison Penmanship, Jessica Mitford. I had a copy of this book back in high school, but after it sat untouched on my bookshelves for years, I ended up getting rid of it unread. What was I thinking? This would have been the perfect thing to read every time I hit an aspiring-journalist phase. Mitford starts out with a quick version of what she teaches to j-school students, then comments on each piece - what the editor changed, what she thinks of it years later, how she got the key interviews. Very glad NYRB Classics brought this one back into print. (Source: review copy courtesy of the lovely @NYRBClassics, who's been putting up with my gushing on Twitter)

Diamond Ruby, Joseph Wallace. I probably would have picked this book up even if I hadn't first met the author through Twitter, as I spent a couple years in middle school trying to be Geena Davis in A League of Their Own. Jazz Age Brooklyn, baseball, rum runners, and plenty of real-people cameos come together beautifully, and - I'll try to say this in as un-spoilerish a way as possible - when I thought the author was about to do something terrible to one of his characters, he didn't, which just made me love him that much more. (Source: ARC)

Forge, Laurie Halse Anderson. It's a sequel, but I think it's a good starting point even if you haven't read Chains. The title refers to Valley Forge, where former slaves Curzon and Isabel are encamped with the Continental army, but also to - well, you'll find out about halfway through. And after just saying that I adore Joe Wallace for not doing awful things to his characters, one of the awesome things about Forge is LHA's willingness to put her characters in a bad situation and then make it worse, but not scare me off. And the cover is gorgeously Kara Walker-ish, no? (Source, ARC)

Hellhound on His Trail, Hampton Sides. Even though anyone who reads this probably already knows how it's going to end - the name James Earl Ray does mean something to you, doesn't it? - this book still reads like a thriller. Sides did a great job recreating the sequence of events surrounding Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assasination. (Source: ARC)

The Madame Curie Complex, Julie Des Jardins. Thanks to Colleen for putting me onto this one. For the record, I studied astronomy at a women's college, in an observatory named after a woman, using computers named after female astronomers (so much more interesting than naming them OBS001 or something like that) - so this is a topic of interest to me. Which meant I was willing to slog through some unfortunate formatting that made the book appear way more dry and academic than it actually is. Look past the footnotes at the end of each chapter (endnotes, people, please - we all know how to flip pages) and give it a try. (Source: library)

My Most Excellent Year, Steve Kluger. As Stephen** points out in his Guys Lit Wire review, this book requires some degree of suspension of disbelief, but it's so worth it. The book is funny, the story moves along, and - well, just trust me on this one. (Source: acquired in the ABA lounge at BEA 2008, and yes, it took me this long to get around to it. Should have read it sooner.)

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Helen Simonson. I finally got around to reading this one after Ron Charles' rave in the Washington Post, so I have to admit I'm pretty much cribbing from him when I say that this book works because it's a wide-eyed story of a second chance at love. And the intercultural angle (he's English; she's Pakistani) comes off well, without being either forced or condescending. (Source: ARC)

Android Karenina, Quirk Books. Sorry, but I can't bring myself to list the authors here as "Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters." I'm so not a fan of the "remake classics with paranormal elements" thing from the past year or so. I want nothing to do with Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. And yet... my boss handed me this one, and I decided to take a look - and liked it. It's sort of Imperial Russia steampunk loosely based on Anna Karenina, and the aliens/robots/cyborgs storyline actually works. You probably have to have read the original to appreciate it, though. (And no, it did not change my feelings about P&P&Z and its cousins one bit.) (Source: ARC)

*My Wellesley little sister, not an actual sister. I don't have any of those.
** My actual little brother.