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Friday, January 01, 2010

Books of 2009

Last year, as I have annually since 2005, I posted a complete list of books I read in the preceding year. This is certainly a blog tradition worth preserving.

As usual, I will not list books that I reviewed, unless those reviews were published. In my academic job, I chair a committee that awarded $200,000 to the best "ideas for improving world order." Most of the nominees have written books and I read my share of the nominations. It is probably safe to acknowledge that I read the winning book, though I didn't read it until after the international jury had promoted it to the final round of our process.

Of course, since I'm an academic, I read multiple chapters and large sections of many books pertinent to my research and teaching. However, I'm not going to list those here unless I read them cover-to-cover. Save for the books I use in class or read for review, I often skim over some portions even of outstanding books. It's a time/efficiency issue.

So, what did I read this year, mostly for pleasure? (Some of the recommended books include a link to Powell's books; the blog receives a 7.5% commission on sales that begin via these links).

Non-fiction

Positively Fifth Street by James McManus.

The Film Club
by David Gilmour.

Treacherous Alliance - The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States by Trita Parsi. This book won the 2010 Grawemeyer Award.

The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Paul Collier.

The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria.

21: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions by Ben Mezrick.

Climate Change: What It Means for Us, Our Children, and Our Grandchildren by Joseph Dimento and Pamela Doughman.

American Empire by Andrew J. Bacevich

Seven Sins of American Foreign Policy by Loch K. Johnson.

Global Environmental Governance by James Speth and Peter Haas.

Poker Nation by Andy Bellin.

A Theory of Poker by David Sklansky

Biggest Game in Town by Al Alvarez

Read 'Em and Weep by John Stravinsky (ed.).

Zen and the Art of Poker by Larry Phillips

Sandy Koufax, A Lefty's Legacy by Jane Leavy

Game of Shadows by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams

Big Book of Baseball Legends by Rob Neyer.

Saving the Pitcher by Will Carroll

The Fenway Project by Bill Nowlin and Cecilia Tan (eds.)

Uncle Robbie by Jack Kavanagh and Norman Macht

Seasons in Hell by Mike Schropshire

A Short Guide to Writing About Film by Timothy J. Corrigan

I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2009, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. It was edited by Steven Goldman.

Of these non-fiction books, most were worth reading. I started out the year reading McManus's terrific book (recommend by Jeffrey Toobin on a private listserv) about the author's 2000 experience in the World Series of Poker. McManus was covering the participation of women in the event as well as the Ted Binion murder trial, which was indirectly related to the tournament. Ultimately, I found the syllabus for a class he teaches on poker writing and started making my way through some of his required works. Not all the poker books above are on his list and none of them are as good as Positively Fifth Street.

I ended the year reading Gilmour's wonderful memoir about the time he spent watching films with his teenage son -- a condition of father allowing son to drop out of high school. It's terrific reading in a genre I don't usually read.

The Collier book is likewise highly recommended and I adopted it in my fall class on Global Ecopolitics. I previously blogged about Zakaria's fine book and I would recommend it to readers generally interested in global affairs.

I would not place any of the listed baseball books in the pantheon of great baseball writing, but I enjoyed Leavy's bio of Koufax and learned a great deal about the steroids era in baseball from Game of Shadows.

Fiction

The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Rabbit Redux by John Updike

Fight Club by Chuck Palahnuik

Forgetfulness by Ward Just.

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene.

Burmese Days by George Orwell.

Lincoln by Gore Vidal

When the Light Goes by Larry McMurtry

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Devil in the Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

The Ivory Grin by Ross MacDonald

Ratking by Michael Dibdin.

Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Woman in the Dark by Dashiell Hammett

One Fearful Yellow Eye and Pale Gray for Guilt by John D. Macdonald

The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley.

New Hope for the Dead by Charles Willeford

American Tabloid by James Ellroy

The Mexican Tree Duck by James Crumley

A Very Private Plot by William F. Buckley

Of these, I placed the best literature at the top of the list, then the remaining genre fiction with the least entertaining listed last. I really like Graham Greene and Larry McMurtry, generally, and these books are worth reading. In 2010, I'll likely be reading still more about Harry Angstrom, Updike's protaganist. It's unclear if McMurtry has anything left to say about his recurrent character, Duane Moore.

Months ago, I meant to blog about The Road since its post-apocalyptic vision might presume a prior nuclear war or climate calamity -- two frequent topics in my blogging. But I didn't. Forgetfulness was recommended by our new President, allegedly, though I cannot find the link now. The film "Fight Club" is faithful to the excellent book, but Chris Buckley's book is not as good as the recent film.

I read William Buckley's book because I read all his other Blackford Oakes stories years ago and want to complete the series. The last one is on my shelf for 2010 reading. I was fairly disappointed by the Crumley selection and won't be reading any more of Ellroy for awhile.

Thanks mostly to Bookmooch, I continue to read books by a diverse group of crime writers. As I've noted previously, John D. Macdonald's Travis McGee stories provide a pleasant diversion, but Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer books tend to have a harder edge. Both offer up a good measure of amateur philosophy.


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