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December 30, 2009

Books Read 2009

Update: Shoot! I forgot about one other book I read this year -- World War Z by Max Brooks. Probably because it was the first book I read back in January 2009. It is in the list at number 6.

Here are the books I read in 2009. Honestly I didn't think I read too many, but then I tallied them up and it turned out to be a pretty good year. I must admit that I find myself reading content from my iPhone more than I find myself reading books these days.

Overall, I enjoyed almost all the books listed below (with the exception of two) so it is hard to really come up with a good ranking from best to worst. The books at the top of the list I really, really enjoyed though. The top 5 is actually a toss up. All of the top 5 were very good reads.

As always, all of these books were checked out from a library ... except one. I'll let you know which one and try to come up with a justification for it. And for those of you that are interested:

Books Read 2008
Books Read 2007
Books Read 2006
Books Read 2005

  1. City of Thieves by David Benioff
    Amazing story set in WWII Leningrad about a teenage Russian Jew and a Soviet soldier being given the task of finding eggs for a local military commander's daughter's wedding cake. Hilarious and deeply troubling all at once. There are scenes in the book that are gruesome in their brutality all juxtaposed around this ridiculous task of finding eggs during a Nazi siege. Hard to put down and highly recommended.
  2. My Losing Season by Pat Conroy
    Man could I ever relate with this book. Pat Conroy describes his days as a basketball player, from when he first started through his college career at The Citadel in South Carolina. His relationship with his father (The Great Santini) is heartbreaking, but the abuse he goes through at The Citadel on and off the court is truly mesmerizing. What a crazy life. The book delves deeply into his senior year at The Citadel ('66-'67) and describes in excruciating detail what amounts to a losing year on the court. Conroy argues that one can learn more from losing than winning. Never has a losing basketball team received so much attention, and I expect never has a losing basketball season been so interesting. If you ever played basketball, you will be able to relate to this book. It was fantastic.
  3. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
    At first I thought this book was going to be about the amazing Tarahumara Indians of Mexico and how they are "born to run." And it is about that, but the book also makes an extremely convincing argument that we are all born to run. It is impossible to read this book and not want to start running. Humans, it would appear, are healthier and happier when doing what we have done for thousands of years: running. I found the chapters about running shoes to be really fascinating. Running shoes, it seems, have done more to harm us than help us. Running related injuries have skyrocketed since they were introduced in the early 70s. If you are a runner or you are thinking about starting to run, pick up this book and be amazed!
  4. River Town by Peter Hessler
    This book tells the story of Peter Hessler and his two years as an English teacher in the river town of Fuling. His time in China is during a time of great upheaval for the Chinese people. Fuling is greatly impacted by the Three Gorges project, and Hessler describes that and Fuling's struggles to modernize in general. Of course, the cultural differences between Hessler and the Chinese people he comes into contact with are the most fascinating parts of the book, especially his relationship with the rest of the faculty at the local college he teaches at. Throughout most of the book Hessler is considered a "waiguoron," or foreigner, but eventually he creates some very meaningful relationships. Quite an amazing book. Difficult to put down, at least for me.
  5. Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold
    This book is a fictionalized account of Charles Carter, a real 1920s magician who lived in San Francisco. America was fascinated by magic during this time, namely because of Harry Houdini, but also because technology and science were changing at such a rapid pace. The book captures the time and what it was like to be a magician during this time, along with the public's insatiable demand for this form of entertainment and the amazing illusions that magicians came up with to satisfy it. The story is too complex to do justice in this small space, but let me just say that it includes the death of a president, federal agents, pirates, rival magicians, Philo T. Farnsworth, and a blind love interest.
  6. World War Z by Max Brooks
    A loosely intertwined series of short stories around the premise that the world is at war with a crapload of zombies. If you like zombies you will love this book. There are at least 3 of the short stories that I really, really enjoyed. One in particular described the military strategy employed to defeat the zombies and I found the inspiration for that strategy absolutely fascinating and disturbing (I'll give you a hint: South Africa and apartheid). This book was very creative and enjoyable. I guess they are also going to make it into a movie.
  7. The Adventures of Kavelier and Clay by Michael Chabon
    This book is a dense story centered around two fictional comic book creators, Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay. Kavalier has recently escaped from Nazi invaded Prague and partners with his cousin Sam to create "The Escapist," a superhero devoted to helping the oppressed people of the world. After finishing the book, I finally realizes the whole book is about "escapism" whether from a tangible enemy, or adulthood responsibilities, or our own selves. Long but engaging.
  8. Mudville by Kurtis Scaletta
    It has rained in Moundville for 22 years straight. Then one day it suddenly stops. Roy and his newly adopted brother, Sturgis, decide to restore the old baseball field and renew a rivalry with the next town over, Sinister Bend. I read this book and thought it was great, but it was my son's reaction that gave me the biggest surprise. My son is not a baseball player and does not like to read at all. So, I really didn't think he'd enjoy a book about baseball. Boy was I wrong. He loved this book. He read it in three days which is unprecedented for him. After finishing it he called it "awesome" which is high praise. The book is also by local author Kurtis Scaletta, Twins fan, U of M employee, and friend.
  9. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
    You probably know enough about this book already, so I won't describe it too much. I have held off reading this one for years, namely because I thought some guy dying in the Alaskan wilderness would be boring at best. Man was I wrong. The story of Christopher McCandless is very thought provoking, especially his views and passions, and the relationships he builds along the way. Ultimately McCandless finally figures out that happiness is more meaningful when it is shared with someone else. Unfortunately it is too late and he dies a lonely death. McCandless was a bit unstable, to be sure, but he had convictions so strong that he had to act on them. It is a fine line, but I wish I had half the passion he did.
  10. The Magicians Elephant by Kate Dicamillo
    This is the book I did not check out from the library. I apologize. It was given to my son as a gift. It is short (and probably shouldn't even count) but the story is quite frankly too wonderful to leave out. 10 year old orphan Peter Augustus Duchene lives a miserable life with a senile soldier when he receives a fortune that his sister is still alive. He is also told that an elephant will lead him to her. A beautiful, beautiful story. If you get a chance to read it, you won't be sorry.
  11. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling
    This is a re-read. I originally read this book in 2005, and while I don't usually re-read books, I wanted to read this book with my son and daughter. So, I did. It took a while, but we finished and I include it here. So there.
  12. The Lost Fleet: Relentless by Jack Campbell
    Captain Black Jack Geary finally makes back to Alliance territory, but those crafty aliens need to be dealt with now. Can the Alliance and Syndics bury the hatchet to take on a common enemy? Can't wait for book 6!
  13. Evolution of Christianity by Marshall D. Johnson
    A concise theological history of Christianity which discusses twelve crises that helped shape the church. The early church and the development of the canon was especially fascinating.
  14. God Save the Fan by Will Leitch
    Hilarious brain candy for the sports fan. Will Leitch is the creator of the sports blog Deadspin, and this book describes his love/hate relationship with sports, athletes, and sports personalities. Leitch saves the bulk of his derision for ESPN and the sports personalities that inhabit that network and makes a convincing argument that maybe if we stop watching they will shut up. Recommended for anyone that finds value in cheering for his or her favorite team, but really can't believe how much time and energy we put into this crap.
  15. The Natural by Bernard Malamud
    Recommended by Freealonzo, anyone who is interested in baseball and remembers the movie The Natural fondly should read the original. It is quite different, namely because Roy Hobbs is an anti-hero. Nothing goes right for him and quite frankly he deserves it. Talent is not enough to succeed. Roy is all too human, he makes mistakes, and the book ends in a much different way than the movie.
  16. WWW: Wake by Robert J. Sawyer
    I didn't read too much science fiction this year, but from what I did read this was the best. Caitlin was born blind and is given the chance to see again through an experimental procedure. As part of the procedure she is given a small device that is supposed to allow her to see again, but instead helps her perceive the WWW. The WWW also begins to perceive her. Throw in a chimp that is about to be sterilized, and you get the first book in a trilogy about emerging consciousness. Confused? So was my wife. But I enjoyed it.
  17. Cruelest Journey: Six Hundred Miles to Timbuktu by Kira Salak
    This book is about an amazing journey in a kayak down the Niger River to Timbuktu by a single woman and all the craziness that she must endure along the way. Her interactions with the residents of Mali are the most fascinating parts of the book. And at the end she even frees two slaves. The book suffered a little bit from her "touchy-feely" analysis. Relatively short but very thought provoking.
  18. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
    As Free says, "The story of Paul Farmer and his efforts to eliminate TB in Haiti. Great book illustrating how someone totally committed to a cause can make a difference in a bleak country." To that I add: Are the lives of Haitians as valuable as the lives of Americans? It is easy to answer yes, but Farmer lives it. Amazing story
  19. Boys of Winter by Wayne Coffey
    A pretty good book about the 1980 Miracle on Ice team. The book has relatively short bios of most of the team members interspersed within a detailed analysis of the game against the U.S.S.R. And I do mean detailed analysis. I was hoping for more of a description of all their Olympic games, or of the process they went through to get there, but the book really only talks about that one game. Also, it does not paint a pretty picture of Herb Brooks. Still got goosebumps at the end.
  20. The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldemann
    Interesting book about an MIT grad student that accidentally creates a time machine. Each jump into the future he takes is 12 times further into the future than the previous jump, so as you might imagine some interesting things happen to him. Fluffy and entertaining. Haldemann can really crank these out.
  21. Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
    On a war torn tropical island in the Pacific, an eccentric white man named Mr. Watts volunteers to reopen the island school and become the teacher. He reads daily to the children from the Dickens classic Great Expectations. This is an odd book, truth be told. I found it interesting enough to keep reading, but it really could have been much more. Some people really like it, though.
  22. The Lecturers Tale by James Hynes
    Another odd book. Set at the fictional prestigious "Midwestern University" (in Minnesota!) this book tells the story of Nelson Humboldt, an adjunct English professor who at the beginning is fired and has his finger severed off in a freak accident. Of course, this would normally be a terrible thing to have happen, but after doctors re-attach the finger and the bandages come off Nelson finds he has the power to impose his will on people just by touching them. Good premise, right? Well the book gets really, really strange after that. The ending is flat out mystifying. Could have been a lot better, in my opinion.
  23. Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich
    The true story of the MIT students that took Vegas for millions at the black jack tables. Succinctly demonstrated to me that I am flat out not as smart as your typical MIT student. I understood how they did it (counting cards and other techniques) but there is no way I could do it myself. A humbling book.
  24. Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi
    Quite frankly this is Scalzi's most recent attempt to cash in on the Old Man's War universe and story line. Old Man's War is a phenomenal book. If you haven't read it yet, get yourself over to the library forthwith and pick it up. You can skip this one though.
  25. Expendable by James Alan Gardner
    Under the League of Peoples, life is good unless you are an Explorer. Explorers are flawed people (ugly, mutant, deformed, etc.) who are sent to places, sometimes dangerous, that need to be explored. I'll stop there. It was a stupid book that was interesting enough to keep reading, but I didn't particularly enjoy it.

That's about it. Until next year!

Posted by snackeru at December 30, 2009 8:23 PM


I've been waiting for this annual book post. And I'm sorry for stalking you... http://www.thisquarterlife.com/2009/12/18/bus-stalked/

Posted by: laurajr at December 31, 2009 12:47 PM

I always love your annual book list. I should probably put one up. Because of one of your old lists, I'm reading Old Man's War right now.

Unfortunately, my big Book Closeouts purchase also included Zoe's Tale. :(

Posted by: Barry Hess at December 31, 2009 2:46 PM

Zoe's Tale is still pretty decent, I suppose, but Barry ... when will you learn to check your books out from a library? :)

Posted by: Shane at January 4, 2010 9:21 AM

O.k. The pressure's on, what book(s) do I recommend to Shane this year? Click my name and scroll down to see my list. I'm guessing you'd like A Walk in the Woods since you've expressed an interest in Bryson's other books.

Posted by: freealonzo at January 5, 2010 1:39 PM

Well, I've read A Walk in the Woods, as well as The Tipping Point, and Pillars of the Earth. I was thinking The Wordy Shipmates or Positively Main Street. Those sound pretty interesting.

Posted by: Shane at January 5, 2010 1:43 PM

You'll like Wordy Shipmates, definitely.

I have Bryson's book about his European travels on reserve at the library!! (sorry can't remember the name). I'll let you know how it is but I've heard good things, especially the humor.

Posted by: freealonzo at January 5, 2010 3:24 PM

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