Reading time: About 3 minutes
My best books of the year column is always one of my most popular….
I was late to start reading but once I did, I fell in love with it. I distinctly remember, throughout grades 4 to 7, always keeping a novel perched on the top right-hand corner of my desk. I’d race to get my work done so I could go back to my real education — reading.
Forty years later, not much has changed. I still read like a fiend — devouring at least a book a week — a figure that often jumps to a book a day when I’m on holiday. Reading, you see, is the raw material for writing.
Here are the 10 best books I read in 2009. Approach this list with caution, though, because reading tastes are quirky, and my taste might not match your own.
How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer (2009). Lehrer makes neuroscience readable — and interesting — even to non-scientists like me. This book focuses on decision-making and is filled with interesting examples from real life. How do poker players decide their next move? How do pilots avoid airplane disasters? How do you make your own life decisions? Read Lehrer to find out.
Here Comes Everybody, by Clay Shirky (2009). I first heard Shirky interviewed on the radio and was so impressed by his deep intelligence and articulate manner that I immediately bought his book. A first-rate thinker about the Internet and all forms of social media, Shirky is a bright guy, and it’s well worth getting to know his thoughts.
Why We Buy, by Paco Underhill (2008). An in-depth look at the psychology of shopping, this book should be required reading for anyone who works in retail. Even if you’re simply a shopper, you’ll find the book filled with interesting tidbits — such as where store signage should really be placed — and I guarantee, you’ll never shop in the same way again. Check out Anita Webster’s post on the book.
Crazy for the Storm, by Norman Ollestad (2009). Very affecting memoir about a boy who was forced into surfing and skiing by his dad, starting at age 2 (There’s a photo of him riding on his dad’s back on a surfboard on the cover.) The dad, among other things, flew planes and when he and his son went to collect a medal for a skiing contest, their plane crashed and the son was the only survivor. It’s a really gripping story — well told.
The Twitter Book, by Tim O’Reilly and Sarah Milstein (2009). I’ve named this book before but thought I’d mention it again because it’s such a terrific basic guide. If you’re thinking about joining Twitter and didn’t get this book in your stocking, rush out and buy it now!
The Believers, by Zoe Heller (2009). Joel Litvinoff, a well-known leftist lawyer, suffers a stroke while in court. While he lies in a coma, the book focuses on the life and reactions of his wife, his mistress and his daughters. All characters are deeply flawed — as a friend of mine put it, “I love novels filled with people behaving badly.”
The Spy Game, by Georgina Harding (2009). Can’t remember who recommended this highly literary novel to me but it’s beautifully written. Here, for example, is the first sentence: “Fog that morning, a freezing fog; the flagstones dark and slippery outside the door.” The plot is a bit slow and meandering — in fact, when I checked the publication date I was shocked to see it was 2009 — it reads as a much older book. Lovely, though.
Sacred Hearts, by Sarah Dunant (2009). Set in 16th-century Italy, the story focuses on a young woman who’s been left in a convent to remove her from a forbidden romance. Here, literary fiction meets historical fiction meets highbrow bodice ripper. I normally dislike the latter two genres but this book is superbly well written.
Mathilda Savitch, by Victor Lodato (2009). This story, which focuses on a girl whose sister has died after being pushed in front of a train, is the very definition of successful “voice.” The author — a male — writes with the note-perfect tone of a young teenage girl. My only criticism is of the book’s ending, which I found weak (but I feel that way about 90% of the novels I read.)
Miss Garnet’s Angel, by Sally Vickers (2000). The late coming-of-age story of Miss Julia Garnet, a retired English schoolteacher who spends six months in Venice after a friend dies. Rich, complex plot interweaves interesting characters, mystery, Renaissance artwork and Italian history. Superb writing.