One of my favorite annual posts, here are my top reads from 2009. While I read about 50 books a year, only a handful are standouts.
Broken Heartland: The Rise of America’s Rural Ghetto by Osha Gray Davidson (NF)
I haven’t spent much time in the flyover states, but I have driven cross-country twice. When you wander off the AAA flagged gas stops in your travel guide, the patent poverty of some parts of our country is heart-breaking.
Davidson’s books gets to bottom of what has gone wrong in rural America that has left so many families in precarious financial situations, if not outright destitution. The American obsession with scaling successful businesses into monopolistic vertical enterprises has crippled the family farmer that can’t compete with big Agro, nor the lobbyist dollars that make sure agro policy helps the industrial farms at the expense of the little guy.
Hopefully the author’s name sounds familiar; he serves as a green jobs advisor to the Obama administration.
This book outlines the potential of the Green Economy with regards to the environmental, social, and fiscal impact. By investing in clean energy, we’re also investing in a massive influx of blue collar + jobs that require a bit more than a high school diploma to provide a living wage and career opportunities. Since environmental devastation hits low-income communities the hardest (pollution, health risks, etc), the green economy would not just clean up areas struggling financial but bring solid jobs to those regions. It’s an easy read chock full of interesting anecdotes and success stories.
The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David Kessler (NF)
You’ll never grocery shop the same again. Kessler’s book details how the food industry, from processed snacks to chain restaurant meals, carefully formulates each edible item it sells, maximizing palitability via the proper sugar to fat to salt ratio. Most aspects of our lives can be considered a social construct, but our national eats, they’re following a food scientist’s blue print.
The Kindness of Strangers by Katrina Kittle (F)
I should warn you that this book is heart wrenching; even so, I couldn’t put it down. The night I read it, I meant to stop at page 50. Instead, I made it to the final page, 390.
Kittle introduces us the Laden family, a young widow and her two adolescent sons who have been struggling to hold it together since the death of Mr. Laden two years ago. Sarah accidentally finds herself in the center of another tragedy: the arrest of a neighborhood couple for child pornography and pedophilia following Sarah saving their son Jordan from his suicide attempt. After Sarah’s eldest son Nate connects with Jordan, he convinces his mom to foster Jordan, which will irrevocably change all of their lives.
The Dark Side by Jane Mayer (NF) (added 12/31/09)
This books looks as the culture and climate that allowed the Bush administration to thoroughly trample the Constitution, as well as international treaties preventing torture, in the post 9/11 years. It reviews how criminal behavior became accepted via stealthily-written legalese. It’s required reading for informed citizens.
Special Topics in the Calamity of Physics by Marisha Pessl (F)
A page-turner I couldn’t wait to pick up each day. A brilliant high school senior with a nomadic, academic father settles at a seemingly arbitrary high school for her final year of secondary school. The characters are much more intimately entwined that a first glance would indicate, and the double meaning of teacher Hannah Schneider’s words is only revealed in the final chapters.
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace (F)
This fall marked the one year anniversary of D.F.W.’s suicide. His loss still strikes a cord with his fans.
I loved this book. Alternating short overheard conversations with interview vignettes that run several pages, Wallace is able to tease out complicated characters with just a few paragraphs or pages. Some of the characters I wish he had dwelled upon a bit longer. Others I couldn’t wait to be freed of.
For those of you who don’t like books, there’s always the movie adaptation that came out this year.
Disclaimer: Disclaimer: These books were not necessarily published in 2009. They do not necessarily belong on a list of best books ever, books to read before you die, or best kept secrets. It’s just a list of the books I enjoyed most in this calendar year.
Related: Favorite Reads of 2008