So it's that time of year again: Book List time! Every year I resist this phenomenon, but I always give in. I read lists, I argue mentally with said lists, I vow not to produce any kind of list, and...well, pretty soon, here we are.
Last year I was feeling extremely cranky, so I produced a list of the Worst Books of 2008, which I am still relatively proud of. For many and various reasons, I am not as cranky this year, although I do have a sneaking suspicion that the Revolution is coming (sooner rather than later) and that I and the rest of the middle class will be the first up against the wall. But I always feel that way, and have learned to live with it. So this year I'd like to suggest some books that I didn't feel got enough publicity or commentary. It's the Citizen Reader Most Underrated Books of 2009 List!
1. Believer, Beware: First-Person Dispatches from the Margins of Faith, edited by Jeff Sharlet and Peter Manseau. Now, if you are not aware, I LOVE Peter Manseau. His memoir Vows remains one of the best memoirs I've ever read. He and Sharlet also edit an online magazine titled Killing the Buddha, and in this collection they present short essays by individuals struggling with faith, learning about other faiths, questioning their own beliefs, and exploring religious beliefs and systems that are somewhat off the beaten track. It's very well done, and the essays are short and compulsively readable. What's great about this book is I think it might be equally enjoyable for true believers, agnostics, atheists, and everyone who's ever wondered "what IS the deal with religion?" It's got a terrible cover, but don't let that stop you. The book is everything that you would expect from a pair of magazine editors who believe that writing about matters of "ultimate concern...should be not solemn but subversive."
2. How Shall I Tell the Dog? And Other Final Musings, by Miles Kingston. This is THE book to read about death and dying. Stricken with pancreatic cancer ("not one of the nice ones," as his own doctor explains) Kingston goes about trying to make some sense of his life during its last months. This book puts Randy Pausch's saccharine and pompous The Last Lecture to shame.
3. The Book Shopper, Murray Browne. A great little memoir/essay collection on the love of reading and books. Like all books from Paul Dry Books, it didn't get nearly enough big media attention, but it's a great read.
4. The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, Philosophy, and Literature of Pedestrianism, by Geoff Nicholson. It's just what it sounds like; Nicholson thinks about the act of walking, and how much he enjoys it.
5. Unbelievable: Investigations into Ghosts, Poltergeists, Telepathy, and Other Unseen Phenomena from the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory, by Stacy Horn. I'll admit that this is not my favorite Stacy Horn book (although it boasts fantastic research and a nice index), but I firmly believe Stacy Horn is one of the most underappreciated authors of the past decade. Do also check out her memoir Waiting for My Cats to Die.
This year was also notable as the year I discovered Helene Hanff, so all in all, 2009 will stand for me as a great year in reading. I hope it did the same for you.
Now, if you'll excuse me, it has just come to my attention that Christmas is this Friday (holy crap; that came out of NOWHERE) and I've got about three jobs to finish up and baking to do, so I won't be back until next week. In the meantime? Peaceful holidays to you and yours.