Thursday, January 11, 2007

2006 - A Year in Books - Part 1

2006 – A Year in Books

I read a lot this past year, having replaced a lot of late nights out with many early nights in. My recollected count is 26 books, but I easily could have forgotten one or two titles. Most everything that I read I would recommend to an appropriately interested reader. I’ve listed them in the approximate order I read them.

The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis has been, for the last decade or so, my favorite author by a large margin. The funny thing is that I came to love his writing on theology but I had never read his most famous series. With The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe movie out last winter, I finally buckled down and read The Chronicles heptalogy. I am certainly glad I did. Wardrobe is without doubt the allegorical classic, but The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the most enchantingly beautiful and ultimately poignant in the series.

The Undercover Economist – Tim Harford

I like economics because it helps explain the way the world is. Most of the time, the conclusions reached by economics run counter to common sense – and more often than not, the economic explanation is right. This book is a veritable companion to Freakonomics, which remains the gold standard of economic analysis applied to the real world.

Success Through Failure – Henry Petroski

This guy has written some interesting stuff, including a cool little book called Small Things Considered. This is science and engineering reading, and he uses the word “obviate” a lot, which means to make something unnecessary. He talks about how most of our best inventions are improvements on old ideas, where the shortcomings or failures of a previous generation of technology spur invention in the new.

The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

This was a re-read, having listened to the unabridged version on a cross-country drive in 2004. It’s a pop novel, ultimately full of spurious facts, crazy conclusions, and two-dimensional characters. Of course it’s terrific. Having also read the prequel Angels and Demons, I am definitely glad Brown scaled back the unreal technology and unbelievable situation content in Code. I’ll look forward to the next Robert Langdon novel.

Missing Links – Rick Reilly
Shanks for Nothing – Rick Reilly
Who’s your Caddy? – Rick Reilly

This summer, following a chance listen to sports talk radio featuring SI columnist Rick Reilly, I really got into golf novels of all things, starting with RR’s new one, Shanks for Nothing. I thought it was great, endearingly funny, and the literary heir to sports farce in the grand style of Caddyshack. Then I realized he’d written a first book about the quirky denizens of the Ponkaquogue Golf Course called Missing Links. Fortunately, my boss had access to a treasure trove of golf novels. Many Saturdays and Sundays this summer were spent by the pool, drinking beer, and reading about golf. Who’s Your Caddy? is a non-fiction account of Reilly’s experience caddying for famous golfers and celebs – it’s only good, but worth a borrow.

The Green – Troon McAllister
The Foursome – Troon McAllister

Two more great golf novels by the author Troon McAllister. They center on a memorable character named Eddie Camanetti who is the world’s best golf hustler. My duel love of golf and gambling probably biased me, but more often then not I’d be up late to finish one more chapter. I need to read the next two books in the series this year for sure.

Everything Bad is Good for You – Steven Johnson

Another non-fiction entry, this author’s book got some airtime from his interesting contention that popular culture (TV, movies, video games, etc.) is actually making us collectively smarter. This is because the forms of entertainment we consume have gotten much more complex. Compare a TV show like Perry Mason to CSI, or a Starsky and Hutch to Lost; we’ve gone from linear narratives and a handful of main characters to shows with multiples perspectives and whose casts are legion. Same for video games. As leisure time has grown complex, our minds have had to adapt to them, and it makes us smarter. Of course, it’s good to have a balanced approach – so I still read a lot of books.

Part 2, coming soon...


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