Tuesday, January 04, 2005

A dozen books for 2004

  1. The Vatican to Vegas: A History of Special Effects, Norman A. Klein. An original addition to the literature of wonder and spectacle, examining the world of shocks, surprise twists, grand fakes, and copies. Scholarly and accessible.
  2. Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, Suketu Mehta. Not just a portrait of the modern, labyrinthine city, but a well-written look at a city in transformation from a third-world to a first-world one. A fascinating first look at the century ahead of us.
  3. The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki. An original challenge to the cult of the expert, and one that explains the paradox of—among others—how a wise electorate may be composed of ordinary folks.
  4. The Rose and the Briar: Death, Love, and Liberty in the American Ballad, Sean Wilentz and Griel Marcus, editors. A beautiful examination of Americana through the lens of vernacular music.
  5. Snow, Orhan Pamuk. Quiet and beautiful prose. Pamuk is an accomplished architect of narrative, themes, and poetics; a writer for the ages.
  6. Stand Up and Fight Back, E. J. Dionne, Jr. In an election year that saw Democratic partisans continue to lose their collective head, a veteran pragmatist instructs the faithful and addresses the victors, too.
  7. Alexander the Great, Paul Cartledge. In the year of a return to costume dramas, this book works better than the any of the toga-ed movies.
  8. My Life, Bill Clinton. Our most talented and reflective modern president, Clinton’s book is as one would expect: it is like Clinton, the man—unwieldy, profound, penetrating—well, maybe not that.
  9. The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, Bill James and Rob Neyer. Endlessly distracting, as all of their better works are. Amongst other things, a debunking of the sins of overworking young pitchers, a “census” of all significant pitchers and their repertoire, and (of course) more.
  10. Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music, Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner, editors. A collection of short works that form a roadmap to the meaning of modern music in the pomo era—would make a nice textbook for a course on the topic.
  11. McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Issue Number 13: An Assorted Sampler of North American Comic Drawings, Strips, and Illustrated Stories, &c., Chris Ware, editor. You can read it for the articles, including essays by Updike and a number of fine, shorter ones by the editor himself.
  12. Authenticity: Brands, Fakes, Spin and the Lust for Real Life, David Boyle. Not available in the U.S., this British author ably grapples with the most significant question in the postmodern era: how do we sort the world when authenticity has lost its meaning?


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