Heading into the stretch run.
20 Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh
An excellent and thoughtful book on the spiritual parallels among the Buddhist and Christian faith traditions. Reading this book actually encouraged me to resume going to church at a time I wasn’t going. Hanh’s writing on the beautiful mystery of the Eucharist was especially moving.
19 Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler
Mahler revisits the tumultuous year of 1977 in New York City focusing on the clashes between Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo in the race for mayor, and Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson for dominance over the New York Yankees. In addition to this Mahler captures the essence of the city in politics, SoHo art galleries, punk rock, Studio 54, and the Son of Sam murders. The book moves along in illuminating if episodic chapters until the devastating central section where in clipped, police report style prose Mahler recreates the horror of the blackout of 1977 and the looting and arson that erupted in Bushwick and other neighborhoods. 1977 is a transformative year in New York history (and its hard to believe all of this happened in the same year), and definitely the moment when New York hit rock bottom. I found myself oddly nostalgic reading this book. Not that I miss the widespread violence and hopelessness of the time, but the names and places remind me of the old New York of my childhood and the good things that were lost in the yuppification of 80’s and 90’s.
18 Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks
As the title suggests this is a story about a man making a circuit accompanied by a refrigerator. The odd premise was born in a drunken bet, and Hawks makes the best of it with a hilarious travelogue. Few books make me laugh out loud and this one made me chortle, chuckle, and explode with laughter on each page. It must be read to be believed.
17 Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella
Kinsella was one of my favorite authors growing up and this is one his best books. Adapted into the wonderful film “Field of Dreams”, the book is even better including a more thorough back story, JD Salinger, and the oldest living Chicago Cub! Plus no one tops Kinsella’s voice for baseball magic realism.
16 Watership Down by Richard Adams
I stayed up all night reading this book instead of studying for my Calculus final my Freshman year at college. I failed the Calculus test but was totally mesmerized by the fantastic yet realistic world Adams creates for his rabbits. This is a great adventure and a wonderful story of life.
15 We Can’t Eat Prestige: The Women Who Organized Harvard by John Hoerr
The history of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, founded in the 1970’s and built on feminist principles. This books follows the epic quest of the organizers to gain acceptance and help the workers have a voice at the university. Finally, after 17 years the union is approved in a dramatic vote. 4800 members strong, the HUCTW is a model for the 21st-century union, one that works for problem solving and the respect and dignity of everyone in the workplace. Harvard works because we do!
14 Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
This graphic memoir captures the funny and touching life story of the author where she tells of her eccentric family and draws parallels to literature and social movements of the time without being one bit pretentious.
13 The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs
This book could’ve been a mean-spirited parody of religion, or an insufferable diatribe of the true believer but it works so well because the agnostic Jacobs tries so hard to be faithful to his quest and respectful to those who follow the Bible, even when realizing some of its great absurdities. There’s a lot one can learn from this book about religion and religious as well as the non-believer and really all of humanity in this very human book.
12 To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
I read this book in college and while I don’t remember the details now, I do remember the feeling of beauty and insight in what may be Woolf’s best novel.
11 The Color Purple by Alice Walker
This excellent novel is both disturbing and inspiring as it tells the story of Celie, a young black woman who grows up in abuse and subjugation but is able to find love, independence, and an awakening of her own creative self. Compared with the movie, the book is much more detailed and nuanced and deals with lesbian themes the movie only hints at. On the other hand, parts of the novel seem a bit contrived, like Nettie’s letters. Still this is one of the best novels I’ve ever read.
Next Friday I’ll count down the <gulp> top ten favorite books of all time!