Once again, it’s time for me to depart from my nerdy governance life and list my 10 favorite books of the year gone by. For those of you who are new to these annual posts, my top 10 list reflects what I read last year, rather than what was published during the year.
The only significant departure from prior years is that in a couple of instances I’ve combined two books by the same author. So here goes:
- Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe. This is probably the best work of what is now called “narrative non-fiction” that I’ve read in many a moon. It tells the story of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland but goes well beyond that. It is gripping and sad and brilliantly executed.
- Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? By Jeannette Winterson. As long as we’re talking in superlatives, this is one of the best memoirs I’ve read in a long time – and I’ve read some very good ones. Winterson had a miserable childhood that could ruin anyone, but she has risen above her beginnings with grace and humor. This is one of the few books that is undoubtedly better as an audiobook, as Ms. Winterson is the narrator, and her Manchester accent is perfect. (If you were driving near me on I-95 and saw me laughing out loud, reading the book will help you understand that I had good reason.)
- Educated by Tara Westover. This book has been on the best-seller lists for what seems like a decade, and deservedly so. I don’t normally like books about dysfunctional families, but this is the exception to the rule.
- Super Pumped by Mike Isaac. This is the story of Uber – or at least the early days through the departure of Travis Kalanick. The genre – books about companies in trouble – is one of my favorites, and this was a great example.
- The Library Book by Susan Orlean. Maybe this wasn’t the fifth best non-fiction book that I read during the year, but it came at the right time and it was great fun.
- Haunting Paris by Mamta Chaudhry. “Haunting” is the right word for this intriguing and unusual book about a woman who learns what happened to her deceased lover’s family in WWII even as his ghost tries to watch over her. Perhaps not for everyone, but I loved it. (And a shout-out to Books & Books in Miami for bringing it to my attention.)
- The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. I re-read “Handmaid” after a gap of 30+ years, and it’s better (and, scarily, more relevant) than ever. The sequel isn’t as good as the first, and has a sort of Keystone Kops aspect to it, but together they are very powerful indeed.
- A Thousand Ships and The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes. I love almost anything about ancient Greece, and these retellings of the Iliad and Oedipus from a mildly feminist perspective were wonderful.
- The Patriots by Sana Krasikov. This is my favorite kind of work – a big, fat historical novel. This one follows the travails of a naïve young thing from Brooklyn who heads to the USSR during the Depression to participate in the wonders of the workers’ paradise, with “interesting” consequences.
- The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. This work is much narrower in scope than his earlier multiple prize-winning book, The Underground Railroad. But boy, can he write. It’s a rather intense and upsetting book that kept being thought-provoking long after I read it.
That’s it, with the exception of two Honorable Mentions, both in the realm of political satire. First is Dumpty, a trifle of a book of satirical poems about a certain president; the audiobook is a must, as it is narrated by the author, none other than John Lithgow. The second is The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks against the United States by Jeffrey Lewis. I wouldn’t have thought a book about nuclear attacks could be funny, but it was.