Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Books Read in 2009

Last January I started to keep track of the books I read and in 2009 I surprised myself by reading more than I thought. Somehow, in the reading times squeezed in before falling asleep in mid-chapter in my cozy bed, while waiting for children to emerge from soccer practice and the few decadent days in which I devoured a whole book because I simply had to (and one day when I had a major head cold), I managed to read 71 really good books.

2009 was my Year of the Italian Mystery. I plunged into Donna Leon's excellent Venetian mystery series featuring the philosophical Guido Brunetti and finished the year by discovering the late Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen series, featuring another Venetian-born, but peripatetic, Italian police detective. Brunetti is grounded by his morality, his learned wife, interesting children and aristocratic in-laws. Each Leon novel explores a different social issue, from illegal immigration to environmental pollution. Dibdin's detective is a more complicated, existential guy who wanders the Italian peninsula in various police roles, dodging the Mafia, his mother, his lady friends, and demanding bosses. Some of the Zen novels are comic farces, while others remain as hard-boiled as a 20-minute egg.

I attempted to join a few Reading Challenges to expand my predilection for mysteries, and was able to complete one, a Books About Food Challenge, in which I read and reviewed 4 non-fiction books about food, including titles about absinthe, chili, Jordanian-American food and Vietnamese-American food. My intentions to complete the Science Books Challenge were well-intentioned, and I did read and review two very interesting natural history books about ravens and extinct deer for this challenge, but while I did read several other science books, I just never got around to posting a blog review, so this challenge remained incomplete. My self-dictated intent to read more classic literature also went by the wayside in 2009, as only Willa Cather's "O Pioneers" made it to the top of my reading pile.

I did have some fun with an online book club that two other bloggers and I started, the Cook the Books Club. To date, our little band has read seven different novels, children's books, memoirs and other books about cooking and food and every other month we have a roundup of participants' blog reviews and dishes inspired by our reading. We have been fortunate to have many of our featured authors serve as guest judges for our friendly competition to snatch the coveted Cook the Books winner badge for our blogs and it has been a great deal of fun.

I also notice that I have done a great deal of armchair travel in the last year. Aside from traveling around the Italian city-states with Dibdin and Leon, I explored 19th century San Francisco and China, backpacked around various geographic outposts, hit several Caribbean islands, and wandered around Japan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ireland, 1960s-70s Czechoslovakia, Mexico City, Mount Everest, France, and New York City in various eras.

Here's the complete list of what I read in 2009:

The Language of Baklava: A Memoir, by Diana Abu-Jaber

Ravens in Winter, by Bernd Heinrich

A Noble Radiance, by Donna Leon

Fatal Remedies, by Donna Leon

Friends in High Places, by Donna Leon

Wilful Behaviour, by Donna Leon

Sea of Troubles, by Donna Leon

Uniform Justice, by Donna Leon

Doctored Evidence, by Donna Leon

Suffer the Children, by Donna Leon

Through a Glass Darkly, by Donna Leon

Blood from a Stone by Donna Leon

Crazy in the Kitchen: Foods, Feuds, and Forgiveness in an Italian American Family, by Louise DeSalvo

The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in San Francisco, by Marilyn Chase

A Bowl of Red by Frank X. Tolbert

Absinthe: Sip of Seduction: A Contemporary Guide, by Betina J. Wittels and Robert Hermesch

Stealing Buddha's Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen

Boswell's Clap and Other Essays: Medical Analyses of Literary Men's Afflictions, by Dr. William B. Ober

Untangling my Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto, by Victoria Abbott Riccardi

Does This Mean You'll See Me Naked? by Robert Webster

A Rotten Person Travels the Caribbean, by Gary Buslik

The Extinction Club, by Robert Twigger

Marco Polo Didn't Go There, by Rolf Potts

Finding Ireland: A Poet's Explorations of Irish Literature and Culture, by Richard Tillinghast

A Rotten Person Travels the Caribbean, by Gary Buslik

The Epicure's Lament, by Kate Christensen

A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict, by John Baxter

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

World of Pies, by Karen Stolz

The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, by Sven Birkerts

The Twelve Little Cakes, by Dominika Dery

Evolution of Vertebrate Design, by Leonard B. Radinsky

In the Company of the Courtesan, by Sarah Dunant

The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge

The Last Chinese Chef, by Nicole Mones

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time, by Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin

The Food Taster, by Peter Elbling

Heat, by Bill Buford

No Touch Monkey! And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late, by Ayun Halliday

The Sunday Tertulia, by Lori Marie Carlson

Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants, by Robert Sullivan

Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress, by Debra Ginsberg

Why We Hurt: The Natural History of Pain, by Frank T. Vertosick, Jr., M.D.

Why We Run: A Natural History, by Bernd Heinrich

Writing at the Kitchen Table: The Authorized Biography of Elizabeth David, by Artemis Cooper

Surviving the Extremes: A Doctor's Journey to the Limits of Human Endurance, by Kenneth Kamler, M.D.

Deceptive Clarity, by Aaron Elkins

A Glancing Light, by Aaron Elkins

Confections of a Master Closet Baker: A Memoir, by Gesine Bullock-Prado

Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love and the Search for Home, by Kim Sunee

French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew, by Peter Mayle

Braving Home: Dispatches from the Underwater Town, the Lava-Side Inn, and Other Extreme Locales, by Jake Halpern

Darwin, Then and Now: The Most Amazing Story in the History of Science, by Richard William Nelson

The Movement of the 400 Pueblos of Veracruz, by Victor Allen

The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell, by Mark Kurlansky

Ticknor, by Sheila Heti

Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America, by Ann Powers

The Death of an Ardent Bibliophile, by Bartholomew Gill

Ratking by Michael Dibdin

Vendetta, by Michael Dibdin

Cabal, by Michael Dibdin

Dead Lagoon, by Michael Dibdin

Cosi Fan Tutti, by Michael Dibdin

A Long Finish, by Michael Dibdin

Blood Rain, by Michael Dibdin

And Then You Die, by Michael Dibdin

A Taste for Adventure: A Culinary Odyssey Around the World, by Anik See

Walking a Literary Labyrinth: A Spirituality of Reading, by Nancy M. Malone

Arthur & George, by Julian Barnes

Ex-Libris, by Ross King

If I had to pick my favorite reads, I would have to say that my favorite novel would be Peter Elbling's "The Food Taster", an earthy romp through Renaissance Italy. My favorite non-fiction title was Diana Abu-Jaber's memoir "The Language of Baklava", about growing up with a Jordanian father and American mother around snowy Syracuse in the 1960s-70s.