Friday, January 12, 2007

2001 - Best Books of the Year

The Country of the Pointed Firs and other stories, Sarah Orne Jewett.
Stories of New England, latter half of the 1800’s. Spare and clear, the colors of the sea—with that hidden depth. Lives of a decency we have too easily abandoned. 269 pages.

The Alphabet versus the Goddess: The Conflict between Word and Image, Leonard Shalin (British Museum giftshop)
Don’t know that I agree with his clear-cut dichotomy of word/linear/violent/ exclusionary vs. image/holistic/peace-loving/inclusive, but made me think. 464 pages.

The Pursuit of Paradise: A Social History of Gardens and Gardening, Jane Brown (Kew Gardens giftshop)
Lucid and enjoyably informative history of European gardens from medieval times until now. 400 pages.

The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory, Brian Greene
Clearly and engagingly written. Modern science for the general reader. 448 pages.

The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
An imaginative retelling of the life of Dinah, daughter of Leah and Jacob. The ending is a little strained, but it’s an enjoyable read. 321 pages.

Homecoming: Earthfall, Orson Scott Card (also Memory of, Call of, & Ships of Earth)
The Homecoming Series is Card’s meditation on and interpretation of the First Book of Nephi. I can’t believe I read this book. I can’t believe I liked it so well. Spiritually moving in some of the best parts. Picked it up as a bargain book in the HighSchool Pharmacy rack (along with a book called The Zarahemla Vision—a lurid whodunit based in Salt Lake City, highly objectionable (mis)use of Native Americans and those exotic Mormons for local color, but also a hoot to read). 350 pages.

Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House, Cheryl Mendelson.
I wished so hard for this book that someone finally wrote it. Keeping house is as repetitive as any powerful ritual. The drudgery comes only through inattention and confusion. This book, more than just a how-to, though excelling at that, is incredibly intelligent and thorough. 884 pages.

Jacobson’s Organ and the Remarkable Nature of Smell, Lyall Watson
Lively writing. I never knew I knew so much through smell. 255 pages.

The Secret of Platform 13, Eva Ibbotson.
I liked it better than Harry Potter—children’s fantasy. 250 pages.

Invincible Louisa, Cornelia Meigs
Eminently readable biography of Louisa May Alcott, written for children but universally readable. 256 pages.

Passage, Connie Willis
Two researchers try to find out what happens at the very end of life, foiled at almost every turn by a schmaltzy, self-promoting colleague. Casually witty and thought-provoking—this novel works its way quietly into your heart. 800 pages.

To Say Nothing of the Dog is another Willis book inadvertently left off this list in earlier years. Time travelers retrieve valuable historical objects just before they are destroyed — to avoid incongruities that would shred the space-time continuum. A comic gem. 434 pages.

Strong Poison, Gaudy Night, Busman’s Honeymoon, all three by Dorothy Sayers.
The witty Lord Peter Wimsey’s pursuit of a strong-minded woman, Harriet Vane. Wimsey is a lion-hearted fop and a keen-minded dabbler in private investigation something in the tradition of The Scarlet Pimpernel (that’s another great story, by Baroness Orczy). 272, 512, and 416 pages, respectively.

Villette, Charlotte Bronte
Villette is a sadder and more poignant book than Jane Eyre. 672 pages.

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