Monthly Archives: November 2008

NYT ’08 Notable List

It’s that time of year, for one of my favorite book round-ups. The New York Times has published its annual “100 Notable Books of 2008.”

New York Times

Credit: New York Times

I’ve only read a couple this year, but do think that The Night of the Gun by David Carr earned its spot. I was less impressed with Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill. After reading a glowing write-up, I had high expectations, but wasn’t as impressed as the reviewer. Once in paperback, it will do well as a book club read, but I wouldn’t put it at the top of my 2008 list.

At the front of my queue from the rest of the NYT picks – Nonfiction: American Lion, Factory Girls, Hot Flat & Crowded.        Fiction: American Wife, Beijing Coma, A Mercy.

We’ll see soon which ones made the Top 10!

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Disappointed

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest pop sociology book, Outliers, did not live up to the promise of its subhead: “The Story of Success.” As always with Gladwell, the tidbits of little publicized studies (e.g. the cultural reason for the excessive Korean Air plane crashes) and psychological tests (e.g. the impact of calling a Southern guy vs. New Englander an “asshole” on his way into a classroom study) were fascinating in their own right, the perfect fodder for cocktail chat. MGladwell But, as has been the worsening trend with his trio of books, Gladwell simply doesn’t connect the social observations in a convincing – or useful – thesis.

While I still stand by The Tipping Point as an essentiel read for anyone in PR or marketing, Outliers felt like a lazy attempt. It was formulaic (and as a result will likely become a bestseller on the merit of the author’s past success),  oftentimes condescending and surprisingly simplistic, especially in its generalizations on wealth and race. 

For now, I’m sticking to my new favorite columnists, Chip and Dan Heath, whose book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die is on my short list. For a taste of their insight, check out their column in Fast Company.

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A new favorite travel writer…

While there are plenty of travelogues and adventure-driven memoirs out there, it’s hard to find those that combine fine writing, sincerity and a truly engaging story.  Rosemary Mahoney has succeeded in getting my attention, and I expect she’ll keep it.

nileI recently reviewed Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff and can’t wait to dig in to some of Mahoney’s previous books… like The Singular Pilgrim: Travels on Sacred Ground, and The Early Arrival of Years: A Year in China.

As I’ve written about before, other favorites in this genre includeTales of a Female Nomad, by Rita Golden Gelman, and Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan, by Jamie Zeppa. Strong women willing to take a chance with the unknown. Honest storytelling. Unexpected adventures.

I still don’t understand all the hype about Eat Pray Love (Elizabeth Gilbert), which came across as a self-serving, contrived memoir written about an “adventure” funded by a book deal. I prefer to stick to the reflective, humble storytelling of authors like Mahoney.

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Catching Up on Some Reading

In the flurry of recent travels (from China and Japan, then back to the east coast to visit family), I have been delinquent about reviewing the books I’ve read recently. Now that I am in the middle of an absolute gem, I am compelled once again to offer up a few recommendations.  

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery (the afore-mentioned “gem”) - beautifully written, this is a sassy and smart story whose narrative toggles between 52-year old Renee (concierge in a Parisien hotel particulier) and 12-yr old Paloma (wildly intelligent resident of the building). Already popular among independent booksellers, this is a novel that is going to quickly climb the bestseller lists, especially as book clubs discover its charm.

Serena, by Ron Rash – one of my bookseller friends at RJ Julia, Kathryn Fabiani, wrote a shelftalker recommendation that spurred me to buy this novel, which is still in hardcover. The setting: 1920′s Appalachia in the midst of a huge logging operation. The drama: marriage/ mistress/ child, environment/ politics/ business. This is a book that both men and women will enjoy: fast-moving plot, straightforward writing and dialogue, and one of the most memorable female characters (Serena of course) that’s come out of recent fiction.

Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami – thanks to Greg Trotter for the perfect recommendation on superb fiction to be read in Japan. Suspend reality for a bit to really appreciate this…

Also, for anyone going to Japan, or interested in Japanese culture, a nonfiction favorite is Confucius Lives Next Door: What Living in the East Teaches Us about Living in the West, by T.R. Reid (NPR commentator and former Washington Post Tokyo bureau chief.)

Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff, by Rosemary Mahoney – Mahoney has nailed the art of travel writing. She tells her story as if sitting across from a dear friend, drinking a glass of wine (only second to curling up with a book!)  I can’t wait to backtrack and check out her previous travelogues, like The Singular Pilgrim: Travels on Sacred Ground.

Stay tuned for my review of Down the Nile in the Women’s Adventure Magazine’s November newsletter.

And now, back to Paris with Ms. Barbery as I try to distract myself from the alternating angst and excitement on election eve…

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