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Feature Thu Dec 28 2006
We asked you to tell us what books you enjoyed reading most in 2006, and you answered. Here is a list of Gapers Block readers' favorite reads this year. It includes new books and classics, fiction and nonfiction, and may give other readers some ideas for what to read in 2007.
Thanks to everyone who contributed. If you would still like to contribute, add your favorite book read in 2006 in the comments.
Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
Very sarcastic, cynical chef's expose of the restaurant industry. Very funny if you like dark, dry humor, and clearly written by a food lover — if you're one of those seeking a soulmate.
Mark Dunn, Ibid: A Novel
This novel is allegedly the footnotes from a lost biography. It was witty, but not too clever. Kudos to the author for pulling off a pretty good novel with an interesting format to boot.
Temple Grandin, Animals in Translation
A new book by one of my favorite authors. Grandin is a highly functioning autistic woman who has become a champion of ethical treatment of animals raised for food. Her practical humane approach to this industry is a model for our society which prefers not to know where their food came from, and her lack of pretense, which she credits to autism, gives her a refreshing and inspiring modesty and practicality.
Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
This book was interesting and fun. It's also one of those books to which I refer in conversation all the time. It's a quick read and it gets you into the circle of people who refer to why drug dealers live at home and the importance (or lack thereof) of school choice.
Sinclair Lewis, Babbit
With wit and irony, and efficient writing, Lewis skewers the business class values of the 1920s — values that seem to have changed little over the last 80 years. Still, Lewis manages to make the main character sympathetic, and forces readers to think hard about the mainstream ideals of American culture.
Steve Martin, Shopgirl
A very sweet, incredibly well-written short novel about delicate souls caught up in the strange world of southern California. The characters were recognizable and sympathetic, and the author's loving treatment of his heroine really surprised me. I expected this book, because of its author, to be funny, but not as tender and engrossing as it was.
James Meek, The People's Act of Love
My favorite book of 2006 is James Meek's The People's Act of Love. Meek's novel is a stunning achievement, one with a broad epic sweep which still manages to convey the small but telling details of people's everyday lives. It's an unforgettable story of love, suspense and war which asks big philosophical questions which are, ambiguously and intriguingly, only partially answered. A truly great book.
Flannery O'Connor, Wise Blood
I had a difficult time choosing among Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March, Nelson Algren's Man With the Golden Arm or Wise Blood. Augie March, Frankie Machine and Hazel Motes are all unforgettable characters, and reading each of these works reminded me why the classics are classic. But, Wise Blood wins in the end, because I am certain I will never forget the story of Hazel Motes, a troubled young man in a preacher's hat, haunted by the ragged figure of Jesus moving from tree to tree in the back of his mind, who blinds himself in order to see. Wise Blood is both disturbing and darkly funny, and Flannery O'Connor's language is original and powerful.
Curtis Sittenfeld, Prep
Whenever I think about the best book I read this year, Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep is the one that comes to mind. I didn’t expect to love the book quite so much, especially since it was so well received when it first came out, but the coming of age story of a teenaged Lee Fiora trying to find herself within the melodramatic walls of a boarding prep school turned out to be surprisingly insightful. It isn’t that Lee isn’t a smart girl or is entirely gauche, but she’s constantly second guessing herself and wondering whether she merits any attention instead of standing up and making herself known. Lee’s the kind of person I never want to be, but have always been afraid I really am. I truly hope book weathers the years and becomes one in which, a century from now, people are still able to see themselves.
Robert Sullivan, Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants
I hold this book in high esteem for its inception and topic more than its execution. After all, the entire book is a tangent about rats. Sullivan began his layperson's examination of our oft-maligned neighbors after finding an Audubon painting of rats stealing an egg. Rather than quickly turning to the next illustration, he became engrossed in the subject. The result is a series of late-night observations of rats, interviews with exterminators, and chronicles of unusual experiences. While there are passages that I wish were more descriptive or more critical, Rats ultimately provides the reader with a fascinating glimpse of another stratum of urban life.
Sarah Vowell, Assassination Vacation
Great for history buffs and anyone with an offbeat obsession. Vowell is really into presidential assassinations, and this book follows her travels to various museums and historical markers tracking these events. Sound super-boring and self-involved? It's not.