Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Obligatory Best Books of 2007 List: Nonfiction

1. 1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina by Chris Rose
A couple of year ago my friend, Pat Woolf, introduced me to Chris Rose's post-Katrina columns in the Times-Picayune, and I became an avid reader. This compilation of columns on life in the Big Uneasy, the oddly funny, the gut-wrenchingly sad, and the too twisted for color television, is far and away the best book I read this year. A couple of months ago, Rose was invited to appear on Oprah for her Katrina anniversary show. Problem was, they only wanted him to talk about his experience with PTSD and depression; he was explicitly forbidden from mentioning his book, which had been released the week before. Clearly, I do not have Oprah's hit-making track record with book recommendations, but if she wouldn't do it, I feel obligated to say my little bit on Rose's behalf.

2. The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neil's America by Joe Posnanski

I heard my boss talk about this book during a program at the liberry, and I think he summed it up best. So, to paraphrase him, Buck O'Neil was such a big-hearted and charming man that he's often idealized. Posnanski presents a realistic O'Neil, a man who sometimes gets tired and cranky, who wishes he'd been a better husband. However, by taking him down from the pedestal, O'Neil becomes even more admirable -- an extraordinary human being, not just a baseball figurehead. Two hundred pages isn't nearly enough time to spend with him.

3. The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption by Barbara Bisantz Raymond
This unbelievable true story of a woman who kidnapped poor children from their families, and sold them to wealthy adoptive families, and whose monstrous legacy impacts U.S. adoptees to this day had me gasping (and cussing) within the first five pages.

4. Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal by Ben Macintyre
Another unbelievable and shocking account, Eddie Chapman's adventures as a double agent for MI-5 during World War II read like something straight out of a Ken Follett spy novel.

5. Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles, 1910-1939 by Katie Roiphe

Roiphe's highly readable account of seven literary marriages shows how very unconventional people made a go of a very traditional institution. And how H.G. Wells was not going to win any husband of the year awards.

6. Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande
The always engaging and frank Gawande turns in another stellar collection of essays. Whether you're a medical professional or a patient, it's impossible to come away from one of his pieces without a more thoughtful, nuanced perception of health care.

7. Petal Pusher: A Rock and Roll Cinderella Story by Laurie Lindeen
Lindeen's story of paying her dues big time in a band that only achieved mid-level success is funny, touching, and many cuts above the average rock and roll memoir.

8. Ask a Mexican: Everything You Wanted to Know About Mexicans but Were Too Politically Correct to Ask by Gustavo Arellano

While the premise of Arellano's popular syndicated column may seem, um, wrong, this collection is consistently entertaining, well-informed, and appropriately wise-assed. Whether he's dealing with xenophobic Minutemen, well-meaning gringos, or confused third generation Latinos, Arellano spins even the most offensive, empty-headed questions into cultural studies gold in 500 words or less.

9. Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield

In 1997, Sheffield's wife, Renee, died of a pulmonary embolism at the age of 31. Sheffield reflects on her life, and the music that brought them together in this incredibly sad and sweet memoir.

10. The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting by Jim Walsh
Walsh goes the extra mile to create an account that perfectly captures the messed up, drunken angel spirit of the 'Mats, even though fans probably would have gobbled up any old thing.


Linda said...

Hi Mary,

I'm especially interested in one book you list -- The Baby Thief -- since I'm adopted. Sounds like a fascinating read. Also am jotting down on my To Read list numbers 2 & 4. Thanks for the recommendations!

One of my best nonfiction reads this past year was "The Power of Yin: Celebrating Female Consciousness" by Hazel Henderson, Jean Houston & Barbara Marx Hubbard, three influential feminist philosophers. I enjoyed it immensely. I loved reading how these accomplished women have shown intellectual, spiritual and cultural leadership, something many of our male leaders are sorely missing, unfortunately. It inspired me that there are still people who have a great vision for the world now and into the future.

If you're interested, you can read an excerpt from it.

Happy Reading in 2008,

Linda said...

Oops, looks like I didn't do the link properly. I'm not a tech-ie person.

Here's the website if you want to learn more about the book:


Nathan said...

Just finished Ask a Mexican and am working on the Replacements bio. Good recommendations, as always. In particular, the Ask a Mexican entry about how the author was saved from life on the streets by a giant stash of porn was very inspirational.

Nathan said...

ok, just finished the 'mats book, swearing I wouldn't cry at the end. But I did. poor Bob.

On a sidenote: who would have thought Peter Buck was suck a badass rockstar, gettin' in fights and shit?