By Rube Ambler
You’d think we’d have Yankee Rose write this one, but I decided to jump in with my list (she did help me make it better though). Lots of these lists, including this one and the other one we recently published are called “best of”. It may be a little too much to point out that this is an entirely subjective process and this post probably should be called “Rube Ambler’s Favorite Books That He Actually Read in the Last 10 Years or So.” But it’s not. Just so you know. Like Alex’s best of the decade record selections, these are in no particular order, well, except for the first one.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Riverhead 2007)
As a fan of Junot Diaz’s first collection of stories, Drown, our greatest regret about Oscar Wao is that we didn’t read it the moment it came out. This 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner is one of best books I have ever read. The tale of the Dominican fanboy growing up in New Jersey as told by his relatively more worldly amigo transcends any single experience by magically morphing so many influences: high art, low art, immigrant culture, American culture. It simply speaks. And it does so with a voice and authenticity that may be matched only by the great masters of American fiction. It influenced one of my personal favorite posts on this little blog too. I will read this book again and again…if only to zafa the fuku.
The Final Solution: A Story of Detection (P.S.) by Michael Chabon (Fourth Estate 2004)
The author is brilliant, but of course the Pulitzer committee already noted that for us. This is the book of his that we recommend most often because it is both fairly short and possesses what we consider to be one of the hallmarks of great writing – the great chapter. In this volume it’s chapter eight (see also chapter 4 of The Grapes of Wrath or chapter 13 of For Whom the Bell Tolls). Oh yeah, the book is about an octogenarian Sherlock Holmes, a parrot, and a mystery of course.
His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph Ellis (Knopf 2004)
Joseph Ellis is among those great contemporary historians who have revived interest in the men of the American Revolution. George Washington is the subject of thousands of biographies and studies, yet Ellis manages to deliver a valuable perspective on the man whose stature remains unmatched in our history. Ellis makes it easy to marvel in the man’s physical constitution (surviving frigid winters in Western Pennsylvania), his good fortune (surviving massacres of his ranks on that same western frontier) and almost silently presiding over the Continental Congress by his mere presence. If you’ve never taken the time to study the great man, start with this volume.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (Penguin Press 2004)
His ignominious death at the wrong end of a dueling pistol, long relegated Hamilton to the second tier of revolutionary figures. In the hands of Ron Chernow, a well-regarded biographer of great capitalists like J.P. Morgan & J.D. Rockefeller, popular interest in this brilliant if flawed father of the great American economy was resurrected.
Empire Falls by Richard Russo (Knopf 2001)
As the native of a small northeastern town, Richard Russo’s tale of the decline of a town and its people struck me quite directly. The beautiful storytelling and the dramatic turning point (which honestly caught me by surprise) made this book a deserving winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize.
Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen (Perfection Learning 2005)
Not all of my favorite books have won prizes. I first read Hiaasen more than a decade ago and to be honest it didn’t stick. I don’t even remember which title it was. I gave him another chance in the double aughts and I am glad I did. Skinny Dip has all the elements of a fun summer read: attempted homicide, bumbling criminals, and even cross generational romance. Any of his other adult mysteries are also worth sticking in a beach bag for a good time in the sand.
Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis (Harper 2007)
A thorough and intriguing biography of the greatest cartoonist of all. I have more volumes by Charles Schulz than any other author – all paperback editions of collected strips preserved from my childhood. This aptly titled books explains how Schultz and Peanuts transcended all around them and became icons of the 20th century.
All The Broken Pieces – Ann Burg (Scholastic 2009)
This free verse young adult novel is without peer. Compelling enough to be read in a single sitting and sincere enough to prompt this author to write about it as soon as he finished. Certainly one of our favorites of 2009.
Joe DiMaggio : The Hero’s Life by Richard Ben Cramer (Simon & Schuster 2000)
A fascinating portrait of a mythic American who was immensely talented, enormously popular, and yet strangely sad too. Cramer’s coverage of Joltin’ Joe’s professional career and post-career personal life stand up equally alongside the reason many bought the book: insights into Joe’s life with Marilyn.
Yankee Rose made us read this one and we’re glad she did. She said all that you need to know when she reviewed it earlier this year, but there is so much more that can be said. This is a remarkable work filled with compassion, humor, and real insight into life in a world dramatically different that ours but seeking (or at least espousing) similar principles. It works as a simple story but it won the Man Booker Prize because it transcends that framework to provide real commentary on life in a massive modern developing country.
You Suck: A Love Story by Christopher Moore (Harper Collins 2004)
Finally, we couldn’t get out of here without a nod to A-List favorite, Christopher Moore. While his finest works (Coyote Blue, Lust Lizard of Meloncholy Cove) were published in the 1990s, he did hit the mark more than once in the latter years of decade. You Suck heralded a return to form for Mr. Moore and was recognized as such my sources more credible than me. Christopher Moore was onto the vampire thing way before it was cool (which I guess it is now) with his twisted perspective on reality and typical sense of humor. If this is the first Christopher Moore book you read, you will surely want to go find Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story to find out how you got here and will anxiously await (like me) the release of Bite Me: A Love Story this spring.
That’s all I’ve got kids. I think there may be more than 10 in there but you might want to go back and check. Maybe Yankee Rose will throw something in the comment box if she disagrees. You can feel free to do so too.