As always, these are books that I read this year not necessarily that were published this year.
5. The Water Knife
Think Margaret Atwood meets Michael Crichton. A scarily realistic future where the American southwest is ravaged by lack of water. Vegas mafia and California syndicates and others battle for the ultimate commodity: water.
A slow book where the first half is really only setting and characters. Several hundred pages later, the plot kicks in. But for anyone interested in prehistoric times, this is as good as it gets. Such a rad book; it’s one of my favorites of all time but it’s not higher on this list because for many it will be too slow.
Barry here presents an exploration of topics like the power of language, identity, suggestibility or privacy. There is so much to like here: great characters, fascinating world-building (the Poets!), thrilling action sequences, plot twists galore, settings ranging from the PDX airport to the Ozzy outback. Overall, it’s a book that’s too smart to be a good thriller and yet so thrilling that the thought-provoking elements fade to the background. It’s really an exception to all the rules and maybe my favorite book by Barry.
2. At Home
It should be called Bill Bryson goes on 1000 different rambling tangents. Not every chapter will speak to everyone but this is one of the most interesting books I have read in a long time. It’s filled with awesomely interesting facts, such as:
To avoid smacking into the unyielding, or being waylaid by brigands, people often secured the services of linkboys—so called because they carried torches known as links made from stout lengths of rope soaked in resin or some other combustible material—to see them home. Unfortunately, the linkboys themselves couldn’t always be trusted and sometimes led their customers into back alleys where they or their confederates relieved the hapless customers of money and silken items.
Within the animal kingdom only humans and guinea pigs are unable to synthesize vitamin C in their own bodies. Why us and guinea pigs? No point asking. Nobody knows.
Thomas Coryate, an author and traveler from the time of Shakespeare who was famous for walking huge distances—including once to India. In 1611, he produced his magnum opus, Coryate’s Crudities, in which he gave much praise to the dinner fork, which he had first encountered in Italy. The same book was also notable for introducing English readers to the Swiss folk hero William Tell and to a new device called the umbrella.
Bats are also critical to the survival in the wild of avocados, balsa, bananas, breadfruit, cashews, cloves, dates, figs, guavas, mangoes, peaches, and saguaro cactus, among others. The world has far more bats than most people realize. In fact, about a quarter of all mammal species—some eleven hundred in all—are bats.
People who drank milk in America sometimes grew delirious and swiftly died—Abraham Lincoln’s mother was one such victim—but infected milk tasted and smelled no different from ordinary milk, and no one knew what the infectious agent was. Not until well into the nineteenth century did anyone finally deduce that it came from cows grazing on a plant called white snakeroot, which was harmless to the cows but made their milk toxic to drink.
That is only a very small sampling of a most interesting book. Highly recommended.
1. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
This book for me ranks just under Kafka and Windup Bird in the Murakami canon. I think this is the most emotionally charged of all his works, as the theme of loss of friends and growing old and lonely is more universal than the suicide of close friends. (Though that crops up too, of course). Others have been less impressed, but for me the experience of reading this was superb, as I read this on a weekend visa run to Japan and finished it in an overnight Manga Cafe.