Friday, January 3, 2014

My favorites books: 2013 edition

Looking for a book to start the new year? Here are some of my 2013 favorites. You’ll notice they include an over-representation of New York-centered works. This was not planned. Maybe the Big Apple is just a good place to set a story.

A book that makes you feel weird about your smart phone: “Super Sad True Love Story” by Gary Shteyngart. 

In this dark, comic novel set in near-future New York, America is run by mega-conglomerates with names like LandO’LakesGMFordCredit. Also, everyone carries smart phone-like devices called “apparats” that can rate a person’s hotness and credit-worthiness. Published in 2010, it’s fiction that’s predicting the future pretty accurately. 

Another book that makes you feel weird about your smart phone: “Steve Jobs” by Walter Issacson.

Issacson captures Jobs’ quirks and complexity – bizarre eating habits, aversion to deodorant, selfishness – while illuminating his genius for making products that have transformed the way we live. 

Worth all 1,300 pages: “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York,” by Robert Caro.

I knew zilch about Moses until I read this 1974 Pulitzer Prize winner. Now I know that he shaped 20th-century New York, for better and worse, without ever holding elected office. Caro’s tenacious reporting and research left me awed. You won’t find a finer study of power and its uses. 

Tensest scene ever involving soda bread: “Someone” by Alice McDermott. 

Well-chosen details elevate this story of an ordinary Brooklyn girl named Marie. In the author’s skilled hands, small scenes of daily life – young Marie balking when her mom assigns her to make the family’s soda bread – pulse with drama and import.

Revisiting the 1970s: “Let the Great World Spin” by Colum McCann. 

This 2009 National Book Award winner for fiction weaves disparate characters – a Catholic priest, mother-daughter prostitutes, a Park Avenue housewife – into a rich, sprawling portrait of New York in the early 1970s. 

Makes you thankful for airport security: “The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking” by Brendan Koerner.

In a five-year period starting in 1968, hijackers began seizing U.S. commercial jets at a rate of nearly once a week. Koerner tells the riveting tale of the longest-distance hijacking in American history, set in an era when airlines would rather have a plane hijacked than inconvenience passengers with pesky metal detectors.