Last year about this time I posted a list of what I thought were the best books I’d read so far that year. As we pass the half-way point of this year I thought I might do it again. Of course none of you should be surprised that it’s a rather eclectic collection of books covering such subjects as the Middle East, American history, human sexuality and Islam. However, in a slight departure from my usual reading tastes, you will find not one, but three works of fiction. So, without further ado, and in no significant order, here is my list of the top ten books I’ve read so far in 2010. All these deserve a big “thumbs up”.
- The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson-Who thought a book about a cholera epidemic in 19th century London could be so interesting ? And it wasn’t just a book about cholera, it was also a book about the characteristic qualities of modern cities and the vital importance they have to the contemporary world. A superb book.
- America’s Prophet: Moses and the American Story by Bruce Feiler- An entertaining historical travelogue of America’s love affair with the great leader from the Hebrew Bible. Lots of “wow, I didn’t know that” bits of history for all to enjoy.
- The Vagrants: A Novel by Yiyun Li-If history does indeed repeat itself, Yiyun Li does a great job of portraying this phenomena in a tragic yet engaging tale populated by a host of intriguing characters.
- Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters by Omid Safi- An upbeat and optimistic book about the formative years of Islam by Safi, a Shia Muslim and Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of North Carolina. His exegesis of the Qur’an and early Muslim writings is as brilliant as it is understandable for non-academics like myself.
- Leaving Tangier: A Novel by Tahar Ben Jelloun-A well-written and well-translated tale describing the contrasting worlds of Europe and North Africa. I saw it as The Sheltering Sky in reverse.
- Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell- Can we achieve success solely on our own ? According to Gladwell, it probably isn’t possible.
- Season of Migration to the North (New Your Review of Books edition) by Tayeb Salih-A slim but powerful novel like Leaving Tangier which depicts the contrasting worlds of Europe and North Africa in addition to the complex characters found in both. The accompanying introduction to this edition is fantastic.
- The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You A Happy Birthday by Neil MacFarquhar- Not since Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem have I read such a sweeping, readable and insightful book on the Middle East.
- Bonk by Mary Roach -Sexy, funny and intelligent. Clever and scientific without the smut. Best….footnotes…..ever.
- The Devil We Know:Dealing With the New Iranian Superpower by Robert Baer-Yes it’s Baer’s personal opinion on Iran and how we should deal with that particular Middle Eastern country. And yes, depending on who you ask he could be considered an unrealistic optimist or a cynical realist. But his book is a pleasure to read. Plus it has that “insider’s perspective” quality about it. And it should-Baer is a former CIA agent.
For good, bad or otherwise, there it is. I should also mention that all ten of these books came from the public library. Plus four of those, (Leaving Tangier, Season of Migration to the North, The Vagrants and Memories of Muhammad) I’d never heard of prior to finding them on a library shelf. How many of these books will make the final cut at the end of the year for Best Books Read in 2010 is anyone’s guess. I guess we will find out in late December. That’s it for right now. Until next time, stay literate my friends…