The past few years, I read about a hundred books and it made for a nice round number to post about. This year I didn't quite get to 100 -- I'd blame being married, but the data doesn't support it -- it's the first half of the year, before I got married, that I read relatively little. I got to 80 books, but even the 80 involves a fair bit of cheating because a couple of handfuls are cookbooks, and do cookbooks really count as reading? And as I browse the list, I realize there's another five or ten that I remember so little about that I'm questioning whether I actually read them, or I took them out of the library, read a few pages, brought them back, and threw them on the list anyway, just to count them for numbers' sake. If I'm "reading" for the purpose of saying I've read a hundred books in a year instead of reading because I actually want to be reading, then I'm really just fooling myself.
So I'm not going to list all 80 books I "read," because it's meaningless for me to do so. Instead, let me try it this way:
Best Novel I Read In 2009:
How I Became a Famous Novelist, by Steve Hely. This is also the only novel I read in 2009, although that's not by design. The book got great press when it came out, Hely's a funny writer, and I think it's a really solid piece of work. The book is the fake memoir of a guy who's a couple of years out of college, has a job ghostwriting college essays for rich kids, and decides he wants to become a bestselling novelist (in order to impress a girl). So he tries to write the most by-the-numbers bestseller he can, and he succeeds. And then the book decides it needs a plot, and, hey, plot sucks and that's why I don't read novels. I'm half-serious. For me, what worked about this book is when he's satirizing the publishing world-- his fake New York Times bestseller list is very funny, the whole first half of the book is filled with observations and situations that are very funny and that resonated with my own experiences with Anonymous Lawyer. What worked less well for me was what works less well for me in my own writing-- at some point, the book becomes more about the misadventures of the main character than about the satire. It has to, to be a novel, I know. As a reader, I was just less interested in whether the guy ends up impressing the girl than what Steve Hely the smart and funny writer had to say about publishing. But that's why I don't read novels. I will say, though-- this book justifiably did well, I expect in part because there's enough in there to satisfy a reader like me, and there's also enough to satisfy people who go into it wanting to read an actual novel. I absolutely recommend the book.
Best Memoir, Baseball Division:
Odd Man Out, by Matt McCarthy. A minor league baseball player (who's now a doctor) wrote a memoir of his time in the Angels' minor league system. A nice read, spoiled by my after-the-fact Googling that brought me to a ton of articles saying he exaggerated quite a bit of it. If you're into baseball books, you will probably enjoy it.
Best Memoir, Non-Baseball Division:
American Parent, by Sam Apple. Apple's journey as he becomes a first-time parent. It's somewhere between a memoir, a piece of long-form journalism, and a satire of the modern baby industry. He explores midwifery and birth coaches and doulas and all sorts of things I know little about. He's a funny writer, and he keeps everything very personal-- by the end of the book, you feel like you know him-- which is what kept me reading, more than the stories about stroller purchasing. I am surprised the book seems to have basically gone ignored, at least if Amazon reviews are a measure of anything. It deserves better.
Best Books About Things People Do With The Internet:
Say Everything, by Scott Rosenberg. And Then There's This by Bill Wasik. I wrote about Wasik's book here and Rosenberg's book here. Wasik's is about how ideas spread virally. Rosenberg's is about the history of blogging. These were two of my favorite books of the year, which might mean I am too interested in reading about things people do with the Internet. If you are interested in reading about things people do with the Internet, you will enjoy these books.
Runner-Up in the Books About Things People Do With The Internet category:
The Accidental Billionaires, by Ben Mezrich, about Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg and everyone who's suing him-- which I don't so much recommend, but here's a link to what I wrote after I read it.
Best Book About A Subject I Thought Would Be Too Boring To Read A Book About:
The Book of William, by Paul Collins. I wrote nice things about it here. Crazy enough, when looking back through the 80 books I read this year, this one ends up #1. There is not a book I enjoyed more than this book. So check it out.
Best Food Book:
Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan. I like David Chang's restaurants. A friend took me to the original Momofuku not long after it opened, said the ramen was awesome. I went back three or four times that summer. I've been to Momofuku Ssam Bar a few times. I haven't been to Momofuku Ko (out of my price range) and haven't yet tried the new Momofuku spin-off in midtown. The cookbook is terrific-- more stories and history and text than most cookbooks (which I like), very compelling, very well-written (Meehan's a New York Times food writer). And the recipes I've tried all work-- did a bunch of quick-pickling, which I never realized was so easy. Made his ginger-scallion sauce. Made fish sauce vinaigrette. Will make more things from the book eventually. Nice pictures too.
Some other food books I read, with brief notes (I'm calling the category food books instead of cookbooks, because it's a mixed bag-- I read some books about food with no recipes, and some books that were just regular cookbooks-- even though "food books" makes me sound illiterate):
The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz-- it's a nice narrative about living (and eating) in Paris, peppered with interesting recipes, none of which I made before giving the book back to the library (but most of them made me hungry). Born Round by Frank Bruni-- much anticipated, but I thought it was too much about Bruni's struggle with his weight and not enough about his time as restaurant critic. The Face on Your Plate by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, which makes a case for vegetarianism, good read but I still eat meat.
Best Doctor Book I Read:
Hospital by Julie Salomon -- Match Day by Brian Eule -- Blue Collar, Blue Scrubs by Michael J. Collins -- Patient by Patient by Emily Transue. The doctor books I read this year all blurred together a bit. These were all fine books. I probably exhausted the category in 2008, when I read 12 medical books. I find this stuff really interesting (and more and more so as I hear my wife's stories from residency). There is a great book yet to be written about residency (and it's not House of God, which is 30 years old and wasn't my cup of tea).
Best Social Science Book:
How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. I blogged about it here. I've written too many posts where I say I've read too many books in this category. I know all the social science research anyone needs to know. I should stop reading these books. This one's good though.