Figured I'd summarize my year in reading and recommend some books. My records (uh, I mean the thing in the sidebar that says what I'm reading, and that I try to remember to update every time I finish a book) tell me I read 69 books this year. A little lower than the 80 last year, but I'm reasonably happy with the number.
After watching the documentary Inside Job, I decided I didn't know quite enough about what caused the economy to burst into flames two years ago. Since then, I've read John Lanchester's I.O.U. and Nouriel Roubini's Crisis Economics, which I've found to be excellent and fully frightening explanations. I'd probably recommend Lanchester's first, as much for the writing as for the content. It's really quite worthwhile, and gets a spot in my favorites of the year.
Tom Grimes's book Mentor, which I blogged about here -- also gets a spot in my favorites list. A friend who read the book after I blogged about it wrote to me, "Mesmerizing, though I found myself perversely wondering whether a writer would think experiencing a period of insanity was a price worth paying for having produced three published books." So that should give you a sense of what it's about.
Also in the memoir category, I enjoyed Josh Kilmer-Purcell's The Bucolic Plague, a book sort of about two city people who buy a farm upstate and have to learn how to be farmers, but really about how to turn your life into a business. This review does a nice job summarizing. Josh -- a writer with a day job in advertising -- and his boyfriend Brent -- a doctor with an MBA -- buy a farm and start a blog and then a business and basically go from ambitious, busy people in Manhattan to ambitious, busy people living in a farm house. They also turned the experience into a TV show on Planet Green, which I stumbled onto one evening and that's how I found the book. I think it's a business book, more than anything else. You want to make money? Find a unique marketing hook-- and make yourself a brand.
And at the intersection of memoir and food, also one of my favorites of the year -- Michelle Maisto's The Gastronomy of Marriage, a gentle book about a couple sharing their lives and their meals. Stumbled across it on the new books shelf at the library and was glad to have found it.
Other food-related books I read and enjoyed -- Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals (although if you've read Michael Pollan, most of what's here will not be new to you), Melanie Rehak's Eating for Beginners (a writer and mother trains in a Park Slope restaurant kitchen, visits farmers, and, again, explores a lot of the same Michael Pollan territory -- but enjoyably), and Eric LeMay's Immortal Milk, which will make you want to eat a lot of cheese.
Enjoyed Mike Birbiglia's Sleepwalk With Me, although if you've seen him do stand-up, you've heard a lot of what's on the page. If you have not seen him do stand-up, I give the book a huge recommendation. He's funny-- and I expect will only get more and more well-known over the next few years.
I read two books this year by Gregory Levey -- he's only written two books, so I guess that would make me a fan. First, I read his memoir about working as a speechwriter in the Israeli government, called Shut Up, I'm Talking. I read that one before I went on vacation to Israel. And then when I got back, I saw he had a new one -- How To Make Peace in Six Months Or Less Without Leaving Your Apartment -- an amusing look at the Middle East peace process. I'd recommend the first book. It's a solid read. Not that the second is a bad book. But start with the first one.
Also in the broad category of "Things I Read Because I Went On Vacation To Israel," Martin van Creveld's book, The Land of Blood and Honey: The Rise of Modern Israel. I scoured the shelves (and the virtual shelves) for one book that could give me a good understanding of Israeli history and the present-day political situation. I think I ended up picking a good one. I enjoyed it more than I expected to.
In the social-science category -- Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus, about how we (collectively) could make 100 Wikipedias a year with the time we spend watching TV: excellent. Dan Ariely's The Upside of Irrationality -- a nice follow-up to his very readable previous book. Of the economists-writing-books, he's one of the better ones. Also enjoyed Click: The Magic of Instant Connections, by Ori and Rom Brafman, and Create Your Own Economy by Tyler Cowen.
Also -- Guy Deutscher's Through The Looking Glass, about how language shapes our understanding of the world. The ideas in the book are perhaps more interesting than the book itself, but I've probably brought this book up in conversation more than anything else I've read all year.
Finally, Ken Auletta's book about Google (Googled: The End of the World As We Know It), Simon Rich's novel Elliot Allagash (funny, but his two books of short humor pieces are the ones I'd recommend first -- and extremely highly), and Will Leitch's book about baseball and his father, Are We Winning?, are all recommended reads.