As a book reviewer, I come across a lot of books. Add to that the fact that I work in a library and one can see how many books of all kinds I am exposed to. While this exposure certainly has its advantages and benefits, it also makes it necessary to not read books I want to read, only because of time. In addition, it makes it difficult to choose a limited number to recommend to others. Nonetheless, here is a list of books I have read over the past couple years that I can honestly say I would give to friends and family as gifts.
Insect Dreams by Marc Estrin--A clever and funny tale about Kafka's beetle Gregor Samsa and the world of the 20th century. This latter subject ultimately turns the humor in this story into tragedy, which transforms it from just a good work of fiction into a classic one.
Subterranean Fire by Sharon Smith--This history of labor's struggle for economic justice in the United States is a necessary and hopeful read for those who earn a wage in these times of economic uncertainty.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak--Nominally a work written for the young adult market, this work unveils the emotional horrors of war and oppression while simultaneously celebrating the everyday beauty found in human existence. It is about the casualties that the masters of war ignore.
The Scar of David by Susan Abulhawa--The beauty in this story is not in its few moments of joy and happiness or its even rarer moments of hope. No, the beauty lies in the stories of a people determined not to die. In a young girl’s belief in family and friends. This story is a story of Palestine. The writing here echoes the finest couplets of Gibran and Rumi.
People's History of Sports in the United States--Dave Zirin has composed a wonderfully written, well-researched, and very readable story of US sport and its meaning to the oppressed and those who fight with them against the rulers. Like any sports book, there are stories of glory and prowess. This book is about the playing field and its role in the struggle for freedom and equal rights. It is about the rulers attempts to keep sport safely in the realm of nationalism and the status quo and the struggle of some athletes to make their efforts much more than that. Zirin makes it clear that it is a also a history that continues to be written.
Where the Wind Blew by Bob Sommer--Sommers' novel is an emotionally taut tale. Like the strings on his old girlfriend's cello, the story is tuned perfectly. One twist of the pegs to the left or right would make the story less than what it is--either too flat or mere melodrama. Where the Wind Blew is an intelligent and sensitive treatment of a time when the apocalypse was always just around the corner.
Born Under a Bad Sky by Jeffrey St. Clair--Most of the book is made up of hard-hitting articles regrading the destruction of the environment and exposes of those determined to continue that destruction. The jewel of the book lies in the last 116 pages of narrative. Titled "The Beautiful and the Damned," this section is St. Clair's beautifully rendered tale of a trip down some of the US West's best known rivers. Seemingly inspired by Hunter S. Thompson, Aldo Leopold and the sheer beauty of the natural surroundings it describes, "The Beautiful and the Damned" does more than end Born Under a Bad Sky with a flourish, it conveys it into the genuinely sublime.