Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Best Books of 2010

The Good Reads of 2010
Neal Lemery

Here’s a list, in no particular order, of the books I’ve really enjoyed in 2010:

Against the Stream, Noah Levine. A very easy read, taking you into the heart and soul of Buddhism. Levine has a sense of humor and his writing is seductive and enjoyable.

For The Time Being, Annie Dillard. A look into who we are as a species, and where we come from. Dillard’s superb writing is worth it, even if you may not be intrigued with her journey. But, after getting into the book, you will be hooked.

Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell. The author takes us on journeys of people who have become successes. What is it that makes some people successes and others not? It is a well written and compelling exploration. This book stays on this year’s best sellers list, too, for good reasons.

Writing to Change the World, Mary Pipher. Writing well and thoughtful does change the world, and the author inspires me to write, write, and write some more. This book inspires one to really focus on writing something meaningful.

Ethics for the New Millennium, The Dalai Lama. How should we live a life in search of truth, and to be true to ourselves? This is timely and inspiring, and much needed in this age.

Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, Tamim Ansary. This just appeared on my reading table, and appears to be much needed perspective of our world and “Western Civilization”. Probably not being reviewed in the major media channels!

Oak: The Frame of Civilization, William Bryant Logan. More than you would think. The author takes me on an intriguing journey of our historical relationship with trees and wood, and how our use of this wood really has changed our culture and our exploration of the world.

Given, Wendell Berry. More timeless and provocative poetry from one of this country’s greatest poets. Soul food for the lover of nature and good poetry.

Buddhism Is Not What You Think, Steve Hagen. A well written and captivating exploration of Buddhist thought and practice.

How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer. A fascinating exploration of the brain and decision making. We are not the completely rational and logical decision makers we might hope to be. This book is easy to burrow into and causes me to contemplate our humanness as we problem solve.

Sex at Dawn, Christopher Ryan. This is a fresh look at human sexuality and our social institutions. His thesis is provocative and interesting, and supported by a lot of sociology and anthropology.

War, Sebastian Junger. The author spends a year with American troops at a fire post in a remote and hotly contested valley in Afghanistan. This is a very good description of life for American soldiers in Afghanistan today, and is not something you would see on the evening news. I was uncomfortable reading this, because it was Real. We need to hear this voice, as it is the life of the soldiers who are lucky enough to come home.

Alaska, Walter Borneman. An in depth, but not plodding, journey through the history of Alaska and where the 49th state is today. I gained new insight into events I thought I knew about. An easy read, actually. Good stuff to know before our wildlife cruise on the Inside Passage last summer.

Pandora’s Seed, Spencer Wells. This is a fascinating book, the premise of which is that the advent of agriculture in human history was not really an advancement for humankind, as we are still dealing with the impact of the change in diet, culture, and family. This is probably one of the most important books of the year, and is worthy of more attention, and not just from those of us who enjoy biology, history and anthropology.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, Mary Ann Shaffer. I finally got around to reading this book, after several years on the best seller list. A delightful and intriguing book, with an engaging writing style. Despite being set in the German occupied British island during World War II, this book has a wealth of interesting and beloved characters.

Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion. Superbly written, this is a journey of a well known author who nearly loses her daughter and loses her husband in a tumultuous year. Some of the best writing of my year in books.

Stones Into Schools, Greg Mortensen. The sequel to Three Cups of Tea. I learn more about how one American is changing the Hindu Kush and Central Asian life by working with local people to build schools, educate children, and really change the world. He’s certainly not the Ugly American!

God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchins. A well educated and thoughtful agnostic takes a hard look at organized religion throughout the last 2000 years, and offers much food for thought to the spiritually inquisitive.

Jesus, Interrupted, Bart Ehrman. This theologian and historian takes a much needed examination of modern Christianity and its theological sources. He challenges a lot of current thinking and viewpoints.

New York, Edward Rutherford. An intriguing look at the social and economic history of New York from the time Henry Hudson sailed into New York harbor, written from the perspective of family members living there over the last 400 years. This was enjoyable and informative, giving me a new approach to thinking about life in the Big Apple.

The Grand Design, by Steven Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. Quantum physics may not be your passion, but this is really a great book, and is not a daunting task for those of us who don’t have our Ph.D.s from MIT. This is very readable, and explores the likelihood of ten dimensions, and that neither time nor gravity is a constant in all dimensions. The best brain stretcher of the year, by far.

Valentines, by Ted Kooser, former poet laureate of the United States. This is a delight, and a great collection of poems that will provoke your thinking, challenge your awareness of what may be the “simple things” in life. I want to go to Lincoln, Nebraska just to sit in his class and hear him read a poem.

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Eckhart Tolle. This excellent spiritual roadmap was written in 1999. I’ve just discovered it, and it offers a treasure of insight and challenging thoughts to all of us on our spiritual journeys.

Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds, Lyanda Lynn Haupt. This talented writer looks outside her window in Seattle and shares the beauty and wonder of nature. Her essays are provocative and magical, and makes me take a fresh look at what goes on in my backyard.

The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine, Matthew Fox. The writer takes me on a journey deep inside of me, calling me to look at myself, my soul, and my cultural references, challenging me to really see what is there, and asks me what it all means.

Sweeping Changes: Discovering the Joy of Zen in Everyday Tasks, Gary Thorp. This is a wonderful collection of short essays, or prose poems, or meditations. Each one is a gem, and needs to be savored and read again, over a cup of tea in a quiet corner.

Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder, Kent Nerburn. I discovered this on a back shelf somewhere in the magical labyrinth that is Powell’s Books. A captivating read and journey into authentic spirituality and shamanism, and one’s relationship with God. This is well worth your time. One of those books that is put in your hands by the Almighty, for a reason. Hmmm. Maybe I should pay attention!

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