Despite our concerted efforts to cover the best books over the course of the year, there are still plenty of worthy titles that we didn’t get around to talking about. Subsequently, these selections represent an end of the year GP reading list of sorts for bringing your home library up to speed on 2011. Pack a few during your upcoming holiday travels, and they’ll keep your mind well-occupied in the breaks between chaperoning drunk uncles and fending off motherly cross-examinations.
The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace died before finishing The Pale King, yet the book still stands as a coherent tribute to the famed American author’s legacy. Taking on a novel about an IRS office in Peoria, Illinois and the people who work there might sound like a snooze, but Wallace’s rhapsodic prose will swing on your emotions like few other books. Packed with both moments of laugh-out-loud humor and piercing sadness — The Pale King addresses the challenges we’ve all faced of finding satisfaction in a career and truly knowing people for who they really are.
Buy Now: $17
Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 by Sir Max Hastings
Sir Max Hastings’ latest work, Inferno: World at War, 1939-1945 provides a sobering account of the war through the lives of soldiers, sailors, pilots and citizens on all sides. These personal connections, combined with Hastings’ realistic approach to his subject matter (likely born out of his direct experience as a BBC war correspondent) sets this military history apart from the usual fodder, while reminding us all that war is hell.
Buy Now: $21
Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson
The year’s most anticipated biography gained even more gravitas after the sudden, and tragic loss of Steve Jobs to liver cancer earlier this fall. While Walter Issacson’s thoroughly researched book contains plenty of memorable and inspirational Jobs quotes that Apple fan’s will treasure, it’s his willingness to shine the spotlight on Steve’s many character flaws that make the work feel truly personal.
Buy Now: $18
11/22/63 by Stephen King
Stephen King is known as the master of horror, but 11/22/63 (which he’s thought about for over 30 years) deals exclusively with the fantastical subject of time travel. The plot involves down and out high school English teacher Jake Epping, who encounters a storeroom time portal to 1958 in the back of a Maine diner and is soon goaded into changing the course of history by preventing the assassination of JFK. But who exactly must he stop? The mystery of Oswald’s involvement must first be solved by Jake, if he ever hopes to succeed. As you’d expect with a description like that, 11/22/63 is a fast, entertaining read, but it still asks plenty of thought-provoking questions about free-will and the impact one man can have on history.
Buy Now: $20
Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer
We’ve all forgotten a critical bit of information at some point in our lives, and then cursed internally for not having a better memory. Moonwalking with Einstein follows Joshua Foer’s personal experience wading into the world of competitive memory challenges. Amidst a cast of odd-ball characters and some neurological science on how memory works, Foer shares his own humorous strategies for how he trained his self-described average memory to eventually record the order of 9.5 full decks of cards in under an hour’s time. While it may sound like “you can do it too” journalism, Foer’s real takeaway is more of a reflection on the role memory plays in our personal identity, than a guide to expanding the mind’s eye.
Buy Now: $16
The 50 Funniest American Writers
This compilation from professional satirist Andy Borowitz contains an impressive set of essays from renowned comedians, starting from as early as Mark Twain and eventually leading to more contemporary names like George Carlin, David Sedaris, John Hughes, and Bernie Mac. Pulled from a variety of publications including Esquire, National Lampoon, The New Yorker and The Onion, it’s the perfect resource for comic relief in small doses.
Buy Now: $17
A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block
This new addition to Lawrence Block’s Scudder series of crime novels takes readers back to the beginning, as teetotalling Matthew Scudder recalls his first year of sobriety, after his forceable exit from the NYPD. As it happens, his dutiful attendance to AA sparks the start of his first investigation as an unlicensed P.I., when a childhood friend and former con winds up dead while making amends as part of the 12 steps. The mystery is nothing short of riveting, and conveniently doubles as the perfect introduction for to the 17 book series for newcomers looking to continue the whodunit binge after A Drop of the Hard Stuff is solved.
Buy Now: $15
Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors
In 2002, Philip Connors decided to take a sabbatical as a copy editor of The Wall Street Journal to persue a career in fire watching in “the epicenter of American wildfire” a.k.a. the Gila National Forest of New Mexico. The job description with the United States Fire Service was simple. Live alone in a 7 x 7 glass tower, relay messages, keep watch over an area which typically gets hit by lighting +30,000 times a year, ring the alarm should the worst happen and try not to die of boredom. This winner of 2011 National Outdoor Book award tells the tale of his fire watching year in 2009 with each chapter covering a month, and represents modern Nature writing at it’s very best.
Buy Now: $15
The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit by JJ Lee
JJ Lee’s book skillfully weaves a personal struggle to understand his estranged Father after his death through the process of repurposing his dad’s suit to fit his smaller frame. Along the way, Lee shares plenty of sartorial knowledge on the evolution of men’s suits over time. While the style-conscious will certainly value Lee’s love of tailoring and tour of suit innovators, such as Beau Brummell, Oscar Wilde and King Edward VIII, it’s the book’s poignent reflections on the complicated bonds formed between fathers and sons that truly inspires.
Buy Now: $30
Zone One by Colson Whitehead
You know the zombie movement has reached an all time high, when an acclaimed novelist, Harvard graduate and MacArthur grant winner decides to slum it in the world of the undead in his latest book. The trouble is, that while Zone One prominently features flesh-eating creatures wandering the desolated streets of lower Manhattan known as “Skels” and a main “Sweeper” character striving to kill said creatures, it will still disappoint fans looking for 28 Days Later. That’s because under the garb of this played-out-genre, Whitehead’s real goal is to get a nice literary head start on both celebrating the modern world and lamenting its collapse — before the warning signs of today evitably take us there without any push from the supernatural.
Buy Now: $15
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