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In 2011, GOOD brought you the best books about vegetarianism, gay romances, brutal killers, and everything in between. We're not saying that you necessarily have to stop reading vampire love stories, but why not branch out a bit? Read on for a prime selection of our favorite books from both the past and this year. Maybe you'll find something to replace the hole left in your heart by the end of the Hunger Games series.
Personal Finance for Dummies
By Eric Tyson
458 Pages. Wiley, John & Sons, Inc. $21.99
Bank accounts are for real, home loans aren't myths, and someday your graduate will accidentally run into a parking structure that seemingly popped out of nowhere, denting the bumper beyond repair. Although the grad may have a brand-spanking new bachelor's degree, chances are their Eastern Philosophy, Gender Theory, and Gaga Studies classes didn't teach them quite enough about how to go about, say, making a budget that includes things besides Campbell's soup and Little Debbies. Tyson's guidebook helps fill in the blanks that college may have left out (plus, the macrofinance gen eds were always the easiest to skip.)
By Diana Vreeland
216 pages. Da Capo Press. $17.00
Sure, Elizabeth Gilbert's prose brings her introspective journey across the globe to life. But before there was Gilbert, there was another lady journalist who whisked readers around the world with her memoirs, defining fabulosity for generations to come. Diana Vreeland, or D.V., ruled the fashion world for 50 years during her career as fashion editor at Haper's Bazaar and editor-in-chief at Vogue. She was famous for her bold aesthetic and for saying things like "I loathe narcissism, but I approve of vanity," waxing poetic about everything from Balenciaga to plastic flamingos and blending fact and fiction in her personal stories. Vreeland's life is an incredible story of risk-taking and success, which perhaps can be attributed to one of her maxims, as recorded in D.V.: "There's only one thing in life, and that's the continual renewal of inspiration."
Girldrive: Criss-Crossing America, Redefining Feminism
By Nona Willis Aronowitz and Emma Bee Bernstein
220 Pages. Seal Press. $19.95
Jack Kerouac, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson: The canon of road trip literature is dominated by dudes. When women do show up as protagonists, they're often running away from something (think Thelma and Louise or even the aforementioned Chloe). Yet Girldrive, by Emma Bee Bernstein and GOOD's own associate editor Nona Willis Aronowitz, shakes this all up. The two collaborators set out to investigate the state of contemporary feminism, speaking with more than 100 women around the country and compiling their photos, interviews, and diary entries. In doing so, they give 21st-century feminism a face and show that it doesn't just live in our coastal cities.
Annals of the Former World
By John McPhee
712 Pages. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. $21.00
In this Pulitzer Prize-winner, New Yorker author John McPhee describes the geographical landscape of America at the 40th Parallel. That particular parallel translates, in road-trip terms, to a length of land that runs across the country in the exact same latitude as Interstate 80. McPhee’s writing will make you appreciate your next I-80 road trip in an entirely different way, prizing not just the fried food and gummy worms found in gas stations between New York and California, but also the various geological formations and tectonic miracles scattered across the terrain.
The Price of Salt
by Claire Morgan (Patricia Highsmith)
304 pages. W.W. Norton & Company. $13.95
Patricia Highsmith wrote The Price of Salt under the pseudonym Claire Morgan, possibly because the novel so closely resembled her personal life at the time. The novel features the romance between two women, Therese and Carol, who meet in a department store (I always thought Sears had a romantic vibe to it) in the midst of Carol’s divorce and subsequent custody battles with her ex-husband. Both The Price of Salt and Giovanni’s Room were published as serious novels during a time when the majority of gay and lesbian fiction fell under the pulp fiction genre, but unlike Giovanni’s Room, this particular novel has a happy ending.
You Had Me At Woof
By Julie Klam
240 pages. Penguin Group. $24.95
Are you someone who considers puppies and newborns equally important? If someone suggested you’d feel more free if you just did dog-like things every once in a while, would you follow their advice? If the answer is yes, you may like this book. Author Julie Klam finds that her canines give her some wise insights into what it means to be a human.
GOOD Books: A Sneak Peek at Fall's Best
By Haruki Murakami
926 pages. Knopf Doubleday. $30.50
Murakami’s much-touted magnum opus, originally published in three volumes in 2009 and 2010 in Japan, finally has a scheduled release date in America. The homophonic title ('nine' is pronounced 'kew,' or Q, in Japan) has only a vague connection to Orwell’s classic novel. Whereas 1984 envisioned a creepy, uniform future, Murakami’s book imagines an alternative past. The protagonists are a passive, not-too-knowledgeable male professor and a woman named Aomame (which means green bean in Japanese) who murders people. The novel features a ton of typical Murakami quirks: alternate realities, newfound moons, and German shepherds with a fondness for spinach.
Among the Thugs
By Bill Buford
317 pages. Knopf Doubleday. $15.95
Between 1982 and 1990, Bill Buford, editor of British lit magazine Granta, decided to join up with a group of British football supporters (known as hooligans) to study what made them so violent, nationalistic, xenophobic, racist, and ultimately destructive. The group of Manchester United fans allowed Buford to follow them as they wreaked mayhem in stadiums across Europe. He was in Turin, Italy, when 200 fans marched through the town setting fire to everything in sight, and at the Football Association Cup semifinals, when 95 fans were crushed to death. He witnessed one fan head-butt a cop, suck out his eyeball, and bite it off. The stories are hard-core, and Buford provides an insightful analysis of the phenomenon.
Then We Came to the End
By Joshua Ferris
416 pages. Little, Brown & Company. $11.68
At the end of a dot-com bubble, layoffs and the resulting office political struggles often take a desperate turn. At a Chicago ad agency flailing in the wake of the late-'90s economic downturn, dysfunctional employees watch as their team is picked off one at a time. In the wake of a late coworker’s demise, frightened copywriters and designers scramble to claim an errant desk chair or the last position on a mysteriously vague pro bono ad account. In an Office-esque workplace, former ad man Ferris takes a humorous approach to a decimated landscape, complete with ever increasingly long coffee breaks, across-the-desk scandal, and desperate blood lust.
Go the Fuck to Sleep
By Adam Mansbach
Illustrated by Ricardo Cortés
32 pages. Akashic Books. $8.97.
Parents everywhere know all too well the hellish experience of putting a stubborn child to bed. Even if you are a slave to their demands and give into a cup of water or just one more story or a golden-lined plate of Oreos, they still won’t just go the fuck to sleep. Mansbach’s bedtime story for adults chronicles this nightly struggle with poetic and hilarious prose. The first pages read, 'The cats nestle close to their kittens, the lambs have laid down with the sheep/ You’re cozy and warm in your bed, my dear, please go the fuck to sleep.' You may not actually want to read this book with your little darlings, but later on when you and your exhausted partner finally put the brat down, it will provide many cathartic laughs.
Too Big to Fail
By Andrew Ross Sorkin
640 pages. Penguin. $12.24.
At the time Lehman Brothers' collapse in 2008, financial journalists were scrapping together book proposals chronicling the contemporary economic crisis. New York Times financial reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin pulled together a three-page proposal over the weekend, putting him in position to release one of the first major looks at the crash. Sorkin gives readers a minute-by-minute account of the financial crisis from the point of view of Wall Street CEOs watching their past decisions return to rip their worlds apart. Sorkin’s access to the players at Wall Street’s center provides an unparalleled account of the drama and turmoil of the recent economic disaster and how a small group of greedy, egocentric Wall Streeters set the landscape of the global economy.
In Cold Blood
by Truman Capote
343 pages. Random House. $23.00.
Capote spent six years working on his thrilling crime masterpiece before publishing it in 1966. He traveled to Holcomb, Kansas after learning of the brutal murders of a couple and their two children, who had been bound, gagged, and died of a close-range shotgun blast. He interviewed dozens of people involved in the incident, including the killers, parolees Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. The men entered the home hoping to rob the family, but upon finding no money, went on a mindless killing spree. Both men, notoriously unapologetic for their crimes, were eventually executed by hanging. Hailed as one of the first nonfiction novels, this page-turner will remind you to keep your doors locked at night.
The Man Who Ate Everything
528 pages. Vintage Books. $10.88.
By Jeffrey Steingarten
Upon changing careers from lawyer to food critic, Jeffrey Steingarten decided that his newfound profession demanded more of his taste buds than his tongue was prepared for. So he embarked on a mission to become the ultimate omnivore. 'By closing ourselves off from the bounties of nature, we become failed omnivores. We let down the omnivore team. God tells us in the Book of Genesis, right after Noah's flood, to eat everything under the sun. Those who ignore his instructions are no better than godless heathens,' Steingarten writes in chapter one. The Man Who Ate Everything is an endlessly amusing collection of essays by a man who loves not just food, but the process and time spent eating and preparing the things that make it to the dinner table. His passion is undeniable, and serve a true lesson in the love of a meal. The thought of joining Steingarten at the dinner table is at once exhilarating and frightening, for he is a man that believes, "... the goal of the arts, culinary or otherwise, is not to increase our comfort. That is the goal of an easy chair."
The Walking Dead, Book 1
By Robert Kirkman
Illustrated by Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard, and Cliff Rathburn
304 pages. Image Comics. $34.99.
After spending an unknown amount of time in a coma, police officer Rick Grimes wakes up in a Kentucky hospital alone. He ventures into the hallways to search for help, only to realize that no one is there. No one alive, anyways. He soon discovers an army of flesh-seeking zombies, or 'walkers,' has overcome the world he used to know. These graphic novels chronicle the survival of mankind after an undead apocalypse. The images of rotting flesh and violent slayings are enough to keep anyone up at night, but it’s the relationships between people battling for their lives that keep the pages turning.
Survival tactic: The disease is in the brain! Destroy it by any means necessary.
Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms
By Nicolette Hahn Niman
336 pages. Harper Paperbacks. $14.99.
After lawyer Nicolette Hahn Niman began investigating pork production in America for Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s environmental organization, she was so affected by what she saw that her career path changed forever. Beginning in North Carolina, she picked through the inner workings of factory farms, finding inhumane animal conditions, cruel captivity practices, and rampant pollution. Now an environmental lawyer, she fights for the humane treatment of livestock and writes about a better way to raise meat for consumption. The book explores cost-effective but ethical and sustainable farming methods, why it’s better to buy meat raised in a traditional way, and how to find it at your local store. And, there’s even a love story, as Niman finds herself falling for a rugged cattle rancher who shares her beliefs.
The Tonya Tapes
By Lynda Prouse
300 pages. World Audience, Inc. $18.99.
With all the negative attention earned by baseball, basketball, and football, it’s easy to forget those delicatefemale sports are often wracked with scandal too. The most infamous event in the history of ice skating created a scandal unlike any other: Tonya Harding, on the brink of U.S. Figure Skating Championship glory in 1994, received a boost when her principal rival, Nancy Kerrigan, was clubbed on the knee in a coordinated attack. Harding won the national championship, but Kerrigan recovered quickly and won the silver medal in the Olympics that year. An investigation revealed that Harding had planned the attack with her ex-husband and a friend. In the Tonya Tapes, author Lynda Prouse goes through transcripts of the time and presents a deeper look into Harding's dysfunctional world.
Boy Meets Boy
by David Levithan
192 pages. Alfred A. Knopf. $8.99.
At this high school, the concept of straight and gay has disappeared, and sexuality is no longer a cause for separation or exclusion. Here, the gay-straight alliance was formed to help straight kids learn to dance. Paul is a sophomore with friends like homecoming queen Infinite Darlene, who is the star quarterback of the football team and used to be Daryl. Paul falls in love for a boy named Noah, and he and the rest of his friends stumble through a high school world of hopeful romance that is still confusing and painful, but void of the hateful realities of today's world. This is a love story for our generation, and a glimpse into how bright the future could be.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
By Dave Eggers
485 pages. Vintage. $7.89.
At the age of 22, Dave Eggers found himself in an unusual situation. Recently orphaned (his parents died five months apart) Eggers became the unofficial guardian of his 8-year-old brother, Christopher. But A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius is more than a story about a brotherly bond. Eggers, at 22, is a cocky post-adolescent set on making the most of his life. The book's humor and insight comes from his introspection on the clashing of his two roles, and the inevitable chaos that occurs.
The Marriage Plot
By Jeffrey Eugenides
416 pages. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $16.05.
Chances are, Jeffrey Eugenides was born around the same time as your parents: 1960. As a voice of their generation, his third novel in nearly two decades should fit nicely on the parentals' bookshelf. Unlike his first novel The Virgin Suicides, or even his Pulitzer-prize-winning second,Middlesex, Eugenides’ Marriage Plot does not follow the growing pains of pre-pubescents or adolescents. But the three main characters are not quite adults, either. The Marriage Plot centers around Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell, three friends who are in their final year of Brown University during the early 1980s. Eugenides takes readers both back and forward in time to witness their struggles with love, loving each other, and growing up.
Megan Greenwell, managing editor:
The Art of Fielding
by Chad Harbach
Little, Brown and Company. 528 pages. $25.99.
"It's hard not to be romantic about baseball," Brad Pitt says while playing Billy Beane in the movie Moneyball. Even non-baseball fans will be taken with the beauty of the game in this debut novel from Chad Harbach, a founder of n+1. Although some of the action takes place on the field and the clubhouse, The Art of Fielding isn't, at its core, about baseball at all—it's about college and the Midwest and friendship and America and love and being young. As someone who tries to make sports haters care about sports every week, I'm in awe of Harbach's mastery of the form.