Category Archives: 2000-2013

Year 113

2000: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Author/Editor: Michael Chabon

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Winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, this is the story of two Jewish cousins, one American and one Czech, living together in New York City during and after World War II.  Like many brilliant, and complex, novels it is difficult in a few words to describe the story, but below is an excerpt from the book jacket which attempts to do just that.  Suffice it to say, this is one of my all-time favorite books, by one of my favorite contemporary authors.

“It is New York City in 1939.  Joe Kavalier, a young artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, has just pulled off his greatest feat to date: smuggling himself out of Nazi-occupied Prague. He is looking to make big money, fast, so that he can bring his family to freedom. His cousin, Brooklyn’s own Sammy Clay, is looking for a collaborator to create the heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit the American dreamscape: the comic book. Out of their fantasies, fears, and dreams, Joe and Sammy weave the legend of that unforgettable champion the Escapist. And inspired by the beautiful and elusive Rosa Saks, a woman who will be linked to both men by powerful ties of desire, love, and shame, they create the otherworldly mistress of the night, Luna Moth. As the shadow of Hitler falls across Europe and the world, the Golden Age of comic books has begun.”

Year 114

2001: American Gods

Author/Editor: Neil Gaiman

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Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is a fantastic road-trip novel, following the adventures and tribulations of one Shadow, ex-con, as he serves as bodyguard to Mr. Wednesday.  Those of you with a knowledge of etymology or mythology can postulate what sort of things happen next.

Among many interesting things about American Gods, there are two I’ll mention. One, it’s a really fantastic exploration of all the many, many faith and ethnic traditions that make up American culture all wrapped up in a solid novel package. Two, Gaiman’s publisher asked him to start blogging about the process of writing the book, which eventually gave rise to the Neil-Gaiman-social-web phenomenon, and also was an early instance of an author writing blogs about what they’re writing—a practice that is practically obligatory these days.

Year 115

2002: The House of the Scorpion

Author/Editor: Nancy Farmer

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The House of the Scorpion is a young adult fiction novel that tells the story of Matteo, a clone living in a dystopian world. Scientific processes such as cloning and electronic mind-control are utilized by the corrupt ruler’s regime and the drug trade, pollution, and illegal immigration affect large parts of society. By taking these contentious topics of today, Farmer illustrates how the world might be if these institutions go unchecked.

Farmer explained her choice of the science fiction genre for this work by saying, “Science fiction allows you to approach a lot of social issues you can’t get to directly. If you wrote a book about how cloning is horrible, it would read like a sermon and no one would pay attention to it”.

Year 116

2003: The Kite Runner

Author/Editor: Khaled Hosseini

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The Kite Runner tells the story of a young boy in Afghanistan and his experiences growing up there after the fall of the monarchy and as the Taliban regime rose. Political and cultural tensions during this time are examined, as well as the relationships between the various ethnic and social classes. This book depicts, in graphic detail, the horrors that the Afghani people endured at this time and describes how, after many of them emigrated as political refugees, they adjusted to life in America.

This work is significant because it provided a very personal look at the Afghani experience, especially at a time when the American war on terror was focused on this region. The popularity of this book resulted in a deeper understanding of the culture and history of the country and its people.

Year 117

2004: Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

Author: David Sedaris

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Delightfully alienated and neurotic, David Sedaris is one of the greatest living American humorists. His collection of autobiographical short stories, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, straddles categories of memoir and fiction. Sedaris finds comedy in the absurdity of everyday life, of his childhood, his family, and being an American abroad.

Year 118

2005: The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century

Author: Thomas L. Friedman

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I think of “The World is Flat” as one of those “of the moment” books, in the same vein as “Megatrends” (remember that one?). To his credit, Friedman was very successful in getting people to read, think about, and discuss some of the important trends shaping life in the early 21st century. However, some of the stuff he discusses (like global telecommunications allowing emerging economics to compete on a more equal footing) seemed fairly obvious, even at the time. And, the current discussions about growing income disparities and the disappearance of the middle-class seem directly at odds with his premise that the world is moving toward a more equal playing field. I guess those are the risks that come with being a prognosticator of the near future.

Year 119

2006: The God Delusion

Author/Editor: Richard Dawkins

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The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins may be most famous 100 years from now for having coined the term “meme” to describe the spread of ideas and social phenomena in a Darwinian evolutionary sort of way. In the first decade of the 21st century, though, he is most well-known for making a case against the existence of a “supernatural creator” in his best-selling book “The God Delusion”.

Year 120

2007: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Author: Barbara Kingsolver

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While locavores have been around longer than 2007, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle brought the term to wider knowledge, along with Michael Pollan and others.

Kingsolver’s book isn’t just an explanation and polemic about why we should eat locally; it’s also the story of how she and her family manage to do so in a fairly reasonable, manageable way. There are lots of reasons urban chicken coops, beehives and gardens are popular right now, but Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is certainly one inspiration.

Year 121

2008: The Last Lecture

Author: Jeffrey Zaslow

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After Randy Pausch was diagnosed with cancer, he gave his “Last Lecture” at Carnegie Mellon University, where he had been a professor. This non-fiction work is based on that talk and includes his words of wisdom and thoughts about life. Pausch’s optimistic outlook on the world and exuberance in life inspired many readers and this book topped bestseller lists worldwide. Not only can you read Pausch’s book, you can also watch the last lecture, courtesy of Carnegie Mellon.

Year 122

2009: Zeitoun

Author: Dave Eggers

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A non-fiction account that takes place during one of the defining events of the “aughts”, this book tells the story of a Syrian-American survivor of Hurricane Katrina, and his unlawful arrest and detention following the aftermath of the storm. Eggers’ work is a good illustration of how real life often makes for excellent storytelling.