Friday, December 25, 2009

Best of the Decade - David's picks

Happy Holidays!

As we approach the end of the decade, our bloggers have decided to share our own personal best ten books of the past decade. So over the next week or so, our regular blog contributors will list those books that are on their top ten best books of the decade list.

I am first up with my list, which is a combination of fiction and non-fiction. The titles appealed to me for a variety of reasons, some for their literary merit, some for fascinating research, and some just because I have quirky tastes!

drum roll please.....

The Map that Changed the World,
by Simon Winchester (2001)

Simon Winchester's books are always a treat for me. I love his mix of history, science and intrigue, as he navigates the reader through a winding discourse of facts, lore and biography. This particular book traces the significance of William Smith and his development of the first geologic survey and map of England and Wales. The topic may appear to be a tad dry on the surface, but Winchester reveals great detail just below the surface, not unlike William Smith's map.

This science book drastically changed much of my understanding of the workings of biology and health. Lane is a well known science writer, writing for the NY times and and is able to take complex scientific topics and effectively distill the essence to lay readers like myself. This title's combination of subject matter and writing style made it a clear winner for me.

This pro-atheism book was the first to really get me interested in the resurgent literary discussions around the issues of faith, or the lack thereof. Certainly a one sided examination of the issues, but Harris presents his arguments with such passion and vigor, that I continued to ponder his points of view for long after I finished reading them. I read the recent similar publications by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, but found Harris' book to have been the best for me.

This book, by Anglican Minister Tom Harpur, definitely shook up my conceptions around the history of Christianity. Great writing and full of surprising archaeological facts and historical information.

George and Rue by George Elliott Clarke (2005)

This story, based on real life events in the author's family, really hit me hard. The brutal conditions and tough decisions faced by the protagonists shocked me. By the end of this short novel, I was emotionally drained and felt hollow. But the story has stuck with me, giving me a broader appreciation of how far we have come as a society, and just how easy my life is compared to others who lived in my community not so long ago.

Scotch River, by Linda Little (2006)

Fiction that really resonates with me is typically because of compelling characters. That is certainly the case with Scotch River. The character of Pipe in this story of place, both physical and personal, captured my fancy. I wanted to meet her, to find out more about her, why she was like she was, I wanted to help her. Combining strong characters with a well crafted story and near perfect pacing, this book really worked for me.

This book was destined to be a winner for me, as it combines topnotch science writing with two of my favourites subjects, namely music and neuroscience.

Black Grizzly of Whiskey Creek, by Sid Marty (2007)

I really enjoyed this book primarily due to the author's ability to effectively portray the mindset of a bear, a big nasty Grizzly bear. Kind of reminded me of Cujo, which is the only Stephen King book I really liked. This book was also appealing to me for the secondary stories of wilderness (mis)adventure.

More, by Austin Clarke (2008)

I absolutely loved the voice of this novel. Clarke shares this story of place through the thoughts of an aging immigrant woman living in Toronto. Although there is ample opportunity for Clarke to redirect the story through the eyes of other characters, he stick steadfastly to thoughts of his protagonist, leaving many details unearthed. Just like real life. Clarke is a world class writer.

Havana Fever, by Leonardo Padura (translated by Peter Bush) (2009)

Cuban mystery writer Padura is a favourite of mine and I could have included any of his Havana series. I choose this latest installment of his Havana series, which finds retired detective Conde dabbling in the antiquarian book selling business. The primary appeal for me is Padura's strong cast of characters and his deft descriptions of all things Cuban. Retired Det. Conde is a true man of the people, battling against corruption and deceit, even in retirement. He is a tough guy when needed, but is at heart, simply a frustrated writer who wants nothing more than to read, write and relax with friends.

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