Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What a Year!

So, surprise - this isn't a year end best of post, although the title might have made you think it is. It's a post about a trend I've noticed of late that I will call "books about things I spent a year doing". I'm not the only one to have noticed this trend, a story in the LA Times earlier this fall dubbed the trend "gimmick books". I take their point, this type of book does seem to lean a little to heavily on quirk and/or novelty, but there are some that have addressed more serious topics in a fun a light manner. Not all of these books take on a year's worth of activities - but the ones that have caught my eye have.

The recent success of the book Julie and Julia: my year of cooking dangerously (also available as an e book), in which a NY home cooking enthusiast chronicles her efforts to cook her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking surely plays a large part in the popularity of such books. But it certainly wasn't the first to take on the format.

Walkabout Year: twelve months in Australia chronicles seems to be a early precursor to the current trend. A series of essays by English professor Samuel Pickering chronicles his time spent and his thoughts on life and travel in Australia. More serious in tone than some of the more recent year-in-the-life stories but rewarding nonetheless. (Interesting fact - author Pickering was apparently the inspiration for the Robin Williams portrayed character in the film Dead Poet's Society.)

In-a-year memoirs frequently are written to address problems perceived by the author. Maria Headley's Year of Yes came from the author's frustration with the NYC dating scene and her decision to just say "yes" to every one who asked her out on a date to see if she might find a surprise prince amongst those she might have at first thought not to spend time with.

Spend too much money or feeling overly focused on consumerism? Try Give It Up: my year of learning to live better with less by Mary Carlomagno is more of a self-help approach to this type of book, but an interesting read nonetheless.

A Year Without "Made in China": one family's true life adventure in the global economy by Sara Bongiorni is another consumer focused title, one that looks at both the political, economic and just plain practical aspects of trying to spend a year without purchasing items from China.

Some in-a-year memoirs take on strange and quirkly challenges - perhaps these are the true gimmick books.

How about reading a dictionary as in Reading the OED: one man, one year and 21, 730 pages by Ammon Shea,

But for some reason, as with Julie and Julia, it's really in the realm of food books that we see the in-a-year memoir take off. People love to farm, cook, eat and do just about anything else imaginable with food - but apparently, only for one year.

Here's a few more titles:

The 100-Mile Diet: a year of local eating
by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon

1 comment:

  1. Mo Willems' "You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons" is a great cartoon-a-day travel journal.