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Considering there was a period at the start of the pandemic when I had considerable difficulty reading a book to its end, I did not think I would arrive at the end of the year with a list of titles for my annual Biblioracle Book Awards.
So imagine my surprise when I realized I had so many books deserving of recognition that I have to divide them into two separate columns, one of fiction and one for nonfiction.
We’ll start with nonfiction this week.
Best Book for Your Coffee Table
“Bullets for Dead Hoods: An Encyclopedia of Chicago Mobsters, c. 1933,” salvaged by John Corbett
I dedicated a full column to this wonderful presentation of a found manuscript presenting a taxonomy of both major and minor figures from the heyday of the Chicago Mob. Published by Chicago’s own Soberscove Press, I continue to pick it up and read with pleasure months after having first received it.
Book That Will Help You Better Understand the Messed Up Nature of the World — tie
“Uncanny Valley” by Anna Wiener
“Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History” by Kurt Andersen
“Uncanny Valley” is a harrowing picture of the impoverished mindset of the Silicon Valley entrepreneur class obsessed with growth and market share over any other consideration. As we’ve seen record stock market highs mixed with unprecedented demand at food pantries, we can better understand the pervasive mentality that has led to such a profound divide.
Andersen’s “Evil Geniuses” traces how this divide is the consequence of a deliberate program initiated in the late 1970s that eroded American faith in government and replaced it with the dogma of the free market. As to how that’s working out, look no further than our virtually worst in the world performance at protecting citizens from the coronavirus.
Book That Will Scare You About the Future (But Give You a Blueprint for How to Change Course) — tie
“Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation” by Anne Helen Petersen
“A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School” by Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire
“Can’t Even” charts how we’ve gradually been acculturated to working ourselves nearly to death for increasingly smaller rewards. It’s not just a millennial problem.
“A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door” charts the steady undermining of the notion of education as a public good to be supported by public money, which has only exacerbated the educational divide between the haves and have nots. Forces are prepared to finish off public education once and for good, using pandemic-driven shortage of resources as the ultimate rationale. Scary stuff.
Best Book to Get Someone You Don’t Usually Buy Books For
“The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America’s Forgotten Capital of Vice” by Dave Hill
The subtitle gives you a good sense of what you’re in for: A wonderful true story well-told. It’s the kind of book that once you’re reading it, you’ll want to tell people about it; you’ll start by saying, “You’re not going to believe this, but ….”
Book for the Creative Soul in Your Life — tie
“The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist” by Adrian Tomine
“How to Write One Song” by Jeff Tweedy
Graphic storyteller Tomine gives us a biography of his creative life from hungry unknown to revered author and artist — charting the bumps and bruises along the way. Wilco front man Tweedy lets us into his creative process for writing a single song.
Both remind us that the chief rewards of creation are private and lasting.
Next week, fiction!
John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.”
Book recommendations from the Biblioracle
John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you’ve read.
1. “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson
2. “ArtCurious: Stories of the Unexpected, Slightly Odd, and Strangely Wonderful in Art History” by Jennifer Dasal
3. “Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Eight Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man” by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic
4. “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” by Michael Chabon
5. “The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. The United States of America” by Eric Cervini
— William H., Chicago
Some quality nonfiction in the above list, fitting for this week’s theme. I feel like it may be tough to find something William hasn’t read, but here’s hoping that “The Library Book” by Susan Orlean has not yet found its way to him.
1. “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History” by John M. Barry
2. “The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz” by Erik Larson
3. “The Only Woman in the Room” by Marie Benedict
4. “Valentine” by Elizabeth Wetmore
5. “The Couple Next Door” by Shari Lapena
— Kathleen D., Chicago
I think Kathleen will take to Rufi Thorpe’s “The Knockout Queen,” which delivers plenty of emotional punch paired with a light touch.
1. “Miles From Nowhere” by Nami Mun
2. “Afterlife” by Julia Alvarez
3. “Redhead by the Side of the Road” by Anne Tyler
4. “The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century” by Kirk Wallace Johnson
5. “The Last Trial” by Scott Turow
— Michael R., Chicago
My Biblioracle senses are telling me to go way back to one of the classic true crime nonficton books of all time: “The Falcon and the Snowman: A True Story of Friendship and Espionage” by Robert Lindsey.
Get a reading from the Biblioracle
Send a list of the last five books you’ve read to firstname.lastname@example.org.