Monday, January 3, 2011

Year in Review: Outstanding Books of 2010

Reading is an abiding pleasure in my life. I particularly enjoyed the following books in 2010.

Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village is an account of Sarah Erdman’s two years in the Ivory Coast with the Peace Corps. It’s not easy to be immersed in a foreign culture, and her clear-sighted descriptions of village life and her efforts in establishing a well baby clinic are exceptional.

I’ll Never Be French (no matter what I do) by Mark Greenside is an account of buying a house in Brittany and learning to talk French.

Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons: Travels in Sicily on a Vespa by Matthew Fort is a discovery and celebration of the foods and dishes that are unique to each Sicilian community he visits.

In Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes, Elizabeth Bard recounts how she fell in love with French food as well as a Frenchman.

The Spice Necklace: A Food-Lover’s Caribbean Adventure is a sequel to Canadian Ann Vanderhoof’s earlier book, An Embarrassment of Mangoes. Vanderhoof and her husband travel by sailboat between the islands of the Caribbean, tasting and cooking local food. Each chapter includes several recipes.

Food and Drink
Continuing on the food theme, two Canadian books do an excellent job of exploring local food and local food production. They are Locavore: From Farmers’ Fields to Rooftop Gardens – How Canadians are Changing the Way We Eat by Sarah Elton and Apples to Oysters by Margaret Webb.

The Town that Food Saved: How one Community found Vitality in Local Food by Ben Hewitt raises important issues about food supply and security as I discussed in an earlier blog.

Although the writing was occasionally weak, I was interested to learn the history of Ontario’s wine industry in Niagara’s Wine Visionaries: Profiles of the Pioneering Winemakers by Linda Bramble.

I continue to explore the ways in which design impacts on the reading experience. Here are three books I’d highly recommend:
     Presentation Zen Design, Simple Design Principles and Techniques to Enhance Your Presentations,Garr Reynolds (Writing with Harmony and Balance)

     Before and After: How to Design Cool Stuff, John McWade

     resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences, Nancy Duarte.

Glimmer: How Design Can Transform Your Life, Your Business, and Maybe Even the World by Canadian Warren Berger is a good overview of design thinking and how it can be applied to solving business and social problems (Designing Solutions to Problems).

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath is a fascinating and useful book (Switch: Part 1, Switch: Part 2, Switch: Part 3).

I’ve just finished reading Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky. It’s a thoughtful look at how technology provides us with the opportunity to combine our time and abilities in life-shaping ways.

Two delightful books about birds:
     Birdology: Adventures with a Pack of Hens, a Peck of Pigeons, Cantankerous Crows, Fierce Falcons, Hip Hop Parrots, Baby Hummingbirds, and Murderously Big Living Dinosaur, Sy Montgomery

     Kingfisher – Tales from the Halcyon River, Charlie Hamilton James

And one about felines:
     Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned about Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat, Gwen Cooper

Eco Barons by Edward Humes (blog post) and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity & Hope by William Kamkwamba are books of optimism and hope that challenge readers to use their talents and serve the world.

Two history books:
     Red Orchestra: The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler, Anne Nelson

     At Home: A Short History of Private Life, Bill Bryson

And, finally, I do read fiction. The Sheen on the Silk by Anne Perry is an absorbing account of a woman who disguises herself as a eunuch to practise medicine in Byzantine Istanbul.

Amphibian by Carla Gunn is a delightful story of a 9-year-old boy, his anxieties about the environment, his family and friends.

Finally, three mysteries that particularly appealed to me because of their settings:

     Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter by Blaize Clement (Florida Keys)

     The Case of the Missing Servant: A Vish Puri Mystery, Tarquin Hall (India)

     The Leopard’s Prey, Suzanne Arruda (colonial East Africa following World War   One)

See Also: The Year in Review: What I Shipped in 2010


Bonnie Zink said...

Penny, that is an impressive reading list. Alas, I haven't read but one on your list. My favourite read of the past year was "Year of the Flood" by Margaret Atwood.

Nancy Duarte said...

Thanks for the shout-out Penny!

Lunch in Paris said...

Happy New Year! Thrilled to be part of your 2010 "best of" list. Our family has recently made a move to Provence to live in the wartime home of the famous French poet and Resistance leader Rene Char - so more culinary (and village) adventures ahead. Hope you'll follow along on the blog and facebook! All the best to you and yours, EB