What makes a great book?
I have a simple guideline. I borrow pretty much every book I read (thank you, Edmonton Public Library), including every book that I am about to tell you about. What separates a great book from a merely good book is my desire to actually own the book once I’ve read it, so I can read it again, or even lend it to someone (and, if history is any indication, never see it again).
This year, I was lucky enough to have read THREE books I would like own. That’s a good year of reading.
The best book I read in 2013 was Salt, Sugar, Fat. How the Food Giants Hooked Us, by Michael Moss. If you eat food, you should read this book; it’s eye opening and disturbing. By the time I was finished reading it, I was so discouraged that I felt like curling up with a big bag of Cheetos and just saying to hell with it, you win, Big Food.
Another terrific book I am in the process of reading right now is One Summer, America 1927, by the brilliant Bill Bryson. There’s no need for a subtitle in this book; it’s simply a look at America in 1927, when Charles Lindbergh made his famous flight and Babe Ruth was killing baseballs. Packed with anecdotes and frequently hilarious, it’s history accessible for everyone.
My third great book of 2013 was Zealot, the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, by Reza Aslan. Zealot looks at the life of Jesus, minus the baggage of being the Son of God, and how it was those who came after him that created Christianity. You may never look at Jesus in the same way again.
Those were the three best, but I also read a number of good, but not quite purchase-worthy books.
The Big Shift (Politics, Business, and Culture and What It Means for Our Future) by Darrell Bricker, is a little dry (it is a book about stats, after all) but it does present a convincing portrait of a country turning slowly right. I also recommend Gulp! by Mary Roach, the world’s funniest science writer.
I’m not above a little lowbrow reading, mind you. Johnny Carson, by his longtime lawyer and close friend Henry Bushkin, paints a fascinating portrait of the complex king of late night. My Way, by Paul Anka, is a breezy autobiography of the Canadian singer/songwriter, the world’s first teen idol, and one of the few to have a long career after the teen years. Chuvalo: A Fighter’s Life, is the bio of the indestructible Canadian heavyweight, who was not only never knocked out, but never even knocked down in a decades-long career. His personal tragedies alone would have floored most anyone. Less interesting was The Kind of Life It’s Been, a fairly bland memoire by CTV anchor Lloyd Robertson. If you’re looking for insights into Canadian prime ministers, or juicy anecdotes from Ottawa, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Still with television, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted and All the Brilliant Minds Who Made the Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic, by Jennifer Armstrong, had the most cumbersome title of the year, but it’s still a lot of fun for fans of the great TV series.
I also very much enjoyed a 2012 release, Wild, from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed, the true story of a woman with zero hiking experience who took on the death defying Pacific Crest Trail. It’s a terrific true life adventure/self-realization story. Recommended for American political junkies is This Town, by Mark Leibovich, a funny and infuriating look at “America’s guilded capital”.
Got some choices for the best books you’ve read in 2013? Pass ‘em along, and have a great reading year in 2014.