The cold, dark days of December and January prove God intends for human beings (at least in the northern hemisphere) to hibernate in winter. My definition of hibernation includes reading and eating as well as sleeping. For anyone looking for some winter reading, here are my favorite reads of 2010—by category. With one exception, these books were not published in 2010. I’m seldom quick enough to read a book the same year it was published.
Entertainment: The Evolution Man: or How I Ate My Father by Roy Lewis. A romp through pre-history as the patriarch of a conservative family of pre-Adamites tries to move his relatives into the modern world with such innovations as fire and marrying outside the clan.
Environment: Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal by Joel Salatin. Salatin managed to tell me far more than I thought I ever wanted to know about organic farming. His descriptions of USDA inspection of meat processing plants made my stomach queasy and my mind uneasy about food safety.
Memoir: A tie, not surprising since this is my favorite genre. In Life and Death in Shanghai , Nien Cheng describes her life as a sheltered member of the business community in Shanghai until she was arrested during Mao’s Cultural Revolution of the ‘60s. Because she refused to incriminate innocent friends, Cheng was imprisoned for seven years. Her survival of the harsh conditions—she was in her 50s with serious health concerns at the time of her arrest—is a remarkable story of human courage. Sattareh Farman Farmaian’s Daughter of Persia: A Woman’s Journey from Her Father’s Harem through the Islamic Revolution provides an equally riveting view into 20th century Iran—from the time of modern reforms of the 1920s through the corrupt dictatorship of Reza Shah Pahlavi to the Revolution of 1979. Both books provide a window into major political events of the 20th century through the eyes of women who survived the excesses of the events.
Mormon Lit: The reviews, both Mormon and national, of Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist enticed me to read this book in hardcover. I’ve reviewed it here.
Spiritual: Big Mind/Big Heart by Dennis Genpo Merzel is a wonderful guide to understanding our own mind and dealing with our often militant egos. You don’t have to convert to Buddhism or spend hours in zazen to practice these common sense meditations.
Travel: Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux is hardly a tourist guide, but provides a lot of insight into the problems of modern Africa. Theroux served in the Peace Corps in Malawi 30 years ago, and later taught at the university level in Uganda. In 2003, he traveled by land from Cairo to Cape Town and recorded the change—and lack of change—three decades have given the continent.