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Staff Top 5s of 2006

Emily

1. What Is the What by Dave Eggers

I can't lie — this is first Eggers book I've felt anything for. But I haven't read a novel that was so relevant, so timely, and so humane as this in a very long time. It's beautiful, horrible, sad, funny, real; it's impossible not to connect with this story and this character on an essential level. I'm in awe.

  1. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami
  2. American Vertigo by Bernard-Henri Lévy
  3. The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider
  4. Juergen Teller: Do You Know What I Mean by Marie Darrieussecq

Adrienne

1. Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

Letter to a Christian Nation

Sam Harris is a wonderful, courageous independent thinker. His Letter to a Christian Nation is a dynamic exposé of the hypocrisy inherent in organized religion.

  1. Fortunate Son by Walter Mosley
  2. Stolen Child by Keith Donohue
  3. Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon
  4. Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Ann E.

1. The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton

The Architecture of Happiness

Alain de Botton writes with a fluid, lyrical style about the aesthetics of environment — architecture, furniture and landscape design, city planning — and its direct relationship to our quality of life. As in his other works, de Botton proves learned and engaging, but with The Architecture of Happiness he outdoes himself in presenting a beautiful package, rich with illustration, which goes far in supporting his conclusion: "We owe it to the fields that our houses will not be the inferiors of the virgin land they have replaced. We owe it to the worms and the trees that the buildings we cover them with will stand as promises of the highest and most intelligent kinds of happiness."

  1. Hunger: An Unnatural History by Sharman Apt Russell
  2. Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey
  3. Red Weather by Paul Toutonghi
  4. Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison's Kitchen by Deborah Madison

Scott R.

1. Wall and Piece by Bansky

If there's any truth to Marshall McLuhan's prophecy that the next wars and revolutions of our time will be fought through media and not guns, then the ever mysterious and notorious graffiti artist called Banksy would be the most ready example of how one's art can change the hearts and minds of the world. Banksy's work appears around the globe and often in the most conspicuous and provocative spaces and situations. He has performed guerilla installations in the Brooklyn Museum, the Natural History Museum of London, and even the Louvre. His most recent exploits include reworking 500 copies of Paris Hilton's CD before they made it to the record stores, and installing a life-size replica of a Guantanamo Bay detainee at Disneyland. Wall and Piece is the first full-fledged monograph devoted to this Melbourne artist who has, piece by piece, contributed so much aesthetic grist to that media war waged on the streets we all walk on.

  1. 2012 by Daniel Pinchbeck
  2. When Technology Fails by Matthew Stein
  3. Three Days to Never by Tim Powers
  4. Bookworm: The Art of Rosamond Purcell by Rosamond Purcell

Clara

1. Windflower by Nick Bantock

The dark, but dreamlike nature of Bantock's collage art is always a beautiful addition to the stories that he tells. While his art is not as prominent in Windflower as in past books, it still enhances the lovely story of Ana, a Capolan woman who must leave her once nomadic tribe (who have become stagnant in a valley) to learn the dance of her people. This dance alone, she is told, will re-connect her people with their old ways and guide them on their journey once more. From there, the story went in directions I wasn't expecting and by the end I was smiling from having read not only a delightful tale, but one with a strong and passionate female main character who ultimately finds the strength and confidence within herself to be a leader of her people. I can't think of anything more satisfying to read than that.

  1. Lisey's Story by Stephen King
  2. The Lost Apostle by Rena Pederson
  3. Queen of the Oddballs by Hillary Carlip
  4. Generation T by Megan Nicolay

Donna

1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Strike-me-dead beautiful and bleak — this is the book I put into every customers hands. Absolutely the best thing out of 2006, and perhaps many years preceding, The Road reminds me of McCarthy's early novels, only matured to perfection.

  1. Now Is the Hour by Tom Spanbauer
  2. Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
  3. A Map of Glass by Jane Urquhart
  4. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

Beth

1. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

I talked about this book every morning at the water cooler and every evening at dinner. Pollan takes a possibly dry subject — agriculture — and makes it epic.

  1. The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
  2. Porch Stories by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  3. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M. T. Anderson
  4. The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell

Charlotte

1. Kushiel's Scion by Jacqueline Carey

This is the fourth in the Kushiel's Legacy series. I have loved all of these books. Ms. Carey is a master storyteller, directing her characters through a plot so fascinating that you can't stop reading. She exquisitely weaves the themes of war, love, peace, elements of sadism and masochism, angel lore, and the motto "Love as thou Wilt" into the fabric of the story. If you like epic fantasy you will enjoy these books. (Also recommended by George R. R. Martin on his website under: What I am reading now.)

  1. Godslayer: The Sundering #2 by Jacqueline Carey
  2. The Tao of Willie by Willie Nelson
  3. The I Chong by Tommy Chong
  4. Light on Life by B. K. S. Iyengar

Shannon B.

1. Pretty Birds by Scott Simon

Pretty Birds

This is Scott Simon's first novel, based on his personal experiences as a war correspondent in Bosnia. It's a depiction of the struggles of everyday Bosnians and Serbs we rarely heard about in our country. This is the gritty disparity of war, as well as the unbelievable fortitude and loyalty of people who are violently forced to divide; of a high school girl who is suddenly foraging for snails to eat and Madonna magazine articles to connect her again with pop culture. There are some special guest appearances in the book — I don't want to give anything away, but Simon does an excellent job of depicting some of the more infamous faces and problems that the world is still facing even today.

  1. Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
  2. Don't Get Too Comfortable by David Rakoff
  3. Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta
  4. Lenny Bruce Is Dead by Jonathan Goldstein

Denise

1. St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

I was thrilled and enamored with the pinprick subtlety of all the goodness chocked into these short stories. I read a few when they first appeared in the New Yorker, and Russell's so good that I didn't immediately catch on that some of her plot elements actually were not to be found on God's green earth (like the gigantic crab shells that a pair of young brothers rent to use as sand dune toboggans, or the slightly Uzbekistani tribe that sings the avalanche down every year). The title story, in particular, is full of brilliant ideas put into a familiar structure that manages to be the best of both worlds, reading like a historical rendering of cultural acclimations that never were. For readers who positively adore Kelly Link and Jonathan Lethem, but sometimes get the yearning to delve into a collection just a smidge less on the fantastical side, I recommend St. Lucy's Home.

Brodie

1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road

Being one of the few who didn't care for No Country for Old Men, I couldn't wait to read The Road. It is a spare, fierce novel, more a return to the writing in Outer Dark. It drew me in immediately; I didn't want to put it down, and kept reading until I finished it. It's an unsettling post-apocalyptic tale of a father and son making their way in an uncertain time without much use for conversation, just action and reaction. I didn't want a bleak, inhumane end for these two fragile souls, and McCarthy did leave a thread of hope. The Road is definitely the best book I have read in the last year or two.

  1. The Driftless Area by Tom Drury
  2. The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford
  3. Theft by Peter Carey
  4. The Echo Maker by Richard Powers

Chris H.

1. 0 to 9: The Complete Magazine, 1967-1969 by Vito Acconci and Bernadette
Mayer

0 to 9

Acconci and Mayer published one of the most adventurous outlets for experimental work by writers and visual artists in the late '60s "mimeograph revolution." Printed in small numbers and distributed to bookstores in New York City and to a few subscribers, copies of 0 to 9 have been nearly impossible to find for quite some time. The Complete Magazine brings together all six issues of this important document of the mid-twentieth century avant-garde, making them available once again.

  1. Ultravioleta by Laura Moriarty
  2. The Zurau Aphorisms of Franz Kafka
  3. The Way It Wasn't by James Laughlin
  4. CBGB: Decades of Graffiti by Buzz Poole

Alison E.

1. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

I grew up in Minnesota, just north of Iowa where Bill Bryson's memoir is set. I laughed out loud at his descriptions of bundling up the children to face the Midwestern winters and other passages. He also beautifully captures the innocence and security of being a child in the '50s. Kids are no longer encouraged (or forced) to "get outside and play and don't come back until suppertime." Those magical hours of figuring out how to entertain oneself led Mr. Bryson to some wonderful memories and some very fine writing.

  1. The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch
  2. Miracle in the Andes by Nando Parrado
  3. Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony by Eoin Colfer
  4. Hide and Seek by Clare Sambrook

John B.

1. The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian

The Children's Hospital

This book will make you think, laugh, cry. It is without question, the best book I've read in several years. The author, a doctor and theologian, gives delicate care toward his characters as I assume he would toward his patients. You won't put this down.

  1. Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon
  2. The Return Message by Tessa Rumsey
  3. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  4. James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julia Phillips

Jamie F.

1. The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno

The Boy Detective Fails

The world Joe Meno creates in this book is one full of infinite possibilities. The protagonist, somewhat of a superhero with sleuthing powers, spends his childhood solving mysteries and fighting crime. His adulthood is spent being frightened by the outside world and wishing he could still tap into his previous superpowers. Meno weaves the boy detective's childhood and adulthood into a beautifully written story illustrating the power of the human being to overcome trauma and depression. It's quirky and lovely and touching.

  1. The Adventuress by Audrey Niffenegger
  2. The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett
  3. The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
  4. Flotsam by David Weisner

Mike H.

1. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

Murakami's third short story collection for the West is a varied assortment of sublime confections. His prose voice speaks to me in a way few writers can. The story "The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day" still haunts me.

Danielle M.

1. The Book of Lost Things: A Novel by John Connolly

The Book of Lost Things: A Novel

Equal parts creepy and compelling, this horror book has all the elements of a great read. A literary page-turner with well-honed characters and a story that has you reading at inappropriate times. Crack this one open when you have nothing else on your to-do list!

Tracey T.

1. Mercy of Thin Air by Ronlyn Domingue

Mercy of Thin Air

The protagonist was a flapper, college educated, and dedicated to furthering birth control issues. But when the book opens, she is already dead from an unknown youthful tragedy; she narrates her story as a ghost. The rules of the afterlife, rules she learns from a specterly mentor, require she not contact loved ones. Decades after her death, in spite of the rules, she searches for the love of her life. While doing so, she haunts the home of a young couple whose love is unraveling from the pressure of their own secrets, and from the presence of their unseen house guest. Their stories intermingle, and the past and the present take turns in this compelling first novel.

  1. Widow of the South by Robert Hicks
  2. Vanishing Point by Mary Sharratt
  3. A Million Nightingales by Susan Straight
  4. Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach

Amy N.

1. The Essence of Chocolate: Recipes from Scharffen Berger Chocolate by Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger

The Essence of Chocolate

You know who you are: you think that eight dollars a pound is a bargain for grey sea salt, you have an opinion about which brand of butter makes the best cakes, and you're pretty sure a grocery store isn't worth it's seven-dollar salt if they don't sell Scharffen Berger baking chocolate. You may not like the moniker, but deep down you know that you are a foodie, and, if you are a foodie who loves chocolate — really, what's the point if you're not? — you need this cookbook. The recipes are divided by chocolatey-ness — Intesensely Chocolate, A Hint of Chocolate, Essentially Chocolate — and were mostly developed by the good folks at Scharffen Berger with contributions by food celebrities like Flo Braker, David Lebovitz, and Rose Levy Beranbaum. Including beautiful photographs and a wide variety of chocolate recipes, this book is the perfect addition to any baker's library.

  1. Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon
  2. A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
  3. Field Notes From a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert
  4. Terrier: Beka Cooper #1 by Tamora Pierce

Nicole A.

1. Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish by Tom Shachtman

Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish

A fascinating look at the Amish tradition of "rumspringa," a period of months in each Amish teenager's life when they are permitted to participate in usually forbidden things: smoking, drinking, parties, cars, trendy clothes, music, and cell phones. At the end of this period, the teens must decide whether they will give all of this up and live the rest of their lives under the strict rules of their church. Shachtman's book is a thought-provoking look at how most Amish teens decide to leave behind the trappings of modern life that many of us take for granted.

Jill

1. The Echo Maker by Richard Powers

The Echo Maker

The Echo Maker is the story of Mark Schluter, a 27-year-old man who has a mysterious accident in his hometown in Nebraska, the site of the magnificent Sandhill Crane migration along the river. When he comes to, he has developed Capgras syndrome, a condition in which loved ones — and only loved ones — are seen as imposters played by look-alike actors, or perhaps robots. It's a fascinating set-up, and the novel delivers completely, weaving an engrossing, enlightening, and tender mystery out of strands of ecology, neurology, and the very nature of identity. Powers's prose is a marvel, lyrical and lucid. If you haven't yet read this extraordinary author, which Kirkus calls "one of our best novelists," The Echo Maker is the ideal place to begin.

  1. Averno by Louise Gluck
  2. The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel by Amy Hempel
  3. Here They Come by Yannick Murphy
  4. Riding Westward by Carl Phillips
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