It's that time of the year again folks! The 4th (or is it 5th?..I really can't remember, but I've been doing this for a while m-kay?) Annual Book of the Year Awards. Already, the celebrities are lining up on the red carpet as the limousines keep pulling up. Look over there! It's Joyce DeWitt of "Three's Company" Fame? I believe I see "Linda Lavin!" There, behind the E reporter, look it's Rex Reed. My goodness, all the big names are here. What is this? The premier of Joanni Loves Chachi?
Alright, it was easily my worst reading year in 20 years, surpassing last year which was my previous worst. The purchase of an i-phone was a huge distraction to my reading this year. I listened to Doves and Terence Trent D'Arby way more than I read this year. On the positive side, I discovered apps with sermons which kept me busy on trains, planes and automobiles. But 2012 has got to be better than this. I have a list of books to for this next year and quite a few novels that are classics, so it has got to be better than this year.
Despite the bad year, the Top 10 books this year are not so bad. In fact, some of them are marvelous. So let's begin the countdown as soon as Fred Grandy of "Love Boat" fame takes his seat.
10. The Shining by Stephen King (416 pages). This was my first Stephen King novel ever. It was actually my first horror novel ever and I was expecting to be very scared. I wasn't, which was disappointing. By the end of it I was ready to lock myself up in a mountain resort and kill someone.
9. The Tenth Parallel by Eliza Griswold (336 pages). A woman takes a multi-country journey to countries where there are fault lines between Christians and Muslims. Her travels take her to Sudan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other locations. It should have been called: "Passport to Muslims and Christians Killing Each Other."
8. The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston (368 pages). In the late 1970's and early 1980's, a creepy serial killer murdered young couples in the hills of Florence. These brutal slayings inspired the creation of the fictional cannibal, Hannibal Lector most famously found in "The Silence of the Lambs." The book is not just about an unsolved case, but about Tuscan culture and the ridiculousness of the Italian judicial system.
7. The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child by Nancy Verrier(231 pages). Fascinating but painful look at the effects of infant abandonment and adoption. It takes a look at what happens before and after the adoption. Be careful with this one.
6. Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa (288 pages): Another novel. People are disappearing near a mine in the Peruvian Andes and a couple of civil police from Lima are sent to investigate. Leaving their modern society behind, they enter into the (non-Western) world of the Quechua Indigenous people of the Andes with their mysticism, ritualistic, and spiritual world. It's a clash of cultures between the Westernized city detectives and the world of the mountain people.
5. Legacy Churches by Stephen Gray and Franklin Dumond (115 pages). A book about why churches enter into steep decline and what it takes to re-invent themselves. It's a must read for probably 90% of all pastors out there right now. A great introduction into the dynamics that lead to churches hitting a plateau and decline and what can be done about it.
4. In the Hands of the Great Spirit: The 20,000 Year History of American Indians by Jack Page (480 pages). A wonderful overview of the history of Native Americans which summarizes a lot of history into a very readable and compact form (obviously, 480 pages for 20,000 years but, hey, he's a good writer). It breaks down simplistic view of the Native Americans, brings out the fullness of the diversity of the various tribes, and is full of fascinating facts like the fact that many tribes prophesied the arrival of the white man. Also they were not primarily hunter and gatherers, but agriculturalists and city dwellers. And the horse riding, Sioux of the plains we all love in "Dances with Wolves" were an aberration---a post white-man reinvention of themselves that moved them West and onto horses. Really nicely done history.
3. Killing Pablo by Mark Bowden (256 pages). The story of the hunt for Colombian Narco-traffic kingpin Pablo Escobar. Don Pablo ushered in the age of the highly globalized, drug cartel that took over Medellin, and then Colombia. Pablo is an evil, but intriguing character and the way the cartel emerged from the slums to become more powerful temporarily than the government is fascinating.
2. A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca by Andres Resendez (314 pages). In 5th grade, I fell in love with the story of Spanish Conquistadors encountering the Americans in the 1500's. All the stories are riveting but none more so than the story of Cabeza de Vaca (Head of a Cow). Hoping to perhaps become the governor of newly discovered Florida, Cabeza de Vaca and 600 Spaniards set off to conquer land and find gold in an area they thought was close to Mexico City. Instead, they were hit by a hurricane near modern day Tampa Bay, shipwrecked, lost in the swamps, and starving. This was only the beginning of a journey into hell as they were captured by Indian tribes (some that don't even exist anymore), passed around as slaves, survived another large raft voyage, and trekked from Tampa all the way to Mexico City suffering the entire time. They saw mystical things and went to places no Westerner had ever seen. In the end, they ended up having spiritual powers themselves. I won't ruin the ending but Cabeza de Vaca's journey was simply astonishing. One day in the life of Cowhead is more dramatic than our entire lives. This guy is my patron saint. I'd love to visit his tomb in Spain in the coming years.
1. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Surival, Resiliance, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand (pages 398). The true story of Luis Zamperini whose quest to become an Olympic champion was interrupted by World War II. Much like Cabeza de Vaca, Zamperini's journey is simply astounding. It's hard to decide between the two books, but Laura Hillenbrand's writing has such a remarkably wonderful flow to it that it reads more like a novel than like history. I read this while on vacation in Costa Rica and just could not put it down. While Cabeza De Vaca's story doesn't inspire (just astounds), this one adds the redemption piece that makes it a remarkable life lesson. It was a gift from Rod Stafford of Fairfax Community Church in Washington, DC. What a great one it was. The best book I read all year!
Honorable Mentions: It's a doctoral dissertation but it's now published; Rod Stafford's "Free to Lead: The Decision-Making Ethos of Healthy Growing Churches" is a very good read about a completely under-written about subject: the fine line between unhealthy hierarchical leadership and overly de-centralized leadership as it relates to congregational decision-making. Rod's Collaborative Hierarchy model would get a lot of churches out of the bogged down bureaucratic process that can keep them from healthy change.
Biggest Disappointments: Serpico and King of the Gypsies by Peter Maas. Well, they were both made into films! True, one of them starred Eric Roberts and Judd Hirsch, not such a great sign--true 'dat, but still, I thought these books would be a gripping insight into New York police life and American gypsy life. They were really very underwhelming. Perhaps at the time (the 1970's) this was a pretty gripping sociological read. But I just wasn't feeling it.
Well, there you have it. The show is over and Ricky Gervais did not make one bad joke. What a memorable night. Congratulations to Laura Hillenbrand for winning the big award.
Next year, more novels I think. I could use the escapism, but I always find myself gravitating toward non-fiction. The world is so interesting and these books made that very clear again this year. See you next December at the 4th or 5th or 6th annual Book Awards unless the Mayan Apocalypse kills us all in 2012.