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The year in review 2006

Best of 2006

Critic: Margaret Black

1. The Reindeer People: Living With Animals and Spirits in Siberia

Piers Vitebsky

An amazing account of life in the Arctic, of reindeer (a most intriguing animal), the people who herd them, and what happened when the heavy hand of the Soviet Union landed on them, and then, 70 years later, was lifted.

2. The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton: The First Domestic Goddess

Katherine Hughes

Mrs. Beeton wrote the Victorian compendium of cookery and household management, a tome still published today. But her life so little resembled our clichéd notions of the period that for her story alone this book makes compelling reading.

3. Oracle Bones: Journey Between China’s Past and Present

Peter Hessler

Once again Peter Hessler shines a clear light on highly individual lives in present-day China, but this time he enriches these stories with commentary on an archeological dig in Anyang that allows him to explore the country’s ancient history, its system of writing, and how that relates to the present.

4. The Woman Who Waited

Andrei Makine

Another short novel by Andrei Makine in which a jaded young dissident from Leningrad goes deep into the Soviet Union’s Arctic regions and falls in love with a much older woman, who has remained faithful to her lover, lost during World War II.

5. Behold the Many

Lois-Ann Yamanaka

This over-the-top Hawaiian gothic novel, written with great energy, largely in pidgin, chronicles the horrendous but fascinating life of a poor Portuguese-Japanese girl exiled to a tuberculosis sanitarium with her two sisters.

6. The Secret River

Kate Grenville

Grenville’s novel joins many tales about the early settlement of Australia by convicts, but hers are a particularly intriguing lot, and she also writes with real insight about the Aborigines they displaced.

7. Playing in the Light

Zoë Wicomb

A successful, white South African businesswoman investigates what happened to her old black nanny, and uncovers a complicated story of racial passing during the apartheid era.

8. A Spot of Bother

Mark Haddon

A compulsively entertaining, but darkly ironic and perceptive story of a contemporary British family that buckles under stress when the father discovers what he believes is a cancerous tumor.

9. A Family Daughter

Maile Meloy

What at first appears to be a sequel to the author’s family chronicle Liars and Saints turns out to be both an independent account and a postmodern examination of how no family member tells the same family story.

10. Kristin Lavransdatter

Sigrid Undset (Tiina Nunnally trans.)

Nunnally’s superb translation of Undset’s tale of medieval Norway retrieves this great modern-day saga from the oblivion to which its previous English translations so rightly consigned it. Undset purposely modeled her work on the great Icelandic sagas, and now, once again, her success is apparent.

Best of 2006

Critic: Gene Mirabelli

1. State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III

Bob Woodward

1. Because of his great stature as a journalist and insider, Woodward’s indictment of the crowd in the White House probably did more than any other book to turn voter tide against the Bush administration.

2. War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back

Lou Dobbs

Cable-TV anchor Dobbs has charted his own idiosyncratic course in this book and has succeeded in telling it like it is to the masses, which a lot of professional economists have tried and failed to do.

3. Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid

Jimmy Carter

The former president’s astonishingly controversial book on the anguished Israeli-Palestinian conflict invites U.S. citizens to get informed, and to discuss or even criticize Israel’s policies, much as one would debate our own policies or those of any other nation.

4. The Iraq Study Group Report

James A. Baker III, and Lee H. Hamilton, Co-Chairs

This slender little paperback has inaugurated a broad ranging discussion of our situation in Iraq, an issue that until recently had been debated only by Washington policy wonks, politicians and hostile writers.

5. An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It

Al Gore

This book (yes, helped by the movie and the DVD) has reached more people and convinced more doubters about the reality of global warming than any another weightier volume on the subject.

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