Books I read in 2009:

    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  The redemption-through-sports-success cliche is overdone, but Alexie gets adolescence exactly right: all that responding inappropriately, unmodulated reactions, feeling like a freak, and the constant feeling of being scrutinized.
    A Russian Civil War Diary: Alexis Babine in Saratov, 1917-1922 by Alexis Vasilovich Babine.  First hand account of the Soviet takeover of Russia and its aftermath, from a bitter English teacher in an agricultural town.  A lot of rumor, but certainly gives the flavor of the place and time.
    Hoodoo: Unraveling the 100-Year Mystery of the Chicago Cubs by Grant DePorter, Elliott Harris and Mark Vancil.  Genially beery reflection on the Cubs' futile history uncovers some curiosities from the year of their last championship.
    Ambassador Dodd's Diary, 1933-1938 by William Edward Dodd.   William Edward Dodd was U.S. ambassador to Nazi Germany in the 1930s. He brilliantly conveys the surreality of the time, the fear felt by everyone, and the stress and distaste he felt throughout.
    American Diaries, 1902-1926 by Theodore Dreiser.  Novelist's diary has some interesting depictions of pre-air conditioning California and Florida, but mostly is about his love life.
    Dreiser's Russian Diary by Theodore Dreiser.  Dreiser was invited to the the Soviet Union in 1927 but insisted on seeing more than the sanitized version.  He did not have a good time, so it probably wasn't a success from the vantage point of our Communist friends.  However, he draws a vivid picture of the poverty, totalitarianism, and general misery of the period.
    The Adventures of Marco Polo by Russell Freedman. Brief but thorough introduction to the legendary Marco Polo (1254-1323?) for younger readers. Accompanied by brilliant illustrations, contemporarily done by Bagram Ibatoulline but in period style.
    The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  Toddler escapes murderer, is raised by ghosts in a graveyard. Although a tad contrived in parts, it is a mind-bending read.  Read with Robbie and Eli.
    Unintended Consequences: How War in Iraq Strengthened America's Enemies by Peter W. Galbraith.  Brief but pointed critique of Bush's war, up to and including the surge: the wrong war, executed badly, still a mess with little hope for the new President to solve.
    Scat  by Carl Hiaasen.  Young adult novel read with Robbie and Eli... maybe the best Hiaasen I've read yet.  Set in Florida, as always, but with a more diverse set of developed characters.  Middle schoolers Nick and Marta try to save an endangered panther while solving the mysterious disappearance of their science teacher.
    The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden.  A year in nature, specifically 1906 in Warwickshire, England, compiled along with seasonal poetry and some amazing drawings of local animals and plants. Book reprints her diary without any contextual material.
    A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. Four people meet by accident on New Year's Eve in London, at a place they've all gone to attempt suicide. Instead of going through with it, they bond, sort of.
    The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama by Gwen Ifill.  Not the puff piece some Republicans alleged last fall, but an interesting survey of contemporary black politicians in the United States.  I was particularly interested in her accounts of tension between the older generation and those born since 1960.
    The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness and the Creation of 'Roget's Thesaurus' by Joshua Kendall.  Enjoyably readable biography of Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869), who turned his compulsive list-making into the lucrative and useful Roget's Thesaurus.
    The WIlloughbys
by Lois Lowry.  Absurd, witty, occasionally dark spoof of the "sad little orphan" books popular 100 years or so ago.  Features twins, both named Barnaby, and an unhappy rich boy who "speaks German" by adding German-sounding suffixes to English words (e.g. "forgotzenplunkt").
    Loving Letters from Ogden Nash.  Poet-humorist's family correspondence from courtship (early 1930s) to grandfatherhood (early 1970s).  He is warm and witty throughout, though the courtship section gets a bit repetitive.
    We Are the Ship: The story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson. A lively book for young readers, Nelson's first, covering roughly 1900-1950 when professional baseball was segregated. Amazing illustrations. Text probably requires more knowledge of baseball history than most people have... when I read it to Robbie and Eli I found myself doing a lot of explaining.
    Diaries of a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. This is not a diary strictly speaking, but a journal in which the German poet (1875-1926) recorded reflections, sketches of compositions, and occasional anecdotes from the years 1899 and 1900.
    The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Past and Future of American Affluence by Robert J. Samuelson. Samuelson--a Newsweek columnist who is not related to the Nobel Prize winning economist, but to whom I give extra respect because he has the same last name--reviews the last 50 years of the U.S. economy, with the pivotal moment being the runaway inflation of the 1970s. Perhaps overly sanguine about contemporary economic problems, Samuelson concludes by warning against overreaching when trying to improve health care, combat global warming, regulate banks &c. (and thus bringing back the bad old days of the 70s).
    Peak by Roland Smith.  Coming-of-age story about a 14-year-old boy who attempts to be the youngest person ever to climb Mt. Everest.  Read with Robbie and Eli.  Probably best read in summer.
    Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? by Philip E. Tetlock.  Ingenious attempt to test the prediction ability of foreign policy experts gets very complicated when it comes down to definitions and measurements.  Its most interesting finding is that pragmatic, flexible "foxes" do measurably better than more rigid ideologues ("hedgehogs").
    The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter. Middle-aged man is losing job, savings, house, wife... finds whatever desperate measures he resorts to only make things worse, and that the system is totally stacked against him. Once he figures that out he's OK after a fashion.
    Diary of an Erotic Life by Frank Wedekind.  German playwright (1864-1918) sows wild oats, looks for material, amazingly avoids venereal disease.
    Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller. Essential coverage of the musical output of these outstanding singer-songwriters, as well as interesting social discussion of how they fit into the feminist period of history.  More coverage than necessary of their sex lives, at which they were as judicious as rabbits.
    The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth by Frances Wilson.  When Jane and I visited the Lake District 20 years ago, I first came across Dorothy Wordsworth's journal and found it fascinating in an idyllic way. Frances Wilson digs around in what clues there are to ask: Who were these people? How did they get here? What did they do here?
    Renegade: The Making of a President by Richard Wolffe.  Sympathetic but fair story of the 2008 presidential election from the Obama campaign's perspective. Most interesting points: (a) a lot of the "no drama Obama" persona was learned not natural; (b) the campaign's polling often had information on public opinion that flatly contradicted the opinings of pundits. Read while humming the Styx song of the same name.
    The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer. Fiction: a group of female friends who left the workforce to have children, who are now becoming less dependent on them, wonder what to do with their lives .  Interesting reflections on feminism, contemporary society, and personal relationships.
    Letters to the Oval Office: From the Files of the National Archives by Dwight Young.  Amusing collection of letters to Presidents from Washington to Clinton.  Some touch on issues, some just folksy.  Includes an e-mail sent to Clinton and two 2-x-4s sent to Carter.
    The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria.   Zakaria is one of the most perceptive commentators on today's political scene. Here he describes a world which has more economic activity in more places, but where the United States still has an important role to play (assuming it can adjust).