As a book reviewer, I come across a lot of books. Add to that the fact that I work in a library and one can see how many books of all kinds I am exposed to. While this exposure certainly has its advantages and benefits, it also makes it necessary to not read books I want to read, only because of time. In addition, it makes it difficult to choose a limited number to recommend to others. Nonetheless, here is a list of books that I have read over the past few years that I can honestly say I would give to friends and family as gifts.
Insect Dreams by Marc Estrin--A clever and funny tale about Kafka's beetle Gregor Samsa and the world of the 20th century. This latter subject ultimately turns the humor in this story into tragedy, which transforms it from just a good work of fiction into a classic one.
Subterranean Fire by Sharon Smith--This history of labor's struggle for economic justice in the United States is a necessary and hopeful read for those who earn a wage in these times of economic uncertainty.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak--Nominally a work written for the young adult market, this work unveils the emotional horrors of war and oppression while simultaneously celebrating the everyday beauty found in human existence. It is about the casualties that the masters of war ignore.
The Scar of David by Susan Abulhawa--The beauty in this story is not in its few moments of joy and happiness or its even rarer moments of hope. No, the beauty lies in the stories of a people determined not to die. In a young girl’s belief in family and friends. This story is a story of Palestine. The writing here echoes the finest couplets of Gibran and Rumi.
People's History of Sports in the United States--Dave Zirin has composed a wonderfully written, well-researched, and very readable story of US sport and its meaning to the oppressed and those who fight with them against the rulers. Like any sports book, there are stories of glory and prowess. This book is about the playing field and its role in the struggle for freedom and equal rights. It is about the rulers attempts to keep sport safely in the realm of nationalism and the status quo and the struggle of some athletes to make their efforts much more than that. Zirin makes it clear that it is a also a history that continues to be written.
Where the Wind Blew by Bob Sommer--Sommers' novel is an emotionally taut tale. Like the strings on his old girlfriend's cello, the story is tuned perfectly. One twist of the pegs to the left or right would make the story less than what it is--either too flat or mere melodrama. Where the Wind Blew is an intelligent and sensitive treatment of a time when the apocalypse was always just around the corner.
Born Under a Bad Sky by Jeffrey St. Clair--Most of the book is made up of hard-hitting articles regrading the destruction of the environment and exposes of those determined to continue that destruction. The jewel of the book lies in the last 116 pages of narrative. Titled "The Beautiful and the Damned," this section is St. Clair's beautifully rendered tale of a trip down some of the US West's best known rivers. Seemingly inspired by Hunter S. Thompson, Aldo Leopold and the sheer beauty of the natural surroundings it describes, "The Beautiful and the Damned" does more than end Born Under a Bad Sky with a flourish, it conveys it into the genuinely sublime.
War Without End by Michael Schwartz--This is the best book on the US war in Iraq published in English to this date. It is comprehensive in its breath, revealing in its detail, and relentlessly radical in its critique. Michael Schwartz explains not only what the US has done to that country and its people, but why it is still there. Furthermore, it explains why there is a good chance that US troops will be there forever unless massive public protests are mounted against that presence.
The Duel--by Tariq Ali This is an important book. There has been very little published in English about Pakistan that doesn’t merely parrot the positions of the Pakistan government, the US desires for that government, or some combination of the two. It is written in an engaging and accessible style. As the US widens its war against those who would defy its designs into Pakistan, it becomes essential reading for anyone who refuses to accept the Orientalist narrative spewed by the policy makers in Washington, DC. Ali has written a history that explains and interprets the reality of Pakistan that is free of western prejudices and self-serving assumptions conceived in the foreign policy bureaucracies of DC and London.
The Trip to Milky Way by Gary Corcoran--Trip to the Milky Way (Coldtree Press 2007) is a novel of flight and it’s a story of love. A beautifully told tale of one man’s journey from the military draft and toward himself during the US war on Vietnam, this occasionally humorous, often heart-wrenching novel is a tale of a generation that serves as a metaphor for a nation that lost its way. The story is a story of wandering. Sometimes the wanderer is lost and sometimes he is just wandering.
GB84 by David Peace--GB84 is nothing short of stunning. It is a novel about the savagery of capitalism. Jackboots and legalized police beatings of unarmed strikers. Secret hit squads and government/corporate-sponsored organizations of police pretending to be miners whose job is to convince the strikers to scab. Democratic forms and fascist realities. The war of the super rich against the workers. This is David Peace at his best.
The Lightning Thief Series by Rick Riordan--This is a delightful series set in modern times that features modern children of the gods and humans battling it out for the future of the Earth. An introduction to Greek mythology that makes it all seem very alive.
And I believe I would be remiss if I didn't mention my 2007 novel Short Order Frame Up. Here are some comments from readers and reviewers regarding that novel.
"Ron Jacobs has created a working-class brew of language and music, a quasi-bitter, semi-sweet world of weed and sport, of love and violence, of not-so-innocent innocence up against the walls of racism and power. A compelling story, alas, and an underlying reality of life in America." -Marc Estrin, author of Insect Dreams
"With Short Order, Ron Jacobs delivers something I haven't come across since the works of James Baldwin: a great anti-racist novel. Powerful and political without being preachy. Poignant without being treacly. It's stunning." - Dave Zirin
and one more.....
Finally a novel about social and racial justice wrapped in the digestible genre of a murder mystery and set in Baltimore, a town that divides the north from the south and embodies the hopes and prejudices of post-60s America. Short-Order Frame Up is charged by its keen eye for historical detail and social conscience. But the devotion to context never interferes with the relentless pull of the story. A finely written but disturbing novel that probes the lingering bruises on the American psyche.--Jeffrey St. Clair