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Five Great Books From The Year That Was

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I'm a readin' fool, as most anyone who knows me will attest. In no particular order or pattern, here's a handful of the books I dug the most from this past year. All are well worth reading if you're hunting for something new.

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
I'm a Teddy Roosevelt nut, eager to swallow up books on the man I consider the last truly outsized president, a larger-than-life cowboy, environmentalist, adventurer and politician. This great book looks at TR's final journey, an epic exploration of the unknown jungles of the Amazon with a small crew of like-minded gutsy travelers. Jungle attacks, disease, death and disaster lurk around every turn. Wonderfully researched and with Millard's vivid writing you can almost taste the malaria (use that on a jacket quote!). Utterly unimaginable to picture our current president doing anything like this, of course, but fantastic true-life derring-do even if you hate politics. (Full review here.)

Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade Of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas, by Chuck Klosterman
I loves me the Chuck K., and this hefty collection of his snarky magazine interviews, critical essays and more from the pages of Spin, Esquire and the like is a great bowl of pop culture stew. Highlights include his surreal interview with a half-naked Britney Spears, a journey to Val Kilmer's New Mexico hideaway, a refreshingly relaxed interview with Jeff Tweedy and a trip to a Morrissey convention filled with Latino Moz fans. If you're the kind of person who spends time thinking about who the best candidate for the fifth (and seventh, and tenth) Beatle would be, give it a whirl. It's all breezy good junk culture fun, a nice follow-up to his previous collection, Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs.

High Lonesome: Stories 1966-2006 by Joyce Carol
A massive collection of 40 years of short stories by one of the modern masters of the form, diamond-sharp prose about unpredictable horror, lust and despair coming into the lives of everyday people. I was new to Oates upon reading this, and now I'm a convert to her sinister power, with a style that's like a cousin to writers such as Flannery O'Connor and Patricia Highsmith. (Full review here.)

Cell, by Stephen King
There are those who say King peaked back in the '80s, but while this isn't exactly "It, Part II," it's a swell little piece of modern-day cyber-paranoia, about a plague that affects all cell phone users and turns them into raving psychotics. Yeah, another end-of-the-world saga, but Cell is nice and tense, unsettling and brief enough not to wear out its welcome. And it scared me, which takes a little work even for the best of King to do. (Full review here.)

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kal Bird and Martin J. Sherwin
New in paperback this year, this 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography is like watching the American dream — and nightmare — in action. Oppenheimer, of course, brought us the atomic bomb, but went from American hero to near-traitor during the communism scare of the 1950s. Physics and politics don't sound like the most exciting read, but the authors really bring the haughty, brilliant and dreamy Oppenheimer to life, which makes his hubris and fall that much more tragic. Great, spellbinding biography.

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