Friday, January 4, 2013

Bob's 12 Best from 2012


Girl Child by Tupelo Hassman is an exquisite counterpoint to “Starboard Sea” as Rory Hendrix devours the Girl Scout Handbook to discover a way out of the Reno trailer park where she lives with her mother, Jo, a hard-luck bartender at The Truck Stop. Rory’s been told that she is a “third-generation bastard surely on the road to whoredom.”  From diary entries, social workers’ reports, half-recalled memories, arrest records, family lore, Supreme Court opinions, and Tupelo’s grandmother’s letters, Hassman crafts a devastating collage that shows the frighteningly unfair world of the bottom 1%.

The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont is “A rich, quietly artful novel that is bound for deep water, with questions of beauty, power and spiritual navigation.” Jason Prosper lives in the elite world of Manhattan penthouses, Maine summer estates, old-boy prep schools, and exclusive sailing clubs. Now at a “last chance” school trying to cope with the suicide of his sailing partner and best friend, Jason needs to grow up.  The novel is reminiscent of Catcher in the Rye with a little mystery thrown in for good measure. 

The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar is the “great panoramic social novel (of) Los Angeles”. Araceli is the live-in maid in a once affluent household. She is the last of three Mexicans employed and financial pressure is causing disturbing domestic arguments. After a particularly dramatic fight, Araceli wakes to an empty house—except for the family’s two sons she’s never had to interact with before. Their parents are unreachable, so she does the only thing she can think of and heads to the bus stop to seek out their grandfather. None of the family and much of Southern California will ever forget the adventure that follows. With shades of The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tortilla Curtain and Babel, this empathetic, insightful novel was named as the Boston Globe’s Best Fiction Book of 2011.

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante is a literary thriller about a retired orthopedic surgeon suffering from dementia and suspected of killing her best friend, Amanda, who was found dead with four fingers surgically removed.  The prime suspect, Dr. White doesn’t know if she did it. Told in White’s fractured and eloquent voice, a picture emerges of the surprisingly intimate, complex alliance between these proud, forceful life-long friends. As the investigation deepens, White’s relationships with her live-in caretaker and two grown children intensify and everyone wonders if White’s shattered memory is preventing her from revealing the truth or helping her hide it? “A startling portrait of a disintegrating mind clinging to reality through anger, frustration, shame, and unspeakable loss.”

The Expats by Chris Palone is a confident, complex first novel by an ex-patriot editor. Dexter is offered a job in Luxembourg with a private bank, and his CIA agent wife Kate,  who hasn’t told Dexter about her real job, finds housework and lunches with other expats boring. Moreover, Dexter's  uncharacteristic , behavior and the curiosity of new friends Julia and Bill raise her suspicions. “Kate's character, her CIA experiences, and her new life are examined in granular detail, all of which helps drive an intricate, suspenseful plot that is only resolved in the final pages.”

Defending Jacob by William Landy is a gripping, multiple-faceted story with well-crafted plot twists and turns.  A 14-year-old boy is stabbed to death near his middle school in a Boston suburb, and Assistant DA Andy Barber takes the case despite the fact that his son, Jacob, was a classmate of the victim. But when Jacob become the prime suspect, Andy is removed from the case and spends the next several months trying to understand his son and assist in his defense. I thought the work was a worthy heir of Scott Thurow at his best.

The Lost Prince by Selden Edwards is a pleasing sequel to his debut success, The Little Book.  Recently returned from the experience of a lifetime in fin de siècle Vienna, Eleanor Burden settles into her expected place in society--except for one small difference. Eleanor possesses an unshakable belief that she has advance knowledge of major historical events to occur during her lifetime-- and incredible insights into investment opportunities-- “A ‘Back to the Future’ for intellectuals."


The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care by Eric J. Topol, one of the nation’s top physicians and a leading voice on the digital revolution in medicine, argues that radical innovation and a true democratization of medical care are within reach. Topol asks “what happens when you combine cellular phone technology with the cellular aberrations in disease or create a bridge between the digital and medical revolutions?”  This marvelous book by Eric Topol, “ a leading cardiologist, gene hunter and medical thinker”, was my ‘best of 2012’ and answers these questions and many more with an amazing combination of breath, depth and excellent writing.

The End of Illness by  David Agus tackles some fundamental questions about modern medicine and “taking a cue from physics, he views the body as a complex system and helps us see how everything from cancer to nutrition fits into one whole picture.” The result is both a useful guide on how to stay healthy and a fascinating analysis of the latest in medical science.  “A bold call for all of us to become our own personal health advocates, “The End of Illness is flawed only by his overemphasis on the potential of work being done by Navigenics, a company he helped found.

Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think  by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler  optimistically  documents how four forces—exponential technologies, the DIY innovator, the “Technophilanthropist”, and the Rising Billion—are conspiring to solve our biggest problems  in the near and medium term future.  The authors introduce dozens of innovators who are making great strides in each our major problem areas--water, food, energy, healthcare, education, freedom and lays out a strategic roadmap for governments, industry and entrepreneurs.

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Pulitzer Prize–winner Jon Meacham “brings vividly to life an extraordinary man and his remarkable times.” Jefferson is depicted as a great and complex human who hated confrontation, and yet was able to marshal ideas, to learn from his mistakes, and to prevail. Passionate about women, his family, books, science, architecture, gardens, friends, Monticello, and Paris, Jefferson seemed to love the idea of America most. Meacham lets us see how Jefferson found the means to endure and win in the face of rife partisan division, economic uncertainty, and external threat. Meacham’s use of original letters and speeches convey impressive scholarship, but make the book a slower read than necessary.

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist who won the Nobel prize for economics, draws on an impressive stream of research to introduce his "machinery of the mind" model on human decision making to reveal the faults and capabilities of intuitive versus logical thinking—and how easily we slip away from our assumed rationality.  He weaves threads of Charles Darwin, Adam Smith and Sigmund Freud and is “arguably the most important psychologist in history.”  “Kahneman has reshaped cognitive psychology, the analysis of rationality and reason, the understanding of risk and the study of happiness and well-being.”

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the recommendation on The Starboard Sea, Bob!