An editor recently wrote me to ask if I had any picks for best books of the year.
But there are so many books published each year that a definitive list of the best ones can be hard for any single reader to argue. I can only point to a few I enjoyed this year, some possible titles for you to pick up this holiday season as gifts for others — or yourself.
“Every Little Scrap and Wonder,” Carla Funk’s memoir of her small-town childhood in Canada, is a beautifully written reminiscence that should have gotten more attention. It landed in my lap pretty much by accident, but what a happy accident that was. Her poetic evocations of rural life promise to resonate with those of us in Louisiana who had similar upbringings.
Speaking of poetry, what a good piece of luck to stumble into “Carrying Water into the Field,” which assembles some of Joyce Sutphen’s fine poems about growing up on a farm in Minnesota. It’s liberating to read a book about family life that celebrates it as a source of joy rather than abuse and tragedy, although, necessarily, her poems touch on loss, too.
Hearing about “Edison,” the new biography of the legendary inventor by Edmund Morris, I wondered why it hadn’t gotten much advance promotion. A quick online search revealed the reason. Morris, acclaimed for his masterful, three-volume biography of Teddy Roosevelt, isn’t around to talk up “Edison,” since the author died of a stroke shortly after completing the manuscript.
His biography of Ronald Reagan was rightfully panned some years ago for using a fictional narrator, a technique that left readers wondering what was true and what was fancy. “Edison” doesn’t indulge that gimmick, though Morris does strangely tell Edison’s story backward, from death to birth.
That’s not my cup of tea, but I do like the way that Morris, apparently a bit of an oddball himself, clues into how Edison’s eccentricities informed his genius. Edison, we learn, would typically eat no more than 6 ounces of food in a single meal, believing that a full stomach would cloud his thinking. Not a Louisiana notion, to be sure, but given the results of Edison’s mind, who can argue?
Another peculiar genius was Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and author who died in 2015. As my regular readers know, I’m a big fan of Sacks. His graceful observations about the wonders of medical science are an abiding invitation to remember what a simple miracle life is.
Journalist Lawrence Weschler followed Sacks around many years ago to gather material for a magazine profile. The project got shelved, but it was eventually revived and expanded into a new book, “And How Are You, Dr. Sacks?”
Through Weschler’s reporting, Sacks comes vividly back to life. That’s what books can do, which is why they’re a great gift this holiday season — and any other time of year.