The Best/Worst Books of 2002 by KNS Maré
Let me say, then, that thirteen hundred and forty-eight years had had already passed after the fruitful Incarnation of the Son of God when . . . there came a deadly pestilence. . . . And against this pestilence no human wisdom or foresight was of any avail.-- Giovanni Boccaccio,The Decameron
* * * *
There were some people who thought that living moderately and avoiding any excess
might help a great deal in resisting this disease . . . . Others thought the opposite: they believed that drinking excessively , enjoying life, going about singing and celebrating, satisfying in every way the appetites as best one could, laughing and making light of everything that happened was the best medicine for such a disease.
I find reality becoming more bizarre each year.
Consequently, works of nonfiction are becoming more compelling than works of fiction. I seem to be reading three or four nonfiction books to every one fiction, out of the forty-odd books I happen to read to completion each year.
Yet I am in no way arguing for the primacy of nonfiction over fiction. Rather, I am admitting to a predilection that is strongly indicative of some tenacious personal problem: an unidentified bugaboo, a mental tic, a copped attitude--whatever you want to use to describe that foul and dangerous ditch of hyper-awareness into which my literary preferences seem to have fallen lately.
True, the darkly corrupt and bloody-minded reign of error inherent to Bush presidencies tends to launch me into an obsessive search for `the truth” that will set me free, just as a prisoner will search endlessly for the loose stone, the hidden metal file, the makeshift key, the sympathetic guard. But Bush regimes, like plagues and other disasters, seem to arrive and depart for reasons not fully revealed to us mortals. All the vigilance and fretfulness mustered against them seem to no avail. Maybe the best counsel for post 9-11 is that given by the Old Testament preacher, found in Chapter 9, Verse 11, in the Book of Ecclesiastes:
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. KJV Ecclesiastes 9:11
Oddly enough, and, well, appropriately enough, my favorite book of 2002 was the least reality-based book I read: Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair. Fforde's wonderfully anarchic mix of literary allusions, historicism, futurism, satire, and pet dodos—bringing back dodos is the only rationale behind cloning that I will ever endorse—seemed to enable me to reach that terminal velocity of delight necessary to escape the pull of the New World Mordor that is happening right here, right now.
The Worst Book of 2002 was a crowded race, for sure. Max Boot claimed the prize with his Savage Wars of Peacebecause his book was such a superbly analytical, well-researched, tautly-written piece of fraud; a gleaming, turbo-charged, fuel-injected, all-wheel drive Trojan Horse kind of book that promises one thing yet delivers quite another. It pissed me off to no end, and not just because Zbigniew Brzezinski liked it. Brzezinski, the former National Security Advisor to President Carter, is rumored to be the only life-form in the world to have both lived through and thoroughly enjoyed several thermonuclear test explosions while seated at ground zero.
If you read my review of The Savage Wars of Peace, you'll see why it made me so angry. If you don't, well, you'll have to settle for this ad hominem rant: if Dante Alighieri and I have anything to say about it, there will be a new circle in Hell dedicated especially to all those smooth-faced 30-something chickenhawks like Max Boot who crow about the benefits of placing our country on permanent war standing without themselves ever having faced a shot fired in anger.
Here are my picks for the Best/Worst Books for 2002. An asterisk * indicates book reviews currently available on-line in the Archives link to my book reviews; double asterisks ** indicate current and/or upcoming book reviews.
The Best Nonfiction Books of 2002:
1) *The Last American Man, by Elizabeth Gilbert: Viking 2002, hardcover
2) **The Bizarre Careers of John R. Brinkley by R. Alton Lee: The University Press of Kentucky 2002, hardcover $ 29.95
3) **Edison's Eve, by Gaby Wood: Knopf 2002, hardcover $24.00
4) **The Culture of Make Believe, by Derek Jensen: Context Books 2002, softcover $ 18.00
5) **Secrets, by Daniel Ellsberg: Viking 2002, hardcover $ 29.95
The Best Fiction Books of 2002:
1) **The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde: Viking 2002, hardcover $23.95
2) **The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, by Brady Udall (new in paperback, too good to nitpick about being published in 2001): Vintage Books, 2001, softcover, $14.00
3) *Tailspin by Bernard F. Conners: British American Publishing, Ltd. 2002, hardcover $26.95 (in the fiction category with some allowance—the background reporting and investigative work was nonfiction, and superb)
4) **Drop City, by T.C.Boyle: Viking 2002, hardcover $25.95
5) The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson: Crown Publishers $ 25.95
The Worst Book of 2002
**The Savage Wars of Peace,by Max Boot: Basic Books (Perseus Books) 2002, bravely bound, courageously type-set, hard-covered with stiff resolve and steely determination, and boldly priced at $30.00.
© Copyright 2003 by KNS Maré