One of the best things about being a writer is getting to meet other writers. They tend to be interesting company. Even better, they sometimes ask their publicists to send free copies of their new books. Of course, it’s not proper to review the books of one’s friends, although I believe this has been known to happen (as has the even more improper practice of reviewing the books of one’s enemies).
I try not to cross that line. Still, I hate to think that even a single last-minute Christmas shopper this week should lack for guidance regarding the perfect gift book merely because of my scruples over the past 12 months in refraining from praising the work of old friends, current colleagues, and valued acquaintances. So, with that disclosure, here are four books published in 2010 that you shouldn’t overlook:
The Authenticity Hoax by Andrew Potter When this book came out last spring, reaction naturally focused on Potter’s effortlessly entertaining way with a pop-culture reference. For instance, his long list of stuff marketed as authentic—Ethiopian cuisine to Coca-Cola, ecotourism to urban lofts—was widely remarked. But what will stick with readers is the compelling way he reminds us, without ever preaching, about what’s valuable in modernity, liberalism, secularism, and even consumerism.
Every Lost Country by Steven Heighton The action, and there’s plenty of it, straddles the high-altitude border between Nepal and China. The main plot involves Canadians who get mixed up with Tibetan refugees fleeing Chinese soldiers; a major sub-plot follows a climber trying to conquer a remote Himalayan mountain. On both of these fronts, Heighton builds suspense, and paints unforgiving landscapes, with the same deftness he showed in his celebrated Arctic novel, Afterlands.
Prudes, Perverts and Tyrants by Christina H. Tarnopolsky By taking on the task of rehabilitating Plato’s concept of shame, Tarnopolsky approaches the intersection of private and public life from an entirely unexpected angle. “Can we have a democratic politics,” she asks, “that preserves the kind of shame that is constitutive of respect and civility while avoiding the shame that stigmatizes and isolates certain groups from the public sphere?” This isn’t light reading by any means, but there’s a bracing urgency that drives her argument.
A Man In Uniform by Kate Taylor A spate of recent non-fiction books attest to the lasting fascination of the Dreyfus Affair. Taylor turns the saga of anti-Semitism in belle époque Paris into a sort of detective story. It’s uncommonly smart entertainment, lifted as literature by the way Taylor gradually increases the tension in the relationships between her protagonist, the stolid lawyer Francois Dubon, and both his wife and mistress. Domesticity is strained, politics are shaken, and it all evokes the sense an unstable new century about to begin.