One of my favorite books this year is Karl Marlantes' novel, Matterhorn, which recounts the experiences of a Marine platoon commander in Vietnam. The novel focuses on day-to-day grunt-level warfare, and I think it will be considered among the best, if not the best, novels about what war was like for the average infantryman. Having been in Vietnam myself, I think Marlantes captured the horror, frustrations, humor and honor inherent in that particular experience admirably.
I really like The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch. In a nutshell, he addresses the question of defining and identifying reality. A computational physicist, he writes with sharp intelligence in a down-to-earth vocabulary.
I am not sure if the book came out in 2011 or 2010 but I thoroughly enjoyed Half Broke Horsesby Jeannette Walls. She is the author of her own memoir, Glass Castles and this newest book is the story of her maternal grandmother, Lily Casey Smith. I was very intrigued to read about the mother who raised Wall's mother, because Wall's mother is a bit of a nut case and I just had to know where that came from! It is not something I would teach, but I would definitely recommend it to my high school age students.
Can I second (or third?) the comments of other editors concerning The Help? I particularly enjoyed this incredible insight into the way that black maids, who were so looked down upon and treated badly by their white employers, often had such an important role in development and upbringing of these white children they were left with. I found it particularly interesting as I have lived in a country where white expats are expected to have help from the indigenous population.
I just began Pinker's new book, and I'm enjoying it very much. I love everything he has ever written. I have The Swerve (Greenblatt) on my wish list for Chanukah, a book I know I'm going to enjoy. I also read all of the Dragon Tattoo (Larsson) books in one fell swoop about a month ago. I don't think a one of these is something I could actually use as a teaching text, but I believe that everything I read informs my teaching in one way or another.
Like pohnpei, I don't get a lot of chances to read fiction, and the books I read are typically historical non-fiction and aren't really conducive to classroom assignments. I do put some of the ones I read into my classroom library for military history in the spring, where students can choose any one to read for the semester.
Two I read recently that were very good were War by Sebastian Junger, and Bloodlands, by Timothy Snyder. The first is written from the point of view of the author, embedded in an American unit in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley. The second book is exhaustively researched, with a ton of info and accounts of early Soviet Russia under Stalin.
One book I particularly enjoyed reading was Conversations with Scorsese, by Richard Schickel. It's a series of interviews with the great film director, covering his entire life and career until roughly 2010. Since many of his films are likely to last, it was particularly interesting to read about how they were made. Scorsese, by the way, comes across as a very decent and thoughtful human being. This is a book I can highly recommend. On the other hand, Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs showed a different kind of person altogether. I admire Jobs' achievements, but he doesn't seem to have been an especially kind person.
I would have to agree with The Help as a novel in enjoyed reading in 2011. Another book that I waited for to come out in 2011 was the newest of the House of Night series, Destined. For some reason, the series drew me in and I could not wait for it to come out.
I really enjoyed reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I felt that more than making a statement about equal rights (and it does that beautifully), I also believe it speaks to anyone who has ever felt that they never had "a voice."
Teaching a novel is based on what is approved in the district and the money available to purchase books.
I know that in our community, two of us have decided to have a viewing of the movie, followed immediately by discussion with those who have seen the movie and/or read the book (the two are very similar) because it has SO much to say. We are hoping to draw book club members, community members, and kids from local schools who have read it and want to discuss it.
(I've also read all three of Erin Hart's novels about bog people and "bog murders" that are set in Ireland—all mystery novels. Great reading, very interesting, but not really for the classroom. Still, they are exciting. And I especially enjoy the archaeological aspect of the books.)
Since I teach history, I'm not likely to actually assign any of these books. Instead, I'd use some to help me enrich my teaching. Among my favorites are
- The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker.
- Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser, which argues that urbanization has been a huge benefit to humanity.
- Eva Braun by Heike Gortemaker, which argues (not sure I'm convinced) that Braun had much more power in the Third Reich than she has been given credit for.
Molotov’s Magic Lantern, by Rachel Polonsky . A roving evocation of Russia’s past.
Leningrad, by Anna Reid A history of the Second World War siege.
Mightier Than the Sword, by David S. Reynolds