ABC’s Favorite Books of 2009, part D

BookstackAh yes, it’s December, the time of looking over the past year and deciding what was great, what was so-so, and what could be done better next year.  In what is now very much a tradition, the ABC staff has been rootling through the books they read over the past year to decide what were the proper gems and what were the baubles.  Over the next few days and weeks Hayley and I will be posting their favorites.

Which reminds me: we would love to know what your 5 favorite reads of the past year were (they don’t have to be books published in 2009).  Please send them to (it’s not too late!), and please include your mailing address so we can send you an ABC gift voucher as our thank you.

Part D is a very wordy one, as Aviva, Tom and Maarten will show you exactly why they liked each book they listed, and at length, too.  You’ll see some books already picked as a Top Read in part A, B, or C, but also books about homosexual necrophilia in animals, celebrity memoirs, and aspidistras.

Click on more to find out!


1) Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
For the first time in his career, Safran Foer – the much beloved Wunderkind of American literature – has successfully ventured into the world of non-fiction with this unflinching yet also very personal look at the current state of animal agriculture and what it really means to eat animals, not only from the standpoint of animal welfare, but also in terms of the environmental and public health impacts. Never preachy, the author leaves the reader to come to their own conclusions, but no matter what conclusion you come to, you will never again look at the food on your plate in the same way after reading this book. Not only is this my number 1 book of the year, it is, in my opinion, one of the most important books of the year.

2) Dear Fatty by Dawn French
I’m not generally drawn to celebrity biographies, but when I saw that the brilliantly funny Dawn French had written a memoir, I couldn’t resist. Presented as a series of letters to loved ones, French draws us through the events in her life that have defined and shaped her, sometimes with great poignancy, but never cloyingly so. Throughout the reader is treated to her trademark humor and wonderful gracious spirit. If you like Dawn French, you’ll love her after reading this book. If you already love her, you’ll love her even more.

3) The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8 Lee
What starts out as an investigation into a record number of lottery winners finding their numbers in fortune cookies turns into a search for the origin of what is considered “Chinese” food in the US and worldwide. Along the way Lee explores the immigrant experience, the strange, dangerous, and depressing world of Chinese restaurant workers, the odd connection between the American Jewish community and Chinese take-out (in the brilliantly titled chapter “Why Chow Mein Is the Chosen Food of the Chosen People – or The Kosher Duck Scandal of 1989”), and goes on assignment to find “the greatest Chinese restaurant in the world”. Interwoven between these topics is her ongoing search for the origin of that staple of American Chinese catering – the fortune cookie – which turns out to be neither Chinese nor American. A fun and interesting read, hard to categorize, but highly recommended for anyone interested in food, the American immigrant experience, or cultural history.

4) Scaredy Squirrel and Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend by Melanie Watt
These charmingly illustrated children’s books by Canadian artist Melanie Watt follow the adventures of the adorable Scaredy Squirrel, who lives a predictable, if somewhat dull, existence safe and sound in his nut tree. There are plenty of things to be scared of out there in the world, including killer bees, germs, piranhas and Godzilla, so Scaredy makes sure he has a contingency plan for dealing with these dangers when he’s forced to venture away from home. But things don’t always go according to plan, and our hero soon learns that the world is not as scary a place as he imagines. In fact, it can be quite a fun and exciting place even when things go “wrong”. A great series of books for kids and adults alike and a reminder that it’s ok to step outside of your comfort zone.

5) Wildlife Photographer of the Year (Portfolio 18)
This companion publication to the yearly photography competition – owned by the BBC and The Natural History Museum in London – is an absolute feast for the eyes. Showcasing some of the most talented wildlife photographers in the world (both professional and amateur) the stunning works on display in these books never fail to take my breath away. Demonstrating the beauty and fragility of life on our planet in a way that no text possibly could, you’ll come back to them again and again for the quality and the artistry of the images. I order them as a holiday present for myself every year. I’ve listed portfolio 18 because it’s the last one I purchased, but portfolio 19 is already available.



An Aspidistra in Babylon by H. E. Bates
This author certainly knows how to write a good story! Good, old-fashioned (it was written in 1960) fiction.

The Art of Living Consciously by Nathaniel Branden
This book is about mindfulness, which basically means becoming more conscious of yourself and the world around you. Not an easy read (you have to read it very consciously …) but certainly an instructive book. By the Canadian psychotherapist who once had a relationship with Ayn Rand.

The Attractor Factor by Joe Vitale
I stumbled upon this one by sheer coincidence, and it turned out to be a very inspiring read. Mr. Vitale’s urges the reader to dream big to make it all happen, both businesswise and in life in general. The principles he describes aren’t new (he’s the first one to admit that) but he certainly knows how to tell it all in a very enthusiastic manner.

A New You by Nicola Cook
Want to improve the quality of your life? Find out what it is that you want to change and how to do it by reading this down-to-earth, no-nonsense book that will help you unlock your hidden potential!

Taal is zeg maar echt mijn ding by Paulien Cornelisse
I got this one as a Sinterklaas present and it’s a very entertaining read. I started reading it a couple of hours after I got it and I had trouble putting it down, even if it was already getting really, really late… The author writes in a light-hearted way about the current usage of her native language, Dutch. (See also my colleague Hester’s comment on this book).



Once again I’ve read plenty of books, although of course never enough, but not really good ones; at least, not many that are worth mentioning, or rereading. Don’t ask me why, but I guess that’s the problem with reading a lot of b-fiction, and non-fiction focused on factoids instead of brilliant ideas.  Still, five best is still possible, in no particular order:

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
I wanted to see the movie, but I had never read the book, so now I did. And it was definitely not a disappointment, it was actually very good. These guys know how to use the medium, with rhythm and rhyme in the pictures and the (structure of the) text. Plus great characters and a good story.

De Eendenman. Over homoseksuele necrofilie en ander opmerkelijk diergedrag by Kees Moeliker (not translated into English as far as I know)
In Holland not many Fortean books appear but when they do they generally are, like this one, rather good. Moeliker, Winner of an IgNobel award and European Bureau Chief of Improbable Research, gives us a fine collection of strange and funny (but true!) animal behaviour, and other interesting and weird facts about the natural world.

Footprints on the Moon by John Barbour/The Associated Press (no longer in print)
Because of the 50th anniversary of the Moonlanding/Apollo 11 this year.  A very compelling story of the entire space-travel golden years, starting with the Sputnik, via the Mercury and Gemini programs (with of course also Gagarin and the rest of the Soviet space program) up to the first moon landing. This  book is on this list not so much for the writing, although that is of a high journalistic quality, but for the enormity of the story, the excitement of, well, going to the moon, and the daring of the men with ‘the right stuff’. Much fun for ‘men who are still boys’ and nerds alike. And for me also.

Minoes by Annie M.G. Schmidt (English translation titled Minnie no longer in print, sadly)
Well, this doesn’t really need an explanation, does it?

The Book of Genesis – Illustrated by Robert Crumb
Because this first book of the Bible consists of great and weird stories, here nicely illustrated. Crumb, by staying very close to the original text, closer than most translations, shows these stories pure and naked, and forces you to reconsider a lot of things you took for granted about this text. This is a good way to read the Bible. He really must do Exodus as well!!

And of course, anything about/with/around Sherlock Holmes…because he is still the Greatest Detective Ever.