These favorites come from Lynn, Jesse, Our Maarten-Of-The-No-Lists. Jesse is ABC Amsterdam’s Fashion and Art buyer, Our Maarten-Of-The-No-Lists you will know on the blog from the irregular Weird Book of the Week posts (although he also buys the books for History, Business, and Controversial Knowledge at ABC Amsterdam). Lynn is one of ABC’s owners and has worked at ABC since it was that little store on the Dam; another one of our pillars, in other words!
We would love to hear about what YOUR favorite reads of 2011 were, too! They don’t have to be books published in 2011, just read in 2011. Please send your top 5 to firstname.lastname@example.org, and be sure to include your mailing address so we can send you an ABC gift voucher as a thank you. We’ll be publishing your Top 5s at the beginning of 2012, so you have the rest of the month to hand them in. Thank you to those who have already mailed them in!
And now, without further ado… the lists!
The Orientalist – Tom Reiss
I’d read intriguing reviews of this book, the search for an author, once internationally famous, whose works, and identity, were forgotten. The author, known last as Kurban Said and previously as Essad Bey, was actually born Leo Nussimbaum in Azerbedjian at the start of the 20th century. He writes as Essad Bey of his youth as the son of an oil magnate and a Russian revolutionary. Oil was so plentiful in Baku you could stick a spade in the ground and light it on fire. There were lots of oil magnates of diverse religious and geographical backgrounds and they all fled when the Russians toppled the remains of the Ottoman influence in Baku. Tom Reiss hunts the trail left by Nussimbaum as he and his father fled to Persia, Constantinople and Berlin and led me to a summer spent reading two books by Essad Bey.
Ali & Nino – Kurban Said
One of the persons Reiss tracked down in his quest for the real Kurban Said was the woman who found a copy of Ali & Nino in a secondhand bookshop in Berlin and translated it into the first English version. This is a love story, so richly written – the main characters are Islamic and Christian, Oriental and European, against a backdrop of time and place when those descriptions were not as politicized as they now are. The perspective of a man’s life in the Orient just a hundred years ago was unique – it reads like a tale from Arabian nights but extending into life in Paris and Berlin in the 40’s.
Angels in My Hair – Lorna Byrne
Thanks to Femke, I had the opportunity to be present at two of Lorna’s lectures and so read the books by this person who talks with angels. Later she came to the bookstore for filming of a television show in the White Room. Another biography, the part of this one which has stuck with me is the admonition to ask our ever-present angels for help – they love to help and are not being asked often enough.
Infinite Possibility: Creating Customer Value on the Digital Frontier – B. Joseph Pine !! & Kim C. Korn
Joe Pine is the guy who came up with an analysis of evolving economic activities which is now widely termed The Experience Economy. After that came his book on Authenticity. Now he’s developed a conceptual structure which helps us to understand the varieties of virtual and real experiences now on offer. Augmented reality is one aspect. The Espresso Book Machine is an example, like a fab lab, of virtual physicality – bytes turning into books. We’ve made an arrangement to print a synopsis of the book right on our own Espresso Book Machines, making these copies books that walk their talk. (Free to anyone purchasing 3 business books till end of January.)
Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson
This biography is stimulating and worthwhile.
1. Appetite for Reduction: 125 Fast and Filling Low-Fat Vegan Recipes – Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Another great vegan cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. The recipes are very easy without obscure and expensive ingredients and also very healthy. Some of my favorites: Pasta con Broccoli, Buffalo Tempeh, Cool Slaw and OMG Oven Baked Onion Rings.
2. The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped Americ – Russel Shorto
Very well narrated by Russel Shorto. I really enjoyed the story of the Dutch colony in New Amsterdam and the way it is told; hours after I put the book away I’d still have these images in my head of 17th century Europe and the wilderness of what would become America.
3. Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book I – Colin Meloy & Carson Ellis
A very nice children’s book but also suitable for adults. I really enjoy Carson Ellis’ illustrations and it is nice to see a book full of them! Also enjoyed the story a lot, written by The Decemberists front man Colin Meloy.
5. Vegan Pie in the Sky: 75 Out-Of-This-World Recipes for Pies, Tarts, Cobblers, and More – Isa Chandra Moskowitz
What can I say.. If I hadn’t lost my pastry cutter after using it once, I would have had more pies to recommend. I made She’s my Cherry Pie, Maple Pecan Pie and Key Lime Pie and they were all great.
Sort of the Best Books I Read in 2011, and not really Five Either
As always, it is difficult to make a list of the 5 best books I read this year. I mean, who and how do you choose? Of all the Dutch authors I read, which one is better: Toon Tellegen, Remco Campert, Simon Carmiggelt or Annie M.G. Schmidt? All are light and funny, but also deep and wise. Of the great storytellers Hella Haasse (who died this year), Simon Vestdijk and Arthur van Schendel, who is the best? Impossible to answer. Let me just mention this forgotten classic: Een zwerver verliefd, by Van Schendel. Great story, ditto writing.
A completely different genre – non-fiction – presents an equally difficult choice. Not only the writing is important here, but also the quality of the information: is it interesting, original etc…? If I have to pick one (and I do) I pick Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw, which combines a pleasant style with nice fact(oid)s and new perspectives on old problems.
For graphic novels I choose the The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen-series by Alan Moore (including, for example, The Black Dossier). The way he uses the medium is very good and diverse, and recognizing all the references to fictional heroes from many different literary classics is a fun game to play.
(Because people get tired of me mentioning anything Sherlockian, I won’t mention it here, although I read many Holmesian-themed books, among them the new and great The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz. But, like I said, I won’t mention it this year….)
On the second-hand book market on the Spui I discovered The Tales of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov (sadly only available through our supplier of second-hand books at the moment), which made me very happy because you almost never find them anywhere. (And I hate buying books on the Internet. Searching through crates and shelves in dusty bookstores to discover something by chance is so much more fun than just clicking on a screen: the hunt is more important than the kill.) Asimov wrote six of these collections of Black Widowers-stories, which are sort-of-detectives, well written, have funny and smart characters and are very entertaining.
I think the ‘number one’ of this year’s list is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré. I wanted to read the book before I would see the movie, and it’s the best thriller I’ve read in ages. None of that Hollywood-style-action-packed nonsense, no gorey crimes or unbelievable characters, either. Just a slow-paced, suspense-full and intelligent plot, which requires some brains in its readers. A great bureaucratic-psychological Cold War-thriller from one of the best authors in the genre.