This is the time of year when everyone comes out with a "best books of the year" list.
The New York Times has its "10 best books of 2010" as well as its "100 notable books." The Cleveland Plain Dealer's books editor, Karen Long, has issued her own "best of" list. My wife, a librarian who leans heavily toward mysteries and animal books, has put out her "top 12" books at the Rocky River Public Library blog.
My own "best of" list at least has the advantage of being brief. Although I read a few dozen books every year, many aren't new titles, and some of the new books I did get to weren't truly great.
But here are three new books I read last year I can truly recommend:
Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, Daniel Okrent.
Okrent's fascinating history taught me how little I knew about this period of American history. Did you know that the passage of the income tax paved the way for Prohibition? Or that feminists and the Ku Klux Klan were allies in imposing Prohibition?
You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After the Breakup, Peter Doggett
I quit reading Beatles books years ago because I got tired of reading the same stories over and over again. How many times can you read, for example, that Eric Clapton's "Layla" is about George Harrison's wife? Doggett's book covers fresher ground and has some genuine scoops. It reveals, for example, that John Lennon and Paul McCartney had planned to get together in the mid-1970s so they could write songs together again. (Those plans were scuttled when John got back together with Yoko Ono, but it's an interesting "what if.")
The master of modern day space opera is Iain M. Banks, who has written a series of far-future science fiction novels in a setting called the Culture. The new novel, full of interesting political-moral dilemmas, includes a war fought to determine whether virtual reality worlds should be allowed to include hells to torture their electronic inhabitants.