Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2011: Emil S.’s Picks

Before I worked in a library, I was a book editor for nine years, and a master of library science and a master of arts in literature may suggest that I have a thing for books. So, slowly, I read a lot of books. My range is fairly wide (me thinks, any way), beginning in 1700 B.C.E. and lasting till present day. Here are some of my favorites which I discovered in 2011:

The Great Enigma by Tomas Tranströmer
It is not every year – or every decade, even – that a poet receives the Nobel Prize for literature, but in 2011 it happened. Since his debut in 1954, Tranströmer has published (roughly) 250 pages of poems, and The Great Enigma (2004) will probably be his last collection of verse, for he is old and has already had some close encounters with death. The poems appear to be about the wonder of existence, and they display gratefulness for what life has given and continues to offer. God has always been present in Tranströmer’s poetry, but in The Great Enigma the presence of God is more obvious than ever before. However, the poet is not preachy – all he is saying is that he, even as death is drawing near, is deeply thankful for being part of the copulative verb “to be.”

True Grit by Charles Portis
Charles Portis’ True Grit (1968) is a simple and straightforward tale of an attempt to achieve justice or deliver vengeance, powerfully told and enriched by outstanding monologues and dialogues. The storyteller is a Mattie Ross, and the tale is told from the perspective of Ms. Ross as an older woman, in 1928. Many years earlier, at the age of fourteen, she undertook the quest of tracking down Tom Chaney, the man who killed her father. The country she portraits is a land filled with Americans in different stages of desperation, trying to survive in an age where the line between law and crime, law enforcer and criminal, is vague. Tragedy and comedy sometimes share room in a single sentence, and the young country that is in the process of growing older is developing a particular identity. Read my colleague Amy W.’s full review.

Top Ten: The Forty-Niners by Alan Moore (writer) and Gene Ha (artist)
In Top Ten: The Forty-Niners (2005), Briton Alan Moore tells the tale of Neopolis, a city that in 1949 is brand new, and populated by humans (and other creatures) with super powers. The city is magnificent and its dark underbelly serves as an appropriate offset: Nazi scientists are trying to change events of the past so that the Third Reich will triumph, and vampires are preying on the citizens of the city – whereof some are all too eager to become victims of the bloodsuckers. In the midst of this mess, a police department is trying to keep the situation from spinning out of control, and the officers of this force are the main characters of the tale. Some law enforcers believe in the persuasive power of brute force, others are still trying to figure out who they are and what their role is in this new city, and then there is the divine Joanna Dark – or The Maid. She feels no ambivalence at all – she is just in the world to crush evil.

War by Sebastian Junger
The American military endeavor in Afghanistan has entered its eleventh year of combat, and it is the longest war in U.S. history. Journalist Sebastian Junger spent 14 months embedded with a platoon – that’s about 30 men – of the 173rd Airborne brigade in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. It is a tiny outpost of U.S.A.’s mighty military machine, and out here the U.S. soldiers know that they may get overrun by the Taliban, who – heavily armed – engage in battle “as calmly as if they [are] organizing a game of cricket.” War (2010) is a book that is well researched, engaging, and deeply moving. A large number of U.S. soldiers engaged in the war in Afghanistan come and go and only a few are portrayed in a multi-layered way, but overall Junger paints an image of the warrior that is complex and honest, and War offers anthropological, biological, historical, psychological, and sociological insights as it shows the warrior in fear, killing, and love. Read my full review.

The Book of Five Rings by Musashi Miyamoto
Miyamoto’s The Book of Five Rings (1645) is a masterpiece that may have the ability to help anyone who has ever encountered difficulties in life (that would be everyone). The text focuses on the way of war and the way of the sword, but it can easily be adapted to all kinds of situations. The author speaks of many possible paths in life, about the importance of studying, knowing, and understanding the path chosen, and, Miyamoto says, those who have a deep understanding of the path they are walking have nothing to fear. It is hard to do such a rich book justice, and Miyamoto would perhaps say: return to it frequently, study the text thoroughly, and embrace its wisdom.

Each title is linked to the library catalog. Have you read any of these books? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments.

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