For the last few years, I’ve enjoyed ending the year by recapping some of the books that lingered with me and peppered my thoughts and conversation. This post highlights some favorites inspired by my travels this year to Turkey, Georgia and Italy and a few fiction volumes. While I read plenty of fiction this year, especially mysteries, not many seemed to linger. Perhaps I should seek out more thought-provoking fiction next year. The other part of my annual look back at best reads and listens of this year focuses on non-fiction, especially those focused on economic, geopolitical and historical themes. What did you like? What did I miss?
Michelle Good’s Five Little Indians, selected for Canadareads this year, follows five indigenous young people mostly on the downtown east side of Vancouver. It highlights different pathways by these indigenous youth, the systemic failures including some of the legacy of residential schools. A powerful read.
Note: I also read another past Canadareads book this year albeit non-fiction, Forgiveness (2018) by Mark Sakamoto, which tells the story of his grandparents, who faced Canadian internment of Japanese immigrants (paternal), and the Japanese POW camps (his maternal grandfather). If it was fiction we might think the coincidence farfetched, but it’s an interesting read to remember the scars of the war. Given the narrative structure, I’m curious to see how the Arts Club and artistic partners turn this into a play early in the new year.
Annalee Newitz The Future of another Timeline (2019), envisions a world where some can travel back in time, between epochs, writing and rewriting history. The key plotline envisions a group trying to maintain the right to reproductive choice, and involves battles with the Comstock Boys in time forward and back. Some great vignettes take place World’s Columbia exposition which always interests me, having spent so many years living across or near Chicago’s Midway Plaisance. Newitz’s Four Lost Cities(2021), about the growth and bust of Catalhoyuk, Pompeii, Ankor and Cahokia, which I read last year is also recommended, as she does her best to construct what we know about these cities/civilizations.
Travel: Italy, Georgia and Turkey
My travels, vacation or workwise tend to inspire some reading each year, and 2022, which marked my first trips out of North America since 2019, was no different.
Our travels through Umbria were enriched by Linda Bird Francke’s On the Road with Francis of Assisi (2005) which follows Francesco’s travels in the region and beyond and helped provide context to the hill towns and the many battles between them. Guiding us through Tuscany my favorite was the Hills of Chianti: The Story of a Tuscan Wine Making Family in Seven Bottles (2014) written by Piero Antinori, who created such a large wine empire. He frames each chapter around an iconic bottle of wine or Antinori winery, using it to tell about the terroir, region and family history. Given the role the Antinori family has in creating the super Tuscan quality revolution, it’s a key read to understand the many overlapping family wineries (including Tignanello, Ornellaia and Sassicaia), even if you have to look elsewhere for the backstory on some of their disagreements. Henry James’ Italian Hours also included some interesting vignettes of Florence and Tuscany in the 19th century along with his typical subject, Venice.
A return trip to Turkey to talk about the geopolitical risks of global inflation (thanks German Marshall Fund and partners) also provided the chance to finally absorb two books on Turkey that have been on my list for a while. Midnight at the Pera Palace (2014, audio) covered important history at the start and first few decades of the Turkish republic, up until the WW2 era role as a refugee hub. It also told of the role Hagia Sofya played in the increasing use of Turkish language in mosques, something more poignant in the return of the holy place to mosque status of late. Soner Cagaptay’s Erdogan’s Empire: Turkey and the Politics of the Modern Middle East (2019)highlights Turkish relations and often overreach with its regional neighbors. While written some years ago its an insightful read when considering of Turkey’s ongoing hedging strategies with Russia, with MENA funding partners and the West.
My travels also took me to Tbilisi, Georgia, the first new country I’d visited since 2019 and first time in the Caucasus. The region is another historical crossroads and latest bit of the silk road I’ve travelled. Many players vied for influence including Russian, Iranian, Turkish and regional players – a story well told by Thomas de Waal in the Caucasus. Georgia’s also one of the birthplaces of wine. Patrick McGovern’s Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of viniculture (2019) tells a detailed story of the earliest archeological evidence of wine making. I found its early chapters most compelling. Uncorking the Caucasus provided some useful insight on winery visits and industry development in Georgia, Armenia and Turkey. I was lucky not to need all their practical advice though as I was guided through the latter by Georgian industry representatives on the occasion of the meeting of the American association of wine economists. More details on my Georgian wine takeaways can be found here.