1) The Story Of Tibet – Thomas Laird
The Story Of Tibet is an oral history of the country as told to Thomas Laird by the 14th Dalai Lama, and corroborated (when applicable) by scholarly sources. Laird does an admirable job of compiling a popular history of the nation, focusing especially on the biographies of the most influential Dalai Lamas and Tibet's subjugation at the hands of Communist China. But while The Story Of Tibet is an informative, entertaining read, scholarship it ain't: Laird uses Wikipedia as a source, and little attention is paid to the archeological record, or even a well rounded examination of the roots and development of Tibetan culture. Furthermore, it suffers from some glaring oversights (the mislabling of the Panchen Lama as the Dalai Lama in a caption to one of the beautiful color plates springs instantly to mind.) Nonetheless, it's the most accessible introduction to the country of which I'm aware.
2) The Fall - Garth Nix
Longtime TWIB readers will know that Nix is one of my all time favorite authors, so it speaks to The Fall's quality when I say that I've read it several times, but only on this last read-through was I able to summon up the willpower to continue on to its sequel. Nix has once again created a unique fantasy world, but for whatever reason, it just doesn’t intrigue very much.
3) Castle - Garth Nix
Castle, while still not excellent, is a vast improvement in quality over The Fall. Nix allows his two main leads to develop somewhat out of the two-dimensional shells to which they'd remained largely restricted in its predecessor. He also abandons one of Fall’s more improbable settings for earlier, more developed territory. Progress.
4) Aenir Garth Nix
Yes! This book finds Nix hitting his stride in the Seventh Tower series. The chase and battle scenes are nail-bitingly tense, the character development solid (albeit a bit geared toward the series' intended age demographic), and Nix builds an intriguing and compelling world in Aenir (which I’m partial to, due to its similarities to the Maxx's Pangaea). Good stuff. I am definitely looking forward to the day when I can justify buying the next volumes.
5) The Feminine Mystique - Betty Friedan
I first read this in 2003 and picked it up again a few days ago. For a text written over forty years ago, it's aged amazingly well. Friedan's intolerance of lesbians and single women aside, her observations on what society did to women during the 1940s and 50s are spot on. (Case in point: ma mere.) I cannot IMAGINE how hellacious life must have been for those poor, trapped women. Thank god I wasn't born in that era, or I too likely would have been drinking myself to death in an intellectual stupor. Feminism has come a long, long way since then; a heartening realisation given how much farther it has to go, and how many people want to help it back into the dark ages.
6) The Snake Charmer - Sanjay Nigam
This is a light, quick read in which nothing happens for 223 pages. Really, that's it. The main character doesn't grow, and the horrible plights of the secondary characters aren't explored, either. That's a shame, because Nigam is a good technical writer, able to believably invoke the socioeconomic background of his characters and the pop culture of modern day India; he just can't get beyond that to deal effectively with the meat of the many issues his novel raises.