“Best books in a year of war, anxiety” / San Francisco Chronicle / Oscar Villalon / December 18, 2005

This was the year of the war.

Titles stacked up on Iraq, Afghanistan, Islam, neocons, leftists and terrorism. Books arrived on wars past and their effects today, sometimes offering us parallels for understanding the present bloodletting.

This was true of both nonfiction and fiction. For every The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq and Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq -- to name a couple of the titles on our list of the best books of 2005 -- there was a Shalimar the Clown and The March (to name two more).

Anxiety seems to drive these searches for answers and truths. Even this year's Harry Potter novel ended on a note of uncertainty, looking toward tribulations to come.

On a much brighter note, the Bay Area furthered its claim as the country's most fertile region for writers.

Not even counting the National Book Award-winning (war) novel Europe Central by William Vollmann (who, as his oeuvre would suggest, spends as much time in San Francisco as in his home of Sacramento) or Adam Hochschild's inspiring Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves, which was an National Book Award finalist in nonfiction, there was a lot of excellent work published, as our selections bear out.

Among them is interesting work on dark themes, from Amy Tan's Saving Fish From Drowning and Mary Roach's Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife to Alan Kaufman's Matches and Daniel Alarcon's War by Candlelight.

Also, there were two notable books on San Francisco's shadowy worlds -- an anthology of noir fiction and a guidebook on noir films set here.

Must be something in the air. Or a war going on.

The following list reflects books reviewed between Dec. 19, 2004, and Dec. 11, 2005, in Book Review.

[D&Q mention:]


Baghdad Journal: An Artist in Occupied Iraq by Steve Mumford (Drawn & Quarterly; 224 pages; $34.95): Watercolors depicting Mumford's observations on four visits to Iraq since the U.S. invasion.

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