13. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

by the billionaire author J.K. Rowling

Once again Rowling works out a masterful story in this 6th book in the Harry Potter series. She knows how to tell a story.

What can I say, these books are just great. I find myself happily along for an extraordinary ride with readers of all ages. That's pretty amazing. Me and my 11 year-old godson, Josh, talking passionately about events and characters in a book. And I am as taken, engaged, and spellbound as he is!

The Pope and one of his purple hatted lackeys recently spoke out against this book. Sounds a lot like their own clunky death knell to me.

12. Spiritual Midwifery

by Ina May Gaskin

This is Jerome at birth:

I know this book is an odd pick for me, but I found it very interesting and worthwhile. Ina May Gaskin pretty much revived "natural child birth" in this country. This book is an account of one of the most successful communes in America, which is still thriving today, and their experiences as people disconnected from much of trappings the modern world. Like many San Fran/Berkeley intellectuals in the late 1960s, this crowd sought a way of life on the periferal of society. Basically, these were people looking for a more natural (organic), self-sufficient lifestyle. Of course, this is all chiche today, but these folks were pioneers. And still are- with their eco-friendly architecture, cummunal economics, vegitarianism, gender roles, etc.

It all started in 1971 as a caravan of converted school busses carrying 300 people from California to a 1,000 acre plot of land in Tennessee purchased with resources pooled from the founders. Of course, Tennessee land was cheap nearly 40 years ago. From the mid 70s to mid 80s, their numerical heyday, the population maintained around 1,200 (they are now at 200). Many of them were born on The Farm.

But this is a book primarily about giving birth outside of hospitals, institutions that increasingly rely on drugs and ignore human needs beyond the purely physical, births that occur in homes, outdoors, and in meaningful places, and include the participation of family and friends in the event. Sometimes very graphic. Sometimes very intimate. Always spiritual. Always very human. Pretty cool stuff.

The best part of the book is the collection of two dozen personal accounts of births in The Farms by mothers, fathers and their midwives. Some pretty amazing stories.

I admire these people.

11. Earth Abides

by George R. Stewart

Based upon a fine review of this book at Mount Benson Report, I picked up a copy of this one. It was an excellent read, capturing my imagination and carrying it all the way through.

First, one small point: the first part (of three) makes for a very unique and facinating travel novel. A post-apocalypse travel novel. I want more of this!

I really appreciate that the novel didn't turn into the usual good/evil battle, or a hard-to-swallow communist manifesto/uprising. No, this one was mostly free of the the usual politics and battles that are too often only smaller versions of pre-apocalyptic problems. That's usually boring to me. (Makes me wonder if this type of novel is not a device for "leveling the playing field" so that it's believable when the underdogs of society actually win).

Instead, Stewart writes a far more physical, or organic, story. The protagonist is constantly concerned with learning to become self-reliant instead of living as merely scavengers of stuff from a dead civilization, which will obviously come to an end. Eventually edible food in the supermarkets and convenience stores will run out. Water will not come from the tap forever.

I enjoyed Stewart's deep understanding of human nature and his positive view of people. As a reader who has spent a great deal of his life dreaming about the death of civilization, I found Earth Abides to be a hopeful vision and a thought-provoking instruction manual.

This is a brilliant book. A big thanks to the folks of at Mount Benson.

10. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain

I picked up this 1997 edition because Random House got its hands on a pile of Twain's manuscript pages that he had edited out to make the book similar in length to Tom Sawyer. Apparently this was done so that Twain's publisher could sell them for the same price and as a "collection." Ah, how to make more money.

Interestingly, with the manuscript pages included, the book sheds more (of the same) light on Huck's thoughts and the attitudes of the people in his life. Missing from the widely known version is a long section where Huck reveals his thoughts about a hypocritical "civilized" society, one that would try to civilize him through schooling but not lift a finger to save him from a viscously abusive father, or one that is built on the slave trade. This, of course, is at the center of the originally published version, as well, so I'm not sure what so ground breaking about Random House's "find" here.

In the end, the version we've been reading all these years is the version Twain signed off on. The many scholars out there who claim this version is Earth-shattering, or "darkly revealing," or whatever, are are full of shit. There is nothing "missing" that would have made it better, or that would help us understand the mind of the writer, or his "process." Many scholars are exaggerating the import of the discovered manuscript pages. Others are outright lying in that aged academic way about their so-called revelations. Perhaps this is because many of them are intellectual leeches without their own imaginations.

Anyway, Huck Finn needs little discussion these days. It's frickin' great.