Our favorite books of 2011.

Position::Recommended readings
 
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By Kate Clinton

First, let me say I wish Bridesmaids were a book and not just a movie. Its a great story of women's friendship, hilariously and sweetly told. Stream it.

The movie crisply answers the question-as-statement, "Why aren't there any funny women?" Since Bridesmaids is not a book yet, I recommend Tina Fey's Bossypants (Hachette Book Group) for another smart, proudly feminist answer to that question. It is a laugh-out-loud collection of essays about being a funny woman, being a woman writer in the belly of the SNL beast, being a woman producing and managing a hit sitcom, being a new mother, all the while being a supportive friend to other women. Fey is a smart, compassionate, cranky, and staunchly pissed feminist. If you wish you had snappy comebacks to dumb statements or want to learn how to write your own one-liners, buy the book and fire up your day-glo highlighter.

A great one-liner is like a great line of poetry. Both are dense, imagistic, compact, and explode on emotional impact. In Inferno: A Poet's Novel (OR Books), the poet, essayist, and performer Eileen Myles scorches with many funny, insightful lines. Though Myles and Fey are far apart on the EQ spectrum--one is mainstream; the other is indie punk--both books are about a woman mastering her craft. Inferno is a punk bildungsroman about a young, working class, Catholic woman's journey from Boston to bohemian New York in the 1960s. Inferno has a strong forward narrative line of a woman claiming the identity of poet told in a defiantly anarchic stance. As Fey's work affirms funny women, Myles's work affirms, "Yeah, there are women who write poetry, you want to make something of it?"

Kate Clinton is a humorist who writes every other month for The Progressive.

By Ruth Conniff

While nobody mistook Wall Street banks for charity organizations ... [they] so poisoned the global economy it was left in a semi-vegetative state," writes Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner in Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon (Times Books). Occupy Wall Street knows the banks are criminal outfits. So does Morgenson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning business columnist for The New York Times, and her co-author, in this important book.

In Blood on Our Hands: The American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq (Nimble Books), Nicolas Davies gives a powerful account of the whole preposterous and catastrophic war, and puts it in historical context: how our country helped develop, then flagrantly flouted, the moral framework of international law.

The book's title comes from a speech by Senator Bob Graham, who ordered the National Intelligence Estimate showing no evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. When the CIA began pushing the lies that got us into the war anyway, Graham was outraged. If his colleagues did not look at the evidence, Graham said, "Blood is going to be on your hands."

Those words resonate today.

Davies reminds us that Iraq was not just George W. Bush's folly. Even Representative Dennis Kucinich voted for President Clinton's 1998 Iraq Liberation Act.

But Davies believes in redemption. He includes a moving account by a soldier who looks in the mirror and doesn't like what she sees. His book forces us to do likewise.

"As a whole, the world has made great strides toward peace," with a steady decline in conflict since the Cold War, Davies writes. Yet America continues to play a destabilizing role: "American militarism spreads chaos and undermines the framework of international law and cooperation." May this be the year we change.

Ruth Conniff is political editor of The Progressive.

By Anne-Marie Cusac

My father and I once navigated a sailboat along Lake Michigan, then across Green Bay. I was seasick. A bell clanged to us in the fog. When I walked on land, the bridges of Sturgeon Bay seemed to plunge under my shoes because, my dad said, I didn't have sea legs.

At the Port of Green Bay, we entered the lock system that led home. We tied up in the seventeen locks along the Fox River, the lockmasters emerging from their tiny houses to chat as water spilled into the concrete chamber, lifting us to the next river stage.

When the onslaught of sea lamprey shut down Fox River Locks in 1988, I grieved for those mechanical marvels.

But the Great Lakes, and the rivers and lakes linked to those grand waters, were in grave danger. As journalist Jeff Alexander reveals in Pandora's Locks: The Opening of the Great Lakes--St. Lawrence Seaway (Michigan State University Press), the St. Lawrence Seaway and the locks led to an ecological mess that rivals Exxon-Valdez. While extraordinary effort may clean oil spills, a biological invasion can be nearly impossible to set right. Great Lakes...

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