‘Tis the season (reach for your wallet)

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I thought I’d get a jump on the catalogues just now massing at the post office for a frontal assault on your mailbox with my own e-catalogue of seasonal books meant to separate you from your money.

I love the way, on opening, every new deli or diner in New York already has items on its menu labeled, “Our Traditional Pastrami Sandwich” and the like. (There used to be a Chinese restaurant in Cambridge, Mass. with a notation beside one dish — chicken with walnuts, I think — that identified it as the favorite of MIT professor Norbert Weiner, who invented the term “cybernetics.” You just wanted to rush right out and)

Anyway, consider this My Traditional Chanukah/Xmas/Kwanzaa book dispatch. It’s also a way to make thirty cents for myself (if you happen to break down and buy a book of mine), not to speak of a way to line the pockets of and thank a number of the wonderful authors who wrote for me this year for the munificent sum of nothing whatsoever.

Okay, much as I love everyone else, if you can really bear to part with a few bucks, the book I recommend most highly is a little gem by a guy named Engelhardt, an editor in mainstream publishing for 30 years who really should know what he’s talking about. It’s called The Last Days of Publishing, and just to give those of you who haven’t already rushed out and bought it a little preview, it has SEX (sort of), PEN-PLAY (gun-play guaranteed for the sequel, The Final Last Days of Publishing), and a TOWERING INFERNO (on a desk), plus, as an added inducement, a couple of MOUTHWATERING MEALS (described) and a fair amount of CORPORATE DOWNSIZING. Experience the ascent into the transnational entertainment heavens yourself in this sprawling epic, a uni-generational saga of lust, yen, and desire in a high-rise. And then — revealed for the first time — there are the ten encoded clues (equivalent in difficulty to the Thursday New York Times crossword puzzle) that will lead you on a hunt halfway around the world to a genuine buried treasure in the picturesque wild-lands between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In other words, not to be missed!

So here’s my thought: If you’ve paid any attention over the past months to my “shameless plug dept.” below, where you can look at the book’s first pages, check out blurbs etc, and then were actually foolish enough to go out and buy the book, think about now giving a holiday copy of it to your dearest friend, relative, partner, child — or alternately to your most hated enemy. All gestures in any direction are welcome. Or if fiction isn’t your thing, consider putting some historical legs under our new triumphalist age by reading my history of the collapse of the last one in The End of Victory Culture. But be quick before this one collapses too.

Just remember, there are now over 6,500 Tomdispatchers out there — and still straggling in at the rate of a hundred or so lost souls a week. If you all bought a single copy, you could break the bank at the University of Massachusetts, the wonderful university press that publishes both of them. (You can order from Amazon by clicking on the titles above or directly from UMass by clicking here for Last Days and here for Victory Culture and then clicking on the “add to cart” symbol.)

Okay, with that out of the way, let me offer the rest of my annotated 2003 list of best book buys from authors whose work appeared on in recent months. But let me preface the list with a little note:

Except for the books by Susan Sontag and Ariel Dorfman, I’ve edited every book recommended below (and I’m proud to say that I edited and published Ariel’s first books after he arrived in this country too). So here’s my little brag about the luck of my own editing life. I’ve been a book editor for close to three decades and in all that time I’ve almost never done a book I didn’t in some way love. If the books I’ve edited — perhaps a couple of hundred strong — were put in one sizeable bookshelf, I think they would all seem part of a single ecumenical project (that I doubt I could define but feel deeply about). I always used to say that my urge was to publish voices from elsewhere, even when the elsewhere was here — or at least to bring such voices closer to the mainstream. This, I suspect, few editors in publishing could say today, which may be why I’m a charmingly marginalized figure in that world.

I’ve recommended and urged upon you most of the books listed below as I published pieces by their authors at the weblog, now let me do it en masse, starting with a new series I’ve launched at Metropolitan Books with a good friend, co-editor and author, Steve Fraser. It’s called the American Empire Project (You can check out its website by clicking here) and its first two volumes are:

Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, America’s Quest for Global Dominance: This is truly vintage Chomsky and on the largest subject of all — will we humans make it?

Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire, Militarism: Secrecy and the End of the American Republic: His upcoming masterpiece on American militarism, it will not be in the stores until the end of the month, but can be preordered.

Everyone else I’ve lined up alphabetically:

Chris Appy, Patriots, The Vietnam War Remembered From All Sides: A gripping oral history of the Vietnam era that should be read this second by everyone who cares about the war in Iraq.

Mike Davis, Ecology of Fear, Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster: Wild fires, wild pumas, wild cities — here’s your chance to surf the first slab of basalt with Mike right into the great quake that is Southern California.

Ariel Dorfman, Heading South, Looking North: A touching memoir of his journey through our world and a Chilean one.

John Dower, Embracing Defeat, Japan in the Wake of World War II: An American occupation the way it should be done in a monumental Pulitzer Prize winning history.

Dr. David Hilfiker, Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen: A tiny but indispensable guide to how poverty works in America and what could be done about it.

Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost: Stirring to read, it’s already a classic history of colonial genocide and the first modern human rights movement.

Arlie Hochschild, The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work: The book for anyone working 27 hours a day at work and at home and wondering what hit them.

Jonathan Schell, The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People: If the occupants of the White House had read this instead of bios of Winston Churchill, they would have known better than to occupy Iraq.

Orville Schell, Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri-la from the Himalayas to Hollywood: How to recreate Lhasa in Argentina (including that handy herd of yaks), Peking in Lhasa, and a dream of exotic Tibet in Steven Siegal’s living room.

Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Landscape Wars of the American West: A book for anyone who cares to reclaim our world from our versions of both Armageddon and Eden.

Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others: What a moment to reconsider images of atrocity in our world. Don’t miss this.

Studs Terkel, Hope Dies Last, Keeping the Faith in Difficult Times: His testament to political activism — one wonderful interview after another taking you from the 1930s to late last night. A beautiful gift.