As a reminder, books listed on a post titled "to read" are not books I have read but books whose listings I have come across and that sound interesting. Thus, they are "to read."
Count Down: Six Kids Vie for Glory at the World's Toughest Math Competition by Steve Olson
What's life like for math whiz kids? Science writer Olson follows the six members of the high school team that went all the way to the 2001 International Mathematical Olympiad to answer that question. He considers what it takes to become a math wiz, notices why there are few girls, and debunks the nerd stereotype. Count Down is a great book for math buffs (there are even a few great puzzlers in the book), especially young adults who'll be glad to see that number know-how can be cool.
Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate—The Essential Guide for Progressives by George Lakoff
A slender, down-and-dirty guide to politics and the manipulation of language. Lakoff, a Berkeley professor, argues that Republicans won the 2004 presidential election because they were better able to "frame the debate." A lefty read, for sure, but political junkies of all stripes will get something from this fascinating look at one aspect of what may tip the balance in persuading voters.
If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
Submit to Calvino, and you'll find that you are in the hands of a master. A favorite of book lovers throughout the world, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler is about two characters who meet in a bookstore, both there to exchange flawed books for different ones. But each subsequent book is flawed. No matter: The characters fall in love, and the reader does too—with the author's dazzling structural feats, the many layered stories within the one book, and his gorgeous, lyrical prose. Irresistible.
The Amber Gods and Other Stories by Harriet Prescott Spofford
The marvelous short stories of Harriet Prescott Spofford, written in the mid-1880s, are nearly forgotten today, and that's a shame. They are luxurious, often suspenseful flights of fantasy that still titillate and unsettle the reader. This collection includes two of her best, "In a Cellar," a detective story set in Paris about a diamond theft, and the title story, about two rivals for the love of the same man. Spofford was an American virtuoso. She's ripe for rediscovery.
Sarah by Marek Halter
Readers of Anita Diamant's The Red Tent will like this colorful tale of the life of Sarah, Abraham's wife. Her life, as Halter imagines it, is rich with drama and poignancy. The 12-year-old rich girl flees an arranged marriage, falls in love with a poor nomad, becomes a priestess of Ishtar, reunites with and marries the poor nomad, and with him becomes the matriarch of the Jewish people. Lavish backdrops, action, conflict, and forbidden love make Sarah irresistible. It's the first book in Halter's internationally bestselling Canaan Trilogy. Zipporah and Lilah follow it.
Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman
Herman looks at European history from a decidedly unexpected angle in her chronicle of royal mistresses. You might expect the book to be little more than a guilty pleasure, but Sex with Kings seduced the critics, who found it as smart as it is fun. A perfect book to take under the covers with you on a cold winter's night.
Patience and Fortitude by Nicholas A. Basbanes
You might worry that Basbanes is too clever for his own good when you read the Cervantes-inspired subtitle of his book: Wherein a Colorful Cast of Determined Book Collectors, Dealers, and Librarians Go About the Quixotic Task of Preserving a Legacy. Then you read the book, and realize it fits the bill. Basbanes takes readers on a tour of libraries from Alexandria to Oxford, from New York to the Vatican, and introduces us to the most obsessive, wacky, loveable cast of character you'll find outside of fiction. Required reading for all book lovers.