Non-fiction: The Geography of Thought : How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why by Richard Nisbett
I'm interested in the brain and thought and I found this book really illuminated just how deeply thought patterns can differ between societies. More than anything else, it expanded the boundaries of my ignorance and showed me just how much I assume that other people think the same way I do. The specific studies and theories will be especially useful to Westerners who are involved with Asian culture in some way (like, oh, all the fans of Japanese pop culture on my flist) but, really, I think it's extremely valuable for anyone, whether or not you agree with the "...and why" part of the book. I wish I'd been able to read it before I read a lot of other books about thought and the brain.
Fiction: A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
Nomi Nickel is a 16 year old girl living in a small Mennonite community in Manitoba (Canada), longing to move to New York but realising that she's more likely to end up slaughtering chickens at the Happy Family Farms abbatoir. I don't want to say too much about the plot, but the book is very well-written, with the most brilliant characterization I've seen in a long time. When I finished, I didn't know whether I wanted to start reading it again right away to soak up the craft or never read it again, because it broke me. It's not a heavy, dark book, though, and the narrative voice is ironic and entertaining. I wish I could write one-quarter this well.
What are your picks?