Books

Our 27 favorite books of the year

WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS?
By Thomas Frank
Metropolitan, 340 pp., $24
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As we agonize over "values," What's the Matter With Kansas? will stand as the political book of 2004. Up-to-date yet historical, theorized and researched and reported and reminisced, it's pungent, mordant, and gratifyingly concrete. Thomas Frank's contempt for the lifestyle and morality of the exploiting classes is detailed and enraging. His focus on the galvanizing force of anti-abortion sentiment and the continuing political utility of America's embattled labor unions pinpoints two crucial issues for progressives. And his habit of blaming the entirety of right-wing reaction on the culture industry is as tendentious as ever, especially for someone whose last book was financed by BMG.

YOU HAVE TO BE CAREFUL IN THE LAND OF THE FREE
By James Kelman
Harcourt, 410 pp., $25
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Soft architecture: Lisa Robertson's Occasional Work bears down on the fountainhead.
photo: Maxwell Stephens & Hadley Howes
Soft architecture: Lisa Robertson's Occasional Work bears down on the fountainhead.

The awful beauty of Kelman's You Have to be Careful in the Land of the Free lies in narrator Jeremiah Brown learning, forgetting, and relearning that he may be the "wrang" guy for marriage, work, writing, life. Forever offending people with cross-cultural comparisons and what Kelman might call wee stereotypes, Jeremiah, a writer, rejects "man," "woman," "character," and "it" as names, settling on "being" because "being from bonné Skallin" is how he describes himself. Being is the one thing that he has yet to lose. Read this book if you need more ways of saying no, or saying yes and no at one.

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