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Next: Jeffrey Brown recently sat down at a Washington, D.C., book store with two well-known authors for a dive into some of their favorite reads of 2014.
And I'm here at Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C.
And I'm joined by bestselling authors novelist Ann Patchett and business writer Daniel Pink.
And we have asked you both to come up with a few of your favorites of the year.
Ann, want to start?
ANN PATCHETT, Author, "This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage": Yes. We have got a lot this year.
"Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson is actually a middle school book, but I'm terrible about reading middle school books, young adult novels. I picked this up because…
Normally, you don't read them?
Normally, I don't.
I heard so many great things about this book. Jackie was born in 1963. She grew up partially in South Carolina and partially in Brooklyn. And it's just about the experience of a young woman and her life in two various settings.
And the thing that is so interesting about this book is that it's written in verse. And it just gives a tremendous amount of space for the reader to enter into the experience. Great for adults, great for kids.
Ann Patchett and Daniel Pink's favorite books of 2014:
"Brown Girl Dreaming" A memoir written in verse by Jacqueline Woodson
"Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant" A memoir and graphic novel By Roz Chast
"My Favorite Things" A visual narrative by Maira Kalman
“Deep Down Dark:
The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free" by Héctor Tobar
"Dataclysm" by OK Cupid co-founder Christian Rudder
"The Meaning of Human Existence" A philosophical examination by biologist E. O. Wilson
"Drunk Tank Pink" A social psychology by Adam Alter
And just won National Book Award.
And just won the National Book Award.
All right, Daniel?
DANIEL PINK, Author, "To Sell Is Human": So my book of the year really is this book right here, "Dataclysm." Now, this is a unique kind of book. This is…
"Dataclysm: Who We Are."
"Dataclysm: Who We Are" when we think nobody's watching
And this is a guy who founded — the guy who wrote this founded a site called OKCupid. It's a dating site. And what he has is access to massive amounts of data about what we really think, what we really believe, who we really like, who we find attractive.
And so this book gives us some incredible revelations about how people really behave on matters of love, on matters of race, on matter of politics. So, for instance…
This is very much in the news these days, of course, right? Every day, it seems like, we're looking at some data issue, not of it all benign, by the way. Right?
Well, I mean, he makes a very good argument that data and numbers are a form of narrative. They put together a very beautiful story.
And one of the things that he found out, one of my favorites, is that the single — the two questions that better predict whether couples will connect are these, OK? I could ask you. I'm already married, but I will ask you the question.
So is she.
Yes. Let's see if it works with us.
Do you like scary movies?
Have you ever traveled to another country alone?
So we actually could be compatible for marriage.
There's a higher standard, believe me, but those are the two questions that, more than any other questions, predict whether two people on a dating site will get together.
And those are your answers for those two things?
I feel closer to you already.
Although you look a little skeptical.
OK, your next book, Ann Patchett.
"Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?" by Roz Chast. She's a senior cartoonist at "The New Yorker." This is a memoir, a true story about her taking caring of her aging parents. Talk about a book that will make you laugh and will make you cry. It's done as a graphic novel.
And one that a lot of people have the experience of.
Well, my line is, if you have parents, if you had parents or if you ever knew someone who had parents, this is an appropriate book for you.
What she gets down on paper, the experience of watching your loved ones get old, it's so honest, it's cringe-inducing, but it's also hysterical.
So, this book here, what I like is the modesty of the title.
It's called "The Meaning of Human Existence." So…
So, in football terms, this guy is throwing long. And I like that. I admire that.
This is a book by E.O. Wilson, one of the great scientists of our times. He's won two Pulitzer Prizes. He's made a career out of studying ants. And this book is sort of like a victory lap, sort of the greatest hits and victory laps of E.O. Wilson.
And he really gives a — it's the kind of book where every time I read a chapter, I had to stop, because I really had to think about it, because it was — some of it was disturbing, some of it was enlightening.
And he puts us — human beings, he puts us in our — helps us understand our place in the universe. He shows us the connection between how science understands the world and how the humanities understands the world. And he basically tells us that our sitting here today is the product of random conditions and natural selection that could have easily gone another way.
So it's a really profound, interesting book by one of the — really the great scientists of our time.
You're really making me want to read these books. So, this is good.
Which is the point.
Well, this is just so — he says — this is one of my favorite lines here. He's a good writer here. Here's what we says about the Earth. He says: "Earth relates to the universe," sort of putting us in our place.
"Earth relates to the universe as the second segment of the left antenna of an aphid sitting on a flower pedal in a garden in Teaneck, New Jersey, for a few hours this afternoon."
So, if you don't feel small — happy holidays.
If you don't feel small after that.
But it's that kind of very vivid writing and very, very thoughtful…
All right, so, so far, he has got us married, like, why we married and why we're here on Earth, right?
Right. And it's not very important, because it is just going to be over like that, this marriage.
All right, what else do you have, Ann?
Maira Kalman, "My Favorite Things."
I really do love some pretty books for the holidays. Maira Kalman does beautiful work for "The New York Times" that we all know. This book started out because she was hired to curate a show of her favorite things from the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. And she picks these beautiful items, but it also becomes the story of her life and the things that she loves and also the things that she doesn't love.
It's a very different kind of visual narrative reading experience, great gift, gorgeous book, and something I think you would come back to again and again over time.
Sure looks nice.
Yes, it is nice.
Yes, it's beautiful.
Do you think that the form of these books is part of their power?
All three books that you took are — were different kinds of narratives.
Yes, absolutely. And, again, I think…
I mean, this one doesn't even have pictures.
Well, I'm a little slower. I like the pictures.
This time of year, again, I really am thinking about books that you are going to read more than once, a book that you're going to come back to all year long.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
All right, you got one more.
So, my last choice, this is a book that came out in paperback this year. I just — it came out in hardcover in 2013, but came out in paperback this year. I just got around to reading it.
It's called "Drunk Tank Pink."
Of course you saw the pink, and you immediately…
Right. "Drunk Tank Pink," by the way, is no relation.
So I should get that out of the way.
This is a book about social science and by a young social psychologist at NYU. And what he does is, he goes through a lot of the research on how much we're affected by things we barely notice, smells in the air, colors around us, merely the presence of other people.
And it derives its title from one of these classic experiments in social psychology, where they found that, in a study of a Navy prison, a Navy prison — these are places where they took sailors who were drunk, they're getting rowdy, they throw them in prison. And they found that when they painted the prison walls a certain color — and the Pantone color is Baker-Miller Pink — that that mellowed them out and it had this incredible — it was — he called it a non-drug anesthetic.
It mellowed them out. It slowed them down. It took away their aggression. And since then, this color has been used in juvenile detention facilities. Some football teams have painted their opponents' locker rooms with this color to try to make them less aggressive.
And this shows just the power of color and smells and even weather to shape our behavior in ways we barely even understand.
All right, one quick last one.
Last one. My favorite book of the year, I have flogged it everywhere, "Deep Down Dark: 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free" by Hector Tobar.
We all know this story, 33 men — the subtitle says it all. Hector Tobar, though, is the genius behind this story, because he elevates it to the level of all the big issues. What is the meaning of life? What is faith? Who are we when we're pressed up against our own death for an extended period of time? Don't miss this book. It's terrific.
All right, we're going to continue this discussion online. I'm going to ask you some more about your own reading habits, what makes you want to recommend books.
For now, Ann Patchett, Daniel Pink, thanks so much.
You can find the rest of Jeff's conversation with Ann Patchett and Daniel Pink at PBS.org/NewsHour.
Join us again tomorrow night, when Jeff will take a look at the best movies of the year.
Watch the Full Episode
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