Anna Kunnecke: Best books of 2009

HALF THE SKY: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by N. D. Kristof and S. WuDunn. Knopf, 320 pp., $27.95 (hardcover)

This is a clarion call to unleash the human potential that is enslaved, killed and tortured simply because that potential belongs to a girl or woman. Certainly the emancipation of women is just and right. But the authors make a convincing case that it is also the key to economic development, because women are the world’s single greatest untapped resource. They skewer “oh, but honor killing/genital cutting/enslavement is a cultural imperative” twaddle by pointing out that if that mindset had been applied to China, one of the authors of this book “would be stumbling along on three-inch feet.” For the mother of a daughter, this book was nothing less than electrifying.

CALL ME OKAASAN: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering, by Suzanne Kamata. Wyatt-MacKenzie, 208 pp., $16 (paper)

Motherhood is the thread that runs through “Call Me Okaasan,” a collection of essays that explore cross-cultural families. Although there is some unevenness among the pieces, they all shine a light on a corner of parenting that deserves more attention, and several of the pieces are luminous in their own right; Leza Lowitz’s essay about adopting her Japanese son is simply breathtaking.

JUST ENOUGH: Lessons in Living From Traditional Japan, by Azby Brown. Kodansha International, 232 pp., $24.95 (hardcover)

“Just Enough” is restrained in tone, but its message no less passionate. Brown looks to Edo Japan as an example of a society that stepped back from the very brink of environmental devastation. His description of measures that worked once before is more convincing than any theoretical blueprint. He writes, “Sustainable society will come, because the alternative is no society at all.”

All three of these titles do battle against that alternative. A wise teacher once said that the key question is, “Does it grow corn?” In other words, does it nourish and sustain us in a tangible, practical way? The answer, for these books, is an emphatic yes.

Anna Kunnecke blogs daily at www.sitatmytable.com