My brother Ed asks this question in response to a Chicago Tribune article that reported that California is about to overtake Wisconsin as the nation's leading producer of cheese. The spokesman for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board pointed out that Wisconsin produces 600 varieties of cheese, while California produces only 250 -- so even if California's gross production exceeds Wisconsin, Wisconsin will still rule.
We're passionate about cheese in my family -- my cousin Moira is hilarious on the subject, and Ed says he has been known to peel a package of cheese and eat it like a banana. That said, there is such a thing as bad cheese, and bad cheese is about as bad as it gets. I still remember the nasty, sour-sweet taste of a particular hard brown goat cheese I once tried; in general, it's a good idea to stay away from brown cheese.
That said, I could never pick just one as my favorite. While cheddar is what's always in my refrigerator, sometimes I really want a good Gorgonzola for my salad, a chevre with some fruit, or Brie with just about anything. One of the best meals I ever had was a supper of green apple slices with very thin slices of Asiago cheese, toasted French bread and a good bottle of white wine.
This week has been a jumble, with little time for pleasure reading. It's time for the list of Best Things I Read in 2006. Several of these books were not published in 2006, and I'm a little surprised that so few of them are traditional crime fiction. I'm also disappointed that 2006 is ending before I got to several of the books that I'd put aside to read when I had time to give my full attention: Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land, Jess Walter's The Zero, Cormac McCarthy's The Road... oh, well.
In alphabetical order, here are the first five; the second five will follow next Friday. Feel free to leave your own recommendations and comments below.
Megan Abbott, Die a Little. It came out last year, but I didn't get to it until this year; nevertheless, it's one of the classic noir novels of any year. Schoolteacher Lora King has reason to suspect that her brother's new wife, Alice, is not what she seems to be. Then again, as Lora discovers, neither is she.
Peter Behrens, The Law of Dreams. An extraordinary first novel, the story of Fergus's journey from western Ireland to Canada in the wake of the Great Famine.
Angela Carter, Wise Children. I am embarrassed that I never read any Angela Carter until this year. This, her last novel, is an elaborate, satirical fantasia on Shakespearian theater, Freudian psychology, British class dynamics and more. Dazzling.
John Connolly, The Book of Lost Things. And this is the best book I read this year. I've been foisting it on a lot of people since the U.K. edition came out in October; different people see very different things in it, which I always consider the true hallmark of art. Twelve-year-old David retreats first mentally, then physically into the world of books; what he finds are all the dangers of the real world, without the real world's rewards. I have returned to different sections of the book several times since I first read it, and will likely reread the whole thing at intervals for the rest of my life.
David Feige, Indefensible. People who think the government is not tough enough on crime need to read this book; in fact, anyone who wants a crash course in the American criminal justice system should read this book and Edward Conlon's Blue Blood together, to get both sides of the story. Feige compresses years of experience as a Bronx public defender into this story of a week in his life, and it's a compelling read.