Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Best Books I Didn't Blog About

Here are some of the books I read that I never got around to writing about over the course of this year.  There are some real gems here.

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
A novel centered around the music biz?  I'm in and was more than impressed.  Good Squad won the National Critics Book Circle award last year and the Pulitzer Prize this year and I believe was deserving of both.  The multiple perspectives stood well by themselves but woven together made for an absorbing novel.  And yes, the Powerpoint chapter was absolutely fucking brilliant.  Don't miss this one.

Room by Emma Donoghue
This book got a LOT of press and while it's very compelling, it's unceasing creepiness and the fact that the main characters are so unlikeable led me to write this one off.  Others will disagree but I'm sticking to my guns.

One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus
The epistolary format is a fave of mine and Fergus pulls it off pretty well. However, the characters--the strong, beautiful heroine, the by-the-book Army officer, the racist Southerner, the plucky German hausfrau, the cheeky Irish sisters--grew more cliche as the story went on.  It's a very cinematic book that even with an ensemble cast of good actresses would make a bad movie for the theaters.  Now a Lifetime Movie channel movie, I could see.  Still, a good vacation read.

Tabloid City by Pete Hamill
The best thing about Tabloid City was re-discovering what a terrific writer Hamill remains.  Especially good was his ability to weave into the story the memories of what it was really like in the newsroom of a large, metropolitan newspaper, back when such things existed.  However, this thriller told from the viewpoints of the many inter-related characters was just a bit too neat for it to succeed fully.

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto
Absolutely charming.  The rise and rise and rise of Julia Child told through her letters to one woman who started out as a stranger and became her best friend.  Published collections of a person's letters used to be quite common and provided depth and background as well as a glimpse behind the public persona.  (Sadly, this type of book is a dying breed since we no longer write letters and a collection of emails just isn't the same.)  For the foodie in us all.  

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower
This inventive, rambunctious collection of stories is filled with love and loss and Vikings. Comparisons to George Saunders always crop up when stories by Tower appear but I think it's apt and should be taken as high praise.  Both write from the heart and often find beauty in the most absurd circumstances.  Among the many accolades he was already received, Tower was awarded the NYPL Young Lions fiction award and two Pushcart prizes.  In a time when the short story is getting short shrift, it gives me great pleasure to see writers continue to utilize this 
format and succeed so well. 

The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs
Jacobs, author of The Know-It-All, in which he read the 32-volume Encyclopedia Brittanica in its entirety, and is Esquire's Answer Fella, decided to take on religion by trying to live the Bible literally for one year. It was an eye-opener for the author and is for the reader.  Modern times make this difficult but not entirely impossible though very inconvenient.  I had some small hope it would enlighten me spiritually (who couldn't use that?) but on finishing the book I found that likely wasn't the point.  Despite the author's immersion in the subject matter, he somehow remains a skeptic though one who has a far better understanding than before he began.  Very entertaining.

I'd also like to mention a few titles that I didn't read but which Mrs. Next liked immensely: 

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran
Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

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