Thursday, January 30, 2014

Quick and Dirty

In an effort to clean house and get caught up, here are some titles I read to close out 2013 and begin 2014. Not a bad start to the year. 

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

I found a copy in a chateau where we stayed in France this past summer. It was on a shelf with other books you could borrow during your stay though most were in French. Even better, this was a signed copy and since I was fairly certain most vacationers wouldn't appreciate that as much as I would, I nicked it. Just call me the Book Thief.  

Petty larceny aside, I enjoyed the book immensely. Jordan crafts a story told from multiple viewpoints about love, temptation, race, PTSD, mud, and one bitter bastard of an old man. The book moves swiftly and deserves the many accolades it has received. Add it to your stack.

Giving Up The Ghost by Eric Nuzum

I'm a sucker for books set in the 80's but more often than not I end up hating them. This was no exception. I should have seen it coming when I saw blurbs by Chuck Klosterman AND Rob Sheffield, whose books I also hated. Even setting it in Canton, Ohio couldn't save this mess. You're welcome to my copy.

Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Let's see, some biting social satire and a secret society set in an odd, always-open San Fran bookstore? Where do I sign up? I absolutely loved this book. It reminded me a bit of Jedediah Berry's The Manual of Detection though it wasn't quite as dark. Sloan gives us a memorable debut and some great characters, particularly Mr. Penumbra himself. I didn't want it to end. More please, Mr. Sloan, and soon. 

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B. J. Novak

Too clever by half for my money. Either that or I've aged out of hip-lit. Some short pieces and some VERY short pieces make for an easy read but once I reached the hundred page mark and still felt nothing for it, I put it down and moved on to something better.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Regular Reed-ers know of my deep and abiding love for the work of Sherman Alexie and also my many snobbish tendencies. Until this past year, when I finally relented and started taking YA seriously, I always held this book at arm's length despite knowing damn well that Alexie could write a great book for that audience. Still, I never bothered with it. Stupid me. This was a complete delight.

The story isn't unfamiliar to me; in fact, he has touched on many of these tales in his adult work (including the short story What You Pawn, I Will Redeem) but he manages to make these stories funny and poignant without dumbing them down. I laughed throughout, I cried when I was supposed to, and, as ever, I marveled at his ability to tell the story so well. The accompanying illustrations by Ellen Forney are the perfect complement to the prose and are as vital to the story as the narrative itself. 

As is often the case, you don't need my thumbs-up. The book has won many awards, including the National Book Award, and it continues to be taught AND banned in schools throughout the country. 

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

My Top Books of 2013

It wouldn't be overstatement to say I got lost in December. I got busy doing things I needed to do instead of things I want to do, like this mess of a blog. However, since there have been inquiries as to my whereabouts and to my top book recommendations for the past year, well, here goes:

Tenth of December by George Saunders
Battleborn by Clare Vaye Watkins
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
NW by Zadie Smith
Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I Shudder by Paul Rudnick
Ready, Steady, Go by Shawn Levy
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
The Answer to the Riddle is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia by David McLean

Three striking fiction debuts (Watkins, Marra, Miller), two brilliant YA novels (Green & Zusak), Saunders at what could be the peak of his career (though I hope not), and Smith making certain I don't forget how great she is. 

In non-fiction, Rudnick made me roar with laughter, Hillenbrand made me feel despair and triumph, Levy thoroughly entertained me, and McLean scared the shit out of me (the book pubs January 14th so go buy it). 

In all, I finished 35 books and read some or most of another 15. There were some books I read that I never posted about--some were good enough and others were disappointments. A few made me angry for wasting my time and others I'd re-read if I could find the time because they gave me such joy. Looking over my blog and my master list, it was a fiction-heavy year and my choices lean just a little more heavily that way. 

You can read more about all these titles on the blog. I hope you manage to avoid the post-holiday doldrums but if you don't, the titles here may help get you through. 

As always, special thanks to friends in the book biz who still keep me in the pipeline, to authors who have been kind enough to contact me after reading my posts, and to you, my regular readers. Happy new year.