Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Year in Review - Books

I may try to do a book report feature this year, just to keep track of thoughts. I didn't this year because my thoughts tend to take longer to formulate into real opinions.

Best fiction:
1) The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
2) Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
3) I, Claudius by Robert Graves
4) Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
5) Moral Hazard by Kate Jennings

For some personal reasons, I've read much more war-related books lately. I guess it's some form of seeking an attachment to the current reality from which I'm insulated. The Things They Carried is one of the few books where I've had to put it down more than once because the writing was just so damn good. And I read it in less than a day. Every single word is just about perfectly chosen and not one is unnecessary. It is quite an amazing book. I'm glad I didn't read either Catch-22 or Slaughterhouse Five in high school. I think both demand a bit more intellectual maturity than I had back then. I, Claudius is hysterical. Moral Hazard is a very short read, but has some incredibly heartbreaking passages.

Best nonfiction:
1) Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
2) Jarhead by Anthony Swofford
3) Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman
4) Against All Enemies by Richard Clarke
5) Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

I view good nonfiction as the way it puts me in the picture and encourages me to learn more about it. For about a month after I read Into Thin Air I kept trying to find out more about mountain climbing in the Himalayas. Jarhead is a memoir that every person who doesn't serve in the military should read, to see the personal sacrifices our solidiers deal with. Klosterman is the modern experience. Clarke's book, while actually quite poorly written, made a very significant impression on me. It kept me up at night because of anger. Me Talk Pretty One Day is hit and miss, and some parts I just didn't relate to. But "The Rooster" chapter is probably the funniest thing I've read all year.

Worst Books:

1-T) Rebels on the Backlot by Sharon Waxman
1-T) It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

Both are absolute failures. Rebels on the Backlot has factual inaccuracies, repetitious passages, and, worst of all, the appearance of fawning/criticism based upon access to the individuals. It Can't Happen Here made my eyes roll a thousand times with it's sledgehammer subtlety, but at least when Lewis wrote the overwrought political diatribes he was avoiding the poorest soap opera plot I've ever read. I cannot understand why this book might be considered a classic. I should've stopped at the introduction, which warned me of the book's flaws.

Other books deserving of comment:

The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini: I found it predictable, but readable.
Love and Death in Jamestown by David Price: A little textbooky, but the information therein was extremely interesting.
How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer: I'd have preferred it to be about 4 times longer. Every chapter could've used much much more detail.
Stranger than Fiction by Chuck Palanhiuk: The chapter on men who build there own castles has stayed with me for quiet some time. It's definitely hit or miss.
See No Evil by Robert Baer: The book that Syriana is loosely based on. I think I had higher expectations. The Beirut passages are far more interesting than the Iraqi portion.
Bobby Fischer Goes To War by Edmonds and Eidinow: Kept my interest, but didn't stimulate much more. That dude is kind of a dick.
and finally...
I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe: I'm late to the party, but I can't think of any book last year that elicited such varying, and violent, reactions. It's so strange to me, because I kind of experienced all of thsoe reactions at different times. Some passages are strikingly accurate depictions of college life, good and bad. Other passages literally made me want to throw up they're so overwrought and overdescribed. For example, what the fuck is all that "rut rut rut" bullshit. And the anatomy textbook descriptions of genitals? But by the end of the book, I was satisfied, but not necessarily pleased. Can you hate a book that kept you up late at night reading it? I hated The DaVinci Code and it kept me up, but that was because I couldn't bear another day of having to read it. That wasn't the case here. A flawed, annoying, enjoyable read.

Comments would be welcome.