Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Time Enough At Last: Year in Review

Greetings Bloggers! Floggers! and Lollygaggers! Welcome to my book rant. Volunteering at the Raconteur and lack of gainful employment gives me plenty of time to read, reflect, and share my thoughts with all you bibliophiles kicking it out there on the intra-web. 2008's here already, so it’s only fitting that I jump-start this inaugural book review with a year’s best list. (Note that not all of the books were released this past year, but since I hadn't heard of them before 07 I'm choosing to include them here).

My Favorite Books of 2007

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.
It won a Pulitzer. Ok. And yeah, Oprah picked it too. So now you’re not going to read it? She also picked Love in the Time of Cholera. Know why? Because they’re both great fucking books! The Road is the story of a father and son surviving in a post-apocalyptic world whose ashen landscape is as bleak and sparse as this contemporary American master’s prose. Think Mad Max or The Day After scripted by Hemingway. The Road is also a meditation on human nature: the good, the bad and the really messed up(in a people-being- stored-in-a-cellar-to-be-eaten-later-kinda-way). Perhaps the most unnerving thing about this book: it's not only a reflection of a possible future but, given the current mode of global warmongering, an almost inevitable one. Happy New Year!

Bowl of Cherries, by Millard Kaufman.
Who would of thought that the 90 year old co-creator of Mr. Magoo would be able to pull off a brilliant coming of age debut (reminiscent of Martin Amis' The Rachel Papers) about Iraq, the Garden of Eden, Nuclear War, teenage love, and a crazy musicologist desperately trying to prove that the Great Pyramids were built by sound waves, and make it hilarious? Well he does and it is. So go read it. Now.

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
A NY Times bestseller and critical success. Diaz’s prose lives up to the promise of his short story collection Drown, recycling Junior, a street smart narrator who tells the sometimes side-splitting, often melancholy tale of three generations of a family cursed by fuku (which Junior explains as some real fucked up shit). For anyone (Raconteur patrons in particular) who grew up in North/Central NJ or is a Rutgers alumni there is an added bonus of much of the novel's action taking place here. My "beef" with this novel is that at times the narrator uses his hip-slang a little to freely and rather than sounding wise and tough, comes off as contrived and forced. Also, the footnotes can get annoying and at times a spanish/english translator was necessary.

Mockingbird, by Sean Steward.
I really enjoyed this book. It’s a fast paced story about voodoo dolls and magic and psychic mothers and daughters and growing up and learning to forgive the dead. Think Rosemary’s Baby if it were written by Faulkner. Steward has a definite ear and flair for language and a tight grip on pop-culture that makes everything fantastical about this novel come alive. Some idiot bloke might say that this book is unputdownable. I will say that I couldn’t put it down.

Meet Me in the Moon Room, by Ray Vukcevich.
One of the most brilliantly absurd short story collections I have read. If you like the kind of stories that are found in the New Yorker or the Norton Anthologies you were forced to read in college, chances are you will hate this book. Even detest it. It may make you sick for a week. Probably you have Ansel Adams hanging in your living room. But if it’s a Man Ray photo that's thumb-tacked to your apartment wall to cover up the hole from which the roaches and rats scurry out, or at some point in your life you have ingested large amounts of psychogenic drugs, you will love Meet Me in the Moon Room.

What is the What, by Dave Eggers.
A Heartbreaking Work of Sudanese Genocide...There aren't many writers that could scribe someone else's autobiography in a believable and sustained voice. But leave it to the maverick McSweeney's founder, Dave Eggers, to continue to cast new literary molds. This book is nothing like anything he has written before, so if that's what you're looking for you may be disappointed. However, if you stick with the book, follow its narrator, Valentino Achak Deng, from his Sudanese exodus (think ethnic cleansing, rebel armies, mauling by lions and alligators) to life in a refugee camp (think famine, malnutrition,etc) to his immigration to the US. (think min. wage jobs, diaspora, cultural conflict) you will be moved. Maybe you will even get off the couch and make a donation. Eggers (as Deng) challenges you to look to act to have compassion for the suffering that most people choose to ignore. And with Eggers' author proceeds going to rebuild schools in Sudan, this is not a book to ignore.

The Entire Predicament: stories, by Lucy Corin.
There is nothing ordinary about these off-beat, eccentric tales. The writing is smart, sarcastic, and filled with colorful insight. Corin takes inspiration from the everyday-a plane crash, visiting the dentist, a nosy neighbor- and twists it into fictions that expose the underlying interconnected-meaning in even the most mundane of experiences. The Entire Predicament is a collection by a writer I'm sure to be reading more of.

Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey, by Chuck Palahniuk.
Sure, at times Palahniuk may seem sophomoric or gimmicky (I'm thinking of the repetition of certain phrases that he drops throughout his novels for effect. I am Chuck's Literary Device). But when I open to the first macabre page I find it difficult to stop my lascivious fingers from leafing to the next. Rant is up there with Chuck's best. A tale told in the tradition of an oral history, with multiple narrators relaying their experiences with the main protagonist, it is a story about a man who builds up immunity to infectious diseases and poison by purposely exposing himself to them, discovers a time travel mechanism through high speed car crashes, has sex with his own mother which makes him his own father and completely fucks up the whole space time continuum Arty McFly style, so that Palahniuk leaves you wondering: who, where, and what the hell just happened here?

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick
I don't read many children's books nowadays but this is one that instantly grabbed me. One of the most gorgeous books I've seen in years, cinematic in the unfolding of its illustrations, the story is an enjoyable read and worthy of room on any bibliophile's shelf.



Anonymous said...

You really ARE reading those books when you sit in that front window! No, seriously. Well done, Dan. I really enjoyed your reviews, and they actually made me want to read some of the books :)

Anonymous said...

"The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie is this acclaimed writer first novel aimed for youg adults. It is an observant and heart-wrenching coming of age tale that resonates long after it's finished. Based on the author's own experiences, it is work of a master story teller.

Anonymous said...

Alexie's best work is "The Lone Ranger and Tonto's Last Fighr in Heaven" which was made into the wonderful movie "Smoke Signals".