Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Season's Readings

I've been pondering the end of the decade for the past week, which was really the first time it dawned on my that the 0's were ending. Of course, like everyone else, I've been mentally putting together my best-of lists. I think it's a basic human need to rank and categorize everything. It just helps to sort us out in our own minds, which is important as we often identify ourselves but what we like and what we don't like. 

In that spirit, here is my list of my favorite books of the decade. I figured I'd start with books as it's a subject on which I have a little bit of credibility. 

THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy-

Hands down, I think this is the best written book of the decade. Reading it, you can't help but feel the overpowering sense of sadness the permeates every page. It's a sadness not only for the father and son, but for all of humanity.

In my opinion, the brilliance of this book stems from the fact that as the reader, you are forced to feel all the things the main character refuses to let himself feel because he must concentrate on surviving. He can't allow himself to feel the sorrow around him or to feel sorrowful for the boy...the reader, safe in the world, can't help but feel those things as we become a surrogate for all the suffering. 
One of those rare books that will never leave you.

REPETITION by Alain Robbe-Grillet -

The only book my favorite author of all time wrote this decade (his only in many many years) is one of his best. Set in a isolated section of post-war, lawless Berlin that resembles a Burrough's Interzone, this book touches on many of Robbe-Grillet's favorite themes of looped nightmares, illicit behaviors, and circular mystery. Certainly not for everybody.

THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES by T. DiTerlizzi and H. Black -

Certainly this was the decade of fantasy in Children's Lit, but unlike most, I wasn't so terribly impressed with a certain boy wizard. For me, the real prize was this series about two brothers and a sister discovering a more set of foes in an ever expanding world right in their own backyard. Both the fantasy elements and real life elements are spot on. All five books are the definition of a page-turner. 

RISING UP AND RISING DOWN by William T. Vollmann-

One of our nation's unsung literary treasures is William T. Vollmann. Due to the length of many of his works, he is still widely unread. It's a shame too. Not only is he an incredibly important fiction writer, he's also one of the most in-depth writers of non-fiction. This book is a condensed 4,000 page abridgement of an original 7 volume work which chronicles the nature of violence through human history. Incredibly gripping and informative and should probably be taught in high schools in lieu of studying individual wars.

POPULAR MUSIC by Mikael Niemi-

A fantastic coming of age story about a boy growing up in Norway in his small village. At times hilarious, always moving, this is one of the best coming-of-age stories I've ever read....being that the theme is my specialty, this is one where I really know what I'm talking about.

GLUE by Irvine Welsh-

Though most of Irvine's best work was done in the '90s, he still continued to give me a lot of good reads this decade. This is the best of his '00s output. Like a more refined and ambitious Trainspotting, Glue follows a group of friends from childhood to adulthood, examining all the different paths life can take. Though they end up in vastly different places, they are always tied together by these shared experiences. Anybody who grew up as part of a close knit group of friends will identify with this book. 

LENORE - Roman Dirge

Lenore is the original cute little dead girl which has been copied and marketed to no end in the Hot Topic's of the world. But that exposure of imitators doesn't diminish the originality and humor of the Lenore books. Lenore is one of those characters whose unique spirit just grabs hold of you and keeps you laughing along the way. She's like a twisted female Calvin...but like, dead. Great comic with great art and great stories with lots of imagination.

OLIVIA by Ian Falconer -

If you would have told me this would end up being my favorite picture book of the decade the first time I saw it, I would have said you were crazy. Sure, I liked it, but didn't love it. Over the years though, I've really grown to love it. The more time I spend with this book, the more amazed I am at how, in so few words, Oliva can feel so alive.

JUNIE B. JONES is a Graduation Girl by  B. Park -

This, my favorite children's book series of all time, began in the '90s but continued with many strong titles this decade. The Graduation one is by far my favorite of this decade. It's the book where America's favorite kindergartner is about to move on to 1st grade (Personally, once the Junie B. First Grader books started, I thought the books slipped). The funniest thing ever written can be found in this book when Junie helps with her class graduation poem:
"Roses are Red, 
Violets are Blue,
Graduation is Here,
And Your Feet Smell Like Stink!"

ICY SPARKS by Gwyn Hyman Rubio -

This is another coming of age book, but with a twist because young Icy has tourettes. This is the kind of examination of some misunderstood child that became extremely popular in the decade, but rarely has it been captured with such genuine feeling as it is in this book. It's not coddling or sappy, it's raw and moving. Icy is one of those characters you want to befriend. You feel yourself wanting to shout and scream at the other characters to leave her alone. A truly remarkable book about a truly unforgettable character. 

SARAH by J. T. LeRoy -
Forget the controversy over who wrote what and the way the industry was hoodwinked...who cares? None of that prevents this from being one of the best books of the decade, and one of my personal favorite books of all time. I read this when it first came out, back in 2000, and it's definitely one of a handful of books that really influenced my wanting to write YA* (not that this is YA by any stretch, but it's about a young teen character). The writing is pitch perfect and the story is a perfect blend of surrealist realism. Add in its emotional impact and it's certainly deserving of all the hype it received.

Last, but not least, THE LOOKING GLASS WARS by Frank Beddor...see my review of each of the three books here:

* for those curious, the other titles are Smack by Melvin Burgess, I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This Much by J. Woodson, I Am the Cheese by R. Cormier

1 comment:

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