January 2, 2005

2004 In Books

I read quite a few books in 2004. Looking back over the list now – I write down everything I read and when – I notice its not as many as the previous year, but still impressive all the same. But what did I enjoy the most? Ah, that’s a tough one. These are all radically different from one another so it would be unfair to rank them. Therefore, in no particular order, I give you the best of 2004...

The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh
Since I read this back in February, I’ve wondered how to classify it. Is it straight literature? Is it a mystery? Somehow calling it mystery just lumps it in with Grisham or Patterson and its truly not at all like those. Welsh, in this, her debut novel, presents us with an odd mystery and an even odder hero – Rilke, a gay and promiscuous auctioneer. The reader doesn’t just enter a mystery; we’re allowed entry into the strange world of Scottish antiques dealing and the lives (albeit fictional) of those who do such things for a living. So yes, if you’re reading this and thinking that it sounds much like an Antiques Roadshow episode watched while on hallucinogens, maybe that’s about right. Sure it sounds odd, but after reading its understandable why Welsh has been awarded so many literary prizes for The Cutting Room.

A Box Of Matches by Nicholson Baker
Baker received a lot of attention this year for Checkpoint, a politically motivated novel considered by many critics as the worst book of the year. It would be a tragedy if Checkpoint were remembered for its sensationalism more than A Box of Matches for its simple meditations on life. Everyday, Emmett, father, husband and textbook editor wakes up early, lights a fire and writes down his thoughts. Its not exciting; there’s no good sex or action. Perhaps it’s the ability of everyone to identify with Emmett’s thoughts that makes this short novel compelling and so meaningful.

Man Walks Into A Room by Nichole Krauss
In Krauss’ debut, Columbia professor Samson Greene is found in the desert outside of Las Vegas. His memories of life after the age of 12 are gone, including those of his wife, friends and profession. Krauss does throw in some unnecessary curveballs, including scientific experiments on Samson that never really evolve into much, yet these don’t detract from the overall experience that is this wonderful story.

Shutter Island by Denis Lehane
Lehane is, perhaps, a victim of his own success. His previous effort, Mystic River, received well-deserved praise yet that praise and the subsequent movie based on the book eclipsed the release of Shutter Island. Which is too bad because it might just be the best thing Lehane’s written. Two US Marshalls, a mental institution isolated on an island in Boston Harbor, an escaped patient running loose and an approaching hurricane – how could it not be good? Lehane handles the story deftly, adding twists and turns the reader never saw coming. I think the sign of a good book is that it somehow alters you or the way you think. And this story proves difficult to forget; I read Shutter Island in May and still find my mind wandering back.

Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer
Dyer’s words summarize this collection of essays better than I ever could. He states, “This book is a ripped, by no means reliable map of some of the landscapes that make up a particular phase of my life. It’s about places where things happened or didn’t happen, places where I stayed and things that have stayed with me, places I’d wanted to see or places I passed through or just ended up…Everything in this book really happened, but some of the things that happened only happened in my head; by the same token, all the things that didn’t happen didn’t happen there too.” Exotic places, unique perspectives and a keen sense of humor make Yoga an essential read.

Crawling At Night by Nani Power
Dark and hypnotic, in an almost Lost In Translation sort of way, Power paints a raw, uncompromising portrait of life in Manhattan. Its about Ito, a sushi chef, Marianne, a waitress, loneliness, displacement, alcoholism and love. Its bleak, yes, but its strength is in its honesty, its no-holds-barred style. Raw. Uncompromising.

Politics by Adam Thrilwell
Possibly the most entertaining read of 2004, Politics is ambitious and singularly unique. Its about sex, relationships, emotions, the Queen Mother, shopping, Bollywood and threesomes. More important, how all these things impact Moshe and Nana, Thirlwell’s main characters. Yet the action of the book is complimented by commentary from Thrilwell or the narrator himself. Take for example one of the asides, “This chapter is in two halves. They are not equal halves. The first half was unhappy. It described an awkward complication. Whereas the second half is much shorter and is happier. It is a pastoral scene. It is a contemplation of the animal kingdom.” Politics involves the narrator in a way I’ve never before experienced. Have I mentioned its unique? A general warning to potential readers – the novel is very graphic. If you’re not up to very specific descriptions of sex, you might want to steer clear.

Posted by Chris at January 2, 2005 12:06 PM

Amber is most impressed, that this is your 'best of list'. This would be a full list on a given year for her as she gets into a book so deeply that she feels disloyal to that book if she starts another before at least two months is up. She understands that this is possibly just an excuse, but she is sticking to it. She also appologizes for the 3rd persons but she is amusing herself today.

Posted by: Amber at January 2, 2005 12:30 PM

wow! Impressive to say the least! I should write down what all I read. My list wouldn't be nearly as impressive, but believe it or not, Jade does read a lot of books too!

Posted by: Jade at January 2, 2005 12:48 PM

Ooooh...a list of what books you've read? Love that idea! I think I'll have to steal that one.

Posted by: QC at January 2, 2005 12:51 PM

Chris, I have always thought it would be cool to keep a book journal. As a voracious reader, do you include notes about the books or just simply list them by title and author?

Thanks for the recommendation of Donorboy--I really enjoyed the style and the fact that it was a very quick read that could squeeze it's way in between the gigantious amount of Shakespeare I had to consume over the past five months or so. I'm wishing I would have read High Fidelity before seeing the film, but I'm pressing on. Wait....did anyone ask?

Posted by: lu at January 2, 2005 2:07 PM

I miss reading like that. Get all your reading in before you have kids, because after, you still read but the time you have to do it is very limited!! Happy New Year again :-)

Posted by: Nina at January 2, 2005 8:37 PM

I'll have to read Shutter Island. I really liked Mystic River and think this one sounds great. I keep a list of books read, too. And a list of movies watched. This year my list of movies watched was HUGE because I watched a lot of movies on the treadmill during the running of my miles for charity. It is MUCH harder to read and run at the same time. :)

Thanks for your review!

Posted by: Keri at January 2, 2005 9:20 PM

So how many books did you read in total?

Posted by: Heather at January 3, 2005 6:45 AM