December 29, 2005

On Books: The Best of 2005

In the past 12 months, I've managed to consume 84 books. Pretty good considering we've had an infant in the house for five of those months. You can find the complete list in the extended entry. Here are the highlights.

Bottom of the Barrell
There's always crap on the shelves of any bookstore. Occasionally, I manage to end up with it. Hesitant to put any book down after I've started it, I generally finish this trash as well. Shoedog by George Pelecanos was a case of a crappy novel from a great writer. James Rollins' Subterranean was just Journey To The Center of the Earth tweaked and screwed up, complete with one-dimensional characters and stereotypical bad guys. Rana Dasgupta's Tokyo Cancelled had promise but quickly unwound into a lame attempt to replicate Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Patrick O'Leary hit one out of the park with Door Number Three. Sadly, The Impossible Bird barely rounded first base. It was a mess. As was Leslie Stella's Unimaginable Zero Summer. Talk about one-dimensional characters. Thomas Beller's How To Be A Man was just as bad although it was neck and neck with Neil Labute's Seconds of Pleasure for last place this year.

The Top of the Heap
Another Bullshit Night In Suck City by Nick Flynn is unbelievable but true nontheless and, overall, a fantastic read. Fantastic yet heartbreaking. Flynn writes about what he knows. In this case, its about working in homeless shelters...and finding his father in one. The story of how these two people came to be in this unique situation is compelling.

Jonathan Tropper's sophomore novel, The Book of Joe, reads like a Nick Hornby adaptation of The Big Chill, tweaked for Generation X. For all its schmaltz and cheesy sentiment, is a brilliant, touching novel upon which I reflect fondly. The characters are well-drawn and the story is universal.

Last year, I professed my love for Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. While it seems as though it's somewhat derivitave, Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is miles better. There's a key, a lock, a mystery and September 11th. To reveal more would be to be unfair. For you not to read it would be a shame.

I'm not a huge fan of the short story format but there's an exception to every rule - The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas by Davy Rothbart is it this year. Each story is different and each is brilliant in its own way. Rothbart, a self-professed writer, poet and, oddly, rapper hooks you from the first sentence and, while each story and its power is different, he maintains the quality of each story throughout the short volume.

I'm not sure exactly what Daniel Hecht's Skull Session was. Quite possibly, it was a crime novel or a mystery. It might have been a psychological thriller. It also could have been either a horror or gothic novel. It was, most likely, all of these. Whatever it was, guitarist-turned-novelist Hecht's first novel (he's written four to date), was creepy and unique, two good reasons to pick up a copy and check it out for yourselves.

One of the more unique and brutal pieces of crime fiction I read this year was Charlie Huston's Caught Stealing. Througout the wash of violence that punctuates almost every chapter, our hero turns sympathetic dispite his personal failings. Huston's follow-up, Six Bad Things, was almost as strong but not quite. Another mystery with a much different approach is The Final Solution. Michael Chabon has a great reputation but I hadn't read anything of his before seeing this slim novel. That will most likely change. Chabon takes on the tale of a mysterious boy who refuses to speak, his faithful companion, a parrot, and a former sleuth who's health is now failing having retired to the English countryside. The sleuth is never named but is, of course, Sherlock Holmes. The boy, an escapee from a German concentration camp. The mystery is riveting but even more wonderful is the way in which it's told.

Sure, Ken Follett's Whiteout is a cheap mystery/adventure tale and it's inclusion at the top of a list of 84 books is suspect. I'll grant you that. But it really is a good book. Pick it up, spend an evening in front of the fire this winter with it, and see if it doesn't grab you. I guarantee it will.

The best is, of course, saved for last. Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind is, after some serious deliberation, the best thing I read this year. It's a book any reader should love. I mean, it's first and foremost about books! I honestly can't recommend this one enough.

How We Are Hungry (Eggers)
Another Bullshit Night In Suck City (Flynn)
A Movie And A Book (Wagner)
Hell's Half Acre (Baer)
The Polysyllabic Spree (Hornby)
Little Children (Perrotta)
The Hanged Man's Song (Sandford)
Home Land (Lipsyte)
Molvania (Cilauro)
Jennifer Government (Barry)
Gone, Baby, Gone (Lehane)
Shoedog (Pelecanos)
A Perfect Life (Stewart)
America: The Book (Stewart)
What Was She Thinking [Notes on a Scandal] (Heller)
Dry (Burroughs)
The Shadow of the Wind (Zafon)
The Coffin Dancer (Deaver)
The Havana Room (Harrison)
A Firing Offense (Pelecanos)
Bone in the Throat (Bourdain)
The Book of Joe (Tropper)
Down By The River Where The Dead Men Go (Pelecanos)
Faithful (Sigerson)
The Eighth Day (Case)
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life (Rosenthal)
The Mark of the Assassin (Silva)
Everything Changes (Tropper)
The Tesseract (Garland)
Paranoia (Finder)
One For My Baby (Parsons)
The Innocent (Coben)
Here, There & Everywhere (Roberson)
Killing Floor (Child)
Subterranean (Rollins)
Plan B (Tropper)
The Amber Room (Berry)
The Poo Bomb (Vogel)
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Foer)
Tokyo Cancelled (Dasgupta)
The Impossible Bird (O'Leary)
A Long Way Down (Hornby)
Resurrection Dreams (Laymon)
Deception (Mina)
One Shot (Child)
The History of Love (Krauss)
A Certain Chemistry (Millington)
Unimaginable Zero Summer (Stella)
Killing Yourself To Live (Klosterman)
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (Rowling)
Sandstorm (Rollins)
Off Ramp (Stuever)
Created In Darkness by Troubled Americans (Eggers)
Miss Wyoming (Coupland)
The Task of This Translator (Hasak-Lowy)
Dude, Where's My Country (Moore)
The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas (Rothbart)
Skull Session (Hecht)
Sweet And Vicious (Schickler)
Lies (Franken)
The Guards (Bruen)
Skin Tight (Hiaasen)
Skinny Dip (Hiaasen)
How To Be A Man (Beller)
Caught Stealing (Huston)
Stormy Weather (Hiaasen)
Dispatch (Little)
Darkly Dreaming Dexter (Lindsay)
Seconds of Pleasure (Labute)
Secret Prey (Sandford)
Derailed (Siegel)
Certain Prey (Sandford)
Six Bad Things (Huston)
Vixen (Bruen)
Easy Prey (Sandford)
Survivor (Palahniuk)
Whiteout (Follett)
The Secret Goldfish (Means)
Digital Fortress (Brown)
The Final Solution (Chabon)
Whirlwind (Garber)
Rain Fall (Eisler)
Eating Crow (Rayner)
Chosen Prey (Sandford)

Posted by Chris at December 29, 2005 08:16 PM

Ok Chris, where do you find that much time to read? I just can't do it! Maybe if I wasn't working I could read that much, but since I found a job it's taken me 2 months to read one 600 page book. Granted, it wasn't the best book I've ever read, but things are busy! I'd love to hear how you do it... I miss my books.

Posted by: Nicole at December 30, 2005 10:35 AM

Damn! Do you ever sleep? Between the 84 books, all of the music you just reviewed, a wife and a kid, how do you find the time? I feel lucky if I get one book read a month. Of course time management was never my strong suit, but you put me to shame! And of all the books on your list I've only read one - Harry Potter.

Posted by: Beth in StL at December 30, 2005 10:47 AM

Oh, thank you so much, Chris! Wonderful! I am putting your best ones on my shopping list! Thank you again, and Happy Reading in 2006!

Nicole, what was the best book you ever read that you mentioned?

Posted by: jen at December 30, 2005 10:47 AM

okay, how 'bout a music AND book review podcast? *grin* :) i have at least 3 of these books either on my wishlist or sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read. i'm going to have to start a book journal.. :) that's such a good idea. *lol* :)

Posted by: Manda at December 30, 2005 10:53 AM

PLEASE make your first book of 2006 "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" by Michael Chabon. I LOVED that book (and the Pulitzer people did too).

Posted by: Karen at December 30, 2005 11:15 AM

Wow, thats alot of books. And I thought I read alot.

Posted by: Adi at December 30, 2005 11:20 AM

Thanks for the list. I've read a few of the books on the list, and have made a note of the others. I'll see how far I can work my way through it. First, I'll tackle "The Shadow of the Wind"

84 books in a year is pretty ambitious. I don't read that many, even including the books on cd that I absorb on my way to and from work.

Have a nice day, and a Happy New Year.

Posted by: cas at December 30, 2005 11:25 AM

Thanks for the list! I've added most of them to wish list at Powells.

Posted by: erika at December 30, 2005 11:34 AM

I agree with Karen...also, pick up "The Wonder Boys", also by Michael was also a movie with Michael Douglas...both were good. Actually, anything from Michael Chabon that I've read is fabulous. I will need to pick up the one you mentioned, as I haven't read that one yet.

Posted by: Krush at December 30, 2005 11:50 AM

84! i can't even reach my goal of 50 a year. i get around 10 or less.

Posted by: denise at December 30, 2005 11:51 AM

Soooo, the sign language book didn't make the cut huh? lol

Posted by: dragonlady474 at December 30, 2005 11:55 AM

dude, i am so totally making a 'book list' off of you.

i just bought Mark Haddon's book (curious incident...) at my recent cash-in-gift-cards spree at Border's, and i'm excited to read it.

Posted by: Judy at December 30, 2005 11:57 AM

'curious incident' was indeed fabulous to read. The name of my site, however, is 'Broken Bindings' due to my compulsive need to re-read so many of my favorite books, causing the bindings to, well, break. I hesitate to list all of my books like you have, because friends will call DYFS thinking I cannot take good care of my kids if I read that much. Meh

What is your favorite guilty pleasure book?

Posted by: cristin at December 30, 2005 12:52 PM

Hey, just wanted to wish you a Happy New Year!

Posted by: Jade at December 30, 2005 01:30 PM

Thank you very very much for putting this list together. I hate knowing much about the plot of a book before I read it, so I just go by authors I like or recommendations from people I trust. (Which totally includes you.) I just skimmed your top of the heap list, and added a bunch of titles to my Amazon wish list. Here's to less tv and more good reads in 2006!

Happy New Year!

Posted by: Demery at December 30, 2005 02:21 PM

You're a machine. Do you sleep? Hmmm...maybe not.

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. It will alter your life. I'll have to check out Shadow of the Wind....

Posted by: CroutonBoy at December 30, 2005 02:33 PM

I'm actually surprised that the only book I've read from your list is Harry Potter, since I too am a voracious reader. In fact, just last night I went and spent over 100 dollars at Half-Price Books. I bought so much stuff that they had to pack it all in a box, instead of a bag. I can't wait to find out what's on your list for this year!

Posted by: Eulallia at December 30, 2005 04:31 PM

i agree with you completely about shadows of the wind. i gave that book to three different people this christmas.

Posted by: jodi at December 30, 2005 06:47 PM

I've gotten to a point where if I really can't get into a book, I don't force myself to finish. Thankfully, I don't run into many of those often. I'm amazed by your 84 books. I'm barely over 30!

But moving on .... Happy New Year!! ♥

Posted by: patricia at December 30, 2005 07:42 PM

I can't decide if I liked Curious Incident or Extremely Loud better. They were both really good. I think Curious Incident was funnier though.

Posted by: Dawn (webmiztris) at December 30, 2005 10:09 PM

Thanks for posting this entry. I got a book for the hubby based on your review. (You liked it) So far, he's liking it too. So thanks!

Posted by: Lisa B at December 30, 2005 10:49 PM

Great reading list! I recently ordered Caught Stealing and its sequel, and your post has convinced me to check out Carlos Ruiz Zafon's book as well.

I see you read quite a few books by John Sandford, who is one of my all-time favourite writers. Hope you liked them! (I'm guessing you did, or you wouldn't have read that many.)

Have you ever read anything by Peter Robinson, Robert Crais, Charlie Stella, or Jason Starr? Based on your reading list, I'm guessing that you might really enjoy their work.

Posted by: Tania at December 31, 2005 04:43 AM

Wow I thought I read a lot. We do have 2 books in common this year...Curious Incident of the Dog and Extremely loud & Incredibly Close. I have to disagree with you on Curious seemed like the writer tried WAY too hard to get the autisic side down on paper. But I must say I absolutely LOVED Extremly & Incredibly. Yay for books. On to a new year :) Happy New Year you guys!

Posted by: penguintarts at December 31, 2005 10:16 AM

happy new year! i love that you read so much! i'm in paris, and reading your reviews is making me more motivated to go check out the english section of the nearest library! :)

Posted by: Priscilla at January 3, 2006 02:21 PM