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My 10 Best Books of 2009

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on December 29, 2009 by tigereye

So far during 2009, I’ve read 142 books. I say “so far” because I’m still working on three, at least two of which I’ll probably finish over the next week, barring unforeseen circumstances such as full concentration on work. Out of these 142 books, 22 have been rereads. I haven’t counted exactly how many of these books were written during 2009, but I can tell you it’s fewer than usual for me. Near-bankruptcy has placed some constraints on my lifestyle, mostly by way of preventing me from buying many new hardcovers.

Still, I managed to come up with my annual and, I’m sure, deeply important and cherished (bankruptcy hasn’t done much to dent the sarcasm, anyway) Top 10 List of the best books from 2009 that I read this year, with the usual honorable mentions. Notice it’s a little light in the nonfiction category this year: sorry. I’ve mostly limited myself to discounted titles, and there wasn’t much in the way of cheap nonfiction that I wanted to read.

South of Broad by Pat Conroy. My beloved Pat Conroy would really have to screw up to stay off this list, and this year he made me happy once again with another dysfunctional family/love story set in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Charleston, SC. (I’m not biased: I’m not even particularly fond of most cities in my home state, which makes Charleston that much more remarkable.) Conroy has said this novel could’ve been over 100 hundred pages longer, and that would’ve been fine with me. There are childhood memories, present-day love, forgiveness and lack thereof, and a cameo appearance by Hurricane Hugo. While it’s not as transcendent as The Prince of Tides, it’s great nonetheless.

Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg. It’s rare for Berg to disappoint, too, although her last couple of books were less than amazing. She’s back to her usual form with this story of a widow who learns of a secret kept by her late husband. If you haven’t read Berg, she’s as gifted as Anne Lamott when it comes to finding words for the often amorphous thoughts in our own heads about our everyday lives. I’d recommend most of her fiction. This was the first knockout book of the year for me.

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea. I’m not sure what I expected from this, but after reading Urrea’s lovely novel The Hummingbird’s Daughter, it wasn’t a picaresque novel loosely based on “The Magnificent Seven.” In fact, if I’d known that, I might have hesitated before using any surplus money on this book. I’m glad I read it anyway. It’s a laugh-out-loud-funny story of three young women and a friend from a small Mexican village who sneak into the United States illegally to find seven ronin to save their town from a couple of criminals.

The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman. Hoffman is, like Conroy and Berg, a usual suspect for this list. This is one of her darker novels: it’s the story of three sisters, troubled in different ways, and how they make disastrous mistakes and then patch their lives back together. Hoffman writes beautifully about love, loss, craziness, family, and magic, all of which are old territory for her but are newly revisited in this terrific novel.

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. I’m not even sure why I picked up this short first book, and less sure what prompted me to buy it, but I’m glad I did. It’s a novel in stories about the lives of a cooking school proprietor/restaurateur and her students, and although it doesn’t startle or break any new literary ground, it’s a quick, lovely night or two of reading that I’m sure I’ll go back to over the years. Note: it’ll make you hungry and wistful at the same time, which in combination will keep you awake and roaming the kitchen early in the morning. It’s worth it. It almost made me want to cook.

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston. If you haven’t read him yet, Charlie Huston is the heir apparent to Elmore Leonard: he’s prolific, has fascinating if similar characters, will make you laugh and horrify you, and wanders freely between genres (his vampire series, starring undead screwup Joe Pitt, is not to be missed, even if you don’t care for vampires – they’re more like noir that happens to involve vampires). This novel is the story of a guy who goes to work for a company that cleans up after various human disasters: suicides, unobserved deaths, hoarders. There’s also a rival post-disaster cleaning team and a weird unexpected love story, and several inappropriate laughs. His new novel is out in January 2010. I’m already waiting for it.

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. If I had Atwood’s imagination I would never read anything – I’d just stay inside my own head all the time. This is almost but not quite a sequel to Oryx and Crake, although you don’t have to have read that novel to fall headlong into this one. It’s an eerie imagining of the end of civilization, and possibly the beginning as well, none of which is farfetched enough to make you write it off as science fiction: parts of it are almost like prophecy. Oh, and if it doesn’t at least temporarily make you think twice about fast food, you didn’t pay attention. Brrrr.

Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper. Two years in a row, I’ve been unexpectedly enchanted by what you’d think would be overly sentimental stories of notable or exceptional pets, which instead turn out to be moving and fascinating human/animal tales. This is the story of a young woman who takes in an eyeless kitten (his eyes were removed due to a life-threatening infection) and their life together. I was suckered into this one because I have a disabled cat myself, and couldn’t put the story down: Homer the cat has a more interesting story than a lot of humans do, and the author writes about it with the sentimentality of any pet owner, but never descends into sap.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Usually, when a writer lapses into dialect, my neck stiffens up, especially if it’s southern: almost nobody outside the south (and not nearly enough writers in it) has much of an ear for how people really talk. Kathryn Stockett is the exception. This is the story of a privileged white girl in segregated 1960s Mississippi who takes an interest in the lives of black domestic servants who work for her family and friends, and the story of the black women themselves, told in a mostly dead-on dialect that never made me cringe. This is a long novel, but took only me two nights to finish. You’ll love the characters, the story, and the discovery of a new author who steps outside the silly Ya-Ya Sisterhood/Sullivan’s Island trend so many southern female writers settle for, and hits this debut out of the park.

Rocket Men by Craig Nelson. I’ve been a NASA moon shot junkie since I stumbled onto The Right Stuff as a college student. This novel will revisit a little of what you already know – the Soviet contribution to the space race, the failures that preceded the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs – but reaches deeper into the lives of the three men who first went to the moon than anyone has before. I knew a lot of this history, and it didn’t matter: I was still fascinated. At least once, Nelson turned up some detail that reduced me to tears. I can’t think of a better book to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the moon landing (although if you’re a fellow moon shot nerd, watch “In the Shadow of the Moon,” a documentary that’s even more breathtaking than this book).

As usual, there are a few honorable mentions as well, some from 2009 and some other great finds that I stumbled upon late for one reason or another:

Awakening by S.J. Bolton. This is a debut mystery/thriller about a British wildlife veterinarian and the horrible secret of her village. I was fascinated from the first page.

My Dead Body by Charlie Huston. Yes, that same Charlie Huston. This is the last of his Joe Pitt vampire noir novels, which settled several old scores, made me laugh explosively more than once, and tempted me to reread the whole batch since there won’t be more. (The first of this terrific series is Already Dead.)

Alex and Me by Irene Pepperberg. If you have a pet you suspect is smarter than it’s given credit for, this memoir by the scientist who worked with Alex the gray parrot for 30 years will pin you in your chair to finish it in one sitting. Pepperberg made the whole world think twice by what she revealed about learned language in a creature with “a brain the size of a shelled walnut,” as well as learned animal behavior in general.

The King Must Die and The Bull From the Sea by Mary Renault. I’ve never included rereads in this list before, but it had been almost 20 years since I last read these novels based on the myth of Theseus, and I’d forgotten how absolutely extraordinary they are in terms of research, characterization, and human understanding. Wow. They’ve lost nothing over the years, and I hadn’t realized how much I missed them.

BONUS: a surprise movie to end this list. The best film I saw all year – in a year, by the way, that offered the remarkable “Up,” “Valkyrie,” and “Inglourious Basterds” – was “Zombieland.” Laugh yourself silly and forget the real, un-zombiefied world for an hour and a half, and then go home and make sure you have a houseful of weapons and junk food, just in case.

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August 16, 1977: In Memoriam

Posted in Uncategorized on August 16, 2008 by tigereye

I still miss you, Elvis.

Buried Alive

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on July 30, 2008 by tigereye

Hi, Spike fans. It’s still me.

No says to tell you she’s still up to her ears in work. This one client of hers keeps sending her stuff to do, and she says they pay her as if they think she’s good at her job, so she’s trying to keep up with them. You should see her. Notes and papers all over the bed and that squawking paper-eating “printer” thing I hate (I’d pee on it if I could jump on top of it) cranking out more every day.

I can’t even get rid of her for very long any more! She was supposed to go see that movie with Mulder and Scully in it tomorrow, but I saw her email someone and cancel. She’s not even sure she’s going to see Furry Guy this weekend.

Now I ask you, how am I supposed to play Texas Hold ‘Em on the internet if she’s working on the box-on-the-lap all day and half the night?

Also, I saw her eat two pieces of pizza at lunch and she never offered me a bite. Not one. Now if you’ll all excuse me, I’m going to go chew on the most expensive pair of shoes I can find.

Me, As a Goth?…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 26, 2008 by tigereye

This came up the other night while some friends and I were emailing each other and appreciating Jill Tracy’s music. I don’t remember what the actual segue was, but my boyfriend and I started talking about how I’d just missed the whole Goth thing — it was just starting at my school when I was released from it, having paid my debt to society.

I suppose in a lot of ways I would have fit right in. I’m the palest person you’ll ever meet (step aside, Nicole Kidman, and nice try), and one of the most overtly hostile, although most of the Goths I’ve met since then — you get a lot of ’em in bookstore work — were much more passive than pissy. I have a chip on my shoulder roughly the size of Pike’s Peak, and after years of other people trying to squish me into the role of Doormat, I rebelled mightily and haven’t really been pushed around since.

I wear a lot of black, too. Sue me. Red hair and pale skin = lots of black clothes, although it’s a pain in the ass to keep them up when you take in a mostly-white cat. I even have the obligatory almost-black lipsticks, reds and purples so deep you’d expect only Mina or Lucy to wear them. I used to work in cosmetics; I got a sweet discount. I trot these out every now and then, too — I wore the dark-blood shade of red to a Velvet Revolver concert and fit right in, despite being older than most of the crowd.

I would have hated the music, though. All that Ministry and other unlistenable crap? I even get tired of NiN sometimes, although I could easily listen to “Head Like a Hole” forty times when I cue it up. I would have been the only Goth in the crowd listening to the Eagles, Jimmy Buffett, Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt… All my soundtracks might or might not have fit the mold. I could have snuck “The Shawshank Redemption” past the music police, but I don’t think “An Inconvenient Truth” would have gone over so well.

Other stuff would’ve got me kicked out of the club too. I’m a huge college football fan (there’s an orange lipstick, the exact shade of my team’s color, right next to the dark purple one); I run; I watch “American Idol,” for God’s sake.

And the kicker: I refuse to smoke.

Still, it’s nice to see what might have been.

Me and My Shadow: the iTunes Meme

Posted in Slices of Life (add $1 for ice cream), Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2007 by tigereye

Before I start, what exactly is a meme? I asked a good friend who didn’t know either, so I figured it was time to display my ignorance to the entire community. (I knew I’d get around to doing that sooner or later.) Well, whatever it is, I’m doing this one, because it’s really cool. I saw it on bibliomom’s page yesterday and was thinking about doing it anyway, and then she asked me. Clairvoyance over the ‘net? Well, why not? Evidently my Dick Cheney voodoo doll works just fine, so anything is possible.

Anyway, here’s the iTunes meme.

How many total songs?

4,707, or 13.9 days. When you give a person with mild OCD an iPod, this is what happens. I put everything I have that’s out of print on it, plus lots of other goodies, episodes of This American Life, stuff like that. I have key speeches from the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Sort by song title – first and last…
Dear God. Abacab by Genesis and 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton. I’m not gonna have a friend left who thinks I’m cool, am I?

Sort by time – shortest and longest…
4 seconds of dialogue from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (“It’s been emotional,” says the big dude at the end) and This American Life’s Back From the Dead post-Katrina show, at 59 minutes 31 seconds.

Sort by Album – first and last…
The A-Sides by Soundgarden and ’80s New Wave Disc 2, from which I burned Duran Duran’s Election Day, among other goodies from my lousy teens.

Sort by Artist – first and last…
A&J Music Productions (WTF?), who did the score to Rize, and 50 Cent, with Candy Shop and Disco Inferno.

Top five played songs…
1. Break It On Down (Battlezone) by Flii Stylz. (I can’t recommend the Rize soundtrack enough.)

2. Don’t Let It Bring You Down by Annie Lennox

3. Real Gone by Sheryl Crow.

4. Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers.

5. Backlash Blues (2005 remix) by Nina Simone.

I play songs over and over and over, a lot of the time. Break It On Down has been played 24 times, mostly on my iPod while I’m running. It’s hands down the best workout song in the world, especially when you’ve seen the movie — watching people krump makes me want to do it myself, in a spastic white-chick kind of way. Real Gone isn’t bad, either, when you’re running. Annie and Bill are in-the-mood music. I’m just in love with Nina Simone’s voice.

Find the following words. How many songs show up?

Sex: 7, Death: 9, Love: 208 (holy shit!), You: 359 (again!), Home: 49, Boy: 27, Girl:41

First five songs that come up on Party Shuffle…
Tennessee Plates by Charlie Sexton, Milkshake by Kelis, The River Runs Low by Bruce Hornsby, Bensusan by Michael Hedges, and Hold My Hand by Hootie & the Blowfish. I would not play any of these songs at a party. Well, maybe Milkshake.

I’m not sure what these say about me. I spend a lot of time fooling with iTunes, making mix CDs like the mix tapes I made in my teens — I invented that, you know, it’s just that word got out somewhere and now everybody does it. I’ve got mixes of screaming-angry songs, of crime and prison songs, of place-named songs, of songs to play before, during, or after sex… I live in my iPod. What can I say? Like contact lenses, it’s an invention that’s changed my life in a big way. Without it I’d never exercise, I’d certainly be bored, and I’d have killed someone in an airport by now because they expected me to talk to them. Let’s see that on one of those cute how-I-use-my-i(Phone) commercials. Actually, I bet it would increase sales.

Whoever wants to do this next, let me know! I’m not tagging anyone. But it was a lot of fun. 

Lost in the Internet… Again

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November 13, 2007 by tigereye

I wonder how many people show up here every day, running for our lives from some other site?

It looked like fun. It was fun, at first, when I met all the cool people and left comments on all their posts. And then… It was like when you move into a new house, in an unfamiliar neighborhood, one you rented at what seemed like a great rate until you moved in and realized the house next door was home to Larry the dogfighting impresario, Moe the paranoid gun “collector,” and Curly the crackhead.

At least I got out of the lease.

This is much more promising, even if this first installment is a little shaky. I’ve got several friends over here I’m trying to find, and before long my natural contrariness will kick in and I’ll find I have something interesting to say. Or bitch about. Or rail against. In any case, this looks like a cool place to do it.