31 December 2010

Best Books of 2010

Best Fiction
Joanna Smith Rakoff, A FORTUNATE AGE
Jonathan Franzen, FREEDOM
Bernhard Schlink, THE WEEKEND
Joshua Ferris, THE UNNAMED
Dinaw Mengestu, HOW TO READ THE AIR

Best Nonfiction
Colson Whitehead, COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK
Nicholas Carr, THE SHADOWS

Best Memoirs
Patti Smith, JUST KIDS

Biggest Page-Turner: The Stieg Larsson "Failed To Finish GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST" Memorial Category
Laura Hillenbrand, UNBROKEN

Best Fiction Based On Other Fiction

Modern Library of Awesome

Best Books With Not-The-Best Endings
Jen Baggett, Holly Corbett and Amanda Pressner, THE LOST GIRLS

Not-So-Great Book With a Great Ending

Most Disappointing
David Nicholls, ONE DAY
Tom McCarthy, C

Most Surprising
Jim Bouton, BALL FOUR
Don DeLillo, MAO II

Most Quoted
Haruki Murakami. Bad habit. 

(Don't like my picks? Check out the AV Club best books of the year post for opinions more closely aligned to your liking. Also see from this blog, my post from July of the best books so far.)

30 December 2010

Yay! Kindle lending is here!

But just once per title, and for just 14 days. And only one of my purchased titles is loanable, but if anyone wants to borrow THE FINKLER QUESTION when I'm done, I'm your woman. Galleycat reports TRAVELS FROM SIBERIA and FREEDOM are lendable, both great books from the passing year.

29 December 2010

Reading Regrets of 2010

I didn't finish all the David Foster Wallace books -- not during the summer, not during the rest of the year. I'd attribute this to my hesitation about the short stories (about which, I could write another entire post) and my preference for novels, refusal to get to THE BROOM OF THE SYSTEM until I had gotten through those. But I did finish ALTHOUGH YOU END UP BECOMING YOURSELF (review... this weekend? stay tuned), and all the nonfiction, and I still have till April 14 before THE PALE KING comes out.

I didn't really make any progress on the Modern Library list, the ostensible reason for starting this blog. I know I've said I wouldn't do this but maybe I do need a deadline. I know I could probably finish them in a year if I really cracked down on myself, but the truth is I don't want to. There's just too much out there I'd like to read otherwise. Maybe by the time I'm 30? (It'll go great with my Obligatory Recapturing Youth Road Trip.) But I am hacking through LORD JIM, which I liked more about 30 installments ago, to be perfectly honest. My Joseph Conrad history on this blog is pretty deplorable.

I didn't finish the Sandman series, but I did get up to A GAME OF YOU which was the first volume I ever read -- so I have five left. (Puzzlingly, one isn't available through the NY Public Library -- vol. 7 or 8 I think? How did this happen?)

I think what these regrets demonstrate is my vacillation between having a reading Plan and Sticking To The Plan Forever, and haphazardly picking books from all around. This pattern repeats in my larger life and there's a lot to be said for the serendipity method, but I'm just type A enough that I can't give into it fully. But I would like to do all these things in 2011, at least get a running start.

28 December 2010

Unsponsored message

Look at your current reading material. Now back to this book. Now back to your current reading material. Now back to this book. Does your book look like this? No. Could this book, out today in bookstores everywhere, be yours to entertain and delight for a mere $8.99? YES IT COULD.

Congratulations A, I will be out beating the bushes for a copy shortly.

27 December 2010

Literary News Stories Of Note, 2010 Edition

Surprising author death of the year: J.D. Salinger. Thought he would outlive us all, frankly.
Unsurprising author non-death of the year: Philip Roth. Still think he will.
"What, that was a book?" of the year: "The Social Network" née THE ACCIDENTAL BILLIONAIRES. Ben Mezrich is crying into his bathtub of cash that they didn't keep his title, which sounds like the name of an epic caper movie a la "The Great Race" or "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." (We've got 'em on VHS!)
Driest topic I yet will read everything I can on: E-book pricing. Then again, as more people get e-readers, this will only continue producing six-paragraph stories out of "You know how this was $9.99 before? Well it's $12.99 now."
Best comeback: Nick Hornby to The Believer. (Here's an excerpt from the latest.) I knew if I just clapped hard enough it would happen!
Biggest nothing of all: The revelation, per a New York Magazine cover story, that James Frey's new venture is rife with unscrupulousness and slime. (In effect, he pays writers a small amount of money to write YA books, with a promise on a share of the film and secondary rights should they ever pan out, goal being to create some kind of media empire for bad-looking thrillers.) I mean, he may have good taste in brunch venues but what, was he going to be knitting sweaters for orphans for the rest of his life?
Most overblogged... AND YET: Jonathan Franzen everything. I couldn't help myself, I know, but in no other story can you cover the doings of both high and low literature, encompassing topics like sexism in book coverage (yes also I KNOW) and Oprah. Speaking of...
Potential overblogs of 2011: Oprah's new channel: what will it mean for the book club given her latest installment?; the U.S. adaptation of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" is set for release (whose reach is longer than I expected given my dad made a Lisbeth Salander joke about Troy Aikman's outfit while commenting on the Packers-Giants game -- he hasn't even read the books!); the rise of a million competitors for the Kindle.

Haul blog

THE NEW YORKER 20 UNDER 40 (ed. Deborah Treisman)
Keith Richards, LIFE
Roger Sterling, STERLING'S GOLD
And book-related if not the actual object, the Penguin cover postcards. (Geeking out!)

Elsewhere in the household, the former American Studies major unwrapped THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN, the assistant president of the basketball fan club got KISS 'EM GOODBYE: AN ESPN TREASURY OF FAILED, FORGOTTEN AND DEPARTED TEAMS and the enthusiastic late-adopter grandpa got a Kindle... not bad on the landscape. Okay, your turn to brag. What did your holiday book-stack look like?

22 December 2010

Happier holidays

Due to a family situation posting will resume on December 27. Do not adjust your monitors. 

21 December 2010

"Nothing rivals the control you get from writing a novel: how it’s just you and your story and that great intangible, the reader’s imagination to see the world you're building on the page. Television, as many anti-TV types point out, does a lot of that work for you: instead of imagining how a character looks and sounds, the viewer gets them served up in high-def."
Author Jennifer Weiner finds a surprising amount to like about shooting a TV pilot she cowrote.

20 December 2010

As good a man as the good old city knew

This weekend I atoned for some of the jokes I've made at Charles Dickens' expense at the Housing Works CHRISTMAS CAROL marathon. I missed Scott Adsit (Pete Hornberger on "30 Rock") and Francine Prose but caught a lot of the celebrity readers, including Kurt Andersen ("Studio 360"/ HEYDAY, formerly of "Spy," "New York," etc), Justin Taylor (EVERYTHING HERE IS THE BEST THING EVER -- good gravy he looks so young) and Mary Gaitskill (VERONICA -- best dressed of all the readers). I wish I remembered who the guy who kept apologizing for his Cockney accent, saying he sounded like Dick Van Dyke in "Mary Poppins" -- anyone?

Listening to Dickens aloud is such a fundamentally different experience from reading him. I had to read A CHRISTMAS CAROL in seventh grade I think [private school! Christmas lit for everyone!] and I remember boredly skimming it; I haven't seen the stage version in a handful of years. But maybe this Dickens is meant to be read aloud; even his lists have poetry to them.

Anyway, the New Yorker Book Bench has a nice write-up and a photo in which you can just barely see me. Unrelated, one of the $1 carts has a full set of A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME in paperback (4 volumes), so if you need those books you should buy them. It was only with extremity that I pried them out of my own hands.

18 December 2010

While apartment hunting

"And you know what else, Walt Whitman lived in that building over there."
"What?! No!"
"Yeah, he wrote LEAVES OF GRASS there."
"Do you ever try to look in his windows for inspiration?"
"You have no idea how many Walt Whitman poems I've written."

17 December 2010

I should take different trains

This collage of sketches of readers on the NYC subway (and accompanying speech bubbles) : Me :: On The Street :: Other women in New York

Is this the first book tour-turned-movie?

Margaret Atwood's tour for her last book, THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD, is now a documentary. Looks like your best chances to see it though are in Victoria (British Columbia) or Barcelona in 2011.

16 December 2010

In memoriam

Here's an admittedly incomplete list of writers who died in 2010. I can't believe Salinger was this year! That feels like long ago.

15 December 2010

14 December 2010

Message to authors

If your book is as good as you think it is, then you shouldn't instruct your fans to spam Amazon with uninformed 5-star reviews. Yes, SPAM. "I've had this book for 12 hours and I already love it!!!" is of no more value than "Penny stocks and V1agra!!" when it comes to deciding whether to buy a book. How about a review from an expert or a doctor (or could you not get an expert?) instead of:
  • "This is a great book that is definitely large and full of data."
  • "was blown away first of all by the physical size of the book"
  • "You know sometime genius only appears in their first work, but with his second book [author] DID IT AGAIN!"
  • "I've been looking forward to this since I first heard [author] talking about it, and expected it to be amazing"
  • "Thanks for devoting so many years of your life to researching this so meticulously and sharing that with the world."

Now, I have been asked by authors whose mailing lists I'm on to contribute a review on Amazon, and I have not, mostly because I couldn't be bothered. But there's a difference between a thoughtful review and a raft of fanboys. What that practice says to me, the book-buying public, is that you, Author, think I'm so stupid that I'm going to buy the book off those reviews, when in reality I will probably just borrow it from the library and hate-read it. And maybe get carbs all over it. That's right.

We found the worst "Eat Pray Love" tie-in ever

At the grocery store there was a coupon for $5 off "Eat Pray Love" on DVD or Blu-Ray... stapled to a head of iceberg lettuce. Sure, I'll go on this round-the-world adventure, as soon as I finish eating this leafy water!

13 December 2010

You're waiting for a train, a train that will take you far away

Love the concept, but this Klosterman-Franzen piece from GQ leaves a lot to be desired. Capers, for example. No time for capers? I do, however, relish the implication buried in the fragment "a period in high school when he listened to the Grateful Dead without smoking pot."

Three of which in New York, naturally

The Huffington Post has a slideshow of its readers' favorite independent bookstores, including some classics like the Brookline Booksmith (check!), Powell's (check!) and Quimby's in Chicago (check!). New York's share includes the Strand and McNally Jackson -- although for what it's worth, I'd probably go Housing Works over McN. J. for personal reasons.

Should your local indie be on this list? Please, direct my future vacation plans (sort of joking).

11 December 2010

Going indie

Back when I lived in Pennsylvania, the closest bookstore to me was a sad little mall Waldenbooks accessible by the once-an-hour bus to Allentown. (Don't break out the tiny violins, the local library was amazing.) Publishers Weekly linked to a story today about how a secondhand chain called Read Green has taken over the space where the Waldenbooks was. I hope this trend continues, if only because the Borders-Barnes & Noble merger dance going on right now would leave a lot of empty mall spaces.

09 December 2010

An English major gets her wings

Tag line on the new TV spot for "The Social Network." Tipped off by Caroline McCarthy of CNet on Twitter.

08 December 2010

Filmbook-to-be: New "Anna Karenina" in the works

This time it's Keira Knightley in Greta Garbo's boots, with "Atonement" director Joe Wright directing. This is one of those stories I think filmmakers will just remake over and over again, asymptotically, never reaching the greatness of the book -- not that I mind. (I haven't seen either of the Garbo adaptations... the 1997 one is not bad, and surprising given that Sean "Draw it again!" Bean plays Vronsky. Alfred Molin is a stellar Levin though, for what it's worth.)

07 December 2010

At this time of year, remember that it could be worse

The New Yorker writeup of Jonathan Franzen's appearance on "Oprah" yesterday (which we missed, having to toil) sounds like the most awkward performance review ever.

NYC: WORD's Annual Holiday Open House

This year, they aren't just signing -- the authors invited to WORD in Greenpoint will also be "moonlighting as booksellers" this weekend. Management recommends you go Sunday afternoon to catch Rachel Shukert (EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE GREAT) and Sara Marcus (GIRLS TO THE FRONT) to pick up their books and if you're lucky pick their brains as well. (Both books are Harper Perennial paperback originals, but that is a coincidence.)

06 December 2010

Teenage Jonathan Franzen?

Teenage Jonathan Franzen. (2nd from right, via Paris Review) He might agree, as may we all hope, he has improved with age.

Many are called but few are chosen

U.K. nonprofit World Book Night wants to give away a million books on March 5, 2011, and the list of books is pretty prestigious. But what's with making prospective givers apply and limiting their numbers to 20,000? Can we not all give away books enough?

05 December 2010

And YOU get a chapter! And YOU get a chapter! EVERYBODY GETS A CHAPTER

For the five people who didn't have to read them in high school, Oprah's final book club picks (until she launches her own network next year) are a Dickens doubleheader, A TALE OF TWO CITIES and GREAT EXPECTATIONS. (Actually, I can't remember whether the latter was required reading in high school or not. First sign of aging?) As is obvious but worth pointing out, Charles Dickens is a dead white man.

04 December 2010

"More than three years after the discovery of the body parts"

I don't think it lives up to its billing, but this Telegraph piece on a Swedish murder and subsequent investigation is incredibly weird and disturbing, even if it didn't inspire Stieg Larsson or Henning Mankell. (No spoilers for the books inside.)

03 December 2010

True! Reader! Confession!

My office book club has met twice and I am 0 for 2 in attendance. Last month I had a training session during it (if I'd had my druthers, but anyway), This time I hadn't finished the book (Stefan Zweig's THE POST OFFICE GIRL -- and it is terrific so far) and I felt so guilty I stayed away. I didn't want to be there flinching when spoilers were unveiled, nor did I want to show up and sit there nodding and... nodding.

(I blame the library's copy of the book for not getting to me sooner. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

Which is worse: to not go to book club when you haven't read the book, or to go and not be able to substantively contribute to discussion?

Unbookening, how it's done

Bought 2 books
Received 6 to review
Checked 5 out of the library
In: 13

Donated 30
Gave away 6 to various people
Returned 9 to library
Out: 45

I would love to call this a "reboot" of the Unbookening franchise but I guess that would mean they'd fire me and cast Hayden Panettiere as the plucky blogger with a book problem. Please don't write in if you believe this to be a desirable upgrade.

02 December 2010


This is more to your writing interest than to your reading interest (presumed on both counts), but a blogger named Gwen Bell started a project for December called Reverb with daily writing prompts. (I realize it's December 2nd already, but I'm ever the procrastinator, witness this entry which I am shoving under the door as it shuts.) You can blog or tweet your answer, or you can just write it down for yourself somewhere.

01 December 2010

NYC: And Tiny Tim, who (SPOILER)

How cool! Housing Works is hosting a marathon reading of A CHRISTMAS CAROL on December 19th. Hoping for mulled wine or at least hot cider.