Thursday, January 10, 2013

Where's Booker? Finishing His List of His Favorite Reads Over The Past Year

#7  The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

I had never read this even though I've owned a copy long, in fact, that I can't remember when.  As I write this, I actually think that my friend Jen Shaffer gave me this book, along with a number of others when she was cleaning house.  Regardless, this was not as dark as I was expecting, but rather hilarious in its absurdity.  If anything, I was disappointed it took me this many years to experience reading it.  It was wonderful.  It reminds me of when I picked up Camus years later after having read The Stranger in 12th grade.  I have since read a number of works by Camus which I appreciated so much more.  I'll look forward to reading more Kafka in the future as well as rereading Metamorphosis.

#6  Clear by Nicola Barker

I checked out this one because she is often up for the Booker prize (no relation).  This one was a fictional retelling of David Blaine's spending 44 days fasting while suspended in a clear box in London.  It is about all of the strange people that come to visit and what they and Blaine himself come to represent about humanity, reality and illusion.

#5  Walking to Martha's Vineyard by Franz Wright

The first poem caught my attention and the entire book was wonderful.  The poems would certainly be too religious or spiritual for some people's taste, but it was right up my alley.  It was certainly deserving of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2004, worthy enough for the only poetry entry on my list this year.

#4  A Box of Matches by Nicholson Baker

This is a reread which I typically don't do, but am finding I should do more often.   This one was just as good the second time as the first.  It is by far my favorite by Nicholson Baker although a friend of mine  loved The Anthologist and still has my copy somewhere.  I still need to read that one.  The chapter starts and ends with him lighting a match to start a fire and, thus, the day.  The book appropriately ends when the last match in the matchbook is struck.

#3 Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver

I had read a bunch of these over the years, but this is the first time I methodically read each one, limiting myself to only one or two a night.  I thought it was interesting to read this collection by one of the most gifted writers of his time, a white guy in Seattle, struggling with his relationships at the same time as reading Alexie's collection, a Native American guy in Seattle, some 30 years later, struggling with much the same thing.  Another thing I took away from both collections was that they are often telling the same story over and over in different ways.  To me, it was instructive as a wanna be writer that even in their talents and obvious genius, they write always in an attempt to tell their deepest stories.

#2 Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie

This is a collection of selected stories (many of which I had read) and new stories (which are not indicated) and was truly wonderful.  It kept getting better and better with each story.  There was one story in particular between a washed out Native American basketball player who was going to register for community college and his exchange with a young, blonde student helping people register that was one of the most touching scenes in fiction that I can remember.  And these aren't real people.  They are fictional.  I read Carver's collection at the same time, so I think it is interesting that both of these collections climbed up my top 10 list the more and more I read.  Alexie by a nose.

#1  The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

Which brings me to number 1.  I will grant you this.  A publisher's representative at Tattered Cover once brought a book to a gathering of booksellers and told us they weren't quite sure what the title of this wonderful first book should be and would we give it a read and give them some ideas.  So....the book was wonderful and I suggested a title (can't remember what my suggestion was) and this book wound up being The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty.  It became my staff recommends at the store.  I attended her signing at the Cherry Creek store where she related the time she had spent on that book and finished after receiving a Fellowship from Exeter Academy.  It was inspiring and she was enchanting.  So, I may not be impartial. 

However, several books later, I heard this one was coming out.  It was crazy good.  But not like The Center of Everything was good.  It was prize-winning good.  If you read her other books and think about how writer's careers evolve, this is truly an example of a great writer becoming one in a class of her own.  It was on very few best of lists (actually only one that I know of) and wasn't nominated for any of the major book prizes which is a shame.  The Chaperone follows a young, dancing prodigy from small town to studying in New York and her chaperone who is still seeking her own identity and resolution with her past.  I'm not going to tell you much more than that in hopes that if you pick up only one book off of this list, it will be Moriarty's.  It was, far and away, my favorite book this year.


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