Sunday, December 4, 2011

End of the Year List: Books

Since my youth, I have always wanted to make lists. You know, like VH1 before they went to the Dark Side (Tool Academy, (fill in the blank) Wives, etc.). So, starting this year, I'm going to make lists!
This week's list happens to be my favorite books from this year. For my undergrad and graduate program, I read upwards of fifty books this year. And that was just for class! That number does not include the books I read in my spare time. So, here's a list of my 15 favorite books from this year (in no particular order)

Mrs. Palmfrey at the Claremont (Elizabeth Taylor): A charming novel about Mrs. Palmfrey, a widowed Senior Citizen who moves into the Claremont, an assisted living facility, and her relationship with Ludo, a young man who poses as her son. The book explores the relationships that can be made across generation lines. Has been adapted into a delightful movie starring Joan Plowright and Rupert Friend (though the book's better).

Scott Pilgrim series (Brian Lee O'Malley): As most of you know, I'm a sucker for comics, video games, music, and short hair. I'm also one of those pretentious people who will say the book is much better than the movie. In the case of Scott Pilgrim, the above statement emphatically applies. O'Malley spends six volumes getting the reader into the complicated relationship of Scott and Ramona, and there are insights into the kind of lives most people my age live. The movie is good for what it is (Michael Cera), but I recommend the book.

Song of Solomon (Toni Morrison): I read this book for two classes, and I am surprised each time with how powerful a novel SoS is. The characters are well developed, and the explorations into the human experience are incredible. If I were to recommend a Morrison novel to someone looking to read her work, my recommendation would be Sula (to get a grasp of her style and tone), then Song of Solomon.

The Pleasure of My Company (Steve Martin): Hilary and I listened to the audio book of this novel: Steve Martin performed it. It was hilarious and dangerous. Several times we had to stop the car, we were laughing so hard.

Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life (Steve Martin): Two books from a comedian? Why yes, they are that good. Martin's comic memoir details his theories into his stand up, and I highly recommend his observations to anyone interested in comedy, how it functions, and how today's stand up comedians are indebted to Steve Martin.

A Girl Named Zippy (Haven Kimmel): Recommended for anyone who grew up in a small town. Kimmel's memoir is skillfully written, and the way she address difficult subjects is not so much an adult reflecting back. Rather, she envisions those times through her younger self, a move which allows the reader to reflect on how much children perceive.

The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd): This has been on my Goodreads waiting list for a few years, so when I picked up a copy at a library book sale, I immediately went to reading it. Kidd does a good job showing the politics of Civil Rights Era South Carolina (although I know there was a good amount of criticism about a white author telling the story of black women. similar to The Help's criticism). There was a movie produced, but it is not recommended, because I thought the casting was not well thought out, i.e., I did not see Queen Latifiah as August.

O, Pioneers (Willa Cather): Any novel that creates in me a desire to move to Nebraska must make this list!

Bossypants (Tina Fey): The only book published this year, Fey's memoir was another delightful experience for Hilary and I. Not wanting to read the book before the other, we decided to read it to each other. What happened usually boiled down to the one reading giggling/laughing so uncontrollably that the other started laughing, in mere anticipation of the joke. Plus, the memoir spawned the greatest Halloween costume to never hit the shelves: Don Fey. He's one bad motha!

Brother, I'm Dying (Edwidge Danticat): Danticat's moving tale of her father and uncle's deaths and her first daughter's birth makes for one of the best new books about American immigration (and its complications) in the last decade. Danticat's prose rolls smoothly on the page, and as noted above, the true story is one that ought to be told and remembered.

Domestic Work (Natasha Tretheway): A collection of poetry from Pulitzer Prize winner Natasha Tretheway. The poems are clear and image packed. Tretheway employs plenty of ekphrasis poems, poems in which she uses photographs to construct her poems. Tied for my favorite collection of the year, with...

A Mayan Astrologer in Hell's Kitchen (Martin Espada): Espada's poems are a beauty to look at. The topics are interesting, and the title's crazy good. This collection of poems is for people who don't like poetry.

The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears (Dinaw Mengestu): Another contemporary immigration narrative that works. Mengestu's novel follows the life of Sepha Stephanos, and his move to Washington DC. Plus, the novel has one of the craziest trivia games I have heard of (it involves African dictators, the date of their coups, and the country involved).

World War Hulk (Greg Pak and John Romita, Jr.): I finally read the story arc involving Hulk's return to revenge the death of his wife. The amount of damage he does to Manhattan is frighteningly drawn by Romita. Pak's story is well thought out, with the surprise twist at the end. Plus, it makes this list because I love the Hulk (and if you don't, then I might turn green and smash YOU!).

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz): 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner. Diaz employs footnotes, citations from fantasy and comic books, and multiple narrators in a novel which blends Oscar and his family's cursed lives with the Trujillo moment in the Dominican Republic. It is not a novel for those who do not like foul language.

There you have it. Leave your choices for favorite books this year in the comments. Hilary, it's your turn to post some of your favorite books from this year.

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