It’s the end of the year (or is it the end of humanity? Three days to go, where are all the sick parties?), and that means the glorification of one of my favorite things in the world: THE LIST.
I love a good “best of” list, and none more so than the Best Books of the Year. Lists summarizing the year’s exceptional movies and TV shows usually function as the season’s postmortem, summarizing media inaccessible in the present moment. Say I’m convinced by a year-end roundup that I need to watch Homeland. It’s hardly easy for me to decide to watch marathon the first two seasons over the holidays (though I could see this changing quite a bit in the years to come). Books, though, are perfect nuggets of entertainment and inspiration that make perfect companions for the holiday break. And what better way to get excited for all that holiday reading than poring over glowing recommendations from my fellow impassioned readers?
With that said, here are a few of the lists I’ve been looking over in the past week, along with a blurb from the book I’m most likely to pick up first from the list:
By Blood. By Ellen Ullman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) This smart, slippery novel is a narrative striptease, as a professor listens in on the sessions between the therapist next door and her patients.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan. As you may have noticed, we totally loved this book, so of course we were disappointed to see it snubbed by the Times. Not only is it a great story, but the book, which pulls apart our ideas of new media and old media and fits them back together again, using a quest and a cult as super glue, seems entirely of this moment, and its concept essential to our time.
Note: I’m reading this one right now!
Building Stories. Chris Ware (Pantheon). Unabashedly rooted in the pre-digital age, Ware’s new work is really 14 individually bound books, ranging from gorgeous hardbacks to thin pamphlets, housed in an oversized box. Read in any order, all the tales within follow the tenants of the same apartment building, including an elderly landlady, a spiteful married couple, and a lonely female amputee. With his trademark obsessive precision, Ware presents the grind and folly of everyday life in the most exhilarating fashion.
My Heart Is an Idiot, by Davy Rothbart. Hardcover, 307 pages. Davy Rothbart, known best for Found magazine and its spinoffs, is an inveterate wanderer, a nostalgic dreamer, a collector of characters, a bit of a hustler and most of all, a great storyteller. All these elements come into play in this new collection of essays, and though the situations are varied, they often hinge on Rothbart falling in love at a moment’s notice. Whether he’s wandering Buffalo with a new centenarian friend, or hanging out with a gang of abandoned bus passengers in the wake of Sept. 11, or seeking revenge on a literary scammer who puts together fake conferences, you can see the angle and the dream come together to become a larger but distinctly crazed truth. And when Rothbart hits it out of the park, like the story of a guy he befriended who was doing a life sentence for killing one of his friends, you think, “What is this anyway?” It’s a sometimes entertaining, occasionally shocking slab of humanity, that’s what it is — and worth every page.
I love Flavorwire/Flavorpill so much that they get two mentions: The Best Books Flavorpill Staffers Read in 2012
How Should a Person Be?, Sheila Heti. Forget the Girls comparisons. With its audacious honesty, vividly contemporary style, deep understanding of intellectual ambition, and thrilling unfairness to the opposite sex, reading How Should a Person Be? as a young, heterosexual, Jewish woman in 2012 felt much the way I imagine reading Philip Roth felt to young, heterosexual, Jewish men in the 1970s. But I’d like to think that, as with Roth, you don’t have to fit into any of those categories to appreciate it.
(Photo courtesy of Novatech)