Hey all. It’s that time again. 2010 is long gone. It was a fucking crazy year, no? For me, 2010 saw a lot of Ohio, a throwback to Boston, a new (and really excellent) boyfriend who I’m thoroughly enjoying, a new and weird job, and lots of great books.
I made a list of the most inspiring books I read in 2009 at the end of last year, and it proved to be useful to many people. I received lots of feedback, and I love hearing from you all, so email me at email@example.com if you loved last year’s list, this year’s list or if you have any books you think I might like. In fact, if you think I should add a book to my list, why not post a comment describing why you loved the libro!
Anyway, this year, I did a lot of reading. I wasn’t traveling in South America this time around, instead I was working full-time (wah wah), so I had slightly less time on my hands to turn pages. No 18-hour bus rides this year. But I still managed to squeeze a lot of reading in, and here are my favorites of the year:
15. Pobby and Dingan Ben Rice
This book was a breeze, just over 100 pages, and compelling all the way through. Its setting is what grabbed me first, in distant (to me) Australia, near opal mines. The story follows two children, a brother and younger sister. The little girl has become deathly ill because her imaginary friends, Pobby and Dingan, become lost in a mine.
The rest of the story follows her brother, who in a heroic effort to save his sister, is faced with not only the dangers of a mine, but also with the struggle every child who ever had a rich imagination must go through – the challenge of comprehending reality.
It’s a little heavy, but it’s peppered with great phrases like “violet crumble” and “opal claims,” as well as odd characters that will definitely bend your reality for 100+ pages. Not my favorite of the year, but most definitely noteworthy.
14. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep Philip K. Dick
One of several science fiction classics on my list. This list, like last year’s, is probably going to be a little science fiction heavy, but hey, I’m a nerd. This year I’ve been reading books to spice up my day-to-day living, and nothing helps more than a good story about robots.
The image of the book cover is excellent, but unfortunately the copy I got from my library featured the movie poster for the film version of the book, “Bladerunner.” Which made me look even more like a loser.
Still, the story is intriguing, and the book is very different from the movie, which was enjoyable but not quite as deep. However, as a side note, the movie does feature Edward James Olmos playing a very skinny Asian (?) man, even though he’s a Mexican-American. Here’s to you, Captain Adama.
In the book, Earth has been mostly deserted, and is now a polluted wasteland almost completely devoid of animals. Exotic animals are now used as a status symbol, but the main character of this book can only afford a very realistic robotic sheep.
His day job, is hunting down robots who have rebelled and killing them. NERD OVERLOAD, I know, but this book was one of the first to really deal with whole human/robot conflict. If that conflict is your cup of tea, then this is a bit like the dictionary.
13. Children of Men P.D. James
I’ll admit, I didn’t know this was a book when I saw (and fell in love with) the movie. I would say that I enjoyed the movie more, except that, like the above entry, it is so starkly different from the book that a comparison doesn’t really make sense.
The film Children of Men, starring, Julianne Moore, and Clive Owen, both of whom I would have sex with if they asked. They are in an aging world in which women are no longer able to produce children. They meet a young girl who is pregnant, and embark on a long and horrific journey to protect her from the viciousness of a hopeless populace. In other words, this sorta thing:
Those things happen in the book, but unlike the movie, the pregnant girl doesn’t reveal herself until nearly halfway through. Instead, the majority of the book focuses on the government and it’s charismatic yet brutal leader Xan, who happens to be the cousin of the main character of the book (Clive Owen for your movie fans.)
This book is a downer, there’s no getting around it. But it’s so detailed and well done that it seems as though P.D. James somehow caught a glimpse of the future. It’s definitely a good companion piece to the movie, and there’s a rumor that a TV show based on the concept is coming our way, written by none other than the man behind Battlestar Galactica. Again, here’s to you, Captain Adama.
12. Timequake Kurt Vonnegut
Think of all the things you’ve done since the year 2001. For me, those include but are not limited to, moving over 6 times, having one or two STD scares, over-drawing my account and crying about it more than once, having several boyfriends and getting a tattoo in Peru.
Now imagine reliving each one of those things you’ve done again – saying the same things you said over the past year, making the same mistakes, enjoying the same victories. You’d still be conscious you were repeating these actions, but you wouldn’t be able to stop yourself from carrying them out. Even if you had to re-do some horrible, horrible things.
That’s the premise of this weird Kurt Vonnegut book. The story talks about the “timequake” or time hiccup, and the insane aftermath when everyone finally finishes the 10 years of repetition and snaps back into the land of supposed free will.
This is not my favorite Kurt Vonnegut book, but it was still class Kurt and therefore brought all of the witty insight and oddity that I needed to enjoy it. For Kurt V. lovers, it reads like an old friend, but if you haven’t read any Kurt yet, I’d recommend you start out with his classic book that appears further down on my list.
11. American Psycho Bret Easton Ellis
Oh my fuck. This book is to be read only once. I had heard a lot about this book before I picked it up, but I had no way to prepare myself for what would be inside. There are scenes in this book that freaked me out so much I had to shut it and stop myself from gagging.
This book is all you need to decide that you never want to be a rich, young New York Socialite. Which I guess would be an encouraging message considering how much TV and movies make that lifestyle seem ideal…but I hesitate to say that anything about this book is encouraging. That being said, it’s a curious read, and there’s nothing quite like it on any bookshelf. It’s really great for people who enjoy fucked up books. I know you’re out there.
The portrait that Ellis paints of a member of the New York elite who has a serious mental illness is worth the trip. The book also does a wonderful job of making you go insane with the main character, and leaves you wondering whether the horrific acts inside the book were really…
10. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues Tom Robbins
Tom Robbins is a weirdo, and I love him for that. This book is about several things: a girl with enlarged thumbs, a flock of whooping cranes, and a ranch that a group of cowgirls seized from a douche tycoon. I mean real douches, like the kind women and gay men may use from time to time to clean themselves “down there.”
This book was shorter than many on my list, but it was so chock full of odd storytelling and incredible, bizarre phrases such as, “His smile was like the first dent on a new car.”
This book came to my attention while I was in the sleep study, because all of the research assistants were reading it and loving it. I also thoroughly another novel of his, Still Life With Woodpecker, which is about cigarettes and redheads, if that’s your thing.
Also, when I would pull this book out in public, such as on the train or in a park, quirky strangers would feel compelled to tell me how much they love Tom Robbins. I see that as a plus.
9. Boomsday Christopher Buckley
Here’s a crazy statistic: Every day for the next 19 years, 10,000 baby boomers will become of retirement age. How insane is that? So many old hippies!
Just kidding, I love baby boomers. At least the one’s that haven’t turned into crazy politicians.
This book is about the zany world of politics, and the way the government handles this onslaught of old people. It often had me laughing out loud, then cringing at some ugly insight into the political system nestled in the jokes.
The story centers around a young, am”bitch”ous woman who is a psycho-blogger (ahem) and comes up with a harebrained way to fix the baby boomer problem of social security and all the rest: offer tax incentives for aging boomers who agree to kill themselves at a certain age.
This idea explodes, and ricochets through the slimy government, incredulous Catholic church and everywhere else in Washington. I strongly recommend this book to anyone in their early twenties with parents in their early 50s, and vice-a-verse.
8. Slaughterhouse V Kurt Vonnegut
I’m guessing that out of all of the books on this list, this will be the one that most people have read. I first picked up this book in high school, and it has remained one of my favorites of all time ever since. I prefer its alternate title, “The Children’s Crusade,” because that really drives home the point of the book – war is stupid and involves the killing of children. This was also the theme of the top ranking book on this list.
If you haven’t read this, it’s a great introduction to Vonnegut, and is a must-read for strange people who like books. The story follows (sorta) Billy Pilgrim, a war vet who has somehow become “unstuck” in time. Every few moments he wakes up to find he’s in a different time of his life, and sometimes on a different planet.
The best part of this read, in my opinion, is the race of aliens Billy meets called Trafalmagorians, who look like toilet plungers with a hand on top. They see time like a mountain range instead of linearly, meaning they can see all moments of time at once. Try to wrap your brain around that!
7. The Unnamed Joshua Farris
This very new book is a complex story on a simple premise: a man named Tim is afflicted with a disease that forces him to walk aimlessly for long periods. He has no control over where he goes, how long he walks or when he stops. When his long walks finally do come to an end, he falls into a narcoleptic sleep for hours, no matter where he is.
This, obviously, presents a problem for Tim, who tries desperately to hang on to his career, family, body and sanity. Each of those four things slip away from him slowly, some come back, some don’t.
The lawyer, who spent so much of his life chained to his desk, comes completely unhinged, forced into nature and the dangers of the outside world by a force which no doctor or therapist can curb.
Joshua Farris is an excellent writer, and I strongly recommend his other book, And Then We Came to the End. It’s told in the first person collective voice, meaning everything is told from a group’s point of view. Get it, girl.
6. The Year of the Flood Margaret Atwood
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Margaret Atwood was sent from the future to give us a warning. She is a time-traveler, and she has painted a picture of a very viable and very scary future. This book is not a pre-quel and not a sequel to her recent book Oryx & Crake (OC), but rather runs concurrently with that novel. I read OC before I read this one, and I can’t decide which I like more.
The characters in these two stories link together only in the slightest ways, so it might be interesting for someone to experiment and read The Year of the Flood before OC. However, the world in which the characters operate is the same. Genetic hybrids run rampant, environmental crises has made everything scorching hot, and moral decay has led to a world where anything (from live-internet executions to mystery burgers made more than questionable meat) is legal. And it’s only going to get worse.
Something tells me there will be a 3rd book in this series soon, and I’ll read it as soon as it comes out. That might be a rumor I’m starting though, so don’t be depressed if I’m wrong.
5. Gun With Occasional Music Jonathan Lethem
Ah, this book helped my boyfriend woo me (as if he needed help.) I loved this book, by the incredible author of As She Climbed Across the Table, also worth a read. This book is Lethem’s shout out to mystery novels and film noir, but he twists it all with his bizarre, unreal and flat-out weird imagination.
The book takes place in Oakland, California, in a time when animals have been scientifically enhanced so that they can walk and talk. The vast majority of the population, including the Private Investigator narrator, are addicted to government issued snort-able drugs with names like Forgetol and Acceptol. They’re titles give you a hint about what they do for the addicts.
The rainy, gray pages of this book definitely drew me in, and it’s making me want to read every Lethem book ever written. This book is the murder-mystery for people who don’t read murder-mysteries. For sci-fi lovers, it’s required reading.
4. Let the Right One In John Ajvide Linqvist
Oh lord, this book scared the CRAP out of me. Not literally, but it is a seriously frightening book. You may have seen either a Swedish or recent U.S. remake of a movie version of the book titled Let Me In. The book is so, so much scarier (and better.)
This is a vampire book, and when my co-worker gave it to me, I rolled my eyes. I am not into the whole vampire shtick that’s happening right now in popular culture. I much preferred (at least in a phobic-fascinated way) the zombie craze of a few years ago. But I gave this one a shot, and I was not sorry.
The story is told from several perspectives, but primarily that of a little boy who is an outcast at school. He is tortured by his classmates, but makes friends with a strange little girl (boy? creature?) who can’t enter rooms without being invited and who won’t go out in the daylight.
It’s all set in Sweden, where extended darkness gives vampirism a whole new meaning. This book makes you feel as though you’re reading in the dark, and that someone is looking over your shoulder.
The climax of this book is unbelievably tense, and left me shell-shocked. I had to hide the book for a while, which is something I haven’t done in a long time.
3. Soon I Will Be Invincible Austin Grossman
And now for the nerdiest book on my list. My boyfriend also gave me this book, and it was the funniest thing I read this year.
The story of Soon I Will Be Invincible is told by two narrators: a super genius villain and a recent superhero recruit. Dr. Impossible is socially inept, super-intelligent, and all in all a pretty nice guy who is bent on taking over the world, while Fatale, the other narrator, is a young woman who lost most of her body in a car crash, and has been turned into a cyborg soldier with super strength and amazing gadgets.
Nerdy, I know. But Austin Grossman has such a soft spot for the world of superhero comic books and all of the outrageous concepts, costumes, weapons, powers and personalities tucked inside that he wrote a whole novel about them. He praises the sappiness of comics in a way that makes you wish that superheros really did exist
He has also melded the superhero world seamlessly with the modern age we know today. The heroes in his book own makeup companies and are backed by corporate sponsoring. They have press releases. When they’re not working, they wear sweatpants. The Batman-ish character is slightly autistic.
The book is a page turner, and very cathartic for people such as myself, who suppress their nerd every day so as not to freak out normal people. If you’re feeling the winter-doldrums, then move this book to the top of your list.
2. Half Life Shelley Jackson
This was the second book I read last year, and my second favorite. Shelly Jackson is weird: her last novel was written in actual tattoos. She enlisted volunteers who were willing to have one word from the book tattooed on themselves. My friend did it. He got the word “It” on his bicep.
Anyway, this book takes place in an alternate future in which nuclear warhead testing has caused a spike in the population of conjoined twins. The narrator has a twin, a second head coming out of her shoulder. Her sister has been asleep for 20 years, which the narrator, Nora, finds quite annoying. She has decided to do something about it.
In her quest to ditch her permanently attached sister, you learn Nora’s looping, bizarre history. The book weaves back and forth through California and Nevada (and a little bit of England), and is interspersed with bizarre poems, notes and other oddities that help tell the story. There are doll houses that are surreally intricate, cooky old women, stuffed animals galore and characters that have no place in the real world, but fit in well in Jackson’s universe.
So far I’m the only person to love this book with such fervor, it may be a little too weird for some people out there. But if you like strange books like I do, then this is a must-read.
1. The Hunger Games Trilogy Suzanne Collins
So I cheated again this year and picked three books (a series) as my top choice. The Hunger Games. A lot of people have probably heard of the series, and that’s because it’s so damn good. These books stand out in my mind as the best thing I’ve read across several genres in the past year- It’s the best young adult series, the best postapocalyptic series and the most riveting page-turner I’ve read in a long time. The way the books tell a story reminded me of the hunger (pun!) and intensity I experienced reading the His Dark Materials trilogy and Harry Potter. Though, I like this better than Harry Potter. There I said it.
I’ll give a brief description of the series below. If you trust me enough, I encourage you to just buy the books and don’t read the description. In fact, don’t even read the book jacket, because it gives away too much. You won’t be sorry.
Panem is a country that encompasses all of North America some time in the distant future. There are 12 districts throughout the area, each responsible for the creation of a different form of good, (fish, electronics, agriculture, etc.). Katniss Everdeen is the 16-year-old-narrator, living in the 12th district, which is responsible for coal mining. She and her people are the poorest in the country, though everyone living in districts one through 12 is destitute, starving.
The lowly people are kept in place by barbed wired fences, oppressive police officers called “peacekeepers” and ultimately a city of wealthy people known as the Capital (which is somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.)
At the start of the second book, it has been 74 years since the districts attempted to rise up against the Capital. They lost, and the result was the Hunger Games: a barbaric, televised event in which one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district are sent to a high-tech, natural arena and forced to fight to the death for the blood-thristy Capital audience. Their family members are also made to watch the events.
The story follows Katniss as she enters the arena herself, and all that follows after her time there. You will not be able to stop reading once you pick them up, and it’s not just the plot. I found myself eager to find out everything I could about the strange, yet familiar world of Panem. The country is both decrepit and highly technologically advanced. Genetic mutations are normal, and the Capital has invented many new (and terrifying) species to keep the districts in their place.
This book has so much to say about the world we live in. It makes sharp, intense points about children and the roles they play in warfare and in the modern society of reality TV and materialistic worship. I think about the book every day, and talk about it so much that my boyfriend has told me that I need to stop comparing things to the world Suzanne Collins created. Shout out to my best friend Rita and her boyfriend for sending this my way.
Go! Read it! Now!
So that’s it! I spent the beginning of this year re-reading the Hunger Games, but I just started a new book last night, and it looks like it will most definitely be on my list next year.
For now, feel free to email me any suggestions! Liam.Carnahan@gmail.com is the way to go. I’m happy to hear from people who enjoyed this list.
Also, come back to my site soon. I hope to do more posting throughout 2011. Read on, readers.