Tuesday, January 5, 2010

8 Nifty Books I Read in 2009

2009 was a good year overall, especially for reading. I read a little over a hundred books in that fabled land we now call Last Year. You can see the entire list on my Goodreads bookshelf. Or read about the 8 stand-outs below. Why 8? Well, it was going to be 15 -- then 10. I guess I just got lazy. Or maybe I like the number 8. Maybe I like the way it looks: like a sideways infinity sign. Maybe...

Chicken With Plums, by Marjane Satrapi (graphic novel) - This is the story of Satrapi's great-uncle, a famous Iranian tar player, who decides to lay in his bed and never come out. He holds on for eight days, as we look at the ups and downs of his life. Then it's over -- the book and his life. It's gloomy, it's powerful, and it's written and illustrated by the author of the two Persepolis books, and Embroideries -- all of which I also read this year. This one is not her most popular work but it is my favorite.

Ego & Hubris, by Michael Malice, Harvey Pekar, and Gary Dumm (graphic novel) - A libertarian businessman and professional A*hole, Michael Malice tells us the story of his life with the help of American Splendor's Harvey Pekar and Gary Dumm, writer and artist, respectively. My family and I visited Mr. Dumm at his house, in August '09. He's a very nice guy and I've been meaning to write of the visit for some time.

The Gum Thief, by Douglas Coupland - Two Staples employees, a middle-aged failure named Roger, and a 24-year-old goth girl heading for the same fate, Bethany, begin a solely epistolary relationship. There is absolutely no sex or even sexual tensions -- just two mundane people trying to grope their way (in the cleanest sense) to something better. And there's a novel within a novel: Glove Pond, written by Roger and displayed to us in fragments in-between the letters. A Goodreads friend recommended this to me.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë -After years of poo-pooing these "girly" and "stuffy" Victorian novels I finally decided to read one. A sallow, oppressed, middle-class English orphan gradually grows into a woman. When she leaves boarding school, after many years and chapters, it is to take up a position as governess for a young French girl, Adele -- who just happens to be the ward of the dark, brooding, and decidedly hunky Mr. Rochester. Then things get really exciting. I don't want to spoil the ending, yet I feel the novel's most famous line, "Reader, I married him." does it for me.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mr. Mark Twain - An illiterate boy from Missouri takes a long raft ride with a black guy. That description leaves us all doubtful, yet I will always love this book. It is the only book I am certain I will want to read again, even on my death bed.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, translated by Simon Armitage - Yuletide at King Arthur's court is interrupted by a green guy, on a green horse, who challenges someone to chop off his head. Sir Gawain takes the challenge and promptly cuts off the guy's head. Then, when the guy carries his head off, Gawain bound by honor to seek out this man in a year's time, to accept a similar blow. Much merriment, chivalry, questing, morality, and symbolism ensue. Armitage's Modern English translation -- accompanied, side-by-side, by the original Middle English -- really makes the poem sparkle and perhaps does for it what Seamus Heaney did for Beowulf.

Y: The Last Man series, by Brian K. Vaughn (graphic novel) - OK, this is really a mini-series, compiled into eight graphic novels. But it's still something you shouldn't miss! One day, all the men and male animals mysteriously and instantly die -- except for a dopey New Yorker, Yorick Brown, and his pet Capuchin monkey, Ampersand. A great comic book adventure. I have yet to read the last two volumes (Soon!).

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