I read a lot of books in 2019. Here’s a list with the ones I really liked and would recommend are in bold and there are some comments for the books for which I could think of comments. Favorite books of the year have two asterisks. Did you read anything worth reading this year? What’d you get to off this list?
*Past Tense (Jack Reacher, #23): Lee Child – I like a Jack Reacher book, sue me.
**French Exit: Patrick deWitt – Light, funny!
*Severance: Ling Ma – Decent, but Station Eleven was better.
*Attempting Normal: Marc Maron
*Washington Black: Esi Edugyan – Can’t really predict where this one’s going to end from where it started.
*Homegoing: Yaa Gyasi – It was complicated, but the family tree helped a lot.
*Ablutions: Patrick deWitt – Heavy, funny!
**Haints Stay: Colin Winnette – I like westerns!
*The Great Believers: Rebecca Makkai – Extraordinarily well-written, but maybe 1/3 too long?
*Asymmetry: Lida Halliday
*Lake Success: Gary Shteyngart
*Convenience Store Woman: Sayaka Murata
*The Library Book: Susan Orlean – I didn’t know this was non-fiction until about 20 pages in.
**There There: Tommy Orange – Really excellent.
*Pride and Prejudice: Jane Austen
*Jane Eyre: Charlotte Bronte
*Moby-Dick, or, the Whale: Herman Melville – I’d never read it and I loved the first two chapters.
*Slaughterhouse-Five: Kurt Vonnegut
*Where the Crawdads Sing: Delia Owens – Surprisingly well paired with Washington Black.
*The Wangs vs. the World: Jade Chang – Funny!
*Grief is the Thing with Feathers: Max Porter – Unique narrative.
*Redeployment: Phil Klay – Sometimes I read a collection of short stories and don’t know it’s a collection of short stories until halfway through.
*Romeo and Juliet: William Shakespeare
**Undermajordomo Minor: Patrick deWitt – This is my favorite book.
*Signs Preceding the End of the World: Yuri Herrera
*What Belongs to You: Garth Greenwell
*Catch-22: Joseph Heller
*Today Will Be Different: Maria Semple
*Sharp Objects: Gillian Flynn
*The Midnight Line (Jack Reacher, #22): Lee Child – I like a Jack Reacher book, sue me.
*No Middle Name (Jack Reacher, #21.5): Lee Child – I like a Jack Reacher book, sue me.
*Sourdough: Robin Sloan – Delightful!
*The Perfect Nanny: Leila Slimani – Menacing. Don’t read if you have young kids!
*Little Fires Everywhere: Celeste Ng – Well developed characters.
*Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout: Laura Jane Grace – I love Against Me! and tour stories, so featuring Against Me!’s tour stories is good for me.
**The Last Policeman (The Last Policeman, #1): Ben H. Winters – I love apocalyptic fiction.
*Countdown City (The Last Policeman, #2): Ben H. Winters
*World of Trouble (The Last Policeman, #3): Ben H. Winters
*The Christmas Scorpion (Jack Reacher, #22.5): Lee Child – I like a Jack Reacher book, sue me.
*Nine Perfect Strangers: Liane Moriarty
*Cherry: Nico Walker – Compelling narrative style, could have been shorter.
*Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: Gail Honeyman – I didn’t like this book until the end.
**The Power: Naomi Alderman – Alt-Future History? If that makes sense.
*Eligible : A Modern Retelling of Pride & Prejudice (The Austen Project, #4): Curtis Sittenfeld – It took a second, but then I was into it.
*Florida: Lauren Groff
*Artemis: Andy Weir – Not terrible, but I really didn’t like the voice of the narrative.
*Magpie Murders: Anthony Horowitz – Complicated structure, well written.
*The New One Minute Manager: Kenneth Blanchard
*Pachinko: Min Jin Lee – Long, but worth it.
**Whiskey When We’re Dry: John Larison – My favorite of the year. I have a thing for westerns.
**Daisy Jones & The Six: Taylor Jenkins Reid – I loved this one, an oral history about a fake band.
**Normal People: Sally Rooney – I loved this one.
*Fleishman Is in Trouble: Taffy Brodesser-Akner – Funny and well written, but definitely made divorce seem rad for men and a death for women. Omniscient narrator is also a character, which was confusing sometimes.
*Alexander Hamilton: Ron Chernow – Lin-Manuel lied about how fascinating this book was.
*Less: Andrew Sean Greer – Not bad, but it’s possible it was written just for the last line.
*We Live in Water: Stories: Jess Walter – Some really gorgeous parts/lines in these stories.
*All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1): Martha Wells – See Artemis.
*Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries, #2): Martha Wells
*An American Marriage: Tayari Jones
*The Unpassing: Chia-Chia Lin
*Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries, #3): Martha Wells
*Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries, #4): Martha Wells
*My Brilliant Friend (The Neapolitan Chronicles #1): Elena Ferrante – I tried to start this last year and couldn’t get into it. Listening to it as an audiobook helped.
*The Story of a New Name (The Neapolitan Chronicles #2): Elena Ferrante
*Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch: Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman – I liked the premise, but the story got annoying in places.
*Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (The Neapolitan Chronicles #3): Elena Ferrante
*The Story of the Lost Child (The Neapolitan Chronicles #4): Elena Ferrante
*Sing, Unburied, Sing: Jesmyn Ward
My friend Joel has a book out, The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny. To help promote the book, Joel, and his co-writer Peter McGraw, created an algorithm to determine the 50 funniest cities in the US. We’re number 2! We’re number 2!
1. Chicago The capital of improvisation and a mecca of stand-up comedy.
2. Boston It has a split comedy personality: dry high-brow and rowdy low-brow.
3. Atlanta Many jokes on race: “What do you call a black pilot? A pilot, you racist.”
4. Washington Politics and politicians provide plenty of fodder for cynical jokesters.
5. Portland, Ore. Known for its celebration of oddballs and weirdness.
6. New York City How to cope with the stress of life here? Humor, about anything.
7. Los Angeles It’s teeming with aspiring entertainers who like to riff on shallow locals.
8. Denver Home to a more relaxed humor, often about (and mellowed by) pot.
9. San Francisco Likes jokes about its wacky characters, liberals and, lately, tech nerds.
10. Seattle Its humor: youthful, tech-savvy and sometimes smug toward outsiders.
His findings were drawn from surveys of residents (on the prevalence of humor in their daily lives) and of comedians, number of visits to comedy websites, tweets, radio stations, comedy clubs per square mile and native-born comedians per capita.
Michael Lewis is out with a new book today.
Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt is about how Wall Street banks are using high frequency trades and various algorithms to make trades milliseconds ahead of the rest of the market. Sergey Aleynikov who was profiled by Lewis in Vanity Fair last fall is featured in the book, along with Brad Katsuyama, the founder of IEX, a new exchange with an interesting speed bump (60 km of cable) aimed at thwarting high frequency trading. Interestingly, the book seems to have been kept a secret until a day or two before its release.
More at International Busines Times:
The controversial practice, in which firms strategically locate servers and use sophisticated computer algorithms to accelerate transactions by mere microseconds — and thus reap huge profits — is the subject of a probe by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Last week, he announced an inquiry into how such traders have gained an unfair advantage in the timing of their trades by paying fees to exchanges such as the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq to locate their servers in the exchanges’ own data centers. “I have been focused on cracking down on fundamentally unfair – and potentially illegal – situations that give elite groups of traders early access to market-moving information at the expense of the rest of the market,” Schneiderman said in a speech. Several regulators, including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, are exploring new regulations of high-frequency trading to limit such abuses.
On 60 Minutes, Lewis say, Flash Boys is, “The story of trying to restore trust to to the financial markets.”
You can stop reading Robert Gates’ memoir now, Dave Weigel found the funniest part.
So: It’s the fall of 2010, and Gates is meeting with the president and top brass. “Biden, Mullen, Jones, Donilon, Brennan, and Tony Blinken, the vice president’s national security adviser, were there.” The subject: how to be ready if a conflict between Iran and Israel ignites. Gates worries that the particulars have not thought the scenario through, and advises the president to deploy a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf soon, just in case. The meeting ends.
I was put off by the way the president closed the meeting. To his very closest advisers, he said, “For the record, and for those of you writing your memoirs, I am not making any decisions about Israel or Iran. Joe, you be my witness.” I was offended by his suspicion that any of us would ever write about such sensitive matters.
Every year around the holidays, I buy my mom books. My process historically has been to spend hours reading all the best books of the year lists and form a mental consensus about which books she’d like. This year, I found Daily Beast’s list of lists, which takes 40 total best of lists from places like the New Yorker, The Guardian, NPR, etc and counts the total votes each book gets. The result is a list of 10 books that everyone likes. This is much easier. The fiction list is below*, but they also have a non-fiction list.
1. Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders (15 votes)
2. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (14 votes)
3. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (12 votes)
4. The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner (9 votes)
5. (tie) The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman (8 votes)
5. (tie) The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (8 votes)
7. (tie) The Circle by Dave Eggers (7 votes)
7. (tie) The Son by Philip Meyer (7 votes)
7. (tie) Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (7 votes)
10. (tie) Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon (6 votes)
10. (tie) The Signature of All Things by Elisabeth Gilbert (6 votes)
10. (tie) The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (6 votes)
*I am an Amazon affiliate now (again, actually), so let sweet commerce rain down upon me.
Television critics have discussed how cable shows like The Wire and The Sopranos showed how television could be like books in the storytelling and character development. Scott Meslow joins Alyssa Rosenberg to discuss how Game of Thrones might be pushing the envelope on the novelization of television, or how, at least, Game of Thrones might be too much book to effectively transfer to television. I just finished book 3 and 4 of the GoT series, and… There are a lot of new characters and stories. Where as the story of the Starks and Lannisters might be enough to fill several seasons of television on their own, the GoT series actually contains at least 6 or 8 other stories going on by the end of book 4. I really liked this thought: “Sprawl, for good and ill, is a characteristic of books in a way that it never can be of television.”
Now, obviously Martin’s books have been released on a cycle that by the standards of television look leisurely. But they’re also able to give much more space to each character—sometimes for good, sometimes for ill—unconstrained by the production budgets, writing, production, and editing cycles, and standard length of a television episode that inevitably provide structure to the show. That means he writes a fair amount of digression and worldbuilding into the books, but also that he’s not bound by anything except how many pages his publishers can bind into a single volume, and even then, if he’s got to spill over into more volumes, they’re going to be nothing but happy. And those digressions, and the amount of time it takes to read the books, just give readers more hooks into the stories, the characters, and the settings. Sprawl, for good and ill, is a characteristic of books in a way that it never can be of television. I’m not saying that means the books are better than the show. But I do think that they expose some of the irreducible differences between reading and watching television once you reach a certain scope.
This is rad. Fed up with a conversation about library funding getting hijacked by The Tea Party, a group in Troy, MI flipped the script and produced an inflammatory campaign of their own.
Gerald Howard edited the first books of both Bret Easton Ellis and David Foster Wallace and wrote recently about why they didn’t like each other. Ellis recently read the new Wallace biography and took to Twitter to be a bitch about it. As Howard tells it, criticism of Wallace’s first book used Ellis’s minimalist first book as a foil and that stuck in Ellis’s craw. Then it was off to the races. Anyway, it seems like Howard sides with Ellis, so, I don’t know.
The reviews were pretty much all one could desire for a first novel, and a number of them drew a sharp distinction between Wallaceâ€™s hyperintelligent and maximalist approach and the work of the Brat Packers, who were already being set up for a critical flogging. Bret Ellis being one of those writers on whom nothing is lost, these invidious comparisons would not have escaped his attention. The anschluss arrived with the publication of his underrated second novel, â€œThe Rules of Attraction,â€ which we would also reprint at Penguin despite a cascade of disapprobration. Not pretty and really not fair.
In late 1988 I moved from Penguin to W. W. Norton, taking with me Davidâ€™s second book, the collection â€œGirl With Curious Hair,â€ which Penguin had refused to publish for legal reasons. (Long story.) The title story, about a bunch of L.A. punks misbehaving at a Keith Jarrett concert, struck me as an obvious and expert parody of Bret Ellisâ€™ affectless tone and subject matter and I said so. David, ever disingenuous about his influences (you could barely get him to admit heâ€™d even read Pynchon), denied ever having read a word of Bretâ€™s work â€“ an obvious lie that I let pass. I am certain, though, that Bret took peeved notice when the book was published.
Found Magazine founder Davy Rothbart has a new book out that is, according to this trailer, better than brains.
Here’s part 1 of a 3 part interview I did with Rothbard around the release of another book a couple years ago.
The following two paragraphs are my two favorite from Theo Tait’s review of Demon Fish by Juliet Eilperin. I bought the book and I will hate read the hell out of it.
‘Many scientists don’t like to talk about shark sex,’ Juliet Eilperin writes in her entertaining study of sharks and their world. â€˜They worry it will only reinforce the popular perception that these creatures are brutish and unrelenting.’ In as far as we understand the subject – only a few species have been observed mating – the business is ‘very rough’. Larger male sharks have to bite or trap the females to keep them around during courtship; marine biologists can tell when a female has been mating because her skin will be raw or bleeding. The process is so violent that, come the mating season, female nurse sharks will stay in shallow water with their reproductive openings pressed firmly to the sea floor. Otherwise they risk falling prey to roaming bands of males who ‘will take turns inserting their claspers in her’ (the clasper is the shark version of a penis, found in a pair behind the pelvic fins). A litter of fifty pups will have anything from two to seven fathers. But the reproductive story gets rougher still. A number of shark species go in for oophagy, or uterine cannibalism. Sand tiger foetuses ‘eat each other in utero, acting out the harshest form of sibling rivalry imaginable’. Only two babies emerge, one from each of the mother shark’s uteruses: the survivors have eaten everything else. ‘A female sand tiger gives birth to a baby that’s already a metre long and an experienced killer,’ explains Demian Chapman, an expert on the subject.
There are three defining events in modern American shark mythology. First, the attacks of 1916, when four people were killed in one week in five separate attacks off New Jersey, two at beach resorts and two in Matawan Creek, more than a dozen miles inland. It created mass hysteria, launched a wave of shark-hunts and gave rise to the myth of the serial man-eater â€“ something that all the evidence tells us is wrong. The second was the sinking of the USS Indianapolis on 30 July 1945, in the final weeks of the Pacific War. The cruiser, which had delivered the uranium for the Hiroshima bomb, was sunk by a Japanese submarine between Guam and the Philippines. Of the 1200-strong crew, 300 were killed during the sinking; the survivors spent four days in the water, during which all but 317 were killed by exposure, dehydration and sharks. The third event was Jaws, which bundled up the earlier two into a slick package that spread rampant shark-phobia across the world: Peter Benchley’s novel was based on the Jersey attacks, and Quint, the Ahab-style shark hunter played with scenery-chewing vigour by Robert Shaw in the film, is a veteran of the Indianapolis disaster. Benchley, Eilperin says, did more to instil ‘intense fear and hatred of sharks than anyone else in the 20th century’. By bringing an age-old nightmare to life, he ‘gave it a credibility, a sense of concreteness, it had never had before’.