In review… Get it? Hahaha.
Anyway, this year I read 102 books, which may seem like a lot to people who have real jobs and kids and active social lives. I have none of those things so I really feel like I could have read more this year. I tell myself that my discussion sites have caused me to slow down and read more carefully but even so, I hope to read at least 125 books in 2011.
I reviewed 75 books between I Read Odd Books and I Read Everything. Having never done this sort of thing before, I’m not sure how much better I could have done, but if this number is low, I take comfort that most of my discussions average around 2,000 words. Many are longer. Had I crapped out 75 one-paragraph reviews, I would definitely think that number too low. But given the depth I try to engage in when the book warrants it, I’m actually surprised I managed to discuss so many books. If I can beat that in 2011, that would be wonderful. Let’s see what happens.
It seems no “year in review” is complete without some sort of list, so here’s my 2010 list: Books I Thought About the Most in 2010. Not the best books I read in 2010 and not the worst – simply books that, for whatever reason, stayed with me. These are books from both I Read Odd Books and I Read Everything and cover a lot of ground.
10. The Membranous Lounge by Hank Kirton
I have yet to discuss this book but it definitely makes the list of books I am still thinking about. I received this in the mail, no explanation or entreaty to review it, and had some trepidation before reading it. I’m very glad I read it because the stories were amazing, both harsh and ethereal, gritty and dreamy. It was a surprise that such a tight, well-written, fascinating collection would come to me so stealthily. Two stories in this book – about a serial killing pair of women and a carny sideshow act who exacts revenge upon men who ill use her – were so shocking, interesting and unexpected that they likely will have resonance with me for a long time. I look forward to reviewing this one when it finally comes up in my queue.
9. How to Eat Fried Furries by Nicole Cushing
This book has the rare distinction of being one of the few books I have ever read that raised the hair on the back of my neck. Literally. There is a scene in this book that is so very eerie that I still don’t know if I can explain its power because the scene is merely a group of women trying to passively coerce another woman into doing something she does not want to do. Don’t be led astray by the title. This book is not about furries as they have come to be portrayed in media, but rather is a reference to society’s attempts to become more comfortable with cannibalism. A pack of demented ferrets fighting crime, the Angel Uriel in a prop plane helping the last few humans in the squirrel armageddon, people choosing to live without skin – this book is grotesque, funny, weird and upsetting. It was also Nicole’s first book with Eraserhead Press, in the New Bizarro Author Series, and is a stunning first effort.
8. The Source: The Untold Story of Father Yod, Ya Ho Wa 13, and The Source Family by Isis Aquarian
I have yet to discuss this book but have still managed to annoy the author as I spoke of it in my personal journal and called it a story of a Jesus Freak cult, a position I defend but one that nevertheless can seem flippant and derogatory as neither word in common parlance today conveys anything positive. But The Source were Jesus Freaks and cultish in the truest definition of these descriptives and the reason this book has stayed with me is because Isis Aquarian, the person who was assigned the role of documentarian for The Source Family, shows a fascinating look at fascinating people during a tumultuous time in American history. But it has also stayed with me because after coming across as a jerk to Aquarian, I looked hard at what makes a cult, what makes a malignant cult, and how it is that a cult can be both benign and malignant in the same ways traditional religious groups can be both. All in all, a deeply interesting book and another one I look forward to discussing in depth.
7. Naive. Super by Erland Loe
I was recommended this book by a clerk at Book People when I asked him to tell me the strangest book he had ever read. And it was strange. Sweetly strange. It was both accessible and unlike anything I have ever read before. I loved the protagonist of this novel, a kind and simple young man who wants to know the meaning of life, and again, this is a book I have yet to discuss and cannot wait to talk about it here.
6. Perversity Think Tank by Supervert
An attempt to determine and define what perversity truly is, this book is an intellectual look at sexual perversion and what separates it from basic human depravity. The book is arranged in a manner that forces the reader to interact with the content in a way that transcends the often passive nature of reading and this arrangement is why I am still thinking of this book as I had to look up the pictures Supervert references and think if my interpretation of them matched Supervert’s. I still find myself from time to time musing on where our interpretations were similar and not at all alike. This is a pretty little book, too. A treasure to own and an interactive experience to read.
5. Pearl by Mary Gordon
I loathed this book for the most part but the reason it still niggles in the back of my brain is because I am still shocked that a literary icon like Gordon wrote a book that by my own objective standards is so bad. The often pointless repetition of words and ideas seemed like Gordon assumed anyone reading the book had suffered a literary lobotomy. But most objective of all, I disliked the rarefied air occupied by all of the characters, which is not my usual response. I can read books about the idle rich without feeling like I want to grab a hammer and a sickle and run through the streets but Pearl aggravated me. Perhaps it is because I read the next book on my list so soon after reading Pearl but this book alienated me and forced me to examine why.
4. Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan
I read this soon after reading Pearl and the nature of the characters in this book underscored why Pearl irritated me. The leisurely life of Pearl and her high-minded moral struggles seemed ridiculous after reading Last Night at the Lobster, a story of people who work too hard for too little money and yet engage in their own moral struggles while trying to keep food on the table. I think this book proved to me that excessive leisure seldom leads to better thoughts. Reading about work, the kinds of work I have done (though I have never worked in a restaurant, most of my jobs centered around serving people, either by cleaning their toilets or by selling them shoes or books), appealed to me and while I missed rereading this at Yule, I will reread it around this time next year, as this story takes place at Christmas time at a dying mall in a town that is a lot like mine and probably a lot like yours.
3. The Woman Who Walked into Doors by Roddy Doyle
This book broke my heart, telling the story of a lower-middle class Irish woman, Paula, who has been failed by the men in her life. Her father abandoned her emotionally when she was in her teens, her husband beat her relentlessly. Her society failed her too, calling her stupid and putting her into a school where she was tormented by boys and made rough in order to endure their treatment. Part class struggle, part feminist struggle, part addiction story, this book is most notable because it was so well-written and so deeply moving even as it refuses to give the reader a sense that Paula will eventually be okay. When I saw a sale copy of the sequel to this book, Paula Spencer, I grabbed it with delight. I cannot wait to read it and see what became of Paula, to see if there will be true transcendence for her.
2. The Franklin Cover-up: Child Abuse, Satanism and Murder in Nebraska by John W. DeCamp
The details in this book, horrific though they were, did not resonate with me because aside from some of the bad acts of Larry King, the man who committed financial fraud and likely sexually abused children in Omaha, very little in this book had the ring of truth. Yet this book still pings the back of my brain because it generated the most personal e-mail responses I received from any book I discussed on both of my sites. The missives worry me, not because I fear they are right, but because I am concerned that there are so many people who still believe the Satanic Panic was real and that Bush 41 countenanced children being flown around to be defiled by debauched members of the GOP. But mostly this book is still hammering in my brain because of the sheer flood of human misery it has revealed to me. Whether or not I believe in the Satanic Panic, there are clearly people who sincerely do believe. People who believe terrible things happened to them, things that should have killed them by any objective analysis, and that teachers, doctors, politicians, police and preachers are all involved in a nation-wide cabal to beget, rape, murder, sacrifice and eat children. No matter how little I believe in many of the stories I received by people who wanted to counter my lack of belief in this book, the people who wrote me were filled with genuine pain, fear and horror and it is nothing short of heartbreaking.
1. House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski
This book nearly drove me insane reading it, because while in the past I had flirted with the book, I had never sat down and read it carefully word for word. I wonder now if there is a mechanism in the way words and pages are arranged that can make a reader go mad because I really did feel as if my mind was being manipulated as I read this book. It was, beyond a doubt, the most involved book I have ever read and even as I sit here, writing this up, I am going over details in my head, trying to make ends meet, trying to remember which clues led me to places that seemed rational. People either love or hate this book. I fear it because I worry that I will dive in again and go to that strange mental place wherein Johnny, Will and Karen occupy my every thought and each little detail takes off into a place where it has meaning that I come close to deciphering but never quite manage.
So now you know which books still occupy my mind. Please share with me the books that didn’t leave you this year, the maddening, beautiful, frightening, enlightening books that were a cut beyond all the others you read.
Have a lovely New Year’s Eve and may your 2011 be productive, interesting and full of books.