This week is looking to be a pretty major, if not historic news week. With the likely number of servicemen and women killed in Iraq expected to reach the staggering 2,000-mark by the end of the week, and with the possible indictments of at least two higher-ups in the White House expected, the week of Oct. 23rd, 2005 will probably go down in the history books as the abolute nadir of the Bush Presidency. Though I am very sad our country is in a needless war of choice that's killing so many of our nation's soldiers, I am, however, pleased to be around to see George W. Bush at his lowest ebb. It means that he can't do anything else to destroy the country while everyone hates him. With any luck, the hating will go on until he's out of office, but I'm doubting it. Anyway, until any of that stuff actually happens, I don't have any news-related stuff to talk about. I didn't see any new movies or finish any new books this weekend, so I come to you this Monday bereft of an awesome topic, which, I admit, is essentially par for the course. So, randomly, I have decided to rank the best books I've read this year. There are six and not five because there were six I wanted to list today. Five just wasn't cutting it. And so, without further ado, the six best books of the books I randomly selected over the course of the past 10 months. (Like I said, it isn't a list that's of any use).
1) Amsterdam. Frickin' awesome. It's really short so if you want to read a fantastic book in about a week (for those with not-so-busy schedules, a couple days), then pick this one up and give it a read. It's nasty and kind of hilarious at the same time, but don't let that turn you off in the same way the "dark comedy" label turns me off. It's really great.
2) Life of Pi. Peggy and I listened to this on the drive across the country. I can't say I agree with the conclusions the narrator, Pi Patel, draws from the terrible ordeal he experiences while stranded in a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger, but the writing is absolutely perfect and the novel transcends the form and becomes something more like myth. Again, that shouldn't be a turnoff, because I don't like mythology either, but this is seriously good stuff. I still haven't been able to shake some of the imagery from this book. Note: Probably don't LISTEN to this one. I still have the guy's Indian-accented voice in my head and that is NOT a good thing.
3) The Sportwriter. The main character of this book, Frank Bascombe, is one depressed guy. The novel is told from his perspective, so he never comes out and says he's depressed, but he does say that he suffers from "excessive dreaminess" which is a total macho cop put. Real men, as Bascombe thinks he is, do not get depressed. They need a euphemism like "dreaminess" to describe their sadness. He is interesting, in part, because he is not a reliable narrator. His child died a few years ago from some terrible disease and his marriage broke up soon after that. They have another kid who's fine and lives with the mother. So Frank's this dreamy, middle-aged guy trying to figure out what he's supposed to be doing by dating women who aren't right for him and working a job that distracts him from how depressed he is. But here's the strange thing: though he's very introspective he never really seems to examine what's wrong with him. In fact, more often than not, he's telling the reader how okay he feels, and how he's "over" the death of his child. There's more to say on this book. Maybe when I'm done with mine, you know, in 2009, I will. Anyway, the writing is fantastic, the plot is unpredictable, and the characterization seems less like people you know, than like people you know must be out there, somewhere. They are strange people who do and say unusual things, but Ford makes them compelling. Note: The sequel to this novel, Independence Day (not the basis for the alien invasion movie of the same name), won the Pulitzer Prize.
4) No Country For Old Men. I already blabbed about this one a few weeks ago, so I won't get into it again. If I wrote this list on another day, I might not include this book at all. But today I remember the artful violence (and I think such a thing does exist in fiction), the beautiful prose, and McCarthy's seeming inability to write an ending that doesn't exactly fit with the story that's come before it (meaning, no happy ending) and these qualities speak well for it, and so it gets the #4 slot. This is a good story, but not for those with weak constitutions.
5) Perdido Street Station. From what I've read about this one, Mieville's best-known novel is one of the best science-fiction novels written in the past 10 years. I don't read that much in this genre because the science-fiction stacks at the big-box bookstores I frequent seem a lot like minefields: any one of the books, once taken off the shelf, can blow up in your face with it's powder charge of hackneyed sci-fi conventions, plodding, needlessly multi-book plots, and not-so-great writing. So when I hear a particular science fiction book not only won't insult you, but will make you happy, as the Believer magazine insinuated when it interviewed the author a number of months back, I picked it up and read it. I don't agree with all of China Mieville's choices with this one, I think he neglected some fantastic opportunities for some beautiful, memorable moments, but what he does do very well is create and populate an alien world with interesting and believable characters. Mieville doesn't write with any kind of filter on and you get the feeling he's having a lot of fun writing his books. Often that is not a compliment, but it is in this case because Mieville is also an excellent writer. I put this one on my list mostly because, of all the books I've read this year, it was most like the great novels I've enjoyed most in my life: the kind you can't wait to get back to to find out what happens next. Because literary novels rarely achieve this (because many writers of literature even more rarely aspire to it, viewing such novels as tacky and overly concerned with the "reader"), I'm always happy to get a good, pulpy story I can get lost in. This is one of those.
6.) Best Friends. My mom reccomended this one to me -- she's a huge fan of Thomas Berger and she'd been telling me to read him for years, so finally, in the middle of the summer, I did. This one was short, so I figured if it wasn't to my taste, then I'd only have wasted a little time. But this fast-paced novel is very good and I think it would appeal to almost anyone who likes to read fiction. It's a simple story of two men with an improbable lifelong friendship. Improbable because one's a gregrarious but boorish man married to an aloof bank manager and the other is a single, courteous-to-a-fault ladies' man who's never been in love and who's relied all his adult life on a trust fund to offset his failed business (selling vintage cars). Part of what's so interesting about this novel is trying to figure out why these two like each other so much. Turns out that they kind of don't. The courteous one falls in love with the boorish one's wife (the bank manager), and, well, the story evolves from there. I don't think anyone who picked this up based on my reccomendation would be displeased when they finished the thing. It's an excellent novel about relationships (and no, it never once flirts with being a contender for an Oprah Book Club selection). It's worth reading. And short, too, because I know you guys are busy.
All right, I'm done. Everyone have an excellent Monday.