2011 year in review: books

This is the first year I tried to write down the title of each book I read. Probably missed a few but this is the bulk of them, in the order in which they were read. (A note on the links – I rarely linked to a place to just purchase the book but instead included something interesting about the writer or the work itself. What I’m saying is, check out some of the links. They won’t take you to Amazon.com.)

  • Travels With Charley: In Search of America – John Steinbeck. I was so excited about this book, I offered a couple of copies to readers of this blog. Then I found out about the controversy.
  • The Braindead Megaphone – George Saunders. I have read every Saunders book I could get my hands on, and, with the exception of one, loved all of them. He’s wonderfully absurd, touching, sarcastic, pessimistic and hopeful.
  • Trout Fishing in America – Richard Brautigan. I don’t remember much about this book except I kept expecting to like it more.
  • Full Dark, No Stars – Stephen King. A collection of four novellas. I think the thing I was left with after reading it was, “Man, that sure was dark.”
  • Robinson Jeffers, Poet of California – James Karman. After vising Jeffers’ beautiful homestead, which he built in Carmel, I was excited to learn more about the man. Much of his writing is nature-wild and sad, and when you realize the property that is now surrounded by fancy million dollar (and then some) homes was once all by itself, you get a better feel for the place he was (literally and figuratively) as he wrote. Craggy, foggy coast. Few trees. A sign on the fence that said, “Back at 4PM” or something like that to keep people away during the day while he worked. Lots of booze. Obsession with building by hand with large stones. Love of hawks and other big birds. Deep love for his wife coupled with a fondness for his formerly philandering days. He was an interesting cat, and his house/work directly reflect that.
  • Dress Your Family in Courdoroy and Denim – David Sedaris. A reread of an enjoyable book. Literary version of comfort food.
  • Brave New World – Aldous Huxley. After rereading 1984 a few years back, I decided to revisit a number of the books I read (and didn’t really GET) in high school. This book was another stop on that journey, and Animal Farm is next. Reproductive technology? Intentionally dumbing people down? An overly intrusive government? A doped up society? We’re there, people. And getting more there each day.
  • Post Office – Charles Bukowski. This book may have been the last straw that pushed me to finally leave non-profit development–after a ten-year run–and change careers. If you want to feel suffocated by someone else’s job, read this. You’ll either feel much better about what you’re doing or see it as a cautionary tale and make some changes in your life. (Or, I guess, just feel worse than you already did.)
  • Outrageous Fortune – Todd London and Ben Pesner. Just a little something to remind me of how tough it is out there for a new play. I get it, I get it.
  • Black is the New White – Paul Mooney. Mooney’s commitment to stirring the pot is inspiring. And necessary. His autobiography was enlightening about the scene for black comics coming up through the ’70s to today. It was as much about Mooney as it was about his best friend and collaborator Richard Pryor.
  • Dead Man’s Cellphone – Sarah Ruhl. A play by a favorite playwright. An interesting take on life after death. Ruhl’s play Eurydice (specifically the Alley Theatre’s production) was an inspiration as I wrote The Singularity this year – my first full length play.
  • Bluebeard – Kurt Vonnegut. I didn’t start reading Vonnegut’s work until James and I moved in together and I found myself living with four or five of Vonnegut’s works. This was a grievous oversight on my part as I now count him as one of my favorite writers. This book is a great take on modern art. And his repeated usage of the descriptive term “babyshit brown” made me laugh. (The narrator talks about having just bought a suit that he thought looked pretty sharp. As he’s walking down the street, a couple of cops grab him, thinking he isĀ  the guy who just robbed a bank, about whom they know very little. “All that anybody could tell us about him,” one of them said to me, “was that his suit was babyshit brown.”)
  • Last Days of Judas Iscariot – Stephen Adly Guirgis. The first play I’ve read by Guirgis. Loved it and will read more. He recently found out about some shitty casting of his play The Motherfucker with the Hat and let ‘er rip on the theater, which put a couple of white folks into lead roles that were specifically Latino. Granted, there may not be a shitload of Puerto Rican actors in Connecticut, but the theatre didn’t audition even one Latino actor. Bad form.
  • Franny and Zooey – JD Salinger. My friend Lisa has “Shine your shoes” tattooed on her wrist, and I’ve always wondered at the meaning of the quote (which is from this book). Now I understand.
  • Chalk Line – Paula LaRocque. LaRocque is a friend of a friend (who turned me on to Paula’s blog about writing a couple of years ago). I was lucky to be able to read an advance copy of LaRocque’s murder mystery, which is a genre I haven’t read in a long time. The book, mostly set in Dallas, was a fast, fun read. Like all good murder mysteries, the tale was full of surprises. I love it when I can’t predict what’s coming.
  • Builders of the Pacific Coast – Lloyd Kahn. Kahn is one of the most inspiring people I know of. I’ve written about him here before. I want to be like him when I grow up. As for the book, it’s delicious eye candy of handbuilt shelters in a lovely part of the country.
  • Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell lets you know that some of the most successful people in the world got that way through dogged determination and hard work, sure, but also because they were in the right place at the right time. Success, according to this book, is often the result of serendipity as much as anything else.
  • Death By Black Hole – Neil DeGrasse Tyson. My favorite astrophysicist. See: the time I met Tyson for a funny story about Tyson and titties. He writes about the cosmos in an accessible, yet not dumbed down, way.
  • The Metamorphosis and Other Stories – Franz Kafka. Trying to catch up on shit I should have read a long time ago or did read a long time ago in a caffeine-induced frenzy before class and didn’t retain. This book was very Kafkaesque. Ha.
  • Hey Whipple, Squeeze This: A Guide to Creating Great Ads – Luke Sullivan. Given to me by one of my coworkers, this book is a great introduction to advertising.
  • Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas – Rebecca Solnit. A unique way to view the social history of The City, one of my favorite places.

Books are my favorite possession. I love the way they look, the way they feel in my hand, the fact that so many feature interesting little personal bits between the pages (like a receipt from City Lights or a note that was used as a bookmark). I’m excited that there are currently seven books on my desk waiting to be read. In fact… Happy New Year.

3 thoughts on “2011 year in review: books

  1. Thanks for including “Chalk Line” on your list, Crystal, and for your kind review of the book. I’m so pleased that you enjoyed it.

    Paula LaRocque

    P.S. BTW, there’s a C before the Q in my surname. Not that you’re alone in omitting it! The first time I had occasion to write my husband’s name, I spelled it that way. I am still embarrassed about that, after 36 years of marriage — the romance had already begun, he was the editor of the paper I wrote for, and I misspelled his name! :(

    The only reason I mention it is that people often leave out the C, and sometimes contact me in some roundabout way to say why am I hiding and why are their messages returned. And, the truth is, as Dickinson wrote: I am public like a frog . . . .

    Thank you for many enjoyable pieces throughout 2011.

    • I’m so sorry for misspelling your name, Paula! It’s now fixed. I’m going to fire my proofreader. And thanks again for CHALK LINE. I really enjoyed it and loved your unique characters.

  2. Wow! Just discovering this, and that two of my favorite people have commented. I was about to say, Yay! for mentioning Chalk Line. Great reading list…gives me ideas.

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