You may despise me for it, dear readers, but I am here to bring you another cursed list. I know what you’re thinking: these Contrarian characters are supposed to be all up on the current events. I want fresh ideas and a good larf when I come to this page, not another gawdarned list.
Well, tough. We’re tired. We promise real content soon, but right now the Contrarian staff is curled up in the corner of our shared office at Contrarian HQ, taking a much needed catnap. I got up to cover a draft from the window, so I decided to stop by my desk and tell you about books I liked this year.
Now, before I get started I must point out that these books were not all published this year, nor do they represent any attempt at a Best Books of the Year summary. This list comprises the books I read during the last Earth-Sun revolution that I liked the best. This was an odd year of reading for me, as my first calendar year as a professional librarian. I read a lot of stuff this year that I never would have if I did not have this job, most notably mysteries. I had not read a mystery novel since I was 15 or 16, but found myself greatly enjoying certain titles (read on).
Best book I read this year: The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolano. I’m not going to go on about who he is, click on the link if you want biographical info. I’m not going to get long-winded about the book either. It’s about poets in Mexico in the ’70s. It’s about sex, travel, innocence and the search for a woman who published a poem once years ago. The funny thing about Bolano is how difficult it is to describe what’s so great about him. Having read only this book and his short novel The Skating Rink, I cannot claim to be an expert, but I knew from the first page that I was about to enjoy something truly spectacular, and there was not a single moment of disappointment.
Most worth the hype: Stieg Larsson‘s Millenium series: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo & The Girl Who Played With Fire. The series everyone was talking about this year was Twilight, but the books that were really uniting adults were these two. I have heard many stories of people being approached on planes and subway cars by other fans commenting on the books. In 2008, Larsson was the second best seller in the world. So it must be another case of overhyping the undertalented, right? Wrong. These books are fantastic. Lisbeth Salander is one of the truly great contemporary characters, a sociopathic badass with a soft side. She’s a girl who has been fucked in every way possible by the system and those who think they’re in charge, and who does her best to show them the error of their ways. Her methods, however, are less kind than that sentence make them sound. Great stories, great writing and well worth the hype.
A few more fiction titles worth mentioning:
-In the Woods and The Likeness by Tana French. Realistic crime fiction, beautifully written. But be warned: if you need everything tightly wrapped up, look elsewhere.
–No Country For Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy. I have long wanted to read McCarthy, but had yet to do so. This book is not a pleasant or hopeful tale, but it is full of lessons. Most notably: nothing happens to only you.
–A Death in Vienna, by Frank Tallis. An excellent mystery, mixing supernatural elements with detective work in the classic tradition. Intelligently written, with a great climax.
–Inherent Vice, by Thomas Pynchon. Sure, the druggy haze gets a bit old at times, but this is a great novel. Funny, clever and perfectly set, Pynchon proves once again that he is one of the greatest writers alive. If he exists.
–After Dark, by Haruki Murakami. Not my favorite book by Murakami, who I believe I would name as my favorite author, but still that much more inventive and original than any other titles.
As to non-fiction, I didn’t have a clear favorite this year. I enjoyed Arthur I. Miller‘s Deciphering the Cosmic Number: The Strange Friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung, and also liked David N. Meyer‘s excellent biography of Gram Parsons, Twenty Thousand Roads. I reread Suzuki Roshi‘s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, which is a truly incredible book. Though it is trashy, I am currently enjoying Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation by Mitch Horowitz, but it is no match for my recently replaced copy of The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly P. Hall.
I am far from alone in naming Neil Gaiman‘s The Graveyard Book as the best young adult novel, but I am among a small few granting the honor of best children’s book to his Blueberry Girl, illustrated by the legendary Charles Vess. This is the one book that should be owned and frequently read by every girl on the planet, regardless of age.
Best new children’s book character is clearly Skippyjon Jones. Here I am in my Skippyjon costume, with my friend Death:
(Note: that’s not me. Or my friend Death.)
Alright, patrons. I’m out. But shoot me a line to tell me what you liked this year, wouldja?
Until next time…