Best and Not Best Books of 2009

Best Books of 2009

What is the What – Dave Eggers
Where the Sea Used to Be – Rick Bass
The Hiding Place – Corrie ten Boom
Invisible Frontier: Exploring the Tunnels, Ruins, and Rooftops of Hidden New York – L.B. Deyo, David Leibowitz
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen – Christoper McDougall
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – John Boyne
Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking – Jeff Gordinier
The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University – Kevin Roose
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Cry, the Beloved Country – Edward Callan
My Year Inside Radical Islam – Daveed Gartenstein-Ross
The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd
Père Goriot – Honore de Balzac
Dune – Frank Herbert
The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
Coraline – Neil Gaiman
On the Old Testament – Mark Driscoll
Geek Love – Katherine Dunn
Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith
The Monstrumologist – Richard Yancey
Spud – John van de Ruit
The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death: Reflections on Revenge, Germophobia, and Laser Hair Removal – Laurie Notaro
Fanny Herself – Edna Ferber
More Fire: How to Run the Kenyan Way – Toby Tanser
Anthem – Ayn Rand
Already Dead – Charlie Huston
1984 – George Orwell
Beasts of New York – Jon Evans
Peter Pan – J. M. Barrie

Not Best Books of 2009

People of the Book – Geraldine Brooks
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers – Mary Roach
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
According To Jane – Marilyn Brant
My Life on the Run: The Wit, Wisdom, and Insights of a Road Racing Icon – Bart Yasso
The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare – G. K. Chesterton
Paranoia – Joseph Finder
Pygmy – Chuck Palahniuk
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
The Friday Night Knitting Club – Kate Jacobs
Towelhead – Alicia Erian
Dune Messiah – Frank Herbert
The Sari Shop Widow – Shobhan Bantwal
A Lion Among Men – Gregory Maguire
The Turn of the Screw – Henry James

Wicked

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

I’ve been taking part in a reading group of sorts at the workplace and so have been told what to read over the past two months. But I rebelled as the holidays approached and saved a little reading time for something of my own choosing.

The something of my own choosing was Wicked by Gregory Maguire. It wasn’t an easy read; in fact, I learned a number of new words. (That’s somewhat refreshing, as it’s been a long time since I’ve had to keep a dictionary nearby.) I thoroughly enjoyed it and, unexpectedly, grew to love and admire the Wicked Witch of the West. I wonder if that was the intended result? I haven’t done a lot of looking about to see if that was what Maguire was going for with his little fantasy tale. (I do know that the witch’s name–Elphaba–was taken from the initials of L. Frank Baum, who created Oz.)

Maguire’s Elphaba is intelligent, passionate, misunderstood and ultimately, the victim of an unfortunate accident. Who knew that a green girl–whose birth is the combination of something called the Clock of the Time Dragon, an unknown potion, and an adulterous mother–raised by a missionary could end up in such a fix? She is philosopher and scientist, revolutionary and mother, lover and murderer. More than three-dimensional, this was a character I think I could really like, should our paths cross in real life. (I’ve overlooked the blue skin of a man, so I’m pretty sure I could overlook the green skin of a woman.)

Let me recommend Wicked to you, if you’re looking for something engaging and not-too-easy a read. It’s worth any effort you put into it. I miss Elphie already. I’ll probably end up re-reading it very soon.

I have to admit, I had never read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz before experiencing Wicked, so I was mostly comparing it to the movie. I got inspired, though, to read the original. To give it a little twist, I downloaded the book to my Palm from Project Gutenberg. There’s something ironic about electronically reading a book published in 1900. Anyway, I really enjoyed that book as well. It was interesting to contrast the book to the famous movie. As is typical, I liked the book better and I also liked better the Dorothy I made up in my head rather than the Judy Garland version.

I’ve decided to read the rest of the series–I think there are about a dozen of them. It could be that there are more plot twists in Wicked that correspond with the sequels. (Looking ahead to Ozma of Oz here.)

I’m off to see the Wizard…

A Trip to the Library

Today I saw a REAL librarian. Seriously. I’ve been to that particularly library hundreds of times and never laid eyes on this woman. Imagine if you will, a woman in her late fifties, tall with dark, but graying hair, pulled into a bun with a fluff of curly bangs. Thin, with dark eyes and wire-rimmed glasses, wearing a black skirt, red shirt and a black sweater draped around her shoulders. You know, all retro style. She gave me a friendly, but stern look as I passed and I’m pretty sure if she hadn’t been sitting in a glassed-in room, she would have put her finger to her lips and said, “Shhh,” just because she felt obligated. I was so enthralled by her that I almost ran into the police officer that was patrolling the religion shelves. Now why an officer was patrolling in the library at all is beyond me, but whatever.

To be honest, it has been probably a year since I darkened the doorstep of my library branch–long enough that my card had expired. (And I found out that I had a $4.00 fine, which they didn’t want me to pay because it hadn’t reached the $5.00 mark yet. Again, whatever.) It used to be that you had the option of using either the traditional card catalog or the computerized version. Now it’s the computer or nothing. I would consider myself a fairly advanced computer user, so it’s not that I’m intimidated by that or anything, but I think I really prefer the old card catalog. It’s sort of like hunting down a book. When you find the card, write down the number of the book, then finally find it…it’s like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You’ve accomplished something. And thumbing through all the cards makes you wonder who else had pulled that particular drawer. Were they looking for the same book you’re looking for? The same author? Were they old? Young? A college professor or some homeless guy? There was some mystery to it and some semblance of being part of a larger group of bibliophiles. Now it’s a computer search, just like if you Googled something. Big whoop.

I’ve always wanted to work in a library, so why I didn’t go get a degree in library science is beyond me. I really didn’t think of it and now I’m too lazy. Plus there are so few schools that offer it, I’d have to move somewhere. Again, too lazy. Plus plus, I have a feeling that I’d be stuck in classes learning things I already know with a bunch of frumpy women. It would be worse than nursing or elementary education. (As far as classroom diversity, I mean.) I’ve probably just insulted a lot of people with that idea, so I’ll move on. Anywho, I did try a couple of times to get library jobs here in my city. The first time I applied, no one even called me. The second time, I was asked to come in and take some skills tests, one of which was typing. I scored 72 wpm and was feeling pretty proud of myself, until I was told that was too fast. TOO FAST?! Yeah, they said they felt I was over-qualified and would likely become bored. I begged and pleaded, trying to convince them that it truly was a dream to work in a library, but no go. I would have been the best worker they’d ever had. Now they’ll never know.

My love for books started when I was an infant; my love for libraries followed shortly thereafter. I learned to read when I was three and was reading whole novels by the time I was six. I’ve read a lot of books. I own a lot of books. I would like to work with a lot of books. I thought about Barnes & Noble, but that’s not fun. Those are all new books. Libraries have old books and when you walk in you get that old book smell. It’s one of my favorite smells in the whole world. I have some really old books in my house and sometimes I open them up and put my nose right inside. They’ve been my constant companions for my whole life, so it’s comforting to me to do that.

One reason I like the library so much is because I remember going to check out books when I was little. I had a pack of three younger brothers and a mom I didn’t really get much time with. But every Thursday, she would drop them off at Mother’s Day Out and take me to the library. Just the two of us. And I could look as long as I wanted and check out any book I wanted. Of course I left with a huge stack every week to get me through to the next Thursday. At the time, we were living in a very small town with a very small library and I’m pretty sure I read every book in the children’s section. Probably about half of the adult section, too. I can picture every inch of that building in my mind…the riding toys under the card catalog, the shelf where the Bobbsey Twins books were, the corner where I found out how the Eqyptians mummified people, how much colder the water was in the fountain there than any of the ones at school. And the librarian always remembered my name and always seemed glad to see me. It’s good being a kid with a library card.

My parents never censored anything I read. Whether that was from lack of interest or ignorance, I’m not sure. Suffice it to say I read a lot of books that were hardly age-appropriate. I probably had a lot of ideas in my head I shouldn’t have had as a kid, but really, I don’t think I’m the worse off for it. My grandmother gave me my first dictionary–real, adult, college dictionary–when I was seven. (And I still have it and use it.) I loved looking up new words I was learning in all the books I was reading. It certainly helped me understand all the adult conversations going on around me and when I argued with someone, pulling out a few big words always helped make my point. Still does.

I didn’t know very many kids who were avid readers, but a few friends had started getting interested by the time we were in middle school, mainly because of the sudden popularity of Sweet Valley High. Never read ‘em. I had become particularly enamored with Edna St. Vincent Millay when I was in third grade and by middle school, I had moved on to other notable poets and had gotten caught up in reading biographies. I did a really extensive book report on Chief Joseph, accompanied by a miniature Nez Perce village (built by me) for good measure. By high school I had discovered Plato, the Brontes and Dorothy Parker. You’d have thought I’d never picked up a book before in my life, I was so excited. Once again, not for the first time and not for the last, it was like a whole new world had opened up.

That’s why I was at the library today…because I needed to spend some time with my old friend Dorothy. And really, that’s what authors are to lovers of books. They’re people who cared enough to put their thoughts, ideas, opinions and dreams down on paper, so the rest of us could share. We escape through them, we are entertained, we laugh, we cry, we learn, we think…oh, we think…

So a big thanks today goes out to all my favorite authors: Dorothy Parker, the Brontes, Jane Austen, Rohinton Mistry, Arundhati Roy, Judy Blume, Lois Lowry, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, Sylvia Plath, Jack London, L. M. Montgomery, so many more I can’t even name them. Thank you for your blood, sweat, tears and courage. Thank you for not giving up when you got rejection letters. Thank you for listening to that little voice inside you that said, “Write! For the love of God, write!” And thank you for trusting in us, your readers, enough to give us these gifts that seem merely bound paper, but are so much more.

Now I’m going to read.