Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Books, Books, Books!

Halfway through the first month of 2013, I figured it might not be too late to give a recap of my five favorite books read in 2012. If you’re looking for some reading material to cozy up to for the beginning of the 14th Baktun, mayhaps this list will be of help:

Monstress by Lysley Tenorio
Like any great writer, my boy Lysley Tenorio writes with a great deal of reverence for his characters and story matter. For me—and I thought this was amazing (and I am aware that a lot of people nowadays overuse that word)—but each story had at least one sentence, one moment that was profoundly heartfelt which went a long way toward developing a visceral understanding and sympathy for that character and their actions. Never seen a short story collection do that so well. "The Brothers" and "Superassassin" were my favorite stories. I didn't think there was one weak story in this collection. They were all really good to drop-your-jaw astounding. This is one of the best short story collections I have ever read.

If you want a taste of his writing, here's a link to read a smidgeon of "Superassassin":

Damascus by Joshua Mohr
So at first I wasn’t hot about his book; it reminded me of Diablo Cody’s Juno which was cutesy but not believable because every damn character in that film seemed too intelligent and smart-alecky and hip that there was little profound differentiation amongst them. Sure, this book is a fantastical idealization of life in the Mission District, but once you accept that story world, it’s quite an enjoyable quick read. And a tremendous novel. I think it was just about perfect (as in I imagine that Mohr executed it close to what he initially imagined it to be). Didn't see any missteps—no extraneous scene, no lines of dialogue or actions that didn't seem true to a character. I loved the playful omniscient narration Mohr created for these tales. I was continually amazed by how emotionally true all of his characters and their actions seemed—and Mohr was mining some emotional material that so many other lesser writers fumble: love, death, war, and art. And he nailed it, through and through. Each of his characters were clearly distinct. The crazy thing about this novel—at least for me—was that I was able to relate with each of his characters.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
This was a re-read but it was still astounding as the first read it years ago, if not even more so. Dunn's novel is definitely a book people will either love or hate. Judging from the Goodreads reviews, the dividing line seems to be whether if you find her characters wholly detestable or not. And I don’t. Far from it. I think it’s an utterly amazing novel full of twists, plot developments, and crazy-ass characters and happenings. Quite possibly the ultimate book centered on sibling rivalries—and what makes this dark novel so astounding is its fantastical carnival setting. Artie is one of literature’s quintessential assholes and Olympia is a perplexing narrator. There are few novels like this one.

If you dig nonfiction as much as I do, you might dig these:

The Liars’ Club
by Mary Karr
Karr’s first memoir is often credited for starting the memoir craze that began in the mid 1990s. After devouring this book, I can see why; it’s a shame that most memoirs are not as good as this one. It took me a while to warm to this book but Karr’s narrative voice is so strong—and fitting for her tough, funny, tomboy-ish character. Her book is structured so effectively by beginning and fluttering back from time to time to that mysterious traumatic childhood memory that begins the memoir. An unflinching honest book with its share of hilarity and horrifically dark moments.

Conquest: Montezuma, Cortes and the Fall of Old Mexico
by Hugh Thomas
If you’re fascinated by the New World Spanish Conquistadors as much as I am, this is a must read. Though I haven’t read other books that chronicle the fall of the Mexica, I would be willing to bet that this is the definitive book on that topic. A thorough, thorough historical and encompassing chronicle of that epic clash of cultures back in 1519 that forever changed the world.

And honorable mention goes to…

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold
A book that was hard to put down at times because I wanted to find out what would happen next.

For the most part, Gold seamlessly wove historical research with the elements of his story. That alone is an impressive feat (though sometimes it could feel like the attention to historical fact was heavy-handed, too obvious, but I rather liked reading all those parts). From the get-go, you feel like you are taken back to San Francisco and Oakland in the early 1900s and never once doubt that what Gold is telling is based on fact. I particularly dug that this story captured the passing of an era (Life Before the Boob Tube) that is so different than the iPhone Present. Like any great story, the novel definitely creates its own world. Reading it is like inhabiting the past (even if you're reading it on a Kindle?) To boot, his characters are strong though the female leads are a bit too similar. Carter the Great is the type of protagonist who is capable of carrying a novel of this length. It’s a wingding of a book!

No comments:

Post a Comment