On behalf of everyone at BGB, we welcome the end of 2008 and look forward to sharing bookish adventures with you in 2009.
On behalf of everyone at BGB, we welcome the end of 2008 and look forward to sharing bookish adventures with you in 2009.
Remember these amazing covers that artist Shepard Fairey created for the UK Penguin editions of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm?
Limited edition prints ($140 for the pair) of the front covers will be available tomorrow from the artist’s web site between 12 – 3 PM. Whether that’s Eastern, Pacific, or some other time zone isn’t clear. It may be best to just stand by your browser hitting refresh all day. They will sell out quickly.
Over at the L.A. Times’ book blog Jacket Copy, a round table discussion of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has begun. The conversation includes an A-list of lit bloggers, and, improbably, a representative from BGB. The non-slacker representatives to group include:
Our own correspondent, Shaft, rounds out the group. Shaft’s original post on Benjamin Button has continued to draw comments as readers Google the connection between Benjamin Button and Max Tivoli.
Here’s what has been posted so far
Meanwhile, the comments on Shaft’s Max Tivoli post continue. A recent commenter, Scott, pointed the way to the 2004 review of Max Tivoli in the New York Times, which discusses the “fertile” role of the fountain of youth in our literature.
You can also read the entire short story online for free along with all of Fitzgerald’s Tales of the Jazz Age at Project Guttenberg. There is also a graphic novel adaptation of the story.
I’ll update as new installments are added.
Also: I hope everyone is enjoying their holiday season.
Reading my favorite Swedish lit blogs yesterday (with generous assistance from Google Translator), I happened across some cool esoteric Scandinavian lit news.
First, a movie is imminent for Stieg Larsson’s international best-seller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (review). The book was called Men Who Hate Women in Sweden, but it was changed for the US. The movie will be in Swedish. I don’t know if the latest from Stokholmwood will make it to the US in subtitles. From the little on IMdB, it doesn’t look like it.
Here’s the trailer (found thanks to post on Bokhhora with a line that I love – “This year’s autumn semester ends unworthy of blueberry soup…”:
Second, in an apparently unexpected development, Horace Engdahl has stepped down as the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy. He will be replaced by author and historian Peter Englund.
The badly translated Swedish lit blog blog reaction to the news is, well, I’m not sure…
“Fleet! I say that like Peter E.,” says
I didn’t understand the hubbub until WikiPedia helpfully pointed out that the Swedish Academy “…amongst other business, announces the names of Nobel Prize laureates. The latter makes it arguably one of the most influential literary bodies in the world.” So there you go.
As is my wont, I’ll list the best non-fiction books I read in 2008. Some of these were even published in 2008
Here’s my Top Ten:
Jane Mayer, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals. I’m not sure why I keep reading books about the excesses and incompetencies of the GWB administration. They just make my blood pressure go through the roof. But this is the big one, and I think it’s going to be remembered for a long, long time. Mayer’s subtitle says it all–and it’s worse than you think. She’s not preachy, and I’ve been amazed at how much of what Mayer reported here, sourced anonymously, has since been corroborated.
Tony Horwitz, A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World. Horwitz has carved out quite a niche for himself as our pre-eminent historical memory travel writer. Okay, maybe our only historical memory travel writer In this book Horwitz retraces the steps of several European explorers who set foot in North America before the Pilgrims arrived. As in his previous book Confederates in the Attic, Horwitz displays an incredible gift for finding interesting/wacky people and presenting their worldviews without coming across as judgmental–he leaves that up to the reader.
David Oshinsky, Polio: An American Story. All works of history should be as well-written and revealing as this. I had no idea that I could find a book about public health research and policy development so compelling. I know that some of the BGB Crew are into public health research and policy development. They should read this book.
Nicholas Dawidoff, The Crowd Seems Happy: A Story of Love, Madness, and Baseball. Dawidoff’s memoir about growing up in a single-parent New Haven household–single because his mentally ill father lived by himself in New York City–is raw and bittersweet and comes across as achingly true. When I was a grad student I sent Dawidoff a fan letter for a profile he wrote of Jimmie Dale Gilmore in the New York Times Magazine (since reworked and published here) and offered to allow him to hire me as a research assistant. He mailed me back a very polite thanks-but-no-thanks letter. So I’ve known for a while that he was raised well. This confirmed it.
Eric Rauchway, The Great Depression and New Deal: A Very Short Introduction and Paul Krugman, The Return of Depression Economics. These are both readable, concise, and eye-opening. I just wish they weren’t so relevant. Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introduction series gets extra points for cool covers.
Steve Martin, Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life. If you’re of a certain bent, you probably agree with me that Steve Martin’s standup comedy from the late ’70s is the most brilliant stuff ever produced in that genre. I guess I had always assumed that most of his act was the result of absurdist stream-of-consciousness, but this short memoir reveals what a thoughtful, hard-working craftsman Martin was and is. One of the better analyses I’ve ever read of how art is made.
Joseph Crespino, In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution. The transformation of the solidly Democratic South into the solidly Republican South is the big story in American political history between 1965 and 1985. Crespino looks at how Mississippi whites went from being the most reviled group in American politics to the cornerstone of the modern GOP–a movement that’s very much at the heart of that larger story.
Rick Perlstein, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. Perlstein looks at the same big story from another direction. Perlstein is at some times an empathetic biographer and at others slashing in his treatment of Nixon and his neuroses. It’s a nice touch and makes for an interesting read.
Special non-fictiony work of fiction: Don DeLillio, Libra. This is DeLillo’s imagining of a conspiracy to assassinate John F. Kennedy. Not having read the Warren report, I don’t know how many of the pieces of this puzzle are based on real people and actual events, but I don’t care. According to me, DeLillo excels at creating worlds that are maybe five degrees off-center from reality, and I’m always slightly discombobulated when I’m reading one of his novels. (In a good way.) DeLillo’s version of events is so affecting that I’ll never again be able to think about this historic event as a historian should, drawing conclusions from empirical evidence. That’s a pretty neat trick he pulled there.
Update: As is also my wont, I forgot to mention the one book around which I had intended to organize this post, Douglas Blackmon’s Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. (Link to my review – It’s written for a Texas publication so it focuses on the Texas experience even though Blackmon doesn’t; he focuses more on Alabama and Georgia.) I really thought this book would get some love from the major prize committees. Why hasn’t it?
Well, I tried to keep up with my books this year, but I think some got lost in the shuffle. It appears that around 2/3 of my reading list were in the young adult/teen genre, so I’m going list my top five of those. The problem with that, though, is that four of my top five titles are actually members of a series or a complete series. So, here they are:
I just can’t get enough of teenage vampire romance, talking dragons, futuristic perfection, techno teens, and, well, pixie dust. There are a bunch of fantastic books getting kind of stuck in and eventually overlooked in the young adult category (by adults, anyway) that I would love to read. I read some grown up books, too. Here are my top 3:
Other BGB Year-end Lists:
Holy smokes. The Oxford American’s 10th Annual Southern Music Edition is out, and it is a beaut.
The issue comes with two free CDs packed with Southern music and is chock full of fantastic music writing. Peter Garulnick writes about Jerry Lee Lewis. Jack Pendarvis and Greil Marcus each write an article about Neko Case. (Neko’s so nice they had to write about her twice.) Authors Roy Blount Jr., Kevin Brockmeier, and Clyde Edgerton add to the roster. Pick it up already.
As the issue implies, the Oxford American has been collecting great music writing for 10 years now. It’s small wonder then that they have also come out with a book, The Oxford American Book of Great Music Writing. Apparently this book has been out since October, but I just found out about it. I’m baffled. I may have missed out on the book release, but the book release (and 10th anniversary) PARTY is not until January 23 at the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, MS. Let’s find a reason to be in Mississippi in January.
Need a stocking-stuffer for a music fan in your life? Pick up The Rock Bible by Henry Owings. I was checking it out at my favorite record store and had to buy it after chuckling to myself in the aisle for about twenty minutes.
The Rock Bible begins (if you skip the Preface, Introduction, and A Little Rock Bible Essay) with a chapter appropriately titled Genesis that is as concise a history of rock and roll as you are likely to find anywhere. The beginning material is engaging enough, but the book really shines in the “Gospel According to” chapters that hand down the hard won rock and roll wisdom and unshakable truths of the rock gods.
Gospels are presented for the Drummer, the Guitar and Bass Players, the Singer, the Keyboardist, the Band, the Crew, and the Fan. The Gospels are typically written as one sentence “verses” – numbered for easy quoting – with supplemental material thrown in as comedy dictates. For instance, there is a handy guide to words that should not be used in your band name, words that are played out in rock criticism, and words that are underused by music critics – like “results oriented.”
Some of the Truths revealed within the pages will settle ageless arguments while others will establish the doctrines that should have been sacred in the first place. For example, the Cardinal Rules laid out in the Gospel According to the Fan clearly state that you may not listen to the band that you are going to see in the car on your way to the show – period; conversely, it is completely appropriate to do so on the way home. Argument settled. Also: don’t even think about wearing a shirt for the band that you are going to see. Speaking of t-shirts, you can not buy a Ramones shirt unless you can name all of the original members and at least five songs. It’s Gospel.
Very occasionally, The Rock Bible begins to feel like an SNL sketch that has gone on too long. Don’t panic! It is only a temporary situation, the next piece of hilarity is right around the corner. Keep reading.
Definitely check this book if you are in a band or spend a lot of your valuable time appreciating live music/talking about music with your music nerd friends. If that’s not you, spend some time getting your priorities straight then come back to it.
Full disclosure: While we try our best to always be objective here at BGB, I feel that I should note that I have been photographed sitting on the author’s lap. Should a man sitting on another man’s lap necessarily void claims of objectivity? I don’t know. Ask the Poynter Institute. As a result of sharing that picture, I was pointed to the “Random Rules” column in The Onion that features the author (the comments are hilarious). I should also point out that Henry Owings runs Chunklet Magazine, which I think is based here in Atlanta. Or at least Henry Owings is. So, you know, support your locals.
I had a great year reading in 2008. I read more than ever and when I took a look back, I realized that I read a lot of really good books. Unfortunately, my posts were few and far between. Oh well – better to read and not post than not read at all………So here is my top ten (in no particular order)
Other BGB Year-end Lists:
When I put together my “Best of” list for 2008, I mistakenly omitted The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean-Dominique Bauby. I’d like to say that I had decided that that book was so good that it deserved its own independent “best of” post, but the truth is I had somehow blanked on it while compiling my list and neglected to include it. As I was discussing the new Bond film with someone last night I mentioned that the villain in the Bond movie is played by the guy who was in the film adaptation of The Diving . . . OH MY GOD! I FORGOT TO INCLUDE THAT ON MY LIST! That’s sort of what happened. Anyway, this is an incredible book, and also a pretty fine movie to boot.
You might be called upon to weigh in on the following topics at this weekend’s holiday cocktail parties. Are you prepared?
I have fallen way behind in posting on the books that I’ve read in 2008, and I’d like to finish the year with a clean slate. These are a few books that are getting close to voiding their freshness seal. Kicking it off…
This is my worst offender of this group. I read this book in January and just never got around to posting a review. A Dirty Job is typical Moore horror/comedy if you’re familiar with his work. It’s good fun. I didn’t enjoy this one as much as You Suck or Bloodsucking Fiends, but it was an enjoyable light read all the same. Moore has a new book coming back early in ’09 and will be reading at Wordsmiths on February 23. Mark your calendars for what should be a hilarious evening.
Tom McCarthy wrote the unsettling novel Remainder, which was high on many year-end lists last year, and it won the 2008 Believer Magazine Book Award. After reading the book, I felt the need to hunt down more from McCarthy. Tintin The Secret of Literature is an earnest look at the literary merits of Tintin and its creator Herge. It is written in a fairly dense formal literary criticism style, but it still maintains humor and lightness. Check it out if you grew up a Tintin enthusiast.
I have posted periodically on this graphic novel series over the past few years (here and here). Vol. 10: Whys and Wherefores is the unsatisfying conclusion to what has otherwise been an enjoyable series.
I don’t read as many of the McSweeney’s Quarterly Concerns collections as I should. This becomes apparent each time that I finish one. Almost without fail the collections are beautiful books filled with great writing. Why don’t I just get a subscription already? This one featured authors Roddy Doyle, Chris Bachelder, and Deb Olin Unferth. The dust jacket on “23″ unfolds to reveal cool artwork by Andrea Dezsö (below). Each of the pieces inside of a circle is used to introduce a story on full color dividing pages. It’s beautiful. Don’t forget that McSweeney’s is having a 50% off sale through Friday. 50%!
This book came highly recommended by BGB correspondent Shaft who named it one of his favorite books of 2008. I think that it is fair to say that he liked it more than I did, but it was an enjoyable read. The book is about a slacker guy who finds himself accidentally becoming Britain’s top comic without actually performing any standup through the echo chamber of the celebrity media. I see Ricky Gervais featuring prominently if this is ever made into a movie.
Aaach. I’m still behind. There may be another post like this one soon if I don’t get my act together.
For the second year in a row, I managed to read a lot of not-so-memorable books this year. The good news is that I was able to think of ten that are at least worth recommending, although I’ve divided my year-end list into two tiers:
First, the “no question about it, I totally recommend these books” list:
The second tier are books that I found very worthwhile, but can’t say that they would work for everyone:
Lastly, I’ll at least mention a few other works:
Other BGB Year-end Lists:
(Thanks for pointing the way, Barbara.)
Also: McSweeney’s has extended their “Crazy Excessive Sale” through this Friday. Almost everything at the site is 50% off, and they have re-stocked the excellent “La Brea Tar Pits” shirt:
This was e-mailed to me over the weekend with a note that said, “this is the only thing BESIDES ME that gets how dumb the publishing industry is.” Warning: video not always in best taste. But funny. Kreepie Kats present:
And the Oscar for best gratuitous use of Marisha Pessl pictures goes to…Kreepie Kats!