Wednesday, January 31, 2007

He Said/She Said Best Books of 2006

After reading Stephen King's Best of list in Entertainment Weekly, Kern and I started keeping our own lists of what we read, then sharing our top picks with friends and families. We tend to overlap in our choices, but not always, so I thought I'd share Kern's list and my responses. (Because that's just how I roll...)

Like King's list, these recommendations are from reads of the year, not necessarily those published in this year.

Kern’ Top Ten 2006

Kern's #10. That Old Ace in the Hole, Annie Proulx.
Having spent thirteen years in the Texas Panhandle, this story was very familiar. Even if you are unaware of the hog farmer’s predicament, Bob Dollar was a memorable character.

Britta says
: I haven't read this, but it's on my list, as is Proulx's prizewinning The Shipping News. For memorable characters and a funky small town setting, try Timothy Schaffert's The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God. I had the pleasure of meeting Tim at the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends' Weekend and he's as unassuming and kind as it gets. Without bias, his fiction blew me away.

Kern's #9. Red Sky at Morning, Richard Bradford
Story of a 17 year old boy uprooted from his prestigious Mobile home during WW2 to the mountains of New Mexico. His adjustment while his father is in the Navy, and his mother drinks all day, is a great coming of age tale.

Britta says: While I enjoyed this (who doesn't love daytime drinking parents?), I think something about the perspective appeals more to the nostalgic male. A solid read, but for my coming-of-age-boy money, I'd highly recommend David Mitchell's Black Swan Green. Sometimes hysterically funny, at other times touchingly poignant. It's a portrait of a gifted young protagonist, cursed with a secret stutter, seeking to find his place with family, friends, and the horrifyingly scary terrain of the English schoolyard.

Kern's #8. The Piano Tuner, Daniel Mason
Mild mannered piano tuner Edwin Drake is called from his mundane London existence to travel to Burma in 1880 to tune the piano of an eccentric British officer.

Britta says: Haven't made it to this one either. For exotic locales and international perspective, run, don't walk and secure thyself a copy of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner. I read this as 2005 turned to 2006 (over a year ago, but since it technically ended in 2006 I'm counting it) and I still remember nearly every scene. Perhaps the most satisfying, heartbreaking ending ever.

Kern's #7. History of Love, Nicole Krauss
Confusing at times, but rewarding at the end, History of Love is a memoir of two old Jewish friends in New York who are nearing the end of their lives.

Britta says: I hate to pick favorites, but this may go down as my top choice for 2006. I hadn't heard anything about it until a friend recommended it (thank you thank you Shannon) and was completely enamored with every page, with every character. The way the stories and characters interweave (there's a great brother/sister duo who share the bulk of the tale) is complex but oh, so wonderfully wrought. I'd add to Kern's summary that it's also about lost loves, researching roots, forgiveness, and the importance of human connection. It's the kind of book when you reach "The End", you close it and start it all over again. I did.

Kern's #6. Naked, David Sedaris
Another collection of hysterical memories of a dysfunctional childhood home.

Britta says: I wish David and I were very good friends and I could go to his family reunions. His writing makes me laugh out loud. For a long time. Which isn't an easy thing for a book to do. (Except for Kern's #1 choice, which you'll get to...)

Kern's #5. Jim the Boy, Tony Earley
Beautiful story of a young Appalachian boy being raised by his mother and two uncles during the depression.

Britta says: Didn't read this one. In its place I'll nominate Kate Atkinson's Case Histories. A literary mystery set in London with a shlumpily loveable detective and some of the best minor characters, the spinster sisters especially. Her writing is simply gorgeous.

Kern's #4. My Friend Leonard, James Frey
Even if every word is a lie, this a remarkable story of friendship and loyalty. For me, it was more rewarding than Million Little Pieces.

Britta says
: Compulsive liar, drug addict, trickster extraordinaire, James Frey, in my book, still knows how to tell a story. James, I'm sorry Oprah was so mean to you, but next time it's veeerrrrry important that you tell the truth. Lecture over.

Kern's #3. Alive!, Piers Paul Ried
Harrowing true story of the Uruguayan rugby team that crashed in the Andes. Their story of survival and recovery was captivating. I read the book in May, but often felt cold. The story brings up a lot of ethical questions that we’ll save for another time.

Britta says: I have never been drawn to stories (true or fictional) where characters are forced to eat one another's flesh for survival. I just ask Kern, "Did anyone make it out?" He tells me the answer, and I save myself a few hundred pages of angst-ridden creepy crawlies. That said, if you want to read a creepyscarybrilliant book you won't easily forget, check out John Burdett's thriller Bangkok 8. I'm still shivering.

Kern's #2. A Death in Belmont, Sebastion Junger
This look at the Boston Strangler murders in the 60’s was especially interesting, because the Strangler himself was photographed with Junger as a child and his mother the day he committed a crime in their neighborhood. Another man, who happened to be black, was convicted of that crime. This was the best true crime account I’ve read in a long long time.

Britta says
: I did read this, along with Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper Case Closed by Patricia Cornwell. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I don't think I'm hanging with the whole true-life serial killer thing anymore. Too many nightmares. For mystery that's engaging and served up with simple life wisdom, try Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. If you walk away without wishing Precious could be your cousin, you have no heart.

Kern's #1
. Neither Here Nor There, Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson’s memoir of a trek through Europe as a young man. I was on the beach in Mexico reading this, and laughed several times so hard that Corona spewed from my nose. I laughed so hard that I couldn’t communicate. People stared. As soon as I finished, I handed it to Britta, and in ten minutes, Corona was spewing from her nose as well.

Britta says: Normally I think it best to keep nasal Corona spewage between spouses, but I cannot deny this is true. Bill Bryson is a wry genious, and anyone who's ever left home will relate to his stories.

Britta says:

All right, additional reads I'd recommend (and be sure to browse the blog for more):

Karen Joy Fowler's The Jane Austen Club. Multi-perspective tale about an all-female book club perusing Austen's oevre whose lives mirror the books they review. Cleverly done.

Dave Egger's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Manic/depressive account of orphaned brothers making their crazy twisted way in the world. Worthy of the title.

Carson McCullers' The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. It's a classic, and so hovers outside and above a simple top ten. How did I get through life without reading this? The story, told through several viewpoints, centers on an insightful mute stranger who brings connection and purpose to misfit characters in a small town.

That's it. I'm exhausted. Your turn. Totally disagree with our pics? What are some of your memorable reads from the last year? (I won't make you pick a favorite...)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Long Time Gone...

Happy New Year, my friends! Sorry for the gap in posting, but one of my resolutions is to post more often in 2007. We'll see if it sticks.

November to January was a's a (brief) recap.

Holidays...fried turkey, no burns (thank you, Jesus)...sinus infection ick ick ick... finals for school (did I mention I'm back in school pursuing a Masters in Creative Writing???) visits with babies and presents and puppies, oh my!... Christmas - we got TiVo and my life has been forever changed, hallelujah everybody say cheese...reading, movies, napping (being sick does have its advantages) carpet - an experience not unlike moving as everything must be boxed off the floor including an entire study worth of books and files but the new carpet smells terrific, woohoo!... Ringing in the New Year with champagne and fireworks (I'm a sucker for both)...


...A stomach flu of The Devil Wears Prada variety, although it's possible I might have had cholera...speaking of which, saw "The Painted Veil"- great flick, haunting score, amazing cinematography, where is the nomination?...


...Back in school for the spring semester, loving my classes, am currently reading Emily Dickinson, love her quirky and totally honest angst...still unpacking my study (how many boxes of staples does one person need?)...and in general trying to grab hold of my life.

There. That's about it.

I'll post soon about the best books I read in 2006...and yes, Shannon, Carson McCullers will be there!

Also, the Oscar races are heating up...we must discuss. I'm taking in movies as fast as I can, so far my favorites are Bobby, Notes on a Scandal and the Departed (except for that very last image, and if you've seen the movie you know what it is.)

I'll leave with this quote, a great bookend to my winter break: "Muddy water let stand will clear." (Chinese Proverb.)


Here's to clear waters for us all in 2007!

Question: What's the worst ending to a movie you've ever seen? Posted by Picasa