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...)


Blogger Kern said...

Honorable Mention for 2006: An Innocent Man by John Grisham. I love true crime, and this one probably should be on my list. If you ever find yourself innocent of murder, make sure you're not in Ada, Oklahoma!

10:31 AM  
Blogger Britta Coleman said...

I feel like I've given an Oscar speech and left out some loved ones. Let me add anything by my writing pals Lisa Wingate, Jodi Thomas, Candace Havens, A. Lee Martinez, James Lee Butts, Jennifer Archer, Ronda Thompson...I'm missing someone, I just know it. They all had noteworthy books come out this year. Google them, and enjoy.

10:38 AM  
Blogger Shannon Canard said...

Hey, guys

I just started Eggers's book and I'm a bit freaked about how it begins. I mean, does he realy have to spend so much time on the color of his mother's phlegm? Please tell me it gets better, because I want to read it. I just have to wait until my stomach is a bit stronger.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Ah, Britta...You're too kind. :-) Thanks for including me in your list. Can't wait to try out some of your book recommendations, as well as some of Kern's.

6:48 AM  
Blogger Britta Coleman said...

Shannon - I know, Eggers' opening stuff is a little...close. The graphics ease a bit (after a few more chapters if I remember correctly), but the fascination with the unusual doesn't. I think it's worth the trip, though. Last I heard ScottM is reading it might ask his opinion.

For grossness, the most horrifying thing I've ever read is the opening story in Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk. The rumor (which he confirms) is that live readings of this piece had listeners vomiting and passing out. I totally believe it.

7:37 AM  
Blogger Britta Coleman said...

You're so welcome, Jenny! For blogger friends, Jenny is the illustrious Jennifer Archer at Her stuff is truly terrific - funny, warm, and honest. Much like the lady herself.

7:39 AM  

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