Thursday, April 4, 2013

Best & Worst Picks for February/March/Early April

Since I go over many books, I thought it would be a good idea to sit down every month or so and lay out which recommendations I thought were the best and worst. I've separated the best books into two categories, as I didn't think it fair to pit my nearly unbeatable old favorites against the newly discovered novels which impressed me.

Four Best Old Favorites

  • Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart: excellent novel by Africa's greatest author. RIP Chinua Achebe. 
  • Richard Russo's Straight Man: I'm re-reading this now. I'd forgotten how much paranoia is weaved in among the humor and inter-office politics. 
  •  Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger: somehow, Adiga makes a novel about murder hilarious -- and makes you like the man who does the dirty deed! 
  • Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: one of my favorite openings of all time. Here are the first two paragraphs:

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like, “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive ...” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about 100 miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?” 
Then it was quiet again. My attorney had taken his shirt off and was pouring beer on his chest, to facilitate the tanning process. “What the hell are you yelling about,” he muttered, staring up at the sun with his eyes closed and covered with wraparound Spanish sunglasses. “Never mind,” I said. “It’s your turn to drive.” I hit the brakes and aimed the Great Red Shark toward the shoulder of the highway. No point mentioning those bats, I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.

Three Best New Discoveries

  • Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists: I'm not the biggest fan of novels that are really a collection of interrelated short stories. But Rachman makes it work. I particularly like the chapter about the obituary writer. He goes to interview celebrities who are (he expects) going to die soon, but when they ask *why* he's interviewing him, he has to make something up because he doesn't want to tell them that he thinks they're going to kick the bucket soon. One of the interviewees figures it out and asks to read her obit, but she's informed that it's not allowed. She then makes a very clever observation about this along the lines of "The newspaper article we most want to read is the one we never can." Fascinating reading. 
  • Christopher Buckley's Thank You for Smoking: Hilarious. I like it even better than the movie. 
  • David Abram's Fobbit: like Catch-22, Fobbit works on multiple levels. It's a war novel, a satirical novel, a novel about office politics, and a political commentary.

Worst Pick

  • Tom Davis' Scared: One of the reasons I picked this book was because there wasn't much competition. I wanted a book on Swaziland and this book had an interesting premise. And while the prologue was awful, the first chapter started out pretty well. So I put the book down half way through the first chapter and posted about it. Big mistake. Later that day I resumed reading it, only to find that the author is far more interested in writing about Christianity than about Swaziland.  It's frustrating to see a potentially good novel ruined because every time the author pulls you in with good writing about Swaziland or some action, he then meanders back into pages of saccharine gobbledegook about prayer and redemption.  It seems that the quest for a great Swaziland novel continues.

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