Pink Fire Pointer December 2010

End of the year wrap-up: An OCD girl's guide

So Christmas and the New Year are almost here and I'm about to take off to Paris with Jon for 9 days.  It's been 7 years since I've last been and I'm really excited to look at the city through new, grown-up eyes.  The thing I'm probably most looking forward to (besides gorging on delicious delicious stinky cheese) is checking out the bookstores.  Not just Shakespeare and Company but Village Voice, The Abbey, Tea and Tattered Pages, San Francisco Book Co., and all the rest. Of course this is not including the awesome bookstore/boutique at the Centre Pompidou and all the FNACs I plan on visiting to stock up on cheap french livres de poche.  My partner in crime is giving me hell for thinking about bringing a small suitcase in addition to my large suitcase just in case I buy too many books (or wine). He'll just have to deal.

Anyway, as I think about this year in reading, I have to say I'm slightly disappointed.  Because I'm OCD, I like to keep a list of everything I've read in a year (you probably do too, right?) and it's neat to look over.  Some months I was a reading machine and other months I could barely finish a fluffy book. I read a lot of comics in January and July and surprisingly my most reading-est month was October. I posted my list below in case you're also an OCD list maker/checker (also, post your list in the comments if you keep one, of course I want to examine what you read too!) I also set some "new year" goals for 2011 for reading:

1. I WILL finish The Instructions and start and finish Infinte Jest. I just will.
2. I will find another comic series to devour (maybe Transmetropolitan?)
3. I will read over 100 books again.
5. Read more published-in-2011 books so reviews and recommendations can be timely.

Regarding #3 - I know, I know, size doesn't matter, but come on. It kind of does. Weirdly, I read the most when I was in graduate school and working a full time job; I think I hit 120 books that year.  So really, I have no excuses. If I can just figure out a way to not fall asleep every time I lay down to read, I might actually accomplish it.

What are your book reading goals, if you have any? Can you recommend any good non-fiction? Do you think I'm weird for having book goals?

My full list after the jump

January 2010

1. Hard Rain  Falling – Don Carpenter
2. Nine Stories – J.D. Salinger
3. A Way of Life Like Any Other – Darcy O’Brian
4. Stitches: a memoir – David Small (graphic novel)
5. A Fair Maiden – Joyce Carol Oates
6. Scott Pilgrim Vol. 1-5 – Bryan Lee O’Malley
7. The Walking Dead Vol. 1-11 – Robert Kirkman

February 2010

8. There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales – Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
9. And The Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks – Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs
10. The Boat – Nam Le

March 2010

11. Burmese Days – George Orwell
12. Galapagos – Kurt Vonnegut

April 2010

13. Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain
14. Committed – Elizabeth Gilbert

May 2010

15. Fishtown (comic) – Kevin Colden
16. Any Easy Intimacy (comic) - Jeffrey Brown
17. Eat When You Feel Sad – Zachary German
18. Dimanche and Other Stories – Irene Nemirovsky
19. The Plague – Albert Camus
20. Livability – Jon Raymond

June 2010

21. The Chrysalids – John Wyndham
22. The Most Beautiful Book in the World – Eric- Emmanuel Schmitt
23. Hotel Iris – Yoko Ogawa
24. Medium Raw – Anthony Bourdain
25. On a Dollar a Day – Christopher Greenslate & Kerri Leonard
26. How Did You Get This Number – Sloane Crosley

July 2010

27. Mr. Peanut – Adam Ross
28. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne – Brian Moore
29. After the Fall – Kylie Ladd
30. Y the Last Man, vol. 1-10 – Brian K. Vaughn
31. Bad Marie – Marcy Dermansky

August 2010

32. A Common Pornography – Kevin Sampell
33. Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy
34. The Group – Mary McCarthy
35. My Abandonment – Peter Rock
36. True Grit – Charles Portis

37. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – David Mitchell

September 2010

38. Freedom – Jonathan Franzen
39. Sourland – Joyce Carol Oates
40. Room – Emma Donaghue

October 2010

41. Await Your Reply – Dan Chaon
42. Skippy Dies – Paul Murray
43. 703: How I Lost More Than a Quarter of a Ton and Gained a Life – Nancy Makin
44. Let the Right One In – John Ajuvide Lindqvist
45. Brooklyn – Colm Toibin
46. Outer Dark – Cormac McCarthy
47. Let The Great World Spin – Colum McCann
48. This is Where I Leave You – Jonathon Tropper
49. The Secret Lives of People in Love – Simon Van Booy
50. We Were the Mulvaneys – Joyce Carol Oates
51. Little Bird From Heaven – Joyce Carol Oates
52. Walking Dead #12

November 2010

53. Celebrity Chekhov – Ben Greenman
54. The World According to Garp – John Irving
55. Devil in the White City – Erik Larson

December 2010

56. Arkansas – John Brandon
57. The Imperfectionists – Tom Rochman
58. Where Men Win Glory – Jon Krakauer
59. Mr. Toppit – Charles Elton
60. Just Kids – Patti Smith

Books I attempted but failed to finish (but still have illusions of finishing)
1. The Instructions – Adam Levin
2. Lords of Misrule – Jaimy Gordon
3. Wuthering Heights
4. I, Robot – Isaac Asimov
5. Foundation I – Isaac Asimov

What to Read Wednesday: Best Books of 2010

Ok, confession time. My reading list this year did not include as many new releases as I would have liked, therefore, instead of doing a top 10 list of books published in 2010, I’m going to do my favorite books that I *read* in 2010.  I just didn’t read enough new books to even justify having a top 10 list, but I swear, I'll do better next year!  I picked my favorite new book of the year along with my favorite non-new book out of the top 10.

In no particular order (or more accurately, the order in which I read them this year):

10. Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter

I picked up this book on a whim while I was going through my NYRB phase (which I’m still going through actually).  The summary on the back intrigued me and the book didn’t disappoint.  I have to admit that I have a big soft spot for gritty, down-and-out narratives taking place in Pacific Northwest/California during the 1940s and 50s. This is the story of an unwanted kid who, upon escaping from an orphanage, grows up in rough pool halls and makes his way down the western coast hustling money and getting into fights, which at one point lands him in prison.  This grim book follows the journey of a man who is unable to escape his fate and is very similar to Georges Simenon's roman dur novels.

More after the jump!

 9. And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs
Though written early on in Kerouac and Burroughs’ careers, this book was finally published in 2009, more than 60 years after it was written and is a true account of the murder of one of their friends.  The story is told in alternating chapters by both Kerouac and Burroughs and it’s quite enjoyable to see the two different writing styles back to back as well as see the different points of view on the incident.  The story itself is intensely compelling and I really liked the window into the seedy and often poor bohemian lifestyle of the beat generation.

8. Burmese Days by George Orwell
I started really getting into Orwell this year and my life is better because of it.  Of course, I read 1984 and Animal Farm in high school like most people and adored them, but his other novels are something altogether different in a good and surprising way, and it’s a shame that he’s mostly known for the previous two books.  This is one of his classic colonialist books and does an excellent job of transporting you to 1920s imperialist Burma, where the white British soldiers have exclusive clubs where they can drink gin and look down on the natives, whom them employ as servants and mistresses.  Based on Orwell’s own experiences as an expatriate soldier in Burma, this is a story about the waning days of Britain’s imperialism after World War I.  The novel touches on race, class and politics while keeping a dark sense of humor and ultimately draws a bleak picture of 20th century colonialism.

7. Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
This debut novel from Adam Ross was a close finalist for my favorite novel of 2010 and I'm sad to see that it wasn't on any of the "Best Of" lists that I read. That’s unfortunate because this is an extremely dark and fascinatingly imaginative book that has the best opening line of a book I’ve read in a long time: “When David Pepin first dreamed of killing his wife, he didn’t kill her himself. He dreamed convenient acts of God.”  The book itself follows the lives of several men and explores the dark side of marriage.  When David Pepin’s wife indeed ends up dead, Mr. Pepin is investigated by 2 detectives, Ward Hastroll and Sam Sheppard (yes THE Sam Sheppard who in real life was accused of murdering his wife Marilyn).  The investigation eventually leads them to a bizarre wife murdering hit man named Mobius and further alludes to the repetitiveness and futility of marriage (mobius strips and M.C. Escher play minor roles in the book).  Along the way,  the book explores the grim marriages of the three male characters and the most intriguing, in my opinion, was the re-imagining of Sam and Marilyn Sheppard’s relationship and eventual downfall.  There are a few weak areas of the book including some dreamy sequences and leaps of imagination, but overall this is a richly complex book that will make you think and ask questions for weeks after finishing.

       See review here

       See review here

       See review here

       See review here

Now for the good stuff! My favorite "old" book of 2010:
I’ll be honest, I’m always wary of hugely popular authors that seem to churn out a million books, so I wasn’t really eager to read any of Irving's books.  However, I discovered that Modern Library had republished three of his best known novels (The World According to Garp, Prayer for Owen Meany, and Cider House Rules) and the edition for World According to Garp was so nice that I bought the book despite my stubbornness.  When I finally got around to reading it, I wondered what took me so long! Narrated by T.S. Garp himself, the book covers his mother's eccentric beginnings and anti-men ideology and follows both her and Garp throughout their lives.  The story takes you to a private boys school where Garp falls in love, to Vienna where Garp and his mother live while he tries to become a great author, to the suburbs where Garp raises a family and endures tragic heartbreak. There's also a group of women who cut off their tongues, grimy circus performers and a transsexual woman who used to be a tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles. This is an epic and beautiful book that held me captive for all 720 pages and I already can't wait until I read it again.

and, DRUMROLL, my favorite "new" book of 2010:
I wasn't really sure what to expect after reading the vague but inruiging book jacket summary, so the book took me by surprise with how absolutely incredible it was.  And like the book jacket summary, my review is equally vague because the plot simply covers so much! This story begins at a somewhat prestigious boys school called Seabrook in Dublin and follows the life of a gang of boys who live at the academy year round. Within the first few pages, the protagonist, Skippy, dies on the floor of a donut shop after writing his love's name in the jelly squeezed out of a donut. The rest of this darkly comic novel is spent backtracking to the beginning of that autumn when a mysterious and rotund new student named Ruprecht Van Doren transfers to Seabrook and becomes Skippy's roommate.  The circle of boys ponder quantum physics, lust after girls, get in fights and generally act like dirty minded teenage boys.  At the same time, there are also salcious and entertaining sub plots involving drugs, slutty pop star adoration, pedophilic priests, adulterous teachers and sexy coed liasons. This is truly a sweeping novel and is so deliciously captivating that despite its length (672 pages), you won't be able to put it down and won't want it to end.

Honorable Mentions:
Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky and Livability: Stories by Jon Raymond

Now it's your turn, what were your favorite books of (or just read in) 2010? Seriously, I wanna know.

Book Report: The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

I picked up The Imperfectionists on a whim, really.  It hadn't been on my radar until someone recommended it to me at a bookstore over Thanksgiving, so I bought it, partly because I loved the black negative space of the cover. Needing a break from some of the larger books I’ve been plodding through, I started reading it and was surprised at how much I absolutely loved this debut novel from Tom Rachman.

The book throws you into the chaotic life of a struggling international newspaper based in Rome, as told through the voices of the different copywriters, reporters and editors who work there.  Interspersed between the stories of the characters in the present are short chapters that follow the founding and evolution of the paper under Cyrus Ott, including the Ott family saga.  The stories themselves are a mix of tragic and comic elements, focusing on the everyday problems of  the characters; sometimes the paper plays a large role in their lives and sometimes it’s merely in the background.  The emphasis is really on each character’s peculiar life and the way in which the newspaper touches them.  Though the themes in each account are common (adultery, death, disillusionment, loneliness), the prose is timeless and crackles with wit and satire.  Many of the chapters had me laughing and I was genuinely sad to finish this novel because I wanted it to keep going.   

The overlapping and interconnected way in which the narratives are written really worked well.  Instead of being simply a collection of fragmented short stories, they all weave together to form a cohesive overall chronicle of the minor peaks and eventual decline of a small newspaper and its employees.  Not surprisingly, the book is written by a newspaper man himself, which gives it an air of authenticity and credibility. Though he claims to have always wanted to be a writer, Tom Rachman was a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press and an editor at the International Herald Tribune in Paris before attempting this book.  While the novel may suffer from over-hype and somewhat clich├ęd metaphors, its charm lies in the quiet awkwardness of the characters and it would be a crime to dismiss it.

What to Read Wednesday: Bears that dance, bears that don’t.

Because I’m in a grumpy, coffee-deprived mood, I’m feeling especially murderous, therefore my recommendation today will be The Most Violent Book I’ve Ever Read, better known as Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy.  Also, not coincidentally, it’s one of my favorite books ever.  Cormac McCarthy, probably best known for writing All The Pretty Horses, The Road and No Country for Old Men, wrote this book in 1985, and despite not being conventionally popular (outside of McCarthy devotees), this is by far the best book he’s ever written, in my opinion.

On the surface it looks like a classic western: outlaws, Indians, scalpings,  riding on horses through the Wild West. But don’t let that dissuade you, because this book is so much more than that.  The loose story follows a teenager, only referred to as “The Kid,” who runs away from his father at which point he first meets the hairless, obese and ominous Judge Holden, who makes a horrific first impression.  The Kid then joins a rough, marauding gang that hunts Indians for the bounty on their scalps.  As the gang makes their way along the US-Mexico border, they encounter ruthless Indian mobs, desiccated villages and encoutner The Judge again, who becomes their (almost biblical) leader.  He guides them, sometimes under the threat of death, throughout the rough and barren countryside, hunting both Indians and bystanders.  Many of the characters meet gruesome or meaningless fates and the end of the novel speeds ahead several decades to a brawling barroom featuring a dancing bear that includes one of my favorite quotes from any book:

"There is room on the stage for one beast and one alone. All others are destined for a night that is eternal and without name. One by one they will step down into the darkness before the footlamps. Bears that dance, bears that don’t."

Throughout the book, the reader is bombarded with extremely graphic and senseless violence, over and over AND OVER again. However, layered within all the brutality and sadism are subtle themes and allusions that can be teased out and interpreted in many ways. This book provokes questions about the brutality of man, violence and war and perhaps the meaninglessness of the human race. Despite all the violence and bleak themes, I adored this book, and when all the dust settles, you’ll still be thinking about it for weeks afterward.  It's not an easy read, in both subject matter and prose, but very much worth the effort.

****Warning: This book is not for the faint of heart or the morally sensitive.


Hooray, it’s Friday! Lately my favorite part of Friday, aside from getting to wear jeans at work, has been #FridayReads! Friday Reads is the brain child of Beth Anne Patrick AKA The Book Maven. Ms. Patrick has blogged about books for various organizations (like Publisher’s Weekly and Barnes and Noble) and currently runs a web-TV show focusing on books, called ‘The Book Studio’.  Recently, she began encouraging people to post what they were reading each Friday on twitter using the hashtag #FridayReads and soon its popularity spread all over the internet. Now it’s up for a Mashable Award for Best Internet Meme (To vote, go to Mashable, sign in under twitter or facebook, then select “Best Internet Meme category, then vote for #FridayReads once a day until December 15th!)  

As if sharing what you were reading with your friends wasn't fun enough, every time #FridayReads hits another 1,000 posters, there are lots of awesome prizes given away, like signed copies of books, lit magazine subscriptions and first editions, thanks to generous donations from publishers and indie media!

What I love about #FridayReads is its philosophy – “The more people who share what they're reading, the more people get excited about reading. And when people get excited about reading all sorts of incredible things happen...we get smarter; we think more; we're entertained; we learn things...the list is endless”

That’s exactly why I love books and reading and posting about what I’m reading. The more I talk about books, the more other people talk about books and the more people get EXCITED about books. I started pushing my Goodreads updates to twitter as an experiment and was really surprised and excited to see how that was able to start conversations with other people about the books I was reading.  

So, without further ado, my #FridayReads are Arkansas by John Brandon and The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman.  What are your #FridayReads? (And don’t forget to post it to twitter too!)

What To Read Wednesday

In honor of the snowflakes that are currently swirling outside my window, today’s recommendation is a favorite of mine that I read several years ago: Snow Angels by Stewart O'Nan (You may remember the 2007 movie-based-on-the-book of the same name starring Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell).  While this book isn’t exactly about snow, it IS very atmospheric and quietly beautiful. Snow Angels is the story of Arthur Parkinson, who looks back on the snowy winter of his parents’ breakup when he was 14 and living in a blue collar, eastern Pennsylvanian town.  The novel follows two parallel stories, that of Arthur and his troubled family and also the chaotic life of his former babysitter, Annie.  The two narratives overlap when a murder shakes the community and Arthur's family begins to unravel. 

Despite the sparse and simple prose, the novel affected me on a very emotional level.   Not all of the characters are likable; in fact most of them have many bad qualities and they act in frustrating yet realistic ways.  Ultimately, these complex characters are what make the novel so effective and relatable.  They're real people and behave in very real ways and many of the problems they face hit close to home.  Also, I have to admit, I loved that the main character is in the marching band, because, well, I  used to be a band geek too and we need more representation in fiction.  The book reads very quickly and has sex and violence in spades, but it's not a book for people who like thrilling, dramatic stories.  This novel's power is in its quiet pauses and complex characters and I recommend reading it on a cold snowy day with a big mug of coffee.


According to the AP, Orpah will be announcing a new book club selection on Monday, December 6th. I'm always curious to see what she picks because inevitabley everyone in my office will be reading it (lots of Orpah devotees here).  And generally, I think most of her book clubs picks are good books, so if it gets more people reading good books who may not otherwise have done so, then hooray!  Who wants to take bets on what the next book selection will be?  Just for fun, I'm gonna guess either One Day by David Nicholls, which just feels so Oprah's-book-club-y to me or more hopefully, The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, which is what I would pick, mostly because I'm really excited to read it.  Comment and tell me what you think/would want it to be!