Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Best Books of 2011 (Well, books that I read in 2011 anyway)

So it’s the end of the year and everyone is doing best of the year lists. I’m looking for that sweet, sweet ad revenue, so I’m not above pandering to the masses’ desire for someone else’s opinion of what they should have been into this year. And since I also like continuity in my blog, here’s my list of Best Books of 2011(Well, books that I read in 2011 anyway).

By Amy Sedaris
This is best described as a coffee table/bathroom (if you’re that type of person) book, and it’s awesome. This book, from the genius minds behind Strangers With Candy, mixes actual crafting ideas with absurd inventions, delivers hilarious side notes from an old, insane married couple, and tells stories about crafting with the mentally unstable or knitting while high on meth. The inside of the book's sleeve features Amy Sedaris with an Indian Native American style mini-dress and exposed thong, so it’s everything you could ask for in a book that’s intended to be left on the table for any visitors to sift through.

So I received this book as a gift (twice I think) in the past few years, and I had been meaning to get around to it. I even read the first two chapters earlier this year. I knew the story from hearing about it on the news and from several people, and I was truly interested, and even inspired, by this guy. He started a whole bunch of schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He was doing amazing humanitarian work in the region of the world that probably needs it the most. And then he wrote a best-selling, world-renown book about his experiences. And it was mostly a lie. 60 Minutes, and a much more respectable author and adventurer Jon Krakauer, called Mortenson on his elaborations. He published a rebuttal, but the fact remains that he lied about key aspects of his book, and he hadn’t helped nearly as many people as he claimed. Granted, if he helped one person, that’s great, but there’s no reason to lie about it. Especially when people are donating to your charity and it’s not being run correctly.
So I actually didn’t read this one. Good thing, cuz I would have been kinda upset.

By Ken Kesey
As I said yesterday, reading in general is very important. But, I believe novels are especially important. Fiction novels explore the inner workings of people’s minds and attempt to show how their actual personalities, their identities, are created. Novels can help create empathy within the reader. It shows you that there are other people just like you, and others who are nothing like you, and even others who have some similar traits yet many different traits as well. Novels explore life and all its complexities.
And not many novelists do that quite as well as Ken Kesey. His second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, follows the life of the Stamper family, a clan of loggers living in a small town in Oregon. The other loggers in town have formed a union and started a strike in town, but the Stampers are too stubborn and ornery to do anything but keep working. I can’t do the story justice by describing the plot, so I’ll just say the book engulfs you and really places you into the story. There were days when I read the book while on my back porch, with the sun shining down, and I felt like I was there cutting down trees with Hank and Joe Ben.
Now, I do have to make a confession. I started reading this book when Bush was still in office (the first one). It’s a long book, and I don’t have a lot of free time to read novels, but it is also not easy to read. The narrator switches without warning, it changes from first to third person rapidly, and it is often written in a stream of consciousness style. There are also a lot of back stories that aren’t revealed until later on, so a lot of what happens in the beginning holds much more significance as you read on. And all of this adds to the mystical feel of this book. It takes you to the small town, working class, Northwest corner of America and lets you view the world through this family of unforgettable characters, living their ordinary-yet-anything-but-average American lives. 
I could put it down for weeks at a time (unwillingly) and when I came back, I could submerse myself immediately back into the story. Or I could read one page a day over and over and simply enjoy the amazing writing of a master story teller. Some chapters (Sections? Portions? There aren’t really chapters per se) that deal with nothing but thoughts floating in the heads of several different main—and secondary—characters, and other chapters contain some of the most powerful scenes and clear imagery ever described. The book is a true journey, and I highly recommend it, if you are ready to take that plunge into the Oregon wilderness.

So, that’s it really. I didn’t get to read a lot of books this year, but I finished Kesey, so that's good. I would include some of the articles I assign for class, but I’ve read all of them before this year, so it wouldn't fit with the theme. I will recommend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “A Letter fromBirmingham Jail” though. It is a reminder of what our country went through in its recent past, and how people of integrity must often times stand up in the face of an unjust status quo to make historic, positive change. It’s also beautifully written. Dr. King had a way with words, even when that way sometimes involved stealing them. Huh, maybe I’ll give that Mortensen guy another chance…nahhhh.

I Love You All…Class Dismissed.

1 comment:

J.J. Treat said...

I'm surprised you didn't have Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom" on there... every English professor in the world was touting it as brilliant. (I personally thought it was good but overrated.)

Highly recommend "The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach... and I'm in the middle of Stephen King's "11/22/63" right now. One of the best books I've read in awhile.