Well, here we are. Another holiday season gone by, and you were actually fortunate enough for your Great-Aunt Sue Ann to give you a gift card to Borders or Barnes & Noble or Amazon rather than the usual pair of puce and cream macramé socks. But what to get with it?
Here are my unsung, or sometimes sung at too low of a volume, gems of the past year. This won't be a list with your Skinny Bitches and Looming Towers and Eat Pray Loves and Ann Coulters and Water For Elephants and Oprah Book Clubs and Age of Turbulences and James Patterson's team of ghost writers and et bloody ceteras. (C'mon. You can't tell me that you expect a single person to crank out 5 new novels in a calendar year without using ghost writers, even with such incomprehensible twaddle as Patterson usually releases under his name. That's just crazy talk.) This is for the real book lovers that can venture beyond the best-sellers list.
I know what you're thinking. Dude. How come this strange OC person could be qualified to judge what could be a good book, much less one of the best books of the year. Simply put, and most of you don't know this, I've been working at the bookstores in Denver International Airport for the past 6 months. So I'm constantly picking up random books and leafing through them. And when I start unconsciously reaching for a handy place to sit, I know I have a good one. (Now all I need is a way to spot my manager before he spots me first.) (And no. I don't get any kickbacks from these links. So click away without fear of accidentally supporting an anonymous blogger.)
First, for the occasional high-school girl that randomly gets to this page via the Next Blog button while still laughing at the incompetent emo threatening to cut his fingernails, I give you the Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac. Gabrielle Zevin brings us the occasional daydream of every high-school student: What if I was able to start here at school all over again? In this one, one high-school junior is is about to do so after falling down some icy stairs and waking up to zero memory of the last four years of her life. Remarkably well-written and highly accessible, even to those odd socialites that insist they only read the Clique series and are very stuck-up about it.
Next up on the list... Hmmm. Let me guess. You've heard of the Dangerous Book for Boys, right? And the Daring Book for Girls as well? Good. Now have you read the Dangerous Book for Dogs? I didn't think so. This is every good dog's essential companion in the ever-lasting quest to become the bad dog that they always wanted to be. From proper ways to get out of the yard undetected, to cat-chasing tips, to a taste comparison between Dolce & Gabanna leather slides and Kenneth Cole moccasin-stitched loafers, it's all here. Pay special attention to the etiquette section on crotch-sniffing. Please. Your humans will thank you. (And yes. It is a parody. But I'm still waiting for the Daring Book for Cats to come out.)
Now, for you cooking fanatics out there comes this collection of sordid tales of the kitchen called Don't Try This At Home. All of us have a war story about when things go horribly wrong in that strange place-where-food-is-put-together-place. (Yes, even when you accidentally microwaved the foil-wrapped leftovers because you were too hungover to notice. That counts.) With little of the pretension of Anthony Bourdain's ego-stroke known as Kitchen Confidential, this collection of Murphy's Law-related stories will cheer you up immensely. Whether it is the lobsters that are off or the kitchen is flooded or the cake is in 15 pieces on the Long Island Expressway, it is proof positive that the more (self?)important the chef, the larger the associated screw-ups.
Music lovers and musicians alike will enjoy this book by Daniel Levitin called This Is Your Brain On Music. A former music producer turned cognitive psychologist, Levitin delves into such obscure elements as neurobiology, neuropsychology, cognitive psychology, empirical philosophy, Gestalt psychology, memory theory, and neurochemistry; and all in language that is easily accessible to anyone, regardless of whether you can carry a tune in a bucket or not. Read it. Love it. Pass it on. Only try to get it back afterwards. Unfortunately, my copy is still in the hands of my manager's family in El Paso. Hopefully I can get it back one of these days. (Then again, I'm on my 9th copy of Ishmael, 6th copy of Atlas Shrugged and 3rd copy of Shampoo Planet, so probably not. I have a habit of buying books that migrate.)
For us science-fiction lovers out there, a new release of an old trilogy has hit the shelves. The Chronicles of the Black Company, from way back in the '80s, has returned to print once more. Not individually, mind you, but in an onmibus edition that will keep you well and truly happy with life for a serious stretch of time. This is one of those books that most of the "professional" booksellers never believe would sell, but it marches straight out of the store whenever new copies arrive, in lockstep with a very happy new owner.
For you current affairs fanatics, I have three words for you: Band of Sisters. With the ever-increasing number of females serving in the military, and particularly in the Iraqi theater of operations, this is one of the first books to chronicle their stories. If I had time, I could wax poetic for hours about this book, but I would run out of metaphors far too quickly for my taste. Pick up a copy at the next possible opportunity. Just don't ask me for one. I'm sold out.
And finally, for those fiction lovers out there, comes my one extraordinary odd choice: The Gum Thief. Of course, for those that know the Me-Behind-The-Keyboard, any Coupland novel is far from an odd choice. I've been a raving fanboy since I first read Generation X in college. It's practically expected that I love and promote a new Coupland novel, sometimes before I even read it. Which, unfortunately, was what I was doing with JPod, which I tossed aside in disgust at the self-aggrandizing and self-promotion even while chortling at the occasional self-abuse. In the Gum Thief, he returns to what he does best: real people in real situation talking about their real lives... and how much they really suck. Most people wouldn't expect a novel about a 40-something alcoholic and 20-something overweight goth girl, both working at a Staples, to be interesting. Most people would be sadly mistaken.
So what are you still reading this for? Go and read something with quality for a change. G'wan. Shoo.