We've seen mistletoe and holly, heard the cha ching of unhinged commerce, seen jolly elves hustling parents in the mall, noticed a marked increase in the number of John Hughes' movies on TV, and woken up to rainy 45 degree days cursing the world for its lack of festive spirit. It all points to one thing. It must be time to make lists!
Rather than make a list of my favorite books published in 2014, this year I've decided to feature a few of the books I've enjoyed the most over the past 12 months. It's a mix of old and new. As it happens, only one was published in 2014 and another won't be released until early 2015, There are also a few greats that have been around long enough that I am a little embarrassed not to have gotten into them yet. But December is List Season and no time for sheepishness. So here goes:
Give Us a Kiss by Daniel Woodrell (1996)
Woodrell in best known for Winter's Bone, his 2006 novel that was adapted for the 2010 Jennifer Lawrence film, but Give Us a Kiss really hits all the right chords for me. It's a noir-ish tale featuring a cast of marginalized Ozark mountain seekers and petty criminals, but it brims with humor, truth, and sparkling prose.
Gringos by Charles Portis (1991)
Portis is an American treasure best known for True Grit (1968) and the two films it inspired. Gringos is much lighter fare. A goofy mystery featuring American ex-pats in Yucatan, Mexico, hippie criminals, UFOs, and possibly the end of the world.
Turtle Diary - Russell Hoban (1975)
Two strangers in London, both feeling isolated, doubting whether they'll ever finding someone again, come together over an inexplicable common urge to free two sea turtles from the London Zoo. Hoban may be best known as a writer for children (for the Francis the Badger character and Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas). Perhaps some of the empathy and heart required to relate to children is the magic touch that makes this novel work so well.
Into the Savage Country by Shannon Burke (2015)
One of the perks of being a librarian is getting to read advanced copies of new books before they're released. Into the Savage Country won't be out until March, 2015, but keep an eye out for it. This is a straight forward adventure story of the kind we don't get enough of any more. For fans of The Sister Brothers and The Art of Fielding.
On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee (2014)
Trying to avoid dystopian fiction in 2014 would have been an impossible task, but Chang-rae Lee set the bar so high with this novel that the rest of the endtimes hoard could confidently be ignored. In a brilliantly imagined future America in steep decline, one fish-tank diver in an aqua-culture labor community dares step outside the walls her corporate compound and into the mix of wild lands and exclusive enclaves of wealth beyond in search of the man she loves. It's a story that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
Money by Martin Amis (1984)
This is one of Martin Amis's best known novels and I'm not sure how I missed it until now. It recounts the rise and fall of John Self and his endless thirst for money and all the trappings of wealth in New York of the early 1980s. In all honesty, it's a pretty disgusting book and John Self is horrible. I wanted to take a shower after I finished it. If you liked, or were at least unaccountably drawn to, American Psycho, this one could be for you.
The Ice Storm by Rick Moody (1994)
Another great I missed somehow, The Ice Storm is a big novel of American culture condensed into one tragic weekend during an ice storm in an affluent suburban Connecticut community in 1973. It's tragic but also deeply empathetic, asking the questions: "On the other hand, which life wasn't heroic? Just living was heroic. Just talking to your family in the morning, before coffee, was heroic."
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
My shame at not having read Rebecca until now was nearly strong enough to keep me from listing it here, but this book is just too good not to share. If there is anyone else out there who can see the thread that connects Wuthering Heights to Alfred Hitchcock, this one is for you.