2011 is well under way, and I for one think it’s gonna be great. I’m a sucker for the beginning of a new year. I make resolutions, take inventory of my accomplishments, acknowledge and forget my shortcomings, and then I start looking forward to all the great books I’ll be reading over the next twelve months. It’s a great time, and I’m blessed, thanks to advanced readers from incredible publisher rep’s, to get a little head start on my 2011 reading. I’ve compiled a short list of what has caught my eye so far. I should be clear that, with the exception of Open City: A Novel, Galore, and The Tiger’s Wife I haven’t read any of these books, this is simply a list of anticipation. My Pavlovian juices are flowing even thinking about them. Here are some of the titles I’ll be looking forward to in 2011:
Craig McDonald has created one of the most interesting series characters in recent years with macho crime fiction writer Hector Lassiter, "the man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives". On Wednesday, January 26th, at 7PM we'll be discussing one of the best in the series, Toros and Torsos, that finds Hector swept up in several killings inspired by surrealist art. The book covers four periods of Hector's life that tie into history: the 1935 Key West hurricane, the Spanish Civil War (where the fascists used surrealists to design torture chambers), his stint as a rewrite man for Orson Wells' Lady Of Shanghai ( occurring at the same time as the “Black Dahlia” murder), and post-revolution Cuba.
To enjoy most celebrity memoirs, you must first be a fan of said celebrity. Oftentimes, that doesn't even help. But in the case of country music singer/songwriter Rodney Crowell's Chinaberry Sidewalks, all that's required is a love of a really exceptional story. Raised in Houston in the 1950s and 60s, Crowell's early years are a crazy mix of hilarious and harrowing, his introductory chapter a remembering of pointing a loaded rifle at his father in order to break up a party when Crowell was only 5 years old. His was a childhood rife with dysfunction, so that even the lighter moments are imbued with a certain degree of tension. By the same token, his was a family filled with humor, so that even the darkest moments have a certain hum. To put it a different way, if Rodney Crowell's family hadn't existed, Flannery O'Connor would have had to make them up... and then Johnny Cash would have had to sing about it. Instead, Johnny Cash's former son-in-law sings his own songs and writes his own story, and it is as solid a story as you may read this year. I'd also recommend having Crowell's album “The Houston Kid” along as a sort of soundtrack. This is a story of love and remembrance, of struggle and survival, of family and forgiveness. Both wild and winsome, Chinaberry Sidewalks is a must read.
In the 90's it was the thing for all comedians to get a TV pilot and four out of five failed pretty miserably because, well, they weren't funny. Now that that fad has passed for the most part, it seems to be if you're a person of humor, you need to write a book of humor (and it's much more cost effective than 30 minutes of prime time air space and all the cast and crew that goes along with it). But, unfortunately, it still seems that four out of five really aren't that funny, or at least, not consistently funny over 200+ pages. The typical comedian's book goes like this: Intro, stand up routine, memoir, stand up routine, memoir, stand up routine, memoir, etc. It's the memoir part that tends to feel like filler, while the stand up routines are often recycled material or just devoid of the delivery that comedians work so hard to perfect. Not surprisingly Patton Oswalt's new release Zombie Spaceship Wasteland follows the same format, but manages to have a much worthier outcome. The comedy bits are hilarious. Patton follows his knack for description by adding new light to old standards like Dungeons & Dragons, Vagabond comics, and Werewolves and Lollipops' movie punch up bit. While satisfyingly entertaining, it's actually his memoir bits that offer the most reward. A good memoir should be equal parts reflection, self-searching and storytelling. Growing up in a suburban 80's Virginia that catered zilch to his personal geekdom left Patton with a hunger for substance and frustration with mediocrity that only the long road and his still-blooming career has been able to appease. Oswalt's reflection shows such clear hindsight how small events can encompass an entire upbringing, making him the rare comedian/philosopher that can see through the meaningless fluff the world often chokes on. He's basically George Carlin for geeks. Ultimately, you have to respect a man who can blend the insult "You're going to miss everything cool and die angry" with references to Blade Runner and the Pixies and top it off with an alliterated fart joke. Patton Oswalt will be at BookPeople on Saturday, Jan. 15th at 2pm to sign copies of Zombie Spaceship Wasteland. --Nolan Fellows