Thursday, December 20, 2012

Best of 2012: Day 4

Right about now, I'm trying to figure out what Gianna is giving me for Christmas.  I am sure she's debating between Zorro related first aid accessories and a trip to Banff National Park.  It's a tough choice.  Anyway, here are a few more of our favorite books of the year.


Full Body Burden: Growing up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats by Kristen Iversen
Kristen Iversen
The term "full body burden" refers to the amount of radioactivity which can be safely tolerated by a human body through its lifetime.  These are the things you learn when you live downwind from a top secret nuclear weapons plant, as Iversen did. This is a fascinating account of Rocky Flats, the plutonium factory just outside of Denver.

I love talking about this book; it's an absolute page turner and completely riveting. It's what I like to call a ‘holy shit’ book. "Wait, there were barrels of plutonium sitting outside the plant for years and years…and they were leaking? Holy shit! Wait, there is literally tons of plutonium missing? Holy shit!" See?  [Look! Gianna bought Liz a first edition of Mrs. Dalloway, signed by Virginia Woolf in her signature purple ink? HOLY SHIT!]

This book has everything: government cover ups, nuclear accidents, plant fires, poisoned water, birth defects, and cancer. Don’t worry though, all ends well; Rocky Flats is now a wildlife refuge. You can camp there. Have fun.

The Plain in Flames by Juan Rulfo
Juan Rulfo
While not a new book by any stretch of the imagination, it is a new translation with two original stories restored in this version.

I’ve written about this book a bit, but I think it's worth repeating that I had never read Rulfo before, but this short collection is one of the best I have read in years. This book immediately went on my all time favorite list.  


Sometimes good things happen to good people.  The Random House world was buzzing about Cheryl Strayed's memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail--the anti-Eat Pray Love--months before it was released, and booksellers seconded our enthusiasm.  What we didn't know at that time was that Cheryl had been writing the "Dear Sugar" advice column for The Rumpus anonymously, and that what started as a standard advice column would become wise, compassionate ruminations on love.  We didn't know that Sugar would be revealed as Cheryl, that Vintage would publish the "Dear Sugar" essays as Tiny, Beautiful Things, and we didn't know that Oprah would restart her book club and select Wild as her first pick.  We certainly didn't know, either, that Cheryl would be relentless in her desire to meet readers and sign books.  I think she toured for about a year, all told, and she's hitting the road again when Wild comes out in paperback in 2013.
Cheryl Strayed

What we didn't know is Cheryl, but many of us had the opportunity to meet her in person, and many, many more readers had the opportunity to meet her through her writing.  As detailed in Wild, Cheryl hit rock bottom after her mother's sudden death (a rapid decline from cancer), the break-up of her family support, dead-end jobs, dead-end relationships, and self-medicating.  On a bit of a whim, she decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Arizona to Oregon, alone.  Through mishaps and pains and the drudgery of placing one foot in front of the other, she begins to pull herself back from the edge.  Along the way, she sees beautiful landscapes and meets other hikers and comes to terms with her demons.  And the Cheryl in Wild is, from what I can tell, the real Cheryl--tough, wise, compassionate, and an author for whom we all cheer.  She's good people.

In Between Days by Andrew Porter
I love this novel.  I love this novel so much that I've written about it, like, three times before on our little blog.  Here's what I said one of those times:
Set in Houston (how often can you say that about literary fiction?), Porter's novel is the story of a family imploding.  Long married parents have split, the older son--a recent college graduate who wants to be a poet--is working food service and attending reckless parties at night, and the younger daughter, Chloe, has been asked to leave her college under mysterious circumstances.  The story gets rolling with Chloe coming home and refusing to discuss why she's no longer welcome at school.  Here is a classically told, great novel along the lines of a Raymond Carver or John Cheever, and I'm willing to state it here: one day Andrew Porter will win a Pulitzer or National Book Award.
Andrew Porter
Andrew Porter is a literary writer on the ascent, and my fervent hope is that he'll continue writing so that I can continue raving about his work.  I also sort of hope that he wins major awards so that reputable sources of information discover that we harassed him with our Generally Horrible Questions.  I want a writer to give an interview with Barbara Walters and state that his/her biggest regret wasn't the sex tape, it was the foolish decision to choose between Liz and Gianna (and the correct answer is still "Liz").

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