Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Best of 2011: Gianna's Picks from Publishers We Don't Work For

It’s that time of year when every idiot with a computer posts a Top 10 or Top 20 or God forbid a Top 30 list! Hell, the New York Times Book Review picks 100 notable books. We love that time of year and we too are idiots so we are proud to announce our Top 30 books from either UT Press or Random House....starting the day after Thanksgiving. First, though, we will write up a sweet, little warm-up list of our Top 10 books from other publishers. That’s 40 books people! We will not be posting on Thanksgiving for fear our blog will make you nauseous. You’re welcome. [This blog is better than my cooking. There's a turkey and cheese Hot Pocket I highly recommend!]

Gianna’s List of Best Books from Publishers We Don't Work For [and yes, I know this is grammatically incorrect, but "for whom we don't work" sounds way too pretentious for Gianna's #10 pick]

1. Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman.

I loves me some Scientology.
Oh, full disclosure, I visited the Scientology Center the same month that I first moved to Austin. You have to understand I didn’t know anyone here! I was lonely and someone asked if I wanted to watch a free movie and I mean honestly, I love movies, and free movies? Sold. Turns out, it was overpriced. Anyway, after the “movie,” I was invited up to take a test, like a personality test. Well shit man, I love those too! So about an hour later I find myself sitting at a table in a room with what I assume to have been three homeless men trying to get out of the rain by agreeing to learn about Scientology (not worth it). I was given a test, for what I don’t remember, but I do know I was suppose to tell a story with a paperclip, a rubber band and a tiny block. I said I had to go to the bathroom and never went back. I still get junk mail from them. [This could be because I signed Gianna up for a bunch of mailing lists after she left Random House.] I have called several times trying to get the mail to stop but for all of their wizardly ways…they can’t seem to remove my name from a mailing list. Oh, I didn’t say anything about this book. Reitman’s book is based on five years of research. She interviewed current and ex-Scientologists and had access to confidential documents, all of which she makes completely readable and compelling. I think I read this in a day. So delicious.

2. Bossypants by Tina Fey

I read this and listened to it on audio. I looked like a complete dope walking around listening to this on my iPod, twice doubling over laughing. What is really great about Fey’s book is she covers all the personal stuff (the chapters about her daughter are priceless), but you also get an excellent dose of work related chapters, the ins and outs of comedy writing, her stint at SNL, and of course 30 Rock. This is one of my favorite books from any publisher this year.

3. Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill

I found this collection of stories at BookPeople here in Austin. I'd never heard of it, nor Frank Bill, but I am a sucker for a good title. I would have to say this is the best blind buy I have made in awhile. Gothic in the best sense of the word, he is in the company of Daniel Woodrell, Flannery O’Connor and a little bit of Cormac McCarthy (think No Country for Old Men). These stories are a force. They are violent and gritty and nothing, I say NOTHING holds this author back. Great read.

4. I Want My MTV by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum

Gianna: Use this picture!
Liz: Who are these people?
Gianna: ...Seriously?  Sheesh.
I remember exactly where I was when I saw "Thriller" for the first time. I was in school. More precisely I was in my school’s gymnasium where they were showing the movie to each class. I still consider it the best day of school ever. Yeah...I didn’t do that well in school. In the vein of one of my all time favorite books, Live from New York, this book draws on a cast of characters to reflect on MTV. Yep, you got your Pat Benatar, your Big Daddy Kane, Lars Ulrich, Mick Jones, George Michael, MC Hammer, Gerardo aka Rico Suave, and all your original VJs. This book was $30 and worth every last penny. You are so lucky, Clint. [Clint is the bookseller at BookPeople who convinced Gianna she needed to read this book.]

5. Life Itself by Roger Ebert

I grew up watching Sneak Previews and then At the Movies with my younger brother. I wrote Roger Ebert off so many times for liking movies I didn’t like, I swore over and over that I would never read or listen to another review. I never stopped. As I got older I learned to respect him (although when he gave a thumbs up to Into the Blue with Jessica Alba…well, I hated him so much for a bit), and it pains me now to see him having to review the latest Twilight movie. Life Itself is Ebert’s only memoir and when you read it you realize how very overdue it was. What an amazing life and what a beautiful writer. The best chapter is on Studs Terkel; amazing.

6. Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean

If you don’t cry when reading this book…your name is probably Liz Sullivan. In short, this is a story about America. Rin Tin Tin is what America is supposed to be, the promise of it I guess. It is also about the bond we have with our dogs (and Liz with her cat [Unholy?]), our faithful companions who are the first to greet us and the last to leave us. A couple of really interesting things I learned from this book: first, that dogs as companions is relatively new. It wasn’t until the mid 1900’s that these pizza-eating dogs were even allowed indoors (Is it just my dog that will sneak an entire pizza from the table? She’s a real lady). And second, there were almost a dozen incarnations of Rin Tin Tin. If someone had asked me I would have said maybe two. That’s nine more Rin Tin Tins than Darrens on Bewitched. I have always identified Orlean as the writer who made orchids interesting. She is now the woman who brought Rin Tin Tin back. Well done, Susan; we need him.

7. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

This is it. This is the big American novel of the year. You can have Franzen by the way…I will take Harbach. If you like John Irving (older Irving for sure), or Michael Chabon, and yes, John Franzen…please don’t miss this wonderful first novel. And by the way, if I didn’t love baseball this book would still be on my list…but oh how sweet that this book has that theme. Go Cubs!

8. We the Animals by Justin Torres

I bought this book for three reasons. One, it has a great Dorothy Allison quote on the back. Two, it has a great Marilynne Robinson quote on the back. Three, Michael Cunningham called it "brilliant and ferocious." Personally, I found this 125 page book to be sparse, raw, and heartbreaking [like Gianna's rashes]. You want a book you’ll never forget for under $20, this is it.

9. After the Apocalypse by Maureen F McHugh

As some of you regulars may know, I have a thing for short stories. And some of you may also know…I am at a loss when it comes to the zombie craze. I don’t get it. However, I can now officially say I have read and loved a book (at least a story) that is (kinda sorta) part of the zombie genre. McHugh focuses on the near future, bleak future. Her writing is stark, sleek, balls-out hardcore apocalyptic. My favorite story is “Useless Things,” about a troubled doll maker. Oh, and here is a little snippet from her bio: McHugh has also worked on alternate reality games for Halo 2, The Watchmen, and Nine Inch Nails, among others. That, my friends, is called street cred.

10. Dollhouse by Kardashians

Holy macaroni is this book good. Touche, William Morrow…you landed this big fish of a family. What a coup the Kardashians first novel is (I doubt with writing chops like these it will be their last!). Kamille, Kassidy, and Kyle are the three heroines of this tour de force of a book and boy-oh-boy do they have some conflicts to manage. In fact, I don’t hesitate to say in three different hands of three different sister novelists, this book would have been dead on arrival. However, in these six skilled hands, the multi-talented klan hit a home run. I would be amiss if I didn’t talk about how brave this book is, as it discusses forbidden step-sibling attraction. It goes deeper than the Brady Bunch so hold on tight. The Kardashians dare us to guess if this book is based on one (or more) of their lives! Spoiler Alert! You won’t give a shit.


  1. I don't think I have a single one of these on my 'to be read' list. Will definitely add a couple.

    Next time you are in Dallas try and catch The Book Report on radio (KSKY 660AM). It is a great show with some interesting reviews and interviews. Readers can also check out their site for other stations they broadcast on or even to listen to show recordings in archive. http://bookreportradio.com

  2. yay for Bossypants and After the Apocalypse! Good taste LaMorte!

  3. you have nothing to say about Dollhouse Michael? Its good my friend....very good.