Friday, December 21, 2012

Best of 2012: Day 5

Chris Ware's Building Stories. Better than Jane Seymour's jewelry.
I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that anything we've featured on our Best of 2012 lists would make a better gift than any item from Jane Seymour's Open Hearts collection of jewelry.  How can I be so bold?  These books are original works that offer a variety of perspectives on the world and tell stories that need to be told...and they don't stink up a joint like the world's worst celebrity trite crap.  On a related note, guess what I'm getting Gianna for Christmas?  Anyway, here's the wrap-up to our week of favorite books.


Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Katherine Boo,
National Book Award winner.
 This is my favorite book of the year, in any category. The writing alone is simply gorgeous. Like Mountains Beyond Mountains or Cutting for Stone, ultimately this book is inspiring. Boo, not satisfied with the cliché exotic descriptions of a quickly changing India, wanted a more realistic portrayal--a gut check of sorts--of how this nation was changing the lives of the poor.

Boo spent over three years following residents of Annawadi, a Mumbai slum of 3,000 people just outside of the Mumbai International Airport. While India’s fortunes are certainly changing for some, Boo focuses on the lives that go unchanged for the most part. The hustle of the slum is unimaginable; nuns at an orphanage selling expired donated foods to poor women, who then in turn resell it at roadside stands. Abdul, who you will come to love, is a trash picker who supports his entire family, and he dreams of a better life. You won’t forget him.

Mumbai slum.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I know you’re tired of hearing about it. I know. It took my own girlfriend a year to finally decide to take me up on this recommendation, so I get it…but come on, don’t you want to be better than my girlfriend?
This is the novel that you will read, and then immediately want to talk to someone about, and then you call that someone and they haven’t read it and you realize…you can’t talk about the book without giving it away. And then you get pissed off at your friend for not having read the book. See, books divide friends and family.  They are evil!

A wife goes missing, the husband lies to the police (don’t ever lie to the police), his lie is revealed, and he is now the suspect. Just when you think you know who did this woman in…well, just read the book.  
Starring in the movie of Gone Girl


Building Stories by Chris Ware
Is it possible that the most accomplished work of fiction this year is a graphic novel?  Yes.  Usually I don't go for that "a picture is worth a thousand words" saying.  I'm a word person.  I actually frequently dream in type, where instead of speaking, conversations are typed like manuscripts.  I'd rather have a thousand words that express nuance and beauty and turmoil.  In the case of Chris Ware, he is capable of detailing the slightest twinge of emotion in every illustration panel.  This book is a masterpiece.

Chris Ware
Consider Building Stories like a short story collection of interconnected narratives.  These are stories that together form a larger tale about the residents of a three story Chicago apartment building.  The women of this building live lives of quiet desperation with occasional moments of beauty and humor.  And the bee that lives outside offers a different perspective on the world they all inhabit.  Ten years in the making, Building Stories is the most innovative, creative, beautiful book of the year.

Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru
The upside of a book coming out in the spring is that it isn't as packed with holiday titles and mega hits, so a book has a better chance of getting noticed.  The downside is that sometimes the spring releases are forgotten when the critics compile their annual lists.  Gods Without Men was a March title; human embryos have gone to term and squirted into the world since this title went on sale.  Nonetheless, it's a 2012 release and one of my favorite books of the year.

It's no secret that I'm a David Mitchell fan, and when I read Gods Without Men, I remembered how much I loved Cloud Atlas when I first read it.  Hari Kunzru's novel weaves together multiple stories across decades, geographically centered around a rock formation called The Pinnacles, in the middle of the Mojave Desert.  It's a sacred site for Native Americans, a gathering place for hippies and new age spiritualists, and a tourist attraction inside a national park.  
Hari Kunzru

Gods Without Men starts with a family hoping for a miracle in the desert.  On vacation, Jaz and Lisa are hoping to save their marriage.  Their relationship has been strained by the public outbursts of their autistic son Raj, and one morning they hike to The Pinnacles with Raj.  And then Raj disappears.  What starts with the disappearance of a child in the wilderness snakes back to the religious group that worshiped at the site during the 60's, and to the people who live in the area in the present day.  It weaves in drug dealers with Coyote the Trickster legends.  I love this book.

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