Happy new year! I should have checked in yesterday but I was too busy having a happy new year myself to remember to blog: I watched the Rose Parade on TV, had lunch with Sean and Norman, spent a beautiful, 72-degree afternoon outdoors, and went to dinner with Sean, Norman, and Curtis, during which time we compiled our 2009 dead pools. (More on that last bit shortly.)
I also looked back over the books I read in 2008. I finished 31 books, which is the greatest number I've achieved since I started recording this stuff a few years ago. (I suppose it shouldn't matter how many books I read in a year, but I get great personal satisfaction from topping the previous year's number, even if it's just by one.) I had a terrible slump this fall, finishing not a single book in September, October or November, though I rallied and managed to race through the last few pages of my final book of the year on December 31. In case you're wondering what I read in 2008, here's the rundown:
1. Blasphemy by Douglas Preston (finished 1/24/08)
A silly, terribly-written book about a supercomputer that may be God.
2. How to Hepburn: Lessons on Living from Kate the Great by Karen Karbo (2/2)
This slim volume is a sort of appreciation of Miss Hepburn's life and work. I dunno what I was thinking -- I read it hoping I could actually pick up some tips on how to be like Katharine Hepburn. So far, no luck.
3. Things I've Learned from Women Who've Dumped Me ed. by Ben Karlin (2/6)
I'd completely forgotten I'd read this until I saw it on a list of books cited for outstanding design. It does have a great cover. Beyond that, I can't tell you much.
4. I'm Looking through You: Growing Up Haunted by Jennifer Finney Boylan (2/10)
The best nonfiction I've read all year, it's a memoir of an adolescence spent in a house that was rumored to be haunted. Boylan, who was James Finney Boylan before her sex reassignment, writes with great humor and warmth about the ghosts in her own life, including members of her family and, most poignantly, the boy she used to be but who exists no more. Wonderful.
5. The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta (2/18)
I finally read something by Tom Perrotta! It was all right.
6. Rock On: An Office Power Ballad by Dan Kennedy (2/19)
Everyone at work read this and thought it was the funniest book ever. It was all right.
7. Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bulow Case by Alan M. Dershowitz (2/22)
I caught part of the movie on TV and wanted to read up on the whole case. Dershowitz does a fascinating job both exonerating his client and explaining the legal issues involved. Poor Sunny von Bulow finally died this past December 6, still in her coma.
8. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8. Lee (2/27)
A mildly entertaining history and overview of Chinese food, particularly Chinese food in America and how it differs from that in other parts of the world.
9. The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber (3/4)
I read this because I so enjoyed Mr. Gruber's previous novel, The Book of Air and Shadows. This book was not nearly as good.
10. Mortal Syntax: 101 Language Choices That Will Get You Clobbered by the Grammar Snobs -- Even If You're Right by June Casagrande (3/12)
An amusing grammar book. I got to hear the author speak at an autographing, and she's damn funny.
11. God's Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre by Richard Grant (3/25)
Grant becomes obsessed with Mexico's dangerous Sierra Madre Mountains and decides to pay them a visit -- with life-threatening results. Fantastic!
12. The Ruins by Scott Smith (3/29)
I decided to read this before seeing the movie version. Book = pretty darn entertaining. Movie = not so much.
13. Double Indemnity by James M. Cain (4/14)
The film's writer and director made a good choice in changing the bizarre ending of this otherwise fine crime story.
14. The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay (4/17)
I have absolutely no memory of this book. Fiction? Nonfiction? Nope -- no idea.
15. Moose: A Memory of Fat Camp by Stephanie Klein (5/6)
I wanted this book to be . . . something more. Funnier, or more tragic. Instead, eh.
16. Infected by Scott Sigler (5/13)
Not good. Not good at all, and yet I couldn't put it down. The guy writes like Stephen King in the horrormeister's heyday, and now I want to read his brand new book, Contagious.
17. The Film Club by David Gilmour (5/20)
A surprisingly touching memoir about a father and son who bond over movies.
18. City of Thieves by David Benioff (5/29)
Best book I read all year. It's a novel about two very young men on a quest to find a dozen eggs in WWII Russia in the dead of winter. It's smart, funny, exciting, and surprisingly sexy. I loved it and highly recommend it, though at this point you should probably wait for the paperback.
19. Dough: A Memoir by Mort Zachter (6/1)
I reviewed this book in depth here.
20. Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life by Jenna Woginrich (6/2)
21. Can You Ever Forgive Me? Memoirs of a Literary Forger by Lee Israel (6/3)
22. Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You by Sam Gosling (6/7)
I keep reading books like this hoping to discover something about myself. So far, I've learned very little.
23. The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert (6/17)
Every woman in America seemed to be reading Eat. Pray. Love. last year, but I chose to turn to the author's earlier book. Gilbert's subject, Eustace Conway, is a guy who lives his life in harmony with nature, hunting his own food, making his own clothes and shelter, and so on. He's also arrogant and impatient with us mere mortals, who are constantly letting him down. A fascinating portrait.
24. Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science by Richard Preston (6/23)
All right, but not nearly as good as The Hot Zone or The Demon in the Freezer.
25. Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression by Mildred Armstrong Kalish (7/5)
Entertaining, but again, not the life-changing experience I'd hoped for. I think I expect too much from the books I read.
26. Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore (7/10)
A great, great memoir by Gary Gilmore's brother. Mikal Gilmore is an exquisite writer.
27. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (7/22)
Pretty good, but I liked Prep better.
28. The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell (8/13)
Boring! I love Sarah Vowell, and every now and then her voice would enter into the narrative and liven things up a bit. Overall, however, a terribly dull book.
29. Greasy Rider: Two Dudes, One Fry-Oil-Powered Car, and a Cross-Country Search for a Greener Future by Greg Melville (8/13)
Such a long title for such a modest book. I read this because Sean owns a grease-powered Mercedes and I'm interested in alternative fuels. It was moderately entertaining.
30. Gone Tomorrow by P.F. Kluge (8/14)
I enjoy reading books about books, and this novel was a pleasant diversion. It seemed like pretty tame stuff, though, from the journalist whose work inspired the movie Dog Day Afternoon.
31. The Encyclopedia of Guilty Pleasures: 1,001 Things You Hate to Love by Sam Stall et al (12/31)
Kind of a low note on which to end the year, but what can I say? 2009 will be better.
The results of 2008's dead pool were a bit disappointing, in that only one of the 30+ people that Sean, Norman, Mary and I predicted would die actually bothered to do so. (Thanks, Studs Terkel.) Mary, in fact, had placed Britney Spears in the number one spot on her list and no doubt watched in horror as the former train wreck pulled her life together. Last night at dinner we (sans Mary but plus Curtis) created new lists for 2009. Oh, there were some holdovers from 2008 -- those people have to go sometime -- but overall, our lists felt fresh yet simultaneously bereft of life. As with last year, I hesitate to mention all those whose lives we fear for, but I will reveal the names of those who appear on more than one list: Fidel Castro, Elaine Stritch, Kirk Douglas, and Tony Curtis, start packing for the afterlife. And congratualtions to Ernest Borgnine, who appeared on three lists last year but is down to just one in 2009!