I’ve imposed a three-choice limit to these entries. In this category, it was tough to exclude many good reads, so I subdivided books into fiction & non-fiction.
Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal, Jeanette Winterson, Winterson’s memoir recounts life with her cruel adoptive mother, her search for her birth mother, her struggle to be a loving adult after growing up with few role models, and the death of her father. But above all else, this is a ode of love to and for the great books A to Z that ultimately saved Jeanette. I love the style, the tone, and the counter narrative they convey. Winterson is a powerful writer. Having read this in long-ago February, just thinking about it makes me want to read it again. Highly recommended.
Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer. Yes, I know. He fabricated a quote by Bob Dylan. Dismissing this book because of that ultimately irrelevant-to-his-point uncool move would be a mistake. At most, Lehrer failed to learn from his own book, to muster enough creativity to make better shit up for a book about creativity. That aside, Lehrer is a skilled writer, thinker, and storyteller who in this book makes connections between the Swiffer, the fourth grade slump, the prefrontal cortex, and improv comedy. Worth reading if you can find a copy. It is my hope that Lehrer will write again, humbled and refocused as a result of his silly mistake.
“Considering that all human effort could perhaps be Ozymandian folly, the search for meaning, catharsis, and dignity in the humble act of cartooning may seem as especially delusional quest.” -the second sentence of Cartooning Philosophy & Practice by Ivan Brunetti
Loyal readers of this blog (there’s at least one of you) know that pals Mita Mahato, Sarah Leavitt and I worked through this book via a private blog this past Spring. I can’t recommend this highly enough to any aspiring artist/cartoonist/draw-er. What Brunetti does in this book is guide students with experiments in tools, materials, approaches, and layout. Ultimately, his goal is to humbly lead us to the core requirement of an artist: finding one’s voice (in this case, your visual voice, your unique style). If you’re interested in teaching comics, here’s a great interview with Brunetti, titled “Nothing Good Comes From Dishonesty.” (See prior entry on Jonah Lehrer.)
In One Person by John Irving. A fan of Irving’s since The World According to Garp, this book captivated me in the way I remember being captivated back then – by compelling, sexually open, and complex characters acting out a plot that makes you feel more than a reader, like a part of their unique community.
This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz is a collection of short stories that convey a coherent tale as, with the exception of one stunner, they follow the same character, Junior from Diaz’ other fantastic book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. That one stunner of a story, “Otravida, Otravez,” alone is worth far more than the price of this book.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Despite despising the ending of this book, it was an absolute favorite of this past year. Despising the ending is actually an essential part of the magic of this thriller. I never thought a writer could mess me up like that, but Flynn does it here, big time. And I loved it.
What were your favorite books of this past year?