Wednesday, February 19, 2014

my top ten books of 2013

And finally... my favorite ten books that I read in 2013...

10th Favorite Book of 2013... "Joyland" by Stephen King (2013)... Some of King's best work is not horror or of the supernatural ilk, and this is a great example of that. "Joyland" is set in 1973, and tells the story of Devin, who gets a job at an amusement park in North Carolina. He ends up befriending a few people, including Annie and her ill son Mike, plus some of the people at the park, all set with the backdrop of some unsolved murders that occurred in the Haunted House years previous. At under 300 pages, it reads quickly, and though you might see the ending coming before you get to it, its worth the ride.

9th Favorite Book of 2013... "Not Taco Bell Material" by Adam Carolla (2013)... The follow-up to 2011's "In Fifty Years We'll All Be Chicks", Carolla takes us on another ride full of rants, whining, common sense and comedy. Adam Carolla was a carpenter and contractor before he got famous, so he starts each chapter with a description of all the homes he lived in while growing up (its a lot, and most are pretty shady), with his brand of edgy. Yes, its got a ton of language, but man, is it funny.

8th Favorite Book of 2013... "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game" by Michael Lewis (2007)... Yes, as if you couldn't guess, this is the book the movie is based on. Whereas the movie concentrates on the story of Michael Oher, the book intersperses Oher's football life with the game itself, the strategy in recruiting, the college football landscape and even more. I thought this book was a great read for a football fan like myself, and even non-football fans will enjoy the humanizing of the game, plus, Oher's real-life story.

7th Favorite Book of 2013... "I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution" by Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Marks (2012)... As I mentioned in my take on the Nickelodeon book, I am a fan of oral narratives, and this one is fabulous. Starting from the early 80s, those who came up with the idea for a 24 hour music channel tell how they created such, the artists, producers and stars of the era talk about their experiences on the network, and some great behind the scenes anecdotes--like, a Fleetwood Mac video filming in the desert in the early 80s, when Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham absolutely despised each other, yet were forced to dance around like they were in love... or the video for the Go-Gos "Vacation", as Belinda Carlisle reveals, "Yeah, we were all completely wasted and stoned the entire shoot. Look at our eyes. You can tell." This was such a pleasant surprise for me! 

6th Favorite Book of 2013... "START: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work that Matters"... Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I am a Jon Acuff fan... I've written numerous articles on this here bloggy site about "STARTing" and "The START Experiment" and some things in my own life that I want to concentrate on (like "PIKE", which I think I'm really doing well... I think... maybe... okay, fine, I suck. There. You happy?).

START is all about not just enjoying your work, but making your work count... and if you are miserable and think your work counts for little, its about finding work that does matter. Punching Fear in the face is the big thing, recognizing those things that make you afraid and stand in your way of doing the things you want to do--lose weight, get a better job, write a book, whatever... great book, great inspiration.

 5th Favorite Book of 2013... "Catching Fire / Mockingjay" by Suzanne Collins... I know, I know, I cheated, there are two books here. But because I couldn't knock the other 9 books out of my Top Ten, I chose to make this a tie... well, actually, I would say "Catching Fire" is 5A and "Mockingjay" is 5B, as I liked the former--the 2nd book in the Hunger Games trilogy--just a smidgen more than the latter--the finale to The Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen is back, and in "Catching Fire", she's having to deal with the Quarter Quell, which this go around involves all the former champions to return and compete. 

If you liked the movie, you will love the book, as it goes pretty close together, but the book expounds on things with the afforded room. "Mockingjay" starts right after "Catching Fire" ends, and essentially finds Katniss leading a rebellion against The Capitol, the sadistic government that reigns terror over its lands. Good middle, good ending, though I found myself a little dissatisfied with the final appearances of two of the characters. There's that.

4th Favorite Book of 2013... "How I Slept My Way to the Middle: Secrets and Stories from Stage, Screen and the Interwebs" by Kevin Pollak (2012)... For those of you who don't know Kevin Pollak, let me tell you that you do. He's been in a bajillionty movies, is a That Guy Hall of Famer, and is an incredibly funny stand-up comedian and impressionist... which, while listening to the audiobook, was great as Pollak told his story using his own voice, plus voices of Christopher Walken, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson and so many more. He spends a little time on his beginnings, his rise through the comedy club circuit and eventual dream casting in "Goodfellas", but much of it is just stories along the way... like, how his mom was so enamored with Jack Nicholson while visiting the set of "A Few Good Men", Jack eventually started openly flirting with Kevin's mom, to much hilarity. 

3rd Favorite Book of 2013... "The Squared Circle: Life, Death and Professional Wrestling" by David Shoemaker (2013)... are you a fan of wrestling and the WWE? No? Then head on down to #2 on this list. Wait, you are? Then read on, soldier, because this is the book for you. Shoemaker, a WWE and pop culture writer on, and known as "The Masked Man", opens the book up with his own love for wrestling as a young child, when his father would take him to wrestling events.
Then the book embarks on a short history of wrestling, from its early days in the South and Midwest to the beginning of the modern era, notably, the founding of the WWWF, which became the WWF, which is the WWE as we know now.  Shuemaker admits that this book is really a treatise on "dead wrestlers", and it kinda is, taking you through the origins, careers and demises of famous wrestling stars like Owen Hart, "Ravishing" Rick Rude, Flyin' Brian Pillman, and of course, the darkness that WWE tries to forget, the Chris Benoit murder/suicide.  If you are just a casual wrestling fan, you many enjoy this for its quirkiness... if you are a major fan like myself, you'll love this book, if only for the nostalgia purposes.  The only drawback is that each chapter is written like its a separate essay, making the book appear as a collective, as in, there are explanations for people and terms offered in multiple places throughout the book.  Otherwise, brilliant.

2nd Favorite Book of 2013... "Sycamore Row" by John Grisham (2013)... My main problem with Grisham in the last decade or so is that he just doesn't know how to end a book.  No, not every book can end happy, I get it, but sometimes the endings to some books make me put it down and say, "I just felt like I wasted nine hours of my life on this."   "The Appeal", "The Last Juror", "The Testament"... all great stories, riveting tales of legal and suspense, only to fall apart in the last 50 pages.  So, when he released a sequel to one of his greatest books--beginning, middle and end--"A Time To Kill", I just hoped the ending was going to be okay.

And it was great.  All of it.  It picks up a bit after the events of "A Time to Kill", and opens up with a suicide of a man who hates his family, has no friends and has never met lawyer Jake Brigance... though that doesn't stop him from sending a letter to Jake instructing him on his estate... essentially, giving most of his fortune to his black maid.  In the mid-80s, racism wasn't the boom it was in the 60s, but it was still very prevalent in deep South Mississippi, and this book touches on that.  The story is captivating, and I had a hard time putting it down... I think I went through it in four days or so.  And yes, the ending is good.  Its not perfect, but its satisfying for the story itself.  The best Grisham has done in a long, long time.

And finally, My Favorite Book of 2013...

I had heard that King was doing a sequel to his late 70s masterpiece "The Shining", centered around the life of the now grown-up Danny Torrence, who was the key figure in "The Shining".  I wondered how the Overlook would play into the story, and how much of it would be new ideas... and it was wonderful.

Danny, now grown and drunk like his father in the first book, still deals with the torment of the events at the Overlook Hotel so long ago, and settles in a small New Hampshire town as a hospice worker.  With his telekinetic abilities, he can see when a patient is about to die, and works with them to help them slip easier into the other side, hence becoming known as Doctor Sleep.

It also picks up the story of a little band of... well, bad people, known as The True Knot, who are just really mean and like to do bad things and use their telekinetic powers for evil... and finally, we meet Abra, who's own telekinetic powers are off the hook... and of course, Danny, The True Know and Abra all cross paths eventually, making for a thrilling ending to the book.  

If you are a King fan, this is one of the best he's done in a while, and a great throwback to his horror days... not as scary as "The Shining", but in many ways, more satisfying and complete.  Loved it.

Among the books I've read in 2014 so far... "Live from New York", the story of Saturday Night Live... and "Lone Survivor", by Marcus Lattrell, from whence the movie has come.  Reading now, Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood".  All three are contenders for my 2014 Top Ten Favorite Books.

(9,388 words written in February, 5,612 words left for #15KWordsinFebruary) 

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