Thursday, December 31, 2020

the top ten books of 2019

If you haven't read the rest, make sure you catch up on The Not Top Ten of 2019 (Part One) and The Not Top Ten of 2019 (Part Two)

Without further scribble dabble scrabble, on the microphone I babble... here are my fave book that I read for the first time in 2019...

My 10th Favorite Book of 2019 - The Goodbye Girl by Neil Simon (1977)
As I mentioned, I'm a fan of plays and screenplays, and this is probably my favorite of Neil's... the story centers around Paula and her daughter Lucy, who gets deserted by Paula's boyfriend. Enter Elliot Garfield, a neurotic but kind actor, who shows up because the landlord has now rented the apartment to him... much to Paula's dismay, because she and Lucy are still living there. And you can see the conflict... and of course, romance coming at ya. The movie version was wonderful as well, garnering Richard Dreyfuss an Oscar for his portrayal of Elliot, and became the first RomCom to cross $100 million in box-office gross.

My 9th Favorite Book of 2019 - What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell (2009)
I tend not to read authors who are way smarter than I am... not just smart, but super smart -- but I am always drawn to certain authors like Michael Lewis, Randall Munroe, and of course Gladwell.  This is a collection of 19 essays first featured in the New Yorker. Each was handpicked by Gladwell himself for the book, all bearing a running theme of seeing the world through the eyes of others -- even a dog. Because, you know, What the Dog saw.  Right?

Broken into three parts, it discusses people who are experts but not known, the issues with predictions and basing actions on those predictions, and the failure of intelligence, spending a chunk of time on the fall of Enron, and finally, personality and sociological discussions on random topics (I know this book sounds crazy boring, but trust me, it's well written and well read.)

My 8th Favorite Book of 2019 - The Oracle by KB Hoyle (2012)
The first narrative of our Top Ten sends us back into the mythical land of Alithia, a place that Darcy and her friends discovered -- and saved -- a year prior. This time, pushed by the princely Tellius, they set out on a quest to discover the truth of a prophecy, something that will impact her life, for the rest of her life.

If you like Narnia, with a little Lord of the Rings quest, shaken and poured over some Harry Potter, then The Gateway Chronicles is worth investing time into. I did a more comprehensive write up a few yeas ago, when Book 1 ended up in my 2018 Top Ten.

As I mentioned before in that article I just linked to, mad props to KB, my friend and a writing idol, as she has successfully done world building... which the more I read and learn, the more I understand ain't easy. 

My 7th Favorite Book of 2019 - The Run of His Life: The People vs OJ Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin (2015)
As the 20th anniversary of the murders of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ronald Goldman hit in 2014, there was a glut of TV specials and books and retrospectives on the whole thing -- everything from OJ & Nicole's relationship to the murder itself to the infamous White Bronco chase.  

While I watched both American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson, a narrative with everyone from Cuba Gooding Jr to John Travolta to David Schwimmer (!?), and the superior, incredibly good ESPN 30for30 documentary that tops out around 7 hours and 45 minutes (watch it in parts), it was this book that really filled in the gaps -- the background of all persons involved, what led to the murder, the suspicions that Toobin has about what OJ did and didn't do (by the way, I had no idea that Goldman and Nicole weren't together -- he was truly in the wrong-place-wrong-time), and the trial itself... and the absolute circus it became.  Yes, OJ got away with murder... Toobin doesn't push you one way or another, but the evidence is pretty stacked against OJ.

Also, 2020 was a difficult year for Jeffrey Toobin... he and Zoom are not the best of friends. Don't let his touching dismissal from NYTimes keep you from reading this book if you are interested in.

My 6th Favorite Book of 2019 - Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Bob Iger (2019)
One of the few non-King books I read as soon as it was released... ironically, I didn't even want to read it, I felt as if it might be a progressive manual for running a theme park. But Iger is the guy who brought Lucasfilm (aka Star Wars), Indiana Jones, Pixar, Marvel, and 73 billion dollars worth of 20th Century Fox to Disney, plus oversaw the creation of Disney+, among other things, so I figured it might be worth a glance.

It was.  It totally was. From his early days in production and management to working way to the Walt Disney Company, succeeding Michael Eisner (who was not in his save-the-company save-the-animation era, but in his ego trip, Imma get Walt's nephew Roy out of the company era) to basically become Mickey's 2nd in command. The book is surprisingly candid, spelling out both victories and mistakes, and he speaks with openness and honesty at major events like Shanghai Disney's opening (after it was well overbudget and sort of a disaster), the Pulse shooting in Orlando, and the alligator attack that took the life of a little boy right on the beaches of the Grand Floridian. 

Sprinkled along the way is leadership advice and bits of wisdom, but it was truly the Disney history stuff that really drew me in.  I would hope that the 10th anniversary will feature a chapter on how he resigned, then came roaring back to assist with the company as the parks shut down entirely due to COVID.

My 5th Favorite Book of 2019 - Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era by Saul Austerlitz. (2019)
Much like "I'll Be There For You" from Kelsey Miller, this book also goes in-depth with the shows creation, the hiring and casting, the production, and the opening, middle, and closing seasons of the show. 

Why did I like this book better? More in-depth. In-depthier, if you will. Is that word?  Could it BE any more fake sounding?

Whereas Kelsey Miller's book hit the highpoints of many topics, I felt as is Austerlitz really dove deeper on things, from contract disputes to controversies to personal lives of the actors (without being schmaltzy or gossipy) and I just got more out of it.  

But either book will satisfy you. 

My 4th Favorite Book of 2019 - The Guardians by John Grisham (2019)
I'm an avid JG guy, though I have my criticisms of much of his work... many of his stories build to a great crescendo then just drop you cold with no real resolution.  Some start meh, get good, end meh. And then some start with a bang, build to a great climax, and then really give you the ending that leaves you satisfied. Thus is "The Guardians"

With a lawyer killed in his own office, a black young man named Quincy is arrested for the crime, even though we as the readers find it quite obvious he didn't do it. The one person who listens is a guy named Cullen Post, who runs Guardians Ministry, a non profit that can only take a few innocence type projects per year -- and of course, non-hilarity ensues.

Well written, riveting, and could actually qualify as a "page turner". One of Grisham's better novels in recent years (he did two at 2020 and both are great. We'll get to that on a 2020 list)

My 3rd Favorite Book of 2019 - Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou (2018)
Sometimes you find news stories and you kinda just become obsessed with them... truthfully, the US Women's Gymnastic team battle against Larry Nassar and Michigan State felt a little like that, as I read and watched multiple books and movies.  

And another story like that for me?  The story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. This story blows my ever lovin' mind. Holmes, charismatic and beautiful, even with the (possibly fake) deep voice that became one of her trademarks. Basically, a drop of blood can get test results back in minutes, using these incredible new machines and processes, courtesy of Theranos... and they struck multi-million dollar deals with Wal-Greens and Safeway... Holmes became a billionaire.

And it was all a sham.  

You'll read this with your mouth open, wondering how in the world someone could actually pull this off, even temporarily.

(You can also check out The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, an excellent documentary on HBO Max.  The doc and book together make for a great pair)

My 2nd Favorite Book of 2019 - The Institute by Stephen King (2019)
Pre-Covid, it would take me a week or more to go through a book, especially if the book tops 15 or 20 hours. This one, however, I knocked out in two days, falling behind on podcasts and other things that I had to do.  But it was worth it.

The story starts with a guy name Tim, who leaves his job and find himself working for the sheriff's department in small town South Carolina.  Then it shifts to a 12 year old boy named Luke who is kidnapped out of his room in Minnesota and taken to a place called The Institute -- a secret shop that does experiments on kids, then when the kids are run through, they are put into the "Back Half", where the kids never return from.

Luke is a crafty little lad, though, as the story progresses, you'll find he isn't one to take orders. He and his merry band of other kids trapped at The Institute decide to fight back. And of course, Tim from South Carolina finds himself in the middle of this same story. 

I was caught up in this story and saw it through to the very end, one hour after another, and when it was over, I put down my earpods, sighed deeply, and smiled. Because that's what a good book should do.  

My Favorite Book of 2019 - The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M Graff (2019)

I've spent the last 9 years thinking that "102 Minutes" from Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn was the best book ever written on 9/11.  And to me, it was. Until I read "The Only Plane in the Sky"

First, know that I'm a fan of oral history in books, as I love hearing the stories from the people themselves (even if they don't narrate the book itself in audio version), and in this one, it starts from early on that Tuesday morning, carrying you through the entire day and beyond.

Soundbites from Rudy Giuliani (remember when it was okay to like him?) and George W Bush and reporters and policemen and firemen and those working in the offices of the towers and paramedics and so many more. You know what happened that day.. but yet, you'll still be engrossed in the words of those were in Manhattan and in Washington and sitting at home, awaiting their loved ones to call them from United 93. 

This book blew me away. 

Up next, in a few days... or weeks... hopefuly not months... the Top Ten Books of 2020 -- more King, more Grisham, some Psycho, a helping of Karen McManis, some Neil Simon, the wild west and dreamy former Fox News anchors and so on and so on and such... twas a good year to read books, even if it was a terrible year to do just about anything else.

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