Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My Top 5 - Book Edition

Last year, instead of making meaningful connections with humans, I stayed home and read 44 books. Actually, I didn't just read at home. I read at the cottage, in the chairs of various medical practitioners, on trains, planes and automobiles and once while running with a friend. The last one didn't turn out so well, as you might well have imagined. Many of the tomes have been good, some were excellent, some pure shite but all were well worth the time. Here is my list of the top five. (N.B. The first entry counts for 3)

The Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset

If you're ever looking for a book that will completely snatch your life away from you for a week or so, might I suggest this young-adult series by Suzanne Collins? The Hunger Games books are about a future dystopian society of 12 districts in the remains of what we know as North America. Ruled with an iron fist by the evil Capitol, their trademark form of oppression is a twisted reality TV show called “the Hunger Games” in which 24 children called tributes must fight to the death each year. The story begins when a girl called Katniss who is forced to fight in these games- a cross between the Roman gladiator games and Survivor - and ultimately winds up the reluctant figurehead of the rebellion that overthrows the tyranny of the Capitol. Sounds simple, right? Oh, if only......

This is not a book for the faint of heart. Or the literal-minded. Like in George Orwell's 1984 (another dystopian book my mind kept turning to as I plowed forward), the state perverted the language in order to deprive the populace of any means of dissent. In the case of The Hunger Games, the Capitol has focused on a fundamental aspect of human nature -in this case, it's the idea that children need to be protected - in order to keep it in line. Forcing children to kill one another, turning innocent children into murderers for the entertainment of others, is corrupt beyond imagining but what makes the difficult subject readable (and relatable) is how successfully Collins paints the canvas. For a YA writer, she doesn't pander to her YA audience but rather reflects back the ickiest aspects that are happening right now in the stormy psyche of our culture. Manipulating our bodies for the pleasure of others? Check. Changing the rules of the game before we're half-way through? Check. Forcing people to believe a regime stands for one thing while doing the other? Check. Author Suzanne Collins has created a fun-house mirror that at it best makes us question those aspects of our own culture we need to take a closer look at. And that she does all this without using vampires and werewolves? Genius.

The characters in Bullfighting are all male and in the midst of things: midway through life, midway up the social ladder, midway through raising their kids. Like their children, they are at a difficult age. But what sets them apart, is their vantage point. The characters in these stories may feel their hearts murmur and their joints creak, but they still have a lot of living to do.

In his newest collection of stories, Irish writer and Booker-winner Roddy Doyle characters move from classrooms to crematoriums, local pubs to bullrings and within the first few sentences make you feel as though you are eavesdropping on each of their forbidden thoughts and fears. In "Recuperation," a man sets off for a prescribed walk around his neighbourhood, the sights triggering memories and recollections of his wife, his children, his younger days. In another, "Animals", George remembers caring for his children's many pets, his efforts to spare them grief when they die or disappear, looking, in the eyes of his wife, like a hero, like "your man from ER." It is something when a story can make you laugh and cry within the span of a paragraph and Doyle does this brilliantly and with almost little effort. When was the last time you read a book about middle-age that made you wish you could stay in that place? Until Bullfighting, the desire would have seemed ludicrous. But an afternoon wading into this collection is a compelling argument for visiting a place you always thought you should avoid. Who knew the male, middle-aged mind could be such a great place to hang out?

Dear Tina Fey-

For all of your efforts to depict yourself in your brilliant book, Bossypants as “a little tiny person with nothing to worry about running in circles, worried out of her mind,” you have failed utterly. You cannot fool me. In fact, to be fair, you're fooling know one. You are funny, self-deprecating, wickedly observant and, by far, the smartest person in the room. Need I remind you to refer to the title of this opus?

In this crazy, jumbled memoir-esque collection of riffs, essays, laundry lists, true stories, fantasy scenarios, SNL script excerpts, and embarrassing photos from the wilderness years , you have managed the literary equivalent of a satisfying night of sketch comedy. From your dorky years in Upper Darby, Pa., to the long days and nights on SNL, from Liz Lemon to your turn as Sarah Palin, there isn't a moment where I didn't wish that you were someone with I could call up when life got ridiculous.

While you make jokes at your own expense, you manage to reveal and maintain an inviolable sense of privacy which is no small feat. I love your list of beauty secrets. I love your comparative charts on the experiences of being “very very skinny” and “a little 
 bit fat.” I plan to steal your imaginary response to a rude Internet commenter: “First let me say how inspiring it is that you have learned to use a computer.” I don't wonder how you juggle it all. I don't wanna know. Just keep it coming. And stay bossy. That's the way we like you.



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