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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
A List, Of Course
The announcement of The New York Times 10 Best Books of 2012 and the 100 Most Notable Books set off the coast to coast gnashing of teeth and tugging of hair. In New York City writers who happened on Flavorwire’s list of the 100 Greatest Writers Living in NYC, called each other by their numbers, while at the same time decrying such lists as ridiculous.
The fact remains though that this time of year all anyone can talk about is lists.
On Twitter, Mat Johnson wrote: “Of course everyone’s eagerly awaits my Best Books I Was Forced To Read Through Social Obligation To A Friend/Acquaintance.” To which I offered, “The Best Books of 2012 That You Will Not Read Because They Were Written By A Bitter Rival.” And “The Best of the Worst Books So Review Proof They Will Make You Want to Open A Vein.”
The lists will keep coming and coming for weeks now. Beyond “Best art books of 2012 to use as throwing stars / drink coasters / Frisbees” what else can we expect?
How particular will these 2012 lists get? How can you use these lists to improve your life?
Here are some ideas, with classic supplements.
Best Book of 2012 that will convince your parents that you’re a serious person and they ought to lend you money: The fourth volume of Robert A. Caro’s saga of the tortured basset hound-faced president Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power, chronicles the reluctant VP from his finest hour after taking the mantle of president and passing Civil Rights legislation, to the quagmire of Vietnam.
Best Book of 2012 to give, or read in front of that moody guy/gal at the coffee place who half the times seems to dig you and the rest of the time seems to think you’re shallow: Editor Bill Morgan’s Rub Out the Words: The Letters of William S. Burroughs 1959-1974, chronicles when literature’s most famous and longest reigning king of the junkies was peaking.
Best Book of 2012 to gift someone who is pretty sure you’re an insensitive asshole, and you’re not: Andrew Solomon’s Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity looks at the lives of families raising children who are very unlike them–trans-gendered, brilliant, schizophrenic, physically challenged—and the every day challenges, sacrifices, rewards and heartaches.
Best Book of 2012 to give someone who knows you’re an asshole: Well, you’d know that better than me.
Best New Books of 2012 to flash if you want to pick up at girl who has Klonopin in her purse: Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up is an anthology of essays edited by Caren Osten Gerszberg and Leah Odzen Epstein. Women who will share the intimate details of their relationship with booze are likely to be slightly socially awkward, and undoubtedly have boundary issues. This book will call to them to the yard.
Best New Book of 2012 you’ll buy for your best friend but keep: Cheryl Strayed preaches radical empathy in Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. The most generous, raw, say-it-sister book of advice you could ever need. “Ask better questions, sweet pea…”
Best Book of 2012 to give to, or read in front of the jaded literary type who you think, if they take off their glasses, might be worth a toss: Chris Ware’s graphic novel, Building Stories. Okay, it’s huge, packaged like a board game, and there’s a whole lot of stuff that could get lost lugging it around— But the way the narrative is revealed through a series of pamphlets, leaflets, books and a game board managing to touch on art, sex, existential loneliness and fucked up families—basically all the dating-conversation highlights in one “book”- is a marvel. And NO you can’t read it on an i-pad or Kindle, but that’s the point. I just did you favor.
Best Book of 2012 to give that shy girl at the yarn store who is always embroidering a sampler of feminist slogans: A Woman’s Place is in the House and Senate.” And “God is just an abbreviation of “Goddess”: Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama. The former alt weekly comic strip creator of “Dyke’s to Watch Out For” gets real about her relationship with her mom. Or if she’s a poet, too-cool-for-you inimitable feminist poet Eileen Myles’ Snowflake/Different Streets is two books in one, each one more beautiful than the last.
Best Classic (Novel): (Although if the copy is new it can also double as most pretentious book to be seen reading in public.): Thomas Pychon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Ask if they’ve gotten to “the Disgusting English Candy Drill” and then—if they begin to giggle about pepsin flavored nougats, mention the two wine jellies, “Lafitte Rothschild and Bernkastler Doktor. If their eyes light up—oh the irony in this Holocaust subtext (beware they’re probably grad students). For good measure and more cred, doodle the “Trystero symbol”, the muted post horn with one loop from Crying of Lot 49 in your journal, or to be cool like Carolyn Kellogg, get it tattooed on your arm.
Best Classic (for a Wild Child, although you might want to have them skip the ending where it’s clear that Max isn’t really such a badass): When Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (Caldecott Collection) was first published libraries banned it—not liking the bad behavior of Max, the hell raising bad boy in a wolf suit whose sent to his room without supper then sails away to a land of monsters where he is crowned their king. The grown-ups loosened up when it was pointed out that Max worked out his scary anger issues in a healthy way, a proper wild rumpus, and his choice to return home back to the comfort of home, and in doing so finds his mother left out supper for him and it’s still hot, warmed their hearts.
Best Classic (Nonfiction): Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, Taylor Branch’s massive Pulitzer Prize winning account of the life of Martin Luther King, early life of America’s greatest advocate of civil rights and non-violence through the stormy 1950s, when the struggle for African American rights reached its peak; to the assassination of JFK in 1963.
Best Classic (Period): Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. A call to arms, the seminal feminist author’s manifesto proclaims the right of every women to have time, money and room enough to
seduce another woman write.
Elissa Schappell is the author of Blueprints for Building Better Girls and Use Me. She is a contributing editor and the Hot Type book columnist at Vanity Fair, a former senior editor of The Paris Review, and co-founder and now editor-at-large of Tin House magazine. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.