Time for a final 2019 wrap up, this time the books I read last year. To start quick summaries of the final four books I read in December.
Killing Floor – Lee Child
I’ve seen the Jack Reacher books in airport bookstores, at grocery stores, and in other locations over the years that made me dismiss them as just another pulpy, low-brow series. Sometime this fall, though, I read in a rather respectable publication that Lee Child’s series was actually quite good. I made a note to check them out.
This was the very first Jack Reacher novel. It is violent, ridiculous, and mostly beyond belief. I probably would have loved it when I was in my teens or 20s.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book, because I did. A lot. The story is good, even with so many “Yeah, that could never actually happen,” moments. Unlike some folks, I don’t get off on revenge violence, which the book is filled with.
Where Child got me was in how he makes Reacher unlike other, similar literary bad asses. Reacher has a conscious, he has regrets, he evaluates his actions and feels remorse.
I don’t really have a problem with action novels or movies. I more have a problem with people who celebrate their impossible heroes as the apex of the modern alpha male. Child giving his main character a depth unlike so many leads in the genre will have me checking out some of the other books in the series.
A Christmas Story – Jean Shepherd
My annual read of the short stories the classic movie was based on. My girls laugh at how I read it every year. As with the movie, I nearly have it memorized and chuckle in advance of my favorite lines. This year M watched the movie with me and I tried to explain the differences between book and film. She didn’t seem as excited about them as I was, but she still sat with me for over an hour sharing the experience, something we don’t do often these days.
10:04 – Ben Lerner
I read this as I wait for my hold Lerner’s acclaimed 2019 novel, The Topeka School, to come in.
This is a wacky little novel. It is largely autobiographical. Or at least broad swaths of the story are based on Lerner’s life. At its center is an author who was raised in Topeka but lives in New York City, who has sold a novel based on a story he had published in The New Yorker. That short story is included in the book, and is in fact a short story that Lerner had published in The New Yorker. Also inserted into the text are poems and some visual art. In structure alone, the book feels very modern in its desire to throw off the traditional boundaries of what a novel is.
As for the story itself, there are many long, absolutely brilliant sections. Beyond the parts of Lerner’s life that move the plot forward, he explores situations when perception did not match reality. There is a woman who fakes a major illness to her partner. There is the cultural memory of people seeing the Challenger disaster live when very few people were watching the only network that showed the event in real time. There was Ronald Reagan’s memorable speech after the disaster, which famously quoted two lines from a poem, two lines that were in fact cribbed from two other poems. The idea that the moon landings were faked. How various fertility techniques blur the definition on who truly is a parent. How one of the most popular dinosaurs ever – the brontosaurus – never actually existed. About a woman active in Arab political causes who discovers the Lebanese man who raised her is not her father, and thus she is not Arab. And the narrator’s book itself, which is built upon fabricated correspondence between authors.
I enjoyed how Lerner challenged those contrasts between perception and reality and now I’m even more excited to read The Topeka School.
The Enemy – Lee Child
I needed one more, easy read to keep me occupied as Christmas approached and passed. I randomly picked up this Jack Reacher novel after learning that there is no proper order in the series.
This one goes back in time to when Reacher was an MP in the Army. As 1989 ends, he is abruptly transferred from Panama, where the US was in the process of invading and hunting down Manuel Noriega, to a base in North Carolina. On New Year’s Eve, a general is found dead in a hotel near a strip club and Reacher is assigned to investigate. The general’s death becomes one of several suspicious deaths, there are high-ranking officials who get in Reacher’s way, and the investigation is full of twists, turns, surprises, betrayals, etc etc etc. Another fine, quick read.
I really enjoyed the new decade angle, as it kind of mirrored where we were transitioning from ’19 to ’20. Also, it taking place during my freshman year of college brought back a lot of memories about what I was doing then, and what my expectations were for the 1990s.
OK, with that I finished the year with 52 books read, right on my book-a-week pace I like to brag about. I believe there was only one graphic novel this year, but I did read two books that L was reading for her book club, so there was some fluff. Still, solid work.
My favorites? Here are a few.
Sting-Ray Afternoons – Steve Rushin
Beastie Boys Book – Michael Diamond and Adam Horowitz
Tornado Weather – Deborah E. Kennedy
Black Leopard Red Wolf – Marlon James
The Municipalists – Seth Fried
Empty Planet – Darrel Bricker and John Ibbitson
The Nickel Boys – Colson Whitehead
Fleishman Is In Trouble – Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions, 1983 and 1984 – Duane Tudahl
Daisy Jones & The Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid