i make note of what i read fairly casually. i name-check the latest twelve books here at kidchamp HQ (in the column at right), i keep a longhand list on a spare page of my weekly planner each year,* and i chat about notable bits now and again. all of that is amusing enough, but it's not especially useful. i reviewed my 2009 list as i snazzed up my planner with a crisp new annual insert, and while i know that raymond chandler's the long goodbye was, to me, the best of the bunch (and that kazuo ishiguro's marvelous never let me go gave it a run for its money), i'd have to chew on my thumb for a bit before i could tell you why. as many former english majors and current black turtleneck wearers know, immediate, biased hierarchies can be much more fun (unpacking, all the works and days of hands: there will, forgive me, be time). moreover, the part of me that's twelve and a boy has been thinking about deathmatches, as one does. so: 2010 will be a year of immediate tussles. when i conclude a read, i'll explain (with the flush of the endpage yet upon my fingers) why it did or didn't best the reigning champ. two books enter, one book leaves.


SURVIVOR: pride and prejudice and zombies: dawn of the dreadfuls (steve hockensmith)
CHALLENGER: the simple art of murder (raymond chandler)

first, let's recognize steve hockensmith's good sportsmanship in taking on a completely original prequel to seth grahame-smith's cult hit (last year's pride and prejudice and zombies), a novel which is 85% jane austen; i shudder to think of the comparisons and superfan enmity in store for him. that said, hockensmith came up with new zombie jokes and eschewed the scatological stuff (e.g. wickham's spectacular and frequently referenced incontinence) that bogged P&P&Z down - and he had an interesting take on why elizabeth bennet is eventually so resistant to mr. darcy (she has been disappointed by two would-be suitors: dr. keckilpenny, the too-cerebral zombie whisperer, and master hawksworth, the secretly marzipan-filled deadly arts instructor). dawn of the dreadfuls could have been better (i vastly preferred the original satire), but it could easily have been much worse.

and then there's the rusty-but-perilous buzzsaw of the simple art of murder, a collection of entertaining-but-not-epic stories by one of my favorite writers that begins with a really spectacular essay. chandler defends well-written detective stories as nimbly as austen defended novels in her day; it's satisfying to see genre snobbery deflated. i don't even mind his fightin' words for sir arthur conan doyle, for he's right:
Every detective story writer makes mistakes, of course, and none will ever know as much as he should. Conan Doyle made mistakes which completely invalidated some of his stories, but he was a pioneer, and Sherlock Holmes after all is mostly an attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue.
one could say the same thing about chandler himself - in fact, that's my reaction to the rest of the stories in the collection - but the attitude and dialogue really are indelible.

VICTOR: chandler, without breaking a sweat. he'd better rest up, though: i just started jonathan lethem's chronic city, and it's fabulous.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 what was the best thing you read last year?

02 anything good on the nightstand at present?

03 speaking of conan doyle - and fighting - have you seen guy ritchie's sherlock holmes? what did you think?

*as one of my sisters does, as we discovered over the holidays; is that a common thing? did art garfunkel's celebrated reading list move the nation?**

**i considered turning my list into artgarfunkelwouldbesodisappointed.blogspot.com, but my sloth's claws are too unwieldy for two blogs.


LPC said...

Oh goody. I have never joined a book group because I knew that those who thought they liked me would realize they did not once I refused to discuss The Secret Life Of Bees.

lauren said...

a friend and i tried an online brothers karamazov group a few years back; it failed miserably (for me, at least) because 1) half of the group was composed of ringers ("oh, i've never read the volokhonsky translation before so it'll be like the first time!") and 2) the other half was dirty cheaters who read ahead.

same friend is currently the only mister in another, offline book group. i would like to say i don't make jane austen book club references at him, but i'm not that strong.

Rachel (heart of light) said...

I bought a little moleskine to write down everything I read one year, but I only made it February and it didn't work out too well.
Issues - losing the notebook (maybe too small and I only needed it every few days), cheating (I would try to avoid writing down books that I didn't think were worthy of being on the list)
I have an amazing yearly planner this year, so maybe I'll follow your route and use it instead, since it is surgically attached to me.
The World to Come is still holding first place in my affections this year.

jacob said...

said "friend" still has *brothers karamazov* waiting for him to read, and is one of a couple of doorstops that's traveled with him since living in california (ahem, *gravity's rainbow*).

01 *hard rain falling* by don carpenter. originally written in the mid-1960s and just re-released by New York Review of Books Classics, it's a difficult book to describe - part literary novel, part crime/prison novel - it's got a nice hard edge that you might enjoy after chandler. some excellent descriptions of pool hall culture as well. and it's set on the west coast. plus, george pelacanos (who wrote for the wire) wrote the introduction.

02 *chronic city* also, let me just say that kakutani's review of the book in the times was entirely off-base.

03 yes. the plot was silly and somewhat inconsequential, but as some reviewer said, you could watch robert downey, jr. and jude law squabble over a hat for hours. quite the tonic for iowa's single digit temps.

Amanda said...

01 Harriet the Spy, The Graveyard Book, P&P (sans zombies)
02 Consider the Lobster
04 I love you and your thundertome more than I can say

kidchamp said...

holy cats, jacob. i didn't read the whole review (i'm only a third of the way through the book, and spoilers flock to me like germans flock to the hoff), but there is an anger in that woman, and i like it (though i too disagree with her).

jacob said...

well, that review plus the somewhat out-of-the-blue article by katie roiphe on male authors and sex from last week's NYTBR has got me wondering what's in the water over there. articles pitting one generation versus another are both artificial and boring, though i guess they drive page views. also, i believe the official NYTBR review of *chronic city* that ran in the sunday edition was much more positive. i still don't quite understand why they double review some books.

LPC said...

But now. of course, in the spirit of the thing, I have to actually REMEMBER what I read...Um, my father gave my son The World As I Found It. Rather liked that. Am currently reading Elegance of the Hedgehog, because it was on the Read This shelf at Kepler's, our communist bookstore. But am having troubling sensations of doubt 2-3 chapters in.

kidchamp said...

i met dave eggers at that kepler's! i told him that the line in a heartbreaking work of staggering genius about wanting both to dance with and run over people in san francisco struck an "answering asshole chord" in me. he signed my book...

This is Mars.
Dave Eggers

LPC said...

No effing way. And I haven't even read a heartbreaking work...there was a decade when I was lost in child rearing. Or two.