3 BEST BOOKS OF 2005
1. THE GEOGRAPHER’S LIBRARY by Jon Fasman – Overlooked and unfairly pegged as a DA VINCI CODE rip-off, Fasman’s debut is an expert mix of post-collegiate angst and decades-spanning adventure – a combo that, in theory, should mix as well as oil and water.
2. TRANSGRESSIONS edited by Ed McBain – It’s strange that an anthology almost became the best book we read, but consider the talent behind it: Joyce Carol Oates, Lawrence Block, Stephen King, Jeffery Deaver, Donald E. Westlake and so many others, all given free reign to write whatever the hell they want, and most of them respond at the top of their game.
3. THE HISTORIAN by Elizabeth Kostova – Hype or no hype, Kostova’s first novel – a decade in the making – breathed new life into that moribund genre of vampire fiction by, ironically enough, going old (as in Gothic). Highbrow horror thick enough to, um, sink your teeth into.
WORST BOOK OF 2005
GHOST by John Ringo – This decision was a no-brainer. So’s the book, because it thinks only with its dick. Don’t be fooled by the cover or the intriguing jacket copy: This is not an action thriller; it’s misogynist pornography. Ringo himself warns readers that they may hate it, so one wonders why he didn’t channel all that hatred and aggression into something worth reading. And this may be the worst I’ve ever read. DISHONORABLE MENTION: THE BEST AMERICAN NONREQUIRED READING 2005 – Get over yourself, Eggers & Co.
BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
FROZEN by Jay Bonansinga – This supernatural-infused police procedural is so suspenseful, so well-plotted that we still can’t figure out why it didn’t debut in hardcover. Oh, well. At least it’s the start of a series. We’ll settle for that.
BEST MOVIE TIE-IN THAT’S BETTER THAN THE MOVIE
KING KONG: THE ISLAND OF THE SKULL by Matthew Costello – Seriously. Even without Kong, it’s more rewarding than the three-hour epic now lumbering in theaters.
NOT BAD, BUT CERTAINLY DISAPPOINTING
A tie between THE TRAVELER by John Twelve Hawkes and ANANSI BOYS by Neil Gaiman – The former disappoints because it’s cool upfront and then meanders wildly; the latter because it’s so light and fluffy compared to its predecessor. Even standing on its own, I’d have to consider it a lesser work for Gaiman, to whose work I always look forward.
BIGFOOT and DOOMED – This may be the most subjective category, but I’m going with these two titles from IDW Publishing. Though both horror, they couldn’t be more different. BIGFOOT is here because it’s so balls-out crazy; DOOMED because it succeeded in resurrecting the ’70s black-and-white comics magazine for adults and left us thirsting for more.
BEST GUILTY PLEASURE
MR. SKIN’S SKINCYCLOPEDIA: THE A-TO-Z GUIDE FOR FINDING YOUR FAVORITE ACTRESSES NAKED – Or should we say biggest? For its pun-laden descriptions of the breast that cinema has to offer, it’s as invaluable a reference as those penned by Webster or Roget. RUNNER-UP: Paperbacks from Leisure Horror. I only wish half of them didn’t suck.
BEST THING TO HAPPEN TO BOOKS IN QUITE SOME TIME
The Hard Case Crime line. Whether they’re reprinting a lost classic or minting a new one, it’s comforting to know that each and every month, you’re guaranteed at least one book that absolutely knocks it out of the park. Runner-up: Leslie S. Klinger’s three-volume THE NEW ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES. There are so few books so treasurable that you know you’ll never part with them. This is one … er, make that three of them.
BEST TITLE, REGARDLESS OF HOW THE BOOK IS
FRIDAY THE 13TH: HATE-KILL-REPEAT by Jason Arnopp – Everytime I go to the bookstore, I have to look at this cover just to assure myself I wasn’t dreaming it.
BEST LOWBROW TITLE FOR A HIGHBROW BOOK
MEMORIES OF MY MELANCHOLY WHORES by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
BEST BOOK SENT TO US WE DIDN’T FEEL QUALIFIED TO REVIEW, SO WE DIDN’T
MORE BODY, MORE SOUL: BEAUTIFUL BLACK MEN by Duane Thomas
NUMBER OF USED BOOKS I BOUGHT OFF AMAZON MARKETPLACE
NUMBER OF THOSE WHOSE CONDITION WAS ACCURATELY DESCRIBED
Contributing reviewer Mark Rose weighs in with some bests and worsts of his own…
BEST BOOK REVIEW PUBLICATION
Bookforum. It’s inexpensive (which is why the Times Literary Supplement loses out), it’s readily available at most newsstands and it consistently reviews the most interesting books in the world of art, architecture and literature.
WORST BOOK REVIEW PUBLICATION
The New York Times Book Review. It’s stodgy, pretentious and unbelievably biased towards a certain world view … much like its parent company.
WORST NEW DEVELOPMENT IN BOOKS
Bravo ran a comedy special on December 15 called CELEBRITY AUTOBIOGRAPHY: IN THEIR OWN WORDS, where comedians read aloud from books “written” by Elizabeth Taylor and N’Sync. It’s bad enough the books are published, now they’re being read aloud to me. At least I didn’t mention Pamela Anderson in STACKED.
MOST DISAPPOINTING BOOK
Michael Crichton’s STATE OF FEAR. A riveting good action adventure novel that treats hardcore environmentalism as a fundamentalist religion would be a great read. Too bad Crichton didn’t write a book like that. Instead, he chose to include page after page of graphs and make all his characters about as deep and as nuanced as shirt cardboard.
BEST WRITER TO NOT HAVE A BOOK IN 2005
Nicholson Baker. Come on, Nicholson! Stop it with the sex fantasy books and write something like THE MEZZANINE or THE SIZE OF THOUGHTS again, please? Oh, and as much as I appreciate THE WORLD ON SUNDAY: GRAPHIC ART IN JOSEPH PULITZER’S NEWSPAPER (1898-1911), it’s not quite what I was looking for.
BEST E-BOOK PROVIDER
Electricstory.com. No, I don’t own stock in this fantasy and science-fiction e-book provider. But they do a nice job and have great authors. And they publish my own little e-zine, so you gotta love ‘em!
BEST ONLINEBOOK PROVIDER
Shout out to amazon.co.uk. The Penguin design book (mentioned above) was water-damaged when it arrived, though the other book in the shipment was mysteriously undamaged. An e-mail to customer service and the very next day, they tell me they’re shipping out a new book and no need to return the damaged one because it would be too expensive for me. I’m still gobsmacked.
CHEAPEST BOOK I BOUGHT IN 2005
DUNGEONS & DRAGONS HEROES: PRIMA’S OFFICIAL STRATEGY GUIDE. I don’t get how this works. I bought a used copy of this from Amazon Marketplace for 28 cents. How does anyone make money off this?
AUTHOR WHOSE BOOKS I BOUGHT THE MOST OF IN 2005
This surprised me, but it was Harry Matthews (with three titles bought this year alone). Matthews is the only American member of the Oulipo literature movement. Basically, Oulipo sets very difficult writing tasks for themselves and then attempts to create art through those tasks. For instance, perhaps the most famous is Georges Perec who wrote LA DISPARITION, a novel that does not contain a single letter “e” in its text (yes, I know, it’s been done before). Matthews’ MY LIFE IN CIA: A CHRONICLE OF 1973 was published in 2005. You should buy it.