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Season of Lists – Books You Must Read According to Tod Goldberg (and his friends)

December 19th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

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Today I’m taking a break and letting my list-friendly novelist/blogger pal,
Tod Goldberg, provide the next list since, at his blog, he’s got a great compilation of writers naming the books they most enjoyed this year.

Several of the people on Tod’s list mentioned Junot Diaz’s stellar novel,
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which would be high on my personal list of favorite books this year. Others I particularly liked this year are:

2. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (Okay, published last year, but close enough.)

3. Imperial Life in the Emerald City, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran

4.The Tin Roof Blowdown (yeah, it’s a genre book, so what?)

5. Gallatin Canyon by Thomas McGuane.

6. Jim Harrison’s Returning to Earth.

You can read the smart choices of Tod’s smart pals (some of whom are also friends of mine.) right here.

And, hey, don’t forget to share your own choices too. (List-making should be an interactive endeavor.)

Posted in Season of Lists | 39 Comments »

39 Responses

  1. Woody Says:

    In his post after the book recommendations, Todd discusses that his wife thinks that he is an idiot. So, what should that tell me about his smart friends and smart choices? Did you say that you two are friends?

    It’s all that I can do to run a business, meet family obligations, and finish the crossword puzzle each day. The last fiction book that I read for me was in high school, and I might have actually looked at the Cliff’s Notes.

    However, I have read books to my kids. Let me recommend “Gerald McBoing Boing” and “Red Fish Blue Fish One Fish Two Fish.” Deeper meanings and social significance of works by that author may be found here>>> LINK.

    I also like these products by students of that author.

    LINK: How Al Sore Stole the Election

    Al Sore hated elections! The whole election season!
    Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
    I could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
    It could be, perhaps, his loafers were too tight.
    But I think that the most likely reason of all
    May have been that his heart was two sizes too small,

    …They stared at Al Sore and said, “Mr. VP, why,
    Why are you taking our Push ballots , WHY?”

    But, you know, that old Sore was so smart and so slick
    He thought up a lie, and he thought it up quick!
    “Why, my dear USA”, the fake Sore lied,
    “There’s a chad on this ballot that still inside,
    So I’m taking it up to a secret room, my dears
    I’ll fix it up there. Then I’ll bring it back here.” ….

    LINK: Gore-I-Am

    …Can we count them with our nose?
    Can we count them with our toes?
    Should we count them with a band?
    Should we count them all by hand?
    If I do not like the count, I will simply throw them out!

    I will not let this vote count stand.
    I do not like them, GORE I am! ….

    I did use to have a collection of Superman comics.

  2. Anonymous Reader Says:

    I’m usually behind the curve on new books, so I’m cheating slightly with this recommendation: if you haven’t already done so, read whatever you can find by Edward P. Jones. This year I discovered both his novel “The Known World” and a collection of short stories, “All Aunt Hagar’s Children”.

    I’ll get to 2007′s books sometime in, oh, 2009 or so.

  3. "reg" Says:

    I read a lot of history over the past 12 months, but the only books published this past year that I picked up were the aforementioned Chandrasekaren’s “Imperial Life” ande Arnold Rampersand’s biography of Ralph Ellison. I’d recommend them both for the same reason that I recently bought them – word of mouth – although I’ve barely peeked into either one yet. They’re both still part of a pile on the night table.

    After that admission, I feel compelled to add to this list of recommended books of 2007 the English translation of “How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read” by French professor of literature, Pierre Bayard. The original publication was a best seller in the intellectually snobbish environs of Paris. It appears to be less a crutch for anyone who doesn’t have as much time or inclination to read as they think they should (perhaps because they are spending too much time at coffee shops, cafes and cocktail parties where discussing literature is an essential social grace) than a work of satire and literary sociology. Of course, I haven’t actually read it. Buit it was so well reviewed, I just ordered a copy which I will carefully disguise in a “Ulysses” slipcover and selectively skim through to pass time on my commutes.

  4. richard locicero Says:

    “The Headmaster’s Dilemma” – Louis Auchincloss

    “Where I came From” – Joan Didion (not new but only read it recently)

    “The Producer” – the life of John Hammond

    Any number of crime novels from people like Michael Connely, Robert Parker and Bill Pronzini.

    Lest we forget – this is the 50th anniversary of “On the Road” – revisit it.

  5. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Woody, Tod is a much funnier and wittier person than I could ever dream of being and he uses his wife, Wendy, as a foil in much of his humor, particularly on his blog—painting himself as the idiot, and his wife as the patient, long-sufferer. In fact, Wendy is gorgeous, smart, very sweet—and adores her husband.

  6. "reg" Says:

    “The Producer” is 2006 – which might explaing why I’ve actually gotten to reading it, so I’ll second that recommendation.

    If anyone’s looking for last minute Christmas gifts, there’s another (broadly related) book I’ll recommend. Even Woody might get through this one because it’s full of pictures by America’s greatest comic artist. “R.Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz and Country.” It’s the book (and accomanying CD) version of Crumbs “Heroes of B, J & C” trading cards. Wonderful thumbnail homages. Along with the acknowldeged genre greats like Ellington, Jimmie Rodgers and the “Blind” triumvirate – Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie Johnson and Blind Gary Davis – Crumb includes such little-known (but long remembered by obsessive cogniscenti) “heroes” as Bo-Weavil Jackson, Dr. Humphrey Bate & His Possum Hunters and the South Georgia Highballers. (Sessions by even the obscure folks have mostly survived into the era of mp3 and can be easily accessed and downloaded without even making that quadra-annual pilgrimage to Down Home Music in El Cerrito.)

    Final neat gift idea – which was published first edition in paperback, so it isn’t pricey – is The Cornbread Gospels. Its another terrific, “readable-whether-you’re-in-the-kitchen-or-not” cookbook by Crescent Dragonwagon, who also authors children’s books. She made her mark in the food world with Dairy Hollow House in Eureka Springs Arkansas (which also evolved into a writer’s colony) and won the James Beard Prize with her last cookbook. Down-home stuff – which is always the best – with cornbread as the centerpiece. Anybody who owns more than three pots and pans and doesn’t appreciate this probably shouldn’t be on your Christmas list.

    Re: Todd’s marriage. Any man who doesn’t make it a habit to note publicly in various informal venues that he’s the idiot in the marriage and that he’s lucky his wife loves him despite his various incapacities is…uh…an idiot.

  7. "reg" Says:

    And rlc – what about “Legacy of Ashes?”, which was fairly well reviewed in 2007. I think I remember you noting this somewhere among your reads but can’t remember what you said about it.

  8. "reg" Says:

    (Could we get a spell-check around here ? More evidence of my illiteracy.)

  9. Woody Says:

    Celeste, I could tell that Tod, who leaves one d off of his name for some reason, was witty. I wasn’t being serious about him being an idiot and having stupid friends–except those who are liberal.

    rlc, on your book recommendation of “Where I Came From,” didn’t your parents tell you?

    A local guy was one of our family doctors (his son took over), but he now is retired and an author. His name is Ferrol Sams, and his works are semiautobiographical and cover southern life and southern humor. His first book was “Run with the Horsemen.” LINK: Ferrol Sams

    In an interview on PBS (if you can stand it–I hate their phony soft tones), he discusses the relations between races long ago along with other areas of southern life. His interview may be interesting to those who really don’t understand southerners. LINK: WABE Interview – Ferrol Sams, author of Run With the Horseman

  10. richard locicero Says:

    Pretty good book Reg though I think he swallows the administration’s line on faulty intelligence re Iraq’s WMDs hook, line and sinker. But a good overview of the Company since its founding.

    Besides, any book that reintroduces folks to James Jesus Angleton, Allan Dulles, Kim Roosevelt, and Bill Harvey gets my vote!

  11. Randy Paul Says:

    Celeste,

    Never apologize for a James Lee Burke book recommendation. There is no need to do so ever.

    Books I enjoyed:

    Gomorrah by Roberto Savino. A brave, gutsy act of journalism that rips the lid off the Neapolitan organized crime group known as the Camorra and shows how the South of Italy pays such a heavy price for the political and civil failure to address these issues.

    Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past by Giles Tremlett. Probably one of the best, most comprehensive looks at modern-day Spain, my favorite country in Europe.

    My Battle of Algiers: A Memoir by Ted Morgan. An account of the Franco-American historian’s service in the French army during the Algerian War of Independence.

    The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney. Self-explanatory.

  12. Mavis Beacon Says:

    “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell is probably my favorite for 2007. I also enjoyed the very filmic “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and my first forray in to Phillip Roth, “The Human Stain.” And I recently re-read the “The Great Gatsby” and that’s just a damn fine book.

  13. L.A. Resident Says:

    I mostly read for relaxation and entertainment or technical books for work. I can see and read enough depressing and bad news on the Internet and T.V., so I mostly read spy novels, war history, and murder mystery stories. I will read anything by John Grisham, Tom Clancy, John le Carré and Herman Wouk

    Recommend
    Winds of War by Herman Wouk.
    The Company by Robert Littell

  14. richard locicero Says:

    “The Company” is a fine fictional counterpoint to “Legacy of Ashes”

    Two books that I reread from time to time “Great Gatsby” – simply the finest American Novel PERIOD

    And “Franny and Zooey” – a guilty pleasure but Salinger’s best and I laugh out loud everytime I read it.

  15. lucinda Says:

    George Konrad’s A Feast in the Garden. Not new by any means, but one of Hungary’s best writers ever solidly translated into English. Set in WWII, graphic and realistic yet fantastical historical fiction, elements of that uniquely Central Euro magical realisim where people and periods of time blend into one over a long span of history, to convey the upheavals and yet continuity that characterize that part of the world.

    Society as we know it is constantly destroyed but somehow always reconstitutes in a new form and people survive and some even thrive. Ever since Kafka, the Czechs, Poles and Hungarians have had a sense that because geography has always been history for them, history flows over them and so they can only try to control their own inner lives.

    Hey L A Res.: Did you notice that one of Tod’s friends’ friend’s rec’s Ben Fontaine’s Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, where the book jumps around from all your fave spots like Columbia, Cuba etc., imagines encounters with the leaders of these places? It sounds intriguing, I’m gonna read it myself — but if you’re gonna keep talking about wearing that Che Guevara t-shirt, people are gonna ask you if you know any cool stuff about Che, know what I mean?

    Another one that you might read while listening to the John Denver song: Finn, by John Clinch, about “Huck Finn’s drunken abusive father,” somehow “makes you feel something for the old bastard.” (Courtesy of JD Rhoades.) No wonder Huck spent so much time barefoot and poor and tricking the other kids into painting his fence and stuff.

  16. "reg" Says:

    “No wonder Huck spent so much time…tricking the other kids into painting his fence and stuff.”

    That was Tom Sawyer…

  17. "reg" Says:

    And why does this woman persist in totally unhinged comments about a supposed connection of certain persons in these threads to Che Guevara ? I would appreciate some evidence – other than her own feeble imaginings – that links LA Resident or any other of her perceived “tormenters” to Guevara or even remotely justifies her persisting in this nonsensical ad hominem bullshit. Creepy !

  18. lucinda Says:

    Oh, yeah. Well, in that case it made even more sense for him to run away and have those adventures on the Mississippi than to stay home barefoot outsmarting other kids into painting his fences. Guess that’s why Huck had such a sympathy for a runaway slave called Jim, dressed as a girl to pretend he was dead and did what it took to be freed from the burdens of society — he’d been sort of a slave himself, to a drunken and abusive father. Okay, that’s enough middle-school analysis for now.

  19. lucinda Says:

    Well, reg, a quick perusal leads me to the Nov. 30 entry on social injustice, where L A Res himself talks about his Che t-shirt and imaginary conversations with best buddy Chavez, #15… I’d post it for you but that would make it too easy.

    Chill, bro, a lack of irony and dull literalism is the sign of a weak mind, try to hide it a little better. That’s all I’m going to say, we’re all trying to be nice. Even to you.

  20. "reg" Says:

    There’s definitely a lack of irony and dull literalism by weak minds on display here – since LA Resident’s own, yes, ironic reference to his “Che Guevara T-Shirt” was prompted by an earlier comment on November 22nd, 2007 at 11:26 am by Someone-Whose-Name-We-Dare-Not-Speak accusing him, bizarrely IMHO, of wrapping himself in said Che T-shirt. So, no, there’s no proof of this pattern as something other than ad hominem bullshit in anything LA Resident has said. Or anyone else.

    But thanks for trying to be nice.

  21. "reg" Says:

    Also, re: Huck Finn – I get that you have apparently read the book, but you’re no Leslie Fiedler.

  22. lucinda Says:

    reg, how about from now on, you just shut the f’k up unless I address you, which is highly unlikely. NOTE I have not done so despite endless imbecilic and typical rants from you over the last days. Only allusion to you was a (humorous one, or guess you can’t get that) re: the rhapsody in gas that you and “ric” played/not, posted by Woody.

    You’re the blog version of the creepy (talk about creepy), ugly, ignorant little guy who haunts every social gathering from playground to party, wearing the grungy same old pants, with the grody face, lurching up at you to argue, and however you try to get away from this gnat, it follows you. I see you’ve driven others off with your creepy harassment, but you don’t “own” the blog (Woody says you’ve done the same at Marc Coopers), although you think you do.
    Shew fly, don’t bother me. Swat, swat.

  23. "reg" Says:

    Kiss my ass, idiot.

  24. richard locicero Says:

    “All modern American Literature comes from one book – Hucklberry Finn by Mark Twain.”
    – Ernest Hemmingway

    I think he got that right. I was always a little uneasy with Fieldler’s “Redskins” and “Palefaces.”

    Still Twain gets sloppy in that novel toward the end which is why I award pride of place in the Great American Novel Sweepstakes to “Gatsby” – not a word out of place!

  25. richard locicero Says:

    By the way – do we get extra credit for this seminar?

  26. Randy Paul Says:

    I see you’ve driven others off with your creepy harassment, but you don’t “own” the blog (Woody says you’ve done the same at Marc Coopers), although you think you do.

    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzz

  27. "reg" Says:

    Lionel Trilling also considered Huck as “definitive” of American literature.

    Jane Smiley gets the prize for the dumbest piece ever on Huckleberry Finn – a thing she wrote some years ago in Harpers claiming that not only was the novel badly written but that it was racist and couldn’t hold a candle to…uh…Uncle Tom’s Cabin!

    I’m a big fan of Twain’s and pretty much agree with Hemingway that he’s the father of (North) American literature. Ellison was another great Twain disciple.

    The narrative strategy of a marginal, outsider voice drawn in contrast to the hypocrisies of “respectable” society has become a staple, ironically (or perhaps not) of African-American literature. (The PC attacks on Huck Finn by various parents groups and school boards, arguing that its language will injure the delicate sensibilities of the kids, confound and depress me.) The Twain scholar, Shelley Fisher Fishkin, has argued that the “voice” of Huck himself is drawn from Twain’s absorptions and observations of black culture.

  28. lucinda Says:

    OMG

  29. "reg" Says:

    ^URS

  30. Marc Cooper Says:

    Celeste,

    sorry to try and deviate this thread back to your post and away from the vitriol…but…loved seeing the Tin Roff Blow-Down on the best of list.

    As you know, Im a sucker for James Lee Burke, genre or not, I think of him as one of the great populist literary figures of our times. I can never get through one of his books without sobbing like a baby. And Tin Roof was no let down. Wirth a thousand news reports on NOLA, another masterpiece.

    Now back to WWF/

  31. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Except for the brief food fight, this has been a great thread, as was the previous one on music. (And I think extra credit is definitely mandated here.)

    To go from the bottom up, yeah Marc (and Randy), I truly loved this Burke book in particular. But I’ve read all of his books at least twice. I just like being in his company.

    I’ve also been on a classics kick all year with Gatsby, Heart of Darkness, Great Expectations, several of Graham Greene’s, Ana Karenina and so on, and had a great time doing it.

    I hadn’t read Gatsby since I was in college and I was blown away all over again by its utter perfection.

    For me, it and Huckleberry Finn share the spot of greatest American novel. The fact that Huckleberry Finn rates so high on the American Library Association’s list of banned and challenged books every year is indeed depressing.

    LA Res, if you aren’t a big Graham Greene fan, given your other reading choices, you probably should be. BTW, love Le Carre—Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy most of all.

    A lotta good books listed here. Mavis, I kept meaning to read Cloud Atlas but haven’t. With your recommendation I will.
    PS: Reg, at your suggestion, I went out and got the R. Crumb book as a gift for someone. It’s terrific.

  32. USC alert -- what Says:

    Wow, with all the bias against anyone who isn’t left of Chavez and Castro, AND who has an actual education, sure am glad I didn’t go to USC.

  33. USC alert -- what Says:

    Especially, when it comes to Lucinda, Maggie or anyone who has the OUTRAGEOUS AND YOU’D BETTER APOLOGIZE portfolio, of having anything to do with negotiating issues in the Middle East.

    Lucinda and Maggie, you brainless sluts: we have the right- speaking, right- right thinking moderates right here.

    Yes, I know, I’m supposed to focus on my career and life as an intellectual — but it sure is hard being lumped in with the fuglies and nerds, just because you’re smart, isn’t it? Fess up, Celeste — op you wouldn’t have been so mean!!@!

  34. Celeste Fremon Says:

    USC—I didn’t get the last line. (I likely need more coffee.)

  35. "reg" Says:

    I don’t think it’s you who needs the coffee…and perhaps a fistful of B vitamins and a cold shower.

  36. richard locicero Says:

    Saw that article Reg. All I say is Smiley wrote “Moo” Case closed.

    Sorry but I was never much of a Trilling fan. And his wife, Diana, wrote one of the all time embarrassing memoirs. She must rival Woody Allen for time spent in Freudian analysis.

    Also see her essay “Last night up at Morningside Heights” (Columbia) where she completely misunderstands Ginsberg and Keruoac (both of whom were students of Lionel in the fourties)

    Gee this thread is beginning to sound like memoirs of the PARTISAN REVIEW Crowd with a little “Dissentary” mixed in (another Allen ref for the quick witted among you – Lucinda is excused). I must say I always enjoyed “Making It” from the impossible “Stormin’ Norman” Podhoretz.

  37. "reg" Says:

    I’ll admit to never having read Gatsby. (Gasp!) For whatever reason I’ve never been drawn to the novel or the person of Fitzgerald, although I guess I have a treat in store at some point. But I think that like so many of these discussions, it’s “apples” vs. “oranges.” On the face of it, I can’t see a case for making a comparison between Twain and Fitzgerald, the eras in which they were writing or their relationships to what came before and after. The virtues of HF certainly aren’t that it’s “the perfect novel” and I doubt the case could be made that Fitzgerald had a comparable impact on American culture as Mark Twain. I’m so old-fashioned that I still consider Moby Dick, which is an overburdened beast of a book, the “greatest American novel.”

  38. richard locicero Says:

    Yes Reg, but how many people really finish it?

    I prefer “The Scarlet Letter” but then I have a lot of New England Roots.

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