Well, I guess one of the resolutions that we should have for 2019 is to post more reviews or other pieces to the blog, perhaps even take advantage of Twitter. I’m sure that telling everyone that both Stella and I are slammed with work stuff on pretty much a regular basis would be a justifiable reason for not posting, but there’s also neglect.
Anyway, let’s start working on that resolution right now with a look back at my previous year in reading. Stella and I were not locked in a contest to see who is going to read more in 2018, so my total was much lower than last year–75 total books (compared, by the way, to Stella’s 110).
So just like last year, I thought I would take some time to highlight some of the books I read last year, covering both the highs and lows and making some recommendations along the way.
Favorite Young Adult Book of the Year (novel): Swing by Kwame Alexander. This was one of the final books I read this year and I grabbed it because the author came to the school where I teach and did a talk and a reading. I’m also getting professional development points for reading it as part of a library book club, but that was icing on the cake in a manner of speaking.
Anyway, the book is a novel told through poems about a kid named Noah who is navigating high school, including having a crush on his best girl friend Sam. Plus, he’s got his friend Walt, who is obsessed with making the baseball team and really into jazz (to the point where he starts calling himself “Swing”). Alexander really knows teenagers and gives Noah, Walt, Sam, and other characters real dimensions. Plus, the plot, which centers around each boy’s romantic pursuits among other things, is well-paced and when the end comes around, you are so invested in each character that you feel it. A definite recommendation.
Favorite Young Adult Book of the Year (short stories): I read a number of short stories this year in an effort to figure out if there were any contemporary stories worth teaching. In a number of them, I read a few stories here and there, but the one I read all the way through was Pick Up Game: A Day of Full Court, which was edited by Marc Aronson and Charles R. Smith, Jr.
The concept of the book is that this is a series of interconnected short stories and poems that take place on the same concrete basketball court in New York City throughout one day. After each story or poem, a different writer picks up the thread, adding characters and plot as the day gets later and later. To be honest, basketball is not my sport, so the topic and the scenarios were a blind spot. But I was hooked right in and I’m trying to find a way to work some of it into my classes or at least get some of my students to pick it up.
Favorite Coffee Table Book: A Day in the Life of America, edited by Rick Smolan and David Cohen. This book, published in 1986, was the culmination of a project sponsored by Kodak and a number of other companies wherein 200 professional photographers (many of whom were famous photojournalists) were sent across the United States to shoot what was going on in the country on May 2, 1986. I first encountered this book in, of all places, a bed and breakfast I was staying at for my anniversary a couple of years ago, and then found it at my local library. It’s a fascinating look at the country in the mid-1980s, showing people from all walks of life and covering both the positive and negative aspects of the Reagan era. The photographs are beautiful and the text pieces alongside them are insightful. It’s a heck of a time capsule. The book has long been out of print, but if you can find it at your library, check it out.
Favorite Piece of Nostalgia: The Art of Atari by Tim Lapetino. This book was published a few years ago and I managed to snag it for $15 at the Baltimore Comic-Con in late September. Ostensibly, this is a book all about the outstanding cover art produced by Atari for their video games of the 1970s and 1980s; however, if you read it, you’ll find a full history of the company and its video games and systems plus profiles of the creators. As a companion piece to the book Console Wars (which I also recommend), it really sheds some serious light on the golden age of video games and is beautiful to boot. While I’m not sure if you can still find it in a bookstore or a comic shop, it may be easy to come by on the secondary market at a good price. And after reading it, you’ll want to play Atari.
Most Disappointing Pop Culture Book: Slugfest: Inside the Epic, 50-year Battle between Marvel and DC by Reed Tucker. While this book has some fairly interesting anecdotes related to DC Comics, ones that wish we would get a thorough look at the company’s nearly 85-year history in the manner of Marvel: The Untold Story, Tucker manipulates the facts to ensure that the narrative sticks to his opinion that Marvel rules and DC drools. No, I’m serious. Once you get past some of the more interesting quotes and stories told by people who were actually there, you see a pattern wherein he wants to keep telling the reader that Marvel was always in first place no matter what and DC was always trying to catch up. I mean, I’m sure that’s true in a number of places, but it’s just way too simple of an idea and it reeks of lazy writing (especially since he barely mentions Image and Valiant comics when talking about the early Nineties). Skip it and go read …
Most Interesting Pop Culture Book: Comic Shop: The Retail Mavericks Who Gave Us a New Geek Culture by Dan Gearino. Wow, this was a fun read. Gearino traces the origins of the direct market to its very infancy and then through all of the highs and lows of the industry. Plus, he has an entire section devoted to talking about and reviewing various comic shops across the country. It’s a love letter to comic stores that is thoroughly researched and well-told. If you have been spending many Wednesdays at your LCS, you owe it to yourself to pick this up.
Understood it the Second Time Around: Beloved by Toni Morrison. I know this isn’t Stella’s favorite book, but I read it for the first time in twenty years as a precursor to teaching it in my AP Literature class and both understood and enjoyed it tremendously. Morrison weaves a narrative that is complex and heartbreaking. I’m pretty sure that I will need another reading to fully understand it, although teaching it from year to year may enrich that even more. I’m not sure when I’m going to make Stella read this, but it’s on the list.
Still a Favorite: Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Another from my AP Lit class and my favorite Shakespeare play to teach. This is going to come off as very “guy,” but I love how violent and bloody this play gets, but also how rich the characters are.
Not Aging Well: Nick Hornby. Specifically, How to Be Good. This was one that was sitting on my shelf for years and I finally grabbed at random. I hadn’t read a Hornby novel since I read About A Boy at least 15 years ago and what I found interesting is that at that time, I really enjoyed his writing. Now that I’m actually the age of the characters in his books, I find myself a little bored by them. I think that on one hand, it’s because How to be Good isn’t his best work; on the other hand, the whole “man child” narrative has really worn itself thin as the years have worn on. I’ll have to do a reread of High Fidelity at some point to see if it holds up as well as the Cusack movie still does or if it suffers the same fate as this, but for now, I think I’m going elsewhere.
Best Novelization: Close Encounters of the Third Kind by Steven Spielberg. This sort of has an asterisk because I have read the novelizations of the first three Star Trek movies this year and all three are phenomenal, but Close Encounters edges it out because of the way that Spielberg gets into Roy Neary’s head and gives us a look at his mental breakdown throughout the entire film that goes a little deeper than what’s on screen. Granted, that film is outstanding and doesn’t really need much beyond it, but what you can do in a novel is often what you can’t do on film. If you can find a copy for cheap on eBay, I recommend picking it up.
Favorite Tie-In/Expanded Universe Novel: I may have mentioned this on our expanded universe/novelization special (or not? It’s been a while), but V: East Coast Crisis by A.C. Crispin is a real treat for fans of Kenneth Johnson’s 1980s alien invasion miniseries. What Crispin does here is track a group of characters through the entirety of both V and V: The Final Battle, but in New York instead of the TV series’ setting of Los Angeles. Crispin stays close to the continuity of the story and mentions important characters from the show, but also gives these New York-based characters distinct personalities and a plot that intersects with the main series but also holds its own importance. Another gem I found by scrounging around used book stores and can be found, probably for cheap on the secondary market.
Great Poetry: No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay. This one’s a few years old but I finally got around to reading it this year. Sarah Kay is a spoken word poet and a number of her performance pieces are in here along with other poems. A full book of one poet’s work can actually be hard to read because you’re tempted to blow through it while worried if you’re taking enough time with each poem. Her poetry is funny as well as heartfelt and deep and this collection is a keeper.
Biggest Literary Accomplishment: Reading all of Don Quixote. And really liking it, especially after Stella and I discussed it on the podcast.
So what’s up for 2019? I have yet again made a resolution to get through my Goodreads “Want to Read” list along with all of the books on my bookshelf and reading pile. These range from Star Trek books and other sci-fi/comic book-related things to self-help and other pop psychology-type books. I’m hoping that it’ll be another fun year with stuff to discover.
And maybe Stella will finally buy me the coffee she owes me from our bet last year.