Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Scooter & Hum’s Top Five Books of the Year 2013

Amazingly, this is my seventh year of doing this highly unofficial ranking of the favorite books I read during the course of the year. I think the fact that two books incorporated “Zen” into their titles and philosophies may speak volumes on my year, no?

Overall, it was a slightly disappointing year for books, really; last year’s slate of books was harder to judge and were better. That being said, I still unearthed a few gems, however.

Without further ado ...

#1: “The Dog Stars,” by Peter Heller

What I Wrote Then:
Heller takes on an ambitious environment with aplomb, sketching out how what we might cling to, turn to and lean on in times of unthinkable depravity and loss. In that sense, he has pulled off a minor miracle in “The Dog Stars”—painting a believable picture of what an America might look like after it goes to the dogs.

What I Say Now:
Heller’s unique bit off quite a bit to chew on (dog pun intended), and I wasn’t thrilled with how it said goodbye, but his style evoked unexpected emotion and visceral feeling throughout, a true gift and feat for any author.

Passage to Remember:
“Is it possible to love so desperately that life is unbearable? I don’t mean unrequited, I mean being in the love. In the midst of it and desperate. Because knowing it will end, because everything does. End.”

#2: “Joyland,” by Stephen King

What I Wrote Then:

Stephen King’s “Joyland” was an exquisite fit in the Hard Case Crime series. It took place along the coast of North Carolina (fictional Heaven’s Bay), a place near and dear to my heart. It took just over a week to read. It featured emotional, oft-beautiful prose about coming of age and first loves. It managed to interweave a compelling cold-case plot within it. But it still had one impossible-to-overcome problem, in my estimation:

It was too short.

What I Say Now:
As memorable for the feelings it evoked as for the story it spun, “Joyland” was a metaphorical breath of fresh air, a love story meeting a ghost story meeting a coming-of-age story.

Passage to Remember:
“It’s hard to let go. Even when what you’re holding onto is full of thorns, it’s hard to let go. Maybe especially then.”

#3: “Perfection,” by Bob Griese and Dave Hyde

What I Wrote Then:

For a kid who didn’t want to wear glasses and then found a role model in Bob Griese, this was a book that transported me back quite a few years. “Four decades later, I still hear those cheers,” wrote Griese.

And so many years later, I’m still grateful for the privilege of being among those cheering.

What I Say Now:
In a year in which I read three tomes on football, “Perfection” was the only one that had me riveted, that was able to make a 40-year-old story come alive like it was happening in real time, that brought my heroes to life—warts and all.

Passage to Remember:
“In the locker room ... no one talked of the undefeated season. It was the title we cherished. The ring. This moment when we were the best.”

#4: “Doctor Sleep,” by Stephen King

What I Wrote Then:

King certainly bit off plenty in electing to pursue an extension of such a landmark novel, and with a few hiccups here and there, he largely pulls it off. It’s an ambitious work that lacks some of the frantic intensity and horror of some of his earlier pieces, but he does a more-than-admirable job of tackling a monumental task in “Doctor Sleep.”

What I Say Now:
In any comparison to its predecessor, “The Shining,” this novel is going to come up short, so I will admit to some harsh grading here. “Doctor Sleep” did have bursts of high emotion and fear-inducing moments, with a story about the normalcy of heroism that reels you right in.

Passage to Remember:
“Life was a wheel, its only job was to turn, and it always came back to where it had started.”

#5: “Collusion,” by Stuart Neville

What I Wrote Then:

The lack of soul, for lack of a better word, within this novel made it more “just” a crime mystery story—though Neville’s writing talents make that work to a more-than-passable extent.

What I Say Now:
Similar to “Doctor Sleep,” I felt that “Collusion” paled in comparison to its predecessor (the tremendous “Ghosts of Belfast.” However, Neville once again uses a diminished (and underutilized) Gerry Fegan does a tremendous job of tying together the traditional evils of politics, corruption, violence and all the overlap that comprises what Northern Ireland is and was.

Passage to Remember:
“She was safe.
“That was the most important fact in his world now, the one thing that made tomorrow better than yesterday, and he clung to it like a pillow in his sleep.”

Honorable Mentions (fringe top-five considerations):
All That Is,” by James Salter
Listening In,” by Ted Widmer
Minimalist Parenting,” by Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest

Others Receiving Votes Category:
Doc,” by Dwight Gooden and Ellis Henican; “Dude and the Zen Master,” by Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman; “The Essential Smart Football,” by Chris B. Brown; “The Public Relations Writer's Handbook,” by Merry Aronson, Don Spetner and Carol Ames; “Coaching Confidential,” by Gary Myers; “Zen in the Art of Writing,” by Ray Bradbury

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