Friday, January 09, 2015

Scooter & Hum's Top Five Books of the Year 2014

The eighth addition of the "Scooties" books of my year was marked by trilogies and a dearth of time to invest in as much reading as I would've liked. Of course, as usual, a few tales picked me up and shook me.

Without further ado ...

#1: “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” by Stieg Larsson

What I Say Now:

This novel passed the border from engrossing to mesmerizing, with Larsson’s seamless merging of the Blomkvist and Salander storylines halfway through the book being a true feat of literature. Larsson’s prose is stilted and factual—belying the journalist he was in life—but the absorbing mystery of the story steamrolled any potential issues with translation. Lisbeth Salander is hailed in some quarters as the most fierce and complex heroine in the history of literature, and it is her intricate, many-edged psychology that truly powers the book, which features one of the most memorable closing lines I’ve read: “She tossed Elvis into a dumpster.”

Passage to Remember:

“An unloved girl with odd behavior … a taciturn girl with hostile vibrations.”

“Blomkvist had opened the door to hell.”

#2: “White Plague,” by Frank Herbert

What I Say Now:

This 30-year-old tour de force builds a steady momentum, spreading like the virus it tracks throughout the plot. With shifting perspectives, it can be difficult to keep characters straight, but Herbert reels you in with subtle humor and manages to eclipse even the political and societal reverberations described throughout with a walloping conclusion. Like Larsson, Herbert quietly builds a story that runs on—and pays homage to—girl power, long before the Spice Girls stumbled into the spotlight.

Passages to Remember:

“Every outrage has its own euphemism, Enos.”

“ … the essence of diplomacy—creating acceptable solutions out of lies?”

“The failure of civilization can be detected by the gap between public and private morality. The wider the gap, the nearer the civilization to final dissolution.”

#3: “Revival,” by Stephen King

What I Say Now:

The King of foreshadowing hits his trademark hard in this one. While channeling his personal stance on religion in the form of “The Terrible Sermon,” King makes the audience wait for the creepy shit to get rolling with the minister. When it finally arrives, the payoff is well worth the suspense, as he paints a scene on par with any horror he’s described during his illustrious career. Somehow King has managed to forge new ground here by intertwining questions of faith and the politics of religion with a coming-of-age tale that deals with the consequences of innocence truly and irrevocably lost.

Passages to Remember:

“I muse on that, sometimes, Jamie. When I can’t sleep. How a little paint can make shallow water seem deep.”

“I remember sunsets as red as the blood on my father’s knuckles, and how that makes me shiver now.”

“He spoke with the patience of a true believer. Or a lunatic. Maybe there’s really no difference.”

“I thought of how life had been before I realized I was a frog in a pot.”

#4: “A Short History of Nearly Everything,” by Bill Bryson

What I Say Now:

It took me quite a while to slog through this one, but Bryson did a pretty good job of taking textbook-y material and making it readable, with a few comedic wrinkles sprinkled in. I will say it that it made me feel a little bit smarter by the end of it, which is no small feat.

Passages to Remember:

“It is a curious feature of our existence that we come from a planet that is very good at promoting life but even better at extinguishing it.”

“There seemed to be a mystifying universal conspiracy among textbook authors to make certain the material they dealt with never strayed too near the realm of the mildly interesting and was always at least a long-distance phone call from the frankly interesting.”

“It’s an unnerving thought that we may be the living universe’s supreme achievement and its worst nightmare simultaneously.”

#5: “Slow Getting Up,” by Nate Jackson

What I Say Now:

Jackson’s hilarious, revealing and thoughtful autobiography peels back the façade of modern-day pro football. From painkillers to sexcapades to Cognac on the sideline, he destroys the romanticism of the game, shedding light on how players must assimilate or disappear. He stops short of diming out specific players at times, but he eviscerates former Denver coach Josh McDaniel. The book has some repetition and a few mistakes, but overall this was a clever tale, told from the perspective of the guy whose NFL existence is decided week to week, far from the glow of ESPN and fantasy football.

Passages to Remember:

“In the NFL, you are alive until you are dead. There is no in between, and no way to put yourself on the other side mentally. You fight every day to keep your job by convincing yourself that you belong. And every day you return to work and see your name still posted above your locker is proof that you deserve that locker. Then one day, fate sneaks up behind you, taps you on the shoulder, and breaks your nose—or blows out your knee.
“Then it’s over.”

“Football players are conditioned for violence. We are at home in the melee. We may have moments of quiet reservation and doubt when lying on our living room couches, but on the field we are pulled toward the mayhem. The feel of the helmet and shoulder pads, the sound of the whistle, the taste of the mouthpiece, the smell of grass and sweat: sacraments for bloodshed.”

“One day after the next: all days the same. It’s the routine of football in the lives of football men that quiets the demons within. It’s the routine that keeps them at bay. And it is the end of the routine that we all fear.”

“Satisfied that my endless pursuit of football perfection has finally been reached, or is finally revealed as unreachable, the hand of fate steadies, lines up the scope, and pulls the trigger. No doubts this time. The sniper hits his mark.”

Honorable Mention (in 10 words or less):
“Zen of Marketing,” by Seth Godin: Fascinating and unique look at applying practical marketing applications.
“A Drink Before the War,” by Dennis Lehane: Absorbing debut novel from a promising writer who chose cinema.
“Mr. Mercedes,” Stephen King: Foray into detective genre lacks characteristic King pacing.
“Girl Who Played with Fire,” by Steig Larsson: Salander and Blomvkist return to tackle conspiracies and sex trafficking.
Divergent, Veronica Roth: “Hunger Games” Lite.
Insurgent, Veronica Roth: “Hunger Games” Lite-r.
Allegiant, Veronica Roth: “Hunger Games” Lite-est.

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