BOOKS OF THE DECADE: 2000-2009


PART IV OF IV: DRAMA, POETRY, SHORT FICTION, OTHER

A lot of what I've read over the last decade doesn't fit neatly into the Comics, Novel, or Nonfiction categories above, but that doesn't mean it wasn't great. Those various works can therefore be found here.


On Bullshit/ Harry G. Frankfurt

A very thin book containing a single brilliant essay, one which posits a distinction between the garden-variety liar (whose underlying respect for the truth is evidenced by the care with which he avoids it) and the bullshitter, who doesn't really care what the truth is, so long as he gets his way. Well worth your time to find and read.

 

The Art of Fiction/ John Gardner

One of the most effective how-to books I've ever come across, and where writing is concerned, I've come across a few. If you're struggling with a narrative, let Gardner (author of the brilliant Grendel) give you some pointers; you won't regret it.

 

Beowulf/ Seamus Heaney, translator

Speaking of Grendel, you'll never see his original appearance rendered any better than this: a masterful modern translation of the Anglo-Saxon epic by the Nobel-winning poet, who also gets points for giving props to A-S scholar supreme J.R.R. Tolkien in his intro.

 

20th Century Ghosts/ Joe Hill

A collection of wonderful short stories from many genres and none, but included here primarily for the stunning "Pop Art," the single best short story I've read in this millennium.  It shouldn't work, but it does. Brilliant.

 

Godel, Escher, Bach/ Douglas R. Hofstadter

Unique, in the literal sense. You will never read anything remotely like this mashup of history, mathematics, logic puzzles, Socratic dialogue, and Carrollesque wordplay. A dazzling intellectual achievement that's worth trying several times until you get it right.

 

All in the Timing: Fourteen Plays/ David Ives

There's nothing so ordinary or so bizarre that Ives can't figure out a way to turn it into a thoughtful and hilarious short play: the difficulties of small talk ("Sure Thing"), the importance of attitude ("The Philadelphia"), or the neverending efforts of simians to write Shakespeare ("Words, Words, Words").

 

Making Love to Roget's Wife/ Ron Koertge

With a title like that, you know you're in good hands, and Koertge's unorthodox poetic style and unerring ability to find strange new subjects for his poems make him well worth your trust.

 

Changing Planes/ Ursula K. Le Guin

Seemingly Le Guin's most effortless book in years, this whimsical anthropological guide gathers a dozen or so related sketches of the inhabitants of the various planes of existence one can reach if only one is bored enough.

 

K2/ Patrick Meyers

Even if you can't see its legendary two-story pseudo-ice wall stage set, Meyers' two-man mountaineering play is a thrilling, moving, and unforgettable examination of human behavior at the extremes.

 

Black Swan Green/ David Mitchell

Arguably a novel, this brilliant book is also a cycle of related short stories about an adolescent boy growing up in small-town England during the early 80s. And speaking as someone who was in England during the early 80s (and an adolescent boy to boot), trust me when I say Mitchell absolutely nails the physical, emotional, and cultural details.

 

Satan Says/ Sharon Olds

Another poet you should really check out if you haven't. Olds' gift for metaphor and startling images will set you back on your heels if you're not careful--and I really don't think you should be careful.

 

Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever/ John Scalzi

Yes, his science fiction (Old Man's War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony) is great, but Hugo winner Scalzi is at his best saying what he thinks, and his blog (http://whatever.scalzi.com/) is where he does it best. You'll see plenty of gems worth quoting, but his account of visiting the Creation Museum remains the best thing he's ever written.

 

The Complete Peanuts/ Charles M. Schulz

Lovingly published by Fantagraphics Books in hardback editions, these are the first stirrings of the comic strip that would remake the comic strip into a vehicle for something beyond gags and whimsy. Look back and remember.

 

Me Talk Pretty One Day/ David Sedaris

It's hard to know how much of this stuff Sedaris makes up, but ultimately it doesn't matter. Whether he's a gifted fiction writer or just a really funny memoirist, you'll still find his pidgin French hilarious, especially when he and his fellow students attempt to discuss zombies and Easter traditions.

 

The Nerd/ Larry Shue

Playwright Shue died young, in a plane crash at Chapel Hill's Horace Williams Airport, of all things), but he left us with a handful of plays, including this absolute gem of a farce, in which a well-meaning architect feels bound to open his house to the man who once saved his life--and who's a complete social disaster. Uproariously funny and tight as a drum.

 

That's it, folks--I spent ten years reading so I could share all the good stuff with you. Find one of the books above and get cracking! --PC

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on January 6, 2010 3:18 PM.

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