Every once in a while, you gotta take a break from arguing about the horn arrangements on the new Lucero record to crack a book. Here are ten I dug in 2009.

01. Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans (Dan Baum)
Baum traces the history of the most corrupt, and most culturally rich, city in the United States from Hurricane Betsy (1965) to Hurricane Katrina. The result is an engrossing journey to the heart of a city so enigmatic, it practically transcends lore. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

02. Inherent Vice (Thomas Pynchon)
An homage to The Big Lebowski (and, by proxy, an homage to The Big Sleep), Pynchon’s stoney pulp novel is a quick read, but one you’ll want to go back to a second time to catch everything you missed the first time through.

03. Cheever: A Life (Blake Bailey)
Bailey’s mammoth biography may be more intriguing than anything Cheever himself ever wrote, and Cheever was pretty damn good.

04. Sag Harbor (Colson Whitehead)
Whitehead’s coming-of-age tale examines racism, classism, and a whole shitload of other -ism’s without getting bogged down in platitudes, rhetoric, or soapbox pontification.

05. A Bright and Guilty Place (Richard Rayner)
Another “biography of a city,” Rayner’s rumination on the seedy under and upper bellies of Los Angeles is as enthralling as it is informative. Sort of like reading a very long tabloid, if tabloids employed people who actually knew how to write.

06. The Book of Basketball (Bill Simmons)
I’ve not yet finished Simmons’ epic tome on the past, present, and future of the National Basketball Association, because it is approximately 13,000 pages long, but so far, it is the most enjoyable book I’ve ever read on the subject of the NBA, and I’m relatively sure I’ve read ’em all.

07. Changing My Mind (Zadie Smith)
Why is it that I feel like every book Zadie Smith writes is the best book Zadie Smith has ever written? She just keeps getting better, as proven by this collection of essays.

08. Pops: The Life of Louis Armstrong (Terry Teachout)
I’m a Louis Armstrong junkie, so this one comes with a caveat: If you’re looking for a biography full of reverence and admiration for Satchmo, Teachout’s biography is for you. If your interest in Louis Armstrong – and/or jazz in general – is cursory at best, you’ll likely be better off avoiding this one.

09. Zeitoun (Dave Eggers)
Eggers wrote two brilliant books in 2009. Wild Things, his companion piece to the Spike Jonze film adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s seminal children’s book, is as touching a portrait of a broken-home-in-repair as I’ve ever read. However, Zeitoun, the story of one man’s insistence on protecting his home from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina while an entire city fled, is a jarring, moving, and unforgettable story. History will judge the Bush Administration as a collection dishonest, blood-and-oil-thirsty warmongers, but their greatest failure may well have been the immense catastrophe that occurred in the days following Hurricane Katrina.

10. Lowboy (John Wray)
Will Heller, a paranoid schizophrenic, goes off his meds and retreats to New York City’s subway system, winding through is own (perhaps justified) paranoia and the structure that keeps his city moving and vibrant. If Wray keeps this up, he’ll a lot have more in common with Jonathan Lethem than place of residence.


  1. Thanks for this. Glad someone out there besides me still reads. I’ve been meaning to get to the new Eggers ones so I’m glad they’re good reads.

  2. Very nicely done sir! I hadn’t even though of a reading list. Of course mine would be mostly schlock compared to your list it still might fun to put together. Mine might also shock a few folks but where’s the fun if you can’t drop in a little shocker here and there right?

  3. Good timing. Adding a few of these to my library queue in preparation for Sober January. Last year I averaged 3-4 books a week. Maybe I’ll even resolve to pay my overdue fees.

    I couldn’t get into Sag Harbor, though.

  4. Music and books are co-addictions, as far as I’m concerned – I’m a big fan of Zadie Smith and Dave Eggers, which encourages me to check out a few others on your list. Have you read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson? – even though it was released in Fall 2008, it really hit its stride in 2009… and I highly recommend!

  5. Nice to hear you liked the Simmons book. I just ordered it on Friday since Santa didn’t bring me one. I can’t wait to dive in to that thing.

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