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.