December 13, 2010

Make This a Book Christmas

Full disclosure here: PC and I are both writers.  Words and books are our lives—aside from Christmas music, of course.  It’s not just what we do, it’s who we are.  And, this Christmas, I’m going to try my best to keep the holiday presents exclusively to books.  I’m old-fashioned.  None of those touch-screens or electronic screens for me.  Give me a nice, thick book to hold in my hands. Sure, everyone knows Jonathan Franzen has a new book out—I mean, he was on the cover of Newsweek and I think they put his face on the moon even.  I’m not sure.  But there’s plenty of others you should check out.  And, in an effort to push my tastes on you before getting to the songs today, I’m offering up some suggestions.  Naturally, you can buy all of these on Amazon.  Or, you could visit IndieBound and find your local independent retailer.

Citrus County – John Brandon
Named after the Florida county where the novel is set, this book features some great and disturbed characters.  There’s a kidnapping, an apocalyptic uncle, and a depressed teacher.  If you like dark, offbeat humor, this is a great read.

Elliot Allagash – Simon Rich
This is the type of book I would have loved if I were in middle or high school.  Well, I’m nearly thirty and still loved it.  Rich skewers high society and high school.  Acerbic and witty.

Half A Life – Darin Strauss
A great memoir from Strauss dealing with the high school classmate he accidentally killed years ago.  It’s dark, powerful stuff that ultimately ends uplifting as well.  When tragedies happen, how do we let them define our life and continue?

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky – Heidi Durrow
This is a great story dealing with biracial identity.  Beautiful, moving, funny, and an amazing debut.  And, if you can get out to one of her readings, do so.  She’s a trip.

Safe from the Sea – Peter Geye
I’m a sucker for father-son tales.  Add in a great locale, lyrical beauty, and heart, and I’m an extra sucker.  Geye is a great writer, knocking it out of the park in his debut.

Exley – Brock Clarke
This is an ambitious, brain-teasing novel from Clark.  Any writers who takes on such heady subjects certainly deserves respect.  But pulling it off deserves praise.

The Canals of Mars – Gary Fincke
A memoir in essays.  I’m a huge fan of personal essays—and these are from one of the best writers of the genre.  A blue-collar upbringing in Pittsburgh.  Funny, touching, and thoughtful.

Skippy Dies – Paul Murray
Set in a Catholic boarding school in Ireland, this is a door-stopper at nearly 700 pages.  But it’s executed perfectly.  And is also side-splittingly funny.

Nothing Left to Burn – Jay Varner
Hey, what can I say?  I love to self-promote.  I won’t review myself, but I’ll tell you what USA Today said: “Unadorned but vivid, Varner's coming-of-age story unravels family secrets about firefighting and arson. It's painful and poignant ... [Varner] reminds us that few lives, even those we think we know best, are easily understood.”

On to the songs!  Onward, I say!

A chunk of punk.

Welcome it with open arms and a glorious collage of sound.

I can’t decide if this song is tongue-in-cheek or just truly depressing.  I’m leaning toward depressing.

There’s no debate on this one—it’s full-on depressing.  But it’s a stunner.  Beautifully realized lyrics.  Replace St. Paul with whatever town you lived in during your twenties and this one really hits home.  This one is getting heavy rotation this year.

Another downer.  What’s Christmas without drug addiction and alcoholism?  But it’s The Pogues and deserves a listen—as usual, it gets pretty raucous. 

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