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Russia Trip: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5
Best of 2002: Movies, Books, Music.
Best of 2003: Movies.
Best of 2004: Movies, Books.
Best of 2005: Theater, Books.
Best of 2006: Theater, Books, Television.


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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

My Favorite Books of 2004
I read 30 books in 2004, which seems like a rather pathetic total. My excuse, if I need one, is that I often get pulled away from what I’m reading when a work-related book interrupts, and then I lose track of my pleasure reading and don’t finish it up. (Also, sometimes I have to skip through a book and glean the substance without dwelling on the prose styling—if I consume a book that way, I don’t count it.) I’m close to admitting that I just might one of those people who loves the idea of reading more than I actually like reading; to be sure, there’s no retail temple I worship more than the bookstore. Sometimes I am physically unable to leave the store until I buy a book (or two or more), but when I get home, they often sit untouched. Or maybe it’s just that, having spent my work day reading, the most relaxing home-entertainment option is television. (R, who also reads and writes for a living has a different response. She’s one of those people who feels unsettled if she’s not reading; she goes through a book a day almost.)

The category breakdown was: 15 nonfiction titles, 11 works of fiction, and four graphic novels/comic books. You can read the full list here. I’m glad to say that none of them really embarrasses me (E. Lynn Harris’ books are my guilty reading pleasure, and everyone needs at least one of those).

One stat that jumps out at me: Only seven of the 30 books were even partially written by women. When I worked in feminist publishing (which, combining magazines and books, accounts for about 13 years of my working life) it was all women all the time. Perhaps I’m still making up for those years?

My favorites were:

1. The Untouchable, by John Banville. Six years old it may be, but this was my favorite book of 2004. Based on the life of Anthony Blunt, it’s beautifully controlled and deeply fascinating—a combination of beautiful writing and convincing psychological insight.

2. Dykes & Sundry Other Carbon-Based Life Forms to Watch Out For, by Alison Bechdel. I have no words to describe how much I admire Alison’s work. For more than 20 years she’s been creating a detailed social history of urban dyke culture—and I see myself right in the middle of it. (Of course, I am Mo, you know.)

3. Emergency Sex & Other Desperate Measures: A True Story of Hell on Earth, by Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. In a year when propaganda went mainstream, this very matter-of-fact account of the lives of U.N. employees in the field (a doctor, a lawyer, and a social worker turned administrator) was one of the most devastating things I’ve read in a while. After reading it, you see the effects of the Black Hawk Down incident in the response to every international crisis.

4. Murder in the 4th Estate, by Peter Deeley & Christopher Walker. The story of Britain’s first kidnapping. It made me wonder if Robert Maxwell dunnit.

5 (tied) The Line of Beauty, by Alan Hollinghurst and The House of Sleep, by Jonathan Coe. Two bloody good stories told bloody well.

7. In Their Own Write: Adventures In The Music Press, by Paul Gorman. The interview format was stylistically uninspired, but the sections on the British music press were fascinating nevertheless, though the American sections felt pretty pro forma.

8. Attack Poodles and Other Media Mutants: The Looting of the News in a Time of Terror, by James Wolcott. Even a couple of months after reading it, I can’t really remember any of Wolcott’s masterful put-downs (well, some descriptions of Andrew Sullivan and my pal Mickey Kaus are coming back to me), but he sure has a way with words.

9. I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe. Yes, some bits of it are very silly, but it was a great read nevertheless. (The television was barely turned on for a couple of days, and if you know me even slightly, you know that’s a miraculous achievement.)

10 Fever Pitch, by Nick Hornby. Added at the last minute because I didn’t want to have nine items on the list (I don’t care for multiples of three), but it does deserve a spot. I’m pretty sure that on a couple of occasions I took bus rides just so I could read a few more pages.