Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in books (Martha & Shirley)

Martha & Shirley: In 2008, the biggest problem was not enough books worth reading. Seriously. It was a new development. So we moved beyond politics.

This year, it was open to anything. The good news is there was a lot of book reading going on community wide. The bad news is? So many choices.

There are fifty books with ten votes or less, for example. There are 100 books with five votes or less. There is a list. We have four books the community loved and could come together on but to try to do a top ten (or even top five) was just ridiculous.

Books 2009

1) The number one choice usually came with a lengthy explanation from those voting for it. And over half of those voting selected this as the book of the year, Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking. This amazing book came out in 2008. How can it make best books of 2009??????????

The softcover edition was released September 2009 (list price $13.99).

Carrie Fisher's writing about her life. Supposedly. We say "supposedly" not because we think she's tightened up reality more than any other clever writer would. We say "supposedly" because there's a lot of the country's history in this very personal book.

That may be because she's lived through -- and taken part in -- so many defining moments and trends of recent decades. Regardless, the book is much deeper than you'd expect from a writer's autobiography. We say "writer" because, yes, she is an actress, but when it comes to print, she earned "writer" with her first book (Postcards From The Edge).

The book is similar to the book/script for the club act she did and it's funny and it's daring and it's brave. You laugh at the oddest moments. For example, she shares a story about her mother being punished by being locked in a closet and requesting that her mother give her a glass of water. We won't spoil the laugh for you but you don't see it coming.

While you don't see it coming, while you never see it coming, after you're done laughing, you can't imagine it turning out any other way. This is a brave book and it should come with a warning: Reading in public will lead to strange looks as you burst into fits of laughter repeatedly. It truly is a joy to read this book.

2) From autobiography to biography. The second most popular choice in the community was Michelle Mercer's Will You Take Me As I Am: Joni Mitchell's Blue Period (list price $24.99). The book is a critical analysis of singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell's works and life during the period in which she released Blue (1971), For The Roses (1972), Court and Spark (1974), The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975) and Hejira (1976).

Most of you mentioned hearing of the book in "The Joni Roundtable" at Third which usually led you to note the follow up "The music and book roundtable" where Elaine, Trina, Ruth, Rebecca, Kat and C.I. explained Mercer's strange tic. One moment, you're reading along and enjoying the book and all the sudden you're confronted with this huge wave of hatred from Mercer. And it's aimed at Carly Simon.

For those who didn't live through the 70s, it was as though Mercer's meds had suddenly worn off. It is the weakest part of the book and it's a shame she left it in. It's a shame because it's such a hateful moment and it's a shame because we've moved beyond the 70s even if Mercer hasn't. It's not necessary to rip apart Carly Simon or any other female in order to establish Joni's greatness. It's not necessary to rip apart Joni to establish Carly's greatness. Mercer needs a cat fight and that's so sad.

She's mentioning men throughout and then finally it's time to mention a woman and it's time for Mercer to make an ass out of herself. Joni's writing stands on its own as does Carly's. The two are similar in that both write songs and both can play guitar and piano. That also makes them similar to Jackson Browne or Paul McCartney or any number of writers. Joni has her own voice as a songwriter and Carly has her own voice as a songwriter. There's no need for a grudge match.

Actually, if you think about it, it's good that Mercer left that in because for those who didn't live through the 70s, the hatred she suddenly spews makes you recoil as a reader and that's a sign of how far things have come since the 70s. We now realize that more than woman can be a great artist and we're not going to pit woman against woman to fight for the token spot.

3) Did we just mention Paul McCartney? Well got to get him into our lives because Peter Ames Carlin's Paul McCartney: A Life comes in at number three. The hardcover book (list price $26) came out in November. Those who've read it (which includes us, we've read all four on the list) rave over the depth of the Beatles period but usually express a desire for more discussions of the post-Beatles period.

Page 204 is Paul in the news with the assertion that "PAUL IS QUITTING THE BEATLES" in newspaper headlines and 205 is the release of the first solo album (McCartney). The remaining 133 pages have to cover the rest of 1970, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties and this decade. (And less than 100 pages has to cover the 80s, the 90s and all the way up to 2009.) Linda McCartney passes away from cancer, Paul gets remarried, that ends in divorce. It all moves so quickly after the Beatles break up that it's like an Elizabeth Taylor biography where there's just too much detail to fit into one book. Is that what happened?

We don't know. But those who voted for this book but expressed dissatisfaction made comments like "I really expected more than three pages on his collaborations with Elvis Costello" (Brad) and "Did Wings just suck? I though I'd learn about post-Beatles and I really don't think I did unless Wings raced up the charts a few times but McCartney never wrote a strong song after 1970" (Goldie) and "Honestly, I expected more about [second wife] Heather Mills. If you're not going to delve into that, why write a book about the man?" (Denise).

The Beatles part explores and grips you but there's just too much to cover in the remaining pages and it's as though we leave this great exploration and Peter Ames Carlin is suddenly showing us flash cards instead.

We didn't vote in the poll but we did read all the books. We had a problem with one section of this book, the trip to America to really start the solo career when someone shows up and just rips apart Linda. It's a musician and we'll give you his initials (D.S.) but read the book. That puzzled us. We asked C.I. (who hasn't read the book) and she responded, "That ___ said what? That little ___ is the biggest sexist in the world. If you think his attack on Linda is bad -- and it is bad, you should hear what the ____ 's said about Yoko [Ono] over the years. He's just a pig."

That's kind of what we got when we went through the book reading just that man's quotes. And that pointed to the other weakness of that section. We read one quote to C.I. and were just starting the last name of the man ("Who said that?"), at the third letter, when C.I. said his name. So C.I. knew right away who the little ____ was. And knew the pig was a sexist and knew the pig had a long history of trashing women. Why didn't Peter Ames Carlin know this?

Or did he know this and not include it?

We have no idea but to let a man who loathes women -- especially those in any position of power -- go off on Linda McCartney and not provide any kind of context so that the readers know this man's problem isn't just with Linda, struck us as more than a little unfair. And then we started thinking that if a woman did appear in the book, she'd slept with McCartney. The book is very short on female sources and a more well rounded portrait of Paul (and Linda) would have been possible if the sources weren't primarily drunken session players who left under unhappy circumstances.

4) The Battle of the Story of The Battle Of Seattle (list price $12) comes in at number four and the cover credits it to David Solnit and Rebecca Solnit. 34 pages of the 124-page book are also written by Chris Dixon. Third did a critical examination of the book with all participants strongly recommending it.

You'll note there are no links under any title. Why no hyperlinks! We could order right away! Book choice number four is why. All problems are now supposed to be fixed if your order from the publisher but we don't want e-mails of "Martha, Shirley, I trusted you and . . ." So you find the book yourself if one of the four interests you.

For us, the section that worked best was David Solnit's section. We know that the chronology there was sometimes confusing, but it was so deeply felt. In the Third piece, C.I. notes, "Instead, he's clearly hurting over this still and he's clearly blaming himself as much as he's blaming the film makers." That really does come through in the reading.

Due to initial problems with orders being filled, this became a pass-around. Meaning after the Third piece, the participants (except Elaine who hadn't read it) began circulating the book throughout the community. We think this book should have had more votes and been higher on the list but the late release (Thanksgiving week was when the publisher had the books and it was after Thanksgiving that they were mailed out if you were ordering from the publisher) resulted in a lower showing. We also know that an article Rebecca Solnit wrote in December pretty much drove away interest in this book because suddenly many on the pass around lists were stating "don't bother." Rebecca Solnit wrote about the climate conference in Copenhagen. Or that's what she presented as writing about. Instead she wrote about Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin's not even a governor now and she wasn't in Copenhagen. She doesn't set White House policy either.

Somewhere (even C.I. doesn't remember or says she doesn't), C.I. made a comment about that ridiculous speech Naomi Klein gave at the anniversary celebration of The Progressive. We thought the comment was made at Third but we couldn't find it. It might be in one of C.I.'s columns for the newsletters. But the gist of it was, "If you think Sarah Palin is so pathetic and so stupid, what does it say about you that in 2009 you're devoting your speech to her when you could talk about any topic in the world? When you could bring attention to any important issue? But you decided bitchy was the way to go? At a convention for the left?"

And that's how people felt about Rebecca Solnit's column. There's no real reason to write about Sarah Palin. She's not even a governor any more. But it's become the gutter laugh, the equivalent of the comic at the night club who does other people's catch phrases because he or she can't come up with any material of their own. There were many reasons to be outraged about Copenhagen. There was (a) all the attention it consumed from Panhandle Media (while the Senate was starting the push on that awful non-health care bill), (b) the faux and rehearsed nature of the 'activism,' (c) the White House wanting to do the usual Barack breezes in, gives a speech and world swoons, (d) the inability of the economically well off nations (include the US despite the debt) to even acknowledge the suffering developing countries will face . . . We could go on forever. So a column supposedly about Copenhagen that exists for one more attack of bitchy on Sarah Palin?

You're wasting our time and we don't have time to waste.

Had that column not appeared, the book most likely would have placed higher. But, as Keesha put it, "The column goes up and suddenly I'm stuck with the book, like we're playing hot potato, no one on the list wants me to forward it to them anymore."

We already linked to 2008 at the top of the piece. If you're curious about past choices, click on
2007, 2006 or 2005. Will there be a 2010 year-in-review on books? If the site hasn't gone dark, we'll do one here. If it does go dark, we'll do it at the gina & krista round-robin.