Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in books (Martha & Shirley)

Martha & Shirley here again with our look at the year in books. This was a very tight race, both within the top ten and to make the top ten. We'll run the top thirty in Thursday's gina & krista round-robin. But these are the ten books that spoke the most to this community in 2011.

One thing that really stands out is that books need to be talked about and blogged about. Nine of the books making the top ten were. One wasn't. Despite it being by one of your favorite authors (who placed on our yearly best-ofs two times before), that book had no push in the community and no real push outside. All voting for it explained they first learned the book even existed when they saw it in a bookstore. When the community chose to talk about books, either in newsletters or at websites, community members listened.

As DeShawn explained, "I like reading. I don't have time to go through a list of titles every week. I also can't browse my bookstore because my bookstores were Borders Books -- which closed -- and a local independent -- which also closed. So what I'm really left with is what someone recommends. And if someone in the community takes the time to write about a book, even for just a few sentences, that says to me it's worth checking out. That's the only way I am going to pick up a book these days -- except for the small number that make it into Target. But if someone mentions a book, I will go online and order it."

As usual, the bulk of the picks were non-fiction. In the past, political science and politics were big on the lists. These days, perhaps signifying a change in mood in not just the community but also the culture, reflections were more popular.

Now for the list . . .

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1) "Two months after Dad died, Al admitted in the safety of the therapist's office what I must have always known: He never had any intention of marrying me. What he wanted was out. And that's what he got. He got out. I watched him walk into the light of the California sun without so much as a glance back." Al, if you don't know, is Pacino. And Diane Keaton maintains that unique straightforward manner throughout Then Again, a book as noteworthy for its tone as it is for its look which includes photos of collages by her late mother. This was the clear community choice as the best book of 2011. As Keaton reflects on life and death and love, the journey the book provides is sweeping. This was the most popular in text and also in audio (here for the audio version). Also on audio, Ann noted that Diane Keaton was a guest this year on The Diane Rehm Show discussing the book (and Ann ranks that hour as the best hour of The Diane Rehm Show in 2011).

chris hedges

2) Chris Hedges' Death of the Liberal Class. It made last year's list and we noted then that we wouldn't be surprised if it also made this year's. Books that come out near the end of the year (in hardcover, this book came out in October of 2010) tend to overlap onto two years. Since last year's book round-up, Hedges' book has also been chosen by The Third Estate Sunday Review as one of the ten most important books of the last ten years. If you believe that actions have consequences and that ethics and beliefs matter, this is the book for you. If you just blow in the wind waiting for a face on television to tell you what to think, you should avoid Death of the Liberal Class or risk your brain exploding.

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3) Shirley MacLaine's I'm Over All That And Other Confessions. We followed up on many votes with a series of e-mails to determine what helped a book make the list (among other things)? All the community members who made this their top choice cited "Books: One writes, the other types (Ava and C.I.)" (Shirley was the writer, Tina Fey the typer, for those who missed Ava and C.I.'s piece). Time and again, a book mention here or there resulted in interest in a book serving as a stark reminder just how little time our culture now spends on books and book discussions. We're both old enough to remember not just when Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show, but also when it was 90 minutes. Back then, authors were frequent guests, especially during the show's final thirty minutes. And Shirley MacLaine's lived a few years as well and ready to impart learned wisdoms. This book is fierce, funny, feisty and highly enjoyable. Micah probably said it best in our follow up with him, "I didn't just enjoy it when I first read it. I still pick it up and will flip around and find a section that interests me at that moment. And it's just as much a treat to re-read."

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4) Out Of The Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis On Rock Music, editor Nona Willis Aronwitz. Ellen Willis was one of the pioneers of rock criticism. In this collection, edited by her daughter, Willis rock writing is presented in such a manner that not only does the reader grasp the pivotal moments of 60s and 70s rock, but you also see clear connections between the Willis who would focus solely on politics in the second half of her writing career. Did anyone capture Patti Smith better? Especially the subtext of Smith? We doubt it. Did anyone capture Elvis in Las Vegas with more insight? These are the questions you ask as you read the various essays in this book. (This book was noted several times by C.I. including in Iraq snapshots, as those selecting it as their top pick reminded us.)

jane fonda prime time

5) Jane Fonda's Prime Time: Love, Health, Sex, Fitness, Friendship, Spirit, Making the Most of All of Your Life. Numerous community sites noted this but Ruth probably noted it the most including here. Most ranking this as their number one pick cited Ruth's posts on this book that examines health in all forms during our third acts. Joan told us she saw the book as a companion piece to Fonda's Women Coming of Age and a more fully developed discussion of many topics "that seem to greet me each day of late. That is both because I am the target age for this book and also because so much of what Jane covers in this book is in the news. She's really at the forefront in this book."

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6) Harvey Kurbernik's Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon. In March, this book comes out in softcover. This 2009 book covers the California rock scene of the sixties and seventies. Beth fell in love with the book this year and did a brief piece on it for the gina & krista round-robin. Then she, Gina and Elaine did a piece focusing on the photographs of Henry Diltz featured throughout the book. In hardcover, this is the very definition of coffee table book and it's large size is really necessary to give Diltz's photographs their due. Striking standouts include page 233 of Joni Mitchell, page 53 of Cyrus Faryar (and a groovy car), page 123 Barbara Hershey, page 152 of Michelle Phillips and Cass Elliott, page 293 of Cass and her daughter Owen and page 163 of Linda Ronstadt. There are many, many well known and famous people in the book. But the photographs we note are ones that, as Elaine, Gina and Beth wrote, "Show you someone you recognize but in a light you don't normally see them. Time and again, Henry Diltz captures the side less often seen."

7) Dyan Cannon's Dear Cary: My Life With Cary Grant. We do not alter the results of the voting. Every year, despite the tallies being published in the gina & krista round-robin, someone is sure we took the community's votes and put them to the side. If we were altering results, we'd put this book at number ten and not number six. That's no offense to Cannon, it's just that if it were at number ten, we could write, "We started with a Diane and we end with a Dyan . . ." All who ranked this their top pick cited Elaine's post on the book. Actress and director Dyan Cannon was just emerging in her career when one of the screen's most romantic stars began pursuing her. They would marry and the picture book wouldn't be so pretty up close but they would have a child (Jennifer Grant) and Dyan would learn a great deal about herself. This really is a moving book and, as Elaine noted, you really will enjoy the ending. (We're not going to spoil it.)

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8) Carrie Fisher's Shockaholic. You love Carrie Fisher's writing. If one thing's been loud and clear, it's how much this community loves Carrie Fisher's writing. Wishful Drinking wasn't just your number one pick in 2009, it was also your number four pick in 2010. We're sure this book will make it onto the 2012 list as well. We weren't surprised that it was number seven and not higher. It was only noted once by a community site (Third Estate in their piece picking Wishful Thinking as one of the most important books of the last ten years) and, even then, it was in passing. And the book came out in November. A bit hard to compete with books that were out for months and months when our voting ends in December. So we do expect that this book will make next year's top ten as well. This go round, Carrie's exploring life after shock treatment. It's the funny and honesty you come to expect from this writer. Those making this their top pick cited . . . nothing. No community coverage (again, only the Third piece exists -- that's community sites as well as community newsletters) and no media coverage. As Tori explained, "I went in to buy a book for my sister and as I was heading towards the registers, I saw the Princess Leia cover and stopped wondering what it was? The minute I saw it was a new book by Carrie, I grabbed it and didn't even notice it was a 30% off selection until I was in line to pay. A lot of writers, I'm going to study the cost of the book and think, 'Do I want this now?' With Carrie Fisher, it's a grab, pay and rush to read." And that's what all of you told us, you were at the bookstore and, as you walked through it, you saw her book and grabbed it.

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9) John Russell's My Bright Midnight. This novel, the only one on the list, benefitted from the rave review Hilda gave it in Hilda's Mix. Everyone ranking it as their first choice noted they learned of the book via Hilda's review. Brady noted, "In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Psycho. Remember how that film starts? Janet Leigh runs off with some money? Walter, living in Germany before WWII, steals money from his boss Eckart and rationalizes it's okay because Eckart is a friend of Hitler's and 'I reasoned that stealing from hateful, stupid men was no crime.' And that money starts him on his trip to the US. It really is a book you'll treasure."

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10) The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton. "Oh, how the years roll by," as Vanessa Williams sings. We can remember when community member Goldie was 12-years-old. Now she's a high school senior. And the writer she did her English paper was on Anne Sexton as readers of her column in the community newsletter Polly's Brew know. They know because Goldie did six different columns on six different poems of Anne Sexton's from October to November. Which is how this 1999 collection became something the community started picking up. It's the only collection of poems to make this year's list and it's the oldest book on the list. Our personal favorites? "Flee On Your Donkey," "Her Kind" and "For My Lover Returning To His Wife."


The Common Ills year-end coverage included C.I.'s "2011: The Year of the Slow Reveal," Ruth's "Ruth's Radio Report 2011," Martha and Shirley's "2011 in books (Martha & Shirley)" and Kat's "Kat's Korner: 2011 in music." In addition, community coverage of 2011 also included Ann's "2011 best in film (Ann and Stan)" & Stan's "2011 in films (Ann and Stan)", Cedric's "Barack finally gets something right!" & Wally's "BARACK BEST 2011 MOVE!," Rebecca's "best of fall tv 2011" and Trina's "New Year's Parties."