105 Books and a Playlist to Read This By

Part of the epic book pile atop my dresser.

Oh noes. It’s another blog entry. Set mp3 player to ‘stun’ (playlist to follow).

This year I’ve read a lot of books. So far I’m up to 105. This is an absurd number for many people, who basically ask me to repeat that number over and over again and finally demand that I explain myself. What’s to explain? I’m a homely fatty with no life. Hence books are read. In fact, books make up at least fifty percent if not a full eighty percent of my diet. This is not fat, people. This is book weight.

Words are heavy.

I will spare you, and not list the full one-oh-five here, but as promised (or rather, threatened), here are a few notable tomes I’ve perused thus far.

#23 The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
This book won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel in 2010, which is how it got my attention.  It’s the kind of science fiction that I really like – the kind that is vivid and upsetting and not so far from current reality. It takes place in 23rd century Thailand the last refuge of non sterile produce in a world decimated by genetic modification.  The world as we know it is falling apart: the oceans have and are rising, global warming is rampant, carbon fuels have run out and things are now powered by manually loaded springs. Biotechnology companies dominate, their GM foodstuffs (animals and people, too) having brought a series of plagues, corruptions, contaminations and terrorist strongholds.
Like a good Philip K. Dick novel, it’s far out there, but in a way that says this could be the future, this could really happen – it’s within our reach. Which of course is more disturbing than anything else in horror or science fiction: that possibility.  It’s dense and gritty and worth a read if you are like me and enjoy seeing why you will never win any major literary awards.

#38 The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
This is the most important thing you need to know about this book, the thing they should print in big letters on the book jacket: at one point there is a battle between super elite military, ninjas, pirates and mimes. Bam. There. That’s all you need to know.  If you require more: It’s the story of a man who ends up involved in “The Gone-Away War”, where governments team up with scientists (many physicists) to develop a weapon that makes the enemy – land and all – simply disappear. Or so they think. What results is a world half missing, but full of nightmares and sand and possibilities. Loaded with humor and a brilliant plot it is worth the read, (even though it was a little slow going for me at first) and has an excellent yet predictable twist.  I will not divulge said twist.

There’s a word for people who like to give away the twists and surprise endings of books, teevee shows, films and the like. That word is not ‘spoiler’. That word is ‘Douchebag’.

I read a lot of Ray Bradbury this year. Bradbury was genius. He wrote with this exceptionally beautiful prose that from anyone else would sound unbearably pretentious. He made it sound almost effortless. (“Hear the machinery of bees bright-stitching up the glamorous airs.” Sigh.) Although best known for his short stories and novellas about Mars – like the Martian Chronicles – if you are new to Bradbury’s work I would suggest #50 Something Wicked This Way Comes. A carnival comes to town, and two boys experience the nightmare of their lives after witnessing the otherworldly machinations of the carnies and their ilk.
For a collection of his many many short stories I recommend #90 I Sing the Body Electric, if only for the title story alone, which was adapted to become the 100th episode of The Twilight Zone. It contains a conversation on the nature of love that everyone should read.

Am going to talk about just one more book before getting my pretentious ass out of here. My brain hurts, which is actually the reason why after a month I’m still on #106 Sparks by David Quantick, when I should be somewhere around #120 living it up. You know, that thrilling #120 life.

# 19 The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
This book is probably the most honest book about living with cancer that I have ever read, including nonfiction memoires by actual cancer patients and survivors.
And it’s young adult fiction to boot.
The Fault in Our Stars is the story of a teenage girl living with terminal cancer: thyroid cancer that has metastasized to her lungs, making breathing laborious and requiring her to lug portable oxygen wherever she goes and sleep connected to a BiPAP machine – her loud and trusty dragon breathing for her so that she can rest (and survive the night).  Hazel – our heroine – loves stupid reality television competitions, takes community college classes, attends a youth support group and is obsessed with her favorite book  An Imperial Affliction. Through her cancer support group, Hazel meets Augustus Waters, a fellow survivor, and she finds love.
As cheesy as this may sound it is not. It is far from it. Augustus expands her ever-narrowing world, encouraging her to seek out the author of her favorite book to ask him why he never properly finished it (it just ends mid-stream) and to find out what happened at the end of the story. John Green writes most eloquently. You cannot help but become fully invested in these characters; as Hazel’s world opens up, so does yours as the reader. The descriptions, the sensations are palpable. You find yourself catching your breath as Hazel struggles with hers, you ache when she aches, and you find yourself glowing in Augustus’ presence. It’s almost hard to believe that this is a work of fiction written by a grown man whose cancer references come from a place of research alone. I can tell you, as a person who has suffered many losses from cancer, who has seen and experienced what cancer does to a person and their loved ones, who has had many threats (promises, really) of cancer herself, this story hit the mark with poignant accuracy. Read this book.

So that’s it for now. I’ll maybe talk about some of the other one hundred books of 2012. I definitely wanted to get to Lisa Randall’s Knocking On Heaven’s Door here, but I cannot stress enough how much my brainpan hurts. So physics is RIGHT OUT. For now. And hey – maybe there will be more on the list by then. The year is still young!

Also, here is the playlist formulated by my psychic mp3 player (a gift from my Cyborg when I was having a really rough spell a short while ago). This mp3 player is prone to playing the right thing at just the right time, or just what I wanted to listen to when I turned it on. For example: at the polls this year, it played the Stop Making Sense version of the Talking Heads ‘Burning Down the House’ when I was entering the building and queuing up; then went to Neko Case’s version of ‘John Saw That Number’ just as I was answering my ballot questions; ‘Trash’ by the New York Dolls as I re-queued and fed my ballot into the machine (I said “Godspeed Little Viking!”  and saluted as the machine ate it, to laughter and applause from my fellow voters and the volunteers); finally it played Junior Murvin’s ‘Police and Thieves’ as I exited the building, got in the car and drove away. Epic psychic mp3 player.
So here it is, what the psychic player spewed forth as I was composing this post:

Rilo Kiley – The Good That Won’t Come Out
The Dead Weather – Bone House
Elvis Costello – Radio, Radio
Tori Amos – Father Lucifer
Radiohead – Faust Arp
The Kinks – By the Riverside
Modest Mouse – Steam Engenius
Talking Heads – Stay Hungry (1977 Version)
Throwing Muses – Status Quo
Ani DiFranco – Rockabye (Like I Said version)
Talking Heads – Two Note Swivel (Unfinished Version)
Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra – Provanity
The Kinks – Johnny Thunder
Throwing Muses – Juno (Seasons Sessions Version)
Vic Chesnutt – Untitled Track from West of Rome
Bruno Coulais, et el – Fantastic Garden (From the Soundtrack to Coraline)
Mercury Rev – Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp
Belly – Puberty
Franz Ferdinand – Live Alone
The White Stripes – The Denial Twist
The Geraldine Fibbers – Marmalade
Zoe Keating – We Insist
Yo-Yo Ma – Gigue in G major from Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1

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