Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Top 10 of 2010: Books

I almost lost my extra house key this morning. I won't go into all the details of my morning routine, but I was pretty sure--once I ruled out the places a key might hide inside the truck--that the key had fallen somewhere outside my apartment. I started to freak out a little (Because I thought a Browne's Addition crazy was going to find it and let himself into my apartment and stand at the end of my bed at night while I was sleeping, which is a very real and, I feel, justified fear.) and had to come home on my lunch break to dig around in the snow. I found it. So, mini-crisis averted. Catherine said I needed to blog about this particular incident, but I have other things on my agenda, so that's it for the lost key anecdote. And really, it wasn't all that riveting, was it?


My friend, Dan (a master list-maker), has a terrific book list for 2010. This list comes complete with a witty literary-reference title: "Borne back ceaselessly into the past (or What I Read: 2010)". You can find this tremendous list on the Willow Springs blog, Bark.

1. I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith (1948 {also wrote 101 Dalmatians!})
2. Like You'd Understand, Anyway, Jim Shepard (2007)
3. Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, David Foster Wallace (2007)
4. So Long, See You Tomorrow, William Maxwell (1980)
5. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower (2009)
6. Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, Maile Meloy (2009)
7. In Cold Blood, Truman Capote (1965)
8. Life Among the Savages, Shirley Jackson (1948)
9. The Complete Short Stories, Truman Capote (1943-1982)
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (1847)

I suppose I should provide some kind of commentary on why these particular books made my list. (Dan has terrific commentary, by the way.) Alas, I just don't have the energy to explain why I like what I like. Wait. So, I'm admitting that I will take the time to compose a list (and yes, this did take some time--it always takes some time), but I won't take the time to justify my choices? Am I really that lazy? Apparently, yes. I do, however, seem to think I have the time to give you a list of my favorite short stories from the past year. Priorities, priorities.

1. "Boys and Girls" from Dance of the Happy Shades, Alice Munro (1968)
          I have forgotten to say what the foxes were fed. My father's bloody apron reminded me. They were fed horsemeat. At this time most farmers still kept horses, and when a horse got too old to work, or broke a leg or got down and would not get up, as they sometimes did, the owner would call my father, and he and Henry went out to the farm in the truck.

2. "Hard Times" from Burning Bright, Ron Rash (2010)
          Jacob woke in the dark. The window was open and before he could fall back asleep he heard something from inside the henhouse. He pulled on his overalls and boots, then went out on the porch and lit a lantern. The sky was thick with stars and a wet moon lightened the ground, but the windowless henhouse was pitch dark. It had crossed his mind that if a yellow rat snake could eat an egg a copperhead or satinback could as well, and he wanted to see where he stepped. He went to the woodshed and got a hoe for the killing.

3. "Landscape and Dream" from Best American Short Stories: 1994, Nancy Krusoe (1994)
          In the kitchen, it isn't a happy time of day: cooking breakfast, half moon, half dark. My mother stands there waiting. Anyone could come, even cows could come to her flower bed outside the kitchen window, could lie down and wait with her for the farmer--and the daughter--to return. There is nothing to stop them from coming to her, coming to her window, nothing at all.

4. "A Diamond Guitar" from The Complete Shorts Stories, Truman Capote (1950)
          The nearest town to the prison farm is twenty miles away. Many forests of pine trees stand between the farm and the town, and it is in these forests that the convicts work; they tap the turpentine. The prison itself is in a forest.

5. "Teresa's Wedding" from The Collected Stories, William Trevor (1993)
          She had imagined everything that had happened that morning, and the things that were happening still. She had imagined herself standing with her bridesmaids as she was standing now, her mother and her aunt drinking sherry, Agnes and Loretta being there too, and other people, and music. Only the bridegroom had been mysterious, some faceless, bodiless presence, beyond imagination.

6. "Sans Farine" from Like You'd Understand, Anyway, Jim Shepard (2007)
         There'd been the usual silence as the executioner had walked about the platform, while each assistant tended to a special task, one assistant handling the strapping to the plank, one seeing to the remaining condemned, one adjusting the heads on the lunette while wearing a waxed ankle-length apron. Each assistant is given a chance at one point or another to display one of the heads.

7. "from Children's Reminiscences of the Westward Migration" from St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, Karen Russell (2006)
          Outside, the sun was setting, spilling through our curtains. My father's horns throbbed softly in the checkered light. His ears, teardrop white, lay flat against the base of his skull. His expression was unrecognizable. Who was this, I wondered, this pupiless new creature? I had never seen someone so literally carried away by a desire before. All the reason ebbed out of his eyes, replaced by a glazed, animal ecstasy. If he hadn't been wearing his polka-dot suspenders, you would have mistaken him for a regular old bull.

8."O Tannenbaum" from Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, Maile Meloy (2009)
          There was a place at the trailhead to park cars, but there were no cars. Just snow and trees, and the creek running under the ice. Everett didn't look at his wife. He scanned the empty turnout and hoped this was not one of those times you look back on and wish you had done one thing different, though it had seemed perfectly natural to do what you did at the time.

9. "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned" from Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower (2009)
          Djarf kept a small knife in his belt, and in the way other men smoked a pipe of chewed seeds, Djarf liked to strop that little knife. It was sharpened down to a little fingernail of a blade. You could shave a fairy's ass with that thing. And while Haddod was talking, Djarf had pulled out his knife and drawn it neatly down the priest's belly.

10. "I Stay with Syd" from Tin House #40, Amy Hempel (2010)
         I went out onto the deck and examined a collection of shells. I like to say "conch" as much as I can. "Dumb conch." Then home to attend to the business end of sleeping pill.

Take it to the bank, people.

The frozen pond at Mom's house. That's right! Second Christmas is this weekend!

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