S.G. Browne

Fiction for the Holidays

I know that gift cards have become the easy thing to, well, gift to friends and loved ones for the holidays. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve received some clunker gifts without the option of exchanging for something I’d rather have. But everyone likes to read. And if they don’t, they should get in the habit. There’s nothing like a good story to take you someplace new.

So with that in mind, I’ve listed a handful of options (minus the thumb) for better gift giving through fiction. Feel free to include some of your own suggestions. But just remember to include a gift receipt.

Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
The tale of a ninety-three-year-old nursing home resident who reminisces about his time spent working in the circus to the point that he almost begins to lose track of what’s real and what’s not. The characters are delightful, the story intoxicating, and the prose inspired.

Lamb, Christopher Moore
The lost years of Jesus through the eyes of “Levi bar Alphaeus who is called Biff,” Christ’s childhood pal. I found myself laughing, enthralled, educated, appalled, and thoroughly entertained all at the same time. You’ll never look at Christianity the same way again.

Life of Pi, Yann Martel
Pi, son of a zookeeper whose family is emigrating to North America, finds himself the lone human survivor of a shipwreck in a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger. A funny and thoughtful adventure of a read.

In the Woods, Tana French
A cold-case double murder in the suburban woods of Dublin is revived twenty years later by another murder in the same woods. Narrated by a detective with a shadowy past connected to the double murder, this debut novel is part mystery, part psychological thriller, and nearly perfect.

Filed under: Movies and Books — Tags: , , , — S.G. Browne @ 11:23 am

W is for Wicked, Water, and Wizard

The W’s presented a bit more of a challenge than the prior two entries, as I’ve read more than fifteen novels that begin with this letter of the alphabet. While the top two were never in any serious danger of being left off the final ballot, the last one was a tough call and could have gone four different ways. In the end, and admittedly after some serious flip-flopping, I had to leave Watership Down (Adams), Wonder Boys (Chabon), and A Wrinkle in Time (L’Engle) on the outside looking in.

Other notable and memorable titles I’ve read that begin with W include The Witching Hour (Rice), War of the Worlds (Wells), Wolf’s Hour (McCammon), Watchers (Koontz), The Waste Lands and Wolves of the Calla (King), World War Z (Brooks), Where the Red Fern Grows (Rawls), Wuthering Heights (Bronte), and Walden (Thoreau).

The three that made it? A famous witch, a circus fable, and an epic search for a dark tower.

You’re the Top
Wicked, Gregory Maguire
I know the musical adaptation made a lot of noise, but give me the book every time. The story of the Wicked Witch of the West prior to Dorothy’s arrival in Oz paints a very different picture of the events that eventually unfolded after Dorothy’s arrival. Filled with heartache, humor, romance, political intrigue, and social commentary, Wicked does a great job of making you see the alleged villain’s side of the story. If you’ve seen The Wizard of Oz, then you really need to give this a read.

Two Mints in One
Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
My favorite book I read in 2009, I got completely swept up in the story of a ninety-three-year-old nursing home resident who reminisces about his time spent working in the circus to the point that he almost begins to lose track of what’s real and what’s not. The characters are delightful, the story intoxicating, and the prose inspired. A wonderful ride back in history to the circus heyday of the early twentieth century.

Three on a Match
Wizard and Glass, Stephen King
The fourth installment in King’s The Dark Tower series, Wizard is, in my opinion, the best of the seven. I also believe it’s just flat out one of King’s best novels. If the purpose of storytelling is to get the reader emotionally swept up in the lives of its characters, than this does the job. I remember getting chills reading certain passages and chapters as the book neared its end. Read the first three installments of the series just to get to this one.

*Bonus Titles: The Play’s the Thing
Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Edward Albee
Although completely different on every level, these are two of my favorite plays to read. Both Beckett and Albee are masterful.


Favorite Reads of 2009

First of all, I want to make one thing clear:

This is not a Best of List. A Best of List implies that I thought these were the best books of 2009. While to some extent that’s true, a Best of List is only my opinion, not a statement of fact, and has nothing to do with the value or the quality of the writing of the books I included. It’s just a reflection of my own personal tastes and perceptions.

I’m attempting to make this subtle clarification because people tend to take Best of Lists a little too personally and passionately, as if by leaving a particular book off the list I was somehow disparaging the author or showing my lack of taste or literary judgment. And I can show that just fine without being reminded of it, thank you.

So instead, these are simply my favorite books – the reads I enjoyed the most, for one reason or another. And before you say, “Hey, that book didn’t come out in 2009,” I never said these were my favorite books that hit the shelves last year. Just the favorite books I read.

1) Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen)
Books capture my imagination for a number of reasons, but this one captured them for all of them. Narrative voice, structure, style, flow, and a story populated with characters that I felt I could reach out and touch. Who doesn’t love a good story about a circus? I recommend this book to everyone. It was my favorite read of 2009.

2) Beat the Reaper (Josh Bazell)
“So I’m on my way to work and I stop to watch a pigeon fight a rat in the snow…” How can you top that for an opening line in a novel? A fun, unabashedly dark and imaginative debut novel, this one pushed all of my buttons. Darkly comic, entertaining, and a plot that never lets up. If you like your romance sprinkled with mafia hit men and hospital hi-jinks, then this is the book for you.

3) The Likeness (Tana French)
This is the follow up to Tana French’s debut In The Woods. Both novels are mysteries set in small towns on the outskirts of Dublin, Ireland. While I found the story and the mystery of her first novel more complex and compelling, The Likeness is one of those books where the characters seem so real that you can’t believe they’re not still hanging about once you’ve finished with the book. This one stayed with me for several days after I finished it.

4) Fool (Christopher Moore)
If you haven’t read any of Moore’s novels, you can’t go wrong starting off with this one. Richly detailed with research, Fool tells the story of King Lear from the viewpoint of Pocket, the King’s fool. Filled with trademark Christopher Moore humor and lots of tawdry Shakespearean antics, Fool is Christopher Moore at his best.

5) American Gods (Neil Gaiman)
Filled with beautiful prose and a dark, compelling, poignant story about the battle between the forgotten gods of the old world and the new gods who have sprung up to take their place, Gaiman manages to make the fantastic and magical seem possible. A rich, satisfying read.

Filed under: Movies and Books — Tags: , , , , — S.G. Browne @ 11:58 am