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October 2009

More Bests: Publishers Weekly Top 10 of 2009

While we've been counting down our top 100 books of 2009 toward our top 10, Publishers Weekly went in the other direction: they are announcing their top 100 books next week, like we are, but earlier this week they revealed their top 10 choices. It's the first time they've narrowed their usual longer list of picks to 10 favorites, and while they weren't quite sporting enough to rank their 10, we like that their list will provide an even more direct comparison (or complement) to ours (as well as other upcoming top 10s, like the NYT's.) Here they are:

It's a nice eclectic list, many of which we've loved as well: if you go back, you'll see that four of their ten (Holmes, Chaon, Bailey, and Grann) have already appeared on our list. I will also reveal that another book on their list is also in our top 10. Which is it? Come back on Monday to see... --Tom

Best Books of the Year Countdown: 20 to 11


We're slowing things down a little now, with just ten picks today, masterfully building the tension toward our top 10 announcement next week. Among our stops from 40 to 21 yesterday: a wonderful debut in English from one of South America's most exciting young novelists, a delicious novel that Michiko Kakutani mistakenly called "a strangely detached and lackadaisical production," a book so full of hoops lore it can stop a bullet (really), a cookbook loaded with f-bombs and pork, a Swedish novel once described to me as "Logan's Run without the lasers," and a brilliant throwback to the great kids' novels of the '70s like From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Mom, the Wolf Man, and Me.

20. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley

19. The Help, Kathryn Stockett

18. Cheever: A Life, Blake Bailey

17. The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America, Timothy Egan

16. Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese

15. Sag Harbor, Colson Whitehead

14. This Is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper

13. Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Jungle City, Greg Grandin

12. A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore

11. The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008, Thomas E. Ricks

Sorry, but you'll have to wait the weekend for the top 10 (and the rest of our Best of 2009 extravaganza). See you then. --Tom

More Best Books of 2009:

#100 to #81

#80 to #61

#60 to #41

#40 to #21

Omni Daily News

I vant to suck your blog:'s Reading Copy Books Blog gushes over A Brief History of Vampires in Literature, from Lord Byron's debauched writer's camp at Lake Geneva in 1816, through the Cajun camp of Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse novels. (More on Byron at the L.A. Times, including his don't-miss nickname for William Wordsworth.)

I love you for your brains: The Guardian chews on the latest wave in romantic fiction: zombie love.

Scare tactics: The Huffington Post looks at 7 Spooky Movies Based on Books, asking readers to vote on the scariest novels and film adaptations. 

Moving & shaking:
Red meat from The Audacity to Win--including the reasons Hillary was passed over as Obama's VP candidate--propels David Plouffe's campaign memoir to the top slot of the Movers & Shakers list.

Happy Halloween!


Graphic Novel Friday: A Dark Horse Halloween

I’m avoiding the costumed crowds this year in favor of getting into the Halloween spirit at home with some of my favorite festivities: watching scary but funny movies (The Monster Squad), listening to creepy, tongue-in-cheek music (Type O Negative), and reading Horror comics. The latter is especially inviting, as Dark Horse Comics released three frightfully king-sized collections in time for All Hallow's Eve.

Cracking open any deluxe Hellboy edition is akin to discovering a delicious homemade caramel apple in your trick-or-treat bag amid the usual factory-sealed chocolates. Volume 3, the most recent installment, collects over 300 pages of Hellboy stories in a sturdy, well-crafted hardcover.

Volume 3 starts off with Hellboy encountering cult-fave Lobster Johnson for the first time, and it doesn't take long for Hellboy to run into ancient mutant amphibians, talking-pig demons, and giant, evil worms. It's a crazed blend of Sci-Fi and Horror--and one that manages to satisfy both appetites. Senior Managing Editor Scott Allie offers a new introduction, calling this stage in Hellboy's career "the turning point, in every way," and director Guillermo Del Toro's intro is republished here as well. New to the bundled stories are over 30 pages of creator, writer, and artist Mike Mignola's sketches, pencils, unused panels, and designs.

Worth noting: The pages are not only heavy enough to lie flat when opened, but they also have extended margins so that the artwork doesn't curve down into the spine. Mignola's canvas is on full display in this oversized tome. 

TmpphpTLSoaH Last October, I howled the praises of the first Creepy collection (now up to Volume 4), and my Lon Chaney, Jr. impression continues with Creepy's "cursed cousin," Eerie. Feel free to judge Volume 2 by its cover, where Frank Frazetta pits two sword-wielding beasts against a backdrop resembling a psychedelic brain. And speaking of bad trips, Steve Ditko and Archie Goodwin help kick off the first chapter with "Deep Ruby," a story about a jeweler held captive by the titular gem. Ditko lets loose with the bizarre imagery and "freak out!" expressions, although I was most impressed with "Cry Fear, Cry Phantom," another Goodwin-penned tale, but with art by Jerry Grandenetti. Some of the panels were shocking in their direction, with a German Expressionist/Dr. Caligari vibe. It's disorienting in the best way. Volume 2 also includes an interview with Frank Frazetta from 1985, as well as all of the original fan letters and kitschy ads ("Ants--Real ones, too…Live Delivery Guaranteed: $2.98").

Just in case readers have too much fun with the above and forget to switch on a nightlight this weekend, The Marquis: Inferno might very well be hiding under the bed. This dense paperback comes from not only the pen but also the mind of Guy Davis (B.P.R.D.), who has conjured up a legitimately terrifying and thoroughly disturbing eighteenth-century nightmare. Not for the squeamish, The Marquis: Inferno is a historical fantasy set in Venisalle, where citizens hide their sins behind lurid, distorted masks. Vol de Galle, a paranoid man battling spiritual doubt, receives a hallucinatory vision where he is granted special sight through a mask of his own. As The Marquis, he sees devils parading as humans, and he is charged with sending them back to Hell. Much of the fun of the early half of the book is trying to unravel if de Galle is truly on a higher mission, or if he's a schizophrenic serial killer. Davis avoids the traditional devil imagery of horns and wings, and breeds his own appalling vision of damnation with plenty of gnashed teeth and tentacles. Keep the flashlight close.

Happy Halloween!


Omni Daily Crush: "Love Is a Mix Tape"

Love is a litany of things to a multitude of people*, but when you come right down to it, love is a story, and Love Is a Mix Tape is one of the best books I've read about love as it happens. Not as you want it to happen, not as you wish it could have been, but incontrovertibly as it is. This is not a hard, lonely memoir about a man who lost his wife. It is a searching, and at times searingly funny, story of Rob Sheffield and his wife, Renée, who gave each other just what they needed. Music, of course, accounts for much of what brought them together, and there are wonderful stories of their early years, living hand-to-mouth as students and fledgling writers, taking road trips, seeing shows, making tapes. The mix tapes that kick off every chapter are total time-capsule candy for anyone who grew up with, say, Duran Duran and U2 and grew into the indie-era of Pavement and Superchunk and others (in fact, many others: the mixes are delightfully mixy and eclectic, criss-crossing time and genre: you'll quickly understand why he listens to them over and over). And keep in mind you're in the hands of a die-hard fan here: there's no shortage of bits on songs and bands that only a writer for Rolling Stone could do justice:

I've always dreamed of a new wave girl to stand up front and be shameless and lippy, to take the heat, teach me her tricks, teach me to brave like her. I needed someone with a quicker wit than mine. The new wave girl was brazen and scarlet. She would take me under her wing and teach me to join the human race, the way Bananarama did with their "Shy Boy." She would pick me out and shake me up and turn me around, turn me into someone new.

This may be one of the best--and, the more that I look at, most bittersweet--passages to convey what Renée meant to him, how she changed his life, and how music was their conduit to each other and their emblem. It wasn't all wine and roses: they disagreed, they raged, they misunderstood each other, they struggled to make ends meet and figure out their version of husband and wife. There are songs for all of that, too, but as important as music is to this story, it really is only the soundtrack. He's as honest about their shared victories as he is about their failings: their love is the refrain, the thing they always come back to, and this is ultimately what gives the story its staying power and--in the face of tragedy--its sense of hope. --Anne

Recommended for fans of The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead, Our Noise, or Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

*Particularly to songwriters: see very last paragraph of LIaMT for evidence of this.

Best Books of the Year Countdown: 40 to 21

Between 60 and 41 yesterday we included a four-sided memoir of a one-of-a-kind childhood, a big retrospective from a master of the short-short-short story, a delirious trilogy-ender from the Demon Dog himself, a tiny and spellbindingly lovely novel of memory, and a travel tale far smarter than its sexpot cover would lead you to think.


40. The Informers, Juan Gabriel Vasquez

39. The Defector, Daniel Silva

38. The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood

37. Chronic City, Jonathan Lethem

36. The Good Soldiers, David Finkel

35. The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons

34. Spooner, Pete Dexter

33. Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, Terry Teachout

32. Open, Andre Agassi

31. Momofuku, David Chang and Peter Meehan

30. Too Much Happiness, Alice Munro

29. The Last Olympian, Rick Riordan

28. Born Round, Frank Bruni

27. Border Songs, Jim Lynch

26. The Age of Wonder, Richard Holmes

25. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower

24. Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, Maile Meloy

23. How I Became a Famous Novelist, Steve Hely

22. The Unit, Ninni Holmqvist

21. When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead

Tomorrow we'll count down from 20 to 11, and then on Monday we'll reveal our top 10, along with our full Best of 2009 feature. Until then... --Tom

More Best Books of 2009:

#100 to #81

#80 to #61

#60 to #41

#40 to #21

Comic Strip Superstar: You Be the Judge!

The hunt is on for the next breakout comic strip talent, and it's up to Amazon customers to help pick who will be the grand-prize winner.


In late August, Andrews McMeel Publishing, the publisher of contemporary comics classics like Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, Zits, Foxtrot, and more, unveiled their plan to bring fresh ink to the newspaper funnies, and Comic Strip Superstar was born. The floodgates opened, and budding talent answered the call. A panel of celebrity judges and industry experts then narrowed the list down to 10 Finalists, and now it's your turn!

Help us decide who will win the grand prize: a publishing contract and the opportunity for comic strip syndication with Universal Press Syndicate. Amazon customers can visit the contest page, log in, and vote for the winner. Here's a quick run-down of the 10 Finalists with links to samples of their respective strips:

Important Note: The deadline for voting is Friday, November 6. For synopses of all finalists, creator bios, contest details and rules, plus videos from our judges, head on over to the contest page. Place your vote and let us know which strip should be the next big thing in comics.

Omni Daily Crush: "The Black Tower"

I love a good historical novel, especially a historical mystery that takes me (with as little mental friction as possible) into the world of a long-lost era. I admire writers who are capable of doing this because they've single-handledly pulled off two very difficult tasks: 1)devising a great storyline and 2) creating a seductive texture of period details and color based on serious historical research.  They've managed to work their way through the strata of endnotes and bibliographies without losing their storytelling energy. Author Louis Bayard deserves high honors for his ability to tell a historically convincing and thrilling tale, and make it look incredibly easy. He does both in his most recent work, The Black Tower, now available in paperback. For about the cost of a movie ticket, you can enjoy quite a few more hours of thrilling, cinematic entertainment. 

Bayard's novel takes us into the streets, homes, and marketplaces of Restoration-era Paris, just as the medieval neighborhoods are giving way to Baron Haussmann's wide boulevards.  In the city's back alleys we meet Vidocq--the first hard-boiled homicide detective of the nineteenth-century.  He's a master of disguise, a man of huge appetites, and unconventional ideas, who thinks nothing of bending the law to catch a criminal. Much to his chagrin, Vidocq finds he must rely upon a hapless young physician named Hector Carpentier to solve a puzzling torture-murder having to do with Carpentier's father--also a physician, who secretly treated the imprisoned heir to the French throne, none other than Louis Charles, the son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. The odd couple of Vidocq and Carpentier must work quickly to catch the murderer, before the young doc becomes the next victim.   


This historical whodunit is too good to miss, and recommended for fans of The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl and A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch

YA Wednesday: Goth Girl and Other Treats

GothgirlThis week, I'm enjoying Goth Girl Rising, Barry Lyga's sequel to his hit debut, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. It's told from Kyra's (aka Goth Girl's) perspective, and there are dolls! (Actually, they're called minimates):

(From Lyga's minimate photo shoot; caption: "What are YOU looking at?")

Quick links...
Lyga talks about the cover of the book in Melissa Walker's "Cover Stories".

Iamclasspres Daily Show writer Josh Lieb pens a YA novel, I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President. (Galley Cat calls it "...maybe the most brilliant illustration of the Oedipus complex in the entirety of Western literature.")

The Guardian reports on Neil Gaiman and Melvin Burgess's experiments with Twitter fiction.

McSweeney's posts installment #3 of "Oh My Gawd: A Column About a Teenager Navigating Religion."

The Louisville Courier-Journal runs yet another article about how adults are reading YA. (Via Justine Larbalestier)

Nominations for the 2009 Cybils, the annual awards picked by the bloggers, have been announced, with 175 or so books nominated in the Young Adult Fiction category. Sadly, YA Wednesday favorites The Dust of 100 Dogs and Punkzilla were not among them, but many other worthy books were. Keep an eye on the blogs for reviews of all the nominees.

Happy reading, and Happy Halloween!--Heidi

Best Books of the Year Countdown: 60 to 41

Yesterday's twenty brought us a morning-after report from a lifelong party, exuberant youthful letters from a writer who couldn't go on but did, two graphic profiles of fictional lives, a novel written on the NYC subway, a book arguing that the greenest place in America is Manhattan, and one showing what that island borough looked like it when it was actually green.

Today's twenty:

60. The Forgotten Garden, Kate Morton

59. The Kids Are All Right, Liz, Diana, Amanda, and Dan Welch

58. The Lost City of Z, David Grann

57. How Rome Fell, Adrian Goldsworthy

56. The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, Lydia Davis

55. Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker, James McManus

54. Zeitoun, Dave Eggers

53. The Vagrants, Yiyun Li

52. The Magicians, Lev Grossman

51. Wicked Plants, Amy Stewart

50. Last Night at Twisted River, John Irving

49. Genesis, Bernard Beckett

48. Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, Susan Jane Gilman

47. Blood's a Rover, James Ellroy

46. The Scarecrow, Michael Connelly

45. A Short History of Women, Kate Walbert

44. Tinkers, Paul Harding

43. Lords of Finance, Liaquat Ahamed

42. Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins

41. The Angel's Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Coming on Thursday: #40 to #21. --Tom

More Best Books of 2009:

#100 to #81

#80 to #61

#40 to #21

#20 to #11