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Feature Mon Dec 27 2010

Staff Picks 2010

The Book Club staff's compiled a list of our favorite titles this year -- not necessarily published in 2010, or even Chicago-centric, just what we liked, loved, and appreciated, and why.

What book did it for you this year? Why? Drop us a line in the comments.


Rosamund Lannin: The Manual of Detection, Jedediah Berry

This appealingly odd and existential detective story navigates a city of curious horrors and delights, its uncertain protagonist working to the heart of a mystery as shadowy, ambiguous, and fantastical as the players behind it. Reminded me of Ray Bradbury but sparser, in a really good way. Fans of magical realism, eccentric heroes, or just a good puzzle, this book could be your latest literary pal, or maybe new best friend.

Emily Wong: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, Heidi Durrow

This book has a bit of everything: tragedy, the pain of racism, coming-of-age. The writer uses an interesting voice with short sentences that cut right to the chase. I couldn't put it down!

Follow Emily on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ray_o_sun

Ruthie Kott: What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal, Zoƫ Heller

I have a thing for unreliable narrators. And characters with creepy obsessions.

Rebecca Hyland: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

The Brief Wondrous Life is in fact a history-packed epic, told from multiple points of view. The story unfolds in an engaging, slang-y style sprinkled with kitchen-sink pop cultural references. He makes it all work. The novel is quite an achievement yet he makes it all seem effortless, like late night confessional tales unspooling at a memorable party. (read more about Rebecca's favorite after the jump)

"It sounds like some twee indie film," said a friend I tried to persuade to read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I had a similar impression before reading it, the descriptions I'd heard of the title character had me picturing a book full of blog entry-style confessions of a sad introvert. The Brief Wondrous Life is in fact a history-packed epic, told from multiple points of view. The story unfolds in an engaging, slang-y style sprinkled with kitchen-sink pop cultural references. He makes it all work. The novel is quite an achievement yet he makes it all seem effortless, like late night confessional tales unspooling at a memorable party.

Author Junot Diaz insists in interviews that there's nothing biographical about the uber-nerdy title character but that he's "an extrapolation of what my life would've been like" had he not abandoned role-playing games and nerdy pursuits for chasing girls, and his descriptions of Oscar bespeak a "there but for the grace of God" love/hate relationship with the character. Oscar also personifies the alienation of a first generation immigrant. "You really want to know what being an X-Man feels like? Just be a smart bookish boy of color in a contemporary U.S. ghetto." "Oscar Wao" is a nickname he earns from his bookish ways and supposed resemblance to Oscar Wilde.

Oscar is the youngest member of the de Leon family and the bearer (and perhaps culmination) of the family fuku, or curse, that follows them from the Dominican Republic to New York and back. Oscar's mother, Belicia, was supposed to have led a charmed life as a doctor's daughter but the island political climate and her own headstrong nature have left her a bitter, angry woman. Diaz does a wonderful job of illustrating the political through the personal, particularly in Belicia's character, her stormy adolescence personifying the chaos of life behind the "platano curtain" of dictator Rafael Trujillo. Oscar's search for identity and purpose leads him to back to the homeland and experiences that eerily mirror his mother's.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a raucous ride of a book, an intensely readable exploration of family and personal and cultural identity.

 

Micah Uetricht / January 7, 2011 10:22 AM

I read two Chicago classics, "There Are No Children Here" by Alex Kotlowitz and "Boss" by Mike Royko, for the first time this year. I hadn't considered this when I started reading them, but 2010 was a fitting year to read them both: it was the year Richard M. decided he wouldn't try to follow his father's footsteps and stay on the fifth floor of city hall for the rest of his life, and the year the most famous of the high-rise housing projects was torn down. Though both books chronicle eras that have mostly ended, "Boss" and "There Are No Children Here" give should be required reading for all Chicagoans.

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Book Club is the literary section of Gapers Block, covering Chicago's authors, poets and literary events. More...

Editor: Miden Wood, miden@gapersblock.com
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