Friday, December 31, 2004

Best of 2004

OK, I almost wasn't going to do it, but what the heck--here is my 2004 round-up/best of post. (Note no list is in any particular order. I just like them.)

Best/Favorite Books of 2004

GOEST, by Cole Swensen. National Book Award finalist, this poetry collection is intense and beautiful. Explores the white spaces, the invisible, and the “living windows.” (For more, click here.)

DOOR IN THE MOUTAIN: NEW AND COLLECTED POEMS, 1965-2003, by Jean Valentine; National Book Award Winner. Not a totally fair choice, since I read many of these poems in previous years, but one of my favorite poets. And it is great to have them all in one place.

UP TO SPEED, by Rae Armantrout, tight, concise, edgy, and wholly original. Armantrout is one of our best poets, and a new book from her is always reason to celebrate. Plus, who can resist a book that exposes the narcissistic pleasures of writing:

In order to write
you must fall in love

with your own thought
every time.

(Bloggers beware.)

GOLDBEATER’S SKIN, by G.C. Waldrep (really a 2003 book, but I read it this year, I really liked it, and I am making the rules.) Post-modern Amish poetry? Yes. Waldrep, who has a Ph.D. in American History, converted to the Amish faith and lived in an Amish community from 1990 to 1995. He began his writing career as a teenager, publishing two volumes on the cemeteries of Halifax County, MA. His poetry is rich, intelligent and full of verbal and imaginative acrobatics; Robert Penn Warren meets Wallace Stevens.

Winner of the Colorado Prize. For an interview, click here.

THE DEVIL’S HIGWAY, by Luis Alberto Urrea; Winner of the 2004 Lannan Foundation LiteraryAward for Nonfiction, a searing account of 26 Mexican immigrants who crossed the border into Arizona via a 110-degree desert, only 12 survived.

Best Manuscripts I Read in 2004 That Will be Published in 2005

THE HA-HA, by Dave King (Jan. 2005); A beautiful debut novel that explores the silent world of Howard Kapostash, a Vietnam vet who due to injuries received in the first few days in country cannot speak, read, or write. Howard has settled into a decent, routine life that is shattered when he must care for a young boy—an amazing story that explores the nature of relationships and language told with luminous clarity.

THE HISTORIAN, by Elizabeth Kostova (June 2005). Imagine Arturo Perez-Reverte and John LeCarre teaming up to write a book about Dracula alive and well in the 20th century. A great romp through history, dusty archives, Turkey, France, and 1950’s Eastern Europe.

DRAMA CITY, by George Pelecanos (March 2005). Pelecanos is our best writer of crime fiction, and one of our best writers in any genre. Pelecanos combines great stories, great characters, and great dialogue, with an intense examination of good and evil. Any book by him is worth reading.

(Disclosure: I work for the publisher of these books. That doesn’t mean they aren’t great books, just that when it comes to fiction I get to combine work with pleasure, but it also limits everything else I want to read.)

Books From 2004 That I Really Want To Read But Haven’t Got To Yet

SNOW, by Orhan Pamuk. A great writer – should definitely be a candidate for the Nobel.

THE SELF-DISMEMBERED MAN, by Guillaume Apollinaire, trans. By Donald Revell. The great surrealist, who died on Armistice Day, exposes the horror and contradictions of the birth of the Modern in this collection of his later poems.

Best Jazz CDs

STRANGE LIBERATIONS, Dave Douglas. Beautiful and witty. At times reminiscent of Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way, yet original and innovative. (More here.)

SUSPENDED NIGHT, Tomasz Stanko Quartet. New Europe does jazz right. Polish trumpeter Stanko has produced a powerful, lyrically intense gem.

CHANGING PLACES, Tord Gustaven Trio. A 2003 release, but on Amazon it is currently the #2 CD in Chile, and I bought it this year, so I am counting it. Norwegian pianists Gustaven’s most recent release is beautiful and haunting. Bill Evans would approve.

CELESTIAL MECHANIX: BLUE SERIES MASTERMIX. DJ Spooky works his magic on tracks from Mathew Shipp’s innovative Blue Series. Postmodern jazz meets hip-hop electronica.
MYLAB, Mylab. Eclectic wonder. If you took jazz, funk, pop, electronica, samples, amazing musicians and threw them in an aural mixer, you would get Mylab – the future of jazz.

Best Discovery/DVD Release

FREEKS AND GEEKS (THE COMPLETE SERIES). Maybe the best TV series ever. Poignant and funny. Wonderful writing, amazing acting, convincing characters. A very sensitive and accurate portrait of high school in the 80’s. Only 18 episodes where aired on NBC in 1999, insuring this series status as a cult classic.