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Thread: Best Reads of 2004

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    Culture slut geek the girl's Avatar
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    Best Reads of 2004

    With the year of 2004 drawing to a close, some of us (preferably the ones that have re-read High Fidelity too many times) start making Best Of 2004 lists. I thought I'd make one involving books, so here it goes: My best reads of 2004. Anyone else wanna chip in? Although most of the books mentioned here were published this year (apart from #1, obviously), you're more than welcome to bring up older books.

    TOP TEN READS OF 2004

    1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (I can't believe I didn't read it earlier, but part of me is glad I saved it. A wonderful read.)
    2. Oracle Night by Paul Auster (after a few weaker efforts, my darling Auster is back in shape. Arguably his best work since Leviathan.)
    3. The American Boy by Andew Taylor (19th century England! Lots of semi-colons! Sherlock Holmes-esque intrigue! An 11-year-old Edgar Allan Poe!)
    4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon (quirky, endearing and very original. The narrator reads like an autistic Adrian Mole.)
    5. Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood (Another splendid effort from one of the best writers alive. It's a bit sci-fi, but I loved it anyway)
    6. The Tattooed Girl by Joyce Carol Oates (Not one of Oates' more stellar efforts, but an average Oates is still way ahead of any other living writer.)
    7. Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking around America with Interruptions (a beautifully written, funny and thoughtful piece of non-fiction)
    8. The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band (Hilarious, shocking and addictive, this is THE rock'n'roll biography. You don't even have to like Motley Crue!)
    9. The Tribes of Palos Verdes by Joy Nicholson (Low-key, touching and beautiful, this novel about a young, jaded girl growing up in a gated community gives me the same feeling that the movie Ghost World did.)
    10. No Second Chance by Harlan Coben (Gives the phrase "Page turner" a whole new dimension.)

    I really wanted to put The Probably Future by Alice Hoffman up there too.
    "There's more to life than books, you know, but not much more" (Morrissey)

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    Livin' the life Dinahann's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by geek the girl
    5. Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood (Another splendid effort from one of the best writers alive. It's a bit sci-fi, but I loved it anyway)
    Margaret Atwood is brilliant. The Handmaid's Tale is my favorite by her, but Oryx & Crake was haunting. Wonderful. I DO like science fiction. I'm not wild about fantasy, though.
    I don't really have a list but I was sick with anticipation for The Dark Tower VII, The Dark Tower. Flawed, but well worth the read.
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    Culture slut geek the girl's Avatar
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    I also loved The Handmaid's Tale, and I think Oryx & Crake was right up there quality-wise. Atwood's use of language is phenomenal.

    Being a long-time Stephen King fan, I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I've been avoiding the Dark Tower series, thinking that I wouldn't like it. How would you describe it genre-wise? I love his horror stuff, especially It, Bag Of Bones and The Stand, but I've, probably incorrectly so, pegged Dark Tower as fantasy and I've been telling myself for years that I don't "do" fantasy. I did like The Talisman though.
    "There's more to life than books, you know, but not much more" (Morrissey)

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    Livin' the life Dinahann's Avatar
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    You know, the Dark Tower series did have a dab of fantasy, but I thought they were really more western in genre than anything else. Maybe an "End of the world/western" genre. I loved them, but then I've been bananas about everything King, except for perhaps Gerald's Game.
    I LOVED The Talisman; didn't care as much for it's sequel Black House.
    Well I was born in a small town
    And I can breathe in a small town
    Gonna die in this small town
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    Come Along, Pond phat32's Avatar
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    Great thread, geek the girl. Here are mine:

    1. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America

    Commentary on the United States as important as Alexis De Toqueville's, a look at politics as honest as Machiavelli's, parody as sublime as Sartre's, America was my personal top read of 2004.

    It helps that it's funnier than all hell.

    2. and 3. Up Country and The Charm School (Nelson Demille)

    A flight attendant caught me reading Up Country and told me, "You know, I get a lot of recommendations from passengers because of my work, and I love Demille. If you like Up Country, you need to read The Charm School."

    And she was right.

    Up Country is the tale of a Vietnam veteran who returns to Vietnam on a top-secret mission for the American government. The plot is hackneyed; the author's observations on modern-day Vietnam and what the war cost the United States is not. The strength of this novel lies in the fact Demille really is a Vietnam veteran and did return to Vietnam prior to writing it. Demille understands Asians better than I do...and I'm Asian-American, for cryin' out loud.

    In The Charm School, Demille brings us deep into the Cold War for another epic struggle: the one between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1980's. Demille gives us a vivid portrait of life in the Soviet Union during the Cold War and the lengths the American and Soviet governments are willing to go to defeat the enemy. More kickin' than a Red Dawn marathon on TBS.

    4. Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson)

    Read it before, but worth a re-read. Stephenson is the prophet of the digital age: He wrote this novel in 1992 and predicted the popularity of Internet communities, the preponderance of Internet advertising and gave us a glimpse into how a global virus could paralyze the Internet. His predictions are almost too numerous to list but include: the further Balkanization of American suburban communities, the outsourcing of American jobs(!) and the exceptional popularity of online multiplayer video games.

    After Stephenson, it was "William Gibson? Who's that?"

    Read it and you may discover why we're all so addicted (and love) the FoRT.

    5. and 6. The Ultimates Volumes I and II (Mark Millar)

    Yes, it's a Marvel comic book, but it's one of the most important comic books (or "graphic novel," if you prefer) in the past ten years.

    The Ultimates is the Avengers turned on its head: Captain America, the Wasp, Giant Man, the Hulk, Iron Man and Thor.

    What is heroism? Does the government have a right to cover up information if done to ensure the safety of the American people? And who would win a straight-up fight: Captain America or the Super Skrull?

    Bonus: Has one of the best lines I've read anywhere all year.

    Captain America (pointing to the "A" [for "America"] on his helmet): "Surrender? You think this letter on my head stands for France?"

    7. The Dark Tower Book VI: Song of Susannah (Stephen King)

    I enjoyed the penultimate chapter in King's Dark Tower saga more than I enjoyed the closing chapter. I guess it's true what the critics say: King's endings suck.

    8. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)

    The cover will give you nightmares, but it's a modern fairy tale classic on the level of Through the Looking Glass.

    9. Mystic River (Dennis Lehane)

    I haven't read an author who asked so many profound questions in one novel since Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray.

    Bonus: Read the novel and skip the movie, and you won't have to listen to Sean Penn's Boston accent! Wicked smaht!

    10. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)

    Like a fourth trip through the buffet line, I knew it was no good for me, and yet, I couldn't stop myself.
    Last edited by phat32; 12-11-2004 at 05:26 PM.
    "...Every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things donít always soften the bad things, but...the bad things donít always spoil the good things." - The Doctor

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    nesting Kennedy's Avatar
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    I really enjoyed the DaVinci Code and Dan Brown's other 2 books as well, they are very well researched, have excellent suspense and are just this side of incredible. First novel: Digital Fortress and 2nd novel: Angels and Demons. You get a sense of how he develops as a writer. I'm looking forward to more from him.

    I picked up Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel (Susanna Clarke) for my nephew and ended up reading it (bought him another copy). It had been presented as Harry Potter for adults. The author has so many details in the book that she includes footnotes! It's quite brilliant.

    For a laugh out loud snack of a read try Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels: 1 through 10. Cheeky, funny stuff. She's a bounter hunter, the rest you'll have to find out for your self. More for the ladies I think.

    For a really well rounded read, I enjoyed An Instance of the Finger Post by Iain Pears. Set in 16th century England, during the advent of medical sciences, it's a mystery told from 4 different perspectives.

    Crow Lake: exquisite storytelling by Mary Lawson. Rural life, the people and the histories. I'm not doing it justice with this description. If you like good writing you'll enjoy this.

    Excellent thread!!
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    Wonky snarkmistress Lucy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyGills
    For a really well rounded read, I enjoyed An Instance of the Finger Post by Iain Pears. Set in 16th century England, during the advent of medical sciences, it's a mystery told from 4 different perspectives.
    Do you recommend that one? I've been reading Pears' Argyll mysteries, but hadn't yet branched out.

    I don't have a top 10 books for the year, but this is the year I found Jasper Fforde's excellent Tuesday Next series, and (thanks to Fort recommendations) Neil Gaiman (who is now one of my favorites), AND got to finally finish off King's Dark Tower series. It lacked only a new Harry Potter to make the year perfect, book-wise.
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    nesting Kennedy's Avatar
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    Lucy, if you're missing your Potter fix then definitely pick up Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I don't want to give the impression it's a substitute, that wouldn't be right or fair to the authors. It is a very good read. There was so much to take in that the writer's enormous undertaking didn't really set in until I'd finished and started to ruminate.

    An instance of the finger post is a very good book I read many years ago and I kept it on my shelf (I tend to toss/recycle as soon as I'm done). I loved it.

    I'm going to check out your selections. I think it's great to get recommendations. There are so many good books out there we wouldn't know about otherwise.
    home at last

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    Anarchist AJane's Avatar
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    Like Lucy, I devoured Jasper Fforde and Neil Gaiman this year. Tuesday Next is my hero, and I may even venture into the world of graphic novels to get my next Gaiman fix.

    Quote Originally Posted by geek_the_girl
    The Tattooed Girl by Joyce Carol Oates (Not one of Oates' more stellar efforts, but an average Oates is still way ahead of any other living writer.)
    Agreed. This one was lacking something, but I can't quite put my finger on it. The characters seemed somehow underdeveloped, maybe? I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I thought I would.
    Quote Originally Posted by geek_the_girl
    Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood (Another splendid effort from one of the best writers alive. It's a bit sci-fi, but I loved it anyway)
    There IS no better writer alive, IMO. Really, her alternate-reality novels are not my favourites (I'm a diehard fan of her earlier work from the '70's and '80's, although Alias Grace was frickin' brilliant) but with Oryx and Crake she somehow manages to take very current social issues and turn them into a classic novel, same as she did with Handmaid's Tale.
    I have her new book of essays, Moving Targets, on my shelf to read next.
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    can i have your heart? unexplained's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phat32
    9. Mystic River (Dennis Lehane)

    I haven't read an author who asked so many profound questions in one novel since Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray.

    Bonus: Read the novel and skip the movie, and you won't have to listen to Sean Penn's Boston accent! Wicked smaht!
    Taken note. I wanted to grab the movie but I'm going to grab the book instead.
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    "The mind is its own place, and in it, self can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n." -John Milton, Paradise Lost.

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