Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Year In Books With Piano & Scene


This is a special edition of Pound for Pound, as it's that rarest of rarest beasts here, a guest post. I believe it's the first one, in fact. I can't think of a person I'd rather have put their imprint on this blog than the one and only Jennifer Cacicio, a.k.a. piano&scene, a.k.a. The Fort Greene Assassin. You haven't heard of her? You will. Jennifer is one of the most talented, brilliant writers I know, currently finishing up her first novel. If you are an editor reading this, get in touch immediately, as you do not wanna sleep and miss out on a chance to sign the next Joan Didion. She's also the woman behind piano and scene, the cool literary buttons that I hyped a few months ago and which are about to find their way into stores this Spring.

I asked her to do a post on a topic that I love, books. While I love to read and buy them, J has made it a mission to make reading cool again. From the buttons with your favorite authors on them to her booklog called I heart reading. about recent reads, she makes it all feel special and exciting. Almost like you're back being a kid, psyched to check out the latest Choose Your Own Adventure book at the library (Harlowe Thrombey, holler!). That's the way it should be, as there are so many amazing books and young writers and classics that can provide you with the chance to imagine a different world. She's a great guide to bringreadingback, she's got amazing taste (she covers two of my favorite books of all-time below) and she writes about it all with intelligence and fun.

Thanks to JC for doing this and taking time out of her busy schedule to school us all. Please check out her piano&scene site and cop a few buttons to show some appreciation. Add her as a friend on myspace to find out more about what she's got cooking. Such big things in 2007, (publishers, for real, don't sleep). I'm hoping that we'll be able to get her to do some more at Pound for Pound. For now, enjoy my homey's post.


I’m not much of a hardcover girl. I read everywhere – on the subway, at my desk, even in the bathtub (just ask my copy of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, forever wrinkly and yellowed thanks to a tub full of bubbles), and being one who already carries half of her life around in her purse (read: duffle bag), my right shoulder just can’t handle the extra few pounds. Not to mention I’m broke. I mean, those timeless hardcovers will look lovely on your shelf, but they’ll also set you back nearly thirty bucks a pop. Do you have any idea how many used books you can buy for that?

My point is that the books that make up my “Best Books of 2006” round-up didn’t necessarily come out last year (although one of them did). I’ll most likely get around to reading last year’s best-sellers this year. It’s just sort of how I operate – no real rhyme or reason. I let one book lead me to the next. But I will admit that I considered fudging this whole thing, adding books I read before last year, piecing the list together carefully and with precision, trying to out-mixtape everybody, if you know what I mean. I could’ve added Bellow or Dickens to command respect, Berman or Brautigan to prove my indie-cred. I mean, how would you know which books I actually read last year? But in the end I decided just to be truthful. Of the many books I happened to read in 2006, these five are the ones that at first I couldn’t put down, and then still couldn’t stop thinking about once I did. Simply put, these are the ones that will stick.


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Michael Chabon
Published Sept. 2000; Read Jan. 2006

It’s difficult to explain this book to someone who has never read it. It’s nearly impossible to articulate the serious power that Michael Chabon has over language – to say that he has the English language in a major headlock would be an understatement. Weighing in with 639 pages, sentences that go on for paragraphs, and a writing style that takes a while for the reader to ease into, this novel can at first seem rather daunting. But don’t worry, soon you’ll be so lost in this book and its colorful, comic-book loving, complicated characters, that you’ll feel right at home. It’s kind of like going to Europe. You take off, you land, everything seems strange, foreign, almost fuzzy. But it only takes a few days for you to navigate the subway, recognize your hotel’s street the moment you turn onto it, order in a restaurant with that 11th grade Spanish that suddenly reappeared on your tongue. You start to feel like maybe you could even live here, move right into this book with just you and your backpack. The story even opens in Europe (in Prague during the Nazi occupation), though most of it takes place in New York City, during the birth of the comic book (late 1930s to early 1950s). Travel with cousins Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay as they draw superheroes, jump off buildings, fail at rescue attempts, fall in love, wander aimlessly, procreate, escape from tight corners, and basically just grow up in prewar New York, adding color to all that gray. This book of course carries an underlying theme of tragedy (don’t all comic books?), but will make you feel more alive than you have in years.


The Year of Magical Thinking
Joan Didion
Published Oct. 2005; Read February 2006

I worship Joan Didion. There’s just no other way for me to put it. And each time I believe I’ve reached my maximum obsession rate, she does something else to nudge it up another notch. I must admit I already feel a bit guilty for starting this out so lightheartedly; this book isn’t exactly a pick-me-up. In short, it’s Didion’s personal account of death. In December of 2003, her husband of nearly forty years, writer John Gregory Dunne, dropped dead of a heart attack in the living room of their Upper East Side apartment. What’s worse, they had just returned home that evening from visiting their only daughter Quintana Roo in the hospital, who had been unconscious for five nights thus far, and would, ultimately, die twenty months later of septic shock. “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.” Please don’t be put off by the heavy subject matter. Please don’t say you’re not one for depressing books. This story rises above all the words and phrases normally tacked on to tragic stories. Didion explains that this experience “cut loose any fixed idea I had ever had about death, about illness, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about marriage and children and memory, about grief…about life itself.” Her experience did this for her, and in turn, her book does this for the reader. In her straightforward yet lovely style, she strips away all previous assumptions. She sweeps aside the fluff, leaving us with the clearest view of how unclear life truly is and will always be. To quote John Leonard from The New York Review of Books, “I can’t imagine dying without this book.” Me, either.

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