Inspired by the long-running annual series from The Millions, Libretto presents the best books we read in 2015 – regardless of year of publication.
The assignment was given: Write a blog post about the best books you read this year. It being a work directive, I couldn’t refuse; at the same time, I wasn’t sure I could comply. For even though I’m a writer, even though I work for a company whose name means “little book” in Italian, even though my bedside table has supported the weight of many books this year, I haven’t actually read that many. In fact, after wracking my brain, I believe I only began and completed a single book the entire year. I intended to read more, and in truth I opened several and read parts of most of them, but I can’t in all honesty tell you what the best books were that I read in 2015. Instead, here is a list of the books I most enjoyed sleeping next to over the past 12 months.
Start strong is my motto, so I’ll begin with the one book I did read this year:
1. Your Band Sucks, by Jon Fine. Described by one highly credible reviewer (myself) as “a memoir about [the author’s] career as a guitarist in a string of not-at-all to very-moderately-successful bands plying the mucky terrain of what Fine labels at various times as punk, indie, hardcore, and underground rock,” the book is an engaging read for any music lover, especially those who played in bands and had their dreams of stardom rudely awoken by the unnerving alarm clock of reality. Combining humor and pathos with an appealing level of self-deprecation, Your Band Sucks is a first-hand look at a music scene killed by changing times and tastes. You can read my full review here.
2. Radio Free Boston: The Rise and Fall of WBCN, by Carter Alan. The same friend who lent me Your Band Sucks gave me this one upon my returning the other. I’m not sure when he became a book pusher but at least he knows my areas of interest. WBCN was one of the great American rock radio stations, though by the time I was old enough to listen I was drawn to its comedy segments and appealing on-air personalities (including the author) more than the New Wave music they were pounding out over the airwaves. In its early days, however, no less a personality than future J. Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf was a station jock, and this history is very interesting and seemingly very well researched by Alan. I’ll finish this someday.
3. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. Awkwardly, my ex, my nine-year-old daughter, and I were invited to a party at a friend’s house. It was crowded and there weren’t any children my daughter’s age. We both would have been happy elsewhere. At one point, she came and sat on my lap. I happened to be seated next to a bookcase and on that bookcase was a full set of the Narnia books. Neither I nor my daughter had ever read any of them. So to pass the time, we began reading TLTW&TW. We only had time to read the first two chapters but we enjoyed it so much we borrowed a copy from the local library. However, one night while looking for movies on demand, we found and watched the film version and never finished the book.
4. The Kebra Nagast, translated by E.A. Wallis Budge. Several years ago, I was listening to a CD by the jazz singer Cassandra Wilson. One of the songs was called “Solomon Sang.” I could tell by the lyrics that it was about the Biblical King Solomon. But the lyric also mentioned someone named Makeda whom Solomon was clearly crazy about. I didn’t recall that name in the Bible so I Googled it and found it was the Ethiopian name for the Queen of Sheba. And while the Bible gives very little detail about their meeting, an Ethiopian spiritual book (the title of which is translated as The Glory of the Kings) goes into rapturous detail about their relationship, which includes having a son from whom all Ethiopian rulers through Haile Selassie I in the 20th century claimed their ancestry. I decided my next novel would be about Solomon and Makeda, using sources from different faiths and cultures, so I bought The Kebra Nagast and have read the pertinent passages. It’s quite interesting.
5. A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy O’Toole. Libretto recently had a company outing to see a performance of A Confederacy of Dunces at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston. Starring Nick Offerman as the bulbous and bilious lead character, Ignatius Reilly, it was certainly entertaining; but in perusing the original novel, which I first read many years ago, it was clear why the property has been bandied about in Hollywood forever: there’s too much there to adapt successfully onto the screen. The language is too stylized, too internal, and the levels of Reilly’s observation and consternation are too rich to edit and paraphrase into the constraints of celluloid. Personally, I always saw Wayne Knight (Newman on Seinfeld) in the role, but I think the story will always be experienced best in the book, which I am in the process of rereading in full. At least that’s the plan.