Friday, January 1, 2016

Books of '15: Anti-Recommendations

Having never come up with a good antonym to "recommendations," I persist in calling these warnings "anti-recommendations."  Perhaps I should adopt the betting lingo of "stay-aways."  Bettors call a game that makes dumb people wager on it but offers little chance of winning a "stay-away."  How about this: I recommend that you stay away from these books that I read in the past year.  Life's too short.

As usual, most all of the 22 books I read this year, I hear about on Fresh Air.  Via the podcast, I listen to every minute episode except the repeats and the segments about jazz.

Worst of the Year: Non-fiction

The Skeleton Crew; How Amateur Sleuths are Solving America's Coldest Cases, Deborah Halber, 2014

Deborah Halber's interview on Fresh Air was fascinating.  Deborah Halber's material - volunteer investigators tracking down leads in cold cases through the use of online databases of them - really drew me to want to learn more after her interview.  Deborah Halber's book does not deliver on these promises.  Rather than focus on the really fascinating part - the cases - she focuses on the slightly unhinged people who give up their free time and marriages and career progress to try to solve them.  She focuses on the pissing wars these people get into over status in online forums and other barely-meaningful properties.  Halber hits her stride a little bit in the fourth fifth of the book, but then she disappoints with a "who cares?" ending.  There's maybe enough for an in-depth magazine article here, but apparently not enough for a book.  It's Halber's first book, so it may be her inexperience.  On the other hand, it may be that the promise of this cluster of stories didn't get delivered when she dove in.  She had to write what was left in her notebook, which was not as interesting as an episode of Forensic Files

Worst of the Year: Fiction

The Giver, Lois Lowry, 1993

Sometimes, a worst of the year book disappoints by failing to fulfill expectations.  Other times, a book flat out makes me angry.  Take this steaming pile of misanthropy, for example.

Lois Lowry must hate children, or possibly all people.  Now, that's harsh language for the author of the impeccable A Summer to Die, but to be fair, in that book, there's a dying childThe Giver's dystopian hell made me angry and confused all at once.  We read this for family bedtime reading, and I soldiered through it because the whole family was reading it.  I also, though, dearly hoped (and expected) that Lowry would eventually explain why the neutered, colorless, feelingless society would have been created in the first place.  Alas, (spoiler alert spoiling an absence of something), it never comes.  Things just happen in the unnamed community, or rather, they happened a long time ago, and the characters we meet inhabit this totally messed up world.  No doubt, The Giver is a comment on something, but God knows what.  Maybe air conditioning.

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