Tuesday, November 17

The CDP's Top 10 Books Of The Decade.



"We all have the potential to fall in love a thousand times in our lifetime. It's easy. The first girl I ever loved was someone I knew in sixth grade. Her name was Missy; we talked about horses. The last girl I love will be someone I haven't even met yet, probably. They all count. But there are certain people you love who do something else; they define how you classify what love is supposed to feel like. These are the most important people in your life, and you'll meet maybe four or five of these people over the span of 80 years.

But there's still one more tier to all this; there is always one person who you love who becomes that definition. It usually happens retrospectively, but it always happens eventually. This is the person who unknowingly sets the template for what you will always love about other people, even if some of those lovable qualities are self-destructive and unreasonable. You will remember having conversations with this person that never actually happened. You will recall sexual trysts with this person that never technically occurred. This is because the individual who embodies your personal definition of love does not really exist. The person is real, and the feelings are real--but you create the context. And context is everything.


The person who defines your understanding of love is not inherently different than anyone else, and they're often just the person you happen to meet the first time you really, really want to love someone. But that person still wins. They win, and you lose. Because for the rest of your life, they will control how you feel about everyone else."


- Chuck Klosterman, 'Killing Yourself To Live'


I'll be honest with you. From a grandiose standpoint, I have little-to-no business doing a 'Top Books' countdown, for a number of reasons. For one, I don't read fiction (ie: No Harry Potter, DiVinci Code, Bible, etc.). Secondly, I read two, maybe three books a year (and typically not from this decade, either.). If this strikes you as sort of ironic, considering I'm somewhat of a writer and author, that would make two of us.

I do, however, enjoy reading books when I get the chance and/or patience, and this decade I was introduced to what I now consider my personal Holy Trinity of non-fiction: Malcolm Gladwell, David Sedaris and Chuck Klosterman.

These three individuals rose to prominence in this decade for similar-yet-different reasons. They all dissect very specific moments down to their minutiae (Personal Reminiscence, Pop Culture and Social Science, respectively). They're all intelligent and possess strengths in their unique fields (Interviewing folks, remembering tons of seemingly useless facts, copious drug use). They're all great public speakers. They also represent the Holy Trinity of what I find interesting: Great storytelling, pop culture and why the world works the way that it does, all broken down to its finest and most dissectable particles. This is truly all I need. Let's go.



#10
- 65 Poor Life Decisions - Ryan J. Zeinert

If you thought I was going to overlook my own, personal writing achievement this decade, you obviously don't know how sad of a person I really am. If you don't have it yet, could you buy it, please? I'm very cold and hungry.



#9 - Mind Over Matters - Michael J. Nelson

65 Poof Life Decisions could not have existed without the genius of Michael J. Nelson. For his work on MST3K, comedic prowess and Midwestern voice, but more specifically, because of Mind Over Matters. This was the book I read that said: "You know, you could probably do something like this." Although I'm sure that Matters is sharper and funnier, I think you'll see the similarities almost immediately. As my own little 'Thank You' to Mike, I've placed my personal copy of Life Decisions right next to Matters on my bookshelf.



#8 - Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell

With every new Malcolm Gladwell book, you get the feeling that he's somehow stumbled upon the Meaning Of Life by mistake, and has no idea what to take from the information he has mined. With Outliers, he finds striking similarities between the wealthy, powerful, famous and respected, and seems to say that it might actually be pre-determined by something other than natural talent and social status upon birth.



#7 - Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs - Chuck Klosterman

The first time I read Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs, I didn't really like it. I then realized that it was due to my intense jealousy at Klosterman's Pop Culture prowess and ability to seamlessly interweave Low Culture aesthetics into masterful theories about why we are the way we are (and what it all says about our tribe). The way he ties things together is about as perfect as an episode of Seinfeld.



#6 - Dress Your Family In Corduroy & Denim - David Sedaris

Whenever I go to Barnes & Noble or Borders, I always check out the non-fiction Essay section before I leave, and two things never cease to amaze me:

One, the section is always criminally small. You would think that writing stories about oneself would be the easiest*, and therefore largest, section of the store. Perhaps this is just wishful thinking; most people would rather read erotic fiction or shit about Vampires, but I digress.

(*For me, at least. All of my attempts at fiction have been truly embarrassing.)

Secondly, David Sedaris books always account for at least half of said section. Considering that the man has written no more than six collections so far, this tells you that he's 1) Alone at the top of his genre, and 2) Spectacularly popular within the circle of people that actually read stuff like this. Dude deserves it, even if he has admitted to making some of it up.



#5 - The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell seems to take all of the little things I used to obsess about (that weren't metal bands or Matchbox cars) and make brilliantly comprehensive and curious books about them. With The Tipping Point, Gladwell may have accidentally created a Marketing and Advertising Bible, by attempting to understand why things 'get over' in mainstream culture. By nature, I'm a terrible self-promoter (due to my hatred of it, mainly), but the concept of understanding how the Machine works is a brilliant insight into our culture at large.



#4 - Fargo Rock City - Chuck Klosterman

For approximately 80-90% of the population, this book will not resonate: A personal document about Klosterman's upbringing in rural North Dakota, and how the upswing of metal and hard rock shaped his life, mixed liberally with how it shaped all of our lives. But for that remaining 10-20% of us who experienced exactly this sort of upbringing, it will become your Bible.

It shows that, no matter how alienated and removed you felt from the world at an early age, chances are that millions of kids were living the same way; creating a brethren that you don't realize you were a part of until much later in life. Like Chuck says, when he moved from the country to the city as an adult, he wasn't blown away by all the people that were different than him, he was blown away by those who were exactly the same.



#3 - Blink - Malcolm Gladwell

Blink is one of those books that should probably be mandatory reading for any Social or Psychological class from High School onward. A fascinating dissection about the decisions we make and the perceptions by which we make them; we learn a lot about ourselves (some interesting, some fairly terrifying), and we learn a lot about what may be completely out of our control. More often than not, your split-second hunch might be more accurate than a decision made after weeks of obsession.



#2 - Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris

"For the first twenty years of my life I rocked myself to sleep. It was a harmless enough hobby, but eventually I had to give it up. Throughout the next twenty-two years I lay still and discovered that after a few minutes I could drop off with no problem. Follow seven beers with a couple of scotches and a thimble of good marijuana, and it's funny how sleep just sort of comes on its own.

Often I never even make it to bed. I'd squat down to pet the cat and wake up on the floor eight hours later, having lost a perfectly good excuse to change my clothes. I'm now told that this is not called "going to sleep" but rather "passing out," a phrase that carries a distinct hint of judgment."

Maybe the non-fiction Essay section at Barnes & Noble and Borders would be a lot bigger had Sedaris never existed. It's just that he became so damn good at his art form, that everyone else got pushed aside.



#1 - Killing Yourself To Live - Chuck Klosterman

Klosterman's 'road novel,' Killing Yourself follows Chuck as he hits locations across the country where famous musicians lost their lives. The book itself doesn't pay much attention to the situations themselves (the research was for a magazine article he wrote), but more towards Klosterman's solitary travels across the nation, the folks he meets and what he learns about himself and his current relationships. Easily Klosterman's most 'personal' novel, and endlessly readable.

There you have it, kids; my ten favorite books from the last ten years. Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day, more CDP Decade In Review goodness to follow tomorrow.

Comments:
I'm not going to lie, I find this countdown sad and depressing. You need to expand your literary horizons, sir.

You know what really sucks? I loaned my copy of 65 Poor Life Decisions to a friend a while ago, then that person and I had a falling out and he hasn't returned any of my periodic emails asking for it back. What's worse is that it was signed. By you. I cry myself to sleep at night.
 
Seriously? If you can't write a list that has more than 3 authors and one shameless book plug on it, you probably shouldn't be writing that list. Why not just make it a top 25 and list every book written both those three this decade?
 
TALLSBYXLV - While I have no reason to explain myself, I'll remind you that the point of today's countdown was to spotlight my recent interest in Klosterman, Sedaris and Gladwell, as mentioned fairly clearly in the introduction. It's by no means a definitive list, which should be obvious to anyone who is paying even the least amount of attention. Furthermore, I also wrote a book this decade that was heavily influenced by Mike Nelson's essay collection, so I threw that in as well. If you've been following along with my countdown this entire time expecting anything other that complete shamelessness and personal preference, there's really nothing I can do for you.

CARGIRL - You know me better than this. I could easily have made a Top 10 list loaded with manuals about physics and audio production, but...you know...that actually seemed way sadder. I chose a theme and ran with it.

You know, I saw an autographed copy of 65PLD on eBay last month...maybe it was yours!
 
Well done.

I think the only person that can rival Sedaris is Anne Lamontt. She also writes fiction and has only maybe two books of personal essays. I'd highly recommend her.

I'm also a big fan of Gladwell. I thought The Tipping Point was his best work, but when they all reach a high level of excellent, arguing which is better makes little difference.

I'm currently reading The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind and I can't recommend it enough.
 
Crazy; I asked for 'Bird By Bird' for Christmas! Now I'm getting it no matter what.
 
I found this list pretty reflective of the person I get the sense that you are, based on what you write about. I figure that you could never be forced into a heated and geekish debate over the allegorical aspects of Watership Down as social and cultural criticism, and that's just the way it is. I will say, though, that other than the last two books and most of the ones by Gladwell, the rest of the list - and most non-fiction in general, other than anything written about history and the natural world - doesn't compel much interest in me.

But - at least you read *something*. I can't tell you the last time my husband has picked up a book, and he doesn't understand how it is impossible for me to walk out of a bookstore without a book.
 
I think every writer should have "Bird by Bird" -- I haven't read it myself, but I'm not a writer. :)

I'd recommend "Traveling Mercies". It's got an interesting mix of religion and politics that is just fascinating. "Blue Like Jazz" by Donald Miller is also a great book of inter-related personal essays.
 
Exactly; these three authors more or less represent the things I find most interesting, and have influenced my writing thusly. Furthermore, I'm usually too busy writing to find time to read.

Thanks for the recommendations, Hoss; I really will look into them.
 
Regarding your comment about the self-essay section being to small: it's because to writing about oneself is one of the most terrifying things to do. It opens yourself to a new mass of criticism and in some cases is incredibly painful to remember the incidents that went into shaping the individual. It is far easier to create a fictious world that is safer and doesn't have to deal with real life problems because the characters aren't real. The problem with this is that they are. Every one of them is a small reflection of the author and it disects the author's personality to feed a life force into these individuals to either have them be loved or hated. It is easier to fragment than to put your complete self on display. Lesson I recently learned and part of why I started Broken Girl. It forced me to get real.
 
CDP - Are you being serious about the eBay thing? If so, I have a heist to plan.
 
This has been my (admittedly biased) opinion for a very long time. Fiction is easier on the psyche than opening yourself to the world for entertainment (or therapy) purposes. If I could write fiction without disgusting myself, I'd do it. I'd make more money and I'd be less stressed out. I'd feel like I was cheating myself, though.
 
CARGIRL - Yeah! I mean, I don't know if it's yours, but it was up there.
 
I also recommend "I Drink for a Reaon" by David Cross. Currently reading it.
 
Also, mu upcoming book "Why I Punch Babies."
 
JT - I was just thinking about how you used to do 'The Idiot Speaks' when you had that job, and how perfectly suited for Twitter it was.
 
I have no criticism of your list to offer, but I have to sheepishly admit that the only book on it that I've actually read is yours. I guess that's a sort of compliment, though, because essay collections aren't something I normally seek out. I don't even know why, because what few individual essays of this sort that I've read here and there were generally very entertaining.

But then, I read a lot and most of it is either fiction or non-personal non-fiction. That's just more my thing, I think. I get the impression that I should read "Bird By Bird," though - it keeps coming up in conversations.

As to the debate over whether personal essays are harder to write than fiction, those are some murky waters. As someone who regularly writes both, I find both equally difficult--just different kinds of difficult. Ultimately, writing is writing and reading is reading and as long as we're all doing one (or both), I think we'll be OK. :)
 
CDP -- I've always heard the best way to learn to be a better writer, besides writing, is to read. Just sayin' . . .

I read around 10 books a year (probably more) so I'm a bit of an anomaly. And I mostly read fiction. Because I read to escape and relax. Not to say that I don't learn to think a little differently from fiction -- I do. Different things for different purposes.

But there are two nonfiction books I recommend to everyone who pretends to be interested. And, since they are a lot of nonfiction fans here, I'll just assume that you are:

"The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" by Edmund Morris. TR's life is better than any novel.

"Undaunted Courage" by Stephen Ambrose. It's about Lewis and Clark but not the same story we learned about in school. I would have pooped my pants 500 times before getting to the Rockies (where things got extraordinarily difficult!)
 
CDP - That's funny - I just mentioned that segment today in my post.
 
Ok, is it a conspiracy? I went into B&N today and they had this Gladwell shrine up in like three locations. Most of his books are 30% off, 40 if you're a member. Just sayin...
 
EMILY - Thanks, as always, for the comments. If I get to Bird By Bird before you, I'll give you a full rundown.

HOSS - Lewis & Clark rule. Is it based on their diaries?

JT - I'll have to check it out!

ANDREA - No, it's just that Malcolm Gladwell freaking rules.
 
I really enjoyed Chuck Klosterman's latest books, including his one novel, and I've been meaning to get "The Tipping Point" after reading the Gladwell's selection about the woman in Chicago who knows everybody in the Ira Glass anthology "The New Kings of Nonfiction." I've been reading a lot more nonfiction the last few years, but my main problem these days is just not having sufficient time to really get into a book. I'll start and get a chapter or two in, then find a few weeks or a month go by before I get back to it. It's a frustrating way to read, given I used to be the type in college that would stay up all night to finish something I just couldn't put down.
 
I think that Sacajawea rules more than Lewis & Clark. I was trying to find a book just on her at the library this afternoon (benefit of where I work: right next door to a research library), but couldn't find anything, so I got a book on Pocahontas instead. And I finally checked out Freakanomics. I'm really late to the party on that one.
 
I apologize for coming off as pretty harsh in my first comment. What I really meant was that this list might've been better as The CDP's Top 3 Authors of the Decade than the Top Ten Books.
 
TALLSBYXLV - I hear you, and thanks for clarifying (which you really didn't have to do). I felt as if I was sort of stuck with the Countdown gimmick and tried to keep it uniform. Point taken, however. Furthermore, I've been putting a lot of work into this, and got a little sore when a criticism was the first thing I read when I woke up yesterday morning. It's all good.
 

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