Thanks to a hyper-literate bookworm spouse, parents with a reading group and a startling number of recent releases from friends and family, my leap year library was a lot more current (and diverse) than my 2012 musical playlist (though not every title in the totally unbiased list below was published in the past 366 days)…
1. Do Not Ask What Good We Do by Robert Draper — A perfect election year companion, this fascinating behind-the-scenes peek into the inner workings of our deeply dysfunctional government fleshes out controversial congressional figures from Alan West to Anthony Weiner with human-scale depictions of their day-to-day struggles during Obama’s first term.
2. If You Like The Sopranos by Leonard Pierce & If You Like The Terminator by Scott Von Doviak — Sure, Amazon and Netflix have algorithms to suggest movies you might theoretically enjoy based on your rental and purchase history. But can algorithms provide an absorbing comprehensive overview of crime dramas from White Heat to Boardwalk Empire or Schwarzenegger oddities from Hercules In New York to Running With Arnold? No, they cannot – which is why the If You Like series in general (and these two fine entries from Messieurs Pierce and Von Doviak in particular) are essential reading for pop culture vultures.
3. The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson — Psychopaths (and their somewhat mellower counterparts, sociopaths) are human predators lacking any sense of conscience or empathy who tend to crop up most frequently in prisons, politics and the Fortune 500. Depending which experts you listen to, these not-quite-humans make up somewhere between 1-25% of the population (which explains a lot if you think about it) — yet finding and confronting them can be tricky, as Ronson’s non-fiction reporting reveals in witty, chilling detail.
4. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn — Gone Girl was Flynn’s big 2012 hit, but this year I caught up with the crime novelist’s 2011 page-turner about murder junkies and the scrappy, sourpuss survivor of a bloody family slaughter who may (or may not) be mistaken about her brother’s involvement in the crime.
5. On Writing by Stephen King — Given that I do most of my reading over breakfast and just before bed, it took months to get through 11/22/63, King’s overlong but entertaining “what if?” doorstop about the Kennedy assassination. On the other hand, I went through his wise and wistful 2000 memoir/writing manual like a hot knife through butter (even though his book specifically cautions against using those kinds of clichés)!
Best Kid’s Book: A Rule Is To Break (A Child’s Guide To Anarchy) by John Seven & Jana Christy — Like many young adult classics, this gleefully contrarian children’s book stirred controversy among closed-minded alarmists who willfully misinterpreted its message (or, more likely, never bothered to read it in the first place). But as Seven and Christy (and their protagonist, Wild Child) remind us, success in life (especially a life less ordinary) requires scribbling outside the lines on occasion and never being afraid to question authority…not even Mom & Dad.
Best Academic Work: The Enigmatic Academy by Christian J. Churchill & Gerald Levy — George W. Bush famously asked, “Is our children learning?” But sociologists Churchill and Levy dig deeper to investigate what students of different socio-economic classes are learning (and how potentially rigged systems of education shape our world) with provocative, in-depth profiles of a “free-thinking” liberal arts college, a boarding school for rich wash-outs and a Job Corps training center.
Currently stacked on my nightstand for 2013: Haunt by Laura Lee Bahr, 2030 by Albert Brooks & Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones (winter is coming)!
(And if you haven’t already, be sure to check out my own 2012 contribution to the libraries and landfills of the world: BLUE ESTATE, VOLUMES 2 & 3, co-written with Eisner-nominated artist extraordinaire Viktor Kalvachev, whose 2012 art book FEMALE OF THE SPECIES features a compelling collection of femme-tastic figures!)