Best of 2017: Books

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by Andrew Osborne

I never get to read as much as I want anymore, which is why the only books on my shelf in 2017 were the following certified page-turners: 

1. 50 Foot Drop by Philip Freeman

Sexy femme fatale?  Check.  Shady old friend with a simple plan for a can’t miss heist?  Check.  And yet, while the basic elements are familiar, 50 Foot Drop avoids crime noir clichés thanks to music writer Philip Freeman’s lived-in rock-and-roll spin on the genre.  His protagonist, Taylor Bailey, is the smart, likable front man of a bar band on the come-up with an indie label record deal and a growing fan base until the group’s tour bus takes the titular plunge off the edge of a curvy road, shattering bones and career momentum in a sudden sharp shock of misfortune.  It’s all downhill from there, of course, as Taylor winds up recovering from his injuries back home in the rough Jersey town he’d briefly managed to escape, and that tantalizing prospect of a brighter future growing ever further out of reach with each new bad break and misstep tightens the story’s overall sense of anxiety like a pulsing, ominous backbeat.

2. Loner by Teddy Wayne

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Simultaneously pompous and self-loathing, Harvard freshman David Federman is a nasty piece of work, yet Teddy Wayne’s novel dares you to empathize with (or at least attempt to understand) a protagonist whose desperation to escape his inner social maladjustment and the class stratification surrounding him in a landscape where both genders employ sex, money, outward appearances, physical strength, and cold manipulation as weapons of power, defense, and revenge.  Like Harper Lee’s uncomfortable exploration of the roots of white racism in 2015’s Go Set a Watchman, this 2016 release is a fearless, fascinating exploration of the toxic psychologies surrounding the #MeToo movement of 2017.  Speaking of which…

3. Giant of the Senate by Al Franken

Depending who you ask, this book is either (a) the tale of a rich, successful comedian who gives up the cushy life of a liberal celebrity icon to get his hands dirty in the actual hardball world of politics by studying the issues, addressing the needs of his constituents, and trying his best to mature personally while realizing that realpolitik doesn’t always go hand in hand with idealism, (b) a smug, paternalistic, man-splaining cover story for an entitled sexist grope monster, or (c) …it’s complicated.  Whatever the case, the schadenfreude-tastic Giant of the Senate is a book that will surely appear in the syllabus of the future core curriculum college course “Introduction to Clusterfuck 2017”, right alongside…

4. Shattered by Amie Parnes and Jonathan Allen

I haven’t read What Happened, Hillary Clinton’s self-autopsy of her doomed 2016 presidential campaign but I’ve heard interview clips where she and her staff blame Russian hackers, James Comey, the media, unyielding Bernie bros and others for her shocking loss — whereas Parnes and Allen detail plenty of blind spots within a campaign bubble too focused on personal fiefdoms and computer modeling to remember key lessons of the Obama grassroots playbook or process the meaning of defeats by Sanders in the very same regions that would ultimately flip the election to Trump.  Required reading for all future Democratic candidates (especially those, like HRC, who aren’t natural campaigners and might want to think long and hard about how that might affect their political aspirations…and the nation).

5. The Daily Show (The Book) by Chris Smith

Now that a significant percentage of Americans receive much of their news analysis from comedians, this compulsively readable oral history is a fascinating exploration of the myriad ways Jon Stewart, his staff, and correspondents like Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, and John Oliver changed both the media’s presentation of current events and the public’s perception of them in an era when Americans can no longer agree on basic facts.  At the same time, Smith’s book is hardly a hagiography, and its warts-and-all dissection of incidents like Stewart’s falling out with writer/performer Wyatt Cenac over the show’s take on race highlights the inherent difficulties of speaking truth to power in an era when perceptions of both are so endlessly fractious and fluid.

HONORABLE MENTION:

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Walk Hand in Hand into Extinction, edited by Christoph Paul and Leza Cantoral

Each of the eighteen stories in this 2016 collection were inspired by the first season of HBO’s spooky crime drama True Detective, and fortunately they’re all superior to the show’s abysmal second season in terms of conjuring a palpable and remarkably consistent tone of moral rot and existential (bordering on supernatural) dread.

Also-Reads: 

The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman:  A meandering but nicely Boston-centric Venn diagram of the intersections between art, commerce, education, and video game addiction.

The Whistler by John Grisham:  A fun beach book about judicial corruption, redneck organized crime, and other shady dealings in the Sunshine State.

Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars at the Box Office and You Can, Too! by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas M. Lennon:  Less a screenwriting manual and more of a humorously depressing insider’s guide to why Hollywood movies are mostly terrible.

The Pull List:

Harrow County

Morning Glories

Postal

The Sandman: Overture

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT:

The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost

What’s the best way to make a rabid Twin Peaks fan practically frothing with excitement over an upcoming reboot of the show actually stop reading a tie-in book supposedly packed with clues and teasers about the new season?  Two words:  annoying fonts.  But too much information about too many characters talking way too much about UFOs also didn’t help.

Must-(Re)-Read of 2018:  the official Hard Case Crime release of Charlesgate by Scott Von Doviak

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