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The Literary Exhibitionist
Book Log 2011

1. Earth (The Book): A Vistor’s Guide to the Human Race The Daily Show with Jon Stewart B (started 12/18; finished 1/4)

Pretty funny, but not my favorite kind of reading. This is the type of book best browsed through, but I still read it from cover to cover. Because I'm just anal like that. It probably didn't make for the optimum reading experience that was likely intended by the publishers -- which, if I were to guess, was to provide a few good laughs here and there while paging through after finding it on a coffee table. Thing is, I don't keep books on my coffee table!

2. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary David Sedaris B+ (started 1/4; finished 1/13)

David Sedaris takes a stab at fiction! Specifically, anthropomorphic animal stories with morals, or in many cases, kind of barely falling short of having morals. Sedaris's nonfiction tends to be better, but the tone of the writing is still quintessentially Sedaris and certainly entertaining.

3. Madonna: Like an Icon Lucy O’Brien B+ (started 1/13; finished 2/16)

This was my Christmas gift from Delan, my first roommate after Shobhit moved away. It couldn't have been difficult to pick it out for me, as it never takes long for anyone to figure out how obsessed I am with Madonna. Amazingly, I hadn't actually read a biography on her since Christopher Anderson's 1992 book Madonna: Unauthorized (which my mom got me for Christmas that year -- I was 16). Far more of Madonna's career has occurred since then than existed prior, so there was a lot of new ground to cover. Granted, of course I already knew a lot just from things like magazine articles and online coverage, but this was still a satisfyingly complete look at Madonna's career on the whole -- at least up until the publication date of this book, which was 2007.

4. Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang Chelsea Handler B+ (started 2/16; finished 2/20)

I think it's kind of safe to say Chelsea Handler is an acquired taste. Although she's way different, she has one key thing in common with George Carlin: now matter how much you love her, eventually she's going to say something you don't like. But, whatever; her books are enough of a kick to be breezily entertaining.

5. The Good News About the Bad News – Herpes: Everything You Need to Know Terri Warren B+ (started 2/22;finished 3/2)

If this book is not widely considered to be the ultimate authority on herpes, then it should be. It's not exactly a gripping, entertaining read, given the subject matter -- but it's nearly as informative as one could hope it to be. I only wish it had more data specific to the gay community, as further research reveals statistics there to be different and specific. That said, all the information about ease, risk and manners of infection; how it can be treated; and the vastly wide-ranging effects the virus has on people remains the same regardless. Honestly, anyone who is sexually active at all should really read this book.

6. Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich Robert Frank B (started 3/2; finished 3/22)

A look at how the wealthy live, how they regard themselves, what millionaires consider "wealthy" (pretty much across the board: having more money than they themselves have), and their wide range of lifestyles. It's a fascinating peek into the world of the rich, and particularly the "new rich" that has apparently more than doubled in the past decade -- well, prior to 2008, when this book was published. Given the significance of that year and the economic downturn, I did spend a lot of time while reading this wondering how some of these people's lives have been affected by a financial sea change. Either way, the book is more interesting than insightful, and I could have used a little more insight.

7. A Discovery of Witches Deborah Harkness B+ (started 3/22; finished 3/30)

Harry Potter is witches and wizards for kids. A Discovery of Witches, about a woman who accidentally uncovers the secret of her own heritage as a witch and in so doing brings all manner of mythical characters out of the woodwork, is witches and wizards for adults. On its surface, the story is not that incredible (woman gets in relationship with ancient vampire? been there, done that), but the writing is compulsively readable. This is a 592-page book that I devoured in eight days -- a monumental achievement in the context of how quickly (or rather, not quickly) I tend to get through books. Don't get me wrong; Harry Potter is unequivocally better. But in the absence of Harry, this one actually makes a satisfying substitute, and is actually a bit refreshing in its more adult tones and themes.

8. My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One Night Stands Chelsea Handler B+ (started 3/31; finished 4/4)

Read all about Chelsea Handler's sex life! Possibly my favorite thing about her is her openness about sex, in clear defiance of societal expectations. Okay, so there are plenty of femail comedians these days who do the same -- Kathy Griffin; Margaret Cho; Lisa Lampanelli; the list goes on -- but Chelsea Handler is still in an irreverent class of her own. Again, breezy entertainment. Her books are perfect for traveling -- and I finished this one on my way home from one of my trips to New York.

9. Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex Mary Roach B+ (started 4/4; finished 4/14)

If you want to know anything about what's actually known scientifically about the physiology of sex, you're likely to find it here -- and written in a very entertaining way. It seems a surprising amount of sex research has actually been undertaken in the many years since the Alfred Kinsey studies. We all reap the benefits in the fascinating contents of this book.

10. Bossypants Tina Fey A- (started 4/18; finished 4/22)

I'd say this was my favorite book I read all year. I love Tina Fey. I love her humor. I love this book. She's fucking funny.

11. The Late Shift: Letterman, Leno & The Network Battle for the Night Bill Carter B (started 5/17; finished 6/22)

This book might have been a more fascinating read in, say, 1995, when it was first published. I only read it because I wanted the background before reading Carter's new book about the "War for Late Night" between Leno and Conan O'Brien -- which is further down on this list. This book was interesting in its way but clearly dated. I also watched the HBO movie that had been made based on this book, which was bad enough to make this book seem better. I'm so familiar with people like Jay Leno and David Letterman as TV personalities, it didn't quite work to see actors impersonating them. So, between the two, the book is totally the way to go.

12. The Social Climber’s Handbook Molly Jong-Fast B- (started 6/25;finished 7/15)

I read about this book, about a socialite woman serial killer, in Entertainment Weekly, and was amused enough by the concept to put a hold on it at the library. It did not reach its full potential. I didn't hate it, but a B- for me, when it comes to books in particular, is kind of a killer. It takes me way too long to read it; thankfully this book was short, which is the only reason I got through it in even 20 days. I might have just given up on it mid-read, except that every once in a while it would get a little more interesting, and I didn't have any of my other books on hold available yet.

13. The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore Benjamin Hale B+ (started 7/15; finished 8/7)

This is the kind of book I wish I could read in a book club. Alas, the only book club I've ever belonged to would never read it. A relationship between a talking chimp and a woman that is actually consummated? Even I had trouble with that -- and yet I found this book challenging in all the right ways, one of which was that it opened my mind. The book is narrated by said chimp, who is almost comically well-educated and wields a ridiculously large vocabulary. I read a book like this and it just calls out for discussion. I would have enjoyed it way more if I could have talked about it with someone else who had also read it.

14. The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy Bill Carter B+ (started 8/7; finished 8/19)

Critical response generally seems to indicate people thought Carter wrote a better book about Leno vs. Letterman than he did about Leno vs. O'Brien -- largely because in the latter case the events took place in the Internet age and it seems little had not already been covered in all manner of media. It had the opposite effect on me, as I had a much more vested interest in the details of the more recent dustup. I found this book more engaging than the earlier one.

15. Bossypants Tina Fey [audiobook] A- (started 11/9; finished 11/13)

I enjoyed Bossypants so much, I wanted to experience it again -- this time in Tina Fey's own voice. It was every bit as entertaining as the first time around, and in some ways more so, thanks to Fey's delivery.

16. Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks Ken Jennings B+ (started 10/19; finished 11/16)

If Ken Jennings's 2007 book Braniac proved anything, it was that he's a surprisingly good -- and surprisingly funny -- writer. That one was about the "world of trivia buffs"; this book is about the "world of geography wonks." I thought I qualified as one of the latter, until reading this book -- there are map enthusiasts out there way more invested than I am. But: I do love maps. As do a great many people, as it turns out, and this book covers all manner of them, from collectors of centuries-old (and thus inaccurate) original maps of the continents to Google Earth programmers. All are fascinating, and thanks to Ken Jennings's writing, entertaining.

17. Life Itself: A Memoir Roger Ebert A- (started 11/16; finished 12/26)

My second-favorite book I've read this year. Twenty years ago, Roger Ebert was only on my radar as a guy famous for nothing more than being a movie critic -- and one often derided for his populist tastes at that. The irony now is that, after surgery rendering him not only unable to eat or drink but even to speak, in this last stage of his life he's become a bona fide Internet superstar. Turns out his life on the whole has been far more interesting than just those two things. We learn that he always considered himself a "newspaper man" -- something I never would have regarded myself, even when I did work at newspapers -- rather than a "movie critic." It's his almost arbitrary turn into film criticism, though, that resulted in his rubbing shoulders with the likes of Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese long before they became the icons they are today. But the celebrity name-dropping is but a small portion of this very complete account of a surprisingly fascinating man's life, with chapters that focus on every person who was ever of importance to him -- from his parents to professional mentors to his unique relationship with Gene Siskel to his wife.


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