Friday, December 28, 2007

The Johnny Bingo Awards

It is time for the annual Johnny Bingo Awards, in which I honor the best books read by me this year. Eligible books could have been published at any time - all that matters is that I read it in 07.

Johnny Bingo is the first book I ever remember calling "my favorite book". I can't recall the details now, but I think it had a bank robbery, two kids, and a dog. Normally I just pick one winner, but this year I'm going to have some new categories...

Best History Book
A tough choice this year, as usual.

I learned the most from Mayflower, the National Book Award winner from Nathaniel Philbrick. It is about far more than the ship; it covers the founding of New England from the Pilgrim's start in England, their exile in Amsterdam, through King Philip's War 50 years after Plymouth Rock.

I finally read The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman's masterfully written account about the causes and opening battles of WWI, and it lived up to its considerable advance billing.

But the award goes to The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944. This is Volume 2 of Rick Atkinson's Liberation Trilogy, and it will be the definitive book on the European theater of operations in WWII for years to come. While we wait for Volume III, I encourage you to read the first two volumes.

Best Genre Fiction
I was introduced to Harlan Coben 's Bolitar novels this year, and they made me laugh. I read two of Daniel Silva's book on Gabriel Allon, the art restorer-assasin, and found them to be the most intelligent thrillers this side of Alan Furst.

But the nod goes to Michael Connelly's The Lincoln Lawyer. I've been a fan of Connelly's Harry Bosch novels for years, but I couldn't quite love them. I like my genre fiction leavened with wit, and Bosch's world was as dark as his namesake's paintings. The Lincoln Lawyer, featuring defense attorney Mickey Haller, had all of Connelly's brilliant plotting and dialogue, and certainly had its dark side. But it was also fun to read.

Biggest Disappointment
Like most longtime Cormac McCarthy fans, I didn't like The Road quite as much as his legions of new fans did. But it was still a powerful book, and not deserving of this dubious award.

The nod here goes to Thirteen Moons, Charles Frazier's long-awaited follow-up to Cold Mountain. I'd tell you what it was about, but I've forgotten already...

(One who didn't disappoint, by the way, was JK Rowling, who blew me away with the final installment of the Potter series.)

Best Literary Fiction
As I look over my book log for the year, I can see I've been a bit of a lazy reader. Lots of history, yes, but far more genre fiction than literary fiction. Still, I think Martin Amis' brilliant House of Meetings would have taken the title, even if I'd read nothing but lit fiction.

Lifetime Achievement Award
It was a sad day indeed when I read the final page of Blue at the Mizzen, the 20th and final book in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels. This extraordinary series of books follows Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend, Dr. Stephen Maturin around the world's oceans and continents throughout the grand sweep of the Napoleanic wars. Collectively, it may be the greatest "book" I've ever read. I envy those who have yet to read it.

Congratulations to all the winners. I'm sure you'll treasure this moment.

Previous winners
2001: Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Simon Schama
2002: The Lord of the Rings (all 3 books), J.R.R. Tolkien
2003: The Crisis of Islam, Bernard Lewis
2004: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Edmund Morris
2005: The Iliad, Homer (translated by Robert Fagles)
2006: The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien


BAMstutz said...

Great Post Keatang- I was just looking for a new book to read, and these are great suggestions. I am in awe of how much reading you are able to do.

However, what I find most interesting is that you have a book log. I guess I never thought of writing down the books I read. And it makes me curious to see your entire log? Do you have it going back years? Perhaps you would consider publishing it? (you don't have to do it here, you could join one of the on-line book discussion pages like Shelfari.)

Anyway, great blog so far. Keep it up.


jimmyshin said...

I owe a lot of my lit integrity to Mr. Keatfree, who's given me (and my book club) some of its all-time faves. There's been a clunker or two in his nods, but I owe Keatang my habit of leafing through all the Alan Fursts that I've already read each time I go to the library, and came off as an (idiot) savant for my (his) recommendation of "Curious Incident of the Dog at Night.