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Top Ten Cannonball Read Reviews of 2009

By Nicole Fuscia | Books | December 14, 2009 |

By Nicole Fuscia | Books | December 14, 2009 |

Great balls of fire, y’all. Every day there’s another Pajiba “Top Ten of 2009” list, or “Ten Best/Ten Worst/Ten Cutest/Ten Stupidest” list, or a “Hey Did You Know It’s The End of The Decade?” Guide to What’s Good For You. Do we really need another top ten list?

Yes, yes we do. We need more lists. We need lists that have lists, and those lists need footnotes of lists. “List” is a funny word. Say it five times. Listlistlistlistlist. Oooh, my tongue is all twisty. Hey, “twist” rhymes with “list!” I have obviously lost my mind. You may not know this, but Kolby and I share a brain and we take turns with it. I hope to God she has it right now, otherwise we’re screwed.

Where was I? Oh, right, top ten lists. I have one for you! Aren’t you excited? Can you please show some goddamn enthusiasm, you spoiled, self-centered, navel-gazing bastards? That’s much better.

Below, you will find what I consider to be the Top Ten Cannonball Read Reviews of 2009. For technical purposes, I counted only entries from the CBR 1.0 that were published on Pajiba after January 1, 2009. That means that, even if you had a review published after November 1, 2009, it didn’t count towards this list. I have a method to my madness, and I would try to explain it, but then I would probably just have a seizure and this would never get done and Dustin would be annoyed that I stood him up.

Without further ado, the Arbitrary Ten Best Cannonball Read Reviews of 2009:

10. Such a Pretty Fat: One Narcissist’s Quest To Discover if Her Life Makes Her Ass Look Big, Or Why Pie is Not the Answer by Lancaster

Jen Lancaster has been through some trying and often scary times. From losing her job and her home to dodging bill collectors and begging for temp positions after being a VP she has done it all. But nothing and I mean nothing is as scary to a woman as stepping on a scale, looking at the numbers on it, and finally making a firm commitment to lose weight. And that is exactly what Jen did in her third book, Such a Pretty Fat.
Jen is what I would call delusionally confident. When she looks in the mirror all she sees is great hair, a beautiful smile, perfect skin. It never occurs to her that her hair is attached to a bowling-ball sized head, or that her perfect skin is stretched to max capacity. Even after she splits a pair of pants while bending over and knocks a stranger’s wine glass off a table at a resturaunt with her ass, she still labors under the fantasy that she still looks the way she did back in her VP or even sorority days. And not until she has to go on a book tour and has a panic attack about not fitting into an airplane seat does she decide that changes need to be made. — BeeGeek

9. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the Shore was different. I was drawn into the narrative immediately, which spills out slowly, as it changes between the two main characters: Kafka, a young 15-year-old runaway who holes up in a library to escape an Oedipal prophecy, and Nakata, a mental deficient who speaks to cats. Indeed, it’s weird that I was able to access this novel, particularly since it’s a ghost story involving talking cats. But Murakami’s style is so natural everything over the top just works.

I think that the supernatural works better in the older foreign cultures. For some reason, ghosts work when they exist in Japan, Italy, England. And this ghost story is particularly bizarre. The strange beauty comes as the two stories interweave. Not because it’s startling or shocking, but because it’s so outstanding. Murakami infuses his story with a multitude of fascinating characters, and to explain them would be to give away pleasant surprises. — Brian Prisco

8. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Anansi is a trickster god, the spider. All the stories and songs are his. They used to belong to Tiger, but Anansi tricked him out of them, and Tiger is pretty pissed about it, but we’ll get to that later. Nowadays Anansi is living in Florida singing karaoke and basically enjoying himself, and then he drops dead. His son, Fat Charlie (who is not actually fat but can’t shake the nickname) goes over for the funeral and talks to his old neighbour about his father, who casually tells him that he was the god Anansi, and that Fat Charlie also has a brother, and if he’d like to see his brother, just ask a spider to let him know. As you do. Fat Charlie scoffs, and he goes back to his humdrum little life in London, where he works in a boring job and is engaged to be married to a nice but fairly dull girl. And then he talks to a spider. — Teabelly

7. Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan

Sometimes I become interested in a book based on title alone. I think it was a blurb in EW that I first read of Say You’re One of Them and I became intrigued by the premise and found the title to be wonderfully evocative and frightening at the same time. So I tried to get the book from my local library but it was on order with no release date. After tiring of waiting, I finally ordered it from Amazon after Christmas. The book was both what I expected and nothing that I was ready for.

The book consists of five short stories told from the perspective of children in Africa and gives a human view of such horrifying topics as ethnic cleansing, child slavery, extreme poverty, and religious warfare. Often the title of a book bluntly describes the contents or a specific subject of the book. However, the phrase “Say you’re one of them” or a similar sentiment is invoked at some point in all of the stories and underlines the premise of an “us vs them” mentality and in many of the stories the children’s only hope of survival is by blending with “them” and hiding their otherness. — TylerDFC

6. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

One thing I don’t quite understand is the “cult of Caulfield” that apparently exists. I think he’s an intriguing character, but how anybody could read this book and think, “That is the person I want to be” is beyond me, and that’s coming from someone who spent years being cynical and apathetic. Being that way SUCKS, and it was mostly because I was fucking depressed. Holden doesn’t enjoy anything. He’s perceptive, but doesn’t care about anything (aside from his younger siblings). He’s not even actively rebelling against anything. He doesn’t give enough of a shit to rebel. He’s all about avoidance — avoidance of schoolwork, of his family, of responsibilities in general. Maybe I should’ve read this during my depressed years and given myself a better shot at connecting with the character, but I kept wanting to yell at him, “So work with kids if you care so much about protecting them!” I recognize the hypocrisy of that coming from an unemployed college dropout who also tries to avoid schoolwork and family, but there you are. It’s frustrating to read about someone else who doesn’t care that he doesn’t care while knowing that real people think that’s cool. — Sabrina

5. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

The strongest impression I have from the book, that so many people praised because it revealed to them the realities of the working poor, is: what the hell? You had to read a book about some rich white lady’s experience to learn that some people end up staying in motel rooms that cost twice as much as an apartment, because they can’t scrape together the money for a deposit? You had to hear it from her to know that some folks are barely surviving, working through not only aches and pains, but bones they have broken that same day on the job? Really? I am pretty disgusted, not at the book itself, but from the reaction I have heard from middle-class folks that this book is so eye-opening! So shocking! It’s pretty much the same reaction I had to watching Crash, which is dismay that a piece of work with a message so glaringly obvious could be passed off as profound, despite the also glaringly obvious flaws in the construction of the work - in addition to the condescending and patronizing attitude that got it made in the first place. — fff

4. Confessions of an Ugly Step-Sister by Gregory Maguire

In Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Maguire takes this same idea of telling the “true” stories behind fairytales, and produces another amazing piece of work. In this case, he uses the story of Cinderella, the story of the perfect girl with the evil stepmother and the ugly stepsisters, who charms her prince thanks to a fairy godmother and the help of a glass slipper. Maguire’s version is nowhere near this happy …

There are all sorts of twists and turns to the story, with Maguire mixing in bits of myths and superstitions, sometimes so well that it’s easy to confuse reality with things that the characters are making up. He is a hugely talented, imaginative and original writer, and I can easily say I’ve never read anything like this book before. It’s a better work than Wicked, more realistic and coherent, a quick read if you want it to be, though you’re likely to miss little hints and details if you don’t read it slowly. And as I said before, it’s not a happy or light-hearted book at all, but it’s a unique take on an old story, and a truly great, memorable read. It’s a good reminder that all fairy-tales came from somewhere, and that it’s likely that not all of them ended with a happily-ever-after. — figgy

3. Ripped: How The Wired Generation Revolutionized Music by Greg Kot

Greg Kot’s Ripped has a rough timeline of late 90’s to about 2006 and covers many of the major events in electronic music during that time. From the rise of Napster, to the issues of net neutrality, to the ways the internet can allow artists to bypass record companies entirely, Kot covers many aspects of how the Music Industry is changing and interviews people on the front lines of these changes. In between chapters, he has brief quotes from laypeople about their relationship with the changing face of music and their opinion on things like illegal downloading. There’s some very interesting sections on things like sampling and interviews with artists who deliberately used the internet to achieve something they couldn’t through traditional marketing, and then there’s artists like Death Cab for Cutie who woke up one day to realize the internet was making them famous and they didn’t even have a website. It does provide a comprehensive overview of the changes taking place within the recording industry specifically, and how those changes began to come about. — Genny (also Rusty)

2. Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane

Gone Baby Gone actually reminds me a lot of my days at Harbor Point. A lot of Lehane’s characters are exactly the type of people who would be loitering outside a convenience store on a Tuesday afternoon. The main characters of the story are Patrick Kenzie, private investigator and his girlfriend/partner Angie Gennaro. Patrick and Angie grew up in the neighborhood, and are brought in to help on the case of a kidnapped 4-year old girl because they know all the dark corners of Dorchester and who lurks in every one. The story follows them as they try to piece together the actions and motivations of a wide cast of characters — cops, thugs, dealers, working class people, snitches, thieves — in an effort to track down the little girl before she comes to harm. Patrick has the added burden of trying to decide how far he’s willing to go to make sure the child is brought home.

The plot is twisty and interesting, but the real winning factor in this book is the characters who populate it. Dennis Lehane has done a great job of fleshing out a world and filling it with the appropriate sort of people. Patrick and Angie have to interact with people on both sides of the law and try to decide how they feel about where that law line is drawn. The characters are so well-described, I felt like I could see each one — meandering down the street, hanging out in front of convenience stores, lingering in parks, gathering on porches. I also really enjoyed Patrick; as a character, I found him to be complex without being forced. He was believable in how he was trying to straddle both worlds — the side of the law and the side of the darkness. In fact, even some of the less likable characters were still complicated…very few were either all good or all bad. — Siege

1. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

You can’t really discuss this without talking about the author’s prodigious skill. There is a lot of crap out there, and there’s even a lot of very absorbing crap. I think this pares down our hunger for complex, well-written literature, and encourages us to settle for less. Michael Chabon is quite simply not having any part of that. Not only is his style wildly expressive and tonally impeccable, but his vocabulary and mastery of the English language is a cut above almost every piece of modern literature in recent memory. The writing is everything at once — stately, exuberant, mournful, precise — and it is an absolute goddamn joy to read. This book is so many different things that it’s useless to even try picking one. It’s at least five different kinds of love story, a sweeping history of the Golden Age of comic books, an account of the impact of Hitler’s Germany on expatriates before, during and after World War I, an examination of the social pressure on homosexuals in the 1940s (ugh, in a word), a story about the weirdness and discomfort of war, a book about children, art, music, religion. The real magic is in the way Chabon manages to juggle all of these topics, each of which has had reams of paper printed up on it in its own right, and interweave them so skillfully. I found it truly exciting to find small threads of previous pages picked up carefully throughout the work, used as little emotional indicators to ping the reader and emphasize a moment. This is truly the product of a brilliant mind. I would give anything to be able to write like Michael Chabon. — Josie Brown