By Katy Epler
(Editor’s Note: Please welcome another new contributor to The Next Ten Words, Katy Epler. Katy will be writing book reviews for your reading pleasure, just don’t always expect the books she reviews to be newly published. Sometimes they won’t even be 21st Century publications. As you’ll see below, this is mostly due to another publication that we really do enjoy.)
I read as many books as I can. I’m also an entertainment junkie. As a result, I’m…well, you know how Entertainment Weekly magazine publishes their end-of-year “best-of” lists, with their recommendations for the year’s best movies, TV shows, etc.? I’m currently reading my way through every annual best-of list of books that Entertainment Weekly magazine has published since the magazine was launched in 1990.
Yes. I know it’s weird.
How I got here is not that interesting…but now that I’m in it, I’ll be damned if I won’t see it through to the bitter, bitter end. I’m in my fourth year of this project, and this year I’m working my way through 1995, 1996, and 2015. (I used to go strictly chronologically, but I got tired of reading only 20-year-old books.) I obviously won’t be “caught up” for years, and even I can’t really tell you exactly why I’m doing it. I just know that now that I’m invested; I can’t give it up. I know, I know. It’s just that…checking off lists is really satisfying, you guys.
Up until now, this project has been solely for myself. It’s brought me to a lot of books I wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise; has helped me fill in some gaps from many years when I always wanted to get to THAT book but never did; and has put me in much better touch with the zeitgeist of my young-adult years than I ever remember being when I was living through them.
But now my old long-time buddy Rich Larson has asked me to contribute book reviews to The Next Ten Words. I sheepishly told him, “Well, uh…I only read books on The List,” and he said “Fine!” which tells you all you need to know about Rich. He’s willing to let me pursue this nerdy project in print. So, I’ll be sharing the books I read with you, and I’ll welcome your thoughts in return. In the meantime, some observations from my progress so far:
- In the early ’90s, a lot of authors were tackling the same three common themes: AIDS, drugs, and the greed mentality (and subsequent backlash) of the late ’80s. Back then, I was worrying about finishing college, finding employment, etc…so I didn’t pay as much attention to the bigger picture as I probably should have. It’s been fascinating to revisit those years with more global awareness than I had then. It sure helps explain a lot of what’s happening these days…but that’s a conversation for another day.
- EW did not always strike gold. Especially in the first couple of years, the editorial staff was very earnest, and, perhaps, a tad insecure about their literary bona fides…causing them to choose a 600-page textbook about Picasso’s early years as one of their top 10 picks of 1991. Yes, really.
- The magazine’s interest in books is waning. For the first 10 years, the year-end lists included 10 books, both fiction and non-fiction. In 2000, the lists grew to 20 books; 10 of each. Two years ago, with no explanation, they went back to only 10. Are there really only 10 “best” books published every year nowadays? Does the editorial staff believe the rumors that books are dying? Do they not care enough to try to help stem the tide? It helps me “catch up” in the long run, but it’s a disappointing commentary to any book-lover.
- Some books I REALLY cannot read, even though The List tells me to. In 1990, the last book in Updike’s Rabbit series (Rabbit at Rest) was one of the top 10. In the early years of this project, I misguidedly thought I shouldn’t read only the fourth book in the series if I hadn’t read the first three. So, I started at the beginning of the series, even though they weren’t on The List. The first two books in that series, Rabbit, Run and Rabbit Redux, are possibly the worst books I have ever read. I couldn’t go on with the third, and I definitely won’t get to the fourth. (And yes, I regret not just starting with the fourth, because now I’ll have an unchecked box, AND I HATE UNCHECKED BOXES.)
- It’s perfectly acceptable in this life to be a temporary expert. I wish I could say that I know a lot more now than I did before I started on The List, but truthfully, while I remember the large themes, I don’t necessarily retain a lot of the details of every book I’ve read. I relish them while I’m in them (or not); I recommend them to friends (or don’t); and I move on. And it’s okay.
My first review will be out in a few weeks, and will cover Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl (memoir; 2015) by Sleater-Kinney founder and “Portlandia” TV star Carrie Brownstein. Stay tuned.
While you’re waiting, add these books to your reading list. Some of my favorites from 1990 to 1995, and 2014 to15:
- The Things They Carried; Tim O’Brien (interconnected short stories; 1990)
- Clockers; Richard Price (fiction; 1992)
- Station Eleven; Emily St. John Mandel (fiction; 2014)
- The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League; Jeff Hobbs (non-fiction; 2014)
- Home Is Burning; Dan Marshall (memoir; 2015)
And one book from 2017 that I can’t recommend highly enough, and desperately hope makes it onto this year’s list: The Hate U Give; Angie Thomas (YA; 2017). Just…read it. Seriously. READ IT.
This article was edited by Rachel Wohrlin
Katy Epler is a freelance writer and reading enthusiast. For now, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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