K.S. Rhoads: From Outside the Wilderness

K.S. Rhoads’ fantastic new album, From Outside the Wilderness, is available as a free, legal download on Noisetrade. My better half, Brendan, played it for me last night and I fell in love. It’s really nothing like Foxygen’s magnificent psychedelic We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, yet From Outside the Wilderness hit me with the same kind of fresh, creative force. I especially love the whimsical instrumentation in the opening track, “The Wilderness.” You can access the mp3s by entering your email address below.

K.S. Rhoads Official Site

Muruch’s Top 5 Books of 2009

Well, my Best Books of the Decade list wore me out, so my year end book list will be brief. Click the titles to read my reviews – except #5 and #3, which are Amazon links…

Muruch’s Top 5 Books of 2009

*Honorable mentions to two books I read and loved for the first time this year: Ferney by James Long (originally released in 1999) and the creepy gothic novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.

5. Alan Bradley: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

I just finished this cute novel about a precocious eleven year old chemist and amateur detective named Flavia. The second half was unnecessarily heavy with exposition, but it was a fun read.

4. David Grann: The Lost City of Z

I also recently finished this exciting non-fiction book, which chronicles explorer Peter Fawcett’s search for El Dorado (a.k.a. The Lost City of Z) and his mysterious disappearance in the Amazon jungle.

3. Elizabeth Hay: Late Nights On The Air

2. Kurt Vonnegut: Look at the Birdie *

*Listed edited to include this one, which I didn’t read until 2010.

1. Samantha Harvey: The Wilderness

Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Books

In addition to my usual year end lists, I’m also doing decade lists. Following are my favorite books that were released between 2000-2009. It turns out my two favorite books of the early aughts – Douglas Copeland’s Girlfriend in a Coma and Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity – were released in the mid-1990s. Oh well. With one exception, I only included books that were newly released in this decade…

Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Books

10. Ian McEwan: On Chesil Beach

This unique little novella is probably not one that I would re-read, but I did like it enough to buy it after I’d checked it out from the library. There was just something so elegant and insightful about its painfully realistic depiction of an inexperienced couple’s awkward wedding night in 1962.

Buy @ Amazon

9. Lin Enger: Undiscovered Country

2008 was a very good year for novels. As I said in my review: “Undiscovered Country is a modernized retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet set in small town Minnesota.” I still think it’s a shame a certain bloated, boring copycat Oprah book club selection stole the attention and praise this novel rightfully deserved.

Buy @ Amazon

8. Maggie O’Farrell: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

I summed it all up in my review: “Irish author Maggie O’Farrell has quickly become a favorite writer of mine. Her new novel The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox is a beautifully written, enthralling piece of Gothic fiction that effortlessly weaves together the emotional and riveting threads of one family’s multi-generational tale. “

Buy @ Amazon

7. Samantha Harvey: The Wilderness

One of the most unique books ever written. I would have put it at #1, except it’s too painful for me personally to ever re-read. As I said in my review, “Harvey’s beautiful, intelligent prose weaves the frayed threads of Jacob’s turbulent life and decaying mind together to create a magnificent tapestry of tragedy and hope.”

Buy @ Amazon

6. Emma Forrest: Namedropper

Compared to the rest of the list, this book probably ranks higher for nostalgic value than the quality of the novel itself. It’s a fun read about the loves and semi-adventures of vivacious, melodramatic, Elizabeth Taylor-obsessed Viva, including her encounter with an ill-fated indie musician that was inspired by Jeff Buckley.

Buy @ Amazon

5. Lee Maynard: Crum

Most of the world may not know who local writer Lee Maynard is, but he is known in West Virginia as the infamous author whose book Crum has been banned in various bookstores throughout the state. The book fictionalizes and scandalizes portions of Maynard’s adolescent years in Crum, WV. It’s been called an Appalachian Catcher in the Rye, but I think it’s far superior.

Buy @ Amazon

4. Robert Cremins: A Sort of Homecoming

This book was originally released in Ireland in late 1999, but the paperback edition wasn’t released in the U.S. until 2000. It was Brendan‘s favorite book then, and I read it when we were living in Ireland during the summer of 2000. I agreed with Brendan’s assessment that the novel perfectly and humorously captured the real Dublin of that time.

Buy @ Amazon

3. James Long: Ferney

I’m cheating a little here, as Ferney was originally released in the late 1990s. But the edition I bought and read this year was a 2001 reprint. As I said in my review: “Ferney is a tale of immortal love trapped within the confines of mortal flesh…the narrative is intricately and intelligently crafted.” This is one of those books that I couldn’t stop thinking about long after I finished it.

Buy @ Amazon

2. Mary Ann Shaffer: The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society

This delightful little book is one that I expect to read over and over again throughout my life. I said in my review: “I found myself cheering for these fictional people I had unwittingly become so invested in. “.

Buy @ Amazon

1. Markus Zusak: The Book Thief

As I said in my original review, “The Book Thief is one of the most brilliant and emotional books I’ve ever read. The book is narrated by the personification of Death, and tells the story of nine year old orphan Liesel Meminger in World War II era Germany..” It was #1 on my 2008 book list, and I think it will eventually be considered a classic.

Buy @ Amazon

Samantha Harvey: The Wilderness

Samantha Harvey’s mysterious and memorable novel The Wilderness delves inside the troubled, unraveling mind of Jacob, an elderly man in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. After reading a favorable review of the book (alas, I can’t recall where), I scoured the bookshops of Dublin during my recent visit to Ireland and found a lovely hardback edition at Chapters on Parnell Street. The novel was just what I hoped it would be – so well written that the sadness of its subject was perfectly balanced by the beauty of the text.

“In amongst a sea of events and names that have been forgotten, there are a number of episodes that float with striking buoyancy to the surface. There is no sensible order to them, nor connection between them. He keeps his eye on the ground below him, strange since once he would have turned his attention to the horizon or the sky above, relishing the sheer size of it all. Now he seeks out miniatures with the hope of finding comfort in them: the buildings three thousand feet below, the moors so black and flat that they defy perspective, the prison and grounds, men running in ellipses around a track, the stain of suburbia.”

Rather than disclose her protagonist’s history and current circumstances in a straightforward manner, Harvey chose instead to reveal random, dreamlike sequences of Jacob’s life through the distorted memories and distraught imaginings conjured by his illness. These autobiographical fragments become increasingly erratic and intertwined as his mental powers deteriorate.

This technique could easily have resulted in an annoying, confused jumble. But Harvey’s beautiful, intelligent prose weaves the frayed threads of Jacob’s turbulent life and decaying mind together to create a magnificent tapestry of tragedy and hope.

Buy @ Amazon