The Year in Books
What New Book Brought You the Most Enjoyment in 1997 and Why?
This is perhaps the most significant year for loss in recent contemporary spoken-word history, for not only were Ginsberg and Burroughs two of the most notable graduates of the Beat movement, but many contemporary spoken-word artists have used these two writers' works as an entrance to discovering and shaping their own voices. Ginsberg, who died in April, and Burroughs, who died in August, were undoubtedly accomplished writers, yet so much of their appeal lay in their ability to graft their own voices to their work when they read. We can still read them on the page, but save for their recorded output, we will no longer have the opportunity to hear Ginsberg's droll, Puckish rhythms or Burroughs' gravelly, sinister intonations.
2. The kindness of the benefit.
Although the local poetry scene has had its fractures and skirmishes in the past few years, the scene has admirably coalesced around two of its own in recent months. When local performance poet Vicky Charleston was struck with temporary blindness this fall, making her unable to work or even read from the page, poets came together to organize a December benefit at the Victory Grill which not only raised a significant sum of money, but showed how compassionate Austin artists can be when faced with the challenge of shocking setback. Poets also staged two December benefits for former Blue Plate Poet Pasha, who continues a valiant battle with cancer, and if the trend of compassion continues, the community would do well to come to the aid of Christina Sergeyevna, who had to step down from repeating her tireless and magnificent work in organizing the 1997 Austin International Poetry Festival when she experienced a heart attack and bypass surgery last month.
3. The Sister Spit Tour.
This was, in a year of impressive tours, the show of the year for its size, scope, and inspiration. A troupe of San Francisco-based lesbian poets crammed into a festively painted van this past spring, released a CD on spoken-word label Mouth Almighty, and charmed audiences across the country (including an amazing showcase at the Electric Lounge) with work that dealt poignantly with both lesbian-specific issues and a more universal, far-reaching artistry.
4. The awarding of the 1998 National Poetry Slam to Austin organizers.
Not to toot my own horn here, but toot toot toot. As a co-director of the upocming August event, I can confidently say that the combination of support from the City Of Austin, local arts organizations, and the Chronicle, in addition to the infrastructure and potential audiences that already exist in Austin, lays the foundation for what could be one of the most memorable spoken-word showcases in Austin history. And with Nationals coming on the heels on the ever-growing South By Southwest spoken-word showcase and the ever-improving Austin International Poetry Festival, 1998 looks like it might just be a banner year for live poetry in the live musical capital.
NOTABLE BOOKS OF 1997
by Jesse Sublett
The Last Cavalier: The Life and Times of John Lomax, by Nolan Porterfield. Darn good biography of an eccentric, unusual, essential man.
A Sniper in the Tower: the Charles Whitman Murders by Gary M. Lavergne. Excellent historical biography, should be required reading for all Texans and people who wonder what the hell happened to the world in the Sixties.
The Alamo: An Epic by Michael Lind. I have avoided this book like the plague. I know I must read it some day. Did anyone ever suggest that we needed an epic of the Alamo? These days, "epic" is a term rarely used except to describe a TV mini-series. Somehow, I think I'll grow to like this but it will never replace Tex Ritter's version of the story.
All Over But the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg. He's a Southern boy. He loves his mama. He sure can turn a phrase. Buy his book.
The Slave Narratives of Texas, edited by Ron Tyler and Lawrence R. Murphy. After you've seen Amistad, read this book. It's not exactly cheery reading, but it might dispell some illusions about how slave life in Texas "wasn't all that bad" compared to elsewhere. Another in a long line of important historical books from our local, beloved State House Press.
Night Passage, by Robert B. Parker. Parker test-drives his new series character, Jesse Stone, with a cross-country trip from L.A. to New England, where he seeks to start over as a small town sheriff and leave his past behind. It's interesting to see which ideas Parker has left behind and which ones he's chosen to repeat in this new series, which comes out of the gate like a sure-fire winner.
Underworld by Don DeLillo. No, I haven't finished it. Too busy reading all those small books. But it starts off with a bang, pun intended. DeLillo is a killer, no doubt about it.
Already Dead: A California Gothic by Denis Johnson. If you're already a Denis Johnson fan, you must have this book. If you're not, you might do better to start off with Jesus' Son or Resuscitation of a Hanged Man, novels that succeed more thoroughly. This one starts off great but runs out of steam and turns into a tower of new age babble midway. I still thought the first third of the book was well worth the cover price, though, and I still think Johnson is one of America's best novelists.
Taking Charge, edited by Michael R. Beschloss. My hero, Lyndon B. Johnson, kicks ass and takes names. The proof is in the pudding and on the tapes. What more do you need to know?
Trunk Music by Michael Connelly. Connelly proves once again that there's still plenty of life left in that old dog known as the police procedural, Southern California hard-boiled style. Connelly is a writer who walks the fine line between tradition and cutting edge postmodern angst, and weaves a fabric tougher than Kevlar and darker than a mist- and cordite-enshrouded Southern California night.
TOP TEN SCIENCE FICTION BOOKS THAT I FOUND TIME TO READ IN 1997
by Adrienne Martini
1. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
2. The Trinity Vector by Steve Perry
3. Lifehouse by Spider Robinson
4. Half the Day Is Night by Maureen F.McHugh
5. Zod Wallop by William Browning Spencer
6. A Song of Stone by Iain Banks
7. Slow River by Nicola Griffith
8. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and
9. Outside the Dog Museum by Jonathan Carroll
10. Bellwether by Connie Willis
FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE YEAR
by Marion Winik
1. Le Divorce by Diane Johnson
2. Do The Windows Open? by Julie Hecht
3. Naked by David Sedaris
4. Into Thin Air by John Krakauer
5. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
6. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
7. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
8. Permanent Midnight by Jerry Stahl
9. The Ordinary Seaman by Francisco Goldman
10. How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Bouton