Best Books of 2012

14 Dec

I don’t have much free time. So I find myself reading every chance I get, never travelling without a book, clutching one underneath my arm like a two by four. I read on the train, on my lunch break, waiting for appointments, and when I’m alone – which isn’t very often.  I’m a curmudgeon and can’t stand technology however beneficial it is for me and humanity. I loathe how everyone stares at their phones all the time. I can’t do the e-book or tablet thing. I need a real, tangible book in my hands where I can turn the pages and look at the cover art. I love paperback books, they are cheap and wonderful and contain lost worlds. These are my favorite books I read this year, in no particular order. Enjoy!



This is a perfect introduction to the writing of West Virginian underground lit juggernaut Scott McClanahan. A Southern gentleman (kind of), his bare bones writing reads as if he is actually speaking to you in his sweet twang, possibly exaggerating the charm for his own benefit. In these 27 stories, you are truly transported into his life, his childhood, his observations, his embarrassments and triumphs. Like most great writing, his first and last sentences kick you in the gut, and you are left feeling something. This feeling sticks around. It’s the mark of great writing. I can see why this nogoodnik is getting so much attention in the lit underground. His writing kills. He is a storyteller. His writing slices to the bone. Pick up a copy and take a trip to Beckley, West Virginia.  This trip is highly recommended.

fine fine music


Cassie J. Sneider loves rock ‘n roll, pugs and karaoke and this is apparent early on in her new book of stories “Fine Fine Music.” What seeps through the pages most in her sad, often hilarious tales of growing up and coming of age in Ronkonkoma, Long Island (“a town where it is still 1981”) is a fine-tuned eye for detail and a hungry heart-on-her-sleeve that shows the often misguided path of human experience. While reading Cassie, other modern day New York writers come to mind, but her voice is unique in its way of evoking human desperation and longing in a poignant, refreshing, simple way.  These stories could easily be labeled as childhood stories or “coming-of-age” tales, but each chapter stands alone and really manages to stay with the reader long after, like a childhood bicycle accident, a scar on the knee that you’re proud of long after the fact. Read about her second-hand smoke inhaling childhood, her favorite job at the record store, a few shitty jobs and shitty bosses, travel stories, picking up hitchhikers, and staying up all night in 24 hour diners.  All of these stories seem to kick-out-the jams just like the guitar-wielding heroes from the early 1980s did – without apology. Excellent, entertaining funny writing by a fresh new eastcoast female voice. Long live Cassie J. Sneider and long live rock and roll.

ry cooder


Ry Cooder is best known as a musician, producer and score-composer, most notably for the “Paris, Texas” soundtrack and his work with scores of musicians including the Buena Vista Social Club. “Los Angeles Stories” is his first published collection of stories, and by god this man GETS IT.  The “It” in Los Angeles is indeed tangible, but it lies beneath L.A.’s outer veneer.  To find out what the town really is deep down, you have to look into the history, the food, the cars and the music and Cooder does this beautifully in these noir-ish tales mostly set in the 1940s and 1950s.  Cooder writes about the experience of the OTHER side of the tracks including the Black experience, the Mexican experience, the Filipino experience, the Jazz musician’s experience and he does write about what he knows.  Clearly Cooder has immersed himself for years in L.A. history and the folklore and traditional music of many cultures as showcased to the world in the unique city of Los Angeles.  These are stories of death, betrayal, alcoholism and enlightenment.  A fan of Raymond Carver, Dashiell Hammett and company will also love these stories, but I’m going to go as far as say that Cooder goes even deeper than they did because he REALLLY digs the food, the music, the architecture, and being a native Angeleno and history buff to boot, he knows the lay of the land like no one else.  Don’t believe me?  Read these stories, man, you’re gonna dig ’em.



This is Ramones guitarist Johnny Ramone’s new autobiography, released posthumously. I didn’t think I could be an even bigger fan of the Ramones, but reading Johnny’s no-frills, no-bullshit autobiography about his 30+ years playing with punk’s founding brudderhood has made me respect him and the legacy even more.  Johnny is often known as the Ramones’ token Republican, staunchly pro-America, pro-war, and the one who stole singer Joey’s wife from him.  Common Ramones folklore tells that Joey wrote the lyrics to “The KKK Took My Baby Away” about Johnny taking his wife Linda.  Johnny sets us straight on what really happened in his book, “Commando.” The tale begins in working-class Queens where Johnny learned his values from his blue-collar, hard-drinking Irish father.  Johnny introduces us to his first experiences with rock ‘n roll, and how being laid off from his construction worker job was a blessing in disguise and became a catalyst for Johnny, Joey, Tommy and Dee Dee to found the powerhouse known as The Ramones. Johnny took his militaristic, disciplined approach and molded the Ramones into how he thought a rock and roll band should sound and look like.  Tight, fast, loud and no gimmicks. His book reads in the same way with phrases like, “KISS wasn’t cool, the New York Dolls were cool…that was always very important, coolness.”  “People would think I was unfriendly, but I wasn’t. I just didn’t like the people I was around.”  He dishes the dirt in an unsentimental way about his bandmates Joey and Dee Dee, their OCD and drug use, his favorite punk bands, and his love story with four women.  The whole book is papered with great photos and flyers and personal photos from Johnny and Linda’s collection as well.  The end is his top ten lists, and excerpts from his “black books” the notebooks that he kept as brief diaries from the beginning to the end of the Ramones.  Exact dates, amounts of pay received other bands they played with, if Eddie Vedder came along to South America, and other tidbits that might make certain fans smile as they read them.  Johnny confirms certain rumors, and puts to rest others.  This is a great counterweight to bassist Dee Dee’s entertaining if often cartoonish prose that he released before his death.  I’ve read a lot of books about late 70s NY punk, and some might say once you read “Please Kill Me” you don’t have to read any other books, but I strongly disagree.  Thanks to Johnny, his wife, and his tightly knit group of friends, we finally have Johnny Ramone’s autobiography in our hands. Damn, I enjoyed this book.  Couldn’t put it down over Thanksgiving. Viva Los Ramones!

legs led astray


I’m making some space for the musically taut prose of Portland via New York’s rising literary star Chloe Caldwell. Like a reality television crew constantly accompanying someone hoping to catch a glimpse of an embarrassing or difficult moment in someone’s life, this collection of nonfiction essays brings us into Chloe’s most personal experiences. We cringe with her, we cheer for her, and we laugh and cry with her. She divulges some of her most vivid sexual experiences in a way that goes far beyond kissing and telling. It’s like we’re actually there with her, having the good or bad or awkward cringe-worthy moment. Her minimal prose is that descriptive, a flowing and bare-boned musical movement of words that makes us forget we are reading. We ride with Chloe on the G Train in Brooklyn and have a gateway into her most private observations. Legs being the body parts that make us mobile and let us wander, let yours take you into your local bookshop and pick up a copy of Chloe Caldwell’s debut masterpiece.


The LA Record asked me to review my own book for one of their issues.  It was a novel idea and I reluctantly agreed. But they never published it, so here it is.


OK, Book reviews editor Nikki B. asked me to review my own chapbook “Seventeen Television” for L.A. Record. Sigh. Here goes. In “Seventeen Television” I tackle seven short stories. What do I like or dislike about my own writing? I wish that I could be as tight and clean and as honest as Raymond Carver. I wish I could pour my heart and internal subconscious onto the pages like Knut Hamsun or John Fante or Dan Fante. I wish I could show the world embarrassing and beautiful moments like Chloe Caldwell. But instead dear reader, you have my finished product, seven stories that are funny and sad and twisted and scary and true. My favorite story is about traveling to Mexico City with my band Clorox Girls and having Ricky Martin’s hairdresser try to rape me after playing for a crowd of foaming-at-the-mouth Chilangos who delighted in punching me repeatedly in the balls and drenching me in beer. The saddest story is “Indian Santa”, a Northwest family Christmas with my drunken and drugged out aunt and uncle turning a happy holiday into a week spent in bus stations and hospitals. The others are also about my life. There are small beautiful moments and a few ugly ones and some dead-end jobs in between. Someone once said that the best writing is like a kick to the face, so that’s what I’ve tried to do with my new book, “Seventeen Television”. I’ve purged some of my most painful and wonderful experiences (that I didn’t already write about in my 1st book, “Don’t Take Your Life”), and bared my guts like a frog on a highschooler’s dissection table. Like all of my artistic endeavors, once this project was finished I thought I could have done it better, but that’s what propels us through life like a hand-grenade that never quite explodes. We have these impacts and emergencies and truly raw moments, but we hardly ever burn like a white hot flame. On these pages I tried to burn. Only you can tell me if I succeeded in singeing a few of your hairs. Here’s my new book. Now light a match.


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