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If you resolved to quit watching Jersey Shore
in the New Year and pick up a book instead--hey, it's your year--there's no better place to stock your reading list than the Onion AV Club's roundup of the past decade's best books
, fiction and nonfiction. (It came out before the holidays, but I put off reading it just to keep temptation at bay.)
On the fiction list, bracketed by a pair of elegant mindscrews--Ian McEwen's Atonement
and Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin
--you'll find Nashville author Ann Patchett's 2001 novel Bel Canto
In December 1996, a group of Peruvian revolutionaries began a hostage crisis in the official residence of the Japanese ambassador in Lima that ended violently more than four months later. Ann Patchett was paying attention, and her novel finds a bittersweet lyricism in a fictionalized take on the same event. Stuck together, hostages and hostage-takers find the factors dividing them--politics, language, and in one of the central relationships, the distance between a famous opera singer and a devoted fan--matter less than the needs that unite them. The grace they find can't last, however, and like the music that helped inspire the novel, Patchett earns her novel's heartache by suggesting the possibility of a sweeter, more beautiful world.
What makes this an honor is that, much like its film and music sections, the AV Club's book section has become a model for book coverage as a lively ongoing concern. (We're always proud to see longtime Scene
film writer Donna Bowman among the regular contributors.) Its enthusiasms encompass the mainstream, the midlist and the bracingly erudite, and the monthly feature that digs into a different cult novel (e.g., Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian
, Katherine Dunn's Geek Love
) has drawn an engaged and furiously argumentative readership. The bare-knuckled comments section isn't some lofty circle of dry aesthetes--it reads more like Oprah's Fight Club.
Do I disagree with some of their choices? Hells yeah: I couldn't get past the Meet My Great Themes throat-clearing in the first chapter of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections
, and I would've sprung for Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore
and Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma
, neither of which made the list. But it's a pleasure to watch people get worked up about what they read, and to join them.
Note to self: Isn't it about time you read Bel Canto
? (Shhh--I think Snooki's going to eat some pickles.)