Wednesday, January 02, 2008

2007's Best Stuff

by Marcus Sakey

In general, I'm not a list-maker. But about three years ago, I began writing down the titles of books I read. I started on a whim, just thinking it would be entertaining to look back on, but it's become a serious routine, one of those mildly superstitious habits we try not to look too closely at, like if I don't write it down, it somehow doesn't count.

Anyway, the fun part is that every New Year's Day, I get to take out the old list and relive those moments. I remember sitting by the fire last January, lost in A WINTER'S TALE; I recall honey sunlight through the restaurant window as I cracked DRIVE; which beer I had ordered before diving into AMERICAN TABLOID; that three a.m. quiet as I closed LEGENDS OF THE FALL.

So in that spirit, as we begin 2008, I thought I'd mention a few things I discovered or enjoyed in 2007.

Critic David Montgomery asked me, and about fifty other authors, to list the three favorite books we'd read in the last year. You can read mine here. However, choosing three was brutal, so I'm going to take the time to add a few more:

CORONADO, by Dennis Lehane, knocked my socks off. Lehane's voice just keeps getting more controlled and refined. The story "Until Gwen" is an absolute heartbreaker, though "Gone Down to Corpus" is probably my favorite.

VOICES FROM CHERNOBYL, "the oral history of a nuclear disaster," is one of the most horrifying things I have ever read.

SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, by Kent Anderson, is the prequel to the novel NIGHT DOGS. These two together are in my top five crime / war novels of all time. Anderson doesn't hesitate to go to his dark places, and what he sees there he delivers up with a poet's flair and a reporter's impartiality.

STONE CITY, by Mitchell Smith, is off-the-charts good. God bless the folks at Busted Flush for reprinting it. Keep your eyes open; it's due out early this year.

I loved Edgar contenders A FIELD OF DARKNESS and THE KING OF LIES, by my friends Cornelia Read and John Hart. Both have second books out now, and I own both and am pleasure-delaying on 'em.

I re-read Cormac McCarthy's BLOOD MERIDIAN, and found it just as horrifyingly good this time around. A lot of people have discovered McCarthy this year because of THE ROAD, which is an excellent book. But this one is better.

Movies & TV:
The Lives of Others is a go-out-and-rent-it-right-NOW movie. Set in East Berlin during the height of the Cold War, it's a scathing look at fascism, paranoia, and misplaced passion.

The Departed gets better every time I see it. A lot of folks like to say that it's good but not great, but I can't agree--it's tight, compelling, beautifully interwoven, rich in parallel and meaning. The only weak moment in the whole film is the very last one, with the rat on the railing.

Little Children was tremendous. The cast is great, the adaptation is almost as good as Tom Perotta's book, and the sense of suburban helplessness, offset with just the tiniest amount of warmth and humor, was thick enough to choke.

The movie I'm having the hardest time getting out of my mind recently is The Fountain. It's a love story told in three parts, all interconnected, and only one of them actually happening. The score is beautiful, the cinematography is tremendous, and Aronofsky isn't afraid to make you think. I feel like the film went a little more obscure than strictly necessary in the last ten minutes, but I'd always rather watch an artist shoot for the moon.

Battlestar Galactica continued to blow the doors off. Can't wait for the next and final season.

My favorite band discovery of the year is The Mountain Goats, an indie rock group that really centers around one guy, the incredibly talented John Darnielle. Unabashedly smart lyrics that paint intimate portraits, flavored with just the right amount of irony and humor. How can you beat lines like, "I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me"?

Along the same lines, a friend recently introduced me to Kevin Tihista's Red Terror, an album called "Wake Up Captain." It's music that sounds like it should be depressing, all about loss and the pain of love, but somehow you're singing along and smiling.

I wore out my Dropkick Murphy's albums this year. Also Social Distortion and The Libertines and The Hold Steady.

Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service both topped the list too, as does Spoon. I love the first few tracks of Cracker's "Greenland."

Bioshock set a new bar, proving that games can have both ass-kicking and a point. Atmospheric and intelligent, with one of the first well-executed "twists" I've ever seen in a game.

The annoyingly-punctuated S.T.A.L.K.E.R was an amazing experience in a haunting world. Playing that game, I just felt...lonely.

So there we are. A few things that made me think, made me laugh, or just made me happy in 2007. If you've got a few minutes, post a comment and let me know what did the same for you.

And welcome to 2008!


John said...

Thanks for sharing, Marcus. That Kevin Tihista record is awfully good. As for the Mountain Goats, check out the record by the Extra Glenns, which is Darnielle and Franklin Bruno from Nothing Painted Blue. Bruno is the equal of Darnielle in wordsmithery, but has a better ear for hooks, I think.

Mark Combes said...


My favorite movie of 2007 is "The Lookout" with Joseph Gorden-Levitt - who is going to be HUGE - fantastic actor. Anyway, I know you are Lehane fan - I think this will be right up your alley. Flawed people doing flawed things.

Marcus Sakey said...

Mark, I loved "The Lookout"--fantastic atmosphere, and you're right, Gorden-Levitt is tremendous.

And John, thanks for the music rec! I'll pick that one up this week.

JD Rhoades said...

Heh. My son's a big Dropkick Murphys fan, too. I used that to turn him on to the Pogues. Now we bounce around the house signing like drunken Irishmen at the top of our lungs.

Train up a child, etc.

Oh, and yeah, The Lookout was great.

Dana King said...

Many of these were only new to me in 2007, but here goes, in the order I read them:

In This Rain, SJ Rozan
Napolean's Pyramids, Richard Dietrich
The Strangler, William Landay
Money Money Money, Ed McBain
The Watchman, Robert Crais
Hombre, Elmore Leonard
Jolie Blon's Bounce, James Lee Burke

Gone Baby Gone
Michael Clayton

Anonymous said...

I'm so far behind in movies I'm still catching up from '06! I did like Syriana. Books? Lots of favorites but these stand out:

The Memorykeeper's Daughter-Kim Edwards
Sin In The Second City-Karen Abbott
1 Dead in Attic-Chris Rose
Tin Roof Blowdown-James Lee Burke
The Blade Itself-Marcus Sakey
The Virgin of Small Plains-Nancy Pickard
I got hooked on the new BBC Robin Hood, rewatched Firefly several times and admit to the guilty pleasure of Men In Trees when ABC deigns to show it.
Music-the Fats Domino Tribute
Marc Broussard-S.O.S
JJ Grey & Moffo
The latest Dr.John collection
No earthquakes here but these all made 2007 a bit brighter :o)

Maryann Mercer said...

anonymous is me. Sorry. It's early...before coffee!

Marcus Sakey said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Maryann. :) And god, do I love Firefly--seen it more times than I am comfortable admitting.

Maryann Mercer said...

Anytime, Marcus :) And, as Mr. Universe said, "They can't stop the signal"
And as a hi-jack, Summer Glau is in The Sarah Connor Chronicles on Fox beginning 1/ that should be intriguing :)

Marcus Sakey said...

I'm mildly hopeful for that one--good cast, good premise. I'm always happy to see a Firefly alum get work. Nathan Fillion was great in "Waitress"; hoping that leads to more film roles for him. The man has presence.

Matt said...

Criminal more people haven't read Kent Anderson.

My favourite crime novel this year - The Bloomsday Dead, by Adrian McKinty. The Michael Forsythe trilogy flew pretty much under everyone's radar these past 4 years (one notable exception: Ed McBain, who gave The Dead Yard a great review just before he passed away), but it will garner its due acclaim in time. McKinty's too good a writer for anything else to happen.