Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 bests

lots of people are making their lists of 2012 best reads and if i made a list it would go on forever, so i've decided to go with just two: a YA best and one grown-up one. as it happens, one is the first book i read this year, the other is the last. this is a kind of symmetry i like. one was first published in australia in 2012, the other is from a couple of years ago, but which i only just got around to reading.

there were many amazing YA titles this year (and A LOT of australian ones), but i'm going with daniel handler's why we broke up, illustrated by maira kalman. i love these guys; loved their collaboration on the picture book 13 words. when i read this i was just about to start work at hardie grant egmont and it made me feel so chuffed that my new workplace had chosen to be the australian home for this book. it made me feel confident that we would get along.

why we broke up

min green and ed slaterton are breaking up, so min is writing ed a letter and giving him a box. inside the box is why they broke up. two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a folded note, a box of matches, a protractor, books, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings, a comb from a motel room, and every other item collected over the course of a giddy, intimate, heartbreaking relationship. item after item is illustrated and accounted for, and then the box, like a girlfriend, will be dumped.


beginning to end, all the angst and heartbreak included, this was a delight. all the (made-up) films and movie stars, the references that min made and which baffled ed. the conversations that went around and around, the tangents and segues. why we broke up is a brilliantly written and smart book - plus, so perfectly teenage. min is hyperbolic, feels things so deeply. she's over-dramatic (some might say) and i know there were many adult YA readers who didn't like this one at all. and this, above all, is why i love this book so: a teenager's life should often exclude or baffle an adult and i felt that min and ed and al all had the space to exist as teenagers and as people. they felt real, they spoke their thoughts and got things wrong. they were unlikable, precocious and whimiscal (angsty). and i loved them for it.

***

i don't read a lot of books for grown ups, and even more rarely do i read non-fiction. but i've been coveting patti smith's memoir just kids for a month or so now, drawing it out and savouring it. i finished it this morning; i loved it.

just kids

just kids begins as a love story and ends as an elegy. It serves as a salute to new york city during the late sixties and seventies and to its rich and poor, its hustlers and hellions. a true fable, it is a portrait of two young artists' ascent, a prelude to fame.


smith's prose is dreamy and yet straightforward, it's intimate but not self-exploitative. i knew so little about her life, and littler still about her relationship with robert mapplethorpe. this was such a special book. i loved the way she spoke about all those crazy cats who inhabited manhattan and brooklyn and paris in the 60s and 70s - it was just life, it never felt like she was name-dropping or big-noting. i appreciated the solemn, serious and dedicated way she approached her art. i think this is one i will read again and again.
yet you could feel a vibration in the air, a sense of hastening. it had started with the moon, inaccessible poem that it was. now men had walked upon it, rubber treads on a pearl of the gods. perhaps it was an awereness of time passing, the last summer of the decade. sometimes i just wanted to raise my hands and stop. but stop what? maybe just growing up. (p.104)
happy new year!

15 comments:

  1. I loved Why We Broke Up - it's definitely a favourite of 2012. I read it months ago and can't stop thinking about it.. And I've heard so many great things about Just Kids, it's been on my wish list for a while now.

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    Replies
    1. oh i'm so glad you loved it too!

      hope you get to just kids, it's so so wonderful and worth it.

      Delete
  2. I am absolutely with you on 'Just Kids' - one of my all-time favourite books on love, friendship and living your life as an artist. I was also blown away by her beautiful prose. x

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    Replies
    1. yes, the prose was spectacular - readable and effortless, but so poetic. definitely given me some direction in regards to an artist life. x

      Delete
  3. I loved Why We Broke Up. Perhaps I'm just getting cynical in my old age, but it was kind of nice to see a YA that didn't end with a "happily ever after"!

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    Replies
    1. Felt exactly the same way - it felt more real. I loved it so...

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  4. and Leonard in the background of Just Kids! nice company.

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    Replies
    1. i was inspired by patti and the way she'd gather special things around her. i made a little shrine of sorts for the photo...

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    2. ah, that's awesome. I recently got his Live on the Isle of Wight album on vinyl. it's glorious.

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    3. Wow. I love him so much... just went on a youtube journey of clips from that concert. amazing.

      Delete
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