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Top Ten

The Year in Books

Top Ten 2005

The Year in News Even the most ardent Baltimoron knows better than to take as anything other than a sick joke our claim to being “The Greatest City in America.” | By Gadi Dechter, Edward Ericson Jr., and Van Smith

The Year in Movies Fuck March of the Penguins.

The Year in Television It signals that the major networks are following a cable and foreign TV lead: the season-long serial narrative

The Year in Music 2005 was definitely a year of no consensus.

The Year in Local Music From club music to indie rock to the fact that by year’s end it seemed like damn near every rapper in the city was signed, this was a banner year for Baltimore music...

The Year in Books The you-know-what over in you-know-where continues to dominate American publishing…

The Year in Art Only time can tell if 2005 is the year that Baltimore’s local art climate started to turn for the better.

The Year on Stage Lack of talent is never going to sink Baltimore theater, but lack of space is a problem.

Our Top 40 City Paper Offers 40 Ideas From 2005 for Your iPod

Posted 12/14/2005

The you-know-what over in you-know-where continues to dominate American publishing, whose companies have yet to meet an Iraq War-related nonfiction idea they didn’t want to fast-track. It’s an attitude that has created a George W. Bush-related cottage industry, with books exploring conspiracy theories about the 2004 election, what happened to the WMDs speculations, national security and Plamegate musings, and the resulting media hand-wringing that accompanied such.

Fortunately not every journalist had his or her head in such opportunistic sand, and the best of this year’s nonfiction books mine issues much closer to home. From the inner-city racial cauldrons that spawned hip-hop to the resources-strapped urban school systems uniformly failing today’s students across the board, the nonfiction best of 2005 explore conditions that will persist long after we’ve “liberated” Iraq. And this year’s fiction and graphic-novel entries map stories about people enduring worlds where the weighty domestic themes affecting daily life dominate thoughts more than geopolitical power moves. (Bret McCabe)

1 Jeff Chang Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation (St. Martin’s Press)

Calling Jeff Chang’s opus the best book of the year or even the best book about hip-hop, period, undersells its lasting importance. It’s also a flabbergasting piece of ethnography and a cultural theory treatise on contemporary socioeconomics. In mapping hip-hop’s evolution from its 1960s Jamaican DJ roots to its shape-defining maturation in the powder keg of the 1970s Bronx and eventual global market force, Chang charts the emergence of a philosophy, one formed growing up in the blighted urban areas that birthed hip-hop, and ably illustrates how the music can’t be divorced from the conditions that fostered it. Extensive discussion of the art form’s big names is naturally included—DJ Kool Herc, Grand Wizard Theodore, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash, Public Enemy—but Can’t Stop’s arresting centerpiece is a stunning narrative of 1992 Los Angeles riots. Required reading. (BM)

2 James Howard Kunstler The Long Emergency (Atlantic Monthly Press)

Environmental literature has its share of false prophets. What makes James Howard Kunstler different? His core argument: America has built itself on a cheap-oil economy, and any transition away from that will be painful, to put it mildly. His predictions involve global economic collapse, widespread pestilence, massive starvation and die-off, and nothing less than the total transformation of the United States from superpower to hobbling collection of feudal lands. Biodiesel won’t save you. To some critics that puts Kunstler squarely in the crank category. (Before this, Kunstler wrote angry, influential books about suburbia.) But just think, as Kunstler does, about how you heat your home, how you got to work, what powers your job, or where breakfast came from—you get the paranoid feeling that he might not be so crazy after all. His predictions are thoroughly, persuasively, and passionately argued, with obvious glee (though Kunstler would deny it) at the prospect of watching bloated suburb-cities like Phoenix dry up and blow away. (Scott Carlson)

3 Jon Ronson The Men Who Stare at Goats (Simon and Schuster)

Between 1978 and 1995, Special Forces soldiers sat in a clapboard shack at Fort Bragg and concentrated their thoughts on a herd of goats. Their goal was to explode an animal’s heart with pure psychic intent. Wasting the best years of their Army careers like this didn’t bother the soldiers. What bothered them was that since the experiment was technically unfunded they couldn’t drink the Army’s coffee and had to bring their own. This vignette, at once absurd, amusing, and frightening, is typical of The Men Who Stare at Goats, British journalist Jon Ronson’s history of the U.S. military’s forays into paranormal warfare. Ronson, even though hip-deep in material that would cause many conspiracy theorists to froth at the mouth, never loses his cool and maintains a wry, conversational prose, prompting amusement that soon gives way to slow, creeping horror at how far down the rabbit hole goes. (Violet Glaze)

4 Mary Gaitskill Veronica: A Novel (Pantheon)

Mary Gaitskill writes with the calm assurance of a master butcher, each sentence a fluid stroke that doesn’t waste any motion dividing a flank into its smaller component parts. And Gaitskill divvies up the soul in this beautifully brisk, overwhelmingly dark novel narrated by Alison, a former Paris model now underemployed and physically debilitated at midlife remembering her younger years, particularly her cocaine- and sex-fueled Parisian career and her 1980s friendship with the then fortysomething Veronica, a frumpy woman whose bisexual boyfriend infects her with the HIV virus that eventually takes her life. Veronica is a fascinatingly blunt look at the events that shape a life, at how the past invades the present without warning, and how age recalibrates friendships past and present and turns major dramas of youth into forgettable anecdotes and simple and seemingly unremarkable moments into the life-defining turns that can haunt you for the rest of your days. (BM)

5 Dennis Cooper God Jr. (Black Cat)

Shortly before completing God Jr., Dennis Cooper remarked in the online journal Suspect Thoughts that he’d finally written a novel that his (then) preteen nephew could read. Well, before you snag a copy for your favorite tween this holiday season, know that the thin but weighty God Jr. packs as much potential for psychological damage as any Cooper title—albeit sans the scads of gory violence and gay sex that marked earlier shockers such as Period and My Loose Thread. The unique concept and execution of God Jr., which concerns a suburban father who loses himself in the forest world within one of his dead son’s video games, affords more emotional catharsis than Cooper has ever before allowed to seep into his writing and will thrill mature adults hungry for poignant, truly edgy literary fare. (Eric Allen Hatch)

6 Neil Gaiman Anansi Boys (William Morrow)

With Anansi Boys, Gaiman pulls off the damn-near impossible: credible fantasy fiction. Although best known for his graphic novels (most notably the Sandman series), here he channels not only a British humor eerily reminiscent of the late Douglas Adams—one novelty song floating through the book is titled “It’s Nice Out (But Put It Away)”—but also, improbably, a melodic Caribbean dialect that lends much of the book’s mythology its resonance. An anhedoniac British accountant improbably nicknamed Fat Charlie discovers his recently deceased father was a trickster god, a small-scale deity better at mayhem than miracles. Into Fat Charlie’s life spills a newly discovered brother, a smooth-talking hustler named Spider, who sleeps with Charlie’s previously chaste fiancée and goads his boss into charges of embezzlement. The book explores not only imaginary netherworlds but also, in the most whimsical way possible, the very real bonds of family and self-imposed limitations. (Joab Jackson)

7 Charles Burns Black Hole (Pantheon)

If graphic novels are the new rock ’n’ roll—they’re not, but work with us here—then Charles Burns’ Black Hole is their Led Zeppelin IV: a masterpiece created by a supremely talented artist at the height of his powers, and one that appeals equally to alienated teenagers and grown-up alienated teenagers. Set among a band of teens in the Seattle suburbs of the mid-’70s, Burns gets across those heady times through details: lava lamps, David Bowie posters, feathered hair, a lot of pot. But he’s more concerned with recalling the body horror that is adolescence through visual metaphor, namely an STD, “the bug,” that randomly and sometimes garishly mutates the bodies of those who get it. More than 10 years in the making (it was originally released as a 12-issue comic-book series), Black Hole’s complicated structure holds your mind’s attention while its painfully detailed evocation of sexual awakening gives your body the willies. (Christopher Skokna)

8 Jill Soloway Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants (Free Press)

Whip-smart Jewess Jill Soloway is responsible for a hee-larious short story worth Googling, “Courtney Cox’s Asshole.” Check it out and you’ll wanna read her cherry-popping memoir, Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants. She mixes funny stories from her girlhood—the title refers to high-school hijinks of dressing up like little hookers and star chasing at local hotels—with the current conditions of her life writing for TV (she had a tony gig on Six Feet Under), being a dog hater, and momming a son. Tiny Ladies ends with tips for would-be writers—you know, like “writers write,” only more realistic, like “stop smoking pot”—and an application for Feather Crest, a women-run utopia she fantasizes about, especially when her boyfriend, Dink, brings home Hamburger Helper and threatens to make it. Like a pair of short shorts, this quick read leaves you wanting more from the girl. (Wendy Ward)

9 Jonathan Kozol The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America (Crown)

Rarely do books exercise the power to transport couch potatoes to foreign lands and arouse empathy, but Jonathan Kozol’s The Shame of the Nation does. While the emotional outpouring following Katrina was sincere, many people were shocked to see in New Orleans a city at odds with the idea of an equal, fair America. Kozol takes you to that world, one inhabited mainly by inner-city youth of color who are subject to schooling conditions far inferior to that of their white, suburban counterparts. Baltimoreans need only contrast a city public-school classroom with any surrounding county one to realize that conditions are very much separate and unequal. Kozol wants to shame us: A whole generation is being destroyed by our idleness, and Kozol demands action. When has a book asked so much of us? (R. Darryl Foxworth)

10 Lourdes Grobet (editor) Lucha Libre: Masked Superstars of Mexican Wrestling (Distributed Art Publishers)

If you can only buy one coffee-table photo book this year, make it one with grown men (and a few women) in tights and masks—who call themselves Santo, Adorable Rubí, Hurricane Ramirez, Panterita Sureña—who compete in the melodramatic violence that is Mexico’s freewheeling version of wrestling called lucha libre. Photographer Lourdes Grobet has spent 20 years following Mexico’s wrestling superstars and fills her study with colorful images of the players, their families and friends, and the extracurricular paraphernalia of stickers, fliers, handbills, postcards, movie stills, etc. Lucharán! Pareja increíbles! (BM)

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The Year In Tracks (12/15/2009)
. . . just in the case the album really is dead.

The Year in News (12/9/2009)

The Year in Movies (12/9/2009)

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