2011: Secondary Stars and Other Satellites

on Sunday, December 25, 2011
Only a few days to go before I reveal my top books of 2011. However, as always, my brain is bursting with other things I want to put into lists so I hope you enjoy these Secondary Stars and Other Satellites, my everything else of 2011.

Best Books Not Written In 2011

1. The Tenant by Roland Topor. Topor's claustrophobic masterpiece continues to haunt me, months after I put it down. The greatest descent into madness that I have ever read.

2. The Brothers Ashkenazi by I. J. Singer. It was the first book I read this year and remains one of the best. This weighty tome by the lesser known Singer brother surpasses most of the Russian greats in terms of moral force and simple narrative verve. Staggering.

3. Rebellion by Joseph Roth. He may be famous for The Radetzky March, but it is this book that I would pick as Roth's greatest. As I said in my review, he had me at "crippled organ grinder".

4. Krakatit by Karel Capek. Stuff George Orwell, Jules Verne or Franz Kafka. If you want a writer who could predict the horrible future it was Karel Capek. This tale of a nuclear arms race predated the real thing by thirty years.

5. Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa. Yes, I'm putting a graphic novel on the lists. Dark, atmospheric and truly tragic, Pedrosa's riff on losing a child ranks amongst the best things I read this year.

Honourable Mentions: A Palace In the Old Village by Tahar Ben Jelloun, The Upright Piano player by David Abbott, The President by Miguel Angel Asturias, Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges

Book Podcasts That Helped Me Survive the Long Drives and City Traffic

1. BBC Open Book. The folks at the Beeb have really lifted their game this year, putting out a great mix of interviews, book club sessions, reportage and, my favourite, the "Good Read" program, where two people of note come and recommend their favourite books before dissing the other's choice.

2. The Bookrageous Podcast. It might be rough around the edges, but these guys are clearly having a ball talking about books. Always a fantastic place to discover new titles. A podcast by book loving nerds for book loving nerds.

3. KCRW Bookworm. Michael Silverblat continues to dish up top quality interviews with today's top writers. Yes, his voice is still incredibly annoying, but nobody picks apart a book or author like this guy. No wonder they literally line up to come on his show.

4. New York Times Book Review Podcast. News, reviews, interviews and a bit of goss, the NYTBR is a great way to catch up on what's happening in book world each week.

Soundtrack To My Downtime

I don't only read or listen to podcasts, you know. Occasionally I also listen to music. And 2011 was a pretty good year in that regard. These records stood out for me, though there was a whole bunch more that I loved and probably could have included:

1. Alice Cooper - Welcome 2 My Nightmare. Oh guilty guilty pleasure! With Welcome 2 My Nightmare the God of schlock rock served up a filthy, fun and decidedly worthy follow-up to his classic album, awful album title notwithstanding.

2. Frenzal Rhomb - Smoko In The Pet Food Factory. On the subject of returns to form, Australia's punk prankster kings finally delivered the album they've been threatening to make for ages. By far their best offering since Meet The Family.

3. I Am The Avalache - Avalache United. Gritty, honest punk rock from a band I'd never heard of before but hope to be hearing a lot of in the future.

4. The Decline - Are You Going To Eat That? Newish kids on the Aussie punk block, this record is chock full of speedy, fun and socially aware tunes.

5. White Wives - Happeners. I've always hoped for a new Pixies album. This side project from two of the dudes from Anti Flag gave me the next best thing.

6. Janes Addiction - The Great Escape Artist. I'm probably the only person who liked this, but I doff my hat to Perry Farrel and Co for taking me back to my teen years. Funky, ethereal and stomping when needed.

7. Dead To Me - Moscow Penny Ante. A great, honest punk record from these bearers of The Clash's torch.

8. SixxAM - This Is Gonna Hurt. I liked the last Motley Crue album and, finally, I really like one of their side projects. So shoot me! Fantastic songs played brilliantly. It's like the last two decades never happened!

9. The Holy Mess - The Holy Mess. Kinda punk, kinda rock, totally awesome. Criminally overlooked.

10. Mixtapes - Maps and Companions. I have been loving this quirky collective for a couple of years now. A totally unique blend of folky acoustic balladry, chipper pop and down-and-dirty punk.

Feeding the Reader

Thought I'd add a new category this year, seeing as my other great love is stuffing my face. Sorry it's so Melbourne-centric but if you do live here take heed!

Favourite New Food Stop: Ren Dao Vegetarian in Glenhuntly Road, Elsternwick. I like meat. I hate killing animals. This seeming contradiction can best be addressed by visiting any number of those awesome Chinese places that do mock murdered carcass. Ren Dao is the newest kid on the block and, in a year that saw my former favourite (Vege Hut in Box Hill) go to the dogs, I'm glad to report that Ren Dao has swooped in and stolen the crown. Plus it's way closer to where I live. Double win.

Favourite Fancy Feed: Anada in Gertrude Street Fitzroy. Still the best Spanish joint in town, good vege options and KILLER everything else.

Food Discovery of the Year: Cholula Chipotle Hot Sauce. Makes the word a better place. Suitable for squirting on pretty much anything, including more Cholula Chipotle Hot Sauce.

Alright, so that's about it. Stay tuned over the next couple of days for the unveiling of my Best Books of 2011. Word on the street has it there's quite a tussle at the top end!


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