The year started with a couple of winners and at least one unfortunate loser. I’m a big fan of John Hodgman’s incredible trio of fake almanacs, so I was excited about “Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches.” Hodgman is a master of the kind of melancholy humor that scratches my itch, and “Vacationland” is a funny and sad little book about a vacation home in Maine, family, performing live and buying a boat. He is responsible for one of my absolute favorite TED Talks, and if you like that, you’ll like this book.
Dan Brown’s “Inferno” is Dan Brown at his Dan Browniest. It’s absolutely absurd, with a ludicrous plot and wafer-thin characters, but with Brown you know what you’re getting. It’s difficult to put down, which qualifies it as a page-turner. It’s hard to take seriously, but if you find yourself sitting next to a pool, you could do worse.
Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” is already out-of-date, but it’s impact was definitely felt throughout the year. Wolff, who clearly spent a lot of time interviewing Steve Bannon, gives an insider’s view of the Trump White House, though he has a tendency to play fast and loose with sourcing. It’s an important book, and an easy read, but it has a short shelf-life just because of the nature of the topic. If you’re looking for juicy Trump dirt, you’ve probably already read it.
What to say about Andy Weir’s “Artemis”? Truly one of the most disappointing books I think I’ve ever read. Nothing against Weir, who wrote the absolutely fantastic The Martian, but Artemis just doesn’t work. Ostensibly a murder mystery set on the moon, it’s full of characters that don’t work, a clunky plot, a main character who is intensely difficult to like and a clunkiness that makes the whole affair feel rushed and unfinished. Maybe it’s just a sophomore slump. I’ve read “The Martian” four times, so I’m totally going to read Weir’s next book on day-one, but “Artemis” just doesn’t work. At all.
Last in this timeframe was Dan Moody’s “Hotels of North America,” a peculiar, funny series of modern male adulthood told through a series of fake Yelp-style reviews of American hotels. This book was right in my wheelhouse, with a nonlinear story told through fragments of experience framed through the aforementioned reviews. It’s genuinely hilarious, sometime cringe-inducing, and completely original. Loved it.