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“A Good Year”

A Good Year

Cynthia’s Column January 2007

Stephen King writes a column on the last page of Entertainment Weekly magazine in which he calls himself the King of Pop Culture and at the end of the year he tells you the best books, music etc of the year according to Steve.  As it happens I have my own column here, and while I have no pretensions to any crowns, pop or unpopped, it occurred to me that as one writer to several others, I may have discovered some things this year you might also enjoy discovering.

Cynthia’s Best of 2006.

Best Music.  I use movie soundtracks as right brain boosters to help me get into whatever writing project I’m working on.  Three soundtrack albums came out this year that I fell in love with.  Two are classical.  Ladies in Lavender with fabulous violin solos by Joshua Bell.  Driving with this playing has proved wonderfully inspiring.  The Chorus (or in French, as it’s a French movie, Les Choristes) is choral and transporting.  Every track gorgeous.  And as for pop song soundtracks, Zach Braff has once again topped the list with Last Kiss.  Great, easy-to-love songs.  Last year he had the best pop soundtrack as well with Garden State.

Best Television.  I was all set to fall for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, as I am an avid, raving Aaron Sorkin fan.  (I’m the one screaming, “If someone is a genius, they should be allowed to show up on the set in their pajamas!”)  But I have to say, while I am enjoying S60otSS, I’m not in love.  My heart this year goes to Grey’s Anatomy which makes me laugh and cry and stress out and feel joy on a regular basis.  I love every single character at Seattle Grace Hospital (except for McSteamy) as compared to House where I don’t like anyone.  Seriously.  I adore Hugh Laurie, but Greg House & Co. are leaving me callous.  I hate feeling apathetic.  Second only to feeling bored.  And my Funny Bone goes to My Name Is Earl.  It wins the laugh so hard you might choke if you’re foolish enough to eat or drink during this show award.

Best Books.  Okay, these may not all have been published this year, but I read them this year and there is more danger of missing great books that aren’t new, as opposed to the ones everyone else is reviewing currently.

Best Non-Fiction bookMountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.  This is a book about a young doctor named Paul Farmer who took medicine to the poorest part of the poorest country in the Western hemisphere (Haiti) and created a model that could be used by the poorest countries on earth to improve the quality of health care and of life.  Kidder is one of our finest non-fiction writers.  A pleasure to read.  Second place would be a tie between The Devil in the White City and Freakonomics.  Both great reads.  I’m also currently reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and David Eggers is blowing me away.

Best Novel.  Loved Carter Beats the Devil madly.  Written by Glenn David Gold who is married to Alice Sebold who wrote The Lovely Bones.  These kind of writer couples fascinate me.  Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne.  Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin.  Because I imagine they’d have to be equally matched in talent or the better writer would end up losing respect for the lesser writer.  Do you think?  Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like it’d be a drag to have a genius writer spouse in the house who handed me back my manuscript at breakfast with either “that’s nice, honey” or “it sucked.”  It seems like it would run the same danger of being doomed as you see with movie star couples.  She wins the Oscar, they get a divorce.  (Hilary, Reese, Nicole etc.  Kind of epidemic, isn’t it?)  Okay, I’ve gone off the track.  Read Carter Beats the Devil.   It’s fun.  We’ve almost forgotten that literature can be fun.  Keep the spirit of Mark Twain alive in American letters.  We’ve gotten awfully serious in our novels lately.

Best Writing Book.  Of all time, for me, Stephen King’s On Writing.  Second place Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  But best new writing book, hands down Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb.  (No relation.)  (Well okay, she’s my sister, but it’s a fabulous book.  If you don’t believe me, read it.  You’ll be inspired.  I guarantee it.)

Best Movies.  Honestly, as I write this it’s Dec. 3, and I am hoping the best is yet to come in the next few weeks.  In 2005 I adored half a dozen movies.  (Brokeback Mountain, Pride and Prejudice, Capote, Kingdom of Heaven, etc.)  This year I have admired a few good ones, but have not been swept away yet.  I admired, The Departed, A Nativity Story, Little Miss Sunshine, Thank You For Smoking and The Queen.  The closest to blown away I’ve been by a movie lately was renting Brick.  Film noir set in a high school.  It’s a knockout.  Dialogue I had to rewind and replay.  Wish that happened more.

Let me know your favorites of 2006.

And Happy New Year.

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