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Roxane Gay’s Best of 2009

Best Novella
Tina May Hall’s All The Day’s Sad Stories
I’m not sure if this came out in 2009 but I read it in 2009 and while I’ve read many brilliant things this year, nothing has moved me more than this book. I loved it so much, I wanted to stop writing for a while it was so good. I found the book breathtaking–the world of Mercy, the narrator, is so lushly rendered. Not a single detail goes unnoticed. I have this habit of folding the corners of pages with moving, vicious or otherwise interesting lines and by the time I finished reading, almost every page had it’s corner folded, leaving the book twice the original width.

Best Magazine (tie)
American Short Fiction
The stories in each issue of ASF are stunning. In the past couple issues, stories by Josh Weil (The First Bad Thing), Karen Gentry (Mask of Destiny) and Kirsten Marcum (Brightness, Luminosity, and Distance) have been standard setters in flawless writing.

Annalemma
Both the print and online issues are beautifully executed. It’s so refreshing to see a full color literary magazine that is designed but not overdesigned. I read and enjoyed every single piece in Annalemma 5 and was introduced to writers with whom I had been previously unfamiliar like Laura Owens whose story Grillz appears in the issue. As a publishing enterprise, it’s clear that Annalemma is produced with thought and passion and that is a winning combination.

Best….oh hell. Enough with the literary blah blah blah.

Funniest E-mail From An Angry Rejected Writer

“Perhaps my importance as a poet is exaggerated.”

Best Football Game
The Big 12 Championship between Texas and Nebraska
Everyone thought Texas was going to crush my beloved Huskers but that did not happen. While Nebraska’s offense was largely useless, the Blackshirt defense brought their A game and stymied the Texas offense for most of the night.  The only points scored by Nebraska were delivered by the kicker. Texas quarterback Colt McCoy looked sad and discombobulated by the Nebraska defense and hardly resembled a Heisman candidate because he was… what? SHUT DOWN. That’s what. At the end of the game, Nebraska was in the lead, 12-10 and the game clock ran out on while Texas had possession. The officials reviewed the situation using their fancy little monitor and determined there should be 1 second on the game clock which allowed Texas to kick a field goal. Final score, 13-12, Texas. It was heartbreaking, but still, a wonderful game that went down to the wire.

Most Ridiculous New Food
Dominos Pasta Bread Bowl
The nefarious food engineers at Domino’s Pizza have concocted a carb within a carb dish that defies imagination–pasta, sauce and cheese in a tidy little bowl of bread. How cozy is that? This title was previously held by the McGriddle–syrup in little delicious pockets of a pancake bun wrapped around sausage and cheese and egg if you please breakfast sandwich. The difference between the McGriddle and the Pasta Bread Bowl is that the McGriddle tastes good. Sadly, I don’t believe in McDonald’s so I can only drool when the commercials air, taunting me, trying to break my will.

Neatest Gadget
Kindle
I love my Kindle. It makes traveling with a lot of reading material very pleasant but the real benefit of the Kindle, around which Amazon really should develop some kind of marketing campaign, is that it is great for reading at the gym while on the treadmill. With no need to turn the page, you’re less distracted and less prone to biffing it off the end of the treadmill. I mean, maybe I’m just clumsy and incapable of doing two things at once, but the Kindle has been a great comfort in this regard. Also, you can change the font size so you don’t have to strain to see the tiny print of a book from a foot or so away. I’m not as old as this makes me sound.

Funniest Movie
The Hangover
I don’t think I have ever laughed as much as when I saw The Hangover (three times in the theatre). This is a movie that is funny and smart and dirty from beginning to end. Also, Bradley Cooper is hot. It has to be said. He would not get kicked out of bed for eating crackers.

Stupidest Television Show (tie x 100)
2009 was a bad television year for the most part. We can all admit that and start to make our peace with it, right?  The new shows have largely sucked. Have you seen Mercy, or as I like to call it, Every Medical Drama You Have Ever Seen? Other shitty medical dramas this season include Three Rivers (heart transplants, boring doctors) and Trauma (huh?). The one trashy show I could have gotten into, The Beautiful Life, was canceled after one episode and somehow, inexplicably, The Vampire Diaries, or Twilight on Your Television is still on the air. My beloved One Tree Hill is in crazy land with plot lines defying credulity. There are too many new characters on Grey’s Anatomy. The writers on Private Practice don’t know how to write interesting, sustainable sex lives for their characters. The only bright spots are Nurse Hathaway in The Good Wife, and NBC comedies Parks & Recreation, The Office, and 30 Rock. I’m really having a crisis about the televisual situation. When TV sucks, I feel incomplete.

In terms of reality television, in particular, the bar has descended below sea level.  Things got so bad this year that even producers and networks have been saying, “Maybe we should acquire some standards.” If it weren’t for late entrant Jersey Shore which is awesome and reflective of all that’s right in this world, I would be extremely depressed.

Most Horrifying Yet Compelling TV Show
Hoarders, A & E
I feel very guilty when I watch Hoarders, a show about people who, well, hoard. On each episode, cameras follow two people who are living in squalor, hoarding garage sale treasures, old newspapers, dirty adult diapers, dead cats, beer cans, antique refrigerators, whatever. It is surreal to see what people feel attached to or unable to break away from. There’s something really exploitative about the show. These people, who are wearing their mental illnesses on the outside unlike the rest of us who keep our psychoses cleverly tucked away, are shown in the most terrible light. The hoarders’ families are fed up and they want the hoarders to change. Specialists come in to clean and they’re nauseated by the filth. The shrinks and other mental health specialists try to make some progress by helping the hoarders during a ridiculously short two or three day period. Unlike Intervention, the sister show of Hoarders if ever there was one, you rarely feel like the hoarders have overcome their issues. The whole affair is tragic and yet I cannot stop watching the unfortunate lives of others.

Most Random yet Awesome Soap Opera Twist
James Franco on General Hospital (The One Soap Opera to Rule Them All)
James Franco is doing a guest stint on General Hospital as part of a larger “performance art” project. It’s pretty awesome. He’s being very James Franco with smoldering stares and that adorable little sneer of his playing a creepy artist obsessed with death named… Franco who has fixated on mob hitman Jason Morgan. Yes. That is really happening.

Best Commercial to Re-Enact with My Cousin
Charlize Theron for J’Adore Dior
The commercial (watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5puGM9Adg-o) goes: “Gold is cold. Diamonds are dead. The limousines are cars. Don’t pretend. Feel what’s real. That’s it. J’adore. J’adore Dior.” Charlize is dropping some fierce poetic science in this commercial. That shit is profound. My cousin and I basically text these lines back and forth to each other whenever possible. Sometimes, we call each other up and one of us shouts the first line and the other has to respond with the next, wherever we are, whatever we’re doing. I have been known to re-enact the video in front of large reflective surfaces with clip on earrings and the other necessary accessories. That’s what’s real.

Most Ridiculous Yet Awesome Rap Song
Ice Cream Paint Job
I live in a remote rural area where our cable provider does not offer BET. They offer every other channel known to man but somehow, BET is not an option. It’s ridiculous and annoying. I’m so out of the music loop it’s pathetic so when I go to visit my parents in Florida, I write down the names of every song I hear so I can feel current when I return to BFE. When I was home this summer, I was introduced to Ice Cream Paint Job by a young man named Dorrough. Check it. “Yeah Buddy. Rolling like a big shot. Blah Blah. Are the Rims Big? Do it ride good? Blah Blah. Cream on the inside, clean on the outside. Ice Cream Paint Job!!!! Blah blah blah Kimbo Slice Blah Blah Blah Ice Cream Paint Job.” I don’t understand the song at all but the lyrics are amazing and confusing and clever which makes me love this song all the more. I asked some of my students to explain the song to me and they were like, “There is no deeper meaning than what you hear in the lyrics.” Then they shook their heads and looked at me with sadness and pity in their eyes so I started rapping some Sugar Hill Gang Rapper’s Delight to let them know that I know things and they were all, “Who’s that” and I realized that I am indeed old.

Roxane Gay can be found online HERE.

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

15 thoughts on “Roxane Gay’s Best of 2009

  1. All the Day’s Sad Stories is really such a beautifully written book. Every sentence in it is given the most careful attention, but they don’t seem fussy in any way. I’ve mentioned it before, but the following sections are perfect miniatures: “Roadside Attractions,” “The Catherines Sew Grandchildren’s Costumes on Their Breaks,” “On the Way Home,” and “In February, Mercy Imagines Summer”. Hall’s ability to seam these smaller parts with other equally well-written sections into a cohesive whole is inspiring.

    I had a chance to sit in on a reading of hers at &Now and was impressed with her story and accompanying video footage.

    I can’t wait to read another book from her.

  2. Alec,

    There is one in Buffalo NY not doing anything. I would loan it but…

    Roxane, Yes All the Day’s was so spot on. What a powerful voice.

  3. I’m so glad to see the love for All The Day’s Sad Stories. I cannot wait to see Hall’s next book-length work and I wish Caketrain would reprint. I would buy 10 copies right now so I could just hand them out to people as needed. It is one of the most perfect works of fiction if ever there were one.

  4. I’m so glad you said “biffing it.” I miss that verb.

    Thanks for the pdf link. Looking forward to checking this out after all the buzz here about it.

  5. I love that James Franco is doing a guest stint on General Hospital. (I had no idea.) I also love that you and your cousin text the lines from Charlize Theron’s perfume commercial. “The limosines are cars.” yasss…….

  6. Holy shit! Thanks for the nod Roxane. I heartily agree with everything on this list except for the Kindle. Granted, it cuts down on weight in the old backpack, but you never need to charge the battery on a paperback.

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