The 2005 Book of the Year

In a year of wonderful books, the one that affected me most was this year's literary high point—my favorite new nonfiction book (also this the year’s most awesome sex, drug and shock & awe book and it’s the best book of quote recent history unquote) is a sweeping indictment of the war on terror and a dating guide for lonely peaceniks plus—it’s a real scream and it’s the best kind of biography—a novel that blends psychological apertures with judicious rendering of our chronicle—yes, it rends and it’s the genuine deal and so real I could almost smell the oil-for-food on the spit. 

This is a book with movie deal written all over it. 

You don't have to be a reader to read this title—Movie Deal—a meditation on the modern condition (I don't really know how to explain it without giving it away—anyway—I got it for free—why not you!)!

This is a book sure to spawn sequels with plausible characters with complex psychologies (Hello Mister Penn!) in a brainy framework that rises organically from the non-leavened world, like: children at an odd boarding school, likable victims (Hello Mister Freeman!), transcendentalists, a beltway Babbitt, a classical pianist turned rag noodler in a flooded city much like New Orleans, an aesthete named Hotshot, a libertine Viagra-falling for Kate Moss (Hello Miss Johannson!), ira(Q)scible insurgents, two sisters vying for the love of a haute boho journo hero embedded in the Pentagon and a valiant prosecutor-type who inhales industrial-strength Dominican cigars with a geeky lady lawyer wielding her briefcase (and does she have briefs to wield!) for truth with a small tee (I don't really know how to explain this without giving it away)—but, in the end I can’t agree with me more: this book has movie deal written all over it!

The author nails the details: toiletries, spoons, the bathroom that was the site of the most exciting exchanges of fluids going on in early 21st-century America, the feel of cold pizza box against a warm tongue, the vulgar rage of a Catullus-like underwear model cum Army Reserve’s master sergeant (va-va-voom!), white cotton sheets, that new-prosthetic smell, sunrise, sunset, the taste of deodorant stick in the morning, plastic butter knives, crème brûlée, the moon and the sun and the sauna and the moon—wowsy—it is what it is— I am what I am.

The author is a girl with boyish enthusiasm and a novelist to boot who has written a memoir with real poetry, but don’t worry, this isn’t real poetry, it’s a book about people who feel as deep as poets (I don't really know how to explain them without giving them away—please—take them!) and who speak truly tremendous truths—war is what sex was—wowsy—this book would blow up the small screen.

She writer’s writer.

I’m a reader’s reader.

Game.  Set.  Matches.  Burn baby, burn.

She captures the psycho-dynamics of our teen-Rilkean age performing 'Us and Them' at the school talent show without understanding our transformation from model military students to racist, rapist killers and congressmen from Montana (we all can relate to that—only real men bareback!)!

She understands sadness, yes, truly and clearly—ding-dong,

She made me sad.

I own books.

I own books that are passionate, books that engage me and we struggle tooth and nail-the-details to the wall like coup and reading her is like arguing with a brilliant, impossible friend who is just like me, and isn’t that weird?   Isn’t it bizarre that what thrilled me about your ass and the war and this book were qualities that would have been taken for granted in a book of poetic creative non-fiction 300 or 40o years ago: um, I better not say, I don’t want to give away the plot to my favorite book this year, which happens to be one that I’ve read and it’s always useful to read, but especially for anyone, like me, a man who bends and curls and sprains and distorts and rotates and twists words for a living to think about how powerful language can be and language rocks and reading, too and reading books in a year of wonderful, poetic books (don’t worry, this book isn’t poetry it’s just poetic—except like true—plus, the author is sensationally successful, a real winner—plus it’s a fascinating story, to boot, with convincing, authentic,  bona-fide details, like, “… the morning sun lit the white box that once caressed a Chicago-style pizza and now held black underwear as the insurgents began shelling our dormitory.”


It’s rich and satisfying.

It’s an affluent and sated tale about fighting the good fight and, it turns out to be readable, too!   And smart, too—but not too smart.  And fair-minded but not PC and it’s a thoughtful read and a really cogent articulation of a period when periods were put into the service of meaning to compel portraits of one of the most unforgettable protagonists in American literature (someone like me, someone like you but naked).

This book is sturdy and enthralling and contemptible, but the good contemptible.  I found myself thinking about this book as I was reading it in one sitting.  And yet it's truly strange: lipstick mates with rouge and passion and gives birth to the taxonomy of heartache as the ravages of loss crackle with sexy vigor (Hello Mister Mortensen!) laced with intelligence and street smarts (a lot of useful stuff you can’t learn from books) in a book about the human state, the human form, and with real details—she nailed me—and insights.

This is a book that will incite you to take up arms against a sea of tranquility.  Its stunning luminosity chills (hello Mister Glenlivet!) and it’s incredibly sad and laugh-out-loud funny, too, a hoot—like my life.

Invite your hot hot neighbor to see the film adaptation—and thank me later.

This is the only book I know—maybe War and Peace, too, maybe I’ll watch that next year—whose reality is more substantial than my life.

Peter Jay Shippy



To keep finding yourself in places
that never expect you: courtyards lurk

inside the skull hollow. To recast casual
constraints in favor of advantage.

In an era of charm, you catalog
the secondhand armchairs.

Of few things to do well, casual observance
is not. Where is the causality chain?

Teeth clench for the duration. Out of
fashion, love? We are effortless to say we are,

in a sidewalk's time. Standing there, trading
platforms: try to remember your name

and force its fist unto the other one.

Julia Cohen


Art at War, February 2006

I will write this to you, yet you will remain unaware, because this does not concern you in the end.  Unwanted, like a stubbed toe, a wet, cold shoe in winter’s slush and sleet, a putrid acne, or a splintered webbing between my forefinger and thumb, I was asked again the very same questions you and I fought over so long ago, and as far as I can remember, we hadn’t a clue then what we had sparred over so sadly.  It was early spring then.  And we spoke of war, as one flickered just beside us, a curtain’s pull away.  I remember, just as if it were yester-night, the twilit heaviness of Mount Igman as it loomed above our city (your city really, because all that I remember of you is still there, scattered in so many ponds, clouds…).  You asked me why I had written some sad poem, when now you needed a cheerful jig, some unwarranted kindness, which you loved to be cuddled in, like a spoiled pup, or a frivolous smile.  And all I could think of that night was how sweet you looked, slipping down the couch’s smooth curve, onto the floor, viscerally, at each masculine throb of a distant mortar-shell.

I remember, I had approached you there times that night.  Once with a kiss on the nape of your white neck (oh, I swear that I never again saw such meerschaum skin, like yours was below the dark windings of careless hair), at sun-down, around 5 p.m.  I knew then, that I would not be able to go home, not after dark, not with the crackling of little horny muzzles outside, and all that hysteria on the news.  You pushed me away, and you turned the channel to MTV, but I could not watch.  Your parents sat in the living room, and behind their muffled, squirrelly talk, I could hear the high-pitched voice of that young reporter (the one who opened and closed newscasts with quips and puns, and who would later age so poorly, but for whom you had then developed something of an adolescent crush) and he went on and on…  Large sections of Sarajevo are again without electricity and water tonight, and there is no confirmation from the State Electricity Company…  The National Army troops denied any involvement in last night’s conflagration at…  President Izetbegovic was to meet the leaders of our nation’s ruling parties in a bid to resolve…  You asked me how I can want you, when everything was so horrible now, and when we hadn’t a clue whether either of us would stay, or leave (for everything had become ephemeral: people, days, homes and cars and even the little ponds through which the snow had melted into the bisque ground).  You chirped:  War has begun, like they said it would, how can you want me now, how can you think of such stupid things, now? 

You asked me to read to you some of my silly, moonshine poetry, which I wrote then on napkins, on the margins of textbooks, which I passed to you at lunch break through Ivana (that coy intermediary), which you all read and then giggled, which drew out soft red smudges on your apple-cheeks, of embarrassment and love.  I read some old strophes, I cannot even remember which –

Slow spring had come,
April again,
cruel and lovely,
April again with all our April’s vernal hum,
April that skydives (like it did when it was born)
and heaves and burns on warm concrete. 

You moaned, because you hated that poem – April was to us a month of war – in 1941, in 1944, and now in ’92 (who would have thought that ground and sky would conspire so many times against each other, and only in Bosnia?). 

I remember, I had approached you three times that night.  The second time, just as your moan faded and you had shoved me, lovingly, clumsily, asked me to cease with all that horrible depression, I reached for the inside of your soft wrist, that veiny oyster of hushed blue and white and kissed it hopelessly.  But you dropped your shoulders and drew in your head, so that all I could see were the wavy threads of your jet-black hair covering an embarrassed face (was that not the same shyness with which you approached me years before, on our first, clumsy encounter, just as our lips locked with each other, barely missing the noses?).  You pretended to sigh deeply, and then you said that you may be leaving, for Australia or Germany, my mind buzzed with excitement and finality and I cannot be blamed for poor hearing.  I would leave too, to some woodland phantasm where pine and elm grew side by side and the people’s breath froze in winter – Canada, it was – but then, I cannot explain this enough – it did not matter.   The entire world could have crashed and striated, just as our little city burned and thudded (and another forty in the world that year), but I would not emerge from the hollows.  You were stronger than war and art, and perhaps you could have engendered both (even now, as I write this, there isn’t a time when a slight gasp in thought takes me back to a land that now only exists in my dreams, and my mother’s photo-albums, that I do not convolute your manna with Sarajevo as it flickered at that moment, at the cusp of war and death).  So do not blame me as you did then!  Artists are egoists, we are not driven inward by the cruel world (whose greatest injury to us is its complete self-sufficiency, its ability to exist without us, to foam out Venuses like you, as indifferently as it tears at itself with so much discomfort, so much pain).  We retreat due to our own hallucinations and visions.  We walk about like maddened mystics and voluptuaries.  Pity me as much as you pity a flagellant who straddles the cross on his back at Easter, a fervent Wahabist at the point of some suicidal act, or as you would a syphilitic dilettante.

I remember, I had approached you three times that night.  The third time I defrosted you with some haphazard pleas, a stanza that could have (but did not) sounded like this:

In Extremis.
Kiss me please!
Last time, last, uncycled,
for we are not Hindu gods
and our worlds wind up and out,
but they never repeat. 
Last time, unfreed,
for we remain in gothic stone cut,
in incense fumed, and
our minarets are only so tall.
Our God is one, and not multiple,
He was born and has not been forever
and will come again,
in the last days. 
So even our days
Are last, no matter how plenty
And I do not know if I will be banished to Heaven
And you to Riyaad ul Jannah,
Or to Australia, Canada…

Here you grew a smile, from your initial, grave gaze. You then reached over and kissed me, a practiced kiss of two practiced lovers; you knew my mouth, the dip of my nose, and the angle at which my head tilts, readied for you.  I do not remember what was more secretive: our solemn acts, the chair propped against the door to guard us against your parents and the thousands of feral soldiers who lived and died that night, or my art’s victory over war, and its defeat at the sight of your wide gums.

Life would make sure that we would disappear like ghosts from each other’s crowded attics.  I would later acknowledge the war that ripped us apart in my work, perhaps grow obsessed with it, like a hapless child does with a long-burrowed trauma.  I would grow consumed by it, and reemerge, carried by the mighty currents of life and time.  I would read poetry magazines, as I did then, avariciously and quietly, privately (because I am, as I had feared clairvoyantly, still an insignificant poet, and a pretend artist) and I would stumble upon one journal that asked all sorts of bold questions capriciously – on war, on love, on life – and instead of writing to them, I would write to you.  For you (naked, crass, white and dark, shadowed and unshadowed, dark-eyed, pale, curly haired, tall, gangly, apple-breasted, vulgar, virginal, you forgotten and redrawn, invented and sublimated, crouching, sitting, laughing, crying, eating, sleeping, bathing, walking, running, reading, coughing, hiccupping, Beatrice, Laura, my A.), the memory of you, the art of you, has overcome it all.

Bojan Pavlovic