Sunday, January 07, 2007

Book List - 2007


One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus. This was an IRL book club pick. It was okay, I have no strong feelings about it. He has an obsession with the origins of the term *missionary position*. Ahem. . .

The Probable Future by Alice Hoffman. This is a nice, romantic, sentimental, chick's book. Light escapist fiction, focuses on relationships between mothers and teen daughters.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. A nice story with a strong female protagonist. Bonus -- lots of carding, spinning and knitting of flax and wool.

Plain Truth by Jody Picoult. Meh. This was a neighborhood book club pick. I really hate books about trials because I'm always thinking about how unrealistic the events are, and have trouble suspending disbelief and enjoying the story. The Amish aspect didn't interest me that much. The little surprise at the end was annoying. Why do these authors think you're gonna dig it if there's always a *gotcha.* It just gets old.

The Unvanquished by William Faulkner. Loved it. I might have read this in a college class on Southern Literature, but I can't be sure. Back when I was a teenager I found his stuff obtuse and unfathomable, but now I have a better understanding. I like reading Civil War fiction, mostly because my ancestors were in GA, AL and VA during that time.

The Good Times are Killing Me by Lynda Barry. I was looking for *Cruddy*, one of her other books, but the bookstore only had this one. I really like it. It's a story of a young white girl living in a racially mixed neighborhood, with a black best friend. Basically, the friendship falls apart due to social pressures when they enter Junior High. Drawings are wonderful. I love her *Marlys* cartoons in *Funny Times*.

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion. I bought this because of a recommendation in Book Lust (below) for people who enjoy dark and depressing books. She listed a dozen books under that heading and I had read and loved four of those. I liked this one, the writing was bare and spare in a way that left a lot of questions along the way, but which were resolved. I love anything with a 60s/Hollywood-lifestyle/destructive theme.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. This was the Knit the Classics selection for February and here I am finishing it on March 1. I liked it, but the overarching religious theme was tired. The father's deathbed conversion -- lame. What would I have crafted or made for the knit along? I think piece of black lace, like Lady Marchmain wears to church, or maybe a white lace piece as suggested by the Nanny.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. This was also a Knit the Classics selection from a few months back and my IRL book club is reading it next month. Wow. Amazing book. I was ready for all sorts of smut and filth, but it wasn't nearly as bad as I had been led to believe. There were parts that were actually very funny -- he uses puns and double meanings and wordplay to great effect. I'm sure there were a ton of references that were way over my head (in French) and I should have kept a dictionary nearby to look up words, but I was too lazy. Hey, I read for fun, god forbid I should expand my vocabulary. The theme IS a bit disturbing, as the mother of a 10 yo girl, but I loved it anyway.

The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro. This book is a fictionalized account of the history and genealogy of her Scottish family's immigration to Canada. The stories begin in Scotland and continue through her own childhood and later life in rural Canada. She is struggling against the beliefs of her family and community that education and intelligence are things to be kept hidden, rather than displayed, because you might stand out or call attention to yourself, etc. Wonderful read, but I don't think it will stick with me the way the stories in Runaway have.

Cruddy by Lynda Barry. Wow. I couldn't put this one down. I guess if I was writing a cover blurb I would say *The Glass Castle on acid.* It's violent and horrifying, but you can't wait to see what happens next. Makes you want to become a vegetarian. I borrowed it from the library but now I want to buy it to pass along to my reading buddy. She will love it too.

Marley and Me by John Grogan. Sentimental dog story, not a good book to read when you happen to own a 16-yr old dog who is *circling the drain* so to speak. Just Sad.

Best American Short Stories 2006 edited by Ann Patchett. I am a short story lover who has been reading this series since the late 1980s. It's amazing how these writers can fit such power and emotion into a story meant to be read in one sitting. Loved it (although there is some disappointment when I find a story I've already read). Oh well.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. (Illustrations by John Tenniell(sp?)). I found an old copy (not the one I linked) at my Mom's house. I think I last read it when I was 10 or 12 and found it confounding. This time it was an easy read and quite funny. I had forgotten about the Mock Turtle and some of the parts that have been Disneyfied out of it. Really fun.

Train by Pete Dexter. Couldn't put this one down. Basically a book about racial issues in 1950s LA. Fair amount of violence and brutality, a white-knuckle ride kind of a book.

Paris Trout by Pete Dexter. I read this one because I liked *Train* so much. Set in GA in 1949, again the racial themes, etc. I remember hearing about the movie long ago. I didn't like this one as well as Train -- toward the end you know the guy is gonna blow, but I just wanted to get that part over with. . .

The Known World by Edward P. Jones. Wonderful. This is a story about free blacks in Virginia owning slaves in pre-civil war times. I think if you couldn't read the whole thing fairly quickly, you could mired down in all of the characters and relationships (a little chart would help) but I loved it so much I read it in about two days. It's fascinating to imagine how a person who was formerly a slave could become a slave owner himself, thinking he could somehow be a *better* master. . .

All Aunt Hagar's Children by Edward P. Jones. I ordered this from the library as soon as I finished *The Known World.* These are short stories about blacks migrating to D.C. from the south during the last century. It's very rich, dense kind of reading and I really enjoyed the book. I had already read quite a few of these in The New Yorker, but was happy to read them again.

Diary of a Mad Housewife by Sue Kaufman. This is not a bad read, reminds me of *Play it as it Lays*, above. *Spoiler* You just have to wonder why she stays with the jerk husband, and I was rooting for a divorce at the end and was disappointed.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. This was a book club pick, and I didn't go to the meeting because I was only halfway through the book and wanted to give it a fair chance without any spoilers. I wouldn't call it riveting, it was about 200 pages too long. The plot revolves around a school shooting and I was very creeped out about the timing of it, coming out around the same time as the Va Tech shootings. The author keeps a balanced point of view of all the parties involved, but I was bored, and it dragged on and on. I think this is the second or third book of hers I've read and they always have a little surprise ending, but this one had such heavy-handed foreshadowing that I had already guessed it, which was a disappointment.

Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje. Having just come back from a trip to California, I saw this title at the library and picked it up. It's the story of a family in Petaluma, CA and then is set in France, with some scenes in the current time and then it goes back to WW1. I guess the lack in continuity and shifting from one time/place to another (Division, yeah, I know) is a little off-putting. It really felt like two different novels and I was much more interested in the California folks than the WWI-era French story. I felted cheated that he never really returned to the California story to give it some closure. Other than that it was beautifully written and fairly romantic, but not in a cloying way.

The Maytrees by Annie Dillard. This is a very beautiful book, the writing is spare which can sometimes be a bit confusing. I found myself rereading paragraphs because I wasn't sure what was referring to what at times. It's about a love affair and forgiveness and chosing how to respond to loss. It's definitely more of an *intellectual* book, if you like that kind of thing, and I do.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling. I read this about 5 or 6 years ago, and with the final book of the series coming out (which I bought because I happened to be in the bookstore the day it went on sale) I decided to TRY to read the whole series. We'll see.

Harry Potter books, 2-6 by J. K. Rowling. Fun. I can see why the 7th book was so eagerly awaited after the end of No. 6 (no spoiler for you). . .

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling. I tried to hold back and not devour it, but couldn't help myself, I was so sad to be finishing the series. Lots of loose ends tied up, but there are still a few things that weren't clear to me. Had to go subscribe to Mugglecast for help.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. A sweet love story about an elderly man who was a vet for the animals in a sleazy depression-era traveling circus. Skip it if you're easily disturbed by animal cruelty.

All the King's Menby Robert Penn Warren. I read the restored version, in which Willie's name is changed to *Talos* instead of *Stark*. I read this in a Southern Lit class in college and didn't remember much, so it was like reading it the first time. I had a hard time getting into it, the first 200 pages or so were slow, but then something clicked and I loved the rest of it.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I'm getting a little tired of the southern gothic thing by now, but this was a book club pick. It hasn't been too many years since I read it, it reminds me a lot of McCullar's A Member of the Wedding. I think maybe my 11 yo is old enough for it.

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. I really liked this book. Set in India and the U.S., deals with immigration, class and religious conflicts, etc. Not an uplifting and *fun* read.

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold. I heard an author interview on NPR, which got me all excited about this book. I read her other two books at least 4 years ago and didn't remember a lot about them. I had a really hard time sympathizing with the protagonist here. I just didn't like her, found her motivations to be weak. I have a friend with a schizophrenic mother who has done much worse than this character's mother and she still loves her mom. . . Disappointing.

The Best American Short Stories 2007. It seems like this year's issue had a lot of stories about aging and preparing to die. Hmmm. . .

Digging to America by Anne Tyler. It's a nice story, but I think I'm a bit burned out on the immigrant/assimilation issues, having just read the Kiran Desai book (see above).

The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman. I got a lot of emails about boycotting the movie, so I had to go read the book and see what the fuss is all about. I WILL be taking my kids to see this. The church is portrayed as an evil doer (along with the government), but since I don't exactly have a warm place in my heart for organized religion, I don't see the harm. This book has a strong good vs. evil theme, and the morals in it are very sound. Loved it.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. One of my friends recommended this, and I picked up a used copy a while back, when Oprah picked it, I thought *oh, yeah, I have that* and read it. Great epic book, covers the building of a cathedral in the 12th century. Lots of romance, although I could do without a description of how Aliena's boobs are aging every ten years (but Jack loves them anyway of course. . .). It's a dense read and very long, so make sure you have time to savor it.

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris. I love this book. The story about working as an elf at Macy's (Santaland Diaries) is a play too. Very funny.

Atonement by Ian McEwan. I loved this book. It's a bit of a romantic story, but the end sort of leaves you guessing what happened because it's structured as an author writing a story (a little bit like cheating by the real author of course). You're not really sure whether the lovers really got together or not, but I guess it doesn't matter.


Soapmaker's Companion by Susan Miller Cavitch.

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron. I liked it. Problem here is that I have already read at least two of these essays in The New Yorker (the one about her apartment in NY and the one about cooking and cook books). It's a funny, light read.

Book Lust by Nancy Pearl. This is a book of book recommendations from a librarian. I really like it, it's divided into categories. Normally, I wouldn't trust someone else's judgment, but there is usually enough explanation for me to figure out whether it's something I would like or not.

More Book Lust by Nancy Pearl. This is the companion to the first book, above. As soon as she published the first book, she realized what great books she'd left out. She also took suggestions from readers and included some of those. Let me just say that now, I have a HUGE list of books I want to read. I've got to get to the library and see how many I can find.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. I've read so many reviews and excerpts of this book, that I felt like I was re-reading. She is a very dramatic writer, but I think I prefer her fiction.

Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent. Meh. I guess I really don't care about the secret lives of men all that much and I wonder why she does, since she's a lesbian.

A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel. This is a sweet memoir, about a girl born in 1965 and growing up in a small town in Indiana. I was also born in 1965 and lived in a small town in western Kentucky as a kid. I could relate to the story in many ways. If you are finding yourself in need of a picker-upper after reading some of the recently published memoirs about abusive childhoods (Running with Scissors and Glass Castle come to mind) then this is a good book for you.

She Got Up Off the Couch by Haven Kimmel. This is a continuation of *A Girl Named Zippy* and it focuses on her mother's return to college and the effect that has on her family. This is an enjoyable read and just like *Zippy*, leaves you wanting another installment.

My life at Grey Gardens 31 Months and Beyond A True and Factual Book by Lois Wright. Okay, right off the bat the subtitle *A True and Factual Book* tells you something. When I was visiting my sister last weekend we watched the Grey Gardens documentary and now I am obsessed. I just couldn't take my eyes away -- the drama, the beauty, the squalor, the filth. The book is written by a family friend (the birthday party guest in the movie) who lived at Grey Gardens for about a year, mostly after the documentary was filmed and up to the death of Big Edie. I love the way she writes, absolutely no judgments, just a cheerful summing up of the events of the day, no matter how horrifying. If you have seen the movie and must know more, then get the book, I loved it and I'm passing it to my sister right away.

Left to Tell Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza. This was a pick for a book club I'm in. The club decided not to read it because we thought some might be offended by the religious content, but when I read it I thought it was fine. No proselytizing or anything, it's just her telling the amazing story of hiding out in a bathroom for four months in order to escape the killing squads. It amazes me that all of this happened during our time and we really didn't know about it. I was only going to give it a *first 50 pages test* and liked it well enough to finish it.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. I love her fiction, so I couldn't resist this book. Basically she feeds herself and her family from local sources only (including produce from her own farm) for a year. There are a few small exceptions (coffee, olive oil, flour, spices) but at least she's honest about there being some imported products most of us couldn't easily obtain locally. Basically the idea is to support small local farmers, to reduce the damage to our planet from transporting foods and burning all the petroleum to get the foods to to other places. I really love reading about gardening. Although tomatoes and herbs are all I grow, I long to have a real vegetable garden someday, so the book satisfied my serious garden envy. Inspired by the book, I went online and looked up my closest local farmer's market (and it's not far away). Also, I want to try making cheese, sounds much easier than soapmaking, so I'll definitely give it a go. . .

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. This was a book club pick, I wouldn't have picked it on my own. I didn't really gain any big insights or find it very inspiring, but the writing was good. Meh. . .

Cancer Vixen by Marisa Acocella-Marchetto. This is a graphic novel and a true story regarding the author's battle with breast cancer. You can tell it must have been a cathartic experience for her to be able to cartoon/journal her journey. Touching and funny. Would make a great gift for a breast cancer survivor on your list.

The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton by Kathryn Hughes. This is a biography of Mrs. Beeton, the first English domestic goddess. She isn't well known in the U.S. and I keep seeing references to her, so I was curious about her. I also bought a reissued version of her book Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management. Felt like I needed to look at the source to understand the phenomenon. The biography was a little bit more detail than I really cared for, which is why I don't read a lot of biographies. She as an interesting person and an enigma, but it seems like her book was more influential than the woman herself.



Blogger vickibarkley said...

Wow. I just read the entire list to Deb and Grace with babies dervishing around everything. We're all in awe of the scope and literary critique of your list. I'm going to send several people a link to it.

10:30 AM  

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