Tuesday, January 15, 2008

2008 Reading List


The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant. This was a boring, silly book, a bunch of implausible weirdness. Maybe if you were knowledgeable about Italian Renaissance art or had been to Florence, it would have been interesting.

The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks. This is very much a "male" book, in that it deals with a lot of action and violence and very little time is spent on the character's interior lives. The characters are shallow stereotypes and you are only allowed enough info to puzzle out their motivations. It's a paranoid book. I noticed on Amazon that the next book in the series is out. I think I'll skip it.

Cruddy by Lynda Barry. Yes, I read it last year too, but I needed to reread it since I suggested it to my book club and I'm leading the discussion on it in week or two. It only gets better the second time. This time I was able to relax and enjoy, because I was familiar with the plot. Horrifying, graphic, wonderful.

The Air We Breathe by Andrea Barrett. I have really enjoyed her previous works, The Voyage of the Narwhal, in particular. She typically has a scientist as her main character and it's interesting to see her painting the inner emotional life of people who we think of as being unemotional. This novel is set in the 1910s in a tuberculosis clinic. It also deals with class issues -- most of the inmates of the clinic are poor immigrants sent there by the state to *cure*. It was an okay read, but it just didn't have the excitement of her other books which are set in 1850s arctic expeditions and involve life-threatening danger and the characters' responses.

The Good German by Joseph Kanon. This was a nice murder mystery/romance kind of a story. I had trouble getting interested in the beginning, so I missed a lot of the names and characters, but it got a little better after the first hundred pages or so. I watched the movie yesterday and it really sucked. Bad. They completely changed the plot, made good characters into bad, etc. Don't bother with the movie, I'm now wishing I had those two hours back for something else.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Loved it, loved it, loved it. This is a story about the history of the Dominican Republic over the last century as well as a story about a particular family and their role in that history. The style is so interesting because the author uses street language and spanglish almost entirely. My spanish is bad, and I almost picked up dd's Spanish dictionary to look some things up but decided there's no point since most of the words were *bad words* and wouldn't be in there anyway. You can totally get it from the context though. . . There were a lot of Lord of the Rings and sci-fi references that I didn't get and I'm sure it's a lot funnier if you know these. . . Fantastic book.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. This is a ghost story/mystery, definitely a reader's read. I liked it really well, except it had one of those annoying twists at the end, (trying not to spoil it here). I hate being told one set of facts for an entire book, only to be told in the last chapter that none of it was true. Very convenient for an author to wind up those loose ends, I guess. I liked it up until that point, but this is why I don't read mysteries as a rule.

Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood. This was a nice collection of short stories, which deal with a woman and her life as a child raising a much younger sibling, her young adult life, where she has continual affairs, and eventually, as an adult, has an affair with a married man. Even though it's in the form of short stories, the book has good continuity. I really liked it and it was much too short. I would have liked a story or two from the main character's mother's point of view.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. This was a really good read. It's a mystery/romance/thriller all in one. A reader's book. The city of Barcelona is almost a character in it as well. Makes you want to go to Barcelona and the book even had a short walking tour in the back.

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy. This is a story of a mentally ill woman who is visited by a woman of the future. There are two versions of the future, a Utopian agrarian one, and a nightmarish, technology-based version, and the woman must choose to act in order to make the Utopian version come true. I'm not typically into science fiction-ish stories, but I enjoyed this one. It was written in the 70s and has some 70s affectations (tans are viewed as healthy, for example). It would make a great book club discussion book.

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. This is an incredible book and the circumstances of it being published at all are even more unbelievable. The story is about the evacuation of Paris after it was occupied by the Germans in WWII. The fact that the author, who was a Russian Jew, was sent to a concentration camp and killed before she finished writing it makes the whole book so poignant and sad. It includes heartbreaking letters from her husband trying to find her and excerpts from her journals which explain how the story would have continued if she had lived to finish writing it.

The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. Ugh. I thought maybe since it had some knitting content I might be able to overlook the lameness of the story, but no. It's a typical romance novel, with a little twist at the end in order to avoid being called a typical romance novel. Sorry, Kate, but you are not Jodi Picoult.

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Fantastic. Wonderful. It's a graphic novel which tells a young woman's story of coming of age in war-torn Tehran. A great general overview of the recent history/political situation in Iran, as well as the culture. It's eye-opening in many ways, plus the drawings are great.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. I really loved this book and couldn't put it down. It was so funny and every single line has a cite to a book, to describe something. It's definitely a book lover's book and the wordiness that made me love it could be a turn off for some people. It gets much more interesting toward the end, where the plot finally takes off, but I didn't mind getting there at all. Fun! Now I want to go read all the books that the critics are comparing to it.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I never heard of this book until recently when one of my online book clubs read it. Next, it was mentioned as inspiration in The Thirteenth Tale and as a chapter heading in Special Topics in Calamity Physics. I had to find out what it was about. Basically it you took Jane Austen and crossed her with a good detective novel, this is your book. LOVED IT. Fantastic suspense, wonderfully convoluted plot.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. This is a read for my real life book club. I was dreading it, because I remember The Kite Runner being very sad, but I was pleasantly surprised to pick it up and find how easy and simple the author's writing style is. It's a very sad story, this time focusing on the lives of women in Afghanistan. I liked it well enough and I think it's good for citizens of the U.S. to have a little more understanding about our role in that country.

The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer. I couldn't resist this novel because the story line is almost exactly the same as my own. It's about several women leaving their careers to care for kids and then making decisions about returning to work. It also looked into the lives of the women's mothers, which turned it into a study of feminism and its effects on the next generation. It also dealt with midlife crisis and what happens to marriages over time. I liked it because it raises many of the issues I'm thinking about these days. .


The Discomfort Zone by Jonathan Franzen. I had already read some of these essays in The New Yorker but I was so happy to find them in a book, particularly the one about the 70s church youth group. My brother, mom and I all read this and loved it -- my brother trying to explain to my mom the dynamics of the group we were in as teens. Franzen describes it so well -- a bunch of misfit kids following a charismatic, Jesus-like leader, trying to fit in. The other essays are great too, he has such a great way with tying in disparate things and finding something in common. I saw a terrible review in The New York Times -- what was that person smoking??

Sedaris by Kevin Kopelson. This is a book of literary criticism of the writings of David Sedaris. If you are a Sedaris lover like me, then it's worth a read. The author spends most of the book analyzing Sedaris' relationships with various people in his life (father, mother, brother, sisters, teachers, etc.). He also makes an ongoing comparison with Marcel Proust. I don't think I've ever read Remembrance of Things Past, which makes it hard not to snooze when someone else is making the comparisons. He does quote large sections of Proust and I thought he was going too far to make a small comparison to Sedaris, usually. He assumes that everything Sedaris writes is influenced and shaped by being gay (and by his mother), and to me that understates his universal appeal. Sedaris shows himself being human with all the greed, vanity, and ultimately self-realization, which ain't necessarily only a gay thing. I hated how this author made up the word *assholic* -- annoying. His writing style was a bit hard to understand, but it was worth it because he paraphrased all the best and funniest parts of Sedaris' stories and essays. What fun. Also, I loved this quote on the back cover. *If I were to read a book on David Sedaris it might be this one.* Paul Reubens. Talk about with damning with faint praise. . .

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell. This book is a combination of a travelogue and history of three presidential assassinations -- Lincoln's, Garfield's, and McKinley's. Before reading this book, Lincoln was probably the only one I could name, so it was interesting to read details about the who/what/when/where/why in each case. The books is well-written and funny, the author is great a pointing out little hilarities and ironies along the way.

The Letterboxer's Companion by Randy Hall. A nice little book, with lots of information on making, placing, and finding letterboxes. Also has a section on rubber stamp carving. I like having all the info in one place, although most of it can be found online.

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006 edited by Dave Eggers. Very nice pieces, some military blogs, graphic novellas, personal essays. I loved the one by Julia Sweeney on losing her religion.

Freedom Writers' Diary Erin Gruwell. This was a book club selection about a teacher in Long Beach, CA, who inspired her students to write diary entries telling the stories of their lives. It was a little long for my taste, I'm not big on reading a lot of sad true stories. I prefer fiction because I want to escape sad true stories. I think all new teachers should read the book, because it's bound to be inspiring for them in how to break through to their students.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. I bought this for my dad a couple of years ago and read a couple of chapters at the time, which I had completely forgotten about. So, I picked it up again and read the whole thing this time. It has some interesting ideas about how trends get started, but I think its only real life application would be for marketers of products, so I wasn't all that excited about the theories contained in it.



Post a Comment

<< Home

Subscribe with Bloglines