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50 Book Challenge

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Edited: Mar 26, 2007, 10:04am Top

I don't know if I'll make it to 50. My reading time is fairly limited, drat life anyway, but I'm going to at least keep track of what I read this year, and see how I do.

**EDIT--Clearly I have no idea how much I really read. Here it is March 26th, and I'm almost half way to 50 already. I won't say I haven't been TRYING to keep my total up, but I haven't been skipping work, or feeding us beans on toast, or staying up half the night, so I guess this is pretty much my normal rate of consumption. Delightful. END EDIT**

So far, I've read

1. An American Childhood by Annie Dillard (and WHY does the touchstone always come up with Richard Wright's Black Boy first, when that book's title doesn't even have the words "American" and "childhood" next to each other?

2. The Widow by Carla Neggers

An American Childhood is a warm and brilliant piece of writing. Annie Dillard remembers and describes ordinary moments in such an extraordinary fashion that it makes my own childhood seem magical in a concrete and not merely nostalgic sort of way. Oh go read it, you'll see what I mean.

The Widow was just a mildly entertaining lightly suspenseful novel. It was given to me, and it was set on the coast of Maine, so I gave it a try. Didn't take long to read, and I will have utterly forgotten it this time next year.

Edited: Jan 27, 2007, 11:34am Top

A non--feasting holiday, with no family get-togethers involved is good for the reading:

3. The World's Shortest Stories of Love and Death part of the Fifty-five Fiction collection. If you don't know about this, join the club. I didn't either, until today. I was cataloging some books for my daughter (she doesn't live here anymore, but a substantial portion of her book collection does.) I picked this up, read a couple selections, and couldn't leave it alone. A newspaper in Florida runs an annual contest to write short stories that must be no more than 55 words long. Remarkable stuff.

4. Pegasus Descending by James Lee Burke. The latest Dave Robicheaux novel, and one of the best. If you read Burke, you know his special brand of detective fiction--hard boiled, but redemptive. His assessment of humanity is scathing and hopeful at the same time. And Louisiana is a character in every book. This one climaxes just before Hurricane Katrina hit the coast and wiped out much of Southern Louisiana, for decades, if not for always.

Edited: Jan 21, 2007, 9:16pm Top

5. The Color of Water by James McBride. Think Roots meets An Orphan in History. Subtitled A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother, this memoir touches on growing up black in America in the sixties; on growing up poor in America; on interracial marriage in the 50's and 60's; on Eastern European Jewry; the Holocaust; Orthodox Judaism in the South; the indomitable spirit of motherhood; love that knows no color; and the ability of human beings to thrive in hostile social environments with "dignity, humility and humor".
Well worth reading. I would have loved it had there been photographs of the remarkable people introduced to us in this book.

6. Hattie on Her Way by Clara Gillow Clark
This is "juvenile fiction" for the 10 - 13 age group, and it's just superb. It is a sequel to Hill Hawk Hattie, in which we meet the narrator of both books, Hattie Bell Basket, a 10-year-old girl who has lost her mother, and embarks on a rafting expedition with her father on the Delaware River, disguised as a boy. In Hattie on Her Way, Hattie's father takes her to live with her "high society" grandmother (who she has never met before) in a gingerbread house overlooking the Hudson River, so she can get a good education. After a rocky start, Hattie and her grandmother start to warm up to each other, but there is a mystery hanging over the house and Hattie is determined to learn the truth about her mother's past, as well as her grandfather's mysterious disappearance. This is the fifth book Clara Gillow Clark has written, and she gets better with each one. I read her first out of curiosity, because we knew each other as kids, and because she was writing about people and places familiar to me. (One of my distant relatives hunted snakes with the "rattlesnake king" referred to in her third book, Willie and the Rattlesnake King. There hasn't been a 10-13 year old in my house for many years, but I'm now a faithful reader of Clara's books, and I hope there's another episode of Hattie's saga coming soon.

Edited: Feb 24, 2007, 1:51pm Top

7. A Christmas Carol Yes, I know, a little out of season now. But I haven't read it for many years-- since my daughter started reading it on her own, rather than having it read aloud to her every pre-Christmas season. And a new edition came into the house this year as a gift to replace the old tattered one she insists belongs to HER. So I revisited this old friend.

8. Cinderella Liberty. Talk about a change of pace. From Dickens to Ponicsan is rather a leap. And I nearly gave up on this one after a few chapters. I didn't think I was going to care about John Baggs and his SNAFU. It had a Catch-22-without-the-humor feel to it. But it is a fairly fast read, so I was caught up in it before I got too impatient. The main character got more interesting, as did his life, and the ending is a classic.
Briefly,Yeoman 2nd class John Baggs, almost-a-college-graduate, and almost-a-preacher before joining the Navy, ends up in a Naval hospital, where his records (his SERVICE records entire) get lost. In true military fashion, he can't be discharged and returned to duty, because he doesn't officially exist. He's given "Cinderella Liberty" while the bureaucracy tries, supposedly, to locate his records. This means he can leave the hospital and do as he pleases every day, but must return and check in by midnight. Under these circumstances, he manages to live a challenging life on the outside, and that's all I'ma gonna tell.

Edited: Dec 12, 2007, 4:24pm Top

9. The Robber Bridegroom by Eudora Welty
What an imagination that dear woman had. This original fairy tale set on the American frontier has so many familiar elements skewed in so many ways, its brilliance is just staggering. Welty took the Brothers Grimm and some American tall tales, and scrambled them into something entirely new. And to think it was written by a nice maiden lady from Mississippi. Well, as she said of herself, "A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within."

(Edited to remove the now-defunct word-meter)

Edited: Aug 27, 2012, 9:17pm Top

I'm going to use this thread to keep a list of books I think I want to read, gleaning mainly from various group posts on this site. I wish there were a way to keep such a list on my profile page, and have suggested it elsewhere. Meanwhile, since I know I'll be visiting this thread to update periodically anyway, and nobody else is much interested in this list, I'll just keep editing this message as I find new books to add to my ISRT list, and to remove those I do read.


Riding the Bus With My Sister ETA: Started it, didn't get too caught up in it, thought author's point was made fairly soon, and didn't finish the book

Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading ETA: Got it now.

The Book Thief Read it, loved it.

The Book of Israel

The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric (Bosnian historical fiction) ETA: Have the book, now to read it!

ETA: have this now

Ian McEwen First Love, Last Rites

Gary Paulson Winter Dance
EDIT: AND I've read it.

Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties

Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City
EDIT: Have it; haven't yet read it (2012!)

Berlin Noir Trilogy by Philip Kerr

Anne Fadiman The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
ETA: Read this one---remarkable.

In the Woods by Tana French recommended by Nancy Pearl on NPR
ETA: Read this and the sequel, and enjoyed both very much.

A Factory of Cunning by Philippa Stockley

Authors to explore:

Iris Murdoch
Elizabeth Taylor ETA: Read her, love her.
Angela Carter

Feb 5, 2007, 11:23am Top

10. Past Tense by Stephen Greenleaf
Another of my semi-hard-boiled detective favorites, Greenleaf. Haven't read any of his for a while. This one is a masterpiece of the genre; all the elements, and then some. I could see the ending coming, as could our hero, but it came with a bang anyway. And thank goodness I had the foresight to take the next one in the series out of the library at the same time. I don't know how I could have put this one down if I hadn't had the next one right there on the table to pick up immediately. Don't start with this one if you haven't read any of the Marsh Tanner series before. He has a past, and you need to know a bit of it before you read Past Tense.

Edited: Feb 13, 2007, 10:46am Top

11. Strawberry Sunday by Stephen Greenleaf.
As noted above, I picked this one up immediately after finishing Past Tense. Predictably, it wasn't nearly as good. He was kind of on a crusade; way too much social education about the plight of Mexican laborers in the California strawberry fields. It could have been done with a lighter hand to better effect in context of the story, but he just didn't handle it well. I kept thinking, "let's move the story along, shall we?" as page after page went by with nothing dramatically necessary happening. Two red herrings and wrong conclusions by our hero and then he just solved everything with a "well, since those two people weren't the murderer, I know who it was" kind of attitude. A distinct disappointment.

11 / 50

Edited: Feb 22, 2007, 9:10pm Top

12. The all of it by Jeannette Haien
What a gem of a story. Newsweek's reviewer called it "a moral story of the most complex sort". That says it well, but it also has some of the funniest bits of anything I've read in a while. Reminded me of the marvelous short story "The Moveable Hazard" by G. W. Hawkes, which can be found in his collection Playing Out of the Deep Woods. If you don't know his work, you should.

I had the secret figured out almost immediately, but the telling and the explaining were a treat. This is a one-sitting read, perfect for a snow day like today.

Feb 16, 2007, 7:17pm Top

121/2 Not counting this one: The Crazed by Ha Jin. I'm not going to finish it. I can't seem to find any worth in it at all.

Feb 17, 2007, 9:48pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

Feb 17, 2007, 9:50pm Top

13. Friday the Rabbi Slept Late by Harry Kemelman Excellent. Well-written, good characters. Topical matters handled well, so it doesn't feel dated although it is clearly set in the early 1960's. Informational bits on the nature of Judaism nicely incorporated into the story without making the reader feel "talked to". Especially noticeable to me after Stephen Greenleaf's failure to do something similar with the immigrant labor issue in Strawberry Sunday. (See Message 8 above.) I will definitely be reading more of this series.

Feb 22, 2007, 6:21pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

Edited: Feb 22, 2007, 6:35pm Top

14. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone I have decided to try to re-read the first 6 before the last one comes out. Also, to make notes to myself of things I think might be significant to the outcome as I go along.

Notes on No. 1 SPOILER WARNING!!!
(In case anyone out there hasn't read this yet and means to)

Sirius Black loaned his motorcycle to Hagrid to use in delivering the infant Harry to the Dursleys

Harry's wand includes a feather from the same Phoenix as Voldemort's wand--the one that "gave you that scar"

Harry's father saved Snape's life (mutual dislike between them as boys)

Although Snape clearly dislikes Harry, he saves him from Quirrell, and really does nothing to harm him other than taking points from Gryffyndor at a slightly higher rate than might be just (and that's possibly as much the Gryffyndor/Slytherin rivalry as anything.)

The Sorcerer's stone was destroyed by mutual agreement of Dumbledore and his former partner, Flamel, whose life will now end.

Edited: Mar 10, 2007, 11:02am Top

15. Kate Vaiden by Reynolds Price
No time for my impressions of this right now. Will edit later. I am impressed to note that completion of this book brings me to 30% of a goal of reading 50 books this year. That amazes and delights me. I'm not going to raise my goal, because it's so arbitrary at this point, but I will be mightily curious to see what my final total turns out to be. It will then serve as a guide for next year.

EDIT: Kate Vaiden is the first book I have read by Reynolds Price. His work has been on my ISRT list for some time, as his name has repeatedly cropped up in my readings of interviews with other Southern writers (notably Eudora Welty and Walker Percy, so far). So I grabbed this from the library last week. I enjoyed it, gobbled it up, in fact. Had to read the last 10 pages or so at the breakfast table this morning, because I simply couldn't wait until my next available reading opportunity, which won't be until tomorrow evening. Having said that, though, I have to note that Kate Vaiden is one of the least sympathetic heroines I have fallen in love with since Scarlett O'Hara. Her own brand of selfishness results from a feeling that she is responsible for bad things (including death) happening to everyone she gets close to, starting with her parents. The story is told in her voice, with scarcely any emotional overtone, despite the circumstances of her life, ranging from the mildly disturbing to the downright horrific. From time to time, beginning in her middle teens, Kate just abandons her life and the people in it (many of whom she seems to love until she quits them), and starts over. This includes leaving behind her "saint" of an aunt, her beloved horse, and later her infant son. We discover at the end that her purpose in telling her story at the age of 57 is to give it to her son, now a successful grown man she hasn't seen in 40 years. We have to wonder how he will take it, since other people throughout her life have not reacted well to hearing the details. Sometimes her family and friends draw her back, and sometimes they push her onward or reject her outright. She never feels sorry for herself, so I never felt sorry for her either, although I wanted to.

I find myself wishing I had someone to discuss this book with. I am putting it on the list of those I think would bear re-reading.

Mar 6, 2007, 9:44am Top

16. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
A re-read. Bit sloggy in the middle. Nicely wrapped up at the end.

Mar 8, 2007, 9:19pm Top

17. Saturday the Rabbi Went Hungry

The second in the Rabbi Small series; enjoyed this one as well.

Edited: Apr 25, 2007, 9:09am Top

18. High Profile by Robert B. Parker
What's to say? I love Jesse Stone. As a hopeless romantic, I'm not happy with the ending of this one, but as a fan of Parker's talent, I am pleased to see he hasn't followed the road that would have made me happy. I should have known he wouldn't. I hope Parker lives long enough to work out some satisfying resolution to Jesse's love life that doesn't just feel like a pat happy ending. In the meantime, following his professional adventures is a lot of fun too.

Another one I'm not counting, but want to comment on: The Long Night of Winchell Dear
20 pages in, and I want to hear the story, but I can't deal with the telling. Awkward sentences -- "In an unforgiving world, one trifled only with which one had to trifle by way of eating and drinking and getting along." and this: "It of genus Crotalus and species atrox, on its belly and holding down its own special place in matters of form and function, was a month less than twenty years and an inch beyond seven feet." The strain of writing like that may explain why Waller deals in the novella form.

Edited: Mar 18, 2007, 3:44pm Top

19. The Phony Marine by Jim Lehrer

Jim Lehrer is a funny man with serious intentions. I enjoyed this book--it moved right along. But I take exception to the fact that he used "SOS" (the food, not the distress signal) as a benchmark for authenticity of the "phony" marines in his book. I've known what SOS was since I was 13 or 14 years old. They served it in our high school cafeteria, and that's what we called it. Other than that quibble, a good quick read with a gentle message about courage and integrity.

20lycomayflower First Message
Edited: Mar 13, 2007, 1:03pm Top

Read the Ian McEwan. I've so far only read one of the stories from the collection, but it was a "wow" moment.

Also: Read ye Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Lest ye make judgements without knowing of what ye speak.

Mar 15, 2007, 8:57am Top

Thanks for stopping by my book list. You reviews are terrific! I, too, want to do little personal impressions, rather than full-out reviews (which can be had for free elsewhere). But yours are far more clever, intriguing and enlightening than my own, I fear. I felt like rushing out and buying a pile of these books.

I still have never read Annie Dillard. I really, really must. The Fifty-Five Collection sounds fascinating. I liked The Color Of Water quite a bit, but for recent race-related memoirs in American, nothing beats The Sweeter the Juice, for me. I have put Cinderella Liberty, The Robber Bridegroom, The All of It and Pegasus Descening on my must-read list. Oh, yes, and Kate Vaiden I am especially drawn to southern writers, and am currently very interested in protagonists who are less sympathetic. How to keep a reader interested if they cannot either like or pity the character? For a writer, it is a constant concern.

Yes, LibraryThing is truly addictive. My life seems to be on hold this week! Surely the new will pass.

Edited: Mar 18, 2007, 7:41pm Top

kambrogi: How kind you are! I might just add "clever, intriquing and enlightening" to my profile!!
I have added The Sweeter the Juice to my ISRT list. I hadn't heard of it before. Thanks.

lycomayflower: Don't go all bossy on your mum. I will, however, take your "recommendations" under advisement. *wink*

20. Broken Vessels by Andre Dubus the elder.
My first sampling of "Father" Dubus; this one is a collection of personal essays written between 1977 and 1990, so they cover ground both before and after the devastating injury that cost him his left leg and most of the use of his right leg, as well as, apparently, his then-current marriage. (He doesn't really explain that here.) His skill with words is apparent, as is his love of his children and his deeply spiritual nature. He and James Lee Burke have very similar Catholic outlooks, perhaps understandably as they are cousins raised in similar circumstances. I will next turn to some pre-accident fiction by Father Dubus, as a couple people whose opinion I value about such things, rate him as one of the best writers of short fiction America has produced.

An item of interest: both Dubus and Jim Lehrer (see No. 19) make a point about Marines being trained to ACT instantly ("Move OUT!") in critical situations. This is what led Lehrer's "phony" Marine to become a true hero, and what prompted the act of Good Samaritanism that crippled Andre. Odd that I would have chosen to read these particular two books back to back.

Mar 21, 2007, 9:17pm Top

"I will next turn to some pre-accident fiction by Father Dubus, as a couple people whose opinion I value about such things, rate him as one of the best writers of short fiction America has produced."

Who's the other one? ;-P

Mar 22, 2007, 1:29am Top

Robert Olen Butler, maybe? His collection, A Good Scent from A Strange Mountain is the best short fiction I have ever read.

Edited: Mar 22, 2007, 12:22pm Top

lycomayflower: You are. *smack*

Edited: Mar 24, 2007, 3:03pm Top

21. Encounter in Key West by Richard Lockridge

What a strange, and ultimately disappointing book. I'm a huge fan of the Frances and Richard Lockridge mystery series, as anyone can tell from my catalog. I have been trying for years to put together a complete collection of their works, and I'm coming very close. I have never enjoyed Richard's solo works as much as the collaborations he and his first wife Frances did. This one, however, is a real puzzler. There is no mystery to it. It's a character driven story, and nothing much happens, or rather the same thing happens several times, and gets a bit tiresome. The premise is this: 30-ish Janet Grey is cruising with a retired Admiral (whose wife leads a separate life most of the time) on his lovely yacht. Janet is three years out from the failure of her marriage (on the honeymoon) to a man who realized on their wedding night that marrying a lovely girl wasn't going to change the fact that he was a homosexual . She feels she "failed" him in some way, because just being with her wasn't enough to "cure" him. So she is "hiding" in a formalized relationship that involves no emotions, few demands, and all the sun, sours and seafood a girl could want. The admiral doesn't know the details of her marriage, and doesn't have any interest in knowing (until he eventually hears about it, when he goes over the edge, literally.) Her ex has gone slightly over the edge himself into drink and obnoxious behavior, and he keeps crossing her path unexpectedly in Key West (where a lot of "them" hang out.) Lockridge's attitude on the subject of homosexuality is hard to figure. His Admiral Burleigh abhors what he calls "pansies and fairies", referring to them as "scum" who should leave "decent people" alone, and Lockridge clearly does not identify with HIM. Yet the only homosexual character we get to know at all is crippled with self-loathing, and the heroine certainly doesn't have an enlightened outlook. All the stereotypes are wedged in somewhere. The book was written in 1966, and I suspect the subject was difficult to deal with at that time; I wonder why Lockridge attempted it, and I'd be really curious as to how it was received. I don't have a grasp of the historical context with regard to the subject, but it would appear that in the mid-'60's homosexuality was considered deviant behavior, distasteful, but not entirely willful--that is, it might be a form of mental illness that could be cured?? It seems to be suggested that attitudes had advanced from considering it merely wicked and sinful.

A common Lockridge theme does play through this book--that of the pretty, bright young woman beset by self-doubt who runs away from the wrong thing, in this case over and over and over. But in the end, the right man is the solution to her dilemma. Naturally. Usually, I champion the man who sees through the poor girl's fog and persists until she wakes up--this time, since I had very little sympathy for her, I was almost hoping he'd give up. The Lockridges usually handled that male superiority (as in "I know what this girl really needs") thing a little more evenly, so that even I could succumb to the romantic rightness of the foregone conclusion. I wonder if my cynicism is deepening. *sigh*

Edited: Mar 29, 2007, 6:56am Top

22. The Highly Effective Detective-a Teddy Ruzak novel by Richard Yancey
This caught my attention on the "new acquisitions" shelf in our local library, and I thought it looked promising. I found it funny, as advertised, with a quirky plot hook (the "murder" of six goslings crossing a busy highway), and the main character has enough going for him that I expect this will become a series. I didn't figure out exactly what went on, but I suspected all the right people of something well before the detective explained things. The edition I read had a glaring editorial goof in it---a reference to a significant phrase allegedly uttered by a character who never said any such thing. But a fun read. And the bonus was that it was set in Knoxville, which I didn't know when I selected it. Even with my limited experience of the place I recognized many of the settings he used (The Tennessee Theater, Kingston Pike, Alcoa Highway, the fountain in the airport, etc.)
If Yancey writes more of these, I'll give him another go.

23. Conversations with Eudora Welty This is just a wonderful book to dip in and out of. It's been on my nightstand for 2 months, and last night I read the last of the interviews. It really is like listening to a conversation with Ms. Welty. Even though many of the interviews covered the same ground (the took place over a period of 22 years), her answers never sounded stale or scripted. And she never seemed annoyed at being asked for the 50th time whether she used real people as characters in her books. She was very honest about what she felt worked and what didn't in her stories. Lots of insight into her writing process and the craft of writing in general. I have heard her speak, so her voice was in my head while reading--I love that. She is on my list of people I wish I could have known.

23 / 50

Edited: Mar 31, 2007, 11:08am Top

24. Harp by John Gregory Dunne
I give this book an "OK". I've read much better examples of books purporting to describe "what it means to be Irish in America". Anything written by Frank McCourt, for a start. Pete Hamill's marvelous stuff, for another.
I did learn the definition of "harp" - referring to Irish Catholics of a different social class from the Kennedys, and as a group segregated from both "Yanks" and "WASPS", which were as distinct from each other as from the harps. Didn't need to read the whole book for that...
I'm pretty sure I read Dunne's Dutch Shea, Jr. years ago---don't remember much about it. Nothing about this autobiography makes me want to go back to it, or any of his fiction. My curiosity is satisfied.

Edited: Apr 8, 2007, 6:50pm Top

25. The Times are Never So Bad--a novella and eight short stories by Andre Dubus

This is a collection of short fiction by the senior Dubus. Powerful. His characters are brilliantly drawn. Upon first reading, several of these stories seemed to me to end abruptly. But the ones that moved me (particularly "The New Boy", "Sorrowful Mysteries" and "A Father's Story") were SO perfect that I suspected myself of missing something in the others, and went back to re-read a few of them. The problem was in my expecting a resolution that didn't always come. It became clear that the point was that life is like that--some actions don't have consequences, or not the ones we expect; and sometimes we just don't know what they are.
The title is from Saint Thomas More: "The times are never so bad but that a good man can live in them."

And so I have reached the half-way mark on the 50-book challenge.

Apr 3, 2007, 1:37pm Top

Just noticed your comments on my 50 Book list. Thanks for the encouragement. I had heard the 'middle age' bit about Proust before as well. However, I found part one to actually be very relaxing and rewarding. It took a running start to get 'in' though. (Reading 60-70 pages outright rather than a little bit at a time) So, I think I simply have had the same problem with book II now that the topic has changed more directly to M. Swann. Your assessment could still very well hold true, yet what I've read I don't view as worthless dribble or anything. My reason for tackling this 50 book challenge this year is in sense a "search for lost time" of my own. Reading all the things I should have been reading when I was busy being an A-typical college student. The quarter life crisis? Anyhow I've taken up plenty of space here now, so I'll cut this off before its in danger of bloating your list. Thanks again for visiting and Happy Reading to you too!

Apr 8, 2007, 6:55pm Top

26. Meditations From a Movable Chair:essays by Andre Dubus

Remarkable writing, insight and food for thought. I think I prefer his essays to his fiction.

Edited: Apr 25, 2007, 10:34am Top

27. The March by E. L. Doctorow
A good read for civil war buffs. Interesting characters, some of whom were kind of abandoned in the course of the "march". In particular, Coalhouse Walker, Sr. presumably the father of Coalhouse Walker, Jr., of Ragtime. He had a very small part here, and then disappeared. This is by no means a military novel, but we do get character sketches of General Sherman, General Grant and others. Also briefly raises the interesting premise that Lincoln may have been afflicted with some premature aging disorder. Must research that--is there really such a school of thought?

Edit: So far, I have determined that "some people wonder" if Lincoln was afflicted with Marfan's syndrome, in which individuals have very long limbs, and eventually develop heart problems; life expectancy is short...that could be what he meant. The premature aging diseases all seem to have dramatic affects at an early age, and rarely do their victims survive to adulthood at all.

Edited: May 2, 2007, 11:31am Top

28. The Wishing Tree by William Faulkner
Faulkner wrote a children's book? Well, yes, he did.
He wrote it in 1927 "For his dear friend Victoria, on her eighth birthday." Victoria was the daughter of Faulkner's "childhood sweetheart", Estelle Oldham Franklin, who he finally married in 1929 This book was never published during Faulkner's lifetime, and his own handmade copy was the only one in existence until 1964, when it was published by Random House. It was fun to read, although it really didn't go anywhere. Some humor and a couple interesting characters. The illustrations by Don Bolognese are quite good.

29. Murder By the Book by Frances and Richard Lockridge I picked this up at the Friends book sale on Saturday. A title I didn't have in a single volume, and one I hadn't read in a long time. I enjoyed reading it again, especially as it was set in Key West. Pam and Jerry North on vacation kind of took away the bad taste left by No. 21 above (although again we had a semi-neurotic young woman featured, but this time it was a family history she was afraid of, and it made some sense). Of course I knew who the culprit was from early on---I've read so many of these that figuring out the who-dunnit isn't the point anymore. I think there's a Heimrich mystery set in Key West...I must see which one that is and read that shortly too. This was, I believe, the last of the Pam and Jerry adventures.

May 1, 2007, 6:59am Top

30. Finished last night, so it belongs to April--
The Prisoner of Azkaban. Now on to the good bits! This is a re-read, and the books get better from here. And LONGER.

Just noting for myself that if I maintain this rate, I'll hit 90 books before the end of the year. I like that.

May 1, 2007, 5:13pm Top

I LOVE the Pam and Jerry North mysteries and have never met anyone else who was even familiar with them. I've not read any of the other mysteries written by the Lockridges but will have to haunt the used bookstores for them. Our library no longer has any on the shelves. How sad!

May 5, 2007, 9:35am Top

31. As We Are Now by May Sarton
This is my first encounter with May Sarton, although I had heard good things and she was on my TBR list in a general way. I found this slim novel at a Friends of the Library sale last weekend at the local University. In fact, there were several obviously unread copies of it on a table--I suspect it was on some professor's Women's Studies list, and then did not get used.

I am fully impressed with the writing; the main character is a heart-breaking gem. I wanted to take her into my home, like Evelyn took Mrs. Threadgoode in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe. As We Are Now is written in the form of a journal kept by a woman consigned to a "home" after a heart attack makes her unable to live alone any longer. To begin with, she keeps the journal to fight her fear of losing her memory and her mind in what she refers to as a "concentration camp for the old". This is no institution, but a large house run by two women; Miss Spencer is the only female "guest" among a number of mainly somnolent men.
From the beginning she cautions herself against hope, "the most dangerous emotion", but nevertheless strives to maintain her sense of self in a terminally dehumanizing situation.

It took some courage to finish the book, because very little good stuff happens, and how it will all end is fairly clear about half way through. But I am very glad I read it, and I think everyone should. We all have aging relatives, and we all will be old one day if we live long enough. A difficult subject, artfully handled.

May 14, 2007, 7:12am Top

Your comments on As We Are Now make me want to read it. And not. It is funny how sad stories can give us so much, even as they make us miserable! I have heard much good about Sarton, so this may be the place to climb onboard, even though as I age, such tales can be terrifying. I remember when I turned 50, The Stone Diaries -- in which a woman's life amounts to not much of anything -- was really a bummer.

Just wanted to comment belatedly on The Wishing Tree. I discovered it in college, when I had read everything else Faulkner had written. At the time, I was into children's literature, but now it is less appealing. I haven't ever met anyone else who has read it, either.

May 16, 2007, 8:14am Top

Just looking through your reading again, and decided I had to add The All of It to my amazon list. I love a "moral story," and the story within the story has a special charm.

May 23, 2007, 8:15pm Top

32. Finished Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on Sunday. Mad Eye Moody, the Triwizard Tournament, merpeople and animagi---good stuff.

I'm not burning up the pages this month--lots of distractions. End of bowling league season, all the paperwork attendant on that, and the banquet; planning for and taking vacation (just returned from Tennessee); Memorial Day functions upcoming, at one of which I'm to speak about my Dad, this year's "honored veteran" of the historical society in my hometown.

May 24, 2007, 1:54am Top

Sounds like you have plenty on your plate, and you are 'way ahead of the reading curve already anyway. I found last month when I read less I really missed it, almost like an old friend! You, too?

May 24, 2007, 6:32am Top

You bet---no matter what I'm doing, I'm always looking forward to my next opportunity to take up a book for a while.

Edited: Jun 4, 2007, 10:44am Top

33. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison.
Impressive, depressive, ultimately unsatisfying. I grew up with the Northeastern NY/PA mountain versions of the Boatwrights. Some of them were just as crazy-mean-ignorant-lawless as many of Allison's characters, but a lot of them were likeable when they weren't being mean, and many of them were just plain decent folks. I liked a couple of the aunts in this book, but could not drum up any sympathy for the narrator or the main character. I thought at first it was because I couldn't understand their motivations, but it's more than that. Must reflect further.

May 29, 2007, 8:52am Top

Warning: Spoiler ahead for those who haven't read Bastard out of Carolina.

My problem with this story was simple. Although I understand very well how a mother frequently ends up compromising her children in her attempts to get along with a second husband, I cannot for a minute believe that a loving mother who was not insane would stay with a man who had raped her own daughter. No way.

May 30, 2007, 6:28am Top

Bingo. I wasn't going to say that, because of the spoiler. I'm also always disturbed when an author makes me root for a violent outcome. I wanted the uncles to KILL the S.O.B. And I'm not like that.

May 30, 2007, 9:09am Top

Indeed! That was the problem with Power of One, a book I otherwise enjoyed, although I shall say no more in case you haven't read it.

Edited: Jun 2, 2007, 9:35am Top

34. In Memory of Junior by Clyde Edgerton
Edgerton is such a treat. This book is written from multiple viewpoints (21, I think!) and it's all about death, dying and human nonsense. I loved it. It was the perfect antidote to Bastard Out of Carolina. The characters in both books are all taken from the same batch, but treated so very differently by the two authors. Allison's tale is dark and without much joy or hope. Edgerton's is full of humor, sympathy and warmth, even when his subject matter is just as grim as hers. Life is better in his world than in hers. Of course, his authorial perspective is as an observer, whereas hers is as a victim.

Jun 4, 2007, 6:08pm Top

35. Kaaterskill Falls by Allegra Goodman
I picked this up at McKay's Used Books in Knoxville, knowing nothing about it except what the cover told me. Having grown up on the edge of the Catskills, having had some experience in my home town with "summer people from the city", and being an avid reader of Chaim Potok, Faye Kellerman and Harry Kemelman, I felt this book about a small Orthodox Jewish community that moves upstate together from NYC every summer was "chosen" for me. I loved it absolutely. Rich story, full of complicated characters, details of life in a traditional society, and insight into the human spirit. Reminds me of the best of my summer reading when I was a kid--getting utterly lost in the lives of the fictional characters, and never wanting the story to end. A reviewer from Newsday called Allegra Goodman a "young Mozart of Jewish fiction". How apt.

Jun 5, 2007, 3:43am Top

Both of the last two look terrific. My kind of reading. Odd that you and I seem to read different writers, since I have the feeling we like the same sort of books.

Edited: Jun 9, 2007, 10:06am Top

36. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. A re-read, but it's been years. I think I enjoyed it more than I ever did before. It wasn't one of my favorites of his in the past, and I'm not sure why. I probably read it before because I thought I ought to; this time it was because I had a notion to compare it to Clyde Edgerton's In Memory of Junior, which I may do on the Books Compared Group.
Faulkner's genius for drawing character is highly evident in this novel. The humor is black as night; fire, flood and frantic horses figure prominently, as do unscrupulous minor characters, and bull-headed men. I'm glad I re-visited the Bundrens.

Jun 9, 2007, 6:25am Top

Your comments on this one are very interesting. I fell in love with Faulkner in college, read his entire oeuvre, and this was the only book I didn't like. A friend of my mothers told me it was because I was too young to see the humor in tragedy. I couldn't imagine what could possibly be funny about that story, but I suspect I would now!

Edited: Jan 3, 2014, 12:31pm Top

I'd be curious to know what Faulkner novel you read first? I think I've said this elsewhere, but it has long been my opinion that teachers and professors of English do Faulkner a disservice by introducing students to him through his so-called "masterpieces"--The Sound and the Fury, Absalom, absalom! and As I Lay Dying. Those works are structurally daunting, and plunging into them cold is like trying to appreciate Bach's Goldberg variations without first being familiar with the lovely melodic themes of "Sheep May Safely Graze", or "Ave Maria".
I took an excellent American Literature survey course (2 semesters long) in college, in which we read both Light in August and Absalom. But I had already read The Hamlet and a couple short stories the summer before, because one of my boyfriend's professors had recommended them (along with The Lord of the Rings!) as summer reading. (I mean that to suggest one professor among many, not one boyfriend among many!)
Now, if I have the opportunity to steer anyone into Faulkner's work, I recommend they begin with The Hamlet, or The Unvanquished, to get the feel of his county, his characters, his language and his sense of humor. Moving on to the heavier and more difficult stuff makes much more sense that way. The literary palate needs to be educated, and I'm still working on it.

Jun 9, 2007, 1:08pm Top

Love your reviews, laytonwoman3rd. Just read through the thread and added probably ten books to my To Be Read list. Thanks!

Jun 9, 2007, 6:57pm Top

Thanks! I hope I don't steer you wrong. And if something by G. W. Hawkes isn't among those you added to your list, please reconsider.

54carlym First Message
Jun 9, 2007, 11:06pm Top

About Alice is excellent--I hope you get to that one!

Edited: Jun 10, 2007, 1:52am Top

Well, it may come as a surprise that my first Faulkner was The Sound and the Fury, and I was instantly in love! After I had read them all, I decided that Absalom, Absalom! was the overall best, but my personal favorite book for several decades, until I read Beloved, was The Sound and the Fury. That sort of multi-layered, cyclical storytelling was a revelation for me at the time, and it is something that I especially like.

On the other hand, as a longtime teacher of English, I totally agree with you that young people should begin with the more digestable pieces, and move on to the challenges if/when they get a sense of Faulkner's voice, his rhythm, his tale. The Bear, which is not only more linear and traditional in its style, but also tells a story a young person can relate to, is often found in high school reading texts, and more than one person has told me it is the only thing of his that they could stand -- but tastes vary, as all of us LTers know. For similar reasons, I always recommend Othello (a very simple tale of good and evil) or Romeo and Juliet (a classic tale of first love) for first forays into Shakespeare. Or one of the simpler comedies. We did Julius Caesar, because it had fewer naughty bits (as if we would have caught those anyway), but it held little interest for a ninth grader!

Edited: Jun 10, 2007, 10:59am Top

Well, clearly there are some special people who are just born to "get" Faulkner *grin*

I agree with you--I think Absalom! Absalom! is his ultimate achievement. I believe it is more demanding and more rewarding even than S&F, but I think the latter's reputation prevents many people from getting to Absalom at all, in the same way that people who have a passing acquaintance with Ulysses don't even attempt Finnegan's Wake (yes, that would be me).
I remember that the story "Two Soldiers" was in one of my high school readers, but I suspect it may have been bowdlerized. I just re-read it, and I doubt it would pass muster now, in our politically correct environment.

Jun 13, 2007, 8:02pm Top

37. Oh, it's good to be back.
Finished About Alice just before the crash. Carlym, it's funny you put that post in when you did; I had that book in a stack I had borrowed from the library, and it was next up for me to read! I did enjoy it. It was sweet and loving without being sentimental. And I have a new favorite expression: "administrative caca". I will use it frequently, I'm sure. I feel a bit fraudulent counting Alice as a "book read", because it's so short. I was interrupted a few times, but I think I finished reading it in under an hour, not counting the interruptions. But I also read two Faulkner short stories, the chapter on As I Lay Dying in Olga Vickery''s The Novels of William Faulkner, and 200 pages of Harry Potter and The Order of thePhoenix over the weekend, so all of that together brings me to 37 without guilt.

Jun 19, 2007, 9:03am Top

I ran out of internet way too quickly this morning and rather than GO TO THE GROCERY ALREADY, I've been catching up on your thread here.

Just wanted to say that if you're interested in portrayals of homosexuality in fiction in the 60s, you should read Christopher Isherwood's A Single Man, what was published in 1964. I may have mentioned it to you before. ;-)

Edited: Jun 19, 2007, 9:17am Top

But I had already read The Hamlet and a couple short stories the summer before, because one of my boyfriend's professors had recommended them (along with The Lord of the Rings!) as summer reading. (I mean that to suggest one professor among many, not one boyfriend among many!)

Of course you do. Had you meant one of many boyfriends, the apostrophe would have been after the s. *runs away*

Jun 19, 2007, 8:01pm Top

#58/59 You are too bold by half. If I hadn't raised you, I'd say you had no fetchin' up. Whyn't YOU start a thread here, and put us all to shame?

Jun 20, 2007, 12:01pm Top

Just checking in after being gone a loooong time -- missing LT, as I am moving house/country. I agree with all the comments on Faulkner, and the discussion makes me want to start over and read all of his work again -- what a difference in taste and impression a few decades makes, huh? And then there is Go Ask Alice, which I have never read, and A Single Man, which now looks intriguing. But what about my commitment to read all of Dickens this year? Ahh, so many books. They are all packed up now, but I brought three with me to last on this trip for a few weeks, and have long since finished them all. Shall write reviews right now.

Edited: Jun 29, 2007, 2:19pm Top

38. The Geographer's Library by Jon Fasman.
This was potentially a great book, until the end, which disappointed me. There are multiple stories bound together by the amateur investigation into a mysterious death in a liberal New England college. Alchemy gets in there, and a lot of intrigue over valuable arcane objects (including, perhaps,The Emerald Tablet itself) that once were part of a single collection and now have been gathered together again by deadly ruthless hands from their scattered locations around the world. Each object is treated individually, with a story line explaining how it was "liberated" from its last known owner. The modern story line, which is the weakness of this novel, involves an incredibly innocent young reporter who gets caught up in this murky undertaking totally by chance. It is slightly reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code, although the ancient "secrets" of THAT book were all fairly well-known to me when I read it. Violating one of my rules, Fasman told us, rather than showing us, how everything fit together at the end, and some of it was a bit much, thank you. When I got to the end, in fact, I thought I must have missed something fairly significant along the way, because I had that "up in the air" feeling. I had almost determined to go back to the beginning and read through it again. But I read some reviews on Amazon and this site, most of which noted all the same flaws, so I decided against spending any more precious reading time on it. I enjoyed the 15 vignettes devoted to the far-flung objects, as they were fascinating, and very well written. But ultimately, the whole was LESS than the sum of its parts. As this was Fasman's first novel, I will keep him in mind; he may improve with practice.

Jul 1, 2007, 4:56pm Top

39. Dog About Town by J. F. Englert
A mystery narrated by a labrador retriever living in Manhattan. Randolph is rather overweight, despite the need to walk everywhere with his master (cabs in New York are not accepting to dogs of his size). Sadly, he is fed mostly on Chinese take-out and Alpha-Bits, while a bag of low fat kibble gathers dust in the closet. He describes himself as "sentient", and points out that he is unique among his kind in being able to think, to compare past and present, to calculate and strategize. Not only that, but he can READ. Unfortunately, it is impossible for him to communicate his thoughts to humans, although for some inexplicable reason he is able to converse with a Guatemalan tree sloth. Well, if you can get past all that, this is a decent story. As a mystery, it is well put-together. The clues to "who done it" and how are there for the reader to pick up. The Manhattan setting is a winner with me anytime. And the mystery world is heavy with cats, so we've been needing a dog. I just don't see this gimmick working over the long haul. We're left with an ending that strongly suggests there will be another Randolph adventure. In fact the inside back cover promises one "coming in 2008". I'll probably read it, too. But I can't help hoping that this author makes the series self-limiting, and turns his considerable talents to writing from a human point of view.

Edited: Jul 3, 2007, 9:32pm Top

40. Death Notes by Ruth Rendell
(This book was published in Great Britain in 1981 as Put on by Cunning)
A great murder mystery set in England, with country estates, a police inspector, shadowy figures in the night, identity confusion, and, of course, an inheritance at stake. Wonderfully done. Lots of clues, and false leads, and facts that must mean something, (but what?). This is the first time I've read Ruth Rendell, but l will be looking to find some more of hers.

Jul 4, 2007, 10:51am Top

I enjoyed these two reviews, especially your thoughtful comments on a dog as narrator. I thoroughly enjoyed the sci-fi novel City when it came out so many years ago, and it was also dog-told. I agree, however, that it might be a tough sell in the long run. I have never been much of a mystery reader, but am into one now that I am thoroughly enjoying -- Pardonable Lies, a Maisie Dobbs mystery by Jaqueline Winspear. Have you read any of these? I find the pyschic insight slant pretty cool.

Jul 4, 2007, 5:26pm Top

kambrogi, I have read the first three Maisie Dobbs and I don't know if I want to read the nest ones.
There is something I don't find convincing about those books, quite unreal. Perhaps the fact that I find it a bit difficult to believe that some upper class lady would take the education of a little maid to heart? Or perhaps I find Maisie's sitting down, relaxing, and meditating procedures - which will eventually help her find the solution! - a bit improbable. I am not saying I am right, but these are the feelings I get.
Should I try to read the fourth one? Perhaps, as soon as it is available in paperback (maybe it is already).

Jul 4, 2007, 7:15pm Top

aluvalibri: Nice to see you are visiting laytonwoman3rd, too! I think that if you did not like Dobbs' rather New Age detecting methods (a real stretch in the early 20th century, I agree!), then you probably won't like the next one. I got this from my sister, so I am reading it in hardback (a rare case), but for me it is novel and clever. Plus, I am a sucker for these books that show WWI from a British perspective, or anyone's, I suppose. Such an awful war, one's heart really does go out. Truly, one feels it should have been the war to end them all ... wonder why it wasn't. Why it never is.

Jul 4, 2007, 7:19pm Top

I have read the first Maisie Dobbs installment. I enjoyed it, but haven't really been moved to pick up any of more of them. As I recall, I found Maisie and her circumstances did stretch my ability to suspend disbelief just a bit. (Since when does this site underline suspect spellings as you type?)

Jul 5, 2007, 10:39am Top

Haven't seen that suspect spelling thing myself, although I have longed for something like that. Interesting.

Jul 5, 2007, 11:33am Top

If you liked the Eudora Welty book you might also like The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly.

Jul 5, 2007, 11:33am Top

If you liked the Eudora Welty book you might also like The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly.

Jul 5, 2007, 12:14pm Top

#69 I wonder if it's something new assocoiated with one of the recent updates to my home computer, rather than something on this site. 'Cause it's not happening here at work.

#70 I've seen many mentions of The Book of Lost Things on this site. I am adding it to my TBR list right now.

Jul 6, 2007, 6:07pm Top

If you want an alternative to Maisie Dobbs, I suggest Gillian Linscott's Nell Bray series. Nell is a suffregette in Edwardian England and stars as the detective. They're very well-written and have none of the mediating stuff that Maisie Dobbs does. The only downside is that they're by a British author, so I've only been able to find a few here in the States.

Jul 6, 2007, 8:02pm Top

I think the underlining of suspect spellings has to do with the latest update to Firefox. I've noticed it other places where I type comments since I downloaded the last update.

Jul 7, 2007, 1:23pm Top

41. The Order of the Phoenix I don't think Harry needed to be QUITE such a twit as he was throughout this book. But he did have redemptive moments. I found myself thinking that it's a rather wimpy form of magic these bloke have going when spells can only be cast with the aid of a wand, must be spoken aloud to be effective, and can be blocked by solid objects. Then there's the matter of the need to aim so carefully... In any case, I'll be moving right into Half Blood Prince as soon as I do a few necessary errands.

#74 (Still reading my stuff, eh sprout?) I think you're quite right about Firefox. I haven't updated it at work yet.

Jul 10, 2007, 9:16pm Top

Surely do.

Just hazarding a guess here, but I think you're gonna make it to 50. ;-)

Edited: Jul 11, 2007, 4:28pm Top

#76 Hmmm....you could be right. 200 pages to go in HBP. That'll be done tomorrow easily, unless I have TOO many nursing duties. (However, I was told NOT to wait on him by the nurse in charge of him today.)
Then I hope to finish Things Fall Apart, and the Granger book. Next, I'll probably pick up the Isherwood, unless it's time for HP7 by then. What say I make the goal to hit 50 by August 15th? Think I can do that?

Edited: Jul 15, 2007, 11:30am Top

42. The Half Blood Prince. Questions it raised in my mind: Where did Harry learn to swim?
How could he perform a curse when he didn't know what it would do? (SectumSempra)
What will Percy's role be in Book # 7?
Was it really Snape who killed Dumbledore, or possibly another trick involving Polyjuice Potion?
What does it really mean that "Snape was there, and then he wasn't" (Tonks, Chpater 29, p. 620) or that he ran straight through the cursed barrier as though it wasn't there. And why wouldn't he just have killed Hermione and Luna instead of tricking them (p. 619) to get past them, if he really was with the Death Eaters?
Even though Snape overheard Trelawny's prophecy, he couldn't have know WHO it was about, because according to Dumbledore Voldemort determined that himself.
Who is going to explain all this to us (and to Harry),
if not Snape?
What 's going to be with Slughorn? Aunt Petunia?

Edit (for the fun in it): David Edelstein reviewed the Order of the Phoenix movie this morning. He called Dolores Umbridge a "pink toad". We love David Edelstein.

Edited: Jul 15, 2007, 1:45pm Top

43. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.
This falls into a pile of "important" literature that leaves me less impressed than I should be. (That pile includes 1984, Brave New World, Lord of the Flies, and probably some other stuff that I've succeeded in banishing to the recesses of memory.)
It utterly failed to capture my interest, and I continued reading for the same reason my grandmother ate her bran every day---because I thought it would be good for me to finish it. The story simply did not engage me, although there were bits I admired, in particular the theological discussion between the white missionary and the African villagers.

Jul 15, 2007, 5:00pm Top

Interesting perspective on Things Fall Apart. This is one I'm planning to read soon, also because of its "importance". Looking forward to comparing notes with you ....

Jul 19, 2007, 11:08am Top

44. A Single Man Read on the recommendation of my daughter. A brilliant piece of writing. A day-in-the-life of a "middle-aged" gay man in California in the 1960's. While it seemed to be an ordinary day, it was packed with illustrative moments showing us just what George's life was like in that place and time. I was not entirely happy with the "what if" ending; the author was too visible, and it felt too much like a literary necessity (the day is over, and now we must put a solid "The End" section here), but it too was beautifully written. Highly recommended.

Jul 25, 2007, 6:30pm Top

45. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
A re-read. I needed something light to occupy my mind while my daughter is in the hospital. This served me well. I love how Kingsolver creates characters that are unique, yet totally believable. Within a very few pages, you know each person very well, and hear her distinct voice.

Jul 26, 2007, 10:27am Top

I really appreciate your comments on Things Fall Apart. I feel the same way, but have a different perspective, as I read it when I lived in west Africa, and thus the story had more familiarity. I think the problem is that the world of the book is so foreign to most of us, and that it is -- please forgive my gender bias -- a story that is very masculine, as well. Even after 11 years in the region, and a clear understanding of the story it tells, I still found that it did not work for me. I think a story only works if it finds a path to something we know, care about, or can be made to identify with on some level. TFA never did that for me, perhaps because the lure of power is something that I just don't understand, however the men who have read it (and often make a book "successful") may have understood it better.

I felt the same way about Graceland, a Nigerian story that received a lot of attention. I should have connected to it, but I didn't. Sometimes I think that we so seldom hear voices from this part of the world that we neither recognize their speech nor understand their stories on a gut level. Yet they are published and praised for that very reason: because we need to get to know them.

A book from Africa that worked much better for me was The River Between (east Africa). I recommend you try it if you haven't.

Now, if I could just sit down and comment on the books I have managed to read, I would not feel so daunted. Yet you are reading, writing and posting elsewhere, as well. How do you do it? I already have A Single Man on my TBR list (from your daughter!), and I shall comment on Kingsolver later.

How is your daughter?

Edited: May 6, 2017, 7:33pm Top

I've found it easy to make these commentaries on the books I've been reading since I started this thread. I think having it has made me read more carefully and critically, knowing as I go along that I'm going to want to say something about the book here. I've tried in the past to keep a reading journal, but I find the computer is my tool---I'm much more likely to type something and save it than I was to write something down in a notebook. Maybe the infinite ability to revise as you go has something to do with that. I'm also loving the ease with which I can refer to what I've written before--it's helping me to retain more of what I read.

And now:
46. The Deathly Hallows. I won't even try the touchstone; I know it hasn't been working at all. I've been reading this aloud to my daughter since the day after I arrived in her hospital room (two weeks ago tomorrow), and we finished it this afternoon. We are both mainly pleased with the outcome of the tale, with a few misgivings on minor plot points, and the usual quibbles over Rowling's tendency to repeat some phrase or other (and her editor's blind eye to such sloppiness). This time, for me, it was "Hermione screamed" that drove me bananas. The girl is quick witted, resourceful and brilliant; I don't believe she'd really have done all that screaming.

My daughter and I feel as though we're probably the last people on earth to finish reading this book, so I probably don't have to worry too much about spoilers, but I will warn any stragglers, that


It took Rowling way too long to get into the real action of this book, in my opinion. There was so much talking about what the trio was going to do, and aimless wandering about the countryside before they finally got down to business. I don't see what narrative purpose was served at all by killing Fred, so I object to that. And the epilogue was a tease: what are the survivors doing with their lives 19 years hence? And who is Headmaster now? What about Draco, has he reformed a bit? Who did he marry?


Aug 8, 2007, 7:08am Top

47. The Tin Roof Blowdown This was a tough one to finish. It's Burke at his brutal best, but the story line didn't grab me, and the author was too much in evidence, although I'm fairly sure Burke knew he was doing that and just didn't care. It is only incidentally a novel--it's mainly about the destruction of Burke's beloved New Orleans, and not just by the forces of nature. I do wish he'd stop putting Robicheuax's loved ones in mortal peril over and over--that gets a bit old.
I was reading it at a difficult time, too, and I probably shouldn't have done that. If you like Burke, you'll have to read it. Otherwise, pass.

Edited: Aug 21, 2007, 6:00pm Top

48. Why New Orleans Matters by Tom Piazza
A short book, written shortly after Hurricane Katrina by a long-time resident of the City, who expresses his love for the food, culture and music, as well as his fear that the unique character of the Crescent City may be lost in the rebuilding process due to a get-rich quick mentality, lack of foresight and lack of consideration for the needs and necessity of what Barbara Bush patronizingly referred to as the "underprivileged" displaced residents.
I think it would have been more powerful if I had read it closer to the event. By now, I've absorbed most of what the author was talking about, as I would assume most people with any interest in the future of New Orleans have as well. Much of the first two thirds reads almost like a laundry list of famous musicians, terrific places to eat, etc. If you want to read about the marvel that was the City of New Orleans, I would pass on this book and turn to New Orleans, Mon Amour by Andrei Codrescu for better writing and fuller treatment of the subject matter.

Aug 21, 2007, 6:06pm Top

49. Spare Change by Robert B. Parker.

Always a treat to visit Parker's characters. "Spare" is definitely the word for his style. I am in awe of how much he can convey with a few words. This is the latest in the Sunny Randall series, and it is more of a father/daughter love story and a tale of character development than a detective story, although of course there is a crime (or a series of them) to be solved. Sunny continues to explore her relationship with her ex-husband, takes a big step or two in understanding herself, and


cuts her old friend Julie loose for behavior totally unbecoming a therapist or a friend.

Edited: Nov 10, 2007, 10:26pm Top

50. And so I reach the "magic number" with:
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

One of my favorite authors does it again.
Barbara Kingsolver never disappoints, and even though I know I'm going to love her books, they still amaze me when I pick them up.

This novel intertwines three story lines of life and love in the rich natural environment of Southern Appalachia during one "rashly extravagant" summer.
This is quite possibly the most sensous (and sexual) thing I've read in years. Lady Chatterley, stand aside. Here we have Deanna, a Forest Service wildlife monitor who can't quite decide what her last name should be, because she was divorced a few years ago; who hasn't cut her hair since forever; who hopes against all sense that the coyotes have come back into her valley; and who finds herself entangled (quite literally) with a breathtaking fellow named Eddie Bondo, who may or may not be there to hunt and kill those elusive canids.

Kingsolver celebrates the physical side of life, and the power of the feminine, embedding a good deal of scientific information about mammalian and insect life into the narratives, skilfully giving us natural history lessons while engrossing us in the lives and predicaments of three sets of characters who we realize will eventually become part of one larger story. Beautifully written.

Sep 2, 2007, 1:20pm Top

>88 laytonwoman3rd:: laytonwoman3rd, congratulations! I'm 5 short of 50 myself, so I expect to reach the "magic number" this month. And it's always nice to read Kingsolver; she's one of my favorite authors.

Sep 2, 2007, 4:59pm Top

Brava, Linda!!! Well done. And in just nine months. You are an inspiration!

Edited: Sep 2, 2007, 8:54pm Top

#89/90 Hmmm...well, if you page back up, you'll see I contemplated hitting 50 by August 15th. Considering the unexpected events of July and August, I am happy to be only 2 weeks off that pace. Perhaps I can catch up...I'm now hoping for 75 by year's end.

Sep 3, 2007, 6:20pm Top

51. The Hamlet by William Faulkner

I wish I'd been keeping track of how many times I've read this. For a while, I read it (and sometimes the rest of the trilogy) every summer. This time, I began reading it aloud to my daughter during her convalescence from surgery; we got through the first 3 sections, and I finished the last today. The final section (The Peasants) is one of the best parts of the novel, as it contains the hilarious wild horses episode. This book remains one of my favorite reads of all time. I just don't get tired of it.

Sep 4, 2007, 5:48pm Top

52. The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty
A one-sitting read with perfect characterizations and a twist on Faulkner's "The past is never dead..." Welty says the past is "impervious, and can never be awakened" but that memory "can be hurt, time and again". Somehow, I think they are both right. But I would have taken the bread board.

Sep 4, 2007, 8:26pm Top

I just read this book last month! I truly enjoyed it and agree with you about the bread board !!

Edited: Sep 9, 2007, 1:12pm Top

53. Heavy Water and other stories

I can't really remember why I picked this up; now that I've read or sampled most of the stories in it, I'm even more at a loss. This is not my kind of story-telling. I believe I only finished 3 of the stories, gave up on several more, and didn't even try the rest. "Coincidence of Arts' almost hooked me, and in it I can see why Amis is regarded as a very talented writer. Still, I didn't like the story, didn't like the characters, and had to force myself to finish it. "Straight Fiction" takes place in a world where homosexuality is the social norm, and that was a clever idea at first. But once I got the point (which didn't take long), it began to feel like a writing exercise. I think it's supposed to be funny, but by the time I got to that story I was pretty tired of Amis, and not much in a mood to be amused.

Edited: Sep 22, 2011, 12:43pm Top

54. A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr
This was a quick and fulfilling read. I can't believe the detail that is packed into this little book--the edition I read had just over 100 pages, but it left me with the impression that I had read much, much more than that. The plot centers around a World War I veteran, shell-shocked and cuckolded, who takes on the job of uncovering a medieval wall-painting in a church in the North Riding. His hope is that the task will occupy him for the summer, in "a haven of calm water", and that once finished he can forget the War and his faithless wife--"...afterwards, maybe I won't be a casualty anymore." As you may imagine, he discovers much more than a formulaic medieval wallpainting, on the wall, in the village of Oxgodby, and in himself. Recommended.

Edited: Sep 24, 2007, 9:27am Top

55. Thursday the Rabbi Walked Out Another Rabbi Small. I was in the mood, and looked for one last time I was in the library; this was the only one there, so I've missed whatever the Rabbi did on Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday. This one began to feel a little weary, as well as dated. I was very aware of the awkwardness of some of the dialog. I guess maybe I'm finished with this series.

56. You are Not a Stranger Here by Adam Haslett. Remarkable writing. A collection of short stories, exploring (mainly) various aspects of mental illness in a rather wide range of characters. One or two of the stories left me a bit unmoved, but most of them were excellent, and some quite disturbing. The characters and their obsessions, depressions, repressions and so on, strike me as authentic. It is hard to imagine that any one person outside of the mental health profession, could have such a broad grasp of so many manifestations of mental illness as the author demonstrates. Nothing in his book jacket bio explains it. I need to explore what else he has written.

ETA: It doesn't appear that Haslett has published anything else so far.

Edited: Sep 27, 2007, 9:42pm Top

57. Gunnar's Daughter by Sigrid Undset
My mother gave me this book, with her recommendation. I loved it. It's a tale of medieval Iceland and Norway on the cusp of conversion to Christianity. Life was still brutal and primitive, and "courage" was valued above all else. Vigdis Gunnarsdatter is the title character, a woman of strength and courage, doomed by the inability to forgive a wrong done to her by a man she "would rather have loved ...than any {other}". She perfectly fits the original definition of "virago", avenging her father's death; making a remarkable trek through the frozen, wolf-inhabited forest with her infant son on her back; raising the boy alone; ultimately rejecting all offers of marriage. On his death bed, her father called her a "brave and manly woman".

Gunnar's Daughter is a saga, albeit a short one. It is beautifully written in a very simple style, and it leaves me wanting to take a crack at Undset's longer and more well-known works.

Sep 30, 2007, 2:04pm Top

58. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Beautiful writing; loaded with irony. Two intelligent but inexperienced people fall in love, marry, and implode in a storm of misunderstanding and lack of communication on their wedding night. McEwan gives us the thoughts and perceptions of each of his characters in counterpoint, and we watch as they completely misinterpret each other, and their own feelings as well. Set in 1961-1962. Amazing to consider how differently 20-somethings were relating to each other a mere 10 years later when I was that age.

Edited: Oct 1, 2007, 4:15pm Top

Two excellent reviews! Definitely going to break the book budget.

Oct 2, 2007, 4:55pm Top

Sounds to me like you ought mention this book to da Holly.

Oct 2, 2007, 4:56pm Top

Why doesn't it thread?

I meant Gunnar's Daughter.

Oct 2, 2007, 7:23pm Top

It doesn't work that way here. I don't know why. And I knew what you meant. You are right.

Oct 12, 2007, 9:13pm Top

59. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Possibly my favorite book of this year. An engrossing story of three generations of a Greek and Greek-American family, molded by historical events, personal tragedies and genetic destiny. It's a family saga, and yet it isn't, because it's more a coming of age story, and yet it isn't, because it's a sexual awakening drama, and yet it isn't, because it's really just about life and death and humanity--and only incidentally about the "middle sex" of the title because, as the protagonist/narrator tells us, "it's amazing what you can get used to." and the "change from girl to boy was far less dramatic than the distance anybody travels from infancy to adulthood." Readers expecting a salacious look at the life of a "hermaphrodite" have been disappointed in this book. They should have been delightfully surprised at getting so much more.

Edited: Oct 13, 2007, 12:21am Top

I'm so glad you liked Middlesex. I think it's one of my alltime favorites. You're right, it's so much more than life as a hermaphrodite. I am looking forward to another of his books! I didn't like Virgin Suicides nearly as much, though.

Oct 13, 2007, 12:22pm Top

Glad you enjoyed Middlesex - as you probably know, it was the opposite for me. But I will definitely say Eugenides is a fantastic storyteller. I just didn't like this particular story (maybe I should try Virgin Suicides. =)

Edited: Nov 8, 2007, 2:42pm Top

60. The Yacoubian Building Comments reserved for upcoming discussion elsewhere. Will post here in a couple weeks.

Edit: Discussion complete. My thoughts on the book:

I could neither like nor care about any of the characters in this book. For me, that is a fatal flaw, preventing me from engaging with the story, and more importantly, preventing me from seeing any of the characters as representative of a given segment of Egyptian society. The author gave us all these people corrupted by power, or greed, or fanaticism, or lust--but he never showed us a worthy alternative. Everyone seemed to give in to "the way it is" without a struggle, and became victims of the toxic society almost willingly. It makes me wonder about the author's purpose in writing the novel (which, after all, must have been something of a risk for him). If he hasn't any hope of improvement, why write? And if he DOES have hope for the future, why don't we see any of it reflected in his work? If the author's intention was to convey that living in Egypt is a matter of survival, no matter what your social status, and that there is no real opportunity for fulfillment or happiness under current conditions, he succeeded, but not in a particularly artful way, in my opinion. Part of the reason I wanted to read this book was to get a "feel" for another culture. But when I was finished, I didn't even have the impression that the characters themselves had a feel for their culture. Perhaps that was part of the author's intent, and of course, a book shouldn't be judged by the reader's pre-conceived notions. I wish just one of the characters could have been admirable, or even likable despite his/her faults. As it was, I was happy to be quit of the lot of 'em.

Nov 3, 2007, 1:27pm Top

61. Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman Wonderful, witty essays on being in love with books, inside and out. I particularly enjoyed the essay where she talked about her entire family's tendency to proof-read EVERYTHING, from menus to street signs and newspaper ads. I have that habit myself.
Fadiman started her life as a bibliophile by using her father's books for building blocks, and has come around to writing her own, for which we should all be grateful.

Edited: Nov 3, 2007, 2:19pm Top

I am glad you enjoyed this book -- what bibliophile wouldn't? I once thought of starting a thread on it: taking each chapter concept and saying how it does, or does not, describe our own habits.

Nov 3, 2007, 6:12pm Top

>108 laytonwoman3rd: laytonwoman3rd, that essay was one of my favorites too! I also enjoyed Secondhand Prose which extolled the pleasures of shopping in used bookshops!

Nov 3, 2007, 6:38pm Top

laytonwoman, I loved the entire book too! She's a soul sister.

Nov 4, 2007, 2:12pm Top

Me too, wonderfully humorous and erudite. I loved the essay on marrying their libraries. I'm slowly savoring her new book At Large and at Small and I think it will be every bit as good.

Edited: Nov 8, 2007, 2:47pm Top

62. Now and Then ** by Robert B. Parker
Just indulged myself in an all-day visit with Spenser, Susan and the gang. In their world, things may get tense, but they never go wrong; Right will prevail, even when it takes the lawless intervention of Hawk and Chollo to bring it about. No crime goes unpunished, except those committed in the pursuit of justice. Pure fantasy, and pure guilty pleasure. If I'm ever in serious trouble, I want Spenser to pull me out.

**I protest that the title of this book is NOT "Now and Then", but "Now & Then". Look at the cover. I give in to the tyranny of the touchstones, however.

Edited: Oct 3, 2012, 11:56am Top

63. Hooligan, A Mormon Boyhood, by Douglas Thayer
An Early Reviewers book which doesn't generate a touchstone.

I can't recommend this "memoir", which isn't so much the story of a boyhood as an attempt to make a comprehensive list of the elements that might make up a boyhood anywhere in the rural United States, at almost any time in the second half of the 20th century. If the author had been willing to put himself into the story a bit more (it is, after all, an autobiographical genre), it could have been quite engaging. My complete review is both here on LT on the book's page, and under the book's listing at Amazon.com.

Edited: Nov 14, 2007, 8:16am Top

64. Hidden in Plain View I bought this book at the gift shop at New Market Battlefield in Virginia. It purports to explain secret codes embedded in quilts and spirituals, supposedly used to convey messages to escaping slaves, but much of it is highly speculative. Neither the contemporary quilts nor the humans involved are around to document or verify the practice of passing information in this fashion. The book does contain a lot of worthwhile historical information on quilting patterns and techniques, African fabrics, plantation life, Underground Railroad routes and so on. It is well illustrated. The writing at times is pretty dry, like a term paper for a required subject. I expect I will probably refer to the book from time to time, but not for the "code". It includes an excellent time-line of 4 centuries of significant events in the history of slavery.

Edited: Nov 17, 2007, 10:56am Top

I wonder if it mentions the Liberian quilts? Since Liberia was "settled" by returned slaves from the US (free blacks sent in ships sponsored by Congress and then dumped), those Americo-Liberians (as opposed to the native peoples) developed a tradition of quilting that was based on American quilting patterns, although they changed slightly over time and took on new names, using west African fruits and flowers and so on. Very intriguing, but I have never found a book on it.

Nov 17, 2007, 10:40am Top

kambrogi, it doesn't go into that history, as I recall. Your question led me to some internet browsing, and I came up with this article Questionable Sources which isn't surprising, considering how I reacted to the book. If you do a Ctrl F for "Liberian Quilts" on that page, you'll find a little section on the subject.

Nov 17, 2007, 10:57am Top

Thanks; I'll check that out. The American Ambassador's wife there in the 90's, Kathleen Bishop, was a quilter, and she did a lot of research. I have found an article by her online, but alas I guess she never wrote that book she talked about!

Edited: Nov 20, 2007, 11:56am Top

65. The Sweeter the Juice by Shirlee Taylor Haizlip This is a very well-written memoir about a woman's search for the missing half of her mother's family---the half that made the decision to "pass" as white and left her "too dark" mother behind as a child. It explores the question of defining race, and what our roots really mean, in the context of a thoroughly fascinating story with a satisfying and hopeful outcome. Interesting counterpoint to the fictional tragedies of Faulkner's Joe Christmas and Charles Bon.

Nov 20, 2007, 7:24am Top

That Questionable Sources article is quite interesting, even though it debunks just about everything, it also shows some terrific quilts!

Nov 26, 2007, 7:30am Top

66. Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth This was a re-read of an old, old favorite. (I read it last in high school.) I was very pleased to find I still enjoy it. Parts of it made me laugh out loud.
It's the unsentimental anecdotal story of the family of motion/efficiency experts Frank and Lillian Gilbreth---a family that eventually included 12 children. Plays and movies have been made, most recently by Steve Martin, but I haven't seen any of them. A light, happy read that almost makes you believe a family of fourteen is nothing to shudder at.

Edited: Nov 26, 2007, 7:53am Top

I love that book! My mother read it to all four of us when we were laid out with chicken pox -- she set up a dispensary in our dining room with four cots in a row and read to us for days. I enjoyed the old movie with Clifton Webb, but the new one has little in common with the original story.

Nov 26, 2007, 6:03pm Top

It sounds just like a scene from the book itself!

Dec 2, 2007, 6:19pm Top

67. The Awakening by Kate Chopin This has been on my TBR list for years. Excellent portrait of a tormented soul--the woman who "had everything" but cared little for either material things or the people she ought to have loved---husband, father, children, friends. Edna Pontellier was never happy or satisfied, either in her role as mother, or wife, or artist,---not even the love that awakened her passions gave her any truly joyous moments. This is tricky stuff--I'm inclined to want to shake such characters out of their "ennui", urge them to get a life, and toss their stories aside if they won't. But Edna roused my sympathies. She wasn't just your typical 19th century female shackled by societal restraints and looking for creative or emotional outlets. This woman defied convention repeatedly, and found very little satisfaction in it. She suffered no consequences that she did not impose on herself. She did as she pleased, but it gave her little pleasure. I came to suspect that she was suffering from true depressive episodes, which makes the story even more remarkable for its time. I read this from the Library of America collection of Chopin's novels and short stories. It left me eager to read the rest of her work.

Edited: Dec 3, 2007, 9:45pm Top

68. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Another book I've been meaning to read for a long time. Quick and easy; good intro to magical realism, which I have little experience with. I love the incorporation of recipes with the story line-- cooking and feeding as the essence of love and life, the kitchen as the heart and soul of the home.

Dec 3, 2007, 11:20pm Top

The Awakening is one of my favorite novels! Just don't watch the movie version--it's called Grand Isle, and it's terrible.

Dec 4, 2007, 12:46am Top

>68 laytonwoman3rd: -- have you seen the movie? Like Water for Chocolate? One of my favorites. I just watched it again for the sixth time or so. Really wonderful.

Dec 4, 2007, 7:22am Top

#126 I've read several reviews of The Awakening (now that I've finished it), and it seems people either love it or can't stand it. I was surprised by the ones that said the writing was awful--I found it quite "modern" for a 19th century novel. I didn't know there was a movie.

#127 I have not seen the movie. I wondered if it was well-handled. I'm putting in it my Netflix queue now. Thanks!

Dec 4, 2007, 8:25am Top

The movie of LWFC is terrific, imho -- the director is Laura Esquivel's husband, who is also an actor in Hollywood. At the time, they felt a Mexican film could handle the magical realism better than it might be done in the US (where it would have been more like a "ghost story," with weird music and so forth).

Edited: Jan 7, 2009, 5:51pm Top

69. Notorious by Michele Martinez An Early Reviewers read. Not the best suspense novel/legal thriller I've ever read, but not the worst, either. I'll be doing a full review when I have time. This book is due to be published in March, I believe.

My Review is here

Edited: Dec 17, 2007, 8:26am Top

70. Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill.
Meh. I guess this was good horror (is that not an oxymoron?). It was well written; the characters (even the undead ones) were real and true. And I'm certainly not averse to a ripping horrific tale. The Other and The Green Mile, Salem's Lot, The Vampire Lestat--all favorites of mine. This one just didn't have anything other than the horror to offer, and the resolution was just "there"; it didn't follow logically from the gory awful events leading up to it. Talk to your Dad, Joe. I think he may have a thing or two left to teach you.

Dec 17, 2007, 8:36am Top

>131 laytonwoman3rd: so now I'm curious, who is Joe Hill's dad?

You know the first sentence at the beginning of this thread says "I don't know if I'll make it to 50" -- and here you are at 70 with two weeks left to go in the year! Bravo!!!!!

Edited: Dec 18, 2007, 4:41pm Top

Joe Hill was born Joseph Hillstrom KING. Is that any help? ;>)

And yes, when I started this "challenge", I had no clue how many books I read in a year's time. I surprised myself! (I didn't quite maintain the pace I set in the first quarter of the year, though. That would have put me nearer to 100. Oh, well.)

Dec 18, 2007, 5:02pm Top

Ah ha!! And now I see the resemblance. Thanks, laytonwoman3rd!

Edited: Jan 7, 2009, 5:49pm Top

71. In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming. Thank you, thank you avaland and others who recommended this author. I loved this, and of course am now hooked on the further adventures of Clare Fergusson and Chief Van Alstyne.
Touchstones are turned off, I guess.

Jan 1, 2008, 1:39pm Top

72. Peter by Kate Walker My final book of 2007, finished shortly before midnight last night. It's a young adult novel, recommended to me by my daughter. I haven't completely decided how I feel about it yet. It's told from the first person perspective of a 15 year old boy exploring and questioning his sexuality. Something about the voice didn't ring true with me, but admittedly I know very little about 15-year-old boys, and I don’t read a lot of YA fiction. I think what I'm perceiving is that the author had a point to make (that there are all sorts of variations of "normal"), and felt it was best made from the point of view of a 15 year old boy, but perhaps she isn’t quite as clear on how they think as she ought to be either. Peter is a sensitive boy, sometimes sounding much younger than 15, and sometimes displaying insight beyond his years. His older brother seems a bit too teenager-ish for a university student, too. For that matter, none of the characters quite worked for me. They all felt just a bit too tailored to their roles, not quite stereotypes, but mighty close. I think the book, while it does have a lot to recommend it, suffers from a cultural disconnect---it was written almost 15 years ago, when maybe the subject of accepting the possibility of one’s own homosexuality was less talked about than it is now.

Edited: Jan 5, 2008, 1:39pm Top

Interesting review, laytonwoman3rd. Congrats on all the year's reading; way over the mark! Are you going for 100 next time? :-) Must see if your new challenge thread is up ...

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