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lycomayflower stops counting in her 2011 75 Books Thread

75 Books Challenge for 2011

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Edited: Dec 29, 2011, 4:44pm Top

As per usual, this first post will contain an on-going list of the books I've read this year. (The most recent reads are at the top of the list.) Click on the book title to go to the book's post within the thread, where you will find a review. Numbers in parentheses are page counts for each book.

Underneath this list of complete reads you will find a list of those books I have quit reading without finishing. If I do carry on with one to its end, I will strike it from that list and add it to the list of complete reads.

Completed Reads

+ Rereadings (245)
+ A Study in Scarlet (70)
55.) A Christmas Carol (131)
+ Anne of Green Gables (309)
+ The Borrower (324)
+ Outlander (850)
+ Unlocking Harry Potter (293)
+ Howards End Is on the Landing (236)
+ Amy and Isabelle (304)
+ Prep (420)
+ Over Sea, Under Stone (196)
+ I, Lucifer (262)
+ Grumbles from the Grave (288)
+ Black Swan Green (294)
+ The Sparrow (405)
+ Doctor's Orders (291)
+ Ex Libris (162)
40.) Death at Wentwater Court (216)
+ Mrs Miniver (160)
+ Rubyfruit Jungle (246)
* And Furthermore
+ Mortal Stakes (172)
+ Cinderella Ate My Daughter (192)
+ Minding Frankie (383)
+ American Gods (592)
+ Frankenstein (243)
+ God Save the Child (202)
+ Cheerfulness Breaks In (304)
+ Star Trek: The New Voyages (237)
+ The Poisonwood Bible (543)
+ The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes (177)
+ Early Autumn (221)
+ The Housekeeper and the Professor (180)
25.) The Help (451)
+ Away (247)
+ The Iron King (363)
+ The Cleft (260)
+ The Family Greene (247)
+ Saint Maybe (373)
+ The Sandy Bottom Orchestra (263)
+ The Fellowship of the Ring (506)
+ Soulless (365)
+ The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (382)
+ At Home (453)
+ The Road to Middle-Earth (361)
+ Finding a Clear Path (277)
+ My Reading Life (337)
+ Triangle (188)
+ Homecoming (402)
+ Lost (340)
+ The Forest for the Trees (277)
+ Mere Christianity (175)
+ Dead Until Dark (292)
+ What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew (394)
+ A Gate at the Stairs (322)
+ The Making of Pride and Prejudice (120)
+ The Book Class (212)
+ The Anubis Gates (387)


Incomplete Reads I've Put Down for Whatever Reason

Double minus signs (--) mean I have no intention of returning to a book. Double pluses (++) mean I have abandoned the book for now but will probably give it another try at some future time. (Abandoned rereads are marked ~2x.) An asterisk means that I am not actively reading the book but think I might dip back into it at any time. Should I finish any books on this list, I will strike them, and they will, of course, appear on the completed reads list with a full review.

++Shades of Grey (16/388) Picked this up as a "perhaps" when looking for something to read the other day, and then wasn't completely grabbed. It's definitely something I need to read someday; it just wasn't what I needed to read that day.
++The Old Curiosity Shop (73/556) I may just finish this one shortly, but perhaps not before the new year. Thus, I include it here for the completeness of my incompleteness, as it were.
++The Tiger's Wife (120/338) Dunno. Couldn't quite stay in it. LW3 loved this, so I suspect strongly I will be giving it another go.
++The Goldbug Variations (25/639) Slumpies.
++Winter's Tale (68/748) A victim of the Dreaded Slumpies.
--A Discovery of Witches (104/579) Somewhat intriguing, but not really holding my interest.
++The Magicians (90/402) Slumpies. Coming back to this one some time for sure, as was intrigued by the set-up.
++The Green Knight (42/472) A victim of the Dreaded Slumpies.
++John Adams (103/651) I got all excited to read this after seeing the miniseries based on it, and then lost steam with it, sort of feeling like I had just seen it all, as it were. Will come back to it some time, though, as McCullough is aces.
++The Secret History of Fantasy (124/379; 8/19 stories) An anthology of fantasy short stories which is rather less exciting than I thought it would be, probably because I (inexplicably) expected it to be an anthology of essays about fantasy.
*Clarissa (132/1499) I was determined this time to get through it, and gave it a dashed good go for about a week and a half. Despite rather liking it, I just can't keep my mind in it. I may renew the effort. I have yet to figure the best way. Five pages a day, religiously? Just bury one's self in it? Dip in several times a week for an hour or so each time?
~2xStranger in a Strange Land (206/438) I've read Stranger before and had the itch to reread it. But I need to be in just the right mood for Heinlein; otherwise he rubs me the wrong way. I started to get rubbed the wrong way at the midpoint and put it down rather than get out of sorts with it, as out of sorts with Heinlein is no way to be.
--The Women's Room (107/465) The writing was engaging and the subject matter fascinating, but the book depressed me so horribly that I couldn't carry on with it.
++Mansfield Park (68/473) A Dreaded Slumpies contender. Alas.
++Glory Season (74/772) An attempt to break the Dreaded Slumpies. Enjoyable, but didn't do the trick.
++Angle of Repose (172/557) A victim of the Dreaded Slumpies. I was quite enjoying this, but just couldn't keep my head in it. Would very much like to finish it, but fear I've been away too long to pick up the threads now without starting over.
--Let Me In (35/472) Waaaay too dark and disturbing. Which is disappointing, because I am intrigued by everything I've heard about this book. I may give it another go some other time, but for now I got a decided gut feeling that reading this was not a good move for me right now.
~2xAnimal Vegetable Miracle (174/354) I've read this before, and picked it up on a whim. When the whim withered, I saw no reason why I ought keep going. Probably will finish the reread at some point, but no immediate plans to do so.
--The House at Riverton (~142/472) This seemed the perfect thing to scratch the "mysterious goings on at an English house in a historical period" itch I had going, but the (striking) similarities to particular scenes in Upstairs, Downstairs turned me off.
++Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (~118/847) I suspect I put this down because the book was literally too heavy. Got to steal my book pillow back from the cat.
++Fifth Business (104/257) The biggest casualty of the move, as I was thoroughly caught up in it and then it got packed onto the moving truck accidentally. Three weeks later when I found it again, I'd moved on. Will return to it.
~2xFirst Frontier (142/383) A Star Trek book I'd read before. A comfortable diversion during the move that I never got around to finishing.
++Between the Acts (46/219) I started this just before the move hoping to finish it before the chaos ensued. But I didn't, and it's impossible to read Woolf in the midst of a flurry, I find. Someday I'll return to it and just start over.
*Mr Darcy Takes a Wife (148/465) The first in a series of casualties from the move. The shuffling of life and possessions led to the shuffling of reads, it seems. I was enjoying this in all its ridiculousness, so I may return to it.
--Guenevere: Queen of the Summer Country (46/424) Another Arthurian retelling that wasn't grabbing me. I like this one's notion of Guenevere as someone important and powerful in her own right, but the characters read flat and nothing about the actual telling of the story was interesting. I may just have to start rereading The Mists of Avalon every three or four years.
--The Hawk of May (144/313) In the mood for some good Arthurian whatnot, as M and I are currently working through season two of Merlin. But this wasn't quite hitting the spot, somehow.
*The Historian (146/909) I was very caught up in this, to the tune of an unsettled feeling and nightmares. Which I'm not in the mood for just now.
++The Blind Assassin (84/513) Intended to read this along with the 1book140 Twitter book club, but I quickly realized that I really didn't want to discuss this book bit by bit. That realization somehow led to me putting down the book I was otherwise enjoying?
*Game of Thrones (272/807) Is good, but one particularly grim scene put me off it for now. I suspect strongly that I'll be back when I feel a bit more settled myself. (EDIT: Read ~150 pages after initially putting it down. I just can't quite settle into it.)
++Tooth and Claw (86/292) I'll be back to this one.
++The Two Towers (93/412) I had a notion I was going to read all of LotR and then got interested in other things. This has happened before, of course, and is why I've read Fellowship so many more times than Towers and King. And, of course, I will finish it someday.
++A Suitable Boy (108/1474) I was loving this but kept being pulled away to other reads. Will return to it when I've cleared out some other reads distracting me from it.
--A Short History of World War II (94/389) I was finding this rough going and hard to keep up with given everything else I was reading. I'll most likely return to it eventually as I still want to read up on WWII.
~2xThe Language Instinct (159/448) I've read it before, and the first third adequately scratched my language science itch for now.
--Murder with Peacocks (12/332) Picked this up on a whim at the library having heard some generally favorable things. It didn't grab me, so in a move entirely untrue to form, I nixed it quick.
++The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (128/607) I have not, not given up on this. It was just that so many other things were calling to me just now. (EDIT: Okay, maybe have given up. Give it a fresh go another time.)
~2xThe House on the Strand (97/336) The narrator makes me cross and the story just wasn't grabbing me in the way I know du Maurier can.
++The Wings of the Dove (40/492) Surprisingly intrigued as James usually makes me want to put finger in eye.
--Star Trek: Spectre (106/372) Am seriously annoyed by off characterizations of some key Trek characters.
++Angelology (182/452) No idea why I put this down, as it's pretty awesome.
++The Silmarillion (38/304) Fascinated, but was simply not in the right mood.
--South of Broad (196/514) The huge leap forward in time has thrown me out of the story.
--Holy Blood, Holy Grail (111/438) It meanders? Or I am just too distracted by the less-than-stellar scholarship?
--The Children's Book (182/675) The style became wearing.
--The Little Princess (65/202) Something truly awful happened and I couldn't bear to keep going.
*Outlander (344/850) Was enjoying this; not sure why I stopped. Intend to continue. (EDIT: I did continue, for another ~150 pages. Enjoyed it some more. Stopped again. I suspect this is how it will go with Gabaldon: I'll be in the mood and read a bit, then quit, then come back, and so on.)


In 2010 I found myself choosing books to read based on how close I was to my 75-book goal. While I did not often choose a short book to pad numbers, I did frequently avoid big or dense books out of fear that they would slow me down. Having met the "challenge" in 2010, this year I will keep track of what I've read but forgo counting throughout the year in an effort to keep myself from censoring my reads this way. If I want to read Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, by golly, I'll do it. And if it takes three months, well fine. If nothing else but A Suitable Boy will suit, great! and who cares if I could have read six shorter books in the time it takes to do it. If I have a sudden need to read three Star Trek novels in a row despite already being half-way through two literary reads, that's no reason to feel guilty. In 2010, I fully and completely reclaimed reading as a pleasure (grad school in English, rather than making work seem fun, turns fun into work); in 2011, I will stop making reading an obligation. So.

Link to my 2010 Challenge

Explanation of what I include in my thread.

Jan 2, 2011, 3:02pm Top

See how easy that was?

Jan 3, 2011, 12:36am Top

OK, x'd the last thread!

Jan 8, 2011, 9:45am Top

That would have driven me nuts too.

Jan 8, 2011, 11:22am Top

+ The Anubis Gates, Tim Powers ***1/2

While I found the world Powers created here compelling and the mechanics of that world fascinating, ultimately this was a maddening read for me. It seemed that I figured out all of the major plot points chapters before they were revealed but was dogged by not understanding minor workings of the plot and of the world. I also had a terrible time following the action in fight or action scenes, and found frustrating and disorienting Powers's habit of starting a new section (after a space break) without making clear whom we were with and where. A very clever mind at work here, but the execution left me cold.

Jan 8, 2011, 12:10pm Top

Was wondering when you'd actually post something bookish!

Jan 8, 2011, 3:16pm Top

#5: Sorry you did not enjoy that one more, Laura. I hope the next book is more to your taste!

Jan 9, 2011, 7:21pm Top

+ The Book Class, Louis Auchincloss ***1/2

Christopher, the narrator of The Book Class, relates his memories of the members of his mother's sixty-year-long book club. He begins by claiming that "women are intellectually and intuitively superior to men," and the stories about the various women he relates illustrate that superiority. Auchincloss's writing is fine, and he invokes well the world of these (mostly) upper-class New York women of the early and mid-twentieth century, but ultimately the novel didn't quite hold together for me. I found my attention wandering often, perhaps because what placed these women together in one novel was a theme rather than a strong narrative drive.

Jan 9, 2011, 7:47pm Top

What, you want a STORY?

Jan 9, 2011, 8:00pm Top

Generally speaking, yes. :-/

Jan 10, 2011, 12:43am Top

#8: I think I will give that one a pass.

Jan 11, 2011, 10:14pm Top

+ The Making of Pride and Prejudice, Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin *****

What an absolutely wonderful book this is. Far from the sort of fluffy, slap-dash "making-of" books one sometimes comes across and suspects were rushed together only to capitalize on fans' momentary hunger for a particular production, The Making of Pride and Prejudice lays out in detail, usually in the words of the artists and crew involved, the process of the making of the 1995 BBC miniseries production of P&P ("The Colin Firth One"). Adapting the script from the book, casting, location-scouting, make-up, costuming, composing, choreography, acting, lighting, editing--every aspect of the production gets its own section full of interesting information about how films in general--and this one in particular--are made, as well as full-color photographs of the actors, costumes, sets, locations, and so on. Of particular interest is an extensive interview with Colin Firth about his approach to playing Darcy. Recommended to fans of this film version of P&P, as well as film enthusiasts.

Jan 12, 2011, 2:21pm Top

Laura, as my daughters and I are huge fans of that version, we will have to try and find that book. You made it sound wonderful.

Jan 12, 2011, 3:49pm Top

Ooo, I agree, that's one of my favorite movies and that book sounds fantastic!

Jan 12, 2011, 7:52pm Top

What WAS his approach to playing Darcy? (Worked for me, whatever it was!)
He was splendid in The King's Speech.

Jan 13, 2011, 8:06pm Top

#15 - Firth's approach? White shirt, a lake. That's all you need!

Jan 15, 2011, 1:15am Top

This may be something that I recommend to my independent-study-in-Jane-Austen student who wants to write her final paper on the book-to-film adaptation process.

Jan 15, 2011, 9:35am Top

@ 17

Ooo, do. I should think it would be very helpful.

Jan 15, 2011, 10:33am Top

I have the book on the making of the film Gormenghast, which was also fascinating.

Edited: Jan 22, 2011, 12:32pm Top

+ A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore ****

I gather there was hype about this book, but I never heard any of it. I fell in love with the opening paragraph during a bookstore browsing session a few weeks ago and put the book on my List of Books to Keep in Mind When the Inevitable Christmas Gift Cards to Bookstores Arrive. Then I was saved having to remember the title later when geatland gave me the book for Christmas because she fell in love with the opening paragraph.

For the first half of A Gate at the Stairs, I was quite taken with the book. The writing is often very good, the narrator is likable and tells the story with a strong voice, and the atmosphere Moore creates is both gentle and realistic. But at the halfway point, I realized that I didn't understand why the book was telling me the stories it was. What does the narrator's stint as a babysitter for a white family adopting a mixed-race child have to do with her brother's high school graduation and decisions about joining the army? What work does the tragic backstory of those adoptive parents do in the narrative about a college girl's coming of age? Could all of these things be related? Well, sure. I can certainly think of ways they might be. But I didn't see those connections on the page, and that left me wondering what the book was meant to be about, what is was doing, in ways that didn't feel satisfying. I also became over-aware of Moore's use of imagery; it often felt as if she were packing images in left and right because they had come to her, with no consideration for whether those images worked well together.

Ultimately, I have quite mixed feelings about A Gate at the Stairs. In many ways I enjoyed the book very much (I don't feel in any way that I've wasted my time reading it), but in the end it doesn't quite deliver on the greatness its opening promises.

Edited: Jan 22, 2011, 12:24pm Top

+ What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist--the Facts of Daily Life in 19th-Century England, Daniel Pool ****

Does what it says on the tin. The first half of the book consists of short sections on topics of 19th-century English life that may arise in books of the period (such as "Fairs and Markets" or "The Church of England" or "Currency" or "Women's Clothing"). These sections are well-written and make frequent reference to passages which mention or hinge on the topic at hand in popular 19th-century novels. The second half of the book contains an extensive glossary, bibliography, and index. I read the book through from cover to cover, though it would work very well, I think, as a reference. The glossary treats most entries thoroughly enough to be getting on with if one were simply looking to understand quickly a reference in a 19th-century novel, and the table of contents and index would make finding a longer discussion of any topic quite easy. Recommended for any one looking to understand their 19th-century British reads more fully or anyone interested in the period generally.

Jan 22, 2011, 8:25pm Top

21- I read that one from cover to cover, and while I liked it, I thought it would be better used as a reference. After reading it for an hour or so, my eyes would glaze over and the terms would start to run together! But I thought it was an excellent book!

Jan 23, 2011, 8:09pm Top

Laura, the Jane Austin book sounds interesting. Always enjoy seeing what you've read.

Jan 24, 2011, 7:27am Top

#21: I own that one. I really need to get it read - especially since I am doing the Austenathon this year.

Jan 24, 2011, 10:02am Top

+ Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris ****

"The heroine's a bit soppy, but it's all right." ~Jean, As Time Goes By

I actually rather like Sookie, the heroine of Dead Until Dark. She can and does stand up for herself, and unlike Bella Swan from Twilight she's capable of being in love with a vampire and retaining her common sense AT THE SAME TIME. But she does cry an awful lot (not without reason, it must be said), but still. My impression was that she was a bit soppy. It took me a while to get into the book, but once I did, I was caught up in the story, and some of the emotional bits struck surprisingly close to home.

The comparison to Twilight is probably inevitable (though by rights, it's Twilight what ought be compared to Dead Until Dark, as the latter came first, by a quite comfortable margin): a young, virginal, female first-person narrator meets and falls in love with an old, young-looking vampire with control issues. Adventures, shape-shifting rival, and thinly-veiled sadomasochistic relationship stuff ensue. (Is this new? This the-girl-consents-to-the-monster-and-the-whole-thing-is-a-cipher-for-kinky-sex-because-god-forbid-two-otherwise-normal-humans-admit-to-having-that-kind-of-relationship thing? Surely someone's written a paper.) The key difference is that Twilight is a love story--all the adventures are a result of, an obstacle to, or a furtherance of, the story of Bella and Edward's (maybe-not-) doomed love--while Dead Until Dark is at heart a mystery story with a nice dash of romance thrown in. That difference means that the feel of the books is quite different (and I think Twilight succeeds more fully in creating a memorable and distinct atmosphere), and I think in many ways Dead Until Dark is a better book. It's bubblegum, but it's juicy and flavorful bubblegum.

Jan 24, 2011, 2:40pm Top

"juicy and flavorful bubblegum". I'll have to remember that one.

Jan 26, 2011, 6:44pm Top

+ Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis ***1/2

A friend and I have been reading Mere Christianity together book by book. She's a devout Christian and I'm agnostic; the experience of being able to discuss this book with her was far better than the book itself (which is not to say the book is not good).

Lewis begins (in "Book I: Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe") by trying to lay out a rhetorically sound argument for Christianity from outside Christianity. I disagreed with him at almost every turn in Book I, sometimes because I disagreed with him and sometimes because he has a tendency to use analogies which don't quite hold up to close reading. This tendency (and a habit of not quoting sources (particularly the Bible) when doing so would be very helpful) made it sometimes difficult to follow him (and made me very glad of my friend, who could explain some Christian precepts and with whom I could suss out a salvageable meaning in some of his more frustrating analogies), even when I found I probably agreed with him. A good book in that it made me think and engage, if one with which I am at odds because of my views and because of some of Lewis's failings in his discussion. There are also some moments in which Lewis enlightens some Christian beliefs elegantly. Guardedly recommended for anyone interested in Christianity, religion, or C.S. Lewis.

Jan 27, 2011, 12:30pm Top

Glad to see that you liked the book, even though you didn't agree with parts of it. It is one of my favorites and a book that I keep multiple copies of on my shelves. I greatly admire Lewis' work although I sometimes find myself in over my head!

Jan 28, 2011, 3:20pm Top

+ The Forest for the Trees, Betsy Lerner ****

Does what it says on the tin, and does it well. Some of the book is perhaps a touch dated, but most of the advice surely still holds. Lerner advises gently and with a reassuring air of authority. Not really a "how to" book, but rather a meditation on things to keep in mind during the writing, submitting, and publishing process.

Edited: Jan 31, 2011, 9:06am Top

+ Lost, Gregory Maguire ***1/2

The book certainly held my interest (I read about three-quarters of it in one day), but it's ultimately somewhat disappointing. Maguire starts out by setting up a truly creepy ghost story, but it turns out the book is actually a character study. I'm fine with books which defy categorization or which mix or meld genres (in fact, when they are done well, I love books like that), but in Lost I couldn't help but feel like Maguire cheated by reeling me in with a ghost story and then, when I was well and truly hooked, giving me the literary character novel he wanted to write all along. When a writer pulls a switch like this, disappointment is almost inevitable. I'd have been happy with a straight-up ghost story, and I'd have sat still for the character study from the beginning without being hoodwinked into it. Maguire is good enough to do either; I wish he'd had enough wisdom (or confidence?) to pick one or the other.

Jan 31, 2011, 9:03am Top

>8 lycomayflower:: You may want to check out ...and Ladies of the Club. Similar theme, but much more captivating than the Auchincloss seems to have been.

Jan 31, 2011, 9:59am Top

That's an excellent observation, Grey Cloud. I read And Ladies of the Club years ago, and was very impressed with it. I don't seem to have it in my catalog now, though, sprout. Sorry. Sorry about the Maguire, too...I hate it when an author didn't figure out what he was really up to before the book went to print.

Edited: Feb 1, 2011, 10:57pm Top

+ Homecoming, Cynthia Voigt *****

Best book I've read so far this year (I know: February 1 means that's not saying a lot, but I bet it's still in the top five come December 31). This young-adult book is the first in Voigt's Tillerman Cycle, and it follows the Tillerman children's journey from Connecticut to Maryland. When their mother disappears, leaving thirteen-year-old Dicey, ten-year-old James, nine-year-old MayBeth, and six-year-old Sammy alone in the family car, the Tillermans must decide what to do. Dicey takes charge of the family and leads them first to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where she knows an aunt lives, and then, when the aunt makes noises about not being able to keep all four kids, on to Crisfield, Maryland, and an unknown grandmother . This journey is made mostly on foot, and the book chronicles the ins-and-outs of life on the road for four children with almost no money. They meet quite a few people along the way--mostly kind and helpful strangers--but the focus is always on the family and what they learn about themselves, each other, and life. As most of Voigt's books do, Homecoming makes the details of everyday chores fascinating and provides character studies that would rival those in adult literary fiction. Never sappy or sentimental and serious without ever being depressing. Recommended.

Feb 2, 2011, 12:11am Top

I'm adding Homecoming to the tbr in 2011 pile.

And, by the way, I'm compiling a list of birthdays of our group members. Would you mind stopping by this thread and posting yours.



Feb 5, 2011, 3:29pm Top

+ Triangle, Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath ***

Blerg. I usually find Marshak and Culbreath's Star Trek books to be delightfully thinky and fun. Not so Triangle. I felt maddeningly out of the loop most of the time, as if the book were a continuation of a previous story I hadn't read; I didn't understand what was so special about the heroine that both Spock and Kirk were irrevocably drawn to her (and why she to them?); and the villains, two groups sharing collective consciousnesses (the Oneness and the Totality), were not drawn well enough to be interesting as villains nor considered thoroughly enough to provide the thinky back-drop they clearly were meant to. This would have been a two-star read if it hadn't been for the last thirty-or-so pages, where a partially satisfying test of Oneness versus love among individuals plays out.

Feb 6, 2011, 2:13am Top

#33: Adding that one to the BlackHole. Actually, I thought it was already there, but evidently not.

Edited: Feb 10, 2011, 7:28pm Top

Thought you might like this article about The Master:

ETA: Olsen is on Facebook too

Feb 11, 2011, 7:57am Top

Thanks for the link--really interesting!

Edited: Feb 13, 2011, 10:47pm Top

+ My Reading Life, Pat Conroy ***1/2

It took me a while to settle into My Reading Life--I often felt that I was missing key facts about Conroy's life that would have made his remembrances make more sense, and the repetition of certain facts from one chapter to another made me think the material had not made a full transition from a collection of essays to a book (which might have been fine if the book were presented as a collection of essays; it is not). I was also a bit put off by Conroy's often unkind stories about writers he's met. I don't mean to suggest that he ought to have fibbed or shied away from truths, but those anecdotes left me feeling unsettled--as if I'd listened to malicious gossip for the sake of it. But in the second half of the book, Conroy speaks more about books and less about people, and then I was happy to hear what he had to say. Ultimately well worth the read, and others may not have the same bugaboos I do and therefore will find My Reading Life enjoyable from beginning to end. I'll also say that this book itself is a beautiful physical thing--a delightful size with lovely two-tone printing and exquisite illustrations.

Feb 13, 2011, 4:12pm Top

Curious: I was at Borders buying this book right about the time you were posting about it. It is "handy", isn't it?

Feb 13, 2011, 10:18pm Top

+ Finding a Clear Path, Jim Minick ****

This is another book I had some trouble settling in to, but once I did, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Finding a Clear Path is a collection of short nature essays, many closer to meditations than anything else. Some of the pieces on farming and food remind me a bit of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, though that book is quite different in style. A pleasant read, akin to a short walk through the woods in words. Minick is also a graduate of my undergrad college (though he graduated some seventeen years before me, so our paths never crossed), and that's cool.

Feb 14, 2011, 3:07am Top

#41: Too bad my local library does not have that one. I enjoyed Kingsolver's book.

Edited: Feb 17, 2011, 8:33pm Top

+ The Road to Middle-Earth: How J.R.R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology, Tom Shippey ****

Does what it says on the tin, really. An engaging discussion of Tolkien and his works, concentrating largely on how language and philology influenced Tolkien and contributed directly to many of his creations. Shippey is occasionally difficult to parse; The Road to Middle Earth leans heavily toward academic parlance, but should prove accessible enough for non-scholars sufficiently interested in the material.

Feb 18, 2011, 1:20am Top

#43: I will look for that one. Thanks for the recommendation, Laura.

Feb 21, 2011, 9:44am Top

41 - I wishlisted that one, thanks!

Feb 28, 2011, 9:09pm Top

At Home: A Short History of Private Life, Bill Bryson ***1/2

I've greatly enjoyed the other Brysons I've read, but this one was a bit of a disappointment. I suppose it would be fair to say that Bryson is never exactly tightly focused and on-point, but he seemed to wander away from his subjects in individual chapters and his overall premise in At Home a good deal more than what was entertaining. From the title, the chapter names (e.g. "The Kitchen," "The Dining Room," "The Study"), and the blurb, I expected a history of the home and homey things. At Home is partly that, but largely other things, too. In fact, I thought more than once that a better title might have been Homes: A (Not Short Enough) History of Building. I wanted candlesticks, and chamberpots, and bookcases, and shrimp forks, and while I got a good deal of that, I also got a lot I wasn't expecting (I know more now about bricks and stonework than I ever thought I could) and a lot I could have done without (Bryson seems to delight in cataloguing all of the horrible ways people have, might, and do die--especially if it involves things that creep, crawl, or scurry, and often for no greater reason than the squeaminess of it). While there were some sections that were particularly interesting, on the whole I wish the book had done more of what it looked like it would do (discuss the history of things, especially house-hold things we tend not to think about) rather than what Bryson (apparently) wanted to do (meander through history, telling the stories he found most interesting with little regard for how they fit into the organizational premise he'd set up).

Edited: Feb 28, 2011, 10:25pm Top

I've been in a bit of a reading slump this month (I see from threads that many others have been as well), where everything I read, even those things I think I am enjoying, lose their hold on me and turn into "not the thing" before I finish them. And it occurs to me that I often have several books on my Pile o' Things I'm Reading which are sliding away from "I'll pick that up again shortly" and heading toward "I've given up on that." I'm going to start keeping track of those at the bottom of my first post (underneath the list of books completed). Because I like lists. When (if) I finish one from that list, I'll strike it from there and include it in the regular list of complete reads. If I don't finish it by the end of the year, it will remain on the in-progress list.

Mar 1, 2011, 8:51am Top

I like that idea. Being a bit of a reiver, I may use it myself.

Mar 1, 2011, 9:56am Top

Thief! Thieeeeeeeeeeef! Baggins! We hates it forever!



Mar 1, 2011, 11:25am Top

Thanks for the good laugh I just had!

Edited: Mar 6, 2011, 4:01pm Top

+ The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein ****

Well-done and fully-realized story of a revolution by colonists on the moon who want freedom from Earth. Identifiably Heinlein in style and theme, but perhaps best described as a toned down version of Heinlein (or, since this is one of his earlier novels, maybe it is more accurate to say that later works got successively ramped up)--this fact makes for a book with fewer of the sometimes annoying stylistic markers of later RAH and for a book which is in many ways more serious than much of the later works. Recommended to any Heinlein or sci-fi fans. Also for anyone who thinks they should like Heinlein but finds his style a bit over-the-top.

Mar 15, 2011, 2:02pm Top

#43 Fellow Tolkien lover here. Glad you enjoyed The road to Middle Earth - I got a lot out of that one, especially appreciated Shippey emphasising the importance of the language at the heart of Tolkien's creative process and world building. Have you read Shippey's other Tolkien book Author of the Century? That one had less in it for me, as I recall.

Mar 25, 2011, 8:48am Top

I loved those of Cynthia Voigt's Tillerman series I got to read too (there are 7 but I don't know how many I actually read). Must try and get the 3 I don't have and read the series.

Edited: Mar 27, 2011, 12:30pm Top

+ Soulless, Gail Carriger ****1/2

This first book in the Parasol Protectorate series is a little bit steampunk, a lot tongue-in-check Victorian, a helping of wolves and vampires, a dash of mystery, a cup of ridiculous, and dollop of sexy, all with a silky top layer of funny. And I loved it. Alexia Tarabotti, our heroine, is a delightful mix of fun and no-nonsense who is never a wilting violet, unless, of course, the situation calls for it. Her love interest, one Lord Conall Maccon, alpha wolf in a prominent werewolf pack and head of the London division of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry, is made up of somewhat typical romance hero fodder (handsome, a bit rough, gentlemanly, dangerous), but his interactions with Alexia and his second-in-command make him stand out as a fun and interesting character anyway. The plot could have been a touch meatier, perhaps, but I was having such a good time hanging out with these characters that I didn't much care. That missing last half star is less for the lightweight plot and more for an unfortunate (but mostly slight) tendency (mostly near the beginning of the book) to provide set-up information several times, each time as if the information were new to the reader. Recommended to anyone who enjoys fantasy and a little well-ordered nonsense.

Mar 27, 2011, 12:46pm Top

The Bureau of Unnatural Registry---love it. Where do I go to sign up?

Edited: Mar 31, 2011, 9:49pm Top

+ The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien ****

I have no recollection of not knowing what happens next in The Lord of the Rings, which makes rereading the books a bit like sitting down with one of the Grimms' fairy tales. There's no suspense or surprise; the fun of it all comes from anticipating upcoming favorite bits and being reminded of parts not as well remembered (or now misremembered due to repeated viewings of Jackson's films). While I delight in some of the humor of the Hobbiton chapters and am thrilled by the two meatiest history-telling chapters ("The Shadow of the Past" and "The Council of Elrond") of this book, Fellowship has become my least favorite volume of Rings--perhaps because I have read it many, many more times than the other two, though more likely because the things which most thrill me in the story (the history of men and Frodo's internal struggle) appear mostly in Towers and King. Every time I read Rings, I am struck more thoroughly by how remarkable it is that the thing was ever published (it is a singularly odd piece in that it owes just as much to the chronicle and the romance as it does to the modern novel, and yet it is unapologetically unironic in its use of those forms) and by how very, very glad I am that it was.

Mar 31, 2011, 9:49pm Top

Wierd---I just finished posting my last book for March. *Snap*

Mar 31, 2011, 9:51pm Top

I see that. Weird, indeed. (Why you snappin'?)

Mar 31, 2011, 9:54pm Top

From the Urban Dictionary: *quote* Snap: a phrase used to signify an unexpected and surprising event. "Snap" is considered the new "Wow". Also can be used with "Oh" such as "Oh, Snap" */quote* I have to tell you everything?

Mar 31, 2011, 10:04pm Top

*sigh* I know about "oh, snap." I would quibble with their definition. It's not so much "wow," as in "wow, I'm surprised." It's more like "wow, you just got handed your tush on a platter. And it was handed handily. And you basically deserved it." Like:

Uhura: And a shot of Jack.
Kirk: Make that two. Her shot's on me.
Uhura: Her shot's on her.
Audience: Oh, SNAP.


Mar 31, 2011, 10:09pm Top

I have to agree with lycomayflower, it's more like "burn" than "wow".

Mar 31, 2011, 10:31pm Top

ACKSHULLY, I was under the impression it was an expression used when two people said or did approximately the same thing at approximately the same time without planning to. Which is why I used it there. Didn't find that usage when I looked it up, so I grabbed the one that made the most sense. Who can keep up?

Mar 31, 2011, 10:46pm Top

So like "jinx"? That's interesting, I've never heard it used that way. But as you say, who can keep up!

Apr 1, 2011, 7:23am Top

Exactly, blue. In my yout', we used to punch the other guy in the shoulder when that happened and declare "You owe me a Coke". Never had any idea how that got started, or how widespread it was....no internet to spread things around in those days.

Apr 1, 2011, 7:48am Top

@ 62

Iiiiinteresting. I've never heard it that way. But I like it.

We did "jinx" as kids. Some people tried to enforce the "owe a coke" rule (mostly kids a bit older than my crowd--like seniors to our fresh-ness), but in my age group the rule was generally agreed to be that the younger person involved in the jinx could not speak until the older said the jinxed person's name (or sometimes the first person to yell "jinx!" jinxed the slower person). There was also the variation in my immediate group of linking pinkie fingers and saying jinx together (the second jinx and the show of solidarity canceling out the first jinx), after which no one was jinxed and everyone was free to continue to speak. (In college, one friend and I used to wave two fingers between our heads (as if tracing a link between our minds) and say "Sympatico" in similar situations.) I remember agreeing with a group of my friends that we didn't like the mean-spiritedness that sometimes arose among us (refusing to say the jinxed person's name etc) in the first version, and deciding to use the second "pinkie" version exclusively.

Apr 1, 2011, 8:49am Top

Yeah, we said "jinx, owe me a coke!" but nobody actually owed anyone a coke, it was just a phrase.

We did the can't-speak thing too, but anyone could say the person's name, not just the person who jinxed them.

Apr 1, 2011, 6:52pm Top

I understood 'snap' as in post 62. It's a common usage in the UK. It comes, I think, from the simple card game Snap - or maybe the game was named after the word?? - where you take it in turns to place a card face up and if your card is the same number as another card in view, the first one to shout 'Snap!' wins all the cards on the table.

Love the review of The Fellowship and I agree it is amazing it ever got published. Had it not been for the popularity of The Hobbit and the publisher's desire for a sequel, it might not have, and we might never have seen any of his creations emerging into print at all. It must be time for me to start a re-read soon...

Apr 2, 2011, 1:50am Top

Yeah, I need to do a re-read of LoTR too.

Apr 4, 2011, 9:28am Top

+ The Sandy Bottom Orchestra, Garrison Keillor and Jenny Lind Nilsson ****

I stumbled across this young adult book in our local independent bookshop (which has a lovely, extensive children's and young adults' section) and couldn't leave it behind. The story of Rachel Green's last summer before high school is a fast but rewarding read for an adult and should be entertaining for preteens. Rachel and her parents live in small town Sandy Bottom, Wisconsin, where they are generally well-liked but also considered somewhat eccentric. Rachel's mother stirs up trouble with the church choir, the school board, the mayor, whenever she thinks that trouble needs stirred. Her father is a beloved manager of a local dairy and over-enthusiastic conductor of the symphonies pouring out of his stereo in the den. The drama of the story comes when Rachel's father decides to conduct a local orchestra (despite having no real experience conducting) through Mendelssohn, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky at the Fourth of July celebration he is organizing. Rachel has been hired to play second violin in the orchestra, so she has a front-seat view of her father's endeavor. Will he pull it off? Or will it be a disaster, forever securing Rachel's and her family's place as the town eccentrics and misfits?

The book excels at dramatizing the fears and concerns of a fourteen-year-old girl who thinks her family is not quite normal, and the narrative comes alive when describing the musical world, whether it be orchestra practice or the experience of performing major classical works on stage. While the writing is quite good on the sentence level, there were a few moments which threw me out of the story. I was, for instance, often startled by the point of view. The story is written in a third which is often extremely close to Rachel--so close, in fact, that I often forgot it wasn't in first, and I would become momentarily confused when the narrative did pull back to a slightly more distant third. And while the book handles several different threads (the father's conducting gig, Rachel's changing relationship with her childhood best friend, a first boyfriend, Rachel's relationship with music, Rachel's concerns about her family) very well, there are a few pieces which seem to be underdeveloped or left hanging. On the whole, a good read, and recommended to Keillor fans, classical music fans, and preteens (especially those who play in an orchestra or band or who are from a small town).

Apr 4, 2011, 5:43pm Top

#69: That sounds like a book I would like. Thanks for the review and recommendation, Laura.

Apr 9, 2011, 3:26pm Top

+ Saint Maybe, Anne Tyler ****

An enjoyable read, as Tyler has a gift for putting the details and events of ordinary life on the page. The writing is clean and well-turned, and Tyler's choice of jumping a bit forward in time and into a new point of view for each chapter makes the novel as a whole work well as portrait of the Bedloe family over time. If I have any complaints, it is that this method of story-telling makes the reader feel as if she never really has a handle on any of the characters, for every time they appear, they've turned into a slightly different version of themselves. That Tyler can achieve that effect speaks to her skill, but it also left me feeling a bit unsatisfied with the book.

Apr 9, 2011, 11:10pm Top

I still have not read any of Tyler's books. One of these days I will give her a try.

Apr 10, 2011, 11:27am Top

#71 Interesting. That is one of my favorite Anne Tyler books, because the character of Ian appealed to me, and has stayed with me better than many of her others. And this is a re-read for you, right? So something drew you back?

Apr 10, 2011, 11:30am Top

My favorite book of Anne Tyler is Dinner at the Homesick Restuarant. It is the one that got me started on the path to read all her books!

I also liked Saint Maybe.

Apr 11, 2011, 8:59am Top

@ 73

Yep, Siant Maybe was a reread. I read it yonks ago (early teens?) and couldn't remember it well. I also had a vague memory that I found something about it perplexing. So: reread. I do like Ian, and I find him compelling. But I felt that the way the book told the story held me at a distance from him (and others, but his character seemed the most pressing). And the revelation he arrives at felt too pat, not enough, too simple--though true. I thought Ian's revelation didn't really speak to his central angst. And that would have been fine, in a sort of when-we're-looking-for-answers-to-one-particular-question-sometimes-we-find-other-answers-that-are-more-important kind of way, but I didn't feel like the book was aware that that was what it was doing. *shrug* Like I said, it was largely enjoyable, and it does what it does very well, I was just not completely satisfied with it in the end.

Apr 11, 2011, 9:43am Top

+ The Family Greene, Ann Rinaldi ****

An enjoyable young adult historical novel. The book is divided into two sections; the first, the shorter of the two, follows Caty Littlefield from eleven-ish to just after her marriage (in her late teens) to Nathanael Greene. The section focuses on Caty's coming of age, her courtship with Nathanael, and her curiosity about her aunt's supposed affair with Benjamin Franklin. The second section follows Caty's daughter Cornelia (beginning when she is about nine), and primarily focuses on Cornelia's relationship with her Pa (Nathanael) and her confusion and turmoil over the rumor that family friend Anthony Wayne might actually be her father. Together these two sections form an elegant study of the ways women use flirtation and their sexuality to gain power over men (particularly in a time when women had little or no recognized political or legal power), of how such flirtation affects the men who love them, and of how such practices influence the girls growing up around them. While the thematic parallel between the two sections is made very plain, the novel's execution of the premise and the conclusions to which it comes are gentle and subtle. Rinaldi also does an excellent job portraying the struggle Cornelia has in trying to find her way into adulthood and learning to negotiate the relationships between men and women while her childhood is mired in so much confusion about fatherhood and marital loyalty. A recommended read, though I will say that I was confused about what audience the book was aiming for. The sentence-level writing seems appropriate for the 9-11 set, while the subject matter felt more 13+. It's not that there's anything particularly inappropriate for younger readers (there's nothing explicit, or graphic, or even suggestive on the page--beyond a few tame kisses), I just wonder if the complexity of Cornelia's feelings and the subtlety with which they are dealt might leave younger readers thinking they've missed something.

Apr 11, 2011, 6:20pm Top

I have yet to have read anything by Rinaldi, but yours is the second mention of one of her books I have seen in the past few days. I guess I will have to check out her books.

Apr 16, 2011, 9:55am Top

+ The Cleft, Doris Lessing ****

In The Cleft, a Roman senator takes on a project whereby he will compile into a single narrative the fragments of recorded oral histories telling of the time when the human race first divided into two distinct kinds: female and male. The novel is presented as that compilation, with interjections and speculations in the first person from the senator. The Cleft might be called speculative mythology, and it explores what would happen if a community of women, who had always lived without even a concept of "male," never mind any actual men, and who were impregnated by nature without any identifiable cause, suddenly started giving birth to boys. The novel begins with those first births of boys, and continues on to the time when men and women develop their first small understandings of one another. The Cleft is an odd book, and one which I have a hard time coming to terms with, which I'm not sure how to understand. But it's exploration of gender difference and its handling of its premise are compelling, even if the book does drag a bit in the last third. Recommended.

Apr 16, 2011, 11:48pm Top

#78: That one sounds over my head. I think I will give it a pass.

Edited: Apr 24, 2011, 12:29pm Top

+ The Iron King Julie Kagawa ***1/2

I had a very hard time getting into this young adult fantasy, and if it hadn't been for good things I'd heard here on LT (and for feeling a touch guilty for buying the book on impulse when we're meant to be going easy on the book-buying just now), I almost certainly would have quit at about the half-way point. I found the heroine/narrator very annoying (she is bright, but a bit slow on the up-take, is teenager-ishly arrogant and bristle-y, and shrieks a lot), and the plot felt very "one damn thing after another" for the first two-thirds. That being said, by the last one hundred pages or so, the plot really picked up, the narrator became less annoying, and I was generally pleased that, having gotten to the half-way point, I did push through to the end. Kagawa's premise blooms into something fairly interesting and promising by the end, and there are some plot threads left (intentionally) hanging that I'd be interested to follow. A mixed start to a series, I'd say, and I'm certainly not gung-ho to continue on. But I can see myself picking up the next book eventually, and younger audiences may be more tolerant of the heroine's flaws.

Apr 24, 2011, 12:33pm Top

I've updated the post above with an actual review.

I've also updated my first post at the top of the thread with a lot of "Not Reading Actively" books. It strikes me that keeping track of those creates a much better representation of my reading habits than simply tracking just the books I finish.

Apr 25, 2011, 7:36pm Top

+ Away, Amy Bloom ****1/2

Away is the story of Lillian Leyb, who leaves Russia after her family is slaughtered by gentiles, only to hear, once she is settling into life in New York City, that her daughter is still alive and was taken by neighbors to Siberia. Lillian thus begins a journey across North America, hoping to travel by boat to Russia by way of the Bering Strait. The need to find her daughter drives Lillian on her journey, and the rich details of the people and cultures she meets on her way drive the novel. Away is a feast of characterization, language, and story, and Bloom manages to create a slim epic through rich but restrained description. Not one detail is out of place, and everything Bloom tells the reader is necessary for understanding Lillian's story. Recommended.

Apr 26, 2011, 8:43am Top

I've heard some similar things about The Iron King, which is really too bad, as I'd been looking forward to it since before the book was released... then I heard that the heroine was whiny, and I've put off reading the book ever since. Now there are sequels and I'm really behind. I'll get around to it eventually, but I can't say I'm in a hurry like I though I'd be...

Edited: May 2, 2011, 10:52am Top

+ The Help, Kathryn Stockett ****1/2

The Help is told in the voices of three women living in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 60s. Two are black women (Aibileen and Minny) who work as maids in white households, and the third is a young, white, recent college grad (Skeeter) who grew up in a house with a black maid of whom she was more genuinely fond than she was of her mother. The novel hinges on Skeeter's desire to write a book exposing what it is really like for black maids to work for white women, and Aibileen and Minny convince a group of maids to give interviews to Skeeter about their experiences. This endeavor is, of course, very dangerous for all involved, and much of the tension of the novel develops from that danger. And yet, to me, the book Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny are working on is the least interesting thing about The Help. It's really just a way to get the real story on the page. Where the novel shines is in the utterly convincing voices of each of three narrators, in the often subtle way the narratives explore both the affection and the blind cruelty that exists between the maids and their employers in the segregated south, and in the depiction of the workings of the self-policing community of white, upper-class society ladies of Jackson. Recommended.

May 2, 2011, 9:46am Top

+ The Housekeeper and the Professor, Yoko Ogawa ****

The professor for whom the housekeeper works has a memory that lasts only eighty minutes. Every day when she arrives for work, it is as if he is meeting her for the first time. Yet, somehow they manage to develop a friendship, based largely on the professor's kindness to the housekeeper's son and his eagerness to share mathematical precepts with both the housekeeper and the son. A delightful read.

May 2, 2011, 10:47am Top

#84, 85 Two of my recent favorites.

May 8, 2011, 9:41am Top

>85 lycomayflower: - The Housekeeper and the Professor is really a sweet, beautiful book, isn't it? The other book of Ogawa's that I have read, The Diving Pool, was not so sweet - downright odd, actually. It seems as though she is not an author who writes one "type" of book; apparently her latest novel, Hotel Iris, is quite sexually explicit. It will be interesting to see what she writes next!

I'm really enjoying your thread! :)

May 18, 2011, 7:42pm Top

Early Autumn, Robert B. Parker *****

I've loved this Spenser outing since I was a teenaged sprout. When Spenser takes an interest in a fifteen year-old kid who's about to "go down the tubes" (as Spenser puts it) because his parents have no interest in him, we get a story that is part typical Spenser PI fare, part coming-of-age story, and part character study. And it's brilliant. If I ever had a troubled son, I'd send him off with Spenser to "grow up fast" in a heart-beat. Love Hawk here, too. One of the very best Spensers, this.

May 18, 2011, 8:54pm Top

*ginormous hugs* You're OK, kid.

May 19, 2011, 1:42am Top

I still have not read any of the Spenser books. *sigh*

May 19, 2011, 8:04pm Top

Back up to post #76, I finished An Acquaintance With Darkness and highly recommend it! I think it is one of Ann Rinalid's best books.

May 22, 2011, 11:03pm Top

+ The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes, Carolyn Keene ***

I've no specific memories of reading this one as a child, but bits of it felt familiar--perhaps only because as a Nancy Drew book it can't help but be formulaic. I picked it up for the Scottishness of it, and the little pieces of information about Glasgow, Edinburgh, the Highlands, bagpiping, and kilt-wearing were probably the most fun for me. While I enjoyed Nancy Drews as a sprout, I find them harder to enjoy as an adult than many other books I read at about the same age, and this one is no exception. It's not a bad representation of the series (though the mystery is perhaps a tad less meaty than in some other installments), but overall I enjoyed it most for the nostalgia it stirred about reading these books as a kid.

May 22, 2011, 11:31pm Top

+ The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver ****

The Poisonwood Bible is an amazing piece of work, but I enjoyed it less than I expected to (and much less than other Kingsolver novels I've read). The story traces the lives of a woman and her four daughters after they are dragged along to the Congo with their missionary husband and father. Kingsolver tells the story by moving among the voices and points of view of these five woman, and she creates for each of them a unique, precise, and interesting voice. Like Kingsolver's other novels, The Poisonwood Bible is about family and how woman create and are created by their families, but it is also about Africa and the ways in which Westerners encounter (and fail to encounter) its people, history, and climate.

The strengths of the novel are its compelling voices and the ways Kingsolver reveals the blindnesses of her characters (and the ways they come to see), but the further I got into the book, the less patience I had for both of these things. I became irritated with the unique markers of each character's voice while simultaneously admiring Kingsolver for writing her characters so fully and consistently. I grew impatient while waiting for characters to see the Africa before them instead of looking for the "civilization" they missed--while at the same time appreciating the subtlety with which Kingsolver portrayed her characters' revelations.

The Poisonwood Bible was a mixed bag for me. It's a book I can admire and one I'm glad I read. But not one I particularly enjoyed or one I think I will look back on with fondness.

May 23, 2011, 12:22pm Top

The Poisonwood Bible was my introduction to Kingsolver's work several years ago. I agree with your assessment - 'a mixed bag' suits the book.

May 24, 2011, 8:43am Top

I'm wondering if that reply button up there will "thread" my message as a reply to message 94, or if it will just pop the message at the bottom of the whole thread.

May 24, 2011, 8:44am Top

I'm posting this one by hitting "reply" to message 94. I wonder where it will put it?

Edited: May 24, 2011, 8:46am Top

Dash. Well, hope springs eternal and all that. What happened to 95?

EDIT: And now, after refreshing, the numbers are fixed. Mmmmkay.

May 24, 2011, 10:13am Top

#95-97 I posted an almost identical set of messages in another group. No threading. Can't say these changes seem to offer anything new and exciting.

May 24, 2011, 4:54pm Top

Yis. I can't say I like them much. I don't particularly dislike them, but I don't see a lot to squee about. (It looks like grabbing the post info to mark a particular spot in the thread (for linking to individual reviews from your list of books read in post one, for instance) may be a few more steps now, but I'll reserve judgment until I've actually done that.)

I read on the Talk thread about these changes that the "Reply" link is meant to make it easy to add a post to the thread from anywhere within the thread (as opposed to having to go all the way to the bottom of the thread to do it). Personally I don't see how mousing to "Reply" and clicking is faster/easier than hitting the "End" button on the keyboard, but whevs.

May 24, 2011, 9:38pm Top

Looks like they have intensified the color on the little UP arrow so you can actually see it now. Still, it's an icon. "Back to the top" is more my style. We are about the words, after all, aren't we?

May 25, 2011, 9:04am Top

>92 lycomayflower: Ah, Nancy Drew and the memories they stir. I have the entire set upstairs and my daughter never cared for them. She was a Newbery kind of reader. They are rather dated now, but I can't bear to get rid of them.

Also loved your review of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Another one added to my wishlist :)

Edited: May 28, 2011, 7:03pm Top

+ Star Trek: New Voyages, edited by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath ****1/2

This is one of those used-book-store finds that I picked up for completeness's sake and didn't expect much of. But it was great fun. The book is a 1976 collection of eight TOS stories written by fans. The quality is high on both the levels of story and sentence-level writing--I'd go so far as to say that most of these stories meet or exceed the quality of the Trek books written by professionals for the series in later years. Like much self-published fan fiction, these stories are the sorts that generally couldn't be told on the show--either because the budget couldn't handle the effects that would have been needed, or the show format wouldn't support the story, or the story deals too much with characterization and not enough with action for the typical TOS outing. I think this aspect enriches these stories, and allows them to avoid one of the major pitfalls of some of those professionally-written later books--that feel that it is "just another episode," that it's been done before, that it's nothing special. These stories are something special, precisely because they do what the show couldn't. Highly recommended for any TOS fans whose favorite bits of the show are the character development and interactions.

May 28, 2011, 10:07pm Top

Cheerfulness Breaks In, Angela Thirkell ****

The cover of this Barsetshire novel tries very hard to make it sound like a romance novel: "Another girl's wedding leads her marriage-shy bridesmaid to love . . . she found herself caught up in a maelstrom of emotion that, no matter how she tried to fight, simply had to be love." Well, there is a wedding, and there is a bridesmaid who's less than keen on marriage but finds herself falling in love in the aftermath of the wedding. But those stories are all only threads of the larger story going on here. And the tone is nothing like what the cover tries to make out it will be.

This is the story of a community of people and how all of their lives intersect and influence one another. And at heart it's a social commentary which comments on love (among other things), rather than a romance. And that's fine with me. I'd heard nothing but good things about Thirkell, so when, after a lot of fruitless looking first, I finally came across fifteen or so of her Barsetshire books in a used book shop, I scooped them all up. And I was feeling a bit so-so about that purchase when I read the tag-lines and back cover material when I got them home. I don't mind a good romance story every once in a (great) while, but fifteen of them? That would probably satisfy my slight desire for romance novels for thirty or forty years. So I was quite pleased to find that Cheerfulness Breaks In was really nothing of the sort.

The commentary is sharp, and often humorous--sometimes gently so and sometimes not. The characters feel real, both because Thirkell develops them well and because of the way she moves among the various Barsetshire families, staying with one for awhile and then leaving them for another. This movement creates a strong sense that the characters' lives go on even when we're not looking at them, and we often see evidence of that "going on" when earlier characters pop back into the novel through someone else's story. I can't say I was completely swept up into Cheerfulness Breaks In, but I did enjoy it, and I do want to read more about Barsetshire and its inhabitants. And I dare say it won't take me thirty or forty years to do so.

May 29, 2011, 3:43am Top

I have read only a couple of Thirkell's books and enjoyed them. I need to get back to Barsetshire.

May 29, 2011, 3:16pm Top

I've not read any Thirkell yet - hadn't heard of her until LT, and I have one book of hers, August Folly, so far on my TBR shelves waiting. Your review is another voice convincing me I must get round to her sooner rather than later!

May 29, 2011, 3:32pm Top

+ God Save the Child, Robert B. Parker ****

A typical Spenser outing, most fun for its characterization and wit. This is where we meet Susan Silverman for the first time, and it sure is easy to see why Spenser digs her. Their scenes together just sing.

May 29, 2011, 5:49pm Top

I am so envious of you having so much Parker to read for the first time...

May 30, 2011, 4:47am Top

I still have not read any of the Spenser series. One of these days!

Edited: May 30, 2011, 9:48am Top

@ 107

I DO have a lot of Parker to read for the first time, but it will take a while before I get to it (as I'm reading the Spensers in order). I read the first 18 or 20 Spensers in high school. But that still leaves a joyous lot I've never read.

ETA: And of course there's all the not-Spenser Parker. I've heard that there are such things. ;-)

May 30, 2011, 10:26am Top

Jesse Stone!!!! Cole and Hitch !!! And, Sunny Randall ! Also, one or two things that are none of the above.

May 31, 2011, 10:45pm Top

+ Frankenstein, Mary Shelley ****

Way creepier than the bolts-in-the-neck monster movies would lead you to believe (with all apologies to Boris Karloff), Frankenstein is really a study of the responsibilities of a creator/father to his creation/child and of the repercussions of failing in those responsibilities. The horror here stems from the obsessive interplay between Frankenstein and his "monster": each feels he must destroy the other. In the end, the book becomes both a sort of twisted Lazarus story and an inversion of Job, where here the creator suffers continued torments and losses at the hands of the created. Drags a touch in places, but in many ways a thrilling and compelling read.

Jun 2, 2011, 4:01pm Top

+ American Gods, Neil Gaiman ****

This was an absorbing, well-written read. It seems there's a war brewing between the old gods (think, for instance, Norse mythology) and the new gods (think emerging technologies, television, et cetera), and Shadow, our somewhat-down-on-his-luck protagonist has been hired by one of the old gods as a kind of errand boy. And then things ensue. Gaiman handles the mythology stuff quite well, and he tells his tale with a refreshing ease. I happily read the novel in 200-hundred page chunks without getting the itch to go do or read something else. My only disappointment (and it is slight) is that I finished still feeling like goings on hadn't been revealed quite as thoroughly as they might have been (I kept waiting for an ah-HA moment and never got one), though I also had no sense of confusion in the end. Recommended for anyone with intersecting interests in fantasy, sci-fi, and mythology.

Jun 2, 2011, 4:10pm Top

I loved the premise of that one, but didn't find the protagonist very charismatic, and thought the whole thing could have used some cuts. It was such a good premise, though!

Jun 2, 2011, 10:13pm Top

American Gods was okay for me, imaginative but I also found it hard to get really sucked in to the story emotionally. On the other hand, I find the sort-of sequel, Anansi Boys, to be totally charming. Also, if you like that sort of mix between fantasy, sf and mythology, a really good book is Changer by Jane Lindskold--highly recommended!

Jun 9, 2011, 10:11am Top

+ Minding Frankie, Maeve Binchy ***1/2

Fairly typical Binchy fare--pleasant story of getting on with life peopled by well-observed but never surprising characters. Didn't quite have the charm of some of Binchy's others for me (I was captivated by Circle of Friends, though perhaps I was at just the right age to be so at the time), and while Binchy's skill at weaving together a community story is in evidence here, I sometimes felt jerked from one character to another. I was looking for a day or so worth of pleasant reading, and this suited well enough for that, though it's probably not worth a hard-cover price.

Jun 18, 2011, 6:43pm Top

+ Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, Peggy Orenstein ****

Does much what it says on the tin, though comes to few conclusions (aside from "our role is not to keep the world at bay but to prepare our daughters so they can thrive within it," which I suspect is good advice about raising daughters in our media-saturated and increasingly girlie-girl culture, though perhaps a bit self-evident as well). Orenstein hits on many interesting aspects of the new girl culture, ranging from the American Girl and Disney Princess lines to junior beauty pageants and the influences of advertising and the internet. What results is an interesting and well-written discussion of the topic, despite the lack of definitive conclusions. And that lack isn't necessarily a flaw, as I think the issue of gender identity and pop culture is one that is so tangled that any conclusions that could be reached in one 200-page book would be automatically suspect. Recommended if you're interested in the discussion but (as others who have reviewed the book have said) don't expect a parenting how-to or advice book.

Edited: Jun 19, 2011, 6:10pm Top

+ Mortal Stakes, Robert B. Parker ****1/2

Spenser is hired by the Boston Red Sox to find out if a player is throwing games. His investigation leads him to discoveries about the player and his wife which prompt him to fight for them, rather than simply turn his findingss over to his client. For the first three quarters, this is just regular Spenser fare (good, but not super special), but in the last fourth, Spenser must decide what to do when his own moral code sends him conflicting messages and the resulting character development is stellar. One ten-page section of this book makes it my second all-time favorite Spenser (behind Early Autumn, which is just aces from start to finish).

Jun 19, 2011, 7:27pm Top

Oh. Well. I see that I need to re-read Mortal Stakes. Go on...twist my arm.

Jun 20, 2011, 11:26am Top

Surely, you remember the bit at the end of this book?

(Don't tell me not to call you "Shirley.")

Jun 21, 2011, 9:27am Top

* And Furthermore, Judi Dench, as told to John Miller ***1/2

In a preface, Dench describes this book as a sort of "filling in" of gaps from her biography and other books by John Miller. And it reads very much that way, sort of hopping from thing to thing (largely in chronological order, though) and not spending much time on setting things up. This made it a bit hard to follow for me, as I have not read the biography, nor do I know much about Dench's life. So, I quickly decided to hop through the book myself, reading only those bits referring to things I was already interested in (mostly As Time Goes By and her later film work). From what I can see here, I think the full biography would be well worth a read someday, and, for anyone who has already read that or is otherwise well up on Dench's career, this would probably do very well at what it's designed to do: "fill in" in Dench's own words. The book also contains a good number of pictures, both black and white and color, which were great fun to look through.

Jun 22, 2011, 5:32pm Top

I have started a new blog: A Lonely Quiet Concert. While there is not yet any content about reading or books there, I expect that there often will be. Come say "hi," if you like. Things here at my thread will continue as usual.

Jun 23, 2011, 12:40pm Top

>116 lycomayflower: I agree that Disney has been shoving princesses down our and our daughters' throats for generations now but there is a newer genre that appalls me - the bad girl shows on TV. Shows like Bridezilla, Toddlers and Tiaras, and the shows (I try to block them which is why I can't come up with a name now) on MTV about young women acting without any morals and making it seem perfectly acceptable. In my high school library I sometimes get that lack of respect, more from girls than boys, and it worries and bothers me. I hate to sound like a prude but have you seen the behavior on these shows? Language, violence, back-stabbing, lewdness, and a sense of entitlement that leaves me baffled. I would love to see a show with the mothers of these young women. Are the young ones cookie-cutter models of their moms or would the moms be so embarrassed they couldn't show their faces?

Jul 18, 2011, 11:07am Top

Rubyfruit Jungle, Rita Mae Brown ***1/2

An important book, I think, for the frank way it illustrates the coming-of-age of a lesbian in the fifties and sixties, but one which I enjoyed somewhat less than I expected to. The voice of the narrator, Molly Bolt, is compelling and real, and the story ends up someplace interesting, affirming, and earned, but some of the scenes are lacking in the detail that would make them work best (a lot of dialogue goes on without any contextualizing gestures, actions, observations, or interiority). I was constantly fighting with myself to accept the style of the book as written and finally decided that the style really wasn't working quite right. I also found myself a bit turned off by Molly's attitude. She is deeply and instantly offended by anyone who finds her love of women odd or repulsive (and rightly so), but also seems quite judgmental of other people's (especially heterosexual people's) sexual eccentricities and kinks. This attitude knocked the book out of four-or-more-star territory for me more than my issues with the writing style. I was expecting the book to be fairly YKINMK, and it was unsettling (and not usefully so) to discover that it was not.

Jul 18, 2011, 5:20pm Top

#121: I checked into your new blog, Laura. I liked your post from today, especially that last line.

Jul 19, 2011, 9:59am Top

@ 124

Thank you!

Jul 19, 2011, 10:00am Top

New post at my blog that might be relevant to the interests of peeps here: Where does one go for a good book around here?

Jul 19, 2011, 7:40pm Top

#126: I know what you mean about uninviting bookstores. I generally find my local library a better bet. I can sit there and read and browse as long as I like without stares from the people who work there.

Jul 19, 2011, 9:06pm Top

Nice post. I have to admit though, that I do buy more books at McKays than I did at Borders. I'm still upset that our Borders stores are closing, but I know that I still have more options than many do. I really feel sorry for those who are in smaller cities where the only bookstore was a Waldenbooks, which is part of the Borders family. For many of them, they have lost their only bookstore.

Edited: Jul 25, 2011, 4:30pm Top

+ Mrs Miniver, Jan Struther ****1/2

A series of vignettes from Mrs Miniver's life with her husband and three children in (just barely) pre-WWII middle-class England, the book is full of keen observations about all sorts of things (marriage, children, motherhood, visiting, war, reading, springtime). It's no where near as twee as you fear it might be--I was consistently delighted while reading and was forever recognizing myself, or recognizing someone I hope I will be in ten or fifteen years. And when I did neither of those things, I wished desperately that Mrs Miniver would take it into her head to move in next door. Recommended.

Jul 25, 2011, 5:56pm Top

Sure....NOW you're finished with it. IT. IS. STILL. MY. BOOK.

Jul 26, 2011, 7:44am Top

What? What? Your connection's breaking up . . . .

Jul 27, 2011, 1:09am Top

#129: I really must get to that one some time. I have seen numerous good reviews of the book - which you should give back to your mother, you know :)

Jul 27, 2011, 7:08am Top

Thanks, Stasia! I was THERE, you see...on Monday. I was sitting right there in her apartment, and the book was on her desk, and she was done reading it. But could I take it home with me? NOoooo....because she hadn't written her post about it yet. So what do I see when I get home? While I was on the road, (driving through deluges of biblical proportions, btw) she tossed out that paragraph. She only does these things to vex me.

Jul 27, 2011, 7:26am Top

Isn't vexing their parents what children are for?

Jul 27, 2011, 8:09am Top

Changing the subject....here's a quote from another LT'er regarding a book I think I saw on your shelves as well..."Lev Grossman's The Magicians was a big disappointment--subpar and derivative. Whole swathes of Harry Potter and Narnia have been stolen wholesale by Grossman, who as a book reviewer really has no excuse." Is it possible that Grossman, Rowling and Lewis are ALL stealing from the same mythology bank?

Jul 27, 2011, 8:42am Top

@ 135

Well, as I haven't read the Grossman yet, I can't really say for sure, but my guess would be yes. Well, wait. Actually, I'm quite sure that all three are borrowing (borrowing, Mother, borrowing) elements from the same (more) original sources. I would guess that similarities between The Magicians and Rowling, Lewis (et cetera) is a result of that common borrowing. Any time I've heard anyone accuse Rowling of "stealing" from other contemporary authors, what's really happening is that both authors were influenced by or were referencing the same earlier source. Likely the same thing here. Everything is a remix, afterall. Or, Grossman might be a hack. Dunno.

Jul 27, 2011, 11:28am Top

Death at Wentwater Court, Carola Dunn ***1/2

This first Daisy Dalrymple mystery was a fun read, though the mystery could certainly have been meatier. Daisy is a promising heroine--she's smart, kind, personable, practical, and steady, but flawed, too, so Dunn avoids the sickenly-perfect heroine trap. The setting (1920s England) is what drew me to this series, and while the book contains lots of little period references, I wasn't quite as immersed in the setting as I had hoped to be. I also had a little trouble keeping all of the characters straight at first (the story is set at a English country house with guests, so there's a lot of peeps to keep track of, natch), and that difficulty's down to the same lack of really striking detail that disappointed me slightly with the handling of the setting. Still, it's a promising beginning to a series, I think (and someone else surely thought so as well, as the series is up to number nineteen now), and I will continue on with at least the next one.

Jul 29, 2011, 4:09pm Top

The Great Gatsby???? Who's guest-writing your blog?

Jul 29, 2011, 4:21pm Top

You, in the sneakers! Outta the pool!

Jul 29, 2011, 4:22pm Top

No, no, I'm reading whilst floating.

Jul 29, 2011, 4:38pm Top

Hmph. Still. Sneakers? Passé.

Jul 29, 2011, 4:39pm Top

Not wearing no stinkin' sneakers. Fins.

Jul 29, 2011, 4:40pm Top


Jul 30, 2011, 5:18am Top

I like your alternate summer reading list, Laura. I just read The Chosen again in May.

Aug 4, 2011, 8:11am Top

+ Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, Anne Fadiman ****

An accidental reread, this. I picked it up as something pleasant to read for a few minutes before bed one night when I didn't have the brain power to carry on with my current "real" read. And then I ended up reading the whole thing over the subsequent few nights. My reaction is much the same as the first time I read it, which I will quote in its entire brevity: "A delightful collection of essays about books and reading. From the observations about the "odd shelf" to the musings about the use of "Ms." to the memories of childhood reading, I saw myself throughout the book--and that can be one of the best things about reading." Recommended.

Aug 4, 2011, 5:34pm Top

#146: I love that book. I completely understand accidentally re-reading the entire thing :)

Aug 5, 2011, 8:43am Top

I love her story about her birthday present from her husband. And her odd shelf! She's very funny about arctic explorers.

Aug 8, 2011, 8:35am Top

Doctor's Orders, Diane Duane ****

This Star Trek book is a showcase for McCoy. While the Enterprise is orbiting a planet the crew is surveying and all is meant to be quiet and dull, Kirk, on a whim, puts McCoy in command for the afternoon. And then Kirk disappears and Klingons show up (natch) and McCoy can't be relieved of command by someone who knows what he's doing (read: Spock) because of StarFleet regs blah blah blah. And then McCoy turns on the badass and performs better in command than anyone expected.

There's a lot of world-building and culture-exploring while members of the crew are doing the planet survey, and those sections of the book are the most interesting. We also get a fairly nifty outsider's view of commanding a starship while McCoy is in command, and some of the interiority from McCoy is nice. But at about the two-thirds point, the whole thing just becomes a Big Space Battle, and while it's a well-done BSB, it pales in comparison to the rest of the book. Guardedly recommended to TOS fans for the good McCoy stuff (and some good Kirk stuff, too), but if "Evasive manuevers! Lock phasers! More power to the shields! Blardy blardy blardy" wears thin for you, the last 80 pages or so will drag.

Aug 8, 2011, 11:33am Top

How funny! I just finished Doctor's Orders, too! I loved the aliens - Duane does aliens so very well.

Edited: Aug 11, 2011, 11:40am Top

The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell ****1/2

I loved so many things about this novel. Russell writes with an easy authority which pulled me along throughout. The characters are well-drawn and likable and their interactions with one another ring true. The logistics of organizing and executing an expedition to a planet in another solar system are rendered believably, with appropriate attentions to the details that are interesting and appropriate glossings over of the details that would grow wearisome. Perhaps most importantly, issues of faith are handled with care and grace.

I so loved all of these aspects of the novel, and I so enjoyed reading the book, that my fairly profound disappointment with the ending only dims my assessment of the book by the light of a half star.

Russell comes at her story from two directions: we begin with Father Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest, who has been brought back to Earth physically and emotionally broken, the only surviving member of the Jesuit-led expedition to the planet Rakhat, which SETI activities had identified as a planet with sentient life. Over a number of months, members of the Jesuit order nurse Sandoz back to health and attempt to discover exactly what happened on Rakhat. This narrative (I'll call it the Jesuit Narrative) intertwines with the story (call it the Expedition Narrative) of the earlier events leading to Emilio's current condition: the discovery of radio waves from Rakhat, the plans for the expedition, and the expedition itself.

The Sparrow contains many themes, but one of the most prevalent is that of the nature of God and faith in the face of an unknowable God. This theme plays out primarily in the character of Emilio, who believes from early on that the mission to Rakhat is the will of God and that he and his companions have been specifically chosen by God to man the expedition. It is clear from the beginning of the book that Emilio has lost his faith in God and that this loss is a direct result of something awful that happened to him on Rakhat. While The Sparrow is at least as much an exploration of first contact with alien species as it is anything else, much of the forward thrust of the book stems from the question "What awful, apparently unspeakable, thing happened to Emilio?"

We are told early on, through the Jesuit Narrative, that Emilio was found, by members of a second expedition to Rakhat, living a debased life as a prostitute on Rakhat and that he killed a child without provocation in the sight of human witnesses. We also know right from the start that Emilio is the only member of the original eight-member expedition to survive. So the questions "How do the others die?" and "How does Emilio end up a prostitute?" cannot help but inform one's reading of the entire novel. The simple answer to both of these questions is "Through not understanding, despite their best efforts, the cultures of the people of Rakhat." Obviously, one can say much more about the events than that, and The Sparrow does, and does so well. As an illustration of how first contact can go wrong, of how genuinely good intentions do not always yield good outcomes, of how observers necessarily alter the observed, this novel soars.

Where it falls is in the resolution of the theme surrounding faith--and it is this theme in which I think the book is most invested. (From here on, I am decidedly spoilery.) The novel convinces me completely that Emilio is a man of devout faith. I believe in his belief, and I believe in the other characters' belief that Emilio has been touched by God throughout the mission, that he is becoming saintly. But the awful, unspeakable thing that happens to Emilio fails to convince me that it would destroy this man's faith.

As the novel comes to a close, things start to fall apart for the Jesuit Expedition. One of the party died months earlier from causes unknown. Just as all seems to be going quite well, two members of the party are killed and eaten by VaHaptaa, lawless raiders of the Jana'ata, the ruling species on Rakhat. Emilio is the one who finds his friends' remains and buries them. Then the expedition learns that the Runa, the gentle, somewhat simple but sentient species with which they have been living, are bred by the Jana'ata, not just as servants, but as a meat source. Three more members of the expedition are killed when they try to incite the Runa to an uprising against Jana'ata military members who have come to cull the herd. Emilio and fellow priest Marc Robichaux, the only members of the expedition left, are taken captive and forced to march with the ranks. The only food they are offered is Runa meat. Marc refuses to eat and eventually dies of starvation. Emilio, numbed by all of the awful things that have happened to him, does eat, and survives. Eventually he is sold to a Jana'ata prince as an exotic sexual partner.

It is the moment that Emilio is first raped by the prince that he focuses on as the moment, the moment when he lost his faith. This is the thing of which he cannot speak, the thing about which he has nightmares, the thing which must be almost cruelly battered from him by the other priests in order to allow room for any possibility of catharsis and healing. Emilio says of this moment: "I was scared but I didn't understand what was going on. I never imagined--who could have imagined such a thing? I am in God's hands, I thought. I loved God and I trusted in his love . . . I had nothing between me and what happened but the love of God. I was naked before God and I was raped" (394). And this is the moment where the novel just doesn't work for me.

Emilio asked "who could have imagined such a thing?" And I think, automatically, without trying to be glib or sarcastic or what-have-you, "Anyone reading the book?" I certainly imagined it long, long before it is revealed that this is what happened to him. Surely no one who has been paying attention thinks Father Emilio Sandoz entered into prostitution consensually? I had assumed from the first we learned of his prostitution that there was rape involved. And I don't buy that Emilio can't imagine it either. Much is made of how difficult and dangerous Emilio's early life was, and of how much time he spent as a priest in dangerous neighborhoods ministering to the poor. This is a street-wise priest, a priest who was himself rescued from a life of crime and drugs and the underworld. And he can't imagine rape? Really?

None of the awful things that have happened to Emilio has happened to me, so I can't say with any surety how awful they are in relation to one another. But I also balked at the idea that Emilio could maintain his faith through learning that he is, in all likelihood, stranded on an alien planet, through coming across two loved-ones brutally murdered and partially eaten, through learning that a species he'd come to love was being bred for food by another species he'd come to respect, through losing three more loved-ones bloodily, through a forced march, and through surviving only by eating the flesh of friends while watching another loved-one die of starvation, and then lose his faith because he was raped. Not because the rape was a "last-straw" in a long-line of potentially faith-shattering events--the novel does not suggest this. But because of the rape. Full stop.

I don't get it. And because the novel is so good, I want to get it, and my first inclination is to believe that my not getting it is my fault, not the writer's. Are we meant to understand that Emilio has too much faith in that moment? Is his faith blinding him to what's happening around him? Has he allowed himself to be submissive because of his faith in God when he ought to have exercised his free will and fought? Is the rape meant to act not only as an event but as a metaphor? Does Emilio believe that God has used him, without his permission and to ends with which he does not agree?

I don't mind a book that leaves me with questions. But these questions feel confusing rather than satisfying. I know an intentionally and usefully ambiguous moment when I see it, and I don't see that in Emilio's rape scene. I see potential, maybe, for some further exploration of the nature of God. One of the priests says of Emilio, after Emilio's painful confession of the rape and his loss of faith, that "he's closer to God right now than I have ever been in my life. And I don't even have the courage to envy him" (400). Knowing this God will not, I think, be a walk in the garden (remember the Old Testament). But I wanted that potential explored here, in this book. There's a sequel to The Sparrow, but while I think the novel could support a sequel, it doesn't feel like it needs one. What it needed, what would have made this absolute five-star, best-read-of-the-year material, is a longer resolution where the purpose of the end's ambiguities, if not the ambiguities themselves, became clear.

Aug 11, 2011, 11:38am Top

@ 150

That is funny!

I liked the aliens best, too.

Aug 11, 2011, 11:49am Top

Thank you for the review of The Sparrow (I didn't read the spoiler portion)! I just put it on my wishlist. I had not heard of it, but I'm looking for sci-fi novels written by female authors and this looks interesting.

Edited: Aug 14, 2011, 5:28pm Top

You're the first person I've heard articulate the same concern I had about The Sparrow, which in general I found very interesting and enjoyable - and thought-provoking - about issues of first contact and cultural (mis)understanding. The fact that it was that one thing which broke Emilio, rather than the accumulation of so many awful things going wrong, did not ring true for me. I have read the sequel too, but don't remember that so clearly so I can't say whether it addressed any of the questions raised by the ending of the first.

Aug 15, 2011, 8:38am Top

@ 154

Oh, good. Glad it's not just me!

Aug 15, 2011, 9:01am Top

+ Black Swan Green, David Mitchell ****

In Black Swan Green, thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor narrates a year in his life in early eighties England. The novel has elements of the coming-of-age story (dealing with bullies, feeling outsiderish, suddenly seeing parents differently, learning how to see girls as human beings), but the presentation makes it so much more than just another teenager-starts-to-grow-up book. Mitchell uses language brilliantly--both in the mouths of all his young characters though their slang and in Jason's observations of the world. Jason is honest with himself and with his feelings, and he comes to sometimes startlingly beautiful conclusions about what he sees around him. And his conclusions are always believably thirteen-y while still holding a ring of universal truth. The book's organization is also refreshing--each chapter could almost stand alone as a short story (though there is still a very strong sense of forward momentum across the whole novel) and tells of one set of connected events happening in one month of the year. An enjoyable read with moments of brilliance and characters who will stay with me a long time. Recommended.

Aug 15, 2011, 7:54pm Top

Nice reviews of The Sparrow and Black Swan Green, Laura.

Edited: Aug 28, 2011, 11:01am Top

I'm in a book slump. (The household is also in a food slump, a video game slump, and a TV slump. Aweseome.) I pick up things I think I want to read and then find them not the thing. Most of the books I've tried are even good, are even things I do want to read. I just don't want to read them right now. Last night I hauled a pile of possibles to my living room chair to read opening pages and try to find the slump-buster. Mansfield Park is a contender. As it is generally after I've put a book down and have to decide whether to pick it up again that the slumpies hit, we'll soon see.

The Result of the Dreaded Slumpies

(There's also additions to my top post in the "Not Reading Actively" section, including a picture of one of our cats--take that as enticement or warning, according to your temperament.)

Aug 28, 2011, 11:19am Top

A good mystery is what I use to get out of a slump. Or something Herriot-ish. But by all means get back to Fifth Business as soon as you can. Great book.

Aug 28, 2011, 3:13pm Top

I'm slumping too. My sofa looks similar to your recliner. I think another mystery may do the trick...

Aug 28, 2011, 11:54pm Top

Maybe go back to a comfort read? Those normally help me get out of book slumps. I hope yours is gone soon, Laura!

Aug 29, 2011, 6:38am Top

The last time that happened to me, I picked up something very short, so even if it wasn't the thing, it would be done soon enough that it hardly mattered.

Edited: Aug 31, 2011, 10:27am Top

+ Grumbles from the Grave, Robert A. Heinlein ****

A collection of letters to and from (mostly from) Heinlein over the course of his writing career. The idea for a book with this title, published posthumously, and including such letters and some biographical material was Heinlein's, though he didn't have the chance to put the book together before he died. The letters were selected, edited, and arranged by Heinlein's wife. This is fascinating reading for any Heinlein fan (there's lots and lots on Heinlein's writing process with insights into his drafting, editing, and opinions on editors' suggestions), and would probably be worthwhile to anyone interested in the "birth" of science fiction as a literary genre as well. In addition to letters about writing and his books (most of them to his agent), there are letters about some of the extensive traveling the Heinleins did and some insight into Heinlein's day-to-day life and work ethic. Recommended.

Aug 31, 2011, 12:53pm Top

Grumbles from the Grave definitely sounds interesting. Onto the wishlist it goes!

Sep 3, 2011, 12:06am Top

I am adding Grumbles from the Grave to the BlackHole. Thanks for the recommendation, Laura.

Does this mean the Book Slump is over? I hope so!

Sep 8, 2011, 9:02am Top

I, Lucifer, Glen Duncan ***1/2

A first-person confession from Lucifer on the occasion of his chance to live as a mortal for one month in the body of Declan Gunn. This chance comes from God, who hopes that Lucifer will learn something in that time which will persuade Lucifer to accept His offer of redemption. The result is often quite funny, and Gunn writes well--his descriptions and observations are often startlingly, wonderfully apt. The biggest success of the novel is probably making Lucifer a sympathetic character, someone for whom you want to root. The biggest failure of the novel is certainly the lack of any understanding of what one is rooting for Lucifer for. Not to win, surely? We like the (unfallen) angels as they are on the page here, and Lucifer is a bad piece of work. Perhaps I was rooting for him to accept redemption? Not a question, really. I was, but I'm not sure the book wanted me to. And in the absence of that surety, I was left asking myself, "What is this for? This is all very clever, and well done you, for that, Duncan, but what's the pay-off?" The further I got in the book, the more I was afraid there would be no satisfying ending, and thus the more I found the humor and bad-shit-goes-down (he is the devil, after all) of the thing wearying. I wanted to like I, Lucifer a good bit more than I did, but in the end I can't help thinking that it's largely an opportunity lost.

Sep 9, 2011, 6:38pm Top

Love the blog post--very nice!

Sep 10, 2011, 6:37pm Top

@ 168


Sep 11, 2011, 10:51am Top

Over Sea, Under Stone, Susan Cooper ****

In this young adult novel, three children staying in Cornwall for their summer holidays discover a manuscript which leads them to the Holy Grail. Their great uncle Merry helps and protects them in their quest, and they must avoid the dangerous "enemies" who seek the grail for their own evil purposes. Well-written and nicely atmospheric. A fun, sometimes cozy, sometimes creepy read with a fair amount of real adventure. Perhaps a bit anti-climactic with regards to the identity of the enemies and the importance of the grail. But I scampered to the library to snatch up the rest of the sequence before even finishing this one, and I'm looking forward to seeing how Cooper carries on with this story.

Sep 11, 2011, 11:00am Top

The rest of the Dark is Rising books are rather better, particularly in my mind the second and the ?fourth, The Grey King - so I hope you enjoy the continuation.

Sep 11, 2011, 6:34pm Top

#171 - agreed entirely!

Sep 11, 2011, 11:03pm Top

And I third it. In fact, the second book is one of my 5 star books.

Sep 12, 2011, 8:22am Top

@ 171, 172, 173

Awesome! Even more so looking forward to them now. I'll probably pick up the next one when I finish my current read.

Edited: Sep 15, 2011, 8:42am Top

Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld ***1/2

Middle-class, Midwestern Lee applies to a boarding school in Massachusetts and is awarded a scholarship. But Lee's background and her own insecurities make her feel like an outsider at school and she spends much of her time there miserable and hiding who she is. Prep is a compelling read largely because the portrayal of an insecure high school student rings so true. The writing and plot pulled me along at a fairly good clip, though by the mid-point I was growing tired of Lee's insecurities. That Lee never quite fits in (and that she never learns to be okay with that)--even after making friends--is probably realistic, but it made the middle 150 pages of the novel drag. I muttered at Lee a lot: "Time to grow up now, Lee. Time to transcend all the nonsense now, Lee." That she never does is either a flaw in the novel or a brave choice on the part of the author (the book is perhaps as much an exploration of the ways class and race function in Lee's upper-class boarding school as it is just the story of Lee's adolescence, and as such, the particular ways Lee fails to transcend the nonsense are important). Prep turned out to be a more significant read than I expected it to be, but it was also less satisfying than I had hoped.

Sep 29, 2011, 11:25am Top

+ Amy and Isabelle, Elizabeth Strout ***1/2

Amy and Isabelle arrived at a more satisfying conclusion than I expected it to as I was going along, but I was still fairly disappointed with it. The novel is carefully observed and the characters sharply drawn, but there is an air about the thing of a fiddly preciseness which sucks the life out of both the story and the prose. All elements of the plot--indeed, of the very sentences--slot together so cloyingly perfectly that no surprise, no joy, no anticipation, no heart, lives on the page. And life itself, in Amy and Isabelle, seems to be small, dreary, hopeless, and without joys. This is partly the point of Amy and Isabelle as characters, and there is some glimmer of hope of its lifting for Isabelle at least in the end. But by God does it make for wearisome, frustrating, teeth-grinding reading. Eat a cookie, Isabelle! Pick a flower! Do something. I do not expect, or even want, my books to be all teacups and rose petals, but I am suspicious when every character who populates a novel is less happy than everyone I know. People, whole towns, do not live like this, surely, not even in books?

In my review of Prep the other week I said that I kept waiting for Lee to grow up, and I'm itching to say something to the same effect here about adolescent Amy and her (pathetic, blind, aching) love for (creepy, smarmy, hateful) Mr. Robertson. But maybe it's the opposite that we need. Grow down! Footie jimjams and adventures under the stairs for everyone! Be happy! And don't, for the love of all things holy, lose your faith in everyone. And eat a GD cookie.

Sep 29, 2011, 11:46am Top

Crikey! I wish you'd try to express your feelings a little bit----so inhibited!

I guess I liked it better than you did.

Sep 29, 2011, 11:55am Top

See, I think I'd agree with everything you said in your review. But I got tired of the way everyone seemed to be miserable without even moments of happiness in between (except maybe Fat Bev, whom I like a lot). And I always knew what was coming--in the plot and in the sentences--in a way that was not pleasantly anticipatory or foreshadow-y or anything but depressingly fatalistic.

Sep 29, 2011, 11:59am Top

I do know what you mean about the unrelenting misery---in fact, I noted that myself about Strout's Olive Kitteridge, which I also loved--"From time to time I found myself wishing for something fine and lovely to happen to somebody in this book". As for anticipating the author, perhaps you are too finely tuned to the process.

Sep 29, 2011, 12:07pm Top

perhaps you are too finely tuned to the process

The thought has occurred. Tis a somewhat depressing one.

Must dash. Have to go see about some bowling pins what done me wrong.

Sep 29, 2011, 12:11pm Top

518. Just sayin'.

Oct 20, 2011, 9:26am Top

+ Howards End is on the Landing, Susan Hill ***1/2

Well, nuts. This was disappointing. LW3 did warn me. What she said, I think, was, "It's not good like Anne Fadiman is good." Which, perhaps, is not fair (the comparison is not strictly one-to-one), but it is also, perhaps, inevitable, and absolutely bang-on accurate. Fadiman, in Ex Libris, had me chuckling and nodding and musing and wishing for more. Hill mostly doesn't. I'm often at odds with her taste in reading, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing, it did set me up to be easily irked by other infelicities in the book.

She says early on that name-dropping is "tiresome," but that "Names" would inevitably come up, and would be important in the book. Fine, and fair enough. And they did, and I rarely felt as if they were being "dropped"--largely because I often didn't understand why they were there at all. Not always, of course. But often. And that points to a large problem I had with the whole book: it felt weirdly unfocused, especially for a book which has a stated topic (reading from one's own shelves for year). The chapters (none felt enough self-contained to be individual essays, really) were often smatterings of reading-life smooshed together by the common factor of all coming from Hill's own collection, but there was too little reference to the home or the collection itself for that really to keep the thing hinged together. New aspects of the project would suddenly spring up ("I have three sets of Hardy's works--which shall I keep?" When did culling the collection come into it? "I can't decide which of Shakespeare's plays to include in my list of forty works that could occupy me to the end of my life." When the what now?), and then sort of melt away again.

There were some chuckling and nodding and musing moments, moments when Hill put something just so, and I was quite glad I had put a few hours into her book. This is one: "But if the books I have read have helped to form me, then probably nobody else who ever lived has read exactly the same books and only the same books, as me. So just as my genes and the soul within me make me uniquely me, so I am the unique sum of the books I have read." But there were far more places where I couldn't see how she'd got where she was or fathom where she was going to.

Edited: Oct 27, 2011, 2:34pm Top

Updates to my first post under the "Not Reading Actively" section, which seems to be the fastest growing section of my thread of late. :-p Don't know what's going on with my touchstones in that post, beyond to say that they are verhoodled past my understanding.

ETA: Touchstones now working. IDEK.

Oct 27, 2011, 2:44pm Top

I suggest a separate symbol for the re-reads that you didn't finish the second time around. I don't think you should lump them with the others, and that might make you feel less verklempt about the size of your NRA list. ("Dreaded Slumpies" *snerk*)

Oct 27, 2011, 5:19pm Top

What separate symbol do you suggest?

Oct 27, 2011, 7:19pm Top


Nov 14, 2011, 9:55am Top

+ Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader, John Granger ***1/2

(I'm spoilery for HP7 here.)

I read (and reviewed) this one before HP7 came out and thought at the time it might be fun to read it again after HP7 to see how Granger's predictions stand up. The answer is "Not so well." Some of his big picture predictions hold true (the Weasley twins cannot survive unscathed, Harry will survive but will suffer a symbolic death, what really happened on the astronomy tower in HP6 is key, there will be a return to Hogwarts), but many of his specific plotty predictions are wildly off the mark and seem almost laughable in hindsight. Granger does provide some good analysis of the HP books (and some fascinating "keys" for reading them), but the presentation is often muddled by poor organization and marred by typos and editorial errors. (My favorite marginal note from my first read is in response to Granger referring to Austen as an Edwardian spinster: "Wrong century, John!")

Nov 24, 2011, 2:59pm Top

+ Outlander, Diana Gabaldon ****1/2

One of the blurbs on the "praise page" inside the front cover of my copy of Outlander says it's "an old-fashioned page-turner." For me, right now, that would be another way of saying "Slump-Buster." I've been having a terrible time sticking with reads lately (probably fair to say "this year," actually), even reads I've been enjoying. I started reading Outlander in October of 2010, liked it okay, put it down, read some more some time early this year, liked it okay again, and then picked it up again as a good candidate for light, diverting reading during some traveling we did a few weeks ago. And then I got just swept up in it. And not only did I stick with it to the end of its 850 pages without stopping to read something else in the middle, but I happily started the whole thing over again from page one when I realized (on page 553) that I wasn't remembering the particulars from those first 320 pages I'd read earlier well enough to really understand the story fully.

The story starts in 1945 when Claire Randall and her husband Frank are vacationing in the Scottish Highlands. One morning when Claire is exploring on her own, she falls through a gateway in time in an ancient stone circle and ends up in 1743. And then stuff happens, "stuff" here including everything from romance to political intrigue, from witch trials to prison breaks. Gabaldon is often shelved with the romance books--that's where I found the sequels in my local bookshop--but I think that's a misnomer, and maybe a shame. I first came across Outlander in a nifty bookshop in Rehoboth Beach where it was just shelved in the fiction section, with one of those little tags some independent shops do with a recommendation and write-up from one of the employees. I don't think I'd ever have picked it up without that nudge of a recommendation from a real person (and I never browse the romance section). If I had to pigeonhole the book, I'd call it genre historical fiction with a good helping of concern for relationships and a lot of sex on the page. The plotting is impressive, with threads weaving throughout and reappearing to stitch up bits in unexpected but believable ways; the characters are compelling, believable, and three-dimensional; the historical detail always feels bang-on accurate (I did whip out a history book once, but that was to brush up on some dates, not because I thought Gabaldon got something wrong--and good on her for stirring that impulse, I say); the sex reads well and always has at least one other reason for being there aside from being a naughty bit (characterization, plot, et cetera); the writing is efficient story-telling writing--generally not beautiful on a sentence level but not designed to be. My one complaint is that Gabaldon writes her books out of order (she has said so in many places) and sometimes the seams show--referring to a character the narrator has been familiar with for seventy-five pages as "the young man I'd met the other day, Jamie," as if we needed to be reminded who he was, or calling someone by his last name when it had been first name always up til then, that sort of thing. These were rare slips, and never interfered with the telling of the story. Outlander's not literary fiction, but it is good story telling. And it's a cut above most genre fiction I've read as well. If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you'll like.

Outlander was an unexpected treat. And with my love of things Scottish, and in particular my interest in Scottish history, it was sort of like a treat baked up just for me. Now I have to decide if I'm going to indulge in the next one straight off, or save it up for later.

Edited: Dec 5, 2011, 4:00pm Top

+ The Borrower, Rebecca Makkai ****

Twenty-six-year-old children's librarian Lucy Hull is worried about one of the library's regulars, ten-year-old Ian Drake--his parents are fundamentalist Christians who try to severely restrict his reading and who, because they suspect he may be gay, are regularly sending him to a camp to train him to be straight. So when Lucy finds Ian camped out in the library early one morning, she allows him to manipulate her into a cross-country road trip.

I found The Borrower fulling engaging--it reads very quickly, largely because Lucy is a compelling narrator who I was interested in listening to. The relationship between Lucy and Ian is fascinating and believable, and the way Makkai weaves books (especially children's books) into her novel is masterful and fun. Ultimately Lucy and Ian are both using one another to facilitate their own need to run away (Lucy is running away from a family history she finds unfortunate--and I don't think it's a spoiler to say that she will discover that it is not so unfortunate as she thought), and they will eventually each help each other find their ways back home.

The novel's chief flaw is that Makkai fails to convince us that a woman who is otherwise in her right mind (and in the absence of malice) would actually abscond with someone else's child in a cross-country road trip. Makkai attempts to show us how Lucy comes to this choice (and Lucy is acutely aware of what she is doing and what effect this must be having on Ian's parents and of what consequences she will surely face--in fact, her struggle with these things is a big part of her character arc throughout the novel), but it still doesn't sit quite level. I have a hard time believing a right-thinking adult drives Ian home (rather than calling his parents, or the police) upon finding him in the library after he's run away, never mind making off with him for upwards of a week. As I said, Makkai does try to make it work and because the other parts of the novel were entertaining me so well I was willing to let the fact that she didn't quite succeed there slide a bit. I suspect that this book is more likely a three-and-a-half-star read and my four-star reaction is generous--perhaps because I am in the throes of a third wholesale revision of my own first novel and I am particularly aware of just how difficult those little plot snags can be.

Dec 6, 2011, 3:24pm Top

"it still doesn't sit quite level"

The mot juste!

Edited: Dec 25, 2011, 5:35pm Top

+ Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery ****

A reread of a book I thought, even as a child, that I ought to have liked better as a child. I'm not sure how many of the Anne books I actually read as a sprout (more than just the first, surely, and, certainly, not all of them--and, in fact, I'm not sure I actually read any of them; they may have been read to me), but I know I only liked them okay, and several of my friends liked them a good deal better than I did. That being said, there was a lot in this volume that I remembered clearly and fondly (being in the "depths of despair" and Anne's trials with geometry, in particular). I had forgotten how episodic the book is, and that the first book takes Anne, in only just over 300 pages, from eleven to nearly seventeen. It's episodic nature may have been partly why I didn't warm to it as a kid, as then (and now), I generally like my books hung on solid stories with firm narrative thrust. Still, this was a pleasant and enjoyable read, it does make me want to read more about Anne, and I'm glad I came back to it after all these years.

Edited: Dec 25, 2011, 5:35pm Top

+ A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens *****

An annual reread, these past two years done out loud with the husbeast. One of my most favoritest Christmas traditions and one of my most favorite of favoritest books, actually. Never, ever grows old, and always brings a smile. Some of the best descriptions of food, crowds, the city, and parties I've ever read here. And, of course, brilliant on Christmas. A delight.

Dec 25, 2011, 5:28pm Top

We watched ALL of the 1938 (ish) movie version last night, and therefore didn't get to the favorite one. It's pretty good, (picture and sound quality god-awful, though), but there's stuff in there that is NOT from Dickens at all at all. And then there's the stuff they left out....Little Ebenezer at school, the dancing, the Fezziwigs, Fran, the standing-on-the-head and the apron-over-the-head. Except in the door-knocker, Marley's ghost is invisible to us; the ghost of Christmas past is also just a voice, and all we see of Christmas Yet To Come is the black shadow of that pointing finger. Veddy interesting.

Dec 25, 2011, 5:34pm Top

Hmmm. I hope you are watching the proper Sim version tonight then? You can't let Christmas go by without good ol' A. Sim and his giddy as a drunken man routine.

Dec 25, 2011, 5:35pm Top

Mebbe so. Haven't decided yet. I'm pretty sure I'll watch it sometime in the next week or so.

Edited: Dec 27, 2011, 7:32pm Top

+ A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle ***1/2

The first Sherlock Holmes story, which I was inspired to read by my recent rewatch of the brilliant first series of the BBC show Sherlock. I think I may have read the first part of ASiS before but never finished, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if I had, as the story veers off into a flashback which sets up the conclusion of the mystery but takes us away from England, Watson, and Sherlock. Even though I figured out why we were flashing back pretty quick and the flashback works reasonably well, I found it fairly off-putting. It seems an odd move, to set up one's main characters, to lay out the mystery, to have the detective declare the case solved and himself open to questions, and then move into a completely different time, a completely different setting, a completely different cast of characters (at least at first). It rather steals the thing from Sherlock, too. I'm conscious of this being an after-the-fact, not-entirely-fair-to-the-story-itself complaint; because I know who Sherlock Holmes is, because I've seen film versions, because he's entered the public consciousness, and particularly because I've come to the story directly from a retelling I really liked, I'm waiting to see magic--and I don't want to spend twenty-five of seventy pages of the story without Sherlock on the page. But even acknowledging that, I still wonder what Doyle's thinking was here.

But ASiS does quite successfully make me want to read more Sherlock stories (I've read shockingly few--The Hound of the Baskervilles for sure at some point in the teenagerish years and a few of the shorter stories, perhaps right after Sherlock first aired here last year). And reading this story so soon after watching the Sherlock episode "A Study in Pink" illustrates how masterfully that show has adapted and updated the original material. I mean, I could tell that just watching it, but obviously actually looking at the original material shines a slightly different light on the thing. There were a few moments where I was tempted to watch the episode again with the book in my lap and make notes. It's that good. I haven't felt like that about an adaptation since The Lord of the Rings. (If you've been paying goodly attention over the years, you know that cleverly-done retellings button-smash the nerd-scholar bits of my brain but hard.) So while I don't think I'll be tearing through all 1122 pages of my copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes immediately, I don't think I'll be putting it back on the shelf just yet either. I may need to dip in again soon.

Edited: Dec 28, 2011, 7:29am Top

cleverly-done retellings button-smash the nerd-scholar bits of my brain How very Dylan-Welsh-Thomas you sound (to me, having just watched "A Child's Christmas in Wales" for the 4 thousandths time)!

Dec 27, 2011, 7:33pm Top

Huh. Okay. I'll take it.

Edited: Dec 29, 2011, 9:50am Top

+ Rereadings, Anne Fadiman, editor ****

A collection of seventeen essays by writers and essayists who have all shared their thoughts after rereading a book first loved before age twenty-five. Like most collections, this one is made up of hits and misses, though I enjoyed Rereadings more than I didn't, perhaps because everyone in it had something to say about the act of rereading itself, so even when I wasn't too interested in the book they were discussing or terribly excited about their prose style, there was something to latch on to. Highlights for me included Patricia Hampl's piece on the journals of Katherine Mansfield and Diana Kappel Smith's essay on Peterson's Field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-Central North America; YMMV of course, but recommended to anyone who likes books about books and reading.

Edited: Dec 31, 2011, 3:42pm Top

2011 round-up post!

Because it's FUN.

If lists bore you, hit “page down” a bit—I’ve summed up in paragraph form at the end of this post.

(Numbers in parentheses indicate totals from 2010 for comparison purposes.)

Total Books Completed: 57 (78)
Total Books Started and Left Incomplete: 46
Total Number of Pages Read (from both complete and incomplete reads): 22,202
Total Number of Pages Read from Complete Reads Only: 16,895 (23,024)

Top Five First-Time Reads of 2011:
Mrs Miniver
The Sparrow
Black Swan Green

Best Rereads of 2011:
Early Autumn
Ex Libris
Honorable Mention: Outlander

Worst Reads of 2011 (chosen from completed reads only) :
Amy and Isabelle
The Iron King
Howards End Is On the Landing

Longest Read of 2011:
Outlander, 850 pages

Shortest Read of 2011:
A Study in Scarlet by page-count (70), though I’m sure A Christmas Carol (131 pages in my edition) is considerably shorter in words.

Reads Broken Down By Category:

(Numbers in parentheses are counts for the same category in 2010)

Fiction: 43 (66)
Nonfiction: 14 (9)
Story Collections: 1
Essay Collections: 3
Rereads: 11 (25)
Contemporary Literature: 19 (18)
Classics: 3 (9)
History/(Auto)Biography: 5 (4)
Literary Criticism: 2 (2)
Young Adult: 7 (14)
Mystery/Thriller/Ghost: 8 (5)
Star Trek: 3 (9)
Science Fiction: 9 (4)
Fantasy: 4 (13)
Historical Fiction: 2
Science: 0 (1)
Psychology/Sociology: 1
Film: 1
Religion: 1
Nature: 1
Writing Craft/Publishing: 1
Male Writers: 22 (46)
Female Writers: 39 (28)
British Writers: 18 (33)
American Writers: 39 (38)
Japanese Writers: 1
Irish Writers: 1
Canadian Writers: 1

This is the worst reading year I have had in recent memory—actually, perhaps ever. And I’m not really referring to the numbers of books I’ve read, though I do find that number a bit disappointing. No, it’s just been a crap year of reading for me. I’ve had bad luck settling into books, I’ve struggled to finish books, I’ve struggled to find books I was excited to read. The fact that I have picked up and then left unfinished almost as many books as I have actually completed feels like some sort of symbol of my reading struggles for the year, but perhaps I have always abandoned that many reads. I have never kept track before. (Though that the number of pages I have read in total, when counting both the pages read in books I later abandoned as well as completed reads is only just shy of the number of pages in completed reads only from last year suggests not.)

I am surprised, too, to see how my reading has broken down by category. While some of my usual reading habits have held fast (I always read far more fiction than nonfiction), others have fallen away. While I do enjoy a good piece of nonfiction, especially a nice collection of essays, I’m surprised that I read more nonfiction this year, when I was no longer in school, than last year when I was and was reading nonfic for classes I was teaching and for my dissertation. Last year I was skewed heavily toward male writers; this year toward female. I can think of no reason why. Last year I was split almost evenly between British and American writers; this year I have read American writers over British at a ratio of about two to one. (If you were to ask me to guess without data, I’d say I always read more Brits than anyone else. Apparently not.) Did I really read twice as much science fiction this year as last despite finishing only two-thirds as many books? And why didn’t I do more rereading if I was in such a book slump? Surely that would have helped? Or tried more young adult novels? Or mysteries? But these, perhaps, are insights that will only surface upon reflection. And maybe such things wouldn’t have helped anyway. But here’s to the New Year, and to new reads. I’ll be here for 2012, looking forward to seeing what shape my reading takes in my fifth year of keeping a reading thread here at Library Thing.

Dec 31, 2011, 3:58pm Top

I put it that you may be suffering from too much liberty, and I suggest you read Erich Fromm (again, perhaps?). When reading is your escape or reward, I think you are much more likely to plunge into it than when you have unfettered reading time by the bucketload. (And I am NOT suggesting that you have nothing but free time---just a whole lot more of it than you once did.)

Dec 31, 2011, 4:19pm Top

Hrm. P'raps. I think it may be less an issue of unfettered reading time and more an issue of unfettered reading choice. Most weekdays the golden goal is to be done with all the stuff (chores, errands, litmag reading, writing, bill paying, et cetera) in time to sit down with my book for a nice chunk of time (upwards of an hour would be aces) before M gets home. Most days it doesn't happen. (I know, times is hard, shuddup.) I'm just saying, I probably don't have as much free time to read as you think I do. But. I can read whatever the heck I want. Whatever I want. This has never ever ever EVER been true before. It's like the kid in the candy store whose Mum says pick out whatever you want and the kid is paralyzed by indecision. And then nothing tastes as good as it might because maybe he should have gone with the licorice whips after all. And, of course, there's no contrast. Spending Sunday afternoon with a Star Trek novel is more fun if you wrestled with Foucault all week. . . . . Maybe. It's an adjustment. It'll get there.

Dec 31, 2011, 5:43pm Top

See, that's exactly what I said.

Dec 31, 2011, 5:58pm Top

It's not, though. It's what I said. You were here. You hearn me.

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2011

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