lycomayflower reads in 2012
This topic was continued by lycomayflower reads in 2012--part 2.
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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. Asterisks indicate books borrowed from the library.
In my second post, 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.
I've also set myself a month-by month challenge this year, which you will find at the bottom of this post.
See my Partial Reads for 2012 here.
See Books Purchased (and Read) in 2012 here.
List Continued in Part Two of my 2012 Challenge Thread
47.) Harry Potter's Bookshelf (286)
46.) The Cement Garden (153)*
45.) The Night Circus (387)
44.) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (734)
43.) All the President's Men (336)
42.) A Passion for Books (342)
41.) The Song of Achilles (369)*
40.) Arthur and George (386)
39.) Salem Falls (434)*
38.) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (435)
37.) The Elegance of the Hedgehog (325)
36.) Limitations and Love: J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (156)
35.) A Walk in the Woods (394)
34.) The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling (267)*
33.) An Irish Country Doctor (343)
32.) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (341)
31.) Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises (249)
30.) When I Was a Child I Read Books (202)
29.) The Mysterious Affair at Styles (198)
28.) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (309)
27.) Rose Cottage (234)
26.) She's Come Undone (465)
25.) A Moveable Feast (209)
24.) 1Q84 (925)
23.) Ragtime (369)
22.) The Mirage (414)
21.) The Flight of Gemma Hardy (343)
20.) Changeless (374)
19.) The Magician's Assistant (357)
18.) Beauty (247)
17.) Gate of Ivrel (194)
16.) The Art of Fielding (512)
15.) The World of Downton Abbey (303)
14.) The Charioteer (380)
13.) Hark! A Vagrant (166)
12.) Unpacking My Library (201)
11.) Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind (273)
10.) Night Watch (408)
9.) Albert Nobbs (98)
8.) Regency Buck (392)
7.) Maisie Dobbs (294)
6.) The Sign of Four (69)
5.) Eight White Nights (360)
4.) The Lost Art of Reading (151)
3.) Black Butterfly (204)
2.) The Devil in Amber (245)
1.) The Vesuvius Club (230)
Link to my 2011 Challenge
Explanation of what I include in my thread.
Month-by-Month Challenge: Reading Seasonally
My goal each month is to read one book I have not read before, of any type, which would satisfy the category for that month.
Eight White Nights
The Art of Fielding
May: The Sea
Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises
A Walk in the Woods
July: The United States of America
All the President's Men
October: Ghosts, Goblins, and Ghoulies
November: Harvest/The Land
December: The Victorians
Partially read books get on this list after they've sat around for a week or so without being read further. Books I really want to get back to this year are in bold. Double pluses (++) mean now is not the right time for a book, but I still consider it a book I want to finish or start over with some day. Double minus signs (--) mean I have no intention of returning to a book. A plus minus (+-) indicates ambivalence; maybe I only quit reading because something else looked shinier in the moment, but I'm not enthusiastic about finishing the read any time soon. Abandoned rereads are marked ~2x. Sometimes I have comments about an abandoned read, and sometimes not. The acronym "JWTT" stands for "Just Wasn't The Thing" and means what it says: this just wasn't the right book for that moment. 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.
The English Novel (58/439) July 2012
++The Book Thief (64/550) I've confirmed for myself that this should be a great book and I definitely want to read it. JWTT. July 2012
Anna Karenina (236/940) July 2012
+-Labyrinth (246/694) Okay story couldn't propel me past the narrative's occasional rolling around in medieval violence. June 2012
Lord Valentine's Castle (169/466) June 2012
Elizabeth the Queen (114/537) June 2012
+-Wolf Hall (246/532) How I hate to give up on Wolf Hall. I can't even begin to say how much I love Mantel's writing, her sentences. But the book unsettles me so; the kinds of cruelties and tortures that went on during the 16th century bother me more consistently than almost any other kind of violence, and while there really isn't a ton of it in this novel (not to the point I've gotten anyway), what there is (and the fact I know what bad things lie in store for so many of these characters) makes me approach my reading of it with discomfort and reluctance. If I feel myself pulled back strongly, I will heed the feeling, but for now, setting it aside. 29 May 2012
A Prayer for Owen Meany (90/617) May 2012
++Foucault's Pendulum (68/533) Definitely want to read this one, but maybe too complex for right now. JWTT. April 2012
--Eifelheim (130/492) Interesting concept, but draggy. April 2012
++The Voyage Out (24/398) I had a notion I was going to read all of Virginia Woolf in publication order, and then got sidetracked. I still have the notion. It's just on hold for a bit. JWTT. 4 April 2012
+- Cryptonomicon (40/910) Oh, how I want to like this book well enough to read over nine hundred pages of it (and to put up with the pain of holding it long enough to read over nine hundred pages of it). It has multiple story lines, and some of them intrigue me while others leave me cold. The ones what intrigue me almost certainly warrant giving this more attention, but just now it simply isn't holding my interest. 23 March 2012
+-Mistaken (126/389) March 2012
Dragonfly in Amber (328/743) March 2012
++ Behind the Scenes at the Museum (50/333) I think Atkinson is doing something very well worth reading here, but gosh is it coming off bleak. It seems to be a bleakness pretty well fused with light, but still, I think I will set this one aside for a time that is not, well, February. JWTT. 11 Feb 2012
-- Dragon Bound (143/312) Since I enjoyed Outlander so much last year and I like a Georgette Heyer now and then, I thought maybe I shouldn't be so quick to dismiss everything that comes along with the label "romance" attached. And this was reviewed really favorably in the Barnes & Noble Review, so I gave it a whirl. Ug. Blee. Ack. And other disparaging noises as well. Some of the urban fantasy/adventure aspects were actually pulling me through the story fairly well, but the romance bits were wearing thin. There was just nothing to it. And the sex actually made me feel . . . weird. (And, really, no prude I, so I don't know what was up there. Simply badly done, I guess. I don't care to think about it long enough to sort it out.) Just, no. 8 Feb 2012
+- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (86/381) I am quite taken with le Carre's writing, but I am just not following the plot at all. Possibly this is just the wrong moment for me to give a spy novel a go; possibly the right moment will never arrive (it's really very much outside my usual range). I do hope to give it another try sometime (perhaps after I see the recent film? I suspect I will, given the cast), especially as I like so many of the sentences so well. 28 Jan 2012
Happy New Year, Laura! Hope many blessings come your way for 2012, not the least of which are good reads!
EDIT: (26 March 2012)
I'm going to stick a list of books purchased in this post, for no other reason than I forgot to leave a spot for such a list and this post is near the top of the thread. Yar.
Books Purchased by Me for Me in 2012
(Books from this list read (or partially read and abandoned for good and all) in 2012 are
The Agony and the Ecstasy, Irving Stone
The Time in Between, María Dueñas
The Widow of the South, Robert Hicks
Islands in the Stream, Ernest Hemingway
*The Postmistress, Sarah Blake
The Cove, Ron Rash
*Mistletoe and Murder, Carola Dunn
*Murder on the Flying Scotsman, Carola Dunn
*The Winter Garden Mystery, Carola Dunn
*Busman's Honeymoon, Dorothy L. Sayers
*The Arabian Nights Murder, John Dickson Carr
*The Dead Man's Knock, John Dickson Carr
100.)*Maia, Richard Adams
Mr. Timothy, Louis Bayard
City of Light, Lauren Belfer
*Matters of Honor, Louis Begley
*The Unconsoled, Kazuo Ishiguro
*The Thirty-Nine Steps, John Buchan
*How the Mind Works, Steven Pinker
*The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker
*The Stuff of Thought, Steven Pinker
Dragons of Darkness, Antonia Michaelis
*Owls Do Cry/The Pocket Mirror/An Angel at My Table, Janet Frame
*The Gargoyle, Andrew Davidson
*The Keep, Jennifer Egan
*Hello to the Cannibals, Richard Bausch
*Cordelia Underwood, Van Reid
Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell
Elizabeth The Queen, Sally Bedell Smith
Widdershins, Charles de Lint
The Observations, Jane Harris
Londoners, Craig Taylor
Peril at End House, Agatha Christie
My Home Is Far Away, Dawn Powell
*The Last Juror, John Grisham
The Bostonians, Henry James
Duplicate Death, Georgette Heyer
Prophecy, S.J. Parris
Gentlemen and Players, Joanne Harris
Under the Harrow, Mark Dunn
*The Swan Thieves, Elizabeth Kostova
A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson
The Falls, Joyce Carol Oates
Rabbit, Run, John Updike
Montana 1948, Larry Watson
Dragonwyck, Anya Seton
The Unfinished Clue, Georgette Heyer
Mr. Churchill's Secretary, Susan Elia MacNeal
Gillespie and I, Jane Harris
The Metamorphoses, Ovid
*Jane and the Man of the Cloth, Stephanie Barron
*Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, Stephanie Barron
*A Christmas Wedding, Andrew Greeley
*American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld
*White Teeth, Zadie Smith
50.)*Snow in August, Pete Hamill
*Image of Josephine, Booth Tarkington
*Hungry Hill, Daphne du Maurier
*A Song of Sixpence, A.J. Cronin
*Fire from Heaven, Mary Renault
*The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell
*The Barsetshire Novels, Anthony Trollope
*The Palliser Novels, Anthony Trollope
The Descendants, Kaui Hart Hemmings
The Coward's Tale, Vanessa Gebbie
The House at Tyneford, Natasha Solomons
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
The Story of Beautiful Girl, Rachel Simon
The Tragedy of Arthur, Arthur Phillips
Foreign Bodies, Cynthia Ozick
*At Home in Mitford, Jan Karon
*Foucault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco
*The Time Travelers, Linda Buckley-Archer
*The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson
*Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson
*Avalon, Anya Seton
A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
Lycoming College 1812-2012: On the Frontiers of American Education, John Piper
Mozart's Last Aria, Matt Rees
Venetia, Georgette Heyer
A Reader on Reading, Alberto Manguel
Sherlock Holmes On Screen, Alan Barnes
*Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, William Baring-Gould
An Entirely New Country, Alistair Duncan
*James Whale, Mark Gatiss
On Conan Doyle, Michael Dirda
Quotidiana, Patrick Madden
The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, Louise Erdrich
The Magicians and Mrs Quent, Galen Beckett
The Private World of Georgette Heyer, Jane Aiken Hodge
Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens
I'm setting myself a slight month-by-month challenge this year. I'm calling it "Reading Seasonally" and will be updating my progress in the challenge in the first post of this thread. I'll count books read for the challenge toward my 75-book goal and review them just as I would any other book as well. These are my categories:
May: The Sea
July: The United States of America
October: Ghosts, Goblins, and Ghoulies
November: Harvest/The Land
December: The Victorians
My goal each month is to read one book I have not read before, of any type, which would satisfy the category for that month. My hope is that this little focus might help keep at bay the Dreaded Slumpies that plagued me so in 2011.
#8: 2011 must have been the year for the Dreaded Slumpies! Clever idea for fending them off in 2012.
1.) The Vesuvius Club, Mark Gatiss ****
If Ian Fleming and Arthur Conan Doyle somehow had a baby, and then sent it off to be raised by Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe, it might have grown up to be Lucifer Box, the hero of Mark Gatiss's The Vesuvius Club. Box is an Edwardian-era secret agent, who, when he's not off saving the Realm, is a painter and a much- sought-after guest at all the best parties. Box narrates his own story, and the result is irreverent, witty, knowing, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Many reviews of the novel toss around the word "pastiche," and that's fair--it's impossible not to think of James Bond, of Sherlock Holmes, even of Bertie Wooster and maybe Edward Gorey while reading--but Gatiss is doing something of his own, too. Box is unapologetically bisexual and from there stems some of what is most interesting about the book; in their review of The Vesuvius Club, The Times Literary Supplement says that Box is "revealed to be bisexual" at the midpoint of the story. I'd say rather that, if you've been paying attention, he is gleefully affirmed to be bisexual at the midpoint of the story. Only a few of the other characters in the book know this about Box (it is early twentieth century England, after all), but between Box-as-narrator and the reader, his bisexuality is treated as a perhaps slightly-shocking-fact at first, but never as something shameful, dirty, or prurient (or at least not any more prurient than anything else--the whole book is delightfully nudge-nudge-wink-wink). It is then taken as given, and Box's sexual interest in valet Charlie is treated as no more remarkable than his sexual interest in drawing-student Bella. And that, itself, I think, is remarkable, even (especially?) today. The novel is not about Box's bisexuality, and in not being about that, somehow it becomes about just that. And I love it for it.
I suppose I should say something about the plot--the novel is a mystery story, and the plot does trip along. Lots of fairly ridiculous incidents, competently written action, and it all hangs together well enough in the end. But really it's about the humor, the wit, and the pastiche. And a certain amount of (somewhat surprising) heart. It's clear that Gatiss had a brilliant time writing this, and if you are in any way inclined toward liking The Vesuvius Club that delight will pass over into your reading experience. That being said, this book is probably not for everyone. There's an element of the send-up here, of going over-the-top, of taking something to such heights of badness that it becomes irresistibly good, and if that's not your thing, this may read flat. But. If you like that sort of thing, this is exactly the sort of thing you will like.
Here, here! Can't remember the last time I simply *enjoyed* something so purely as this (and the next two novels in the series).
#17 Ditto! Nice review...I wonder if I'd be irked by the cleverness. Such things sometimes affect me that way. Whadja think?
Difficult to say. I sometimes have that reaction, too, to things that are obviously clever just to be clever. But I didn't feel that way about Lucifer Box and his nonsense. I was just having a fantastic time. You like Monty Python, right? And you find A Bit of Fry and Laurie funny? Because while I wouldn't exactly say the humor is like those things, necessarily, I'd say if you like those things, you'd probably like this. (I'm super helpful, I know.)
I added The Vesuvius Club to the BlackHole last year. I wish my local library would get a copy. Glad to see that you enjoyed your first read of the year, Laura!
2.) The Devil in Amber, Mark Gatiss ****1/2
Gatiss brings Lucifer Box back for further adventures in this sequel to The Vesuvius Club, and he makes an interesting choice in aging Box considerably and thus moving his setting from the Edwardian period to the Jazz Age. While the humor is still here, and Gatiss's delight in creating a pastiche of spy stories what have gone before is still evident, the tone has changed somewhat; Box is middle-aged now, and it shows. He's still irreverent and witty and loves a good pun, and his abilities as a secret agent (despite his concerns about same) are still sharp, but he's been touched by some sadness since we've last seen him; he's a little life-worn, and that confirms suspicions from The Vesuvius Club that were he to let his mask fall for more than a moment, we'd see someone of a good deal more substance than he'd care to let on.
I enjoyed the plot of The Devil in Amber more than that of the first book. The mystery of The Vesuvius Club has more than a touch of the silly to it and while that was fun, I was never quite invested in it as a plot where our hero is in danger (nor do I think one is really meant to be). The stakes are higher in The Devil in Amber, perhaps because things are more personal for Box this time around. And, it's post-WWI, and, well, the world has changed. The Devil in Amber is only obliquely about WWI, but it does thread through the novel, and the moments when the ways the war have touched Box's life poke through the story are those which elevate the novel above just a competently-done spy novel. Recommended.
Nice to know that the follow up book to The Vesuvius Club is even better. Thanks for the review, Laura!
3.) Black Butterfly, Mark Gatiss ***1/2
Black Butterfly is the last Lucifer Box novel, and Gatiss has pushed his setting forward again to the early fifties, making Box quite an old man. Having moved to the very top of the spy game, Box is on the verge of retirement, but he has one last adventure in him--and that adventure begins with his investigation into what he believes are mysterious circumstances surrounding an old friend's death. The plot takes a while to get going in this one, but once it does, it trips along fairly well. This entry in the series is lacking a bit in both the humor and the heart of the earlier two books, though the ways Gatiss plays with and deals with Box's old age are interesting and impressive. A slightly disappointing ending to the Box books, if perhaps only because the first two do what they do so very well, but absolutely worth the read if you've followed Lucifer through his first two adventures.
4.) The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time, David L. Ulin ***1/2
Ulin's long essay in book form (I'll estimate it's about 40,000 words) makes some good points about reading in the age of Twitter and texting and the pull of near-constant connectedness, and I certainly agree with his claim that what one might call "traditional" reading (that done with a paper book, not a device that can "do things," like look up words, log on to Facebook, or check e-mail) is important for the ways it cultivates and develops deep thinking and long attention spans. I was heartened that he does not cast the internet and e-readers and all things digital as the Devil, as some of conservative mind on this subject do, because I think doing so is unconscionably shortsighted and unhelpful. In one of the most interesting parts of the essay, Ulin references studies that show how internet usage actually changes our brains and discusses the likelihood that the initial rise of reading did so as well. There's no question that we're living at a cusp; we're changing ourselves, and we know we're doing it.
But for all of the good points and the interesting bits, The Lost Art of Reading is somehow unsatisfying in the end. I often felt as if Ulin were wandering away from his thesis, and while wandering can often be quite fruitful in an essay, sometimes he just didn't quite get anywhere useful. And while there were many moments in the text where I nodded and made little checks of agreement in the margin, there were also many places he didn't go that I thought the essay begged to get to. For example, he talks about how distracting hyperlinks can be to a reader of a digital text and discusses how this fragments one's reading but treats this as if it were a new experience in the digital age without making any reference to the long-familiar and (to my mind anyway) quite similar experience of reading a paper book that is densely footnoted. I also would have liked to have seen a fuller discussion of how "traditional" reading does that which other activities cannot do. Ulin calls literature a "voice of pure expression" (25), and makes a case for the act of reading as training for the kind of critical thinking necessary for anyone who hopes to engage in or understand political discourse. He seems to imply that that these things require "traditional" reading, but does not really explore why. Perhaps I am asking too much of this essay, perhaps I am asking it to do things it did not set out to do. But Ulin has jumped into turbulent waters here, and, while I agree with his conclusions, I'm not sure he's done enough to keep them afloat.
5.) Eight White Nights, André Aciman ***1/2
Oh, this. I just don't know what to do with this novel. It is either a brilliant exploration of falling in love or the most pretentious piece of twaddle ever printed on paper. And I can't decide. The first person narrator (if we ever learn his name, I missed it among all his belly-button gazing and soul-searching and angsting) meets a woman named Clara at a Christmas party and is immediately taken by her. They subsequently spend parts of the next eight days together (neither, apparently, has to work at all during the week between Christmas and New Year's--perhaps I missed why, perhaps they are just that lovely and lucky), and the novel explores, in minute detail, what the narrator feels and thinks throughout this time.
There are moments in Eight White Nights when I love what Aciman is doing. I sometimes love the way he slows down scenes, giving space to thoughts, actions, and interactions that normally get glossed over in fiction. I admire the way he can show us the complexities of what the narrator feels and how those complexities can be complicated further by wanting to understand the object of his affection but failing to do so. But at the same time, I was often (more often than not, I would say) impatient with the novel, impatient with the characters, impatient, particularly, with the narrator. I muttered, "Oh jeez" to myself a lot while reading this, and rolled my eyes not infrequently.
I am willing to sit still for a long love story, a love story which is about why these two people fell in love, which revels in the particulars of those whys and wherefores--if it's done well. But Eight White Nights too often fails to make me care about those particulars, too often asks me to invest in pages upon pages of interiority without infusing the narrator with the kind of spark that will make me root for him or even feel like I really know him. And that made the novel feel more like a slog than the the exploration it should have been.
***Eight White Nights fulfills my Winter category for January in my Reading Seasonally Challenge.
Do they? That would certainly explain it, but if that was in the book, I definitely missed it.
#33 I suspect Tui speaks out of her own work experience, rather than reading experience. But it is certainly a logical assumption, eh? Sounds like you're being generous with that third star.
>32 tiffin:: or:
1) they have many many years of service with a single company and have thus accumulated several weeks' vacation, or
2) they work in Europe where employees get much more time off than we do!
Anyway, Laura, sorry this book wasn't a better read for you.
#31: I think I will give that book a pass. I can only handle so much angst.
6.) The Sign of Four, Arthur Conan Doyle ***
I'm afraid that this entry in the Holmes canon left me fairly cold, apart from the moments between Watson and Mary Morstan, which were rather nice (if a bit twee), and Holmes's deduction regarding Watson's pocket watch, which is brilliant (and the origin of the scene in Sherlock with John's cell phone, obviously).
New episodes of Sherlock coming in the Spring, with Benedict Cumberbatch! I haven't liked a Sherlock so well since Jeremy Brett.
I love Cumberbatch's Sherlock, though I have to say I'm not well-versed in any other portrayals of the character. In many ways Sherlock was my first real introduction to Holmes on film (I've probably seen some others here and there, but don't really remember them).
Cumberbatch's Sherlock is brilliant, and I say this as a devoted Sherlockian and one who has watched pretty much every interpretation of Holmes on a movie or TV screen. BBC's Sherlock is exactly how I imagined the Holmes of the Canon to be if he had been born into the modern era. Jeremy Brett is still King of the Holmes's in my world, but Cumberbatch is the best I've seen since him.
This scene especially won me over: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaO-acc6NLY - I'd always wanted to see Holmes do that. :)
I guessed that the youtube link was the riding crop bit before I clicked. =) Indeed. A brilliant stroke (ha!) that they included that. I think I read somewhere (or it's in the audio commentary on the Season One DVD?) that that scene in Sherlock is the only time the reference to Holmes beating a corpse to study the bruising has been filmed.
I think that's true, too, because I've never seen it done on the screen before. Usually we just meet Holmes at the hospital and that's it. I also love the inclusion of Molly. I would so be in her position if I was near Sherlock. :P
Have you heard what happens in the newest season, especially the last episode?
7.) Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline Winspear ****
I thoroughly enjoyed this first book in the Maisie Dobbs series, and will almost certainly read more of them. I like Maisie, I like how she is smart and with it and intrepid but a little bit damaged too. And I love the setting of England between the wars (and a bit during WWI), even if parts of this installment came dangerously close to wrecking me. (I was not prepared when I settled in with Maisie for this to be an emotionally unsettling book. Someone might have warned me. LW3, I am looking at you.) A few plot elements perhaps asked the reader to stretch her suspension of disbelief a bit far, but they were handled well enough that nothing snapped, and the overall effect of the book is winning enough that I mostly didn't care. Recommended.
8.) Regency Buck, Georgette Heyer ****
A mistake in the will of Judith and Peregrine Taverner's father has placed them and their considerable fortune into the care of Lord Worth, who is only slightly older than they are and who doesn't much want the bother. Personalities clash, Peregrine gets himself into scrapes and near-scandals, and it seems there isn't a gentleman in town who hasn't fallen for fair Judith (and her fortune?). But is Lord Worth really as disinterested as he seems? And are all of Peregrine's brushes with death really only accidents? Oh, just as ridiculous as it sounds, and just as much fun. I enjoyed this romp through the regency upper crust thoroughly, though there's no surprises here (it all works out exactly as one it expects it to)--except perhaps that it was surprisingly fun.
***Regency Buck fulfills my Love category for February in my Reading Seasonally Challenge.
OMG...the title alone.... I picture Fabio on the cover. I posit that Of Mice and Men fits the Love category quite well (if not the February-kind of love)...REEEEEED EEEET.
No, no, no. You've got the wrong image entirely. Think Jane Austen of slightly less consequence and slightly more silliness. (If you say something disparaging about Jane Austen, we shall misunderstand one another.)
I would never disparage Miss Austen. We have barely met, you know.
Pride and Prejudice. REEEEEEEEEEEAD EEEEEEEEEEET. (I can do that too, you see.)
Oh dear. Pride and Prejudice. I did try reading that. Three times I have attempted, but it has never worked out between Ms. Austen and me.
I will grudgingly admit that it's not for everyone. Though the shouting was meant for LW3 specifically. I reserve the right to shout at her with regard to her reading habits, as we're related.
#54 It's very near the top of the pile, honestly.
#55 Welcome to our madness. We probably shouldn't carry on in public, but we've been doing it so long, it's kind of hard to stop. Don't necessarily adopt either of us as a role model!
Standing firmly in the REEEEEEEEEEEEEEAD EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET camp re Jane Austen, even though I can only croak the words out at the mo'. And of Mice and Men, come to think of it.
ErisofDiscord, try watching the Colin Firth version 2 or 3 times. P&P will start to come clear then. ;)
9.) Albert Nobbs, George Moore ***
The story of 19th-century Dublin hotel-waiter Albert Nobbs, who is actually a woman. She took on men's clothing and a waiter's position as a youth in order to earn a living and now, in lonely middle-age, at the advice of a somewhat surprising visiting painter, seeks to marry a local girl (perhaps one who has gotten herself "in trouble" and will be glad of the offer of stability) and live out their lives in companionship running a shop. The novella's premise is interesting, and it treats its subject matter with a certain pleasing gentleness, but ultimately Albert Nobbs never quite does anything satisfying with its story.
ANOTHER abandoned read. Those are piling up faster than I would have liked, but it's not feeling particularly slumpish, not like last year, not, particularly, like the back end of last year. Each of these I have put down for a very particular reason, rather than that just sort of "Meh. I think I'll wander on to something different" thing I was doing in 2011.
10.) Night Watch, Terry Pratchett ****
When I said to the husbeast that I was looking for something light-hearted but with some substance, he handed me Pratchett's Night Watch. And that would be a pretty good description of this Disc World entry. Middle-aged Sam Vimes finds himself thrust back in time to a significant point in his own personal history as well as in the history of Ankh-Morpork. The resulting adventure is by turns a comedic, satiric, and grimly realistic look at policing, mobs, and the ethics of killing and peace-keeping. Pratchett's humor sometimes passes me by (though that is as like as not because I am not paying enough attention), but when I get it, it's often laugh-out-loud funny. Night Watch is probably most enjoyable for people who have read about Sam Vimes before, but I was certainly able to follow the story and get something out of it despite being only slightly acquainted with Vimes before beginning the book. Generally makes me more inclined to read more Pratchett than I was before I picked it up.
grimly realistic look at policing, mobs, and the ethics of killing and peace-keeping. That's M's idea of light-hearted, is it?
@ 66 No, that was the substance bit. The overall tone of the thing is light, honest.
I plan to get a pet pig later on in life, so I will be sure to keep that name in mind. It's brilliant.
11.) Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind, Ann B. Ross **1/2
Can't say that I enjoyed this overly much. Miss Julia herself was a somewhat amusing and endearing character and narrator, and a few of the other characters had potential (never realized); however this book is otherwise populated with downright wretched human beings who were so unsubtly conniving and evil-minded that I had a hard time believing they could exist and an even harder time believing that Miss Julia (sheltered as her life has been) could not see through them immediately. Perhaps this is meant to be exaggeration for the sake of humor? If so, it missed the mark with me.
Yis. And this was supposed to be a pleasant interlude before some heavier reads. Harumph.
I started a Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery last night, and the first chapter had me laughing so hard I almost got booted out of bed. Thirty-three Teeth---recommended so far.
late to the party...sorry this is my first post on your thread.
One of your first messages noted the bleakness of Behind the Scenes at the Museum. I read this book a few years ago and didn't particularly like it. I was surprised at my reaction because so many here in our group really enjoyed it.
I'll be sure to stop back here and visit more often.
12.) Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books, Leah Price ****1/2
Leah Price interviewed thirteen writers about their personal libraries, and the interviews appear with photographs of those libraries. A fascinating glimpse into the personal reading and shelving habits of a few persons of letters. I have always been irrevocably drawn to other people's bookshelves whenever I find myself in their company, and this book delightfully feeds that irresistible desire to snoop out what's on the shelves and how they're organized. The interviews are also a nice testament to the myriad right ways there are to house our beloved dead trees. Recommended to anyone who is bookishly inclined.
Have you noticed that when you go into a house with no books it feels strangely blank, like someone with their eyebrows shaved off. At first it doesn't quite sink in but suddenly alarms start going off "no books, there are NO books!".
Yes, I utterly have that feeling. It's so awkward! To quote Cicero, "A room without books is like a body without a soul."
13.) Hark! A Vagrant, Kate Beaton ****1/2
A collection of comic strips on topics historical and literary. Generally hilarious, even if you don't "get" the joke because you don't know the reference. And Beaton's two-or-three-sentence explanations of the a few of the strips are informative and just as funny as the strips themselves. As with all the best comics, the drawings make up at least half the humor. Aside from enjoying the contents, I was also more than usually pleased by this book as a physical object. Something about the size and its hardbackedness combined is just nice. Recommended.
14.) The Charioteer, Mary Renault ****
A novel written in the 50s and set in the early years of World War II, The Charioteer focuses on Laurie Odell, a wounded survivor of Dunkirk who finds himself falling in love with both a young conscientious objector who works on Laurie's hospital ward and an old school acquaintance now in the navy. The novel is nicely thinky and displays a good deal of fascinating interiority for Laurie as he wrestles with his feelings for these young men. An enjoyable story, well written (though it did drag a bit in parts), and an important one, too. My chief complaint (the thing that holds me back from declaring this a five-star, all-time favorite) was that characters seemed very often to realize things or intuit meanings into interactions, events, or facial expressions and those meanings were never made clear to the reader. A certain amount of subtlety is generally welcome in a literary novel, but this tendency rose to an irritating level and seemed almost coy at times. I wondered if perhaps Renault was attempting to capture the reality of living as a homosexual in a time and a society when one must always take care over what one says and how one behaves and must carefully infer to whom it is safe to reveal ones true self. I never could decide one way or the other if I thought that was Renault's goal, and either way, I think it detracts a bit from the novel as a reading experience. (Though the notion of trying to infuse the novel with this sense of secrecy and illicit subculture is compelling.) Despite this flaw, highly recommended.
15.) The World of Downton Abbey, Jessica Fellowes ****1/2
Less behind-the-scenes (though there is a section devoted to behind-the-scenes information and some more tidbits scattered throughout the book) and more a guide to historical and social context for the show. Even as someone fairly well-versed in the period in which Downton Abbey is set, I learned new things from the book and found snippets here and there which enriched my understanding of the history I did already know. And the pictures! The book is just chock full of beautiful full-color photographs which show off the show's costumes, sets, and locations wonderfully. In addition to these stills from the show and the production, there are many historical photographs of events, people, and ephemera relevant to the show. Enthusiastically recommended to any fans of Downton Abbey.
Couple new entries up at my blog what some of y'all might find interesting.
I loved your post, "Are You From the Past?". I don't understand why there isn't a roar of disapproval and outrage from the throat of every woman in America, blasting your politicians against the wall for even daring to attempt something like this.
16.) The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach ****1/2
The Art of Fielding looks like a sports novel at first, but really it's a series of intertwined character studies which uses the novel's setting of a liberal arts college and its baseball program as the stage for exploring its characters. And it does so very, very well. The characters are interesting and believable, their situations compelling. The passages about baseball, about the playing of the game, are beautiful. The resolution to Henry's story, about the aftermath of his one disastrous throw, feels inevitable rather than predictable--which can be the difference between a brilliant, satisfying book and an annoying, lackluster one. The book reads quickly and smoothly, with an ease which suggests that the prose must have come effortlessly--surely a sign of great care and crafting on the part of the writer. The only thing which keeps this book from perfection is an occasional roughness in the transitions from one point of view to another (information which feels repeated, rather than viewed alternately from a new character, for example) and two or three places where minor observations felt false (an ex-varsity swimmer returns to the pool after four years, slightly out of shape, but not disastrously so, and can only manage three laps? Doubtful.) But, these instances were small (and over the course of 512 pages, fairly few) and interfered only with the pure pleasure of the reading experience, never with the unfolding of the novel as a whole. Write another, Mr. Harbach. I'm there.
***The Art of Fielding fulfills my Sport category for March in my Reading Seasonally Challenge.
The scariest thing, I think, is that the voices protesting these things seem to be fewer than those supporting them. You can always find a few nutjobs hanging about. But when people start believing the nutjobs, start rallying to them, watch out. Yikes.
My Reading Seasonally Challenge calls for a book on religion for April. I have a few books on my shelves that would fit the category (A History of God, The Essential Talmud, Religion and the Decline of Magic), but none of them is jumping out at me as the book I really must read soon. Any suggestions? Nonfiction or fiction, with religion as subject or theme.
I say Marilynne Robinson...since you have two of my books by her in your possession.
The Perfect Heresy by Stephen O'Shea (about the Cathars)
Mysteries of the Middle Ages by Thomas Cahill (tons of religious aspects)
Jesus of the Apocalypse by Barbara Thiering
Ancient Wisdom, Modern World by the Dalai Lama (although the Buddhists say it isn't technically a religion as there is no godhead)
I'm enjoying Alain de Botton's Religion for Atheists at the moment.
Thanks for the recommendations, all. Some really interesting stuff there. Now to choose . . . .
17.) Gate of Ivrel, C.J. Cherryh ***1/2
Precisely the sort of fantasy novel I always suspect will be not my cuppa, which leads me to wonder what possessed me to buy this and its sequels in an omnibus edition. But I rather enjoyed this story of Vanye, an outcast from his society for (accidental) brother-killing and the strange Morgaine, who exercises her right to claim an outcast such as Vanye, and then uses his knowledge of the land to help her in her quest to close the Gate of Ivrel, one of a series of gates which allows for travel among worlds and through time. There's oaths and treachery and honor codes and magic swords and creepy attempts at body-switching (oh, my). The world-building is impressive, and that, along with the intriguing authorial choice to keep Morgaine strange to the reader by telling her story without ever providing us with her point of view, is what transformed the book into something I'd be willing to drink. This was probably a four-star read for me, really, but I'm being petulant because the character naming irritated me. Unlike in Tolkien, where I believe without second thought that character names spring from long history and complex language (which is, of course, true), in Gate of Ivrel I couldn't help but feel that names were randomly generated by muddling familiar English names to make them sound foreign: Erij (Eric?), Roh (Rob? Ron?). And why Morgaine? That has strong Arthurian overtones, and as far as I could tell, there was no particular reason for invoking that set of myths. But. In the end, a surprisingly fun and engaging read, and I will almost surely read more of the "Morgaine Saga." Eventually.
18.) Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast, Robin McKinley ****
A pleasant young adult book what does what it says on the tin. The telling is tale-ish, with a lot of action summarized rather than presented in-scene. The book excels at creating a context for the story and giving Beauty and her family personalities. The descriptions of the enchantments surrounding the Beast are also quite well done. I was a little disappointed that we didn't get a little more exploration of why Beauty fell in love with the Beast (I would say the Beast is the least-well-developed character in the story), and the end felt very abrupt, especially since we are given something like 50 pages of (lovely) home life for Beauty before the specter of the Beast even arrives. But overall, I enjoyed this retelling, despite its flaws, and I think it would interest readers of the age group for which it was written (elevenish, I'd say).
****When I go post it, this will be my 200th review. Even though I know I've been posting a review of almost everything I've read for over three years, it still draws me up short to think about them in terms of a number. Surely not that many?
It's the ninth one down on the list, below reviews posted in 2007, 2008, etc. Why would that be? Just had the same experience with Richard's latest review. It doesn't appear at the top of the list either.
ETA: OK...found the fix. Not sure why I needed the fix, but apparently on my own review page I had selected something other than "date" as the sort-by option. When I changed it there, it carried over to the book pages.
19.) The Magician's Assistant, Ann Patchett ****
The novel begins shortly after the death of Sabine's husband, Parsifal. He was gay, and his lover, Phan, has also died recently. Parsifal married Sabine so she could inherit from him with less fuss; Sabine probably married Parsifal because she once loved him, and, in the later years of their relationship, considered him her best friend. Parsifal was a magician and Sabine his assistant. When Parsifal's will reveals that he has a mother and two sisters living in Nebraska, about whom he never told Sabine, she begins to discover things about Parsifal's past that both clarify and confuse her understanding of who he was.
Patchett's writing is wonderful, and she puts her characters and settings (Los Angles and Alliance, Nebraska) on the page with such simple clarity and seemingly effortless attention to detail that you never once question the reality of them. Magic tricks and the world of magicians weave through the story, adding interest and some thematic heft. The secrets in Parsifal's past always work to reveal more about the novel's characters, never exist for drama or shock value. An engaging and compelling read, though one which ends perhaps a bit abruptly, without a fully satisfying resolution to all of the story threads.
New blog post up today that some of y'all might find interesting. I imagine packing for a Reading Retreat.
20.) Changeless, Gail Carriger ***1/2
I didn't enjoy this as much as Soulless, but it was still fun. I thought it took a little long for the plot really to get going, and then once it did, I had everything fairly well sorted right quick (and none of the solutions to the various goings on were surprising). But Alexia is still a neat heroine, the steampunky bits are still fun, and the whole thing is still amusing. A couple new characters are introduced who should be worth following. Be warned that a new plot thread is introduced in the last four pages, and produces a somewhat wrenching cliffhanger ending.
21.) The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey ***1/2
(For the most part, if you know the plot of Jane Eyre, you know the plot of The Flight of Gemma Hardy, but I get a bit spoilery in my fourth paragraph for events specific to Gemma Hardy. The whole review will completely spoil Jane Eyre for you if you do not know it.)
I'm afraid that this retelling of Jane Eyre just doesn't quite work. Livesey's sentence-level writing is clean and impressive, and she has a knack for writing the kind of crisp prose that can effortlessly pull a reader along. And taken alone, Gemma's story serves as a decent character study. The problem is that Gemma's story cannot be taken alone. This is Jane Eyre, moved to Scotland in the 50s and 60s, and given some minor make-overs to make the plot plausible in the mid-twentieth century (Gemma's employer with whom she falls in love has a secret, but it does not involve a mad women stashed away in an attic--who would believe such a thing of a businessman in the late sixties? Or if one did believe it, the whole thing could not help but be a great deal more inescapably, irrevocably dark and sinister.) But transplanted to a world that is familiar to the modern reader, much of the plot of Jane Eyre becomes incredible. It is hard to imagine an aunt suddenly treating her niece as less than a servant among automobiles, telephones, jumpers, and boyhood dreams of playing soccer for England. It is difficult to see how a school could treat its pupils so poorly in days so close to our own. It is entirely possible that such things might have happened in this setting (the nineteenth century did not have a monopoly on cruelty, after all), but fiction does not hinge on what might be possible in the real world, but on what has been made to seem possible on the page. And Livesey fails to overcome her source material in making these Gothic-infused plot elements seem possible in the pages of her fictional world.
Jane's transition to Gemma encounters other obstacles as well. Mr Sinclair, the employer with whom Gemma falls in love, contains none of the mysteriousness of Mr Rochester, none of the sense of danger and intrigue wrapped up in enigmatic moods and veiled personal history. Blackbird Hall and the Orkney islands do not ooze with atmosphere and gloom as Thornfield Hall and the moors do. Mr Sinclair's secret is not terribly damning, and while it is believable that its revelation would make Gemma think twice about marrying him, her flight from him comes over as foolish and over-dramatic; Jane's flight from Mr Rochester and his attempt to commit bigamy through deceit (and the subsequent effect Jane may well have thought this would have on her soul) seems almost rational in comparison. This difficulty with suspension of disbelief is not helped by the fact that Gemma and Sinclair's love for one another reads like a result of the novel's paralleling Jane Eyre rather than a natural development springing from these characters themselves.
In fact, much of The Flight of Gemma Hardy appears to exist because it must do so in order to stay true to the source to which it is indebted. Reading the novel was a bit like going down a Jane Eyre plot point checklist. Confrontation with bratty older cousin? Check. Locked in a frightening room? Check. Sent off to a miserable boarding school? Check. Make friends with a doomed pupil? Check. Get job teaching the ward of a rich, absentee landowner? Check. Unwittingly help employer on the road when he returns unexpectedly? Check. And so on. While Livesey does infuse her telling with new elements, while she does, in many ways, make the story her own, her changes and updates to the tale often feel uninspired; they rarely made me think about Jane Eyre in new ways or provided much insight into how the story of a girl growing up with this particular set of disadvantages changed in one hundred years. I thought for a while that perhaps that sense of things not having changed much was the point of the novel, but if so the illustration of that fact falls flat. Having dismissed that notion, I considered the possibility that the novel was meant to illustrate how Jane Eyre, when looked at from a distance, becomes rather silly, how it might have seemed so to its contemporary readers, just as some of its plot elements seem unbelievable when placed in a (roughly) contemporary setting today. But, no, the book does not suggest to me, in its unfolding, in it careful retracing of the plot of Jane Eyre, any sort of critique of the original novel.
Except, perhaps, in the end. Finally, finally, in the last fifty-or-so pages, The Flight of Gemma Hardy departs from its strict adherence to the plot of Jane Eyre. Upon discovering that she may have family on her father's side still living, and in the aftermath of refusing a perhaps practical but certainly passionless proposal of marriage, Gemma (unlike Jane) goes in search of that family. And here are some of my favorite parts of the book. Gemma finds living relatives in Iceland and learns (as Jane does not), a fair amount about her childhood before coming to live with her aunt and uncle, about her family, about, as a result, herself. And Mr Sinclair comes to find her, rather than her going back to him. And they do not get married (though there's a strong intimation that they will, once Gemma comes to understand herself a little better). This is the sort of thing I was hoping the whole book would do--put a spin on the familiar story, show how Jane Eyre would be if she'd been born in the aftermath of World War II. And in some ways I suppose it does do that, but I never really felt that the novel was fully reimagining the original story.
I did so want to love The Flight of Gemma Hardy. Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels, and I thought a retelling of it had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, Livesey doesn't quite tap into that potential--I spent much of the novel wishing she (or someone) had reimagined Jane Eyre in its original setting, taking up the story from some crucial point in the original narrative and exploring what might have happened if Jane had made different choices. Alas. But I do give mad props to Livesey for trying, and on the strength of her prose, I will be looking out for some of her previous novels.
From Maggie1944 (and Sweetbriarpoet):
"A Book Survey I Found on the Internet"
Hardback or trade paperback or mass market paperback?
I like them all as objects to own. I probably most prefer trade paperbacks for reading. A very thick book tends to work best in mass market size, I find (trades and hardbacks become much too difficult to hold once they pass the four- or five-hundred-page mark. As I get older and we have more discretionary income, more and more hardbacks find their way into my collection. Though aside from being able to afford them, I’m also more in tune with what’s being published now than I ever was before. So I’m more likely to want a book before it’s available in paperback. I suppose there is a genre distinction in the question as well. I tend to buy more literary fiction than genre fiction, so I tend to buy more trade than mass market paperbacks.
Amazon or brick and mortar?
Both. I have nothing against amazon, and will buy from them if I know what I want and I want several books at once (so the discounts plus the free shipping make buying from them a significant savings). But I love going to a bookshop and being in the company of the books. And I’m likely to buy a book there if I find it, rather than go home and place an online order.
Barnes & Noble or Borders?
This is no longer a good question, of course, but I always preferred Barnes & Noble to Borders. B&N always seemed more “bookish” to me, with greater depth of stock and a homier atmosphere. Though I suspect these things both depended a great deal on individual stores. I am rarely in either now (as Borders is kaput and the nearest B&N is forty minutes away).
Bookmark or dogear?
Bookmarks. I never have, do not now, and never will dogear pages. This is probably a holdover from repeated lectures by an elementary school librarian, but I just can’t bend those pages down. I’d no more dogear a page than I would drive around without my seat belt. (I will, however, write in books. A different question all together.)
Alphabetize by author or alphabetize by title or random?
Our books are mostly organized (the organization tends to get verhoodled as more books come in) into categories such as Contemporary American, Classic American, Contemporary British, Classic British, In Translation, History, Science Fiction, Young Adult, et cetera. Within those categories books are alphabetical by author’s last name (groups of books by one author are in chronological order by publication date, rather than alphabetical by title), except in the Classics categories where all books are chronological by publication date (and groups of books by one author appear together on the shelf, at the point in the sequence where that author’s first book was published). History books are arranged by subject (e.g. World War II, The Civil War, et cetera).
Keep, throw away, or sell?
I keep, always keep. I can think of only one book I ever intentionally got rid of, and I still regret it. The only real exception is a few duplicates that resulted from husbeast and I moving in together (these have been either donated to charity or placed on Paperbackswap. I can’t imagine throwing away a book (unless it were moldy or so water-logged that it was beyond all hope of ever being readable again), but I imagine that someday I will have to cull the collection (there just isn’t room). I would donate such culls to library book sales or hospital libraries. Even books I read and didn’t like, I can’t now bring myself to get rid of. They are still a part of my reading life, even though I didn’t enjoy them and don’t intend to read them ever again.
Keep dust jacket or toss it?
Keep it. It changes the character of the book entirely to remove it. And, in 75 years, that first edition with dust jacket will be worth a heck of lot more than the one without.
Read with dust jacket or remove it?
I remove dust jackets while I read. (And I usually place the dust jacket on the shelf in the spot where the book had been—a sort of place-holder, if you will.) They tend to get ripped if I leave them on while reading. Also, they are annoying, flapping off the covers or sliding up and down while one reads.
Short story or novel?
I much prefer novels to short stories. Which is not to say that I don’t read short stories, just not nearly as often as novels.
Collection (short stories by same author) or anthology (short stories by different authors)?
When I do read short stories, it is usually either one short story alone for a particular reason (from wherever I could find it) or, occasionally, a collection. I rarely read a short story anthology from cover to cover.
Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket?
I have read (and reread) and loved Harry Potter. I’ve never read the Lemony Snicket books. I sometimes feel I ought to give them a go, but, at the same time, they never sound like quite my cuppa.
Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks?
If I know I’m going to need to go do something else, I try to find a chapter break (or at least a space break)—“Lemme find a stopping point” is a phrase often heard around here. But if I’m tired of reading or am falling asleep, I put the book down wherever I am—mid-chapter, mid-paragraph, mid-sentence sometimes.
"It was a dark and stormy night" or "Once upon a time"?
I guess this question is asking whether one prefers thrillers and mysteries or fairy tales and fantasy? I read and enjoy both, but probably read tales and fantasy more than mysteries (and definitely more than thrillers). Neither one makes up anything like the majority of what I read.
Buy or Borrow?
I mostly buy. I sometimes borrow from the library, but find that doing so generally doesn’t fit my reading habits (it is usually some months after a book enters my home before I read it). I often borrow (or “make off with”) my mother’s books—sometimes on a very long term basis.
New or used?
Both. Most books newly entering our collection these days are new, but in years past I bought mostly used. The change has had more to do with poor access to good used book stores now than anything else. We love library book sales. Books other people probably borrow from the library (things one expects to read only once, things one isn’t sure one will like), I usually try to order used for two or three dollars. This saves me the frustration of checking books out and having to take them back unread. And, I just like to own the books I’ve read.
Buying choice: book reviews, recommendation or browse?
All of the above. I often browse and then buy on the strength of the back material, look of the book, and my impression from reading the first page or two. If I’m not sure I will like something, I read reviews. I love recommendations from friends who know my reading habits and likes.
Tidy ending or cliffhanger?
Cliffhangers make me cranky because I rarely want to read the next book in a series immediately after finishing the previous one. (A cliffhanger in a book with no sequel would make me very cross indeed.) I do not mind ambiguous endings at all, provided they feel like endings, rather than just the place the book happened to stop. Overly tidy endings usually lessen my opinion of a book, frankly.
Morning reading, afternoon reading or nighttime reading?
I read whenever I can, though it is usually afternoon before I can get to it. Morning reading usually feels decadent and wonderful.
Stand-alone or series?
Mostly stand-alones, though I will and do read series. (Though I’m much more completist when it comes to owning the series than to reading it.)
I would say The Lord of the Rings, though I’m pretty much of the opinion that it only looks like a series because of publishing limitations in the 50s. But if I eliminate that, then I don’t have an answer. At one point it would have been the Star Trek books. But it would be a bit of a fib to say so now.
Favorite children's book?
A Murder for Her Majesty
Favorite book of which "nobody" else has heard?
I’m sure others have heard of and read this, but it’s a book I very rarely hear anyone talk about: The Sound of Summer Voices, by Helen Tucker.
Favorite books read last year?
Homecoming, Soulless, Mrs Miniver, The Sparrow, Black Swan Green, Outlander
Favorite books of all time?
The Lord of the Rings, Mrs Dalloway, Pride and Prejudice
Least favorite book you finished last year?
Amy and Isabelle
What are you reading right now?
What are you reading next?
I’m thinking either The House at Tyneford or In this House of Brede. But I almost never actually read next the thing I think I’ll read next.
22.) The Mirage, Matt Ruff ***1/2
The Mirage begins in a world related to ours but very different. The United Arab States (UAS) is the dominate superpower in the world, and North America is divided into several nations, including The Evangelical Republic of Texas, the Rocky Mountain Independent Territories, and the Christian States of America (CSA). Israel is in Central Europe. The Gulf War was fought in the Gulf of Mexico. And on November 9, 2001, Christian fundamentalists hijacked four commercial airliners and flew two of the them into the Tigris and Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad, Iraq, touching off a War on Terror which saw UAS troops invade North America, capturing the city of Denver (where the World Christian Alliance, the group claiming responsibility for 11/9, was believed to have a base) and eventually establishing a provisional government in Washington, D.C.
The novel follows Mustafa, Amal, and Samir, agents for UAS Homeland Security, as they combat terrorism in Baghdad. They keep running across references to and seeming artifacts from a "mirage world" where a North America country called The United States of America is the dominate superpower who was attacked by Muslim terrorists on 9/11/2001. At first they dismiss that world and its artifacts as Christian legend and hoax, but as time and their investigations progress, they begin to think the mirage world may be the real world.
The Mirage is set up as a thoughtful thriller, and the first half of the book, where Ruff does most of his world-building in his alternate world and all of his set-up for the mystery part of the story, is clever and compelling. But the novel falls off in the back half, when the cause of the mirage is revealed (it is in keeping with the logic of the world Ruff has built, but is somehow anti-climactic) and Mustafa, Amal, and Samir attempt to stop organized crime lord Saddam Hussein from reversing the mirage (he believes that he will be a powerful king in the "real world").
I was hoping that The Mirage would offer insight into 9/11 by making it and its context just strange enough to see clearly. And it does do a fairly effective job of making an American, Christian reader "other" to herself by aligning the narrative's sympathies with those who some Americans consciously or unconsciously make "other" themselves. But as the novel goes on, the alternate reality Ruff has built begins to feel a little cardboard, a little too clever--and in ways which are not serving the story. One begins to question the pat "flip" of our world to this alternate world, one begins to long for an in-depth exploration of how the world got to have this "mirage" configuration. Clever parallels become annoying, begin to beg for further insight. Why, for instance, should there be a Law and Order: Halal in this world? Would the progression of popular culture, the reaction to and anticipation of popular taste, interest, and opinion in a UAS really so closely mirror that of the USA we know so as to develop the same television program? In other words, why should a superpower centered in the Arab world look anything at all like a superpower centered in North America?
The answer has to do with getting this story on the page, not with any careful consideration of another culture. (If the worlds did not parallel one another, Ruff's two realities would not be close enough to one another for Mustafa and others to begin to believe in the other, "real" world. And to be fair, the explanation for the creation of the mirage does address (though indirectly) why a UAS would parallel a USA in any way.) But if one can accept the parameters under which The Mirage operates, the novel does offer a striking glimpse of the USA from outside. Perhaps the best way to approach The Mirage is to think of it as akin to an animal fable, where, instead of human foibles being made clear to human readers by giving those foibles to animals, American foibles are made clear to American readers by presenting them from a different point of view. Perhaps The Mirage works best if one thinks of it as a book which asks not "What's up with the Middle East?" but rather "What's up with America?"
A fascinating book, if an unsatisfying one. It's biggest success may be in existing, in daring (and I do mean "daring") to suggest to the American public, even if only in fiction, that the Arab world may be the injured party in our world and that what we had best look at is ourselves. And I thank Matt Ruff for writing it, even if, as a story, it doesn't really work.
*** The Mirage fulfills my Religion category for April in my Reading Seasonally Challenge.
Interesting survey. According to my catalog, you (and M) have "made off" with approximately 50 books of mine/ours that we would like to have back someday. The number that you've taken without expectation of return is probably about half again that many. I have way more of your books than that in my possession, and would willingly "return" almost every one of them any time. ANY time at all.
I could just hug you for not turning down the corners of pages--and for sharing my all-time most favourite books.
#111 The Mirage looks an interesting if flawed read. I love alternate histories.
Having a toting up, are we? I done tol' you: I will happily, happily take them away from you when we have a place to put them. As for the other, I can't imagine to which books you might refer. :-P
I think it's definitely worth a read despite the flaws, especially if you already like alternate histories.
I have no idea how that happened. Though I would like to, as it appears to think I have marked up "113" as a member, linking to their profile. That would be handy if that were what I were actually trying to do.
You didn't put a space between "@" and "113". LT interprets that as a pointer to a user profile a la "drneutron".
23.) Ragtime, E. L. Doctorow ***
I expected to love this (though I'm don't know why I was so sure I would), so perhaps the disappointments I did have with it were magnified by my expectations. The story follows several (mostly minor) historical figures (though I didn't realize that many of them were historical figures until LW3 told me) through the first twenty-or-so years of the 20th century. The result is a portrait, of sorts, of America during that time (if one that is skewed largely toward the east coast). My experience reading the novel fluctuated between enthrallment and disinterest--a situation which could only lead to a lukewarm (at best) reaction to the novel as a whole. I see what Doctorow was doing, but I didn't find what he was doing particularly enjoyable. I also found the writing to be overwrought at times--especially in moments of high action or passion--and Doctorow's style, wherein summary rules over scenes, didn't work for me. I felt as if he said, "Come, let me show you something" and then held me at arm's length, preventing me from really seeing what he had to show. A disappointed meh.
Really good review. You've put your finger precisely on things which can make me close a book and leave it, especially that being held at arm's length feeling, so I think I'll give this one a miss.
#122, 123 I would quibble, had I the spare brainpower to do so at the moment. I very much enjoyed that book. I recommend you both see the movie. Tui, Laura knows this already, but a very young, lovely and sassy Elizabeth McGovern was in the movie (along with Mary Steenburgen and Mandy Patinkin), so it's definitely worth taking a look at for the performances. Norman Mailer played Stanford White (I had forgotten that).
24.) 1Q84, Haruki Murakami ****
My husband (who read 1Q84 shortly after it was published in the US) and I talked a great deal about the book while I was reading it and then for a good hour immediately after I finished it. It's a great book for talking about, a great book for comparing one's reactions to various plot points, themes, and characters. It does many things very well; there is an engaging fantastical scenario (or perhaps it is a magically realistic scenario), there are intertwining plot threads of great complexity, there are moments of brilliantly done suspense. It deftly explores themes of love, sex, religion, loneliness, and fiction. But I did not find it a particularly satisfying novel.
Despite liking the main characters and finding them interesting, I never became emotionally invested in them; I never cared much one way or the other what happened to them. The end is quite affecting in one regard, but frustrating and unsatisfying in others. I found the writing at some times insightful and well-crafted and at others clunky and repetitious. While the novel held me in thrall like no other novel has in years, by the two-thirds point, I began to feel held captive by it. In many ways, the book was deeply unsettling.
That 1Q84 was unsettling may have been part of the point; the clunky, repetitive nature of the writing may have been a translation issue; and my issues with the ending may be an unfair result of my biases regarding fiction and what I expect it to do. My husband loved 1Q84 and has a compelling interpretation of it which makes me pause in my criticisms of the novel. I am willing to concede that there may be more there than can be seen less than twenty-four hours after finishing it, or, perhaps, after only one read. But my initial reaction is one of slight disappointment in the book, but intense satisfaction in having read it. I do recommend it, as I think it is an experience worth having, despite its flaws.
Also, it's your first complete Murakami, yes? And M is a big fan of the man. I wonder if this was the best place to start (says I, who hasn't read 1Q84 yet.)
No, I read Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World a few years ago.
25.) A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway ***1/2
Hemingway and I usually don't get along, mostly because his attitudes and writing style drive me up a tree. I mostly didn't have those problems with A Moveable Feast, which is a series of stories or vignettes in which Hemingway recalls his years in Paris in the twenties. Some passages here almost make me like the man, and some of the descriptions of how things were then and there, and how he felt, are lovely. Other passages hardly held my interest. One bit with Ford Madox Ford in a bar is hilarious. Another with F. Scott Fitzgerald is terribly sad. I almost feel I ought give Hemingway's fiction another go. Almost.
I somehow managed to get through eleventy-bump English degrees without ever reading The Old Man and the Sea. It's one of the things I keep thinking I ought to read to give Hemingway another try.
I enjoyed The Old Man and the Sea a lot. I think its brevity fit the book perfectly. I wish more of today's authors would learn that lesson from Hemingway.
#129 See...that's the kind of deceptive bastid he was. Just when you feel all superior and dismissive of his macho BS, he pulls that act on you. The Green Hills of Africa does the same thing for me. But I didn't care for Old Man; there may have been some beauty in it, but what has stuck with me is the utter futility and yes...stupidity...of the undertaking. I think we're meant to admire Santiago, but I couldn't. I might be wise to re-read it, but I'm not inclined to do so.
Laura have you seen the film "Midnight in Paris"? Hemingway appears as a character and Woody Allen has him speak in the style of his writing. Really funny. And a great film for many other reasons, too.
Just watched Midnight in Paris last week. It's what made me want to read A Moveable Feast!
Ah ... I wasn't quite that tempted although your review could change my mind.
26.) She's Come Undone, Wally Lamb ***1/2
I'm not sure what made me pick up She's Come Undone and rip through it in less than two days, as I've always shied away from it before, thinking of it as one of those books about "Woman's Experience"--a topic which generally makes me cross (as if there could be such a thing). But I enjoyed She's Come Undone more than I expected to--the narrator's voice is engaging and pulls one right along, and Lamb creates characters and scenes seemingly effortlessly. The sentences read smoothly, and the novel is sophisticated in its movement. The final pages made me smile with happy satisfaction at the outcome of Dolores's story.
But something bothered me throughout my reading, and I'm still unsure of what, exactly, was the problem. Perhaps it was the relentless parade of wretched human beings in the book, people who seemed uninterested or incapable of love in any of its guises and who were wholly uninteresting except in the specific ways they affected Dolores. Perhaps it was the wearying way nearly every man in the story was a misogynistic jerk. Or the disconnect I felt between the experience of Dolores, born in 1952 in Rhode Island, and my mother, born in 1951 in Pennsylvania. No reason, really, exists to think that two women of the same generation born in roughly the same part of the country would have similar experiences, but Dolores seemed to live in an entirely different world than the one my mother grew up in. Where were the kinds of good, loving, strong characters who inhabited Mom's stories of growing up in the fifties and sixties? Why was nearly every adult in Dolores's world so touched by and damaged by The Times In Which They Lived?
Or perhaps it was that the events of the novel began to feel like a checklist of Bad Things That Happen to Women (I'm going to get a touch spoilery here). Dolores witnesses verbal and physical abuse against her mother by her father; sees her parents go through a divorce caused in some part by her father's adultery; watches her mother have a nervous breakdown, spend time in a mental hospital, then come home and engage in an affair with a married man; flirts with a handsome neighbor and then is raped by him at thirteen and convinced by him that "their" indiscretion is her fault; becomes mentally depressed and morbidly obese; experiences the death of her mother in a horrible traffic accident; is maliciously and sexually teased by a boy at a college party who then calls her horrible names and destroys her property when she fights back; nearly commits suicide; spends four years in a mental institution; marries a man who threatens to leave her if she does not abort their child; has an abortion she does not want; gets a divorce; and eventually must give up on her dream of bearing children. While Dolores does learn to stand up for herself and eventually finds happiness; loyal, loving friends; and a good man (and the moments when she has these breakthroughs are satisfying and exciting), this litany of misery began to feel a touch dishonest. It is not that I disbelieve that all of these things could happen to one person (and I will say that Lamb deals with each one beautifully), but that I began to suspect that these events existed in the novel for reasons that had little to do with story. And that put me off a bit.
In the end, I was impressed by Lamb's handling of structure and sentences and, in some cases, character. But despite the satisfaction I felt in Dolores's eventual triumphs, I also felt manipulated by the novel. And that will always leave a sour taste in my mouth.
I enjoyed that book when I first read it; but, I totally get it when you say you felt manipulated. I think in RL things like these do happen to people but I think the happy endings are very, very rare.
Hmm ... interesting perspective! I read this book eons ago. I think it was an Oprah Book Club read which should tell you all you really need to know. There was a time, way before LT, when I looked to Oprah for reading recommendations. Looking back though, I think most of her books had a similar theme/pattern and could leave you feeling manipulated.
Still, like you I was impressed with Lamb's writing.
In defense of Oprah (and I startle myself by doing so) her picks have also included some powerful classics by Faulkner, Steinbeck, and Dickens.
Ya, and I think many people who criticize Oprah's picks have done so because they like to be "against popular culture".. not because they've actually read any of those recommended. Some a quite good, some not so much, some just, well, interesting if you are interested in that kind of thing. (Which I was at one point in my life)
I read a whole passel of self-help books, many of which helped! And then, I got to a point where I was beyond help; and then, to another point at which I don't want any more help. I am fine the way I am, now, thank you very much. But I did need it for a while, and I'm glad they were around. Saved my skin!
Wally Lamb has written that kind of book which is helpful for some people who experience that kind of a life, I think.
27.) Rose Cottage, Mary Stewart ***1/2
A pleasant read with a slight mystery. I enjoyed the setting of late-forties rural England more, perhaps, than the story itself, but that is not really a criticism. Certainly not as plotty or suspenseful as others of Stewart's, but an afternoon's visit to an appealing time gone by with just enough goings on to keep one going on.
Hemingway (had to read him for an Amurcan Lit course) frequently made me feel typed at. You know, paper ripped out of the roller, shoved at me with a brusque "here, read this". We did The Old Man and the Sea, Death in the Afternoon and A Moveable Feast and something else I can't remember. I didn't like the first two all that much and didn't mind A Moveable Feast. No desire to read anything more by him.
#144 Perfect description, Tui. I believe he treated some of his wives just that way.
28.) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K. Rowling ****
I think I said a while back that the next time I felt like reading some Harry I'd skip the early ones. Huh. Felt like Harry and just naturally picked up book one. Right then. Have a notion I might read through the whole series again over the course of the summer. Was struck this time at how utterly, utterly brilliant the opening few chapters are.
Harry has become the same kind of comfort read that Jane Austen in the winter is. Sometimes I just want to go to Hogwarts and stay there for a while.
Right on! I reread all the Harry Potters a year ago and it was comforting - it was like visiting an old friend! Those books will live in my heart forever.
29.) The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie ****
Husbeast and I have been watching a lot of the David Suchet Poirot movies lately, and it occurred to me that I've read very little Agatha Christie (And Then There Were None as part of an assignment in eighth grade, which, honestly, is probably one of the reasons I've read so little Christie since then, and one or two others here and there, mostly, if I remember right, when I've been sick). So, picked up the first Poirot from the library the other day. Enjoyed this one quite a bit, much more than I've ever enjoyed reading Christie before, and I'm going to chalk that up to having been "introduced" to the characters (Hastings, as well as Poirot) in such a delightful way through the television programs. Looking forward to reading more--I already have Peril at End House in the short queue, as I didn't fully understand the solution as presented in the movie we watched (a rarity, that), and I'm hoping the book will tell me something that I missed or that was left out of the film.
Isn't Suchet a wonderful Poirot? We still say that we are "using ze leetle grey cells, 'astings" after watching the series years ago.
Ha! Yes. And the husbeast now is quite fond of referring to his "leetle grey cells" whenever he does something clever.
30.) When I Was a Child I Read Books, Marilynne Robinson ***1/2
Huh. This. I can't say I enjoyed this at all. First I had to get over my expectation that this book would be a collection of personal essays, probably focusing on books and reading. My fault, that expectation--should have read the flap more closely (but the title, see?). Once I reconciled myself to the idea that these essays would have a more historical, political, philosophical, or religious bent, I thought I should probably still enjoy the collection. I like that sort of bent; from what I remember of Housekeeping and what I've heard about Robinson's other novels, I thought I probably liked Robinson's writing. But I just couldn't get into these essays. I have to say I was mostly bored or irritated (or bored and irritated) while I read them, and the most frustrating thing about that, perhaps, is that I can't quite figure out why I was either.
On the face of them, each of the essays seems like it should be something about which I ought to be able to muster up at least a partial interest. But mostly Robinson's prose took on a droning, sometimes preachy quality. And every essay gave me the sense that there was some flaw in the reasoning behind it, some infelicitous use of evidence, that I could point out if only I could bring myself to pay better attention. I jotted down some snarky marginal notes in the first essay ("One cannot say of a widely held theory that it does not bear scrutiny and then fail to discuss why not. Come on." "Why can't mythology do the work of both science and religion? Why must it be one or the other, as she claims it is today? Why not a dualism, as she discusses (in other terms) on pages 8 & 9?"), but after that I wasn't even inspired to respond. A disappointing read, and one I almost certainly would have given up on after the first two or three essays if I had not felt a little bad about impulse-buying a $24.00 hardcover. Still can't quite decide if the collection is less than good, if it was just not my cuppa, or if I simply failed to rise to the occasion. I wish I hadn't read When I Was a Child I Read Books, but not really because the time put into it felt ill used, but because I fear this bad experience will return to me every time I consider picking up Gilead or Home and steer me away from them. And that, I am sure, is too bad.
I seem to remember some negative comments about When I Was a Child too...and yet there is only one other review here and I don't think that's what I'm remembering. It feels as if it were from someone I know on LT. I, too, hope you will not shy away from Robinson's fiction because of this.
31.) Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises, Mark Carwardine ****1/2
Picked this up during a trip to the National Aquarium in Baltimore earlier this month. This fully-illustrated recognition guide was surely not meant to be read from cover to cover, but that didn't stop me. I found it fascinating to read it straight through, comparing the appearance and behaviours of the different species of whales, dolphins and porpoises. I will probably rarely, if ever, use this book as it was intended to be used--in the field--but I think it would serve one well there. The illustrations are clear, and information identifying each animal is presented in quick-reference bars and labels as well as in paragraph form. A nicely organized, beautifully illustrated reference book for anyone interested in cetaceans.
*** Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises fulfills my Sea category for May in my Reading Seasonally Challenge.
32.) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling ***1/2
Probably the Harry book which has the most bits that I forget about from read to read and also the one with my least favorite sections (the flight to Hogwarts in the car simply bores me--I don't know why--and Lockhart is terribly wearisome). Suffers from being episodic without the brilliance of being the first Harry and from Rowling's summarizing of things we already know from book one (though, she does do that summarizing remarkably efficiently, managing the sum-up in one or two sentences and then usually adding some new little piece of information to the summary that we didn't already know). Nothing I hate in this one though, not like HP5. (*shudder*)
Tentatively giving up on Wolf Hall, which makes me really sad. See why here.
@ 162, 163
I didn't expect it either. It may have been temporary? We'll see what a quick, pleasant read does to my feelings about it.
33.) An Irish Country Doctor, Patrick Taylor ***1/2
Light and predictable, but pleasant. Covers a good deal of the same sorts of things as James Herriot's books, but with people patients rather than animals: learning the ways of the country folk, dealing with difficult patients, becoming fond of the area, the patients, the practice. Generally enjoyable, though at parts more than others--and I have to say that the country doctor in question--Barry Laverty--was sometimes incredibly slow on the uptake.
34.) The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling, Maryrose Wood ****
Our local bookshop has a poster for this book (but not the book itself), and I was intrigued. A fun, imaginative book for children about eight to eleven, it is set in the 19th century and tells the story of fifteen-year-old Penelope Lumley, who has been hired as governess to the Incorrigibles, three young children who were raised by wolves and then found in the forest by Lord Ashton. The charm stems from the Incorrigibles' wolfy behaviour; from the narrator's fun, informative asides to modern-day readers; and from the amusing black-and-white illustrations. Certainly suitable for children to read on their own, but I think the most fun would be to read this one aloud. The end resolves the most pressing issues of the book but leaves plenty of questions unanswered for book two.
New post at my blog some may find interesting. Is about kids and Harry Potter.
35.) A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, Bill Bryson ****
Typical Bill Bryson: an engaging memoir of something done or learned, which is by turns touching, informative, or hilarious. A quick but substantive read offering insights into the Appalachian Trail, some points along the trail, natural history, climate change, and American history. Particularly interesting to me because he talks about several places I have been or lived, but that was an added bonus. Should be a good read for anyone who likes nature or travel writing and enjoys a dry, sometimes sarcastic, humor.
***A Walk in the Woods fulfills my Summer category for June for my Reading Seasonally Challenge.
36.) Limitations and Love: J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Diane Calhoun
This is a masters thesis the husbeast found while we were prowling a used bookstore in New York State. It seems a singularly odd thing to find in a used bookstore (under what circumstances would one give or sell one's masters thesis to a used bookshop? or would one's friends or relatives so do?) and we couldn't leave it there, especially given the topic. I've never met a piece of Tolkien criticism that didn't fascinate me on some level, and this is no exception. The argument is cogent and engaging and inspired me to say "Well, now, what about this though?" at a few points, which is one of the best things about reading criticism.
I think you should track down Ms. Calhoun and start a dialog. Just the sort of thing the internet was invented for, what?
I'd love to know how it ended up in the used book store, if you ever find out.
Speaking of Tolkien, I just joined the Folio Society for one year so that I could get the Folio boxed set of LotR. I have a boxed set (Houghton Mifflin) which I got at a secondhand shop but it had been water damaged. I have always wanted a pristine set to leave to my English major son. I have to buy four other (very expensive) books as part of the deal.
#172....Oh, Tui...they'll have their hooks in you and you'll never break free.
Not at their prices. It was pure self indulgence but the old Calvinist spirit will rise again.
37.) The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery ****
The Elegance of the Hedgehog contains two narratives--one from the concierge at a high class apartment building who loves to read, listen to classical music, and watch films and who feels she must hide her interests from the rich, shallow tenants of her building and the other from a very bright twelve-year-old girl who is a resident of the building and finds adults and the adult world hopelessly shallow and uninteresting. Partly through each characters' interaction with a new tenant, an elegant, kind Japanese gentleman, and partly through their brief interactions with each other, the concierge and the girl each learn to let go of their more extreme judgements on the world. The novel has little to no action or plot, and it is more philosophy than fiction. I disagreed with many of the conclusions that these characters come to, but I enjoyed the observations they made. And I think I would like having either of them round for supper. Overall a book which bemused me, but which I was happy to read.
38.) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling ****
Aside from remarking on a renewed respect for Rowling's abilities at suspense building (in the final Quidditch match and in the climactic chapters) and concluding that boggarts are a reference to quantum mechanics, I don't have much to say on the reread of this one except that I enjoyed it.
Laura, I joined the Folio Society for a year just to get their boxed set of LotR and The Hobbit. They came yesterday and are breathtaking. My knees actually went weak when I took them out of the packaging.
Ooooo. I might be a little green. (Though, it must be said, we do have both LotR and tH in very nice editions. But. Still, I covet.)
39.) Salem Falls, Jodi Picoult ***
I've never read Picoult before because I am always wary of novels which seem to be About a Topic (capitals intentional there). As in, this novel is About Autism. This novel is About School Shootings. This novel is About Child Abduction. This wariness is a clear result of my thoughts on artful fiction, what it should do, and how it works. I think fiction should arise from discovery and exploration, and little red flags go up for me when I see that a novel is about something specific that we could just as easily be reading in a news magazine. A novel About Adultery seems to me like a very different thing than a novel with betrayal as a theme. I suspect the first of being forcibly made into a story about one particular thing because it is topical; I believe the second has a better chance of arising through writerly discovery. Either book could be terrible. And either book might be very good, I suppose, which is why I decided to give Picoult a try.
I chose carefully, picking a novel I had heard nothing about and whose topic sounded interesting to me. And I tried to read with an open mind. What I found in Salem Falls was better than I expected it to be, but still left me pretty cold.
The novel is the story of Jack St. Bride, who spent eight months in jail as part of plea bargain when an infatuated sixteen-year-old girl on the soccer team he coached claimed they were having a sexual affair. Jack is innocent, and we are never led to suspect otherwise. When he arrives in Salem Falls just after being released from jail, he finds a job at a diner and tentatively begins a relationship with the diner's owner. That Jack is a sexual offender makes its way around town, and a group of fathers in town make it their business to make it clear to Jack (through vandalism and personal violence) that Jack is not welcome. Eventually Jack is accused of rape by one of the town's teenage girls, a girl who readers already know is mad at Jack (for failing to show a sexual interest in her), craves attention, and was almost certainly high at the time of the alleged rape. The book then becomes a courtroom drama, with a lot of focus on gathering evidence and the presentation of the case in court.
Picoult writes pretty well. Sentences are clear and coherent, the story pulls one along, there are few of the kinds of tics that suggest a writer is not taking care with the craft, and the aspects of the story which probably required research ring true enough. But there is a tendency to overwrite and to over-sentimentalize. Honest, every action doesn't require a simile describing it, especially not if those similes try to give the actions meaning they don't deserve. And scars don't form in the shape of hearts on girls whose hearts have been trampled. Come on.
There were a lot of moments like those, those moments where I thought, "This is manipulation. I'm being told to feel something here, not being allowed to discover a truth along with the writer." I have little patience for that sort of thing, but other problems I had with the novel were probably even more important. These characters were cardboard; there was no complexity to them at all. Not one of them did a single thing that furthered the reader's understanding of the character or of the situation they found themselves in. Everyone behaved as expected; nothing ever asked the reader to stretch for meaning or growth. And that is almost disturbing in a novel whose main focus is a man being destroyed by people who can't seem to conceive of things being not the way they appear.
At about the two-thirds mark, I started asking myself what the the point of this book might be. I'll admit to being fairly well engaged--I wanted to know what would happen, I wanted to see if the story would come out the way it should or if injustice would prevail. And if making me want to turn the pages to find out What next? is all the novel was trying to do, well, then, I'd say it succeeds. But the flap of Salem Falls claims that Picoult's novels demonstrate "'a firm grasp of the delicacy and complexity of human relationships.'" That being the case, I would expect to discover something by reading the book. The novel tells me (and even, maybe, in some instances, shows me) that teenage girls sometimes become infatuated with older men; that such infatuation can lead to trouble, not least because teenage girls often don't have the maturity to deal with their infatuation or understand the full ramifications of acting on them; that good people tend to believe the worst about people who have been labeled as "bad"; that fathers protect their daughters, sometimes to the point of blindness toward their daughters themselves. Okay. Agreed. But I'd have agreed before I read word one of the novel; the story doesn't help me see anything new about any of this, doesn't help me understand any of it better or more fully. And without an arrival at some better or fuller understanding, I sort of feel like Salem Falls is just rolling around in Statutory Rape and False Accusations and Witch Hunts in order to pick up the emotions already associated with those topics and pass them on without adding anything worthwhile to the mix.
I have just finished the first book in the Castings Trilogy by the Australian writer, Pamela Freeman: Blood Ties. I think you might enjoy this one. Haven't read a fantasy (apart from HP) in years and am diving into book II.
ETA: I'm being told to feel something here, not being allowed to discover a truth along with the writer. I hate that feeling. Cardboard characters: gack. I haven't read any Picoult. Hooray!
>182 laytonwoman3rd:: what she said. I read a couple of Picoult's books some years ago. I liked the first, but on reading the second I decided they were too formulaic and manipulative.
40.) Arthur and George, Julian Barnes ****
Arthur is Arthur Conan Doyle and George is George Edalji, a English-born mixed race man who Doyle helped prove his innocence after Edalji was prosecuted and persecuted for crimes he obviously didn't commit. The figures are historical, the story is true, and most of the documents (newspaper articles, letters) referred to or quoted in the novel were actual documents from the time. Barnes writes well and he does an excellent job of creating the character of these two men. For the first half of Arthur and George, I was content to see their characters develop, but after the mid-point the story started to feel rather dull. George was never a likeable character, and Arthur grew less and less likeable as the book went on. All of which would have been fine if I were hooked well into the story. But we know from the start that George is innocent (even if one doesn't know this from the historical events, the novel makes it quite clear), and there's almost no suspense built over whether Arthur will be able to clear his name. The mystery of who did commit the crimes of which George was accused lends some interest to the back half of the novel, but it is handled with such lack of suspense and comes to such an anticlimax that one still feels a bit as if one is plodding along. (That the mystery itself is not handled more dramatically is not really a criticism of the book, as I don't think Barnes set out to write a mystery novel.) In the end, I was impressed by Barnes's ability to illustrate the character of these men, but don't think the characters themselves were quite interesting enough to sustain the whole of the book. I imagine someone who came to the novel already fascinated by Doyle or by the Edalji case might feel quite differently.
ETA: OK, this comment now makes no sense whatsoever. Replace it with:
Oi! Keep that up and I'll just post a review and ruin aaaaall the end for you.
41.) The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller ****1/2
Beautiful retelling of The Illiad (with some stories from some other sources as well) which focuses on the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. Patroclus tells the story, and their love for one another (no cop-outs a la Troy here; these men are not "cousins") is the center of the novel. The writing is somewhat sparse and consistently gorgeous; the characterizations vivid and arresting; and the transformation of this story from Greek epic into modern novel masterfully done. Despite working within a well-known story, the novel still managed to have me tense about whether the story would end as it should (it does, and its doing so feels perfect, not predictable). I have some quibbles to do with tense shifts (there was surely a reason for these, but it did not make itself plain to me) and the occasional repetition of information, but they are minor, really. A favorite read for 2012, for sure.
>189 lycomayflower:: one of my favorites this year, too. Just beautiful.
42.) A Passion for Books, Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan ****
An anthology of essays, quotes, and cartoons about reading, books, and book collecting. Like all anthologies, some selections were better than others. I particularly liked Anna Quindlan's "How Reading Changed My Life" and A. Edward Newton's "100 Greatest Novels in the English Language," in which he not only gives his list but talks a bit about it. The essays on book collecting grew a little tiresome in the end (I would have preferred one or two fewer of those and a few more personal essays about reading itself), but a good collection with a few treasures.
43.) All the President's Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein ***
Meh. I've wanted to read this for a long time, so I'm really disappointed that I didn't like it better. The Watergate scandal was over and done with six years before I was born, so I have no memories of it, of course. And I think that's partly why I had such a hard time with this book. Aside from Nixon, Woodward and Bernstein themselves, and a few of the other big names associated with the scandal, I didn't recognize the names of any of the principle players in the story. That, coupled with the writing style (very much "reporting"--no attempts to novelize, to create character, to make things memorable), made it very hard for me to keep track of who was who and to make the connections necessary really to understand all the machinations behind the whole affair. I don't fault the book for this; it is a journalistic account, afterall, not a novelization or a "true crime" sort of thing. But after about a third of the book, it became clear to me that I wasn't getting much out of it, so I speed read the rest, stopping to read more fully any parts that jumped out at me as very interesting.
***All the President's Men fulfills my The United States of America category for July for my Reading Seasonally Challenge.
44.) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling ****
An enjoyable reread. Struck this time by the commentary on news media. Also brilliantly chilling, that first real encounter with Voldemort. And I love the way Hermione reacts to bullying in this installment--she stands up for herself, doesn't overreact, and remains confident in herself and in her friendships. Nice.
45.) The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern ***1/2
It is clear that Erin Morgenstern has a wonderful imagination and the writing chops to transfer her imaginings onto the page. The Night Circus is brimming with elegant descriptions of magical circus exhibitions. And that's one of my problems with the novel, that it is brimming with such descriptions without much plot to hang them on. For the first three quarters of the novel, we learn only the kinds of plot elements that we already knew from the jacket flap, and those initial points seem to be reiterated over and over. The plot--that two young magicians who are caught up in a mysterious challenge that they don't understand find their lives enriched and complicated when they fall in love with one another--ought to be compelling. But as the book unfolds, the stakes for these characters (and for us) are unclear, and one is never terribly concerned that things won't work out somehow for these two. I predicted the general outcome of the novel (if not its specific execution) hundreds of pages before the end, and, in the absence of characters about whom one cares very deeply, that kind of predictability makes for a lackluster reading experience. The plot does pick up in the last one hundred pages or so and the storylines resolve fairly nicely, but I felt like the book was always more a string of brilliantly rendered descriptions of fantastical exhibitions and less a novel which integrated those brilliant descriptions into a coherent narrative whole.
46.) The Cement Garden, Ian McEwan ***1/2
Julie, Jack, Sue, and Tom live with their parents in an isolated house on the edge of the city. When they are orphaned by the death of both parents in quick succession, they decide to hide their mother's death and make a go on their own. They are fairly unsuccessful at it, allowing the house to become dangerously filthy and failing to feed themselves properly. But, most importantly, they are wholly unable to cope with the emotional and psychological ramifications of their circumstances, and they spiral into more and more peculiar relationships with one another. The book is a portrait of adolescence disrupted and disturbed. The writing is fine, and McEwan draws the atmosphere of depression, malaise, and role-confusion in the household brilliantly, but ultimately the novel falls flat. I came away from it slightly discomfited, but with no sense of having learned or rediscovered anything from the read. The first line suggests some sort of revelation to come, though it never does, and the last line indicates that this interlude in the children's lives was somehow refreshingly transformative, which it surely wasn't. Perhaps these lines are meant to underscore the children's confusion, but, if so, it didn't resonate with me. Still, a solid, if ultimately unsatisfying, early novel from McEwan.
A pox on authors what seem to promise something they don't deliver.
47.) Harry Potter's Bookshelf: The Great Books Behind the Hogwarts Adventures, John Granger ****
Granger's discussion of the literary influences on the Potter books and how tracking those influences can help one understand Potter more thoroughly should not surprise anyone who is well-read in English literature or who has studied English lit beyond the high school level. But it's a fun read, and the discussion is enough wide-ranging that even the widely-read might learn something new (the section on the Gothic novel tradition broadened my understanding of a genre I never had a chance to study formally, for instance, and the chapter including a look at British schoolboy fiction clarified some things I'd only gleaned from references here and there, as that genre seems not to have hopped the pond over to the US). Even when he talks about books and genres I know well (Pride and Prejudice, detective fiction), Granger tended to bring into sharper focus insights I may have had but not thought-out fully. However, I did find myself wishing throughout that Granger would more emphatically answer the question "So what?" after outlining his insights. It is enjoyable just to make the connections, but I wanted him to tell us what all these connections reveal about the novels that not just anyone could see. I wanted conclusions. I wanted a thesis. The book is not entirely devoid of conclusions, but I felt sort of constantly left handing, left without the resolution to an intellectual exercise. This might be forgiven, I suppose, since the book was obviously written for people who are not PhDs in English, and was surely meant to be accessible to the advanced teen Potter fan as well as adults. An enjoyable discussion of Harry, and better edited and proofread than some of Granger's earlier books on Potter. Smart and insightful, but not rigorous, though it does accomplish one thing I think all good literary criticism should: it makes me want to return to the novels.
Was that book written by Hermione's father?!
Seriously, I've shared this one with my "HP fanatic sophomore in creative writing who has two more weeks to use her bookstore employee discount". Thanks!
LOL. I've always found it more amusing than is probably appropriate that this guy shares a last name with Hermione.
My quibbles with Granger stem almost entirely from the PhD in me who can't help wanting his books to be more "academic." The HP fan in me loves them, so I'm sure your HP fan will love this one, too.
This topic was continued by lycomayflower reads in 2012--part 2.
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.