Whitewavedarling's Reads in 2012
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Well, last year for the first time that I can remember, I didn't make it to 100 books, and I fell far short of meeting my personal goal of 50 pleasure reads. This year, I hope to do both, so we'll see what happens now that I'm officially beginning a year in dissertation land. On some level, I feel like counting dissertation-related books in pleasure reads will be cheating, but then, I did choose my dissertation...and would never meet my goal otherwise! So, mixed in with some true pleasure reads, you'll see many books here related to Africa, to body theory, to trauma, to psychology, to literature, and to AIDS...all related to my dissertation. The books that I really simply don't want to read (or re-read), will be simply considered school books. And, since I'm sitting in on a class, there'll be those books in the school categroy also. As before, I'll add letters to the numbers to keep track of the pleasure reads.
Last year, I ended up with 83 books total, and only 34 pleasure reads. We'll see what happens this time around...
The first books....
1. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
This was my sixth or seventh time around with this one. Good, but probably not good enough to itself require that many reads!
2. Mister Johnson by Joyce Cary
Enh...I'm still collecting my thoughts on this one. Nevertheless...Full review written.
3a. The Wrong Apple by David Rees (the first FIVE STAR read of the year...!)
This is one of the few novels to not only deal with the early days of AIDS in a nuanced fashion, but to treat the characters as people who are more than their HIV-status and fears. In the end, this is a simple novel, but it is also smart, subtle, and uplifting. Call it a coming-of-age story for adults--it's worth spending an afternoon with for any mature reader.
4b. Gardy and Erin by Jeff Black
This book is a nice afternoon diversion, but the one major problem is believability. A lot of the actions/situations are hard to swallow, as are some of the coincidences. The book is also slow at some points--especially the beginning--so while the characters are believable and likable, it's the plotting and pacing that makes this a book which I won't rush to pass on. Yet, the nuances in the way Black deals with AIDS and mortality are smart, and rarely explored, so the book may well be worth an afternoon's diversion....you just have to go into it knowing that the plot stretches believability.
5c. Rebel Without a Clue by Holly Uyemoto
The title might have scared me off from this one, but for that I've been trying to read as many of the early AIDS related novels as possible. Unfortunately, this one just wasn't worth the time or trouble. It is heavy on cliches and a bit overwritten, and the characters themselves are fairly flat. Much of the book reads like a stream-of-consciousness rambling from a character something like Ferris Bueller (of Ferris Bueller's Day Off)--lacking in self-awareness and relatability, spoiled, and rather childish...and, surrounded by the same. In other words, I found it rather a childish book, one that in many ways felt as if it was written by a teenager with writing skills moreso than intelligence. This might sound harsh, the book was hard to get through, and not particularly entertaining even at its best moments. Not one I'd recommend.
6. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
A re-read, but my feelings on the book didn't particularly change. I understand why it's a classic, but in the end, I think the author was more true to the lesson he wanted to tell, and less to the story. For me, the ending once again ruined much of what I felt for the novel.
7. The River Between by Ngugi Wa Thiong'o
Solid and urgent, this is one of those novels that seems both timeless and utterly contemporary. Toward the end, some of the more sentimental sections of the novel are somewhat overwritten, but the book as a whole is a meditation on unification, personal belief, and confidence. The characters and descriptions here bring the full work to life, in wonderful detail, and I imagine it's a rare reader who won't be moved by the story Thiong'o explores here. Absolutely recommended.
8. Sozaboy by Ken Saro-Wiwa
Fascinating language innovations, but something I have to keep processing for a bit. More like poetry than a novel, reading-wise.
9. People of the City by Cyprian Ekwensi
A fast read, but maybe too fast--the characters were loosely drawn, and in the end, the book left little impression.
Interesting selection of books! I will be looking into several of these.
12. The Interpreters by Wole Soyinka
Difficult, but incredibly interesting. Soyinka's characters are both believable and surreal, and his vision of artists and politics provokes a careful critique of the spaces we expect (or hope) to change society. This is one of those books that may need to be read two-three times for a full understanding or impact, but the writing is fascinating, and makes the first journey well worth the while in terms of thought and entertainment. I have no doubt that the second read, and beyond, will be just as worth the time. With such beautiful writing, and fascinating turns, it goes quickly. Recommended.
13d. Beauty's Gift by Sindiwe Magona
Simple, powerful, and necessary: this book is as much about family and love as it is about AIDS or our changing society. Beautiful and recommended.
Have you read The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta? I think it'd be right up your dissertation alley.
15. Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith
Another reread for school, but one of my favorite poetry collections. Centered around Katrina and New Orleans experiences, this has to be my favorite collection that combines documentary style history with strong verse. Absolutely, and always, recommended.
16e. The Art Lover by Carole Maso
There's a full review written on this one, but the short version: I found this self indulgent, and drastically in need of editing. Experimental or not, this work didn't come close to meeting my expectations. Not recommended.
17f. In Memory of Angel Clare by Chistopher Bram
Enh...not something that I'll remember for more than a week, or that I'd think to recommend, though there is a full review written.
18. A Question of Power by Bessie Head
This is a difficult book, but one of those fascinating narratives that offers more with each look. The characters are not only believable and interesting, but give clear insight into postcolonial relations and succeed allegorically at the same time. As complex as the book is, the language only adds to the power of it. All together, a read worth exploring and coming back to.
19. Property by Valerie Martin
Another re-read, but just as enjoyable the second time around. Full review written, and well worth the time for anyone interested in neo-slave narratives--this is a unique one.
20. In a Brown Mantle by Peter Nazareth
A quick read with a political focus, this is beautifully written, but doesn't leave a lasting impact.
21g. Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan
More and more, I'm falling in love with the simple power of O'Nan's work. The careful characterizations and heartbreaking regularity of a single normal day are at the forefront of this short novel--and, while it may not be accessable for younger readers because of the normality, I think that makes it all the more powerful for readers who are old enough to have faced disappointment, and been torn between jadedness and optimism. Simply, I would absolutely recommend this book. At 18, I think I might have been bored by it; now, at 31, I can only sit back and admire it for the beauty of the day to day that rests here.
22. From a Crooked Rib by Nuruddin Farah
This is a quick book, but also a strange one. Marketted as a book about a girl named Elba who must try to retain her identity in a patriarchal world, it seems to fall short of this goal since, simply, Elba doesn't seem to Have much of an identity. Her confusion, whether cultural or individual, leaves her far short of being able to fight for a persona that she doesn't have beyond moving from moment to moment at her own preference. On the whole, I'd have to say that I found the book an entertaining diversion, but it also seems to be something of a game. In the end, I felt sympathy for nearly every character But Elba, and that's either a masterful turn of the author's, or a mistake--I'm still not sure which. It is, though, the ending note which keeps me from recommending this work or even finding it memorable. It seems more of an experiment, and one that just falls short.
23. Age of Iron by J.M. Coetzee
A re-read with a full review written, but even more enjoyable this second time around.
24. Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah
I'm still thinking about this one, so I've only written a short and general review, but without doubt, it's going to lead me to looking up more fiction by Gurnah. I've been reading a great deal of African lit. lately...but this may be one of the top favorites. Not for young audiences, but absolutely recommended.
25h. Tender by Toi Derricotte
For me, Derricotte's poetry reads more like chopped up prose than poetry. The line breaks matter, but the language itself is so straight-forward and prose-ish that you'd never know they were meant to be poems if you heard them aloud or saw them in paragraph form--rather, they'd feel like very short stories or snippets of thought. And, in my opinion, many of them are also fairly heavy-handed. Simply, this just isn't a poetry collection I'd think to recommend.
26i. A Mercy by Toni Morrison
This is an interesting and complex text, but as a novel, it just doesn't stand up to Morrison's other work. The characters are too sparingly drawn, and Morrison's focus is just spread too thin. For someone interested in non-traditional slave narratives or in reading all of Morrison's work, this might be worth the time, but otherwise, I probably wouldn't recommend it.
27. Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
I'm not sure that this work has as much impact as Coetzee's other work, but it's still well worth the time. Coetzee's careful depiction of an elderly man caught in the workings of an empire on a colonialized space is both touching and, at times, hard to take. His careful attention to the body and to torture are, especially, difficult to read. This narrator, though, is worth exploring, and someone reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro's Remains of the Day. On the whole, this may not be as fast or as unique as Coetzee's other work, but it is just as intelligent and worthwhile.
28j. Pied Piper by Nevil Shute ... So far, probably my favorite read of the year.
I let this work sit quietly on my shelf for far too long. This quiet story of an elderly English man, unwittingly sucked into the chaos of WWII and the lives of numerous children, is both powerful and touching. Shute's writing is understated and unique, but the simple beauty of his language and scenes is striking throughout. I hadn't read Shute before, but this book has made me a permanent fan. Absolutely, this text is worth exploring and passing on. If you're looking for an escape into something both worth your time and engaging, this is it.
29k. Elsewhere by Wiliam Peter Blatty
In the beginning, Blatty's language put me off of the book--in fact, I read the first chapter, got frustrated with what I saw as constant over-writing, and left it behind for a few days. This morning, I wasn't particularly inclined to pick it back up, but figured I'd give it a bit more time before calling it quits. I then, in one sitting, read the next/last two hundred pages.
First, since I've already mentioned language, I'll say now that I think Blatty is actually making some fairly subtle choices with language throughout the text, and that what I saw as early over-writing is an annoyance that not only evens out, but serves a purpose in the end. Similarly, the characters who seem fairly flat (in fact, nearly indistinguishable) early on, are more and more subtly drawn as the book goes forward; in the end, text really is a bit of a web that asks for re-reading, partly based on Blatty's language and intricacies of description and change.
As a haunted house story, the book also succeeds fairly gracefully. Not only has Blatty incorporated the hallmarks of haunted house literature (as I see them, at least), but he's taken a unique spin that does in the end make the work stand out as an original contribution which begins conversations that aren't so often seen in haunted house stories, much as they may be regular inclusions in horror. Of course, that's incredibly vague, but I want desperately to not give anything away. This is one work where I'd say you should be cautious of reviews...
As a last note, my only disappointment with the book is the ending--it was a bit too quick, and a bit too much as well. It's not that Blatty doesn't build toward the ending choices, but some of the subtlety that makes other portions of the book come together so powerfully is just absent from the last chapter. Otherwise, though, this is an interesting and quick haunted house story...and kind of perfect for what it is.
If you like haunted house stories, or ghost stories, you'll probably find this well worth your time.
30L. The Glass Dragon (Dragon Nimbus #1) by Irene Radford
I have to admit: I thought I'd never finish this book. The storyline and cover drew me in long ago when I picked this up at a used bookstore, but while I love fantasy, I explore new fantasy authors more rarely than I'd like...this book, unfortunately, is a sample of the primary reason.
A unique and original plot goes a long way in making for a successful fantasy, and while somewhat predictable by the end, Radford's first installment of The Dragon Nimbus series held up to that standard. Unfortunately, her writing and her characterizations were so weak that that originality paled. Writing-wise, this is better written than many fantasies I've stumbled into, but it doesn't hold up to literary standards or to some of my favorite fantasy writers like Ursula K. Le Guin and Jacqueline Carey. It may not be clunky, but it isn't alive or particularly memorable either. The characters here, though, are far worse than passable.
The central woman in this book, Brevelan, is both the stereotypical damsel in distress And the stereotypical fantasy heroine, and, simply, it doesn't work. While I love the idea and the background of the Brevelan, she's completely helpless (to the point of giggling and fainting and speechlessness) around not one, but two, men--that's right, there's a romantic triangle here more suited to a grocery store romance than a fantasy. Yet, the author is constantly noting how strong the character is, and how independent. I'll agree: every strong person has their weak moments, and vice versa. However, a woman who's been independent and self-sufficient her entire life does nto simply swoon at the sight of an independent handsome man--or, at least, not repeatedly and to the point of comedy. I'm not someone who needs every female to be a feminist or even a strong character, but this character's supposed traits were so incredibly inconsistent that she just wasn't believable.
The male characters were slightly better drawn, but I'm tempted to say that that's because they were given less depth. The magician Jaylor had some of the same inconsistencies, to a lesser extent, and for an independent rogue, he was incredibly timid around his supposed love. The other male character also, for his background, seemed far too timid. Of course, both characters' timidness disappeared whenever Brevelan became the damsel in distress instead of the talented healer...
On the whole, the characters were just inconsistent, and the emotional/romantic portions of the book were more laughable than emotional. The plot and ideas here really are interesting, but they needed more time, depth, and conditioning, as well as more careful characterizations to make them really come to life.
Simply, I wouldn't recommend this. Perhaps the story can outshine the flaws for some readers, but for me, while I kept coming back to the book, I rarely made it more than five pages without becoming so distracted by the flaws as to, very simply, just not care what would happen next. And, much as this first installment isn't remotely resolved action-wise, I don't see myself ever seeking out the second installment.
31m. In Memoriam to Identity by Kathy Acker
There's no doubt that this book is driven more by voice and character than plot. Stylistically, the book has a certain amount of inertia driving it, nearly forcing readers along. And perhaps all of this makes sense, considering that the book's very title puts the question of identity as a focus. Yet, as a whole, I have to say that the book doesn't hold together as any sort of novel--at least for this reader.
The beginning and the ending, especially, dragged for me, and seemed to run along with little to no focus outside of the extended inner monologues that form the bulk of the novel. Acker's style, also, seems to built for maximum shock, with obscenities and sex overflowing on nearly every page, eroding any reader's sensitivity and patience until, I have to imagine, they put down the book in annoyance, or stop noticing the X-ratedness of the work (as this reader did).
I admit, at times I got caught up in the voices, but in the end, I'm afraid I have no reason to linger over rethinking the workings of the novel or the language, as I feel that shock moreso than meaning is at the heart of it all--if not, I'd be willing to bet, it could be 50 pages instead of 250.
Simply and obviously, I can't recommend it.
32n. Draining the Sea by Micheline Aharonian Marcom
Something like an X-rated cross between Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, Jonathan Fowles' French Lieutenant's Woman, and the poetry of Charles Bukowski, this novel reads rather like a three hundred page prose poem built from war and a poetry of erotics.
If that sounds appealing, you may just love this. I do think that, at heart, there's a narrative holding the work together, but I also believe that it might take a few reads to put all of it together. The language here is, without doubt, often gorgeous, and the work runs on a certain amount of inertia throughout; in fact, for the first 200 pages, the narrator's powerful voice kept me from putting the book down for any longer than necessary. In the last third of the work, however, the wandering nature of the novel took over, and the repetition became more incidental than fascinating. Marcum's prose is so circular, though, that the work as a whole is something of a web--it builds and folds back in upon itself, and gives itself a certain defense. As such, though, it's not an easy work to follow, and one that depends more on voice and language than any clear plot or linear movement.
Also, I should note that the language here is something like what one encounters in works like Fight Club--at times, it seems the obscenities are necessary, and at other times they seem to exist for shock. Soon enough, though, the extreme language (and repetitive, usually sexual in nature) will either disconcert readers so much that they put the book down, or else blend into the background so that readers no longer notice it and move on.
All that said, the language here, in many cases, really is wonderful, and I'm glad to have read the work solely for that reason. One of these days, I may wander back to the beginning and see whether it reads any differently, but as the case stands, I'm not sure I can recommend the work on to any readers but those who are fascinated by that first description...if you are looking for an X-rated version of Rushdie crossed with Fowles, though, this really might be just up your alley...
33o. Miracle Cure by Harlan Coben
This was a powerful introduction to Coben's work: as a suspense novel, it moves quickly and believably, and keeps you guessing throughout the work even though, in the end, everything makes sense. True, Coben misleads readers along the way, but he doesn't trick them or leave out small bits of information that, realistically, should be included--in other words, it's written the way a good mystery should be. Character-wise, Coben's characters are believable and well-drawn. Subject-wise, Coben also tackles more aspects of the complexity of society's reactions to AIDS than most novels, and does so subtly.
It is true that this is one of Coben's earlier works, republished, and there are a few spots where that shows through in awkward-ish dialogue and scenes moving a bit too quickly or slowly, but in general, this is a smart and well-developed suspense novel. And, early or not, it's enough to ensure that I'll be picking up quite a bit more work from Coben.
34p. Valley of the Shadow by Christopher Davis
Something like an elegy and a memoir combined, this is a quiet novel, and one which depends on voice and characterization moreso than plot. Davis' prose is simple and quick, with passages that rely on rambling sentences and conversational tone. The book as a whole is wandering, though, and reads a bit too naturally at parts, as if Davis work really were simply an un-edited journal/memory. That may well add to the beauty of the book, but it also takes away a bit of the emotion and suspense that I might have been here, and instead get lost at various moments. Simply, I wanted more about the narrator's life outside of the novel's focus, and wanted to feel more like I knew him, instead of knowing one aspect of his life. The narrator's focus makes sense, considering the circumstances of the book, but I still needed more to see him fully as a person.
In the end, I have mixed feelings about this one. It has a simple beauty to it, and the fact that it doesn't read like a novel does make it stand out in a certain way. I can't help feeling, though, that it feels marginally undone or unfinished. But then, perhaps that's the point, considering the subject.
35q. What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage
A touching and humorous book, this is one of those novels that reminds you to look at even the most serious situations with a bit of humor and optimism. The book's characters are believable and perfectly written, and Cleage's writing is graceful and smart. So much is covered in this fast read, and it is covered beautifully. My one criticism is that it ends too quickly, and perhaps a bit too easily, but the read is wonderful and well worth the while regardless. Absolutely recommended.
36r. The God Engines by John Scalzi
An interesting read with haunting illustrations, this is a dark novella that has some striking scenes and language. With powerful writing and characterizations, Scalzi's work comes together into a quick and multi-leveled read that provides both entertainment and thought based off of a fascinating concept.
For this reader, the work does move a bit too fast, but that's my primary complaint: simply, I wanted more from the characters and the narrative because I felt like it was worth more time and concern. The depth of thought was here to back up a fuller commitment, but it ended up feeling less thought out than it might have because of the small rushed package.
Still, for science fiction fans, I'd definately recommend this work, and I may very well reread it myself. Certainly, I'll look out for more of Scalzi's work--the concept here was amazing, and again, I can't say enough for the illustrations by Vincent Chong that brought this work to another level entirely.
37s. Tangled up in Blue by Larry Duplechan
A bit contrived at times, but still a solid and entertaining novel, this is one of those books that looks at individuals as they deal with one another and AIDS, and not simply at how they deal with the politics and details of AIDS. It also takes place in the eighties, as AIDS was still far from understood, giving an almost historical view at times. Still, the focus is on love, and on individuals, and the quiet drama at the heart of the work is well worth reading. The writing is admittedly a bit clunky and awkward at times, but even in those moments, humor often makes up for the slips.
38t. Sonnets from the Portuguese and Other Poems (Dover Thrift Editions) by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
There's no doubt that Browning's sonnets stand out above many of the poems here, but this small edition does hold together as a smooth and varied collection of her works. For a reader who doesn't need or want the added explanations that an editor might provide, and who simply wants a sample of Browning's lovely work, this might well be a worthwhile choice. Certainly, many of Browning's words feel dated and idealistic today, but they stand as a beautiful collection of poems from another time, and one worth revisiting.
39u. Cage by Astrid Cabral Translated by Alexis Levitin
First, I should note that I can understand only a bare minimum of Portuguese, and, since I wasn't before familiar with either the author or translator, I simply cannot judge the translation quality of the work. As for the translations/poetry, though...
The poems here are grounded in nature and image, many of them illustrating calm or still moments in the author's most familiar environments, with animals that are nothing less than exotic for an American reader. This centering focus is both the strength and weakness of the collection--so much nature and image lends itself to an incredibly quiet collection that has little of the dramatic emotion or turn that we might expect to drive a collection. Similarly, though, the focus makes for a tender and striking journey through the Amazon, and revolves around images that are both graceful and elegant. It is true that many of the poems thrive ont his grace and elegance moreso than language play, but for many readers, the language will become beautiful through the beauty of the image.
In closing, there's no doubt that the poetry here will bore many readers. But, for readers who enjoy nature and nature writing, or an author's simple and elegant translation of exotic environments, this collection will be well worth searching out. Certainly, there are poems here that I'll find myself coming back to in those quiet moments when I search out Thoreau and other writers of nature; Cabral will remain among them with this collection.
What a wonderful surprise....
40v. Acqua Calda by Keith McDermott
This is a quiet and unassuming book, but for a first novel, it is also absolutely on target in every moment it attempts. McDermott's illustration and summing up of what goes into creating theater is both humorous and absolutely believable (this coming from a long-standing stage hand and sometimes actress), and nothing short of masterful by the end. Similarly, his characters build toward personalities that bring on humor and derision just as much as compassion. Simply, this is a book about re-finding life when one believes that it is already too far gone. And, as such, it is well worth the time.
And another wonderful beautiful book that I chanced upon...I'll be looking up everything this author has written.
41w. Above the Thunder by Renee Manfredi
Manfredi's expertly driven first novel is a graceful and wonderful story--one of those stories that, very simply, remind us why and how we get so wrapped up in stories. Exploring the unpredictable intersections and turns of day to day life, the novel moves gingerly at the start, but becomes something which cannot be put down. Each character brings a new life to the pages, and makes the more all the more beautiful and difficult to put down. Simply, I'd rather not give anything way, because any synopsis or broad-stroke summary couldn't do justice to the author's originality. This is a book for adults, about life, and it is one which should be read, passed on, and remembered. Certainly, I'll be coming back to it, and likely passing on copies to everyone from my best friend to my mom. And, meanwhile, I'll be searching out anything else Manfredi has published since this came out in 2003.
Absolutely, unhesitatingly, recommended. If you want a story to escape into, look this one up.
42x. Solar Prominence by Kevin Craft
Based in images and language play, many of these poems revolve around nature or space. Kraft's language drives them to conclusions that quietly resolve the exploration entailed in each poem, and as such, each one is nearly a small exploratory essay unto itself. In the end, the collection is a fascinating group of works, some of which will bring a reader back for many more reads. The one major weakness in the work is that this natural focus of Craft's is so central to each work--the lack of humanity and, often, of emotional tension, leads the poems to bleed together a bit so that they don't necessarily come across so strikingly as they might as single explorations encased in a journal.
43y. Mission Work: Poems by Aaron Baker
This poetry collection is based on the author's childhood as the son of missionaries living in Papua New Guinea, and, perhaps unfortunately, no reviewer could fail to mention this guiding concept because it is, simply, the one reason a reader might be drawn into this book. The concept is constantly tangible, and the poems have little life on their own unless a reader keeps it in mind. Few of the poems are comprehensible without the benefit of the full collection, and many are still far too abstract to truly connect to a reader unfamiliar with Baker's experiences and/or the culture.
Language-wise, Baker's poems are unfortunately uninspired. Whether the goal of his work is documentary or poetic, neither is truly translated in the print of this work. As a reader, I was often able to follow his meaning, but uninterested because of the flat and straightforward language that left me apathetic. In the end, I'd have preferred a nonfiction work on the culture, or even a memoir, since I feel I might have gained more from that work. True, there was the occasional inspired line that was both interesting and graceful, poetic and meaningful--these, though, were few and far between, and nowhere near regular or outstanding enough that they made the book worthwhile.
The book is an award winner, and Baker himself is a distinguished writer and professor--I can only guess that his poetic instincts were too at odds with his urge to translate his true experiences, or that he may have been too close to his material in this particular collection.
Simply, unless you're looking for further sight into missionary work in New Guinea or the poetry that comes from such experiences, I wouldn't find reason to recommend this particular work.
Half-way through my goal of reading 50 pleasure books!!!! (Last year, I didn't get this far...)
45aa. From Page to Stage and Back Again: The 2003 National Poetry Slam Edited by Michael Salinger, Lucy Anderton, and Regie Gibson
In the foreword on this collection, the editors note that they've worked to choose poems which are not Only slam poems, but which work as spoken word pieces that also translate well to the page---for the most part, amazingly, they've succeeded.
I have books from some of my favorite slam poets, and most of their works, frustratingly, just don't translate to paper; then, we wouldn't expect music to translate so well, so we probably shouldn't ask the same of spoken word poetry. Yet, of course, we do. The editors here have done a phenomenal job of finding a varied assortment of poems that do, for the most part, transmit their sounds and voices through the page, showcasing how a poem can shine when/whether printed or performed.
Of course, you may still want to find the recordings and performances. I've had the honor of seeing some of these poems performed in person, and in other cases seen the authors perform even where I haven't seen them run these particular poems; in those cases, I could hear and see the poems coming forth even as I read them, and those poems gained a different level of life than the others here. Some authors represented here--Buddy Wakefield, Mike McGee, and Taylor Mali among them--are just too powerful to be adequately represented in print because they are not just poets, but performers. In these cases especially, I hope you look up the poets after enjoying their words here. But either way, this collection is entertaining, varied, and smart.
Absolutely recommended to all those who feel even a curiosity, whether you think you might like slam...or not.
46bb. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
I read the title story of this book years ago, but after having heard much about it, the story left such a sour taste in my mouth that I put aside the collection and only finally came back to it in the last few days, having heard from other readers that the title story was a least favorite within the work. And, in the end, having finally finished all the stories, I have mixed feelings.
"The Bloody Chamber" is among a number of the stories that are extremely heavy-handed in a re-writing fairy tales with a feminist perspective and language that highlights--sometimes to an absurd degree--the roles women can find themselves in in relation to men. For me, though, part of the beauty of fairy tales is an other-worldliness, and a leaving behind of heavy-handed socio-political thought or contemporary worries. In too many of the stories, the fairy tales are rewritten, it seems, to make women good and men bad, women smart and men, at best, dull and fumbling. The heavy-handedness of it all, and the one-sidedness, was both frustrating and tiring.
Still, there are other stories where Carter's rich language and opulent settings shine through with an inspiration to not just re-write fairy tales, but fully re-envision them. In many cases, these other tales felt unfinished in the end (as if Carter grew bored with them and rushed them to a close), but were beautiful and well worth the time while they lasted.
Simply, I often felt that the ideology and goals overpowered what inspiration there was, and that this collection is famous more for its careful feminist re-writing than anything else. Often, it is heavy-handed, but it is also a different spin on fairy tales that I've no doubt will be of interest to many. To my eye, the story that shines out most (primarily for its language, I admit, as opposed to the story) is "Puss-n-Boots", with "The Tiger's Bride" being a close second.
If you are interested in fairy tales, you probably should at least look into this collection, but plan to treasure it for the language, or for the marriage of ideology with classic fairy tales--not renewed or renewing inspiration, unfortunately.
47cc. Refusing Heaven by Jack Gilbert
A smart and varied collection--this is one of those poetry collections that sends you so many beautiful lines and quiet moments of thought and reflection that it reminds you why we read poetry. There are many poems here that I'll come back to, over and over again.
Absolutely recommended for any poetry readers.
48dd. The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios by Yann Martel
From the title novella to the ending story, Martel's work here is graceful and fascinating. His introduction might note that these are early and less masterful works than that which has made him famous, but they are excellent and worthwhile nontheless. Each story shows an adept understanding of how conflicting ideas and threads might be woven together, and gracefully draws together narratives and experiments that bring each page to life. Simply, once you pick this up, you won't put it down. Even my mother, whom I've never known to read short stories, began the first one on a whim...and soon finished the collection.
Absolutely recommended for any reader.
49ee. Hip Logic by Terrance Hayes
Hayes is an amazing reader, and I generally love his poetry nearly as much when read in print--this collection may be the exception, though. While some of the poems here are ones which I'll come back to, over and over again, many of them are poems that I can easily imagine coming to life only with his voice and inflections--on the page, they're just not that memorable. As such, while this is still a strong collection, I'd recommend exploring some of Hayes' other work unless, of course, you're already a fan. Either way, there'll be poems here that you'll find are well worth your time, but I'm not sure the collection as a whole stands up to his other work.
50ff. Just as I Am by E. Lynn Harris
This was a frustrating read for me. I liked the characters, and the story, but the further I got into the story, the more it became clear that the characters were just a bit too dumb and simplified to be believable. The main characters, and the characters who were meant to be likable, were just too good to be true, and a bit too dumb--realizing themselves and each other too slowly and saying all the right and wrong things at all the right moments. Simply, nobody's journey in life is so stereotypically designed. And, the characters who readers weren't meant to like were either too simply presented for readers to feel one way or the other, or outright villains, to the extent that their involvement with the main characters made little to no sense.
Beyond the characters, I'd be remiss to not comment on the writing. At times, the book was just overwritten, especially the dialogue. Characters spoke in overly formal language (no contractions except the few characters who spoke in over-done dialect or accent) that sounded unbelievable, or overexplained things so that the reader would know when, really, the character would never be saying these things aloud. Similarly, the therapy sessions were overdone. Instead of writing explication and backstory into the characters' actions or internal thoughts, backstory was written into dialogic therapy sessions that were just long enough to get the points across.
Simply, I probably wouldn't read more of Harris' work based on this read. The writing--especially in dialogue and character design--just wasn't strong enough. I don't necessarily need writing to be phenomenal, but it should be strong enough that it doesn't make itself known as a flaw that takes away from the story. Here, that's what happened.
If you're just looking for non-thinking entertainment and drama (soap-opera/romance style), this book might indeed be of interest, but if you're attentive to language and believable characters & situations...well, I'd go elsewhere. This probably isn't a book I'd find reason to recommend on to future readers.
51gg. Witness by Jeanie Thompson
Perhaps moreso than poems, this is a collection of short and anecdotal scenes, filled with observation and carefully drawn/remembered character. Often anchored in images from nature, the poems here verge on reading like prose, but stop just short within expected lines of poetry by cutting short any narrative in favor of image and emotion. On the whole, the poems come together into a naturalistic exploration of nostalgic voice(s), but only as a collective. Singly, I'm not sure that many of the poems would really catch my eye or draw my attention in a journal built of varying voices. And, even as a whole, there really aren't poems here that will likely draw me back to Thompson's work, but perhaps for the pure and simple evocations of scene which seem, from this collection at least, to be her specialty.
52hh. The Beautiful Lesson of the I by Frances Brent
Fans of imagist poems may enjoy this collection, but for me, it fell short of what I expect from a strong--or even memorable--poetry collection. None of the poems stood out as poems that I'd wish to come back to, poems that demanded immediate re-reading, or even poems that I'd want to pass on to other particular readers. Reading, I felt that many of them were written with an eye toward sounding intellectual or fancy, with less of an eye toward meaning. Similarly, I felt that the author held too much back for any of the poems to hold a real meaning for the reader, or at least a real meaning that could be similar to what the writer might have intended. Simply, I just didn't find much to admire in this collection. Minimalist and imagist, yes. Strong or desirable? Well, unfortunately, no.
This year, much of what I've read has fit into just a few categories, whereas usually I'm much more eclectic. So, out of curiosity, I put those categories down and looked into the numbers of what I've been reading so far in 2012. Here's the count, and of course, it may give you an idea of whether you're curious about my reviews if you're just happening onto this one post! Meanwhile, I'm making my way through two more books which may come up in the next few days, but I needed a mind-break for the moment, and my year looks to be headed toward staying in these categories...with the addition of some nonfiction related to my dissertation (related to American literature dealing with HIV/AIDS, hence much of the reading this year...)
General Fiction: 9 books
Poetry: 11 books
African Fiction: 14 books
Fantasy, Horror, and the rare Sci-Fi: 5 books (the one sci-fi here will probably be my one for the year)
HIV/AIDS Related Fiction: 13 books (15 if you count the story from Martel's book and the one African novel dealing with AIDS)
For now, good reading to everyone who happens onto my thread!
Today, I finished two poetry collections, and full reviews are written for both. But, simply, neither held up to expectations, or even to their authors' respective reputations. But, if interested, reviews are written...
53ii. Ballistics by Billy Collins
54jj. The Kingdom of Ordinary Time by Marie Howe
55ll. Plays Well With Others by Allan Gurganus
Vibrant and artful, this is one of those novels that thrives off the voice of the narrator, and moves quickly from page one on. More based in anecdotes of lives than in a straightforward history, the book pieces together the New York based lives of three friends, all artists in a world that is just getting accustomed to the presence of AIDS. While I might have wished for more knowledge of the friends' lives before they moved to New York, the book lives in the present place, and perhaps that's the point--their lives really began in New York.
This is a long book, but Gurganus' wonderful humor and writing, and his fabulous characters, all bring the novel to life in such a way that it rarely flags. And, simply, the book is a heartfelt pleasure, well worth the time. Truly entertaining.
56mm. Blackwater Lightship by Colm Toibin
I enjoyed Toibin's writing and characterizations, but I have to admit, this book just didn't hold my attention. Simply, I never found a way into really caring about the characters, and there wasn't enough originality--newness--to keep me truly involved. I have a habit of finishing books...so I did. It wasn't something I'll particularly remember, and it wasn't something I'm sorry to have found. If you like family dramas and the re-knitting of family ties, this may be up your alley--it just wasn't up mine.
57nn. A Crack in Forever by Jeannie Brewer
As a romance, or a romantic drama, this isn't a bad read, but I can't say that it's something I'd particularly think to pass on or reread. In the end, it was as predictable as possible, and while the writing was fine, it also wasn't anything to really keep me turning the pages. Simply, my interest regularly flagged, and I'm not sure that having the time to read more quickly would have made much of a difference. If you want a romance that tackles the issues related to HIV/AIDS, you might find this worth picking up, but it will otherwise just fade into a generic romance for this particular reader.
58oo. Sure of You by Armistead Maupin
Full review written...but my reaction, in short: just enh.
59pp. Veronica by Mary Gaitskill
There were moments when I truly enjoyed this book and got wrapped up in the voice of the narrator, but unfortunately, there were far more sections where I was bored, and simply reading to read. Simply, the narrator is herself apathetic enough that it's far too easy for readers to find themselves feeling the same way, and just not caring about what happens going forward. In the end, I felt that the title came from the fact that the book is something of a character study of two women, albeit one that takes time to even move into a phase of discovery; as a result, I found the characters and writing interesting...but as far as the novel as a whole goes, I just never found myself in a position where I really cared about moving forward with the story or discovering the next step on the so-called plot. Simply, I wouldn't recommend this one. It wasn't bad...but then, it wasn't much of anything.
60qq. Whispers in the Graveyard by Theresa Breslin
My first venture into YA fiction in quite a while...and well worth the adventure.
Fast and dark, this young adult novel touches on quite a few adult subjects, including learning disabilities, death, separated parents, and alcoholism. With so much darkness, even in the midst of supernatural danger, the book is still surprisingly optimistic in the end, albeit realistically so. Yet, I have to admit, that's one of the things I most liked--clearly, there is no easy fix to the topics noted above, and the book doesn't pretend otherwise. The book takes on quite a bit, and it does so impressively.
I'd love to see a sequel, because the main character is that well-written and engaging, but I'd say that one of my main criticisms with the book is that it is a bit short: it wraps up extremely quickly (and somewhat messily, image-wise, compared to the rest of the book)--I'm not sure wether a sequel would atone for that quickness or just flounder. Similarly, there's a lot packed into this little book--I'd like to have seen it move a bit slower if it was going to take on so much. The balance through the first half of the book was ideal...but, as I said, the end moved a bit too quickly to do the early work justice.
Overall, I really enjoyed this one--I just wish the author had taken her time with the last fifth or so of the book. And, admittedly, I'm hesitant about what age group this book is a best fit for. I read far above my age level, and looking back, I probably would have picked this up in second grade (reading level wise)...but I wouldn't have been ready for it until grade five or so. Ideally, this might be one of those books best read between a parent and child, chapter by chapter (short chapters do make this rather ideal for reading aloud!), allowing for discussion.
And, come to think of it, it does rather have the tone of a long campfire story...
61rr. The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin
One of Le Guin's early works, this short novel comes across at first as a less filled-out version of some of her later works. Yet, as the story unfolds, it develops an undeniable drive and power that will be familiar to readers of Le Guin's later works. And, while the characters didn't pull me in and find enough development so quickly as I would have liked, or ever get the attention I really craved, the story ended so memorably (and powerfully) that I still felt satisfied. In this early work, I can see Le Guin already playing with many of the themes and treatments she came back to in later decades, and even as I enjoyed this work as a single piece, I also have to admit that I enjoyed the glimpse back into a writer just exploring her real legs.
Simply, yes, I recommend it. I think it will read as a bit basic (though still worthwhile) for Le Guin's already faithful readers. And, for anyone trying Le Guin for the first time: I wouldn't necessarily point you away from this one, but if it isn't quite what you were hoping for, just find some of her more recent work before you pass on her alltogether. She really is a master of fantasy, and this short work is/was just a beginning.
Whoops...one I forgot to enter from earlier this month!
62ss. Fateful Summer by Welda Johnston
A quick and enjoyable diversion with some unexpected surprises plot-wise, this was a bit of a surprise in itself. Even now, I'm not particularly sure if it's meant to be young adult or not (at times, it reads as such, but the material might have you think otherwise, perhaps(?))...or whether its marketers were really thinking when they called it a mystery--yes, there is a mystery involved, but it comes into the plot late, and really seems secondary to the character studies at the heart of the novel. Simply, I did enjoy it as a tale to wander in and out of, but I'm not sure whether this would hit the mark with many readers who aren't quite as eclectic in their tastes as I am.
63tt. The Year That Trembled by Scott Lax
This is a quiet and unassuming novel about what young people were doing...and thinking...in the time surrounding the draft for the Vietnam War. When I began it, it seemed too simple, and perhaps even cliched at moments. But as I kept reading (and there was no choice about this--from the first few pages, the book demanded I continue, as quiet as it seemed), I began to realize that no other way of writing could have so perfectly captured the atmosphere of Lax's focus. From moment to moment, the book explores some few lives perfectly, and with a beauty and humor that make the book all the more powerful.
Simply, it took some time for me to come to write this review--I wasn't sure what to think of the book in the beginning, and I hadn't really expected much in all honesty: after all, how can a novel that stays within the borders of America really be a war novel? And, of course, it isn't the traditional war novel...but the book itself nearly trembles with the heartbreak and tragedy of the war, and I can't recommend it highly enough, in the quiet heartfelt way of the novel itself.
64uu. Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman is a master of the fantastic. The tales in this book and full of wonder and beautifully imagined characters, all of them as different from one another as they are vivid. From modern fairy tales to short stories of horror and fantasy, along with a few poems, this collection really does present a wonderful array of fully conceived worlds, giving a reader so many complete tales packed into such a short space that each one is itself just so much to process and consider as a novel. For me, the book was so full that I wandered in and out of it for years (reading much of Gaiman's other work in the interim), sampling tales from the collection and drawing out the experience of each one. And, as an added bonus, Gaiman's introduction includes a brief reflection on each tale...many of which make them all the more fantastic.
65vv. Dinner with Osama by Marilyn Krysl
Much of what's here is poetic and interesting, but often at the expense of control. At various points, meaning became so ambiguous that I'm not sure that the author herself knew exactly what she was going for, and while the book as a whole was a unique read, it left me feeling as if Krysl would have benefited from an editor or reader who, early on, demanded some more control and clarity within her storytelling.
66ww. The Ringer by Jenny Shank
Shank's novel is an entertaining one, and does a pretty fantastic job of weaving baseball into the fabric of the novel in a way that even someone like me--who cares fairly little for the sport--enjoyed. And, the characters are interesting as well, with a plot that comes together in a way that's both believable and natural (albeit somewhat predictable at a few moments). Yet, what leaves me with a somewhat lukewarm impression is the fact that everything felt somewhat distant. There were just too many characters built in in a central way, leaving me feeling sympathetic for the story, but not particularly attached to any main character or storyline. Certainly, part of Shank's goal was to weave together two stories that would seem to be diametrically opposed by an outsider...but, while it worked as a plot-level experiment, I'm not sure it worked to make a stronger novel. Simply, it took me a long time to read this book not so much because I wasn't interested, but because I was more interested in other works that caught my interest. I love the idea of this novel, and much of what I found here...I just never got truly captured by it, and since I have to trace that problem to the structure of the novel itself, I'm not sure whether it wouldn't be a problem for many other readers as well.
67xx. Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory
An odd and entertaining collection, this assortment of tales kept me off-balance and wandering what would come next. I can't say that I was ever totally enraptured with Loory's short fable-like concoctions, but their short and quirky natures were so fleeting that it never occurred to me to wander away or really question the worlds I kept finding myself in. On the whole, they are a strange bunch of stories, and certainly something different if you think you might want to explore some new worlds and fable-like existences.
68yy. Witch Craft: Nocturne City Novel #4 by Caitlin Kittredge
Something like a marriage of Ghostbusters and the Laurell K. Hamilton Anita Blake books, this book/series will certainly have its fans...for me, though, it left much to be desired...like originality, focus, and likability (in respect to characters).
Simply, it was just a bit over-the-top. The characters weren't all that fleshed out, and weren't always believable even for what they were. The heroine, especially, was a problem--always tough-as-nails or weak and vulnerable...as demanded by circumstance and/or the men who happened to be around to rescue her. And, I admit, she was also a problem because I am a fan of Laurell K. Hamilton's work--Kittredge followed far too closely in her mold for my taste, with a strong female character (of the exact same mold as Anita Blake, but less likable) torn between two supernatural (and supernaturally goodlooking, of course) men, both of whom adore her for no clear reason.
In other words, this story is set in the exact mold of the Anita Blake books. And, like the Blake books, I admit, the story is a page-turner, and it may even appeal to a wider audience since the story has been taken down to a PG rating instead of Hamilton's R-X rating of late. But, the humor is too much, and the characters aren't fully thought out.
Honestly, I haven't a clue whether I'll pick up more of Kittredge's work or not. It was a nice easy distraction, but the writing was enough of an annoyance that I'd probably pick up another paperback first, unless this was far marked down in price. If Kittredge had had a more focused story-line, taking on less, or worked less in the footsteps/mold of Hamilton, I might be more likely to try her again, but as is, I'm hesitant to call this book much more than a poor reader's rip-off of the Anita Blak vampire hunter series. If you're a reader who's fed-up with the sex in Hamilton's work, you might try Kittredge...but I'm afraid you'll find all new annoyances that are far less well-written.
69zz. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Fast, funny, touching, original, and smart...not to mention well-written: this is everything a YA novel Should be. Spinelli's world and characters come to life beautifully, and this may well remain my favorite YA reading long into the future. Certainly, this is a book that I'll be remembering and passing on to others. Absolutely recommended.
It was a great book---I kind of skipped contemporary YA reading when I was in school, moving straight from all of the books my mom read when she was a kid into adult reading....so, while I knew most of my friends were reading this, I just never thought it worth the time. Maybe I appreciate it more now, but no matter what, if I have kids, they'll be reading it earlier! Enjoy :)
I really enjoyed that review! Did you happen to write an actual review I can give thumbs up? I also enjoyed your thoughts on Kittredge. I've read Blake & loved the premise but there was just too much sex for me. So... I may give Kittredge a try.
Tina, thank you! Soon after I found this site, I made it a personal goal to at least briefly review everything I read :) Sometimes I post the whole review here in this thread, sometimes not, but it's always nice to know that they're read and/or helpful!
70. The Third Angel by Alice Hoffman
A beautiful novel that easily stands up to Hoffman's earlier work, this is one of those novels that not only entertains, but proves to be a slow-boiling puzzle that gives readers room to consider their own lives as they move through the book. From each of the characters to each of the subplots, Hoffman's moves in this book are masterful, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Regardless of the story, her ability to build so many different unique lives, and to believably portray both men and women of different ages, is something to behold, and the layering of the stories here was just an added treat--and, not overdone, as it seems so often is the case. Simply, an absolutely lovely and worthwhile read.
Another thumb for another excellent review! This book sounds great! I haven't read Hoffman yet, but she's been on my list to try for a while. Any of her others that you recommend? I already added The Third Angel to my wish list!
I actually discovered Hoffman through one of her really early books, At Risk, but I don't know that I'd say that one stands up to the standard her later work sets. I do really like the one I just finished (review below), but not quite so much as I enjoyed Third Angel, which has better reviews in general. I hear that her recent Dovekeepers is some of her best work, but I haven't gotten there yet! Reading through her work this year, though, is a side goal--I'm hoping to interview her in March, so I'm reading as much of her work as possible in preparation! It's not set up yet, though, so we'll see lol. Meanwhile, I'll be curious to hear your thoughts on her work also!
71. The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman
Slowly but surely, I'm falling completely in love with Alice Hoffman's work.
The soft mix of magical realism and undeniable reality--especially the realities we so often hate to face--seems to be her specialty, and here it is at its best. Something like a grown-up's fairy tale, this was a story which was never less predictable than it was in its first moments. The characters are both familiar and understandable, and utterly foreign and original. And, just as terrifying as this is the fact that you can feel--with all five of your senses--each move of the book. If you're looking for a relaxed dose of fantasy with a relaxed dose of reality, and much beautiful seemingly effortless writing, you should read this. (And, this stands even if the book sounds rather unappealing on its surface--I admit, it sounded rather unappealing to me when I first happened upon it, until I began reading that is.)
And, young adult fiction at its best...
72. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Some of my summer students pointed me toward Jerry Spinelli, and I'm so glad they did. This is another novel that has everything you could ask for in a great piece of young adult literature--a great well-paced story, a wonderful mix of unique and believable characters, and just enough tension to keep things interesting. Spinelli's strength is obviously wrapped up in creating stories which argue for the value of individuality through a lens of humor and personal ethics, and Stargirl is, without doubt, one of those books which I'll remember to hold onto and pass along in the future. This is one of those rare young adult novels that holds out just as much artistic talent and entertainment for adult readers as it offers to young adults. Absolutely recommended as a fun and worthwhile read.
You can tell from my posts that this was a weekend to finish off half-read books!
73. Cruel Women, Stupid Men by Dan Roentsch
This book came from a creative idea, but in the end, I think the author just took it too far, to the extent that I'm somewhat surprised I was able to force myself to finish it.
Based in the idea of exploring a book blog (structurally) and creating a satire from the crazy figures behind it, all of whom use the blog as a diary (albeit themed) moreso than your traditional blog, the book explores three ridiculous figures and the folks around them. The problem, consistently, is that the book crosses the line from being humorous and funny to simply being silly. The voices are over-the-top to the point that the content gets lost because the voices expressing it are, simply, so incredibly annoying. True, some figures say "well" in the midst of every sentence, and some figures put a hypothetical question mark at the end of each of their statements---BUT, even these figures don't translate those mannerisms into writing. Certainly, they don't do it in every other sentence. Now, certainly, this is part of the satire...but it's also overdone to the point that reading becomes infuriating.
Overall, I like the idea. But, I also felt like I was reading a 200 page dirty joke which wavered back and forth between being boring and being slightly humorous. Too often, I was just reading to read, waiting for the punchline....which, when it came, was fairly flat and disappointing.
This might appeal to readers who want more comedy than story, but while I like comedy, the over-writing and outright silliness were just too much. I like my comedy and craziness a bit more tempered, and here, there just wasn't any discipline or holding back, to the extent that, really, I'm afraid it was just a long experimental dirty joke.
74. The Foretelling by Alice Hoffman
Reminiscent of some of Ursula K. Le Guin's shorter works, this fantasy reads something like an extended legend moreso than a novel. It took some time to get started, unlike the other work I've read from Hoffman, but the narrator's soft and poetic voice ended up gaining momentum after a few chapters, when there was less exposition and more straightforward story-telling. And, for fans of story-telling and the old-fashioned feel that can come from a single narrator delivering a story with ease and scant details, this book will be a real find.
The characters are rendered beautifully, and the story itself is original and well-paced. After the exposition leads into the story, you can't help but be sucked into the world of the tale, and it's well worth the journey. This is a quick read, and one which wavers between dark fiction for a young adult and an adult's simply told fantasy, but I think it will be an ideal find for many readers.
75. Fugitive Nights by Joseph Wambaugh
There was an interesting story here, with just the right amount of twists and turns...unfortunately, for me, the writing ruined the reading experience.
For most of the book, the characters weren't much better than stereotypes, and stereotypes which they'd done little to transcend by the end of the book. And then, there were the exclamation points. Mature writing rarely needs exclamation points, outside of dialogue, but even a less conservative writer/reader than me would have to come to the conclusion that Wambaugh overused them here, and to a ridiculous extent. Unfortunately, this meant that what should have been the most suspenseful moments in the book were nearly turned comical, and the story became more of a farce than a mystery at various points because of the less-than-adept writing.
Simply, Wambaugh needed a better/harder editor, and a bit of restraint. A bit more time spent on characterization would have helped as well. In short, you won't find me picking up another of his books, or recommending him to other readers.
76. Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut
This was an interesting compilation, but I felt as if the material was more a collection of musings and short stories than essays and short lectures. As a whole, there were moments when I was struck by an anecdote or the voice(s) involved, but there were fewer moments when I was truly compelled to continue. True, I read the collection quickly, and was entertained, but as for it provoking serious (and/or new) thought on my part in relation to war and peace, I was fairly disappointed. I suppose I just wanted a more provoking or intellectual journey from the material, and felt more as if I was reading an easy-to-take in collection of letters and conversations. Simply, I just wanted and expected more.
77. The Savage Night by Mohammed Dib translated by C. Dickson:
one of my favorites of the year, and a book which I finished thinking that I was meant to read it. A powerful wonderful work.
Dib's work is both wrenching and magical. The stories here are each a quick journey into situations that show the political and personal upheaval of revolutions, both small and large, and which show a heartbreaking alertness for the single moments and pictures that stay with an individual's consciousness forever. Whether centered as conversations between lovers, siblings, or strangers, the stories here are uniquely alert in their sympathies and their simple believability in a world that is, so often, unbelievable. And, the writing is utterly beautiful, worth the read all on its own. Many of the sentences here beg for immediate re-reading, and strike at a reader as far more affecting than one would think possible.
In the end, I can only say that I wandered through the first two stories, but quickly became enamoured with both the langage and the situationes Dib presents. In the end, I felt that the book was perfect, and necessary. This is one of those rare books that everyone should read. Absolutely: recommended.
And, because I can't resist, a favorite passage, albeit an abstract moment in a sea of concrete stories:
"When a world can no longer remedy its own ills, it's very hard to help it become a fair place to live again--even after having gone up into the mountains to die and then ending up coming back down again. That's what life today is all about. ... Hand in hand, Khelil and I walk off toward home. After a few moments, I feel as though we are being escorted by a host of spirits. I know the feeling and I'm also familiar with the physical nearness that spirits, sometimes even more skillfully than living beings, can make one feel when they get it into their minds to envelop us in their presence...they never abandon us, even in this raging autumn sunshine. And if I ever think they have, deserted us that is, it can only be an oversight on my part, the result of my senses growing dull. They never leave us. Sometimes I hear them laughing behind my back and then other times crying." (from "Life Today", pg. 137)
More recent catching up...
78. Illumination Night by Alice Hoffman
Not my favorite of Hoffman's, but still well worth the read. Full review written.
79. Illness as Metaphor by Susan Sontag
Sontag's long essay on the metaphors associated with disease is both necessary and thought-provoking. With a focus on TB and cancer, Sontag presents the developmental history of metaphoric associations related to disease, discussing the ways in which these metaphors have evolved and controlled various discussions over the years. Her careful look at inaccuracies and comparisons, along with her clear presentations of metaphors (and related themes) is smart and nuanced, particularly when she looks into the clusters of words used in association with the diseases (ie. military language, language of punishment/justice, etc.) and when she expands on the mindsets that contribute to such discussions (ie. romanticism, paranoia, fear, etc.).
For me, the one drawback to her discussion is that I'd like to see more of a discussion of how these metaphors and approaches have affected not only our language, but the people who are personally affected/infected and/or working with the diseases in question.
Overall, though, this is a straightforward and intelligent look at disease and metaphor, and the ways in which our popular understandings of disease have developed (often faultily). Well worth the time, and highly recommended.
80. The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: Eighth Grade Bites by Heather Brewer
This is a quick and fun read, well-written and smart enough to entertain adults as well as teenagers (or even middle-schoolers); some of my middle-school creative writing students recommended the series, and I'm so glad they did.. In terms of young adult literature, it stands out as a short novel with just the right mix of humor and drama, mixed with a bit of horror, and rings with originality and smart insight into human behavior and thought. Absolutely recommended. I'll be picking this up for a couple of the young readers I know, and likely picking up the next installment of the series for myself.
81. AIDS and its Metaphors by Susan Sontag
Sontag's work here follows on her earlier work, Illness as Metaphor, but explicitly focuses on HIV/AIDS. With a careful look at how the experience and presentation (through media) of the disease are both similar and different from other diseases (in particular: cancer, tuberculosis, and syphilis), Sontag manages a full introduction to concerns and conversations related to HIV/AIDS, with a significant focus on metaphors and the development of those metaphors.. This is a strong introduction to the related concerns and to the disease itself. The caveat, as might be expected, is that the work is dated. Whereas Sontag's earlier work focused on long known diseases which were well established as medical concerns, research on HIV/AIDS was still in early stages upon Sontag's work in 1988. That said, the work is still incredibly worthwhile--readers should just be aware that, in some cases, the specifics of Sontag's more scientific research/work have been outdated.
I'm enjoying your reviews!! Will be adding a few of your recent reads to my wish list!
Tina, I'm glad! I'm a bit behind at the moment, but you should be seeing some more pop up shortly! Here's hoping you're enjoying the holiday season, meanwhile!
82. 7 Tattoos: A Memoir in the Flesh by Peter Trachtenberg
I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about this work, partial memoir and partial collection of essays. On one hand, I love Trachtenberg's writing style, and I really enjoy the sections where he focuses in on the depth of meaning that each of his tattoos holds, both in terms of the inspiring experiences and the more symbolic meaning of each. On the other had, this collection also falls (too often) into areas that I feel are more journalistic or confessional than what I'd like to have seen. Trachtenberg's incredibly personal accounts of his interactions with his parents are, for me, a step past uncomfortable. It's not that I would, generally, protest a writer giving accounts of their family and history in such brutally honest detail...but, I do take issue with the fact that these accounts are sometimes given such time that they overtake the essay at hand. Simply, they seem to go beyond artful, and move more into the realm of confessional and journalistic outpourings that take away from the larger ideas Trachtenberg is at the same time exploring.
As I said, I adore his writing, and I'm fascinated by tattoos and the inspiration for this work. Simply, I just wish that there'd been more balance between the stated purpose of the work, and the more confessional memoir-istic inclusions that so often overtook everything else. For now, I have every intention of reading more of Trachtenberg's work, but I'm not sure I'd recommend this one (aside from some few sections, perhaps) to even tattoo enthusiasts. Memoir enthusiasts, perhaps.
83. Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman
Turtle Moon is a book about tragedy, and about what a belief in fate...or unbelief in fate, for that matter...can do to a person. But all that said, it is not itself a tragedy. Similarly, there's no doubt that the book is also heart-wrenching at many moments...but in good ways (and, just so you know, this is coming from someone who doesn't like sad books).
Admittedly, it took me longer to get into Turtle Moon that Hoffman's other books have required, perhaps because of the many main characters and subplots. But, in the end, I read the last 175 pages (of 275) in a single sitting. Hoffman's touch in this book is pitch-perfect, and the magic on every other page is tantalizing. This wouldn't be the first book of Hoffman's that I'd recommend to a new reader, but for someone who has already fallen a little bit in love with her work, I'd put this book in their hands in a moment. Simply, it is recommended, and it is one I'll reread.
84. Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Nearly as wonderful and sweetly fascinating as Spinelli's Stargirl (which this book follows), this is well worth the time. Certainly, I'd recommend reading the original Stargirl before you touch this one, but I'd also pick this one up immediately after. Unlike some sequels, it doesn't tire you with re-done material or heavy explication, and it is just as wonderful as the first in nearly every way, albeit with a totally different voice and style. For any reader of young adult literature, young or old, this pair of books is absolutely recommended, and nearly magical.
83... I've had Hoffman on my radar for a while but haven't read her yet. What would you recommend as a first of her works to read?
Hey Tina--I really am falling in love with her work. I'd probably recommend either Ice Queen or Illumination Night--Ice Queen veers a little bit into magical realism, but not too far, and it would probably be my favorite and first recommendation for anyone who's alright with her going slightly outside of expected/accepted reality :) My rec may change soon though lol--I'm preparing to interview her in a month or so (I can't tell you how excited I am about this!), and there are three more books which I'm definitely reading beforehand! I really do love Turtle Moon, and it may end up being my favorite (along with At Risk, which is more in my area of study), but I'm not sure that I'd want Turtle Moon to be a first introduction to her work since it is different in a lot of ways. Oh, and I love Third Angel too lol, but my rec. for an introduction would still be Ice Queen or Illumination Night!
Please let me know what you end up reading and thinking!
I have added Ice Queen to my wish list!!! Thanks for the recommendation!
Tina, I'm glad--let me know what you think!!!
Meanwhile, catching up, I realized that I never added the following even though I read them back in November. I'm loving the full work so far, but I won't write a full review until I'm done, definitely some time in 2013! I don't usually add partially finished works to my talley, but I'll make an exception here since they are rather full works on their own, and lengthy enough, in my opinion, for me to count them without feeling guilty!
85 & 86. Books I and II of The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
Beautifully elegant in the writing, and generally hilarious. The full work is quite a commitment (which I'm reminded of as I reread), but well worth the while!
87. Naked City by Weegee
At turns haunting, and at others humorous or heart-breaking, this collection of photographs is more of a time-capsule into New York's past, and perhaps even our country's past, than any other work of writing or media that I can think of. Weegee's work was brilliant, and the translation of its power to contemporary readers isn't at all injured by time. Whether you glance through the photographs half-hazardly or sit down to take your time over his work and words (sparse as they may be), you're sure to find something here worth remembering and returning to.
88. Get It Done When You're Depressed! by Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston
On the whole, this is a straightforward and helpful overview of strategies to help you take control of your own depression enough to get things done. The book helped me see myself, and my depression, a bit more clearly, and really did inspire me to get myself on more of a track toward healing than I'd been able to see for some time. Yes, it is self-helpy sounding, enough so that it annoyed me at various points. And yes, it does speak to the reader in a tone that at times seems too simple for the matter at hand. However, it also gives a solid overview of enough strategies that there's bound to be something here for anyone who might be driven to pick up the book. Also, there's more than one passage that I ended up reading aloud to my husband. While the tone would be off, and they're not the target audience, I think this book also has a real potential for helping individuals who know someone who's seriously depressed, but doesn't have the personal experience to directly understand it. I often have a hard time explaining my feelings to my husband, and to friends who I should be being more honest with, though I know they want to understand--this book can be a really effective tool in that path forward.
My only criticisms? After a while, the exercises, and some of the passages, begin to be repetitive. I don't know that that's not what's needed, but nevertheless, the repetition grated on my nerves at times. Also, in the end, there are some chapters about managing depression by spending money, finding a therapist, and using anti-depressants. I appreciate the worth of the chapters, but they're not helpful for someone like me who: has no money to spare (literally); has had repeated negative experiences with therapists in the past, to the point that I have little to no faith in their being able to help me; and, similarly, has had very negative experiences with anti-depressants, to the extent that I won't try them again unless my life is really in desperate need of any chance for help, however slight. I know that anti-depressants and therapists help many people, but I would have respected the authors more if they'd acknowledged that these just aren't the right answers for some people out there.
Simply, there was a lot of helpful matter in this book. There were moments where the book clearly didn't apply to me, or didn't offer any solution if the situation specifically described didn't apply (ie. I have sleep problems because of anxiety, I acknowledge, but none of those anxieties can realistically be eliminated or lessened in my life, as the book recommends), but many of the strategies have already helped me confront my thoughts and think seriously about how to move forward instead of letting my depression control my path.
So, in the end, it helped. If you're looking for strategies or for a way for your loved ones to understand your depression, this might very well be worth your time. Just go into it with the understanding that you have to pick and choose what works for you, and what applies to you, and use what you can.
89. Blue Diary by Alice Hoffman
Moving effortlessly between the voices and thoughts of members of a small Massachusetts town, this is one of those novels which cannot be read without it causing some effect on you, your thoughts, and even your hopes and worries. Hoffman's characters here are at their most sympathetic, their most relatable, and you're bound to see yourself in at least one of the voices present, even if that self is one of the past. Looking at love and at forgiveness, Hoffman is at her best, and the suspense that this simple novel serves up is nearly breathtaking. Absolutely, recommended.
So, at the end of the year, I made it to 89 books. Nowhere near the more-than-100 books I used to read before I started working on my PhD, but close enough. Meanwhile, I've stayed in the 50 book challenge group for years because my goal has been, each of the past four years, to make it to 50 pleasure-read books, more than to any full number in the year. The past few years, I either barely met that goal, or failed miserably because of all my studying. Finally, in 2012, my pleasure-reading meshed so much with my school related reading that it became nearly impossible to separate one from the next, or classify any one book as being one or the other--reading through Alice Hoffman's work this past month or so being the perfect example. Thus, finally, I think it makes sense for me to switch over to the 75ers, though I'll probably still come back here and lurk around a bit, as I'll want to see what many of you are reading! Meanwhile, though, if you're curious about where/what my new thread will be, here's a link: http://www.librarything.com/topic/146983
Good reading, and happy new year, everyone!
The Hoffman sounds fantastic! I really must read her soon. Hope to see you in the 2013 threads. Heading over now to be sure I have you starred!
She is. Now I'm reading Here on Earth, and I have to admit to being entirely bewitched by it...
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