Westcott's 50 book challenge for 2012
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1. White Fang by Jack London - I finally finished a book this year. I'm close to finishing Look Homeward Angel, which I've spent most of the year reading, but I had to take a break with about 100 pages left to reread White Fang (I hadn't read it since elementary school) so that I could get ready to teach it.
2. Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe - I was astounded by much of the writing in this book. It's beautiful prose. For a chunk of the middle, it dragged for me as I got frustrated with the lack of clearly structured narrative. It wanders a lot. I've always heard that it's pretty much entirely autobiographical, which would explain a lot of the events that don't seem necessary to the overall story. However, by the time I got to the end, he had created a pretty vivid picture of many of the family members, especially the parents, and the death at the end and the last chapter's dream/vision helped pull the book together for me.
3. Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio - It took a long time and I chipped away at it a little bit at a time, but I'm glad I read the Decameron. Few of the stories are really strong enough that they could stand on their own and a few are either weak, severely outdated, or lose something important in translation, but the quantity and range of the stories is mind-boggling and many of them are very engaging
4. Taft 2012 by Jason Heller. It's an early review book and I'll post a review soon. I liked it and it was a nice, quick read, which was good after Look Homeward Angel.
5. Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters by J.D. Salinger. It's only half a book, but this year, I'm going to try to tackle some of the series that I have on my shelf. Some are trilogies, some are larger undertakings. Some are single stories (Tolkien), and some are really stand alone stories with the same characters or only thematically related. I have some that are published in collections, but others are in separate volumes. I haven't decided how much I'll try to finish whole series in one stretch and how much I'll split them up; it'll depend on how into it I am. This whole things was partly inspired by my rereading Joyce and much of Salinger last year. I realized how much of Salinger's collected works are dedicated to the Glasses and how many other series I own and haven't attempted yet, so I'd finish J.D. off with this last collection of novellas. the first one "Raise High..." is a funny story, kind of a farce with Buddy Glass crashing the limo carrying the family of the girl that his brother Seymour has just jilted at the altar. There's some poignancy as Buddy thinks about his brother, but it's on the lighter side. I really love Salinger's style and it's such a shame there's so little to read. I'm going to enjoy finishing it up with "Seymour".
6. Seymour: An Introduction by J.D. Salinger - I get why this story is so divisive: It has next to no narrative, i drags a bit at the end, it's easy to call it self-indulgent in its metafictional 4th wall breaking and the way it plays with Salinger's own history and canon. I still love it. The chance to spend a little more time with Buddy and Seymour (and with J.D.) is enough to make it worth the read to me and I have a soft spot for the that kind of postmodern game playing, even though it isn't new anymore. It's definitely not the place I'd start for Salinger, but I'm glad I gave it a reread.
7. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien - I'm a pretty big nerd, so it's a little odd that I'd never read any Tolkien. I gave it a little bit of a try when I was in elementary school and it didn't take. This time I enjoyed it. I'm not a big fantasy reader, but the best of any particular genre is usually pretty good. This was exciting enough that I'll give LOTR a try eventually.
8. The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain - A lot of it feels like repeat if you watch No Reservations. He comes back to some of his favorite ideas and favorite gripes.
9. Because Because Because Because Because Because by William Marquess. It's hard to be objective when reviewing a book by my beloved uncle, but I did enjoy this collection of short stories
14. The Sandman vol.1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman - I'd read Maus and Watchmen, but this was one of my first real entries into comic books. I tried it on the recommendation of some guys who seemd to have good taste. It paid off. This book drew me in to the character and world of dream. It did a nice job of straddling the line between creating satisfying individual episodes and a larger narrative and character arc. It's a little overly gory for me sometimes, particularly the otherwise striking one where they're stuck in the diner, but getting into Dream's quest of rebuilding himself and reclaiming his realm guided me into what turned out to be a genuinely great story.
15. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. She creates a dystopian future set in the Republic of Gilead, a military dictatorship dominated by strict religious structure and plagued by infertility. She manages to both look at the society level issues that lead to and come from that change and to look closely at the main character whose job is to be a procreator (a handmaid).
16. The Sandman vol.2: The Doll's House by Neil Gaiman. Not my favorite of the Sandman arcs, but some interesting ideas, like the guy who thinks that he's the hero/god and the serial killers convention. Enough to keep me interested and keep me reading the series.
17. The Investigation by Phillipe Claudel. I read this for earlier reviewers and posted a review.
18. In the Company of Cheerful Ladies by Alexander McCall Smith. An audiobook. I never got particularly involved in this, but it was a perfectly good way to pass the time in a car ride. I probably won't read any more of the series unless it's in a similar situation.
19. The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King. I enjoyed this. I think I liked it better than the first in the series and hope to continue with it. Wasn't quite sure how I felt about the multiple personality black woman, but the resolution of that helped and the main struggle with Roland and Eddie both in Eddie's world of drug dealers and Roland's lobstrosities kept me reading.
20. V for Vendetta by Alan Moore. Another great graphic novel. V's politics can get a little preachy/ridiculous, but it's hard to tell if Moore totally agrees with them or not. Does raise good questions and tell an exciting story.
21. The Sandman vol. 3: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman. This is a collection of unrelated Dream stories instead of an arc. A couple of them are great (I liked the Shakespeare), but some are less interesting (not so keen on the cats). It's hard to tell a whole story worth telling in one issue; when it works, they can be amazing, but he's a little more hit and miss with these.
22. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. Another audiobook. An engaging personal memoir and look at America in the 50s and 60s. Hilarious at times. A good way to pass a long drive in the car.
23. The Sandman vol. 4, Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman. One of my favorite Sandman stories. Lucifer retires and Dream inherits hell. Great incorporation of a variety of cultural mythologies. Great use of characters we've met before and introduction of new ones. The final resolution was great and I was sometimes disappointed by endings in Sandman, even in stories I liked.
24. Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. A very good super hero comic book/graphic novel. One of my first real attempts at that. I had heard how gritty it was, so that didn't surprise me, but I didn't see Superman's inclusion coming. At first, that threw me off, but the contrast and conflict between them was interesting. I haven't read enough pre-Dark Knight Batman to really get how groundbreaking (or not) this was, but it's still an interesting (and troubling) story. I hope that Miller sees this Batman as as morally ambiguous as I do, but I can't really tell and based on what I've seen of him later, I'm not so sure, but there are enought hints at it that it didn't feel purely like the full scale vigilante cheerleading that it could have been.
25. Contract with God by Will Eisner. Great personal storytelling in a visual medium. Looks at a bunch of stories in one Jewish neighborhood in NY.
26. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Listened on audiobook with the kids. I love Roald Dahl and it was great to get to share that with the girls.
27. A Life Force by Will Eisner. More interconnected than the short stories in the first part of Contract with God. Same basic idea of looking at life in the tenements.
28. Dropsie Avenue by Will Eisner. Aims to look at the the history of a neighborhood as it changes ethnically, economically, etc. Sometimes tries too hard to teach a lesson instead of telling a story, but does a good bit of both.
29. The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace. Still not sure what to make of the ending, but I said the same thing about Infinite Jest. Surprised by the amount that is almost entirely dialogue given Wallace's verbal and descriptive inclinations. Glad that I read it. Very funny at times; some interesting ideas about family, philosophy, communication, etc. Makes me want to go back to Infinite Jest again, too.
30. Sandman vol. 5: A Game of You by Neil Gaiman. I loved the fantasy world in this story and some other aspects of this, but was very disappointed with the ending. Not the best or worst of the series.
31. Sandman vol. 6 Fables and Reflections by Neil Gaiman. I think it's better than the other short story collections, but it's still not as good as the better big arcs.
32. Sandman vol. 7: Brief Lives by Neil Gaiman. An amazing story. Looks into the relationships between and among the Endless and particularly with Destruction's disappearance and Orpheus's death. Either this or Season of Mist is my favorite of the series.
33. Tenth of December by George Saunders. My first experience with Saunders and I was very impressed. I will definitely look for more. I wrote a review for early reviewers.
34. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
35. Sandman vol. 9: The Kindly Ones by Neil Gaiman. I was never quite sure how some of the characters that keep popping up really matter to this world. If this had come earlier, it might not have been as impressive, but the way that it builds on previous stories and their consequences and the amount I had invested in the main characters kept me going in this.
36. Sandman vol. 10: The Wake by Neil Gaiman. This was a great conclusion to the story. It was a little odd to finish with Shakespeare and Hob, but I loved both of those running stories, so I was happy to come back to them.
37. The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth. The Anne Frank stuff was odd, but I did like the look into the author's life and the idea of heroes/mentors and how they exist in reality and in fantasy to us.
38. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For by Frank Miller
39. Sin City: That Yellow Bastard by Frank Miller
40. Sin City: Family Values Frank Miller
41. Sin City: Booze, Broads, and Bullets by Frank Miller
Pretty much like I would have expected, having seen the movie, but a fun read. Probably would have been better if I had spaced them out since they repeat a lot of similar elements.
42. The Sandman vol. 8: World's End by Neil Gaiman (actually 33 or 34, but a typo mixed me up). Another collection of stories, this time with a frame story, but similarly hit and miss.
43. The Sandman: Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman. Another short story collection. Another mixed bag. Some great stuff and this time some really pretentious stuff.
44. Zuckerman Unbound by Philip Roth. I think this was better than the Ghost Writer and much better than Portnoy's Complaint, the book that serves as the obvious model for the titular Zuckerman's success. N
45. The BFG by Roald Dahl. Another fun one with the kids. Darker than I'd remembered, but so much fun that it earns it.
46. Batman: Year One by Frank Miller. Not as over-the-top as Dark Knight Rises, and I was surprised how focused it was on (not yet Comissioner) Gordon, but it did a really good job developing him as a character. Not as successful as a stand-alone book, but also not really trying as hard to be one since it is setting up a whole world for Batman to inhabit instead of killing one off.
47. House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Finally read this and really enjoyed it. Little vignettes shed light on life as a young, poor, Latina girl, but you don't need to be any of those things to be able to identify with so much of it and appreciate even more of it.
48. Persepolis 1 by Marjane Satrapi. An amazing coming of age story set during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Loved the history lesson, but it's really Marjane's story.
49. Some Do Not... by Ford Madox Ford - I took a class on English Modernist Fiction that I enjoyed a lot. We read Forster, Conrad, Woolf, and others, and I remember liking The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford, but barely remember anything about it. The only other stuff of his that stuck out from that was his Parade's End, so when I saw it at a used book store as a complete set, I picked it up. So far, I've done the first book, Some Do Not..., and it took a little bit to get into. Some of the intricacies of early 20th Century British upper-class culture were a little lost on me and got me a little lost as to who was supposed to be offended by what, but he created some memorable characters and I liked the way that he played with the structure, especially in the second part, after the war begins. I'm going to take a break and read some other stuff first, but I think I'll come back and do at least one more from Parade's End.
50. The World of Pooh by A.A. Milne - I loved reading this. I knew it had great characters, I was pretty sure it had good stories, but I'd forgotten how funny and moving it is. It has so much clever writing (worldplay and irony) and a beautiful, melancholy ending.
51. Made in America by Bill Bryson- finished a few days before the year ended. I didn't like it as much as Mother Tongue, but I like Bryson and I'm interested in the English language, so it gave me a lot that appealed to me, including many facts that I've felt it necessary to share with my wife whether she wanted to hear them or not. Great anecdotes, but some of the lists of words were a bit much.
Year in review:
21 graphic novels (plus 1 graphic memoir) - feels a little like cheating, but I'm glad I started really exploring this medium. I don't think I'll have so many next year, but I do plan on continuing to find the best of them. I'm still not really a comic book guy, but the sandman helped me get into these in a much bigger way.
5 children's books- not counting Young adultish books. These were books I read with my kids that were long enough to count as real books.
4 non fiction - lots of books with a lot of autobiographical content, but only four billed as nonfiction, including memoirs, essays, etc.
18 prose novels/novellas
3 collections of short stories- many compilation books and series and hybrids like house on mango street
3 - "read" as audiobooks
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.