jfetting's 100 in 2012
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Looking forward to another year with this group!
Note to self: on 1/1/2012 I have 267 books labeled "TBR".
Hi! What is this, like Year 4 we've been on this journey together? Looking forward to 2012.
Wow, something like that. Crazy. Are you doing an awards show this year? Should I be doing an awards show for 2011? Hmmmm... it isn't like I'm actually doing any science today...
Yes! and Yes!
I'll prolly do mine on my blog, but I'll get you a link when it's ready.
Looking forward to your reading in 2012! And I might have to dip back into your old thread too...
And we're off!
#1 Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiong'o
Cheating, probably, since I've been reading this for the past week, but the first finished book of the year is this African novel set in post-colonial Kenya. It is a very political book, about how the native Kenyan leaders who replace the British ones are essentially the same. It is an engrossing book, but not a fun one to read. Thiong'o was imprisoned after it came out.
#2 In a Dog's Heart by Jennifer Arnold (the woman who runs that Canine Assistants training center, as seen on PBS, by me, repeatedly)
So I'm a dog person - I'm currently owned by a 8.5-9yo (ish) flat-coated retriever/border collie mix. I'd seen this book around LT (I think it may have been an early reviewer book) so I picked it up. It seems like a good book for new dog owners; I really wish it had been around when I first got Sadie because it has a lot of good (and realistic) advice on what to feed them, how to train them, etc. The book may have been written in response to Cesar Milan and his advice. Apparently there is a bit of a backlash starting against his methods, since people who don't actually know what they are doing around dogs take them, carry them too far, and end up with terrified, aggressive, biting dogs. I've read both books, and while I think Milan has some good points (dogs need exercise, lots, and tired dogs are good dogs), other points seem to be specific for problematic dogs, and can really cause huge problems in more sensitive dogs. Arnold points this out; dogs have different personalities, like people, and so each dog probably needs to be treated a little differently, like people.
#3 Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
I've been meaning to read this for years, and finally did. It takes awhile to get going (too much exposition, not enough editing) but the story itself is a lot more fun than it should have been. The first part of the book reads a lot like the traveling-around-the-country scenes in Lolita, without any child molestation, and then it jumps into new-girl-at-fancy-prep-school territory. This part is complete with the Beautiful People Posse (like the Cullens, but not vampires), who for some reason bring Blue (like Bella, only mildly less irritating) into their fold. There is a lot of strange behavior by a teacher, an accidental death, a murder, and then in the last 100 pages or so we find ourselves in a mysterious-underground-assassin-group thriller.
It sounds like a mess, and some readers have found it so, but I really liked it. Especially once things started happening. There is a lot of cutesy references (annotated), and line drawings, and that sort of thing, but I didn't find it annoying. Many reviewers ranted about how it is basically just a crappy knockoff of The Secret History, with a murder mystery, so obviously I now need to go read that book too.
I tried Special Topics in Calamity Physics a couple of years ago, before I read so much, and couldn't get into it. I moved it back on my TBR pile last year, and I am glad to see your positive review of it. Makes me confident I will like it when I try again. And I don't mind knockoffs that much, and maybe it will inspire a reread of The Secret History.
The Secret History is a bit of a mess itself, but I found it very compelling.
I loved STiCP. It was so unexpected. I also loved The Secret History, but the books are very different in tone. tSH is much more straightforward and quite a bit creepier.
I liked Blue, especially her name: Blue Van Meer.
Beyonce just named her kid Blue, too. But I don't think it has the same ring to it. And it's so much worse on a celebrity kid.
Hmmm. I've been avoiding The Night Circus because I have this thing about not liking books, films, etc. about the circus, but I guess if YOU liked it . . .
I also do not like books, films, etc about the circus. This is a very different kind of circus, and a very different kind of story.
ETA: I guess if YOU liked it
Oh, the pressure! ;-)
Haha... It's a better circus than any circus... I think this is the circus for people that don't like circuses.
My darling friend Jane sent me The Night Circus for my bday in November. I've been kinda saving it. Now I might have to read it sooner, cuz you said so. :-)
The Night Circus was my first read of the year and I loved it too. My review is in my thread...
I really want to go in the Cloud Maze tent. That sounds so fun. And the one with the bottles.
I also am not a circus person, but there were a number of tents in this one I would have loved to explore! I can tell from your comments here and in my thread that we see eye to eye on this book, Jennifer!
Just adding my voice to the chorus of readers who really enjoyed The Night Circus! :)
Oh, me too! Read it last year, all in a gulp, and loved it. (Though I don't have the circus aversion that others have mentioned.
Anyone familiar with Nights at the Circus? That (perhaps oddly) reminded me of The Night Circus, though the plots are completely different. I think it's just that whole suspension of the norms thing--I find it fascinating.
And the descriptions of the circus were one of my favorite parts of The Night Circus... and that clock! and the ice tent! and the clothes, all in black and white! Loved it.
And wouldn't we all be Reveurs (oh dear, forgotten the term), if we had half the chance? I could cope with a nice red scarf... :)
I think I'd rather be a watcher, than a participant.
I also liked Nights at the Circus, and I see what you mean about them feeling familiar, although I didn't think of it myself.
I don't know Nights at the Circus... I'll have to look it up.
YES! I want to be a reveur or whatever it is too. And the descriptions of the clocks blew my mind. What an imagination Morgenstern has!
Hmm...I think I'm the odd man out on The Night Circus. I loved the writing, and I really loved the female protagonist, but I hated the male. Also, books with magic in them make me queasy. I'm always wondering, if they can do magic, why don't they just fix the problem? Where does their power end?
I'll admit I wanted to go to this circus as much as everyone else, though.
Big dilemma!! Two novellas, separate authors, one jacket. Does that count as two books or one? Am I nuts for even wondering about this?
That is a tricky one. I vote "one book" UNLESS both novellas are considered separate in lists like 1001. Or if you later need an additional book to get up to a particular total.
Which novellas? Which authors?
#5 Silence by Shusaku Endo
A really beautiful and really profound and really thought-provoking book. Its about a missionary priest in Japan back in 1600-something, who goes looking for his teacher who allegedly apostatized. The Christian community is being hunted down and destroyed, but the missionary (Rodrigues) is obsessed with what on earth made his teacher apostatize. He finds out. What does God want? Blind adherence to dogma which permits suffering? Or relief of that suffering, even if it means what looks like apostasy? Why would Rodrigues expect anything but silence from God when he is priding himself on a faith that comes entirely from an academic and selfish worldview?
#6 Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk
This month's read for my real life book group is Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk. I really, really hated this book and everything about it. It is ugly, it is gross, it is pointlessly vulgar, it is peopled with characters who are not only unlikable, they aren't even interesting enough to hate. Obviously it is meant to be shocking, but it isn't shocking so much as it is total, unreadable shit. I only finished it b/c I didn't want anyone at book group to be all "oh, no, if you had read it through to the end and made it through the 30th Major Plot Twist you would have loved it". Nope. This book sucks a lot.
Haaa, that's Chuck Palahniuk! I think he's an author whose work you learn to love to hate. Or something. Or, if nothing else, his books are good for starting mildly entertaining shit-slinging contests.
I brought Stranger Than Fiction home from the library yesterday. Likely also a steaming pile, but since it's nonfiction, it's not like he'd just made the shit up. Unless he's absolutely full of it.
More simply stated, I concur. :)
I know people who love him, so I guess I'm not saying that he is objectively a terrible writer. I just subjectively hate this book. I've never read a Palahniuk book before (though I've seen Fight Club, which is only bearable b/c of Brad Pitt's shirtless self), and will probably never read another. Not my thing at all. I really hope that Wednesday's book group meeting turns into a mildly entertaining shit-slinging contest. That will be fun.
Good luck with Stranger Than Fiction!
Not a Palahniuk fan either. I tried Haunted and yes its over the top gross but it also wasn't very interesting, felt far too forced for that.
its over the top gross but it also wasn't very interesting, felt far too forced for that.
Yes, I've read a few Palahniuk books, but am pretty much of the mind that he's only really writing to shock (SHOCK!) readers, and that wears thin pretty fast. Having said that, I'm glad I read Choke first, it had some great moments. I'm more ambivalent about Fight Club, although I did find the movie fascinating. I liked Stranger than Fiction most of all. Although it still has that must-shock-readers attitude, it was fascinating because it was non-fiction, instead of him thinking up the weirdest stuff he could think of in order to SHOCK us placid readers.
It's been a while, but I also seem to remember being somewhat SHOCKED! by Choke, and being rather pleased by that. I thought I'd gone all jaded, but obviously there's still a bit of me that can be shocked. :)
#7 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
A group read with the folks over at the author theme reads group. I've never read any Murakami before, and I didn't know what to expect, but I ended up loving this book. It's a combination of weird supernatural fantasy, and a love story, and a dystopia (sort of). I actually stopped in the middle of the book and flipped to the end to see who lived and who died.
Some of the prose annoyed me (lots of descriptions of a 17 yo girl's large perfect breasts - yuck) but I was totally drawn in to the story, and concerned about the characters. 5 stars.
I'm not sure 1Q84 is for me (supernatural fantasy and dystopia doesn't grab me), but I am intrigued since I've seen so many reviews lately. Think I'll leave it in the maybe pile for now.
I passed on 1Q84. The blurbs didn't grab me. It'll probably be one of those I'll pick up later only to wonder why I didn't read it sooner. Heh.
Caro's review (cameling in the 75 book challenge group) made me buy the book. I haven't read it yet, although if I'd realized there was a group read on the author theme reads group, I might have moved it up.
Jennifer, as always, you're reading an interesting array of books, and I'm loving your fun comments.
#9 The Ghost in the Little House by William Holtz
I finished this group read book with the Missouri Readers. It is a biography of Rose Wilder Lane, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The book was pretty terrible, and I can't tell if it is because of the writing or the fact that Rose Wilder Lane was a boring, whiny, irresponsible, annoying, untalented, manipulative, second-rate, right-wing-ideologue hack. I'm thinking probably the latter. OMG was she obnoxious. She and her mother had a fraught relationship, that is true, but she was every bit as horrible as her mother allegedly was when she was an adult.
I was hoping for more of how she helped her mom write the Little House books (which I admit I adored as a kid: my girl cousins and I used to play Little House on my grandparents' farm and would fight over who got to be Laura). The author of the biography seems to think that RWL should get all the credit for the Little House books. I don't know about that; yes, she polished them up quite a bit, and made the story more readable, but the stories themselves came out of LIW's head. Writing pretty sentences isn't enough to make someone a good author. Story is way more important.
OK, I had no idea Laura Ingalls Wilder had help writing the Little House books which I also adore. I have no desire to read a book that tries to change my opinion of a childhood favorite. I'll just stick to my version of events in this case!
I've been dithering on whether or not to read The Night Circus, but I think you've made up my mind to give it a go. Thanks!
I got through two quick ones yesterday:
#10 The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo
A quick, horrifying, absorbing read about vivisection experiments performed by Japanese doctors on U.S. POWs during WWII. Each of the minor participants has his or her story revealed, explaining (using a few scenes each) why they chose to participate, and what made one of these changes his/her mind at the last minute. Very good and very thought-provoking, but not easy to read.
#11 Jesus and Buddha: the parallel sayings by Marcus Borg
As an antidote to the inhumanity in the previous book, I finished this quick little compilation of verses from Christian scripture and Buddhist scripture that demonstrates how very very similar were the teachings of Christ and the Buddha. They're presented one verse/page, with the Christian text and the Buddhist text on opposite pages. Very little commentary. I liked it.
Interesting contrast between those two books! I read a book called Going Home: Jesus and Buddha As Brothers by Thich Nhat Hanh many years ago that deals with a similar topic as the Borg book you read. Although, it's more a series of sermons than actual comparison of scripture. I remember it being interesting and inspiring, though.
I like Thich Nhat Hanh a lot - I've only read one of his books but want to read more. The one you mention looks really interesting; I'm putting it on my TBR list. There is something about these Buddhist readings that is very soul-feeding, if that makes any sense.
Thich Nhat Hanh has another book in the same vein: Living Buddha, Living Christ, which is really good. We were given it as high school graduation gifts from our headmaster, though I think I'm the only one in my class who actually read it.
Yes! It is. That is the one book by him I've read. I liked it a lot.
re: 1Q84 I'm on the fence about this book... I see it getting good reviews, and 'seems' like it might be something I'd like... but I've never been a fan of Japanese fiction, so...
re: Thich Nhat Hanh, I too, am a big fan of his books and have several still to read on my TBR list.
good stuff Jennifer, enjoying your reviews!
So which is your favorite Thich Nhat Hanh book?
#12 Shades of Grey: the Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde
This seems less like a standalone novel and more like the setup for a new series. Which I suppose it is, but even in a series I think each book should be a story in and of itself. I gave the book 5 stars, though, despite that little quibble because the world-building was so great and because I am so very much looking forward to the rest of the series. He left way too much unexplained.
I've been waffling on whether or not to read Shades of Grey for a while. Now I think I won't, or I'll wait until the whole series is done. I can fairly happily read books just for the language but I definitely want each book to be a full story and dislike being left with more than a few vague unknowns, so perhaps waiting makes the most sense.
I've never even heard of Thich Nhat Hanh until this thread. I am hanging my head in shame.
#56> Yes, it was a great book, but I need to know more. NOW. (Please.) Hanging out for the second one to be published... (He's pretty fast and fairly prolific, so shouldn't be a long wait. I hope.) So, I do recommend you hang on until more books in the series are out before you start reading them.
re: Thich Nhat Hanh; I read Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames several years ago (and got in trouble for using the book as a reference in teaching a Sunday School class on anger ;-) ); I also read Peace is Every Step and The Miracle of Mindfulness .. both several years ago. I'm not sure I could pick a favorite as they all tend to blend together, but I enjoy the gentleness of his writing and the simplicity of his ideas.
I have Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life and Living Buddha, Living Christ on my list.
Thanks for adding to my TBR! I've heard a lot of good things about Savor.
#13 Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally
Wow. Keneally uses the "nonfiction novel" technique to tell the story of Oskar Schindler and how he saved 1200 Jewish men and women during WWII by keeping them employed in his factory. That sentence makes it sound simple, but he spent three solid years bribing, pulling strings, and dashing around Poland to keep his people safe. He built whole camps to keep them out of the hellish local concentration camp, he made up crazy excuses as to why he needed workers who were small children, who were sick, etc. I don't know why I'm summarizing; everyone has seen the movie.
The book is better. You learn so much more about the people. The girl in the red coat? She has a name, and a story. AND, best of all, in real life she survived. The movie is difficult to watch; the book is easy to read. Keneally is very matter-of-fact about the horrors, so the reader can focus on the individuals in the camps. It is a 5-star book.
So glad to see your comments on Schindler's List as I'd totally forgotten there was a book! Definitely adding that to my list.
#14 The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell
The second of the Wallender books is even better than the first.
#15 Marley and Me by John Grogan
Cute, easy read up until the point where I started crying like a baby. Good dogs, like Marley, would have come over and comforted me. My dog lifted her head off the ground, glared at me for disrupting her, and went back to sleep.
Re Marley & Me, I haven't read the book but I was surfing channels one day and happened upon the movie, about halfway in. I usually avoid animal movies like the plague, but this one sucked me in with its likeable characters and whatnot, and then - boom - I started crying and asking myself, Why oh why did I watch that movie?
Couldn't pay me to read the book. Or Schindler's List. What are you, a masochist?
I was looking for a pick-me-up after Schindler's List (depressing but also a little bit uplifting in a way - not everyone is evil) and The Dogs of Riga (bleak, depressing, snowy) but before Sarah's Key (another Holocaust book that I have to read for book group next month). Fail. Honestly, I think my next book is going to have to be something with Sookie et al, or maybe a children's book, because I am about saturated with the misery.
I hope you find a good cheering book soon! Although I am glad to hear that Schindler's Ark is worthwhile, it's been hovering on the edges of Mt TBR for some time.
I have cats. They would sit on my head while I slept, smothering me, if I were to show weakness to a dog. (Even a gorgeous silly mutt like Marley.)
May I recommend a delightful children's book? We've been reading it to citybaby: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood. Book 1 in the newish series: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place. Book 3 is due out next month.
Also, if you haven't read I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, that's a treat. Not a children's book, but so lovely.
citybaby is here? Congratulations! Why did I think that citybaby was coming later?
For a quick, fun read I highly recommend the (shortish) children's trilogy by Terry Pratchett. It's collectively called The Bromeliad Trilogy and is quite funny and very well-written.
no. citybaby is still in utero, not expected til June. We're just getting a head start. It's something my mom did with me when she was pregnant and look how that turned out!
#16 Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
I loved the first half of the book, when the POV switched between that of Sarah, a 10yo French Jewish girl rounded up into the Vel' d'Hiv' in July of 1942, and Julia, a modern-day journalist who is reporting on the Vel' d'Hiv on the 50th anniversary of the roundup. It was really interesting, contrasting the facts Julia gathered with the atmosphere of horror and what-is-going-on that Sarah felt. There's a buildup to an event in Sarah's world (sorry, no spoilers yet), and then it is resolved. In the middle of the book. So Sarah's voice goes away, and we're left with Julia. This part of the book kind of sucked, actually. Julia (an American) is overwhelmed with guilt about the Shoah, and the events of July 1942 in France in particular, and determined to find Sarah. What for? you might ask. Why conceivable good could the arrival of a total stranger (Julia) in Sarah's life, reminding her of this epic tragedy in her life, do? I don't have an answer to that question, and the book didn't really either, but it went on for another couple hundred pages. It seems to me that Julia is making a big assumption, that somehow Sarah will be pleased to know... what? "That somebody remembers her"? It isn't Sarah's responsibility to make Julia feel better about the situation. It isn't Sarah's job to assuage Julia's Western guilt. If I were Sarah, and somebody showed up on my doorstep 50 years after I lost my entire family, and said "Hi. I'm a member of the family who still owns the apartment that you were dragged out of in the middle of the night, the one you used to own that you were never reimbursed for. I just want you to know that I like totally remember you, that we feel real bad about that whole thing. We're not going to, you know, do anything about it or give you the apartment back, not that you'd want it, really, but basically I'm going to stand here until you tell me how special I am for doing this, for showing up here." I'd slap her. de Rosnay should have stopped halfway through. There is nothing wrong with a short novel.
#17 Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories. It is a lovely LoA collection of all Jackson's work. The Lottery is a wonderful collection of super creepy short stories, The Haunting of Hill House is even scarier than I remember, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a new one for me and WOW is that one messed up novella, and the uncollected work at the end is fun too. I didn't realize Jackson could be so funny. Highly recommended for fans.
I read WHALitCastle last year and it is still with me. Merricat is one of the most distinctive characters ever. I love the world Jackson created in that little village and that house on the hill. I haven't read tHoHill House and am a little scared to!
Oh, and thanks for your comments on Sarah's Key. It was one that I was unsure of. Still unsure, but now I've got more info.
Merricat is so very creepy. I can't tell if I love her of if I think she is absolutely horrifying. A little of both, probably.
#18 The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
Margaret Beaufort/Tudor/Stafford/Stanley absolutely sucks. She's totally crazy, just a complete sociopath, convinced that God's Will is that she be all-powerful. Gregory argues here that it is she who pulls the trigger, theoretically, and has the princes in the tower killed. I found this book totally infuriating because I hated Margaret from page one. I like what Gregory is doing with this series, telling the same events from multiple angles, but I liked The White Queen better. It probably doesn't help that ever since I first read Richard III, and then The White Queen, and then The Sunne in Splendour, I've been on the side of the Yorks in this.
You're funny. You like Gregory?
I am similarly ambivalent about Merricat.
Yes, in a mindless fun kind of way. I like how she often uses a first-person female voice to narrate events that occur during a very dude-centric time period. The last two women though (Elizabeth I and Margaret Suckfest) have been pretty obnoxious and I don't like those books much.
I love your Philippa Gregory reviews! Everyone should have a guilty reading pleasure - sounds like you maybe need one that you find a bit more enjoyable though . . . ;-)
#19 Constantine's Sword by James Carroll
***Warning: ridiculously long review. If you just want the short, short version: this book is really important and good and readable and possibly should be required reading***
This gigantic doorstop of a book has been on my TBR (and physically on my bookshelves) since there was a lecture about the history of the Christian church and the Jewish people at the church I attended in St. Louis. The speaker was fantastic, the lecture was riveting, the topic was horrifying. He said that if we wanted to know more, we should read this book. 5 years later, I did. He's right.
Carroll is a practicing Catholic, and an ex-priest, and makes clear that this history is presented through the eyes of an increasingly guilt-ridden Catholic. He intersperses the history parts with stories from his own past that help illustrate particular topics. The book begins with a trip to Auschwitz, and the installation of a cross by Pope John Paul II, and the fallout from that which leads Carroll to ask "How did this happen? How did Western civilization get to this point?" It is incredibly readable (Carroll is a novelist, I think, in his real job), but also fairly respectable in terms of sources (over 100 pages of endnotes & references! Another 20 or so of bibliography) but not at all light reading. He presents evidence of how, over 2000 years, the execution by the Romans of the leader of a Jewish sect (a different denomination, in a sense) was manipulated first by Jewish followers who wanted more followers, then by Gentile adherents who didn't like Jews in the first place and now felt they had a reason to dislike those Jews even more (we're still in the first century of the Common Era, btw), next by a shrewd politician who realized that he'd get lots of support in his bid to be emperor if he claimed to be Christian now, and I'm going to stop here because this is an appalling run-on sentence already and I'm only at Constantine.
Basically, the argument is that 20th century anti-Semitism and its peak during the Holocaust isn't just because of one man, or even one political party, as much as we'd like to think so. One can trace a direct line from decisions made by Christian philosophers, priests, and popes to embed hatred of Jewish people into the very dogma of the Church, and (via the pulpit) from the church to the culture of Western civilization. And it is hard to rid a culture of something like that. Hell, I saw an article on msn.com yesterday where some batshit right-winger politician is blaming something on "Jewish socialism". Now. Today. Here in the good old US of A, where we'd never behave like that. Well, except for the exclusion of Jewish people from country clubs, etc. in the 60s. Besides that. Now, I'm not saying that everyone reading this is a secret anti-Semite; I think that most of us are not, actually. I'm just saying (parroting Carroll, actually) that it isn't like the Holocaust happened in a Christian-dominant culture where everyone was all "yay Jewish people just like us woo!". The Jewish people had been scapegoats for millenia. This shit doesn't happen in a void.
I wish I could say something more coherent and profound, because this book really had a profound effect on me the past couple of weeks. I've decided I'm not capable of the review this book deserves, but someone probably has done it already.
Flippant aside: OMG, has anyone here actually read the letters of Abelard and Heloise? Carroll excerpts some in the book (Abelard is one of the few lights in the church on this issue, and if he had won the battle with Anselm & his spiritual heirs there would not have been a holocaust) and wow. That is some hot stuff right there. I had no idea.
great review Jennifer! I had a couple of random thoughts as I was reading through it, probably not particularly unique, but still ...
we never really know, at the time, what event or person is going to be a turning point in history ... which is what makes reading and writing about history so fascinating. Trying to identify those points at which make a Hitler/holocaust (or any other significant historical occurrence) inevitable. I wonder what future historians will write about 9/11 and the US wars in the Middle East (and whatever the events ultimately lead to...)
Flippant aside: OMG, has anyone here actually read the letters of Abelard and Heloise? Carroll excerpts some in the book (Abelard is one of the few lights in the church on this issue, and if he had won the battle with Anselm & his spiritual heirs there would not have been a holocaust) and wow. That is some hot stuff right there. I had no idea.
Yep, read it for university. I remember it was my favourite text of the 7 that we read for that course (it was one of those survey courses that went from Plato to Thomas More). I don't remember much about it now, but it's sitting on my bookshelf any time I want to review it.
By the way, I just love your reviews, Jennifer! I'm adding the book to my wishlist so I recognize it if I ever stumble across a copy.
It is true - we can only see turning points in hindsight. Or at least, are able to find events that we can call "turning points" to support our hypotheses. I'd love to see what they think of our political and/or environmental situations 100 years from now. I wonder if this is the point when our descendents will look back and think "oh, but, why? The solution is so simple - they just needed to do X. But they didn't do X, and this horrible thing happened".
Not super optimistic about where we're going as a species, I guess.
#20 Kokoro by Natsume Soseki
I'm loving these Japanese authors. I don't know if they're just that readable, or if they have really good translators, or they only bother to translate the really good books, but this is another winner that I read thanks to the Author Theme Reads group. It is another civilization-in-transition story, from the point of view of a member of the younger generation, depicting his interactions with the older generation. Some of it still hits quite close to home for a book that is published in 1914, like the struggle between being a good son or daughter and living near parents, and being ambitious and wanting to pursue a career that will probably guarantee never living near parents (sigh), and dealing with the recurring guilt trips (sigh, again, louder).
But that's just one subplot - there is also a lot of drama about the secret in the past life of the character called Sensei, who can't quite overcome his guilt for an action that this modern reader thinks isn't really that bad, but Sensei obviously did. It's really good.
Ooh, Kokoro sounds good, it's definitely going on my list. I've had that same experience with Australian authors, where I've picked up a whole bunch in a row and adored them all. It's probably due to only the good ones being heavily exported/promoted, but it's still a bit magical when that happens.
That is a smart switch. I missed my book group last month, and just caught up with everyone last night. Apparently it was universally panned by my book group as being really poorly written, and too long, and just didn't work. So go with Kokoro, definitely.
#22 When Christ and his Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman
Oh, she's good. Really really good. I love this book almost as much as I love The Sunne in Splendour. It's the first of the Henry II/Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy, and most of the book consists of Stephen and Maude (real name in real history is Matilda, but there are already like 3 Matildas in the book already and so Penman changed her name) battling it out for control of England after Stephen stole the throne from her after the death of Henry I. It does drag in spaces, but gets super good as soon as Henry II grows up.
One thing that does crack me up about Penman is her overuse of the following plot device: Two main characters are sitting in a castle/tavern/whorehouse/battlefield tent/stable/battlement, speculating about the events of recent history (deaths, betrayals, etc). Suddenly, a messenger appears out of nowhere! Said messenger is inevitably soaking wet/bleeding/missing a limb/has an arrow sticking out of them/frozen. Messenger blurts out that DANGER! is approaching/Someone Important is dead/army is leaving! Everyone scurries about and yells for horses. Repeat as needed.
Seriously good book though. Can't wait for the second one.
Oh good! I'm looking forward to reading this series this year so I'm glad to know it almost measures up to The Sunne in Splendour. Hoping to get to it soon!
I'm so glad you introduced me to her writing. I love it.
#23 Company of Liars by Karen Maitland
It is a quick read, and a highly entertaining if a bit creepy story of a group of travelers in fourteenth century Britain who are headed north trying to get away from the Black Plague. They tell stories about themselves in Canterbury Tales sort of way (modern English, don't worry).
#24 Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
The first half is a lot like Night, or If This is a Man, describing the horrors of the concentration camp. Frankl was a survivor, and he uses his experience in the camps to set up his argument in the second half: that you can't control what happens to you, or prevent suffering, but you can control how you respond to it. It is a very profound little book.
Jennifer - Man's Search for Meaning is great, isn't it! I used to bring it into essays at university every once in a while. You reminded me that the last time I lent my copy out, it didn't come back. Must get anotther copy. Too bad--I'd made a lot of notes in it.
Forgot I even had a copy of this waiting to be read! Bumping it up the queue a little...
#26 Miracles by C.S. Lewis
A little Lenten reading. In general, Lewis is a bit more conservative and literalist a Christian than I am, so we frequently disagree. Never more so than in this book, where Lewis tries to take a rational, scientific approach to argue that miracles happen and that the specific miracles mentioned in the gospels specifically happened. It infuriates me because he'll say things like "Well, obviously A, because A is the ONLY way to interpret X statement" when B, C, and D are all equally valid (to me) ways of interpreting X statement.
I'm not saying miracles can't or didn't happen. I'm saying that you have to take these things on faith, because they don't necessarily stand up to scientific rigor. Nor are they supposed to, because science and religion are two different things that ask two very different types of questions.
#27 The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
I suppose I should have read all the little blurbs on the back, which talked about how "bittersweet" and "heartbreaking" this book is, because then I would have been prepared for the ending. I wasn't. How could she end it like that? Loved it, despite the ending. A beautifully written reminder of the importance of Art and Culture in life (and I feel like it is ok to capitalize these words, because she does all the time).
Oops, I forgot about #28, On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Well-written story about an interracial academic family in New England. The plotline is loosely based on Howards End, one of my favorite books, and about halfway through I picked up on the connections. Overall, while I can see why it is so applauded, for me the book kinda fell flat. For most of it I felt like I was reading a crappy John Irving novel; only the ending makes it obvious that this isn't just yet another novel about middle-aged men and their seeming universal (in novels) obligation to attempt to reclaim their lost youth by banging a teenager.
#29 The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell
I love his writing; it is really dark and depressing and bleak but also really draws me in. I read this short story collection because I wasn't paying attention to what I was doing, and got this from the library instead of the book I was SUPPOSED to read for this month's Missouri Readers read, Woe to Live On. There is a short story in the book called Woe to Live On, as well. The stories are as horrifying as you'd expect from Woodrell, and I loved the book as much as I love all his books.
Thank you. I try to be honest. I can tell that it is well-written, I just don't like it. Sometimes literature makes me feel dumb.
#31 The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
This one doesn't make me feel dumb. It is a really easily read, entertaining (though dark & gothic & melodramatic), plot-driven book. I liked it a lot, and I'll probably recommend it to those of my friends who like to read, but not books with "descriptions" or "ideas".
I'm going to try another by Abe, I think, but if I don't like that one either then I'll just put him aside.
#32 When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson
I've never read any of her nonfiction but I absolutely love her novels (all three of them) and so I decided to pick up this collection of essays based entirely on the title. Me too, Marilynne! So did I! Lots of them! But it should come as no surprise to anyone that I think she is an absolutely brilliant essayist as well. Really, the woman can do no wrong in my world. Robinson approaches the world from the point of view of a left-leaning academic who is also a progressive person of faith (does this sound familiar? Not that I am anywhere within several orders of magnitude of her awesomeness). Her essays are about politics, religion, society, etc, and she skewers the targets of her contempt beautifully. I have another of her books on hold at the library and I can't wait to get it.
I quite liked The Woman in the Dunes but I can understand why it's a an acquired taste, not much happens after all and heavy on the allegory. I am not sure I would recommend another, all his books are heavy on existentialism. Still out of the two I have read The Face of Another was far better than The Ruined Map in case you do want to pursue :)
There is a film of The Woman in the Dunes .. even I am not sure I would have the patience to watch it!
#33 11/22/63 by Stephen King
A short story about me and Stephen King novels:
When I was in 6th grade, I did something good in my English class (I don't remember what). For this good thing, I got to pick a book TO KEEP from a table of used paperbacks. Some were the standard young adult award winners of the time, others were books for grown-ups. I'd never really read a grown-up book before, so feeling very daring I picked out a book called Salem's Lot. There were vampires on the cover. I read it and was hooked. So was my mom. So she ended up buying lots and lots of his books, and I can say that with the exception of some of the newer (and likely crappier) novels, I've read just about everything he wrote. Some are fantastic (It, The Shining, The Stand, all of his short stories). Some are total crap (Misery, that horrible book about the handcuffs, the totally disgusting Dreamcatcher).
11/22/63 goes right into the "fantastic" category. It is as good as the three I mention, and almost as good as the Dark Tower series. It isn't a horror novel at all, although we spend a bit of time in Derry, Maine. It is a love story (no, really) and a time-travel story, and a "oh, hell, look at those consequences" story. 800-something unputdownable pages.
Oh good, I'm glad to hear you liked 11/22/63 because I got it for Christmas and wasn't sure if I'd like it after reading lots of mixed reviews. I haven't read much Stephen King, but now I'm excited to read this. Thanks for the review!
Some are total crap (Misery, that horrible book about the handcuffs
That was one of the last King books I read, and I remember liking it. The ones that didn't work for me, and made me quit reading him, were Insomnia}--really boring, and Dolores Claiborne, which I just couldn't read (although I rather enjoy the movie!). Also, I got tired of the climax of every story being a scary monster outside of town (It, The Tommyknockers, etc.) But I plan to read 11/22/63 at some point, so I'm glad to hear you liked it.
#34 Woe to Live On by Daniel Woodrell
A historical fiction novel, set at the Missouri/Kansas border during the Civil War. It's plenty violent, although not as dark as Woodrell's typical Ozark Noir (I didn't make that up. That is a thing that perfectly describes his writing) novels. He's such a good writer. He can make characters come to life and manages to write using language that makes sense for the time period. It is fantastic.
#35 Deep River by Shusaku Endo
Another gushing review about what a fantastic writer Endo is. Yep. Deep River is, I think, the best of his novels that I have read so far (n=3). It is about a group of unconnected Japanese tourists who go to the town on the Ganges that used to be called Benares but is now called something that starts with a V. Very holy place, and this is really a very spiritual book without shoving any particular flavor of spirituality down the reader's throat.
#36 Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama by Gwen Ifill
I love Gwen Ifill. She's one of my favorite TV news people. And this book was a really interesting look at (as the subtitle says) politics and race, both in the presidential election of 2008 and also in a number of state and local government elections in this time period. She points out the shift in the African-American political community from the old-school Civil Rights era to younger politicians who, while acknowledging their debt to those older politicians, go in different directions and have different goals. It is NOT, as John McCain's campaign claimed, a piece of political propaganda for Barack Obama.
#37 A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Holy crap! This book is amazing! I can see why everyone loves it, and I need to read the second one right now. I hate the Lannisters, except for Tyrion, and totally sympathize with the Starks. I want to see horrible things happening to all the rest of the Lannisters immediately. The parallels with the Yorks and the Lancasters in the war of the roses are very interesting.
#38 Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
I saw the PBS version first, and thought "Oh. This is a really pretty film of a really crappy story. Why does everyone like this book again?". It turns out that the PBS version really kind of screwed the story up, and emphasized the "love" story (scare quotes necessary) over what I consider to be the actual story of the book, the incredible changes in Stephen's personality due to the war. The book is wonderful, and really gets the horror of trench warfare across. I even liked the intersections with the 1978 storyline.
#39 The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
God, this book was awful. I should have known better; I can't stand Hemingway, at all, and I don't think he was an amazingly gifted otherworldly person for whom the rules do not apply. Obviously I am wrong. The majority of the literary world disagrees with me. I know. I also cannot stand the narrator of this book, Hemingway's first wife, Hadley. SHE'S THE WORST. She is one of those people who have no life or interests or identity or existence, really, outside of their relationship and their partner. These people bore the pants off me in real life, but they're inexcusable in a fictional character who narrates the book. She's such a mousy hideous pushover. I stopped reading when she didn't do anything when Hemingway's mistress crawled naked into bed with Hemingway while she was there, in bed, also. Whatever. I didn't get the pathos or feel any sympathy for her at all. The book can be divided in three parts: 1) she meets Hemingway and falls in love and is miserable because she doesn't know if he loves her too, 2) they are married in Paris and she is miserable because he pays more attention to his writing than to her and 3) Hemingway is banging this other woman and she is miserable blah blah blah. Possibly there is a fourth part but I didn't get that far. Go away, Hadley.
I thought I would like the setting better (Paris in the 20s w/ all the superfabulous expats like Stein and Fitzgerald). I loved the movie Midnight in Paris. Same characters, same time frame. But it is hard to do that when 1920s Paris is filtered through the eyes of this total suckfest. Even if Hadley was just a plot device to showcase the era, she doesn't have to be this awful. Anthony Powell did a great job in his A Dance to the Music of Time series doing the same thing with Nick Jenkins, whose story only barely intruded onto the narrative as a whole but he wasn't boring.
I used to have a rule that I would never read a book that had a title that followed the "The _____ Relative" formula because they are all terrible (see: The Pilot's Wife, The Bonesetter's Daughter, etc etc etc). I should have followed it.
Jennifer, you're my favourite reviewer. And two other things,
1. I really do think Hemingway is going out of style
2. Thanks for the tip on "The ______ Relative" formula title. If I ever write a novel, I won't use it because I don't want to write a sucky book. And in the meantime, I'll stay away from those.
I'm reading/listening to 11/22/63 while I exercise at the gym and so far am liking it very much. You and I have had similar experiences with Stephen King... my first exposure was a copy of The Stand that came from the Science Fiction Book Club (my mom let me join when I was 14 because I had a paper route and could buy my own books)... and like you was hooked. I haven't read everything and haven't like some of those I've read but, at least for now, my favorites include the fairly recent Duma Key, The Stand (for reasons already listed) and Salem's Lot...
I'm so curious about Game of Thrones. I have a friend who's going to buy it soon and I might borrow it after she's done. I'm not usually into fantasy, but this sounds intricate enough (and hopefully not too weird??) to keep my attention. Also definitely going to stay far away from The Paris Wife since I don't like Hemingway (or bad books) either. And, about Birdsong, I've been thinking about reading it, but I saw that's it's part of a series. although some places make it sound like the three books are connected, but don't need to be read all together. Did you read The Girl at the Lion d'Or first? Do you think it mattered to read or not read it?
Jennifer: No, I didn't. I just read Birdsong, and it is definitely a standalone book. I have Charlotte Gray on my list, which I think is set in WWII, not WWI, and I'll read it eventually. I didn't even realize that there were any sort of connections.
So GoT isn't really fantasy-fantasy. Honestly, it reads more like historical fiction except that there are these mysterious Others who kill people in the north. They really aren't defined yet. No elves, no fairies, no flying carpets, no dwarves as a species unto themselves, no magic rings, no talking animals, no ghosts, no Orcs, no dragons - oh wait. There are dragons. I think you'll like it - it reminded me of The Sunne in Splendour except the people are imaginary and SKP is a much more intellectual writer than whats-his-name.
Joyce: most definitely avoid that type of title when you write your bestseller!
clif (Keith?): I love The Stand too. I keep meaning to re-read it.
The Girl at the Lion d'Or, Birdsong and Charlotte Gray are sometimes referred to as the "French trilogy", but they only thing they have in common is that parts, or all, of them are set in France and they share a character. The Girl at the Lion d'Or is about a young woman who waitresses at a hotel in a French village in the 1930s. Birdsong is about British miners at the front during WWI, and Charlotte Gray is about a SOE operative who parachutes into France looking for her lover, whose plane was shot down.
Thanks for the Game of Thrones info. I'll definitely plan on getting to it this year.
And I'm glad to have the trilogy aspect of the Faulks books explained. Thanks iansales!
I'm slowly working my way through Faulks' novels but I wouldn't call myself a fan. Birdsong is excellent, but nothing else of his I've read has yet to match it. The Girl at the Lion d'Or and A Fool's Alphabet did very little despite their short length. Charlotte Grey started well, but slowed down to a crawl for much of its length, before picking up and finishing on an affecting note.
Throughout On Green Dolphin Street I was expecting a similar twist to Charlotte Grey, but it never happened - a very disappointing book. Engelby was too transparent to succeed as a murder-mystery, and yet obscured its eponymous character too much to work as a character study. Since it didn't know what it was, it didn't succeed as either.
Devil May Care, Faulks' 007 novel, was actually fun and better than I was expecting. It started off slow, and the Fleming misogyny was in place, but when the action moved to Persia it picked up pace. The villain was perhaps owed a bit too much to the films, but the book does feature an ekranoplan, which is cool.
I still have Human Traces and A Week in December on the TBR, and I plan to get hold of a copy of A Possible Life when it appears this year.
+1 love for Gwen Ifill. As a Canadian obsesses with US politics (as it obviously impacts us all), Gwen Ifill and the Slate political gabfest are my faves.
#40 After the Victorians by A.N. Wilson
The Victorians is Wilson's most famous work, but I don't have that so I'm going in reverse chronological order. I loved After the Victorians. I love Wilson's style. One caveat: he is by no means an unbiased scholarly reporter of history. His opinions come through loud and clear; as it happens, he and I agree on many, many things (I like to blame British Imperialism for all of the world's problems today, Wilson did too. We're both anti-war, etc) so that really didn't bother me. It is a very interesting look at the world (mostly Britain, obviously) from the death of Victoria to the accession of the current Queen.
Definitely adding both those A.N. Wilson books to my list! I have the same biases toward imperialism and war, so that probably won't bother me either. :)
Oh good! Then you'll like them.
#41 The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
It is beautifully written, I will grant Barnes that. And I liked what he did, setting up his narrator as totally reliable in the first half, and then knocking that down in the second. However. This book left me really cold, and I honestly can't tell why it won the Booker, and why everyone praises it to the skies. The first half was interesting, I suppose, but then the second half really should have been about 2 pages long if the main characters weren't idiots, and if they had behaved in a remotely plausible manner. The narrator keeps setting up meetings with his ex-girlfriend from decades ago, asking "what is going on with a certain situation?" and every.single.time. she gives him a totally obscure clue and then stomps off shouting/writing/whatever "you just don't get it, and you never did". Listen, honey, how about doing us all a favor and just saying, out loud, in words, what is going on, so that the book will end. The second half did give Barnes a whole 'nother section to inject pretty little philosophical musings about aging, death, memory, life, etc, but doesn't he already have a whole book about that?
I just caught up on your thread by about 100 posts. There was a lot to absorb, a lot of titles to scribble in my notebook, and a lot of giggles and sighs! I do enjoy your comments.
#42 George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War One by Miranda Carter
Really interesting book describing how, by the turn of the last century, essentially all the crowned heads of Europe were related to each other by birth or marriage through Queen Victoria. The book is really a history of the personalities of the royal heads of the Big Three, plus the political classes in each country, and how the combination of personality, diplomacy, mistakes, and total batshit craziness contributed to the build-up to WWI.
An important point that I think the book makes very clear: hereditary rulers should not, actually, be allowed to make decisions and rule.
Glad to hear you don't have any big criticisms of George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm, as it's quite high on to my to-read list.
Also enjoyed catching up on your reading. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed 11/22/63 as I've just started that one myself.
#43 The First World War by John Keegan
A mostly interesting military history of WWI. Nicely detailed, and after the first month not too detailed. The more I read about this conflict, the more I think that it was a totally avoidable and meaningless war that shouldn't have happened and didn't need to happen if most of the people in charge of countries weren't completely batshit insane, and that led to most if not all of the horrors of the 20th century. Romantic and glorious and noble my ass.
Reading about WWI does make you think everyone had just gone temporarily insane. The fact that military leaders decided "Oh, these plans we made years and years before the war actually started? Let's use those and definitely not react to what's actually going on." It's interesting/difficult to imagine what the first half of the century would have been like if France had managed to get and hold large parts of Germany or vice versa.
All the insanity aside, I do love to study it. (Oh, Behind the Lines/Regeneration is a great movie about some of the WWI poets, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, and their treatment at Craiglockhart.)
I didn't know they made Regeneration into a movie! I'll have to find that.
And I know! It totally seemed like the military leaders were just bored, and so they spent their time designing war plans, and then were all "oh, but we want to use these so lets have a war for no good reason".
Just catching up after a long absence... nothing exciting to say, but I have had a giggle or two reading your comments. :)
So I just got back from spending the previous month at Scientist Boot Camp (not its real name), where the only reading I did was to study several chapters of a lovely book called Manipulating the Mouse Embryo. Yesterday, however, I managed to finish:
#44 Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
I am distressed that Mantel's editors felt the need to dumb down her writing style by frequently using "he, Cromwell" or "him, Cromwell" instead of just "he" or "him" like she used in Wolf Hall. Part of the charm of that book was figuring out that "he" almost always refers to Cromwell. Context clues, people. Use them.
Overall, though, I loved the book and Thomas Cromwell himself, and am dreading the inevitable end of book 3.
Good to see you back! I just reread Wolf Hall and I'd read a similar comment to yours about how Mantel uses "he, Cromwell" a lot in Bring up the Bodies instead of just "he" like in Wolf Hall. Actually, though, in rereading Wolf Hall, I found that she used "he, Cromwell" quite a bit though I didn't remember that going into the reread. I'll be curious to see how the usage compares to Bring up the Bodies. I really liked how it worked it Wolf Hall, so I hope it isn't too annoying in BUtheB. Glad to here you liked the book overall - I'm really looking forward to it!
Gack! That is such bad news. While I did have one friend give up on Wolf Hall because she couldn't get past the idiosyncratic pronoun use, I loved it. I reread it a month ago just to refresh before Bring Up the Bodies. Bah. In my world (theatre), we have the same problems. A bad dramaturg can ruin a writer's voice. To be fair, great editors and dramaturgs are priceless, but like anything else, I've seen more poor meddlesome ones than great ones.
But it is still a very enjoyable book, the writing and the story are still brilliant. Do read it!
Maybe I idealized WH, then, because I don't remember "he, Cromwell" being used to the same extent at all. I was just picking a nit - the writing and story are as brilliant as divinenanny says, so everyone should read it. I feel like there was all this horrible foreshadowing towards the end - you can see where it will go badly for Cromwell (and I will absolutely HATE that part), and he pretty much knows it. Are Mantel's other works good? Her non-Cromwell fiction?
#45 The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Five stars. Absolutely fantastic. I was really confused at first, but the story really moved along and by the end I couldn't put it down. Iris must be one of the top 10 unreliable narrators in all of fiction.
Well, I haven't read Bring up the Bodies yet, so maybe she uses "he, Cromwell" a lot more in it. Don't think I'll care either way - I'm expecting to love it! I read A Place of Greater Safety this year and totally loved it. It's also historical fiction but about the french revolution and is pretty different in tone (and POV). I might have liked it even better than Wolf Hall, but it's pretty much too close to tell. I really want to read all of Mantel's book eventually.
#46 Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller
I read this because I just moved to a new apartment and this was the only book I could find to read the other night. Everything else is packed. It was ok. The narrator is pretty creepy, but overall it didn't really inspire any strong feelings one way or the other. The movie is better (Judy Dench is awesome in it).
#47 Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
This is the nonfiction equivalent of a James Patterson novel. There isn't much too it, but it is wildly popular.
#48 A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
This summer is rapidly becoming the summer where I drop everything else that I am supposed to be reading in order to read the Game of Thrones books. I'm addicted to this series! All I want to do is read them. What is going to happen? When will something terrible happen to Cersei (please, please, please soon)?
Terrible things keep happening to characters I like, that is the problem. The jerks seem to be doing just fine! Except this one character who was nice in the first book and then a horrible traitor douchebag in the second book who I think is dead. Is he dead? Please say he is dead.
I've only read the first in the series, but am trying desperately to make time for the next one.
#49 World War Z by Max Brooks
I love how this book is set up: it is a series of oral interviews, not a narrative like most novels, and through these interviews you learn the story of the Zombie War. It is told so matter-of-factly that it actually scared me and I had nightmares about it. So, so good.
I loved World War Z, one of the book high on my list to be re-read.
Ooh that will make a great movie. Cannot wait! I didn't expect to like WWZ as much as I did, but it was just awesome.
#50 The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
Merton was a convert to Catholicism, and a monk, and one of those people who thinks that really, Catholics are the only good people, except for people he liked who were not Catholic but who he rationalizes by saying that they were Catholics "at heart" blah blah blah. Big ol' Catholic bigot, really, but then a sinful Protestant like myself would say that, now wouldn't I?
Also, it is the end of July and I finally hit 50 books. Does not bode well!
#51 The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
She's just so good at this, Margaret Atwood is. She may be the only author in existence who doesn't make me prefer the villain, especially in this book. Zenia is a nightmare. The book is fantastic.
#52 End This Depression Now! by Paul Krugman
I really like Paul Krugman's columns. I am the choir to whom he is preaching, really, so it should come as no surprise that I loved this book. If you like Paul Krugman, you will like it too and should definitely read it. If you hate Paul Krugman, you will hate it but you should read it too because you might enjoy the resulting ranting. Everyone needs an excuse to start ranting sometimes.
#53 A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Ok, sure. So on the one hand, it is grown-up Twilight. But on the other hand - vampire scientists! Molecular biologists, at that! Witches who have PhDs and are science historians! mtDNA! Yoga! Tea! Time travel! Mysterious documents from ago! Haunted houses that share their opinions of the residents within! Must get ahold of the second book in the trilogy ASAP!
#54 Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
Much more literary and highbrow than the last book. It is a collection of weird little short stories that remind me a lot of Italo Calvino's work. They are clever and funny and I didn't spend too much energy trying to "get" them. I just enjoyed them. Sue me.
I have to say that I'm getting a bit tired of the continual ranting from both sides about Chick-Fil-A ...
# 55 The Samurai by Shusaku Endo
Like Silence, The Samurai deals with the conflict between western Christianity/culture and traditional Japanese culture. It's very good, but one of the characters was really frustrating.
#56 A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
It seems like people either love this book and think it is the funniest thing ever, or they hate it. I fall somewhere in between, but lean toward "hate it". I can see how certain kinds of people would find this book hilarious ("for those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like" quick name the movie!), and Ignatius hilarious, but since I loathe Ignatius the only redeeming qualities for me were Miss Trixie and Jones the janitor at the bar. They're hilarious.
I cannot think of any two books LESS like each other than the two I finished this weekend:
#57 Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. A very sweet, Victorian, cozy, heartwarming book about old women in a small village in England. I loved it. So cute.
#58 Almost Transparent Blue by Ryu Murakami. Incidentally, another 1001 book. Holy hell. Uh, I feel like I should have had to show ID to check this book out from the library. It reminded me of a Japanese, 1960s era version of Tropic of Cancer, with all the filth and sex and drugs that would imply. Gross. I am entirely too prudish for this book (and I'm really not that prudish).
#59 Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. This is her debut collection, and it is absolutely fantastic and I can see why it won the Pulitzer. The stories blew me away. I had read The Namesake and thought it was ok, but these stories are on a whole different level.
#60 Longitude by Dava Sobel. Pop science/history about making clocks.
Interpreter of Maladies is one book that I keep on overlooking for no particular reason. I have borrowed it from the library at least twice then returned it without reading. I must borrow it again soon.
I kept putting it off, too, but I'm glad I finally read it.
Flying through the books lately (lots of short ones, which helps):
#61 The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. I gave this two stars because it is incredibly well-written; obviously, it would have to be to have this strong an effect on me. However. I HATED every single page of this book, and probably should have stopped reading it (again, though, very well-written and gripping and horrifying and hard to put down). Way too much animal torture for me. Way, way, way too much. To be honest, ANY animal torture is too much for me in books - or real life - but this was just no.
It is told from the point of view of this murderous little 16yo sociopath, whose equally sociopathic brother has just escaped from the institution he was kept in. Yuck.
#62 What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
A nice, quick read that feels more like sitting down and talking with Murakami about running, his past, his thoughts about writing, etc.
#63 Gunn's Golden Rules: Life's Little Lessons for Making it Work by Tim Gunn
Part memoir, part etiquette book, part fashion world gossip, entirely entertaining.
#64 The Eye in the Door by Pat Barker
The second book in the Regeneration trilogy, continuing the story of the emotional damage WWI inflicted on it's soldiers. This one also explores the extent to which homophobia came into play in civilian society during this time. More adventures of Billy Prior!
#65 The Ghost Road by Pat Barker
The final book of the trilogy, and the one that won the Booker Prize. This whole series is emotionally draining; war is horrific. The writing is excellent, though.
The Wasp Factory is probably my least favourite Iain Banks novel even though alot of people some to rate it highly. Also, thanks for reminding me I need to read the second and third books in the Regeneration trilogy. I really enjoyed the first when I read it years ago but somehow I have never got around to finishing the trilogy.
There are a couple other Iain Banks books on the 1001 list, so I'll probably try another. Are they all this disturbing? and I like Regeneration best of the trilogy. I liked the focus on Rivers in that book.
#66 The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
This book was huge a couple years ago, and I picked up a copy super cheap then, and only just now got around to reading it. I gave it 3 stars; don't really understand either the hype or the haters. It's an ok book. Plotwise, it is Hamlet with dogs. The author isn't subtle about this, either. That's fine, though. I love Hamlet.
Gar and Trudy (see that?) live in northern WI and raise special dogs. What makes these dogs special is a huge, huge part of the book that actually never is clearly revealed. (This is one of Wroblewski's big problems, really. He keeps introducing guns, so to speak, and never firing them.) They have a son named Edgar who can't talk.
#67 The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois
A very important and highly quotable book that starts out with "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line". Du Bois wrote that in something like the 1900s, and he was not wrong. I think that many of his points are true, still, today, and can apply to many oppressed peoples.
I think Wasp Factory is his darkest one yet, haven't read all his books though.
You've read some great books this year, Jen! I guess I'll have to stop by for some more wonderful reviews, more often.
Thank you! Feel free to stop by any time.
#69 Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
Wow, this may be the best one I've read from her yet. It is about a maid in 1850ish Toronto who was convicted of helping to murder her employer. How much did she help? How much did she know? What does she remember? Is she telling the truth at all? It is fantastic.
#70 50 Shades of Grey by some talentless hack
Absolutely, positively one of the worst books I have EVER READ. No, seriously, in one of the first chapters the pathetic female lead character interviews the totally bullshit wish fulfillment douchebag male lead character and asks him what his interests are and the author has him reply "My interest are varied. Very varied."
I kid you not. This is what the writing is like the WHOLE BOOK except she also says "crap" a lot and "jeez" and it just really sucks. I only read it because a friend of mine sent me it and told me I had to read it and I wanted to be able to explain to her exactly why she was wrong.
From what I recall of the 1001 list, various versions had 'Complicity' (yes, it is very dark), 'Dead Air' (not so dark but I did think it was his dullest book and I'm really not sure why it made its way on to the list) and 'The Crow Road' which I haven't read yet.
Also, you should inform your friend that the reasons why she is wrong about 50 shades of Grey are varied. Very varied. :)
Glad you loved Alias Grace! What a great book! And, yeah, not even tempted to try Fifty Shades of Grey. Curious to know how the discussion with your friend goes.
The Wasp Factory is Banks' darkest by a long shot, and Complicity is probably the next darkest. The Crow Road, despite the memorable opening line "It was the day my grandmother exploded", is more of a light family thriller. As is The Steep Approach to Garbadale. Whit is an innocent abroad story, Transition is actually sf, Song of Stone is forgettable, The Bridge is good but sf/fantasy, Canal Dreams is good but more literary, and Espedair Street is about an ageing rocker living in seclusion and quite fun.
#71 The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I'm not a fan of Fitzgerald as a novelist. I mean, he's fine, I don't hate him, but I don't really love Gatsby either, you know? But these short stories are very good, and many are excellent. I particularly like "A Diamond as Big as the Ritz", "The Ice Palace", "Babylon Revisited", and the one with the ghost.
Ok, I'll put The Crow Road on my TBR. I can tell that he's a really good writer, I just want to try something less horrifying.
re: Alias Grace. Agreed, beautiful novel. Based on a true story as well.
re: Vernon Little God. Agreed as well. Read that a couple years ago and couldn't figure what the fuss was about.
#170 - I have Hard Times planned for my annual Dickens read sometime in the first few months of 2013. I'll come chat with you about it then, if you're around.
#74 Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin
One of those books about how buying less stuff will make you a more happy & complete & self-actualized person, although this only works for rich people, because if you don't buy lots of stuff because you can't afford lots of stuff you also miss out on the self-actualization. Sucks for us poor people! Very pseudo-spiritual and a little bit too crunchy for me (think of all the time I would save if I stop shaving my legs! No). The end comes with a great OMG-civilization-is-ending-we're-all-going-to-die chapter that is pretty fun.
I think I was probably not in the right mood for this book at this time.
#75 White Teeth by Zadie Smith
It started out promisingly, with the introductions of the Jones and the Iqbal families. I think that Zadie Smith does characters really well - the major ones are well-fleshed-out and interesting (with an exception I'll get to) and the minor ones are fantastic. The old guys playing dominos at the poolroom, for instance. She's great at dialogue, and setting scenes, and making real characters. She's just awful, though, at plot. I liked the first half of the book, and the interactions between the Joneses and the Iqbals, but then she introduces the Chal-somethings (forgot the name - sorry) for no apparent reason and the book goes rapidly downhill. The Chal-something family is just AWFUL. No good at all. The ending is just a mess. I was disappointed.
#76 Time and Chance by Sharon Kay Penman
The second book in the Henry II/Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy. I liked it a lot; far fewer battles than the first book which is fine with me. Lots more politics and plotting. I don't understand the point of the totally fictional Welsh subplot, and really it just takes up a lot of space and makes the books EVEN LONGER.
#77 The Food of a Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky
Back in the Great Depression, the government decided to put writers to work through the Federal Writers Project. One of these projects was to collect essays for a planned book called America Eats, with submissions from all around the US (but organized into regions). It is an interesting look at what people ate across the country in the 30s. Answers: lots of beans, pickled veggies, and cornbread. Fish on the coasts.
#78 The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
So the premise of this book is that when people die, they go to the City, where they hang out for 70 or so years (eating, shopping, working, etc) until they disappear. Suddenly, there is a mass disappearance and no one knows why. Storyline #2 explains that: there's been a huge plague. Who is the last person left alive?
I liked it - clever, well-written. Some bits were silly.
I loved this book when I read it a few years ago. I thought it was brilliant!
#79 Broken Harbor by Tana French
After a disappointing Faithful Place, Tana French is back in form with Broken Harbor. I loved it. It was a very disturbing story - I suspect all my young mom friends will find it even more disturbing than I did - but it worked so well! I just love her writing.
#80 The White Lioness by Henning Mankell
Too much South African politics. Not enough Wallander.
Hmm. I am on a month long tour with work away from my son. I was planning to read Broken Harbour, but maybe I should wait til I get back home and am not worrying about him. By the way, we're in the northeast this year and going to Brunswick, ogunquit, and I think Bangor, Maine. We move fast and are only in each place for 1 night, but let me know if you're anywhere near those places. It would be fun to catch up!
Brunswick is where Bowdoin is, right? It is only about 30 minutes away. We should totally try to catch up! When will you be in town?
Yep,it's where Bowdoin is. We get there around 8 pm on Sunday, 10/14 and we're there all day on Monday 10/15 with a concert that night. It'd be great to see you!
I'm around (and have nothing major scheduled, for a change, work-wise) both those days - I think this will work! I just sent you a Facebook message to try to coordinate.
I didn't even know what cargo capris was! Guess that book isn't for me :)
#187 - I hope what you learned wasn't that cargo capris are an abomination, and this whole time you've been wearing them thinking they make you look fabulous. That would be sad. ;-)
No, they make me look stumpy (and I'm 5'3", so I don't really need any help with that, you know?). I learned a lot about historical clothing, and how clothing evolved into what we wear today. Plus pretty pictures.
That sounds really interesting, actually. On to the wish list it goes. (And I can't wear cargo capris either, even though I'm 5'7" ....my thighs are big enough on their own, thank you very much).
More about clothes:
#82 Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline
So in addition to worrying about how local and organic and humanely raised and low-carbon-footprint and fair trade our food is, we now also need to worry about how the clothes we buy are shoddy and poorly constructed and made with synthetic fabrics and destroying the environment and Chinese sweatshops and little kids losing fingers, oh my. The solution? Stop buying clothes at chain stores and either 1) go to thrift shops although most of the stuff there is cheap crap from H&M too 2) sew your own in your copious free time with your mad sewing machine skills or 3) buy all your clothes at tiny little quality boutiques in Manhattan.
Yeah. I'll get right on that.
I saw a review about that one and I figured as much. Still , I want to read it.
I was being flippant - there are also helpful reminders to actually FIX clothes that are slightly damaged instead of throwing them out and buying another one of the exact same thing. Sew on buttons, patch holes, etc. And it also told me that the trend towards cheap thin worthless fabric isn't a trend so much as inevitable cost-cutting measures that aren't going away.
Overall a worthwhile read; I was just disappointed that the solutions are just so incredibly unattainable. I'll just have to try to buy the least offensive things possible, and live with the guilt.
Jennifer- YOU being flippant? Tell me it's not true (she says flippantly)
#84 Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
She just keeps getting better and better. Gone Girl was fantastic - funny, creepy, not-too-dark, and full of bizarre plot twists that I never saw coming but enjoyed thoroughly. I saw a lot of negative reviews of the book around here for awhile. Those people are just wrong.
#85 The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima (he's the mini-author for the last quarter of the year). It was ok. I didn't love it, didn't hate it. He did a good job evoking the time and place, and the Golden Pavilion itself stands out clearly. The protagonist is annoying and his descent from good-kid into arsonist is told as matter-of-factly as it would seem inside the head of a sociopath. Three stars.
#86 The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst. Sex, drugs, and Thatcher-era UK politics. It was beautifully written, and the story itself (a middle-class gay man in his early 20s living with the super-rich MP dad and family of his buddy/crush from Oxford) was interested and sad. I didn't expect all the explicit sex in a Booker Prize winner, but there you go.
#87 The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George
Highly entertaining, slightly trashy historical fiction from the point of view of the murderous monarch himself. Now that Hilary Mantel has converted me, I was angry with his Cromwell comments, but overall this was really a 5-star read. Perfect for long flights.
I loved that Henry book when I read it years ago. I've read several others by her that were good too, but that was my favourite.
It is almost 1000 pages long, but it doesn't feel like it. It did seem like a third of it was Anne Boleyn, and very little about the other wives. I thought that Anne of Cleves came across particularly well in this version - just a happy little German lady.
#88 The Twelve by Justin Cronin
I really enjoyed this second book in the The Passage trilogy. It didn't have the same horror impact as the first two parts of The Passage, but we learn a lot more about the survivors and the different groups, and the ways they cope with the virals. Some more characters are introduced, and minor characters from the first book are fleshed out, and we return briefly to the nightmare of Year Zero when pretty much the whole North American continent is wiped out. Then we head right back to year 97 (no, I'm wrong, a brief detour at year 79) and a massive confrontation with the virals.
#202 Just finished The Twelve myself, great review I agree with everything !
Jennifer -yes! That book was the most I've ever read about Anne of Cleves, and I got a very good impression from her too. I am proud of her for avoiding getting her head chopped off. (just because it happened to others)
#89 - Oh, lordy. that one's been on my TBR forever. I've been really trying to get to it this year. Should I even bother?
Joyce - eh. Its ok; not bad, just not very interesting. Its a shame, because it COULD be great (Galileo vs. Pope Whatever the Somethingth re: Earth going around the sun). I wasn't super impressed by Sobel's other book, Longitude either, so take that into consideration.
The Twelve, on the other hand, was great! Enjoy, judylou!
I wasn't a huge fan of Longitude either. I thought it was okay but nothing special. I have Galileo's Daughter somewhere in my tbr mountain but haven't been tempted to bump it up the read queue. By the way for an intriguingly different look at Galileo's life and work I would recommend Mario Biagioli's Galileo, Courtier. I found it absolutely fascinating though it is a scholarly, academic work and so may be a little dry in terms of writing style.
Galileo's Daughter is also ok but nothing special, so that appears to be Sobel's thing. The Biagioli book looks interesting - I usually prefer my history scholarly and academic. Not a huge fan of pop history, apparently. Dry is not that problematic.
#90 Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
This is one of those books that I acknowledge is very well-written, and very literary and whatnot. But I absolutely hated reading it. It is very very depressing.
It is also horrifying. In addition to being depressing. I wish I didn't have those images in my head, but now I do.
#92 The Confessions of St. Augustine
The first part of this is pretty funny (unintentionally), which is basically Augustine being all "I was a bad, bad boy". Then it gets all philosophical. It is interesting how he swings from being very open and loving and talking about multiple interpretations of the Bible in different times to being all hating and closeminded. It happens.
#93 The Autobiography of Charles Darwin. Not really a formal autobiography, more a collection of notes and name-dropping for his family and friends.
#94 We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch
Horrifying, frustrating, and infuriating, just like everything else I've read or seen about this absolute travesty. I'm usually a big Clinton fan, but he really dropped the ball on this one. As did the rest of the world, especially France. I gave it 4.5 stars, though, because it is absolutely gripping.
I've owned that one for a while but haven't found the courage to read it yet. I also have Shake Hands With the Devil, Romeo Dallaire's memoir of the event. Not brave enough for that one either.
It took me a few years to work up to it, too. I watched Hotel Rwanda about 4 years ago, and was just a complete emotional wreck afterwards. This book left me with the same emotions. Plus, this guy isn't very optimistic about the situation going forward, either. I just can't imagine a situation where my friends and neighbors would just pick up and start slaughtering people WITH MACHETES, you know?
Yikes! It's shocking, isn't it! I'm currently reading The Cage: the last days of the Tamil Tigers, and it's not pretty, either.
#98 Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima
The first book in the Sea of Fertility quartet. It is about a Japanese
Running the Rift is another very powerful book about Rwanda. I thought it was beautifully told, even though the story itself was horrific.
Why, oh why are you letting that horrible Augustinius, off the hook? He slept with older women. And, (God forbid, it is so hard to say this) I believe he STOLE some pears from an orchard!
(I laughed a bit too)
Stoner was a downer all right. But the writing was near perfection. Not one of my favorites, but one of the best. Perhaps my reaction is from a lunkhead, stoic, male point of view.
He's so gleeful about it, isn't he? I mean, he does stick in qualifiers about how he was not yet saved and miserable etc but he describes his exploits so lovingly that I had to give him a pass. Everyone loves a reformed bad boy. At least he wasn't agist, right? And pears are healthy and delicious and really only good for one day once they ripen, so he was doing the farmer a favor.
#99 Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
Really really liked it and possibly even loved it. I had seen the movie ages ago (mmm Ralph Fiennes mmmm) but had forgotten all about the twist. Great characters & the Victorian-era Australia setting was perfect. I must read more by Peter Carey.
#100 Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
It's like Coetzee sat down and said "Hmm. Is it possible to pack everything that jfetting hates reading about into one book? Let's see. Middle-aged professors taking advantage of much younger students... check. Rape... check. Middle-aged professors who aren't the rape victim assuming that their opinion about the rape & its aftermath is the only one that matters... check. Killing dogs... check. Success! Bet she'll hate this."
Helplessness and inability to seek justice...check.
I felt the same way about Disgrace, Jenn.
#101 Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George
Wow, this is a monster of a book. This Margaret George, she certainly is thorough in her books, isn't she? This one clocks in at 957 pages, with another 10 or so of notes at the back. That said, I loved it. Two for two, she is, since I also really loved the Henry VIII book. I'd say that the first two-thirds of the book are fantastic (birth to Actium) especially the parts with Caesar although I fully admit to having a crush on Julius Caesar. It doesn't JUST stem from the HBO series Rome, but that certainly helped (the same guy who played Captain Wentworth in one of the versions of Persuasion played Julius Caesar).
No, the Caesar bits are good, and then the ruling bits, and then the parts where she first meets Antony again and they misbehave all over Alexandria. It is Actium and everything post Actium that is the trouble. About a year and a half, and it gets 300 pages. I think that George was trying to build literary tension, to make the end as tragic as possible, but it went on too long and I think lost a bit of impact.
I'm still giving the book 4.5 stars. Even with its flaws it is really good.
Oh please don't hate Coetzee. He has at times been one of my favourite authors. He does write about dismal things, but he does it just so well!!!! I hope you like his next one a little more!
I hope so too - there are about 37 of his books on the 1001 list, and I'll lose a few percentage points if I refuse to read anything else of his. Maybe one with fewer dog deaths?
there are about 37 of his books on the 1001 list
Ha ha ha. I know I'll read Coetzee again, but after reading Disgrace, I am also not in any great hurry. I don't actually run across his books very often, which is surprising, since, like you say, he has 37 on the 1001 list. ;-)
Glitterfy.com - Christmas Glitter Graphics
I want to wish you a glorious celebration of that time of year when we all try to unite around a desire for Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward All. Merry Christmas, Jennifer!
#238 Been meaning to read Varieties for years, thanks for the reminder !
Thanks for sticking around and reading, all! It is clear that I won't be finishing another book this year, so I'm going to go ahead and sign off. I can be found in 2013 over in the 100 Book Challenge in 2013, and my thread is here.
Happy New Year and happy reading!
re: #101 Check out Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. A great new biography that blows up a few myths. One of which is that she was beautiful. Schiff argues that she wasn't in any way beautiful (citing her image from coins, etc.), but that she must have been positively magnetic and smart. Oh, and it's not 1000 pages.
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