9/24/17 – It doesn’t feel as though I’ve been reading a lot, but here I am with a whole bunch of books to catch up on. When I stop and think about it, I did take two vacations, one of them with a cross-country plane ride, so I actually got quite a bit of reading done. Now that I’m firmly back into the work/school/daily slog routine, it again feels like I read a few pages each night before my eyes close. Anyway, here’s what I’ve read: Most recent is My Absolute Darling, by Gabriel Tallent. This book got some media attention both because of its subject matter (incest/abuse), and because of the author. This is his first novel, and it’s some seriously good writing. I’m still processing it, because it was very hard to read, and I’m not quite sure what to think about it yet… I feel like I need to talk about it with someone, but I am loathe to recommend such a serious and disturbing work to a friend. It’s about a thirteen year old named Julia, who calls herself Turtle, and whose father calls her kibble. Yes, like dog food. That’s no accident. If you want some deep thought and can take the subject matter, it’s well worth reading.
Before that, I zipped through Voyager, by Diana Gabaldon in preparation of the new season of Outlander. I really like these books, and it’s nice to revisit them each as the show continues. The show so closely follows the books (much more so that any show or movie I have ever seen), so it’s funny to recognize each scene as it comes to life on screen. Of course, they have to condense because these books are LONG, but I still liked revisiting this one.
The Mountain Between Us, by Charles Martin, made it on some list or other at some point last year, and I finally got around to reading it while on our way back from vacation. Unfortunately, it’s about a plane crash and I was reading it while flying. Not the best timing. But it’s the kind of story I really dig – survival against all odds. Working together to survive. I just love those stories. This one had a nice twist to it that I didn’t see coming. I didn’t realize it was being made into a movie, but I would like to see it.
On occasion, a Facebook friend will ask “What should I read next?” I always snoop into those posts and see what people are recommended that I haven’t heard of. The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls, is one of those books that several people mentioned as being their favorite book of all time. I also saw that it, too, was destined for the big screen. I don’t know if it would make it to my 10 best EVER list, but it was a good book, made all the more interesting for being a memoir. It’s interesting in that it’s also about abuse, but the author comes to terms with her upbringing later in life and it was nice to see her process that and come out the other side. I’d highly recommend.
The Indifferent Stars Above, by Daniel James Brown, was an assignment from my sister-in-law, as we were traveling out to see her and my brother and would be going to Donner Pass. This book is about the infamous Donner Party that got snowed in in the high Sierras and had to resort to cannibalism to survive. I knew the story in general terms, but this book really brought the ordeal to life by essentially following one member of the party, a young newlywed, on her journey from Missouri towards the promised land of California. She was one of the few who was able to hike out and arrange for rescue parties to come to the aid of the members she had left behind. It was horrifying. The author of this book also wrote Boys in the Boat, the greatest book ever written about the most boring subject on earth – crew racing. Definitely read Boys in the Boat if you haven’t. Certainly read this one if you are interested in California history at all.
I read A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles, on the recommendation of my parents. I read Towles’ first novel The Rules of Civility a while back and enjoyed it. This new novel is delightful. That’s the best word for it. Every page, and everything that happens, is infected by a sense of whimsy. You are immersed in a story, put so firmly into a particular place at a particular time, that you are sad when it ends and you are forced back into your own boring existence. If we each only had a Count Rostov of our own, life would be a better place.
While on my beach vacation in Maine, I tore through a couple more Sue Grafton mysteries: O is for Outlaw and P is for Peril. Both good. That niggling question I’ve always had about how to deal with the passage of time in these novels was expressly addressed in a forward by the author in one of these (I think O is for Outlaw.) She said that Kinsey is still in Kinsey’s time, so the world of these books is still in the mid-80s. It’s funny, and as time is going on, she’s specifically adding more and more little details that make me think, “Yep – that was the 80s!” I’m thinking that as I continue on, I should just about be finishing this series when the final edition is released…
This book, Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi, was on some list or another that I saw, and it sounded good. It was actually a really interesting concept as well as being a good book. Each chapter is a parallel generation in the saga of a family that was torn apart by slavery on the Eastern coast of Africa. One branch of the family stayed in Africa, and the other was enslaved and transported to the colonies. Each subsequent set of two chapters takes place one generation later, so we see how a family might have progressed in Africa vs. how a family developed and survived in America through slavery and into the 1990s. In a way it felt more like short stories that were connected, which is a style I like. Some of the stories were more compelling than others, and some of them could probably have been fleshed out into entire novels that I would have read and liked. If you’re looking for a fresh attempt at a slave narrative, this one is broad, but raises interesting issues in a new way. Check it out.
7/3/17 – We are about to leave for a beach vacation, so I’m going to have tons of reading time. I thought I should get caught up here before I get too far ahead of myself. I just finished the latest from Elizabeth Strout, one of my favorite authors. It’s called Anything Is Possible. It is a book of short stories that ties into her last novel My Name Is Lucy Barton. They are short stories that are all somehow related, and most of them also tie back somehow to Lucy Barton herself, though she appears in only one of the stories. I can’t help but wonder how this came about – in feels like each of these stories could have been fleshed out into a full novel. I wonder if My Name Is Lucy Barton started out as one of these stories and Elizabeth Strout thought it was the best candidate for a long-form novel. I really love her writing. Her characters are so nuanced and imperfect and wonderful. If you haven’t tried anything of hers, start with Olive Kittredge.
I love David Sedaris’ writing as well. Different genre, but I’ve adored his voice ever since The Santaland Diaries aired on NPR so many years ago. His latest offering is a little different – they are excerpts from his journal from 1977 to 2002. You can see him develop as a writer over time as he slowly gets his life together and focuses. The entries get less about the mundane and more about the absurdity of the mundane. Hard to explain what I mean. In the beginning there are a lot of drugs, and then he meets Hugh and starts to get his act together both personally and professionally. One thing that really struck me was how cruel people can be. And maybe that’s just because that’s what he chose to write about because those encounters are bizarre and unsettling, but I don’t think I’ve encountered such small cruelties in my life, thankfully. That probably speaks to my privilege more than anything else – I didn’t grow up gay in North Carolina, and I’ve never cleaned houses and done odd jobs to make my rent. If you’re a Sedaris fan, this isn’t a book like his others, but if you want to get into his head a bit and see where he came from, this will give you an inkling.
Before that was Shrill, by Lindy West. I really, really admire this woman. She is loud and proud and I wish my voice were like hers. She writes so well about feminist issues, is a fat activist, and in general just a bad-ass. She’s so candid here, talking about her experiences growing up, her trouble with men, both romantically and professionally. She shares her abortion story, and details her on-line abuse after calling out stand-up comedians over their rape jokes and gamers over the misogyny in video games. I want to be as out there and proud of it as Lindy West but am neither as smart or as talented, so instead I’ll have to just read everything she writes.
Before that was Emma Donoghue’s latest novel, called The Wonder. She also wrote The Room, which I enjoyed very much a few years back. Interestingly, this is a similar story in a much different setting. It’s about a child in danger given a life-line, just like in The Room, but instead of being a kidnapping victim, she’s a miracle. She has apparently survived for months without eating, depending instead on prayer and “manna from heaven.” A nurse is sent to watch her and report on whether she is really a miracle. It’s a beautiful story wonderfully told. It’s the kind of book that stays with you, but just like after reading The Room, I was beset by thoughts of where this girl would end up later in life and how damaged she would be both physically and mentally.
After spending so long reading about Washington, I needed a solid palate cleanser, so I turned back to Sue Grafton. I’m smack in the middle of the alphabet with M Is For Malice and N Is For Noose. They are still fun, and one of my burning questions has been answered – how will she deal with the passage of time? M Is For Malice makes this perfectly clear – we are in the mid- 1980s. Still. It’s firmly placed in time, giving birth years and ages of several characters. So Kinsey is definitely not going to turn up with an iPhone or solve internet crime. It kind of re-frames Kinsey as a character as well – she’s in her early thirties in the mid-eighties, so she came of age in the late 60s with all that that entails, and her parents were around during WWII. In my head she’s my age, but now I’ve placed her at my age if I were an adult in the eighties, which somehow feels a little different. It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.
5/16/17 – I literally just put down Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow. After getting so into Hamilton and reading 1776, I wanted to continue my saga of learning American history through more interesting venues than a history book. Presidential biographies seem just the thing. I found a nice list of them online (there’s a nice list published in the Washington Post). What’s so interesting about it is that if I continue through the presidents, I’ll get multiple views of history through many different perspectives. After all, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Monroe were all contemporaries, so they will have journeyed through the same history as Washington but with differing experiences. I’m looking forward to moving on to John Adams. But first, something lighter. This is a LONG book, and I’ve been reading it for a LONG time. In hindsight, I can’t believe I actually made it though without stopping to read something else in the middle! I’ll restore myself now with some summer fiction before I move on!
Before that, I read a novel that had been on my list for some time: LaRose, by one of my very favorite authors – Louise Erdrich. She is such a masterful storyteller and she is brilliant at weaving multiple character perspectives into a novel. Honestly, I think she is unparalleled when it comes to that type of fiction. This is such a wonderful story taking place in the past and the present, coming down through generations. At its root is the death of a child, so be warned. It doesn’t pack quite the punch of some of her earlier work, but I really did like it.
And before that was another of my favorite authors: Ann Patchett with Commonwealth. Ann Patchett is another brilliant storyteller who can weave multiple perspectives together. This also takes place across generations, but only two, and it sometimes took a moment to reorient myself as to where we were in time, and how these people related to those people. But it was a touching story that I thoroughly enjoyed. Her characters are dense and complex and as usual with her, I was sorry when the story was done and I had to move on.
1/29/17 – I’ve just finished a couple of really unsettling, prescient, dystopian novels written in the early 90s: Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler. These books take place in the 2030s. The world has succumbed to climate change (how did she know?). Crime is rampant, and people live in walled communities struggling to get by. Our heroine, Lauren, is a teenager when the story begins. She’s smart, and she has big ideas. Her father is a preacher, but she grows away from the religion of her father, and begins to write her own sacred text describing her own religion, called Earthseed. When her community is overrun and destroyed, she and a few others escape and journey north to seek a better life. The weird thing is that her “religion” is very close to what I consider my spiritual beliefs, which I have never seen written down in any coherent way before. Certainly not by me! It was very strange to see those ideas in written form. Take this passage from Lauren’s text, for example: “God is neither good nor evil, neither loving nor hating. God is Power. God is Change. We must find the rest of what we need within ourselves, in one another, in our Destiny.” Her whole idea is that the concept of God is “Change”. Hard to explain, but she does it really well. In the sequel, things get really, really bad. I don’t want to give away what happens, but there is a president elected who is strikingly similar to a certain someone that I will not name here. “He’s had to distance himself from the worst of his followers. But he still knows how to rouse his rabble, how to reach out to poor people and sic them on other poor people. How much of this nonsense does he believe, I wonder, and how much does he say just because he knows the value of dividing in order to conquer and rule?” There are passages like this all over the place. How did she know? Climate change? Extremism? Dangerous demagogues? The woman was some sort of genius. Read these books – they’re good!
Before that, I read Bruce Springsteen’s wonderful autobiography entitled Born to Run. I have always admired Bruce as a musician, but have never actually owned a Springsteen album. I guess you can say I know his hits but have never really delved deeper. This book made we want to be much more familiar with his catalog, so I am slowly acquiring them and getting to know them. He’s much more than his catchy top 40 hits, and I’m glad I’ve discovered more of his music.
I got Amy Schumer’s book, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, for Christmas. I like her as a comedian, though she occasionally makes me uncomfortable because her humor is right on the edge of (sometimes crossing over into) distasteful. Definitely not for everyone, but her book made me see her in a new light and understand better where she’s coming from. I liked her movie Trainwreck, and this book explains a lot about where the inspiration for the film came from.
I think it’s safe to say that the majority of my imaginative play in childhood centered around Star Wars. One of my earliest memories is seeing the movie at the drive-in. I would have been not yet four years old, and I distinctly remember my parents telling me to lie down and go to sleep. I remember drifting off watching R2D2 and C3PO stumbling down the hallway of the ship in the opening scenes of the movie and nothing else. When it was re-released preceding The Empire Strikes Back I was 8 and the PERFECT age for those movies. I always knew in my heart that Princess Leia and Han Solo were in love with each other onscreen and off. This book proved me right! And wrong! All at the same time. It was so strange to read this true story of a girl – really a timid youngster with terrible self-esteem – having an affair with the man of my dreams. Who it turns out was cheating on his wife and not that nice. Welcome to the real world, Sarah. I think I’ll keep my fantasies, thanks, and save reality for later. I read this shortly before Carrie Fisher died. I know she did so many things, and was inspirational to so many people, but to me she’ll always be Princess Leia – a badass, hot-headed, commanding presence with dark hair and dark eyes. I strive to be just like her every day, and have since I was 8. I’m not stopping now.
11/20/16 – It’s been awhile, and I’ve read quite a few heavy, heavy books. I’m not talking long, I’m talking emotionally draining. Most recently, I finished a palate cleanser – the next stop on Sue Grafton’s alphabet train, K is for Killer. This one was published in 1994, so we’re slowly working our way up towards modern technology. This is the first one where I’ve been underwhelmed by the ending. Usually, she builds up to a unexpected, exciting, dangerous conclusion. This time, there was a page and a half of anti-climactic exposition by the bad guy, and then he gets away, and she is fine. Huh. Hope I didn’t ruin anything for you, but since we still have the rest of the alphabet to go, we know she makes it, right? The tension doesn’t come from will she make it or won’t she – the tension comes from the level of surprise and anticipation, and this ending just didn’t have it. Oh, well – better luck next time, Kinsey!
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead, has gotten a lot of press, including winning the National Book Award for 2016. It also has the distinction as being an Oprah’s Book Club pick (which I didn’t know she was still doing). I’ve read one of his previous novels, Zone One, and didn’t love it (I’m sure you can find my comments down the page somewhere, or on my previous blog). However, I heard the author interviewed on Fresh Air and thought the novel sounded really interesting. It’s the story of a slave who escapes from bondage in the deep south and travels north toward freedom on the Underground Railroad, which in this imagining is an actual railroad with secret stops throughout the South. Also different in this “alternate history” is that different states have tried to “deal with” the slavery problem in different ways, so the treatments of African Americans is markedly different from state to state along her way. This book is very original in its concept, and very well-written. And, as I’m sure you expect, heartbreaking. Definitely worth the emotional upheaval.
A little fluffiness in between darkness. This novel by Jojo Moyes, called After You, is a sequel to Me Before You (see below). Basically, it’s what happened to Louisa after Will died. All of the characters are back, and there are some surprises, too. I have to admit that I really like Louisa as a character, and enjoyed spending time with her again. If you’re into these kind of “chick flick” books, this is enjoyable, and tear-y, and all those things that you’d expect. I just did a quick google search to see if there is another sequel (there isn’t as of yet), but I noticed quite a few online reviewers noting their disappointment with the novel. I guess since I took the first book as “chick lit” I wasn’t looking for something earth shattering here, therefore it’s hard to be too disappointed in it. I liked it, what can I say?
Around the same time Underground Railroad came out, this book, Underground Airlines, by Ben Winters, was also published. It’s an alternate history kind of book, imagining that Lincoln was assassinated before he was elected, leading not to the abolition of slavery, but to limiting slavery to the southern states in which it was already practiced. Our protagonist is an escaped slave himself who was caught by a slave catcher (there’s a whole wing of the government devoted to finding and returning escaped slaves), and forced to hunt for escaped slaves in return for his on-going “freedom.” He meets a white woman with a mixed-race son, and gets involved in something that takes him somewhere he never thought he would go. It’s a great story, wholly original, and well worth reading.
I have no idea how Khaled Husseini does it, but it seems that every single book he writes is a masterpiece. This one, A Thousand Splendid Suns, is his second novel (somehow I read his third novel [And the Mountains Echoed] first – you can see my thoughts on it somewhere below). When I discovered that I had skipped one, I got it on my Kindle and then read a million other things in the meantime. I finally dove in, and again was shocked by what a magnificent story-teller Mr. Husseini is. This one takes place in Afghanistan going through Soviet occupation, through the war, into the Taliban era, and then to the American invasion. It’s a fascinated re-telling of history from an inside, female point-of-view, bringing home the reality of dry, multi-sentence summations in news stories that is the sum-total of my previous understanding of Afghan history. It is as gut-wrenching as you would expect. So, so good. Please read this.
9/10/16 – Back so soon! That’s what a week’s vacation will do for you! I spent most of a week in Downeast Maine curled up on a couch, or a bed, or a hammock, or a recliner with my nose in a book. Most recently, I finished Connie Willis’ Dooms Day Book. I can’t remember where it was I heard about this one, but it’s been sitting on my Kindle for awhile. It was published in the mid-90s. The story takes place in 2054 and 1348. Time travel has been invented and is used exclusively by historians returning to different time periods to collect first hand accounts of history. Our historian, Kivrin, is accidentally sent to 1348 – coincidentally the year The Plague makes its appearance in Britain. Great story told well. Apparently, there are two more in this series. It doesn’t sound as though the characters are the same, so I’m not sure if I’ll go there. We’ll see.
Before that was one of the most exciting, interesting books I’ve read in a long time. I *think* I read about this one in Wired magazine. But don’t quote me on that. I don’t want to say too much about what happens, because by page 4 I was thoroughly confused but couldn’t wait to figure it out what the hell was going on. I read this whole book in almost one sitting (at the expense of interacting with my family for almost an entire day of our vacation) because I could NOT put it down. It’s science-y (which we all know really floats my boat), but it’s also a love story. If those two things sound good to you, check this one out.
My high school friend Stephanie Kuehn has become quite a successful YA writer. I always read her stuff when it comes out. This is her fourth novel, called A Smaller Evil. It’s not quite as disturbing as her previous novels have been, and was more contained in setting and action, which I liked. She’s really good at psychological thrillers, and I’ve always questioned why they’re aimed at the YA audience, but maybe as the YA’s in my household are getting older and are more apt to get and appreciate these stories, it’s starting to make more sense. Definitely not for the tweens out there… think older high school.
Before that was My Name Is Lucy Barton by one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Strout. This one has been on my list forever and a day – since the book club shot me down when I suggested it last year. That kind of took the wind out of my sails… was I wrong to think this was going to be wonderful? Why is no one else as excited about this as I am? Well, I loved it. It’s a quiet story. In fact, it felt as though I was reading Elizabeth Strout’s journal. I actually stopped about a quarter of the way through and googled to make sure I wasn’t actually reading a memoir. That’s what her writing is like. It’s so intimate, and quiet… it’s like walking directly into a person’s head. I love her writing, and I loved this novel.
Oh how I loved this book. It is hilarious. And touching. And please God someone make a movie out of this book. It’s about a man – a quiet man, a prickly man, dare I say a grumpy-old-man – who has lost his wife and is struggling. He opens his heart, slowly, to a family that is new to his neighborhood, and once the heart opens a little bit, it’s hard not to let it open more. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s sad, but laugh-out-loud funny. You won’t regret this one.
I only read this because I felt like I had to. There can’t be official HP canon that I’m not familiar with. So, read it I did. It’s OK. Felt a little bit like fanfic (which I suppose it is since JK Rowling didn’t actually write it). The story is OK. Interesting choices made about the portrayal of the kids. It was nice to see Malfoy and Harry in a post-Voldemort world and what their relationship might be like. What I thought was most interesting about it was that it’s a play (obviously). But it reads like a move script. I have absolutely no idea how you can stage a play with so many different scenes. Literally there would be a new scene for every one to two pages of dialogue. I know it’s possible to stage it (because it’s playing in London), but I can’t for the life of me figure out how it’s done. Rotating stage? Does it take 6 hours to see with breaks between each and every scene? I don’t know. Maybe someday I’ll be fortunate enough to find out.
8/14/16 – So it’s been awhile. And 9 books. I’d like to say I’ll try to be better about keeping up, but I think we both know that’s a losing battle. So I’ll just run through them and bring you up to date. I just finished J is for Judgment, by Sue Grafton. I keep thinking I’ll get tired of these eventually, but it hasn’t happened yet. I like her main character, Kinsey Millhone, too much. There was some intrigue about her finding previously unknown family which should spice up the next few books, too. I’m looking forward to the next one, but I have so many waiting on my list, I think it will be awhile until I get to it.
Before that was Every Anxious Wave, by Mo Daviau. This was the pick for our newly revived book club. Not sure if any of the others have read it yet, but I devoured this one. I think the only reason we all agreed to it is because the author is a Smith graduate (as is Haniya Yanagihara! See 5/5/16 below), and we’re nothing if not Smithies ready to support Smithies. I really enjoyed this. It had a few issues – for example, some of the “technology” is so unbelievably far-fetched that it made me laugh – but in the end I was more than willing to overlook them. It turned out to be a really interesting and original story with a lot to say about love and experience and how both are shaped by the past. I’d really recommend this, and not just to support a Smith sister!
With the release of the new Roots miniseries, I had a whole bunch of memories of Levar Burton as Kunta Kinte, but few memories of the actual book, which I’m sure I must have read in late high school. It was interesting re-reading it, especially given some of the authenticity controversy about it that I had no idea about. Authentic or no, it’s an amazing, difficult, gut-wrenching read. I had forgotten how much time was spent with Kunta in his youth in Africa. I had forgotten the terror of the passage to the States. With so much going on in today’s news surrounding race relations, it was timely to go back and revisit what was one of the first mainstream representations of the history of black lives in America. Recently there have been two different revisionist slave narratives that have come out to excellent reviews. They are both on my list!
Like many, many other people these days, I am obsessed with Hamilton. I’ve been listening to it incessantly… I laugh, I cry, I sing really loud. I ordered the book shortly after I started listening in an effort to learn the lyrics. I didn’t realize what a treasure the book is. There are basically different chapters devoted to different areas of the production, like costumes and lighting, as well as the history of how Lin-Manuel Miranda came to the idea and developed it. And of course, there are the lyrics which are heavily annotated with Lin-Manuel’s notes. This is not a book you can read on a Kindle, so save your $ and get the real thing. After becoming so familiar with Hamilton’s history, I realized that I only have a high-school level (if that!) knowledge of the Revolution, so I picked up 1776 by David McCullough. It doesn’t cover the entire Revolution, essentially sticking with just 1776, and Hamilton himself only has a couple of brief mentions, but I really enjoyed getting into the nitty gritty of the history. We had also just visited Fort Ticonderoga, which played an integral part in winning the battle in Boston in early 1776, so that was great to delve into as well!
Before that I read something my mom recommended to me called Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld. This is a modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice – my favorite book. I was pleasantly surprised by how well it does translate. Mr. Darcy’s old money is translated into a respected neurosurgeon. Mr. Bingley’s new money is translated into reality show participant (a la The Bachelor). Lydia and Kitty’s inane existences are translated into cross-fit obsessed jobless nitwits living off mom and dad. Elizabeth is of course a journalist for a feminist magazine. With each new character introduced, I got a good chuckle. It’s a nice, light read for Pride and Prejudice super-fans. I enjoyed it.
I had a patient recently who is a reader, and she had a list of recommendations for me, this one being at the top. I’ll admit I was skeptical. This one had a Nicholas Sparks vibe to the description (I probably shouldn’t slam Nicholas Sparks since I’ve never actually read Nicholas Sparks, but there you go). But the next time she came in she had gamely started my recommendation of A Little Life (gulp – see below), so I read this one. And I liked it, sort of. I read it quickly – it goes fast. But I had serious problems with the end. If you haven’t read it and you want to, or want to see the movie (which I haven’t seen), stop reading now. You’ve been warned. So this is about a guy who get hit by a car and ends up a quadriplegic. He makes plans to end his life, and in the end he actually goes through with it. I had major problems with that. It’s not that I’m against assisted suicide, because I’m not. But this guy didn’t have a deadly disease. He wasn’t dying. He was just paralyzed. I know that “just” comes really easy for me, but come on. This guy had all the money in the world, a girl friend who was gaga over him, a functioning brain. You do what every other person in the world does – you work with what you have and make the best of whatever your personal circumstances are.
After A Little Life (see below), I really needed something light. Sue Grafton is just what was called for. H if for Homicide and I is for Innocent are part of the Kinsey Millhone alphabet series that I’ve been reading for awhile. These ones were published in the early 1990s, so there is still a paucity of technology. No mobile phones. Kinsey must carry a lot of quarters for phone booths! She’s still using a typewriter. Maybe in the next few weeks she’ll get a word processor (remember those?!). While about 12 real-time years have passed, it’s only been maybe 3 years in fictional time. Still waiting for some evidence to see how Sue Grafton will accommodate that, especially since she has only just published X. I guess I’ll find out eventually!
5/5/16 – It’s been awhile since I’ve updated, but that’s because I’ve read a couple of really, really long books. Most recently, I finished A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. It popped up on someone’s “best of” list last year with the comment that it was one of the saddest books the reviewer had ever read, and then I saw that it had been short-listed for the Mann Booker Prize. I thought, “Well, I dig sad books. I like books that make me feel.” I was completely unprepared for how this book ripped the heart out of my chest, smashed it into little bits, and then stomped all over it. I very seldom actually cry while reading. The act of reading is slow and deliberate, it can be controlled by just setting the book down for a moment, or two, or as long as you need, so that I can feel sad, but I don’t typically get overwhelmed by emotion while reading. I cried four times while reading this book. Four times. Actual tears. It is gut-wrenchingly painful. What starts out as as a typical coming-of-age book about four male college friends ends up being about love, and damage, and healing, or the inability to heal oneself. In some ways I wish I had never read it, but in the two weeks since I finished it, I’m still thinking about it. I wish I had someone to discuss it with, but I don’t want to recommend it to a friend in case they hate me forever for making them read it. So there it is.
Before that I read The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I have, of course, read it before, and for the life of me I can’t remember why I decided to read it again, but there it was, and I picked it up, and loved it. Again. It’s such a nice story. It’s the underdog story, the little person who is a nobody who turns out to be someone really special who can rise to the task not by learning to do something new or being better than anyone else. It’s just Bilbo being Bilbo that makes him shine. It doesn’t have the grand themes and far-flung adventures of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s smaller and self-contained, and thus feels more relevant somehow. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll read it again someday. As a side note – I watched all three movies with Aaron after I finished, and yet again wished the Peter Jackson had made a single, simpler movie out of it. It could have been something really special.
In preparation for the new season of the Starz series Outlander, I read the book that the season will be based on – the second book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series called Dragonfly in Amber. I read it many years ago, and am a huge fan of the series in general. The thing to know about Diana Gabaldon is that she goes on and on and on. This book is LONG, and a lot happens, and at the end you are dying to pick the next one up and just keep going to find out what happens. I, of course, wanted to do just that, but stopped myself, because I knew if I kept going, I would be finishing up the last book in the series in about 8 months and dying for the next installment, which will happen God knows when. Maybe I’ll read the next one before the new season begins next year…
And here in there in dribs and drabs, I continue to march my way through Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Series. G is for Gumshoe is the first one, I think, that is new to me, having read the previous ones in the late 80s when they were first released. This one was published in 1990, and was the first one that I didn’t vaguely remember. It’s just as good as her previous mysteries… I again was kept guessing. There’s a nice little romance involved. I’m still really enjoying these little stories – they’re easy to read and fun. This is a great series to have at my elbow when I’m wondering what to read.
2/12/16 – I had to do it. The Martian just came out on DVD. I had it pre-ordered from Amazon so it magically appeared in my mailbox, and the whole family watched it right away. I decided to read it again, and of course I loved it. Again. It’s really as though the book was written specifically FOR ME. It has 1) science, 2) disco, 3) solitude and ingenuity, and 4) swearing. It’s literally perfect. I wonder how long I have to wait before I can reasonably read it again…
Before that I read another book with Lydia for her book club. It was called From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg. I heard about this book some years ago as a “childhood classic.” Who knew? Lydia and I both loved it. It’s a little funny because it was written in the late 60s, when it somehow might have been conceivable that two children could run away from home and live hidden in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City for a few weeks. It was funny, and sweet, and we both really enjoyed it. If you have a tween aged kid, or even a younger kid (think 8-10 range), this is a great choice!
Finally, every year various news outlets publish “Best Of” lists. I usually peruse them and flag things that sound like I might like them. This year, I heard about an Italian series by Elena Ferrante. Apparently they are considered some of the best contemporary novels to come out of Italy. The fourth (and final) book in the series was published this year, and it sounded interesting. The first one is called My Brilliant Friend. It’s about two young girls in the 50s in Naples, Italy. It’s a nice “slice of life” kind of book that got me thinking about complicated friendships and growing up and out of childhood. I enjoyed it, and will read the next in the series one of these days.
1/11/16 – I just finished The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. I remember reading this book in grade school and loving it. Lydia was recently looking for a fun book to read for her book report this month. I suggested this one, even though I really couldn’t remember much about it, other than that I had really loved it. It’s a murder mystery with interesting characters, funny and engaging. We decided to get it and read it at the same time so we could talk about it. It’s been fun to read together!
I got through two more Alphabet Mysteries: E is for Evidence and F is for Fugitive. Both by Sue Grafton, of course. I believe that E is the last one I read, way back in the late 80s. It was published in 1989. F did not read any bells at all. She continues to keep me guessing, even when I think I’ve called it early on, she pulls something out and I’m surprised every time. It’s kind of funny to “contemporary” books that were written 30 years ago. There is no technology… she’s still typing up her notes on her typewriter. There are no cell phones. I’ve been wondering how she’ll keep up with the times, as each book picks up within just a couple of months of where the last one left off. Maybe by the time she gets to R or S, Kinsey will get an iPhone! Anyway, I’m going to keep going with these off and on. Stay tuned.
Before that I read Between The World And Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It’s a memoir that’s basically a letter written by the author to his teenage son about his experience growing up African American in the U.S. He was EVERYWHERE when his book came out, and I kind of felt like I didn’t have to read his book because I heard him talk about it so often. But then I was looking for something different after a long, long, long slightly boring read (see below), so I gave it a try. He really hooked me right in and I ended up enjoying this read. I heard some people complain that the author doesn’t offer any advice or solutions, but I’m not sure I agree with that. Firstly, it’s not Ta-Nehisi Coates’ job to fix racism in America, and secondly, I thought when he was talking about his son that he sounded hopeful for the future – that he could see a different and brighter future for the coming generations. Anyway, even if you’re all Ta-Nehisi Coates-ed out, give this one a look. It’s a worthwhile read.
So it turns out J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, has continued to write, but under pseudonyms. And for whatever reason, she stopped using the pseudonyms after the books were published, or told everyone that it was actually her, and now everyone is reading her new books. I decided to try The Casual Vacancy. It’s about a small town in England and what is essentially the city council. It’s written from a lot of different perspectives, and is LONG. Some of it was compelling, some of it was uncomfortable, some of it was boring. Of course, I knew who wrote it going in, and I kept hearing it in my head in Jim Dale’s voice (he does the audio renditions of the Harry Potter series!). Hard to take it seriously. She’s just as long-winded as she was toward the end of her famous books, which made me wonder if she wasn’t who she is, would she have been edited more severely? Anyway, it’s OK.
11/28/15 – Continuing on with Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone mystery series. I know I’ve read these before, maybe up through E, a long, long time ago… but I have no recollection of the plots, so it’s as though they are new to me. Still enjoying them – so far D is the low point, but honestly it’s not that low of a low. I’m still enjoying the characters, the plots are still tight and surprising – she really keeps me guessing. Onward!
Before that I tried a book that I added to the Kindle library a few months ago and just never got to… I heard about it in several places because it’s a bit of an oddity. It’s written in the second person, meaning that it reads like, “You sit down next the a stranger. You wonder why she is staring at you.” Initially I thought I wouldn’t be able to adjust to that, but within a couple of chapters I was all in. Great book. It’s about a young woman who goes to Morocco for reasons that eventually become clear, and immediately has all of her money and ID stolen. It’s tense, and confusing, and sad, and exciting. I’d really recommend this one.
11/8/15 – I know I haven’t updated my blog in forever, but I’m just not in the right mental space to do it. I do, however, want to keep up with my Kindle Korner… I like to go back in time and remember the books that I’ve read. Without my little synopses/reviews, everything I’ve read would be a huge miasma of pleasure and pain that I can’t really put my finger on. As I scroll back through time, I can remember each book specifically, and it’s somehow comforting. Anyway, I just finished the latest Mary Russell novel, Dreaming Spies. It’s a nice return to form for Laurie R. King. Very enjoyable, nice balance of Mary vs. Holmes, great guest characters. If you’re still reading along with Mary, this will be a nice adventure for you!
Before that was a young adult novel called Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. I had no idea what it was about going into it, but there it was in my Kindle library, so I started it and then couldn’t stop. Not in a good way, either – it was like I was compelled to keep reading to make sure this poor girl was going to be OK. It’s about a freshman in high school starting out as a complete outcast because of some unknown event that happened over the summer. All becomes clear by the end, but the way this novel was written (first person perspective) really dropped my right back into the 9th grade, and that’s not someplace I really want to return to. Proceed with caution.
I noticed recently that Sue Grafton is getting toward the end of her alphabet murder mysteries (I think she’s on U?). I had read A-E, maybe, many years ago. There’s nothing I like more than a long book series (hello, Outlander), so I thought I’d get started on the alphabets and maybe make my way slowly to the end by the time she cranks out Z. So, I got A is for Alibi and B is for Burglar and got started. I remembered why I liked them so much – she really does keep me guessing. Usually I can kind of tell where a murder mystery is going to end up, but Grafton is really good at putting all the info out there and then somehow tying it together in an unexpected way. Her main character is great, the side characters are great. What’s not to like? The funny thing is that these novels start in the mid-80s, so the technology is hilarious (finding payphones, checking answering machines, using typewriters, etc.). It will be funny to see how that progresses as I move forward.
Before that, I read the best book I’ve read in a really long time. It’s called The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown, and it’s a non-fiction book about the University of Washington crew team’s quest to get to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin? What?? You’re probably thinking that sounds horrible. Crew? UW? 1936?? I thought all those things, but I had to try it anyway because my brother recommended it to me and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Oh. My. God. This is such a great book. It focuses on one man who had an absolutely appalling childhood, worked his way into the University of Washington during the Great Depression, and ended up helping his team get to the Berlin Olympics. Even just writing that it sounds like the most boring book on the planet. Please, please read this book – you will love it. I couldn’t put it down.
10/14/15 – I’ve still been busy reading. In fact, I got a new Kindle Paperwhite for my birthday, in part in an effort to keep from being distracted by emails, texts, and Facebook messages that pop up when I read on my iPad. When I’m on the Kindle, there are no distractions. Also – lighter and smaller. So I just finished A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson. It’s a non-fiction work about a man who decides to walk the Appalachian Trail. It’s a mixture of his experiences hiking the trail, along with the history of the trail itself and interesting tidbits about the different places he visited. It’s quite funny, as well. I liked it.
Before that I read The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride. I didn’t know what to expect when I went into this one. It was in my Kindle library, so I thought I’d try it. It wasn’t until I was a significant way through the book that I realized it is actually historical fiction – many of the characters were real people involved in the Harper’s Ferry, VA slave uprising. Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and John Brown all play roles. The main character spends the majority of the novel posing as a slave girl due to a misunderstanding when s/he was rescued from slavery by John Brown, but there were no revelations or deep understandings that came about because of his years living as a woman. There were some people who could tell right away that she was actually a boy, and there were a lot of comments about how hard it was to work and clean all day, but how nice it was to have people say nice things to you and treat you gently. I don’t know – I guess I expected more from the gender bending aspect of the novel, but got more of the history, which was a lot less interesting to me. Anyway, if you’re a Southern history nut, you might like this.
Before that was the most exciting thriller I’ve read in a long time – The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. I generally think I’m a bit of a jaded reader… it’s hard to surprise me. But, I really couldn’t figure this one out until almost the end. It’s the story about a woman who rides the train to work every day past the house she used to live in with her ex-husband. He now lives there with his new wife and baby. She witnesses a murder, and everything goes haywire. The story is so confusing, the narrator so unreliable… it’s a really great page-turner. If you’re sensitive about violence against women, steer clear. It’s brutal.
9/3/15 – I’ve been reading. A lot. I took a long, hard look at my TV viewing habits, and realized that I might have more time to read all the things I want to read, if I devoted that chunk of time to reading, so that’s what I’ve been doing. I just finished a wonderful book called The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd. She’s the same lady who wrote The Secret Life of Bees, which I also really liked. Anyway, I tore through this lovely tale of a lonely, trapped woman, her sister, and the slave she loves like a sister. I didn’t realize until I finished it that the story comes from a kernel of truth. Sarah and Angelina Grimke were actual sisters from Charleston, SC, who emigrated North, became Quakers, and outspoken voices for both abolition and the women’s movement. It’s a great story, full of heart, sadness, and excitement. Definitely worth reading.
Before that, I read Delicate Monsters, written by my high school friend, Stephanie Keuhn. This is her third novel, and just like the others, it’s an extremely well-written psychological thriller. My only problem with it is that I found it pretty disturbing. She writes it so well that it’s uncomfortable and I had to keep putting it down. The strange this is that her books are marketed as YA books, but in my mind they are COMPLETELY inappropriate for young teenagers. I would never allow Jacob to read her books. Too disturbing! But good if you like that kind of thing!
Before that, I read Judy Blume’s new novel, In the Unlikely Event. I have to admit that I didn’t give this book a fair trial. While I was reading it, I was also reading – literally – 13 other books (see below!). All of those other books were actual, paper books, so whenever I wanted to read with the light off, I would read this one. So – I liked it, and I think I would have liked it more if I had really devoted my attention to it. It’s about an actual town outside Newark, NJ and takes place during the summer of 1957, when three passenger planes crashed there on approach to the Newark Airport. The cast of characters is huge, but the story is compelling. It’s a coming-of-age tale set in a very specific time. I’d recommend it.
While I was reading that one, I also re-read Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer. I’ve read this book 2 or 3 times before, and it never gets old. I happened to see a preview for the upcoming film release, and wanted to refresh my memory. No better time that on the beach in Maine! Despite the fact that this is a non-fiction book, and you already basically know what happened and who died, you can’t help becoming engrossed in this story. I’ve said in the past that I would like to read more of Krakauer’s work, I’ve just never done it. Maybe now is the time!
Before that, like everyone else in America, I read To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee. I had heard the reviews of her “new” book, but I felt like I had to read it, if only to satisfy my own curiosity. I’m glad I did, if only because I felt I should also refresh my memory about Mockingbird. I think I last read it in high school, and I was absolutely enthralled with it. It may actually be one of the best books ever written. The story is so tightly told, the child’s perspective is so magical, the characters are so vivid. Even if you don’t read the Watchman version, please read Mockingbird again. It’s so worth it. And Go Set a Watchman really is a version of the same story. It’s a far, far inferior version, but I can see where she was going. She had a story to tell, the story of growing up in the Deep South at a particular moment in history, and Watchman was an early attempt at getting at the story. Occasionally I’d run across whole paragraphs in Mockingbird that were lifted directly from Watchman. We are very, very fortunate that the Watchman manuscript was rejected with notes, because what grew out of it is a national treasure.
And finally, I reread Laura Ingalls Wilder, pretty much in her entirety. I had wanted to read Pioneer Girl, but it isn’t available on the Kindle and it was sold out of the stores for many, many months. So I was number #367 in line (I’m not kidding) to borrow it from the library when I added myself to the list in December. So, here it was, July, and I finally got the call. Pioneer Girl is the actual manuscript that Laura and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, shopped around to publishers before they made it into a set of children’s novels. It is rough, and you can see her develop as a writer as the story goes on. The first sections (that were turned into the first three books) are more like vignettes of memories that her father told her. Once she grows old enough to have memories of her own, they get more fleshed out. These are not meant for children. There are deaths, hardships, disease, near sexual assaults, tales of crazy people, drunk people, etc. What was great about it was that for every page of Laura’s text, there were 2, 3, sometimes 4 pages of footnotes, covering everything from what happened to the person or family mentioned, the origins of songs mentioned, the layout of the town, etc, etc, etc. It was incredibly interesting as a historical document. And it really made me want to read the books again, especially while the manuscript was fresh in my mind. So I did. And then I discovered a diary about Laura’s move from South Dakota to Missouri, where she lived out the rest of her days. It was really just that, a diary, so it was short of description and long on happenings, but it made my journey feel complete.
7/5/15 – Just finished the next book club selection, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. I love Ishiguro’s writing. I’ve read all of his work, and the interesting thing about him is that every single book he writes is COMPLETELY different from the last. You can’t pin him to a genre or style at all, and this novel is no departure. It’s an English fairy tale. If I knew more about the history of England, I’d probably be able to put it into a particular century, but I really have no idea, so I’ll just say it takes place during a war between the British and the Saxons. But it’s certainly not a historical novel – there are witches and sprites and giants and dragons. The protagonists are an elderly couple, a Saxon warrior, a 12 year old boy, and an elderly knight. I won’t say that I loved the book (I’m slightly relieved that I made it all the way through and can move on), but it gave me a lot to thing about. It has stuck with me quite a bit. So if you’ve never read Ishiguro, run out and get a copy of The Remains of the Day, and if you know and love Ishiguro, pick up The Buried Giant – there’s a lot to like there.
6/26/15 – I needed a palate cleanser before I moved on the my current pic (a book club selection), so I chose something that had been on my list for a long time: Life Itself, Roger Ebert’s memoir. Roger Ebert passed away in 2013 following a long battle with cancer that started in his jaw and eventually led to debilitating surgeries that robbed him of his ability to speak and eat, arguably two of his favorite things in the world. After that, though, he started blogging, and kept reviewing movies, until he couldn’t anymore. Roger Ebert was a huge part of my childhood – we watched Siskel & Ebert every Sunday during dinner – I believe it came on at 6:30. I was (and still am) a big movie-watcher, and found their reviews helpful and funny and a good road map for what I should put on my list to see. While reading his memoir, I heard the entire thing in Roger’s distinctive voice – his personality comes through so clearly. There’s a lot about his life and childhood, as well as his experience getting to know different directors. It’s worth a read… and if you get a chance to watch the documentary about him, also called Life Itself, I’d highly recommend it!
5/24/15 – I’m cheating a little bit. I haven’t actually finished Zone One, by Colson Whitehead, but I vow to skim through the rest today and get through it so that I can move on. It’s not that it’s not good, it’s just not what I need right now, and I can see many many titles stacked up in my library that I’d rather be reading. It’s a post-apocalyptic zombie story. What’s not to love, right?? BUT – and this is a big but – the plot is slow as molasses. How could that be in a zombie story, you ask? I don’t know how he accomplished it, but Mr. Whitehead has officially written the world’s first boring zombie novel. It’s well-written, but there is very little plot – I’m 60% of the way through the book, and almost nothing has actually happened in the timeline of the book. There are a lot of flashbacks, there is a lot of explaining what life is like in various places, there is NO forward motion. I just can’t get behind it. I must move on. So – zombie aficionados… turn on your TV and watch The Walking Dead. Skip this one. You’re welcome.
Before that, I slogged through Cryptonomicon, but Neal Stephenson. I really like Neal Stephenson in general… he writes about science and technology in interesting, fun ways. I was less enamored with this book than I have with his others. I picked it up because it was really highly recommended by a good friend. It’s about code breaking during WWII, spanning from Europe to the Pacific, and eventually to lost Nazi gold. There are many intersecting story lines, as is typical of Stephenson’s books. Sounds fun, right? It would have been great fun if it were 500 pages. 1000 pages were a real slog to get to the payoff. And I liked the payoff – the last quarter of the book was great and I sailed through it, but getting there was painful. So painful, in fact, that I had to take a break and read something else in the middle!
Speaking of which, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild is a lovely read. It was such a breath of fresh air after being stuck in the mathematics of WWII that I gobbled the whole thing up in almost one bite. This is a memoir about Cheryl’s hike along the Pacific Crest Trail in the mid-90s when her life had fallen apart and she was without direction. She was low – bottomed out, really – after her mother’s death, and she decided to hike through California and Oregon on a whim, basically. Alone. Yes, alone for months on end. The book is about what happened to her on the trail, and what happened to put her on the trail. The book was recently made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon, which was quite good. This book really resonated with me, and made me want to 1) go backpacking and 2) go somewhere and be alone. I somehow feel like if I had five minutes to myself to focus, I might not feel like such a basket-case all the time.
2/28/15 – It’s been awhile since I’ve updated, and I actually read a good many books since I was on vacation for a week, got some great book recommendations, and actually had the time to do some serious reading! Most recently I finished The Martian, by Andy Weir. I LOVED this book. It was really right up my alley – informal narrative, all about science, great protagonist. It was like this book was tailor-made for me. It’s about a Mars mission that ends up going south. The astronauts have to evacuate, leaving one member of their team behind, seemingly dead. But – whoops – he’s not actually dead. The book is about what happens to him. Apparently all the science in the book is actual science, if not possible today, then likely possible in the not-too-distant future. I also recommended this book to the resident 13 year old, and he loved it so much he beat me to the finish. And has reread it. :-)
Before that was Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. This book was nominated for a National Book Award last year. It’s a post-apocalyptic story about the aftermath of a quickly moving virulent flu strain that kills within hours. Right up my alley! There are only a few survivors, but the focus is not on the immediate days after the disaster (though that is touched on). The focus is many years down the line, and the primary part of the story follows a travelling acting troups around the Lake Michigan area. What I liked about this book was the back story and how it tied the characters together. It’s not a hard core book like World War Z. It’s more whimsical and poetic, but still has a point to make. Definitely worth a look!
And now we get to the stinker of my latest reads. I was in the middle of this when we got to Hawaii and I tore through it just to get it over with. This one is called The Secret History, by Donna Tartt. I read The Goldfinch (her latest book) sometime last year, and gave it middling reviews. Loved the beginning, hated the end. But I thought it was worth trying another of her books. This one is her first book, and people who talked about The Goldfinch almost always brought it up, so I thought I’d try it. Too bad for me. It’s such a hard read. There are no redeeming characters in it. They are all very, very bad people. It’s about a group of college kids who plot to kill one of their friends (after he figures out that they killed someone else in a drug-fueled frenzy). And they succeed. The whole thing made me feel dirty and unsettled and I was really happy to see the end of it! If you think I’ve given too much away, I’ve just saved you the trouble of reading this terrible book. You’re welcome.
1/19/15 – Just finished a wonderful book. It’s The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. This book really took me by surprise. I was not expecting anything that happened – shocked at every turn. In the beginning, I expected a quiet story about a spinster and her mother in post World War One England who take in some lodgers to make ends meet. That lasted about three chapters. Holy cow, what a ride. This book produced so much anxiety for me that I had to stay up and read and read and read it just so I could get through it and take a breath. Have you ever had a dream where you’ve done something absolutely terrible that can’t be undone and now you have to deal with it and there’s really nothing you can do and it’s hopeless? I have had that dream many times – I usually don’t know what it is that I’ve done, but it’s BAD. That’s this book. Not for the faint of heart, but definitely worth the read.
I took a short break from the The Paying Guests to curl up in front of the fire the day after Christmas and not move for 6 hours. I was reading the book I got under the tree – As You Wish, by Cary Elwes, the star of one of my favorite movies of all time – The Princess Bride. This book is the story of how the movie got made. It’s a really, really fun read for fans of the movie. I’d think if you haven’t seen it, or don’t love it, you won’t find anything particularly of interest here. If, on the other hand, you can recite all the dialogue from this fine film, you’re in for a really fun read. The formatting is fun, the behind the scenes knowledge is fun, the whole things is just really fun. We’ve got a long plane ride coming up – definitely bringing the Princess Bride to watch again!
Before that was the next Jo Nesbo book in the Harry Hole series, The Redbreast. There’s not much I can say here. Like all his other books, I really didn’t care until about half-way through. Maybe it’s just me. I was confused about the time jumps, and too many German names, and again – um… I don’t really care. It finally started to gel and I ended up enjoying the last half, but I did take a few week hiatus before going back to it (I think I started it before And the Mountains Echoed). I really don’t know if I’ll continue on with the series. Never say never, I guess – I’ll bet you within a year you’ll see the next one pop up on my list! I’m nothing if not a glutton for punishment! ;-)
11/17/14 – Finally got around to reading Khaled Hosseini’s latest book, And the Mountains Echoed. It has gotten a lot of hype – but sometimes it’s hard to tell if the hype is actually earned or whether he’s just riding on the coattails of previous works. I think in this case, the hype is warranted. I really enjoyed this story. Or, I should say, stories. It almost feels as though it’s a book of loosely put together short stories rather than one overall work. Some of the story lines have more to do with the overall story than others, but all of the story lines are interesting, well-told, and have something to say about the history of Afghanistan and the people who come from that part of the world. I’d really recommend this one, as well as his first novel, The Kite Runner. I’m just now realizing that I don’t think I read his second novel, so I’ve added it to my list.
11/11/2014 – After watching the first half of the first season of the Outlander series on Starz, I decided to reread the first novel in Diana Gabaldon’s epic (and excruciatingly long) series. I think they’re doing well adapting this long, meandering story into a TV show – they are being very true to the story and the characters. I had to forcibly stop myself from just going on and reading the next one, because then I’d have to read the one after that, and then the one after that, etc, etc, and before you know it, a year would have gone by and I’d finally be finishing up the series. I just don’t want to go there. So I’ve moved on to something else entirely!
Before that was our latest book club pick, All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, though I was the only one of us to actually finish it. I was really surprised at that, because I loved this book. It’s about a young blind girl hiding in occupied Paris with her mad uncle, and a young German boy who is a radio operator in the Nazi army who hears her. They find each other eventually. The book employs a very interesting style of writing, which I was at first a bit turned off by, but came to like. The girl, Marie-Laure, being blind, relies on her sense of hearing and of touch. Werner, our little Nazi, also uses sound to his advantage. I loved the way this story made me admire and root for a Nazi – reminded me that it’s not all black and white. There were plenty of bad, nasty Nazi’s, too, of course. I would really recommend this one. There’s a lot to think about here.
Bones of Paris is the next novel in Laurie R. King’s Stuyvesant/Gray series (the first being Touchstone). Like the first book, it took me awhile to figure out what was going on, who I was supposed to be paying attention to, and why I should care. Once I got there, I liked it just fine, but it sure took awhile. I generally like Laurie R. King (especially her Mary Russell series), but I’m not sure I’ll continue along this line, should there by another.
Lastly, I read Diana Gabaldon’s latest book in her Outlander series, called Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. As this series has gone on and on, I feel it’s lost its way a bit. There are some things I really still appreciate about it – I love that the protagonists are now middle-aged (they’re probably in their fifties by now) and they are still living meaningful lives, and deeply in love with one another. I love the moment of history that they are living through – it was a very interesting time. However, these later books feel like a whole lotta words for what is, in reality, a small amount of plot movement. I wish I could figure out where she’s going with this, because there are very few things results after many many hundreds of pages. Oh, well… I guess I’ll just have to wait for the next one to find out!
7/22/14 – I’ve been on a solid run of good books, lately. The latest is written by a friend from high school, Stephanie Keuhn. It’s called Complicit. It’s about a high school boy whose life is unraveling as he discovers secrets about his past. His very dark and disturbing past. Stephanie’s first book, Charm & Strange, was also dark and disturbing, but I have to say I liked Complicit better because it took me much longer to figure out what was actually going on, and then when I got to the end I felt like I had been punched in the gut. Nicely done, Stephanie!
7/11/14 – I just finished a wonderful book by Peter Heller called The Painter. This is his second novel… the first was The Dog Stars, which I also loved. This novel tells a very different story, but it is just as compelling. It’s about a painter, a very successful one, who is an alcoholic, and a hothead, and a grieving father, and a fly fisherman. He ends up getting himself into some pretty major trouble, which ends up lighting his art career on fire and sending the rest of his life off the rails. It’s very well done – we can feel him falling apart as everything begins to unravel. It’s a page-turner, and a psychological study. I really enjoyed it. I also found it interesting that two of the recent books I’ve read that I’ve really connected with have had strong art themes (this one and The Woman Upstairs), considering how utterly un-artistic I am!
Before that was The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green. This has just been released as a “major motion picture,” and though I have no interest in actually seeing the movie, I remembered this book appearing in many people’s favorites list. So I gave it a shot. When I started it and realized what it was about, I really wanted to hate it. I tried so hard to hate it. But I couldn’t. I didn’t cry. It didn’t change my life. It didn’t make me want to run out and see the movie. But I read it and appreciated it. I didn’t so much feel bad for the person who dies (I don’t think I’m really spoiling anything there), but I felt awful for the people who were left behind. Which I think was the point.
And before that was The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes. I didn’t really know what this was when I started it… I hadn’t heard of it, but the cover looked intriguing, so I gave it a try. It’s a science fiction tale about a serial killer who travels through time. It was confusing, and didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Why did he go after the girls that he did? Whey did they shine? How was he able to control the year that he traveled to each time? What was so special about the house, or the original guy who lived there? Those problems aside, there were some aspects of the book I really liked. The “romance” between the aspiring journalist and her older, crusty mentor. Some of the stories of the girls who were killed. The actual killing scenes (and there are many) are extremely graphic and disturbing. If you have a weak stomach, or are particularly affected by women being harmed in awful ways, this is definitely not the book for you. I can’t say I’d particularly recommend this one, but I got something out of it and am not sorry I read it.
6/5/14 – I haven’t blogged lately, but I have, of course, continued to read. I just finished a couple of Scandinavian crime novels by Jo Nesbo. His Harry Hole series has been recommended to me by several crime/thriller fiction aficionados in the past, but I’ve always been reluctant to start them because the first two in the series had not been published in English. Me, being me, just couldn’t stomach the thought of starting anything at Book 3. However, as luck would have it, the first two were published recently. They are The Bat and Cockroaches. I enjoyed them (particularly the first one, The Bat). The interesting thing about them (other than the protagonist not really being hero material) is that they are both set internationally, the first in Australia, and the second in Thailand. So they have an international flavor, but not through the eyes of an American, which I found interesting.
Before that, I read a fantastic novel by Pulitzer Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, called The Lowland. Part of this story takes place in India during a revolutionary period in the 60s, and part in New England during the 70s and 80s. It’s the story of two brothers who are very close, but whose lives take them in very different directions. They both end up marrying the same woman. The story is as much hers as it is theirs. What I found most interesting about the novel was that the female protagonist, Gauri, is very unlikable, but I ended up understanding why she became that way. This book is wonderful, and well worth a read – pick it up!
4/6/14 – So behind… so behind. I’ve only read two books since I last posted, one very, very long, which took me quite awhile. The most recent, The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud, was fantastic. I had suggested this for my book club, but no one seemed to be too excited by it and we never got our act together to select a new title, so I went ahead on my own. And I’m very glad I did. It’s a very interesting and touching story written from the point of view of “the woman upstairs”: the quiet, unassuming, obliging, unmarried and unattached woman, who puts everyone else’s needs and desires above her own. And man, is she angry about it. Our protagonist is an artist who has never allowed herself to think of herself as an artist. She meets an “actual” artist and they strike up a close friendship. The irony, of course, is that the art of the “actual” artist seems weird, unfocused, and pointless, while our protagonist’s art is fantastic and meaningful. Not only does she realize her artistic self, but she also learns much about herself and what she wants from life through her new friendship. I really enjoyed this book – check it out if you can.
Before that, I read Donna Tartt’s epic novel, The Goldfinch. This is a very long, sweeping novel, beginning with a 10-ish year old boy losing his mother in a horrifying accident. I’m not giving anything away – this happens within the first 15 pages. The novel then takes us on his journey dealing with the aftermath of that event. He ends up weighted down by a secret that he can’t escape, and it colors all of his actions; every decision is made with this terrible secret in mind. I loved the first part of the book, was uncomfortable through most of the drug addiction in the middle (I don’t read drug addiction very well – it makes me sad and unsettled), and then warmed up to it again when we got the action sequence in the latter third of the book. This book is definitely worth a read – just beware that it will take you awhile.
2/18/14 – Well, I got a book for Christmas. An actual book, with a cover, and pages, and book smell. My lovely sister-in-law, who knows that my love of Pride and Prejudice knows no bounds, got me Longbourn, by Jo Baker. Somehow, Jo Baker was listening when I commented on my blog that I would love to read Pride and Prejudice from Mrs. Hill’s (the housekeeper’s) perspective. Because she’s written just that. I really, really liked it. It’s so much more than just the same story from someone else’s point of view. It’s a love story in its own right… the love story of Pride and Prejudice is just a backdrop for it. I think anyone could enjoy this book, whether you’ve read P & P or not. The funny thing about reading this was that it’s been a really, really long time since I’ve read a book in book form. When I went to turn the first page, I literally tapped the page to get it to turn. I wanted to know what time it was, so I tapped the page. It took me a couple of pages to get into the swing of actually having to turn the pages by myself. I was exercising muscles I had forgotten I had!
2/9/14 – I thought I would have much more time to read in Hawaii, but it turned out that we were very busy galavanting around Maui having fun, and I ended up much too exhausted to read anything substantial before bed, so I don’t have much to report. I just finished Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read this book – it’s probably my favorite book of all time. I pull it out when I need a little comfort. I just like to spend some time with Eliza Bennet and get re-centered. Works every time.
Before that is the first book in a new series by Laurie R. King, called Touchstone. It’s a pretty standard thriller set in post-WWI England. The most interesting thing about it is that it was difficult to tell who the hero was in the beginning. It took quite awhile to figure out where things were going, and who were the good guys and bad guys. It all becomes clear, and I ended up enjoying it, but it took my awhile to decide that I liked it. About two thirds of the way through, I finally decided that it was moving along and was worth the time and effort. There is one more book in this series (so far) – it’s on my list.
1/2/14 – Having insomnia is a great way to finish a book. Last night in the wee hours I finished The Circle, by Dave Eggers. I didn’t know anything about it going in – I just knew who Dave Eggers is and hadn’t ever read anything of his, so I thought, why not? This is a story about a technology company that is bent on taking over the world. Imagine Google and Facebook and Microsoft combining into one huge company and becoming a cult. Great premise, but it got old after a little while. I had a hard time believing that the protagonist (a 25-ish year old woman who is hired in an entry level position and quickly rises into the glitterati of the company) could willingly fall for the craziness of the cult. Nevertheless, this book had a lot of interesting things to say about or culture of sharing anything and everything about ourselves on the internet. Which is ironic, since I am currently reviewing this book on my blog. :-) I have no idea what’s next. Stay tuned.
1/1/14 – This keep happening – just cannot keep up. I am actually close to finished my current book, but I’ll save that one for later. Before that, I read the third and final book in Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, called Allegiant. While I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed the first two books, I will certainly admit that they were an interesting story and I wanted to see how everything turned out. Mistake. It almost felt like the author had written an implausible story, and then had no idea how she could possibly explain it and wrap it up in the third book. It’s ridiculous in premise, makes no sense, and has a million deus ex machina moments to make it even work. On top of which, she keeps switching back and forth between the two main characters, both in first person, and it’s really, really hard to to tell who you’re reading. I kept having to put the book down, and then I’d come back to it mid-chapter and get a few pages in before I’d realize I was reading it from the wrong person’s perspective. It takes a much more talented writer to pull that off. The end is unsatisfying, to say the least. If you’ve already started this trilogy, don’t bother with reading the last one. Make up your own ending, you’ll be happier for it!
Before that, I read The Girl Who Fell To Earth, by Sophia Al-Maria. It is her memoir, recounting her experience growing up with an American mother and a Bedouin father from the Middle East. It’s very well-written and a great story. I didn’t realize it was based on the author’s life until I had already finished it. The clash between the cultures is fascinating – she spends her first 9 or so years in Washington State, and then is shipped off to Qatar, where her father is largely absent and parks her with his large Bedouin family. She longs to go home, of course, but when she finally does, it doesn’t feel like home anymore. She has to find her own way, and grow up and develop into her own woman that embraces both cultures. I really liked it, and would recommend it.
And finally, The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain. This is a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson. It details how they met and fell in love, their life together through the birth of their son, and their unraveling when Ernest fell for her best friend. The book works on many levels – it’s certainly a story about an interesting marriage, but it’s also a literary tour through Paris in the 1920s, with many appearances by famous author friends – Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, etc. I enjoyed the book on a historical level – I kept heading over to Ernest Hemingway’s Wikipedia page to find out what happened to all of these people (including his son). It was interesting to imagine Hemingway doing all of those Hemingway-ish things – the things that ultimately crop up in his books, like his unquenchable thirst for bull-fighting. On the other hand, I found them as characters alternately boring and utterly maddening. I couldn’t stand their nicknames for each other, and the affected, intellectual, I’m-cooler-than-you-are attitude among the Paris set. I did feel for Hadley – I started out finding her uninteresting and couldn’t really figure out what Hemingway saw in her, but I ended up feeling her pain when she was betrayed by both her husband and her best friend. Mixed bag here, but if you like the author’s from that period, you’ll probably really like this one.
11/16/13 – I just finished Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s a story about a small-town mom who married young and has two small children. She feels trapped in the wrong life, but everything changes when something amazing and unexpected happens, opening new horizons for her and changing her life. I really liked this book – the characters were so nicely drawn. It takes place in small-town Tennessee, in a culture very different from my own. There is an environmental aspect to the story, making it interesting to see the small-town, middle-America view of global warming. I’d recommend this one. I’ve started my next book – not too excited about it yet. Let’s hope I warm up to it!
11/9/13 – Yet again I’ve fallen behind. We’ve been so extra busy this fall that my reading has fallen off a bit. I can only manage a couple of pages before my eyelids start to close and my Kindle smashes into my nose. So it’s been slow going. Anyway, the last book I finished was a really interesting novel by Kate Atkinson, called Life After Life. It’s a story about a young woman who gets “do overs” in life. She dies, and then she goes back and gets a chance to try again. So she dies many many times, and each time the book jumps back and she gets a chance to try it again and see if there’s a different outcome. She is only minimally aware of this “ability” or “gift”, feeling a sense of deja vu that alters the course of events. I really liked it, and wished I was reading it for book club so that I had someone to talk about it with. Some of the deaths were hard to read, particularly the ones when she was a child – falling out of a window, drowning, etc. The Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 took her many, many attempts to survive. I would definitely recommend this one.
Before that I read a couple of books recommended by Jacob. They are OK, but not great. They are in the same vein as The Hunger Games, but nowhere near as compelling. Like The Hunger Games, this is a post-apocalyptic tale. We don’t know what has caused the breakdown of society, but there is a large group of people that have formed a community in and around Chicago. Well, they haven’t really formed a community per se… they’ve broken themselves up into 5 groups that are based on personality traits, and each group, or faction, performs very specific duties for the society as a whole. There are Eriudite (the smart ones), Candor (the honest ones), Amity (the hippie ones), Dauntless (the brave ones), and Abnegation (the selfless ones). When you come of age at 16 you get to decide whether you want to stay in your faction, or switch to a new faction, leaving your family and friends behind forever. Our heroine does just this, and wacky hijinks (including lots of bloodshed, psychological torture, and mild sex) ensues. You can probably tell I wouldn’t really recommend these. That being said, I will be reading the third and final installment (just published) so that I can find out what happens!
9/2/13 – Continuing on my saga to reread and recommend for my 12 year old. This one is a little embarrassing. I read Battlefield Earth, by L. Ron Hubbard, when I was in my early teens and LOVED it. I didn’t know who Elron Hubbard was (did anyone back then?)… just that he was a science fiction novelist. Re-reading it now is funny, because I can see some of his Scientology ideas within the story. But putting that aside, and putting aside the fact that he’s not a great writer, I will say this – L. Ron Hubbard certainly had a fantastic imagination. This book drops you into the center of a well-formed world, and creates characters that you can really get behind. I noticed this time around that the role of women in the book bothered me, whereas I hadn’t even thought about it as a teenager. The women are all relegated to secondary roles (food, cleaning, keeping the home-fires burning, etc.) while the men go out and do the world-saving. Would it have killed him to put in a kick-ass woman? Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed all 1000 pages. I recommended it to Jake, and he actually beat me to the finish. Rather gleefully, might I add. Up next, a book that Jake recommended to ME! Stay tuned.
8/14/13 – Staying on the would-Jacob-like-to-read-this theme, I picked up one of my absolute favorite books I read as a teen, The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy. I read his first 5 or 6 books, until they got too long and bogged down to remain interesting. It’s kind of strange to go through and reread these books that I haven’t read in 20+ years. My perspective has changed, I’m less easily entertained. I kept wishing it would move along and quit talking about all this technical crap. I finally realized that I was remembering the movie much more strongly than I remembered the book. I wanted to spend more time with Jack, and Mancuso and Jonesy. I was confused when the exciting conclusion happened and there were still 100 pages and further conclusions to come. I think, however, that Jake, who is interested in all things history and military, will love it.
8/2/13 – Yet again I am behind. I last finished The Bourne Identity, by Robert Ludlum. I read this in my late teens when I went through a spy novel phase, and remembered loving it. I thought that Jacob might like to read some spy novels, but I couldn’t remember how violent it was, or if there was any sex in it. There are some tasteful sex scenes, and one semi-explicit rape scene, so I’m not sure whether I’ll recommend it for him or not. What was interesting about reading it oh-these-many years later, is the old technology. I couldn’t help thinking about how it would be different if Jason Bourne had an iPhone, or a Facebook account. While it was exciting, it was also kind of funny in a quaint way. Like “Oh, he’s using a pay phone. Isn’t that adorable!” Not sure if I’ll read the next one – I guess it depends on whether or not I pass it along to Jacob.
Before that, I read Charm & Strange, by Stephanie Keuhn. I went to high school with Stephanie – this is her first novel, and it is very, very good. It’s also very, very disturbing and not at all what I thought it was going to be. It is advertised as a young adult novel about a 16 year old who is at a boarding school in Vermont, and suspects he is actually a werewolf. I was expecting a Twilight-esque novel, but it is actually a very well-done psychological study of abuse. I figured it out about halfway in (and I don’t think I’m spoiling anything). I had thought this one, too would be a good one to pass on to Jacob, but no way no how is this book appropriate for a 12 year old. I felt like I needed a shower at the end.
And now for something completely different. I love David Sedaris. Nate and I saw him live last year when he was on tour before the release of Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, his latest. I just find him hilarious. This book does not disappoint. He tells the usual type of story about his wacky upbringing and family. The only parts that miss the mark are the little interludes he puts between his essays – he says in the intro that they are designed to be short pieces that can be performed in contests, kind of like poetry slams, but not poetry. I’m sure there’s a word for it that I’ve forgotten. Spoken Word Slam? Anyway, they are written in other people’s voices, not his own, and for me they fell flat. When I’m reading him, I hear his voice, and it just doesn’t work to put someone else’s words in David Sedaris’ voice. So skip those, and read the rest of it!
7/5/13 – Playing catch up again! I just finished our latest book club pick, called The Burgess Boys, by Elizabeth Strout. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve enjoyed a book club selection, and I really did like this one. It’s about a family from rural Maine who endure a childhood tragedy, and the toll it takes on the family. It’s about much more than that, too, but that’s the crux of it. The book has its weak points, which I will save for book club discussion, but overall I would absolutely recommend this one. It takes a little while to find its ground, but once it gets there its a compelling read.
Before that, I finished up a book that I’ve been reading on and off for several months. It’s called The Universal Sense, written by Seth Horowitz, who researches sound and hearing. I found this book really interesting (surprise, surprise). He goes into aspects of sound and hearing, in both the human and animal world, in ways that I hadn’t thought about before. As you know, I’m not big into non-fiction, but this kept my interest in small doses. I’d read a chapter, move on to something else, and then come back to it when I felt the urge. If you’re not a hearing nerd, don’t pick it up.
And before that, I read World War Z, by Max Brooks. If you know me, you know I love reading about the apocalypse. What’s more fun than the apocalypse? The zombie apocalypse. Or so I thought, anyway. Nate, who almost never reads fiction, actually read this and liked it, and I knew it was being made into a movie with Brad Pitt, hence I would be seeing it, so I thought I should read it. The book is interesting – it’s told as an oral history, so it’s a bunch of first person accounts of the world-wide zombie war. The history of it unfolds with each story told. I couldn’t imagine how they would translate it into a movie, and in fact, they didn’t really. I’m not sure why they bothered to buy the rights and call the movie World War Z, because it bears such little resemblance to the book that they might as well have saved the cash and just written a zombie apocalypse movie from scratch. I guess the reason they had to go so far afield is the same reason I had some trouble connecting with the book. Without a central character, it was hard to catch the momentum of it and care what was happening. As it was, some of the stories really resonated, and I wanted them to keep going and see what would happen, and other stories were just kind of flat, and then we moved on to something else. There’s no way a movie could have worked like that. So, while it was certainly an interesting take on the genre, I probably would have enjoyed it more if it were the more standard Stephen King or Michael Crichton-esque thriller.
6/1/13 – Just finished the last book in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse vampire novels, called Dead Ever After. As much as I love reading these trashy novels, it’s time for this series to come to an end. Thankfully, Charlaine Harris apparently feels the same way. Her books, especially the later ones, feel like a TV episode. One thing happens, and there’s stuff leading up to it, and stuff after it, and that’s it. You can read it in a couple of hours. This one seemed like she was going down a checklist – she knew who Sookie was supposed to end up with, so she manufactured a situation to make that happen, and threw in an obligatory sex scene to make it kind of believable. Honestly, it’s been a week since I’ve finished it, and I’ve completely forgotten the plot. All I know is that Eric was barely in it, so I didn’t really care all that much. Meh. I’m moving from vampires to zombies, and then on to the next book club selection. Stay tuned!
5/20/13 – Phew! I just finished the first book in the Game of Thrones series, called A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R. R. Martin. Man, was it long. I have been watching the HBO series, and for the most part enjoying it, so I thought I’d give the books a try. Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ll continue with them. There are several disparate story lines, which I know will eventually come together, but for the moment they are full of characters that I can’t remember and don’t really care about. There are only a few characters that I feel anything for… and I think that might only be because I got attached to them from the TV series. If you like medieval kind of stuff, with an element of horror novel thrown in, and some sex, this is probably one of your favorite series of all time. I’m not sure I’m up for more.
3/30/13 – I guess I forgot to add my last couple of books. I just finished our latest book club title: Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan. Fellow book-clubbers – if you’re reading this right now and you have not yet read the book, please navigate away from here. I hated this book. I have read Ian McEwan in the past, and have liked his work, but this book has kind of made me hate him a little bit. The book is written in the first-person, from the perspective of a young woman who has been recruited into the British version of the CIA. Sounds interesting and exciting, right? It’s not what you expect. It’s probably more like real spywork than we imagine. Boring. But the fact that it was a snooze was not what I hated about it. Even thought the book was written from the perspective of this young woman, it was clear that the author *hated* her. He wrote her with such disdain and loathing. It was painful to read. The reason becomes clear, but in the end I felt cheated and wished I had never read it. After enjoying Atonement so much, and having read the excellent reviews this book received, I was woefully disappointed.
Before that, I read the first Kurt Wallander mystery, called Faceless Killers, by Henning Mankell. He’s another of those Scandinavian thriller writers in the vein of Stieg Larsson. It was OK, but not brilliant. I thought the police aspect of it was kind of slow and disjointed. I think I was trying to read the first Harry Hole book in Jo Nesbo’s series, but selected the wrong thing. Mankell is Swedish, Nesbo is Norwegian. They both write thrillers set in the seedy underbelly of Scandinavia. How could I get confused about that? I’m not sure if I’ll pursue this series any further. Maybe I’ll try a Harry Hole book first and see which one I like better!
2/26/13 – About a week ago I finished our book club selection, The Round House, by one of my very favorite authors, Louise Erdrich. It was actually a mini-book club selection. When we chose it, we didn’t quite realize that a central plot point involved a brutal rape. That was enough to send two of our four members running for the hills (turns out we’ve selected quite a few books with this theme, and they were D O N E done with that). But Spez and I have soldiered on, and I’m glad we decided to read it anyway. First of all, I just love Louise Erdrich’s writing. She writes about the connection between people so very well – it’s really a pleasure to enter her world and spend some time there. The protagonist of this novel is an eleven year old boy, and the rape involves his mother. So we don’t see (or experience) the rape first hand, but rather through his experience, which is a very interesting twist. I really liked this book, and would recommend it, as I would all of her novels. The thing I like most about them is that the characters are recurring. Major characters in one novel are minor characters in the next, and mentioned as a neighbor in the following. Her novels are like a tapestry – they are all interwoven and connected, which in many ways is the theme of all of her work. Love.
1/27/13 – I just slogged through Michael Chabon’s latest book, Telegraph Avenue. I had heard very good things about this book, there was a lot of build-up about it even before it was released. I have read several of his books, the best (by far) being The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. I read Summerland after that and enjoyed it. Since then, I haven’t read anything of his that I’ve connected with. And the same goes for this one. I don’t know what it is about his writing, but I find his sentences very convoluted. I don’t know if he’s trying to aim for writing the language as if you were thinking it in your head, but if so, he thinks very muddled, convoluted thoughts. Here’s an example, “King of Bling was half the size of Brokeland, dividing with the United Federation of Donuts the former premises of the Italian butcher, and between Singletary, Airbus, and the stock in trade, arranged in two long and two short table showcases on the floor and a tall cabinet that ran the length of the north wall, there was not a lot of room to turn around.” Is it just me? Did you have to read that several times to get the gist of “it’s a cramped space”? Sigh. There were several sub-stories all tied together here, only one of which I felt any kind of connection to. The best part of the book was that it is very firmly placed geographically in Berkeley and Oakland, California, where I grew up. I imagine most people who don’t know the area would slide right over the references, but they consistently made me smile: The Berkeley Bowl, Andronico’s, Willard Junior High (my alma mater!), Smart & Final, Chez Panisse, Grove Street (which became MLK way), the waving man. The list goes on and on. It felt like I was in on a very private joke. But it’s not enough for me to recommend the book. Read Kavalier & Clay and call it a day.
This one’s a little unfair, because I read it with Aaron, but it’s one of my favorites and I can’t help but stick it in here. I love J.R.R. Tolkien. I know it’s nerdy as all get-out, but I can’t help it. I actually didn’t read any Tolkien until I was in my early twenties. I have a vivid memory of waiting in a doctor’s office during the climactic scene between Frodo and Gollum inside Mt. Doom at the end of The Return of the King, and literally squealing and jumping out of my chair in the waiting room. Good times. Anyway, it’s been such a pleasure to introduce first Jake, and now Aaron (Lydia remains completely and totally uninterested in Hobbits of any sort) to Bilbo and Frodo. We’ve started The Fellowship of the Ring, but it’s going so slowly, I may have to just read ahead on my own.
1/1/13 – Well, I’ve gotten a little bit behind. Ahem. I just finished a wonderful book by Chad Harbach called The Art of Fielding. It’s about a small Wisconsin college, with a phenomenal young shortstop, his gay roomate, the college president and his daughter, and an assorted cast of wonderfully drawn characters, all of whom I cared about. I believe this is Chad Harbach’s first novel. I’m eagerly awaiting his next.
Before that, I had a bout of terrible illness that kept me in bed for three days, so I decided to re-read The Hunger Games series, by Suzanne Collins. I remember when the Hunger Games movie came out there were all kinds of outraged letters in the local newspaper about how terrible these novels are, with children killing one another. I got into a bit of a heated discussion with a friend about the same thing. In my opinion, I think these are fabulous books. Not only because they’re such a good story, but also because they’re about something important. They are not a glorification of violence at all – in fact the violence is heart-wrenching. And it leads to revolution, with people who are downtrodden rising up and demanding equality. It’s really an uplifting story about love and family and right and wrong. That my $.02, anyway.
Before that, I started Garment of Shadows, the newest Mary Russell novel by Laurie R. King. I was about 3 chapters in when I finally figured out there was some back story that I was supposed to know but didn’t know. So I investigated and realized that I had totally missed the previous one, called The Pirate King. So I went back and started that one. It was a bit of a waste of time – definitely not her best offering. Holmes was conspicuously absent for the first almost half of the book. It’s really the relationship and interaction between the two of them that makes these stories so delightful – making him absent for a large portion of the book really made it drag. But, I did get the back story needed for Garment of Shadows, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time. Garment of Shadows was much better – more exciting, with the return of a couple of my favorite characters in the series.
And lastly, before that was our last book club selection, called Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan. This was the first book in a very long time that I’ve read for book club and really enjoyed. It’s a wonderful story about the intersection of technology and books. It’s kind of a spy story – very far-fetched, but so fun to read. The narrator sounded just like I sound in my own head. If I were to write a book, it would sound just like this. Interestingly, while everyone in my book club loved it, my mom read it and thought it was OK but not great. I think it’s a generational difference. If you’re around 40-ish (what? how is that possible?), read this book. You’ll love it.
11/17/12 – It’s been a while since I’ve updated, but luckily, most of that time was spent reading Harry Potter. It’s the first time I’ve read them again since the last installment was published, and I really enjoyed reading them back to back. In fact, I really enjoyed them period – they are just such a fun, satisfying read. I stayed up late reading, I read at lunchtime, I read while they kids were in the bath. For a couple of days toward the end, I read while I ate my breakfast, and was pissed off that I had to stop reading a go to work. Grumble grumble. I read them on the Kindle this time (I can’t even imagine lugging one of those hardcover editions around with me!), and noticed the Rowling changed one part of The Goblet of Fire. When Harry and Voldemort’s wands are connected via priori incantatem and the ghosts start coming out of Voldemort’s wand, they came out of order. In the Kindle edition, his mom comes out, and then his dad. Which I knew was different than the original, because I spent a good amount of time pondering why Harry’s dad came out first when I read it originally. To check myself, I went back to to that part in the hardcover, and saw that I was right. And curiously, re-reading that passage brought tears to my eyes, while the new version did not. It must be just because in the original version his dad says something like, “Just hold on Harry… your mother is coming. She wants to see you.” Gives me shivers, actually, just typing it. In the new version, his mom comes out, and says, “Just hold on Harry… your father is coming, he wants to see you.” Doesn’t resonate as well with me, probably just because I’m a mom. I imagine they did it the right way in the movie, but I can’t remember. If you can’t figure out what the heck I’m talking about, read the books. You’ll like them.
10/8/12 – I finished our latest book club pick last week. This time we chose The Salt God’s Daughter, by Ilie Ruby. It’s a story about women, and mothers and daughters. Right up my alley, really. I did like the first couple parts of the book, but the last part, which focused on the 12 year old daughter/granddaughter fell a little flat for me. I imagine I’ll get a lot out of our discussion, because I kind of felt like I didn’t really “get it.” Continuing on with Harry Potter – less mentally and emotionally taxing!
9/22/12 – Enough with the end of the world. I started reading the first Harry Potter with Aaron. He wasn’t too into it, and requested something else after a couple of nights, but I was left wanting more, so I finished it on my own. I’ve read it several times – whenever a new one came out, I would read all the previous ones in anticipation. They are certainly not high literature, nor even particularly fantastic children’s books, but they sure are fun. I plowed through it, and even though I knew exactly what was going to happen, I still got goosebumps during the big finale. I can’t wait to continue on with the series – but first I need to read our next book club selection.
9/15/12 – My last book put me in mind of a book I heard a lot of few years ago, but never got around to reading. It’s non-fiction (gasp!), called The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. He basically takes the question, “What would happen to the world if all humans suddenly disappeared?” and looks and all kinds of different angles. Some parts interested me a bit more than others – I confess that I skimmed through some chapters. But some of it was extremely interesting – how our cities would decay, how Mt. Rushmore will survive for millions of years, how different organisms evolved around humans and how they may evolve without them. The history of plastic and nuclear waste, which will likely outlast the earth itself. Fascinating stuff – very sciency, but enjoyably so. And now for something completely different… stay tuned.
9/8/12 – When I was discussing Gone Girl with my mom and my aunt, we started talking about books with big surprises in them. They both mentioned Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane, as another book with a big surprise. I’ve only read one Lehane novel, I think it was Mystic River a long time ago, and I remember liking it, so I decided to read Shutter Island. It wasn’t quite a huge a surprise as I expected – you spend the whole novel feeling that something is not right, and in the end, something is really not right, but I couldn’t put together all the pieces until the very end, so it was satisfying. A nice page-turner, too – kept my mind occupied as the start-of-the-year anxiety loomed.
And then I read The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller. If you know me, you know I love a good survival story. Well, this is a great one. Most stories about the majority of the human race dying off center around people banding together to rebuild society. This one was a little different. Here, people are surviving in very small groups with no apparent attempts to come together and govern. There is fear, and despair, and loneliness. The story centers around a man and his dog. I would highly recommend it – I really enjoyed it and was sorry when it ended. This book inspired my next pic – stay tuned!
8/30/12 – I’ve been through two and half books since I last posted. First, I read Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. I didn’t know what to expect – all I knew was that people are talking about this book, and that it has some kind of surprise twist. I can’t say that I enjoyed it. It’s a psychological thriller, and it’s sick and twisted. What I will say is that I was surprised, even though I was prepared to be surprised, and that I was completely engrossed all the way to the end. And that once I got there I wished I had brain bleach.
After that I read Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward. This is a story that takes place in the days leading up to and during Hurricane Katrina about a rural black family in Louisiana. The protagonist is 15 and pregnant, and the story centers around her and her brother’s relationship with his pitbull. I actually really enjoyed reading this, even though I thought I wouldn’t. It’s sad, it’s depressing, but ultimately it’s a story about family and love. Check it out if you can. I’m currently engrossed in a Dennis Lehane murder mystery. Stay tuned!
8/16/12 – Just finished Dreaming in French, by Alice Kaplan, which is our latest book club selection. It is non-fiction, and tells the stories of three unique women, Jackie Kennedy Onnasis, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, and their interesting and varied experiences in France. We chose the book mainly because it was the pick this year for our Alma Mater’s incoming freshman class – they are read a book and then there is a curriculum about it while they are doing their orientation. So we decided to be Smith uber-nerds and read along with them. You know I’m not a huge fan of the non-fiction. I read to escape and experience, and real life is usually a bit too slow and boring to grab me. As was the case here. Interesting women, yes. Interesting discussion of French history, film, and literature, yes. Interesting book, no. Snore. Glad it’s done and I can move on. Don’t know what’s next. Watch this space.
8/7/12 – Sometimes a trashy novel is just the thing you’re looking for. Am I right? I just finished Deadlocked, by Charlaine Harris. Is the 12th? 13th? book in her Sookie Stackhouse books. I just love Sookie. She is a fun, no-nonsense character, who happens to be involved with some very hot men. That’s pretty much all it’s got going for it. It’s certainly not the best book in the series, but honestly, I don’t really care. It’s not literature, it’s not even particularly good trash, but man is it fun. Up next is a decidedly unfun book for my book club. Stay tuned!
8/3/12 – I just read a great book! It’s been sooooo long since I’ve read a book that I couldn’t put down. I stayed up way to late reading this book, and woke up way too early just so that I could read it some more. I even wondered if I could call in sick to work just so that I could finish it. It’s called Reamde, by Neal Stephenson. This is a thriller about on-line gaming. My mom recommended it to me, and I thought it sounded terrible. Who’d want to read a book about World of Warcraft? Not me. But my mom, of all people, loved it, so I gave it a try. Well, I don’t know how to explain without giving anything away, but about a quarter of the way in, you’re going to look up from the book and wonder how the hell you got from Point A to Point D in so few steps. It’s a wild, wild ride. It’s one of those books that has multiple story arcs that center around the same plot, so you’re following different characters through the action. I often find when I’m reading stories like that that one story arc is more interesting that the others. Not so here – of each of the four stories that wend their way through this novel, I loved each of them. Seriously, could not put it down. Read it.
7/18/12 – I just finished Room, by Emma Donoghue. This was another title that made many of the “best of” lists for last year, and it was magically in my Kindle archive, so I thought I’d give it a try. I immediately expected not to like it. It’s written from the perspective of a five year old boy. That concept alone reminded me of the trouble I had with the narrator of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, who I really didn’t like. But the story in Room snagged me almost immediately, and I never looked back. I ended up really liking this book. First of all, it’s a page turner. It’s scary, and exciting, and you don’t know what’s going to happen. But, it’s also more than just that. It’s a commentary about our celebrity culture, about the things we take for granted, about perspective, about the love of a child. There’s really a lot to think about in here, and I’m sorry it wasn’t a book club pick, because I’d love to have someone to discuss it with. I have no idea at all what’s next. Watch this space.
7/13/12 – A few days ago I finished Amy Waldman’s debut novel, The Submission. It’s about an anonymous competition to design a memorial at Ground Zero. The book opens with the jury selecting the winner, and then opening the envelope to see who the designer is and discovering that it’s an American Muslim. Wacky hijinks ensue, as I’m sure you can imagine. What a great novel this is – I haven’t read something that’s made me so uncomfortable in quite awhile. I kind of feel like I learned something about myself in the process. Very thought-provoking and well-written. Of all the “post 9/11” fiction that I’ve read recently (and there seems to be quite a bit of it out there now), this is by far the best.
7/3/12 – I just finished last year’s Mann Booker Prize winner, The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes. I was having so much trouble finding something to read that I googled “Best Books of 2011” and scanned through several year-end lists put out by various publications searching for anything – anything – that caught my eye. This was one that did, even thought the 2010 prize-winner (The Finkler Question) left me so cold that I couldn’t even finish it. In fact, it spawned a meme in my bookclub – Finkler Dread. When you are reading something that you really don’t want to read but feel like you have to read, that’s called Finkler Dread. Anyway, this book made a bunch of year-end lists, and it was short, so I went for it. I’m glad I did. As I am now approaching middle-age (or am I already there?), I’ve been thinking a lot about time, and the past, and shifting perceptions. This book is written from the perspective of a 65ish year old man looking back on a particular incident in his past. It is very well written and evocative. I would highly recommend it.
6/28/12 – One of my very favorite blogs is The Bloggess. A friend sent me a link to her once – about Beyonce the Chicken – and I’ve been reading her ever since. She just published a memoir, so I decided to read it. A couple of chapters I recognized as retreaded material from her blog, but most of it was new to me, and I enjoyed it. If you’re not a fan of her irreverent, very strange humor, you probably won’t get much out of it. If you don’t like swearing, you probably won’t like it. I like both of those things, so chuckled out loud through about half of the book, and then got a little fatigued of Bloggess humor through the rest. You know how on Saturday Night Live, the first 30 seconds of a skit is absolutely brilliant, and then the next 30 seconds is funny, and then you start to wonder when it will be over so you can get to the next skit? It was kinda like that. I still love her and want her to be my best friend, but in small doses. Again, no idea what’s next. Lord help me – I haven’t foundered for this long in quite awhile.
6/22/12 – I was right. There were some things about Emma that made me cringe out loud. While the age difference between Emma and Mr. Knightley isn’t as stark as that between Marianne and Colonel Brandon, the fact that he’s known her since she was a little girl is kind of yucky. The real interesting change in my reaction to the book had to do with Emma herself. The last time I read this book, I was probably about 20 years old, and I thought her goodhearted wrongheadedness was charming. Now, about 20 years later, I find her a meddling know-it-all. An annoying, meddling know-it-all. And kind of sorry that Mr. Knightley is going to be stuck with her for the rest of his life. I think you can tell that I’m ready for a break for Jane Austen. You know what I was wondering? All of Jane Austen’s book are about the upper class in England. These people didn’t work. They had a guaranteed income from their family estate. They looked down on people who were so unfortunate as to have to be a lawyer or a tradesman, and barely noticed people who were laborers or servants. I would like someone to re-write Emma from Miss Bates’ perspective, or re-write Pride and Prejudice from the maid, Hill’s, perspective. Now that might be an interesting take on both stories.
6/18/12 – One of the nice things about my unexpected time off from work is that I can spend hours at a time reading. The weather has been beautiful, so many late afternoons over the past three weeks you will have found me on the screen porch, reading Jane Austen. I finished Sense and Sensibility several days ago, and have now moved on to Emma. It’s been many, many years since I’ve read either of them, and I’m finding it very interesting how my perspective has changed. It’s hard for me to imagine Marianne with Colonel Brandon. He’s OLD. My age, even. And she’s 17. What seemed so romantic then is kind of icky now. I have a feeling I’m going to be saying the very same thing again when I come back to talk about Emma. See you then!
6/11/12 – What do you read when you have no idea what to read? You fall back on your core – the books that you can read over and over again and never get tired of. For me, #1 on that list is Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen of course. I didn’t read this book until after college, but since then I’ve read it probably 20 times. I know it so well, that I always read it really, really fast, because I can’t wait to get to the next part. In a way, this defeats the entire purpose, because it doesn’t give me time to figure out what I’d like to read next, and at the end of the book I’m still wondering what my next step should be. So there I was, after a 24 hours P&P spree, still with no next step. My solution? Sense and Sensibility.
6/5/12 – Let’s Take the Long way Home, by Gail Caldwell, is our latest book club pick. It’s not due until the end of the month, but I started it and kept reading it and finished it within a day or two. It’s a memoir about two writers and their friendship. They were best friends, and then one of them got lung cancer and died. It was (obviously) very sad, and my heart broke for the friend left behind. It made me think about the friendships in my life, and how hard it is to make new close friends as an adult. Lucky for me, I still have lots of old close friends left over from my school years! Sending healthy thoughts their way – I don’t want to lose anybody!!
Before that, I plowed through another Falco mystery by Lindsey Davis, Shadows in Bronze. I’m such a sucker for the right female character. She is smart, she is arch and witty, she is in charge, she has a sense of humor. She’s usually in love with a handsome lug of a man who is just as infatuated with her as I am. If that’s your female protagonist, then I’m your #1 fan. Davis’ Helena Justina is one of those characters. Even though the protagonist of the series is Didius Falco, and he’s quite likeable, I’m really reading for Helena Justina. I’ll keep going with this series for a bit in between other things – it’s a nice palate cleanser between more hefty selections.
5/29/12 – So I finally got around to reading Born To Run, by Christopher McDougall. I got this book for Christmas from both my runner brother, and from my mother-in-law. I had been hesitating to start it because 1) it’s a book about running – b.o.r.i.n.g., and 2) it was an old-fashioned book with pages, and I’m an exclusive e-book reader these days. And then I thought, well, my brother is coming to visit soon, and he’ll see it and ask about it, and I’d better have read it. So I picked it up. And didn’t put it down again. What a great read! It reminded my of Jon Krakauer’s books, and made we immediately want to go out for a run. In the canyons of Mexico. Of course, I can’t really do that, but I can run around my little neck of the woods, and try to emulate El Caballo Blanco. His mantra was easy, light, smooth, and fast. Those should be tackled in order. I’m still working on easy. It’s not as easy as it sounds!
5/26/12 – Our latest book club book is Swamplandia, by Karen Russell. It’s a very original story about children who have grown up in a gator amusement park in the Everglades. I was expecting a strange, unusual tale about kids and gators. What I got was child neglect and endangerment, mental illness, and rape. Don’t worry, it all turns out “OK” in the end. Seriously, I would not recommend this book. I spent a hundred pages being very uneasy about where things were heading, and just when I thought everything was going to turn out all right – BAM! Not all right. Very far from all right. Eff you, Karen Russell. Pass the brain bleach, please.
4/20/12 – I just finished a doozy of a book. It’s been a really, really long time since I’ve read a book that I couldn’t put down, but Stephen King’s 11/22/63 really got me. If you’ve read my blog, you’ll remember that when I read The Stand I vowed I would never read Stephen King again. But Nate (who NEVER reads fiction) read a liked this book, primarily because he’s a JFK nerd. So I thought, what the heck, I’ll give it a go. I was not disappointed. It’s LONG, and King is still King – wordy and lacking in style and artistry – but the story is great, and the characters are likeable and well thought-out. There were many plot twists, and I couldn’t predict what was going to happen in the end. Very exciting and fun. I would definitely recommend it for a long plane ride, or the next time you’re going to be sitting on a beach chair or spending a ski weekend in front to a warm fire somewhere.
Before that I read The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, which was engaging, but ultimately left me cold. I just didn’t get it. The world depicted in the novel seemed to have no rules – I’m fine with reading a story that’s not based in reality, but there should be some rhyme or reason to the way things work. It’s a story about magicians. Not sleight of hand magicians, but people who really can perform magic. Two magicians are pitted against one another in a game of some kind, but the rules are never specified, and even the games participants are in the dark. In addition to this, the timeline of the novel jumps around, and I had to look back many times to the head of the chapter to figure out what year I was in, and then orient myself as to what had and had not occurred yet. There were some nice aspects to it, and I liked the characters quite a bit, but I’m not sure that’s enough to recommend it.
3/26/12 – It’s been so long since I’ve updated my blog that I have read too many books to remember back. Which is why I love keeping this Kindle Korner – it reminds me of what I’ve read. So I’m going to try to recreate my Kindle journey over the last several months. Starting with the most recent, I just finished our latest book club selection, The Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles. If I hadn’t been reading this book so critically because I knew I’d have to say something semi-intelligent about it, I would have loved it. As it was, I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were a couple of surprises that I didn’t see coming, and Towles’ writing style was fresh and fun. I would highly recommend it.
Just before that I was in the mood for a little mystery/thriller action. Years ago I read the Marcus Didius Falco novels, by Lindsey Davis. They are mysteries set in the Roman Empire in the first century. Falco is a private eye who meets the headstrong daughter of a senator, and wacky hijinks ensue. They are fun reads, and educational as the action puts you all over the Roman Empire in a lot of detail. The first novel is called Silver Pigs. It’s fun. I’ll continue to read this series as I need breaks from heavier loads.
Before that I read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Johnathan Safran. I confess I didn’t really know what it was about other than being set vaguely around the time of 9/11. I also knew that it was being made into a movie. So I thought, what the hell? I’ll read it. I started out disliking it a lot. The narrator is a kid, but he’s a weird kid. So weird that I thought this kid must be autistic. He’s just weird. He says weird things, he thinks weird things. I thought, if the author is aiming to get into a child’s mind, he’s really missed the mark. It’s totally not believable. But I decided to just accept the narrator, and accept the premise (which is far-fetched to say the least). And once I did that, I really liked it. There are some wonderful moments of human connection. And yes, the getting there is fake and contrived, but the moments were really, really nice, and I’m glad I experienced them. So I guess that a thumbs-up with a red flag warning to leave your reality-meter at the door.
And before that, I read The Marriage Plot, by Jeffery Eugenides. I didn’t know what to expect, but it seemed that a lot of people were talking about this book, and there were comparisons to Jane Austen, so I decided to read it. I’m not sure where the Jane Austen comparisons come from, except that the main character is looking to get married. It had none of the humor or charm or delightfulness that makes Jane Austen so Jane Austen-ish. The main character in this book falls in love with someone with mental health issues, and bends over backwards to try to make it work. It is very difficult to read. The picture it paints of manic depression is stark, and personal, and gut-wrenching. I would recommend it, but invest in some Tums beforehand.
Remember the boring selection I was talking about before I took my hiatus? It was The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell. The book was a birthday gift from one of my bestest friends, whose brain is a whole lot bigger than mine. The book was interesting. It was divided into four sections (I think it was four – it’s been quite a while), and while each section related to the over-arching story, each was told with a different central character. One of the sections, the one centered on the female protagonist, really grabbed me. I liked it and wanted to keep reading it, but unfortunately, we moved on to a different protagonist who I just didn’t care about as much. In the end I was left feeling like I had read a book, but it wasn’t the book I wanted to read. I’m pretty sure I’m all caught up now – I’ll try to keep on top of it. Cheers!
1/2/12 – It’s been awhile since my long-distance book club has “met”. However, with a little prodding from yours truly, we selected Michael Ondaatje’s new novel, called The Cat’s Table, for our latest attempt. I won’t go into what I thought about it too much here. Suffice it to say that I found it enjoyable. It was a good story, which was mostly well told. I actually had to go on-line to google and make sure it wasn’t a memoir. The title character is named Michael. He grows up to be a famous author. He emigrated to the UK from Ceylon (which is now Sri Lanka) as a child. At the very end in the author’s note he makes clear that the story is a work of fiction that takes liberally from his own experiences. Anyway, it’s worth reading. I’m still not going back to my boring selection. I think I need one more book, then I’ll be ready.
12/23/11 – I have been reading a long, slightly boring book for quite awhile. I’m about halfway through, but I decided to take a break to read a book I heard about on NPR. If you’ve been a religious follower of my blog, you already know that I’m a huge fan of Jane Austen. I refer to myself as a Pride and Prejudice geek. Well, I heard author P.D. James interviewed on NPR a few weeks ago about her latest book, Death Comes to Pemberley. A murder has occurred on the grounds, and Elizabeth and Darcy and the gang investigate. How could I resist? I immediately snatched up my Kindle, ordered it up (thanks, Mom), and started reading. It’s actually done quite well. I thought the characters were very true to Austen’s original vision. While some of the plot points I saw coming a mile away, there were a few gems in there that were surprises. Overall, it was a very enjoyable read. If you’re a P&P geek too, I think it’s worth your time. Keep your eyes open for a sneaky reference to Emma near the end. I’m still not going back to my boring selection yet. I’ve moved on to the book club pick to make sure I get it finished before the deadline. Then I’ll man up and finish the one I’ve left in the middle.
11/21/11 – I read Maine mostly because the author is a Smithie. I read her first novel, Commencement, sometimes last year. It’s about a family from the Boston area that has a vacation home in Maine. The story is written from the perspective of four different women in the family – the matriarch, her daughter, her daughter-in-law, and her granddaughter. And these women are all effed up. Seriously. None of them have made good choices in life, all of them have screwed up their children. The granddaughter is pregnant, and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of doom for that poor child, being born into this family of selfish, disillusioned women. So what was the moral? Don’t have children if you don’t want or like children (Alice only got married and had children as a reaction to her “perfect” sister’s untimely death. Alice herself wanted to move to Paris and become an artist). Also, don’t have children even if you do want children (Anne Marie, the daughter-in-law, is so dissatisfied with her children – one of whom is a lesbian, which she can’t accept, another has just been fired from his job for buying hundreds of dollars worth of p-o-r-n from his work computer). We hear about the other daughter who is apparently raising a happy, healthy child, and another granddaughter who has three children who are apparently well-loved and cared for, but we never get to meet them. So – while I enjoyed reading this book, it left me wondering if J. Courtney Sullivan has children herself, and why she feels this way about motherhood.
11/09/11 – It took me a long, long time to finish this long, long book. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was highly recommended by one of my very bestest friends, so I slogged through it. I think this is a very, very good book that is just way beyond my capabilities. This is the kind of book that I would need to read for a literature class and have the symbolism explained to me. It’s a Japanese book about a man whose wife leaves him, and then he has all these very strange experiences that may or may not be connected to his wife’s “disappearance.” There’s sex, there’s violence, it has all the makings of a fantastic ride, but in the end, all I could say was, “Huh?” Now my friend is going to think I’m some kind of drooling idiot. It made me think about what makes a book enjoyable for me. I don’t read books to think. I read books to escape. I have to be invested in the characters, and emotionally on board. I just couldn’t make it there with this book. For my next book, I’ve chosen some lighter fare – the perfect beach book. So what if it’s November!
10/2/11 – I’m cheating a little bit. I haven’t finished The Stand yet, but I’m itching to finish the damn thing and be done with it. I’ve never read Stephen King before, and I don’t think I will again. The version of the book that I am reading is the one that came out later, where he added a bunch more content. It was all content that had been in his original draft, but that had been cut. For good reason. The whole beginning of the book is this meandering mess. The plague started happening to all these disparate characters, and then we kept taking these side-trips back in time to learn about Larry’s last bad date, for example. It took forever. It was hard to tell who the main characters were, and there are sections in the beginning about people that I haven’t heard about since (600 pages later). I assume they’re going to show up at the end with the devil dude. And sometimes his writing is just plain annoying. There are whole sections of Frannie’s journal. She’s a sympathetic character – you’re really supposed to be rooting for her. And then you read her journal and she sounds like such an idiot. She spells says “sez” and it’s punctuated with all these “ha has” when she thinks she’s written something funny. It’s very tiresome. I’ve skimmed through quite a bit of this behemoth, and at this point am only reading it to find out what happens. As I’ve said before, I love apocalyptic stories, and the portions of this novel that are about survivors finding one another and rebuilding society are compelling (sort of), but all the good vs. evil, paranormal crap is skimworthy at best. I don’t know what I’ll be reading next, but it will be something completely different. I need a palate cleanser!
9/12/11 – I had heard a lot about Gary Shteyngart’s latest book, Super Sad True Love Story, earlier this year when it was released. It’s a super sad, true love story all right – but not sad because the love story doesn’t have a happy ending. It’s sad because it’s about a distopian future in which you are only successful if you work in Media or in Retail. There are only two television stations, FoxPrime and FoxPrimeUltra, and people rarely communicate with one another face to face (now called “verballing”). Instead, they stream. Everything. It’s our current culture, put on steroids, and projected out fifty years. At the center of it is our hero, Lenny, who falls in love. I found all the characters supremely annoying, but I’m pretty sure that was the point. It did remind me how much I like post-apocalyptic stories (which it could be argued, this is), so I decided to read The Stand next. It’s fun so far.
8/22/11 – I seem to keep getting behind – becoming a working stiff has seriously cramped my blogging style. Catching up… it was about a week ago that I finished Ann Patchet’s latest novel, State of Wonder. I love Ann Patchet’s book – this is the third of hers that I’ve read and loved. It’s a story about a woman who goes into the Amazon looking for – she’s not really sure what she’s looking for. But what she finds is amazing. It’s an exciting, emotional read, one that made me cry – twice. Once out of happiness, once out of sadness. I loved it, and I loved the ending, even though I didn’t want it to end. Read it, you’ll like it.
8/8/11 – I realized today that I forgot to post about Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen. I finished it several weeks ago, and I wish I had remembered to post about it then, but here it is now, and I can’t really say anything witty or deep about it. It was long, it was a good read, and I’m not quite sure what the point was. It’s about a family that basically comes apart at the seams. They are liberals, but can’t really walk the walk. For example, the father of the family, Walter, is an ardent environmentalist. He comes up with this grand plan to make a wildlife refuge for a specific species of bird in rural West Virginia. The only catch? In order to get the land, he has to agree to let the coal companies do mountain-top removal mining on it first. But it’s a wildlife refuge for the little birds! Yay! But they have to blow the hell out of the mountain and poison the water and soil to do it. Boo! I wasn’t quite sure what Franzen was trying to say about our world and its politics (or my world and my politics), but I know that I enjoyed the story and (most of) the characters. Worth a read, and if you have something deep and witty to say about it, please let me know.
7/10/11 – My mom recommended a book called The Hand That First Held Mine, by Maggie O’Farrell. My mom will read anything. If there’s nothing available for her to read, she’ll settle for a cereal box. I have to say that I’m the same way, but she knows that I don’t particularly enjoy the mysteries and thrillers that she devours. So when she read this book, which isn’t her typical fare, she thought I might enjoy it. And I did enjoy it. There are two stories interwoven through the book, and it takes awhile to figure out how they are related. In the end, it was slightly less than satisfying – I was puzzled by the choice to follow one of the characters when it was her husband that was the central character. But all quibbling aside, I found the book a nice read. I was at a total loss as to where to go next, so I picked up Freedom, which everyone was talking about last year but I never got around to. It’s good so far.
6/21/11 – I just finished Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson. What a wonderful book. Seriously – this is one of the best books I’ve read in quite awhile. I savored every minute of it. It’s a love story – Boom! – you’ve got me right there. But it’s more than that. It’s a story about struggling against the urge to do what you’re “supposed” to do in order to do what’s right. And it’s about being disappointed in yourself and in others and persevering in the face of adversity. I just loved the Major, and I loved his paramour, Mrs. Ali. I was so cynical about halfway through, thinking this will never work out and it’s going to be so depressing. I won’t tell you what happens, but I will urge you to read it. It’s wonderful.
6/5/11 – Welcome to Kindle Korner, where I’ll write about whatever it is I’m reading. You can find my previous adventures here, On the Nightstand. I just finished Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife. It’s her first novel, which got off to a promising start. But then it never really went anywhere. It felt more like a collection of short stories that had been cobbled together into a novel. I enjoyed some parts immensely, but at the end, I was left feeling puzzled. Was that it? It just felt incomplete, as if it was going somewhere, but then got lost along the way and ended up at a dead end. I have no idea what’s next – I’ll troll my Kindle Archive and see if something grabs me!