Sunday, January 09, 2005

Book List for 2005

Book List for 2005

1 The Kite Runner
Khaled Housseni. I enjoyed it for the insight on Afghan culture. Otherwise, a sentimental, affecting story.

2 The Jane Austen Book Club
Karen Joy Fowler. Eh. Choppy and random. Fowler bit off more than she could handle. Funny in parts but just weird and pointless most of the time.

3 The Time of our Singing
Richard Powers. More about this later. I didn't finish it. Just bogged down right in the middle because of all the minutia about music, plus the characters were so distant I couldn't connect with any of them. Everything was exaggerated to the point of being unbelievable- the extreme fabulousness of Jonah's voice, the racism and persecution of the brothers. Enough already. Powers is an intelligent writer but doesn't know how to draw the reader in.

4. Smilla's Sense of Snow
Peter Hoag. Didn't much care for it. Too much information(enough already about the ships and the cold!) with too little action. Characters were unbelievable. The ending was vague and laborious, it had something to do with ice and a ship.

5 The Palace Thief
Ethan Canin. At long last, a book that moves me. A collection of four novellas that have some common themes. Namely, parents who are alienated from their children and yet are learning a lot from them. Canin gets into the inner voice of these characters and does well with showing instead of telling. Deceptively subtle writing with some quirky situations thrown in to make it interesting. Great voice and control of the stories. I'll read more by Canin.

6 Kafka on the Shore
Huraki Murakami. My first Murakami. At first, I was breathless and couldn't wait to keep turning the pages. Murakami takes you on a dreamy journey through Japan with believable characters doing unbelievable things, such as talking to cats. But by the end, I was unimpressed- the whole thing was rather opaque and I kept waiting for a more clear picture to present it itself but it never did. Even on the last page I kept expecting a revelation but, no. Sort of a letdown since he builds it all up to mean so much more. I will try another one by him later. Murakami is obviously exceptionally creative, I'm just not sure what he's trying to say and I'm not sure he is either.

7 Cheat and Charmer
Elizabeth Frank. A mammoth novel that is mildly interesting. Hey, I finished it so that tells you something. The characters are shallow and shitty all the way to the bitter end, not usually a problem for me, but they were unoriginal also, and that is a big problem. Set in Hollywood during the 50's, it does a nice job of evoking the lifestyle back then. Also, a whole bunch of boring shlock about some hearings about Communism and how certain people testified before some commitee- yawn. Passably written.

8 Sight Hound
Pam Houston. Mostly delightful and it made me cry at the end which is always a nice bonus. It's the story of a woman in Colorado during a certain trying time of her life when her dog dies. Houston provides original, thoughtful wisdom about animals. I think of my own dog, Bailey, as more human-like now, after reading this fine book.

9 Affliction
Russell Banks. Hunting, drinking, divorce, small town, abuse. Wade Whitehouse takes over this book, wholly and completely. I liked it.

10. Everything You Need
A.L. Kennedy. A writer I just discovered and can't belive I have been missing her all these years. She is brilliant, almost beyond compare. Every other sentence is a revelation and this is not a spare book. The story itself is sort of 'eh' but Kennedy is such a fine writer that she could write about dog poo and make it something wonderful. I can't wait to read her latest, 'Paradise'.

11. Old School
Tobias Wolf. Very readable book that kept me interested all the way through. Honest, poignant story of a boy in a prep school who is outside the norm. Lots about writing and writers. I loved the part with Ayn Rand. Wolf does a fine job of making actual writers come to life in a piece of fiction.

12. East of Eden
John Steinbeck. I had tried Steinbeck before and didn't much care for him except for Mice and Men. This one, I really enjoyed. It's a good old fashioned epic, with well-rounded characters. The good vs. eveil theme and Bible references are heavy- handed but, as a whole, the book works.

13. Lost in the Forest
Sue Miller. A somewhat enjoyable book but not Miller's best. Enjoyed 'The Good Mother' more. It's a story of an adolescent girl trying to deal with the death of her stepfather and trying to understand the place she has in her family and the world. The characters were a wee bit unbelievable for me, especially the children who were far too insightful and mature to be real. My favorite character was the one who died, the stepfather. He asks Daisy (the 14 year old) provoking questions that draw her out and it was interesting to learn from him.

14. Paradise
A.L. Kennedy. Thank goodness I'm not a writer cause after reading her, I'd want to just quit, realizing how far I had to go to achieve greatness. She writes the hell out of this book. Hannah, the alcoholic woman, inhabites your brain and makes you understand, to a hugely uncomfortable degree, what it's like to have a blackout and be addicted to alcohol. The story is dark, dark, dark. If you can't handle dark, I'd advise not attempting this one. And the writing is difficult to negotiate at times. But soooo worth the trouble. Trouble us more, A.L. Kennedy. Oh, also, I realized while reading, how similar she is to Martin Amis. But better.

15. Outside Valentine.
Liza Ward. Interesting story by this first-time novelist. Fiction based on an actual event. Draws on the story of the Starkweather murders in Nebraska which I was clueless about and which now I am minorly obsessed with. Ward does an admirable job of writing from three different character viewpoints.

16. Out
Natsuo Kirino. Outstanding. Could. not. put. down. Crime novel set in Japan. Four women working in a factory get tangled up in some messy (and horribly gruesome!)business. Kirino makes the unbelievable, believable. The characters breathe; are there before you. Not a word wasted in the entire book. Ah, those spare Japanese. My favorite so far, this year.

17. A Long Way Down.
Nick Hornby. My reading just keeps getting better and better. A funny, snort out loud novel. Hornby is a dry, witty brit. Four suicidal people become entangled and help each other out in their own, weird ways. This book made me laugh, cry, and think -and I can't ask for too much more than that from a book.

18. Gilead
Marylynne Robinson. Calming, spiritual book told in the voice of a dying minister. Beautiful writing that begs to be read in small chunks in order to absorb all its beauty. Took me many months to finish. Robinson's writing is a meditation on life.

18. Blinding Light
Paul Theroux. Such a weird writer, Theroux is. And a little kinky too, as this book attests. Story of a man who takes a drug from the jungles of Ethiopia that causes him to go blind. Yet he can 'see' better than ever before. The beginning and ending were okay but the middle part of this book is a drag- even the eroticism is a bit boring. I've adored some of Theroux's other fiction so this was a disappointment.

19. Misfortune
Wesley Stace. Mammoth book. Loosely based on Lovehall and its inhabitants, royalty from the 18oo's in England, or some such nonsense. Basically the story of Rose, an orphan boy raised as a girl in the royal confines of Lovehall. Clever and full of Victorian mischievousness but not nearly as good as 'The Crimson Petal and the White', a Victorian novel I read last year. Worthy but requires much skimming.

20. Asylum
Patrick McGrath. A cool and clean novel, perhaps a little too much so, in fact, the writer is very distanced from the characters. But then, it's told in the voice of a clinical psychologist so at least there is a reason. Story of a woman who falls obsessivley in love with a patient at a mental institution, the complication being that her husband is a doctor at the institution. Oooh, that sounds interesting, doesn't it? Could be juicier but it's passable.

21. Never Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro. I liked this one, surprisingly, because it's a bit sci-fi and I typically abhore sci-fi. But Ishiguro is such a fine writer. The plot is based on a boarding school for orphaned children who are raised to be... well, i shouldn't say, in case anyone reads this cause if you are a bit dim, like me, the mystery as to what the heck is going on is what keeps you reading . Anyways, it's a book I can recommend.

22. Original Bliss
A.L.Kennedy. Another stunner by Kennedy. She can handle anything it would seem- the most volatile, taboo material is not too much for her. The story is hazy, but the meaning reaches deeply. A woman searching for spiritual meaning and a porn-obsessed "genius" fall in love. Kennedy mostly focuses on the feelings- just zeroes in on them to the point of sort of forgetting the story. But that's okay cause the writing is trying to take you on a journey. Original Bliss are the perfect words to describe Kennedy's writing.

23. 102 Minutes. Inside the Twin Towers
Two Journalists (forget the names). Learned some interesting things but too much detail that needed better editing. Very jumbled, with hundreds of names, it was difficult to keep track of what was going on. The best part were the actual phone conversations that took place from inside the towers. Disheartening to discover that the police and fire departments didn't work well together. Egos getting in the way of help.

24. The Remains of the Day
Kazuo Ishiguro. Ah, such a very British book. Stevens, the quintessential English butler, the epitome of stiff upper lip. Beautifully written, restrained and focused. Heartbreaking endng. Makes me want to have dignity.

25. High Fidelity.
Nich Hornby. Not his best. I never saw the movie and can hardly believe it was made into one, not much of a plot, and not nearly as funny as his other books. The main character is such a feckless fop, he started to get on my nerves after awhile. Interesting bits about music though.

Okay, that's about it for the year. I should mention that there were at least two dozen more books that I didn't finish because they just didn't hold my interest- either poorly written or I didn't care for the subject matter. Not a great reading year, overall. Hoping the new year has some winners.
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