Saturday, January 07, 2006

Book List 2006

A new year, another chance to read something worthwhile. I should write but I'm too lazy. Better to have others struggle while I sit passively and read.

1. The Sea
John Banville. An impressive book by an impressive writer. A very contained story of an older gentleman, recently widowed and his reflections on the past. I enjoyed the honest awareness he has of his own, somewhat pathetic, self. This is a book to read with a pencil because some of the sentences are worth noting.

2. White Oleander
Janet Fitch. I enjoyed reading this even though it's very melodramatic. The story of a foster girl and her evil mother. It's just one tragedy after another, a veritible assembly line of tragedies, as if the writer couldn't hang with one situation long enough before getting bored. The foster girl ends up shot at, bitten by dogs, starved, witness to a suicide, and well.... you get the idea- she had a tough life. Still, it moves along and if you skim some it's a good read.

3. The Last Run
True story of a boating accident that happened in 1997 in Alaska. A small, commercial fishing boat sinks- two fatalities, two survivors. Not very interesting story because the characters were fairly typical bums and the accident was also 'typical' in the way of accidents, meaning nothing unusual happened. There was a storm, the boat sank, the hardier survived. Can't figure out why a whole book was devoted to it. Bored me something fierce.

4. The Art of Mending
Elizabeth Berg. I liked this, in fact read it in a couple of hours. Berg is a not a fantastic writer but she knows how to keep you interested just enough. Story of a mean-spirited mother and her subtle abuse towards one of her daughters. Berg is good at avoiding melodrama and shows how abuse can take many forms.

5. The Debt to Pleasure
John Lanchester. Sort of a cookbook but mostly musings about food and travel and family. Written in high-falutin' English English, it's a tad difficult to navigate. Many obscure references to French stuff and the narrator seems to think the reader has a clue about all things French, which of course I don't, so I skimmed quite a bit. I learned how to make Irish stew and that was interesting.

6. Saturday
Ian McEwan. One of my favorite writers, but not one of his best books. He revisits an idea he already addressed in my favorite book, Enduring Love-- that of a person deranged by an illness. In this case, a thug with Huntington's disease. The story takes place in the span of one particular Saturday. There are some tight moments, astonishingly well-written, but a lot of philosophising also, and this gets a bit boring. The central character, a neaurosurgeon, is prone to gazing out windows and thinking about his family, and the state of the world, and analyzing why he feels a particular way at a particular moment. McEwan is very well versed on a variety of subjects, from the Iraqi war to jazz to squash to surgery, etc. and sometimes that seems to be the point of the book: to showcase his knowledge. Or maybe Im being too harsh. I expect great things from McEwan.

7. The Love Hunter
Jon Hassler. I heard about this one on Readers Almanac on NPR. Written in the early 80's. The plot intrigued me-- a man plots to kill his best friend because he is dying of MS and, more importantly, he's in love with his wife. A good, solid read but overly wordy, and rather conventional.

8. A Million Little Pieces
James Frey. Yeah, so of course I had to read this cause of all the controversy surrounding this book-- that it's published as a memoir but a lot of it just isn't true or is greatly exaggerated. The first few chapters are downright compelling-- I didn't care if it was true or not, it was fascinating to read about this addicted guy and his withdrawal symptoms and pain- the language is tough and unflinching and pulls you right into the story. But...then...after awhile, some of the stuff just seems over the top so I went online and read about this Frey guy and yeah, he made up a lot of stuff and when I went back to the book I had to read it with two mindsets-- one as a fictional story of a badass dude who overcomes addiction and one as a partly true story of an ordinary wanta- be- badasss who overcomes addiction. Either way, it's a good read. I liked how he sort of shuns the AA philosophy and takes responsibilty for his addiction instead of passing it off as a disease. And I can understand why Frey "over wrote" his story-- he wanted it to be more exciting. Don't we all want our lives to be more exciting?

9. My Antonia
Willa Cather. I've been wanting to read more of the classics and I've never read Willa. This was an okay read. I liked the whole western, farmer, livin-off-the-land feel to it. Also some history about immigrants who came out west. It's set in Nebraska and is the story of Jim and his neighbor/friend, Antonia, an immigrant from 'Bohemia'-- wherever the heck that is. Sort of mundane, not much happens, these are good folks and don't get into too much trouble. In fact I can't remember much about it cause I finished it a week ago and it's already fading. Oops.

10. The Glass Castle
Jeannette Walls. An extraordinary memoir, well-written, a-can't-put-it-down book. This lady (a successful journalist for MSNBC) not only grew up poor, she grew up crazily. She's got stories to tell up the bazooka. Her parents were intelligent (the one saving grace) psychos--- a lying, cheating, drunk father and a crazy, artist mother. They lived here, there and everywhere, ending up in the Appalacian mountains in a shack with no electricity or running water. It's a book that actually made me want to kill the parents,(there were times when the children were literally starving and dad is out drinking and mom is in lala land, painting) yet Walls is able to see all sides of things and shows a sympathetic view of her family. Just a stunning book. Talk about rising above your circumstances.

11. Plan B-More Thoughts On Faith
Anne Lamott. You gotta love her. If you don't love her then something is seriously wrong with you. However, I don't recommend reading this book in public cause you'll ball in some places. I dare ya to try and read this without shedding one tear. It's a cliche, but Lamott is so darn real. She writes straight from the heart about her faith, her son, her hips and her political feelings.

12. War Trash
Ha Jin. Chinese writer-- very good-- writes a novel about the Korean war and China's participation. The focus is on chinese POW'S divided into two groups in a holding camp-- those who support the Communist Party and those who do not; who want to go to Taiwan instead of back to mainland China. The story is told through the eyes of Yuan, an interpreter who speaks English and is able to gleen information from both sides.
The last third of the book is rather anticlimatic, but otherwise, it's a good read.

13. Perfume
Patrick Susskind. German writer. A wholly original, rather amazing book, part fairy tale part realism part surrealism. Set in Victorian France (love those Victorians!), an enigma is born-- a beastly boy with superhuman smelling powers. Learned a bit about the making of perfume and the importance of scent. Made me want to go around sniffing things.

14. The Hummingbird's Daughter
Luis Alberto Urrea. A mammoth book, set in Mexico in the 1900's, it's a novel based on the life of Theresa Urrea, a saint for the Mexican people. Very interesting read. You learn a lot about the mexican culture and their rather superstitious but powerfully spiritual beliefs. The story is told with a lighthearted tone, which seems to fit-- the people had terribly difficult lives but they kept their sense of humor. Lots of Spanish in the book but Urrea does a good job of intertwining it so even if you don't understand a word of Espanol, you'll still get it. Highly recommend.

15. The Good Life
Jay McInerney. One of my favorite writers from the eighties, and he's still got it. The Fitzgerald of our generation. This is a 9/11 novel, and McInerney does an admirable job with incorporating the disaster into the story, without making it the central theme. It's a bit of a satire on the whole New York socialite, life in the fast lane scene. (A common theme for McInerney). Just the most awful, self-centered, cheating, lying, trashy characters, which is loads of fun, but..... and this is one of my gripes with this entertaining book, McInerney seems to love them a bit too too much. I mean, does he think their grand or does he think their trash? It's unclear and it shouldn't be. My other gripe is the ending. WHAT THE HAY??? The last three pages totally drop the ball. The story just dribbles away. It's like the two main characters become totally different people THE LAST PAGES of the book. It's beyond vague. It's just beyond. Someone please read and explain it to me.

16. Raising Hope
Katie Willard. Sweet book by first time novelist. Mothers and daughters- they act like they hate each other but deep down they really do love each other. Sentimental, yes, but still a readable story.

17. Red Leaves
Thomas Cook. Can't believe I read this one--so not what I usually read. It's quick and mostly painless though. A mystery, crime novel, silly yes, but.... with some hooks that kept me picking it back up. Rather sad and demented too, so that was good.

18. The Ruins
Scott Smith. Different for me. It's a sort of horror store in the Stephen King vein, but much better than King cause it's not all bogged down with too many characters and details. It's tightly written. Four younguns head to Cancun for a vacation and meet up with a bad plant. Literally. Maybe my reading style has changed, but I enjoyed this. Or maybe I'm just getting a little dim. It's appropriately gruesome also.

19. Animals in Translation
Temple Grandin. Very interesting book written by an autistic woman who is rather famous in the field of autism. Needed better editing, however. Lots of contradictions.

20. Everything Belongs
Richard Rohr. The title pretty much explains this book. Rohr is a Fransiscan priest who heads the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico. Here's one of my favorite quotes from the book: "The mystery is to be ready to recieve things just as they are and be ready to let them teach us". Whoa.

21. The Lay of the Land
Richard Ford. I waited a long time for this one. Years, in fact. It pains me to say it, but this is not his best. Richard, what happened? This is the story of Frank Bascombe-- a third in a series about Frank. I enjoyed the other two- The Sportswriter and Independence Day way more. Most of this book is Frank's inward musings about life, philosophical mish-mash that is vague and meandering. I missed the characters and dialogue from his other two. Ah well. It's an okay book, not his usual stellar stuff.

22. The Road
Cormac McCarthy. This is my first McCarthy and I'll read more by him. A dark story, set sorta in the future in an apocolyptic world that's been devasted by..... nuclear war(?). Hard to say cause it's never fully explained. Anyways, it's the story of a father and son, who are traveling a road, trying to survive, in search of "the good guys". The "bad guys" are those who are basically, cannibals-- finding something to eat is a bit of a problem in this world. The whole story is gut-wrenching, biblically symbolic, and I balled at the end, which, you may know by now, is a big bonus for me.

23. The Innocent Man
John Grisham. I never thought I'd read another Grisham (you've read one, you've read them all) but this isn't a novel, it's a true story of our justice system, following the life of one man who erroneously ended up on death row. Unbelievable stuff. Grisham does a good job of explaining the facts of the case. Glad I don't live in Ada, Oklahoma. Bunch 'o dunderheaded cops and lawyers out there.
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