Book List 2008
A.M. Homes. Well, it didn't. Save my life that is. Not that it needed saving but if it did, this book wouldn't be the one. It tries hard to be super hip and spiritual and new agey but, nah. Set in modern day L.A. a rich and lonely man has a sort of mid life crisis and comes to realize that helping others can make him feel good. Whoa. Stop the presses.
2. The Dress Lodger
Sheri Holman. Another Victorian era novel about a good-hearted prostitute. For this genre, I liked Slammerkin better. And The Crimson Petal and the White. Holman's book just didn't grab me like the others. Too heavy handed with symbolism and crap instead of just telling a really good story.
3. Enduring Love
The sublime Ian McEwan. WELL. This is a reread for me. And I have to say, (although I don't like to) that this book didn't do it for me like the first time I read it. I mean I was touting it as my all time favorite! Not anymore. Still a great book but for some reason I wasn't as enthralled. Who knows why. Could be the period of my life...
Anyhow, McEwan is a writer's writer who is able to sustain a thriller and also interweave all this funny, intellectual, psychological stuff without losing you. LOVE HIM!
But not my favorite anymore. Boo hoo.
4. The Birth of Venus
Sarah Dumant. I was all set to love this one- Florence in the 17th century, Medici family, painting, wealthy family, love and whatnot........ but it was just okay. Not enough excitement for me; it didn't build. Actually can't remember much about it now that a few weeks have gone by since I finished. Not a good sign.
5. One Good Turn
Kate Atkinson. Same writer who wrote Case Histories, which I adored last year. I was on my way to adoring this one too, when I left it in my car rental in Palm Springs. DANG! I was 3/4 finished and now I'm gonna have to find another copy to finish. It's a mystery set in Scotland with a cast of bunglers all looking for love. Funny and quick moving. Atkinson knows how to get to the heart of a character and drop bombs.
J.M. Coetzee. This guy won a nobel prize for literature and this book won the Booker so hey, something has got to be good here. And I can say, gratefully, that there is. Aaah. Deceptively and simply written, it's the story of a middle-aged man who's a bit of a scalleywag (sp?) and gets caught with his pants down, so to speak, with one of his students. From there he falls into a state of disgrace and retires to his daughter's place in South Africa where danger and turmoil ensue. It becomes a time of self-discovery for him. Coetzee comes at things from a different angle and I enjoyed this a whole bunch.
7. Ask Me Again Later
Jill Davis. Very readable book but not one that you'll be proud to say that you've read. It's about a not very interesting woman who has relationship phobia and comes from a dysfunctional family. Ooooh sounds exciting and original, right? Heh. Well, it keeps you reading and that counts for something.
8. The Tender Bar
JR Moehringer. Memoir. A very good one. This guy grew up fatherless with a striving mother, mean grandparents and good ol' boys down at the local bar. Funny and endearing and brutally honest. Loved how he was a poor little boy who made good. Went to Yale and wrote for the New York Times. Impressive.
Allegra Goodman. I feel like I accomplished something in reading this book. It's about a bunch of research scientists, set completely in their world. I've never read a book with so much science in it so I feel like I know how to cure cancer now. Not really but I do feel smart. Enough character psychology and mystery to keep me going.
10. Black Swan Green
David Mitchell. Boy oh boy, can this guy write. Loved this book. Much better than Cloud Atlas, which I struggled with last year, even though it was masterfully written.
Okay, so it's the story of a 13 year old boy-very Holden Caulfield, but not as cynical. Some wretchedly sad parts, mostly revolving around his being bullied and his stammer. Very British, with all sorts of odd phrases like "shat yer cacks" which I think means 'shit your pants'. Anyways, it's funny and sad and smart. Best so far this year?
11. The Sportswriter
Richard Ford. Sigh. It's like a comfortable old shoe.
12. Three Cups of Tea
Greg Mortensen. One of those books that makes you feel guilty you're not contributing much to the world. Aside from that, it's a wonderful story. Man builds schools in Pakistan for deprived children, providing an education so that they don't get brainwashed by the fundamentalist terrorist groups that prey on the young.
13. Comfort Me With Apples
Ruth Reichl. She's the editor of gourmet magazine. (which I subscribe to now. Haven't made much from it mostly drool over the recipes and tell myself I will make this! But I can pass myself off as a foodie, right?) Story of her life as a restaurant critic and all her love affairs. Honest and interesting and it has recipes to boot. Loved this book. Made me want to gorge on truffles and foie gras. Yeah.
14. The Memory Keeper's Daughter
Kim somebody or other. Ugh, what dreck. After reading half had to skip to last chapter to find out if it ties up all neatly with a bow- yep. Characters are stock and not too interesting. Doctor gives away his retarded daughter and tells his wife she was born dead. Heavy plot with nothing else to support it. Sigh.
15. Elizabeth Costello
J.M. Coetzee. I liked Disgrace so much I had to read more by this fine author. This is an intellectual book about a writer. Most of it contains speeches this writer- Elizabeth Costello- gives at Universities. She addresses diverse subjects like animal rights, evilness, and beliefs. Heavy man, heavy. But admirable. Not that I'll remember any of it.
16. Slow Man
JM Coetzee. Sort of an almost great book but falls short in that it doesn't have a clear focus. Loved the premise- older man loses leg in bike accident and contemplates his rather sad and lonely life. Enter a strange woman who seems almost mythical and who tries to get him to lead a better life but we are never told how she comes upon him and knows so much about him. Strange. But powerful in the way it looks at love and the end of life.
Richard Bausch. Set in WWII in Italy. Four soldiers are on a mission in dreadful conditions- rain and cold and being stalked by a sniper. Takes a hard look at death and the psychological mental problems that result when faced with it daily. Sad but unsentimental. Good writing.
18. The Senator's Wife
Sue Miller. I haven't read a Sue Miller book in awhile. Forgot what an adequate writer she is. Serves up a solid story- plot, character, interest- all solid. An aging woman whose philandering husband happens to be a senator, lives life according to her rules. All about strong women.
19. After Dark
Murakami. Such a gifted writer. Strange too. A bit of the fantasy in all his books.
Patrick McGrath. I read a book by McGrath last year, Asylum, and enjoyed it. This one, not a so much. Set in NYC, a psychiatrist starts to explore his past with an alcoholic mother and estranged father. Could they have contributed to his messed up life?? hmmmm. could be.
Marilynne Robinson. This is related to her previous book Gilead with the same characters and setting. It focuses on another family- the Boughtens- in particular, the prodigal son of the family- Jack. Weak in plot but strong on everything else. Robinson is a gifted writer and her books are more like meditations. This one though, is almost too depressing. Jack is a ne'er- do- well and it's draining reading about how he can never do the right thing. He is forever apologizing and slinking off like a wounded animal. He comes home after being gone for 20 years wanting to make amends but his minister old father can't seem to understand him and his righteous sister, Glory, has her own problems. It doesn't end wrapped sweetly in a bow, that's for sure.
Anne Lamott. You gotta love her. If you don't, you have a problem. That said, I didn't love this book only because it's very much like her others. Her church, her son, her frustrations with her weight and rude people. It's funny and touching but nothing new.
23. Born Standing Up
Steve Martin. Such an interesting impressive guy. Humble and intelligent and rather ordinary in an extaordinary way. Thought it would be much funnier but it's really just a story of how he became to be Steve Martin. Enjoyed it immensely and read it in one night.
24. The Talented Mr. Ripley
Patricia Highsmith. I read this after reading an article in the LA Times book review about Highsmith. I expected more from this one considering it was also made into a movie, right? Well, it's readable but strange. The main character- Tom Ripley- is a psychopathic homosexual. Sounds wild, right? Meh. Kind of a dull psychopathic homosexual, actually. Maybe since it was written back in the 50's.
25. While They Slept
Kathryn Harrison. True story about an 18 year old boy who murdered his parents and sister in Oregon back in 1984. I read this because I love Harrison's writing and she doesn't shy away from the tough topics. This case was a tough one because the parents were abusive and the boy already had issues- learning disability, impulse control problem, emotional problems, etc. Harrison takes a sympathetic look at him, while also examining his other sister who survived. She digs deep into the family dynamics and shows the two kids coping mechanisms- how one was able to escape through her intellect and the other escaped by killing. Tragic story.
26. Lush Life
Richard Price. I loved Clockers so was excited to read this one. The guy can write dialog like no other. Street savvy, he has the voice down for thugs and cops and bartenders and lost souls. His plot is weak- we're looking for a killer but we already know who it is. Price is all about character- a bit extreme and over the top but way readable.
27. The Emperor's Children
Claire Messud. Great book- very smart and unique. Character driven with a nothing much happening plot, it focuses on the lives of a wealthy family in New York and a few friends. Affairs, lies, integrity, ambition, betrayal-- these are some of the themes. I guess I'd have to say it's about people struggling to find happiness, even when all the cards are stacked in your favor. Okay, that sounds very general and not a powerfully persuasive statement. I loved that the characters were smart and educated and in some ways elite, but also complex and suffering.
28. Bright Shiny Morning
James Frey. Well, Frey can write I'll give him that. But maybe he tries too hard. This is a novel about many lives being lived in LA. It's all hard-edged and dramatic, as if the city is conspiring to make things difficult for its characters. Dope users and homeless and immigrants and movie stars-- all of them have pretty worthless lives. I somewhat enjoyed the interesting facts about the city interwoven in the narrative although some of them seemed far-fetched and I wondered if they were true. Can we not trust Frey? Hmmmmm. His past problems with the truth may follow him.
29. Remembering the Bones
I skimmed this novel. It's the story of an 80 year old woman who crashes her car down a ravine and lies there, waiting to be rescued and reflecting about her life. I generally don't like stories that go into the past- I'm more interested in the present- in this case, her situation of survival. Well written, set in Canada.
30. A Free Life
Ha Jin. Oddly quaint story of Chinese immigrants trying to make a life for themselves in America. Focuses on the most mundane daily details of their lives and yet it's compelling. So much stress that they live with and so little joy. Oh, those Chinese, always striving for perfection.
All in all, a great reading year. My favorite? Black Swan Green