Saturday, January 5, 2008

Books Read in 2007: Ms Manitoba

First, I am no where near the type of reader PolCat is. I am a slow reader. But reading is such a pleasure to me. Also, this has been a hard year for me emotionally and I've read mostly escapist literature.

Here goes ...

I read these books of poetry every year ... because I get so much inspiration from them.
Rice - Nikky Finney
The World is Round - Nikky Finney
If you haven't read Nikky Finney's poems, scrounge around and find her books. She is a national treasure.

Hell To Pay- George Pelecanos
Good mystery.

My Life in France - Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme
A bit fluffy ... but there's substance too. I really liked it. I love books about France that are well-written. This book fits the bill.

Pearl - Mary Gordon
It took a while to get into it. It was good. But I really thought it was going to be a lot better. I do admire Gordon's writing.

Chasing Redbird - Sharon Creech
Really good book for 8 yrs old and up. My kids and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There was a lot of interesting stuff to chew on.

Seek the Fair Land - Walter Macken
Hard to get into for the first 25 pages because it was a little stilted or something. But it was good after that. Glad I read it.

The Alienist - Caleb Carr
Loved it. It appealed to the detective in me, the scientist in me, and the historian in me. Warning: It is gruesome and involves the murder of children.

Manhattan, when I was young - Mary Cantwell
It's a memoir about Cantwell being in her 20's and 30's in NYCity. Very good. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Her writing is really good.

Deception Point - Dan Brown [author of The DaVinci Code]
MYS/SUSPENSE; Unabridged Audiobook
Not recommended. Sleazy. Only picked it because my brain was mush at the time. There were at least 35 cliffhangers ... and it just got to the point where I would laugh at a new cliffhanger ... and not even care what happened to the person. That said, there was some cool/creepy technology. Cool from a purely intellectual point of view. Creepy from a human vs. Big Brother point of view. For example, mini-bots. Tiny tiny robots in the shape of bugs - literally a fly on the wall that listens to people's conversations. A person can "drive it" all over into and out of rooms, into and out of buildings ... and spy on people.

Dreaming of the Bones - Deborah Crombie MYS
Bought it in an airport. Again, brain was mush and I wanted something easy to read. It was okay. Nothing special. Although I really liked early mysteries by Crombie.

The House on Mango Street - Sandra Cisneros
Unabridged Audiobook
Great! I love this book. I read it every couple of years when I need a pick-me-up. And, the wonderful thing about this was Cisneros was the reader for the Audiobook. I just click with her sense of humor. I also like books whose narrators are 11 - 12 yr olds -- if they're written well that is. And this one is.

Housekeeping - Marilynne Robinson
Really good. Such good writing -- makes you envious the whole time: “Will I ever be able to write like this?" And you keep reading for the depth and crispness.
Quote: "Of my conception I know only what you know of yours. It occurred in darkness and I was unconsenting."

"Vesuvius at Home" - Adrienne Rich
Essay in a collection called On Lies, Secrets, and Silences.
The essay is Rich's urging to read Emily Dickinson in her entirety because Dickinson's poetry is so varied ... and much deeper and darker than most people think. It's a really good essay.

Locked Rooms - Laurie King
MYS Unabridged Audiobook
It's part of her Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series.
Very very good. I thoroughly enjoyed this. One of her best in the series.

Prisons We Choose to Live Inside -- Doris Lessing
5 lectures on such topics as:
-- How we absorb extremes into the mainstream
-- We’ve accumulated so much information about ourselves and our behavior yet we do not put it to use to make our society better
-- Demonizing people who you oppose
-- Brain-washing techniques
-- What humans do when they are part of group and how they are pressured to give up their individual opinions/thoughts -- and I know from experience -- it happens in progressive/leftist groups too.
-- One needs to maintain her/his individuality--true individuality, not just eccentricity; this will actually help society; Learn to distance yourself and look cooly at common ideas; question authority; read history and literature -- this can help
A couple of the lectures weren’t that good. But a couple were very good.
Recommended. It’s short.

The Queen and I - Sue Townsend
unabridged book on tape
This is the third time I’ve listened to it -- on my way to work in the car. It is hilarious!! I think the best thing to do is to listen to this version on tape. The reader is very very good.
I normally don’t give out descriptions ... but on this one I’ll make an exception. It’s a novel about a leftist radical becoming the Prime Minister of England in the early 1990’s and doing away with the monarchy. The Royals have to go live in a public housing “estate” called Hellibore Close. One of the first things they all have to do is have their carpets cut down by a neighbor called Spiggy because none of them believed the dimensions of the living room that was listed on the description of their bungalows. Charles and his sons are the only ones happy about the change. (He never wanted to be king anyway and now he gets to grow a little pig tail and plant a garden. The working class woman next door -- Beverly Threadgold -- really turns him on. His sons get to play in abandoned cars.) His parents fight over what Charles’ last name will be. Windsor from his mum or Mountbatten from his dad? Diplomatically, or maybe weasely, he takes the name of his great grandmother (I think) Victoria. His new name is Charlie Teck. His mother, Elizabeth Windsor, does connect with her neighbors although it often involves others translating for her - nobody can understand her because of her very posh accent. She even helps deliver a baby at one of her neighbor’s homes. Charles ends up in prison at one point because he’s defending the woman next door against a bobby. Oh, it is just too funny. With an undercurrent of seriousness too.

Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen
I know this was on many people’s Book Club lists ... that often turns me off. Am I a snob? Perhaps ... a little ... sometimes. But I loved this book. The writing was really good. And the story mooooooves!

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J. K. Rowling
I love these books. I’ve always read children’s books. Rowling is so imaginative. If you’ve seen the movies ... or one movie ... and think you know what Harry Potter’s about ... nope! The movies are Hollywoodized -- made for tween boys. The books are waaaaay better. Details details details. And, she’s a good writer.

I was very behind in my Harry Potters, so this summer I also read:
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Let Me Finish - Roger Angell

Memoir. Very good. Recommended.

The Human Line - Ellen Bass
Poetry. I love her writing. Highly recommended.

The Anybodies - N. E. Bode
Children’s book.
My 10 yr old and I really enjoyed this.

The Nobodies - N.E. Bode
Not as good as The Anybodies. Too quirky in many places. Usually I love quirky. But I feel that the quirkiness in this book disrupted the flow of the story.

Dopefiend - Donald Goines
Goines is a very well known African American author, now deceased. But his books are almost always set in a certain milieu -- poor or working class African Americans struggling to survive ... often addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Depressing book. Recommended? Well, if you are naive about the world of dope fiends and want to learn a little bit more. But you will be journeying to a place that Dante knew nothing about.

Hugger Mugger - Robert Parker
A little fluffy. But his dialog is very good. He reminds me of Lawrence Block in that way.

Crusader’s Cross -- James Lee Burke
This is his best that I’ve read so far. The setting -- Louisiana -- is one of the main characters. No diatribes in this book even though there are some serious commentaries on contemporary life: racism, classism, the life of a veteran soldier, recovering from alcoholism. He writes all this with intelligence and heart and the complexity of the situations. His writing is so good. He also writes beautifully about the nature around him. You feel like you are there in the midst of a bayou in New Iberia. Nowhere else.
I highly recommend this book.

Jolie Blon’s Bounce - James Lee Burke
Another good one by Burke. Not as good as Crusader’s Cross. But it is good.

The Circuit: Stories from the life of a migrant child - Francisco Jiménez
I’m trying to read the same books that are assigned in my oldest daughter’s English class so I can a) enjoy those books myself; b) help her talk about books c) get to know more about what my daughter thinks about things ... generally enrich our conversations.
This is a great book. Not a happy one though. The life of a migrant child is frustrating and bleak ... besides joyful and rich with family life. The family moves a lot and the child’s main relationships are with his family. When he makes friends, the family moves soon after to chase down the jobs. And everybody in the family (unless you’re very young) works very very hard. You get to understand in a deeper way what the conditions of the labor camps are. The writing is very evocative ... and done so simply ... wish I could write like that.
Highly recommended. Good for 12 and above ... depending on the reading/emotional level of the child.

Killing Johnny Fry: A Sexistential Novel - Walter Mosley
It’s about a guy who we find out as the story unfolds is in the midst of existential angst. At the very beginning of the story he finds out that his longtime girlfriend is cheating on him. He actually walks in on her and her lover. He backs out quietly and leaves without saying anything. This sends him out into the world in turmoil. How does he cope? He rents a porno movie ... an unusual one that actually has plot and characterization. He identifies with the husband in the movie whose wife cuckolds him. The movie and finding his girlfriend with the other man -- both of these things -- have such a strong influence on the main character “Cordell” or for short “’L” that it jumpstarts his libido. And he starts having lots of sex with:
  • his girlfriend
  • next door neighbor
  • a very young artist who he promises to represent as an agent
He also quits his job as a translator to become an artist’s agent.
At first I thought the sex was interesting. But ... it’s like eating too much candy ... after a while, it’s just too much. I actually started getting bored. Not recommended. I hate to say this because I love Walter Mosley.

Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwhich Village Memoir - Anatole Broyard
This book was a mixed bag for me. Parts of it I really liked; others were so-so. His writing is very good. The last part of the book he talks about sex in the late 40’s and during the 50’s in NYC. That part was very very interesting. Here’s an excerpt:
“Sex in 1947 was like one of those complicated toys that comes disassembled, in one hundred pieces, and without instructions. It would be almost impossible for someone today to understand how far we were from explicit ideas like pleasure or gratification. We were more in the situation of Columbus wondering whether the world was flat or round. Because they didn’t know how to make love, girls made gestures.” [Oh, I guess he thinks men DID know how to make love, eh? My opinion: You learn how to make love all over again with each new lover.] “They offered their idiosyncrasies as a kind of passion. In their nervousness, they brought out other, totally dissociated forms of extremity. They gave me their secret literature, their repressed poems and stories, their dances...
... The energy of unspent desire, of looking forward to sex, was an immense current running through American life. It was so much more powerful then because it was delayed, cumulative, and surrounded by doubt. It was fueled by failures, as well as successes. The force of it would have been enough to send a million rockets to the moon. The structure of desire was an immense cathedral arching inside of us. While sex was almost always disappointing in retrospect, the promise of it ennobled and abstracted us; it made us pensive.”

Cadillac Jukebox - James Lee Burke
Good. But he wrote a cheap trick plot device in the middle of the book. His main character, Dave Robicheaux, is awakened in the middle of the night. He had not been drinking. He is in a hotel room where a rival of his is having a party. The rival’s wife is an old lover of Dave’s. Dave is expecting his own wife to show up any time now. A woman enters his room while he’s sleeping and seduces him. Dave thought it was his wife but it was the old lover. I did not buy this. How could someone not notice that the person seducing him was someone other than his wife? Do they smell the same? Feel the same? Okay, some women think to themselves: “Men are dogs. So they just let them get seduced.” No. Not true. I thought it was bad writing. He made a mistake there.

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