Sunday, July 6, 2008

Books Read so far in 2008

A couple of years ago, PolCat suggested that I make up a list of books to read at the beginning of the year ... as a guide to my reading. To add a little discipline to my reading ... but, of course, I can read whatever I'd like. So, here's my semi-annual report from my booklist I posted in January.

I rarely tell what the book is about. I figure you can look it up on But sometimes I do because I want to say something about the story or plot.

Prep: A Novel - Curtis Sittenfeld
Didn’t finish
Not sure what to say. The writing was good. I think the main character just got on my nerves too much. Her insecurities really bugged me. Funny thing is that the way she dealt with her insecurities was the way I dealt with mine when I was an older teenager and in my early 20’s. Maybe it was too close to a negative quality that I had and despised in myself?

Nickel and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenreich
I loved it. It was a page turner. It was a nice balance of serious ... serious stuff about work lives of the full-time, barely-making-it workers ... mixed with Ehrenreich’s sense of humor. Oh, and it brought back memories of all those jobs (I’ve had a million of ‘em!) that paid shit and humiliated you at least 8 times a day. Highly recommended.

At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays - Anne Fadiman
I love Fadiman. I loved her Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader -- an excellent book about reading. At Large and At Small was very good too. But Ex Libris was the better book. Still: Recommended without hesitation.

Granny Torrelli Makes Soup - Sharon Creech
Creech is a good writer. This book was so-so. Pleasant. Not that interesting or well-written or funny, though. Do I recommend it? No. Don’t waste your time. Okay, if you’re 10 go ahead ... you probably have plenty of time to waste. But me, no.

Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
Oh, my god. What do I say about this? It’s just a rich, excellently written story with lots of interesting action and characters. Bonus: Rushdie has a wicked wicked WICKED sense of humor. And, did I say that the writing is to die for? Envy the size of an elephant inhabited my body as I was reading this ... however, it didn’t take any pleasure away from the reading of it. Okay, I’m gonna get bossy now: Put it on your to-do list.

A Bird in the House - Margaret Laurence
Interesting inter-related stories. Set in Manitoba. However, this is a tricky one to recommend ... would someone NOT from Manitoba think it was as interesting? Dunno. I would guess not. Although Laurence did get a lot of acclaim by folks in the U.S. for her books. I wish the NY Times reviewers would say that to us when they review books: “Would someone NOT from Manitoba think it was interesting?” They never say that. They always assume that we will be as interested in a book as they are. [Okay, I’m guilty of that too. See my entry for Midnight’s Children.]

Esperanza Rising - Pam Munoz Ryan
Oh, this was good. Very good. Recommended. It was really successful in placing the reader right there in the midst of a labor camp.

Mortal Stakes - Robert B. Parker
Plot thin and, therefore, unmemorable. I’ll probably be able to read it again in six months and not remember what happened in the plot. He’s good at dialog though and that’s why I kept reading it.

Bronx Primitive: Portraits in a Childhood - Kate Simon
Part of my New York City research for my story ... that I haven’t written a word of this year, by the way. But, I’m still doing the “research” ... which means reading books about NYCity, Ireland, and Canada (especially about French Canadians) ... things I’d want to read anyway.

Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of ARTMAKING - David Bayles and Ted Orland
Another so-so one. PolCat was reading it so, of course, I wanted to read it to ... because I follow her around like a puppy dog. I heard her praise it and now I wonder if she really liked it all the way through? It’s a thin book and I did get something from it. It’s very encouraging to artists of various stripes and plaids and dots with the message in various ways: just do it. So, I did take away this message in my brain to keep working at it -- my photography, videography, writing.

The Carniverous Carnival - Lemony Snicket [audio cd]
Wonderful. So good. Highly Recommended. See next entry.

The Grim Grotto- Lemony Snicket [audio cd]
Wonderful. So good. Highly Recommended. See next one.

The Penultimate Peril - Lemony Snicket [audio cd]
I think the writer Lemony Snicket is very very good. He makes allusions to other stories or parts of stories in literature that fit so nicely in the story he is creating. So it adds this rich layer. I am a champion of children’s literature. An ex of mine is the person who really showed me how wonderful children’s literature can be. I often enjoy children’s books better than mainstream “adult” novels. On top of the author’s creativity, this audio cd series is read by Tim Curry. Tim Curry is so talented! He is such a good reader for this series. The voices he invents are interesting and often hilarious. PolCat, break through this prejudice you have! Listening to a book on tape/cd can be even richer than moving your eyeballs across a page. Come on, babe, shake up those 100 billion neurons and come over to the dark side.

Map of Ireleand: A Novel - Stephanie Grant
Complex story of a 16 year old Irish American working class girl in South Boston. Very well written. Complex story about race and class ... and being a lesbian. The characters were finely defined. Highly recommended.

Riding in Cars with Boys - Beverly D’Onofrio
This book -- like many books these days -- could have used a few more drafts. I expected more from Beverly D'Onofrio ... and I really wanted to like this book. I grew up near D'Onofrio around the same time. So, I enjoyed reading about that time and place. But Ms. D'Onofrio could have gone deeper. She wrote about all her wildness, drinking, drug abuse. But what got her out of all that? Just going to college? Just growing up? I wanted more. Plus, I didn't think the writing was very good. I think part of the problem with a lot of books these days is that publishing houses don't have the staff they used to. So, writers really do not get edited like they used to. Books are being released when really they could use two or three (or more) drafts.

Sammy Keyes and the Skeleton Man - Wendelin Van Draanen
It was fun but not more than that.

The Great Gilly Hopkins - Katherine Paterson
My youngest daughter recommended this book. And, we listened to it in the car to and fro. We loved it! The story is fascinating and the characters are wonderful. It’s the story of an 11 or 12 year-old girl who has become hardened and deceitful because of her experiences as a foster child. She's been moved around to different families a lot and she's understandably resentful and it's had consequences on her behavior. She’s white and has grown up racist ... but this changes ... not in a sudden epiphany (how rare those are!) ... slowly ... organically. I highly recommend this book. We listened to it on cd from the library. It’s a great story to listen to on a trip.

A Freewheelin’ Time - Suze Rotolo
This book is for the most part, but not entirely, about the time that Rotolo was lovers with Bob Dylan. She's an interesting person so I was also interested in the stories about her time in Italy, her life as an artist, her upbringing as a working class red diaper baby, her experiences in Greenwhich Village, the people she knew in the folksinging world there in the Village, her work in the civil rights movement. Then, of course, there's Dylan. Interesting stuff. However, her writing was often flat and the ending was disappointing. She skips chunks of time. I would have liked to know more about her evolution as an artist and the ways she may have struggled to keep being a creative person. I do recommend it to those of you who are interested in that period of time and Greenwhich Village.

Proof a play - David Auburn
A really interesting play. I wish I’d seen it in the theater; nonetheless, it was a pleasure to read. Not great super quote-filled writing, in my humble opinion. But a very interesting plot. And, with the right cast, it could have made good theater.

Lush Life - Richard Price
I thought it was very good at plunking you down in this particular group of settings. He’s good at characterization. Very good at dialog. It’s set in NYCity so I love that. I'm not recommending though ... for one thing, the ending is a bit of a let down. I’m not sure why I say that because in many ways the end was satisfying. In a novel, dénouement is tricky ... it’s a very tricky part of the book. Here’s another thing: I didn’t like any of the characters. That bothers me when I read. Is it a sign of true maturity when you can really like a book even though you don’t like any of the characters? Dunno. I think it’s a sign of maturity when you can recognize that a writer is really good at writing even though you dislike the characters. For example, I thought the plotting and writing in Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter was really good. Really good. But I intensely disliked everyone. And, ultimately, that means I wouldn’t recommend a book I felt that way about. Maybe I’m being unfair ... because what if that was Porter’s intention all along ... to portray these characters so that we wouldn’t like them? I guess I would recommend it with reservations.

Back to Lush Life: I’m not recommending it because the further away from reading the book I have been -- it's about a week and a half since I finished it, I’ve been thinking: yeah, so what was so great? There was something significant that the book was missing for me.

Summary: It looks like I liked more children’s books so far than books “for adults.” Favorite book so far: No question, Midnight’s Children.

1 comment:

ThePoliticalCat said...

Ohmigod. I must do my own list forthwith. Even though malign influences I shall never ever name keep adding to the huge selection of reading material.