Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Books: Reviews 2007

These are the books we actually managed to finish reading over the course of the year. A million thanks to Ms. M for helping us create the list and pretty much stick to reading the books on the list. A million kvetches to Ms. M, and to Bri and to Certain Other Persons Who Shall Remain Forever nameless for handing me book after book after book that was NOT on the list with the words, "Oh, you've just GOT to read this!"
  1. Better Living Through Bad Movies - Sheri Zollinger and Scott Clevenger

    Borrowed? No.

    All I can say is, don't take this book to some public place where you expect to behave with decorum. I laughed out loud in the worst way, those snorts and thigh-thumping hoots and bellows and grunts that you make when something strikes you as really, really, unexpectedly, even shockingly, funny. Unfortunately, I tend to read at meals, so there was much dislodging of rice grains from mucous membranes to be performed. Not to mention the scandalized glares of fellow diners to contend with. Or the pleading of the occasional friend or partner for a read-out-loud, as in, "Whaaat?" "Whadya mean what?" "Well, you laughed." "Yes? And?" "Well, aren't you going to share?" Okay, more whining than pleading, but you get my drift.

    This is a thoroughly fun and enjoyable book, witty, devastating, delivering smackdowns on the most beloved of bad movies, in the best way. If you don't buy - and read - it, you'll probly die of regret. And no, you may not borrow my copy. I'm not letting it out of my sight.

    On the other hand if you want me to get you one as a prezzie, let me know, and I will.

    Recommended? Hell, yeah!

    Reread? Weekly.

  2. Dinosaur in a Haystack - Steven Jay Gould

    Borrowed? Briiii-yannnnnn!

    It took me the better part of three weeks to read this book. Actually, one might more accurately say it took me several months. I had started it twice previously, and put it down each time partway through because I couldn't bear to continue. I love good writing on any topic, and I love reading about science, especially biology and paleontology. So it caused me a great deal of distress that it took me so long to get through this book. I finally came to the conclusion that the writer's ego stood between the reader and the work. Really, given that Gould is writing about stuff I mostly drool over, it was most annoying to spend so much time on a single book. Furthermore, the book would have been greatly improved by omitting all the baseball yaya and the deity yaya and the biblical quotes. Dr. Gould is not a writer, but someone apparently successfully convinced him that he was. Informative book, if you don't mind digging through a lot of dirt for a few precious nuggets.

    Recommended? Are you a hardcore paleontology geek? With oodles of free time? If you answered no to either of these questions, move on, cher, move on.

    Reread? Good gawd, once is enough. I'm not even sure if I ever want to read anything by him ever again, although the topics are fascinating and the information, when you've dug down to it, is likewise.

  3. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

    Borrowed? No.

    I've owned this book for many decades. I think I first read it in my teens. I was shocked at some of the bald observations Conrad made (quite the shrinking violet in those days, or perhaps unaccustomed to the uglier side of colonialism - either interpretation works). Its generous use of words and terms that were considered racist rather inspired me to put the book down, and I did not pick it up again until my twenties, after my first viewing of Apocalypse Now. Rereading it, I felt as if I understood the writer better, but it was still a wrenching experience.

    In my thirties, I read Robert Silverberg's Downward to the Earth and found myself rereading Heart of Darkness, for comparison's sake, or something. And lately, the war in Iraq has forced me to view several movies about war, to crack open history books, to purchase for the first time books on the history of the Middle East, of Islam, of the role of women in Islam, of the coexistence of Islam and other religions - even my very own copy of the Qur'an. And, of course, to reread Conrad yet again. Each decade seems to bring an improved perspective. He was a brilliant and very talented writer. Imagine being born and raised in one culture, speaking one language, and achieving fame as a writer writing in a completely different culture and language. It's enough to incite a tiny flutter of xenophobia. Which, in a way, is what the book is about. Otherness. Lately, the more insane, virulent loons in this world have been repeating their favorite catchphrase - "Kill 'em all, let God sort them out." Conrad is the antidote. And it is good medicine, because ultimately bitter.

    Recommended?? No shrinking violets, goddammit. Highly recommended to all and sundry; students of Africa, colonialism, history, racism, and fiction writing at its best. Hold your nose, if you must, but read it anyway.

    Reread? Next decade, without a doubt.

  4. Moving Targets - Women, Murder, and Representation - Helen Birch, Ed.

    Borrowed? Don't think so. It looks like the kind of thing I'd buy myself as a gift.

    An excellent analysis of women's role in the criminal justice system both as criminals and as victims. A number of women contributed to this thought-provoking collection.

    Recommended? Highly readable and a MUST read for men, women, and little furry creatures of the reading variety. Also highly recommended for students of gender studies, criminology, psychology, writers, journalists, and true-crime aficionados.

    Reread? Maybe, but not for quite a while.

  5. My Life in France - Julia Child

    Borrowed? Yes.

    Someone handed me this with the terse warning "Fluffy." To be honest, it was a quick read but I found it far from fluffdom. Possibly because I love food, Julia's descriptions of her cooking lessons in France, and her exploration of French cuisine, are simply - delectable. Interestingly, Julia and her husband Paul Child were fairly left of center for their time, and this book is extremely revealing of how the political landscape has changed since Ms. Julia Child was a young woman. She sounds like a terrific person, smart, determined, and very clear about what she wanted out of life. I wish I'd had a chance to meet her, but reading her book was an enjoyable way of making her acquaintance and seeing through her eyes the beauty of La Belle France.

    Recommended? For anyone who loves food, cooking, wine, politics, gender studies, biographies.

    Reread? No. It was fun while it lasted, I wouldn't want to tarnish it by rereading. I still maintain, though, that it is NOT fluff.

  6. Republican Like Me - Harmon Leon

    Borrowed? No.

    The writer is clearly one of the people that, if you knew them as kids, was the class troublemaker. He was the kid who put chewing gum in other kids' hair, or stuffed tadpoles and worms down their shirts, or lit firecrackers in the back of the class. He is, apparently, a well-known reporter and standup comedian in the SF Bay Area. And he's good. He's an interesting writer, he's hella funny in an edgy, nervous-making kinda way, and in some ways he's brilliant. But you sure as fuck would not want to be hangin' with him when he pulls some of the stunts he writes about in this book. I mean, what kinda scrawny Jewish kid joins an antisemitic White power hate group for a lark? He's lucky to be alive, assuming, of course, that he still is. The book was a fun read, though.

    Recommended? Enthusiastically, assuming you're not on medication for your anxiety issues.

    Reread? Nah. It was fun while it lasted, but.

  7. The Early Stories (1883-1888) - Anton Chekhov

    Borrowed? No.

    Someone gave me this book a long time ago. I never got around to reading it because I had grown up reading the Russian writers - Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Tolstoy - in my misspent youf. I figured it would be more like rereading, and decided to save the book for a day and time when I had finished reading every other unread book on my shelves. Now that there are books piled up on every available surface (to say nothing of shelves), the time, I judged, was right to clear a path between bed and door, at least, if nothing else. Short stories are better for interruptive bouts of reading, and with five cats, one certifiably psycho, reading at Casa Los Gatos is nothing if not interruptive. So I put this book on the (most recent) pile.

    And I'm glad I did. Chekhov has a certain mastery of the short story form that I greatly admire. I think my short stories are my best work, also, though I'd be hard put to say why because I never work on them. They always come as lightning flashes of the Muse, a continuation of a conversation in my head that suddenly spills over onto paper, and afterwards I'm left feeling vaguely uneasy, as if I were speaking to a forgotten friend from a long time ago - looks familiar, but where do I know this person from? The story and I share the same intimacy. I recognize some things of me in there, but I have no idea how it got to be. Reading this collection - it's from his most prolific period, when he was churning out many little works, each a gem - gave me some ideas about the creative process. Chekhov's style is not mine, but his ability to capture a feel for the things he saw and heard, and encapsulate in a tiny space the atmosphere that must have existed around these incidents and people, is nothing short of magic.

    Recommended? Joyously. Cheerfully. Wickedly and unrestrainedly. With a warning that Chekhov's humour was often quite cruel, so this book should be avoided by shrinking violets.

    Reread? Someday.

  8. The Image - Isaac Bashevis Singer

    Borrowed? Nope.

    Isaac Bashevis Singer is, like Chekhov, a master of the short-story form. This book is a collection of his stories, some set in the Old World, some in the New. The stories have a transitional feel to them, but his ability to span decades and generations in a work five pages long is impressive. As is the keenness of his observations. Remarkably sexist, but perhaps appropriate for its era.

    Recommended? For those interested in Judaica, history, anthropology, fiction, good writing, and to students of the written word everywhere.

    Reread? Yes, but when?

  9. The Secret Sharer - Joseph Conrad

    Borrowed? No.

    My what a creepy story. What can I say? All through it I felt as if I were the protagonist and the antagonist. Conrad is a writer of rare skill and talent. This is a story of great psychological power, and one of his that I have never read or heard of before.

    Recommended? For the not-so-faint-at-heart; and for those who love reading and good writing.

    Reread? Oh, my, yes.

  10. Where Oceans Meet - Bhargavi Mandava

    Borrowed? No.

    What on earth possessed me to read this? I won't say it was shite - the writer has the ability to tell a tale. But not, in my opinion, very well. I read most of the book, to my great dismay. Why? Because I kept thinking, surely it's got to get better! It can't really be so bad. I mean, good lord, the writer was in residence at some hoity-toity writing programme. Surely they wouldn't have offered such a fine opportunity to some loser - which this writer is getting perilously close to being. Bah, humbug. At what point do you just force yourself to put the damn book down and move on? I must try to be better about this. And you know what? I got sucked into the cultural aspects of the book. Feh, I say. Never again.

    Recommended? Oh, no, absolutely not.

    Reread? I got rid of it already.

  11. Foreign Country - Jonathan Raban

    Borrowed? No.

    This book got rave reviews from some very well-respected authors and reviewers, including Salman Rushdie. I liked it very much in some parts, and not so much in others. Well-written, no doubt. I think it's one of those books that would be of especial interest to those who know something about sailing, or Africa, or what it feels like to be a white person in Africa. Or English.

    Recommended? For sailors, travellers, Afrophiles, and travel writers.
    Reread? No. Well, maybe. But not soon.

  12. Passions of the Cut Sleeve - Bret Hinsch

    Borrowed? No.

    A rather early study of gay culture in China throughout the ages. I believe this was the writer's PhD thesis. Interesting, but dated.

    Recommended? Not really.

    Reread? No.

  13. The Sleeper Wakes - Marcy Knopf

    Borrowed? No.

    This book is a collection of short stories by some of the literary lights of the Harlem Renaissance. Featured writers include Nella Larsen and Angelina Weld Grimke. Beautiful book, really powerful writing, and some of the writers are women I'd never heard of or never read. Includes some all-time favorites, like Zora Neale Hurston, but it's a book to be read and reread.

    Recommended? Heartily.
    Reread? Repeatedly.

  14. The Bride Price - Buchi Emecheta

    Borrowed? No.

    I've had this book forever, and why I didn't start it earlier I do not know. Twelve smacks in the head with a sheet of wet paper. Ow. Beautiful. The writer, who now lives in the UK, is very prolific, very talented, very very good. All that said, it's a very depressing story. But still worth reading. Don't take my word for it. And yes, it's available for loan, but you must return it, or 922 cats (and kittens!) may torment you.

    Recommended? Highly.
    Reread? Not for a bit, I'm afraid.

  15. Take the Cannoli - Sarah Vowell

    Borrowed? Sadly - No!

    It is my understanding that the writer is a highly acclaimed Hip Young Person. And I can't deny that she is a wordsmith. However, when she mocks Maya Angelou, I have to question her purpose. Perhaps she's just too terminally hip to tip a hat to other writers. For what it's worth, she's entertaining, but not memorable.

    Recommended? Only to those in pursuit of terminal hipatude.
    Reread? Why?

  16. Nectar in a Sieve - Kamala Markandeya

    Borrowed? No.

    Another writer who comes highly recommended and raved. I wish I'd put the book down when I started to feel disenchanted, but in my own defense, I felt if I could give Daniel Deronda another bash, I could certainly persevere with Kamala Markandeya. Frankly, this is one of those books that has become, to me, all too representative of Third World Literature, or, more accurately, Third World Writers Writing In English. The writer is talented, and can capture your interest, but the story is so unremittingly dreary and depressing. At least Buchi Emecheta's book had its delightful moments. This book was unending misery.

    Recommended? Only if you've stocked up on your psychoactive meds.
    Reread? I haven't. There isn't a stockpile large enough of happy pills, that is, for me to reread this.

  17. 'Tis Pity She's A Whore - John Ford

    Borrowed?? NO!!! Dammit.

    This is one of those plays that makes me grateful I was born in these times - even if global warming is proceeding apace, and the fish are dying out and there won't be any tigers or hippos in a decade, and we'll all be living on texturized soy protein. At least we won't have to deal with a misogynistic church and its maggoty mouthpieces, the educated classes. She's a whore because her brother seduced her, you see. Whereas he, the seducer, is a fine upstanding young - schmuck. And her husband, who beats her, is A Man Wronged. And her father who gets her married off is Merely Caring For His Brood. And the friar, who urges her to marry the wife-beater, is Simply Trying To Save Her Soul. Pardon my foreign language of choice, but fuck the lot of them, the self-righteous, hypocritical swine - no offense to swine, who are fine sources of protein, not to mention quite charming in their own right. In any event. It was a difficult read.

    Recommended? Certainly not, and I don't care if you are majoring in English Literature.
    Reread? Only on pain of suffering and death.

  18. The Post Office - Rabindranath Tagore

    Borrowed? No.

    This charming, sweet little play is a spiritual allegory. I found it irresistible, delightful, even though I don't care for deist superstition. It was not intrusive deism, just a very sweet allusion to something better in human nature. Or so it could be read. And so, certainly, did I read it.

    Recommended? Highly.
    Reread? Oh, yes.

  19. Rabbit-Proof Fence - Doris Pilkington

    Borrowed? No.

    The author is the granddaughter and grandniece of the three women who made the astounding trek across Australia that is commemorated in the book and film of the above title. The writer is not very skilled, but the book is worth reading for its glimpse at the lives of the Native Australians and the incredible cruelty they suffered at the hands of white Australians.

    Recommended? Yes.
    Reread? Not anytime soon, but not for lack of wanting.

  20. I Married A Barbarian - Dennis Bloodworth and Liang Ching Ping

    Borrowed? No.

    This is a sweet story of a long and enduring relationship between two people who came from the opposite sides of the world to settle in Singapore. I wasn't planning to read any love stories, but it's set in a period that is germane to The Book Writing Project, and I got caught up in the story anyway. No great literary masterpiece, but nice. And sweet.

    Recommended? Only for those who are interested in World War II, and the period between 1940 and 2005, or Asia, or - love stories, I guess.
    Reread? Probably not.

  21. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - Dave Eggers

    Borrowed? Yes.

    This book got rave reviews from many well-respected authors and reviewers. Mr. Eggers, when it comes time for you to review my work, I hope you'll develop the same convenient amnesia that appears to be plaguing the entire current administration. This book is very clever.

    Recommended? For readers who enjoy cleverness.
    Reread? No. I prefer books that either move me or teach me.

  22. The China Study - Thomas M. Campbell and Colin T. Campbell

    Borrowed? Yes. Thanks, Jay.

    This book has changed my life. The Campbells have put together an excellent and much-needed epic on nutrition and human disease. The epidemic of diseases that faces the 21st century human is very different from the previous century. Our worries center around obesity, diabetes, atherosclerosis, heart diseases, cancer. Diseases of affluence and longer lifespans. Except, according to Dr. Campbell, it ain't necessarily so. Why are the wealthiest not the healthiest? Don't we have all the science, the research, the necessary tools? Let Dr. Campbell tell you why. If this book doesn't change your life, I'll eat my hat. Or you'll eat yours, or something. It'd be better for you than that hamburger, in any event.

    Recommended? Highly.
    Reread? Yes, as soon as I notice any evidence of slackment.

  23. The Easy Way To Stop Smoking - Allen Carr

    Borrowed? No.

    Okay, what's with the self-helpalooza? I'll tell you what. It's time to quit smoking, once and for all. When your lungs feel like hot buttered knives are ripping through them with every breath it is time to stub out the last little stinker and say goodbye to that feeelthy habit. This is an excellent book. Really. The book can be repetitive at times, but repetition is needed when trying to get rid of an ancient and deeply ingrained - and life-destroying - habit.

    Recommended? To any smoker trying to quit. To families and friends of smokers who want to help their loved one kick the habit.
    Reread? Every time I need to.

  24. You Must Set Forth At Dawn - Wole Soyinka

    Borrowed? Yes.

    What a wonderful book! It's so richly evocative of Africa, written with all the love that a person feels for their country and culture. It made me wish I was in Africa, it made me want to read a million books of African history and culture and language, and music, and art, and long for all Africana. It gave me hope. Africa can be the hope of the old world and the new world and the third world. It's funny, Jonathan Raban's book about Africana is the polar opposite of this, though well-written in its own way. Professor Soyinka has played a vital part in Nigeria's history, and is a writer of great talent and skill. I am glad he is still writing.

    Recommended? Oh, yes!
    Reread? Someday. After reading all the books on African history and culture.

  25. Women's Lip - TBD

    Borrowed? Gift

    An amusing little collection of feminist snark, which is going to feature on this blog sooner or later.

    Recommended? For amusement only.
    Reread? No.

  26. Pronatalism: The Myth of Mom & Apple Pie - Ellen Peck, Judith Senderowitz, Eds.

    Borrowed? Nope.

    This is an excellent collection of essays about the institutionalized pronatalism that has led the global population to increase by 50% over the last 40 years. Whatever happened to the ZPG movement? Forty years ago, governments concluded that the human population of the planet had grown too large and must be managed down to zero growth. Forty years later, we are seeing a vicious wave of pronatalism nearly unprecedented in previous history. Even as people endlessly whine about the rising cost of living, the pollution of the atmosphere, the water, the very earth, the crowded conditions of our cities, the lack of opportunities for young people entering schools and the workforce, we are breeding like cockroaches, with disastrous consequences, and no one is drawing the logical conclusion.

    Recommended? Highly. For anyone interested in women's studies, feminism, social studies, population studies, ecology, sustainability, and the fate of the world.
    Reread? As soon as ever I can.

  27. Daughters of a Coral Dawn - Katherine V. Forrest

    Borrowed? No.

    What possessed me to read this, I can't possibly imagine. I have a load of books by this author, all from a time when I was looking for books written by women, about women, preferably strong women. She's not a very good writer, but this was in the days before I discovered writers like Sandra Scoppetone, Sheri Tepper, and Sara Paretsky, and was looking for detective fiction to while away the time with. She is not a good writer at all, come to think of it. So why did I read this particular book? A thread over at Twisty Faster's turned into a discussion of feminist utopias in fiction, and this was one of the books mentioned in the thread. I thought it might provide good background for another project I'm working on. Suffice it to say that I've learned my lesson.

    Recommended? Good Lord, no.

    Reread? Perhaps I'll try again, if I get further on my project and get stuck.

  28. Dictionary of Asian Mythology - David Leeming

    Borrowed? No.

    An excellent, handy little reference, very useful for looking up things that you kind of know, or ought to know, or vaguely remember, about myths and legends of China, India, and every country around and in between.

    Recommended? Highly.

    Reread? As needed.

  29. Ethan of Athos - Lois McMaster Bujold

    Borrowed? No.

    I've always liked Lois McMaster Bujold as a writer of science fiction. She has a certain sly humour and charm. This book was lightweight, a quick easy read, and thoroughly enjoyable. Yes, it was part of the "feminist utopias in fiction" project. The project doesn't have a name yet, and it's not in any way related to "The Bobbed-Haired Girl" project.

    Recommended? Light reading, yes.

    Reread? Probably not.

  30. Martin Chuzzlewit - Charles Dickens

    Borrowed? No.

    Although it was slow to start, eventually, as all Dickensian dramas do, this book gripped me, and I couldn't turn the pages fast enough to find out what happened next. As always, the bad guys get their comeuppance, and the good their just reward, and of course Dickens is exceedingly verbose, but it was some 800 pages of enjoyment. Verbose but talented. With what skill he describes each scene, each character, how well he delves, without heavy-handed framing, the depths and heights of emotion. Bit cloying in the approved manner of the time, at times, but nevertheless a good read. Most interesting of all is his description of America.

    Recommended? Highly.

    Reread? Not for a good while.

  31. Palli Samaj (The Homecoming) - SharatChandra Chattopadhyay

    Borrowed? No.

    Reading another of this writer's works translated into English brought home to me the importance of a good translator. Regrettably, this translation was a bit too literal, and Bangla does not translate directly into English, so much of the beauty is lost, and the idiom is clumsy and ineffective. Nevertheless, as with all of SharatChandra's work, this novel deals with the mores of village life and the difference between the urbanized protagonist and his rural childhood companion, and the maze of relationships, customs, prejudices, and regulations that make up life in rural areas. The book would have been far more enjoyable in the hands of a skilled translator. I wish I could get a copy in the original!

    Recommended? Only in the original, or in a better translation

    Reread? Only in the original or a better translation

  32. Pather Dabi - SharatChandra Chattopadhyay

    Borrowed? Nicki.

    The translator of this work is excellent, and this is one of SharatChandra's finest novels. Loosely translated, Pather Dabi means "Right of Way." The novel chronicles the awakening of a young man to the injustices imposed by the society in which he is raised. In parts painful, in parts filled with pathos, excitement, rage, this is a novel to stir one's soul. The British did their best to suppress this work when it was first published. Read it and you'll see why.

    Recommended? Highly.

    Reread? Whenever I can.

  33. Tears of the Giraffe - Alexander McCall Smith

    Borrowed? Yes.

    An amusing little work of detective fiction about the adventures of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, set in Botswana. I believe the first of those works is about to be turned into a film. The writing is good, the characters well drawn and textured, and the writer captures the sweetness of the native culture along with its suffering from change. Good pace, interesting occurrences. It left me wanting to visit Africa, notably Botswana.

    Recommended? Yes, if you like detective fiction, light reading matter, and Africana.

    Reread? Probably not. Once you've read a piece of detective fiction, you know how it ends, and then what's the point?

  34. The Amber Spyglass - Phillip Pullman

    Borrowed? K.B.

    Oh, my. Phillip Pullman has written a fascinating trilogy, part science fiction, part fantasy, all thrilling. The writing was quite good, and although after the first book it became a little more predictable in parts, it was still a rollicking good read. It's being made into a film, and I saw the preview and felt as if I must read the book. The film is beautiful, if it all keeps the same high quality as the preview I saw. I can't wait for it to open. As for the books, I read all three volumes in a single night. So there.

    Recommended? Yes, if you like science fiction, fantasy, or fast-paced adventure. Definitely light reading, though.

    Reread? Maybe.

  35. The Boss Dog - M.F.K. Fisher

    Borrowed? Yes.

    I've always loved M.F.K. Fisher as a writer. There's a lyrical quality to her descriptions of scenes and people. Neither overly descriptive nor cloying, yet utterly sympathetic and very visual. This book, as you can tell from the title, is about a dog, and an excellent device was that dog as a way of describing the relationship between a woman and her two daughters and the time they spent living in France. As with all of Fisher's books, it was a veritable treasure of culinary and cultural information. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

    Recommended? Mais certainement.

    Reread? Someday when I have some free time!

  36. The Golden Compass - Phillip Pullman

    Borrowed? K.B.

    This is the first book in Phillip Pullman's trilogy, and I think the most exciting. His portrait of the little girl who is the protagonist is very good, I think. An excellent writer with a vivid imagination, I blame him for my subsequent insomnia.

    Recommended? Highly, for those in search of entertaining reading material.

    Reread? Probably, but not for years.

  37. The Subtle Knife - Phillip Pullman

    Borrowed? K.B.

    This is the final book in Pullman's excellent trilogy. I didn't like it quite as much as I liked the first, but it's still well written and well worth reading.

    Recommended? Yes.

    Reread? Maybe.

  38. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling

    Borrowed? Yes.

    Recommended? Hey, it was a fun read! Only if you have plenty of time to spare, and an interest in light reading material.

    Reread? No.

  39. Imaginary Homelands
  40. Shame - Salman Rushdie

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Highly. It always amazes me how erudite and fluent a writer Rushdie is. Witty, acerbic, well-read, and unbelievably good.

    Reread? Definitely.

  41. In My Dreams - Kassandra Kane

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? No. This is a book of lesbian erotica, but I've read much better lesbian erotica. It's really more like the journal of a particularly unliterary and unerotic lesbian. I don't want to trash the author. I think she tried to write her experience. Unfortunately, her experience is not terribly interesting. Pity. There's a real need for good lesbian erotica.

    Reread? No.

  42. Japanese Gods and Myths -

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Only for people who have absolutely no knowledge of Japan, or Japanese culture. Most of the material was familiar to me, and from better sources. Lately, I've developed a deep need to read about myths, legends, and folktales, and this book was an unsatisfying excursion into that arena. You'll notice no author's name was attached to this book. That's because there wasn't one. Perhaps the person who put it together was embarrassed by the elementary level of the information?

    Reread? Certainly not.

  43. On Beauty - Zadie Smith

    Borrowed? Yes.

    Recommended? Oh, yes. Zadie Smith never fails to amaze as a writer. I didn't expect to like this book - it's about rather mundane people, a college professor of BeyondWhiteness and his African-American wife, and his three boring children, one of whom is an aspiring Christian of the worst sort (you know, the type that wants to cram it down everyone else's throats). It turned out to be an excellent book, a really interesting look at the lives of people who might not be like us at all, and who may, or may not, seem boring, commonplace, of little interest, but who have their own particular qualities that are very interesting. Kudos to Smith for producing a fine work of art, full of dialogue that sounds very real, and characters who, despite their flaws and sometimes outright unlikeability are, nonetheless, real in feel if not in fact.

    Reread? Maybe.

  44. Red Sorghum - Mo Yan

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Oh, deity, yes. Read this book if you only have time to read one more book in your life. My god, what a terrific writer Mo Yan is. I saw the film that was based on this book, produced by Zhang Yi Mou, who is an amazing director/producer, and I thought, I must read the book. Now, usually when I read a book after seeing the film, I am disappointed in either the film or the book. This time, I was simply ravaged by both. The subject is China before and during World War II and, as you can well imagine, those were the worst of times and the worst of times. The book (and the film) are unflinching in showing the devastation and suffering that was inflicted upon the populace by the Japanese invasion, yet the writing and direction were both so great that despite the horrors, you end up enjoying both book and film. The story of that hideous war is told through the portrait of the narrator's mother, an amazing woman, strong, self-aware, and utterly admirable. And of his father, a sometimes drunken lout, but madly in love with his wonderful wife, and capable of heroic deeds (as well as pissing in the wine she made). God, it's a great book. It will leave you shaken to your roots.

    Reread? Oh, hell, yes.

  45. Sometimes A Great Notion - Ken Kesey

    Borrowed? No. Lent.

    Recommended? Er. I really did not care for this book. I've liked most of Kesey's work, and it was surprising to me that I found this book so difficult to get through, so uninteresting, so ... tedious. At any rate, I did not finish it, though I tried several times. I've handed it off to someone else, with the hope that they'll return it saying it was absolutely wonderful, and I'll try it again then.

    Reread? Maybe. I'll try, anyway.

  46. Tipping the Velvet - Sarah Waters

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Yes. Well, I liked it. I know lots of people didn't, but really, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a description of the life of a lesbian in (I think) Victorian England. Well-written, for sure.

    Reread? Maybe, if there's time.

  47. Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen

    Borrowed? Yes.

    Recommended? This is an excellent book about an elderly man reminiscing about his life in the circus. It's a page-turner, too, with a great sense of pace, a stunning power of description, unbelievable detail, yet never boring, a look at carny/circus life about a century ago, the card sharps and freaks, the oh-so-human pain and suffering and rough and tumble of people who make their living as nomads of the entertainment world. Well worth reading, too.

    Reread? Probably not, but not for lack of interest.

  48. You Shall Know Our Velocity - Dave Eggers

    Borrowed? Yes.

    Recommended? This is the second work of the author's that I've read. I really didn't like the first, and I was afraid I wouldn't like this, either, but it turned out to be an OK experience. Interesting, though not brilliant. Enjoyable, if nothing to write home about. There's a certain lack of maturity in the writing that reveals itself as artificially constructed episodes of life happening to people it's hard to care about, if that makes any sense. In any event. Read it if you want to.

    Reread? No.

  49. American Born Chinese - Gene Luen Yang

    Borrowed? Brian.

    Recommended? Highly. It was a fun read!

    Reread? No.

  50. Amerika - Franz Kafka

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Always. I can read and reread Kafka endlessly, because I'm always discovering new things.

    Reread? Yes. I can't believe this book has sat on my shelf for at least five years now, and I only just read it!

  51. Anna Magnani - Patrizia Pistagnesi

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? For film buffs and Magnani fans.

    Reread? It's a filmography with photos of Magnani and essays by her friends. Fascinating woman!

  52. Believer Book of Writers Talking To Writers - Vendela Vida

    Borrowed? T3h N4m3l3ss

    Recommended? Only if you're really into reading interviews with writers. I'm halfway through, and my interest flags.

    Reread? Probably not.

  53. Bonfire of the Vanities - Tom Wolfe

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? You know, this book got such rave reviews as did Wolfe, and it took me the longest time to get around to reading it (over a decade) because I'm always terrified of being disappointed, and let me tell you. I was. Very. Terribly. Tragically, even. So can someone, anyone, tell me what's the rah-rah with this guy? Does he blow all the book reviewers, or do they get some percentage of his sales, or what? He's a wordsmith, no denying that, but bleah!

    Reread? NO!

  54. Crusader's Cross - James Lee Burke

    Borrowed? Yes. I'm not naming names. Actually, not so much borrowed as thrust upon.

    Recommended? Wow, yes. A writer of complexity, like bitter chocolate.

    Reread? If I live long enough.

  55. Daughters of the House - Indrani Aikath Gyaltsen

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Oh, yes. This woman committed suicide, or was murdered in mysterious circumstances, but there were also accusations of plagiarism around her later books. If this novel is indicative of her talent, she would have no need to plagiarize. A powerful writer, with real magic in her pen.

    Reread? Yes.

  56. Death and Justice - Mark Fuhrman

    Borrowed? Madame X gave me this book long ago.

    Recommended? It's a very interesting read. Disclaimer: I'm pro-death penalty for certain crimes, and Madame X is anti-DP. She gave me this book to read to bolster her arguments against the DP. Fuhrman is a complex, often-reviled figure, but this book is well worth reading. FWIW, it has made me much more ambivalent about the death penalty.

    Reread? No.

  57. Devil's Guard - George Robert Elford

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? For reasons I don't quite understand, this book is very popular with a certain readership that I'm hard put to describe. Easy labels like "right-wing" or "conservative" don't really apply; it seems to appeal to people who hold different positions on various issues. In sum, this book purports to be about various Nazis who joined the French Foreign Legion and went to far-flung regions of the then-French Empire with the avowed aim of "preserving" it, that is to say, depriving the natives of those regions of their sovereignty, and often, their lives. It's a deeply disturbing book, to me, and I question its authenticity. The writer is, frankly, terrible, in addition to being quite the drum-beating demagogue. I did not enjoy this book, but can see how others might.

    Reread? No. It's no longer in my possession.

  58. Don't Know Much About Mythology - Kenneth C. Davis

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? This is an excellent book for students of folklore and mythology. Not so much for the serious student as the beginner. Very well written, and does an excellent job of summarizing myths and legends of various cultures around the world.

    Reread? Someday.

  59. Fun Home - Alison Bechdel

    Borrowed? Brian.

    Recommended? Yes, oh yes! Alison Bechdel is one of my favorite cartoonists. Her combination of excellent artwork, deep and biting dialogue, tackling complex social issues, quirky humour, and a real empathy for her various characters just has me loving her and her work, and this book especially. Maybe because her family is almost as dysfunctional as mine.

    Reread? If only I could!

  60. Fury - Salman Rushdie

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Yes. Rushdie is the kind of writer you dream of reading. Like Kafka, his glorious work never fades or loses its charm.

    Reread? Yes.

  61. Ghost Baby - Wong Swee Hun

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? This book is a collection of short stories popular in Southeast Asia and very useful for terrifying bad children with. Unless that's your desired area of expertise, it's not for you. Maybe not even for me. I used to enjoy these types of stories, but the writer isn't very good, or perhaps I now long for more.

    Reread? Nope.

  62. Heroes & Other Stories - Karim Raslan

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Um. Not really. Not bad, in a "young writer" sort of way, but nothing to, heh, write home about.

    Reread? No.

  63. Jai Bhim - Terry Pilchik

    Borrowed? No. I have no one to blame but myself.

    Recommended? This book is really very very specifically geared to (1) Buddhists (2) Of the Western persuasion (3)Probably British, more than other nationalities (4) Who might know something about the Untouchables (Dalit) of India, (5) Specifically, the followers of Ambedkar. I didn't finish it. I don't recommend anyone start it unless they meet at least two of the above criteria.

    Reread? Nein.

  64. Kuching Past & Present - Elizabeth Pollard

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Another very specific book. Tailored to serious students of the history of Malaya/Malaysia, specifically Sarawak during the time of Brooke. And not very well-written, at that. It does include interesting information about Sarawak during WWII, though, if that's your interest.

    Reread? No.

  65. My Brother Jack - George Johnston

    Borrowed? No. I believe someone gave me this book, but I can't remember who. Or maybe someone did lend it to me, but well over a decade ago. It took me that long to read it. Fool that I am. This is a beautiful book, just beautiful. The writer is so amazingly talented and writes so well, so magically.

    Recommended? Highly. In fact, I want all the rest of his work, just for compare. He reminds me a bit of Robertson Davies, another gem of a writer whom I discovered fairly late in (my) life.

    Reread? Yes!

  66. On the Beach - Nevil Shute

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Nevil Shute is a good writer, in the technical sense. That is to say, he doesn't have gaping plot holes, abominable grammar, poor sentence construction, or obvious flaws in his work. But he's not magical. However, he does capture the underlying pathos of a rapidly dying human race very nicely in this book. Depressing subject matter, rather dated, but worth reading on vacation or the like.

    Reread? No.

  67. Pioneers of Singapore -

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Only for students of Singapore/Southeast Asia history.

    Reread? No.

  68. Plays, Vol. 2 - Bertholdt Brecht

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? I really like Brecht, and I really liked this collection of plays. I understand Brecht is not everyone's cup of tea, and neither is reading plays; I'd really like to see these performed. (Yes, to my everlasting shame and sorrow, I've never seen The Threepenny Opera staged.)

    Reread? Oh, if only I had time.

  69. Praxis - Faye Weldon

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Highly. Faye Weldon is a powerful writer, with a powerful feminist sensibility. I really like her work. I give it two thumbs and two big toes up (or foot-thumbs, as my old friend Theo used to say).

    Reread? Maybe someday.

  70. Reality Isn't What It Used To Be - Walter Truett Anderson

    Borrowed? I think Brian either gave or lent this to me. Brian, speak now or forever wonder where this book went.

    Recommended? Oh, dear. I think it's an interesting book but not one I'd recommend to anyone who's not into postmodernism, post-postmodernism, and all that foofaraw.

    Reread? Nyet.

  71. Seventeen - Colin Cheong

    Borrowed? Unfortunately, I have to take the blame for this one too.

    Recommended? Gods, no. Terrible, terrible book, really vapid and silly and poorly written.

    Reread? Wish I'd never read it in the first place. One more precious irreplaceable hour of my life lost.

  72. Silences - Tillie Olsen

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? This book is a collection of essays and speeches given by Olsen to various different groups, at various different times, with the central theme being the silence of the artist. An excellent book, well worth reading.

    Reread? Yes.

  73. Singa - Gurcharan Singh

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? This book would only be of interest to readers of Malayan/Malaysian and Southeast Asian history, WWII, and the Indian diaspora. It looks to be self-published, and the writer is no literary genius, but for the subject matter it's highly interesting.

    Reread? Probably not.

  74. Singapore English In A Nutshell - Adam Brown

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Only to academics with an overweening interest in the subject.

    Reread? Ye Elder Deities, no.

  75. Singapore's River - Linda Berry

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? This is a collection of photographs and essays about the Singapore river in the 60s or 70s. Good photos. Interesting tidbits of history. Borrow it from the library, if you can.

    Reread? No.

  76. Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas - Maya Angelou

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Yes. I had no idea Maya Angelou had lived such an interesting - nay, fascinating life.

    Reread? Probably not.

  77. Spices & Condiments - J.S. Pruthi

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? This is a rather dry, technical analysis of the subject by one of the foremost scientists in the field. It just happens to be a (admittedly peculiar) interest of mine. Not for the unwary.

    Reread? For reference, sure.

  78. Stones From The River - Ursula Hegi

    Borrowed? No. Given as a gift a long time ago.

    Recommended? Another book that came with rave reviews, leaving me petrified at the thought of opening it for nearly a decade. Shite! My NY resolution #766 is to overcome that sort of gobshitery. Just read the fucking thing, dood, how bad can it be? Hegi is a good writer, but the book was just that - good, not blow-your-socks-off-great. Is it wrong of me to want orgasmically satisfying art?

    Reread? Na.

  79. Strange Tales of Liaozhai - Pu Songling

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? This is one of the earliest collection of scary stories (a genre of Chinese literature, thankewveddymuch), and I thoroughly enjoyed it. However, if you don't know anything about China, or Chinese history, customs, or literature, you might not find it quite so enthralling.

    Reread? No damn time, dammnit.

  80. The Alchemist - Jonson

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Absolutely. Ben Jonson is another writer I discovered rather late in life - probly because too much of my misspent yoof was misspent reading science fiction, murder mysteries, and true-crime stories and studies of criminally insane types. More fool I. This is a wicked little play, amusing in its cruelty and thoroughly amusing, at that.

    Reread? But when?

  81. The Courtship of Robert Browning & Elizabeth Barrett - Karlin

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? I thought this would be some excellent background on the poets and their life together, but it is exactly what the title states. It begins and ends with the courtship of the two poets. Enjoyable, if rather academic, analysis of the two.

    Reread? No.

  82. The Ginger Man - J.P. Donleavy

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Donleavy is a very amusing writer, if quirky. I like him, but he can be hard to take if you don't care for a too-sharp and sometimes cruel eye and tongue.

    Reread? No time.

  83. The Hollowing - Robert Holdstock

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? This is a very magical and beautiful piece of fantasy. I fear the writer, like Anne Rice, will get seduced into churning out endless, and finally boring, stories about the fantasy setting he has created. Well worth reading, though.

    Reread? Probably, if I can find the time.

  84. The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Yes. Richard Dawkins is thoroughly, enjoyably, and eminently readable.

    Reread? This book will probably be reissued within the decade. Science is just moving too fast.

  85. Tropical Vegetables - Periplus

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Interesting only to those interested in the subject matter. Interestingly (yes, I know I'm using it twice in adjoining sentences, sheesh, consistency is the hob, et cetera), the writer is someone I know and sort of worked with decades ago.

    Reread? Reference maybe.

  86. Understanding Media - Marshall McLuhan

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? The danger of not reading books for a decade or two was painfully illustrated by this little tome. It's too fucking dated. Nothing about it made much sense anymore, because it was written before the days of the internet and cellphones and usability and human-computer interfacing. Sheesh.

    Reread? No, no, no.

  87. Who Killed Rosalind Yong? - Sit Yin Fong

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? You know, you're not going to find out who killed her anyway, so unless you're interested in true crime and grue, don't bother with this poorly written little book. It's a compilation of various crimes that occurred between 1950-something and 1980-something.

    Reread? Hell, no.

  88. Why I Am Not A Muslim - ibn Warraq

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? I picked up this book because I had just reread, and thoroughly enjoyed, Bertrand Russell's wonderful tome, "Why I Am Not A Christian." I am beyond disappointed. This book is very poorly written, leaping about from one topic to another and back again, and, as my father would have said, "No head, no tail, no middle." Poor construction, poor writing, and a tendency to quote Daniel Pipes, whose visceral dislike of Muslims makes it hard to read him. I nevertheless persisted to the bitter end, advisedly bitter. What a dreadfully vituperative piece of work! Regrettably, my knowledge of Arabic, Farsi, the Quran, et cetera, are insufficient to debate the content of the book, but its tone makes it too much of a chore. Would that I had given up the good fight a whole fuck of a lot sooner.

    Reread? Great Ctulhu, no. Never.

Well, that's it for books read this year.

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