Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Book Report

I keep promising I'll report my reading monthly because these book reports get so darn LONG. But you all know how reliable any sort of a regular blogging commitment would be from me. So here we are again with a way-too-long report. Sorry. Asterisks indicate that I especially enjoyed them.

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore, about a college-age girl who becomes a nanny. I know there are a lot of people who adore Lorrie Moore. And I have to say that her voice is enchanting, and her writing is full of little insights and tidbits of humor that are a delight. But I'm not sure that long fiction is her forte. I felt the book lacked narrative arc, that it was more just a place to put voice. The main character did nothing, really. I think Lorrie Moore is more a poet (or maybe short fiction-writer?) than a novelist.

The Convalescent by Jessica Anthony. Can't remember why I picked it up--someone said it was hilarious. It's about a hairy Hungarian midget--really. I actually couldn't get past the first three chapters or so, so I can't say much more than that.

The Soloist by Mark Salzman. I read this because I absolutely love Salzman's other book, Lying Awake; it's one of my all-time favorites. This one was interesting, but not in the same league as the other. In this one, a cellist sits on the trial of a man who killed his guru because of a riddle. Worth a read.

*The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth. Believe it or not, this was my first time reading Philip Roth. In this one, a writer meets his mentor in a cabin in the middle of the woods. Interesting twists of imagination and reality.

Too Much Happiness, short fiction by Alice Munro. Although I enjoyed these stories quite a bit (she's my type of writer--heavy on character), I actually couldn't finish the very last one, the title story (which seemed more like a novella). The rest were very enjoyable.

*English Creek by Ivan Doig. I really enjoyed this sweet, slow-moving rural story. Sort of a "River Runs Through It" sort of thing, and a coming-of-age story. Cowboys, family dynamics.

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. An intriguing dystopian tale of "gardeners" who want to preserve species during a plague which kills off people and plants. Fascinating and a little dark, as all Atwood is. I actually listened to this on my mp3 player and I recommend doing it this way because they actually included music tracks when the group participates in hymns. Interesting.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwen. A little bit explicit for me, but I stuck it out. It was an extremely interesting account of one wedding night (you might remember he did a similar thing in Saturday) which encompasses all of the couple's past and future in it. That idea, alone, made this book worth reading to me. I love moments that are frozen and yet telling like that (the poet in me).

*Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr. This reminded me of Death Comes for the Archbishop, in a way. Episodic little vignettes of life for a couple who moves to rural Mexico. I really enjoyed it.

The Seamstress by Frances de Pontes Peebles. A long, involved tale about a female Brazilian bandit in the 1930's. The history and setting were fascinating. I enjoyed listening to it but am not sure I could have sat still to read it all. Maybe.

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama. The jacket said it was Pride and Prejudice in India and I say, well, sort of. Yeah, there was some matchmaking, and a surprising marriage for the poor but kind and smart girl to the rich man. And there were some quirky characters. But I think it's sad that the editors felt they had to retain such poor writing in order to keep the voice (I'm assuming that's what the problem was). You might like this if you liked The Ladies #1 Detective Agency--same gentle narrative, colorful setting and characters, only this time in India.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. This is an unfinished book, but I listened to it so that I could more appreciate Drood (below). I got the recording from LibriVox and was delighted with it, unfinished as it was.

Drood by Simmons. This was a little dark and a little long for me, but it made OK listening. Fictionalized account of the friendship between Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens, and the situations that led to Dicken's writing of Drood and his death. Centers mostly around Collins's drug addiction.

*Dispensation: Latter-Day Fiction, ed. Angela Hallstrom. What can I say? Fantastic, and an important addition to LDS literature. I'd like to see it used as a textbook in classes. Some of the stories weren't my favorites, but others knocked my socks off. Angela's own story is among the best of the best.

Crow Lake by Mary Lawson. Very slow, gentle story about a family in rural Canada in which the parents died. Deep on character and family dynamics.

*The Light of the Day by Darren Cozzins. I lucked out on this one--it's a collection of short stories that I got to proof-read for the publisher (Zarahemla). It's just coming out now, and well worth picking up. Cozzins is, as my friend puts it, "Yet another LDS guy writing about older, rural, white LDS guys." But he does it so well.

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. I really liked Kostova's other book (The Historian) and this one came highly recommended but, alas, I found it to be about three times too long. It's a sort of mystery having to do with artists and their obsessions. I know several people who LOVED this, though, so it's probably just me.

The Turtle Catcher by Nicole Helget. I couldn't finish it. It seemed as if the really awful stuff (woman with a sexual deformity accuses a mentally-handicapped boy) probably got over in the first couple of chapters, but it just didn't get better enough to redeem itself and I quit.

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian. The twist ending of this story about a post-traumatic girl involved with a homeless guy, and its entwining with The Great Gatsby, made it a worthwhile read for me, even though I felt there were some extremely cheap shots and betrayals of the reader's trust.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. The idea of this book was more interesting than the actual rendering. Told in second person, it is the story of a young Muslim who goes to America for school and work, then returns to Pakistan. An interesting, quick read, which didn't quite pull off the sense of ominousness it was striving for, I thought.

Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show (audio). A delightful audio experience, read by several different narrators. Very enjoyable.

*Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos. A rich, filling novel that intertwines the stories of a young couple trying to conceive, a woman whose friend is dying of cancer, and a teenage boy looking for his father. I loved the characters, and the descriptions (particularly the scenes with the dying friend) were rich and full of emotion. Beautiful book.

*The Sweet By and By by Todd Johnson. I can't believe a guy wrote this. If you liked The Help, I think you'd like this. It's about Lorraine, a matronly black woman who works at a rest home, and the old white ladies she takes care of.

The Condition by Jennifer Haigh. An interwoven story about a family in which each child has a condition--one is homosexual, one has Turner's syndrome, and one has ADHD--and how they come to accept and deal with these things. Pretty good.

42 Miles by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. A sweet little novel in verse about a girl whose parents are divorced. Delightful read for an afternoon. I really enjoy novels in verse.

Schooled by Gordon Korman. YA about a boy who grew up in a commune, homeschooled by his grandmother, but who has to enter society and attend high school. Clever, interesting characters, but some sloppy writing, which might be just a symptom of an author who has published many, many books (WAY too many adverbs).

Ida B. by K. Hannigan. A fluffly little feel-good book about a homeschooled girl who has to return to school while her mother fights cancer (I know--feel good? but it is).

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Selznick. The idea of it, the gimmick of it (a novel that is more than half pictures) makes it a quick read and keeps you going. I know some people loved it but I felt it was rather empty, just a series of plot events. The pictures that were actual stills were fascinating, though. (Loosely about the 1920s inventor and movie director Melies.)

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Sharon Creech meets Wrinkle in Time. Interesting, fun read.

*What the Dog Saw, essays by Malcolm Gladwell. Most were originally published in The New Yorker. Very entertaining. One that still sticks in my memory was about the history of oral contraception, and a look at why the Catholic church's resistance to it as being "unnatural" is sort of ironic because its effect on a woman's body is actually more natural than a modern woman's regular cycle is.

Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman. This was supposedly fiction, but was really just musings about time and possibilities, so I've filed it in non-fiction. I couldn't finish it, but I imagine it would be fascinating to a certain kind of person who loves to muse about time.

The Liar's Club by Mary Karr. Memoir is always just a little too long for me; I always feel like, "OK, I get it, let's move along." This one was no exception, but was an enjoyable read, if reading about the daughter of an alcoholic mother can be enjoyable.

A New Hunger, poetry by Laure-Anne Bosselaar. I came across her because she is the wife of the guy I took a poetry workshop from last year (Kurt Brown). She speaks (writes in) English as a second (more like eighth) language, and I think that gives her a little quirk that's interesting. My favorite of hers wasn't in this collection--she read it aloud at a reading. It was about English itself, and how it seems to someone who is learning it.

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert. I actually enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love quite a bit, but this one just dragged for me. It was less a memoir than musings on the history and sociology of marriage in general, only not as fascinating and intellectual as Malcolm Gladwell would have made it.

I am Scout by Charles J. Shields. This is a biography of Harper Lee meant for Young Adult audiences. I chose this one instead of his longer one for adults because biographies are always too long for me (like memoir). I'm hoping I would have liked the adult one better, because this one was very sloppily written.

Marley and Me by John Grogan. An example of why I'm no longer in my ward book group. I just can't finish books like this. Cute, episodic, probably delightful for somebody.

*Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish. OK, here's another cute, episodic book that I actually adored. What's the difference? I don't know. This one is a memoir of a family growing up in the depression. The details fascinated me.

*Dance with Them, the latest Segullah anthology. Very good, of course. Some of those essays had me crying.

Children of a Lesser God by Medoff. A play about what it's like to be deaf. Very interesting, but dated.


Ang said...

Great list, Darlene. I STILL have yet to read Lying Awake, and I'd better soon.

I've never been able to get into Elizabeth Kostova. She feels too indulgent to me. Or something.

FoxyJ said...

I admit to loving The Swan Thieves, but I think it's because I spent part of my time in college as an art history major. Or maybe it's because I'd read some other yucky books before it and it was nice to have a good story that just sweeps you along. It is rather indulgent, though. It did remind me a bit of Possession by A.S.Byatt, which is one of my favorite books.

And thanks for listing you books; I noted a few that I hadn't heard of before to possibly read.

Mindi said...

We read On Chesil Beach in our ward book group last year (my recommendation but someone else led the discussion). It was one of the best discussions I'd been to in awhile.