Friday, August 21, 2009

Book Report

Well, it's been a while since I've reported on my reading. So, if you're interested, here's a long list. I'll mark my recommendations with asterisks:

Adult Fiction:
The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken. This came highly recommended to me but I found it very plodding. It's about a young man who is oversized. Just couldn't see its charm.

Run by Anne Patchett. I like Patchett and read this shortly after hearing her speak. This one was gripping but I didn't enjoy it as much as Bel Canto.

Final Theory by Mark Alpert. This was my cruise reading. A very quick read, sort of Grisham-esque in the pacing and mystery and danger the main character is avoiding, mixed up with some scientific speculation. I found it somewhat flawed and I was in a hurry to finish it.

Lavinia by Ursula LeGuin. About Aeneas's wife. I couldn't get past the first third. I guess I just have no interest in that setting or those people. I find some of LeGuin fantastic and others boring.

*Still Alice by Lisa Genova. This was another of my favorites this year. It's a meticulous account of a woman with early-onset alzheimer's. Fascinating and well-done.

I Claudius by Robert Graves. I never would have picked this up if it hadn't been for a book group. It took some work to get all the way through it, but I suppose it's one of those that people should read. Full of violence and lust, the society it describes is sort of mind-blowing. The big question is, of course, how much of it is historical.

Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner. I love Stegner. Alas, this wasn't one of my favorites. It's highly autobiographical, full of excruciating scenes of his difficult childhood. He's a genius, but this one was more downer than anything.

Recapitulation by Wallace Stegner, sequal to Big Rock Candy Mountain. It really was just more of the same. The whole story was told in retrospect, with a loose frame enabling the narrator to tell more growing up stories. I felt it lacked a good story arc.

Old Men and Dogs by Robert Inman. A nice, fat, sweet little story that was pretty good but nothing exciting. About an old woman looking back on her life and trying to solve some racial tension in her town.

Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear. This was another Maisy Dobbs mystery. I really enjoy these for a light break occasionally. I love how Maisy uses knowledge about bodies and how people carry tension and problems in their bodies to help her understand people.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Rhys. OK, I'm stupid, but I didn't realize the connection with Jayne Eyre until I was nearly done with the book! I found the entire book underwhelming--lacking in cohesive structure. It just seemed like stuff happening. I was disappointed to miss out on Maralise's book group discussion of it, which probably would have helped me gain some appreciation.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. I'm told that Ford is LDS, although this book is not. It's a sweet little story about two young friends, Chinese and Japanese, during the war in the Pacific.

Mr. Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange. Just exactly what it says it is. It didn't add anything to the story for me (what was I expecting?) and is probably best enjoyed by people who just love the time period.

Digging to America by Anne Tyler. I just love Tyler's characters. That's all.

Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx. Yuck. Couldn't find anything redeeming here.

Young Adult or Children's:
Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech. This was a sequal to Love That Dog, which was really fun to read. This one was basically more of the same. Same kid, same poetic form. The first one was better, but this was fun, too.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. This was a cute book about a kid who is forced by his teacher to read Shakespeare. It was a little disjointed but a fun read.

*My Name is Sus5an Smith; the 5 is Silent by Louise Plummer. This was a re-read for my BYU conference but I loved it just as much. Plummer is so good at what she does, especially in creating the "writing scene" that each of her books has, when you can't bear to read on or to stop reading because of the trouble the main character gets into. Delightful, as usual.

Everything is Fine by Ann Dee Ellis. Although this was pretty good, and I love Ann Dee's prose style (so very good at sounding like an adolescent!), I felt that this book was "more of the same." Like her first book, it was the story of something terrible that had happened or was going to happen that is a mystery that unfolds very slowly. I would like to see her try something very different.

The Way He Lived by Emily Wing Smith. This was very unconventional in structure; it was made up of several narrators telling different, but connected stories. (And even the word "stories" is used very loosely.) I'm fascinated by seeing things from different points of view, but I felt this book was just a little too loose and disconnected. I would have liked to see it after another revision or two. I liked how the characters were LDS in various ways and am curious about the publisher's feelings about that.

Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt. I hesitate to criticize this one because it is so many people's favorite book and I had heard it praised so highly. But I found the ending unbelievable and extremely disappointing. It is the opposite of romance, to me, when people are so destined for each other that they seem to have no choice in the matter. I found some of the problems that the main character had to solve to be unjustifiable or lacking in the weight given them (why was she so hung up on lemons? it just seemed silly). Still, it was a very interesting premise. Mostly, I'm just not in the audience for these kinds of books (the one with the almost mythical-sounding prose--all the dragon ones, for example).

*Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Couldn't put it down--great fascination.

Through the Window of Life by Suzanne Freeman. This is an LDS lady who has had visions and near-death experiences that have convinced her about what the breakdown of society is going to be like prior to the Second Coming. Like most of these books, it was poorly written and edited and cheaply produced. Some of it was pretty unbelievable to me, but some of it was very thought-provoking. I'm glad I read it because it gave me a new angle to think about how things could unfold.

Road Map to Holland by Jennifer Graf Groneberg. This was a memoir about Groneberg's experience having a child with down syndrome. I couldn't help being disappointed because I was comparing it to Kathy's book, which was much more interesting. But I have to point out that Groneberg's was a different TYPE of book, with a different purpose. Her title of "roadmap" describes it well. Reading it felt like reading a guidebook to the experience of having a child with DS, not so much a journey into the mind and heart of Groneberg herself. A good read if you are navigating this situation yourself--otherwise rather flat and boring.

*An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison. This is a memoir of someone who struggles with bi-polar disorder, and I found it fascinating--honest and well-written. One of the best books I've read this year.

*The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. This was a highly-recommended memoir of a woman who grew up in poverty. I was reluctant to read it because I hate downers--but this one wasn't! In that way, it reminded me of Frank McCourt. You feel the pathos, but you laugh and enjoy it as well. Amazing story; I can't believe that this woman is able to have a normal life now. She's got to be more screwed up than she lets on.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. This is a memoir about losing a spouse. Some argue that the book is too full of navel-gazing, but I found it fascinating.

*Healing and the Mind by Bill Moyers. Can't deny that this one came from my fascination with health and how my life changed because of my illness. I really enjoyed this book. It's made up of essays and interviews from a wide variety of healty practictioners, most of them "alternate," such as those who advocate meditation, tai chi, etc. I'd recommend it to anyone dealing with serious or chronic illness.

The Poet's Companion by Addonizio and Laux. This was a great poet's workbook with ideas and prompts and just general over-all information on being a poet. I would like to read it again when I have time to work through it.

Creative Writing MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students by Kealy et al. Very helpful.

Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman. OK, I confess, this took me more than a year to finish, and I ended up skimming the last third. I found that paying close attention to the first half was very informative and I'm glad I read it, but this is not easy or quick reading. I was fascinated with how Bushman explains the evolution of Joseph's magical worldview. Probably everyone should read it but I doubt many can get through it.

*The Bonds that Make Us Free by C. Terry Warner. This was a re-read and just as good as ever. I think I should read it every few years, and I think everyone else should too. I'm trying to decide whether giving it as a gift to family members would make them think I am saying they need help--? Anyway, just an amazing book about interpersonal relations.

*A New Earth by Ekhart Tolle. This is probably the most new-agey book I've ever read, and it got a little draggy in the last third or so, but the ideas in it were very helpful for me. I think there is a lot of room in the gospel for more of these concepts (non-judgment, non-resistance, non-attachment).

*The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher by Lewis Thomas. These were fascinating essays on science, language, anthropology, etc. I'd love to read more of his work.

Found by Davy Rothbart. Being a window-peeker, I was fascinated by this chance to peek into people's lives written by another one like me. Some of it was pretty hairy but overall it was fascinating and enjoyable.

Science Fiction/Fantasy:
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. This is a "Thursday Next" mystery, which takes place in some futuristic society and involves time travel. This would be a really fun book--for someone else. It was all just silly to me.

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett. This was a great disappointment to me. Someone recommended it as Austen meets Jonahan Morrell and Mr. Strange, and I guess I can see that, but I found it plodding.

One Secret Thing by Sharon Olds. Yikes! That one would put hair on my chest! This woman flinches at nothing. But she's good--very good.

Eyes of a Flounder by Laura Hamblin. Hamblin is a former member of the Church and her best poetry, to me, is about her struggles with it. (I wrote about this in my blog, if you recall, and ruffled some feathers).

Late Wife by Claudie Emerson. One of my favorites I discovered this year! This collection is very much about relationships, one of my favorite subjects in poetry.

Man With a Camel by Mark Strand. About half of these poems I could never get any kind of grip on. The others were good.

*Say Uncle by Kay Ryan. Ryan is my hands-down favorite poet I discovered this year. Her poems are tiny but dense and delightful. I think I'll write my paper on her.

Dark Familiar by Aleda Shirley. Just OK. I can't even remember it.

Loving a Woman in Two Worlds by Robert Bly. I can't figure out whether I just picked up the wrong book or whether Bly just doesn't do a thing for me. He's very into the dream-state.

A Working Girl Can't Win by Deborah Garrison. Some pretty light things that were interesting because I liked her subject--modern society, being a working woman.

*Strong is Your Hold by Galway Kinnel. Loved this one so much I asked for it for my birthday. Amazing use of language. He has one long poem about September 11 that blew my socks off. But most of his do--even one about a rotting gopher carcass! Amazing stuff.

Ordinary Words by Ruth Stone. OK. Can't remember it much.

On the Bus with Rosa Parks by Rita Dove. I couldn't help feeling that I have seen this same type of thing done better by others. It just seemed to fall a little short of knocking me off my feet.

Dog Language by Chase Twitchell. I found some of these very good, particularly her dog poems.

Everything Preserved by Landis Everson. Yuck.

St. Nobody by Amy Lemmon. I felt her poems about her child with Down Syndrome were her strongest.

It's strange for me to see that the majority of books I REALLY liked were non-fiction. That surprises me. I consider myself a fiction person. I guess my heart is in fiction, but I'm very demanding with my fiction.

Whew! If anyone made it that far, you are a diehard reader and true friend! I'd sure love to hear what your favorites were this year.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the list--it's nice to have a lot of weeding done for me in advance. I'll have to come back here and scribble some titles down before my next library trip.

My summer reading was mostly middle-grade things I was reading along with my kids (the Last Apprentice series, Percy Jackson, Alex Rider.) I'm trying to remember whether I read anything more substantial and drawing a blank. (I guess I could review those, though: the Last Apprentice are very well-written and have an interesting setting. The suspence and pacing are moderate--I think the pauses throughout are deliberate so as not to not scare young readers too much--and once in a while the main character annoys me by not guessing a major plot point until long after it's obvious. But I like the series. I enjoyed Percy Jackson and would have really loved the series as a kid. The Alex Rider books are so strict to the James Bond formula that there's never any real character development, but the action is pretty well-paced--they're just fun, light reads for a little suspense without engaging your brain much.)

I'm currently reading "The Tree House" by Doug Thayer and it's excellent so far. (My mom says she thinks it's his best novel.) Right now I'm in the part where the protagonist is on his West German mission, and I'm surprised by how much it resonates with me for my mission in Belgium/France almost fifty years later (although many things were very different. The Elders go to movies and plays and go swimming and determine their own schedules FAR more than we did on my mission.)

I'm glad to hear someone else had a rough time getting through Rough Stone Rolling. It's been on my bedside table for ages, and I still want to read it (theoretically.) Actually I'm doing the same thing with McCullough's John Adams--I really enjoy it when I'm reading it, but I tend not to pick it up. I think maybe both of these books are just too heavy (literally) to read while nursing, and I need to find a different location for reading (like in a chair rather than lying down.) Maybe if someone posted a chapter a week as a blog post . . .

Oh, I knew I had read at least one other thing and I just remembered: Hattie Big Sky. Maybe you've already read it. It's YA historical fiction about a young woman trying to stake a claim in--oh dear, I've already forgotten--Montana or maybe Nebraska. My sister-in-law recommended it and I really loved it.

Ang said...

Geez, Darlene. You like to read, doncha. :-) Seriously, I wish I'd been able to read as many books as you have this year.

Was I the one who recommended The Giant's House? Coulda been. I know I read it at least 10 years ago, but I really liked it then.

I have never been able to get into Bel Canto. Terrible!

I remember reading "Brokeback Mountain" during my MFA and thinking the prose was beautiful. Don't remember much more about it though. (This was before the movie came out.)

Okay, on the Sus5an Smith book--the other day I saw a commercial for a new teen movie by Disney called "Bandslam" and in the commercial a girl wrote her name down as Sa5m. "The five is silent" she said. Blatant THIEVERY!!

Glad you also liked Hunger Games. My son has now read it three times.

I have a copy of New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, too. Although if we're going to go Oprah/New Age, I still much prefer The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukov (except all the dolphin stuff--yes, we like dolphins but c'mon, Gary).

I loaned my copy of The Bonds that Make Us Free to a friend of mine who was having marital trouble like five years ago. She needs to return it! (Although she's still having marital trouble.)

So now you need to read: Olive Kitteridge. Possibly Mudbound. I think you'd like both

Anonymous said...

I loved Bel Canto (although I disliked the sex scenes (by which I mean I liked them, and that was the problem,) whereas Dean thought it was implausible and dumb that everybody would get all entranced and enchanted just from some diva singing opera. :)

Zina said...

(BTW I'm sure Dean expressed his view of the book more diplomatically than that--that's just my crude summation of what he seemed to think of the book.)

Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury said...

But the year isn't over yet!

Okay, how about if I recommend some books that I've read in the last 12 months?

I liked THE SHACK by William Young because it was interesting to imagine what it would be like to spend a weekend hanging out with the Godhead. Didn't agree with all of the theology presented, but I liked the heart that was in the story.

Read MAGGIE by Charles Martin next (sequel to THE DEAD DON'T DANCE) and I like his work very much. I first read his WHEN CRICKETS CRY and felt all through it that without saying so, he was showing how God is in the details of our lives. MAGGIE and its prequels are a bit more overtly spiritual. He manages to explore his characters' relationships to God with sensitivity and skill. I've also read his WRAPPED IN RAIN and CHASING FIREFLIES (both of which I recommend as well) and I plan to read more of his work.

The next book I'd like to recommend is Ann Edwards Cannon's THE LOSER'S GUIDE TO LIFE AND LOVE. It's a delightful YA that is a kind of retelling of Shakespeare's A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHT DREAM, and it was fun to see how she did it. She uses all four points of view to tell the story, and each of them is unique and interesting.

I highly recommend THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shafer and Annie Burrows. Some people I've recommended this to had trouble getting into it, but once they did, they loved it. A delightful story.

A great YA fantasy I read next is PRINCESS OF THE MIDNIGHT BALL by Jessica Day George (I recommend her other books as well). A very clever and well-thought-out retelling of the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses with a soldier who knits.

I also read Neil Gaiman's THE GRAVEYARD BOOK (it won the Newberry) and loved it. Didn't realize till near the end that it's a reinterpretation of the Mowgli stories from Kipling's THE JUNGLE BOOK (which I also love--I hate what Disney did to the story). Very clever and fun.

I have recommended Jamie Ford's HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET to as many people as I can talk to about books. Beautifully done.

Another YA I liked is EVOLUTION, ME, AND OTHER FREAKS by Robin Brande. It's about a girl who has been ostracized from her oppressive religious community for apologizing to someone the members of the community decided to victimize. Her growth and understanding about herself and what true religion is was very well handled.

I liked THE LAST LECTURE by Randy Pausch so much that I bought copies to give to my daughters and their husbands (and I underlined all over the place in my own copy).

This is getting a little long, but I want to recommend one more book, a best-seller in Europe, originally written in French. The title in English is THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG, and it is a beautiful translation. I've read some reviews on Goodreads by readers who really didn't like it, and it is very literary, but in what I think is the best possible way. It absolutely amazed me.

And that's my list--some of the books I've read and recommend from the past 12 months.

Sorry I posted such a long post. It was longer, but the software made me cut it.

will said...

Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce is a great, great, great story about a boy who is big for his age. Also, I loved The Elegance of the Hedgehog, too.---Kathryn

FoxyJ said...

I really liked Bel Canto but hated all of Ann Patchett's other books. I will admit that I just didn't like The Glass Castle very much, although everyone else I know liked it a lot.

Hmm, I read a lot too so I'm trying to remember some good ones (if you ever want recommendations, I summarize monthly and the posts are all labelled 'books' on my blog). I just finished Olive Kitteridge and liked it a lot more than I though I would. I also just read The Giant Joshua and thought it was excellent. Another book I recommend highly is Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros. It was great. I also don't know if you've ever read anything by Lee Smith, but I'd recommend both Fair and Tender Ladies and Oral History