Sunday, February 27, 2011

Book Report

Shame on me; I’ve let it go too long. Part of my excuse is that I finally joined GoodReads, so I’ve been posting reviews, of a sort, over there. But I know a few of you like to see what I’m reading here, so this is for you. This is what I’ve read since October. I’ve put asterisks by the ones I highly recommend or plan to read more of.

The Passage by Justin Cronin. I listened to this one, and it was a really well-done audiobook. I wouldn’t have picked it up for myself, but Angela recommended it and she’s a trustworthy resource for me. First of all, it was creepy but gripping. I’m not usually into this kind of thing (horror-ish, sort of on the level of Stephen King but much more elaborate), but I actually think it is an amazing piece of work and it kept me going until the end. The difference (between this and horror that I won’t touch) is that it is character-intensive and doesn’t sacrifice story for plot (oh, tell me you understand what I mean by that). It’s a sort of vampire book but I wouldn’t even call it that. A vampire dystopia, I guess. Very interesting.

The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Steig Larsson. These are a little violent and nasty (but it’s easy to skip over the nasties). His plots keep me reading. I enjoyed the third much more than the second, but then I prefer intrigue to action.

No Going Back by Jonathan Langford, who is a friend of mine, as is the publisher, Christopher Bigelow. I think this was an important story and told in an interesting and effective way. I’m glad it was published. The alternating viewpoint got a little monotonous at times and could be repetitive. I’m glad this book exists.

*A Sense of Order and Other Stories by Jack Harrell. Fantastic book—it is everything I want Mormon fiction to be. Well-written, thoughtful, down-to-earth short stories with colorful characters I want to spend time with and fresh plots. Reminded me of another of my favorites, Neal Chandler’s Benediction, only this is more serious.

The School of Love by Phyllis Barber (short stories). I like her use of magical realism and dreams. This was OK, but didn’t stand out.

*The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall. I expected this to be another negative, shock-intensive or whiny book (though I haven’t found Udall to be that way at all) but it wasn’t! It’s full of interesting, delightful characters, some quite humorous, and realistic problems. A couple of sex scenes might make some uncomfortable, but overall this is a really enjoyable and satisfying read with no short-cuts. Well done.

Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas. About a writer trying to write a novel. This was interesting to me just because of the thoughts on turning a life into a book, but the plot was a little scattered. The review calls it “whimsical”—I would say “flighty.”

The Known World by Edward Jones. An interesting tale about blacks in the south who owned slaves.

*Room by Emma Donoghue. I wasn’t going to touch this with a ten-foot-pole because of the subject (woman and small son are imprisoned for years, kept by a man in his shed), but it was actually extremely enjoyable. Beautiful, true writing and not painful. (Told in POV of the little boy.) Try it.

Angel Falling Softly by Eugene Woodbury. Also published by my friend Chris (Zarahemla). I think Woodbury’s writing is getting better and better. This one has a fascinating premise (believing Mormon meets guilt-ridden vampire) and is not a typical vampire book—much more philosophical. A little too philosophical for me at times (it lost me) but still a very interesting read.

The Camel Club by David Baldacci. If it hadn’t been on audio, I would have quit early on. This is apparently a very popular series, sort of on the lines of John Grisham or Tom Clancy but not as good as either. One thing that makes it slightly more interesting is the inclusion of descriptions of the middle-eastern cultures and mindset—but those sections were quite didactic. I didn’t enjoy being able to see the bones of this book: “Here is the Chapter in Which I Show the Villain’s Motivation.”

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams. This was a really interesting YA book about a girl who escapes from a fundamentalist polygamist group. Quite realistic, I imagine. I think it could have been shorter. This book was the final convincer to me that I am not a YA author.

By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham. A disappointment. He’s a great writer, but this story didn’t do much for me. (Gallery owner has mid-life crisis, marriage falling apart, wonders if he’s gay.)

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. I listened to this and the audiobook was amazingly well-done. A very interesting read about a white immigrant girl in colonial Virgina but I found it quite depressing.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz-Zaphon. A long book, and I got halfway through but couldn’t finish it. (Should have stopped after two chapters, but it had a great blurb from Stephen King, whom I don’t read but whose philosophies of what makes a good story I generally agree with, so I kept going.) A guy is haunted by a book and by its mysterious author.

*In Sunlight In a Beautiful Garden by Kathleen Cambor. Historical fiction about the Johnstown dam disaster. I’m not a big fan of historical fiction, but this was really well-written with full, interesting characters. I’ll read more by her. (One very skippable and short sex scene.)

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. This is probably the third time I’ve read it and I actually liked it less this time. I’m sick of the false romance of the philosophy that there is only one true love out there for each person. What a waste Newland Archer made of his life, refusing to fully invest in his wife, who turned out to be more clever than anyone suspected.

Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute. Don’t bother. This isn’t really fiction. I love the philosophy behind what the Arbinger Institute does. But they should get out of the fiction business. Just read Bonds that Make Us Free instead.

*East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Whenever I read Steinbeck, I wonder why I don’t read him more. This is rich and deeply satisfying, and makes a philosophical point that I deeply agree with. Like all great fiction, it takes the whole story in order to make the point (in contrast to Anatomy of Peace, for example).

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. I read very little graphic novels (OK, pretty much none). But I picked this up from a display shelf at the library thinking it would be an interesting way of learning more about the culture and history of Iraq—and it was. Very interesting.

When Food is Love by Geneen Roth. She’s the one who advocates intuitive eating as a way to get away from eating to distract yourself from emotional problems. This was very interesting to me and I can see that many people would benefit from her suggestions. I realized that I don’t really have this particular problem, though. (Nice, for a change.)

Lit by Mary Karr. This was better than Karr’s earlier book (The Liar’s Club)—at least, it was more interesting to me. Mostly because Karr makes a major change over the course of the book, and it’s believable.

*Notes to Myself by Hugh Prather. Very interesting little book of notes made by an extremely self-conscious person as he lives his life. Must be read a little at a time.

*The Pain Chronicles by Malanie Thernstrom. The first half of this book should be read by anyone with chronic pain or illnesss. She describes what it feels like and how you think when you’re going to so many doctors that the search for a solution becomes a way of life. I think all doctors should read it, too. The second half got long and boring for me.

Loud and Clear by Anna Quindlen (essays). I listened to this and it was an entertaining experience. Typical Quindlen.

Raw Edges by Phyllis Barber. This one, I felt, was problematic. I enjoy Barber; she’s a great writer on the paragraph level. But the overall structure of this book didn’t work for me. At times I felt she told too little about her feelings and at other times, too much. As with all memoirs, it was very self-conscious. I read it to the end, though, and was interested.

Various health books: The New Glucose Revolution, The 10-Day Glycemic Diet, The Low Blood-Sugar Handbook, The Feel-Good Cookbook, Beating the Blood Sugar Blues. All of which served to freak me out and depress me. Some contradict each other. I’m so overwhelmed.

*The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey. This book really spoke to me because it is about a woman who is quite ill and spends hours in her bed doing nothing but watching her pet snail. Many, probably most, people will find this book deadly boring but it was very moving to me. Thanks, Angela!

The Jewel in the Wound: How the Body Expresses the Needs of the Psyche and Offers a Path to Transformation by Emily Rothenberg. This would be a fantastic book if its subtitle were accurate. Unfortunately, the true title should be: How My Body Expressed the Needs of My Psyche and How I Thought About it Lots and Lots—Also Dreamed About It. It was just too boringly specific to one woman’s problems while trying to be about everyone. If she had made it a simple memoir, it might have been more interesting; or, if it had told me how to look at my own illness, it would have been worthwhile.

The Color of Water by James McBride. A memorior about a white Jewish woman who raised 12 black children, mostly as a widow, who all went to college and made good. This is pretty interesting, though not incredibly well-written.

Cries of the Spirit, anthology of women’s spiritual poetry edited by Marilyn Sewell. Very thorough and nourishing. Not light or sappy at all. Great variety in style. I highly recommend it. (Thanks, Kathy!)

*Different Hours by Stephen Dunn. My new favorite poet. This is an amazing collection (it won the Pulitzer) that is at once accessible and deep—in other words, rewarding regardless of the amount of time you choose to spend on it. I love how he can communicate such abstract things as existential angst through real, specific scenes.

A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver. Very basic, for beginning writers of poetry. A little too basic for me. I did enjoy the poems she used as examples, though.

Her Side of It by Marilyn Bushman-Carlton. Published by Signature. A couple of these poems appeared in Segullah when I was editing it. Very accessible, enjoyable, narrative poems. This was good but not, I felt, as strong as her earlier book, on keeping things small.


Cheri said...

Fun to see the variety of your reading and to glean new book ideas for myself. Your reviews are perfect--a quick, helpful bite, always flavored by your own insight and personality.

Anonymous said...

I always enjoy your reading lists and get great ideas from them--but maybe it's also time I actually started using Goodreads. :) (I think I signed up at one point, but that's as far as I got.)