Monday, August 16, 2010

What I Read in 2010

I decided to add the newest ones to the top, rather than the bottom, to save scrolling for frequent (ahem) readers. Duh. Blog architecture 101. 

In the interest of trying to keep an updated list before the next year starts (ha!), here is what I have read so far:

29. Worst Case by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge. A good thriller but ultimately forgettable. Everything is starting to look the same by Patterson. Maybe it's time to find a new thriller author to read.

28. The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. Jacobs has again mined the depth of his waking mind to deliver a memoir that is worth reading and worth, in fact, digesting. After the success of reading the Encyclopedia from cover to cover, Jacobs decides he needs a new quest, and sets out to live by the Bible for one year. He visits various evangelical and liberal sects of differing religions--from the Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn to snake handlers in some place I'm too lazy to look up at the moment. He spends nine months in the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) and three in the New. In his quest of checking off commandments, Jacobs finds himself transformed from self-effacing "clueless agnostic" to reverent agnostic, and his journey enlightens--himself and his readers.

27. Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. A little on the slow side to start but overall a good read. Hornby does well enough getting inside an almost-forty-year-old's mind, and captures Duncan, the protagonist's not-husband, and all his quirks with a practiced hand. The plot, while more than implausible, is clever. Since I always struggle with plot in my own writing, I wanted to file away the device he used to bring two unlike characters together to reappropriate in some form in my own work, if need be. I wish there had been a soundtrack to go along with the book. The echoes of music I have yet to hear emanated in my mind as I read and I kept wanting to load them up on my ipod, to really see which one of the couple I would have agreed with, and why.

26. Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis. This is more of an intellectual look at how the program came to be, as well as biographical information about lots of key stakeholders behind the scenes, rather than a pop-culture look at the history of the program. I was intrigued by how many of the production and management teams came from Captain Kangaroo, and I didn't know that Noggin, which has now unfortunately merged with Nickelodeon, was a CTW channel. I didn't feel like there was quite enough Henson in the book; and the resolution of the Disney/Muppet ownership rights fell flat. It was built up as an epic struggle and then somewhat summarily dismissed. Joan Ganz Cooney comes out looking like she could do no wrong, but I'm sure some of the other team members would have loved to have given their two cents (sadly, many have died in the past two decades--who knew?). I can see how Zoe was a contrived creation and was not allowed a genesis similar to her older muppet counterparts. I wanted more about Kevin Clash... but I guess there's a book for that.

25. Chasing Harry Winston by Lauren Weisberger. Pure, unadulterated brain candy, but just what I needed to escape from my life for 48 hours. I liked this one as much as The Devil Wears Prada, and it was much better than Everyone Worth Knowing. Predictable, of course, but seeing how the predictability played out was fun. And I love that her characters use "fuck" as much as I do.

24. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. I watched the movie a few weeks ago and I was curious about the source material. Several people saw me reading the book and asked me my opinion. I hate turning people off to reading--reading anything--but I wanted to be honest. And I honestly thought the movie was better. Julie wasn't a truly likeable "character" in the book (as much as one can be a character in a memoir). She fared much better in the movie version of her life (and who wouldn't?). I wanted to like it, I really really did, especially since I liked the film a lot. But it left me a little cold. Maybe if I had read it as a blog, as she was writing it. It did make me question the supposed-new genre of "blog fiction" that seems to be in the back of every writer's mind. Not all blogs will translate well to larger works of fiction, and I think that is something the Big Six need to keep in mind when they are shopping in the near future.

23. Kabbalah: A Love Story by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner. I started and couldn't finish. It had to go back to the library and I wasn't sad enough to see it go to find it on paperbackswap. Interesting premise of a plot, but a little too "preachy" for fiction.

22. The Guynd by Belinda Rathbone. A little slow to start, but a well-written memoir of an ex-pat who moves to Scotland with her boyfriend, a laird. She learns that loving the man means also loving his family home and the quirks of class life in Scotland. It gives new meaning to the phrase "house-poor."

21. A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages by Kristin Chenoweth and Joni Rodgers. Just started this one today. It's cute and chatty, and gives some insight into Chenoweth's background and choices in her career thus far. I'm sure it won't be earth-shattering, but it should be an entertaining read.
ETA: entertaining; decent insight into the whole Studio Sixty on the Sunset Strip debacle of Chenoweth on The 700 Club. And like the clueless idiot I am, I had no idea she dated/dates Aaron Sorkin.

20. The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory--better than The Other Queen. Gregory did a much better job developing three distinct but believable voices in this one. The first person POV didn't bother me in this one. Definitely a page-turner.

19. The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory--this was my least favorite of the historical fiction I have read by Gregory so far. The novel rotates between three narrators--George, the Earl of Shrewsbury; Bess, a new-monied lady who married George (he is her fourth husband); and Mary Queen of Scots, the ousted queen who vied for the English throne while Elizabeth I held it. The voices are definitive in a trite kind of way, and I just felt that the story was plodding along. Gregory employs first person and it is tiresome to read for so many pages. Admittedly it works well in some of her other novels, but not this one.

18. The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory--more bodice-ripping, albeit with historical implications. Now I'd like to find out how much of the Elizabeth I loved Robert Dudley and was counseled by William Cecil is true. Guess I need to find a good biography to read. Gregory lists some source materials in her bibliography, and one of them is by Alison Weir, whose stuff I have read before and liked. I thought, however, that it was all fictional. I'll have to take another look. Interesting folks, those Tudors.

17. Fool by Christopher Moore--Oh the irony of reading two foolish books one after the other while on holiday in London. This was a phenomenal read. I think Moore is so clever; that I love Shakespeare only served to augment my amusement. Regan as a complete slut, Goneril as overweight and overwrought, Cordelia as conniving, and France and Burgundy as gay lovers. Oh my stars, what a romp!

16. The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory--well, I was going to say a bodice-ripper in historical fiction duds, but I think that's a bit redundant. I am such a sucker for historical fiction. This did not disappoint. I enjoyed that the main character was Jewish, and the portrayal of England becoming Catholic, then Anglican/Protestant, then Catholic, etc., was very enlightening. I think I finally get it now.

15. Limitations by Scott Turow--see, here's my problem with Scott Turow. I often think I have found a new book by him and start to read it, only to realize I have read it before. Sometimes I get to the end and realize, no, this is actually a new story. Sometimes I read to the end and confirm, oh yes, I remember this twist. Still other times I read and I remember some of the characters but not the plot, and at the end I'm not sure if I've read it already or not. It's a little annoying. I don't think his books have gotten more interesting as he's gotten more seasoned. I do like the ones that feature Sandy Stern more than the others. This one was okay. Short and sweet, but I kept having the impression I'd read it before and when I finished it, I still wasn't sure if I had.

14. Mirror, Mirror by Gregory Maguire--very slow to start but an interesting twist on the typical Snow White tale. I didn't like it as much as Wicked and Son of a Witch.

13. Disobedience by Jane Hamilton--I've tried this twice and just can't get into it. Maybe it's the author's note in the beginning, forecasting the story for me. Maybe it's the unrealistic 17-year-old boy narrator's voice (sorry, Ms. Hamilton). Or maybe it's just that the characters are annoying. I can't find anything redeeming in what I've read so far and I have no desire to continue. And that's big for me. It's rare that I don't finish a book.

12. The Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford--this was a great find. I think I heard Ford on NPR sometime and decided to read the book based on his interview. It was a fascinating for me to read about the prejudices between Japanese and Chinese immigrants (even in a fictionalized way) in the 1940s during the time of the Japanese internment in the U.S. I had no idea such tensions even existed, or if I ever knew, I had definitely forgotten. The politics don't get in the way of the story, though, which is important. And Ford doesn't take sides or preach. I wish I could meet Henry, Sheldon, and Keiko and give them all hugs.

11. Eden Close by Anita Shreve--very slow to start but got interesting halfway through. Definitely "women's literature."

10. Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter by Phoebe Damrosch--succulent and juicy. It's a play-by-play of being hired, trained at, backserving, and serving at a four-star restaurant in NYC. Fascinating stuff, even for someone like me who never waited tables.

9. Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin--I approached this one with trepidation, despite having heard the co-authors speak at the Dayton Peace Prize awards a couple of years ago. I wasn't sure I wanted the "heavy-heavy" of a true story about girls in Pakistan. I was expecting graphic blow-by-blows of physical violence against girls, and how they struggle to achieve any sort of life in a repressive society. I could not have been more wrong. Mortenson and Relin frame the journey around Mortenson's climbing adventures. I have never been remotely interested in climbing mountains. The journey opens with Mortenson's failure on K2, and the "ephiphanic moment" (thanks A.M. Foley) he has barely making it back down the mountain alive. He makes a promise and takes a hell of a long time to keep it, but the way he does is amazing. The book also shed some light on the conflict in Afghanistan and the U.S. involvement in it. That was helpful to me. I was afraid of encountering words like "infidel" and "mujahadeen" but I learned a little more about why insurgents turn to extremism. It was a thought-provoking journey--one that I encourage everyone to make along with Mortenson.

8. The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by Thad Carhart--part memoir, part "ode to joy," Carhart combines two of my favorite entities--music and Paris. I seem to be reading a lot of American expats in France (from last year's list and this year's). If I had to complain about anything, it would be that the memoir parts are not seamlessly integrated into the technical parts about pianos themselves. I definitely received a good background on different piano manufacturers and their pros and cons (but in an interesting way). His portrait of Luc, the man who inherits the atelier to restore the pianos, is exquisitely drawn. If nothing else, the tome makes me want to get off my duff, find a decent secondhand or restored piano, and get back to it. The descriptions of musical technique made me miss my voice lessons terribly. I know what Carhart means when he describes elements of musical creation, where you're present but not, and the music takes over. It looks and sounds effortless if it's done right, and the techinque falls away, allowing you to fly on your own voice (or keyboard). Trying to decide whether it's a good one to loan my father, an avocational pianist and clarinetist. He might find it tedious. I'll offer. If you love music, or Paris, or both, seek it out.

7. Home: A Memoir of My Early Years by Julie Andrews--a somewhat interesting, somewhat indulgent read. Andrews had an interesting early life. I was disappointed that the memoir only covered up until she was cast as Mary Poppins (lots of My Fair Lady on both sides of the Atlantic, and on Camelot). Maybe there will be sequel, or a second volume. And I have to see, reading Andrews' euphemisms for female anatomy, reproduction, and menstruation are just funny. She is just as delicate as she appears to be.

6. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger--I really liked this one. It was sad and creepy and heart-warming and weird, all at the same time. Definitely a page-turner. It felt different from The Time Traveler's Wife, which was hyped to me and was okay, in my opinion, but not phenomenal. I was a little disappointed in the ending--saw the first twist coming, but not the second one.

5. The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs--so freaking funny. Seriously, he has inspired me to try to be more in the moment in my daily life. I won't go as far as saying "I am brushing my teeth. I am rinsing my mouth," as he does, but still. Mindfulness is helpful when it all comes crashing down around you.


4. The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier--another quick read. Nice stationary bike fodder. If I had read one more reference to "plowing" a woman, however, I would have set the damn thing on fire. Not sure if I like her writing from a male perspective. I also now realize that she is essentially a romance writer with a small attempt at higher-brow fiction by being historical in nature. I probably won't read any more Chevalier unless someone highly recommends a book by her.

3. A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs--I haven't finished and I can't decide if I'm going to. It's fairly depressing and I can just feel where it's going, and I don't know if I can stomach it. It's a little like why I've avoided Dave Pelzer and most of Mary Kerr.

2. Dave Barry Slept Here by Dave Berry--meh. Funny in places, especially since I somewhat-recently edited an American history textbook. He was funniest when he wasn't trying so hard to be funny. I'll probably hold onto it as long as I'm editing history curriculum, just to keep a sense of humor about the seriousness of "women and minority" contributions.

1. Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier--quick read. Not as predictable as I thought it would be. Intriguing story. I'm a sucker for good historical fiction.

I am going to keep updating throughout the year... stay tuned!

2 comments:

Applecart T. said...

you read all those books already? wow. i'm a slow reader. i suppose i do take in a good deal of online items. these are not documented, and they are easier to forget than books. i wonder if it's something about the tangibility … i can "picture" my titles on the shelves in the other room, but i can't conjure much from my internet-memory. i think technology is making me less smart / reducing my attention span. it's hard to say. also, i like typing better than phonecalls. i absolutely dislike skype and vimeo phone.

also, i re-read books such as wharton's main titles, her latest biography, a literary criticism view of various novels and their treatment of clothing and its relation to the plot. right now, i'm on s. lewis's main street. also, i am in a quandry. i swear i have looked this up 100 times, but i had been doing the above, and now, latest re-look at AP, it should be _lewis'_. sigh. i think i saw too many britishisms or older english. i shall get to the avocado dud soon. thank you for sending it. it looks fun. i have also enjoyed jazz (is that the title? : ) by wharton from you.

DateMeDC said...

Yeah, how is it possible that you've read 26 books?! Don't you have kids???

P.S. how was the 'Nati?