decemberthirty: (tree swallow)
Happy New Year, friends! Oh, my year is off to a lovely start. I have come down with a cold, it's true, and I would prefer if I hadn't. But other than that it is lovely. I am settling in to my residency; I am working; I am walking in the woods in the afternoons; I am reading Virginia Woolf; I am watching bluebirds outside the window of my studio. I will have more thoughts to share about the residency soon, but for now it is time to talk about books.

So. here is the list of what I read during the past year. Links go to the post that contains the closest thing to a review of each book that I wrote; my orderly reviewing habits got away from me a bit towards the end of the year, so there are some books without links. Oh well. Some of them I still intend to write about; others will just have to be passed over. Books marked with a "Q" are those that I deem to be, in some way, queer:

1. Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet (Q)
2. The Night Watch by Sarah Waters (Q)
3. The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi (Q)
4. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
5. The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr
6. As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann (Q)
7. Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf (Q)
8. Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
9. Another Country by James Baldwin (Q)
10. The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín
11. Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris
12. Am I Blue?, Marion Dane Bauer, ed. (Q)
13. H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
14. The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas
15. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
16. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
17. The Quiet American by Graham Greene
18. Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood
19. The Gathering by Anne Enright
20. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
21. A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr
22. Now and Then by William Corlett (Q)
23. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
24. Lila by Marilynne Robinson
25. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
26. On the Edges of Vision by Helen McClory
27. The Women by T.C. Boyle
28. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
29. The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
30. How Winter Began by Joy Castro
31. The Maytrees by Annie Dillard
32. Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford
33. Watchers at the Pond by Franklin Russell
34. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx (Q-ish)
35. Sunstroke by Tessa Hadley
36. So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ
37. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
38. Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish by David Rakoff (Q-ish)

Look at how many Qs there are in the first part of the year, and how few in the second! That's interesting. This is also the third year in a row in which I didn't re-read any books--I'm glad I set myself a goal of doing a bit of re-reading to remind myself that it has real value. Books by women made up 55% of my reading this year, so that's nice and balanced. I only read four works of nonfiction; while that may not be balanced, it is quite typical for me.

Because I always find this a bit interesting, here is the list broken up by nationality of author. )

Books that will stay with me:

As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann: I had been searching for over a year for a book that would sweep me off my feet, and this was the one that did it. It is a flawed book, but it tells an all-consuming story. A muscular, immensely powerful, ferocious story. An indelible reading experience.

Another Country by James Baldwin: A big, messy, and stunningly ambitious book about race, sex, identity, and the way those things intersect and merge in New York in the late 1950s. It sprawls, and some parts of it are more successful than others, but it contains fearless metaphors and more than one scene that I know I won't forget.

Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris: This is the sequel to Harris's book The Southpaw, but it far surpasses it in quality. It's the best baseball book I've ever read. Harris touches on deep matters with a light hand, finds humor everywhere, and bundles it all up into a beautifully bittersweet package.

H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald: I can't remember the last work of nonfiction that held my attention as effortlessly as this memoir. I love books that are in deep conversation with other books, as this one is with T.H. White's The Goshawk. Smart, thoughtful, and written in straightforwardly beautiful prose.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. This book is a tour de force. On the surface it is about four siblings who survive Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, but it is about so much more than that: family, memory, poverty, community, and so many different forms of love.

Other titles that I recommend include Jacob's Room, The Testament of Mary, The Gathering, A Month in the Country, Lila, The Blue Flower, and Sunstroke.

Happy reading to all in the coming year!
decemberthirty: (tree swallow)
Happy New Year, friends! I have to confess that I love this time of year on livejournal, as everyone posts their summaries and reflections, their resolutions and goals, their lists of books and movies and what have you... I've already shared my goals for the coming year, so now it's time for the annual reading list.

My reading seemed to go in phases this year: I had stretches of time where I loved every book I read, and other stretches where I spent ages slogging through two or three lackluster books in a row. In 2012, I narrowly missed my goal of reading 33 books so I set the same goal for 2013. I made it this time, but it was surprising to see that for the first half of the year I was on pace for a much higher total, and then slowed down significantly in the last three or four months. Interestingly, at the same time that my reading pace slowed, I decided I need to get a handle on my ever-growing pile of unread books and so forbade myself from checking anything out of the library. So that means I just couldn't get as excited about the books I own? Or I made the wrong choices from my shelf?

Enough talk! Here is the list (links go to the post that contains the closest thing to a review of each book that I wrote):

01. Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
02. Toby's Room by Pat Barker
03. Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada
04. Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood
05. The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
06. Bad Dirt by Annie Proulx
07. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
08. Art and Fear by Ted Orland & David Bayles
09. The Last of the Handmade Dams by Bob Steuding (never posted a review--oops!)
10. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
11. The Real and the Unreal: Where on Earth by Ursula K. Le Guin
12. Tenth of December by George Saunders
13. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
14. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
15. Plainwater by Anne Carson
16. The Charioteer by Mary Renault
17. A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee
18. Inscriptions for Headstones by Matthew Vollmer
19. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
20. Historic Tales from the Adirondack Almanack by John Warren
21. Ireland by William Trevor
22. Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
23. Martin Dressler by Steven Millhauser
24. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
25. A Humument by Tom Phillips
26. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
27. The King Must Die by Mary Renault
28. We the Animals by Justin Torres
29. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
30. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
31. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
32. Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag
33. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
34. An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler

Not a single re-read this year--how unusual! Only 12 of my 34 books were by women, which is also unusual--I usually come closer to a 50/50 split. Far more nonfiction than usual, and fewer short story collections. For my own interest, here is the list divided up a couple of different ways:

By genre )

By nationality of author )

My favorites this year:

Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood: Two closely linked novellas with narrators that are highly observant of others and intriguingly effaced themselves. Clever and compelling and full of beautiful prose. A pure pleasure to read!

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich. A brilliant example of the novel-in-stories, this book provides a complicated portrait of two families over several generations. I loved Erdrich's variety of narrators and the way she subtly traced the long ripples of history through her characters' lives. Erdrich's use of language is so rich it feels decadent.

Tenth of December by George Saunders. Brilliant, brutal, heartbreaking, funny. This is on everybody's "Best Books of 2013" lists, and it belongs on all of them.

The Charioteer by Mary Renault. Fun, fun, fun. A soap opera, sure, but it grabbed hold of my emotions and made me feel like a teenager. It's a flawed book, but I loved it anyway.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I hated the first hundred pages, but now I'm ready to call it the best book I read all year. This book is so smart, so sharp, so gripping. It's full of fantastic characterizations and sly humor. I can't remember the last time I was so engrossed in a book.

Other titles I would recommend include Every Man Dies Alone, The Real and the Unreal, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Where Angels Fear to Tread, and Bring Up the Bodies.

The biggest disappointments were Steppenwolf and A Gesture Life, which were just plain boring, and Gone Girl which was utterly, inexcusably moronic.

Here's to great reading to 2014 for all of us!
decemberthirty: (Default)
A book recommending game!

I spent most of 2012 in a reading rut. You know the sort of thing I mean--reading all sorts of books, always hoping that I would fall in love with the next one, but never quite getting there. This year, I'd like to feel passionate about my reading again. And I'd like it if you, dear LJ-friends, would help me break out of my rut.

Here's how it'll work: I'll give a general description of my taste and the sort of things I like (longtime readers probably already know more than enough about my taste in books!), and you tell me about an author you think I might like or describe the last book that knocked you head over heels. BUT! This is not a one-way street! If you'd like to receive recommendations too, post a comment that tells us about you as a reader, and if I've got any good recommendations for you I'll share them. Others can chime in too, and soon (I hope!) we'll all be sharing our favorites with each other and adding lots of titles to our to-read lists. If this sounds like fun to you, feel free to pass it around--the more the merrier!

My literary taste )

Okay, go!
decemberthirty: (Default)
Happy New Year, folks! As usual, I find myself with the typical backlog of New Year's posts waiting to be written: a book post, a post in which I think about goals and plans for the coming year, a post in which I tell you about the fascinating and strange museum that Ms. E and I visited on my birthday... But I'll start with the books.

This was a rather lackluster year for me in terms of reading. I'm not exactly sure why--I read plenty of books that I wanted to love, books I thought I would love, books by authors whose other works I've loved... And I admired quite a number of them, but very few ignited any sort of real passion in me. I also did not quite meet my goal for the year; I had decided that I wanted to read 33 books, and I only made it through 32 and a half. I considered putting on a push in these last few days in order to make the number, but decided against it. Trying to rush through a book under the pressure of a deadline (and a rather arbitrary one at that) rarely helps me get the most out of what I'm reading.

With no further ado, here's the list (links go to the post that contains the closest thing to a review of each book that I wrote):

1. Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer
2. The Cows by Lydia Davis
3. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
4. Life Times by Nadine Gordimer
5. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
6. Here's Your Hat, What's Your Hurry by Elizabeth McCracken
7. The Birthday of the World by Ursula K. Le Guin (Re-read)
8. Gut Symmetries by Jeanette Winterson
9. Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter
10. Towards Another Summer by Janet Frame
11. Cowboys Are My Weakness by Pam Houston
12. Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
13. The Waves by Virginia Woolf
14. Atonement by Ian McEwan
15. A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley
16. Ransom by David Malouf
17. The Fixer by Bernard Malamud
18. The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro
19. The Longest Journey by E.M. Forster
20. Bluets by Maggie Nelson
21. The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst
22. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin (Re-read)
23. Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard
24. The Story of the Night by Colm Tóibín
25. Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt
26. When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro
27. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
28. Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
29. The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett
30. The Empty Family by Colm Tóibín
31. Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
32. Death in Venice and Other Tales by Thomas Mann (trans. Joachim Neugroschel)

It's very rare for me to read according to any sort of plan or program, so it's often a bit of a surprise to see the patterns that emerge when I put together this year-end reading list. Only two re-reads this year, for instance--I think I often have more than that. And so many short story collections! I wouldn't have said I was focusing on short stories specifically, yet they make up a large portion of the list. For my own interest, then, here is the list divided up a few different ways:

By genre )

By nationality of author )

My favorites this year:
Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter: With these three stories, Porter proves that the novella can be just as rich and powerful as the novel. Haunting and deeply felt explorations of memory, family history, and mortality. A wonderful book.

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel: I know that a lot people were not in love with this book, but I was. I read it immediately after hearing Bechdel read from it and talk about it, and I'm sure that influenced my feelings about it, but the book gripped me and resonated with a lot of my own personal history. It's thorny and sort of messy and at least a little bit self-indulgent, but I loved wrestling with it.

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray: Sprawling, ambitious, and definitely flawed. The ending was disappointing and Murray allowed it to drag on for way too long, but the first two thirds of this book were as fun, inventive, and devastating.

Death in Venice and Other Tales by Thomas Mann: I liked Mann's novellas better than his short stories, but the novellas alone are good enough to earn him a spot in the favorites list. "Death in Venice" is the famous one, and it certainly is brilliant, but my sentimental favorite was "Tonio Kröger."

Other titles that I recommend include Tree of Codes, Life Times, The Birthday of the World, The Waves, Ransom, The Fixer, and The Empty Family.

By far the worst books on this list are Winter's Tale (sloppy, incoherent, way too long, utter nonsense!) and A Fan's Notes (misogynistic, manipulative, unpleasant from start to finish). Stay away from those two!

Here's to lots of great reading in 2013, both for me and for all of you!
decemberthirty: (Default)
When I made my annual reading list at the end of 2010, I was terribly disappointed to realize that I had only read 22 books that year. So in 2011, for the first time ever, I set a numerical goal for my reading: 30 books. I made it, though not by much; I read a grand total of 32 books in 2011. It was interesting to read with a goal in mind. I don't think it made much difference in my overall reading patterns. I still chose books by whim and according to mood, and I still went through phases when I got on a roll and read a ton, and other phases when I got bogged down in particular books and read much more slowly. But I stayed aware of the fact that I was counting books this year, and there were occasions when I knew I was falling behind and so deliberately chose short books or books I thought would be quick reads. I would never want to let a goal like that keep me from reading long or difficult books, but overall I thought it worked well enough that I decided to set a new goal for next year: 33 books since I'm 33 years old.

Enough prefacing! Here is the list! Books marked with an (R) are books that I re-read this year, and links lead back to whatever post most closely resembles a review of each book:

1. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
2. Mothers and Sons by Colm Tóibín
3. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
4. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell
5. The Folded Leaf by William Maxwell
6. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
7. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
8. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
9. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
10. East Wind Melts the Ice by Liza Dalby
11. The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
12. At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill
13. The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
14. Here We Are in Paradise by Tony Earley
15. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
16. Tinkers by Paul Harding
17. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
18. Regeneration by Pat Barker (R)
19. The Eye in the Door by Pat Barker (R)
20. The Ghost Road by Pat Barker (R)
21. Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie
22. Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata
23. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
24. Maurice by E.M. Forster (R)
25. Close Range by Annie Proulx (R)
26. The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds
27. Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
28. Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal
29. The Snapper by Roddy Doyle
30. A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
31. Micro Fiction ed. by Jerome Stern
32. Dance on My Grave by Aidan Chambers (a post about this book is forthcoming!) (R)

Not a bad list, all in all. As usual, there is very little nonfiction (Dillard, Dalby), a few short story collections (Tóibín, Earley, Proulx, Stern), and a huge preponderance of novels (everything else). I re-read far more books than usual this year, and also read more work in translation than I often do (Schlink, Kawabata, Mahfouz, Hrabal).

These were my favorites:

The Folded Leaf by William Maxwell: a lovely and often overlooked little gem of a novel about a friendship between two boys in Chicago in the 1920s. Maxwell tells a fairly simple story with great tenderness and subtlety.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf: Woolf's prose is always gorgeous but none of her books have moved me until this one. This book performs a wonderful act of alchemy by which the ordinary matter of every day is somehow transformed into the loftiest mysteries of life. A haunting book.

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster: Oh, how I love Forster. This books is a clever comedy of manners under which lurks a deeper story about the need for authenticity, the difficulty of breaking with convention, and the transforming power of love.

Happy 2012 to all of you!
decemberthirty: (Default)
Now that 2010 is over, it's time for my annual summary of what I've read during the past year. This was the first year in quite a while that all of these books were my own choice--I had no assigned reading in my last semester of grad school, and certainly none since!

Here's the list (links go to my reviews of the books, or whatever I posted that most closely resembled a review):

1. Run by Ann Patchett
2. The Adirondacks: A History of America's First Wilderness by Paul Schneider
3. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
4. Potiki by Patricia Grace
5. At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien
6. Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame
7. Letter to a Child Never Born by Oriana Fallaci
8. Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima
9. The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat
10. Maurice by E.M. Forster
11. Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
12. Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
13. The All of It by Jeanette Haien
14. Rock Crystal by Adalbert Stifter
15. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
16. Surfacing by Margaret Atwood
17. The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott
18. The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt
19. Islanders by Ammiel Alcalay
20. Fort Da: a Report by Elisabeth Sheffield
21. In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje

I'm a bit disappointed by how short the list is this year! I was reading a lot in the first half of the year, but got utterly bogged down once fall and winter arrived. Another surprise: this list is almost 100% novels! There's one non-fiction (the Paul Schneider), and that's it. No short story collections, no poetry.... I did read two novels-in-stories (Strout, Danticat), but those are close enough to novels that I don't think they add much variety.

These were my favorites:

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: A collection of linked stories revolving around a complicated and sometimes unpleasant main character, this book is a resonant, carefully structured exploration of aging and change. Strout does an excellent job of writing from within Olive's anger and inarticulacy. Some of these stories really put me through the wringer.

Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame: This book is powerful and deeply personal, full of intense images that linger long after reading. At moments it feels almost as though Frame is allowing us to read something written in her own private language. A heartbreaking book.

Maurice by E.M Forster: Of all the books I read this year, this was the one that stole my heart. Oh, I loved this book! I can't remember the last time I was as emotionally invested in a book as I was in Maurice; I actually leapt up off the couch at a certain climactic moment!

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood: I read this book about being in an isolated cabin in the woods while I was in an isolated cabin in the woods, and I'm sure that synchronicity helped me enjoy the book, but I think it would be very good no matter where you read it. It begins as a conventional literary-thriller, but towards the end it changes into something darker, stranger, and denser. An interesting book for sure.
decemberthirty: (egret)
It's time once again for my summary of what I've read in the past year. As usual, grad school makes precise record-keeping difficult--I read many books at once, I skim some books and read only pieces of others. So I will simply do the best I can.

I think that this year I will list my reading in two ways: my usual chronological list, and a second list in which the books are grouped in categories. My reading is usually 90% novels and just a few other things here and there, but I have the feeling that there was more diversity to what I read in 2009, so I'm curious to see how it breaks down.

The chronological list )

The categorized list )

Well, it's nice to see that I was able to do more reading that I chose for myself this year, as opposed to my previous years in grad school, when it's been all I could do to keep from drowning in the reading for various classes. Also, it was the year of Marilynne Robinson; I read all three of her novels this year, heard her read on twice, got my copy of Gilead signed by her (it's a first edition!), and attended a very interesting Q and A with her during which she and I talked about the intersections of real and imaginary geography in writing. In addition, it's quite clear that short fiction was the theme of the second half of the year--lots of novellas and story collections in the latter part of my list.

These are a few of my favorite books of 2009:

Break It Down by Lydia Davis. Davis's stories are extremely short and extremely precise. She can do so much with just a few words. Not all of the stories are successful, but she has a way of hiding deep insight in these little paragraphs about mundane matters. When you're not looking, these stories will cut you.

Runaway by Alice Munro. Alice Munro is brilliant. Her stories are the opposite of Lydia Davis's: long, rich, and full. But they too will cut you.

"The Dead" by James Joyce. This is a re-read, so I guess I'm not supposed to mention it, but reading it again after so many years was a revelation. It is a novella that is perhaps even more enjoyable on a second or third read, when the characters feel like old friends to you, as they are to each other. It has the most beautiful ending ever written.

Pilgrim At Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. I can't remember the last book that demanded as much of me as this one. I had to read mindfully, and try to hold whole chapters in my mind as I read. Beautifully written (though occasionally a bit overwritten), the book is Dillard's attempt to come to a spiritual understanding of the natural world. This one will merit a second reading at some point.
decemberthirty: (audubon spoonbill)
I found it a bit more difficult than usual to compile my year-end reading list this year. I'm usually very orderly about my reading--one book at a time, from start to finish--but that reading style isn't really compatible with having lots and lots of required reading for school. There were many books that I just skimmed or read in bits and pieces, and my careful record keeping sort of went out the window. So here, as best as I can reconstruct it, is a list of the books that I read in something close to their entirety in 2008:

The List )

I'm disappointed in how few books I read "for pleasure" this year (some of the assigned reading was pleasurable, of course, but it's somehow not quite the same.) Only nos. 8-14 were my own choices. But it's always been very hard for me to do outside reading when I'm in school, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. I am surprised at how little fiction I read--only about one third of the titles on the list are novels, a shocking development when you consider the fact that my reading lists are usually at least 97% fiction. I did read a lot of short fiction that isn't represented here (mostly in The New Yorker, but from a few other places too), but it's still a much smaller amount of fiction than usual. I know that this is because I took two classes that required a lot of reading about pedagogy and one where the reading list was entirely autobiographies, but I'd really like to make sure I get back to reading more novels in 2009.

The lack of variety in my list makes it difficult to do my usual awards show format, with different categories and all the rest, so instead I'll just name a few of the best books of the year.

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson: This book is beautiful and quiet, perfectly suited to the dark and the cold. I suppose it's no wonder that I liked it, since it hits on a couple of my big themes: aging and memory and family history.

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein: I had never read a full-length work by Gertrude Stein before this one, and I was intimidated going into it, but I ended up really liking the book. Stein creates a vivid depiction of her and Alice's life in Paris. I was surprised by how funny the book was, and also by the way it forms a sort of slyly moving portrait of their long life together.

Memories of a Catholic Girlhood by Mary McCarthy: I loved McCarthy's voice in her autobiography: erudite, clever, curious, matter-of-fact, and thoughtful. This book also served as my inspiration for an essay on family history and place that I've been working on for a while now.

Cruddy by Lynda Barry: It's difficult to hold a book that I only finished two days ago up against books that have had months to settle in my mind, so perhaps I'll change my mind on this at some point, but I was really into this book. It is a glimpse into a dark, violent, sexualized childhood and its aftermath that was totally engrossing. I kept finding myself in bed at night saying "One more chapter. Okay, now just one more chapter..." I haven't written a proper post about this book, but I'm planning to do it very soon.

The two worst books of the year were The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta and The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. The Perrotta was absolutely flaccid and boring, and The Mistress of Spices was nothing but cheap exoticism and non-credible romance. To be avoided!
decemberthirty: (Default)
Why on earth would I want to grade my students' papers when there's a book meme that I could be doing instead? You guys have seen this one, I'm sure. These are the top 106 books most often marked as "unread" by LibraryThing’s users. As in, they sit on the shelf to make you look smart or well-rounded.

Now everyone will see some of the gaping holes in my reading, and you all can tell which of these books I ought to go and read right now, and which ones I can allow to pass me by without a second thought.

Bold the ones you've read,
underline the ones you read for school,
italicize the ones you started but didn't finish.
add * beside the ones you liked and would (or did) read again or recommend.

The Aeneid*
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay***
American Gods
Anansi Boys
Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir
Angels & Demons
Anna Karenina
Atlas Shrugged
The Blind Assassin
Brave New World
The Brothers Karamazov
The Canterbury Tales
The Catcher in the Rye

A Clockwork Orange
Cloud Atlas
Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed
A Confederacy of Dunces
The Confusion
The Corrections*
The Count of Monte Cristo
Crime and Punishment
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
David Copperfield
Don Quixote
Dubliners* [Okay, it's true that I haven't read the whole thing. But I've read several of the stories, and I certainly plan to read the rest. It deserves the asterisk for "The Dead" alone.]
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Fountainhead
Freakonomics: a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
The God of Small Things******
The Grapes of Wrath
Gravity’s Rainbow
Great Expectations
Gulliver’s Travels
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
The Historian: a novel
The Hobbit
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Iliad
In Cold Blood: a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences****
The Inferno
Jane Eyre
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
The Kite Runner [Bah]
Les Misérables
Life of Pi: a novel
Love in the Time of Cholera
Madame Bovary
Mansfield Park
Memoirs of a Geisha
Mrs. Dalloway

The Mists of Avalon
Moby Dick
The Name of the Rose
Northanger Abbey
The Odyssey
Oliver Twist
The Once and Future King******
One Hundred Years of Solitude
On the Road
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Oryx and Crake
A People’s History of the United States: 1492-present
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Poisonwood Bible
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man [On the list for this summer]
Pride and Prejudice
The Prince
Reading Lolita in Tehran
The Satanic Verses [How can I call myself a Rushdie fan? I know, I know...]
The Scarlet Letter
Sense and Sensibility
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Silmarillion
The Sound and the Fury
A Tale of Two Cities
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
The Time Traveler’s Wife
To the Lighthouse
Treasure Island
The Three Musketeers
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Vanity Fair
War and Peace
Watership Down*********
White Teeth

Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
Wuthering Heights [This one makes me wish there was some way to indicate books you've ready but absolutely despised...]
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
decemberthirty: (Default)
I'm joining the list-posting crowds and offering my fourth annual compendium of the best stuff I read during the past year. As usual, re-reads are ineligible, as are things that I failed to read in their entirety.

First, the list )

Best short story collection: This is not a particularly strong category this year. I guess the award will go to Stillness by Courtney Brkic, which was uneven, but had a couple of real gems.

Best short story: It's always so hard to choose just one story (partially because I don't do a good job of keeping track of the short fiction I read in magazines, etc). Anyway, I won't choose one, but will give you three stories to run out and read right now: "Thailand" by Haruki Murakami, "The First Sense" by Nadine Gordimer, and "Stillness" by Courtney Brkic.

Best nonfiction: Oh man, I only read one nonfiction book this year. I read a lot of fragments of interesting nonfiction this year (most notably A.C. Haddon's Head-hunters Black, White, and Brown) but only one book in it's entirety. That's a new low, even for me! I guess that means that Will Blythe's To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever is the winner.

Best young adult novel: This is another category where I have only one entry. And it's not even a very good entry. I grudgingly give the award to the disappointing Gifts by Ursula K. LeGuin.

Best graphic novel: I read two graphic novels in a row right at the end of the year, and haven't even had a chance to properly post about them yet. Both were excellent, but Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis wins by a very narrow margin--if you want to know why, you simply must wait until my next post! Ah, the suspense!

Best novella: "Morpho Eugenia" by A.S. Byatt. Wow, really good!

Best novel: I have two nominees this year, and they couldn't be more different: The Road, and The Remains of the Day. Shall it be Cormac McCarthy's desperately grim post-apocalyptic vision that enthralled and terrified me, or the beautifully restrained novel of British repression that broke my heart? Impossible to choose. They both win. (And honourable mentions go to Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach and Sarah Waters's Fingersmith--both were just a hair away from making it a four-way tie.)
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I don't have a whole of time right now, so today's list is going to be less in-depth than the others have been. Oh well. The topic today is the contents of my to-read shelf:

1. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
2. Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
3. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
4. Strong Motion by Jonathan Franzen
5. Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy
6. Gifts by Ursula K. LeGuin
7. Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie
8. The Sea by John Banville
9. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
10. Ghostwritten by David Mitchell
11. The Swimming-Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst
12. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

Wow. That's kind of a lot.
decemberthirty: (starfruit)
Now that the year is officially over, I offer my third annual list of the best stuff I read during the year. I don't take publication date into account; anything that I read for the first time in 2006 is eligible. Links lead back to my primary post about each book.

First things first: the list of contenders )

Best short story collection: I only read one collection of stories this year. What's up with that? That one collection was Close Range by Annie Proulx, so that's the winner by default. It's good enough to win for real, though, so it's kind of shame that there was no competition.

Best short story: This is tough. I really liked "The Mud Below" from Close Range. I also really liked "Bohemians" by George Saunders, although I have a vague feeling that I may have read it a year or two ago... At the very least it gets an honorable mention.

Best nonfiction: I read three whole nonfiction books this year! That's a lot for me. The best one was Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett.

Best young adult novel: Without a doubt, Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie.

Best graphic novel: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. This is also the only graphic novel I've ever read. Yeah, ever. I'm not very hip. But I really liked it and I'd like to read more graphic novels, so that's a start, right? (Also, there's no link because I haven't posted about this book yet. I've got some catching up to do, and I should get to it in the next day or two.)

Best title: Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl. Not a very good book, but I really like that title.

Worst novel: At Weddings and Wakes by Alice McDermott. God, did I hate that book. So, so boring. The runner-up for this prize is The Inner Circle by T.C. Boyle--it wasn't nearly as bad as At Weddings and Wakes, but it was a big disappointment because I know Boyle can do so much better. I really disliked The World According to Garp too, but I think that was more about me than about the book.

Best novel: Oh, this is also so hard to choose. The contenders this year are Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, and Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. How can I choose? Reading in the Dark was so powerful, and its images stayed with me for so long after I read it. And The Awakening--I identified so strongly with Edna, and loved the book so much more than I thought I would. And then there's Gilead, which comforted me at a time when I needed it most.... Forget it. I can't pick this year. It'll just have to be a three way tie.
decemberthirty: (salman)
Now that 2005 is officially over, I offer my second annual list of the best stuff I read during the year. I need a better name for these awards than Oscars, but until I think of something better, Oscars it is. Links lead back to my primary post about each book.

First things first: the list )

Best short story collection: Somewhat slim pickings in this category this year. Also somewhat ambiguous pickings. Does Winesburg, Ohio count, for instance? If it does, I think it wins, but if it's considered a novel rather than a story collection, the award would go to The Things They Carried.

Best short story: Very hard to choose just one. So I won't. The two best stories I read were "Brokeback Mountain" by Annie Proulx and "The Circle in the Fire" by Flannery O'Connor. I also reread Junot Diaz's "Drown" this year, and can't possibly let this category go by without mentioning it. Absolutely one of the best stories I've ever read.

Best nonfiction: As usual, this is hardly a contest. Still, the winner is Ursula K. LeGuin's A Wave In the Mind.

Best young adult novel: Plastic Angel by Nerissa Nields. I think I need to read some better YA stuff next year.

Best title: Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers. The book itself was strange and slight, but I love the title so much I just had to mention it.

Worst novel: This is a more difficult category than last year, which I suppose is a good thing. No dreck, nothing I absolutely hated... I think I will interpret the category as most disappointing novel, rather than simply worst. In that case, the winner is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I really loved Everything Is Illuminated, and this book completely failed to live up to it. Also something of a disappointment was Pat Barker's Double Vision--not a bad book, just not nearly as good as I know Pat Barker can be.

Best novel: Always so hard to choose! This year it pretty much comes down to two books: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, and The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie. I loved them both in quite different ways, but I think I simply must give it to The Ground Beneath Her Feet. (I would also like to give an honorable mention to Keri Hulme's The Bone People, which was perhaps the most powerful book I read this year and the one that stayed with me the longest, despite its flaws.
decemberthirty: (Default)
Okay, so there actually were topics other than baseball about which I wanted to post, but they were forgotten in the excitement of seeing the White Sox make the World Series. I still can't quite wrap my mind around that, but here's what I've been reading lately:

I finished The Namesake over the weekend, and I found it rather a let-down. Lahiri's writing is just as pretty and her descriptions of food just as mouthwatering as they were in Interpreter of Maladies, but her characterization has not improved and neither has her ability to (for lack of a better phrase) "write outside the box." The plot of the book was just what one would expect from this sort of immigrant narrative, and Gogol's emotional development from spoiled, whiny teenager to slightly-less-whiny thirtysomething was disappointingly obvious. When I read Interpreter of Maladies, I felt that there were a few stories that showed Lahiri's full potential as a writer, but I decided that most of the stories didn't live up to that potential. Now that I've read The Namesake, I wonder if perhaps Lahiri is writing just at the level of her potential, and it was only in those few stories that she managed to transcend her own limitations. I'm not sure I'll read any more of her books.

After finishing The Namesake, I started Graham Greene's The End of the Affair. I've been meaning to read Greene for ages, and I'm enjoying this quite a bit so far. I want to get started on some of the reading about secrets and repression that I need to do, but not having any of those books sitting on my shelf is proving to be an obstacle. Must get to the library.

In other reading news, Time magazine recently issued a list of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923. The list is rather predictable and I'm not sure why they picked 1923--seems rather arbitrary to me--but since I love lists of all kinds I thought I'd post it.

I've bolded the titles I've read )
decemberthirty: (Default)
I finished True History of the Kelly Gang last night. I wouldn't call it a great book, but it was worth reading. As I mentioned last time, the middle of the book suffered a little from repetitiveness, but it picked up again as I went and actually became quite stirring near the end (although I don't think Peter Carey can be entirely credited with that stirringness. The final pages include an extensive quote from the most stirring speech ever written--you know, the one from Henry V--and I imagine that I could make even this livejournal post stirring if I started reciting about we few, we merry few, and St. Crispian's Day, and the gentlemen in England now a-bed...) So perhaps that was bit cheap, but it worked. Still, I don't think it was just the Shakespeare that made the end of the story moving. There's something about watching a man move towards inevitable doom that always gets me; it got me in Sometimes a Great Notion, it got me in A Star Called Henry, and it got me in this book as well. Carey did such a good job of establishing Ned Kelly as a character that I couldn't help being affected as I watched Ned brought down by his own flaws.

Other thoughts about True History of the Kelly Gang:

The parts of the book that I liked best were the parts that departed from Carey's repetitive descriptions of outlaw life: when Ned fell in love with Mary Hearn, when his daughter was born, and when the gang began creating their armor.

While reading the book, it was almost possible to forget that it was set in Australia. It seemed so much like a story that could have come from the American west that I was jolted every time anyone mentioned the weather. A character would describe the merciless February heat or the frost and biting chill of June I would stop and say "What?" until I remembered that it was set in the southern hemisphere. That and Ned's fondness for similes involving wombats were really the only two things that seemed particularly Australian about the book.

As is usually the case after I read historical fiction, I am now quite curious about the real story of Ned Kelly. How much is actually known about him? How much of the book is true? Carey sites a few sources in his acknowledgments; perhaps I'll have to seek them out. Ms. E also informed me that a movie about the Kelly Gang was made a few years ago, but I know next to nothing about it...

In other news, my little sister recently asked me to generate a book list for her. I've been recommending books to her and giving her books as gifts for a long time, and I guess she's finally starting to appreciate my efforts! I put the list together at work yesterday, and thought I'd post it here in case anybody might be interested. It's basically just a list of books I love and think that everybody should read, along with some notes that are primarily intended for my sister.

Here it is, Mo )
decemberthirty: (Default)
I often refer to my to-read list as if it were an actual, coherent thing that exists in some form other than titles scribbled on the backs of envelopes and author's names dashed off on bookstore receipts, but doing so presents an inaccurate picture of the situation. I have a notebook where I list all the books I read, and the front of that notebook is stuffed with all the scraps of paper on which I've jotted down various book recommendations over the years. I also have a list on my office computer for book ideas that come to me at work. And a separate list in the notebook where I keep notes for my novel. My system is a little bit complicated, and isn't actually much of a system at all. So I thought I'd consolidate things here.

My to-read list )

And now I'm off to do some writing.
decemberthirty: (Default)
Okay, I'm having a totally boring day at work, so I'm going to post a totally boring journal entry. I've been fooling around online because it kind of looks like I'm working, and I found all kinds of book lists. It's silly of me, but I'm always fascinated by these type of lists and I love going through to see which books I've read... So here are a couple of the lists I've found, with the books I've read in bold.

Pulitzer Prize Winners )

Booker Prize Winners )

Modern Library's 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century )

College Board’s 101 Great Books )

Most frequently banned books in the ‘90s )

At this point I should probably say that I don't put a whole lot of stock in lists like these; many of the books that are in bold are things that I did not like, and many great books are not represented. Still, it's kinda fun, and it does show me some definite holes in my reading that I should work on repairing. And hey, who knew I had read so many banned books?
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