Thursday, January 25, 2007

I've been sick the last few days which normally means I read up a storm, but between the cough syrup and the insane fever, I couldn't begin to focus on anything more challenging than the Digging For The Truth marathon on the History channel. And even that was pushing it as now I'm half convinced that the real Temple of Doom was built by the people of the lost city of Atlantis and is located in the fifth burial chamber of the Sphinx.


Once I emerged from my Robitussin haze I read Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell, which I predictably loved. In it she talks about visiting historical sites related to the assassinations of presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley and the circumstances surrounding them. I love how she ties things together and tells the interesting stories that tend to get left out of most history textbooks.

I also read Kiss My Tiara: How To Rule The World As A Smartmouth Goddess by Susan Jane Gilman, whose memoir I recently read and loved. This one was entertaining in a basic Intro To Women's Studies kinda way, but definitely not meant for anyone who has more than a passing knowledge of feminism.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

This long weekend was all about finally watching The Best Of Youth, but I did manage to finish Prayers For The Assassin by Robert Ferrigno. It has a very provocative premise: in the future the United States endured another civil war, splitting it into an Islamic country, with the southeastern Bible Belt breaking off and Nevada enduring as some sort of gray area/free trade state. The map provided also shows Utah and part of Idaho as the "Mormon Territories", but that hardly rates more than a passing reference. Basically, in the future the world is rocked by coordinated (supposedly) Zionist nuclear terrorist attacks, prompting the world's population to flock to Islam in massive numbers and resulting in the institution of Islamic rule in the US. The book wants desperately to be thought of as thought-provoking, even invoking shades of The Handmaid's Tale with Canada as the escape hatch to freedom, but ultimately it just feels like a run of the mill thriller dressed up in fancy, slightly science fictional clothes - definitely more flash than class. I mean, do we really need to be told that religious extremists can be dangerous? I don't think that's news to anyone. Islam doesn't come off well here, but I can't decide if the author was purposely trying to write an anti-Muslim book or if the portrayals of the moderates just weren't enough to overcome the sometimes cartoonishly fanatical leaders. I have no doubt that most of the religious scenes in the book weren't exaggerated much, but it was far too easy to place in the "fiction" category of my mind, which only served to abstract the religion and make it seem not Islam, but "Islam". If that makes sense. Anyway. I nearly gave up on it several times and rolled my eyes at every sex scene (did he used to write fanfic or something?), but the thriller aspects - the chase scenes, the fights, the mystery - kept me going.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

So, my tivo remote has been broken the last few days (luckily after I'd finished my Friday Night Lights viewing marathon) which means I've got a few books to post about.

Saturday I finished Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which was excellent. It's about the civil war in Nigeria in the 1960s and its devastating effects on three main characters and their families and friends, both poor and rich. Because it is told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of those three characters, we experience their confusion and uncertainty about events, and naturally their focus is on their own lives and survival. In this way, the war is personalized and all the more powerful for it. It really is a heartbreaking read, but beautifully written.

Sunday I read The Interpretation Of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld, which wasn't as good as I had hoped it would be. Like The Alienist or The Dante Club, it involves historical figures (in this case Freud and Jung, among others) caught up in a fictional murder case. It kept me interested and I enjoyed all the psychology discussions, but I guess I was hoping for more.

And then yesterday I read Goodnight Nobody by Jennifer Weiner because I needed something lighter after all the civil war and murder of the last few days. This one involves a murder too, but it was funny enough to suit my mood. It reminded me a little of Little Children and the best parts of Ayelet Waldman's Mommy Track mysteries. When it stuck to the satire of the upper class suburbs it hit its targets, but it was less successful as a mystery. In order for the main character to stand in contrast to the other mothers, they are presented as a unified, perfect front and only given certain superficial quirks to tell them apart. We don't really get to know them as individual characters, which becomes a problem later on in the book when the mystery picks up. Of course, if they had been fully realized characters, the satire wouldn't have worked as well. It's a fine line to walk and Weiner doesn't quite manage it. It was definitely funny and entertaining though, and hey, who doesn't love a nice takedown of a thinly veiled Caitlin Flanagan character?


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

And now it's time for the obligatory end of the year wrap up.

I read a grand total of 124 books this year (I'm sure Daisy will be along shortly to put that number to shame): 62 fiction, 20 non-fiction, 37 YA/Juv, and 5 short story collections (one of which was also YA). And one graphic novel, which I think I stuck in with non-fiction.

My 20 favorites (couldn't cut it down any further) in mostly chronological order of when I read them:

1. The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley
A nice mix of Charles Portis and Raymond Chandler that seems to come to an end in the middle of the book before the bottom drops out and everyone is sent of in a new direction that makes you reconsider everything that came before.

2. & 3. Wounded & Erasure by Percival Everett.
The first destroyed me and the second made me laugh. And vice versa. I read a good number of Everett's works this year and these two were the best.

4. Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn.
Love, love, love. Love Nick, love Norah, love Triss, love the bands and the clubs and the drag queens and the food and the kissing and the music and... yeah.

5. Intuition by Allegra Goodman
Powerful examination of the politics among medical researchers.

6. Farewell My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
I read a few Chandler novels this year and FML was my favorite, although on any other day it might be one of the others. I'm looking forward to finishing the rest of his books.

7. Come Closer by Sara Gran
Just thinking about this one still gives me the creeps. It's as much a metaphor of being trapped in marriage as it is a demonic possession thriller and it works just as well either way.

8. Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Some of the most realistic characters in YA.

9. & 10. Swann's Way & In The Shadow Of Young Girls In Flower by Marcel Proust
I've never read another book with which I've interacted so much. You don't so much read Proust as experience it. It's been disconcerting, to say the least, and I look forward to continuing the other volumes.

11. How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton
I loved how he broke down the main themes of Proust's works and applied them to everyday life. It's an unconventional self-help manual, but it works.

12. Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
I read all of Dessen's excellent novels this year and I was tempted to chose Dreamland instead, but this one won out for sentimental reasons.

13. A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore
I debated putting this one on this list because it isn't my favorite by Moore, but I did enjoy it a lot so here it is.

14. But Enough About Me by Jancee Dunn
It could be the Vicodan haze I was in while reading it, but I thoroughly enjoyed Dunn's memoir.

15. Special Topics In Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
It definitely has its naysayers, but I raced through it with glee.

16. Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
Another author I was excited to discover this year. I read quite a few of his books and there wasn't a bad one among them. But Winter's Bone stands above the rest, largely due to the wonderful and courageous Ree.

17. Anybody Out There by Marian Keyes
The new book I'll point to when someone questions the worth of chick-lit.

18. An Abundance Of Katherines by John Green
I have a bit of a crush on Hassan.

19. Hypocrite In A Pouffy White Dress by Susan Jane Gilman
Very funny stories and essays that add up to a touching memoir.

20. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Of course. Thanks again, Claire!

Now, the resolution. I hereby resolve not to buy any new books (unless I'm attending an author event) and that I will actually read the books I've already bought.

We'll see how long that lasts...


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