Where's the book?

Friday, January 24, 2014

The year is off to a fast start

Gonna do it this year. Gonna read a book a week. Almost made it last year, fell short by two. But this year, yes. Which is why I'm writing shorter sentences without verbs and adjectives. Leaves more time for reading. Let's cut to the chase.

Book #1: The Quiet American by Graham Greene
I wanted to read a book set in Vietnam, since I'm going there in a few weeks. It's mighty hard to find anything other than war novels. And this one, set in the 1950s during the Indochina War. The narrator is a British journalist covering the war, in love with a young local woman. It's a bleak novel, no surprise, given the author, but interesting. I doubt it was very illuminating as to the Vietnam I will encounter in 2014, but it was a worthwhile read.

Book #2: Someone by Alice McDermott
A lyrical, poetic novel of one ordinary woman's life. I had never read anything by McDermott but will definitely seek out more. The story skips about in time, but weaves a beautiful fabric. There is a constant sense of the often unnoticed poetry of life, but also a persistent sense of life's dangers, that feeling of horror being just around the next corner. Chosen by my book group as our January read, and I was pleased to discover a new author I thoroughly enjoyed.

Book #3: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
I saw the musical at the public and was moved to read my first graphic novel, although this one is not really a novel, it's a graphic memoir, which unfortunately sounds like porn.  It's her story of her family and childhood, the family business, a funeral home, nicknamed the "Fun Home," gives the book its title. Which makes sense, because this was not, in the normal meaning, a fun home. Alison's dour, depressed father was a high school English teacher and closeted homosexual, having secret encounters with other men, some of them underage. Her unhappy mother found an outlet in local community theater. And Alison herself came out as a lesbian in college. Her letter home announcing her lesbianism was greeted with her father's surprise coming out as gay, followed just a few months later by his suicide. The stage version, with three women starring as Alison at three different stages in her life, was amazing. And the book was equally moving and engrossing.

Book #4: The Boy Who Went Away, by Eli Gottlieb
A small, slight, disturbed and disturbing story about a very broken family, this novel felt so real, so upsetting, that it was often hard to read, yet at the same time hard to put down. It's 1967, the Vietnam War is raging in his living room, and the narrator, Denny, is spying on all his neighbors and the other members of his family. There are plenty of rocks to turn over, and many worms crawling out. Some are clear, some are shady, because we see everything through Denny's often confused eyes. At the heart of the story is Denny's autistic older brother Fad, who may become, despite his mother's heroic efforts, the boy who went away. But even before he physically departs, Fad,   the most important person in the family, is also, because of his condition, somewhere very far away.

Book #5: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton, by Elizabeth Silver
Another book hopping on the Gone Girl train, this one wishes it could hold your interest and surprise you like Girl. It's the story of a woman who is on death row, her last minute appeals, and the flashbacks to her crime and the tough life that led up to it. I wasn't surprised, it wasn't a page-turner, and in the end, I didn't care.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

2013: What I Read (and what I really liked)

Herewith, a list of all books read in 2013. Roughly in order (I might have switched a couple around), with an asterisk if they deserve special note.

  1. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck * (with a !)
  2. Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres
  3. The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits
  4. By Blood by Ellen Ullman
  5. The House Gun by Nadine Gordimer
  6. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
  7. The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein
  8. Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan *
  9. The Suicide Index by Joan Wickersham *
  10. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte * (of course)
  11. No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie
  12. The Gods of Gotham by Lindsay Faye
  13. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
  14. Where Memories Lie by Deborah Crombie
  15. The Orientalist by Tom Reiss
  16. Ali and Nino by Kurban Said
  17. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout *
  18. Carry the One by Carol Anshaw
  19. This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz *
  20. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayer
  21. The Host by Stephanie Meyer
  22. What Matters in Jane Austen by John Mullan
  23. Harvard Square by Andre Aciman *
  24. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? By Maria Semple
  25. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer *
  26. The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
  27. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain *
  28. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
  29. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann *
  30. The Cockoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)
  31. Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther
  32. Frankenstein by Mary Wollestonecraft Shelley
  33. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen *
  34. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen *
  35. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
  36. Summer Reading by Hilma Wolitzer
  37. Skylark by Dezso Kosztolanyi
  38. The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani
  39. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri *
  40. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
  41. The Submission by Amy Waldman
  42. Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois
  43. A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz *
  44. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  45. The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro
  46. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt *
  47. Mastering the Art of French Eating by Amy Mah
  48. The Circle by Dave Eggers
  49. Anything that Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture by Dana Goodyear
  50. Tenth of December by George Saunders