Jaded Optimist

Mothering, making, and generally blathering on

Books Read 2012 January 19, 2012

Let’s see if I can do it again this year…at least 52 books in 52 weeks.

  1. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (for bookclub #1. Oddly, another book about people somewhat out of place in Africa during civil unrest…just like our first book for 2011. A family through time book with some interesting twists, liked it.)
  2. The Accidental by Ali Smith (looking for a different book by this author, settled for this one. Which would you believe—the lie or the crazy truth? If you have to read too many chapters of a 12 year olds stream of consciousness… Some interesting parts, but overall the gimmick didn’t work and towards the end I couldn’t follow why certain things happened.)
  3. Run by Ann Patchett (stumbled across this one at the library when they didn’t have any of the books I was looking for. Within a page, realized I had read it before but couldn’t recall how it turns out. I do like reading little Boston details; in this one the family lives quite close to where we used to. At least one unexpected twist (unfortunately, also unlikely) and a neat summing up at the end. Don’t think I would read it a third time though.)
  4. Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (can’t say I really read that much historical fiction, but this was pretty interesting about the first Native American student at Harvard. A bit Stone Diaries-esque, popping in on someone’s life every now and then. Always so happy to be living in a time with stoves and medicine and stuff like that though.)
  5. Ten Days in the Hills by Jane Smiley (err…as above, was trying to find something at the library, recognized this author and then slogged through it. Wish I had seen all the two star reviews on amazon first. The book echoed many of my feelings on the Iraq war though.)
  6. Heat Wave by Richard Castle (ha ha, this is my kind of guilty pleasure read—cop drama with lots of clever banter. Clever banter gets me every time. Feels kind of through the looking glass though reading a fictional book by a fictional author…Also, my first book on Kindle!)
  7. Naked Heat by Richard Castle (so easy to buy books on the Kindle. Oops.)
  8. Heat Rises by Richard Castle (heh heh)
  9. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (medical discoveries + Amazonian tribes + interesting characters equals one pretty good book. There is an incredible twist at the end that is right at the edge of being too incredible, and most of the story isn’t really wrapped up. not sure if that is good or bad.)
  10. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (at the risk of revealing how far I have fallen…I thought this one was eh. I am still not sure what the ending was, and not because it was such a deftly written masterpiece. If the ending is what most people seem to say…what was the big deal? I did like parts of writing and the idea that who we think we are may be wildly divergent from what in reality we have done is interesting.)
  11. 13 Steps Down by Ruth Rendell (picked this one up at the library from an if you like X… list. It was just OK. Not quite a mystery, as you know who did it. Perhaps a character study of the slowly going crazy? A few twists at the end.)
  12. A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell (picked up two that day. Lizzie Borden meets The Reader. Didn’t realize it was from the 70s. Again, more a study of a murderer than a mystery. Just ok.)
  13. All Wound Up: The Yarn Harlot Writes for a Spin by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (although I love reading her blog, it could be that there just aren’t that many unique books to write about knitting humor.)
  14. The Charming Quirks of Others by Alexander McCall Smith (I keep picking his books up, but really, I don’t think I like them. Seems like it should appeal to me (a philosopher!) but really, she is ethically irresponsible in this one and it is more boring than charming. I think I need to give up on this author.)
  15. Huge by James W. Fuerst (troubled pre-teen uses detective stories to change his life. A coming of age except a lot seemed unrealistic for a 6th grader. Or how I remember my activities in 6th grade.)
  16. Yarn Remembering the Way Home by Kyoko Mori (how the author spends most of her adult life not recovering from her mother’s suicide, with a somewhat tenuous difference drawn between yarn/stories/openness to change and thread/facts/rigidity. A memoir, so a bit sentimental about what are basically bad decisions. Also, slams Somerville. I guess I wasn’t a huge fan.)
  17. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (grabbed this at the library when looking for number 4 up there. Jews and Muslims have forever been tortured by Christians, and women have been raped and subjugated by everyone. But sometimes people recognize beauty and risk all to save a book.)
  18. Changing Places by David Lodge (an author recommended by a co-worker, who later revealed that this book wasn’t very good. Barely disguised UC Berkeley farce. Some self-referential cleverness. Just ok.)
  19. Wool and Wool 2 by Hugh Howey (ok, at 60p it is more of a novella, but I am planning on reading some of the sequels so perhaps I will count them all as one book. OTOH, I am hoping to read Game of Thrones [720p!!] this year so maybe I will count each one to balance that one out 😉 Humanity now lives in an underground silo, with population limits. How did they get there? Perhaps book 2 will tell us. Amending to add book 2, no answers found yet!)
  20. First Family: Abigail and John Adams by Joseph J. Ellis (for bookclub #1. Interesting, haven’t read any of the other John Adams books. Found it odd what the author chose to footnote and not footnote. Also, if he said someone “seamlessly blended” two different roles again I might have lost it. Weird that Abigail Adams was distraught over being away from her husband for long periods of time, but had seemingly no problems leaving her kids.)
  21. The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks (his books are always fascinating. The ideas about visual imagery interest me, as I think I am one of those people with very little of it. Perhaps a bit too much of his own diary)
  22. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (Pulitzer, really? It was eh. Light reading about a boy and a girl who travel through college/young adulthood. Several details about the 70s that I found questionable.)
  23. There But For The: A Novel by Ali Smith (better than the other one of hers I read. Interesting character studies loosely grouped around potentially the most interesting character who really isn’t studied at all.)
  24. The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak (wow, not an uplifting book at all. Puts your stupid problems into perspective though. Spare, and unsparing, prose about a terrible time.)
  25. Defending Jacob by William Landay (for bookclub #2. eerily similar to We Need to Talk about Kevin, from last year’s list, but largely less disturbing. Lets us [parents] all off the hook once again by giving glaring hints that the perpetrator showed clear signs of violent behavior. Interesting point of view in the book with an unreliable witness)
  26. The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food by Adam Gopnik (interesting historical bits about wine ratings, food trends, slow food, locavore movements, and much sulking over French restaurants losing popularity. Very vivid description of an amazing sounding soccer themed dessert. But overall…sometimes boring.)
  27. The Space Between Us: A Novel by Thrity Umrigar (somehow it seems like lots of great books about poor people in India come out, but I rarely see great books about poor people in the US. Anyway, this was an engrossing story about the history and complicated relationship between two women in India—an upper-middle class woman and her maid. Very good.)
  28. The Photograph by Penelope Lively (had déjà vu throughout the book that I had read it before. How a photograph of a dead woman changes the lives of the people who knew her, and their understanding of her as well. The ending twist was not unexpected though.) 
  29. Three Stages of Amazement: A Novel by Carol Edgarian (eh. Lessons? Don’t cheat on your spouse, and maybe talk to them once in a while. Amazing how minimalist descriptions can still seem overly dramatic. Isn’t really sticking with me.)
  30. The Vanishers: A Novel by Heidi Julavits (for bookclub #1. Not my cup of tea. What happens in the book is ambiguous and hard to follow, not solely because the narrator is unreliable but also because the plot is kind of vague. About psychics and their powers…but not in a sci fi way, and not something I believe in.)
  31. The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard (strikes me as very Virgin Suicides meets And Then We Came to the End. Sometimes the first person plural starts to get tiresome. Not sure I believed the life fantasies these teenage boys drew out for their missing female classmate. Just OK)
  32. Family Album by Penelope Lively (family of six kids in which each experiences a different childhood and remembers things a bit differently. Now they are all grown up and remembering. Liked it but didn’t love it.)
  33. Tuesday Night Miracles by Kris Radish (for bookclub #2. Women’s lives are full of hardship but they can triumph through honesty and the friendship of other women! A popular theme, with more angry people than usual. Some doubtful details, some obvious plot points, but fine for chick lit.)
  34. The Burning by Jane Casey (serial killer mystery without too much gore which I appreciate. However, I knew exactly who did it within a chapter or two, and I don’t think I was supposed to. Might read the next in the series but not holding out too much hope.)
  35. Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George (book #17. They are getting longer but definitely not better.)
  36. Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook (largely depressing book about why tomatoes from the grocery store taste terrible, how bad big business can be for people and workers, birth defects due to pesticide exposure, and modern day slavery in the tomato farming industry in Florida. Get thee to a farmer’s market!)
  37. The Tragedy of Arthur: A Novel by Arthur Phillips (the narrator, also named Arthur Phillips and an author who has written the same books as this books author, tells the story of his con man father giving him an unknown Shakespeare original. The book also includes the “Shakespeare”. Twisty self-referentialness that I appreciate and an interesting play to boot.)
  38. End in Tears by Ruth Rendell (mystery without too much gore, somewhat meandering story lines, clues that I put together before the detectives did, and an explanation that only kind of makes sense. Didn’t love it)
  39. The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai
  40. A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O’Nan (incredible downer of a story about one man’s moral choices during an epidemic. Makes you very, very happy for vaccines.)
  41. Snow Angels by Stewart O’Nan (overlapping stories of two dissolving marriages and their effect on one teenage boy. Everything that happens is well described, but hard to take away a message or ending or anything from this one.)
  42. Villa Incognito by Tom Robbins (I used to read all of his books. He is still as wacky as ever, I just appreciate it less.)
  43. Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan (started this and realized I had read it before, but a good re-read. Detailed story on the fallout of a missing teenager. Very real feeling, focusing as always on regular people and everyday life. Liking this author overall)
  44. Emily, Alone by Stewart O’Nan (bookclub #2, my pick. No one else really liked it, but engendered a lot of discussion so a successful pick I think. The day to day life of an older woman, her normal disappointments and activities. Very well written, believable, I didn’t find this as sad or depressing as the others did.)
  45. A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear (between the world wars, female detective/spy in England goes undercover at a college. Might be an interesting series to continue with.)
  46. How It All Began by Penelope Lively
  47. The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy by Stewart O’Nan
  48. Consequences by Penelope Lively
  49. The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club by Gil McNeil
  50. The Midwife’s Confession by Diane Chamberlain
  51. Making It Up by Penelope Lively
  52. Needles and Pearls: A Novel by Gil McNeil
  53. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (bookclub #1)
  54. Broken Harbor by Tana French
  55. The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac by Kris D’Agostino
  56. My New American Life by Francine Prose
  57. Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer (bookclub #1, mostly a relationship story about a hairless mother and autistic robotics engineer father; fresh and engaging.)
  58. Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live Off the Land by Kurt Timmermeister
  59. The Family Fang: A Novel by Kevin Wilson (How does growing up as child performers in an extreme performance art family affect you? Not well.)
  60. Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively (I keep reading her books and some are definitely better than others. This one, a Booker Prize winner, is one of the best I have read and tells the past of an independent woman who is now dying. Honest and interesting.)
  61. The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us by Jeffrey Kluger (popular science review of some of the studies on siblings. Nothing particularly new here and author seems to miss some of the relevant recent studies, overshare about his personal life, and never saw an anecdote about famous siblings that he could pass up. Overall quite negative about middle children, which wasn’t what I need to hear right now.)
  62. I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive by Steve Earle (hmmm, Breaking Bad as conceived by Tom Robbins? Sometimes the paperback picks shelf at the library isn’t a great way to select reading material.)
  63. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (for bookclub #1, although I missed the meeting/discussion. Not convinced that this is Pulitzer Prize worthy, but better than the Marriage Plot so maybe? Jumps from character to character and time to time, not always coherently. Let’s just leave it at good.)
  64. Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear (book 2 in the series of which I haven’t read book 1. Between the wars female detective. Unraveling the mystery oddly involves a group I had just read about in Moon Tiger and can’t recall hearing about before.)
  65. The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer (might help to believe in spells? Explores suburban lives of giving up, but not really clear that all the people affected in the book needed the “help” the spell purports to provide. Just OK.)
  66. Cleaning Nabakov’s House by Leslie Daniels (er. Maybe I am just perpetually underwhelmed lately? Lead character is not that relatable; she doesn’t seem to have enough thoughts to fill a day. A few sharp turns of phrase and funny jokes, but many of the situations seemed quite unrealistic in a way that lessened my enjoyment of the story.)
  67. Arcadia by Lauren Groff (idealism—not all it is cracked up to be. Also, drugs will mess you up. Commune living and its discontents. Liked it.)
  68. Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear (liking these Maisie Dobbs mysteries, some WW1 history plus some women power! A little like the Alexander McCall Smith philosophy series but better.)
  69. Nanjing Requiem by Ha Jin (got two books from the library about 1937. This one is in China after it has been invaded by the Japanese. Seems to be based on real characters; very matter of fact about incredible violence and despair. Mixed feelings about this one…amazing story but glosses over details [how did they feed 10k refugees?] and kind of wanders.)
  70. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (other 1937 book…wealthy Manhattanites. Wow, what a change from the other book. Mostly light book of manners—Mad Men-esque except a slightly earlier era. As always, helps to know people who know people.)
  71. Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta (teens in the 70s and their not so happy middle age. Promising musician done in by his own ambitions/mental illness. Drugs will mess you up.)
  72. Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar (moody novel about Arabic ex-pat boy and the mysteries of his family. Interesting coming of age tale.)
  73. An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear (another Maisie Dobbs, more fallout in personal lives from WWI.)
  74. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff (for bookclub #2. I admittedly skipped the last book for this club, but then was the only one to read this one. I found the story a bit disorganized—jumps from time to time, gives extra details where you don’t want them and leaves them out where you do. I think I would prefer a fictionalized account of Cleopatra’s life to this biography that necessarily skips a lot due to lack of primary sources.)
  75. The Girl Giant by Kristen den Hartog (small, melancholy story of a family that includes a daughter with giantism. Mostly a character study, found it unique and interesting.)
  76. The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs, to the rescue again. Treads the same paths as the other books, but she is an interesting character, the mysteries unroll nicely, and the supporting cast continues to be nicely fleshed out.)
  77. Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller (memoir about the authors adventurous, iconoclast parents making a life in various African countries. Glad to have had my own childhood completely unlike this one.)
  78. Operating Instructions:A Journal of My Son’s First Year by Anne Lamott (read this one with every baby. Jumping the gun a little bit this time, but love this classic. So glad not to be a recovering drug addict though, nor a single mom.)
  79. Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (girl grows up in strange religious family in England, has flights of fancy. Just eh on this one.)
  80. The Evidence Against Her by Robb Forman Drew (repetitive descriptions, did not really care about the characters. Long tale of some intertwined families in Ohio.)
  81. The Color of Tea by Hannah Tunnicliffe (almost interesting chic lit about woman escaping her depression opening a macaron shop in Macau. Saw ending coming far in advance, but somewhat more complex characters than is typical in this genre. Completely unrealistic time to profitability for a small coffee/macaron shop however.)
  82. The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst (somewhat interesting story about how personal histories change through time/perspective/biographers/loss of primary sources/agenda of primary sources/etc. heavily weighed down with gay history in upper class England.)
  83. Divergent by Veronica Roth (YA dystopian ALA Hunger Games. Liked it enough to reserve the sequel.)

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