jfetting's 12 in 12 challenge
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1) Longest on the TBR list
2) Real-life book group books
3) Short story collections
4) Random nonfiction on my shelves
5) LT group reads
6) Historical fiction
7) Nonfiction: ago (history/memoir/biography)
9) Booker prize winners
10) Author Theme Reads - Japanese authors
11) 1001 books
12) Anything goes
Right now, the plan is to read 10 books in each category for a grand total of 120, which is high for me. This will be adjusted up or down depending on how life goes during 2012.
Background: Once upon a time, a non-reader friend talked into joining a more different internet book catalog website. I know, I know. Anyway, I did not take this one as seriously, and mainly used it to keep track of things I wanted to read in the future (this was before LT came up with collections). The 10 books that have sat on the list unread the longest are:
1) Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl - 1/7/2012
2) On Beauty by Zadie Smith - 4/4/12
3) The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood - 7/24/12
4) Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood - 8/27/12
5) The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski - 8/24/12
6) The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher - 9/10/12
7) Ines of my Soul by Isabel Allende
8) The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon - 4/14/12
9) March by Geraldine Brooks
10) The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander - 12/16/12
1) Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk - 1/20/12
2) The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - 1/10/12
3) A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness - 7/30/12
4) The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier - 9/23/12
5) A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole - 8/9/12
6) Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay -2/22/12
7) Broken Harbor by Tana French - 10/1/12
8) Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese - 3/18/12
9) The Paris Wife by Paula McLain - abandoned 3/4 way through on 5/10/12 but I'm counting it because of the suffering
10) 11/22/63 by Stephen King - 4/20/12
I love these!
1) Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories by Shirley Jackson - 2/28/12
2) Forms of Water by Andrea Barrett
3) Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges - 7/30/12
4) Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri - 8/12/12
5) The Best of Saki by Saki
6) The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald - 9/3/12
7) From the Fifteenth District by Mavis Gallant
8) The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell - 4/10/12
9) Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman
10) The Plums of Wodehouse by P.G. Wodehouse - 11/14/12
There are a bunch of random nonfiction titles on my bookshelves that I want to get around to reading, already. These are them.
1) Marley and Me by John Grogan - 2/21/12
2) Blink: the power of thinking without thinking by Malcolm Gladwell - 7/8/12
3) Breakthrough: politics and race in the age of Obama by Gwen Ifill - 4/29/12
4) Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter
5) Consilience: the Unity of Knowledge by E.O. Wilson
6) The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois - 8/24/12
7) Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel - 10/28/12
8) Longitude by Dava Sobel - 8/12/12
9) We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch - 11/13/12
10) The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
1) The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery with the 12 in 12 read - 4/7/12
2) IQ84 by Haruki Murakami with the Author Theme Reads group - 1/28/12
3) The Ghost in the Little House by William Holtz with the Missouri Readers - 2/8/12
4) Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde - 2/15/12
5) Woe to Live On by Daniel Woodrell - Missouri Readers - 4/22/12
6) White Teeth by Zadie Smith - 1001 group read - 9/14/12
7) Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - Missouri Readers (sorta) - 10/11/12
8) Stoner by John Williams - 11/17/12
Some trashy, some less so.
1) The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers by Margaret George - 10/24/12
2) The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory - 2/2/12
3) The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory - 3/4/12
4) The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George - 12/15/12
5) Company of Liars by Karen Maitland - 3/25/12
6) The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
7) Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel - 6/27/12
8) When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman - 3/25/12
9) Time and Chance by Sharon Kay Penman - 9/19/12
10) Devil's Brood by Sharon Kay Penman
Some history, some memoirs, some biographies. Whatever strikes my fancy, including:
1) Constantine's Sword by James Carroll - 3/14/12
2) After the Victorians by A. N. Wilson - 5/23/12
3) Civilisation by Kenneth Clark
4) The Great Divide by Studs Terkel
5) George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I by Miranda Carter - 5/27/12
6) The Landmark Xenophon's Hellenika
7) What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami - 8/14/12
8) The Autobiography of Charles Darwin by Charles Darwin - 11/10/12
9) Gunn's Golden Rules: Life's Little Lessons for Making it Work by Tim Gunn - 8/16/12
10) The First World War by John Keegan - 6/2/12
Religious books, spiritual books, books about religions or spirituality
1) Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl - 3/25/12
2) Miracles by C.S. Lewis - 4/5/12
3) Varieties of Religious Experience by William James - 12/26/12
4) The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong
5) God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It by Jim Wallace
6) Confessions of St. Augustine - 11/9/12
7) The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton - 7/21/12
8) Jesus and Buddha: the parallel sayings by Marcus Borg - 2/9/12
9) When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson - 4/15/12
10) Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin - 9/12/12
Undoubtedly, there will be a Borg/Crossan collaboration in here, possibly something by John Shelby Spong, and I'd like to get in the scriptures of a religious tradition that is not mine. So like either the Koran, or the Bhagavad Gita, or something.
That I haven't read yet, I mean.
1) Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes - 5/24/12
2) The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson - 11/8/12
3) Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre - 8/25/12
4) The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst - 10/15/12
5) Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee - 11/4/12
6) Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey - 11/5/12
7) Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally - 2/19/12
8) The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch
9) The Ghost Road by Pat Barker - 8/20/12
10) The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood - 7/1/12
1) Silence by Shusaku Endo - 1/18/12
2) The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo - 2/9/12
3) Kokoro by Natsume Soseki - 3/16/12
4) The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe - 4/13/12
5) Deep River by Shusaku Endo - 4/24/12
6) The Samurai by Shusaku Endo - 8/7/12
7) Almost Transparent Blue by Ryu Murakami - 8/11/12
8) Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima - 11/27/12
9) The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima - 11/19/12
10) The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima - 10/14/12
Mostly classics, this year, I think. With a couple exceptions
1) Regeneration by Pat Barker - 4/4/12
2) Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks - 5/7/12
3) The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks - 8/14/12
4) Hard Times by Charles Dickens - 9/5/12
5) Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
7) The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
8) The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal
9) Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell - 8/10/12
10) Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiong'o - 1/1/12
1) In a Dog's Heart by Jennifer Arnold - 1/4/2012
2) The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell - 2/20/12
3) The White Lioness by Henning Mankell - 10/1/12
4) Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller - 7/3/12
5) A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin - 5/7/12
6) A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin - 7/8/12
7) End This Depression Now! by Paul Krugman - 7/26/12
8) A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
9) Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness - 10/07/12
10) The Eye in the Door by Pat Barker - 8/17/12
I'm also planning on reading the The Elegance of the Hedgehog, so no doubt we'll cross paths :)
So I'm a dog person - I'm currently owned by a 8.5-9yo (ish) flat-coated retriever/border collie mix. I'd seen this book around LT (I think it may have been an early reviewer book) so I picked it up. It seems like a good book for new dog owners; I really wish it had been around when I first got Sadie because it has a lot of good (and realistic) advice on what to feed them, how to train them, etc. The book may have been written in response to Cesar Milan and his advice. Apparently there is a bit of a backlash starting against his methods, since people who don't actually know what they are doing around dogs take them, carry them too far, and end up with terrified, aggressive, biting dogs. I've read both books, and while I think Milan has some good points (dogs need exercise, lots, and tired dogs are good dogs), other points seem to be specific for problematic dogs, and can really cause huge problems in more sensitive dogs. Arnold points this out; dogs have different personalities, like people, and so each dog probably needs to be treated a little differently, like people.
Longest on the TBR pile: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
I've been meaning to read this for years, and finally did. It takes awhile to get going (too much exposition, not enough editing) but the story itself is a lot more fun than it should have been. The first part of the book reads a lot like the traveling-around-the-country scenes in Lolita, without any child molestation, and then it jumps into new-girl-at-fancy-prep-school territory. This part is complete with the Beautiful People Posse (like the Cullens, but not vampires), who for some reason bring Blue (like Bella, only mildly less irritating) into their fold. There is a lot of strange behavior by a teacher, an accidental death, a murder, and then in the last 100 pages or so we find ourselves in a mysterious-underground-assassin-group thriller.
It sounds like a mess, and some readers have found it so, but I really liked it. Especially once things started happening. There is a lot of cutesy references (annotated), and line drawings, and that sort of thing, but I didn't find it annoying. Many reviewers ranted about how it is basically just a crappy knockoff of The Secret History, with a murder mystery, so obviously I now need to go read that book too.
I read a book for my real-life book group, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, although I don't think my book group is actually going to discuss it until like June. But the library had it for me now, and I've been waiting and waiting, so I read it. And it is fantastic. I think it really does deserve all the hype it is getting right now. I loved the descriptions of the tents at the circus, and while yes the contest isn't an actual "battle" so much as it is "tent making" that was fine too. I loved it.
A really beautiful and really profound and really thought-provoking book. Its about a missionary priest in Japan back in 1600-something, who goes looking for his teacher who allegedly apostatized. The Christian community is being hunted down and destroyed, but the missionary (Rodrigues) is obsessed with what on earth made his teacher apostatize. He finds out. What does God want? Blind adherence to dogma which permits suffering? Or relief of that suffering, even if it means what looks like apostasy? Why would Rodrigues expect anything but silence from God when he is priding himself on a faith that comes entirely from an academic and selfish worldview?
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
I've never read any Murakami before, and I didn't know what to expect, but I ended up loving this book. It's a combination of weird supernatural fantasy, and a love story, and a dystopia (sort of). I actually stopped in the middle of the book and flipped to the end to see who lived and who died.
Some of the prose annoyed me (lots of descriptions of a 17 yo girl's large perfect breasts - yuck) but I was totally drawn in to the story, and concerned about the characters. 5 stars.
Thank you also for your reviews of Special Topics in Calamity Physics and The Night Circus. Both were on my 'To be put on mount TBR someday' pile, and I think I might just have to put Night Circus on the actual pile :P
I was hoping for more of how she helped her mom write the Little House books (which I admit I adored as a kid: my girl cousins and I used to play Little House on my grandparents' farm and would fight over who got to be Laura). The author of the biography seems to think that RWL should get all the credit for the Little House books. I don't know about that; yes, she polished them up quite a bit, and made the story more readable, but the stories themselves came out of LIW's head. Writing pretty sentences isn't enough to make someone a good author. Story is way more important.
Nice review of Silence, which I also read for the Japanese author theme read. I am currently reading both The Night Circus and 1Q84 but am not very far into either one.
And I enjoyed your review of The Ghost in the Little House, which I probably will not read.
For the Author Theme Reads category: The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo
A quick, horrifying, absorbing read about vivisection experiments performed by Japanese doctors on U.S. POWs during WWII. Each of the minor participants has his or her story revealed, explaining (using a few scenes each) why they chose to participate, and what made one of these changes his/her mind at the last minute. Very good and very thought-provoking, but not easy to read.
For my religion/spirituality category: Jesus and Buddha: the parallel sayings by Marcus Borg
As an antidote to the inhumanity in the previous book, I finished this quick little compilation of verses from Christian scripture and Buddhist scripture that demonstrates how very very similar were the teachings of Christ and the Buddha. They're presented one verse/page, with the Christian text and the Buddhist text on opposite pages. Very little commentary. I liked it.
This seems less like a standalone novel and more like the setup for a new series. Which I suppose it is, but even in a series I think each book should be a story in and of itself. I gave the book 5 stars, though, despite that little quibble because the world-building was so great and because I am so very much looking forward to the rest of the series. He left way too much unexplained.
Not sure yet which category this is going in. Maybe Group Reads, maybe Anything Goes.
ETA: Group Reads, I think.
Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally
Wow. Keneally uses the "nonfiction novel" technique to tell the story of Oskar Schindler and how he saved 1200 Jewish men and women during WWII by keeping them employed in his factory. That sentence makes it sound simple, but he spent three solid years bribing, pulling strings, and dashing around Poland to keep his people safe. He built whole camps to keep them out of the hellish local concentration camp, he made up crazy excuses as to why he needed workers who were small children, who were sick, etc. I don't know why I'm summarizing; everyone has seen the movie.
The book is better. You learn so much more about the people. The girl in the red coat? She has a name, and a story. AND, best of all, in real life she survived. The movie is difficult to watch; the book is easy to read. Keneally is very matter-of-fact about the horrors, so the reader can focus on the individuals in the camps. It is a 5-star book.
I also read The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell, the second of the Wallender books, and am sticking it in my Anything Goes category. I haven't read any Scandinavian crime in awhile, and this book was just what I needed. It was great; even better than the first one, with lots of international intrigue and whatnot. Plus, I think that Wallender is one of the most unintentionally-hilarious characters in all of literature. I'm pretty sure I shouldn't be laughing at him the way I do, but I can't help it.
And thanks for the reminder to get back to the Mankell books. I have only read Faceless Killers.
For my Real Life Book Group, I read Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. I loved the first half of the book, when the POV switched between that of Sarah, a 10yo French Jewish girl rounded up into the Vel' d'Hiv' in July of 1942, and Julia, a modern-day journalist who is reporting on the Vel' d'Hiv on the 50th anniversary of the roundup. It was really interesting, contrasting the facts Julia gathered with the atmosphere of horror and what-is-going-on that Sarah felt. There's a buildup to an event in Sarah's world (sorry, no spoilers), and then it is resolved. In the middle of the book. So Sarah's voice goes away, and we're left with Julia. This part of the book kind of sucked, actually. Julia (an American) is overwhelmed with guilt about the Shoah, and the events of July 1942 in France in particular, and determined to find Sarah. What for? you might ask. Why conceivable good could the arrival of a total stranger (Julia) in Sarah's life, reminding her of this epic tragedy in her life, do? I don't have an answer to that question, and the book didn't really either, but it went on for another couple hundred pages. It seems to me that Julia is making a big assumption, that somehow Sarah will be pleased to know... what? "That somebody remembers her"? It isn't Sarah's responsibility to make Julia feel better about the situation. It isn't Sarah's job to assuage Julia's Western guilt. If I were Sarah, and somebody showed up on my doorstep 50 years after I lost my entire family, and said "Hi. I'm a member of the family who still owns the apartment that you were dragged out of in the middle of the night, the one you used to own that you were never reimbursed for. I just want you to know that I like totally remember you, that we feel real bad about that whole thing. We're not going to, you know, do anything about it or give you the apartment back, not that you'd want it, really, but basically I'm going to stand here until you tell me how special I am for doing this, for showing up here." I'd slap her. de Rosnay should have stopped halfway through. There is nothing wrong with a short novel.
For my short story collections, I read Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories. It is a lovely LoA collection of all Jackson's work. The Lottery is a wonderful collection of super creepy short stories, The Haunting of Hill House is even scarier than I remember, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a new one for me and WOW is that one messed up novella, and the uncollected work at the end is fun too. I didn't realize Jackson could be so funny. Highly recommended for fans.
***Warning: ridiculously long review. If you just want the short, short version: this book is really important and good and readable and possibly should be required reading***
This gigantic doorstop of a book has been on my TBR (and physically on my bookshelves) since there was a lecture about the history of the Christian church and the Jewish people at the church I attended in St. Louis. The speaker was fantastic, the lecture was riveting, the topic was horrifying. He said that if we wanted to know more, we should read this book. 5 years later, I did. He's right.
Carroll is a practicing Catholic, and an ex-priest, and makes clear that this history is presented through the eyes of an increasingly guilt-ridden Catholic. He intersperses the history parts with stories from his own past that help illustrate particular topics. The book begins with a trip to Auschwitz, and the installation of a cross by Pope John Paul II, and the fallout from that which leads Carroll to ask "How did this happen? How did Western civilization get to this point?" It is incredibly readable (Carroll is a novelist, I think, in his real job), but also fairly respectable in terms of sources (over 100 pages of endnotes & references! Another 20 or so of bibliography) but not at all light reading. He presents evidence of how, over 2000 years, the execution by the Romans of the leader of a Jewish sect (a different denomination, in a sense) was manipulated first by Jewish followers who wanted more followers, then by Gentile adherents who didn't like Jews in the first place and now felt they had a reason to dislike those Jews even more (we're still in the first century of the Common Era, btw), next by a shrewd politician who realized that he'd get lots of support in his bid to be emperor if he claimed to be Christian now, and I'm going to stop here because this is an appalling run-on sentence already and I'm only at Constantine.
Basically, the argument is that 20th century anti-Semitism and its peak during the Holocaust isn't just because of one man, or even one political party, as much as we'd like to think so. One can trace a direct line from decisions made by Christian philosophers, priests, and popes to embed hatred of Jewish people into the very dogma of the Church, and (via the pulpit) from the church to the culture of Western civilization. And it is hard to rid a culture of something like that. Hell, I saw an article on msn.com yesterday where some batshit right-winger politician is blaming something on "Jewish socialism". Now. Today. Here in the good old US of A, where we'd never behave like that. Well, except for the exclusion of Jewish people from country clubs, etc. in the 60s. Besides that. Now, I'm not saying that everyone reading this is a secret anti-Semite; I think that most of us are not, actually. I'm just saying (parroting Carroll, actually) that it isn't like the Holocaust happened in a Christian-dominant culture where everyone was all "yay Jewish people just like us woo!". The Jewish people had been scapegoats for millenia. This shit doesn't happen in a void.
I wish I could say something more coherent and profound, because this book really had a profound effect on me the past couple of weeks. I've decided I'm not capable of the review this book deserves, but someone probably has done it already.
Flippant aside: OMG, has anyone here actually read the letters of Abelard and Heloise? Carroll excerpts some in the book (Abelard is one of the few lights in the church on this issue, and if he had won the battle with Anselm & his spiritual heirs there would not have been a holocaust) and wow. That is some hot stuff right there. I had no idea.
ETA: Now what I'd really like to do is to read the exact same history, but from a Jewish writer's perspective.
Another, completely unrelated topic: You're a scientist, right? I've got something happening here this week I've never seen before. Ever. I have this crazy robin in the yard that keeps flying up and pecking at the windows. First it was the window of a shed we built last fall and I thought it was the new structure that was bothering him. But we did not take down any trees or anything to make room for it. Now he is pecking at the screens at the windows on the house. I'm getting concerned because the bedroom window upstairs is open, but does not have a screen on it yet. What is he doing and how do I get him to stop it?
For my Author Theme Reads category: Kokoro by Natsume Soseki
I'm loving these Japanese authors. I don't know if they're just that readable, or if they have really good translators, or they only bother to translate the really good books, but this is another winner that I read thanks to the Author Theme Reads group. It is another civilization-in-transition story, from the point of view of a member of the younger generation, depicting his interactions with the older generation. Some of it still hits quite close to home for a book that is published in 1914, like the struggle between being a good son or daughter and living near parents, and being ambitious and wanting to pursue a career that will probably guarantee never living near parents (sigh), and dealing with the recurring guilt trips (sigh, again, louder).
But that's just one subplot - there is also a lot of drama about the secret in the past life of the character called Sensei, who can't quite overcome his guilt for an action that this modern reader thinks isn't really that bad, but Sensei obviously did. It's really good.
When Christ and his Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman
Oh, she's good. Really really good. I love this book almost as much as I love The Sunne in Splendour. It's the first of the Henry II/Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy, and most of the book consists of Stephen and Maude (real name in real history is Matilda, but there are already like 3 Matildas in the book already and so Penman changed her name) battling it out for control of England after Stephen stole the throne from her after the death of Henry I. It does drag in spaces, but gets super good as soon as Henry II grows up.
One thing that does crack me up about Penman is her overuse of the following plot device: Two main characters are sitting in a castle/tavern/whorehouse/battlefield tent/stable/battlement, speculating about the events of recent history (deaths, betrayals, etc). Suddenly, a messenger appears out of nowhere! Said messenger is inevitably soaking wet/bleeding/missing a limb/has an arrow sticking out of them/frozen. Messenger blurts out that DANGER! is approaching/Someone Important is dead/army is leaving! Everyone scurries about and yells for horses. Repeat as needed.
Seriously good book though. Can't wait for the second one.
#58 Yes, you really do need to read TSIS. It is fantastic!
For my Anything Goes category, I'm sneaking in an unplanned historical fiction novel - Company of Liars by Karen Maitland. It is a quick read, and a highly entertaining if a bit creepy story of a group of travelers in fourteenth century Britain who are headed north trying to get away from the Black Plague. They tell stories about themselves in Canterbury Tales sort of way (modern English, don't worry).
For my Religion/Spirituality category: Miracles by C.S. Lewis. A little Lenten reading. In general, Lewis is a bit more conservative and literalist a Christian than I am, so we frequently disagree. Never more so than in this book, where Lewis tries to take a rational, scientific approach to argue that miracles happen and that the specific miracles mentioned in the gospels specifically happened. It infuriates me because he'll say things like "Well, obviously A, because A is the ONLY way to interpret X statement" when B, C, and D are all equally valid (to me) ways of interpreting X statement.
I'm not saying miracles can't or didn't happen. I'm saying that you have to take these things on faith, because they don't necessarily stand up to scientific rigor. Nor are they supposed to, because science and religion are two different things that ask two very different types of questions.
For my Group Reads category, I read The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery with this very 12 in 12 group. I suppose I should have read all the little blurbs on the back, which talked about how "bittersweet" and "heartbreaking" this book is, because then I would have been prepared for the ending. I wasn't. How could she end it like that? Loved it, despite the ending. A beautifully written reminder of the importance of Art and Culture in life (and I feel like it is ok to capitalize these words, because she does all the time).
The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe
No. I'm pretty sure that this book went right straight over my head, and is very good in a deep and profound way that I don't understand, and that is why all the intelligent literary people over at Author Theme Reads liked it so much. I don't. 2 stars. Boo.
It is a really easily read, entertaining (though dark & gothic & melodramatic), plot-driven book. I liked it a lot, and I'll probably recommend it to those of my friends who like to read, but not books with "descriptions" or "ideas".
I've never read any of her nonfiction but I absolutely love her novels (all three of them) and so I decided to pick up this collection of essays based entirely on the title. Me too, Marilynne! So did I! Lots of them! But it should come as no surprise to anyone that I think she is an absolutely brilliant essayist as well. Really, the woman can do no wrong in my world. Robinson approaches the world from the point of view of a left-leaning academic who is also a progressive person of faith (does this sound familiar? Not that I am anywhere within several orders of magnitude of her awesomeness). Her essays are about politics, religion, society, etc, and she skewers the targets of her contempt beautifully. I'm sticking this in my religion/spirituality category b/c she does write a lot about it. I have another of her books on hold at the library and I can't wait to get it.
For my author theme reads category: Deep River by Shusaku Endo
Another gushing review about what a fantastic writer Endo is. Yep. Deep River is, I think, the best of his novels that I have read so far (n=3). It is about a group of unconnected Japanese tourists who go to the town on the Ganges that used to be called Benares but is now called something that starts with a V. Very holy place, and this is really a very spiritual book without shoving any particular flavor of spirituality down the reader's throat.
I love Gwen Ifill. She's one of my favorite TV news people. And this book was a really interesting look at (as the subtitle says) politics and race, both in the presidential election of 2008 and also in a number of state and local government elections in this time period. She points out the shift in the African-American political community from the old-school Civil Rights era to younger politicians who, while acknowledging their debt to those older politicians, go in different directions and have different goals. It is NOT, as John McCain's campaign claimed, a piece of political propaganda for Barack Obama.
Anything goes: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Holy crap! This book is amazing! I can see why everyone loves it, and I need to read the second one right now. I hate the Lannisters, except for Tyrion, and totally sympathize with the Starks. I want to see horrible things happening to all the rest of the Lannisters immediately. The parallels with the Yorks and the Lancasters in the war of the roses are very interesting.
1001 books: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
I saw the PBS version first, and thought "Oh. This is a really pretty film of a really crappy story. Why does everyone like this book again?". It turns out that the PBS version really kind of screwed the story up, and emphasized the "love" story (scare quotes necessary) over what I consider to be the actual story of the book, the incredible changes in Stephen's personality due to the war. The book is wonderful, and really gets the horror of trench warfare across. I even liked the intersections with the 1978 storyline.
God, this book was awful. I should have known better; I can't stand Hemingway, at all, and I don't think he was an amazingly gifted otherworldly person for whom the rules do not apply. Obviously I am wrong. The majority of the literary world disagrees with me. I know. I also cannot stand the narrator of this book, Hemingway's first wife, Hadley. SHE'S THE WORST. She is one of those people who have no life or interests or identity or existence, really, outside of their relationship and their partner. These people bore the pants off me in real life, but they're inexcusable in a fictional character who narrates the book. She's such a mousy hideous pushover. I stopped reading when she didn't do anything when Hemingway's mistress crawled naked into bed with Hemingway while she was there. Whatever. I didn't get the pathos or feel any sympathy for her at all. The book can be divided in three parts: 1) she meets Hemingway and falls in love and is miserable because she doesn't know if he loves her too, 2) they are married in Paris and she is miserable because he pays more attention to his writing than to her and 3) Hemingway is banging this other woman and she is miserable blah blah blah. Possibly there is a fourth part but I didn't get that far. Go away, Hadley.
I thought I would like the setting better (Paris in the 20s w/ all the superfabulous expats like Stein and Fitzgerald). I loved the movie Midnight in Paris. Same characters, same time frame. But it is hard to do that when 1920s Paris is filtered through the eyes of this total suckfest. Even if Hadley was just a plot device to showcase the era, she doesn't have to be this awful. Anthony Powell did a great job in his A Dance to the Music of Time series doing the same thing with Nick Jenkins, whose story only barely intruded onto the narrative as a whole but he wasn't boring.
I used to have a rule that I would never read a book that had a title that followed the "The _____ Relative" formula because they are all terrible (see: The Pilot's Wife, The Bonesetter's Daughter, etc etc etc). I should have followed it.
I've visited the Pfeiffer-Hemingway house/museum in Piggott Ark. and tried to unravel the whole sordid story while touring... gave up after while and just admired the gardens.
I like most of Hemingway's stuff, but I can't really claim to admire or understand him or his writing.
I've been looking forward to reading The Paris Wife. I love Hemingway's books, but I've always thought his personal life was rather disgusting (and, no, I can't understand how that can be reconciled). After recently reading A Moveable Feast, I felt a bit more kindly toward him, and thought the story from the other side (that is, Hadley's side) would be interesting. Maybe not.
I love your prohibition against "The _____ Relative" books!
After the Victorians by A.N. Wilson (for my nonfiction - ago category)
The Victorians is Wilson's most famous work, but I don't have that so I'm going in reverse chronological order. I loved After the Victorians. I love Wilson's style. One caveat: he is by no means an unbiased scholarly reporter of history. His opinions come through loud and clear; as it happens, he and I agree on many, many things (I like to blame British Imperialism for all of the world's problems today, Wilson did too. We're both anti-war, etc) so that really didn't bother me. It is a very interesting look at the world (mostly Britain, obviously) from the death of Victoria to the accession of the current Queen.
It is beautifully written, I will grant Barnes that. And I liked what he did, setting up his narrator as totally reliable in the first half, and then knocking that down in the second. However. This book left me really cold, and I honestly can't tell why it won the Booker, and why everyone praises it to the skies. The first half was interesting, I suppose, but then the second half really should have been about 2 pages long if the main characters weren't idiots, and if they had behaved in a remotely plausible manner. The narrator keeps setting up meetings with his ex-girlfriend from decades ago, asking "what is going on with a certain situation?" and every.single.time. she gives him a totally obscure clue and then stomps off shouting/writing/whatever "you just don't get it, and you never did". Listen, honey, how about doing us all a favor and just saying, out loud, in words, what is going on, so that the book will end. The second half did give Barnes a whole 'nother section to inject pretty little philosophical musings about aging, death, memory, life, etc, but doesn't he already have a whole book about that?
I'm just guessing about the similar book; he has one called Nothing to Be Frightened Of that is about dying. I've not read it yet.
Really interesting book describing how, by the turn of the last century, essentially all the crowned heads of Europe were related to each other by birth or marriage through Queen Victoria. The book is really a history of the personalities of the royal heads of the Big Three, plus the political classes in each country, and how the combination of personality, diplomacy, mistakes, and total batshit craziness contributed to the build-up to WWI.
An important point that I think the book makes very clear: hereditary rulers should not, actually, be allowed to make decisions and rule.
The First World War by John Keegan
A mostly interesting military history of WWI. Nicely detailed, and after the first month not too detailed. The more I read about this conflict, the more I think that it was a totally avoidable and meaningless war that shouldn't have happened and didn't need to happen if most of the people in charge of countries weren't completely batshit insane, and that led to most if not all of the horrors of the 20th century. Romantic and glorious and noble my ass.
For my Booker Prize Winner category, I read The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. I loved it, too. 5 stars. I could not put it down.
Three more "Anything Goes" books (I'm having a terrible time sticking to my challenge books this year. All I want to read is A Song of Ice and Fire and zombie books. It happens.
1) Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller. I read this because I thought it was a 1001 book (nope) and because after moving it was the only book I could find. It was ok. Not good, not bad, just ok. The movie is better, because Judy Dench is in it.
2) A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin. Theon, you rat bastard.
3) World War Z by Max Brooks so good it gave me nightmares.
and one Random Nonfiction on My Shelves book:
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. The nonfiction equivalent of a Diana Gabaldon book. Without Jamie. Meh.
& in 2013, I'm going to have to copy your "longest on TBR shelves" category. Some day, I will drown under a pile of unread books and my friends will shake their heads and say "karma."
Real-life book group: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
It seems like people either love this book and think it is the funniest thing ever, or they hate it. I fall somewhere in between, but lean toward "hate it". I can see how certain kinds of people would find this book hilarious ("for those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like" quick name the movie!), and Ignatius hilarious, but since I loathe Ignatius the only redeeming qualities for me were Miss Trixie and Jones the janitor at the bar. They're hilarious.
I really like Paul Krugman's columns. I am the choir to whom he is preaching, really, so it should come as no surprise that I loved this book. If you like Paul Krugman, you will like it too and should definitely read it. If you hate Paul Krugman, you will hate it but you should read it too because you might enjoy the resulting ranting. Everyone needs an excuse to start ranting sometimes.
Real-life Book Group: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Ok, sure. So on the one hand, it is grown-up Twilight. But on the other hand - vampire scientists! Molecular biologists, at that! Witches who have PhDs and are science historians! mtDNA! Yoga! Tea! Time travel! Mysterious documents from ago! Haunted houses that share their opinions of the residents within! Must get ahold of the second book in the trilogy ASAP!
Short Stories: Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
Much more literary and highbrow than the last book. It is a collection of weird little short stories that remind me a lot of Italo Calvino's work. They are clever and funny and I didn't spend too much energy trying to "get" them. I just enjoyed them. Sue me.
"Sue Me." LOL!
1001 books: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. A very sweet, Victorian, cozy, heartwarming book about old women in a small village in England. I loved it. So cute.
Author Theme Reads: Almost Transparent Blue by Ryu Murakami. Incidentally, another 1001 book. Holy hell. Uh, I feel like I should have had to show ID to check this book out from the library. It reminded me of a Japanese, 1960s era version of Tropic of Cancer, with all the filth and sex and drugs that would imply. Gross.
Short Story Collections: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. This is her debut collection, and it is absolutely fantastic and I can see why it won the Pulitzer. The stories blew me away. I had read The Namesake and thought it was ok, but these stories are on a whole different level.
Random Nonfiction on my Shelves: Longitude by Dava Sobel. Pop science/history about making clocks.
Part memoir, part etiquette book, part fashion world gossip, entirely entertaining. Memoir enough that I'm sticking it in this category, although this may be pushing it a bit.
Anything Goes: The Eye in the Door by Pat Barker
The second book in the Regeneration trilogy, continuing the story of the emotional damage WWI inflicted on it's soldiers. This one also explores the extent to which homophobia came into play in civilian society during this time. More adventures of Billy Prior!
Booker Prize Winners: The Ghost Road by Pat Barker
The final book of the trilogy, and the one that won the Booker Prize. This whole series is emotionally draining; war is horrific. The writing is excellent, though.
This book was huge a couple years ago, and I picked up a copy super cheap then, and only just now got around to reading it. I gave it 3 stars; don't really understand either the hype or the haters. It's an ok book. Plotwise, it is Hamlet with dogs. The author isn't subtle about this, either. That's fine, though. I love Hamlet.
Gar and Trudy (see that?) live in northern WI and raise special dogs. What makes these dogs special is a huge, huge part of the book that actually never is clearly revealed. (This is one of Wroblewski's big problems, really. He keeps introducing guns, so to speak, and never firing them.) They have a son named Edgar who can't talk.
Random nonfiction on my shelves: The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois
A very important and highly quotable book that starts out with "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line". Du Bois wrote that in something like the 1900s, and he was not wrong. I think that many of his points are true, still, today, and can apply to many oppressed peoples.
After it had been out about a year, I had a lot of people telling me I had to read it but enough people reacted like you that I decided I didn't have to. Main critique seemed to be it started with promise but didn't deliver.
ROFLMAO re Vernon God Little - I had never heard of it until a discussion started about books that were totally worthless but had won major awards. The other one that came up more than once was Confederacy of Dunces. My comments on that book would be exactly as yours on VGL except change "Booker" to "Pulitzer."
Short story collections: The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I'm not a fan of Fitzgerald as a novelist. I mean, he's fine, I don't hate him, but I don't really love Gatsby either, you know? But these short stories are very good, and many are excellent. I particularly like "A Diamond as Big as the Ritz", "The Ice Palace", "Babylon Revisited", and the one with the ghost.
One of those books about how buying less stuff will make you a more happy & complete & self-actualized person, although this only works for rich people, because if you don't buy lots of stuff because you can't afford lots of stuff you also miss out on the self-actualization. Sucks for us poor people! Very pseudo-spiritual and a little bit too crunchy for me (think of all the time I would save if I stop shaving my legs! No). The end comes with a great OMG-civilization-is-ending-we're-all-going-to-die chapter that is pretty fun.
I think I was probably not in the right mood for this book at this time.
It started out promisingly, with the introductions of the Jones and the Iqbal families. I think that Zadie Smith does characters really well - the major ones are well-fleshed-out and interesting (with an exception I'll get to) and the minor ones are fantastic. The old guys playing dominos at the poolroom, for instance. She's great at dialogue, and setting scenes, and making real characters. She's just awful, though, at plot. I liked the first half of the book, and the interactions between the Joneses and the Iqbals, but then she introduces the Chal-somethings (forgot the name - sorry) for no apparent reason and the book goes rapidly downhill. The ending is just a mess. I was disappointed.
Anything Goes: The White Lioness by Henning Mankell. Too much South African politics. Not enough whiny Wallander. But I'm obviously going to complete the series.
Really clever idea and execution. I enjoyed it.
She just keeps getting better and better. Gone Girl was fantastic - funny, creepy, not-too-dark, and full of bizarre plot twists that I never saw coming but enjoyed thoroughly. I saw a lot of negative reviews of the book around here for awhile. Those people are just wrong.
Booker Prize Winners: The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst. Sex, drugs, and Thatcher-era UK politics. It was beautifully written, and the story itself (a middle-class gay man in his early 20s living with the super-rich MP dad and family of his buddy/crush from Oxford) was interested and sad. I didn't expect all the explicit sex in a Booker Prize winner, but there you go.
Highly entertaining, slightly trashy historical fiction from the point of view of the murderous monarch himself. Now that Hilary Mantel has converted me, I was angry with his Cromwell comments, but overall this was really a 5-star read. Perfect for long flights.
My recommendation would be to forget it even exists. It wasn't bad, just boring.
Nonfiction - Ago: The Autobiography of Charles Darwin. Not really a formal autobiography, more a collection of notes and name-dropping for his family and friends.
Random nonfiction on my shelves: We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch
Horrifying, frustrating, and infuriating, just like everything else I've read or seen about this absolute travesty. I'm usually a big Clinton fan, but he really dropped the ball on this one. As did the rest of the world, especially France. I gave it 4.5 stars, though, because it is absolutely gripping.
WL - but I may put it off for a long time. Difficult subject matter.
Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
Really really liked it and possibly even loved it. I had seen the movie ages ago (mmm Ralph Fiennes mmmm) but had forgotten all about the twist. Great characters & the Victorian-era Australia setting was perfect. I must read more by Peter Carey.
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
It's like Coetzee sat down and said "Hmm. Is it possible to pack everything that jfetting hates reading about into one book? Let's see. Middle-aged professors taking advantage of much younger students... check. Rape... check. Middle-aged professors who aren't the rape victim assuming that their opinion about the rape & its aftermath is the only one that matters... check. Killing dogs... check. Success! Bet she'll hate this."
Wow, this is a monster of a book. This Margaret George, she certainly is thorough in her books, isn't she? This one clocks in at 957 pages, with another 10 or so of notes at the back. That said, I loved it. Two for two, she is, since I also really loved the Henry VIII book. I'd say that the first two-thirds of the book are fantastic (birth to Actium) especially the parts with Caesar although I fully admit to having a crush on Julius Caesar. It doesn't JUST stem from the HBO series Rome, but that certainly helped (the same guy who played Captain Wentworth in one of the versions of Persuasion played Julius Caesar).
No, the Caesar bits are good, and then the ruling bits, and then the parts where she first meets Antony again and they misbehave all over Alexandria. It is Actium and everything post Actium that is the trouble. About a year and a half, and it gets 300 pages. I think that George was trying to build literary tension, to make the end as tragic as possible, but it went on too long and I think lost a bit of impact.
I'm still giving the book 4.5 stars. Even with its flaws it is really good.
Next year I will not be doing one of these category challenges; no motivation to make lists or focus my reading this year. For any who might wish to follow my reading and my ramblings, I can be found here at the 100 Book challenge group.
Happy New Year and happy reading in 2013!