Monday, November 19, 2007

Libby's 2007 Reading Round-up

A fine year of reading, I had. Thankful am I.

Novels

The Book Shop by Penelope Fitzgerald

Winner of Libby's Book of the Year Award. Fantastic. Wonderful, wonderful. When I slowly closed this book after reading the last few perfect words, I sighed and smiled. This book was a pleasure in all the ways a book can be. Thank goodness for it. I am lucky to have read it.

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

While reading, I felt it a bit trite considering the rather weighty subject matter; concentration camps, illiteracy, secrets, power in sexual relationships. By the end, though, I saw that the book did little to persuade or give answers to any of the questions raised - and this was its grace. I recommend but only insofar as the subject-matter interests you. It's not especially well-written but did the trick for me.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Really weird book that I liked immensely. It has a bit of everything; religion, morality, interplay of relationships, cultural amorphism, slavery, social hierarchies, caste systems, political scapegoating…it's all here. This would be a great book club book and is highly recommended.

Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber

Loved it, loved it, loved it. If you've seen Stranger than Fiction and, like me, thought that the last 10 minutes of the movie should have landed on the cutting room floor, then you'll feel the same about the last 30 pages of this book. Even so, like Stranger than Fiction, it's fantastic. Read it.

The Good Mother by Sue Miller

I wanted to like this book but I couldn't get past the atrocious parenting of the lead character. Thing is, you weren't supposed to think the lead characters was actually a bad mother (hence the title). But in the first 50 pages, she gives her 3 year old some beer, puts her in the tub and leaves her while she goes to sip on some wine and do the dishes and sticks a pacifier in her child's mouth to "keep her quiet." Nuts. To be honest, I didn’t get much further in the book than these first 50 pages but I wanted to write this up to warn anyone wishing to purchase this book.

Blindness by Jose Saramago

From the Nobel Prize winning Jose Saramago comes a 1984esque novel about a strange plague of blindness. The overriding theme of the story is the inhumanity societies inflict upon individuals out of fear. The underlying (and more interesting) theme is the disorientation experienced by the characters. The lack of sensing/lack of seeing is pressed upon the reader by Saramago's writing style. He fails to name the characters, refuses to structure the dialogue using traditional punctuation and description and leaves the reader wondering, "Who said that?" "Who was that?" "What was that sound?" "Where am I?" Truly transfixing and transforming. I did not enjoy the subject matter of this book but loved the book. Really amazing. I plan on adding The Double to 2008's reading list.

Falling Man by Don DiLillo

I liked this book. I did not love it. I didn't enjoy the characters so much…less insight than you'd like with the backdrop of 9/11. I guess that's just the point though; that few of us have made sense of 9/11 and integrated the experience of it into a coherent system of values/thoughts/positions/whatevers. The book felt "true"…that life goes on in much the same way as it always has, that most of us saw the horror and have left it to fade away, and that keeping it close, even if we could, would do little to enlighten our souls or further any meaningful cause.

Senseless.

Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Ummmmm…okay. Here's the dealio; I think that Kundera is a fantastic writer. Fan-freakin'-tastic. On the other hand, he's got some serious sexuality/women/relationship issues. If you can look past his clear misogyny (which I could actually pull off in parts), you will experience quite a treat. If it happens that you are misogynist, holy cats! you're gonna LOVE this book!

Fortune's Rocks by Anita Shreve

It's about a young woman (15) who has a tryst with a married man during the late 1800s. I liked it. The writing was fast and smooth. Some have referred to her writing as "economical", which is the case but may lead you to the mistaken belief that it is not beautiful. It is. A fantastic vacation book (which is where I read it along with the next).

Sea Glass by Anita Shreve

Loved it, loved it. Shreve is just a fine writer. This story takes place in the same house as Fortune's Rocks but is set against the backdrop of the depression. I recommend.

Body Surfing by Anita Shreve

Set in current day and takes place in the same house as the two above (I love that the house has become a character to me), but this book was not nearly as good as the two before it. Even so, I'm going to try out The Pilot's Wife that falls between Sea Glass and Body Surfing in time. I'll let you know.

The Myth of You and Me by Leah Stewart

Wow. This book was really hard on me. I don' t think it was an amazing book by any stretch but I do feel as though it spoke such truth about friendship and running away, about love and pain between women that I will recommend. If you've lost friends to time, place, changes, hurt, mindless actions, or no actions whatsoever, the book will be personal to you. It was to me, maybe a bit too much so.

Herzog by Saul Bellows

I'll leave it to the committee to defend its determination of worthiness for the Nobel. T'was good. T'was well-written, clearly. T'was philosophically interesting, I suppose. What it wasn't was current. The crux of this book is an average joe philosopher slowly losing grip and writing letters to everyone he knows and does not. It's a really good technique that allows a revealing of Herzog's thoughts. The outcome is ontologically grounded; actualized thoughts…putting it on paper does make it real, does it not?

Any which way, I believe I missed the moment in time that this book failed to transcend. Herzog wrote to heads of state, celebrities, wives and children among others. Since these folks are rooted in the past (the book was written in 1961), the book is a victim of time. Sigh, ain't that always the way?

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

I liked it. It was about a man who gave up his and his wife's child (a twin) without his wive's knowledge because the child had down syndrome. I think the book would have been infinitely more interesting if it began in current times (seems a theme this year). The birth took place in the 60s when society's perception of the worth of people with down syndrome was much less than it is now (not that we're in the clear about this IMHO, but still). Anyway, I could wax poetic but the deal is that this jerks giving up of his wive's child seems somewhat less monstrous because of the attitudes and options of the time. I would have liked to see a more complex moral fabric as the backdrop. Of course, that could just be me.

The Sea by John Banville

Currently reading but I will say that, should this book have been completed before publishing this post, it would most likely have been the runner up in the coveted Libby's Book of the Year Award. Lovely.


Non-fiction

The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore

Holy crap this book is cool. Super duper cool. Me thinks freakingly awesomely cool. I found it under my bed (turns out it was SKs). If that isn't your type of luck, go buy it. Cool.

On Beauty and Being Just by Elaine Scarry

I read a few reviews of this book before I bought it. Most people "liked" it but there seemed to be a consistent, if not gentle, criticism that it was not analytical enough.

Having been an analytic for many years and having been out of school for a few I felt this an opportunity to see how far I've come. Maybe by now I could just read philosophy without seeking consistency, rigor, and coherency. I could maybe read the words and let them melt over me. Experience the aesthetic, if you will. Certainly if I could, it would be most likely while reading a book entitled "On Beauty and Being Just."

You know, not so much. Yeah, no, not at all. This book was lame. Lame, lame, lame. It's not even the rigor or consistency or coherency that was all lacking that made me nutty, nutty, nutty. It was the preposterous assumptions. Gack! It totally reminded me of the paper I submitted with my Master's applications. And oh my, that's not good! Blesch! Do. Not. Read. It.

Short Stories

I don't generally review the short stories I read over the year unless they're part of a collection but my friend SK gifted me a subscription to One Story. Tis the cat's pajamas. It helps me find authors quick like a bunny and add them to my "keep an eye out for 'em" list.

To this years short stories then:

Picnic After the Flood by Rachel Cantor

This is a story about being a woman who is perpetually drawn to bad boys - and who of us hasn't been? But it revealed nothing of the truth of the matter beyond that experienced by any woman over 25 years of age; They're bad. They cheat. It stinks.

Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing by Lydia Peelle

Loved it. It is about a woman going through a divorce and looking for her ex through it. I think we all lose a bit of ourselves when we couple - always looking to the partner for validation/joy/love/kindness/affirmation so when we decouple we're left to remember ourselves. The main character doesn't…not in this short story but, I suspect, will. And isn't that the beauty of short stories? No closure just a nibble of life. Yum.

What is the Cure for Meanness by Brock Clarke

Loved it, loved it, love it. Best short story of the year! About a 16 year old boy whose mean father leaves his (somewhat) pathetic mother and, get this, it's funny! Really funny. If you can get your hands on it, read it.

217 Pound Dog by Arthur Bradford

A good short story. It wasn't fantastic but certainly entertained me for a bit. It's about a corporate lawyer who is going through a mid-life crisis. Not generally my cup of tea but, again, entertaining enough.

All Good Things by Emily Benz

Oh boy, I liked this story. I can't confidently say that it was because of the writing. What I can confidently say is that this story reminded me of that slow camera-pulling-back-like process when your childhood moves away from you even as you looking longingly at it, pleading with it to just leave a little bit of that awe, carefree, lazy and whimsical identity you once had. Just a crumb please. Instead, there you stand in your early teen-hood, seeing your empty self, isolated, requiring definition as your childhood family reveals its failings. You are no longer defined in context; the perception of which you thought was true. The vision that you once had of summer days on the porch playing Euchre while grampy peacefully sipped on his drink and your brother dove into the chilly lake fade to the reality that your brother was escaping because he can't possible figure out how to be a member of the family and your always quiet grampy was really tanked and wanting to be left alone. Sigh. Growing up stinks. I liked this book.

Murmurations by Bradford Tice

Kinda sad. It's about an old couple existing in the same house…not so much sharing it, but existing in it. It's about quiet isolation. It's about having had too much together to be able to speak. It's about love and growing old. It's sad dudes.

Children's Books

And finally, as a new addition to the Yearly Roundup, I'm adding the best books for kids of my childrens' respective ages.

Book of the year for 3 year olds

Not-a-Box

Book of they year for 8 month olds

The Belly Button Book

Looking Forward - Possible Books for 2008

Moby Dick (recommended by Duf).

The Uncommon Reader (recommended by poppy)

Infidel, an autobiography by Ayaan Kirsi Ali (recommended by Diana)

The Double

The Pilot's Wife

The Gathering

Supercapitalism

Atonement

We're in Trouble

Gifted by Nikita Lalwani

The Portable Virgin

Vital Nourishment: Departing from Happiness

This I Believe: The Personal Philosophie of Remarkable Men and Women

6 Comments:

Blogger Duf said...

You are amazing.

I had a down year for reading. BUT, I read:

Falling Man, and
The Sea, and (I kid you not)
I'm currently reading Herzog.

I disagree with you on Herzog. I absolutley love it (I'm on page 120 or so).

I agree with you on Falling Man. I found the style maddening at times (and I realize the reader was meant to be disoriented, but after awhile I lost patience with it). I also didn't care much for the characters, and the one sub-plot I really liked (Keith's interaction with the woman who owned the briefcase) ended too soon.

I loved The Sea.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Duf said...

Oh, and I'll run out and get a copy of The Book Shop.

Also, be forewarned that Moby Dick tends to inspire two reactions - love or hate.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There will never be as great a book recc as The Namesake. That was your most stellar.

6:03 AM  
Blogger Aerenchyma said...

Duf, it's crazy goofy that we've been reading the same stuff...Herzog for crying out loud!! Nutty, nutty.

Anon, The Namesake was delightful, true, but The Book Shop is equally as fantastic. Give it a whirl dude. T'was the bomb.

6:49 AM  
Anonymous sjdude said...

WOW...for god's sake woman how do you do it...better yet...Why?
The last thing I read were the instructions on adding a chrome drive shaft cover to my bike....lol yeah like I really read them...so funny huh?

11:27 AM  
Blogger poppy said...

I must get Blindness immediately. The Book Shop is already on the list and I already own Crescent.
As for Elaine Scarry, I think the lack of rigor is purposeful. Her The Body in Pain is really fantastic. But then, we already knew our philosophical bents are bent differently : )

5:59 AM  

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