Hey I’m trying to be all 2012 with this blog- to find out what I’m reading now and what I’ve read, please just click on the good reads button on the left there. If you click on the tile, you should be able to see what I wrote about it, and if you don’t trust my judgement, (probably wise) you should be able to then click- something?- and see what other people wrote about it. That’s the idea, anyway.
10/11-11/11- A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, A Dance With Dragons. Here’s the thing about light poporn: it’s actually slightly more addictive than regular, real poporn, ’cause for every ten pieces that taste and crunch like cardboard, there’s a piece with a smidge of something resembling butter and salt on it, and somehow in a messed up, BF Skinner Intermittent Rewards kind of way, that piece that’s almost buttery is so much more satisfying for being rare, than a bowl full of popcorn that actually tastes good. That’s how I feel about these books. I tore through them in five weeks, mostly because they kept ending on cliffhangers and I just HAD to know what happened to Arya! But damn, for every chapter about Arya or Jon Snow, there were three chapters of filler, which was both frustrating and kind of nice. They’re the perfect commuter book ’cause you can skim through whole sections without harming the narrative. (Did we really need so much about the Krakens? I think not, George. And Arya’s and Dani’s whole narrative arcs in Dragons were ridiculously pointless, and kind of boring.) Whenever there’s a Major PlotPoint, the author makes it very clear that it’s a Major Plot Point, and then Reminds You about it when it comes up again, so as a reader you really don’t have to do any work, which is awesome. It’s like teevee, in book form. By the end I was starting to feel like I’d been trapped in the Ren Fest for too long- LORD the faux medieviality gets on my nerves after a while. Sure, George will be achingly acurate when describing seige equipment, and insist on using oldtimey words life lief and liege, but in this magical version of the 14th century everyone bathes!- but it was compelling, and kept me reading, even if, or perhaps because, only every fifth chapter or so was really satisfying.
10/11 My Lady Ludlow– This was a much more satisfying read than North and South, and a very interesting perspective on changing social mores at the cusp of the Industrial Revolution. This book is Gaskell at her best.
10/11- Charlotte Figg Takes Over Paradise– So when Andy broke up with me in, what was it, 2007? ’08? I can’t remember. But I do remember the book I bought the next afternoon. I went to the used bookstore in a hungover, gritty-eyed, numb haze of misery and bought the first book that caught my eye- The Persian Pickle Club– and it was just TERRIBLE. Not even in a fun, empty calorie, martini-glass on the cover kind of way, but just genuinely TERRIBLE. It was about a group of quilters in some unnamed Southern Town during the depression who bake pies, pray to Jesus, make quilts, and maybe ONE of them has a secret involving an abusive husband and a possible murder, but a whole lot of prayer and women sticking together makes the whole thing go away. Just awful. How do these things get published? I hated it the whole time I was reading it, and I hated myself for reading it, but then I hated everything at that time, and it was nice to have some tangible target for all of my considerable ire. So this Charlotte Figg book came in a bundle of books I downloaded off some torrent site, and I was moderately intrigued by the title, thinking maybe I’d found another Fanny Flagg, (who’s just perfect in certain moods. C’mon. You cried at Fried Green Tomatoes. Admit it.) but no, I found another Persian Pickle. Same tropes: quilting, Jesus, pies, abusive husbands, secret murder, prayer and sticking together making it all go away, with the addition of Softball, (which as far as I can tell represents redemption?) trailer parks, and assorted misfits created by a woman who’s obviously never met a misfit in her life. I put three books down half-way through reading last month, and I cannot honestly tell you why I finished this book, except maybe a certain morbid fascination that there could be TWO WHOLE BOOKS exactly this terrible in the world.
9/11- Inishowen– I loved Redemption Falls and Star of the Sea, and this was a beautifully moving book- about facing death, the destruction of family, teenage pregnancy in Ireland in the ’40’s, police work, alcoholism, and the Troubles, but it lacks the gut-punch of his other works. I was also really bothered by a scene in the end- *spoiler alert* when she finds out her mom is the nun? And this woman is in her ’40’s, the nun is ancient and senile and yet still managed to give birth to her as a teenager? Did I miss something about how time works? C’mon, O’Connor. You aren’t usually so sloppy.
9/11- Lady Audley’s Secret– Speaking of SECRET MARRIAGES… This book is straight from the Wilkie Collins genre of ridiculous Victorian serial melodrama that Sarah Waters sends up so well. Aside from the secret marriage, there’s a blackmailing lady’s maid, murder, bigamy, arson, cousin-love, dissolute drunks by the dozen, and MADNESS IN THE FAMILY. A very good read.
9/11- The Wedding Girl– Chick-lit tear. Can you tell September was very stressful for me? Normally I love me some Sophie P. Kinsella, but this was not one of her best. It seems hard to go wrong with a heroine with a SECRET MARRIAGE in her past that comes to light THREE DAYS BEFORE HER WEDDING TO THE SON OF THE WEALTHIEST MAN IN BATH! But somehow, the pacing is clunky, and she’s serious where she should be tongue in cheek, and it always kind of bothers me when 27 year old women in chick-lit novels still live with and listen to their moms. Disappointing.
9/11- A Kept Woman– Louise Bagshawe, we meet again. This book was absolutely RIVETING in its absurdity. I don’t even know where to begin. Maybe I’ll start with the fact that every ten pages or so a character has to make a disparaging comment about feminism. Or about how there were three consecutive pages where the heroine did nothing but SHOP. Or about how the label name dropping made me reflect that consumerist-porn actually makes me feel dirtier than regular porn. Shall I tell you that the authoress spent so many pages lovingly describing the heroine’s amazing boobs, tiny waist, and incredible bottom that I was beginning to wonder if something was going on with her? Or about how the Prince Charming character was such a complete douchebag, who readily admitted to not respecting women several times through the book, used the word “bitch” with alarming frequency in his interior monologues, didn’t clean up at all in the end to get the woman, and that in the foreward Mrs. Bagshawe informs us that “The character of Mike is based on my husband, so you can all see how awesome he is!” ?! I recommend this book to anyone who wants to marvel at our modern world.
9/11- Then Came You– Jennifer Weiner and Jane Green both sometimes come dangerously close to transcending the Chic-lit genre. Not to become modern lit or anything, but they definitely break out of the formula to create… I don’t know what. Chick-heavy? There’s no guy to get, no ridiculous misunderstandings to be miraculously cleared in the last twenty pages, no plucky heroine with a fabulous wardrobe, so it isn’t the kind of empty-calorie treat I feel no guilt about consuming. I feel sort of guilty about this one. It’s neither dumb enough nor smart enough. It’s a book for the train commuter- absorbing, sometimes dramatic, sometimes sad, with very little fat to trim. It juggles four women who all come together to make a baby for a barren and wealthy socialite- a college egg doner, a surrogate mother, the socialite and her angry step-daughter- gracefully and keeps the book moving along. It touches on all facets of modern pregnancy from abortion to in-vitro. And the end is so impossibly happy it both made me want to live in that world forever and throw the book across the room.
8/11- Passage to India– I LOVE me some E.M. Forster. My mother’s favorite movie when I was a child was “A Room With A View,” and as a seven year old I felt very put-upon by how many times I had to watch that instead of, I don’t know, “An American Tail.” But like many things mama forced on me as a child that I bitterly resented, (scenic routes, touring stately old homes, walking around Mt. Vernon at night so we could peek into the living rooms of rich people who hadn’t closed their curtains yet, gardening) I’ve found as an adult that I dearly love him. I was browsing through the free Kindle books on Amazon and was appalled to realize that this is the ONE book of his I haven’t read yet. How did that happen? How did Passage fall through the cracks? I have no idea. But I’m glad I read it. Along with the usual repressed upper middle class British thing he does so well, it’s a fascinating glimpse of colonial, pre-partition India, of how Muslims and Hindus interracted, about cultural misunderstandings, (something I know a thing or two about. See: entire blog) caste. Even with all the smelling salts and petticoats, it feels very relevant today.
7/11 The Living by Annie Dillard, is kind of a mess. There are too many characters. The chronology is super-duper screwy. But it’s a lovely mess, with haunting descriptions of frontier life in the Upper Northwest, and of old-timey Baltimore. “His black coiled hair had grown through the fabric of his union suit. It happened every winter.” “Her heart went out to her. When she left, it snapped right back.” Her descriptions are so understatedly clever and apt. (Clare, is this the author who wrote the book you loved so much when you were a kid, who was the reason you were always saying “It’ll be Katy bar the door around here!” and “Terwilliger bunts one!”?) It’s a gorgeous meditation on profit and loss, on life and death. I recommend it.
6/11 Sorry, didn’t like The Time Traveler’s Wife or The Lovely Bones, or any book written by Wally “Fetch me a Tampon” Lamb. So I was nervous about this book, based on who they’d gotten to write the blurbs. But this book was subtly melodramatic, lovely, heartwrenching, and gripping and I assure you that Maggie O’Farrell is more Anne Enright than Anita Shreve. But keep in mind, I’m high.
6/11 And then the great “What shall I read with a broken hand/with a rebroken hand/inthe hospital while waiting for/recovering from surgery?” debate began. Man was this a tough one. I picked up a few paperbacks with shoes and lipstick on the covers. Honestly, I love Chicklit. I do. I love Shopoholic and Bridget Jones and so many other dizzy heroines who get the guy in the end. But in order for the suspension of disbelief necessary for this kind of book to happen, the heroine must be dizzy… BUT RELATABLE. Relatable for me means kinda smart. Isabel Bookbinder is not. At all. Reading about her trying to succeed in life and nab Prince Charming at the end, even when I was super stoned outta my gourd on painkillers, was about as enthralling as reading about a 7th grader taking a practice SAT exam.
6/11 Neither Here nor There. Bill Bryson is one of my top three non-fiction writers. He’s informative, and endlessly entertaining in a self-deprecating way, and maybe that plus the sandy beard: in my head his books are read aloud dramatically by my friend Phil. (See blogroll) I can’t think of any other living author who could have kept me so rapt for so long with a series of, essentially, kind of lame anecdotes about checking in and out of hotels and eating alone. Hard trick to pull off. But at the end of the day I was interested in his chapter on Istanbul, and I’m kind of mad at him for it. He spent 2 and a half pages saying he hated it without really saying why, (Oh, Bryson, the pop music sucks? That’s soooooooo different from, say, Germany. Christ, have you seen Eurovision? Turkey comes out looking almost dignified. Romania consistently makes ABBA look like Cat Power, for Chrissakes.) And then the book ended. I was on the metro when this happened. I was annoyed anyway because it was really late and I’d been reading this stupid book so hard I’d missed the last bus and now I had to take the metro and the metro bus and my feet hurt and grumble grumble WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU HATE ISTANBUL, BILL BRYSON?!?!?!!!! “What are you reading?” the man next to me, with the startling green eyes, asked. “This,” I said grumpily, showing him the cover. “Is it good?” he asked. “You were so absorbed in it it looked like it must be good.” “Yeah,” I said with the particular weariness which overcomes me when strangers try to talk to me about what I’m reading, “it’s good.” “Then I should read it,” he said. Smooooooooth. He fumbled in his backpack for a pen for a minute and then looked helplessly at me. “I don’t have a pen,” I said. He looked at the cover of the book intently, as though trying to memorize it. He really did have nice eyes. The metro pulled into my stop. I shoved the book in his hands. “Take it,” I said. “I’m done.” He protested and I assured him it was fine in a steeley, ‘don’t follow me home’ kind of way for a few boring minutes, and then he took the stairs to Şişli and I took the stairs to mecediyeköy and that was that.
5/11 I haven’t finished anything, I admit. I’ve been reading In Europe, which is fascinating. Really fascinating. But while I’m incredibly interested in history and science and whatnot, my ability to actually finish a 400+ page non-fiction book written in, what is that, 9-pt type? is spotty at best. This has kept me busy for a while, too. I like learning in small chunks. I also downloaded a PDF of (I’m a little embarassed to admit this) this, because I’ve been on a quest to find good reading material for ESL students, and I have one girl who likes fantasy, and I saw it on one of the download sites and thought, “Hey, I read that in fifth grade. Should be good for an upper intermediate student.” I was wrong about that. The vocab is WAAAY above the head of someone who’d been studying conversational English but then I started reading it again, and got sucked in by Lothair’s potential treachery. It has all the gut-simple story I’d been craving.
5/11 North and South by Elizabeth Gaskel. I generally have no problem with the Victorian serial novel. Would Bleak House have been a better book if it had been 1/3 the length? No doubt! But hey, Dickens was getting paid by the word, and the magazine format compelled him to stretch the drama out over X number of months, and he’s consistently interesting so I forgive him as I skim through sections of his books, the way you forgive and tune out a good friend who happens to talk too much. But this one, I dunno, Gaskel. This book was melodramatic AND boring at the same time. The nothing that happened for much of the book was described in lavish detail, and when stuff did happen, like her father dying, it was over in a few words, and back to the descriptions of how the teeth,-grittingly-pious heroine longed for the roses of Helstone or whatever. More happens, and is inadequately explained, in the last two pages of the book than in the previous 200. I want to be interested in the politics, but I can’t muster the energy.
5/11 A Partisan’s Daughter Speaking of Argentina in the ’70’s, I discovered Louis de Bernieres’ Latin America trilogy when I was 19 or 20 and it started my reading binge of a certain kind of South American Literature from the ’70’s and ’80’s which has made me chronically nervous about South America. I’ve read Corelli’s Mandolin, Birds Without Wings, and Red Dog as well, and Red Dog might be my favorite of his. It was a sweet story, unexpectedly moving even for a girl who isn’t crazy about dogs, and most important it does not involve any war/torture porn elements. Partisan’s daughter is more grown up, and he keeps the atrocities to a minimum. The book is nuanced and poignant, but it ends, like so many of his books, not with a bang but a whimper.
4/11 The Ministry of Special Cases I found this book in a bookstore a year or so ago and a cursory look at the back made me think it was just the kind of whimsical read it would be nice to curl up with on a rainy weekend. I don’t know. The edition I found had a nice paper cut cover and it sounded like a nice book about a misfit Jewish family and I got the impression some nice witch in the Harry Potter-ish sounding ministry of special cases would make everything okay and everyone would learn some lessons about themselves along the way. I totally missed the little fact that it took place in Argentina in the ’70’s. In a related note, when I was nineteen or twenty I went through a phase of reading a certain kind of South American literature from the ’70’s and ’80’s and even now I cannot relax when anyone I know or love goes within five hundred miles of Argentina, Peru, Guatemala, and especially Columbia. Can NOT relax. Anyway, by the last, devastating sentence in this book I was shaking.
4/11 The Savage Garden Mark Mills is not a bad writer, but this book had the most disappointing ending of any I can remember. I mean, really godawful after such a careful building up of suspense.
4/11 Midwives A good read. Chris Bohjalian is to literature what M Night Shyamalan wishes he was to movies.
3/11 The Lacuna Just when I think I can’t love Barbara Kingsolver more, she goes ahead and makes me cry with this book.
3/11 World from Rough Stones I really loved Malcolm MacDonald when I was a young teenager, and this was free on Kindle, so… I can see why this book captured my fourteen year old self’s heart. The characters are all the more indelible for being painted with broad strokes. It gives the pleasant illusion that adults are all essentially happy. There’s enough history to make you feel like you’re learning something. He goes to some pains to describe the clothes. And the sex scenes are liberally sprinkled throughout, and, much like my fourteen year old self, there seem to be some holes in his grasp of the mechanics of sexual intercourse.
3/11 Fortress of Solitude J. Lethem. Okay, the second half slipped a little. Or maybe just fell flat on its face. Still, I wish I’d savored this book instead of gulping it down.
3/11Secret Adversary My first Agatha Christie, believe it or not. It was okay. Not great.
2/11Cocktails For ThreeErin O’Shea is my hero for the shipment. This one went down as quickly and deliciously as anything made with blueberry stoli. Bonus- no hangover.
2/11The Beach House Thank you, Erin, for the shipment of chick-lit books.
2/11 The Art of Travel Alain de Botton has been accused of stating the obvious, but he does it so pleasantly.
2/ 11 Blessing Nancy Mitford can do no wrong in my eyes.
1/11 The Angel’s Game If you extracted the entertaining gore from a Frank Miller book and put the remaining pulp in a blender with a Steig Larsson novel with any political relevance squeezed out and a telenovela, you would get this mess of a book. The author picture on the back shows a man with a goatee but I’m pretty sure whoever wrote this book was twelve years old.
1/11 Oh my gosh was this ever a good read. The Thousand and One Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell.
1/11- Lives of the Saints by Nino Ricci. Pretty Good. I’d read the sequel.
1/11- The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford. Bleh.