Tuesday, July 24, 2007

My Year in Reading, So Far

This is going to be super long.

I have been writing about the books I have been reading over on LibraryThing for a while now, and I decided I wanted to put that all here, too. I have read 44 books so far this year, so this is super long, but I plan on posting more manageable chunks from now on. I wrote these as posts on a message board, so it doesn't really flow as a single blog post, but I had enough to do with fixing the formatting, I didn't edit the content.

1. Going Postal: a novel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett

I always enjoy Pratchett books, they make me laugh. They aren't important or anything, but they are fun and quick reads.

2. She May Not Leave by Fay Weldon

I was really surprised by the ending to this book, which makes me fond of it; I love to be surprised. It was well done in that it seemed to be one story and ended up to be another one entirely, but it makes sense when you looked back.

3. Schrodinger's Ball: A Novel by Adam Felber

This was a very bizarre book. Again, I was surprised at the end, but that was partially because the book was so odd that it was difficult to have any idea what was going on. I really thought it hung together well at then end, but you have to be willing to go along with it to get there without knowing where you are going.

4. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Excellent book. I have read short stories by Lahiri before and loved them, so I was expecting this to be good, and it definitely was. I read this at the beginning of the year, and I still occasionally picture the opening scene in my head near the end of June. It was so well written I can actually see it. Beautiful book.

5. The End of the Game by Sheri S. Tepper

Interesting trilogy from early in Tepper's career. I think these were written for a YA market, but you can see a lot of themes that are present in her more recent adult novels. This was a quick read and interesting.

6. The True Game by Sheri S. Tepper

I had read this before, but it was in the same world as The End of the Game, so I thought I would read it again. Some of the stuff that happened in it were in the same timeframe, but from a different character's perspective.

7. Born In Death by J.D. Robb

I love this series. I like the characters and the mysteries are interesting. Fluff reading.

8. The Year's Best Science Fiction: 2005 edited by Gardner Dozois

Science Fiction has a big short story culture. It is easy to find a lot of short stories out there if you are looking at them. This collection is always a good read, I try to get it every year.

9. Goodnight Nobody by Jennifer Weiner

I like Jennifer Weiner. I started with her by reading Good In Bed, which was fabulous, so I am working my way through her other books now (I bought In Her Shoes last night). This one had a murder mystery involved, which I wasn't expecting (from Weiner--I did read the back of the book and know what it was about), but I love mysteries, so that was extra good for me. What I really love about Weiner in general, though, is the way she describes her characters and fleshes them out to be real people with a strange mix of insecurities and confidence. The ending wasn't easy, either, which is impressive in chick lit, at least to me.

10. A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel

Great memoir. I was impressed with Kimmel's ability to tell a surface story and deeper story that is very different at the same time.

11. Innocent In Death by J. D. Robb

See #7

12. Family Tree by Barbara Delinsky

When a very white couple has a child with African-American features, they set out to learn the secrets of their family trees. Although they definitely encounter racism, the story is more about the secrets and self-identities that we may not even know we have. Very thought-provoking, but also easy to read. Excellent book.

13. The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge

Loosly based on the Hans Christian Anderson story, this book is a fully realized world of it's own. It is very compelling and well-told.

14. A Canticle for Liebowitz by William M. Miller, Jr.

A science fiction classic. This book was kind of depressing, watching people make the same mistakes over a long period of time (post-apocalyptic), but it also shows humanity's will to survive.

15. Lost in a Good Book (Thursday Next Novels) by Jasper Fforde

Clever, funny, mysterious. It combines nearly all the things I love--classic fiction, science fiction, mysteries, humor--into one book.

16. The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde

Sequel to above. Also great.

17. A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve

Very interesting. A group of friends meets many years after they knew each other in high school for the wedding of two members. There is a mystery in the past, and there are a lot of unresolved issues that come up during the weekend. I really enjoyed this book.

18. The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy A. Pickard

Fascinating story of the lies we tell ourselves. The central crime takes place many years before the main story of the book, but that crime has continued to be the dominant influence on the characters' lives.

19. One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

Not as good as Case Histories: a novel, but still good.

20. Vegan With a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

Normally, I don't really read cookbooks. This one had enough information in addition to the recipes, along with clever recipe-intros, that I really did read it through like a novel. Plus, the recipes are really awesome!

21. The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper

One of my favorite books ever. I've read it before, and I would have been perfectly content to turn around and start reading it immediately after finishing it this time. Well-written, thought-provoking, just wonderful.

22. Sweet Jesus, I Hate Bill O'Reilly by Jospeh Minton Amann and Tom Breuer

Great book! Very funny. Since I have read Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them (and because I have a brain and a grandma who loves Bill O'Reilly, so I've had to watch him before), it didn't have anything surprising, but it's always nice to see the record set straight.

23. Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez

Such a great book, I finished it in one day. Of course, this means I didn't get my bookshelves put together, but there is always tomorrow for that.

Edited to add:I wrote the above just after finishing this book, but upon reflection, this reflects my enthusiasm for the subject more than the actual book. Rodriquez is not a terribly reliable narrator, in that some of the choices she makes seem downright odd to me. It is difficult to know how much is interpretation and how much is fact. But, I am still glad I read this, as it gave me some insight into a culture that is so foreign to me.

24. The Children of Men by PD James

This was an excellent book. I wanted to read it because the movie was so incredibly good, and it didn't disappoint. I was really surprised at how much of the book was in the movie while at the same time the book and the movie were so different. The movie was very intense, and so was the book, but not in the same way. I heartily recommend both.

25. Cover Her Face by P.D. James

Excellent book. I should be packing for a move, but how can I when there are such excellent mysteries to read? I am diving right into the next one.

26. A Mind to Murder by P.D. James
27. Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson
28. Unnatural Causes by P.D. James

I love the P.D. James mysteries. They are clever, well-written, and satisfying. I want to buy more, and I know I will, even though my bookshelves are full (even with the two new ones!), and I still have books to put up--lots of them. I am running out of places to put books!The Eva Ibbotson book is the one I have been reading aloud to my daughter. It was a very clever book. If you have a child about 8-12, I really recommend this for a nice read aloud book that you will enjoy as well. We have a couple of other Ibbotson books as well, and I am looking forward to reading those soon.

29. The Fresco by Sheri S. Tepper

This was a re-read, but enough time has passed that I had pretty much forgotten it. It was good, and I loved the universe that it postulates, but I can see how it has a lot of preachiness, and if you don't agree with her positions, it would seem very heavy-handed. I do agree, though, so I liked it, but it isn't Tepper's best work (that's probably The Gate to Women's Country).Now I need to go finish moving my stuff from my old apartment. I will definitely need some quiet reading time later!

30. James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips

I went camping for four days, and only managed to finish this on, and get about 400 pages into Free Food For Millionaires by Min Jin Lee. Last year on vacation, I read 3 books, and one of them was Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell, which is around 900 pages! Of course, last year we went from Saturday to Saturday, and this year it was Monday to Friday, and the Tiptree book was very dense. It was really fascinating, though. Alice Sheldon was an incredibly talented and complex person. It kind of scares me how much I recognize myself in her personality, given her hard life and the terrible end to it (she shot her husband and then herself). I really enjoyed the book a lot.

31. Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee.

I really liked this book. It touched on a lot of themes that I find interesting, including immigrants, class, money, and finding out what you really want out of life. Also, whether the fact that you are good at something means you should do it, and how independent do you need to be from others to maintain your sense of self. I would definitely recommend this book.

32. The Visitor by Sheri S. Tepper.

This was good, but there was an awful lot of explanation at the end, especially about how to interpret what happened. It was a fascinating story, but I think you should be able to convey what happened in a book without explaining it to people. Still, I loved the book, but then, I agree with Tepper's world view. I still think The Gate to Women's Country is BY FAR her best book, though.

In between FFFM and The Visitor, I read about 200 pages of The United States of Arugula: How we became a gourmet nation by David Kamp. That was interesting, too, but not a particularly quick read. Or maybe it was just that I decided I had to read The Visitor, so I lost patience with it. I think I will come back to this one, but not yet.

33. Southern Discomfort by Rita Mae Brown

I really enjoyed this book. I like how the characters learn to get along and have real relationships while pretending to preserve the social order. I liked that the characters were not perfect, but they tried to live lives that meant something to themselves.

I am now reading Great Expectations. This edition is driving me crazy. First of all, I hate it when classics have an introduction. I didn't read this one, but these introductions invariably give away the whole book. Like people wouldn't want to read the book for, say, fun. Then, whoever did the footnoting of this book either thinks everyone who reads it is an idiot, or they actually hate Dickens. The notes are insultingly obvious--one section about a fight between Pip and another boy refers to the boy "seconding himself" with a footnote that this means "acting as his own second." The book is astonishingly easy to read and understand, and it's difficult to believe that anyone who really likes it would break it up with these insulting, highly distracting footnotes. I'm all for literary criticism, really, but it ought to be done outside of the book, and people who just want to read the book and enjoy it should be left to do so.Not that I feel strongly about it or anything ;-).

34. The Margarets by Sheri S. Tepper

I was doing well in Great Expectations. I liked the book, but I bought The Margarets early this week, and I just couldn't keep myself from reading it any longer. Tepper is one of my favorite authors, and I have been reading a lot of her lately anyway, so I was really itching to read the new book. I really enjoyed it, too. It was a little complicated, with one woman being split into seven alternate people, but they each had distinct personalities that made it easier to keep track. It was a really fascinating book, with only intermittent heavy-handedness. This book was similar to The Visitor, but much better at showing the end rather than degenerating into a chapters-long explanation. The explaining that did happen was interrupted by action, and everything was not explicitly lectured on. The explicit lecturing that did happen made sense within the story. I highly recommend this book.

As for Great Expectations, I don't know when I will get back to it. I bought some more P.D. James books tonight, and I dove right into Shroud for a Nightingale. Even when I really do like a book, interrupting a reading seems to take me away for a long time. I will probably get back to it, though, I want to read the end, although I pretty much know what happens.

35. Shroud for a Nightingale by P.D. James

I enjoyed this book, with it's themes of betrayal, and whether a person can really change. The mystery was fun, too. I admit, though, I like to be surprised, so I don't try really hard to figure these mysteries out. I enjoy the characters and the way James writes.

I am reading The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin now. Very good, and short--I'll finish it today.

36. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

Very thought-provoking and interesting book.

37. Parable of the Sower by Ocatavia E. Butler

Again with the thought-provoking dystopia. This one was much scarier than The Lathe of Heaven, with an easy-to-see future of hyper-inflation, lawlessness and a return to debt slavery to companies. Lots of death, very vivid. And, a bit preachy, but not in the normal way. Very good.

I am back to my lighter P.D. James series--An Unsuitable Job for a Woman this time. Good so far.

38. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James

I really enjoyed this book about a young woman who is taking on a detective agency. She is clever, but still convincingly young. The ending was very different than the Dalgleish books, which makes sense with a protaganist that is a private eye vs. a CID Commander. I was impressed with the way the book was different than the main series, but still interesting, and somewhat connected.

I ordered some more science fiction books from Amazon today, and I also went to the bookstore tonight. There is no hope for me, really; I will never read all that I have, since I keep buying more....

39. The Black Tower by P.D. James

I was a little bit worried about this one. Not too long ago, I read a bunch of Martha Grimes mysteries, 19 of them to be exact. The first 15 or so were good, but then her main character started to get a little broody, and then the stories got totally ridiculous and incomprehensible. This book began with Commander Dalgleish recovering from an illness thought to be worse than it actually was, and his subsequent half-formed decision to quit his job. Now, Inspector Jury in Ms. Grimes' books has been contemplating quitting his job for 4 or 5 books now, so this made me concerned. It all turned out well, though, and I really enjoyed this book.

I wish I had more P.D. James books on hand. But, I do have plenty of other things to read, so I am going to try to force myself to read some of those before I go out and buy still more books. Of course, I bought one book tonight, recommended on here. There is no hope for me....

40. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Fantastic book. I've seen this compared to The Historian, which I can sort of see, but I thought this was much, MUCH better. I cared about these characters, and the timeline was much shorter. The writing was just beautiful, and the mystery was a page turner. I figured out who was burning the books fairly early, but not why. This was a very satisfying read.

41. The Female Man by Joanna Russ

Oh, how I loved this book. It is a very angry book, but deadly accurate, and also such an interesting concept. I love the way she plays with the novel form, occasionally addressing the reader, and even addressing the book at the end. Just fascinating and wonderful.

42. The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
43. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

I have been going back and reading classic science fiction that I have either missed or forgotten. I really liked these books, although of course they are tremendously sexist. Part of it is the contrast between these books and The Female Man, but part of it is that they are truly repulsive in some ways. First of all, the women all fall devotedly in love with the main characters, even when he treats them poorly. The self-sacrifice is revolting "Even if you don't really love me, even if it's only temporary, I'll take it and be happy just to spend the time with YOU." Gag. In TDM, the main love relationship, the one that works out, is between a woman who is regressed back to the infant stage, and the man who takes the place of her father. Even when she "grows up," he treats her like a child, but now one that is available for sex. In the second, teleportation means that anyone can move anywhere, and society considers it perfectly logical to respond to this by locking up all women except whores. A few exceptional women don't like it, but it doesn't generate any controversy; Bester states it baldly, as an obvious fact. Scary stuff.

On the other hand, the novels are fascinating in that Bester really thought through the consequences of widespread telepathy and teleportation on the world. I was really impressed with the non-obvious but totally logical societal changes he postulates. And the stories were definitely page turners, with a lot of action. No wasted words here.

Overall, I am glad I read them, but the total sexism has really haunted me. How can otherwise intelligent people think that infantilizing half of the population is a good idea in any way?

44. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

This was a fun and easy read. The themes were fairly serious (good vs. evil, free will, friendshitp, etc.), and the points made were thought out and semi-deep, but the writing was fun and the points were made with humor. I like Pratchett and Gaiman a lot, so I was expecting to like this, and I was not disappointed.

2 comments:

Natalie said...

Thank you for sharing this, Susan. I'm bookmarking it for later use.

Susan said...

Thanks, Natalie! Let me know if you end up reading any of these, and if you agree with me.