Monday, December 17, 2007

Books I Read in 2007, Part I

In a vain attempt to not let this become The Blog of Doom and Destruction, I am not going to devote this entry to discussing how, after the washer and the tires and the teeth, Baroy's transmission died on Sunday morning, soon to leave a $2,000-we-don't-have hole in our bank account. And I'm definitely not going to devote this entry to detailing how, for the first time, we talked seriously about When It Will Be Time to Give Up and Put the House on the Market Before We Lose Everything (well, OK, it was more sobbing than talking, but you get my drift...). No decisions have been made, so maybe it's best I'm not going to get into it; there are still miracles possible, I suppose, and even if there aren't, the Time to Give Up is not yet. It's only a few months away, best I can figure, but it's not yet.

And so I don't want to think or write about it any more. Instead, let's talk books. Ah, but first, a quick, self-indulgent, if-this-doesn't-cheer-me-up-nothing-will bit of conversation from about 15 minutes ago:

Baroy (calling from N's room): N, come help me clean up in here!
N (standing by the whiteboard in the kitchen and immediately bursting into tears): BUT!
Baroy: No buts. Come here now.
Baroy: NOW.
N (in full wailing mode): BUT I'M WRITING A LOVE LETTER TO MOMMY!

I have a 6-year-old who writes me love letters. What could put a damper on that?

And so, onward to the first installment of Books I Read in 2007:

1. First, I should mention that I read large chunks of a number of different books for my adult education class at my temple this year. The one that really stuck out (aside from, you know, the Torah) was one that I have really only had time to 'taste' along the way: Jewish Literacy, by Joseph Telushkin. If you have questions about Jewish history or ethics or traditions or what-have-you, Teluskin's hefty-yet-concise volume has the answers. Especially to the what-have-you questions. This is now a permanent bedside-table book.

2. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel: Frankly, my dear, I expected better. I'd heard so much about Bechdel, and while I've never been a regular reader of Dykes to Watch Out For, I've always been impressed with what I did manage to catch. But this...memoir...just seemed somehow shallow. Or something. It's not just that it didn't resonate, but it didn't capture me, either. And I expected it to.

3. I'm a member of romance writer Shirley Jump's yahoogroup, Just Write It, and find both her and her writing totally captivating. (Don't even think about judging me, you book snob over there in the corner. I have a long-standing love of the Harlequin genre that can be traced back to my preteen years, when my grandmother used to subscribe to Harlequin Romances, and passed each batch of books on to me. Together, we devoured dozens of the suckers each year, and even went to fan luncheons together. Every time I read a romance novel these days, I think of Grandma. And I miss those luncheons.) And so, I've made it a point to pick up all of Shirley's books along the way. This year's crop included: Pretty Bad (in which I had the added fun of seeing characters from a previous book come back to visit); The Legacy; Back to Mr. & Mrs.; Married By Morning; Miracle on Christmas Eve; and Really Something. They were all really fun. Which is exactly what they're supposed to be.

4. A Good Dog by Jon Katz: I love Jon Katz. And not just because I once emailed him after reading an article of his in Slate, and he wrote me back, just like a real person. I also love all his books. But this one just about tore my heart open. There will never be another Orson.

5. Night by Elie Wiesel: I wrote about this on my old blog, when I first started reading it. It never got any easier. It never got any less painful. It never got any less beautiful.

6. Rashi’s Daughters (Book One: Joheved) by Maggie Anton: Maggie's a member of some sort at my synagogue, and our rabbi and his wife just adore her, as do a number of other members there. When this book first came out, the synagogue's book club read it and--when I decided to join the club in the beginning of this year--they told me it was a Must Read, even if I'd missed the discussion by several months. At first I found it, frankly, slow. Not at all what I'd expected. And yet, its language and its ideas are rich and intriguing in many ways, and held me. I could not stop reading it. Nor could I quite figure out why. By the end of the book, I found that I much preferred Joheved's younger sister, Miriam, and was really looking forward to reading 'her' book when it came out later in the year. I'll be talking about that book later, but here's a hint: It was Not At All Slow. And also not at all what I'd expected, based on this first installment.

7. The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt (essays, edited by Ruth Andrew Ellison): This book of essays, which includes funny and touching pieces from people like Ayelet Waldman, Aimee Bender, Molly Jong-Fast, and more, was the first book I read for my temple book club. And, as I told my fellow book club members, I have to say that while many of the essays were in many ways wonderful...the book as a whole depressed me a little. It was all about people walking away from Judaism, walking away from faith. And because, in certain ways, I’m walking TOWARD it these days, I’d have liked to have heard more about modern, young (in my dreams, I know, but I still do think of myself as young) Jewish women who are embracing and finding something to savor in Judaism. (Yes, I realize that then it couldn’t be called The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt. Work with me, will you?)

8. Small Island by Andrea Levy: What a great book. Well deserving of its awards; well deserving of being read. Fabulous writing. You could absolutely hear the accents and feel the emotions--despite the fact that there were four major characters, and the book skipped around in time and place and voice. And not only that: It was also a great story. A really, really great story. Socked me in the stomach at the end...a feeling which caught me by surprise. I truly didn’t see it coming, though I was well aware of my attachment to some of these folks, despite all their faults and foibles.

9. Davita’s Harp by Chaim Potok: I read this on the recommendation of one of the older ladies at my synagogue; she bought a copy for our temple library, but first insisted I take it home and read it. And so I did. It was not at all what I thought it would be. Such spare writing, such an interesting story. I won’t say it changed my life, but I’m glad I read it. Which sounds trite, in retrospect, but is nonetheless simply and completely true.

10. Bobbie Faye’s Very (Very, Very, Very) Bad Day by Toni McGee Causey: I’ve ‘known’ Toni--in that weird blogger-to-blogger-plus-having-friends-in-common way--for a number of years now, but I didn’t know what her fiction writing was like. This was wildly fun. Silly, implausible, but laugh-out-loud funny, romantic, and—did I mention?—fun. Not my genre, not what I’d normally read, but that made it even MORE fun, I think. Plus, I didn’t see the final twists coming, so that was cool, too. Looking forward to reading the second book soon. I can't IMAGINE how she's going to keep this much momentum and energy going.

[More to come...]

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