Monday, December 29, 2008

Books I Heard in 2008

So earlier this year I said I was going to do my book lists and comments throughout the year, so as not to inundate you all at the end of the year. (Inundate you, bore you to's one and the same, really.) Apparently, however, I lied. I think I did manage to put up one list of books, but then never did it again.

And now, here it is, days from the new year, and I haven't posted in AGES, and even though I have the next week off of work, I have a freelance project to do, and I need to catch up on all the household chores I don't have time to do now that I work in an office, and my brain hurts too much to think of topics to blog about. come the books!

First up, the books I listened to on my iPod. All of 'em in one batch, some with very little in the way of commentary. Because, like I said, if my brain hurts too much to blog about funny things my kids say or stupid things I do, then it's certainly not up to the job of remembering what all these books were about. So if I didn't write up an in-depth commentary at the time, 'taint gonna happen now.

Like I said, I've already written about the first five, so they're without comment. After that, it's catch as catch can:


1. Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh

2. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson


3. The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve

4. The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro

5. True North by Jim Harrison


6. In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson: Not his best. Not his funniest. But even at his not-best and not-funniest, he’s still wonderful.

7. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe: Hmm. Not sure this was as great as I'd assumed it would be. Or maybe just not sure I liked it as much as I'd assumed I would.

8. Peony in Love by Lisa See: Mel. Oh. Dra. Ma. Oy vey.

9. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell: Painfully brilliant. Wonderfully brilliant. Brilliantly brilliant.


10. Returning to Earth by Jim Harrison: Revisiting characters from other books in other situations is risky. This was totally worth it.

11. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards: I thought this was a pretty mediocre book. But while she tied up the action in neat and annoying bows, she let many of the characters live and/or die without recognizing their flaws or uncovering truths, and that pleased me somewhat.


12. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini: He seems to relish long descriptions of appalling violence, and that doesn’t work for me. His plots were obvious; there was hardly a surprise in there. And yet, I really loved these characters. And the very last line in the book made every single hair on my body stand on end. So it was worth it.

13. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell: Really fascinating book. I often go out of my way not to read nonfiction, especially nonfiction with any kind of science slant, because that's what I do for a living, and reading that sort of thing often feels too much like work. But this was fun, and fascinating, and diverting. I see why it made the splash it did.


14. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe: Sad and beautiful. Resonated even today. A bit of the too-tidy ending syndrome going on, but I probably would have been dissatisfied without everything coming together in the end.

15. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: Wha? Huh? This was considered good once? People liked this book...and still do? They maybe found something redeeming about it, about a SINGLE ONE of its characters? I DO NOT GET IT.


16. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan: This was good. Even very good, though also sad and more than a little frustrating. What I may have liked most about it, though, was the interview with McEwan at the end of the audiobook, where he explains why he only tells the “what happened next” story for one of the two main characters, and where he talks about various unspoken subplots. I love that kind of thing.

17. Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian: [WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILER] The very second I heard the “doctor’s reports” and realized that they were genderless and undated, I knew what the ‘surprise’ at the end of this book was going to be, and I began hating it right then and there. I never really stopped, even though there were a few twists I didn't see coming.

18. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz: Wow. Wao. This may be the best book I'll read all year. It's certainly the best one to date.


19. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell: Even better than Blink.

20. The Love Wife by Gish Jen: Eh. Felt contrived. Didn't much care for any of the characters. But it held me, and it made me think, and it caught me by surprise now and again, so...I can't really complain.

21. Identical Strangers by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein: A memoir of twins separated at birth and reunited as adults. Fascinating story, but it loses something along the way: Steam? Focus? Something.


22. Body Surfing by Anita Shreeve: I didn’t like ANY of these characters. Mostly because they were just that...characters. Calling them two-dimensional might give them credit for one more dimension than is actually deserved.

23. Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult: I have GOT to stop reading books by these same old same old ‘bestselling’ authors. They just aren’t especially good. This one had its occasional moments, but it also had some of the most egregious errors of fact I’ve ever read in a novel before, and I really wanted bad things to happen to most of the main characters at various points, because they were all so...stupid/misguided/trite/mean-spirited.


24. gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson: Wow. She is really good. By all rights, I should have hated this book; I’m not a fan of murders and suspense and issues that could be easily resolved if people would just TALK to one another. Plus, I am so very much not a southern girl, which should have made the whole mindset pretty alien to me. And yet I loved it from word one, all the way through to the end. Not a perfect book, but a perfectly wonderful experience with a book.

25. Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler: What in the world made me think this was anything but trash fiction? Because it had Jane Austen in the title? Fun, frothy, and yet...HATED the main character in ANY incarnation, that self-centered little twit.

26. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri: God, she’s so good. Not a clunker in the bunch, though there were, as always, stories I liked better than others. The title story took my breath away.

27. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan: I loved him wholeheartedly before I listened to this book and got scolded by him and told how stupid and deluded I times using facts and/or logic that don't really hold up. Still, his main ideas are solid, if he wasn’t so obnoxious about them. (And I’m a convert; imagine how the non-converts feel.)


28. The Interruption of Everything by Terry McMillan: Ooooh, didn't you just want to SMACK the husband? Not a great book, not even an especially good one, but smooth and gossipy enough to make it fun.

29. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: I had no idea. This book wasn't at ALL about what I thought it was about. Which was wonderful. Because what it really was about was so much more interesting than a painting that grows old while its subject stays young. Haunting stuff.

30. The Nineteenth Wife by David Ebershoff: Gee, think Ebershoff has a problem with polygamy? Not that I don’t. Just that...this couldn’t have been a more thoroughly laser-focused novel if he’d tried. And it was long. Not like there wasn’t ROOM to consider other themes. I mean, he has at least one gay main character, and that makes barely a blip in the plot.


31. Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott: Not as good as the first two books of faith-ish essays. But I still think she can write the pants off most folks.

32. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth: Antisemitism. Lindbergh as President. An alternative history for the United States. It was chilling and mundane and disturbing. And hard, in the end, to figure out just what had gone on, and who was right and who was wrong and who the real villains were (well, aside from Hitler). Which is pretty impressive in a novel about Nazis.


kristenspina said...

Wow. Quite an eclectic mix. Now, see, I loved Peony in Love and remain completely in awe of the research that went into that little book. And, I must admit, The Double Bind was another favorite.

I'm with ya on The 19th Wife and The Memory Keeper's Daughter, but truth be told, these days, I feel nothing but respect for any book that makes its way through the publishing process and onto the bookstore shelf regardless of whether it's my kind of book or not.

kristenspina said...

Oh, and, now you've got me curious about a few I never would have picked up, including The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, and Black Swan Green by David Mitchell.


Julia said...

Oh, I so agree with you about Peony in Love. Several hours of my life I'll never get back. Wuthering Heights, though, is fantastic.

nwhiker said...

Gah, Peony in Love was awful, glad to agree with you there.

Also didn't like the Memory Keeper's Daughter, didn't get what the fuss was about.

I will not read anything by Jodi Picoult. Ugh. My sister adores here and reccs her books all the time and... boring. They're all the same.

OTOH, I didn't like Blink or Tipping Point. I read them both back in 2005 and found them both to be very lightweight: the anecdotes were great, but there was no real research behind them, that he'd... umm... made a snap decision that this is what the anecdote meant and away we go. I dunno. I'd wanted to be imrpessed, but found them lacking.

Cindy said...

Great list. Thanks for sharing it. I can't believe I've never read anything by Jhumpa Lahiri--I'll start with the one you list.

Those little round pancakes: You put a spoonful of batter in, then put a smaller spoonful of the filling, then cover it up a little with some more batter. I was worried it would be difficult to get them to come out round and with the filling contained within, but it was really easy.

po said...

OMG, I loved Oscar Wao so much, I couldn't stop rereading it. I'd reread one section, then another, then another, then I'd reread the whole book again. I so so loved it and it totally haunted me.

You MUST read Drown, which was Junot Diaz's book of short stories that he published 10 years ago and made him a sensation. Can't believe it took him 10 years to write Oscar Wao, though it was obviously worth it.

Leila said...

Having loved Almost like Being in Love of course I had to read My Most Excellent Year and boy am I glad I did.

Needless to say that since I don't know any of the music at all, I spent a lot of time on youtube listening to bits and pieces last night, until my family begged mercy. Hee.

He has an incredible touch with his people... whatever privilege they come from, however wonderful/talented they are, they seem to always strive for even better.

Anyhow, I'd laughed by page 2, sobbed by page 3, and barely put the book down until I finished.

And Hucky. Well. No comment there. Adore.

Thanks so much. I needed something really like this to read.