Thursday, December 30, 2010

Books I Read in 2010

I'm going to go for it. Attempt to actually get in two posts in the next 36ish hours--less, really--that will list the books I read/heard this year. Dig me.

This list is way easier (read: shorter) than the audiobook list, because my in-bed or at-home reading time is almost nonexistent these days. But about three or four months ago I discovered the ebook section in my library, and began reading library books on my laptop. And now I've purchased a Nook (OK, my mom purchased it for me as a Chanukah/early birthday present), so I can read a lot more on the go. (The iPhone Stanza app just wasn't cutting it for me; the pages were too small, it would turn off while I was in the middle of reading if I got distracted for even a half a minute...) So I'm hoping next year's list will be more impressive. On the other hand, the book that's on my Nook right this minute is A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book. Which is 699 pages long. So, yeah. Maybe not so much on the ripping through three dozen books next year.

As for this year...

1. The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton: I know I was supposed to find this deeply affecting, troubling, moving. I have no idea why I didn’t. But I felt removed from the story, from the very beginning. No connection. 
2. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A reread of one of my all-time favorite books. I was worried about whether I would/could enjoy it as much this time around, because the first time I read it through was in an attic dorm room in Scotland, when I was visiting my then-boyfriend at university; I fell ill while there, and the long hours while he was in class plus the slight fever...I don't know. I just thought it was probably a unique situation in which to read the book. I will admit that I found it more difficult--at times near-impossible--to follow this time around. But, nonetheless, I found it no less enchanting and real. Phew.
3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Laurel Lee: Em read this for school, and I had to read it again myself, despite it being my second re-read in a row. Just perfect. 
4. Rashi's Daughters, Book III: Rachel by Maggie Anton: Maggie was a member of my synagogue before she moved, and our book club made a point of reading each of these three books when they came out. Maggie actually came and spoke to us after we finished this one. I enjoyed these books a great deal, and I really enjoyed chatting with Maggie.
5. Rules by Cynthia Lord: This and the next book were recommended by members of my special-needs posse (i.e., pretty much everyone reading this); both are, I believe, young adult books. I found this one a little simplistic to my taste, but the parts of the story about the young girl's experience as the older sibling of a special needs kid really hit home. Or hit Em's home. Or something like that. You know what I mean.
6. Anything But Typical by Nora Baskin: Interesting and insightful. And hopeful.
7. About Alice by Calvin Trillin: So sweet. I was more than a little jealous. To affect someone like that...To be loved like that. Not that I'm not loved, but...Oh, again. You know what I mean.
8. The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris: Unbelievable. Incredible. There were tiny flaws—I'd have liked the daughter's character to have some more depth to it, and the murder-case subplot fizzles oddly—but Tim and Jane are so real, so believable, so heartbreaking, that in them Ferris more than makes up for any deficits. Plus, dude. To come up with that kind of believable and yet surreal medical condition. My hat's off.
9. Noah's Compass by Ann Tyler: Sweet, but I never bought the basic premise. And I sort of resented the contempt everyone had for Liam, the way he was treated, and then--at the same time--the way he treated Eunice. Not a favorite, and done no favors by me when I bookended it with the two Ferris novels, both of which I loved and both of which felt fresh and new and real.
10. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris: So real. And all the more amazing for how so much of it was about caricaturing the classic office personalities. But he layered, and he layered, and suddenly, they were real. Buffoons, often, but real. And to accomplish this all in the first person plural. Oh, yeah. He's good. (Plus? Best line ever, from a Jewish man discussing his upcoming marriage to an Italian woman: "So yeah, the wedding's going to be like the Montagues and the Capulets. Except the Montagues won't have swords, they'll have Saturday-night specials, you know, and us, we'll just have the Torah and whatever shards we can collect from the breaking of the glass." Bwah!) 
11. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (on iPhone via Stanza): Brilliant. Of course. But, really, I want her to write it again, this time from May's point of view. (Yes, I know just how many levels on which that would be impossible.) Something about May really speaks to me...moreso than do either Newland or Ellen...though not the May Winona Ryder plays in the movie. (Which I thought was actually really, really good, too. But different from how I'd read the book. Movies can be weird that way, sometimes.)
12. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (on laptop via Adobe eReader): What a wonderful story, with a truly disappointing ending. Or was it? I actually spent a couple of hours after finishing this book looking up reviews and writeups that talked about what happened at the end of this book, so I guess calling it disappointing is a bit disingenuous. Frustrating might be a better word. To say much more would be to spoil it for anyone who has yet to give it a shot, so I'll stop here. But if you read it, and if you have something to say about the ending, gimme a shout out. I'd love to discuss it. (Funny how reminiscent this is of my reaction to the ending of Her Fearful Symmetry, which I'll be mentioning in my next post on the books I listened to this year. Clearly, this was the Year of the Frustrating Ending.) 
13. Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson: I love Joshilyn's books, even if they are pretty much the antithesis of the kind of book I usually love. This one was good; no gods in Alabama, but really good, and really satisfying.
14. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (on laptop via Adobe eReader): Everyone told me this was a page-turner, a can't-put-it-downer. Everyone was right. Which is not to say it was the best book I've ever read, or even the best of this year. But it was compelling, and it didn't quite turn out the way I expected, and when secrets were revealed, the revelations were satisfying. Thanks, Everyone.
15. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper (on laptop via Adobe eReader): This was another truly satisfying, compelling read. And fun. Which isn't an obvious thing when you're talking about a family sitting shiva for a father. But it was fun. Somewhat predictable, but sometimes, that's what's the most fun...predicting, and being right.
16. Bite Me: A Love Story by Christopher Moore (on Nook): My first Nook book! Fun, fun, fun. It's impossible, I believe, for Christopher Moore to deliver a not-fun book. But it's not his best (to my mind, that was A Dirty Job), and if you didn't read the first two in this series, I wouldn't start here. I think he's done with the vampire thing; I think he's played it way, way out, and I hope he goes somewhere else, does something else for his next book. Still, I'm pretty sure he'll decide what to do next without really considering what I think. The bastard.
Next up: Audiobooks. Which is a list almost twice as long as this one. And includes all seven Harry Potters. Stay tuned.

Books I Listened to in 2009, Part II

No, no, you read that right. Part II. Of a list I started in December of 2009 with a post listing the books I'd read that year. And then another post in April about some of the books I'd listened to. Which I then began to follow up by finishing up that list. Which would have been pathetic enough, a two-part 2009 list in April of 2010. But I guess I really wanted to win the You Call Yourself a Blogger? award, because I didn't even manage to finish up the second part, despite being four months into the year.

Well, now I will. Except that I don't really remember what I thought about half the books; thank god I'd already pasted in the list. So you'll notice that several of these comments are sorta, well, sketchy. Or crappy. I prefer sketchy, though.

Anyone wanna take bets on when I'll get to doing the 2010 list? Yeah, me neither.

17. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant: The first time I read this, I actually read it; this time, I listened to it. Those weren't the only differences though; when I read it the first time, we had not yet found our synagogue, and I had not yet done what (admittedly and relatively little) learning I've done since. Which meant that the way I read it had changed in a number of different ways. Still, I thought it was such a remarkable book, both times, in all ways.

18. Look Me In The Eye: My Life with Asperger's by John Elder Robison: Yes, I've been audio-obsessing over this family this year; first Augusten, now John. I found this book fascinating. There's very little of N in here; it's not that kind of fascinating. What I find fascinating is the objectivity in this story. It's the ability of people like John to step back and look at themselves, talk about themselves, from the point of view of the world around them. John talks about the mistakes he made as a kid in trying to make friends, with full understanding of why those attempts failed. He talks about the issues he has, even today, because his reactions to various sensory or social inputs are so quirky. I find that ability to see your differences, recognize them as differences, name them as differences...all of it is just remarkable to me. I think that's what makes this such a remarkable story; it's so insightful. It allows me to understand him--and his worldview--from both my own perspective and from his as well.

19. Home by Marilynne Robinson: Oh, wow. This book broke my heart in many ways. Not just the story, but the language, and the insights. I loved Gilead, but this one. Oh, this one seriously blew me away. (It also excited me from a writer's point of view. I actually spent several lunch hours, while listening to Home, at a bookstore holding Gilead in my hands, so that I could track the events I was listening to and remember how they'd been described before. It made it such a rich, multilayered experience. I loved every second of it.)

20. A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs: Like I said, Augusten and John might want to consider a restraining order against me--I spent a suspicious amount of my time this year listening to story after story after story about them and their families. I won't say this one wasn't worth my time. I'll just say I don't think it measured up to any of the others in terms of depth and insight.

21. One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus: Part fascinating, part ridiculous; I couldn't decide whether I wanted to hate it or love it. In the end, I ended up liking it more than I really thought I should.

22. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks: I loved the idea of this book, its overall conceit. The individual stories, though, were...a bit uneven. Some of it felt 'real' to me; some of it way, way too contrived. In other words, some of it was about the people, but some of it just felt like a book.

23. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski: God, I wish I'd written down my thoughts when I listened to this one. Because I do remember it blowing me away, and I do remember actually having to turn my iPod on and off at certain points, because I could see what was coming, and I couldn't stand it, couldn't listen to it, could only handle a few words at a time. I must have looked like a lunatic. But I couldn't NOT listen to it, either.

24. Never Change by Elizabeth Berg: You know how sometimes there are books that are eye-rollingly banal, and yet you enjoy them? That's this one.

25. Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio: So the Berg book, this one, and the next two were audiobooks on CD I took out of the library near my mom's house in the summer of 2009, when N and I were there picking up Em. Because they had a different selection from that of the libraries near my house, I grabbed everything I a) knew wasn't at my own library and b) had heard of and hadn't already read. That's how I wound up reading Icy Sparks. I wasn't especially impressed; I felt like I'd read it all before, and done better. Which is not to say I hated it; just that it didn't blow my socks off. Or even ruffle them all that much.

26. Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg: Yes, another. Not quite as enjoyable, though. Couldn't put my finger on why, except maybe they were just too close, just too alike, just too banal.

27. Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters: I lover Waters' books; they're quirky and interesting, never boring. This one took some bizarre twists, becoming more fantastical than fantastic at times, but still entertained.

28. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: I wish I'd read this one in actual book form, rather than as an audiobook, because the way the stories wove in and out of one another almost literally begged me to flip back and forth as needed. Still. Still. Incredible stories. Hard to read, sometimes, but moving and intense and so well written.

29. The Believers by Zoe Heller: I can't believe I listened to the whole thing. These people were awful. Not a truly likeable one in the bunch (if I'm remembering correctly...sigh...).

30. A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore: Another I'm-not-sure-I-really-remember-my-gut-response book, but I know that I found it hard to listen to, and yet impossible not to listen to. Another one, though, where all the characters sort of grated a bit at times, some all the time. Is no one truly likeable any more?

31. Middlemarch by George Eliot: I suppose it would be a cop out to simply say this is a true classic. But it is. I'd be sorry that I waited so long to read it, but maybe I wouldn't have been ready for it much before now: It's big, in so many ways.

And that, my friends, is that. The last of the audiobooks of 2009. Except, I mean, for the following coda, which I'd written back in April:

I kept--or, rather, tried to keep--separate lists of the books I read and heard this year. Apparently, though, I made a couple of mistakes. Here are two books I should have included in my Books I Read in 2009 post. Even though I never did make it through the first one.

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum: This was one of my synagogue's book club selections, I should note. And when I went to the meeting, the first thing I said was, "Please tell me I wasn't the only person here who simply could not finish this book." I wasn't. Understand: It is not a bad book. It seemed well written. It was certainly affecting. But it was an excruciatingly painful story. There were details and descriptions that made me feel physically ill. I would head up to bed at night, dreading opening the book again, dreading what was coming. The fact that it was a novel should have ameliorated that a bit, you'd think. But the fact that it was a novel made it possible for me to allow myself to put it aside. I wasn't dishonoring anyone's memory. I wasn't disrespecting what someone had gone through. I just simply, literally, couldn't take it anymore. And when it comes to Holocaust stories, I think it's safe to say that I'm in no danger of forgetting. I am the choir, and I've been good and preached to. No need to say any more.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner: It had been a very long time since I'd reread this book. My god, it's good. Exceptional, even. Whether I think this or Angle of Repose is the must-read Stegner novel depends on which one I've reread most recently. But, really, does it matter? If you haven't read Stegner, you must. No, really. You must. [And, hey, spoiler: If and when I do ever get to my audiobooks reads of 2010? Angle of Repose will be on there. And I'll tell you then how good, how exceptional that book is, too.]

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Hand Holding

On Christmas Eve Eve (aka December 23), we were on our way to the home of our friends, where we spend Christmas every year, helping them celebrate their holiday as they often help us celebrate ours. I would make latkes and applesauce, and chicken soup with matzo balls; my friend would make eggplant parmesan with homemade marinara sauce, and pasta with a homemade meat sauce. We would feast. We did feast.

But before that, it was me and N and our dog Snug in the car, battling traffic while Baroy and Em were at a soccer meeting for her All-Stars team, readying themselves to join us later. I was transitioning from one freeway to another when...BAM. I was, it would later turn out, the third car in a three-car collision. I should say right out: Nobody was hurt, and my car sustained the least damage of them all. It was a blip, more than anything. Likely to be an expensive blip, but just a blip nonethess.

And yet, I still can't talk about the accident without shaking; just typing this is making my legs tremble, though I actually am not freaked out about it any more in my conscious mind. It's odd, and I don't know where it's coming from. But this blog post isn't about me. It's about N, who at first seemed more than fine about the whole thing--there was a POLICEMAN involved, after all, one who was on his way to dinner when he saw the three cars pulled over to the side of the road and came to our aid. There is nothing more exciting than a policeman in N's world.

And yet, I noticed--as we discussed it over dinner with our friends, and then with another friend when she arrived the following morning--that N stayed uncharacteristically quiet. When I asked him about it, he just hid under a couch pillow. He doesn't like to talk about hard stuff, my boy. And so I handed him this laptop, and asked him to write about it. The following, in all its misspelled and oddly worded glory, is his story.

(The only info you need is that the bumper was, originally, still attached, hanging by almost a thread, so the policeman pulled it off for us; and that it had a "Student of the Month" sticker on it, and the "Stu" is no longer there, so a friend pointed out to us that now it ironically reads "dent of the Month." Which, yes, it is. At least, it's the dent of OUR month.)

Oh, and the other thing you should know? The second-to-last line just about killed me.
My accident story

I felt scared and sad when the accident happened. My mom's car got hit and I never been in a car accident. Happy because I saw a police car yesterday and he pulled off my mom's bumper and now the sticker saids dent of the month. I thouht that I was going to get hrut and go to the Hositipl and have to do sugry on me with out my mom holding my hand. That is my story.