Thursday, December 30, 2010

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.]


Meg said...

Nice to read your list, even if it is from 2009. I agree with many of your comments. Stegner is amazing and it is not possible to choose the best between those two books, Berg is for easy beach or cozy winter reading, and People of the Book was uneven and ultimately disappointing (as was Year of Wonders although interesting to read about the impacts of the Black Plague even if much of it appeared impossible).

Happy New Year and all the best to you and yours in 2011 (although it is so hard to believe that we are in the preteen years of a new century!).

TC said...

Meg, I love this..."the preteen years of a new century." It fits so well! I actually do feel like a tweener in many ways these days...angsty and awkward. It's perfect.

pixiemama said...

I am LOVING these posts! I'm ready to break in my iPad. :)