Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Off topic: Books

Can you believe a quarter of the year already is gone?

I have a couple posts percolating -- my thoughts on the whole Cinderella thing and an update on The Boy's teeth. I'm sure you're all waiting with bated breath for those, but it's late and the boys were crazy and I drove two hours in crappy traffic for work. I'd much rather talk about books and, conveniently, it's about time for my quarterly book list.

The husband and I have a friendly competition going this year. He wants to see if he can run 20 miles for every book I read. So far, I'm smoking him. I've read 25 books to his 445 miles. (We are dorks. I know.)

Anyway, the highlights of my reading list:
  • Shake the Devil Off, Ethan Brown -- Nonfiction about a gruesome murder in post-Katrina New Orleans, this book is not for everyone. But, the journalist who wrote it does a fine job of telling the tale and pointing out ways our country might be failing veterans. It's a really thought-provoking book.
  • The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman -- Michelle hated this; I liked it. It's about a newspaper, and even Michelle had to admit that bits were spot-on descriptions of a newsroom and the weird people those places often collect. I'm really curious to hear what a nonjournalist thinks, so if you're not a reporter and read this, tell me what you think!
  • Up from the Blue, Susan Henderson -- This book duped me. I put it on the highlights list because it's certainly a page-turner, but the end -- well, let's just say I'm still bitter.
  • Truth and Beauty, Ann Patchett -- This is a memoir about Patchett's friendship with Lucy Grealy, a fantastically gifted, troubled writer who was left with half a face by childhood cancer. It is as tragic and beautiful as it sounds.
  • Stiltsville, Susanna Daniel -- My favorite of the quarter. Daniel is from Florida and her debut novel is about a real marriage in Miami. The city is a character. The writing is lovely, but I wonder if someone not in or from Florida would appreciate it as much. Again, if you read it, let me know.
  • Great House, Nicole Krauss -- This is OK, but her first book, A History of Love, was better. This one tracks a collection of people who all have a connection to a desk. If that sounds interesting, read The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. It's better.
  • Swamplandia!, Karen Russell -- Another Florida novel. I was kind of on a Florida kick after Stiltsville; it was that good. This one is weird and dense as the swamps it's named for. Russell alternates perspectives, which didn't work for me, but the central quest of Ava Bigtree to save her family kept me reading.
  • Matterhorn, Karl Marlantes -- The author is a Vietnam vet and this is a novel about Vietnam. I have no interest in war books and rarely read about the Far East. But I really liked this book, though I'll admit to glossing over a little when they started talking about war tactics. The characterization and the drama of these kids in battle kept me reading.
  • Maus I & II, Art Spiegelman -- I poo-poohed these graphic novels for years, but seriously: you must read these. Spiegelman's father is a Holocaust survivor and he tells his father's story, making the Jews mice and the Nazis cats. Somehow the cartoons make the story both easier to take and more touching.
  • Pilgrims, Elizabeth Gilbert -- Short stories. I say, "Eh," to the form, but I love her writing. Forget Eat Pray Love, though I liked that, too. You should read The Last American Man. Brilliant. This is in that vein.
I read two of Joshilyn Jackson's books on the recommendation of Michelle and my mom. Eh. They were good, but I don't think I'll put myself on the library waiting list to get another. Other things I was expecting too much of after hearing them talked up: Ape House by Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants was light years better), The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb (huge, winding but mostly redeemed by the ending) and Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (if you want to read about the Holocaust: Maus).

Almost all of the good books were in January or early February. I've had a run of meh lately. So, what should be on my list?


~she~ said...

I should tell my husband I will bake him a cake for every time he actually puts away his laundry. (I wouldn't have to make too many cakes.)

Laura said...

I'm about 2 years late, but I just read "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett and thought it was great. It's about race relations in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 1960--told by two black maids and a privileged white woman.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Love your reading list! I'm about a third the way through Swamplandia! right now. I'm plugging along but I wouldn't say I'm staying up extra late to finish a chapter, you know?

And I have added "Truth and Beauty" to my library list! I loved Lucy Grealy's "Autobiography of a Face" so I look forward to this other perspective on her.

Next up for me: "The Piano Teacher" and "Room" both of which have gotten rave reviews from bookish friends. We'll see!

clueless but hopeful mama said...

OH and have you read Jennifer Egan's "A Visit From the Goon Squad"? SO GOOD.

Michelle said...

OK. I will admit I've been on a YAF kick lately mainly BN has had cheap books that piqued my interest. I read the Trylle trilogy over the weekend. Interesting but not wonderful. A decent read. I also read Wicked Lovely, the start of a long series. I will not be finishing it. It was OK for 99 cents.

Now I'm reading "Cinderella Ate My Daughter," and loving it. I also picked up Dispatches from a Not-So-Perfect Life, which seems pretty good so far. And because I had BN gift cards from my birthday, I bought Shake the Devil Off, per your recommendation.

Also on my list is "A Drinking Life."

Laura said...

I haven't read "Truth and Beauty," but I really liked "Bel Canto" (except the ending, which I'm still not sure I entirely get). Thanks for the reading list -- I need some new ideas.

Laura said...

Oh! And if you liked Karen Russell (and you haven't already read it), get her short stories (I know, short stories), and read "Haunting Olivia." Gorgeous.