Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Off topic: Books

The year is half over. You might remember from my first quarter reading round-up that the husband and I have a "race" going: He runs 20 miles for every book I read. At the midpoint, I'm holding onto my lead, having finished 50 books to his 940 miles.

Some high (and low) lights from the last three months:

Hard Laughter, Anne Lamott: I love her writing, but this was not my favorite. I just didn't particularly like the main character, who seemed lazy to me. Although, now that I think about it, I think Lamott often writes about unlikable people.

The Double Bind, Chris Bohjalian: Years ago, I read a book by this author -- Midwives. I've never forgotten it, but never read any of his other books. This book was just as haunting. I honestly did not see the twist coming, and that rarely happens for me.

Triumph, Carolyn Jessop: Not a great book, but I couldn't pass up this memoir from the woman who escaped a polygamous life in the FLDS.

Sunset Park, Paul Auster: The main character in this book is a college dropout who is cleaning up foreclosed homes in Florida. That plot point guaranteed I would check it out from the library; the housing crisis hit our area hard. This ended up being a thoughtful look at family and success in modern America. Auster's writing is a bit slow -- deliberately paced, a real critic might say -- but his people are real and his books are short, so it's not too heavy.

Composed, Roseanne Cash: For a celebrity memoir, not bad. She offers up some fabulous anecdotes about life with her famous father and the life he afforded her. She also has some really interesting insights on writing, marriage and Sept. 11.

One Day, David Nicholls: UGH. Everyone gushed about how good this book was, and, being fair, it will be a fine chick-flick. (Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess are well-cast as the main characters.) However, the ending was terrible. TERRIBLE. Excuse the caps, but I felt like I was being cheated because the author didn't know how else to end it. I haven't been this disgusted with a book since reading Nicholas Sparks.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot: Everyone raved about this nonfiction book about cell research. It was good, very fascinating and not nearly as dry as it could have been, given the subject. I'm still surprised so many people liked it. It's pretty thick and technical. I suspect this might be one people claim to have read, when really they've just skimmed.

On Folly Beach, Karen White: Eh. Light summer reading. I saw the ending coming a mile away. I also read The Beach Trees, which was better, but still ridiculously predictable.

The Tiger's Wife, Tea Obrect: I loved the fable-like style, the magical realism and the way it forced you to just be with the characters, whether you knew everything that was going on or not. The pacing is a little slow, I'll admit, but I'm sad so many of my friends did not like this book, which was my favorite of the year.

Room, Emma Donoghue: I was really excited for this book and enjoyed reading it. It didn't blow me away though. By about halfway through, the device -- narrating from the sheltered child's perspective -- was more irritating than insightful.

Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks: This book purported to be about the first American Indian who graduated from Harvard. Really, it was about the imagined woman who was his friend and desperately wanted to study at the university. Good book, excellently written, but horribly misnamed. It's like she didn't have enough information -- and couldn't or wouldn't dream it up -- to write about her first topic, but never bothered to change the title.

The Butterfly's Daughter, Mary Alice Monroe: Meh. Chick lit.

In The Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson: Have you read Devil in the White City? If you did and enjoyed it, definitely pick up Larson's latest nonfiction account. This time, he takes on pre-World War II Germany, showing Hitler's ascent to power through the eyes of a reluctant diplomat and his socialite daughter. Fascinating.

Three Cups of Deceit, Jon Krakauer: I have not read Three Cups of Tea, which is the book that started the charitable organization that Krakauer calls out for being fraudulent. I respect Krakauer as a journalist and a writer, though, and this longish-essay, shortish-book was really interesting.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen: Reread for the umpteenth time. Still love it. If you want to read one of the redone version by a modern author, I recommend Mr. Darcy Takes A Wife for sheer silliness. Mr. Darcy's endowment (ahem!) is a major plot point.

Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand: This nonfiction account of the 1930s track star Louis Zamperini and his survival as a Japanese POW in World War II was hard to read in parts, but ultimately uplifting.

Zeitoun, David Eggers: More nonfiction. This one, about a Muslim American jailed in post-Katrina New Orleans, got me all riled up. I think it even would get my conservative relatives all riled up.

The Paris Wife, Paula McLain: I picked up this fictionalized account of Hadley Richardson's life with Ernest Hemingway in 1920s Paris after seeing the new Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris, which deals with that time period. The book was so good -- meaning, felt so real -- it made me reread A Moveable Feast, Hemingway's memoir of that time in his life. And now I'm reading The Sun Also Rises, his first novel which was written then. I liked the book. I love it for reminding me how much I loved Hemingway. (Though, I must say, I have a much less romantic view of him and his work now than when I first read it, in high school.)

What should I be reading?


Jessica said...

Thank you! I could NOT remember what the book about Hemingway's wife was called. My husband is reading a different book called "Americans in Paris" and the titles kept confusing me.

Right now I'm reading The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff. Its half historical fiction, half preset-day murder mystery, all about polygamy. It's fascinating.

Hillary said...

I read that book, Jessica. Liked it a lot. The mystery was good.

Anonymous said...

"God-Shaped Hole" by Tiffanie DeBartolo. And since you live in Florida, ever read any of Carl Hiaasen's books? Short, easy reads, often with a comical twist. Could finish one in a day or two, that would add a few miles to the hubby's runs.

Laura said...

I just read a lovely book called "Every Last Cuckoo" by Kate Malloy. It's about an elderly woman who loses her husband and has to find a new way to make a life for herself. Despite how depressing that sounds, it's incredibly uplifting and a wonderful portrait of elderly folks in love :)

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Awesome list! I'm adding a bunch of them to my library list now!

I'm sorry you didn't care for "Room" or "One Day", both of which were favorites of mine.

I'm in a bit of a lull at the moment, will have to get back to you when I've got a good one to recommend!

Cupcake Mama said...

Love, love book lists! I read Escape by Carolyn Jessop and will probably read the new one as I literally can't pass up a memoir especially about polygamy. It is a sick obsession. Did you read the 19th Wife? I just read Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber and liked it. It is listed as young adult as there are no terribly violent scenes which was somewhat refreshing.

k said...

Ohhh, I really liked "The Double Bind" and, like you, SOOOO didn't see that twist coming.

That was the first of his book that I read and for the life of me could not get into "Midwives."

I super recommend "An American Wife" by Curtis Sittenfeld. Really engrossing and will have you wondering about George W. and Laura.