Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Books I Listened To In 2005, Part II

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer: I could have literally wrapped my hands around Foer's throat and throttled him for the ending--well, not so much the way the plot itself ended, but the trailing off, the suddenness of it all, almost as if he got all the way there, but just couldn't see it through for four or five more lines. Otherwise, though, I thought this was a brilliant book. There were inconsistencies in the characters that bugged me a little, and there were so many threads to follow that I got lost a couple of times, but the story itself--its inventiveness, its nuances, its insights--overcame all of that. I was impressed, despite being skeptical going in. And that's something.

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott: As you'll see in my Books I Read In 2005 list (when I get to it), I had read Traveling Mercies before getting to Plan B. Both were exceptional books. Her reading style doesn't quite do her writing justice, but again, in the end, I enjoyed hearing the author read her own work, because it felt more authentic that way. I could go on and on about the feelings this book stirred in me, and there are about a dozen philosophical points I'd love to debate as a result of these two books, but instead, I'll just say this: As a direct result of reading Anne Lamott's thoughts on faith, I finally got off my butt and joined a temple, for the first time in my life. Lamott reawakened a need and a thirst for faith and belief that had lay dormant in me for decades. She changed my life.

Never Let You Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: So many people loved this book. If you're one of them, please, please, please tell me why. It infuriated me! Not the story so much, because, eh. It had some interesting elements, some things to think about. But the writing. Or, rather, the crafting. I mean, there's a scene near the end, the denoument, where all is to come clear, all the mysteries explained, the veil lifted from the main characters' eyes. And how does it come about? The main characters sit down in a room and one of the antagonists, so to speak, literally gives a pages- (or in the case of the audiobook, minutes-) long speech that lays it all out for the protagonists. Hello? Mr. Ishiguro? What happened to 'show, don't tell'? It was so badly done, so clearly lazy on the writer's part, that I was literally angry by the time it was over. And then it goes and makes the Man Booker short list, and all sorts of stuff like that, and I just don't get it. Feh.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold: Every time someone would tell me I should read this book, I would reply that I have so little time for reading that I don't feel the need to spend it on books that I know are going to be painful to get through. (The number 1 thing on my list of Things I Don't Like To Read About is little kids being hurt.) I finally gave in, though, when I heard it was in audiobook format. I was right, by the way. It was painful. But it was OK. Although, overall, I felt as if Sebold had stepped over the line a few too many times with the mystical-magical stuff, the interfering and body hopping and such. It wasn't a waste of time, but I wasn't transported, either. Mostly, I'm just glad that I no longer have to feel like I might have been missing out on something important by refusing to read it.

Hypocrite in a Poufy White Dress by Susan Jane Gilman: Some of these essays were touching, others painful, others quite funny, some all of these at once. I wonder, then, why I can hardly remember them. It's a great title, though.

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornsby: I guess this was entertaining. All I know is that I felt disappointed, let down. I hoped for something more for my efforts. Instead, I got a badly sketched soap opera and the feeling that Hornsby was writing the screenplay for the movie version even as he worked on this novel. I hit the ground, hard.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding: Oh, bad. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. Really bad. But kinda fun at the same time.

New Rules by Bill Maher: I'd heard almost every single one of these already, because Baroy watches Maher's show religiously. Waste of time.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi: This is one of those books that I'm glad I heard, rather than read. Because even though I found it really difficult to keep all the 'girls' straight without being able to go back and see who was who, I think I might have been derailed by the sections on history and straight-out literary criticism (especially those dealing with books I haven't recently read; I enjoyed the sections when I could follow a lot better). And that would have been a pity, because there's a lot in this book to learn and to think about. It was a little bit all over the place, and there were unanswered questions and threads of thought she never seemed to follow up on, but I learned and my eyes opened a little and I got a glimpse of a life I might not otherwise have glimpsed in quite this way. Plus, she inspired me to dig out my copy of The Great Gatsby, which I don't think I've read since high school, and to get an audio version of Pride and Prejudice out from the library (see part III of this list) and experience hearing the book all these years after having read the book. And that in and of itself was worth the time and effort.

Name All The Animals by Allison Smith: I realized that I'd probably grown somewhat jaded by all the memoirs and books of personal essays I'd already listened to or read this year when I basically reacted to this tale of the loss of Smith's twin brother in a car accident and kept thinking, "But why are you telling me all of this?" I think part of it was the fact that the book is almost as much about Smith's experiments in sexual orientation as it is about her brother's death, and I just didn't see the connection. And I think part of it was the fact that I didn't love her brother--I didn't know her brother, even after reading the book--and so his death, while sad as a concept, didn't move me sufficiently to give the book the heft it probably should have had. Oh, and one more thing. Alroy? That's a little bit creepy, if you ask me.

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie: After dead siblings and Iranian oppression, I needed something light, palate-cleansing. This was. It was fun, and exceptionally frothy. There's nothing more to say about it than that. Except, maybe, can someone explain to me the difference between chick-lit and romance novels? Because, dude. They seem the same to me. I think the chick-lit writers need to stop assuming that romance novels are somehow 'less than' and just enjoy the genre and the ways in which its limits can be tested and played with.

[Next up: the last of the three-part Books I Listened To In 2005 series. And don't you roll your eyes at me, Missy. You asked for it. Well, maybe not you, but a few of your compatriots. And I'm nothing if not willing to please.]

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