Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Books I Listened To In 2005, Part III

Jewish Stories From the Old World to the New (various): This was a series put on by our local NPR station, hosted by Leonard Nimoy, that I had never managed to listen to, and yet had always wanted to. This compilation had something on the order of 36 or more stories, almost all of which were ready by someone whose name was either familiar or VERY familiar to me. I really enjoyed hearing these, though the enjoyment clearly waxed and waned over the series, because, dude, these are all very different writers with very different points of view, and...In any case, if you get a chance, check this out.

72-Hour Hold by Bebe Moore Campbell: I have this particular interest in bipolar disorder, as you all well know. And so I really wanted to like this book. Really. And there were parts, moments, whole sections where I thought that might happen, that I might be able to like it. The writing is strong, and I had a lot of empathy for the mother's character. But then. That whole second half, where it went spiralling out of control into this bizarre other-worldly place...and worse, where it then came thumping back down to reality, and NOTHING HAD CHANGED, all the unreality was for naught...It just left a bad taste in my mouth. I was, to put it mildly, disappointed. I'd hoped for so much more, for a human face on a more-common-than-most-people-think problem, but this wasn't it. Ah, well. Better luck next book.

Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett: Truly beautiful. And truly disturbing as well. I found Ann and Lucy's relationship to be distressing and sad and oh-so-needy, and I didn't understand what Ann 'saw' in Lucy. It drew me in, though, and it held me, and it affected me. (Oh, and it also impelled me to read Lucy's Autobiography of a Face, which will be in my 'books I read' list, but which, in a nutshell, wasn't nearly as good as Patchett led me to believe it would be.)

On Beauty by Zadie Smith: I didn't want this book to end--not only because it was so well written (it was) but because I knew that any ending would let me down (it did). There was so much going on in this book, so many deep, wonderful characterizations, so many threads to follow, that I felt a letdown when some of them were never spun out completely, and when the characters did things I wouldn't have expected of them, or didn't like, or didn't agree with. Still, it was a warm book, a personal book, a funny book, a good book, maybe even a great book.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: Oh, to live back in the days when a visit to your friend's house lasted for days, and a visit to a relative lasted for weeks, months even! To live back in the days when reading and playing the piano and singing where your main occupations. To live back in the days when Mr. Darcy would come and rescue you, make everything all better, and love you just for who you were. Sigh. I want Jane Austen to write my life.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri: I can't say what it was that appealed to me so strongly about this story in which so little and yet so much happens. Beautiful writing. Strong, strong, strong characterizations. I couldn't really 'see' through Gogol's eyes, because his family and its traditions sounded so wonderful to me, so warm and loving and embracing, but I did love hearing about how he worked his way through it, through the ambivalence and the pain and the love. Just beautiful.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles: I missed a lot of books in my time, because of an unusual high-school education in which I went from regular grade-school english classes to these 'extra-honors' classes in which we read Kafka and Dostoevsky in 9th grade instead of Shakespeare and Dickens. So I've made it a point to try and get to some of the books I know all the other kids had to slog through in school, except I tend to enjoy them more as an adult. This was an exception. Maybe this is a boys' book. Maybe it's better read when you're younger. Maybe I just didn't get it. No, I definitely didn't get it. Listening, I felt simultaneously sad and angry, but only a little bit. Mostly, I felt bored.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett: And then there was Bel Canto. Which, by the way, I thought I would dislike. Ugh, terrorists. Ugh, opera. But it had been recommended to me highly by my erstwhile boss, and besides, I'd enjoyed Truth and Beauty so much, I felt I owed it to Patchett to get through at least one of her pieces of fiction. And so I was unprepared for the way it knocked me off my feet when I started it, and the way my heart lept from my chest and into the middle of these words, and these feelings, and these people and their lives. And aside from not quite 'getting' the epilogue, I loved it with every fiber of my being. Every second of it. I just loved it. There were a lot of really special books I either read or heard this year, but I can say without hesitation that this one was my favorite. Even if I can't really say why.

The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler: I get my book suggestions from a number of different places. Sometimes you guys drop me a note in one of my "what shall I read?" pleas. Sometimes I find a book blog, or a newspaper 'best-of' list. Anne Tyler came from one of those places, though I can't remember where. I'd stopped reading her after Accidental Tourist. I'd loved Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant when I read it, oh so manymanymany years ago, but I'd gotten bored with her. I should have listened to myself. It's not that The Amateur Marriage (or Back When We Were Grownups) was bad, exactly. It's that it was, to me, pedestrian. No larger point, no point at all. Stories to keep one occupied. But I'm looking for more than that these days. Or, rather, when I'm looking just for that, I'm looking for stuff that's lighter than this, less of a downer. If I just want to be entertained, I'll go elsewhere. And if I want to really think and feel, I'll go elsewhere as well.

Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler: This one annoyed me even more, if that's possible. Because I just did not get what Rebecca's problem was. That whole 'crisis' of hers? Didn't make a stick of sense. Plus, if you're going to set the thing up like a romance, than play it through to the end! Is she just going to string Zeb along for the rest of his pathetic life? Feh.

[And so, now on to the books I actually read. And, hey! If I press forward a little, I might actually make that magical 25 before the year is out! Yay me!]

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