Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Books I Read In 2006, Part I

I kept lists. I kept sometimes-notes. I kept the road to hell paved with my good intentions.

What the following was supposed to be was an appropriately linked, well-thought out compilation of the books I read this year (in several parts) followed by the books I listened to this year (in several parts). But, being crazy-busy with work (a Very Good Thing! I know!), none of this has happened. And so, I present to you the first of I-don't-yet-know-how-many parts featuring unlinked books (you'll just have to search Powell's, Amazon, B&N, Coliseum, whatever, yourself) with sketchy, not-especially-useful comments on the side.

But, hey, it's something. And there are some true gems in here this year. So take a browse, and keep coming back in the next week or two for more, OK?

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Didion was one of my college obsessions--and part pretension, too, since reading her definitely made me feel hip and intellectual. (Yes, I know that using the word hip in the early 1980s meant that I obviously was very much NOT hip. I wasn't. I'm OK with that.) This book is a quick read, simultaneously deep and sad, cool and removed. Her style is inimitable (and trust me, I've tried at times); her voice so very much her own. I found myself wondering if anyone else could have pulled this piece off the way she has. I doubt it. In the end, I find myself admiring and yet somehow feeling left out. And an aside: She talks at one point about how she and John would spend money incautiously when they shouldn't have been doing so. If Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne couldn't live in a carefree manner on the money from their writings, then I might as well pack it in right now.

All He Ever Wanted by Anita Shreeve

This was recommended to me by a woman in my office, who said it was one of her all-time favorites. I admired the writing, but it left me cold. The problem? No sympathetic characters. An unreliable narrator. And a story of obsession that didn't really feel obsessive through most of it. Thought-provoking, but good? I'm not sure.

What Goes Up: Surviving the Manic Episode of a Loved One by Judy Eron

After I wrote Taming Bipolar Disorder and Judy 'found' it (or me) somehow, she and I corresponded and she sent me a copy of her book. I say this to do due diligence and reveal possible biases. Still, I was really impressed with this book. It's the story of the final, manic year in the life of Judy's husband, and of his subsequent suicide. It's painful, and it's unflinching, and it's good.

Julia's Mother: Life Lessons in the Pediatric ER by William Bonadio, M.D.

The only lesson I could glean from this book is to never let Dr. Bonadio near either of my children. These were some of the most depressing, least inspirational, least insightful medical stories I've ever read. Unimpressive. Not to mention that Bonadio has a very fast and loose relationship with grammar and, especially, tenses, which is something that makes me uncomfortable. I spent most of this book mentally editing, rather than reading.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

There is nothing like rereading (and rereading and rereading) Austen in my view. What IS it about her writing? I often wonder, would I have enjoyed this book as much if I were closer to it in time? Half of the joy of Austen is being so completely transported to a time long past, so completely swayed by her worldview. I long to be these women, these heroines. (Well, maybe not Emma. She was just a bitch. But fun to hang with, I think.)

Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I love the concepts behind the stories Marquez writes; loves how he takes you to these weird places that then feel perfectly normal, perfectly logical. Magical realism, indeed. But I didn’t love this book. It felt...unfinished, maybe. I’m not sure. I did, however, enjoy it. I always enjoy reading Marquez; he is a true master of his craft.

The Accidental by Ali Smith

This book made me feel stupid, or out of it, or something, and I resented it for doing that to me. In the end, I felt as if it was three-quarters of a really great book, but one overwhelming quarter of posturing and pomposity.

The Everything Labrador Retriever Book: A complete guide to raising, training, and caring for your Lab by Kim Campbell Thornton

Did I mention we adopted Snug at the end of May? And that I read this book at the end of May? That's pretty much all you need to know about that.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Gets richer and more meaningful every time I read it. It’s absolutely timeless, despite being rooted in an era. Fitzgerald could write, by golly. (Yes, I do believe that's the first time in my life I used the phrase "by golly.") If I had a hat, it would be off...again.

Persepolis and Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi

Maybe I just haven’t read a large enough number of graphic novels to be all critical and cynical about the genre, or maybe these two (like Maus and Maus II, my only other forays into this area, to which many critics have compared the Persepolis books, for obvious reasons) are just kick-ass good. I like to think it’s the latter. Devastating, informative and somehow, despite the relative paucity of words, deep all at the same time, I was breathless and teary by the end. Bravo.

A Dog Year by Jon Katz

The New Work of Dogs by Jon Katz

Katz on Dogs by Jon Katz

See above, about us adopting Snug in May, and thus reading these in June/July. Except this is different. These books are awesome. I wouldn't have read them pre-Snug, for sure, but they not only interested me and held me in their grip when I read them post, but they also taught me on an elemental level about some of what it is to bring a dog into your family. Katz has stuff to say, and it's all food for thought.

The Doll People by Ann Martin

What do you do when your then-8-year-old daughter glues herself to a book for a couple of days straight, then comes breathlessly to you holding said book out and saying, "Mommy. You HAVE to read this. It's so great!"? You read it, that's what you do. And you don't make snide comments about holes in the plot. You sit down afterwards and say things like, "And what did you think about the part when..." and "Weren't you surprised when she..." and you watch her eyes shine and your heart sings inside, because books have always been your life and any time they can be part of hers is something to celebrate.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Hmmm. I don't know. Yes. And no. And yes.

(Months later, feeling guilty that I never wrote more than that little note after the book, I considered trying to write more. But I'm not sure what I have to say. I liked this book. A lot. But at the same time, I'm not sure I liked it THAT much. Which is meaningless. And so I'll leave it be.)

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Nope. I should have known after being one of the few people who was totally unimpressed with Middlesex, which is supposedly the better book, that this one wouldn’t thrill me. Guess what? It didn’t. Mostly, I think, it was that I found the “we” narration to be odd, and creepy. Obsessive, well beyond either reason or reality. I'm sure it was the key to the book, but it didn't open anything for me. Except, perhaps, the door to my deep, deep wells of annoyance at pretension and arrogance. And there was all this weirdness about what happened when, and I spent way too much time and energy trying to figure out who had tried to kill themselves when and waiting for the other shoe to drop and feeling completley unimpressed or inspired by the dull thump that I heard when it did. I guess I just didn’t get it.


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