Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Books I Read In 2006, Part II

Thanks to you all for your comments and emails about our Christmas of Chaos. I'm glad I could give you all a chuckle. Someone had to laugh, right? Oh, and Donna? Marc and Glen actually called the next day to see how N was doing. Those are two brave, brave men.

Now, on with the show.

These are the books I listened to on my iPod this year. For whatever reason, I picked what was generally a much better crop of audiobooks than I did pulp-and-ink books. There are several I would recommend highly in the list below, including one that will now forevermore be part of the trio of The Best Books I Ever Read...Ever: The Known World. (The other two? Toni Morrison's Beloved, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude.)

Child of My Heart by Alice McDermott

What was UP with that main character? She was most opaque protagonist I've ever read. And to no end, as far as I could tell. I should have liked her. Or maybe I shouldn't have. But I didn't feel either way, because she had no depth at all and there was so little that was likeable about her. She never sees the two-year-old Flora again? Oh, well. Never sees the man she gave her virginity to (in the least sexy scene ever written)? Oh, well. Bad things happen to her favorite cousin? Oh, well. Oh, and the narrator on this audiobook? Worst Narrator Ever, By Far.

The Photograph by Penelope Lively

Wonderfully written. Compelling, insightful. The denoument didn't come as any surprise to me, but then again, I'm not entirely sure it was supposed to. A sad story. So sad. Totally worth the tears, though.

Light on Snow by Anita Shreve

I had this preconceived notion about Shreve, that I wouldn't like her books. I kind of thought of her as a somewhat younger Danielle Steele or something. Clearly, I was wrong. I'm not going to wax rhapsodic about this book, but it was good. Quite good, actually. I could connect with the main character, even though she was only 12. I was swept up, and I enjoyed it. Certainly nothing wrong with that!

Lost in the Forest by Sue Miller

This one certainly went places I wasn't expecting. I was actually more interested in the story of Eva and Mark than in Daisy's story, despite its more intriguing twists. I was disappointed in the way the former story ended, with both seeming to settle, without us getting to see how they got to the settlement so it wouldn't feel so false. In fact, the whole ending was just a little too pat, given the rest of the piece. But, again, I enjoyed it, even stayed up late last night to listen to the ending. Miller is another one of those writers I had written off (no pun intended) as sort of a hack, or not quite my style. (The Good Mother angered and upset me so much that I couldn't even finish it, which may be more a comment on the story line than the writing, though I blamed it on the writing.) But Leya raved about it, and I trust Leya's taste. I wasn't disappointed.

Bee Season by Myla Goldberg

Hmm. An intriguing book. A fascinating buildup. (And spelling bees. I'm a sucker for stories and movies about spelling bees. No, I don't know why.) And yet? A somewhat disappointing ending. Still, it was worth it, as long as you can keep Mel Gibson as the Kabbalah-studying father in the movie version out of your mind. (I could; I didn't see the movie.)

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

Bleh. Two-dimensional characters in a one-dimensional plot line. And, um, WTF was up with that "we" narrator who was clearly not supposed to be any one of them, or maybe was supposed to be all of them? Was that supposed to be Austen-esque? Because it wasn't. It was just disconcerting and annoying.

The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer

Wow. Not perfect, but close enough. I was carried along, interested throughout, fascinated by this man, and even very much attracted to him, despite the fact that he tried to convince me that he was a monster. I was, in fact, wowed.

Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje

Did Anil (as a character) bother me because Ondaatje is a man writing a woman, or did she bother me because he didn't do a great job of it? It was an interesting story, but only in a few places was it affecting.

Emma by Jane Austen

Loved this book when I read it; loved it again when I heard it. Emma cracks me up.

Fat Girl by Judith Moore

Judith is a good writer, and she has a story to tell. Except...Did she just get bored halfway through? It was a compelling read, and then all of a sudden it was, "and then I grew up and got married and had two kids about whom I have nothing to say except one is thin and one is fat. The end." Wha? Where'd you go, Judith?

When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

I really should stop reading Ishiguro, just assume that The Remains of the Day was an aberration in the sense that I actually, you know, thought it was a great book. The others of his that I've read? Not so much with the greatness.

Regarding this particular book: Where was the part where it was revealed that the narrator is totally freaking insane and living in an asylum? Because clearly, that has to be the case. We're meant to think that, right? I don't...I just don't...get it. And again with the one character basically laying out the whole of the plot and all of its twists in a mundane, expository fashion near the end, just as in Never Let Me Go, which was on last year's list of books I heard. What's up with that? What am I missing here?

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I spent the first half of this book trying to figure out what was going to happen, and the second half luxuriating in the fact that nothing was going to happen, that this was just a man’s life, laid out. And that that was A Good Thing. What a lovely book about a lovely, interesting man. Sad and compelling and meandering and good. It made me think about a number of things, including how exactly Marilynne Robinson managed to write an entire book in which there are really no women of note. Oh, and it killed me that there was no epilogue to tell us when his son read his words, and what happened after his death. Which is right, given the book. But I wanted to know!

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Wow. Really. What more can you say?

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Another 'reread.' Sort of the ultimate sweeping gothic romance novel, isn't it? I just love it.

Gasping for Airtime by Jay Mohr

Can I just say? I hate Jay Mohr. Didn’t before I heard this book; didn’t have much opinion about him at all. But now? What a jackass.

A Wedding In December by Anita Shreeve

Not her greatest work, by far. Too many letters that nobody would ever write, too many pat plot points, too many attempts at twisting things around in a way that didn’t work at all. But I did listen raptly all the way through. Even when she’s not at her best, she tells good stories.

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

I’m not sure I can come up with a single thing to criticize in this book. The storytelling was innovative and compelling, the story itself gripping. I came to this book reluctantly, but left it a convert, my life changed in that indefinable way that only the very best books can effect.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Never gets old. Really fun to hear it read out loud. I didn’t want to see the movie (still don’t) but it did add something to hear it instead of reading it (again).

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

Here's my rousing praise: This book wasn't a complete waste of time, just mostly. (Think they'll be using that on the cover of future printings of the book?) But, really, there was so much more potential here than there was ultimate payoff. If you're going to base an entire book on the concept of guilt for an unknown act, you should probably make that act worth the guilt. And if you're going to ask readers to travel along with you for an entire novel while you explore that guilt, you should probably make the plot worth the journey. This wasn't. Plus, I found the romantic subplot to be completely uninspiring.

The Summer He Didn’t Die by Jim Harrison

Two out of three novellas kicking some serious butt ain’t bad, right? And they really did. But if anyone can figure out what the hell I was supposed to take away from the last story, "Tracking," please let me know.

On Writing by Stephen King

I don't read King. (Well, I read The Green Mile once, but only because Baroy made me back when we were dating and you know how that is; you can't tell the guy you're dating that you won't read the books he likes, right? However, once you're married...but I digress.) Still, I thought this was an amazing book on writing. It had some great autobiographical insight, lots of small grammatical points to make (just the sort of thing I love; I will now forevermore reconsider each and every adverb I use, thanks to King), and plenty of larger 'how to be a writer' information thrown in for good measure. I'd totally recommend it to every writer, as well as any King fan.

Blindsided by Richard M. Cohen

This should have been a much better book than it was.

Men and Cartoons by Jonathan Lethem

Bizarre, funny, intriguing, offputting stories. I ended up listening to this because, frankly, I was in the library one day and needed a new audiobook, and they didn't have much in the way of CDs, so I took what I could find. I was glad to find this.

Possible Side Effects by Augusten Burroughs

Augusten can’t write quickly enough to satisfy me. I find him hysterical and honest and real and I want to hang out with him, though not when he was drunk. Plus, I really want to meet his dogs.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

I think that See's narrator was much harder on herself than she needed to be, but maybe that's because See did such an incredible job of drawing me into her world, and making me like her. I was extremely impressed with this book, not only because it was a fascinating look at a culture I have almost no connection to, but because--despite that fact--it spoke to me in so many elemental ways about friendship and marriage, about motherhood and the world of women. That's not an easy thing to do.

The Inner Circle by T.C. Boyle

I don’t know. I was captivated throughout, and yet never once, not for a second, felt like these characters were real to me. Bottom line: I'm glad I 'read' it. And I'm dying to know how much of it was true, and how much of it came out of Boyle's impossibly fertile imagination.

Missing Mom by Joyce Carol Oates

My first Oates book, ever, despite having wanted to read her forever. I don't know how I've managed without her this long! I was sucked in from the beginning, and she never really let me go--nor did she let me down. Nothing earthshattering here, and plenty predictable, but a satisfying journey nonetheless.

We Are All Welcome Here by Elizabeth Berg

I can sum this book up in one underwhelming word: Pedestrian. And yet? I enjoyed it. I think maybe I'm getting soft and easier to please in my old age.

Welcome To the World, Baby Girl by Fannie Flagg

Why did I like this book so much? It's not particularly well-written, and you could see the plot twists a mile away. But it was fun, and it was sweet, and I smiled at the end. Like I said, I thiink maybe I'm getting soft.

King David: The Real Life of the Man Who Ruled Israel by Jonathan Kirsch

I thought this was going to be a sort of fictionalized account of the King David story. It wasn't. It was more of an academic work, and a bit dry. But because I'm new to all this bible stuff, I found it plenty interesting nonetheless. And damn, those were bloody, nasty times. The more things change...

Veronica by Mary Gaitskill

Intellectually, I know this was critically acclaimed, and that I was being regaled with intriguing insights and gorgeous prose. So why did I spend the whole thing hyperaware of how hard Gaitskill seemed to be trying to impress me with overblown turns of phrase and hyperbolic descriptions. In the end, I just found myself barely being able to listen to narrative any more, instead chanting over and over again to myself, disgustedly, “Show off. Show off.” And thank goodness. I thought I was getting soft, and this one proved to me that I can still proclaim myself the Life-cereal Mikey of the literary world. I hate (almost) everything!

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