Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A baker's dozen books

A year has now passed since the end of my literary hiatus.  After the embarrassing realization that I could count on one hand the number of books I'd read in the previous five years (or more?), I grew determined to improve that figure in 2009.  Not for bragging rights, I assure you, but because I began to recall the positive influence literature could have in my life if I allowed it.  The rediscovered desire to read only solved part of the problem, however, as my careful research revealed that a genuine deficiency of spare time would place a burden on the ambition.

The year started off with great momentum, where I finished the four books in the Twilight series in about as many weeks. After that I averaged less than one book per month until July when I read three. The difference? I returned to fiction in July, beginning with my standout favorite novel of the year: The Host by Stephenie Meyer (yep, the author of Twilight, meaning the first five novels I've read in ages were all written by the same person).  It is one of few books that I have to avoid thinking about because that mere mental imagery makes me want to read it again. I wanted to start over from the beginning the moment I read the final sentence.  And I kind of did, because after finishing it I read the first few chapters aloud to my husband on our road trip.

I joined some girlfriends in a book club at the beginning of last year, but it was several months before the group's choice appealed to me enough to read it (actually it wasn't until my turn to suggest books). I can't afford not to be selective considering my spare moments are short and the list of titles I'd like to catch up on is long.  My choice was Desperate Passage by Ethan Rarick, a chilling account of the Donner Party's tragic journey.

I finished a total of 13 books in 2009, an accomplishment I feel sheepishly proud of, if that is even possible. I started an additional three books, one of which I chose to set aside; the other two are still in progress. My list consists of nine works of fiction and four non-fiction. While I probably had more fun reading the novels, my more consequential reading experiences were certainly gleaned from some of the others.

My fiction list for 2009:

1. The Host by Stephenie Meyer. I just told you how I feel about this one.

2. Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer. It really was a funseries, and a great re-introduction to the wonderful world of being engrossed in a story to the point of distraction from more important tasks.  You can read my musings about that here.  I think my favorite in the saga is the first book--I'm such a sucker for crushes and exciting new love.  Actually, if I can count Midnight Sun, Stephenie Meyer's partial draft of Twilight written from Edward's perspective, then that is my favorite.

3. Chasing Harry Winston by Lauren Wieseberger (author of The Devil Wears Prada).  No grand, life-altering message to learn here. Just pure girly entertainment. And a bit of vicarious thrill.

4. The Familiar Stranger by Christina Berry. In spite of my lighthearted mockery of its religious theme, the story was quite interesting. Plus I got to meet the author, so that's a bonus.

5. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. The first half of this book was compelling and emotionally charged. After that it really lost momentum for me.

6. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. I was disappointed in the execution of what sounded to me like a very interesting concept: a young victim narrates from her Heaven the effects she witnesses on her friends, family, and community after her death. This book was more about characters than plot, but even in such an instance there must be a storyline to drive the reader forward.  Shortly after I finished this book I saw a trailer for a movie based on it!  I am anxious to see the film, because I imagine (and hope) it will do a better job of relating the very good elements of story that did exist here and there in the novel.

My non-fiction list for 2009:

1. Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza. Why was I unaware that an appallingly brutal massacre was taking place on the other side of the world about the time I was entering high school? It is difficult for me to even comprehend modern humans slaughtering their own friends and neighbors; I find it inexcusable. And yet this Immaculee, who survived the Rwandan holocaust for 3 months in a bathroom the size of a tiny closet with nine other women while her parents and brothers were viciously murdered, finds a way to look into the eyes of one of their guilt-tormented killers. And forgive him.  You will not forget this story.

2. Desperate Passage by Ethan Rarick. I also knew literally nothing about the Donner Party--although at least their tribulations occurred before my lifetime.  I was enormously intrigued by this story and felt that the author did a tremendous job of piecing the facts together in such a way that made his historical account read as smoothly as fiction, and be just as captivating. I even shed a tear or two.  Perhaps this story should have accompanied our hours spent in the school computer lab playing "Oregon Trail."

3. Why We Buy by Paco Underhill. I like the description of this one that I wrote while only partway done reading it: "...a very entertaining bit of scientific analysis of our shopping culture. My dad randomly passed this book along to me, and since I was in need of a new book to take on a short trip, I accepted it despite the fact I wouldn't have ever chosen it off a shelf. Probably because I would have assumed the same as my friend who, upon seeing the title, thought it was a book about (and condemning, I presume she meant) our societal "consumerism." Such a finger-wagging at capitalism would never interest me, but Why We Buy could be considered the antithesis to such a book: written by a man who runs a company which covertly observes and analyzes minuscule movements and reactions of shopping humans, with the goal of aiding merchants in the quest to provide a more shopper-friendly (and therefore more profitable) store environment." 

4. Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. Okay, I bought this book for my husband as a Father's Day gift during my pregnancy. The theories described on the book jacket sounded a lot like the way Gary and I intended to parent. I finally got around to actually reading the book when our daughter was two. A few concepts resonated with me.  For example, preserving the relationship between the parent and child should always take priority--even in matters of discipline. But as an entire parenting methodology, I disagreed on many more points. I actually know a few people who disciples of this practice, and I don't admire the results.

So there you have it! Please let me know if you've read any of these books. Or if you decide to check one out, I'd love to hear your feedback afterward! We'll see if my 2010 list is also short enough to include all in a single post...

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