Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Book List/Best of 2006

Here's my "best of" list for 2006:

Best Science Fiction type: The Traveler
Best Fiction wherein Dracula is a character: The Historian
Best Fiction wherein there is a mute character: The Ha-Ha
Best Fiction if you're obsessed with snowflakes: About Grace
Best Fiction where the main subject is a disease: Moloka'i
Best Fiction with China as the setting: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Worst Fiction: The Disapparition of James
Worst Fiction that other people seemed to like: The Accidental

Below is a partial list of the books I read in 2006, because I didn't start keeping track of my books until February. I can hardly believe that I've been such an avid reader all these years and haven't kept track of my books! Anyway, here they are:

  • In Quest of the Mythical Mate by Bader/Pearson
  • Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
  • Outside Valentine by Liza Ward
  • Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux
  • Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov
  • Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson
  • Dark Voyage by Alan Furst
  • Night Falls Fast by Kay Jamison
  • The Disapparation of James by Anne Ursu
  • This is Not Chick Lit by Ed. Elizabeth Merrick
  • If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things
  • About Grace by Anthony Doerr
  • Swallows of Kabul
  • Rules for Old Men Waiting by Peter Pouncey
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Receiving Love by Harville Hendrix
  • Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich
  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
  • The Accidental by Ali Smith
  • The Ha-Ha by Dave King
  • Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
  • The Good Wife by Stewart O'Nan
  • Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler
  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
  • Any Bitter Thing by Monica Wood
  • Molokai'i by Alan Brennert
  • The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Review: Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

David Mitchell is a genius. Last year, I read Cloud Atlas, and I was amazed. Amazed and stunned that anyone has such literary breadth. He's just incredible. If you're paying attention, you've already heard all the critics say it, but I'll say it again.

Black Swan Green is a totally different book from the Cloud Atlas. This story is simply a year in the life of a British 13-year old boy living in the village of Black Swan Green. Each chapter, some critics say, could be a short story in and of itself, and I agree. They also flow nicely together as a novel.

One thing I have a hard time with is dialect written into a work of fiction. I know sometimes it's simply crucial to have wording written as it would be said. I think why it bugs me is that I'm a very fast reader, and this kind of writing slows me down and is a little choppy until I get used to it. There was a little of that here ("Actually, they just snogged. Should've sticked around, yer should've. Might've seen a bit o'crump.") But, to be fair, if you are going to be in the head of a 13 year old boy, you need to be willing to "think" like he's thinking. But it's the only thing that took some getting used to.

The book is set in 1982 and if 80's memories are comforting to you, you'll get a kick out of all the 80's references. The writing is beautiful - as beautiful as thoughts can be running through a 13 year old's head - and obviously well crafted. Here's a sample:

A Jules Verne hi-fi, all silvery knobs and dials, occupied one corner of the solarium. Madame Crommelynck sat on her cane throne, eyes shut, listening. As if the music was a warm bath. (This time I knew she wouldn't be speaking for a while, so I just sat down on the armless sofa.) A classical L.P. was playing. Nothing like the rumpty-tump-tump stuff Mr. Kempsey plays in Music. Jealous and sweet, this music was, sobbing and gorgeous, muddy and crystal. But if the right words existed the music wouldn't need to.

Definitely read this book. And while you're at it, read Cloud Atlas, too.

Friday, December 22, 2006

What book are you?

You're Confessions!
by St. Augustine
You're a sinner, you're a saint, you do not feel ashamed. Well, you might feel a little ashamed of your past, but it did such a good job of teaching you what not to do. Now you've become a devout Christian and have spent more time ruminating on the world to come rather than worldly pleasures. Your realizations and ability to change will bring reverence upon you despite your hedonistic transgressions. Florida will honor you most in the end.

Well, that's who I am. Who are you? Take the BOOK QUIZ!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Too much reading, anyone?

Well, we certainly have book challenges galore, don't we? Here we all are, doing the TBR Challenge, the Classics Challenge, the Chunkster Challenge, and the list goes on and on.

Reading all these books, you might get to feeling a little sluggish. If so, I've got a non-book challenge for you. (Is she serious? Is that allowed on a book blog??)

A group of yoga bloggers, inspired by YogaMum, are doing National Yoga Practice Month (NaYoPracMo!) in the month of January!! Get up and stretch a little after all that reading. Yoga is an exercise that is accessible to anyone and can be done in the privacy of your own home if you wish. Get started on something new!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Winter Reading Challenge Book Review #5: Outside Valentine by Liza Ward

Ok, now here's a book I really really liked. This is a fictional account of what was a true crime spree in Nebraska in the 1950's. Liza Ward is actually related to some of the victims. The writing was stunning, the story was gripping and the characters beautifully drawn. It's a "give your kids a bunch of DVD's, ignore the laundry, the kitchen and everything else" kind of book. I read it in two days.

I originally got the recommendation for this book from Bookmarks Magazine, which I love and highly respect. I couldn't find the issue, so I don't know what was so compelling about the review, but no one else I know has ever read this. It didn't turn into a great hand-seller like the Kite Runner or others. On Amazon (I don't trust those reviews much anyway) several people did not like the book. It seemed to me that these were people who read mostly in the crime genre, and expected this to be more like other true or fictional crime stories. It's true the book centers around the crime spree, but I wouldn't put it in the crime novel genre. It is more a character study of loneliness, desperation, dying marriages, teenage girls who feel unloved, and such.

The book is told from three different perspectives, and each chapter switches narrators. If you don't like that style, stay away from the book. It isn't long before you realize how the characters are tied together, and I think the alternate narrations gave wonderful perspective on the story.

Here's some quotes that show her beautiful prose and writing style:

On a dying marriage: I walked out of the room and closed the door behind me. In the living room, I leaned my elbows on the mantelpiece and tried to rub the grit out of my eyes. It would have been easy to go back to bed, to listen to Susan, to reassure her that I loved her, to go through all the motions that seemed to work for other people. Years ago at the altar, we had been asked by those in charge of the ceremony to accept each other in spite of our weaknesses, to love each other in sickness and in health, and at the time it had seemed normal to promise these things. I had had no sense of myself. She was somewhere to go.

On a teenage girl: My mother and I had the same blood. It should have been easy. But I had never understood any part of her, except the inexplicable force that had driven her to Nils. Danger. Wanting to be wanted enough to pull everything down. One step sparks an avalanche. Wanting attention from someone can lead you anywhere. Love could fling you out of orbit. There was no controlling how you landed.

And with that, my friends, I'm done with the From the Stacks Challenge!!

I love LINK+

Do you use your library? Ever get frustrated because your library doesn't have a book you want to read? (No? Move on, my friend...). But if you understand what I'm talking about, check out whether or not your library has LINK+, or something like it. I'm often looking for psychological literature more geared for professionals. Of course, my little city library doesn't have it. But it has LINK+. Which is a linked network of hundreds of libraries you can borrow from, including university libraries which usually carry what I'm looking for.

Voila. In a few days I have the books I'm looking for and can read them before deciding if I want to purchase them for my professional library. It's a thing of beauty. I love libraries, and I LOVE LINK+.

*cross posted on Tales of a Psychomamma

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Winter Reading Challenge Book Review #4: The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux

I can't say I didn't like this book. But I didn't exactly like it either. It's a bit like spending a weekend with a bipolar person currently in the manic phase. If you don't know anyone who is bipolar, you'll just have to take my word for it. Paul Theroux is obviously a very gifted writer, and made some great choices in the crafting of this book. First, he tells the story from the perspective of the 14 year old son, Charlie. This gives him many advantages, not the least of which is lending believability to the story. No way the wife could have told the story -- you'd be thinking she was weak and stupid the whole time. But a child naturally does believe in their parents, takes what they say as gospel, and has a gargantuan struggle at the time at which they realize that their parent might not be "all there". Seeing the father through the eyes of a child is really the only way to display elements of his likability.. to everyone else, he's crazy as a loon, and not likable in any way.

Allie Fox (the father) is brilliant, no question about it. And in the same way that many brilliant people are also tortured, likewise is he. The book was painful for me to read, though, because he simply isn't nice. If I met someone like him in MY daily life, I'd have to call CPS and have his kids taken away from him. Then I'd medicate him. I'm fairly sure he'd qualify for full blown manic-depression, being manic most of the time. But you do see glimpses of depression, although he is adept at fighting that side of his life.

And the mother! My online Yahoo book club, BookiesToo, discussed this book back in May 2006. I went back and looked at the discussion and noticed some people said the mother was "watery" and other people thought she was very strong, because there's no way she could have stayed if she wasn't!! Strong isn't exactly the word I'd use. In my line of work, when I meet someone who is using, say, methamphetamines, their life is undoubtably hard and cold. But I wouldn't call them strong...I'd call them weak or stupid or unbalanced. No doubt the lifestyle here required some strength to get through. But I think Mother (as she's called) is as mentally ill as father. Excuse my psychobabble here, but I'd give her Dependent Personality Disorder, or something like that. Without him, there was no her. And that, my friends, is diagnosible. ESPECIALLY, when you put your own children in danger to stay close to someone dangerous. She isn't the first person to do it, and I know there's mothers all over the place doing it even today.

It's not that I don't have empathy. I just don't want to spend hours (reading or otherwise) with these people. Overall, great writing but very hard to read.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

All right, All right....the Chunkster Challenge

I know. My dear hubbie would say I'm taking on waaaaaay too much. But the Chunkster Challenge rules are so lenient...and these books are on my list anywaaaay. For the 2007 TBR challenge, I picked the oldest books on my to be read list. Sometimes I just want a more recent title. Also, two of the books I picked will be in book discussions on websites I read early in the year, so if I read them, I can follow along.

My picks for the Chunkster Challenge are:

Half of a Yellow Sun
The Book Thief
Shantaram (which I'm already reading for the TBR challenge - at 900+ pages, I figure I can be allowed to share!)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Favorite Children's Christmas book..

I have loved this whole series, but this is a nice Christmas book, although it doesn't specifically mention Christmas. It's a nice book to give to any children you know who may not celebrate Christmas but like to celebrate giving. Mama bear and Sam are making cakes in the oven. They wrap them in bright red bags and leave one on each neighbor's doorstep. At the end, there are two bags left, for Mama and Sam. They snuggle by the fire, wearing "fat socks" and eat them.

My mom got this book for my son a few Christmases ago, along with a pair of big snuggly "fat" socks. It was a great hit, and we've been reading it since, but especially around Christmastime. (This is also a series, of which this is the third book. An especially great children's series for babies named Sam).

Thursday, December 7, 2006

If you're Wacky, here's a gift for you....

I read great reviews of this book, and recently bought it for my friend for Christmas. You should have a crazy, wacky sense of humor in order to enjoy this book. If you haven't heard any Amy Sedaris humor, maybe you've heard some of her brother David Sedaris' stuff? Well, anyway, you might want to be familiar with this particular family's brand of humor before you buy it. But I think it's hilarious. Think of it as a white-trash entertainment guide.

There are recipes. You might never use them. That's not the point. Where else can you find last minute decorative crafts to make with panty hose? Check this book out if you need a book gift for a friend with a quirky sense of humor. I find it hilarious.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Winter Reading Challenge Book #3: Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov

There’s no question Lolita is a classic. But why? I will say that by the end, I liked it a lot more than I did when I posted my mid-book rant. It’s not because the story got better, necessarily. It is that the writing is exquisite. Vladmir Nabokov was born in Russia and lived in both Germany and France before coming to America, so English is not his first language (or even second or third!). Knowing this makes it even more amazing that his prose is more beautiful than most American writers can achieve. Here are some passages I dogeared to show the beauty of his writing:

“I said nothing. I pushed her softness back into the room and went in after her. I ripped her shirt off. I unzipped the rest of her. I tore off her sandals. Wildly, I pursued the shadow of her infidelity; but the scent I traveled upon was so slight as to be practically undistinguishable from a madman’s fancy.”

“I would be a knave to say, and the reader a fool to believe, that the shock of losing Lolita cured me of pederosis. My accursed nature could not change, no matter how my love for her did. On playgrounds and beaches, my sullen and stealthy eye, against my will, still sought out the flash of a nymphet’s limbs, the sly tokens of Lolita’s handmaids and rosegirls. But one essential vision in me had withered: never did I dwell now on possibilities of bliss with a little maiden, specific or synthetic, in some out-of-the-way place; never did my fancy sink its fangs into Lolita’s sisters, far far away, in the coves of evoked islands.”

So you see how, even though the subject matter is disturbing, the writing is quite beautiful. So what about the subject matter, then? Well, it’s undoubtably disturbing to read a story about a 30-ish man preying on a 12 year old girl. The narrator, Humbert Humbert (a name he makes up for himself) is writing this story, or confession from jail, awaiting trial. He rented a room from a widow who had a 12 year old daughter, knowing that he had a weakness for girls, or “nymphets” as he calls them. He ends up marrying the mother to be close to the daughter. The mother dies running into traffic during an argument, and Humbert Humbert then convinces the world he is Lolita’s father. He keeps her with him by threatening orphanages and foster homes, while he expects her to “fulfill her duty” (sex) each day. A completely disgusting plot, which originally no American publisher would touch - it was originally picked up by a French publisher.

The thing is, by the end, you kind of feel sorry for him. Not totally, just kind of. He really did love her. Even when she grew out of “nymph-hood”, no one else could ever replace her for him. The part you can’t forgive is that he has no empathy for what the experience is like for her. Once he does acknowledge that he hears her cry every night, but that’s all he says about it. He only has the ability to see the situation from his own perspective. Even at the end, when she is finally with someone her own age and starting a family, he tries to convince her to run away with him, and seemingly can’t understand why she wouldn’t.

Although I was disgusted by the book at first and had trouble reading it, it is truly a fascinating look into the mind of a pedophile. It is so interesting how he realizes his “problem” but doesn’t see it as a problem. He knows he is unacceptable in society, and yet feels no need to seek help for this. He doesn’t have any concept of what he has done to her, or how her life might have been different if he hadn’t preyed on her.

It’s a difficult read, no doubt about it. But for those that are psychologically minded, it is interesting and worthwhile. I’m glad I finally read it and finished it – don’t think that would have happened without the Winter Reading Challenge!

From Psychology Today...

"A study in press at the Journal of Research in Personality showed that frequent readers of narrative fiction scored higher on tests of empathy and social acumen than did readers of expository nonfiction. A follow-up study showed that fiction could actually hone these skills: People assigned to read a New Yorker short story did better on a subsequent social reasoning task than did those who read an essay from the same magazine."

Don't know exactly what this means, nor do I have the research details. But, being a fiction reader and a therapist, I liked it!

Friday, December 1, 2006

Lolita is making me Lulu

I'll post a complete review when I'm done with Lolita (If I EVER get done with Lolita), but here I'll just say the book is driving me batty. I hate it. The cover says "The only convincing love story of our time". It bugs me every time I pick up the book. A story about a pedophile and a 12-year old is a LOVE STORY?? Ewwww. Too much information for me. Gross. I'll give you more details on my "yuck" factor when I'm finished. This I just had to say.