Monday, July 1, 2013

50 Books 2013

1. I've already completed one book, Oliver Sack's The Mind's Eye which is a bunch of psychological case studies about losing particular abilities and how they affect one's life. That is the January book club book. I'll leave the discussion for that one to my friends and I because I don't want to spoil it for them, but it truly makes you think about how the body/brain adapts to not only function, but thrive. A friend from book club suggests the RadioLab at this address:

2. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg was given to me by a writing friend of mine. Him and I have decided, separately and without influencing each other, that every Holly needs a Norm and every Norm needs a Holly. We are both writers and readers. He is a stew and I am a French restaurant, and both are necessary when writing. Natalie, as Norm familiarly calls the author, tells us how to ignore our inner critic and be zen, to reach into the present when we write, and to practice always. 1/25/13

3. J.K. Rowling defined my childhood, and so I am particularly keen to let her try and define my adulthood as well. Her new book, A Casual Vacancy, is a sad but poignant look at society from the perspective of a small town. We beat each other up with lies and gossip and we neglect our relationships to the point where people want to be alone, leaving us alone in the process. Simple acts of kindness and forgiveness are the only things that bring us out of the darkness. It is a sad book with a good heart. I'm not sure conservatives would get it. Good for social workers. 2/10/13

4. Never having read Alice in Wonderland or any other Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass struck me as a science fiction about logic. It reminded me of Hitchhiker's Guide in a way, but without all of the religion universe stuff. It is a book where every sentence is chock full of meaning, showing how illogical our logic is. And Alice is just a seven year old girl with a fantastic imagination and three kittens, but she already embodies the society she comes from, despite her love of dreaming. The characters of Wonderland go too far, making her cry and get angry, when this world is what she asked for. The backwardness of it all is too much. Things must have some order, or nothing will get done. Plus lots of good poetry. 2/18/13

5. The Boys in the Trees by Mary Swan: Perhaps it is the quality of my circumstances, but this book was oddly incomplete. Every chapter was intertwined in a central story, but their life stories were missing. A sad tale of a man made crazy by the tragedies of life: an abusive father, his children killed by sickness, and always a lack of money. And other lives affected by his without their knowing. 2/22/13

6. I am one of three and thus, my father could not resist buying me a book about three sisters, The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown. If you have a good breadth of knowledge about Shakespeare (depth is not required), this book will amuse you. If you have siblings, particularly sisters, this book will amuse you more. It is so right in its portrayal of their relationship: how they are so different and yet so similar, how they fight for their parent's attention, or how they pair up two against one in various combinations all their lives. 3/2/13

7. Having always been told about the Japanese internment during WWII from the perspective of a white American or a Japanese American, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford was fascinating because it was told from the perspective of a Chinese American child and his nationalist father. Because the Chinese were allied with the Americans and the Japanese, the Germans, and because the Chinese and Japanese had a history of conflict, the boy's father makes him wear a button that exclaims, "I am Chinese" so that he is not mistaken for one of the other race. Meanwhile, the second generation Japanese American girl who becomes his friend is more American than his parents, who barely speak English. It is a love story spanning multiple years, rife with conflict, long periods of separation, and renewed by the power of an old Jazz musician and a record found in the basement of The Panama Hotel. The book is set in Chinatown and Nihomachi (Japantown and later, the International District) of Seattle, but could be a story from any big city where the immigrants were separated from the "Americans". 3/10/13

8. My co-teacher has an affinity for Bill Bryson which led us to choose two of his works for our students to read, A Short History of Nearly Everything and my most current completed book, Shakespeare: The World As Stage. I hadn't read any Bryson before this, but I'm inclined to go towards him if ever I want to read nonfiction again. He is a true storyteller. He is as objective as a journalist and as critical as a scholar, but it is not boring. Before this, I knew entirely too much, or so I thought, about Shakespeare. It turns out I knew little to nothing about Shakespeare, though I know much of his work. Now I know what is told by the records, though very little indeed, and I love the man ever more. 3/23/13

9. The Book of Qualities by J. Ruth Gendler is a personification of emotional intelligence. Conveniently, there is a large section of our curriculum called "Emotional Intelligence" and our students love to act. Couldn't be a more perfect book for people of all ages to understand their own and other's emotions. It connects feelings to actions in a relatable way and gives you the idea that feelings are just there; actions are how you react to them. Overall, the book makes you feel normal. 3/26/13

10. At work we are doing a book study on Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal. I just finished reading it and I am wholly impressed. I'm not a gamer, though now I'm tempted to try and be one. I'm definitely not a game designer, but now I'm tempted to be one just so I can work at Valve and create these games that will change the world. She convinced me, Jane did. For now, I'm just using games for some happiness hacks and attainable goals, but I'm looking into some of the apps she discusses, particularly The Extraordinaries and Groundcrew, which both deal with being an everyday hero for someone else. I want more people to read this book!!! 4/6/13

11. I read Through the Looking Glass so that I had some small background on this new book, Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin which I've now decided I want to teach a class about. It is a "real life" take on Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and helps add sense to the nonsense of a child. I want to teach a class about nonsense where we read the three books, students write a compare and contrast paper, play human chess, build their own Wonderland, etc. There are just so many angles to look at the nonsense. Perfect for middle schoolers I think, though I'm a girl so who knows? 4/27/13

12. Finally finished Map of Time by Felix J. Palma, a novel inspired by H. G. Well's The Time Machine which I haven't read but am planning on doing. If you like novels like The Time Traveler's Wife and other science fiction or you are well read, this book featuring Wells, Henry James, and Bram Stoker is for you. It is weaving and you have to follow along closely (particularly towards the end), but the book will leave you wondering about the possibility of time travel, non-temporal love, and parallel universes. It is quite a lot to swallow. 5/30/13

13. If you are looking for a good sad but thrilling beach read, I'd try A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison. I got this book for $1 at Barnes and Noble, so I expected it to be awful, but it proved entertaining reading if not intellectually stimulating. Two stories, one of two sisters orphaned by a tsunami and picked up by sex traffickers and one of a lawyer who lost his daughter and his wife left him, intertwined by Indian culture and religion. With those two you travel through several countries and US states, tracing traffickers and dealing with the politics between governments trying to stop them. 6/7/13

14. If you've ever read anything about the Salem Witch Trials (which I did extensively as a child), this book is just like every other book on the topic. Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent is well written and engaging, but there is no spark to differentiate it in my mind. I read through it quickly, and it is definitely a good beach read at the very least. It is based on a true story, so for you historical fiction lovers out there, I got you. 6/10/13

15. One of the first books my book club read, which I did not read with them, was Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. I had read books like The Joy Luck Club before and I knew from the book club discussions that the book was sad, but the word I would most use to describe it is poignant. This kind of loving friendship, in whatever culture, is beautifully described. It reminds me to always be a good friend, fair and not cruel, and to listen carefully. 6/16/13

16. After reading Never Let Me Go in a college literature class, I was hooked on Kazuo Ishiguro. I read When We Were Orphans and Remains of the Day. I just finished Nocturnes, a musical set of short stories about the power of music to make and break lives. I'm reading another by Ishiguro now and should be done in a few weeks. 6/28/13

17. I love books about the power of education over a pretty face. Surprisingly, this is the first time I've read Maya Angelou. In high school we read Invisible Man and in college we read Passing and Uncle Tom's Cabin. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings held my attention far longer than other tales of the African American struggle. I believe that because I am white, I don't have the right to comment on the social politics of the story, but I enjoyed Angelou's message and style. She is a poet. 7/1/13

18. I feel like I keep getting further and further behind as I gather more and more books to read. Work Hard, Be Nice is probably the only nonfiction book I've ever read except maybe Reality is Broken that held my attention for a long time. Perhaps because I'm so interested in alternative education, seeing what other people have done successfully helps me formulate my own ideas. Also, I worked at KIPP Gaston in an Alternative Winter Break and it was a great experience. I came in to the book hypercritical after seeing the major teacher turnover/burnout and less successful KIPP high school there, but I can see how the original idea works. My favorite part is the emphasis on high expectations! 7/11/13

19. SPOILER ALERT: Upon finishing Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, my first reaction was a big what the heck, who stays with the crazy lady? It was definitely a twisted book with a twisted ending, and a good mystery throughout. As popular as it is, I didn't think it was mind blowing but I see why people like it. The writing is good, it caters towards an educated crowd of mystery lovers while still maintaining interest chapter to chapter. But when I think about my life and that book, all I want to say is, "Don't stay with the crazy sociopath, especially after she tried to have you killed. Love does not mean being scared all the time. People should work at love because they actually like someone, not because they're afraid of them." 7/30/13

20. I've read quite a few Jodi Picoult, and Change of Heart does not break the tradition of page-turning, question-inducing, makes-you-think beach reading that I decided she cultivates. This one brings up thoughts of guilt versus innocence, the death penalty, hearts and heart transplants, the law versus religion, and much more. Mostly it asks us to believe in miracles and to question our path. All of the characters find it in their own way. 8/6/13

21. Oh my goodness it is finally over. I love love love Kazuo Ishiguro, but what the heck dude? Unconsoled took me forever to read and made very little sense because the main character doesn't seem to remember things like normal people. He forgets he has a son. I'm serious. I thought there was going to be a big turnaround where he has dementia or something. Nope. He's just a pianist with issues that get brought up by the town he is playing in. The town doesn't make any sense either: dead end streets, tiny alleys, buildings with so many annexes they don't appear to be the same building. Oh and the people, the crazy lunatic people. A random guy asks him to talk to his daughter because he's had an understanding with her where they don't speak directly to one another. People on the bus give them random food and talk about their wonderful jobs. A woman has townspeople over to discuss their problems, but she's not a psychologist. It's weird. I wouldn't suggest this one if you enjoy Ishiguro. 8/16/13

22. I like abcFamily. I admit it. "Pretty Little Liars" is a good show. It's easy to follow while also having interesting characters and clues. I decided to read the books because I'm an English person, and adolescents are way more likely to read what they have background knowledge in. Though I've only finished the first installment, Pretty Little Liars, the books aren't so similar to the show to be boring. The issues I have are with Sara Shepard's writing. She uses a lot of adjectives. She also likes expensive brands of cell phones, clothes, cars, and everything else. It is kind of odd to describe something by advertising the brand. And then use a ton of adjectives. It's simple writing and I guess she's trying to keep the attention of young girls, but that dates the book for just right now. She's not trying to create literature. She does use high level vocabulary (mostly adjectives), which I appreciate. 8/18/13

23. In the second installment of Sara Shepard's series, Flawless, the annoying peppering of brand names wasn't as bad as in the first book. The action is a bit darker in this book and I'm noticing patterns. There is always a big event of some kind at the end during which actions come to a head. The girls have parallel experiences in time, with the hostility of A coming at about the same time for all of them. In addition, the underlying question of both books is "Who is A?" with the assumptions of the girls being revealed as inaccurate at the end. 8/22/13

24. My stepmother's father, John Joseph McGuire, was an author. He collaborated with H. Beam Piper to write science fiction short stories before short stories were a big thing. He would write about an idea and then Piper would go through and improve the writing, my step-grandmother (Nan) typing as they talked. Null-ABC is one such collaboration, recently republished. The style reminds me of Vonnegut. There are many characters and detailed action. It is sometimes hard to follow, but that isn't what is important. If you can let the action go (as I had to do when reading Hitchhiker's Guide) there is a system of politics where those who can read control those who cannot, and the Illiterates have no incentive to learn to read. Some of the Literates, who wish to eliminate the party system as is, contrive to elect an Illiterate and make literacy attractive again. They dream of a day when everyone is literate. 8/25/13

25. Halfway yay! And this is where the PLL series of books diverges so much from the show that I finished most of Perfect by Sara Shepard in a day. We know who A is and we know who killed Alison and there are just no more mysteries for us readers. One more book to go (not planning on reading the second set of books) and maybe everything will be revealed to the characters. Doubtful, but still. Good vocabulary, annoying habit of branding. I'll read something a little less dramatic and a little more analyzable next. 9/5/13

26. Unbelievable was a good wrap up for the first set of PLL books while also leaving you with a cliffhanger if you wanted it. I didn't, so it was just a good wrap up. A bit predictable, though. It took me forever to finish it, and now I'm just glad it's over. On to a bit more literature and something more hm...mature. 9/9/13

27. I didn't realize that to write A Clockwork Orange, a book and movie about which I was blissfully ignorant, Anthony Burgess created an entire new popular culture language. My brain is left in a tailspin of hating the youth and wondering if people really do grow out of their faults or if society has to demand it. For example, there are drug dealers walking the streets of Baltimore City trying to make a living where they can't on a nine to five job (if they can even snag one). Are they at fault for being a particular kind of youth, like Alex? Or are they programmed like the droogs in the novel, needing the impulsivity of violence until they don't need it any more? Also, is jail a deterrent for those dealers, or just another place for them to be programmed, less likely that they are to get a job when they get out. Like I said, head spinning. Always liked apocalyptic fiction. Definitely think about reading. 9/27/13

28. The Storyteller by Jodi Piccoult, is a triple layer story. Sage meets an old man in the bakery where she works, Josef, who becomes her friend and tells her he was a Nazi in WWII, that he needs her help to die. Sage, an atheist from a Jewish family, calls the FBI. Meanwhile, Sage's grandmother Minka hides her pain from her family, a Holocaust survivor who lost her whole family and had to build a new one. Minka survived because of a story, the story of Ania and the upior, the Polish version of a vampire. Josef tells the story of how he became a Nazi, and his difficult relationship with his brother. There are twists and turns and hints and an interweaving that is magical. It is a bit predictable, but I enjoyed it. 10/4/13

29. The best part about The Sometimes Daughter by Sherri Wood Emmons was the setting, Indianapolis in the 60s and 70s. Mostly the plot was like she wrote down her thoughts as she thought them and then just arranged them so they made some modicum of sense. There was no climax. The ending was like Emmons was bored with writing the book so she just made everyone happy. That part made a little bit of sense, since life is like that and the characters were continually looking for happiness like we all do. This was a book I got on discount for $3.00, so I wasn't expecting it to be added to the cannon. 10/6/13

30. I was not satisfied with the ending of Defending Jacob by William Landay. Since it's on the bestseller list, I won't spoil the ending for everyone; I just want to say that I was not satisfied. I rarely am with these types of books. I want to be able to sleep after reading them, but they always leave me thinking about stuff like, in this case, whether my kid will be a murderer or not and what I would do if they were. It truly hurts to think about. I finished most of the book in one day, so it was gripping and fast-paced. A good read overall. 10/13/13

31. If you are from Maryland, you should check out Laura Lippman's novels. She is from Baltimore and writes exclusively in cities surrounding the area, incurring nostalgia for familiar areas. The setting of To the Power of Three reminds me of Frederick, though she claims it could be any suburban area outside Baltimore. Columbia is spoken of. Lippman writes murder mysteries sometimes based on true stories, other times completely fabricated. She has detective characters she prefers, and lawyers. I liked the book. I'm reading another by her next. 10/20/13

32. The Most Dangerous Thing, another of Laura Lippman's Maryland set mysteries, is another well set up character depiction. All the perspectives are told, the clues given out, and the conclusion only comes together with one piece of evidence, the people coming together. It is a well-done organization I'm used to seeing in her novels, if a little predictable. She seems to make the solution just implausible enough that you can't really guess what happened, and when you find out you are at once shocked and not shocked. 10/26/13

33. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn reminded me of a Jodi Piccoult mystery. It wasn't as shocking as Gone Girl but just as visually brutal. She describes all the blood and everything disgusting about a person's mind. I was especially unnerved by the description of an inappropriate encounter with an eleven year old. Ick. Flynn really makes you hate people, like everyone thinks like this. I sure hope not. 11/2/13

34. Gillian Flynn sure likes to write about the grotesque parts of people's minds. In Sharp Objects, I'm not sure if she intended for everyone but the main character, who is supposed to be a journalist, to be objective and recognize who the killer is immediately, but I sure did. The main character just gets crazier and crazier as the novel goes on; she's so messed up by her mother. It was quite entertaining but I miss my happy endings. 11/12/13

36. Well I'm quite far behind in my reading with 14 more books to read and barely five weeks of the year remaining. If I didn't enjoy a single other book I read this year, I'm happy to have read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I've never lived in a Brooklyn tenement, never scraped for pennies or worked in a factory, but I once read a book a day from the library and liked to sit up in the trees like Francie. I think this book is labeled a "modern classic" and so I guess it will join the canon, but for a little while it was just mine, some beauty growing out of the hard ground. 11/25/13

37. And here I pose a question. A friend of mine gave me the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft which I have been meaning to read all year. How many H.P. Lovecraft short stories count as one book? Should I review each one and be done with my 50 very quickly or is that cheating? Should I count five stories as a book and undercut the great Lovecraft work? I do not know. 

The first story in the collection is "The Beast in the Cave" which Lovecraft wrote when he was only 15. I'm already 24 and I haven't written anything half as original and thoughtful. What would you become if left without light? 11/25/13

"The Alchemist" was a little disappointing in its similarity to "The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allen Poe and in that the ending was very predictable. I was thinking "well clearly it's that guy" while the main character was still apparently blissfully ignorant even though he claimed to believe in magic. 11/26/13

Since Lovecraft was young, and probably one of the first to use surprise endings, I am forgiving the predictability of "The Tomb." Age old question of insanity through obsession or disbelief of the supernatural. 11/29/13

"Dagon" reminded me of Life of Pi and I'm wondering if that whole island of dead fish thing came from Lovecraft. I didn't find it particularly terrifying, and was quite confused as to why the speaker would choose drugs and suicide to escape the memory of the fish monster. 11/29/13

Since I've never read Samuel Johnson, nor do I care for obscure witticisms from the 18th century, the only redeeming factor of "A Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson" was the fact tat the narrator claimed to be over 200 years old, peaking my curiosity about whether he might be a vampire. 12/1/13

The descriptions in "Polaris" were particularly haunting. I've always appreciated that the line between dreams and realities can be crossed. Sometimes I feel better about my dream world and imagine it is my real life; sometimes I'm happy to "wake up" somewhere other than a nightmarish place. 12/1/13

"Beyond the Wall of Sleep" is thus far my favorite Lovecraft story in the anthology. As mentioned above, I always loved to imagine my dreams as another life. The only time it gets scary for me is when I think about inception. I don't like the idea that a simple man can't have genius inside him though. 12/2/13

Pretty and haunting descriptions in "Memory." I write such short fantasies, so it felt just right in length (a single page) with the "surprise" in just the right moment. Haven't we all imagined our world when we are gone? 12/5/13

"Old Bugs" was a good moralistic story. Don't drink! Ever! Anyway I liked it; the idea of a guy who was at once brilliant and susceptible was particularly disarming. 12/5/13

38. Without going into much detail the self-help book Private Pain by Ditza Katz and Ross Lynn Tabisel, aside from being a written advertisement for their methods, is very informative. To this day, some diagnoses are seen as individual and incurable, with even the professionals unable to help. Hope is a thing with feathers... 12/16/13

39. Every person who has ever been in a relationship (any kind really, from friendship to romantic to familial) should read the book, The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. I am Quality Time with a little Acts of Service thrown in there. I can see my whole life through the lens of my love languages, from how they developed in my family life to how they translate to my relationships, both friendly and romantic. It's nice to know what you are so you can ask for what you need, but it's also nice to know what your partner is so you can know what to do for them. 12/18/13

40. Switching gears here, Guilty Wives by James Patterson and David Ellis was a great action book, but it made me never want to travel to France (wasn't on my top list anyway, but still). Nothing goes right throughout the whole book until 84% (I read on my Kindle). But as always with JP books, entertaining, somewhat but not completely predictable, and a quick read. 12/26/2013

5 days and ten books to go...I accept this challenge.

41. I thought Gossip Girl would be just like the PLL series and I could breeze through it during this challenging end of the year push. Though it is an easy read, I like it more than PLL. I watched all of Gossip Girl the t.v. show, so maybe that's why. Anyway, book 1/10 complete at 10:15 on 12/27/2013!

42. A friend of mine did some research to get me a great Christmas present of books. I had mentioned Agatha Christie to her and so she looked for some good murder mystery writers and found Harlan Coben. I'd never heard of him, but I just finished Six Years and it was great! I didn't find it predictable and I liked the happyish ending. Book 2/10 complete at 12:20 on 12/28/2013!

43. Beginning to doubt my ability to read five books in five days, let alone ten. You Know You Love Me is another one of the Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar. This one was sort of sad and confusing to me, but I wasn't expecting much for a quick transition book. 3/10 complete at 1:50 am on 12/29/2013! On to more murder mysteries!

44. So I think that Harlan Coben was going through a midlife crisis when he wrote Hold Tight. He spends a lot of time watching middle aged people worrying about their sagging and wrinkling and their parenting styles. He also weaves lives together in an incredibly effective manner, leaving nothing predictable. 4/10 complete at 9:35 pm on 12/29/2013!

45. I like that at the end of certain series' that continue on after the last necessary book (the third book in the PLL series, even though there are six more books out there), they make it seem like it's the last one. That way, if you don't feel like reading more, you're good to stop, and if you do, you can settle until you get the next set of three. Anyway, I'm done with the Gossip Girl series, ending with the third book, All I Want is Everything. 5/10 complete at 4:43 pm on 12/30/2013!

So I'm probably not going to finish reading book number 6 plus four more books today...but that isn't the point. I like to see my resolutions all the way through to the end. Reading 45 or 46 books in a year is pretty impressive, even if it wasn't the goal. That's what people tell me anyway.

My next post will be my new resolution, which I need to think on a bit more. Thanks to those of you who wandered through this last year with me; I appreciate your support. Hope to see you again in 2014.