Jan 13

Books I’ve read this year: 2012 edition

Here are the books that I read in 2012. I’m open to suggestions for 2013!

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I wasn’t sure I wanted to get into this series. It’s so…dark. But I kinda loved it. I loved it enough that I ended up finishing the rest of the series in short order. Yes, it’s dark. But it is also intriguing and suspenseful and there is a certain curiosity about the main character that had me coming back for me–I wanted to understand and I wanted to see what would happen.

The Art of Fielding I liked it, but didn’t love it.

The Tiger’s Wife Loved this one! It had all the elements that really appeal to me–I like strange and mythical stories with a fantasy element. I thought it was a worthwhile read.

The Lodger I read this after I read that this was one of Hemingway’s favorite novels. Wasn’t my favorite book ever but it’s not my favorite genre either (thriller). All in all, a decent read.

Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef This is a chef memoir written by the chef/owner of a restaurant that Adam frequents in NYC. While I thought that parts of this book were great–full of humor and good stories–but I didn’t like the second half of the book as much, due to the focus on her messy personal life.

The Kitchen House Troubling story, in some ways, but I liked the fresh perspective here (a white servant girl on a plantation in the antebellum South).

The Girl Who Played with Fire

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest Had to do it. Had to finish the series. Good read!

At Home in the World: A Memoir I needed something different after the last couple of books. I love a good memoir. I found this interesting–what a crazy story. The author spills here about her affair with J.D. Salinger. Weird guy!

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake

Remarkable Creatures: A Novel I like everything that I’ve ready by Tracy Chevalier. This book introduced me to a subject that I know very little about: fossils. Interesting read.

In One Person Like all of John Irving’s books, this book isn’t for everyone. I found it engrossing and thought-provoking, to consider preconceived notions and judgments that I may have about sexuality.

The Weird Sisters This is a novel about sisters that I just didn’t really connect with. It was….ok, but not one of my favorites.

The Year of Magical Thinking I put off reading this book for so long because it never felt like the right time to read a book with so depressing a premise. And, indeed, as I read it, I would ask myself, every time, WHY am I reading this (with tears dripping down my face)? That said, it is a beautifully written book about loss and grief and coping with the aftermath of an unexpected loss. I do recommend it, despite the sadness.

Gone Girl This book was a good change of pace from the previous book–an easy reading, page-turning thriller. The contrast between the writing styles was sharp (I don’t think that Flynn is near the writer that Didion is) but I did enjoy the story, over all, for a fast-paced read. Good summer reading.

The Night Circus My very favorite book that I read this year. Loved, Loved LOVED this book. All my favorite elements are here: magic and mystery and beautiful sadness. A fantastical story. Can’t recommend it highly enough. I was so sad to finish it!

The Sandcastle Girls A great read about a subject that, prior to reading this book, I knew nothing about (the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century). I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

The Dovekeepers Another favorite of mine for the year. Absolutely loved the story. Though it is historical fiction, I could almost believe that somehow, someone had saved a historical document from Masada, from women’s perspective. Strongly and boldly told. Moving and sad. Sometimes horrific, sometimes lovely. Great, great book.

My Name is Mary Sutter I am a sucker for stories that take place during the Civil War. I have read and re-read Gone with The Wind countless times. This story tells of a woman (a brilliant and skilled midwife) who desires to become a surgeon/doctor, in a time when this was not an occupation open to women. A very good read. (Mom–I think you’ll like this one). Note: may be too gory for for some (you know, it’s the Civil War, told from a would-be doctor’s perspective. Removal of limbs is a big theme here).

Digging to America I like Anne Tyler’s works. This is a quick and easy read with an interesting story line.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet I wanted to like this book, I really did, but I just could not get into it. It didn’t speak to me, not sure why.

The Risk Pool Strange book, but one I couldn’t put down. A story of a boy being raised by adults that are, neither one of them, emotionally equipped to raise a child. I liked this story of a boy struggling in a small town.

Flight Behavior I usually love all things Barbara Kingsolver but this was my least favorite of her books, unfortunately. I thought that the book got bogged down too much by environmental details, losing sight of the characters themselves. I do have a special interest in the butterflies of this book as Santa Barbara is on the migratory path for Monarchs, but this story just didn’t speak to me and draw me in as much as I had hoped.

The Dog Stars I didn’t know if I would like this book or not but I found it strangely appealing. The narration is quirky but I got used to it. The story is brutal at times (because of course it would be brutal to live in a post-apocolyptic world where it is every man for himself–guns are featured heavily and there is some stomach churning gore) but it is also sad and lovely and, above all, fascinating to consider what the world would be like if most of the world’s population were wiped out and mankind had to begin again.

The Pillars of the Earth I really, really, really wanted to like this book. I loved the idea of it. I even loved the general storyline. What I could NOT live with, however, was the repeated (as in Every Single Chapter) sexual brutalization of women within its pages. It got so that I would start to get nervous before reading this book. It made me anxious. I had to put it down. I just don’t want to read about rape. Too awful. So this is my one abandoned book of the year.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity I’m about 2/3 of the way through this book right now. It’s a nonfiction book (though it reads, in many ways, like a novel) about the inhabitants of the slums of Mumbai. Absolutely amazing.

I also listened to these audiobooks:

Northanger Abbey Classic Jane Austen. There are so many parts of it that seem downright silly today (worrying over one’s reputation as an unsoiled female, for instance) and yet there is something so appealing about Austen’s writing. So much wit.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir)
Some parts (ok, many parts) were laugh-out-loud funny. I love this author’s blog. So freaking hilarious.

The Glass Castle: A Memoir I loved this audiobook. The author reads her book about her childhood growing up with the most dysfunctional parents I could ever imagine. Incredible book. Entertaining, insightful.

Jan 12

Books 2011

I read 31 books in 2011. I think that this is the first year that I have ever tracked every single book, keeping a running tally. I’m a very fast reader, but I don’t always devote as much time to reading these days as I used to. Usually I a regulate reading to a few stolen moments under the covers at the end of the long day. Some nights this means that I am up far too late (if a captivating book)….or it means that I hardly read any pages at all, making finishing a book take forever (a less interesting book–I rarely give up on books though–I like to finish).

The list (with some remarks and links to the books; almost all of these were Kindle edition):

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. My (one and only) note in my journal about this book says, “brilliant.” I only wished that it (the book) had been longer.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. This is (awesome!) free to download to the Kindle. I think that this is my third reading of the book and I have to say that reading as an all-grown-up adult is a very different experience from reading it as a teenager and a young adult. I found it depressing (I mean, how can it not be? Adultery and suicide being among its topics) but the writing is just (for the most part)….beautifully depressing. I honestly hate the political parts of it–I find them boring–but the characters are so captivating that even though this is an incredibly long book, it still held me (with some brief skimming of the parts where Levin goes on and on and on and on….).

It Must Have Been Something I Ate: The Return of the Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten. Loved this one. So entertaining. Warning: if you are the kind of couple who both enjoys gastronomy be prepared to annoy your partner by insisting that they listen to (many, many) sections of the book, after you’ve pored over it yourself. They will roll their eyes and then they will surreptitiously read portions when you aren’t looking. It’s that good.

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Fascinating and informative. Obviously I have a vested interest in cancer and cancer research but this really was a terrific science read. It was interesting to read about the history of the treatment of cancer, to see how much trial and error has been involved in trying to find a cure. This book both filled me with despair (so much we don’t know!) and with hope (great strides have been and continue to be taken).

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. I don’t know that I had ever really read this before. Maybe portions of it. “Weird and wonderful” is what I wrote to myself in my notes about this one. Definitely a quick read.

The Paris Wife: A Novel by Paula McLain. So so so so good. Several years ago I went through a Hemingway phase and this definitely rekindled my desire to re-read some of his works. And, yes, it would seem that the story itself would be rough to read because it is about the dissolution of a marriage and yet….and yet….I just loved this book. It helped that I read it right after my spring trip to Paris as I was able to visualize the very neighborhoods and areas in which the story took place.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. This was one of the Hemingway books that I had never read and, after having read a recommendation by a blogger that I like, I decided I must read it immediately. I’ve actually got Adam reading it right now and I think he loves it. Hemingway is such a brilliant author–so passionate and strong and he cuts right through the crap. I especially loved what he had to write about writing. It is a portrait of an unusual time and place, so many personalities all living and creating and socializing together. F. Scott Fitzgerald is my all time favorite author and, even though he is portrayed in this book as an irresponsible drunk, I gobbled up the sections about him. What a crazy time.

The Last Queen: A Novel by C.W. Goftner. I chose this one because I wanted to read something historical about Spain while we were visiting there in May. It was a good choice for the Spain trip. It was interesting and it provided good historical background for understanding a little bit of the Spanish monarchy.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. How can one go wrong with Jane Austen? This is such an enjoyable read. As situated in its time as it is, the emotions and the relationships are so universally relevant, even in this day and age.

The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald. Just lovely. One of my all time favorites. Tragic and gorgeous.

When Did I Get Like This: The Screamer, the Worrier, the Dinosaur-Chicken-Nugget-Buyer and Other Mothers I Swore I’d Never Be by Amy Wilson. Funny and true but, ultimately, a pretty forgettable book.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I got sucked into all the press for the upcoming movie. The books was….okay. Not the best book ever. The plot does move along and it is entertaining but I got annoyed by the dialogue and characters.

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon. Oh my goodness, I just loved this book. Interesting, thought-provoking, well told. Great story, very engrossing.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I borrowed this one from Mom after hearing what felt like everyone say that they loved it. Excellent and well worth the hype. Such an interesting glimpse into a world that I knew nothing about. It made me wonder about any similarities to the Latin American “help” living and working here in Southern California, in this day and age. What level of prejudice exists here and now?

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I know everyone loved this book. I feel ambivalent (sorry). Yes, I couldn’t put it down. It did have that going for it. But it was creepy. And the dialogue was stupid. And it just seemed very, I dunno, very Young Adult (which I believe it is actually marketed as but I didn’t expect because so many of my Regular Adult friends seemed to have read it). I don’t know that I will read any of the other books in the series. I didn’t feel compelled to read the second one right after this first one so….I don’t know. (But, like I said, I could NOT put this book down! Had to find out what happened!).

Sleepwalk with Me and Other Painfully True Stories by Mike Birbiglia. I needed something light after reading The Hunger Games. I had heard this author on This American Life and I couldn’t get his (hilarious) story out of my head so I decided to check out his book. Hilarious! Loved it.

Love in Mid Air by Kim Wright. This is the story of a woman who has an affair and leaves her marriage. There are some great descriptions of suburban housewifery, but all in all I didn’t really resonate with the main character and that made it difficult for me to really and truly like this book.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. Great read. It kept me up at night (had to finish it!). I actually found this novel thought-provoking. It is about the little things that add up through the years and the ways in which we just might miss them.

It Sucked and Then I Cried by Heather Armstrong. Meh. I love her blog, but I’m not so sure about this book. Not so funny and not so touching so this didn’t really do it for me.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Dark and moody. Kind of a slog to get through (I don’t remember thinking this the first time I read it, years ago. I think I LIKED all the dark and moody back then. Now I feel like, come on people! Snap out of it!).

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. I kept getting this book as a recommendation on Amazon and passing it over. A book whose narrator was (supposedly) a dog? Um, weird. NO thanks. Finally I downloaded it and I am glad I did. Engrossing (even though it is about car racing, not a favorite topic of mine by any means!). I LOVED that it came from the dog’s point of view. Kept me up way too late reading. (Adam read it after me and it only took him two days to read it, which is some kind of record for him–a quick read!).

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. I was intrigued enough, after all the press that this book got, to read it and judge for myself whether the so-called Tiger Mother was cruel and oppressive or simply doing what she needed to do to help her daughters excel. It was certainly food for thought reading this book. Me personally? I wouldn’t have wanted to be the author’s daughter. Yikes.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. So good. Loved it (as I have loved all of this author’s books).

Away: A Novel by Amy Bloom. Weird.

Shanghai Girls: A Novel by Lisa See. Good book. I enjoyed this one.

Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship by Gail Caldwell. Touching.

Nowhere Near Normal: A Memoir of OCD by Traci Foust. Oddly Fascinating.

Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert. Good and thought provoking. Marriage is what you make of it. I agree.

Rescue: A Novel by Anita Shreve. This was okay but not one of my favorites. Fairly entertaining but not brilliant.

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. Adam made me read this, after he read it himself. It was fun to have our own little book club! I just don’t agree with the philosophy of the book, but….it is an enjoyable read.

Anywhere but Here by Mona Simpson. Entertaining novel.

And….started but did not finish until it was 2012:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. I give up! I just had to read this after all the hype and the movie and everything. Disturbing and yet so incredibly readable. I really liked it.