Sunday, October 19, 2008

Books Read in 2007

[ed: these are the books I read in 2007, with a short note for posterity; doing some blog housekeeping, collapsing overtly long sidebar material.]

1. The Whole World Over (Julia Glass)

Conversation with Books, 2007
2. Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen)
recommended by a coworker
3. Perils of Paella (Nancy Fairbanks)
foodie mystery
4. Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafon)
I'm the last person to read this
5. Blue Arabesque (Patricia Hampl)
book group selection
6. The Road (Cormac McCarthy)
7. Fieldwork (Mischa Berlinski)
exotic setting, taboo sex, missionaries, and murder
8. Heat (Bill Buford)
fast-paced, mouth-watering account of professional kitchens
9. Girls of Slender Means (Muriel Spark)
Spark project
10. Cross-X (Joe Miller)
11. The Courier (Jay MacLarty)
read aloud to Mr. Bibliotonic
12. Astrid and Veronika (Linda Olsson)
book group selection
13. Feet on the Street (Roy Blount, Jr.)
background reading for trip to New Orleans
14. A Brief History of the Dead (Kevin Brockmeier)
read in NOLA
15. Eat, Pray, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert)
journey of self-discovery in exotic locales
16. New Orleans Mourning (Julia Smith)
back from NOLA, can't get enough
17. Henry Huggins (Beverly Cleary)
read aloud to son #1; a classic
18. Henry and the Paper Route (Beverly Cleary)
read aloud to son #1; a classic
19. Henry and Ribsy (Beverly Cleary)
read aloud to son #1; a classic
20. Ramona the Pest (Beverly Cleary)
read aloud to son #1; a classic
21. Confessions of a Teenage Sleuth (Chelsea Cain)
Nancy Drew-esque
22. The Woods (Harlan Coben) [audio]
predictable thriller; Coben's Myron Bolitar series is my preference
23. Henry and the Clubhouse (Beverly Cleary)
read aloud to son #1; a classic
24. The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books (J. Peder Zane)
fun book of lists
25. 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (Peter Boxall)
another fun book of lists
26. Henry and Beezus (Beverly Cleary)
read aloud to son #1; a classic
27. It's Not about the Tapas (Polly Evans)
cycling, northern Spain, travel, humor
28. Momentum Is Your Friend (Joe Kurmaskie)
cycling, cross-country journey, father-son memoir; read aloud to Mr. Bibliotonic
29. The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion)
mega award-winning memoir; a favorite author
30. Bangkok Haunts (John Burdett)
thriller set in exotic locale; series
31. Yiddish Policemen's Union (Michael Chabon)
amazingly crafted, highly imaginative novel
32. Austenland (Shannon Hale)
lighthearted novel
33. A Cook's Tour (Anthony Bourdain)
"re-read", audio
34. Angelica (Arthur Phillips)
Victorianesque novel; read for book group
35. Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows (J.K. Rowling)
culmination of series; read aloud to Mr. Bibliotonic
36. The Places in Between (Rory Stewart)
adventure/travel essay
37. Play It As It Lays (Joan Didion)
seminal novel by a favorite author
38. French Fried (Nancy Fairbanks)
cozy foodie mystery; palate cleanser from heavier fare
39. Bloodletting and Other Miraculous Cures (Vincent Lam)
impressive debut; story collection; read in San Francisco
40. Sweet Revenge (Diane Mott Davidson)
cozy foodie mystery
41. The United States of Arugula (David Kamp)
history of food trends/movements and restauranteurs
42. Mommy Tracked (Whitney Gaskell)
chick lit with substance
43. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie)
National Book Award-winner for young readers; read for book group
44. The Uncommon Reader (Alan Bennett)
subversive and quick novel about books and the Queen; read in NYC
45. The Silverado Squatters (Robert Louis Stevenson)
account of Napa Valley in the 1800s
46. Bagman (Jay MacLarty)
second in series we started earlier in the year; read aloud to Mr. Bibliotonic
47. The Amateur Gourmet (Adam Roberts)
delightful foodie coming of age; writer by a fellow food blogger
48. Not a Girl Detective (Susan Kandel)
another Nancy Drew-esque mystery; read in Winner, SD
49. The Stupidest Angel (Christopher Moore)
darkly comic story for the holidays; audio
50. Feeding a Yen (Calvin Trillin)
Trillin's tales of local food specialties; a paean to his beloved late wife and adventure buddy, Alice

Saturday, October 18, 2008

41 for 41

If it’s October, then it’s time for me to compose another list of books for my reading year. Considering the limited success of this past reading year, when I managed to read just five out of forty books I selected. The point of the list—as my friend Caryl reminded me—isn’t necessarily to read every book, but to serve as a record of where my interests lie at the moment. This was all the justification I needed to begin the 41 at 41 Challenge, with a stronger than usual commitment for more strikethroughs. Besides, I’m an inveterate list maker, so I may as well make a short list from the very long TBR list I keep.

Since this is my third such list, I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. First, I wait for other lists to be announced. These include my alma mater’s Conversation with Books and the National Book Award nominees. Next, I check my publishing resources, including, which has, in each of its sections, a “coming soon” subsection where you can see many of the books that will be published in the next three to six months. By anticipating new releases, I can factor into my list the books that would normally derail me.

Still, I can’t catch every book that serve as a distraction, such as those I learn about by word of mouth and reviews. Also, my book groups determine their books on a month-to-month basis so there’s no advanced planning for those.

That said, this year’s list includes a healthy number of shelf-sitters, recent purchases (in a year of overindulgence), and borrowed books that I need to make a concerted effort to return to generous friends. Additionally, I want to read more short stories and classics this coming year. I have also included a few carryovers from previous lists because I still really, really, really want to read MFK Fisher and Carol Shields and John LeCarre and many many more.

Herewith, 41 for 41, in no particular order:

1. something by Haruki Murakami
just finished reading his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and want to read more
2. Out (Natsuo Kirino)
impressed by her latest, The Real World, I’d like to read another; I have a borrowed copy
3. The Other Side of the Island (Allegra Goodman)
loved Kaaterskill Falls years and years ago; this is YA and speculative
4. The Eight (Katherine Neville)
a re-read of a favorite
5. The Fire (Katherine Neville)
the long anticipated sequel to The Eight
6. Once and Future King (T.H. White)
a classic I have long meant to read
7. Maps and Legends (Michael Chabon)
a beautifully packaged collection of writings
8. Mysteries of Pittsburgh (Michael Chabon)
a re-read
9. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson)
hot title at the moment; I’m slightly obsessed with many things Swedish
10. Plague of Doves (Louise Erdrich)
a Conversation with Books ’09 title
11. Loving Frank (Nancy Horan)
a Conversation with Books ’09 title
12. Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri)
a Conversation with Books ’09 title; story collection
13. Lulu in Marrakech (Diane Johnson)
Diane Johnson, Morocco, girl spy—an irresistible combination
14. We (Yevgeny Zamyatin)
shelf-sitter, classic
15. The Thirty-Nine Steps (John Buchan)
arguably the first spy thriller
16. Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons)
rural novel parody that has been recommended to me many times over
17. Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
carryover from 40 at 40
18. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral (Barbara Kingsolver)
carryover from 40 at 40
19. The Summer Book (Tove Jansson)
summer discovery that I have yet to read
20. Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire (David Mura)
a debut novel by a local writer
21. Consider the Oyster (MFK Fisher)
this. is. the. year
22. Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)
a classic
23. Suite Francaise (Irene Nemirovsky)
a critically acclaimed book; borrowed
24. Alice, Let’s Eat (Calvin Trillin)
a classic foodie title
25. St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (Karen Russell)
story collection
26. Friends, Lovers, Chocolate (Alexander McCall Smith)
favorite author; borrowed book
27. Alaska Sourdough (Richard Morenus)
one of my father’s favorite books; borrowed
28. A Circle of Quiet (Madeleine L’Engle)
29. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
classic scary novel
30. Omelette and a Glass of Wine (Elizabeth David)
another foodie classic; shelf-sitter
31. Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
shelf-sitter; 15th anniversary
32. Annapurna (Maurice Herzog)
classic climbing/adventure book; shelf-sitter
33. something by Neil Gaiman
must see what the fuss is about
34. Curriculum Vitae (Muriel Spark)
memoir by a favorite author
35. Anathem (Neal Stephenson)
because I bought the door-stopper in hardcover
36. Snow Leopard (Peter Mathiessen)
30th anniversary of this nature classic
37. Elephanta Suite (Paul Theroux)
strong NYT book review; favorite author
38. Ghostwalk (Rebecca Stott)
December book group selection
39. Little House on the Prairie (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
just saw the Guthrie production
40. The Camel Bookmobile (Masha Hamilton)
birthday gift from my sis
41. The Discovery of France (Graham Robb)
birthday gift from my Mr. Bibliotonic

also rans that have been much on my mind and that may sneak into the mix:

Judgment of Paris, George M. Taber—wine
Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon—Chabon
Final Game, Valerie Plame—spies
Arlington Park, Rachel Cusk—editor Reagan Arthur
The Emperor's Children, Claire Messud—NYC
The Raw Shark Texts, Steven Hall—je ne sais quoi
something by Philip Roth—American classic
Amnesia Moon, Jonathan Lethem—speculative
Blindness, Jose Saramago—Nobel-prize winner
Tree of Smoke (Denis Johnson)—National Book Award–winner
something by Roberto Boleano—comes recommended; rediscovery
and, quite frankly, anything unread from the 40 for 40 list, 'cause I really do want to read them all.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

fall=literary award season

The fall is a great time to be a reader, for so many reasons. Not only do you have all the heaviest-hitting, highest-quality books being released in time for the holidays, but you also have the announcement of major literary awards. This week alone has yielded a bounty.

The National Book Award finalists were announced just moments ago. Hands down, the NBA is my favorite literary award. It represents the best American literature. As with many awards, it is not without its faults, but year after year, the nominees are the sort of books I want to read. And unlike the Booker Prize, you've likely heard of at least a few NBA finalists.

The presence of literary giants Marilynne Robinson and Peter Mathiessen* is exciting, but so too are the debuts of Aleksandr Hemon for The Lazarus Project (Hemon has had two story collections published, one a National Book Critics Circle nominee), Rachel Kusher for Telex from Cuba (strong front-page NYT review), and Salvatore Scibona for The End (published by my hometown's small press hero, Graywolf). For the three latter authors, inclusion on this list will certainly boost sales and exposure.

The National Book Award will be announced on November 19. Nominations have also been made in poetry, nonfiction, and young readers categories. I'm less interested in these, so you'll have to visit the NBA website for more information.

And, in a stroke of good timing, The Booker Prize winner was announced last night. Aravind Adiga, is only the fourth author to win for a debut novel. His novel, The White Tiger has been on my radar, though I doubt I'll get to it this year. Michael Portillo, a former MP and judge for this year's Booker, said

The judges found the decision difficult because the shortlist contained such strong candidates. In the end, The White Tiger prevailed because the judges felt that it shocked and entertained in equal measure.

"The novel undertakes the extraordinarily difficult task of gaining and holding the reader's sympathy for a thoroughgoing villain. The book gains from dealing with pressing social issues and significant global developments with astonishing humour.

Which National Book Award finalists have you read? Who are you rooting for?

*I have to confess that I find the Mathiessen a curious choice. In The Shadow Country, Mathiessen combines the three Florida novels (Killing Mr. Watson, Lost Man's River, and Bone by Bone) into one. One novel, not one volume with three novel. This was how he'd intended the book to be published but because of the length, it was carved into three separate volumes. Now, masterfully collapsed and reworked, The Shadow Country is being hailed as monumental.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Birthday Loot

I love receiving books as gifts. For many years, when I was repping for St. Martin’s/Holtzbrinck (now Macmillan US), I never received books. Perhaps friends and family thought I had access to any book I wanted, which was somewhat the case. Maybe they thought I didn't need more books than what I already had. And here’s what friends and family didn’t know: I spent my day reading what the office sent me to read, and it typically wasn’t what I would have chosen for myself. Sure, sometimes I was pleasantly surprised, which I could use to my advantage with accounts, but I loved it when someone put a book in my hand because they loved it or because they thought I would love it.

So, this year, it was a thrill to find books hiding beneath the gift wrap of birthday presents. And, next best part about getting books: I wasn’t familiar with any of them. They’re not on any of the countless lists I keep. I don’t recognize any from my favorite bookstores’ display tables, although each did come from such places. So, each gift book was a true surprise. Here’s my haul:

The Camel Bookmobile, by Masha Hamilton
My sister gave me this beautifully packaged novel. From the back cover, the following passage intrigued me: “Fiona Sweeney wants to do something that matters, and she chooses to make her mark in the arid bush of northeastern Kenya. By helping to start a traveling library, she hopes to bring the words of Homer, Hemingway, and Dr. Seuss to far-flung tiny communities where people live daily with drought, hunger, and disease…In the impoverished small community of Mididima, she finds herself caught in the middle of a volatile local struggle when the bookmobile’s presence sparks a dangerous feud between the proponents of modernization and those who fear the loss of traditional ways.” I like the exotic, dusty setting, the protagonist’s mission, and the sense of adventure. And, Kenya really does have a mobile library.

Real World, by Natsuo Kirin
My husband picked this one out. The flap copy describes the novel as feminist noir, by the Japanese author of eighteen novels (and four short-story collections and an essay collection). Only three of Kirin's novels have been published in English translation. This novel features four teenage girls, in "cram school" together, who are caught up in solving the murder of Toshi’s next-door neighbor. Toshi is “the dependable one” of the four. I love the Nancy Drew/girl-sleuth twist, and I consider it a treat to be introduced to Kirino’s hard-boiled fiction.

The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography, by Graham Robb
My husband selected this history book for me because he knows how much I adore France. Robb has written several biographies of French literary figures, each of which have been honors as NYT Editors’ Choices for best books of the year. In this history, he examines how France emerged out of the jumble of its departements, which the Robb exhaustively researches, but also explores on bicycle. I am such a sucker for France, history, and cycling—what’s not to love?

Now, where do I start?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!!

Today is my birthday. It's not a "big" birthday, but it's a special birthday. I think all birthdays are special. My little family cleared out of the house so I could have a conversation with a dear friend. We hadn't spoken in six months, which is criminal, but there you have it. We spoke for an hour and caught up with each other's lives. Then, I had an hour and a half to myself, while the guys ran errands. The house was so quiet—ideal to cozy up with a book.

I'm currently reading People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks, and I'm really enjoying it. I had just finished reading an ARC of Scott Muskin's The Annunciations of Hank Meyerson, Mama's Boy and Scholar, and although I enjoyed it—a lot—the novel is a redemption song about a broken man. It's the kind of book with deliberate character studies and situations that you can admire for the artfulness of the writing, but, by turns, you're often left emotionally drained. Even the uplifting bits can make you feel a little empty. I think Scott Muskin is all kinds of talented, and I want to help him promote this book by recommending that everyone read it.

Where was I going with that? Before I finished Annunciations, I realized I needed a novel that was the polar opposite—a lushly descriptive historical novel. So People of the Book has fit the bill. Also, the plot is woven between various time periods and places—1940 Sarajevo, 1894 Vienna, 1609 Venice, 1492 Tarragona (Spain), and 1480 Seville—always returning to 1996 Vienna. I'm nearly at the half-way point, but I have yet to experience true dramatic tension. I don't think this is a bad thing because the writing flows, and I like being tranported through each section. In many ways, the atmosphere of mystery puts me in mind of Katherine Neville's The Eight or even Shadow of the Wind, though not as dark. My friend Caryl says the themes remind her of The Book Thief.

For nonfiction, I have my nose in Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, personalizing the meditation by swapping out "running" for "cycling." I can identify with how his chosen sport elevates his thought-plain (outlining plots or developing characters). He listens to music. Cycling allows me similar opportunities and is a balm for anxiety or depression. But enough about me.

For years, friends and booksellers have been recommending Murakami to me, but I've never gotten around to reading him. And although this book is hardly typical of his novels, it's still engaging, especially the bits about how he became a novelist or about the period of time when he owned a jazz club. This is a slim volume that you think you're going to breeze through until you find yourself copying down the clever bits and mulling them before you start reading again and suddenly it takes three weeks to read a 5 x 7-trim size with wide margins.