Recent Reads, Vol II

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz: I'm not sure what took me so long to read this one, but as the Pulitzer season approached I wanted to pick up a recent winner. I couldn't help but feel bad for Oscar, the super-dork struggling to overcome a family curse. But even so, I thoroughly enjoyed the time I got to spend with him.  Also, the footnotes are awesome. 

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain: This novel appeared on so many "Best of 2012" lists I had hard time ignoring it. Books about war don't usually appeal to me in the general sense, but I'm really glad I gave this one a shot. There are many present-day truths underlined and examined and to top it off, it's funny as hell. 

Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam: I'm a sucker for anything compared to Lolita and after I read about Lamb, I picked it up soon after. Nadzam's debut intrigued me from start to finish. It's both lovely and disturbing in a pervy way. I enjoyed it immensely. Nadzam poses questions that she never fully answers, leaving the reader to discern what they will. This one would make for a great book club pick, as it leaves much to discuss. 

Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster: Auster is easily one of my favorite writers but I found this book to be just. plain. boring. If it weren't so short, I likely wound't have finished it. Goes to show great novelists don't always write good books. 


Recent Reads

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan: This book can be summed up in one passage: "It was not the sea that was cruel, but the people." The novel was entertaining enough, but it was on the predictable side and didn't offer anything I haven't read before.  If I could go back and read it again, I wouldn't.

My Ideal Bookshelf by Thessaly La Force (art by Jane Mount): I found this one at Half Price Books and scooped it up immediately. It was so much fun to read about the favorite books of Dave Eggers, Judd Apatow, and Patti Smith, among others; the books that shaped them and those that helped them grow and rethink the world around them. Best of all, it got me thinking about my own ideal bookshelf. 

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole: I didn't know much about this novel before I picked it up, with the exception of the incredible story behind its publication. Turns out, I was in for quite the treat. Ignatius J. Reilly is obnoxious and crude and utterly hilarious. This book had be laughing out loud - a lot. Fortuna was on my side when a friend gifted me this novel a few months back. I am also traveling to New Orleans in May and I'm so happy to have read this before my trip.

Vaclav and Lena
by Haley Tanner: This book kept popping up on "Favorite Love Story" lists around Valentine's Day and I'm so glad it fell on my radar. This is a sweet, charming love story about two Russian children who meet in ESL class and are forever connected. Tanner writers in simple language and a fresh voice; you could probably finish this one in a day if you wanted to.


January Reads

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes: I was told this one would make me cry uncontrollably. Remarkably enough, I did not. With that said, I did find it to be an incredibly touching story that I won't soon forget. If I had known for about its central theme before I purchased it, I don't think I would have bought it. But I'm really happy I did. 

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan: As a big fan of Sloan's short story that inspired this novel, I have to say the book was a bit of a let down. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I felt removed from the story and the characters seemed rather flat. But it does get extra points for a glow in the dark book jacket. 

Attachments by Rainbow Rowel: I wouldn't have picked this one up on my own, but after reading how much Laura and Alice and Alley liked it, I gave it a go. This one was fun to read and had me laughing out loud a lot. A perfectly light and clever read.

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon: I'm still trying to wrap my head around this one. I'll just tell you that after I watched The Usual Suspects for the first time I wanted to start the movie over immediately upon finishing it to see all the things I missed after knowing the ending. This book is the literary version of that feeling. 

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach: Mary Roach is really good at writing about science in a way that makes it accessible and really fun to read about. This one will tell you everything you ever wanted to know, and some things you prefer not to know, about humans in space. I didn't find it to be as interesting as Stiff, but I've always been more intrigued by dead people than space.


2013 Reading Plans

Starting about last October I began to feel uninspired to write proper reviews of books I read. The task felt more like a chore than a hobby. At first I thought maybe it was just a slump, but four months later I am still struggling. I started to put some thought into this dilemma; regardless of whether I loved the book or barely got through it, all of the sudden it takes a lot to make myself write something about it.

I started this blog in 2009 and at that point it didn't have much direction. Near the start of 2010 I began to treat it as a book blog and began reviewing each book I read. Three years and 143 reviews later, I am ready to take a break. I don’t plan to leave completely, but for now I am going to do away with writing a few paragraphs about each book I read and instead opt for something a little more concise. I have yet to decide exactly how I’ll go about this, but it will ultimately involve fewer posts, as I’ll probably group a few books into one post.

So in 2013 I have decided to do away with challenges and memes and traditional reviews and get back to reading for the sake of reading. 

Image via weheartit.com


Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut will always have a special place in my heart. He was my first favorite liberal philosopher author with whom I fell madly in love. His writing honest, humorous, and incredibly intelligent. Vonnegut has got this knack for conveying more ideas in one short sentence than most writers can in an entire novel. His words are powerful and memorable. Although he held a pessimistic view of politics and the modern day world, he believed in the good of human kind.

Armageddon in Retrospec
t is a collection of essays published posthumously, one year after Vonnegut's death. The majority of the essays explore the meaning of war and it's impact on those involved. While there is a focus on WWII and the bombing of Dresden, Vonnegut's writing is as relevant today as it was fifty years ago. I especially liked the introduction, written by Kurt's son, Mark Vonnegut, where he paid tribute to his father and offered an interesting perspective of a man and his writing:

“He often said he had to be a writer because he wasn't good at anything else. He was not good at being an employee. Back in the mid-1950's, he was employed for Sports Illustrated, briefly. He reported back to work, was asked to write a short piece on a racehorse that jumped over a fence and tried to run away. Kurt stared at the blank piece of paper all morning and then typed, "The horse jumped over the fucking fence," and walked out, self-employed again.”
I have to say this wasn't my favorite collection of Vonnegut's - some stories outshine the others - but it's worth the read, nonetheless. If you're new to Vonnegut's essays, I would suggest starting with A Man Without A Country.

Publisher: Putnam, 2008


Favorite Books Read in 2012

2012 was a pretty good year in reading for me. I set a goal to read 50 books and as of today I'm at 45, which puts me a little behind pace but I'm alright with that. Below is a list of my favorite books I read in 2012, listed in order. Some are new releases and others are much older.

1 . Native Son by Richard Wright, 1940: This might be the most powerful book I've read in my adulthood thus far. Not only is this an explicit and heart-wrenching account of the perils of the black man in 1930's America (and in some cases, they story is also relevant today), but it is truly a page-turner. Despite the brutal and affecting details, I was completely engrossed in this book.

2. Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, 2012: I don’t have anything profound to say about this novel, except that I enjoyed it immensely. Bernadette is certainly one of the more memorable characters I’ve read this year; she has her flaws but is completely likeable at the same time. The novel as a whole is funny, sharp-witted, and immensely readable.

3. 11/22/63 by Stephen King, 2011: The premise of the novel is what initially drew me to this book, but in the end the reasons I adored it so much was not because it was a time travel novel (I'm a serious sucker for those) but because it was truly moving and really made me think about destiny how the choices we make today change our future in a way we can't even imagine.

4. East of Eden by John Steinbeck, 1952: Steinbeck's prose is straightforward and his setting rich. The novel spans three generations of two families and although it's a thick book, it is not at all hard to follow and reads a lot quicker than I thought it would. The novel delights and engages from start to finish.

5. People Who Eat Darkenss by Ricahrd Llyod Parry, 2012: I didn't expect to read this one in just a few days, but it was just so fascinating. This non-fiction book reads like fiction and follows the disappearance of Lucie Blackman; a young English woman who moves to Toyko in hopes of a more exciting life. It turns out, this is much more than a true crime book. It's also a lens for what happens behind closed doors in eastern culture, like an anthropological look at the darker, hidden aspects of this culture and their obsession with ritual and role play.

6. The Round House by Louise Erdrich, 2012: When I first heard about this novel I pegged it for a powerful book that could expose me to a way of living with which I was not very familiar and Erdrich delivered. This is a story that will pull at your heart strings and make you reconsider the rights and tangle of laws surrounding Native Americans.

7. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, 2012: This was probably the most widely talked about book of 2012, and for good reason. I had so much fun reading it mostly because Flynn is really good at setting you up to believe one thing and then turning it around completely, leaving your head spinning.

8. Moon Palace by Paul Auster, 1990: This is a book that offers unlikely adventure, a bit of mystery, and a whole lot of heartache. As always, the characterization of Auster's main character is incredibly believable, but also unconventional. The plethora of characters and events of the novel are whimsical and odd, but also complex and exuberant, making for a fun and intelligent read.

9. Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski, 1982:  Ham on Rye is a semi-autobiographical novel of Bukowski's childhood; it's a coming-of-age story, but it's quite different from most other novels I've read in that genre. The prose is straightforward but powerful, the diction is crude but intriguing. The novel as a whole is about the awkwardness that is adolescence and growing up in a time when there was little opportunity and making the most out of it.

10. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1985: There is so much to examine throughout this novel. It explores a myriad of human emotions. It's a novel about love, loss, sex, passion, hope, and obsession. Although the chapters go on forever, there is careful attention to detail that I really enjoyed. But this isn't your mushy-gushy love story, not even close. This novel takes patience, but it's worth the effort.


Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

It's been a few weeks since I finished this. Actually, more like a month. After reading a handful of good things about this book I decided to give it a go. I'm generally not a fan of epistolary novels, but this one sounded different. The relationship I had with this book was a good one; I finished it in two days because it was just that pleasurable to read. This is not a book to be read in short spurts but rather consumed all at once. I don’t have anything profound to say about it, except that I enjoyed it immensely. Bernadette is certainly one of the more memorable characters I’ve read this year. She has her flaws but is completely likeable at the same time. The novel as a whole is funny, sharp-witted, and immensely readable.

More relevant was the cover sheet, which set forth the psychological profile of candidates best suited to withstand the extreme conditions at the South Pole. They are “individuals with blasé attitudes and antisocial tendencies,” and people who “feel comfortable spending lots of time alone in small rooms,” “don’t feel the need to get outside and exercise,” and the kicker, “can go long stretches without showering.

For the past twenty years I’ve been in training for overwintering at the South Pole! I knew I was up to something.

I was actually sad when this book ended because I enjoyed it so much. If you’re looking for a novel that you just might fall in love with, give Semple’s book a try. It’s a gem. And just right. 


A Look at Lena Dunham's Book Proposal

My presence here has been scarce lately. I need to catch up on reviews and get moving on my best of 2012 list. But until then, please enjoy this gem from Lena Dunham's book proposal. You know, that one for which she got a $3.7 million.

Read Dunham's proposal in its entirety here.