Happy New Year!

I'm all packed up and headed out of town tonight for a long weekend. I hope you all have a fantastic weekend ringing in the new year. I'll be back next week.

Cheers and GO BADGERS!


Windows on the World by Frédéric Beigbeder

"this isn't a thriller; it is simply an attempt - doomed, perhaps - to describe the indescribable."

For those of you like me who never visited Manhattan prior to 9/11 (I had a sweet 16 trip planned for my birthday on September 13th, 2001, which was obviously postponed) the Windows on the World was the restaurant that sat atop the 107th story of the north tower. After Flight 11 hit the north tower, those who were in the restaurant survived the impact, but all eventually died. Beigbeder's novel Windows of the World is the fictional account of a father and his two sons who became trapped in the restaurant of the twin towers after the attacks commenced.

As you can probably guess, this novel was truly heartbreaking and incredibly moving. No one trapped above the crash site survived so at its center, this is a story about death. I decided to pick it up shortly before Christmas and wouldn't you know, it was the first book I read all year that made me cry. Aside from the poignant subject matter, Beigebeder structures the novel to emphasize the heartbreaking and catastrophic details of that tragic morning; each chapter represents one minute beginning at 8:30am and finishes when the tower falls at 10:29am. Each chapter alternates between the story of the family trapped inside the tower and the point of view of an unnamed French author, ruminating about the nature of America, childhood, 9/11, and the role of a writer. By weaving these two stories together, not only does The Windows of the World memorialize the thousands of lives lost on that tragic day, but it also reflects on what it means to be an American, both pre and post 9/11, and what it means to be human. It explores themes of love and redemption; what we may do differently when faced with death and what becomes important when the end of your life is imminent.
What I wanted to tell my sons was that you should never stay with someone you don't love; that you should only be faithful to love and love alone; that you should tell society to piss off as often as possible.
The novel as a whole is bizarre and disjointed (as many post-modernist French novels are), but also incredibly powerful and unique. Though certain passages are perhaps brash, self-indulgent, and controversial, the novel is captivating and incredibly philosophical. It will have you reflecting on your own life and the nature of literature itself.

Publisher: Miramax Books, 2004

A big thanks to my friend Ben for gifting this book to me.


A Year in Reading: 2011

I did a little breakdown of my year in reading last year to give myself an idea of my own reading trends. I'm a little OCD when it comes to keeping track of every book I read, it's publication date and page numbers, so it's fun to tally everything up and see the results. Goodreads has made it even easier to keep stats like this so if you'd like to play along, just link up at the bottom!

I'm posting these stats assuming that I will finish the book I am reading now by December 31st. I'm quite positive I can make that happen.

Books read in 2010:

Challenges completed:
3 (RIP challenge, Classics Challenge and 1001 Books Challenge)

Pages read in 2010:

Percentage of male authors read:

Percentage of authors of color read:

Percentage of US authors read:

Percentage of European authors read:

Percentage of non-fiction read:

Percentage of "new to me" authors:

Percentage of classics read (not including modern classics):

Percentage of books read that are older than me (published prior to 1985):

Percentage of books read published in 2011:

Last year I told myself I wanted to read more worldly authors so my US author was less than 62% (which is what it was last year). I was on a roll at the beginning of the year, but for the last four months I have basically read all US authors with the exception of two books. I managed to read more classics this year than I did last year, thanks to the classics challenge. However, I dropped the amount of the authors of color read, despite trying to read more than 19% where is where I was in 2010. I think the surge of new(er) releases I read in the second half of the year contributed to my lack of diversity. There were so many interesting books released in fall of 2011 that I couldn't help picking up a few on the best seller's list.

All in all it was a great reading year for me. I originally set a goal to read 52 books this year and when I hit that number at the end of October I decided to bump it up to 60. Not too shabby for me.

To see my list of favorite reads of 2011, click here.


The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

I can't think of many things that bore me more than the sport of baseball. I hopped on the Brewer bandwagon after they started doing so well this season not because I started to like the sport, oh no. I did it because I like to tailgate and I generally enjoy anything that gives me an excuse to take off work to drink beers at noon. With that being said, I wasn't sure I'd like The Art of Fielding. I got it for my birthday back in September but didn't pick it up until recently because I thought like the sport itself, this book would bore me. Man, was I wrong. This was one of the best and one of the most captivating books I have read all year.

The Art of Fielding follows a baseball team at a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin. Specifically we get to know Henry, the most promising player on the team, Schwartz, the team captain, Owen, Henry's eccentric roommate and teammate, Affenlight, the president of the school and his daughter Pella, who just returned to the Midwest after a short, failed marriage. These five central characters struggle to maintain happiness and find their way among the pressures and anxieties they are faced with. At its heart, this book is about relationships. It examines the relationships we have with others and more significantly, the relationship we have with ourselves. It's about new starts and new love, and learning to find your place among others.
Each of us, deep down, believes that the whole world issues from his own precious body, like images projected from a tiny slide onto an earth-sized screen. And then, deeper down, each of us knows he’s wrong.
It's hard to believe this is Harbach's first novel, because it's exponentially better than 99% of the other debut novels that I've read. Both the place and the characters Harbach has created are so fully realized that I can't help but wonder what they might be up to now. All in all, I didn't want this book to end.

However, I did have reservations near the end, for two reasons. (Don't worry, no specific spoilers.) One, everything was wrapped up a little two neatly for my taste and two, there was an instance that seemed incredibly unrealistic in an otherwise realistic narrative. However, the book as a whole was so incredible that I wouldn't let my tendency to be picky about endings stop you from reading this book.Whether you are a baseball fan or your'e not, if you're human you will enjoy this book.

Publisher: Little, Brown, 2011


My Favorite Books Read in 2011

2011 was a good reading year for me. My goal was to read 60 books and at this moment I've got 58 down. I think I can manage two books in 9 days if I choose short books kick it into gear. With that said, below are my favorite books I read this year. Some are new releases others were published before I was born.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami: At it's root this is a love story, but it involves so much more. Murakami examines loneliness and sorrow in this coming of age story. The characters are memorable and the writing is incredible. (1987)

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach: I didn't think I would ever read a book about baseball that I couldn't put down, but Harbach did it. His novel focuses on relationships; those we have with others and more importantly, the the one we have with ourselves. (2011)

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: This Pulitzer Prize winner follows three generations of a Greek-American family living in Detroit and the genetic secret and later identity crisis of Calliope. (2002)

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri: The Namesake examines the immigration experience of a Bengali family and speaks to the physiological disjuncture and cultural displacement that results from belonging to two very different culture. This book is captivating, heartwarming and depressing, all at once. (2003)

The Submission by Amy Waldman: This novel challenges the fears of post 9/11 America and forces us to consider to what extent those fears are sensible and to face how much we are hurting Muslim-Americans. (2011)

Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood: A book about growing up and going back home, Cat's Eye examines women's relationships and the repression we inflict on one another. (1988)

them by Joyce Carol Oates: Part of the Wonderland Quartet series, them follows two generations of the Wendall family and explores the forces that keep them in poverty and struggling to achieve happiness. (1969)

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: Among other things, this novel examines the confusions and angst of recent college graduates and how we get where we do in life, without really knowing where we want to go. (2011)

The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster: My favorite Auster to date, this story is abotu redemption and second chances and the power of human connections. (2005)

The Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer: A riff on the publishing industry's literary fakes, this book follows a down and out writer and the web of lies in which he gets tangled. I could not put this book down and read it in one sitting. (2010)

Honorable Mentions: On Beauty by Zadie Smith, The Painted Veil by M. Somerset Maugham, How I Became A Famous Novelist by Steve Hely


Books that would make good Christmas gifts (for me)

There aren't a ton of books I am hoping to get for Christmas, mostly because my TBR is pretty well stocked at this point. But I do have just a few that would be fun to unwrap next weekend. 

11/22/63 by Stephen King

November 22nd, 1963 was a rapid-fire sequence of indelible moments: Shots ring out; a president slumped over; a race to the Dallas hospital; an announcement, blood still fresh on the First Lady's dress. But what if President John F. Kennedy didn't have to die; if somehow his assassin could have been thwarted? For Maine schoolteacher Jake Epping, those hypothetical what if's become real possibilities when he walks through a portal to the past. Without special skills and still unfamiliar with his new/old surroundings, he struggles to discover a way to change the history he left. Like its Under the Dome predecessor, Stephen King's 960-page novel shows that this master of suspense is back at the top of his game. (Goodreads)

Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson

 Adopted by a pair of diehard hippies, restless, marginal Jude Keffy-Horn spends much of his youth getting high with his best friend, Teddy, in their bucolic and deeply numbing Vermont town. But when Teddy dies of an overdose on the last day of 1987, Jude's relationship with drugs and with his parents devolves to new extremes. Sent to live with his pot-dealing father in New York City's East Village, Jude stumbles upon straight edge, an underground youth culture powered by the paradoxical aggression of hardcore punk and a righteous intolerance for drugs, meat, and sex. With Teddy's half brother, Johnny, and their new friend, Eliza, Jude tries to honor Teddy's memory through his militantly clean lifestyle. But his addiction to straight edge has its own dangerous consequences. While these teenagers battle to discover themselves, their parents struggle with this new generation's radical reinterpretation of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll and their grown-up awareness of nature and nurture, brotherhood and loss. Moving back and forth between Vermont and New York City, Ten Thousand Saints is an emphatically observed story of a frayed tangle of family members brought painfully together by a death, then carried along in anticipation of a new and unexpected life. With empathy and masterful skill, Eleanor Henderson has conjured a rich portrait of the modern age and the struggles that unite and divide generations. (Goodreads)

Q: A Novel by Evan Mandery

Shortly before his wedding, the unnamed hero of this uncommon romance is visited by a man who claims to be his future self and ominously admonishes him that he must not marry the love of his life, Q. At first the protagonist doubts this stranger, but in time he becomes convinced of the authenticity of the warning and leaves his fiancée. The resulting void in his life is impossible to fill. One after the other, future selves arrive urging him to marry someone else, divorce, attend law school, leave law school, travel, join a running club, stop running, study the guitar, the cello, Proust, Buddhism, and opera, and eliminate gluten from his diet. The only constants in this madcap quest for personal improvement are his love for his New York City home and for the irresistible Q. A unique literary talent, Evan Mandery turns the classic story of transcendent love on its head, with an ending that will melt even the darkest heart. (Goodreads)
That's it. Which books do you have on your Christmas list?


A Man Without A Country by Kurt Vonnegut

A Man Without A Country is a collection of essays, speeches and drawings in which Vonnegut reflects on politics, religion, art, and human nature. It was the last book that was published before Vonnegut's death in April of 2007. The collection is a delight to read; though a bit disjointed, overall it's funny and incredibly sincere, it's moralistic, and at times biting. Vonnegut discusses war, the bombing of Dresden and how it lead to his classic Slaughterhouse-Five, he examines the coincidence and hopelessness of life, our less-then-ideal government, the bleak state of the environment, and how he feels helpless in a world where most of us focus on the now, rather than the state of the future.
I don't think people give a damn whether the planet goes on or not. It seems to me as if everyone is living as members of Alcoholics Anonymous do, day by day. And a few more days will be enough. I know of very few people who are dreaming of a world for their grandchildren.
Despite the fact that Vonnegut was painted as a bitter, angry old man in his most recent biography, from these essays it seems to me that while he was disillusioned with the state of America and society as a whole, he did maintain a certain faith in people and the good of which they are capable. Moreover, Vonnegut stresses the importance of acting in kindness and advises to pay attention to moments of happiness, lest they should pass you by wasted and unnoticed. It's a simple piece of advice that is overlooked by many. It's also a testament that while Vonnegut was cynical and pessimistic about a lot of things, he truly took the time to appreciate his happiness what was good in his life.
I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur of think at some point, "if this isn't nice, i don't know what is."
I think part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much is because I happen to agree with its outlook and politics. The essays are meandering, but it works. If you're a fan of Vonnegut's novels but haven't read any of his essays, I urge you to read this book.

Other opinions:
The Avid Reader's Musings
Things Mean A Lot

Publisher: Seven Stories Press, 2005


Books Read in 2011: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner has again created an end of 2011 survey to reflect on this years best and worst reads. I had a lot of fun with this one last year, so of course I was excited to see that she brought it back this year.

This survey includes books I have read this year, both old and new. It is not a survey that rates 2011 releases.

1. Best Book You Read In 2011?:
  • This one is hard. I read a lot of amazing books this year. Three titles immediately come to mind when I think back to the "best" books; Norwegian Wood, Middlesex and them. Of those three, the one that stands out the most for me is Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. On the surface Norwegian Wood is a love story, a very organic one at that. But it's really much more than just a love story. It's about memory and the memory of love, and how it stays with us even when the one we love is gone. It's about coping with death and sorrow, and understanding life while trying to find your place in this imperfect the world. It's about loneliness and isolation and the innate human desire to form unique relationships. I've got to thank Ben from Dead End Follies for recommending this book to me.
2. Most Disappointing Book?
3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2011?
  • How I Became A Famous Novelist by Steve Hely: I picked this book up after Jackie at FarmLane Books recommended it. I thought I would like it, but I was surprised by just how much. I read this one in two days, laughed out loud quite a bit (which is something I rarely do when reading, or even watching a movie) and recommended it to a handful of bloggers.
4. Book you recommended to people most in 2011?
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: This book had enough hype surrounding it that I didn't really need to push it on anyone, but I did recommend it to my mom, my sister and some friends. It's got such universal appeal that you can't really go horribly wrong by telling people to read it.
5. Best series you discovered in 2011?
  • The Wonderland Quartet by Joyce Carol Oates: To be fair I've only read one of the books in the series, but it was so good I already bought another and plan to read it soon.
6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2011?
  • Jeffrey Eugenides: Yes, I only just discovered Eugenides this year when I read Middlesex in May for the Back to the Classics Challenge.
  • Joyce Carol Oates: Oates is absolutely astonishing. I can't wait to read more of her work.
  • Jhumpa Lahiri: It took me awhile to pick up some of Lahiri's work but once I did I immediately knew why she won the Pulizer.
7. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2011?
8. Book you most anticipated in 2011?
  • The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: If you followed me on twitter near the end of the summer I wouldn't shut up about how excited I was for the book. I may have also posted about that a couple of times.
9. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2011?
  • On Beauty by Zadie Smith: I found this beautiful hardback edition at Half Price Books and scooped it up immediately. The picture doesn't really do the cover justice. It is made up of all these lovely patterns and textures.

10. Most memorable character in 2011?

11. Most beautifully written book read in 2011?
12. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2011?
  • The Submission by Amy Waldman: If you are looking for a book that will challenge your notions of post 9/11 America, I ask you to let The Submission be it.
13. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2011 to finally read?
14. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2011?
  • "This goes along with another belief of mine: that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise. " - Margaret Atwood, Cat's Eye (I liked this quote so much I paired it with this photo of myself taken a few months prior to reading this book.)
15. Book That You Read In 2011 That Would Be Most Likely To Reread In 2012?
  • The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: I was so excited to get my hands on this book that I cruised through it in a couple of days. I'd like to reread it and take my time with it the second time around.
16. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!
  • This is a tie between the ending of The Marriage Plot and the second half of The Thieves of Manhattan.


A Holiday Gift Guide

With the holidays right around the corner, I thought I’d put together a special edition of Book Fetish this week. The Holiday Gift Guide features carefully chosen bookish gifts from previous Book Fetish entries. I hope this helps you to cross off the bibliophiles on your Christmas list.

You can take a look at it here. Happy shopping!


them by Joyce Carol Oates

"But, honey, aren't you one of them yourself?"

I read my first work by Joyce Carol Oates earlier this year and really enjoyed it. I started with Black Water, which is a novella that tells a fictionalized account of the Chappaquiddick incident, when a young girl was found inside of a sunken car driven by Senator Edward Kennedy. After reading Black Water I knew I wanted to read more JCO and I knew I wanted something larger. Enter them; winner of the 1970 National Book Award, nominee for the Pulitzer Prize, and book three of the Wonderland Quartet series.

In the introduction of the novel Oates describes that them is "a work of history in fictional form" and goes on to tell of a set of letters she received from an old student of hers when she taught at the University of Detroit. The girl expressed her restlessness in life and and overall feelings of resentment. Her "various problems and complexities overwhelmed" Oates and it was these letters that prompted Oates to write them. Parts of the letters appear half-way through the narrative. (I should mention the title is purposefully labeled with a lower-case "t," and details a specific "them".)

them follows two generations of the Wendall family and explores the forces that keep them in poverty and struggling to achieve happiness. The novel spans forty years, takes place in inner-city Detroit and ends during the race riots of 1967. Among other things, them explores the struggles of working class America, generational poverty, and obsessions of love, money and violence. If we focus on Maureen, the novel is a sort of bildungsroman, as we watch her grow from a small child into a woman. But the novel is more than Maureen's story. It is the story of a desperate family who desires a better life and struggles to understand those who are different from themselves.
I dream of a world where you can go in and out of bodies, changing your soul, everything changing and no fixed forever, becoming men and women, daughters, children again, even old people, feeling how it is to be them and then not hating them, out on the street. I don't want to hate.
This is a tough one to review because anything I say about this book will not do it justice. It's like trying to review Middlemarch; where do you start? Like one of my very favorite authors, Margaret Atwood, the works Joyce Carol Oates permeate with feminist themes and explore larger social issues that are still relevant in modern America. With a focus of the female characters Loretta Wendall and her daughter Maureen, Oates highlights the plight of working class women:
Oh, we women know things you don't know, you teachers, you readers and writers of books, we are the ones who wait around libraries when it's time to leave, or sit drinking coffee alone in the kitchen; we make crazy plans for marriage but have no man, we dream of stealing men, we are the ones who look slowly around when we get off a bus and can't even find what we are looking for, can't quite remember how we got there, we are always wondering what will come next, what terrible thing will come next. We are the ones who leaf through magazines with colored pictures and spend long heavy hours sunk in our bodies, thinking, remembering, dreaming, waiting for something to come to us and give a shape to so much pain.
The novel is beautifully written. Joyce Carol Oates certainly has a way with words; her prose it both eloquent and confident. The characters she imagines are sharp and memorable. I should say it's a bit of a downer; moments of happiness are few and far between. But don't let that deter you. It is absolutely worth the read.

Publisher: Modern Library Classics, 1969