On My Wishlist

It's about this time each year when I frantically add a few last books to my summer reading pile and begin to look forward to the Fall releases. As a result, my wishlist swells and my pocketbook wains. Below are the books at the top of my wishlist.

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn: Everyone has been talking about this book and I've yet to hear anything negative. I need this book and I need it now. Synopsis: Just how well can you ever know the person you love? This is the question that Nick Dunne must ask himself on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police immediately suspect Nick. Amy's friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn't true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they aren't his. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone. So what did really did happen to Nick's beautiful wife? And what was left in that half-wrapped box left so casually on their marital bed? In this novel, marriage truly is the art of war.

The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fford: I've had this one on my radar for awhile and it seems to be the perfect summer read: fun, imaginative, and smart. Plus, Alley from What Red Read has only been raving about Fford forever now. Synopsis: Welcome to a surreal version of Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem, militant Baconians heckle performances of Hamlet, and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection, until someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature. When Jane Eyre is plucked from the pages of Brontë's novel, Thursday must track down the villain and enter the novel herself to avert a heinous act of literary homicide.

Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan: I read this short story awhile back and freaking loved it. It became so popular FSG offered Sloan a book deal. Fast-forward two years and the book is almost here! Release date October 2nd. Synopsis: The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone—and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead “checking out” impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behavior and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore.

The Casual Vacancy, JK Rowling: I don't know if you've heard of this kind of famous author who goes by the name JK Rowling, but she's got a new book for adults coming out September 27th. Some people are kind of excited about it, myself included. Synopsis: When Barry Fairweather dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

The Round House, Louise Erdrich: This one is going on my "probably will be super powerful" list of books. Synopsis: One of the most revered novelists of our time—a brilliant chronicler of Native-American life—Louise Erdrich returns to the territory of her bestselling, Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves with The Round House, transporting readers to the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. It is an exquisitely told story of a boy on the cusp of manhood who seeks justice and understanding in the wake of a terrible crime that upends and forever transforms his family. Riveting and suspenseful, arguably the most accessible novel to date from the creator of Love Medicine, The Beet Queen, and The Bingo Palace, Erdrich’s The Round House is a page-turning masterpiece of literary fiction—at once a powerful coming-of-age story, a mystery, and a tender, moving novel of family, history, and culture.


The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

If you haven't read Carlos Ruiz Zafon yet, you should soon. Let me tell you, you're in for a treat. The Prisoner of Heaven is the third novel in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, but don't let that deter you from picking it up immediately. One of my favorite things about this particular series is that the books don't have to be read in succession. The plot of each book in connected in a circular way, linking people and details across generations and back again. As it is described in the introduction to the novel, "Each individual installment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series can be read in any order, enabling the reader to explores the labyrinth of stories along different paths which, when woven together, lead into the heart of the narrative."

I will say that The Shadow of the Wind still remains my favorite of Zafon's books, but his two follow-ups are truly fantastic reads. I'm not going to go into too much detail of these books because it really is best to go into them knowing very little. What I will say is that the series is a true testament to books themselves and all the magic they hold; it's about the human desire to understand their past and to make sense of the world in which they live. It highlights the strengths of friendship and family, but also examines the darker side of human nature and the evil of which we are capable. 

I do have one complaint about this book; I wanted it to be longer. Compared to the first two books in the series, this one was notably shorter, at just under 300 pages. However, I'm excited to report that the conclusion of The Prisoner of Heaven is left somewhat open-ended, which gives me much hope there will be more from Zafon, and hopefully soon.

Publisher: Harper Collins, 2012 


Books That Shaped America

The Library of Congress has compiled a list of books that has shaped our nation to celebrate its National Book Festival. As stated in the press release, "This list of ‘Books That Shaped America’ is a starting point. It is not a register of the ‘best’ American books--although many of them fit that description. Rather, the list is intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives, whether they appear on this initial list or not," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "We hope people will view the list and then nominate other titles. Finally, we hope people will choose to read and discuss some of the books on this list, reflecting our nation’s unique and extraordinary literary heritage, which the Library of Congress makes available to the world."

If you ask me I think that's pretty admirable. I've copied the list below straight from The Library of Congress.Do you have any favorites on this list? Would you add or remove anything? I know the list specifies books that shapes America, but I can't help but think there are a few authors missing. No Poe? Vonnegut? Updike? Cather?

Experiments and Observations on ElectricityBenjamin Franklin1751
Poor Richard Improved and The Way to WealthBenjamin Franklin1758
Common SenseThomas Paine1776
A Grammatical Institute of the English LanguageNoah Webster1783
The Federalistanonymous1787
A Curious Hieroglyphick Bibleanonymous1788
A Survey of the Roads of the United States of AmericaChristopher Colles1789
The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin, LL.D.Benjamin Franklin1793
American CookeryAmelia Simmons1796
New England Primeranonymous1803
History of the Expedition Under the Command of the Captains Lewis and ClarkMeriwether Lewis1814
The Legend of Sleepy HollowWashington Irving1820
McGuffey's Newly Revised Eclectic PrimerWilliam Holmes McGuffey1836
Peter Parley's Universal HistorySamuel Goodrich1837
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick DouglassFrederick Douglass1845
The Scarlet LetterNathaniel Hawthorne1850
Moby-Dick; or The WhaleHerman Melville1851
Uncle Tom's CabinHarriet Beecher Stowe1852
Walden; or Life in the WoodsHenry David Thoreau1854
Leaves of GrassWalt Whitman1855
Little Women, or Meg, Jo, Beth and AmyLouisa May Alcott1868
The American Woman's HomeCatharine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe1869
Mark, the Match BoyHoratio Alger Jr.1869
Adventures of Huckleberry FinnMark Twain1884
How the Other Half LivesJacob Riis1890
PoemsEmily Dickinson1890
The Red Badge of CourageStephen Crane1895
The Wonderful Wizard of OzL. Frank Baum1900
Harriet, the Moses of Her PeopleSarah H. Bradford1901
The Call of the WildJack London1903
The Souls of Black FolkW.E.B. Du Bois1903
The History of Standard OilIda Tarbell1904
The JungleUpton Sinclair1906
The Education of Henry AdamsHenry Adams1907
PragmatismWilliam James1907
Riders of the Purple SageZane Grey1912
Family LimitationMargaret Sanger1914
Tarzan of the ApesEdgar Rice Burroughs1914
New HampshireRobert Frost1923
Spring and AllWilliam Carlos Williams1923
The Great GatsbyF. Scott Fitzgerald1925
The Weary BluesLangston Hughes1925
Red HarvestDashiell Hammett1929
The Sound and the FuryWilliam Faulkner1929
Joy of CookingIrma Rombauer1931
Gone With the WindMargaret Mitchell1936
How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleDale Carnegie1936
Idaho: A Guide in Word and PicturesFederal Writers' Project1937
Their Eyes Were Watching GodZora Neale Hurston1937
Our Town: A PlayThornton Wilder1938
Alcoholics Anonymousanonymous1939
The Grapes of WrathJohn Steinbeck1939
For Whom the Bell TollsErnest Hemingway1940
Native SonRichard Wright1940
A Tree Grows in BrooklynBetty Smith1943
A Treasury of American FolkloreBenjamin A. Botkin1944
A Street in BronzevilleGwendolyn Brooks1945
The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child CareBenjamin Spock1946
The Iceman ComethEugene O'Neill1946
Goodnight MoonMargaret Wise Brown1947
A Streetcar Named DesireTennessee Williams1947
Sexual Behavior in the Human MaleAlfred C. Kinsey1948
The Catcher in the RyeJ.D. Salinger1951
Charlotte's WebE.B. White1952
Invisible ManRalph Ellison1952
Fahrenheit 451Ray Bradbury1953
HowlAllen Ginsberg1956
Atlas ShruggedAyn Rand1957
The Cat in the HatDr. Seuss1957
On the RoadJack Kerouac1957
To Kill a MockingbirdHarper Lee1960
Catch-22Joseph Heller1961
Stranger in a Strange LandRobert A. Heinlein1961
Silent SpringRachel Carson1962
The Snowy DayEzra Jack Keats1962
The Feminine MystiqueBetty Friedan1963
The Fire Next TimeJames Baldwin1963
Where the Wild Things AreMaurice Sendak1963
The Autobiography of Malcolm XMalcolm X and Alex Haley1965
Unsafe at Any SpeedRalph Nader1965
In Cold BloodTruman Capote1966
The Double HelixJames D. Watson1968
Bury My Heart at Wounded KneeDee Brown1970
Our Bodies, OurselvesBoston Women's Health Book Collective1971
CosmosCarl Sagan1980
And the Band Played OnRandy Shilts1987
BelovedToni Morrison1987
The Words of Cesar ChavezCesar Chavez2002


If You Love To Read

A bookish remake of Adele's hit. Turn up the volume and enjoy. 



The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld

When I took a break from reading The Lonely Polygamist, this is the book I picked up. I've had it on my TBR for years. I really enjoyed the first Sittenfeld I read, Prep, but I couldn't help but think her follow-up sounded somewhat chick-litty, which is probably why it sat on my shelf unread for so long. Turns out, it's not as awesome as Prep, but it was a very enjoyable read nonetheless. Man of My Dreams follows Hannah Gavener, an ordinary young woman, from adolescence into her late 20's. It's less about a man, as the title implies, and more about growing up and finding oneself. It's about bouncing back after making mistakes and finding happiness in oneself instead of relying others to provide it. Moreover, it's about adjusting to the realities of life and understanding where you thought you'd be doesn't always match up to where you actually are.

The protagonist reminded me a bit of Hannah from HBO's Girls (seriously, the best show on TV), and not just because they have the same name. Mostly I thought of the other Hannah because they are both a bit awkward, have low self-esteem, and are unsure as to where their life will take them. Only Hannah from the novel isn't as funny as Hannah from HBO's Girls, not even close. And now that I'm thinking about it, Hannah's cousin Pip reminds me of Jessa. Hmmm... But I digress, Man of My Dreams turned out to be a fun, quick read, which was exactly what I was looking for when I picked it up.

Publisher: Random House, 2006


The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

He could see the framed needlepoint above the mantel, Families Are Forever, and wondered if the slogan was meant as a promise or a threat.

I picked up The Lonely Polygamist after I saw it on many “best of” lists and read a few favorable reviews from bloggers whose opinions I trust. I should tell you that after reading the first 300 pages I put the book down for a week or so and started a new book because I needed a break. Not in the "this book is so overwhelming I need a break" sense but in the "this book is never ending" sense. In the end I’m glad I went back and finished it – it was enjoyable – but it felt a little too dragged out and meandering. In its entirety, the novel could have easily been condensed to 400 pages or so, as opposed to a little over 600.

This book is entertaining and has flashes of comedy but while reading, there was a part of me that felt like an outsider looking in. I knew it was funny but I didn’t laugh. It was almost like I felt removed from the humor somehow. Even though it was long and drawn out, there were characters and instances that kept me interested. I mean, I wouldn’t have read 600 pages worth if there weren’t. Rusty was by far my favorite. I found him to be the most compelling of all the characters and mostly, I can’t help but cheer for the underdog.

Was it a fun, smart read? Yes. Maybe that’s what matters most at the end of the day. It’s chock full of fighting family members, awkward relationships, and sexually frustrated women. The book is also quite literary, as Udall throws in all sorts of tropes and metaphors. As the title implies, the novel ultimately explores one man’s loneliness and the loneliness of those close to him. I found the majority of it to be kind of endearing. It was just altogether too long. 

Publisher: W. W. Norton and Company, 2010


Books I Wish I Would Have Skipped

Life is too short to read mediocre books. The list below details the ones that felt like a waste of time to me. Like many things, literary tastes vary among everyone; I am not insinuating these books hold no literary merit or are poorly written, rather I felt that I didn't get much out of them at the time when I read them. I know there are a handful of books on the list that are widely read and greatly enjoyed by many readers, I just wasn't one of them.

The Alchemist / Paulo Coelho: Put simply, I personally believe this to be the most overrated book in existence.

The School of Essential Ingredients / Erica Bauermeister: The book details the inner-workings of a cooking class, briefly delving into the lives and history of each student, with a focus on the cooking instructor. While certain phrases and ideas shined through every now and then, overall I found the story to be blunt and lacking depth. The characters felt contrived and everything wrapped up a little too neatly for my taste.

The Secret of Lost Things / Sheridan Hay:
I found this book on Flashlight Worthy's list of Literary Thrillers for Book Lovers. Well, it was less literary than I'd hoped, and the "thriller" was more of a subdued mystery that detailed a long lost Melville manuscript. While the book-lover in me liked the details of the novel and its incorporation of all things bookish, I thought that the overall story was lacking.

The Weird Sisters / Eleanor Brown: I had high hopes for this but mostly I just felt disconnected from the characters and their struggles while reading this book; I wasn't invested or engaged.
Also, the first person plural point of view just did not work. I'm not against it if done correctly (ieThen We Came to the End) but there were too many instances where Brown's sentences made me cringe.

The Magicians / Lev Grossman: I felt like this was a Harry Potter wannabe poorly executed. There I said it.

Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded / Samuel Richardson: I know this one is considered to have a whole lot of literary merit but I found the majority of it plain ole BORING with a misogynistic cherry on top.

Sugar In My Bowl / Erica Jong: There was a serious lack of diversity in this collection of essays and many of them felt inauthentic and a bit campy.

She's Come Undone / Wally Lamb: This one was a DNF so maybe it's unfair to put it on this list, but the list itself is pretty unfair so there - story line was lacking and writing was just okay. Mostly the book felt like one big cliche. If you're going to write about someone's big fat depressing life, at least make it worthwhile and interesting to read about, multidimensional even.

The Guernsery Literary and Potato Peel Society / Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows: For me, the epistolary format seemed contrived and the vivacious tone wasn't realistic. As far as WWII novels go, the characters were quite upbeat and cheery compared to most. Overall, the novel felt flat.

The Da Vinci Code / Dan Brown: A pseudo-intellectual page-turner that is pretty much as cookie cutter as they come.

What would be on your list? Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.