Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2009 Book List

I'm getting a head start on 2009 by setting up this page to list the books I read. Usually, I keep the list in a pretty book that I have had going for about 10 years now. I'll still use that book, but I am going to keep track of my progress here too. Mostly because I am signing up for the 100+ Reading Challenge this year. And just why am I doing that? I avoid reading challenges because they make me nervous. And I already have 100 different reading lists going over on Lists of Bests. And I really do not want to read 100 books just to say I read 100 books. But, the 100+ challenge isn't really like other challenges. I mean, I usually read more than 100 books each year anyway (125 or so this year), so officially adopting this as a "challenge" should not make me fussy. And some of my favorite book bloggers are participating. And maybe I'll discover some other good book blogs. And . . . and . . . and . . . And maybe it is just an excuse to make another list. So this is the spot where I will list the books I read in 2009.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Book Notes: A Handful of Dust

A Handful of Dust struck me as a mix between Brideshead Revisited and Scoop. It starts off as an English country house drama, and ends up as an adventure story in the jungle. Huh? But it was entertaining through and through—Evelyn Waugh at his snarky best.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Review: Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer

Martin Dressler left me cold.

Steven Millhauser generated a lot of hullabaloo with this book – and won the Pulitzer Prize – because it is something bigger than itself. No mere historical novel – it is “allegory,” “fable,” “myth.” But good allegories, fables, and myths also have conflict and drama. This book does not.

The story marches from the hero's childhood, through his early career years and successes as a young entrepreneur, to his “final downfall” as it says on the dust jacket. But this march follows a perfectly straight path. Martin is restless at his job; he moves to a better job. Martin is bored with his new job; he opens his new business. Martin is unsatisfied with his business, he expands it. He moves on to bigger and bigger enterprises until he moves on to one that is too big. Yes, hubris is his eventual downfall, but nothing trips him up on the way. He never faces any substantive opposition and never has a set back, until the very end.

What is missing is conflict (a key element of any drama) and character development. The characters, pretty flat to begin with, are all the same at the end of the book as they are at the beginning. Several reviews compared the novel favorably to Greek tragedies, but the characters in those classic tales had complex relationships, nothing but conflict, and learned lessons along the way.

Here, many characters drift in and then fade away without any further mention of them. Martin's parents, for example, never make an appearance in his adult life. His mother-in-law, who is a major character through the middle part of the book, disappears after he marries her daughter, who literally sleeps through their marriage. Not only do the characters not grow as individuals, every relationship Martin has with another character is static.

I did not think there was much to recommend the book, other than some marginally interesting descriptions of New York City at the turn of the Twentieth Century and the ever more elaborate attractions of Martin's hotels. It just didn’t do anything for me.


If you would like your review of this books listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Patience Please!

Please bear with the pedestrian posts. I'm figuring out how to clean up some of the permanent links over on the right side. There are probably nifty, proper ways to do this, but I'm an autodidactic blogger, so have to do it the way I can figure out for myself. So these posts of yearly book lists, ratings explanations, and lists of reviews all have something to do with fixing my right side links. Bear with me.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Books Read in 2006

This is the list of books I read in 2006, in the order that I read them. For an explanation of my rating system, see here.

Jackson’s Dilemma by Iris Murdoch (3.5/5)

The Oath by
John Lescroart (3.5/5)

Life of Pi by Yan Martel (winner of the
Booker Prize; 4/5)

The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemingway (winner of the
Pulitzer Prize; 3/5)

The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan (3/5)

Without Fail by
Lee Child (3.5/5)

Blood Tie by Mary Lee Settle (winner of the
National Book Award; 3.5/5)

Ambrose Bierce and the One-Eyed Jacks by Oakley Hall (2/5)

Echo Burning by
Lee Child (3/5)

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (on the Modern Library
Top 100 list; 4/5)

The Good Apprentice by Iris Murdoch (3.5/5)

Peter the Great by Robert Massie (3.5/5)

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov (on the Modern Library
Top 100 list; 5/5)

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey (5/5)

Theirs Was the Kingdom by R.H. Delderfield (reviewed
here; 3/5)

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (4/5)

Oh, the Glory of it All! by Sean Wilsey (3.5/5)

Lord of the Flies by William Golding (on the Modern Library
Top 100 list; 4.5/5)

In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer Fleming (3.5/5)

Do-Gooders by Mona Charen (3/5)

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser (on the Modern Library
Top 100 list; 4/5)

Cut and Run by Ridley Pearson (3/5)

First Things First by Stephen Covey (3.5/5)

The Real Jimmy Carter by Steven Hayward (3.5/5)

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (on the Modern Library
Top 100 list; 4/5)

The Zero Game by Brad Meltzer (3/5)

The Bridge of San Luis Ray by Thorton Wilder (on the Modern Library
Top 100 list; 3/5)

Tripwire by
Lee Child (3.5/5)

The River at the Center of the World by
Simon Winchester (3.5/5)

The Darkness Around Us is Deep by William Stafford (Winner of the National Book Award for poetry)

The Traveling Curmudgeon by John Winokur (Ed.) (3/5)

Armadillo by William Boyd (3.5/5)

San Francisco: The Unknown City by Josh Krist (3.5/5)

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (3/5)

No Lesser Plea by Robert Tannenbaum (3/5)

Offshore by
Penelope Fitzgerald (winner of the Booker Prize) (3.5/5)

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (winner of the
Booker Prize) (3/5)

The Ambassadors by Henry James (on the Modern Library
Top 100 list) (3/5)

Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo (2.5/5)

Bait and Switch by Larry Brooks (3/5)

The Wake Up by Robert Ferrigno (3/5)

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (3/5)

Middle Passage by Charles Johnson (reviewed
here; winner of the National Book Award; 3/5)

Treason by Ann Coulter (3.5/5)

Young Lonigan by James Farrell (reviewed
here; on the Modern Library Top 100 list; 3/5)

The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan by James Farrell (reviewed
here; on the Modern Library Top 100 list; 3/5)

Judgment Day by James Farrell (reviewed
here; on the Modern Library Top 100 list; 4/5)

In a Free State by V.S. Naipaul (winner of the
Booker Prize; 3/5)

Cowboy Boots by Tyler Beard (3/5)

Post Office by Charles Bukowski (3/5)

The Archivist by Martha Cooley (3.5/5)

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (winner of the
Pulitzer Prize) (3/5)

Persuader by
Lee Child (3.5/5)

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (3/5)

Memoirs of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriella Garcia Marquez (4/5)

Sophie’s Choice by
William Styron (reviewed here; on the Modern Library Top 100 list; 5/5)

The Life and Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetze (notes here; winner of the
Booker Prize; 2/5)

The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (3/5)

A Grave Talent by Laurie King (reviewed
here; 3/5)

Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman (4.5/5)

Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley (4/5)

The Triumphant Cat by Marmaduke Skidmore (Ed.) (3/5)

Murder in the Sentier by Cara Black (3.5/5)

Notes from the Underground by Foder Dosteyeskey (3/5)

Martin Dressler by Stephen Millhausen (reviewed here; winner of the
Pulitzer Prize; 2/5)

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann (4/5)

Being Dead by Jim Crace (notes here; winner of the National Book Critics’ Circle Award; 2/5)

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (reviewed
here; winner of the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction; on the Modern Library’s Top 100 nonfiction list; 3.5/5)

A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (notes here; 3.5/5)

The First Law by
John Lescroart (3.5/5)

The Death of Outrage by William Bennett (3.5/5)

Money by Martin Amis (reviewed here; 3.5/5)

The Enemy by
Lee Child (3.5/5)

Death by the Glass by Nadine Gordon (3.5/5)

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (2.5/5)

A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain (3.5/5)

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Latham (winner of the National Book Critics’ Circle Award; 4/5)

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (reviewed here; winner of the
Pulitzer Prize; 3.5/5)

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding (3/5)

The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor (winner of the National Book Critics’ Circle Award; 3/5)

Blink by Malcom Gladwell (3/5)

How to Cook A Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher (3.5/5)

Murder on the Potomac by Margaret Truman (3/5)

Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook by Alice Waters (reviewed
here; 3/5)

Angels & Demons by Dan Brown (3/5)

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenedis (winner of the
Pulitzer Prize; 4/5)

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James Cain (notes here; on the Modern Library
Top 100 list; 4/5)

Double Indemnity by James Cain (4/5)

Mildred Pierce by James Cain (3.5/5)

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth (3.5/5)

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad (on the Modern Library Top 100 list; 3.5/5)

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (4/5)

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (3/5)

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (4/5)

New Year’s Eve Murder by Lee Harris (2.5/5)

The Orientalist by Tim Riess (3.5/5)

Fanny Hill by John Cleland (3/5)

A View of the Bay by Richard Scowcroft (out of print; 3/5)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (3/5)

Crusader’s Cross by
James Lee Burke (3/5)

French Lessons by Peter Mayles (3.5/5)

Postmark Paris by Leslie Jonath (3/5)

Bel Canto by Ann Patchet (3/5)

A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor (winner of the
Pulitzer Prize; 4/5)

One Shot by
Lee Child (3/5)

Booker Prize: Redux

My original Booker Prize post has been completely redone. Now all the links work. See here for complete list of Booker Prize winners through 2008.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Books Read in 2007

This is the list of books I read in 2007, in the order that I read them. For an explanation of my rating system, see here.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (3.5/5)

The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer (on the Modern Library Top 100 list; 4/5)

Animal Farm by George Orwell (on the Modern Library Top 100 list; 4.5/5)

Judgment Calls by Alafair Burke (3/5)

The 12th Card by Jeffrey Deaver (3/5)

The Fourth Hand by John Irving (2.5/5)

A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul (on the Modern Library Top 100 list; 4/5)

Fear of Flying by Erika Jong (4/5)

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Earnest Hemingway (4/5)

Dance Hall of the Dead by Tony Hillerman (3/5)

The Art of Mending by Elizabeth Berg (3/5)

The Broker by John Grisham (2/5)

Humbolt’s Gift by Saul Bellow (winner of the Pulitzer Prize; 4/5)

Rasputin’s Daughter by Robert Alexander (2.5/5)

The Assistant by Bernard Malamud (reviewed here) (4/5)

The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket (3/5)

The Closers by Michael Connolly (3/5)

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (on the Modern Library Top 100 list; 2/5)

New England 2007 by Karen Brown (3.5/5)

Living the 7 Habits by Stephen Covey (3.5/5)

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (reviewed here; 3.5/5)

Fear of the Dark by Walter Mosely (2/5)

Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (on the Modern Library Top 100 list; un-ratable)

Love Among the Chickens by P.G. Wodehouse (4/5)

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (on the Modern Library Top 100 list; 4/5)

The Second Chair by John Lescroart (3.5/5)

Light in August by William Faulkner (on the Modern Library Top 100 list; 4/5)

Little Green Men by Christopher Buckley (reviewed here; 3/5)

The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington (reviewed here; on the Modern Library Top 100 list; winner of the Pulitzer Prize; 3/5)

The Winter of Frankie Machine by Don Winslow (reviewed here; 3/5)

Sailing the Wine Dark Sea by Thomas Cahill (3.5/5)

Therese Raquin by Emil Zola (reviewed here; 3.5/5)

The Forgotten Man by Robert Crais (3/5)

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (reviewed here; on the Modern Library Top 100 list; winner of the Booker Prize; 4/5)

Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert (4/5) Restless by William Boyd (reviewed here) (4/5)

The Roald Dahl Omnibus by Roald Dahl (4/5)

Empire Falls by Richard Russo (reviewed here; winner of the Pulitzer Prize; 4/5)

A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (on the Modern Library Top 100 list; 3/5)

Havoc, in Its Third Year by Ronan Bennett (reviewed here; 3.5/5)

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky (3.5/5)

The Fox by D.H. Lawrence (3/5)

What Paul Meant by Gary Wills (3/5)

The Sea by John Banville (winner of the Booker Prize; 3.5/5)

The Golden Bowl by Henry James (reviewed here; on the Modern Library Top 100 list; 3/5)

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (on the Modern Library Top 100 list; 4/5)

Thomas Paine by Craig Nelson (reviewed here; 3.5/5)

A Damsel in Distress by P.G. Wodehouse (3/5)

The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald (2.5/5)

Criminal Intent by Sheldon Siegel (3/5) Alibi by Joseph Kanon (3.5/5)

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte (3/5)

Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (reviewed here; on the Modern Library Top 100 list; winner of the National Book Award; 4/5)

Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher (3/5) Turning Angel by Greg Iles (3.5/5)

Leap of Faith by Queen Noor (2.5/5)

Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy (4/5)

China, Inc. by Thomas Fishmann (3/5)

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher (reviewed here) (3/5)

Queen’s Ransom by Fionna Buckley (2.5/5)

Blanding’s Castle by P.G. Wodehouse (3.5/5)

Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson (3.5/5)

Portland Confidential by Phil Stanford (3/5)

Gifted by Nikita Lalwani (reviewed here; 3.5/5)

Mormon America by Richard and Joan Ostling (3.5/5)

A Crack in the Edge of the World by Simon Winchester (3/5)

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (4/5)

A Tidewater Morning by William Styron (3.5/5)

Digging to America by Anne Taylor (3/5)

Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov (5/5)

Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis (3/5)

The Party by Sally Quinn (3/5)

Prelude to Terror by Helen MacInnes (3/5)

The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester (3.5/5) Decorating with Books by Marie Proeller Hueston (3.5/5)

Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam (2/5)

Feast of Love by Charles Baxter (2.5/5)

The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain (3.5/5)

The Centaur by John Updike (reviewed here; winner of the National Book Award; 3/5)

The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford (3.5/5)

Peace Kills by P.J. O’Rourke (3/5)

Scout’s Honor by Patrick Boyle (3/5)

Wolves Eat Dogs by Martin Cruz Smith (3.5/5)

Real Cooking, by George! by George Jacobs (reviewed here) (3/5)

Old School by Tobias Wolf (3/5)

The Paperboy by Peter Dexter (3.5/5)

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (3/5)

The Hard Way by Lee Child (3.5/5)

Barrel Fever by David Sedaris (3/5)

The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket (3/5)

The Pirate’s Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson (reviewed here; 3.5/5)

The Jungle Law by Victoria Vinton (3/5)

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (4/5)

Miracle Cure by Sally Pipes (3/5)

Cakes and Ale by Somerset Maugham (3.5/5)

Suspicion of Rage by Barbara Parker (3/5)

The Shortest Way to Hades by Sarah Caldwell (3/5)

The Hunt Club by John Lescroart (3/5)

Dinner at Antoine’s by Frances Parkinson Keyes (3.5/5)

Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (winner of the Booker Prize; 3/5)

Stuff on My Cat by Mario Garza (3/5)

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Housseni (3.5/5)

My Book Ratings

Ratings should be taken with a grain of salt, because they are a little loosey goosey. This is a subjective rating system, based on my likes and dislikes, although my subjective judgment usually correlates to objective criteria. That is, if a book is poorly written, has clunky dialog, flat characters, or plot flaws, I am probably not going to like it and will give it a low rating. On the other hand, if a book is technically good and I enjoy it, I will give it a high rating. These subjective and objective notions meet in a muddled middle in my 3/5 rating. I give a lot of books 3/5 because I was entertained and glad to have read them, but did not think they were all that well-written. But a 3/5 rating can also mean I thought the book was excellent from an objective standpoint, but I did not care for it personally (most Henry James novels come to mind). With those general ideas in mind: 5/5 means it is an all-time favorite; 4/5 means I liked it and either would recommend it generally, or at least think it worthy of general recommendation, even if no one takes me up on it; 3/5 means either that I enjoyed it for what it was or think it is a "good" book, but would probably not recommend it; 2/5 means I did not like it; and 1/5 means I really, really disliked it. Half a point added means my judgment is on the borderline, with one exception: 3.5/5 means that I liked a book and would recommend it to certain people who I think would enjoy it, either because they like that type of book or some other particular reason, but I would not make a general recommendation. No rating does not mean 0/5. It just means that I read the book too long ago to remember it enough to rate it, I am not qualified to rate it (poetry, for instance)or I simply forgot to rate it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Snowed In!

With 13-16 inches of snow in Portland so far, no sign of melting, and another storm expected today, this could be The Year Without Christmas! Well, no. Of course Christmas will be here tomorrow, no matter what. But this could be the first of my 42 Christmases not spent with my family. As much as they are clamoring for us to drive across the mountains to Bend, the thought of driving 200 miles with tire chains seems like a pioneer-level adventure that I am just not up for. All I can imagine is throwing a chain somewhere on Mt. Hood and -- off on the shoulder in a sleet storm -- trying to jerry-rig something out of bungee cords and Christmas ribbon. To distract myself from the idea of my mother weeping over her empty Christmas nest -- or, in truth, drinking martinis and eating oysters Rockefeller without me -- I have been playing with my blog. I have a couple of ideas for organizing and rearranging things. For one, I think I have figured out how to have an alphabetized directory of past reviews over on the right side. Right now, I have every book review listed, but that is getting too long, and will just get longer. I think I can make a series of alphabet letter links that will lead to a list of books sorted by title. Using that same system, I also plan to have a list on the right side of my annual reading lists. Not necessarily of interest to anyone but myself, I have kept track of the books I read, in order, each year for the last five years or so. I am going to make a list of links that will lead to each year's book list. I can use these lists to keep track of when I read what. We will see how it goes. But I think I will have a couple more snowy days to play around with all these changes. And to celebrate Christmas, of course. Although it won't really be Christmas without oysters Rockefeller. Or my mother.

1 Day Until Christmas

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Author of the Day: John Updike

John Updike was prolific. In addition to the 26 novels listed below, he wrote at least 30 books of short stories, poetry, essays, and criticism. He won the Pulitzer Prize twice and the National Book Award twice, and in 2008, the editors of Literary Review magazine awarded him the dubious honor of Britain's Bad Sex in Fiction lifetime achievement award.

Having read several of Updike's novels, I can understand the impetus for that last award. A lot of what I know and think about sex came from Updike, but sometimes he can be just too much.

In chronological order, with those I have read in red, and those on my TBR shelf in blue, Updike's novels are:

(1959) The Poorhouse Fair

(1960) Rabbit, Run

(1963) The Centaur (reviewed here)

(1965) Of the Farm

(1968) Couples

(1970) Bech, a Book (reviewed here)

(1971) Rabbit Redux

(1975) A Month of Sundays (reviewed here)

(1977) Marry Me

(1978) The Coup

(1981) Rabbit Is Rich

(1982) Bech Is Back

(1984) The Witches of Eastwick

(1986) Roger's Version

(1988) S.

(1990) Rabbit At Rest

(1992) Memories of the Ford Administration

(1994) Brazil

In the Beauty of the Lilies

(1997) Toward the End of Time

(1998) Bech at Bay

(2000) Gertrude and Claudius

(2002) Seek My Face

(2004) Villages

(2006) Terrorist

(2008) The Widows of Eastwick

Last updated January 3, 2013.

2 Days Until Christmas

Monday, December 22, 2008

List of the Day: Pulitzer Prize (Redux)

This Snow Day has given me an opportunity to go back and fix some glitches in earlier posts. I have redone my Pulitzer Prize Winners list so that all the links work correctly. With a new year looming, my book lists are clamoring for attention. Maybe 2009 will be the year I focus on finishing the books on the Pulitzer list, although there are other lists that are ticking my fancy more, or that I am closer to finishing so am antsy to turn to. We'll see how the next year of reading unfolds. Many of the Pulitzer winners that I have not read yet are the older ones that are hard to find. Perhaps a good 2009 goal would be to read the ones already on my TBR shelf (those in red) and acquire some of the others for future reading. These are the Pulitzer winners that I have yet to read: 1918: His Family by Ernest Poole 1922: Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington 1923: One of Ours by Willa Cather 1924: The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson 1925: So Big by Edna Ferber 1926: Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis 1927: Early Autumn by Louis Bromfield 1929: Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin 1930: Laughing Boy by Oliver Lafarge 1931: Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes 1933: The Store by T. S. Stribling 1934: Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller 1935: Now in November by Josephine Winslow Johnson 1936: Honey in the Horn by Harold L. Davis 1938: The Late George Apley by John Phillips Marquand 1939: The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings 1942: In This Our Life by Ellen Glasgow 1943: Dragon's Teeth by Upton Sinclair 1944: Journey in the Dark by Martin Flavin 1945: A Bell for Adano by John Hersey 1949: Guard of Honor by James Gould Cozzens 1950: The Way West by A. B. Guthrie, Jr. 1951: The Town by Conrad Richter 1952: The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk 1955: A Fable by William Faulkner 1956: Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor 1960: Advise and Consent by Allen Drury 1962: The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor 1963: The Reivers by William Faulkner 1965: The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau 1966: Collected Stories by Katherine Anne Porter 1967: The Fixer by Bernard Malamud 1968: The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron 1969: House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday 1970: Collected Stories by Jean Stafford 1975: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara 1978: Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson 1980: The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer 1986: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry 1989: Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler 1993: A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler 2000: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri 2001: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon 2004: The Known World by Edward P. Jones 2006: March by Geraldine Brooks 2007: The Road by Cormack McCarthy 2008: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

3 Days Until Christmas

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Series of Unfortunate Presents

"A Series of Unfortunate Presents" was the funny title of an email message from my dear friend Cynthia this afternoon. Being a Lemony Snicket fan, I laughed even before I read the message. But the message itself also made me giggle -- Cynthia just can't win for losing this Christmas, between bad weather and present preemption. It's just an example of the mischief a blog can cause. But I promise that I would have been gracious about receiving a book I already own and did not like all that much . . . Here's what Cynthia sent:

So, long story short, this week I ran into a software roadblock – software that I need for my hopefully fabulous 2008 presents! My new software won’t be here until early this week (that is, if the UPS plane lands at the airport and the UPS truck can skate to my house!) So, I decided in the meantime I would send part of your present since part of it is holiday related. I had your pretty Christmas box wrapped and ready to go, but decided at the last minute to jump online and check your Rose City Reader blog to make sure you hadn’t already posted the vintage postcard I had used for a gift enclosure (see below.) Of course, the first thing that popped up on your blog was your review of the Sedaris book which also contained a review of Holiday on Ice which then had me laughing out loud (see why below!) I promptly ripped open the package to remove the book. But then I decided this called for a picture and a post. Criminy Christmas!!

4 Days Until Christmas

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Review of the Day: Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

Several years ago, my introduction to David Sedaris was reading Holidays on Ice in a six-hour binge. While I found the first few essays hilarious, I was tired of the whole thing by the time I finished. I went on what I thought would be a life-time David Sedaris sabbatical.

Luckily for me and my reading resolutions, two years ago I picked up a copy of the audio version of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim when there were otherwise slim pickings at my library. Listening to Sedaris read his own stories made all the difference. There were several that I found to be laugh-out-loud funny, and I was disappointed to come to the last one. Hearing the inflections and the voices the way Sedaris intended them to sound was the key.

I have since listened to every audio version of Sedaris's books that I can find, including his latest, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, and my overall favorite, Me Talk Pretty One Day. I eat them up like candy, and while some pieces are better than others, I pretty much enjoy them all.

By far, my very favorite Sedaris essay is one in Dress Your Family called "Six to Eight Black Men" about (unlikely as it might seem from the title) Christmas traditions in Holland. We have made it a Christmas tradition in my house to listen to this piece while lounging around the tree on Christmas Eve. It's enough to make us laugh until we snort hot buttered rum out our noses. Hmmmm . . . maybe it is time for me to revisit Holidays on Ice.

5 Days Until Christmas

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Review: So Many Books, So Little Time

Sara Nelson had a great idea for a book lover’s book: She would spend one year (2002) reading a book a week and writing about it, compiling her efforts in So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading.

Although she started off with a list of 26 or so books that she wanted to read, there was not a lot of rhyme to her reason.  She did not have a definitive list like Pulitzer Prize Winners, or Books I Meant to Read in College But Never Did, or anything like that.  She ended up choosing the books each week in a pretty spontaneous fashion.

Likewise, she did not have a formula for how she wanted to write about the books.  She did not want to simply write reviews of the books she read.  She wanted to write about each book’s connection to her personal life, such as what was going on in her life that made her chose a particular book, personal views that made her react to a book in a certain way, or memories a book conjured.

In keeping with her theme, I considered my own personal connections with So Many Books as well as the books Nelson read.  As she described, I decided I would try “matching up the reading experience with the personal one and watching where they intersect – or don’t.”  There were a lot of intersections.  Following Nelson’s bibliophile footsteps led me through familiar territory.  For example, she and I share an aversion to over-hyped books (White Teeth and Everything is Illuminated are two we both avoided), we both think Philip Roth is the cat’s pajamas, and we had the exact same reaction to Anthony Bourdain when we read Kitchen Confidential (hard crush followed by exasperation and a desire to break up – although he and I have since reconciled over The Nasty Bits).

And there several places where are reading paths did not cross.  Unlike Nelson, I very rarely abandon a book once I start it.  I can think of only two – A Frolic of His Own and some V.I. Warshawski mystery.  Nelson seems to favor contemporary novels and does not share my taste for nineteenth century books (although it is hard to tell from just one year of reading).  Nor does she share my compulsion for prize winners and “must read” lists.

But the biggest personal jolt I got from So Many Books was realizing that Nelson is living the life I, as an English Lit major back in the ‘80s, had planned for myself.  She lives in New York – in Greenwich Village no less – where she works for a magazine and writes books.  She married an interesting man at a reasonable age and has one child.  That is pretty much what I had in mind for myself until, a month before college graduation, my life took a turn for the old-fashioned when I fell in love with a local newspaper reporter and stayed in Portland, where we married at what now seems the ridiculous age of 23.  Of course, had I gone to New York, my life would have been different, but not better.  I would not have gone to law school, so I would not now have a profession I find enormously satisfying, I would not have met and (after taking a marital Mulligan) married my adored husband, and on and on.  It’s not like I sit around pondering what my life would have been like had I followed my original post-college plans, but reading Nelson’s book really stirred up some memories and a few what-might-have-been fantasies. Which was what Nelson hoped would happen. She wanted to write about how books “get to” her personally.  Hers certainly got to me.


If you would like your review of this book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.

7 Days Until Christmas

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Internet Review of Books

The December issue of the Internet Review of Books is up now. My review of Scratch Beginnings is in it. And my short review of Islands of Divine Music is posted in the Worth Mentioning section. A double whammy for me.

8 Days Until Christmas

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Lists II: Books I Recommend Giving

Lots of books end up under my Christmas tree. This is list of books I think would make good gifts this year (not that anyone on my list is necessarily going to get them, just in case knowing eyes are reading this): At Home with Books: How Booklovers Live with and Care for Their Libraries by Estelle Ellis (for bibliophiles in general and especially those building or fantasising about a home library); Citadel of the Spirit: Oregon's Sesquicentennial Anthology, edited by Matt Love (a collection of essays celebrating 150 years of the Beaver State; for Oregonians in fact or spirit); The House of Mondavi by Julia Flynn Siler (history of America's foremost wine dynasty; for wine drinking business types, especially those keen on Napa Valley); Love Among the Chickens by P.G. Wodehouse (his first novel; an ideal introduction for Wodehouse newbies, but also good for fans because, not being part of one of his popular series, it is unlikely they've read this one); The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World* by Guillaume de Laubier (pure biblio-porn; for those less interested in the practicalities of "living with" books); Nothing to Lose by Lee Child (the latest in the Jack Reacher series; for all the Reacher Creatures on your list); and The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon (my favorite read of 2008; for anyone who loves a well-written, totally engrossing yarn). * I particularly like this book because one of the libraries featured (including the picture on the back cover) is in the school in Metten, Bavaria where my cousins attended.

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