A continuation of the books I read in 2011. Read about April.
By the time I got around to reading it, I’d forgotten all of the reviews of Elizabeth Strout‘s Olive Kitteridge. I’d forgotten that Ms. Strout’s work was more anthology of related stories than novel, that the setting was a small New England town in coastal Maine, that the titular character wasn’t in fact the main character after all. Worth the read, but it’s up to the reader to decide if it’s worth the hype.
The Wolfen by Whitley Strieber is an absolutely terrible novel that everybody in the world should read. I mean, it’s about a pack of way-more-intense-than-werewolves wolves living, hunting and killing in 1970s New York City and the two police detectives that are tracking them down. Oh, and I should mention that parts of the story are told from the point of view of the wolves. So awesomely bad. One of my goals for 2012 is to get my hands on a copy of the film adaptation.
So is, in a way, Elizabeth Graver‘s The Honey Thief, as it is about a thief of honey, but imagine how boring a story it would be if that were it as far as plot were concerned. The novel is about mothers and daughters, religion, inheritances and friendships, as well as honey.
I purchased a copy ofRoom at Fully Booked in Manila; at that point in our trip, I had read all of the books I’d packed and The Wolfen off of Keith’s iPad, and was desperate for something to read, as I had three days in Hong Kong and a twenty-something-hour flight back to the States to get through. I hadn’t followed the previous year’s hoopla surrounding Emma Donoghue‘s novel but it just so happened that Room‘s plot fit in perfectly with my kidnapping/crime obsession. Though told from five-year-old Jack’s point of view, the reader quickly realizes that Jack and his mother live a grim and terrible sort of life: abducted at nineteen, Jack’s mother had gotten pregnant and gave birth in captivity, and all Jack knows of the world is the 11 x 11 room he was born in. Though I sometimes find the use of children’s first-person narration in adult novels to be gimmicky, Jack’s perspective was unique and interesting enough to keep me reading.
After years of trying, Keith and I secured reservations at elBulli in November of 2010, and for that reason I was particularly interested in The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià’s elBulli by Lisa Abend, which chronicles not a year of elBulli so much as a year in the life of a stagiaire at elBulli. It’s fascinating to learn of all their backgrounds, interests, successes and failings, regardless of whether or not you’d eaten at the restaurant or not.
I should’ve kicked my kidnapping kick before reading Still Missing, as I found the abducted narrator of Chevy Stevens‘s novel to be both irritating and without redeeming factors. Skip it.
I hadn’t read any Nick Hornby in years; it was onlyJuliet, Naked‘s availability at my local library that made Mr. Hornby’s most recent novel my first of his to read since About a Boy. Funny stuff, this, and a must-read for those who have music nerds in their lives or who are self-aware music nerds.
My book club needed something to read, so I recommended In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff, simple because I already had it out of the library and had just started the book the same day. The mystery takes place in turn of the century New York — a genre, historical period and location that the ladies in book club all love, so for that reason it was it good fit. The main character, a detective with a tragic past, transfers out of a gritty and corrupt New York City precinct to sleepy, quiet Westchester County. Instead of finding tranquility, he’s face-to-face with the most brutal murder he’s ever seen.
Sue Miller’s The Lake Shore Limited is told from the perspective of four characters, a writing technique that I as a reader and a writer really enjoy. Sometimes it can be done beautifully (In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, for example) but more often than not, this is done in a mediocre fashion. Ms. Miller is a fine writer, and she tackles this well, but I didn’t find any of the four characters to be unforgettable.
I’m many things, but a New Years resolutionist I am most certainly not. That said, I am trying to be a bit more positive-minded, as opposed to my regular the-glass-isn’t-just-half-empty-but-also-about-to-fall-off-the-table-and-smash-into-a-million-pieces-on-the-floor mentality. So rather than lamenting how I spent barely any time last year on writing posts, I’m instead going to focus on the fact that I spent a good amount reading books. And since I know there’s no way I’d be able to write proper-length posts on all of them, but I’ll give some simple summaries of each, along with my opinions. Since I started recording what I read last year in April, that’s where I’ll begin. I’ll keep writing these bookish posts and finish with the last book I read this month.
Winston had just died, and all I wanted to do when I got back to Boston from New York was reread the beautifully-written novel Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, about the titular geisha’s life before, during and after World War II. I found the following apropos passage on grief, which I then emailed to my mother: “Grief is a most peculiar thing; we’re so helpless in the face of it. It’s like a window that will simply open of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less; and one day we wonder what has become of it.”
I do remember The Report by Jessica Francis Kane quite clearly, as I am fascinated by World War II and found this debut novel about a tragedy in the Bethnal Green tube station/air raid shelter to be ridiculously and enviously well-written.
A Polish emigrant and a New York adolescent are the sad and cynical narrators of Nicole Krauss‘s The History of Love. Strange as it is to say, I didn’t care either way about the plot, but since I loved Leo the Pole so much, I managed to overlook everything else.
While I did enjoy Lynn Barber’s memoir An Education — which was made into the multi-nominated film with a star-making performance by Carey Mulligan — I wonder if part of the reason why I flew through it was because it was so short or because I was on a plane en route to Asia and therefore trapped. Regardless, Ms. Barber is a perfectly fine writer who recounts her life in the heyday of 1960s England in a refreshing, straightforward way.
Ugh, I did not like An Evening of Long Goodbyes by Paul Murray, a hardback book club read that I lugged from Massachusetts to Manila, Vietnam, Cambodia, Hong Kong and back again. Protagonist Charles Hythloday plays at being a nobly-born country aristocrat outside Dublin; when he’s forced to eke out a living, it was no surprise to me that this insipid loon struggles to find a place for himself in troubled modern-day Ireland. There’s another storyline involving explosives and actresses, but I can’t be bothered to go into it.
Another novel I brought along on my Asia trip wasThe Missing by Tim Gautreaux, which set me down a path of kidnapping, violence and crime — in my readings, that is. Mr. Gautreaux’s book is the truly compelling story not just of abduction, but also of redemption and revenge. Oh, and there are riverboats.