Last book log of the year. Encouragingly, I managed 75 books, though just barely (I finished two in the last two days). Break is never as restful as I think it will be. In any case, I’m going to dial back my reading ambitions a bit for next year in order to focus more on writing (at least, that’s the idea). One minor note is that I did not read Next, which was the last book on my queue. I just wasn’t in the mood when the time came. I’m sure I’ll get to it eventually.
A full recap of the reading year will be coming in the next few days. For now, let’s get to the monthly log…
1. Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris (4/5) – I read this book for two reasons. The first is rather obviously implied by the title. The other is that I was really in the mood for some Sedaris. He’s funny in a way that’s different from everyone else I’ve read. This collection is, for the most part, delightful. However, there are three non-Christmas stories that reference other holidays and seem to be included to make things a bit longer. That’s all well and good, I guess, but those stories pull you out of the general mood. Still, a nice collection and fun to have around at Christmas time.
2. Refresh, Refresh by Benjamin Percy (4.5/5) – This was the last book on the list Cate gave me for the year. I thought it was pretty brilliant. The only thing that keeps me from giving this a five is that, like many short story collections, there is a sameness to these that gets a bit trying at times, especially given the almost universally grim subject matter. Still, Percy is a wonderful writer, and his dark world is a fascinating place to visit and reminds me eerily of where I come from.
3. How the Dog Became the Dog by Mark Derr (5/5) – I’d been waiting to get this from the library for months and the mood had kind of passed by the time it showed up. I almost didn’t read it, but Cate thought it looked neat and encouraged me. I’m glad she did because this was a fun and fascinating book. It’s always nice to have a complete picture of incomplete knowledge and Derr provides that here. He’s very careful to make clear that we don’t know just exactly how the dog came about (that is, where it originated and how), but there are several good ideas out there with evidence to support them. He clearly has his favorites (he seems to favor genetic evidence, as would I), but he paints a balanced picture overall. Equally nice to read are his thoughts on the human-dog relationship. He pretty much convinced me that the whole notion of purebred dogs is problematic and not at all reflective of the traditional human-dog relationship. After reading this, I don’t think I’ll ever get a purebred dog. Anyway, great read.
4. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (4.5/5) – This is Lahiri’s only novel and the only book of hers I hadn’t read. It isn’t as good as her short stories and it seemed clear that she got a bit lost in the middle as the story meanders for quite a while, but the beginning and ending are more than strong enough to make up for it. It was nice to see her explore, in depth, the themes of immigration and integration that are so vital to her short stories with one set of characters. So while, this isn’t as strong as her two story collection, it is, in some ways, more complete and thus an entirely worthwhile read.
5. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (5/5) – This, I learned, is one of those rare books that was recommended for, but not awarded the Pulitzer. Why this ever happens is beyond me and strikes me as enormously stupid. This is, quite obviously, a masterpiece. I will confess that it took me a bit to get used to the archaic language Hemingway uses here and immerse myself in the world, but once I did, I was captivated. I blogged a little earlier in the week about the political leanings of this book, so the only other thing I’ll say is that the more I read of Hemingway, the more I’m convinced any criticisms are the result of the most shallow readings possible of his books.
6. The Tent by Margaret Atwood (5/5) – This slim Atwood volume is something I’d been almost reading for several years. I finally read it because it was short and I could check it out in ebook format from the library, thus utilizing my fancy new Nook. I was pleasantly surprised. That’s saying something because we’re talking about Margaret Atwood here. This collection is some strange combination of poetry, fiction, and essay. It isn’t perfect, but it all works wondrously together I found myself intrigued, disturbed, and comforted at various points. A wonderful little book.
7. Werewolves in Their Youth by Michael Chabon (4.5/5) – I had not reread any Chabon this year, and I hadn’t read this collection in a long time, so it was due. A very nice collection of stories. Like Refresh, Refresh, they do get a bit same-ish at times (lots of people are getting divorced), but I love his language so much and each story does a wonderful job of pointing to the internal machinations each of us experiences. There’s a reason I keep coming back to Michael Chabon
A word about this season’s book queue: I decided to do something a bit different this time. I’m going to balance the queue between writers I’ve already read and loved with some who are undeniably important but whom I haven’t read or have had mixed feelings about. I’ll mark the authors I know and love with an asterisk. Anyway, I intended to have this finished by the end of school year-ish.
Spring Book Queue:
This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann*
The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee*
Run by Ann Patchett*
The Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt*
The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood*
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers
The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace
After Dark by Haruki Murakami
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen