11 February 2009

January Book Report

OK, so I'm not big on New Year's Resolutions, but I do like the idea of periodic reassessment and goal setting. This year, I am focusing on moderation. I am a big fan of moderation (along with many Enlightenment ideas. I am sort of an Enlightenment kind of girl.), but I'm not particularly good at it. Rather, I am a binge/fast type--with regard to most things in my life. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in my reading patterns. So--this year I have set myself a goal to read, as consistently as possible, 3 books a week. I figure that this is both a moderate (and attainable) goal, and will foster a kind of moderation in me.

As a kind of accountability to this endeavor, I've decided to blog about it. You can keep updated on how I am doing (if you care), see what I am reading (if you care), and I can feel that I have people to answer to (whether they care or not). Win, win, win.

So, in the month of January I read:

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This is a total book club book, and not the kind of thing that I would ordinarily pick up. But my mom read it, and she wasn't sure that she understood the way that it ended and wanted me to read it so that we could confer. I did this, as the accommodating daughter that I aspire to be. It's a story about a time traveler. At the heart of it is a potentially awkward sexual relationship. I don't really suggest it, but it's fine for plane reading or whatever.

Medicus by Ruth Downie. Historical mystery/thriller about Roman Britain. I'm a sucker for this kind of thing. It was fair to middling.

When She was Bad by Patricia Pearson. A non-fiction book about female killers. I don't know why.

The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez. This seemed like something I would like, but the idea is not fully realized or developed. I found myself not really caring.

My Life in Heavy Metal by Steve Almond. I am a big fan of Almond's NF (thanks, Mikey J, for the recommendation), but I didn't have high expectations for his fiction. This book of short stories is actually pretty tight. The stories are loosely connected through theme (love, loss, commitment), but the delight comes from the variety of characters and narrative perspectives. It almost feels like an anthology of short stories--which might seem like damning praise--but I enjoyed the virtuosity. "How to Love a Republican" and the poetic "The Pass" are particular standouts, in my opinion. (Plus, Steve Almond is a babe.)

Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram. This is the first Bram novel I've ever read, and it is the book on which the film Gods and Monsters (you know, the film that proves that Brendan Frazer can actually act if given a decent script) was based. I liked the book every bit as much as I remember liking the film. It's a book about lonely people and the ways in which they may attach in order not to feel so lonely. Predictably, it is sad, and ultimately really messy. But Bram is a good writer--sensitive and manly at the same time. That isn't an easy balance to strike.

Whit by Iain Banks. OK, confession. Iain Banks is one of my favorite authors. I haven't ever read any of his science fiction (published under the name "Iain M. Banks"), but his straight fiction, which admittedly often deals with popular sci fi themes like surveillance/loss of privacy
is really good. The Wasp Factory is one of my top 20 favorite books and Complicity is in my top 5 list for light pleasure reading. (It's a damn exciting book. And I think that it was made into a film with super-hottie Jonny Lee Miller, but I've never actually seen it.)

Anyway, Whit is the story of a young woman who has been brought up in a religious cult in Northern Scotland and who has been tapped by the cult's leader (her grandfather) to become his heir apparent. One of the younger members of the cult, the girl's cousin, becomes "lost" in London, and the girl is sent to find her. What is interesting about the novel is the sort of Alice-in-Wonderland experiences and perspective of a young adult who has lived in the world, but not really engaged in the world. The plot itself is less impressive than the perspective of, and ultimately the decisions made by, this character.

Book of Evidence by John Banville. It seems like Camus already wrote this book. And IT was better.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. Yes, it is true, I've never read this before. And now that I have, I don't really see the big deal. Because, here's the thing, I don't really care about Bertha. Is that wrong of me? (Just another example of how I'm not a very good feminist.)

Watership Down by Richard Adams. I know what you are thinking. "That book about rabbits?" I've been putting reading this for years. It's actually a totally fascinating book. In the introduction, Adams writes that he means the book to be a children's story, and he denies that it is a satire or allegory (clearly he is trying to say that this is not his Animal Farm). But the book chronicles the story of a group of rabbits who leave their warren after one of them has a premonition about the destruction of the warren at the hands of men. The motley group (of all male rabbits--this becomes a problem later in the novel) travels over the English countryside looking for a suitable new home. Along the way they encounter natural enemies, make unusual alliances, and encounter other rabbit cultures, which certainly beg to be read as political allegories. The group finally settles and builds its own ideal society, only to realize that mates are necessary in order for the society to continue and flourish. This is a book about survival, mating and parenting, and death. It's tone and subject are very serious. The rabbits are not cute, and most of them begin the journey the bunny equivalent of young adults. In no way does this seem like a children's story.

On the other hand, it's about bunny rabbits.

I actually recommend the book highly. It's interesting and a quick read. There are real moments of pathos, of excitement (there's lots of rabbit battles--those guys are scrappy too!), of danger. It doesn't feel like a typical children's "animal fantasy".


That's the whole list, kids. Stay tuned for February's picks. So far the list is pretty short (damn student papers!) but I'll try to make some headway before the end of the month.

January pages=3,189


Marcus said...

Isn't it funny how often we dedicate tens of hours of free time (which, in my estimation, is much more valuable than plain time) to reading books just because someone we know a) recommended it or b) gave it to us?

You once gave me a Harry Potter book. 100 hours later I'm done with the series. Our Aunt Who Gave Books gave me Redwall and a couple other Brian Jacques novels, and I read like twenty of them through junior high.

It's a huge potential time commitment to accept a book as a gift or as a recommendation, because you may end up reading an entire series whether you have the free time or not. That's why I've never taken your Lemony Snickets suggestion - I can't see me finding the time to read them all without bumping something more important out of the way. And I'm sure that you're recommendation is solid, which makes it all the more dangerous.

I think that's why I prefer film. Less commitment is worth it to me, even with diminished pay-off.

I don't think I've articulated my point very well. Anyway, good luck, 156 books a year is nothing to sneeze at.

KRD said...

Actually, this is one of your better and more interesting comments, Marcus. And you are totally right. Which is why I always sort of think that I am doing someone the opposite of a favor when I give a book as a gift. Yet I continue to do it (the reasons why might make a good post sometime).

Let me plug LS in this way though--there is something truly brilliant and different about the Dan Handler books (which his adult books can't reach somehow). They get somewhat longer as the series goes on, but even the last book (the longest) only took me about an hour to read, which means that it shouldn't really take anyone else much more time than it would take to watch a film. And honestly, there is something so clever about what Handler does in these books that reading one of them is the equivalent to watching a GOOD movie.

That said, my one caveat is this: you have to commit to more than just the first book. They have a cumulative effect. Give them the college try and don't just dismiss after the first one.

(Of course, you can always just get the audio books. Tim Curry reads and Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields fame does the music, as a band called The Gothic Archies. I mean, how can you go wrong?)