Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 books

As I did last year, and the previous few before that, I'm posting the books I read this year.  Lot of good stuff this year, as well as a few fairly awful phone books that I can't quite explain why I felt compelled to plow through.

* = Recommended
X = Stay Away

  • Please Look After Mom (Audiobook):  Kyungsook Shin - This one was very interesting, structurally, if a bit melodramatic and... ummm... yearning for a return to... well... the closest character to "Mom" that I can think of is O-Lan from The Good Earth.  Kind of Harriet Lerner meets Pearl Buck in Korea.
  • Best of Jack London Short Stories (Audiobook):  Jack London - What can I say?  It's Jack London. Each story has a different reader, and the quality varies considerably.  I enjoyed many of them
  • Sense and Sensibility:  Jane Austen
  • *The Prisoner of Heaven (Audiobook):  Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • Several short stories by Saki
  • * The Hunger Games:  Suzanne Collins - started it with Sidharta who quickly got bored (I don't know why - I think he just went in prejudiced against it)
  • X Freedom (Audiobook):  Jonathan Franzen - Oy...Really???  Another one of those "Why didn't I just give up at page 75, as I wanted to, rather than wade through the other 500 pages?"   So much tell.  So much summary.  So few interesting people.  (Not that he doesn't tell us how interesting they are.  To each other.)  Lots of melodrama.  Lots of exposition on the politics of ecological conservation that would make a perfectly pleasing essay but draggy fiction.  I seriously don't understand all the positive reviews it got - is this a case of I'm dumb, or the reviewer has no clothes?  I'll accept either answer, so long as you explain it to me.
  • * Broken Ballots:  Will Your Vote Count:  Douglas W. Jones and Barbara Simons (My review here)
  • The Phantom of the Opera:  Gaston Leroux -- Fluff, but I enjoyed it a lot  Ah, yes, we must needs pity the Opera Ghost.
  • * A Kiss Before Dying (Audiobook):  Ira Levin
  • * The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Audiobook):  Rebecca Skloot - fascinating history of one of the most ubiquitous tools in modern biology, the HeLa cell, originated from Henrietta Lacks' tumor, circa 1950.  Skloot weaves the story of Henrietta and her family with the history of tissue culture and the breathtaking discoveries that have been enabled by these "immortal" cells, while raising many profound and intertwined ethical questions about the use and economics of human tissue, access to medical care and informed consent
  • Of Human Bondage (Audiobook):  W. Somerset Maugham - I can't totally put my finger on why I liked this one and hated Freedom.  
  • * The Emperor of All Maladies (Audiobook):  Siddhartha Mukherjee - some interesting underscoring of themes from The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but more sciency and less human-interesty.  Lot of good history of science and illustration of the culture of scientific investigation.
  • The Trial (Audiobook):  Franz Kafka - gosh, how much it sounded like things that are reported in the news
  • The Jungle (Audiobook):  Upton Sinclair
  • * Death of a Salesman:  Arthur Miller - surprisingly, I'd never read this before.  Very strange little piece, with very interesting technique in portraying simultaneous internal and external dialogue of a single character, without the use of monologue.
  • Romancing Miss Bronte (Audiobook):  Juliet Gael - I'd like to put this as an X...the writing is fairly annoying, but the story is somewhat interesting.
  • Camilla:  Fanny Burney - I liked Cecilia a lot, but I think you could safely skip Camilla.  While the plots of both are driven by social conventions of that period and their heroines' internal conflicts are not very relevant to a modern audience, somehow I felt it less in Cecilia.  Camilla felt much more contrived and repetitive - same three or four gags repeated over and over.  Evelina falls somewhere in the middle for me - also irrelevant and contrived, but more natural (and shorter) than Camilla.
  • Lolita (Audiobook):  Vladimir Nabokov - narrated by Jeremy Irons...oh, what a narration!
  • Carrie (Audiobook):  Stephen King - disappointing narration by Sissy Spacek
  • Scat:  Carl Hiassen - not with Sidharta, but inspired by Sidharta - as always with Hiassen, a sweet book about nutty characters motivated by environmental issues, appropriate for the PG-13 crowd.
  • Lady Windermere's Fan:  Oscar Wilde
  • A Woman of No Importance:  Oscar Wilde - Silly Oscar!  Thinking Americans are so sensible and meritocratic!
  • The Pickwick Papers(Audiobook):  Charles Dickens - I started reading this a number of years ago and found it rather insufferable - decided to try again.  I think I'd still think it was fairly insufferable if it weren't for the excellent narration.  So obsessed with sex, for a Victorian novel :-)
  • And this year I'm going to claim the equivalent of at least one novel in the form of short stories and excerpts of works by members of my very talented writing group and Sharpening the Quill writers' workshop.  I'm sure it's been at least 150-200K words.
  • The Teaching Company's course Peloponnesian War (Audiobook):  Kenneth Harl
  • Catching Fire:  Suzanne Collins
  • * Remix:  Lawrence Lessig - interesting book...just suffered from being a paper copy
  • House of the Spirits:  Isabel Allende - physical copy got taken away from me in the middle, by Annapurna, who was reading it for school
  • The Autobiography of Mark Twain - Volume 1 (Audiobook): Mark Twain - I had to drop off after about disk 7 (of about 20)...apparently one of Mark Twain's reservations about writing an autobiography was that he was afraid he wouldn't be able to bring himself to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. "Any journal that is intended for publication – even in 100 years' time – is probably in some way compromised. The only person I can think of who got close to an unexpurgated truth is Samuel Pepys, and that's because his diaries were never meant to be read." Well...all I can say is...he was right, at least in his own case. The bits I read were pretty self-aggrandizing, veiled in a false modesty. Also, it seems that Twain made many attempts at autobiography, which the editors have tried to compile in a single authoritative collection, liberally doused with their commentary. The end result, in my opinion, is a choppy, unreadable mish-mosh that is more like a PhD thesis than autobiography. It's got a lot of Twain's entertaining writing, but it's no Huck Finn. And it bothers me that I can't even tell if I actually got to "the" autobiography, or if everything I was listening to was introductory/related text. I think I didn't get to the main corpus, but I can't be sure.
  • Shirley:  Charlotte Bronte - still working on it - it's no Jane Eyre, but there's some interesting historical context
  • The Reason I Jump:  Naoki Higashida/translation by David Mitchell of Cloud Atlas fame - sweet book by a 13 year old autistic boy, explaining his thought process, and a plea for patience and understanding
  • The Island of Dr. Moreau:  H.G. Wells - read this mostly at the gym :-)  Gonna have to read it with Sidharta, next :-D
  • The Angel's Game (audiobook):  Carlos Ruiz Zafon - I think this is going to be a *:  lovely writing, metafiction, tormented author as protagonist - what could be bad?  It came before The Prisoner of Heaven, but it doesn't seem to matter that I read them out of order, though I am having some maddening moments trying to remember details from the other one.
And with Sidharta:
  • The Pinhoe Egg:  Diana Wynne Jones (started)
  • The Pilgrims of Rayne (Book 8 of the Bobby Pendragon series):  D.J. Machale (Parts - he read a bunch of it himself and then got Bobby Pendragoned out, I think)
  • Lots of Calvin & Hobbes (no year would be complete without this)
  • Some Grimm's Fairy Tales
  • Flush:  Carl Hiassen (part - he finished it himself)
  • Hoot:  Carl Hiassen (part - he finished it himself)
  • Biography of a Grizzly:  Ernest Seton-Thompson
  • Things Not Seen:  Andrew Clements (started...he got bored...I don't know why...seems like a great story)
  • The Prince and the Pauper:  Mark Twain - I was very surprised he allowed us to finish this one, but he really seemed to enjoy it.
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:  Lewis Caroll (started)
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:  Mark Twain (Can't believe we got through this, but he loved it.  What can I say? He's a man of good literary taste.)
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer:  Mark Twain (started - still working on it.)