Sunday, January 7, 2018

2017 Books

As I did last year, I'm posting the list of books I read this year, partly as a memory aid, partly to share with my friends one view into who I am and what I like.  The year started off fabulously with the wonderful, wonderful, wonderful The Jinni and the Golem and How to Build a Girl.  Quite a few coming of age books this year...not sure why...just turned out that way. 

* = Recommended
X = Stay away

  • * The Jinni and the Golem:  Helene Wecker (audiobook).   Think I'd like to give it 3 *'s, though * on my reviews is generally binary - you get one or you don't.  On the immigrant experience in early 20th century New York, from the points of view of a jinni and a golem, who, by their natures are outsiders to the community of immigrant outsiders.  An exploration of human values. Coming of age, Golem-style.
  • Ender's Game:  Orson Scott Card (audiobook).  Meh.  Actually I found the ending really interesting, but most of the book kind of too much about the choreography of simulated battles to be very captivating for me.  The story is a reflection on genocide, the cultivation of a mentality that can support it, and ultimately the responsibility of a conqueror to enable the re-establishment of the destroyed race.  However, given that the story is from the point of view of the instrument of genocide who is made into a sympathetic and tragic character, and given that the story ends without showing us how he settles his dilemma of whether or not to make reparations, I am less than motivated to follow up on other stories in the series.  Coming of age, warrior-style.
  • * How to Build a Girl:  Caitlin Moran (audiobook).  Can I give this 3 or maybe 4 *'s???  Such a fabulous coming of age book.  Absolutely filthy, but so poignant, so hilarious, such a great portrayal of a teenage girl's maturing process as she experiences economic, physical and emotional life challenges.  Fathers of girls will probably be a bit squeamish about reading this one.  Women will probably nod, even while cringing at some of Johanna-Dolly's choices.
  • LaRose:  Louise Erdrich (audiobook) - liked it a lot, but may not be for everyone.  An accidental shooting of a beloved child by his uncle exposes the stressors (and strengths) within the Native American community and the historical factors leading to those stressors.
  • The Gem Collector:  P.G. Wodehouse - meh...I love Wodehouse, but this isn't one of his more entertaining ones, IMHO
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo:  Stieg Larsson (audiobook) - this was an abridged edition...not a good abridgment, I think - this version is not as gripping as I remembered it.  Superstar investigative journalist Mikael Blomqvist and the super messed up and abused superhacker Lisbeth Salander team up to locate a decades-missing heiress, and uncover a lot of dirty secrets in an industrialist family.  Still really want to meet this Mikael Blomqvist guy.
  • The Museum of Extraordinary Things:  Alice Hoffman (audiobook) - an interesting story, but the writing is a little disappointing, especially towards the end.  Another coming of age story.  Some interesting historical perspective of turn of the (20th) century New York
  • Mansfield Park:  Jane Austen - annoying, as always (as I think I've mentioned previously). Don't ask me why I keep reading it.
  • * The Last Nude:  Ellis Avery (audiobook) - sort of a coming of age book, though the main character is a little older than what we would normally think of in this genre - definitely the ingenue losing her innocence.
  • Labyrinth:  Kate Mosse (audiobook) - kind of a disappointment - interesting historical setting (Crusaders turning on Cathars in early 13th century Languedoc), and interesting structure (parallel stories of academics doing research about the Cathars in the 2000s and mystics doing stuff in the 1200s), but I found the writing somewhat grating.  Also, there is a supernatural element to the story that I found annoying -- I love magical realism, but when you have characters reflecting on how strange things are, you spoil the effect.  I had a similar gripe with 1Q84.  For the parallel story between academics and historical figures genre, I found Possession by A.S. Byatt a far, far, far better novel.
  • * Gone Girl:  Gillian Flynn (audiobook) - quite good...very strange story.  Not totally bought in to the ending, but it was an interesting ride.  Dysfunctional marriage between two first class narcissists gone very, very dark..hyperintellectual scavenger hunt for an ostensible body. 
  • * Swamplandia!:  Karen Russell (audiobook) - another very strange story.  A family with an alligator wrestling theme park in the Everglades falls apart upon the death of the mother, the star of the show.  Without her guidance and glue, each family member follows a different path, putting themselves into great danger, that is only resolved when they find their ways back.  Pacing could have been picked up a tiny bit, I think, but overall very well done.  Very good voice of a couple of teenagers.  To the credit of Russell's writing, there was one scene that was so distressing, I had to listen to it in bits and pieces...took me a couple of days to get through it.  I didn't love the readers who did the audio.  And another coming of age book.
  • Alif the Unseen (audiobook):  G. Willow Wilson - interesting piece.  Teenage hackers in an unspecified middle eastern country (modeled on Saudi Arabia, I guess), working with jinnis, mullahs and other progressives to fight oppression by the ruling royalty.  The IT aspect was a little grating because the author doesn't seem to have an idea of how you actually do coding, leading to some extremely implausible climactic scenes, but mostly it didn't matter.
  • The Color Purple (audiobook):  Alice Walker - read by the author, which was really interesting...can't imagine reading it on paper with all that dialect
  • The Illegal (audiobook):  Lawrence Hill - I like the structure of the story a lot.  Kind of turns the stereotype of illegal immigrant as uneducated, skill-less, dispensible/interchangeable human on its head.  Details the experience of living outside mainstream culture.  Gets a little expository, though.  End is a tiny bit treacly.
  • The Daylight Marriage (audiobook):  Heidi Pitlor - Somewhat like Gone Girl, but without all the mindfucking.  Search for missing wife in somewhat dysfunctional marriage, interspersed with narrative of the wife leading up to her disappearance. 
  • * The Time Traveler's Wife:  Audrey Niffeneger - listened to this a couple of years ago and loved it; then I ran across a $1 copy in the library's fundraising section, or maybe at Shoprite...I forget...I still love it.  You know I do because I read it on paper :-).  Amazing structure, especially since the narrative skips back and forth in time, as Henry is abruptly yanked back and forth in time.  Reflection on memory and predestination, and love and all that sort of thing.  What would you do if you knew part of your future?  What if your partner knew parts of your future that you don't yet know?  Mind blown.
  • fledgling:  Octavia Butler - Ashamed to say I'd never read Octavia Butler before (in my own defense...I'm not much of a sci-fi reader).  I enjoyed this one, but I found it a little problematic...I guess I'd summarize my issues as: a bit heavy on the tell, to the extent that I found the ending unconvincing and unsatisfying.  Another coming of age book...if you can accept as an adolescent a 53 year old vampire in a body that appears to be a six year old, having sex with several studs in their 20s as well as a couple of middle-aged women.  (Which is, indeed, the premise of the book.)  Kind of a Harry Potter purebloods vs mudbloods setup. 
  • * What Every American Should Know About Women's History:  Christine A. Lunardini - a fascinating collection of overviews (each about 2 pages) of events or people, starting in colonial US, that had impacts on the modern woman's experience.  Very informative, very engaging, great context.  Many of the people/events covered I was familiar with, but many I was not, and learned a lot even about those I was already familiar with.
  • The Custom of the Country:  Edith Wharton
  • * Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation:  Lynne Truss - another $1 Shoprite acquisition
  • An Enemy of the People:  Henrik Ibsen - I would love to see a production of this
  • Moonglow (audiobook):  Michael Chabon - I was listening on just never got around to grabbing me
  • Lysistrata:  Aristophanes - still working on it
  • Love in the Time of Cholera:  Gabriel Garcia Marquez - still working on it
  • * The Woman Who Stole My Life (audiobook):  Marian Keyes  - really enjoying it, still working on it
And with Sidharta
  • What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Richard Feynman - (finished)
  • * Please Don't Eat the Daisies:  Jean Kerr - pretty hilarious - kind of a 1950s Hyperbole and a Half, without the graphics and only somewhat as dark
  • Cat's Cradle:  Kurt Vonnegut (started...he lost interest early, which is a pity)
  • Brave New World:  Aldous Huxley (started...he lost interest early, which is a pity)
  • Black Like Me:  John Howard Griffin - Griffin's innocence or naivete or maybe arrogance of ignorance is fairly is incomprehensible to me how a (presumably educated) adult can simply decide, in 1959 Louisiana, over the course of a couple of days to walk away from family and responsibilities and with absolutely no training or preparation or research simply get his skin pigment changed, and hope to have any sort of meaningful experience as a member of a different race.  To his credit he seems to have gone in with good intentions and an open mind, and fairly quickly absorbed some nuances.  But oh man!...the utter chutzpah!
  • * The Cuckoo's Egg:  Clifford Stoll - still working on it