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Books Read in 2005 with comments

Here is what I've read so far this year. I'm always on the prowl for new authors--if you think we share the same taste in literature, please email me with your favorite authors/books. Happy reading!

Books listed in order read

  1. Toast by Nigel Slater

    This books was, no surprise, about food so of course I liked it. Most of the food was old-school British which turns some people's stomachs but reminds me of some of the comfort foods of my childhood.

  2. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

    I think this was the 4th or 5th time I read this book (my book group chose it), but it has been a few years. Still a damn good book, even on a repeat read. The last line is one of my favorite last lines of all time.

  3. House of Blue Light by David Kirby

    I've been struggling to find fiction I like this year--lots of it seems to bug me, maybe because so much of it isn't as good as Toni Morrison's prose. So I turned to poetry. This guy's poems make me laugh and are very accessible.

  4. The Traveling Library by David Kirby

    I like the House of Blue Light better than this one. Not bad for a second read by the same poet, but not the first one I'd recommend.

  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

    Super fast read, relatively engaging, but I didn't find myself caring a whole lot. Struck me as a bit concept oriented. My book group will discuss it next month and I'll be curious to see what they think.

  6. The Warden by Anthony Trollope

    My frustration with contemporary fiction has led me back to a good old 19th C. novel. A "light" novel for the period, not like Hardy or Elliot.

  7. Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

    The next novel following The Warden. A bit on the annoying side. Or maybe it was just the edition I got out of the library which had hideous illustrations throughout. I think they influenced my perception of the characters as too silly to pay much attention to. Don't think I'll track down the next one in the series, at least not for a while.

  8. The Madness of Love by Katharine Davies

    Another "concept" novel--this time a retelling of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Quite well done, but the awareness of the concept kept me at a bit of a distance from the characters. There were some lovely moments of beautiful prose in it. I would like to read another book by the author, though I hope next time she creates her own plot.

  9. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

    A graphic novel (that is to say, comic book style, though also graphic in the violence) about the Iranian revolution and war with Iraq and what it was like to be a young girl. The author is writing a sequel and I'll read it when it comes out.

  10. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
  11. The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
  12. The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

    This was a re-read of the three books that make up the Dark Materials trilogy. Besides the fact that the two main character's are adolescents, I'm not clear why this is often relegated to the young adult section in book stores. I think this is one of the more thought provoking series of books I've read, especially when it comes to religion. I'm still trying to decide what kind of deamon I'd have...

  13. Blindness by Jose Saramago

    Terrific book. I put it on the recommended books list. I wish I could get my book group to read this one because I'd love to talk it over with other people, especially the ending. There was a lot of violence and misery, but I found, in the end, that the book affirmed basic humanist principles.

  14. Confessions of a Slacker Mom by Muffy Mead-Ferro

    Pretty dopey. I should know by now not to read any more books about parenting since I (finally) feel like I know what I'm doing and what I care about and what I don't give a crap about when it comes to my kids. I had hoped that this would be like Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions which is such a terrific read that I recommend it even to people who don't have kids. But it wasn't.

  15. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

    A theraputic re-read while Brian was out of town. I hadn't remembered how sexist the books are though, with the girls crying a lot and not allowed to participate in battles.

  16. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

    Announcing a new claimant in my top 10 books! I finished this at 4 AM with tears streaming down my face and am absolutely blown away by its beauty.

  17. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

    My book-group decided to read this one. The writing isn't particularly great, but there are interesting sentiments about the power of literature, its ability to subvert tyrany and how it can provide an escape, even if only in the mind, from daily life. I get the sense that the author is a terrific teacher, but writing about teaching and seeing great teaching in action are two different things and the former is pretty hard to pull off.

  18. A Number by Caryl Churchill

    The lastest play by my absolute favorite playwright. This one is about cloning and is very dark. My friend MJ saw it in NY and I am really envious.

  19. Equal Love: Stories by Peter Ho Davies

    The author is a neighbor of a friend of mine and heads UMs MFA program so I thought I'd check out his stories. There is one story in particular that has stuck with me called "Frogmen"; the ending is particularly good with a perfect last line that makes the whole story pull together. I think I'll try and read his other collection The Ugliest House in the World soon.

  20. Rare and Endangerd Species by Richard Bausch

    Another recommendation and loan from Ami. The first story in the collection "Aren't You Happy For Me?" is so good--funny and sad and told almost entirely in dialogue (Ami pointed this out to me--I didn't pick up on it myself; it's really cool to see how it's done.) And the title novella is wrenching, surprising, beautiful.

  21. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

    Loved it. Beautiful, moving and at times unexpectedly funny. Can't wait to read more Shields' books (I just got Unless in paperback.)

  22. Plan B by Anne Lamott

    It's nice to read a little Anne Lamott now and again just to remind myself that I am not the only infuriated liberal who is trying to find a way to stay sane through this administration's tenure. She turns to Jesus for comfort and coping, I turn to food and friends, but despite our different strategies, the goal is the same.

  23. Unless by Carol Shields

    Finally finished this book--a satisfying read in the end though there were parts of the narrative that bogged down when the main character just mused for pages at a time. What I most admire about this book is Shields' ability to avoid sentimentality; it reminds me a little of Atwood, but is less acidic and more sympathetic. The most Atwood-ian part of the book are the unsent ranting letters the main character writes. Loved them. This story could easily slide into mush territory due to the subject matter, but at least once on each page (and sometimes more often) she has her narrator pull back and make some observation that pulls it back from the edge.

  24. Larry's Party by Carol Shields

    Liked it, but didn't love it. Haven't completely come to terms with what worked for me and what didn't--I know the ending, where Larry gets to the end of the maze of his life and finds Dorrie bugged me because I thought the whole point of the book was his search for self. Yes, I know many mazes end where they begin, but there was so much emphasis on getting to the center of the maze and having some sort of epiphany there that I felt a bit annoyed that this was a circuitous maze.

  25. The News from Paraguay by Lily Tuck

    THIS won the National Book Award??? My entire book group thought it stank. Rarely are we so unified in our opinions.

  26. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

    Rave, rave, rave.

  27. Ideas of Heaven by Joan Silber

    Exquisite series of interlinked stories about the longing for religion and the place of sex and sexuality in heightening or interfering with the spiritual realm. The title story is absolutely exquisite, but I also loved the one about Gaspara Stampa. I'm glad that at least one of the NBA finalists from 2004 deserved to be on the list (though I can't imagine why The News from Paraguay won instead of this book.)

  28. Saturday by Ian McEwan

    Elegant prose. I am still bummed out that the book was excerpted in the New Yorker because until I got past page 100, I couldn't really let myself go--I knew what was going to happen and it made me tense. Once the incident that was excerpted was over, I enjoyed the rest of the book in a full-immersion sort of way.

  29. London: 1945 by Maureen Waller

    I'm not a natural when it comes to reading non-fiction and found this pretty slow going at first, but the chapter on rationing sucked me in and from there on out I appreciated the detailed research and was able to form a pretty vivid picture in my head of a place and time.

  30. In My Other Life by Joan Silber

    More short stories by Joan Silber--beautifully written and crafted; they are not intertwined, like Ideas of Heaven but all deal with the related theme of a turning point and change in the characters' lives.

  31. Making an Exit by Elinor Fuchs

    About a woman and her difficult mother who has Alzheimer's. Wonderful writing--precise, funny, moving.

  32. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

    It was a fun read while laid up with a bad cold, but not a book I'd go out of my way to recommend. I'm not the ideal audience though, since Vampire lore isn't really that appealing to me. I was much more interested in what I thought of as historically based travel writing--I liked reading about the settings (Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey) and the stuff that took place there more than the characters and their motivations. I also thought the book needed a better editor to tighten up the story.

  33. Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati

    The first in a series of 4 (soon to be 5) historical novels that begin as a sequel to Last of the Mohicians. A total immersion into early settlements and Native American life in upstate New York in the late 1700s. Also a well-written romance (and the woman knows how to write a sex scene, let me tell you.)

  34. The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

    A good read, very similar ikn tone to To Kill A Mockingbird. Very good writing, though the ending feels like the author didn't want to let go of the characters and story and wasn't sure how to do it. A bit too abrupt a finish.

  35. Madeleine is Sleeping by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

    I found this interesting at first, but it lost my interest in the long run. I'm not terribly impressed by this National Book Award finalist--very showy, magical realism stuff, but when I put the book down, none of it sticks with me.

  36. Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright

    Excellent book from a Canadian author who (I suspect) doesn't get the deserved publicity south of the border. Story of two sisters, vivid characters, clean writing. Not at all showy (a nice contrast to Madeline is Sleeping), just confident, clear storytelling.

  37. Dawn on a Distant Shore by Sara Donati

    Another thumping good read that happily occupied my moments of down-time while in Europe. A little willing-suspension-of-disbelief necessary (how many times can Nathaniel be shot and recover easily?) but I was happy to do my part in the suspension.

  38. Lake in the Clouds by Sara Donati

    Part 3 of the Wilderness series--I liked it more than Dawn on a Distant Shore and particularly appreciated the descriptions of early medical practices and treatments.

  39. Pope Joan by Donna Cross

    All I can say is thank god that book is done. Horrible writing, predictable dialogue and scenes and some sloppy factual errors. The only reason I finished it was my book group chose the book. We will have to make a better choice next time.

  40. John Adams by David McCullough

    I know, normally I'm not drawn to non-fiction for pleasure, but reading Into the Wilderness has got me on a colonial/revolutionary period America kick. And McCullough is about as accessible a historian as they come. The book sure does put Jefferson in his place; though Adams clearly forgave Jefferson for his behavior, I'm having a hard time being so generous.

  41. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

    Three intertwined mysteries from a master (mistress?) of dark humor and irony.

  42. Homestead by Rosina Lippi

    Re-read one of my top ten books and loved it just as much this time.

  43. Stories of Happy People by Lars Gustafsson

    The title of the collection is still a bit puzzleing to me--I can't figure out what tone it is intended to be read in. Most of the stories certainly aren't about traditional happiness so I'm wondering if I'm just not in tune enough with the Swedish sensibility to understand all the stories. Some are quirky, some I had trouble focusing on what was going on, but I absolutely loved one story, "Greatness Strikes Where it Pleases" which is the most elegant story I've ever read about a retarded boy. The end of the story gives me shivers every time I think of it.

  44. Fire Along the Sky by Sara Donati

    Book 4 in the Wilderness Series. She's finishing up book 5 now, so I'll have a bit of a lull before continuing. Thoroughly enjoyable. I'm amazed by the author's degree of planning--this always blows me away in series books. Harry Potter comes to mind as another example of how the author includes small references in each book that she knows will be developed and picked up in future books. I'm begining to recognize characters and events that will appear in Donati's future novels of the series. I'd bet money on the character of Major Wyndham, who briefly appears in this book, being a major player in future books.

  45. Banishing Verona by Margot Livesey

    I wanted to like this book, and there were certainly moments in which I did, but unfortunately I had a problem in that I didn't believe in one of the main characters--Zeke struck me as too idealized for me to get behind him.

  46. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

    I liked the Scottish history but didn't get drawn into the book much. I think this was due to the fact that I didn't really believe in Claire's 1940's existence. Her husband seemed pretty blah (she was always tuning him out when in his presence) and she didn't seem to have other interests/friends then so it was hard for me to feel bad about her time-travel back to 18th C Scotland.

  47. Moons of Jupiter by Alice Munroe

    God, Alice Munroe is good. I'm consistently blown away by how effortlessly her short stories flow. They never seem trite or gimicky. I loved the title story, "Labor Day Dinner" and "Accident".

  48. American Gods by Neil Gaiman

    I finally finished listening to this one on audio tape--my ancient tape-walkman crapped out on me which makes it hard to listen to without kid interruption. I liked how all kinds of obscure gods from ancient religions made appearances but the plot in general where it is technology vs religion didn't pull me in.

  49. Fallen by David Maine

    Loved it! Incredibly intense reading experience. Worth every moment of snatched time to read it.

  50. Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett

    At first I felt at a bit of a disadvantage because I know nothing of Renaissance era Bruge and Italy where most of the book is set and the author talks "up" to her readers and expects you to fill in some of the info on your own (a very respectful attitude though one that makes it a bit more challenging to get into a book). But once I got into it I thought it was a thumping good read and yes, I have requested the next book in the series from the library.

  51. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

    I thought this book was unappealing and the ending was gimicky. I'm still not sure what the point of the book was other than to make fun of middle aged men and their self-involved pomposity. Stella assures me that McEwan's Black Dogs is worth reading and I liked Saturday a lot so I'll give it a try.

In Progress reading--check to see if they make it to the first list or get dropped down to the abandoned list....

  1. The Witch of Exmoore by Margaret Drabble

    I just started this--I've never read any Drabble which seems like a BIG gap in my contemporary fiction diet.

  2. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

    So far it's ok, but I can't say I've been really draw in to this YA fiction series yet.

The sad list of abandoned books....

  1. Brick Lane by Monica Ali

    I really liked the first half, found it getting less and less relevant as it went along. I don't think I buy the sexual awakening of the main character--it was too out of the blue and too out of character to be believeable. And I find the fragmented letters from her sister back in Bangladesh far more interesting than the racial tensions in London.

  2. Dreams from My Father by Barak Obama

    Got this as a Christmas gift from my parents who knew how immensely depressed I was after the 2004 election. Obama seemed like the only democrat worth listening to. I read about three quarters of the book before ditching it. It's ok and got me through a profound political-funk, but I'd like to hear more about his father, and I'm just not much of a non-fiction gal.

  3. Good Faith by Jane Smiley

    Ok, so despite Smiley's writing being clean and tight, I think the story is just too stupid to care about. I made it 1/3 way through, and I don't give a crap about any of the characters or the plot. I think this is the first Smiley book I've abandoned (I even made it through her horse narrative which was a little precious). I hope this is a blip and she'll come back to previous form with her next book. At least she is prolific enough for me to know there will be a next book!

  4. Imagined London by Anna Quindlen

    Pretty disappointing. Strikes me as a name and place dropping exercise and unless you have been to all the places (I've been to a good many) and read all the books referred to (I've read some) it is a pretty empty exercise. Can't figure out who her audience is (herself?) since I consider myself fairly knowledgable about London and literature set in London. I made it to about the third chapter and then decided I had much better things to do with my time.

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