Oh my hell. This post has taken me three weeks? Four? I don't even know anymore. I'm just going to press publish and try to move on.
As always, I am only writing what I remember about each book, which, quite often, is not very much. But I'm going on the assumption that if it was a really good book, one that you should consider reading, I really ought to be able to remember enough to peck out a few sentences about it.
One look at my reading list for the past two years quickly reveals a sad reality: I am reading less and less these days. Truly sad but there it is. All the more important that I actually like the books I chose to read, yes?
Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
This novel tells a coming of age story about a young girl and her beloved uncle who dies of a mysterious illness (Hint: he lives in NYC and it's the early 80s.) After the uncle's death, his partner befriends the niece and supports her in grieving. It was a lovely little novel. Recommend.
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
You know how a book can become intertwined in your memory with the time and place where you read it? That is true of this novel that I read last summer while I was in Vermont with my family. My dad was getting sicker, suddenly in a wheelchair, and we were all struggling to accept this new reality. At night, I would escape with this coming of age novel about a teenage girl who must navigate not only her romantic and family travails but also a larger world where the earth's rotation has slowed, causing birds to fly into windows and days to last for weeks, among other apocalyptic events. I smile when I think about this book; I remember feeling so happy to dive into its pages and so supported by the sense that change, big and small, is both difficult and inevitable.
The Widow's War: a Novel by Sally Gunning
This was a book club novel that I never would have chosen (I usually chose - that's right, you guessed it - coming of age stories!) I was struck by how ridiculously limited women's rights were at the time of the novel. Upon being widowed, a woman, no matter her competency, would immediately become consigned, along with all her assets, to her closest male relative. *shudder*
How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
I chose this memoirish book for book club because it's quite the conversation starter. People seem to either love it or hate it and I guess there is a sliver of rabble rouser in me because I enjoyed that reaction. I, for one, loved Moran's bawdy, brash, no-holds-barred take on various womanly issues including menstruation, high heels, bras and abortion. I didn't always agree with her but I felt a true, gritty respect for her by the end. Recommend!
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
This novel is set in a very unique boarding school in an indeterminate time. For the first third of the novel, we follow the ups and downs of friendships and romances at the school and I found myself wondering what in the world we were supposed to care about and when something interesting would happen. But from the very first page, Ishiguro lets you know that things are not normal at this school and little hints build into a gnawing sense of unease before he lets you in on the whole shebang. Honestly, I thought this was a WACKADOO book. I kinda loved it. (It's been made into a movie recently, which I have yet to see because I suffer from an allergic reaction to Keira Knightley.)
Incendiary by Chris Cleave
Holy MOLY. This book destroyed me for quite a while. Did you read "Little Bee"? "Incendiary" is by the same author but it's even more emotionally wrenching. How is that possible, you ask? Well, I'm not spoiling any surprises by telling you that it is written in the form of a letter to Osama Bin Laden from a woman who lost her son and husband in a (fictional) terrorist attack. It's beautifully written and thought-out so I highly recommend it - if you are tough as nails. If you have ever cried at a Kleenex, Lifesavers or Huggies commercial, I wouldn't touch it.
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarity
After Incendiary, I needed a lighter book. Historical romance? I've learned I like them! YES PLEASE. In this novel, a quiet, proper lady from Kansas chaperones a young Louise Brooks (soon to become THE Louise Brooks, famous silent film star) to New York City in the 1920s (?). It was just the palate cleanser I needed. There is some romance, plenty of historical references and a swiftly moving plot. Fun!
We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Aannnnddd then I chose yet another devastating novel that no one who knows me at all would recommend I read. It's deftly written, believable and compelling. It also destroyed me for a good week or two (complete with nightmares and cold sweats.) If you are very interested in immersing yourself in a novel that plumbs the depths of a school rampage, GO FOR IT. (They also made this one into a movie and NO THANK YOU.)
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Another palate cleanser. I loved this novel about a orphaned girl whom we meet as she arrives in one of a long string of foster homes. Her new foster mother reaches through her defenses and teaches her about the language of flowers: the art of communicating with flowers, with each bloom connoting a different, hidden meaning. Now, this could be VERY treacly in the wrong hands and I am oh so glad to say Diffenbaugh is the right hands. Not overly precious, just beautiful. Two thumbs up!
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
If you loved "The Help," you will love this novel set in a Southern plantation during the slavery era. A young white girl is brought to the plantation as an indentured servant working in the kitchen house with the plantation's slaves. Recommend.
Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
I CANNOT WAIT TO SEE THIS MOVIE OMG. No, it's not because Bradley Cooper is in it, I actually find him rather repulsive. It's because I loved this little book. Maybe I loved it because it's a romance between deeply troubled people. Maybe I loved it because it's set in South Jersey (where I grew up) and mentions places and events I remember well. Maybe I loved it because it's just so sweet and offbeat and GO READ IT.
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
My two favorite books of the whole year, BY FAR, are both by Cheryl Strayed: this one and "Wild"(reviewed in the first half of the year). "Tiny Beautiful Things" is a collection of her online Dear Sugar columns. I clutched this book to my chest after every chapter and said a silent thank you for her wisdom and her bravery. There were chapters I hunted down online to email links to friends, I gave it as a gift to several people at Christmas, I bought myself a copy after I had to sadly return it to the library, three weeks overdue. LOVE. GO. READ.
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrich
Another book club book and my first time ever reading a book on my brand new Kindle. I found this historical novel about a mysterious woman who answers a newspaper ad for a wife interesting but mostly unpleasant. The miserable characters, the cold Winter setting, the sad plot, it all left me cold. But I couldn't tell whether I was also affected by reading it on this new plastic tablet so perhaps that reaction is unfair. And I did find myself compelled to finish it.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
This book won the National Book Award for nonfiction and it's clear to see why. Boo spent years in an Indian slum, becoming deeply immersed in the community as people's lives unfold under some dire circumstances. (I flinched every time Boo mentioned the infected rat bites on the children's FACES.) I found it touching and beautifully crafted. Worth the read, if you enjoy that kind of thing.
What have you read lately? What should I put on my 2013 reading list?