Books 2011, part one

As we are at the half way mark (Happy Solstice!) of the year, I decided I would do the first part of my annual book review. Hopefully I'll remember some of them better than if I waited until the end of the year and maybe you'll find your summer reading. As always, I don't allow myself to peruse them again, I have to write my little review here without consulting the book. Given my Swiss cheese brain, this can be challenging.

1. Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand. I loved "Seabiscuit" and have been drawn to non-fiction survivor stories for as long as I can remember, so I assumed I would LOVE this book. I did enjoy it and reveled in the happy ending. But the middle. Oh the long, terrifying middle. It just hurt my heart. There were whole chapters I had to read in furtive glances, and only during they day, lest the horrific images (made all the more horrific by the fact that they were true) invade my dreams. What that poor man - and many, many others - endured was unfathomable. His story is triumphant and Ms. Hillenbrand's writing, graceful. But still, I wince just thinking about it.

2. Helen of Pasadena by Lian Dolan. This novel was sent to me by a friend who still lives in Pasadena, where we moved from two years ago. It's a sweet tale of a middle-aged woman finding love and finding herself after her husband dies. Light and sweet.

3. Love and Anger: the Parental Dilemma by Nancy Samalin. Oh hai. I should probably go reread this book. All I remember is that it was helpful to hear how many parents struggle with their tempers. It didn't miraculously erase my temper but it made me face it and own it. Yes, more work to be done here.

4. Understanding Girls with ADHD by Patricia Quinn. I read this. It helped. It's still by my bedside.

5. The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein. This book stunned me, I must say. The true story of the author's childhood growing up in WWII England on a street divided down the middle with Jews on one side and Christians on the other. When his sister falls in love with a Christian boy from the other side of the street, the story really takes off. The author wrote this book when he was in his 90s, and he continued to publish memoirs until his very recent death. What an inspiration!

6. The Stay At Home Survival Guide by Melissa Stanton. If I remember correctly, it was Ask Moxie's review of this book that made me put it on my library list. I liked it, though couldn't fully relate to the author (who, like many of the SAHMs she interviewed, was formerly a high powered career woman, ie. NOT ME). I think the most useful information I got from it was to not be passive about finances. CG and I have a pretty traditional breakdown in our marriage and he does all of the banking and bill paying, but after reading this book we meet regularly (okay, SEMI-regularly) to discuss where our finances are, what's coming up, what we need to change.

7. Half a Life by Darin Strauss. Oh, I gulped this book down. It's a spare memoir written at the point in the author's life when he can factually say "Half my life ago, I killed a girl." After his car struck and killed a girl on a bike, it was ruled an accident and his life was forever altered. It is a swirling commentary on the self-centeredness of youth, the vicissitudes of fate, the ever present guilt and impossible need for redemption that follows a horrible mistake that cannot be undone. I found it moving and thought-provoking and gave a copy to several friends. If memoirs are your thing, go forth and read.

8. The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club by Gil McNeil. Okay, I barely remember this book. I read it on vacation in Jamaica, which was weird because it was about a beach town but a foggy English one. I liked it, I think. Aaaand I can't remember it! There was knitting in it! I'm pretty sure about that!

9. Dispatches from a Not-So-Perfect Life by Faulkner Fox . A mommy memoir of extraordinary depth, insight, and ambivalence. The author ruminates on a long-held fantasy: a seaside home, herself seated at a desk, writing, her husband cooking in the kitchen, their child playing nearby. Could this be possible? Why not, especially if she marries a fellow feminist? She struggles mightily to find something approaching this fantasy and, though I often grimaced at her palpable resentment and dare-I-say-it RAGE, I found her a deeply compelling companion in my own motherhood journey.

10. Half Baked by Alexa Stevenson. Do you read Flotsam? Of course you do. Because you value good writing. Because you enjoy peering into a mind that is sharp and sweet and wise. That is why you should also read this book about the pregnancy and dramatic birth of her daughter, Simone. I knew how it all turned out and yet I held my breath, read slowly and enjoyed every word.

11. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. This was a book club book, chosen because we all enjoyed Brooks' previous novel "The Year of Wonders", about a small town ravaged by the plague. In "People of the Book", Brooks weaves a tale around all the people who had a part in saving a precious Jewish text, the Sarajevo Haggadah. Each chapter feels like a novel in and of itself and after finishing, I wanted to immediately reread it to put the pieces back together with all the new information. There's something here for everyone: romance, intrigue, history, and, above all, lyrical writing.

12. Poser, my life in twenty-three yoga poses by Claire Dederer. A memoir of a new mother who studies yoga and sees it with a slightly cynical, skeptical eye but still embraces it, in all it's confusing glory? YES PLEASE. I loved this book. I loved that she doesn't take herself, or yoga, too seriously. I loved her easy, smooth writing style. I loved her meditations on parenting and yoga and generational change.

13. To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing our Inner Housewife by Caitlin Flanagan. I remember when this book first came out, it caused quite a stir. I read reviews of it, exclamatory, volatile reviews, and wondered just what could be so upsetting? Well. Now I know. This book had me cheering at parts and raving at others. I found it well written but maddening in content at times. She is an "anti-feminist" for starters, which makes me so crazy, DO NOT GET ME STARTED ON THIS. She is well-to-do with plenty of household help and quite opinionated about the role of mothers today - one could safely say this is a dangerous combination. If you can get past all that (and, trust me, it was hard for me to do so), she has some fascinating sections on the history of housewifery, the deep conflicts in hiring her family's nanny, and the careful parsing of her mother's role vs. her own. Would be a good book club book for those not too scared to argue with their friends about these touchy subjects.

14. Left Neglected by Lisa Genova. I so loved Genova's first novel "Still Alice" and was hoping this would be as wonderful. Um, not quite. The story of a type-a woman who, following a car accident, suffers from a condition called "left neglect" (Get the title? har har), it didn't stir me nearly as much as "Still Alice". I found the premise a little cliche (A type-a career woman takes a hard look at her life and decides to to make some changes after an accident. Yeah. Been there, done that.). But I finished it and will read whatever she writes next.

15. Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. As I've already written about this book, if you have daughters or care about little girls or are interested in the cultural pressures on women, READ THIS BOOK NOW.

16. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. I wanted to love this. It got such great reviews. I just.... didn't. Long and swampy and I'm embarrassed to say I barely finished it.

17. Room by Emma Donaghue. Oh this book haunts me still. I don't want to give anything away, because even though I was tremendously moved by this story, I knew a lot about it before reading it and I'm sure it's even more wondrous if you don't know anything about the plot going in. Just read it.

18. Without a Map by Meredith Hall. I picked this up from the library after reading that Catherine Newman liked it. Yes, I'm swayed by such things. And with good reason. This memoir surprised me. It goes places I didn't expect in it's exploration of the author's experience as a teenager giving her baby up for adoption and the years that follow. Two thumbs up.

19. Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett. This story of the friendship between authors Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy gives insight into what it's like to be an up-and-coming author and what it means to be a friend. I was really enjoyed this book and took to my bed early just to read it.

20. Bossypants by Tina Fey. Perfection. Take it to the beach/on the plane/to the pool. Light and funny, of course.

21. This is Not the Story You Think It Is..... by Laura Munson. I read this book because I remembered fondly Ms. Munson's Modern Love column about the same topic- how she reacted to her husband's sudden pronouncement that he didn't love her anymore and wanted out of their marriage by saying "I don't buy it" and proceeding to love him and wait it out. When I imagine this scenario in my own life, I think I would cry and beat my breast and ululate and generally fall apart. So I was fascinated by the concept that there could be such a different reaction and that it might work. It did work, he came around, they stayed together. Amazing. Unfortunately I didn't love her narrative voice. Oh well. Still interesting to ponder and discuss.

22. Long Drive Home by Will Allison. I picked this one up at the library on a lark. I liked it, and I think it would be a good book group book. It's short and clear cut: a man is driving his daughter home from school when he gets a little carried away with his own road rage, including one split second decision that results in a boy's death. The ensuing story of how it unravels his life isn't surprising, really, but I was surprised by how much I cared about the characters, and how real and true they felt to me.

23. The Girls From Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow. Given a friend's warning, I was expecting to dislike this, and I did. I should have LOVED this book. I love non-fiction! About women's lives! Friendship! But these women! Alternatively bored and ANNOYED THE PISS OUT OF ME!

24. The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obrect. The reviews of this novel couldn't be more glowing. The writing is beautiful, the plot unfolds like a fairy tale, complete with a deaf-mute tiger lover, a "deathless man", war torn Yugoslavia and the whole thing PUT ME TO SLEEP. Seriously. I usually stay up way too late reading and every single time I picked up this book, I was out within two pages. WTH? I did finish it but it took me forEVER. Perhaps my days of reading "literary fiction" are over?

25. The Pull of the Moon by Elisabeth Berg. I love Elisabeth Berg but hadn't ever read this particular novel. When Linda quoted from it a few weeks back, I put it on my library list. What a little gem! This story of a woman who, at 50, leaves her husband and her life behind to take a road trip left me cheering. Enjoy!

Phew! That took me longer than I thought it would.

Now, go forth and comment with your favorite recent read!

Happy Reading!


Hillary said...

SO glad you loved The People of the Book. She's one of my very favorite authors.

I have to say, I gasped when I got to your thoughts about The TIger's Wife. Usually, you and I seem to agree on books -- and I loved that one, LOVED -- so it surprised me. But, when I thought about it, the book was a bit slow. I can't give you more than that. : )

Still, this couldn't have come at a better time. I'm in a reading lull and needed some suggestions. Thank you!

Swistle said...

I wanted to love Swamplandia TOO! And I couldn't get through it EITHER! I really TRIED, but...I couldn't.

I haven't read the Stay at Home Survival Guide, but I think one reason I feel okay about the arrangement in my own marriage is that I handle all the finances.

I loved Half Baked. LOVED.

I'm on the hold list at the library for Bossypants.

Swistle said...

Oh, wait, you DID finish Swamplandia. Er...me too! (No. I didn't.)

Michelle said...

I'm so glad you said that about The Tiger's Wife. I'm about 10 pages from the end and I just, I don't know. I want to like it. It is written beautifully. But, no, it has not been my favorite.

I devoured Fall of Giants by Ken Follett, his first of three. It's about WWI. It is wonderful. It is looooong but wonderful.

And thank you for this list. I am adding books to my reading list now and this has helped me.

Beyond Diapers said...

Wow. You are well read. I was thinking of looking for a wordpress plug in to log books on the blog. Have not gotten there yet, maybe would get to it sooner if I just posted instead of making it complicated.

Stephanie said...

Ooooh! Is this the part where we get to pretend to be in a book club together?

I read (and loved) Half Baked, Poser, Room, Truth and Beauty, and Bossypants this past year, too. Unbroken and Half a Life just went on my Goodreads "to-read" list, and my recent five-stars on there include You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. There are a few others on your list that sound like they'd be right up my alley. Thanks for sharing!

Kathi McCracken Dente said...

ok.. i am impressed. Kudos to you for finding time to read all those books. I'll have to check some of them out.

Sarah said...

Oh, I love The Pull of The Moon. Well, anything by her, really, though a few of the ones set in different time periods left me a little flat. I'm listening to "Once Upon A Time There Was You" in the car right now... when I'm alone, which isn't often!
I read a book called "Monique and the Mango Rains" awhile ago, about a woman who was in the Peace Corp, in a little village in Mali, back in 1989. She worked with a midwife named Monique for those two years and it's just a very interesting and moving story.

twisterfish said...

Thanks for posting... it's given me a few more books to add to my "must read" list! I agree with you about Left Neglected... but LOVED Still Alice so much that I too will read her next book no matter what. And glad to hear I'm not the only one who didn't like those girls from Ames!

Stephanie said...

Oh! Oh! I had to come back and say that I read This is Not the Story You Think It Is AND I HATED IT.

That is all.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Hillary- I was surprised at my reaction to "The Tiger's Wife" too! I did like it but still found it unbelievably sleep inducing. I think the fairy tale-like tone just lulled me to zzzzzzz.

Michelle- I've heard such great things about "Pillars of the Earth" but the sheer HEFT of all his books unnerves me. I will continue to ponder...

Stephanie- I just started "You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know" based on your rec!

Sarah- I read "Monique and Mango Rains" a few years back after picking it up at the local bookstore on a whim. SO INTERESTING!

kate said...

Was it you who said that you had no interest in The Help (yes? or another blog I read?) or maybe you already read it, but I liked that one very much.

I've recently liked Amy and Isabelle, by Elizabeth Strout; and My Korean Deli, by Ben Ryder Howe, and I just finished Princess, by Jean Sasson.

Amy and Isabelle (maybe you've read it?) is good, especially for me in the context of being the mother of a girl - interesting things to think about. My Korean Deli is a memoir of a WASPy guy who opened a deli with his wife and mother-in-law - I really enjoyed it, especially the insight into the whole deli business. I also live in NYC, though, so that might have been part of the appeal, since it's set here. Still, really interesting!

Princess is a memoir of a Saudi Arabian mid-level princess. Also very interesting and informative, without being boring, although you get the feeling that maybe you're not exactly getting the complete picture. I liked it enough to download the follow-up memoir, although I haven't started it yet.

Thanks for all the suggestions!

clueless but hopeful mama said...

kate- I LOVED "The Help"! I hope the upcoming movie adaptation does it justice. I read "Amy and Isabelle" a long time ago and don't remember much about it. Both your memoir recs sound interesting! Thanks!

Blog Designed by: NW Designs