Friday, January 13, 2012

The End

It’s now 2012, and my New Year’s resolution for 2011 has drawn to a close. Unfortunately, I completely dropped the ball this winter! To my surprise, the holiday season proved to be the most difficult time of year to be consistently reading. I had predicted that it would be the summertime – but I suppose days lazing in the sun provide perfect reading opportunities!

Since my last entry, I have completed two more books (that I enjoyed very much):

Assorted Fire Events, by David Means

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, by Stieg Larsson

Additionally, I am currently reading the following books, all at the same time (which I’m finding rather fun!):

Providence of a Sparrow: Lessons from a Life Gone to the Birds, by Chris Chester

Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri

Three Junes, by Julia Glass

Living Dead in Dallas, by Charlaine Harris

I’m so pleased that I made this resolution last year. Although I came up a few books short, I still read 48 books over twelve months, which is way more than I read last year! Or any other year of my life, for that matter. This challenge has reiterated to me the joys of reading, and it has taught me that it’s not so hard to make time to read. It’s well-worth it to make the effort to incorporate more books into your life!

A few friends have asked for my favorite and least favorite books from the year.

Here are the best, in my opinion (in no particular order):

Week 3: 2666, by Roberto BolaƱo

Week 7: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami

Week 31: The Hakawati, by Rabih Alameddine

Week 34: The World According to Garp, by John Irving

Week 10: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith

Here are the worst:

Week 6: Words, by Jean-Paul Sartre

Week 17: Henry’s Demons, by Patrick Cockburn and Henry Cockburn

Week 29: Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach

Week 37: Talkative Man, by R.K. Narayan

Week 45: Falling Man, by Don DeLillo

And with that, I say goodbye and wish everyone a wonderful 2012! Happy reading!

Love, Nikki

Monday, December 12, 2011

Week 46: Pride of Baghdad, by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon

This graphic novel was loaned to me by a friend and fellow cat-lover. The book tells the story of a group of lions who escape from their zoo in Baghdad after it is shelled during an attack.  It is apparently based on a true story, as the end of the book informs the reader that in 2003, a group of Americans soldiers encountered a group of starving lions wandering around the city. The story is heartbreaking on many different levels. It asks us to consider a constituency of a city (zoo animals) that most people would never think of during a time of war. As the city is bombed and the zoo is destroyed, one feels happy for the lions that have unexpectedly stumbled upon freedom, but the lions are about to experience a life they have never really known. The lion cub, especially, is confused by the outside world. They have all become accustomed to their captivity. Their lack of understanding as to what war is, and why their city is being attacked, echoes the sentiment of many humans. It’s particularly moving to see the illustrations of the wrecked streets of Baghdad.  Seeing the awful landscapes of war reminds the reader of the gravity of what has happened in Iraq. There is no happy ending, and in fact, the book is quite sad, but I enjoyed it very much.

Week 45: Falling Man, by Don DeLillo

Let me tell you – I loathed this book. Every page of it was torture. I know that Don DeLillo is supposed to be awesome, but this book was terrible. The only reason I chose to read this book of his and not one of his two more famous works (Underworld or White Noise) is because this book was in our library at work. I’m sure there are people out there who loved it. It’s about 9/11, which is fine. I’m not one of those people who hates 9/11 stuff; in fact, I find art or literature on that subject to be quite cathartic. But this book was terrible. It’s so pretentiously poetic and obtuse, but not in a clever way at all. In a MISERABLE way. Here is an excerpt that I shall leave you with, and then I shall never speak of this book again:

“Do you have to leave?”

He would stand naked by the bed.

“I’ll always have to leave.”

“And I’ll always have to make your leaving mean something else. Make it mean something romantic or sexy. But not empty, not lonely. Do I know how to do this?”

But she was not a contradiction, was she? She was not someone to be snatched at, not a denial of some truth he may have come upon in these long strange days and still nights, these after-days.

These are the days after. Everything is now measured by after.

She said, “Do I know how to make one thing out of another, without pretending? Can I stay who I am, or do I have to become all those other people who watch someone walk out of the door? We’re not other people, are we?”

But she would look at him in a way that made him feel he must be someone else, standing there by the bed, ready to say what someone always says.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Week 44: The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

I had wanted to read this book for a while, even though I had heard mixed reviews about it, with some calling it romantic and others, maudlin.  The truth is that it’s both.  But, it works. A book like this cannot succeed, in my opinion, without being a tiny bit sentimental – it’s a love story. But it is far more sad than it is romantic. It’s a deeply melancholy tale that is more about loss than love. This is the story of Henry and Clare, whose relationship spans nearly their entire lives due to Henry’s ability to time travel. He is unable to control it, and it is a burden in many ways for him. There is no rhyme or reason as to where or when he will end up. He simply disappears. This puts Clare in the position of being the one (as she puts it) “left behind”. She has to simply resume her life alone when Henry disappears, and try not to worry about him while he’s off in another time. This may sound like science fiction, and it is, but the essence of their relationship is something that many couples can relate to. Any couple that has to be apart for reasons such as long distance, or a job, or the military, will find that this book strikes a chord. On top of the very human element of Henry and Clare’s relationship, the time traveling layer is extremely interesting. At several points while reading this book, I marveled over the author’s ability to spin this tale. It’s complex in that it takes place in so many different times, yet it reads realistically because it is consistent in its portrayal of its characters, despite their multiple different ages in the story. Certain scenes foreshadow points in the book, but the reader is not aware of this until finishing it and reflecting on the story as a whole. It’s a lot to think about. I enjoyed this a great deal and find myself thinking about it often since I closed its pages.

Week 43: Gossip Girl: I Like It Like That, by Cecily von Ziegesar

I really enjoy the TV show Gossip Girl. It’s so snarky and brutal and just plain clever. It’s also chock full of couture fashion, which makes it fun to look at as well. Jamie is also a fan of the show, which prompted our friends to purchase this book for him while at a yard sale. I read it, thinking that it would make a nice, lighthearted book of the week. The book series preceded the show, and it was funny to read this particular volume and see how much is different. Many of the characters have been changed pretty dramatically (for example, Serena’s little gay brother on the show is her older, meathead jock brother in the book). What is not different is the ribald scandal that is woven throughout. It’s total smut and it is not apologetic in the least. It’s shallow, it name-drops constantly, and it’s not even written all that well, but it’s totally juicy and addictive. There is really not that much to say about the plot. It involves sex and parties with lots of booze and drugs. That’s all you need to know. It’s not a bad thing, though. I could possibly be convinced to read the other books in the series...perhaps!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Week 42: Last Night at the Lobster, by Stewart O'Nan

This was my book club’s latest pick. I read it in one sitting. It’s a quick read – it feels almost like a music video that was shot in one continuous take. It’s a fun book, yet it’s steeped in a bleak mood. The story revolves around Manny DeLeon, who is a manager at a New England Red Lobster that is about to close its doors permanently. Manny, and a few other of his staff, are headed the next day to The Olive Garden. On this last night at the “Lobster”, Manny tries to keep the restaurant’s final shift running smoothly, despite a blizzard and some complex feelings that are haunting him. Manny is expecting a child with his girlfriend Deena, but we learn that he was once seriously involved with another employee, Jacquie, who he cannot get over. He wrestles with his dwindling time with Jacquie, wondering what to say to her to convey his feelings. Meanwhile, there is a varying degree of drama emanating from every aspect of the restaurant: people getting stuck in the parking lot because it hasn’t been plowed, bratty children trashing the place, an angry employee taking off early but only after he has slashed the other employees’ coats. Manny weathers all of this beautifully, and it quickly becomes apparent that he is a great manager. More than that, he’s just a good guy. It’s impossible not to like him. The characters in the book are so realistically depicted, that they are truly entertaining. The appeal of the characters coupled with the frantic stress that comes with the holiday season creates a great read. Perfect book for this time of year.

Week 41: The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild, by Craig Childs

Sometimes it is impossible not to judge a book by its cover. I saw this book in the store and its beautiful cover sucked me in. Plus, what was not to like? A book about chance encounters with wildlife, segmented by the type of animal? Sign me up. I had returned from a camping trip out West and was longing to be in nature again. Unfortunately, I felt somewhat disappointed by this book. I am not sure why, but I think it has to do with the author himself. He’s not wholly appealing, and at times comes across as a bit pompous. The book’s chapters are each named after a specific animal, and in that chapter, Childs tells a story of his real-life encounter with that animal. I learned a few interesting tidbits (porcupines’ quills contain a natural antibiotic, because porcupines are apparently very clumsy and stick themselves a lot) and found certain parts of the book thrilling (Childs finds himself stalked by a mountain lion). Childs constructed and lived in a tipi in Colorado for a while, something I can dig. But when he tells his incredulous grandfather that it is “simply something he must do”, it’s like, OK guy. Take it down a notch. You want to live in a tipi, and that’s cool, but don’t proclaim yourself to be some sort of earth prophet. That tone persists and kind of ruined the book in places, but overall, it’s still an engaging read. Childs’ arrogance is something to learn from in the sense that he does not panic when confronted with a wild animal, but rather handles the situation sensibly. If one can take that perspective, as opposed to being annoyed, then I would recommend this book to any nature lover.