Monday, December 27, 2010

Year End Review - Books, top 12 because I could not quite narrow it to 10

Best Books I read in 2010 (and in no particular order, though I think The Help was my favorite):

The Help by Kathyrn Sockett: Touching on themes of racism and southern gentry, told with the perfect combination of serious and humor with delightful characters, every once in a while a book comes a long and makes that rare list of "most favorite books", books like To Kill a Mockingbird, or Catcher in the Rye or Life of Pi. This book makes the list. Loved it. Probably one of my favorites in the past 2 years or so.

The Alchemist by Paul Coelho: In every way I thought this book was beautiful and amazing. And unless you read it for the fable that it is - for it's allegorical insights, I'm not sure you can love it. I found myself underlining so many things that had such personal and truthful bite sized pieces of wisdom, like a discovery of delicious little bits of chocolate a long the way. In fact, the whole book is really about wisdom. But it also about the wonder of life, and the eternal nature of truth and the nature of the universe and man's place in that universe. It doesn't matter what "religion" you feel that you belong to - or even, whether or not you belong to an organized religion, that is part of the beauty of the book, whatever religious background you have or do not have, the wisdom of the book speaks to all. I personally felt the book dovetailed very nicely with my own religion, but I'm sure many Catholics, and Muslims, and Lutherans and those belonging to Judaism would feel the same. And for those who feel they don't need an organized religion, this book will speak to them too - because it is the nature of the book that gets deep inside you and makes the world seem a better place than the day before you found this book, and what better recommendation can you make for a book than that?

The Road by Cormac McCarthy: I found the story and the writing so compelling, I couldn't put this down. I was deeply touched upon finishing the book, and proceeded to cry. The writing is gorgeous, even though the themes are disturbing and bleak. A post apocalyptic nightmare, which offers us some hope in the human spirit, while it makes us doubt all at the same time. I highly recommend.

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami: I understand why Murakami maybe isn't to everyone's taste. I really loved this. I felt like in the end, I understood most of this and there's still enough to explore that I would actually like to read portions of it over again. Not only do I find the symbolism so interesting, but the style of writing and the dream-like way the story unfolds is lovely. I felt like the book was about so much, and some of it is about personal issues I am facing right now, so I really related. Particularly there is one letter May writes to Mr. Wind Up Bird that I felt I could have written myself. The book took on a really personal meaning for me. Symbolism that I noted particularly, or themes explored - water as life, misplaced destinies (or alternate destinies) - doors, the labyrinth & the bull as in greek mythology - (which could really become a long analysis as the minotaur and exploring the themes with Creta and her sister, etc.). See what I am saying? This thing is just layer on layer, but a straight through reading is also just mesmerizing, even if you weren't noticing any of this. The book is divided into 3 sections which explores 3 different ways of viewing the world and fate. Sex is explored also a metaphor for life and death here as well, and birth as a part of that same exploration. There is even more than this...what a great book this would be to have assigned as a project for analysis in school. Anyway, for me, there's a lot to love here.

Columbine by Dave Cullen: Well written and concise and offered as much perspective as can be gained. I read it as part of an adolescent psych class I am taking, but I almost couldn't put it down. Such a compelling and thorough accounting of everything, from the communities reaction, the media mistakes, the sherrif department cover-up, gun control, profile of a adolescent psychopath, profile of an adolescent depressive, as much information as we've ever had on the parents of Eric and Dylan, the triumphs of some who have lived, the ways in which grief can change the course of a persons life forever and what happens when you can't let go of hate. Even after all of that both Dylan and Eric are ciphers to me. It is still so hard to wrap around.

The Other Bolyen Girl by Phillipa Gregory: Maybe it's partly because I was just at the Tower of London and Windsor Castle, where much of the action of this book takes place, but I was very taken with the story. I had read a scholarly book on the wives of Henry the 8th, quite a while ago and I have always been interested in this era of history. Introducing the character of Mary Boleyn, makes this otherwise interesting story even more interesting. I had to keep going back to history to figure out how much of the author's plot line was made up and how much was actual history, and usually, I was pleasantly surprised to find that these were all real characters, and for the most part, real history. I would like to read more of these novels, particularly the Tudor series. The writing is good and moves at a good pace, she gives you a great sense of the period, while not making you feel bogged down in wordy or difficult language

Goldengrove by Francine Prose: I really loved this. Quite unexpectedly. It's really a story about grief and loss but it's written in this really lovely way. There are some really lyrical moments in the writing and I found myself entranced by the story. I found myself carrying it with me everywhere I went and reading it whenever I had a chance. I love it when books like this just sort of fall in your lap

House of Sand and Fog by Andres Dubus III: I really enjoyed this. I saw the movie years ago but I really couldn't remember what happened so it did not affect my enjoyment of the book. I think his writing is lovely. The ability to present 3, really almost 4 separate viewpoints in one story - writing in 1st person sometimes and switching to 3rd for other portions/characters was really genius. This is not a 'cheery' book. But I was totally okay with that. I thought it was aI perfect example of how people misunderstand each other, and miscommunicate needs and wants and misread each other all the time. It also showed the inner lives and thoughts of all these people, it was easy at any given time to sympathize with almost any character. In the end I found Mr. Behrani the most sympathetic, which I think was intended. It also shows how quickly good intentions can go awry. And how quickly a life can change. A few bad choices can have very long term consequences. We know this, and yet, humans make this mistake repeatedly.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert: At times I found the author self-indulgent and selfish and frustrating. But at other times I found myself amazed at her journey. Best of all I think, is that I found my own mind - my own ways of looking at life, opening up in new ways that I had never before thought of - and that was a nice surprise. A memoir rarely has the ability to do that - so while I did find it interesting, for me, it was more than that - I was able to take my own personal inventory and journey along with her and in many ways, I came out a better person for it. You can't say that about a book very often. I'm still not in love with Elizabeth Gilbert as a person - I find her a bit flighty and she reminds me a little too much of people who have been in my life - people who are a little too self-involved in ways that harm other people around them. But the experience itself was mind expanding, and I loved every bit of that.

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison: I enjoyed this a great deal. It's semi-autobiographical, and a very raw story. The writing is good, though straight forward, the characterizations and tone are really well done. I did feel less than satisfied by the ending and I wished the book were a little longer. I felt like there was more to explore and the author just didn't want to go farther than she allows us. That was somewhat disappointing. I know life is often messy and doesn't always end with everything tied up in bow - but I still felt she could have explored further her relationship with her mother and her mother's relationship to her husband - and her little sisters relationship to each of them as well - that just felt like it didn't really get full closure for me. I do recommend it, though not for people who are put off by stories which involve abuse of children. I know some people just cannot even read fiction which involves that sort of thing and the book is full of it. I really felt for the little girl "Bone" - and all the characters in the book really, I wanted them to have better than they had. I wanted Bone to have hope, but in the end, I wasn't sure if she really had that at all, or would ever be able to have it.

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes: A beautiful little book which has nothing much to offer in the way of plot but makes up for it in wonderful imagery and enchanting details. Chronicle of Mayes adventures in purchasing and renovating a house in Italy with her boyfriend, this book was a nice respite from reading books where the subject matter was serious, challenging or dark. A perfect little fantasy for each of us who would love to tackle the romantic notion of buying a house in Tuscany and spending our spare time there soaking up the culture (not to mention the food!). Frances Mayes makes us feel that this is not an impossible dream

Clockers by Richard Price: I loved this. I could hardly put it down for a few days. I adored the tv series "The Wire" and when I found out Richard Price was one of the main writers for the show I was intrigued to read his books. His ability to transport you to the streets and get you wrapped up in the stories from both the cops and the people of the neighborhood's perspective is genius.

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