Friday, December 31, 2010

By the Numbers
For the Year 2010

Total books read this year: 86.

Fiction: 77.
Non-fiction: 9.

Young adult: 46.
Juvenile: 7.

Historical fiction: 16.

Published in 2010: 21.
Published prior to 1990: 7.

Re-reads: 3.

Read with the fifth- or sixth-grade book group: 8.
Read with the "book lunch girls" (aka Natalie's Book Club): 9.
Read with my long-time book club: 7.
Read with the Book Buddies: 5.

5-star rating: 8.
(Those were Matched, If You Come Softly, The Happiness Project, Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness, To Kill a Mockingbird, Slob, A Northern Light, and Harriet the Spy.)
4-star rating: 42.
3-star rating: 32.
2-star rating: 4.

How did your reading add up in 2010?

Monday, December 27, 2010

I Feel Bad About My Neck
by Nora Ephron

And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman.
Published in 2006. 137 pages.

This collection of personal essays is a quick read.

My favorite essay was "I Hate My Purse." I totally relate to Ephron's opening statement—

I hate my purse. I absolutely hate it. If you're one of those women who think there's something great about purses, don't even bother reading this because there will be nothing here for you. This is for women who hate their purses, who are bad at purses, who understand that their purses are reflections of negligent housekeeping, hopeless disorganization, a chronic inability to throw anything away, and an ongoing failure to handle the obligations of a demanding and difficult accessory (the obligation, for example, that it should in some way match what you're wearing).

The list of profundities in "What I Wish I'd Known" included one that made me literally laugh out loud—
When your children are teenagers, it's important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.

Ephron addresses more serious issues too, albeit with humor. From the essay "Me and Bill: The End of Love"—
The way I saw it, if Bill had behaved, Al would have been elected, and thousands and thousands of people would be alive today who are instead dead.

And from "Considering the Alternative"—
But if the events of the last few years have taught me anything, it's that I'm going to feel like an idiot if I die tomorrow and I skimped on bath oil today. So I use quite a lot of bath oil. More than you could ever imagine.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
by Stephen Chbosky

Published in 1999. 213 pages.

A coming-of-age story in epistolary form, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an important book. But it is not a feel-good book - though it does end on a hopeful note.

At times I was reminded of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and of This Is What I Did.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower made the top ten most frequently challenged books of 2009.

For more extensive reviews of the book, visit these book bloggers:


Dreamland by Sarah Dessen

Originally published in 2000.
Audiobook narrated by Liz Morton.

When her older sister runs away, 16-year-old Caitlin O'Koren tries to fill the gaping void in her life with cheerleading. Yet after falling from a cheerleading pyramid, she struggles with choices that send her life into a downward spiral. Mesmerized by affluent bad boy Rogerson Biscoe, Caitlin abandons her parents and friends for the seductive lure of his dangerous yet exciting world. But the pain of Rogerson's controlling rage soon shatters the pleasure of their clandestine romance. Trapped in a dizzying maelstrom of abuse, Caitlin seeks the solace of a drug-induced dreamland.

Sarah Dessen talked about writing Dreamland here.

I liked the first three-quarters of the book better than the ending. There was too much wrapping everything up in neat packages for me - and in ways that seemed quite unrealistic. I do think that the topic of teen dating violence is an important one, and I applaud Dessen for taking it on.

A few other random thoughts:
  • I would have liked to understand the character Rogerson better, why he did what he did, who he really is.
  • Early in the book I identified quite a bit with Caitlin's mother - but by mid-way, I couldn't believe she could be so oblivious to Caitlin's problems ... but maybe that's more realistic than I - as the mother of teenagers - would like to believe.
  • I liked the use of photography as a plot devise as well as symbolism.


Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
by Phillip M. Hoose

Published in 2009. 133 pages (including Author's Note, Bibliography, Notes, and Index).

Claudette Colvin received the 2009 National Book Award for Young People's Literature and was also designated a Newbery Honor Book in 2010.

Phillip Hoose wrote in the "Author's Note" at the end of the book:

More than any other story I know, Claudette Colvin's life story shows how history is made up of objective facts and personal truths, braided together. In her case, a girl raised in poverty by a strong, loving family twice risked her life to gain a measure of justice for her people. Hers is the story of a wise and brave woman who, when she was a smart, angry teenager in Jim Crow Alabama, made contributions to human rights far too important to be forgotten.

Like Chris Crowe's Getting Away with Murder, this is a good introduction to a lesser-known aspect of the Civil Rights Movement. Claudette Colvin was a very brave young woman!


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Holiday Swap Fun!

I participated in the Book Blogger Holiday Swap this year, and it was so much fun!
Do you want to watch me unwrap my packages?

Two packages in the mailing envelope ...

Bigger one first.
*Squeal* It's Twilight!
The new graphic novel version!
And a journal too!

Now the smaller package. What fun!

It's so true. Books do make good friends!

A big 'thank you' to Erin O'Riordan
of Pagan Spirits!
Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Published in 2009. 507 pages.

I have been a fan of Barbara Kingsolver for twenty or so years, since I first fell in love with Taylor and Turtle in The Bean Trees. I have read all five of her previous novels, although I've yet to read her short stories or non-fiction books. And I had been wanting to read The Lacuna since its publication a year ago, but I was a little hesitant to jump right into it because of the length. (I've been feeling more reading satisfaction lately with short, quick reads.)

Because The Lacuna was the November pick for the Book Buddies, I started reading it in mid-November. It did prove to be a slow read for me - mostly because I was working on several non-reading projects during parts of November, but also, I'll assert, because it's a book that requires thought and time to process. I finished the book yesterday, after devoting a fairly large block of time on Thursday to it. In the end, I have to say that it's an amazing book!

    la·cu·na n. \lə-ˈkü-nə, -ˈkyü-\
    1: a blank space or a missing part : gap; also : deficiency
    2: a small cavity, pit, or discontinuity in an anatomical structure

The Lacuna takes the reader on an epic journey from the Mexico City of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of FDR and J. Edgar Hoover as it relates the poignant story of Harrison Shepherd, a man pulled between two nations as they invent their modern identities.

I think much of the overarching theme of the book - and certainly a partial explanation of the title - is illustrated by this passage:
I didn't say what Frida would have. That you can't really know the person standing before you, because always there is some missing piece: the birthday like an invisible piñata hanging great and silent over his head, as he stands in his slippers boiling the water for coffee. The scarred, shrunken leg hidden under a green silk dress. A wife and son back in France. Something you never knew. That is the heart of the story. [page 325]

I got a good sense of place from the novel, particularly the sections set in Mexico. I have only visited Mexico once, but I could vividly picture some of what I saw there as I read about Harrison and Frida visiting an archeological dig and about Harrison and Violet visiting Chichén Itzá.

In a hearing before the Committee on Un-American Activities, Harrison Shepherd comments, "Art takes its meaning in the eye of the beholder" [page 488]. In that spirit, I took away many political messages from Kingsolver's tale. In my opinion, there are, sadly and frighteningly, so many similarities between the fear- and hate-filled atmosphere of the anti-Communist McCarthy era and the fear- and hate-filled rhetoric I hear in many places today. I recently read the following in an essay about faith:
There is nothing that will tear the fabric of society more quickly in a crisis than fear and panic.
That was followed, appropriately, by this quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt:
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyzed needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
It's too bad that the country didn't remember FDR's statement long past his death!

I've read two other works of historical fiction recently, one I loved and one I didn't. As with The Day the Falls Stood Still, I learned a lot from The Lacuna - both about history and about myself. I guess I found The Lacuna to be the kind of historical novel that I had wanted The Postmistress to be - multi-layered but cohesive, meaningful, beautiful, and satisfying!