I thought it would be fun to try to capture the essence of each of the books I’ve read this year in as few words as possible.
- Extraordinary Means (fiction, by Robyn Schneider): medical ethics explored through young adult fiction in an alternate reality
- The Art of Hearing Heartbeats (fiction, by Jan-Philipp Sendker): transporting epic love story
- Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (non-fiction, illustrated edition, by Michael Pollan): sensible eating with fun pictures
- The Beach House (fiction, by Mary Alice Monroe): mothers, daughters, turtles
- Made You Up (fiction, by Francesca Zappia): lovable mentally ill protagonist surviving high school
- The Magicians (fiction, by Lev Grossman): Harry Potter meets Narnia, but more cynical and with some R-rated content
- A Man Called Ove (fiction, by Fredrik Backman): love and death, laughter and tears
- The Risk Pool (fiction, by Richard Russo): fathers, sons, small-town upstate New York
- Bewteen the World and Me (non-fiction, by Ta-Nehisi Coates): poetic description of life in a black body
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane (fiction, by Neil Gaiman): a spooky little fairy tale
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (non-fiction, by Rebecca Skloot): the woman whose cervical cells revolutionized biomedical research, unfortunately without informed consent
- Best Boy (fiction, by Eli Gottlieb): dramatic times at an assisted living center, from the perspective of a homesick autistic man
- The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice (fiction, by Jennifer Paynter): the story of Mary, the Bennet sister that is left out of most of the action in Pride and Prejudice
- Americanah (fiction, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie): an outspoken young Nigerian woman moves to the US (where she loves, blogs, and encounters racism), and years later, returns to Nigeria
Some books on deck for 2017 are Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik), The Book Thief (by Markus Zusak), Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (by Trevor Noah), All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood (by Jennifer Senior), and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (by Fredrik Backman).
I managed to read some books this year! Most of these were pretty light, but I would recommend them all.
- Twelve Years a Slave (by Solomon Northup). After all of the Oscar hoopla over this movie, I was interested in reading the book, though I still haven’t found time to watch the movie yet. I became especially interested in reading this book when I learned that it was a true story and Solomon was living in my hometown, Saratoga Springs, when he was captured. This book was a gripping account of human strength through all sorts of atrocities.
- Yes Please (by Amy Poehler). I was ready for a change of pace after Twelve Years a Slave, but stuck with the autobiographical format to read Yes Please. I love Amy Poehler, mostly from her work on the TV show Parks and Recreation. I didn’t love this book as much as Tina Fey’s or Mindy Kaling’s books, but I did enjoy reading it and still love Amy.
- Me Before You (by Jojo Moyes). Ready for a novel, I used Amazon’s suggestion for people who enjoyed Where’d You Go, Berenadette? (which I enjoyed immensely pre-motherhood) and found this popular and well-reviewed tear-jerker. It apparently has at least one sequel, but I don’t know if I want to spend more time crying in my office during my lunch break.
- Big Little Lies (by Liane Moriarty). A funny page-turner of a mystery novel, told with various narrators.
- I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (by Malala Yousafzai). Malala Yousafzai is such an inspiration, and now she is also the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner as she works tirelessly for education for all girls around the world. The book takes a little while to gain momentum, but is definitely worth the effort. Malala spends a lot of time introducing the reader to her family and cultural history, which is maybe not quite as engaging as her personal story, but important to understand in terms of how the Taliban came to power in Pakistan. Stick with it and become a Malala superfan like me. I am very excited to see the documentary He Named Me Malala when I have some time.
- The Royal We (by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan). I’ve been reading Heather and Jessica’s witty fashion blog, Go Fug Yourself, for many years, so of course I was excited to read their novel. I only have a passing interest in the British royal family that this novel is loosely inspired by, but this is a fun story that is full of engaging characters. It was a great airplane read!
- The Rosie Project (by Graeme Simsion). I love a quirky narrator, and this book’s narrator and protagonist is a great one. Don Tillman is an eccentric genetics professor who has begun “The Wife Project,” a quantitative search for a partner to share his life with, and hilarity ensues.
- The Rosie Effect (by Graeme Simsion). The sequel to The Rosie Project is not quite as funny and touching as the initial book, but it was an enjoyable and quick read.
I got some new books that I am looking forward to reading over Christmas vacation and beyond. They are Extraordinary Means (by Robyn Schneider), Made You Up (by Francesca Zappia), The Beach House (by Mary Alice Monroe), The Art of Hearing Heartbeats (by Jan-Philipp Sendker), and The Magicians (by Lev Grossman).
Have you read any good books lately?
In preparation for our upcoming trip to Prince Edward Island, I re-read L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series (through Anne of Ingleside). I first read these treasured books when I was about eleven, and this was my first time revisiting Anne and friends as an adult (other than the occasional viewing of the classic CBC movie from the 80s). While I remember loving reading about imaginative, romantic Anne’s humorous scrapes and coming of age, re-reading the books now makes me wonder if Anne was more of a role model for me than I realized. I’ve mentioned before that these books were a non-negligible factor in my decision to move to Nova Scotia. But upon reflection, my focus on education, engagement ring preferences, wedding location, and house of dreams by the ocean all may have been influenced by subconscious impressions left by an enthusiastic childhood reading of these books.
The buzz about the Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter movie reminded me that I had been meaning to get around to reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for several years. I finally read it, and thought it was a lot of fun. It was basically all of the joy one expects from re-reading Pride and Prejudice, with occasional zombie silliness sprinkled in. There are amusing illustrations, too!
Next up was Daisy Miller, a novella by Henry James. This book was referred to many times in Reading Lolita in Tehran, and I tried several times to borrow it from the library, but it was always out. This situation led me to the unfortunate attempt at reading The Wings of the Dove (just watch the movie on Netflix). In contrast, Daisy Miller (which I finally got a free version of for my Kindle) was eminently readable – it was one of James’ earlier works. I found this story to be a captivating analysis of a traveling young American woman’s personality and the response of genteel European and expat society to her.
Now I’m reading The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje. I decided to read this book because a couple of people had mentioned that he is a great writer, and John Irving recently posted on Facebook that he thinks this book is a “really outstanding novel.” I’ve enjoyed enough of John Irving’s novels for his opinion on that topic to carry some weight.
I’ve read quite a few good books lately, so I thought I’d share some mini reviews of them:
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. The translation I read was a bit abridged (the Barnes and Noble Classics edition), but this 634-page edition still contained more than enough plot for this reader. It’s a brilliant story.
Bossypants, by Tina Fey. I love her. A fun and quick read.
The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, all by Jasper Fforde. I got sucked into the Thursday Next series, which is a delightful mixture of detective/adventure/fantasy targeted at literature geeks.
What’s Bred in the Bone, by Robertson Davies. A novel about the life of a Canadian artist/spy during the late 19th century and well into the 20th century, with an emphasis on factors that shaped his character and fate. Lots of great supporting characters.
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. For me, this popular novel is Margaret Atwood’s dark visions of our future society meets young adult fiction featuring a teenage female protagonist caught in a love triangle (though composed of more functional relationships than in Twilight). Although the plot is driven by the horrific spectacle of children forced to fight to the death, compassion and decency are at the true heart of the story.
Currently reading: Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
On deck: Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins, and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns), by Mindy Kaling
What have you been reading lately?
I recently finished reading The Book of Negroes, an outstanding novel by Lawrence Hill. This book is basically the fictional memoir of an amazingly strong, intelligent, witty African woman named Aminata Diallo. The book chronicles Aminata’s life: beginning as a girl in Africa, then covering her abduction and subsequent life as a slave in South Carolina, and following her eventual path to freedom. As Aminata migrated from one life to another, I learned a lot about the transition of policies regarding slavery and the slave trade in the United States, Canada, and England during the late 1700s and early 1800s. I found this novel to be an exceptional piece of historical fiction because it is both educational and emotionally engaging. Aminata is now one of my favorite heroines in literature.
I had my first Remicade infusion last week. Remicade is a drug that is used to treat a number of autoimmune diseases, including Crohn’s. The drug is an antibody to tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), a chemical that cells release to regulate inflammation. So basically, the presence of Remicade in a patient’s body should prevent inflammation that is mediated by TNF-alpha. This drug can’t be taken in pill form because the patient’s digestive system would destroy the drug’s activity. Instead, Remicade is adminstered by an IV infusion.
My first infusion appointment lasted three and half hours! When I arrived at the infusion clinic, I was happy to see that rather than a typical hospital setting, there were four cushy recliners in a room with large windows and a big flat screen TV. The TV was off though, as the other three patients were reading or napping while they were being infused. The first thing my nurse did was weigh me, since Remicade is administered according to your body weight. After getting some more information about my medical situation, she hooked up my IV and I started getting infused with a steroid (I think it was hydrocortisone), which is used to reduce one’s chance of having an allergic reaction to Remicade. Then the Remicade was infused, slowly at first (so that if I had an allergic reaction, there wouldn’t be so much in my system), then faster. As I was being infused, I read a book (The Kite Runner – fantastic!!) and two nurses checked my body temperature, pulse, and blood pressure every half hour or so. Once the full dose of Remicade had been infused, I had to wait for an hour, again to make sure that I wasn’t having a bad reaction (watching for signs like itchyness, hives, or flushing). I felt fine and headed back to work afterwards.
My next infusion is two weeks after the first one, then another four weeks later, and from then on I should be going regularly every two months. I’ll also need to continue with the monthly blood tests, to make sure my body is tolerating the Imuran and Remicade. I’ve been feeling pretty good the last couple of days – I really hope these treatments are starting to work!
I have a hard time enjoying books when I don’t like the protagonist. In Gustave Flaubert’s classic novel, I found the title character immature, incredibly selfish, and making so many stupid decisions. She was really irritating. Girlfriend needed someone in her life (a sister, a friend) to tell her, repeatedly, “Emma, your husband might be a bit of a dud, but stop acting like a teenager with an all-consuming crush on every boy who pays attention to you. Stop with the lovestruck idiocy and self-pity. Don’t be so materialistic. Learn to make yourself happy, develop some real interests, and go take care of your daughter!”
I suppose creating such an unlikable main character may have been a breakthrough in literature back in 1856, but I’ve never hoped so much for a character to meet her tragic end. The book is well-written and clever, and the subject matter was probably new and scandalous and noteworthy at the time it was first published. The social commentary and peripheral characters are interesting. In general, I can see Madame Bovary‘s value in the evolution of the novel, but it was honestly a rather annoying read.
The Daily Post at WordPress prompted me to name a book that changed my life. There are many books that have taught me something or given me a new perspective on the world. But there is one book that truly stands out – it that has brought me to where I am today, quite literally.
Anne of Green Gables. I think I saw the movie before I read the book, but I absolutely treasured the entire series of books, and have gone back to watch the movie many times as well. Anne and her wholesome shenanigans, enchantment with literature, and love/hate relationship with Gilbert captured my imagination. And who could resist falling in love with Prince Edward Island after seeing it through Anne’s eyes? Anne was born in Nova Scotia and didn’t have such lovely experiences here as she did in PEI, but these books gave me warm and fuzzy feelings about all of the Canadian Maritimes. So when Jeff asked me what I thought about him applying for a job in Halifax, even though it’s a bit farther from my family than I would typically have considered, I said go for it. And when he came here and thought the job looked good, we decided to move here, at least in part because of the “Anne Factor.”
Ever since I read Reading Lolita in Tehran a few months ago, Daisy Miller by Henry James has been on my reading list. I’ve stopped by the library a couple of times in hopes of borrowing Daisy Miller, but it’s a popular book and hasn’t been there. I grabbed James’ Washington Square the first time, and found it to be a good read – nothing too extraordinary, but good. The second time, I borrowed James’ The Wings of the Dove. I knew it had been made into a movie, so I figured it must be good. Well…I found this book to be unreadable. After struggling to read about forty extremely convoluted pages, I had a muddled idea of what James was trying to describe, at best. To decide if I should persevere with this rambling, confusing book, I read some reviews on amazon.com, and found others who seemed to have similar feelings about The Wings of the Dove.
From Amazon reviewer JAD:
In this work dating from 1902, Henry James writes favoring obscurity over clarity, circuitousness instead of directness and vagueness rather than subtlety. When the reader struggles valiantly onward, it is much as if one were to attempt to hack one’s way through the trackless Amazonian rain forest using only tweezers and butter knife, all the while, wondering whether is it worth so much to learn so little. It is a question each reader must answer for herself or himself…..Kudos to all valiant readers who persist to the end.
From Amazon reviewer J. Breithaupt:
It’s astonishing to me that this thinly plotted, atrociously incomprehensible tangle of verbiage ever gained a reputation for being a ‘great work.’ Sadly, this was my first reading of James, and I’m powerfully dissuaded from wading any further into his inky depths. What a craven mess…..Meanwhile, for those interested in a far superior example of American fiction in the immediate post-Victorian era, try Edith Wharton’s brilliant and deeply moving “The House of Mirth,” which appeared just three years after “Wings…” With the former, you’ll occasionally re-read its sentences because you’ll want another taste of their construction and underlying wisdom, not – as with the latter book – because you are trying to decipher their unintentionally elusive sense.
This book is only the second in my life that I have given up on (the first being A Tale of Two Cities), and absolutely deserves the literary smackdown those reviewers gave it. I’m going to rent the movie and move on.