If you’re making New Year’s Resolutions, you might consider resolving to keep a book list for 2012. I know I’m not the only one who can actually forget the title or the author of a book I recently read or even (hangs head in shame) one that I am currently reading. A book list can be very helpful!
For instance, how else would I know that I traveled via the page to fifteen different countries – well, sixteen if you count Paradise – and read a total of 17,619 pages over the course of the past year. When I complete a book, I enter it on the list and include the title, the author, number of pages and sometimes a brief paragraph describing the book and the main characters. This helps jog my memory when my aging brain locks the door on the details of a book I read last year or even last week. I will also sometimes include a memorable quote or two from a book that impressed me, and lately, since we’ve been traveling a lot, I enter my geographic location at the time I finish the book. What? You say I exhibit obsessive compulsive symptoms? Not really – I just look at the books I read as a sort of collection.
Here’s my list for the second half of 2011:
25. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb 480 pp
** This is a very popular author, but, for me, the sad tale of a young woman who responds to abuse and loss in her adolescence by encasing herself in a freakish weight gain did not work. The characters seemed like escapees from a comic book for me, but hey, to each his own.
26. The Paradiso by Dante Alighieri 349 astounding pp
***** I’ve covered this ground in a previous post https://polloplayer.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/i-have-entered-the-empyrean/ so there’s not much more to say other than WOW. And yes, I have not forgotten that my New Year’s Resolution will be to crack open the Inferno again tomorrow for a re-read.
27. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand 398 pp
*** If this story wasn’t true, Hillenbrand would have to be accused of jumping the shark. An almost unbelievable tale of war-time survival and spiritual redemption. Hillenbrand gifts readers with a lucid account of the life of Louis Zamperini and the only thing more amazing than his story is the fact that Hillenbrand apparently remains an atheist after writing the book.
28. Drown by Junot Diaz 213 pp
*** A book of short stories drawn from the author’s Dominican Republic heritage. He writes in a truly original and authentic voice.
29. The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris by John Baxter 298 pp
***And so begins the spate of books I tried to digest before and during our recent trip to France. This one was a gift from my dear friend, Nancy, and was one of my favorite Paris primers. Baxter writes engagingly of the people and places of Paris past and present.
30. Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris by Sarah Turnbull 304 pp
** This was a fast read and gave me a sense of the Rue Montorgueil area in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris that I would not have otherwise had, but the author’s self-involvement and self-conscious style made me squirm.
31. A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke 288 pp
*** This little piece o’ fluff gets an extra star for the number of times it made me actually LOL. Clarke sometimes tries too hard to entertain, but is often wickedly funny as he lampoons the French in the way only a Brit could manage.
32. Seven Ages of Paris by Alistair Horne 422 pp
*** A survey of the City of Light from the days of the Romans through the rule of DeGaulle. I would have given this four stars but for the fact that the author handicaps his impressive work of history with a rather alarming lack of objectivity. Yes, I know Mr. Horne is esteemed and revered, but he enmeshes the facts with his opinion a bit much for my taste.
33. The Flaneur: A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris by Edmund White 224 pp
** White is a literati darling and has apparently drunk the Kool-Aid and believes his own press. When he sticks to the subject of Paris walks he is tolerable but his political convictions are jaw-droppingly outlandish. I’m sure the French adore him…
34. Le Divorce by Diane Johnson 309 pp
** Saucy and frivolous, this salacious account of Americans in France attempting to navigate French mores, morals and cuisine is a clever romp up to the last fifty pages. It seemed as if the author was in danger of missing her deadline and, needing to tie up loose ends, tossed in an inexplicable and implausible shoot-out at Disneyland Paris. Huh?
35. A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle 224 pp
*** I’m the last person in the western hemisphere to read this book so you hardly need a summary. I’m always wary of mega-best-sellers but I really enjoyed this book and it was a great preparation for our visit to Provence. I finished it in Paris…sigh.
36. Babylon Revisited by F. Scott Fitzgerald
**** This collection of short stories are quintessential Fitzgerald. It would be easy to dismiss this volume as a period piece but I finished it with a renewed respect for Fitzgerald’s gift of prose. He himself once said “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath” – and this was an author who dove deeply and held his breath well. Of course, he also said “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you”, which, for him, was the truth, and a darned shame.
37. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson 464 pp
***** This is a must-read. For me, this book finally answered the question “How could it have happened?” Meticulously researched and masterfully written, Larson lets us experience pre-WWII Nazi Germany as Hitler careens toward madness and his “Final Solution” and as statesmen on both sides of the Atlantic fail to act through a convenient combination of denial and disbelief.
38. When She was White: the True Story of A Family Divided by Race by Judith Stone 288 pp
** Genetics play a trick and a family’s life is destroyed when a dark-skinned daughter is born to white Afrikaner parents in 1950’s South Africa ruled by Apartheid.
39. The Ambassadors by Henry James 450 pp
**** This was my first Henry James novel but it will not be the last. The sly James pits Calvinist Americans against belle epoque Parisians and everything that could happen does. It is true that Henry James will invariably choose to write a thirty-word sentence when ten would do, but after a while it grows on you.
40. The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak 191 pp
*** If the entire book had been as stunningly written as the first chapter, this would be a five-star review. Krivak tells an interesting, if uneven, story of an American-born Slav who becomes a sniper for the doomed Austro-Hungarian army in WWI. The book was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award.
41. Leaving Van Gogh by Carol Wallace 258 pp
***A fictional account of Vincent Van Gogh’s last months at Auvers. Alluring, but ultimately frustrating as the reader longs to know what is fact and what is fiction.
42. Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay 293 pp
** Once again, I fail to fall for the best-seller everyone else loves. I’m not saying it isn’t worth reading – de Rosnay does a great service by shining a light on the infamous 1942 Vel d’Hiv round-up of French Jews by their own government. It’s when she switches to the present and the marital woes of the one-dimensional protaganist, journalist Julia Jarmond, that the book loses its focus.
43. New York: the Novel by Edward Rutherford 862 pp
***Book snobs all hate it but I enjoyed every chapter. It’s not as good as Rutherford’s soaring London, but if you are a devotee of historical fiction and/or New York City, this is a good read. Rutherford’s m.o. is to trace generations of a family forward in history and here he begins with the Van Dyck family in 1600’s New Amsterdam and follows their descendants forward through the generations up to post-9/11 NYC.
44. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris 774 pp
**** The first of Morris’ fine three-volume study of Teddy Roosevelt. This one assays his sickly childhood, his years as a North Dakota cattle-rancher, the successful assault on San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War and his timely rise through the political ranks to become governor of New York, Vice President and then President of the United States following the assassination of William McKinley.
45. Tricking Freya by Christina Sunley 352 pp
**** I thoroughly enjoyed this novel about a young Canadian woman who searches her Icelandic origins and culture for answers to a dark family secret. The author skillfully weaves Norse history and mythology into the plot and makes the landscape of Lake Winnipeg and Iceland come alive for the reader.
46. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson 644 pp
*** I know you thought I’d finish the year with something more erudite, didn’t you? Now that the film is out, I decided it was high time to read the book and there was a copy on the shelf of the room to which we were shuffled while guests were visiting during the holiday. The danger of waiting this long to read a whopper story like this one is that I had to picture Daniel Craig (not a hardship, admittedly) and Rooney Mara rather than draw my own idea of what the characters look like.
That wraps it up for 2011. If my insomnia continues at its current pace, I should easily be able to read fifty books in 2012.
I’m always looking for reading recommendations – send me yours!