Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Sunday Salon: January in Review

Historically, January is a good reading month for me. My favorite book of the year often comes from my January reading list. I liked every single book this month and I'm not even sure I can pick my favorite…

Books Read

(click for reviews)
Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (Ernest Gaines)****
Buffalo Soldier by Chris Bohjalian****
Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Dave Eggers)****
Last Night at Twisted River (John Irving)****
Long Way Gone (by Ishmael Beah)****
Bright Side of Disaster by Katherine Center (haven't reviewed yet)

Favorite Book of the Month
I guess I'd have to pick Late Night at Twisted River. Somehow it just seems wrong not to pick John Irving's latest as one's favorite.

Worst Book of the Month
This month, there are no "worsts." But the first four were all very intense. The Bright Side of Disaster was well-written but in the light beach-read category —exactly what I needed after a month of heavy reading.

Now Reading
Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo. (I read one chapter last night before I fell asleep, and I can't remember anything about it this morning.)

On Reserve at the Library
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles (World Lit)
Sounder by William Armstrong (Literature Circle)

Reading with the Kids
Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
Mr. Tucket by Gary Paulsen

An the Agenda for Re-Reading
Romeo and Juliet
Jane Eyre

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Book Review: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

I am a big fan of well-written, lyrical memoirs: creative non-fiction, not straight autobiographies. Dave Eggers does not disappoint in his memoir of becoming his brother's parent at age 21. But this book is so much more than Eggers' struggle to be a parent vs. a big brother. It's a coming-of-age story of a person that is overloaded with creative genius, surrounded by emotionally needy friends, and being emotionally needy himself, and who is trying to figure out what he is supposed to do with all of that.

The story opens in the elite suburb of Chicago as Eggers' mother is dying from the last stages of cancer. Just a month of so before, his dad also died of cancer, unexpectedly. At this time Dave is 21 and his older brother and sister are also in their early twenties. And then there is Christopher (Toph), who is just eight-years-old. For various reasons, Dave becomes the primary caretaker of Toph, with sister Beth helping out when she can. They move to California, where Dave and Toph live in semi-squalor by night, while Toph attends a private school by day. Dave is still really a kid himself, forced to become essentially a single mom without any real knowledge of how to go about it. But he has great parenting instincts for the most part and is completely committed to raising Toph.

The title of this memoir, which I sense is meant to be self-deprecating and ironic, is perfect. It is a heartbreaking story. Losing both parents in a matter of months. Going from being a mostly functional family of six to a brother/brother-parent/son duo. Going from being a carefree college student to a dad. And then there is the whole struggle of just being in one's early 20s, wondering where to go and what to do. And the staggering genius part: Eggers really is. His writing is amazing. The dialog is perfect. It's all just so...real. It's sad story, but I laughed out loud a lot and found myself nodding in understanding. I totally get him at a generational level. He is clever and funny and amazingly perceptive.

The downside: There were parts I skimmed, I must admit. Sometimes he went off on tangents that lost my interest. And the last few pages were bizarre; the book ended with a slow fizzling out. Also, Eggers' swears a whole lot, especially toward the end of the book. I'm just not really around that in my life, so I found it silly and annoying, but it didn't stop me from loving the book and recognizing it is an honest, reflective, and ultimately hopeful book.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Book Review: A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

I've had this book on my actual real TBR shelf for close to two years. My husband, who is on the local university's faculty, takes part in the "Life of the Mind" discussion groups for incoming freshman each August. Ishmael Beah's memoir of his years as a child soldier in Sierra Leone was the university's choice a couple of years ago. I don't know why I took so long to read this, but I'm really glad I finally did.

This is not a pleasant book, although Beah is an extremely likable narrator. Even when he is brutally killing innocent villagers, the reader knows that Beah is a gentle boy forced into a life of brutality over which he literally has no control. The story starts when Ishmael is about 12 years old, and his peaceful life in a rural village in Sierra Leone is suddenly altered forever when the rebels attack anyone and everyone in the countryside. Ishmael and a band of boys manage to evade the rebels for a couple of years by wandering from ransacked village to jungle to ransacked village, but eventually Ishmael is forced to become a boy soldier like so many others. His only goal is to kill those who killed his family, and to survive.

This is an absolutely heart-breaking book, not only because Ishmael tells his story with such honesty, but because there are still thousands and thousands of children throughout the world who are forced into being soldiers today. It's hard to imagine the devastation of the lives of these children, when we in the U.S. are concerned about if it is OK for our 14-year-olds to read Twilight or if a teacher was really justified in making a kid stay after school. We have no idea.

This book actually has a very happy ending—as happy as I think it can get. I wish the best for Ishmael Beah, and pray that he will stop being plagued by nightmares. And that his voice may save the lives of other children.

Other reviews of A Long Way Gone:
Book Lady's Blog
Books By Their Cover
Laughing Stars
Lost in Books
The Book Book
Discerning Reader

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Book Review: The Buffalo Soldier

The Buffalo Soldier is the second book I've read by Chris Bohjalian (unless I read Midwives years ago, which I'm not really sure about). Skeletons at the Feast (my review here) was on my own Top 10 list for books I read in 2009, so I plan to read through all of Bohjalian's novels.

I completely was not expecting this novel to be what it was. For some reason I thought it was a historical novel about the army's famed Buffalo soldiers. But actually the African-American cavalry unit had very little to do with the novel, other than references and a low underlying theme.

The novel actually centers on Terry and Laura Sheldon and their foster boy, Alfred. Terry and Laura suffered the devastating loss of their twin daughters and are trying to make a new life with Alfred, who is the lone black child in a very white New England town. The story isn't about race so much, though, as about loneliness and redemption and making choices. My favorite characters for sure are the elderly neighbors who essentially save Alfred while Laura and Terry continue to fight their own demons. But all the characters are alive and complex.

This novel isn't nearly on par with Skeletons at the Feast, but it was extremely enjoyable, or rather intriguing, and well written. I'll be reading more Bohjalian.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Book Review: Last Night in Twisted River

John Irving: how I adore him. I've been a faithful follower for decades, although I missed one or two along the line that didn't have stellar reviews. I have such fond memories of The World According to Garp and A Prayer for Owen Meany, especially. And I distinctly remember, upon finishing A Widow for One Year, declaring that it was a perfect novel. John Irving's writing sticks in my mind. Vividly.

Last Night in Twisted River is a wonderfully sprawling world of Irving. Unforgettable characters, scenes that are so vivid I wonder if they happened to me, and a twisted, crazy plot line. (And this particular world of Irving has loads of good food.)

The story in a nutshell: Dominic Baciagalupo and his son Daniel must flee from their home in Twisted River, a logging camp in New Hampshire after Daniel, age 12, accidentally kills someone. They find new identities in new places, always looking over their shoulders for the sheriff of Twisted River. Dominic grows older and Danny becomes a famous writer, and both men cling to each other and to Danny's son, Joe. Thrown into the mix is Dominic's passion for woman and cooking and also their crazy, Paul-Bunyan-like friend from Twisted River, Ketchum. It's a long and often disturbing journey from Daniel at 12 to Danny in his 60s, but it is well worth the journey. Irving is not clean-cut in the slightest, so don't read this if you like gentle fiction. But if you enjoy a story of epic proportions by a master storyteller, don't miss it.

I have to say that I was annoyed at one section of the novel, when Irving went on this strange political diatribe for a few chapters. I actually agreed with much of what he was saying, but I found this soapbox oddly placed and completely out of context with the rest of the novel. I didn't like that. On the other hand, I loved Irving adding cameos by authors like Kurt Vonnegut and Raymond Carver during Danny's time at the Iowa Writers Workshop. That was awesome.

If you loved The World According to Garp, you'll love this. If you've never read Irving, this might not be your best introduction. It may be best to start with A Prayer for Owen Meany and take Irving from there.

Other reviews of this book:
Book Chase
Best Book's Reviews
The New Dork Review of Books

(Got a review? Leave me a comment and I'll link up!)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Ever-Growing TBR List (Updated)

If you've reviewed any of these books on your blog, feel free to post a comment with the link and I'll add it to my list.
*Indicates books added in 2010

*Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout (Read and reviewed 11/10.)
A Country Doctor’s Casebook
by R. MacDonald
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
by D. Eggers (Read Jan. 2010. My review here.)
*Amy and Isabelle
by Elizabeth Strout
Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg.
*Ape House by Sara Gruen
Aprons on a Clothesline by T. DePree
Arctic Dreams
by Barry Lopez
Arctic Homestead
by Norma Cobb (Read 10/10. My review here.)
*Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink Story as Told by Jody M. Roy, Ph.D. (reviewed at Musings of a Bookish Kitty)
*Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson (mentioned at Books and Cooks)
*Barefoot in Baghdad by Manal M. Omar (reviewed at Bookworm's Dinner)
Beautiful Boy by David Sheff (Reviewed here in 2010)
Behind the Burqa by Sulima and Hala (reviewed by Semicolon)
Black, White and Red trilogy
by Ted Dekker
Bless Your Heart, Tramp
by Celia Rivenbark
Blood Hollow
by W. Krueger
Blood of Flowers
by A. Amirrezvani
by Amy Greene (reviewed at New Dork Review)
Blood Work
by M Connelly
*Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller (Read Sept. 2010. My review here.)
Book of a Thousand Days by S. Hale (reviewed on Semicolon and Maw Books)
Book of Lost Things by J. Connelly
Bootletter’s Daughter by M. Maron
Born on a Blue Day by D. Tammet (reviewed on Sam’s Book Blog)
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Capote
Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo (Read Feb. 2010. My review here.)
Bright Side of Disaster by Katherine Center (Read Jan 2010. My review here.)
*Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
Buffalo Soldier by Chris Bohjalian (Read Jan. 2010. My review here)
*Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman (Reviewed at S. Krishna's Books)
Commoner by J.B. Schwarz
Confederates in the Attic (reviewed by Semicolon)
Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
The Dawning of the Day: A Jerusalem Tale by Haim Sabato
Dear Enemy by Jack Cavanagh
Death’s Acre by William M. Bass
Departed, The by K. Mackel
Diary, The by Eileen Goudge (Reviewed at Lesa's Book Critiques)
*The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
Digging to America by Anne Tyler
Dinner with a Perfect Stranger by D. Gregory
Dough: A Memoir by Mort Zachter (reviewed by Lisa at 5 Minutes for Books)
Eat, Pray, Love by E. Gilbert (reviewed by Maw Books
Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim (Read and reviewed 7/10)
*Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (Reviewed at S. Krishna's Books)
Executioner's Song by Mailer
Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad by Waris Darie (reviewed at Maw Books)
*Far to Go by Alison Pick (Reviewed by Kristina at The Book Keeper)
Family Nobody Wanted by Doss
Fatal Vision by J. McGinnis
Flowers by D. Gilb
Fortune Cookie Chronicles by J. Lee
Franklin and Lucy by Joseph Persico (reviewed by Bookworm's Diner)
*Gentle Rain by Deborah Smith (reviewed by Leah at Good Reads)
*The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
German Woman, The by Paul Griner (reviewed at Bookworm's Diner)
Ghost Map
by S. Jackson
Ghost Writer, The by J. Harwood
The Girls by Lori Lansens
*Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok (Read and reviewed Nov. 2010.) Recommended at Books and Movies)
Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson (Read and reviewed 11/10.)
Giving Up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel
Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton
God Is the Gospel by J. Piper
Gods and Kings series
by Lynn Austin
Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls (read and reviewed here April 2010)
Hava: The Story of Eve
by Tosca Lee (added 1/09; reviewed by My Friend Amy)
Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
by D. Eggers (read and reviewed January 2010)
by R. Alcorn
*The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Read and reviewed August 2010)
The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent (reviewed by Gautami at Reading Room)
High House, The
by James Stoddard
by John Hershey
Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan C. Bartoletti (reviewed by Natasha at Maw Books)
*Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (my 2010 review here)
Hot Zone by R. Preston (reviewed by Semicolon)
How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen (mentioned by The Magic Lasso)
Human Cargo by C. Moorehead
Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan (reviewed at These Words)
**Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I Am Scout by Charles J. Shields (reviewed by Becky)
In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason
Iris and Ruby by Rosie Thomas
by E. Southwark
Keeping the House
by E. Baker
*Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom (reviewed at The Bluestocking Society)
Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones (reviewed by Bookeywookey)
Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger (reviewed at Thoughts of Joy)
Last Storyteller by D. Noble
Leave it to Claire
by T. Bateman
*Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan (reviewed by Literary Feline)
*Left Neglected by Lisa Genova (reviewed at Lesa's Book Critiques)
Left To Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza (reviewed at Maw Books and Just a Reading Fool)
Liar’s Diary by P. Francis (reviewed by Semicolon)
Life Among Savages
by Shirley Jackson (reviewed at Dwell in Possibility)
Life Is So Good
by R. Glaubman
Little Altars Everywhere
by R. Wells
Little Giant of Aberdeen County
by Tiffany Baker (Reviewed at Maw Books)
Living End
by L. Samson
A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka (reviewed at The Lost Entwife)
Lost Children of Wilder by N. Bernstein
Loving Frank by N. Horan
Mad Girls in Love by M. West
Man without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut
Many Sleepless Nights
by Lee Gutkind
Mariner's Compass
by E. Fowler
Marley and Me
by J. Grogan
*Mennonite in a Little Black Dress
by Rhoda Janzen (Reviewed by Kristina at The Book Keeper)
Mercy Falls
by WK Krueger
Minding the South
by J. Reed
by A. Brennert
Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway (Reviewed at The Bluestocking Society)
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan (Read and reviewed March 2010.)
*Murder in the Name of Honor by Rana Husseini (Reviewed at Reading Through Life)
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (Reviewed by Reading to Know)
*My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira (Reviewed by at Bookworm's Dinner)
Never Let Me Go by K. Ishiguro (Read and reviewed 8/10.)
*Noah's Compass
by Anne Tyler
Not without My Daughter
by B. Mahmoody
Notes from a Small Island
by Bill Bryson
Olive Kitteridge
by Elizabeth Strout (Read and reviewed 11/10.)
Omnivore’s Daughter
by M Pollan
On Agate Hill by Lee Smith
Only True Genius in the Family by Jennie Nash (reviewed by Natasha at Maw Books)
Other Boleyn Girl, The by P Gregory
Other Voices, Other Rooms
by Truman Capote
Papua New Guinea: Notes from a Spinning Planet
by M. Carlson (reviewed by Clean Reads)
Perfect Example by John Porcellino (reviewed at The Hidden Side of the Leaf)
Promise Not To Tell by Jennifer McMahon (reviewed at Missy's Book Nook)
Property by Valerie Martin (reviewed by The Magic Lasso)
Purple Hibiscus by C. Ngozi Adichie (reviewed by CaribousMom)
Quaker Summer
by Lisa Samson
Queen of the Big Time
by Adriana Trigiani (Read April 2010. My review here.)
Quilter’s Apprentice
by J. Chiaverini
Raising Demons
by Shirley Jackson
*Refuge on Crescent Hill
by Melanie Dobson (Reviewed at Reading to Know)
*The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen
Rises the Night
by C. Gleason
River Wife, The by James Agee
*Room by Emma Donoghue
Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books by Lynne Schwartz (reviewed on Shelf Life)
by Shactman
Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall
Saffron Kitchen, The
by Yasmin Crowther (Read April 2010. My review here.)
Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins (reviewed by Just a Reading Fool)
*Same Kind of Different As Me
by Ron Hall and Denver Moore (recommended by a friend while waiting in a funeral line and by Stray Thoughts)
Saving Levi Left to Die
by Lisa Bently
*Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins (Reviewed by Word Lily)
*A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay
*The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes by Diane Chamberlain (Reviewed by S. Krishna)
*Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian (Reviewed at In the Pages)
Sentimental, Heartbroken Rednecks by Greg Bottoms (Reviewed by Sage)
Seven Loves by Trueblood
*Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (Read March 2010. My review here)
*She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel
Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf (reviewed at Maw Books)
*Some Girls by Jillian Lauren (reviewed by Book Club Classics)
Song of the Cuckoo Bird by Amulya Malladi
Song Yet Sung
by James McBride
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan
Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture by Donna Partow
*South of Broad
by Pat Conroy (read and reviewed Dec. 2010)
Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
by Anne Fadiman (Read and reviewed Aug. 2010)
by William Weld
by John Williams (suggested by JoAnn at Every Day Matters)
Summer Crossing
by Truman Capote (reviewed by CaribousMom)
by M. Cabon
Sweet Potato Queen
by J. Browne
Teahouse Fire, The
by Ellis Avery
Stones Cry Out
by M Szymusiak
*Testament of Youth
by Vera Brittain (recommended at Musings)
There Are No Children Here
by A. Kotlowitz
Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself
by Alan Alda
Thirteen Reasons Why
by Jay Asher (reviewed at Gautami's Reading Room)
This Boy's Life
by Tobias Wolff
Thousand Years of Good Prayers
by Yiyun Li
*The Threadbare Heart
by Jenny Nash (reviewed at Maw Books)
Three Cups of Tea
by G. Mortenson
To My Senses
by A. Weis (reviewed by J. Kaye)
Tomorrow, the River by D. Gray
Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur
by D. Hari (reviewed by CaribousMom and Maw Books)
Trauma and Ghost Town by P. McGrath
Unbearable Lightness of Being by Kundera
by Margaret Haddix (reviewed by Semicolon)
*Undress me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman (reviewed by Book Zombie)
*Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani
Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton (reviewed by Kinnic Reads)
Well and the Mine, The by Gin Phillips (reviewed by Semicolon)
What I Though I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen
What Is What by D. Eggers (reviewed at Maw Books)
What Peace There May Be by Susanna Brarlow
What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn (Reviewed at Big A, Little A)
When I Lay My Isaac Down by C. Kent
*When We Were Orphans
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Whistling in the Dark
by L. Kagen
*Whiter Than Snow
by Sandra Dallas (Read and Reviewed 9/10)
Who Killed My Daughter by Lois Duncan (Reviewed at Nonfiction Lover)
Winter Seeking by V. Wright
Winter Walk
by L. Cox
Women of the Silk
by G. Tsuriyama
Year of Living Biblically
by AJ Jacobs (reviewed by Andi Lit)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Sunday Salon: New Year Clean-up

My bookish goal today is to clean up my sidebar (my 2009 reading list is still there) and my Ever-Growing TBR List. It's a bibliovore's dilemma: do I leave all the crossed-out books on the list so that I can have the satisfaction of knowing I crossed things out, or so I delete them? I've left them up for 2 years, so this year I'm deleting. I know, I know—if only all our troubles were this ridiculously insignificant.

On the reading side, I posted a review of Ernest Gaines's novel The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman this week, and John Irving's Late Night at Twisted River will be coming soon. I am halfway through Chris Bohjalian's The Buffalo Soldier and loving it. This week I also need to read Oedipus Rex in preparation for the World Lit class I teach. I don't think I've read it in about 25 years!

In other bookish news, I have $13 in used book credit at a local bookstore and $7 left on a gift card to another bookstore. If only I were motivated to actually go out and shop!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Book Review: The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

I have no idea why I haven't encountered this book at some point in my life thus far; it seems that Ernest Gaines' Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman should have been on some history or literature reading list! I read this because I'm co-teaching a literature circle for middle schoolers on the black experience in America, and I'm glad I did. I hear the movie is good, too, so I'm going to be looking for that at our library.

The novel, written as an autobiography, begins with Miss Jane Pittman as the little slave girl, Ticey, at the end of the Civil War, and takes us through 100 years to the beginning of the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. Jane is a determined, courageous woman who strives to maintain dignity through the trials and victories of her life, from trying to find Ohio as a little girl to settling down to work in southern Louisiana to bearing the murder of her adopted son to winning the respect of the white plantation owner for whom she works.

I loved Miss Jane's commanding, matter-of-fact voice and her tremendous wisdom. This book is not only great reading but would be an excellent addition to any American history program. We're not going to be using it for our class because it's not quite so engaging for middle-school readers, but I highly recommend it for about 8th grade on up.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Sunday Salon: Old Year, New Year

While I'm particularly bad about sticking to challenges and resolutions, I do like the idea of a fresh start. I like to wipe away my "Books Read and Reviewed" of the past year on my sidebar and file it away with older years. I like to make my list of favorites and count all the books I've read. There is something tremendously gratifying in all that.

Here, by the way, is my Year of Reading, 2009. And here are the past few years:
2008 Books Read and Reviewed
2007 Books Read and Reviewed
2006 Books Read and Reviewed

I read fewer books this year than I normally do. I don't really know how to explain that, although I do remember spending three entire weeks on the unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo!

I crossed 22 books off my Ever-Growing TBR list and added 21, so I guess I about broke even. For whatever reason—lethargy, lack of time, addiction to Facebook—I participated much less this year in various groups: The Sunday Salon, Weekly Geeks, the Book Review Carnival, and Sunday Scribblings. I think I linked up to Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books nearly every week. Of all the above, I wish I were more dedicated to Sunday Scribblings. Below are the topics I managed to play along with this year—a measly nine out of 52 weeks:
Phantoms and Shadows
Dear Past Me, Dear Present Me
First Kiss

And so that's 2009. I do actually have a goal for 2010. I'd like to re-read a few of my old favorites. I'm really not a re-reader, but sometimes I just really want to revisit old friends. I wonder, too, if some of the books I remember so fondly will remain favorites. That is one possibility that keeps me from re-reading: I'm afraid I won't love a book 10 or 20 years later. (The other, of course, is that there are just so many books out there that I haven't read yet.)

So there we have it: More writing. Some re-reads. And, of course, more reading. (And perhaps a little less time on Facebook would help...)

Happy New Year to you all! May you find time to read and a year full of excellent books.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2009: A Year of Reading

I read 65 books in 2009, including 20 children's or young adult chapter books (I didn't include history books, picture books, etc.) that I either read to my kids or taught in various literature classes.

It was a good year for reading, although I was often frustrated with myself for failing to read faster. I fell asleep too frequently during my allotted before-bed reading time. Someday I will again be a person who reads during the day, but for this season of my life, I must be content with my bedtime reading.

And so, out of those 45 "adult" books read, here are my favorites:

The Top 10

Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
Cutting for Stone (Abraham Verghese)
Day After Night (Anita Diamant)
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Shaffer and Barrows)
Other Side of the Bridge, The (Mary Lawson)
People of the Book (Geraldine Brooks)
Road, The (Cormac McCarthy)
Sarah's Key (Tatiana de Rosnay)
Skeletons at the Feast (Chris Bohjalian)
Prayers for Sale (Sandra Dallas)

It was hard for me to narrow this down. I had about eight other contenders for the Top 10 list, but I'm sticking with the list above. These are books that are especially memorable to me. They were well-written, poignant, and captured my attention and imagination more than the others.

And for my number one favorite novel of the year: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Part of the draw for me is the "sweeping epic" aspect of this novel. I love "sweeping epics" that span generations. A book like this gives me that sense of closure. Nearly all my questions as a reader were answered; the prose was perfect; and I felt truly satisfied upon finishing the novel.

Below are my two lists. Click on the titles for my reviews of nearly all these books. (A few of the children's books didn't get reviewed.) If the book as one or two asterisks** by the title, I can't really recommend it with any sort of enthusiasm.

The Whole List of Books Read in 2009

Children's Chapter & YA Books Read/Taught
Abe Lincoln Grows Up by Carl Sandburg
Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt
Bound for Oregon: by Jean van Leeuwen
Boy in the Striped Pajamas (John Boyne)
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
Children of the River (Linda Crew)
The Christmas Doll by Elvira Woodruff
Dear Mr. President: Abraham Lincoln--Letters from a Slave Girl (Andrea D. Pinkey)
Dragon of Trelian by Michelle Knudson
George Washington Carver: From Slave to Scientist by Geoff and Janet Benge
Little Britches by Ralph Moody
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr
Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan
Sounder by William Armstrong
Road to Paris (Nikki Grimes) YA
Sonshine Girls: Summer Secret (Rene Morris)
Stargirl (Jerry Spinelli)
Ties That Bind, Ties That Break (Lensey Namioka)
Wright Brothers by Quentin Reynolds

And there we have a year of reading in my own Small World. I've started 2010 out with a bang, having just finished John Iriving's Late Night in Twisted River. How will the rest of the year measure up?