You may or may have not noticed on my blog page I had a column on the right entitled "2010 Books I Have Read", this was my attempt to keep track of the books I had read in the last year and also as a stepping stone to encourage me to read more books by these authors or to seek out new and interesting books to catapult my imagination high above the clouds. I don't know about you, but when I read my mind paints a visual image of every character, every city and every detail. I become enmeshed in a book so much that I weep when a character is in despair, I get sick to my stomach when violence is inflicted and my heart pounds like crazy within my chest when nearing a pivotal moment. I love to read, I am never without a book and for those of you like me here is a small-ish review of the books I have read within the last year. You may find something you haven't read before and be encourage to pick it up somewhere and give it a go. If you have any recommends for me for 2011 please leave a comment. I already have a stack with Albert Camus, Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Robbins, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Ernest Hemingway calling for my attention, I would love to add your recommends to that stack. I hope you enjoy the reviews and I hope you get your new year started with a book!
In alphabetical order:
2010 Book Review
1. "1984" by George Orwell. (1949)
The only other Orwell book I had read before this was "Down and Out in Paris and London" I was 22 or 23 and the book to me was as exciting and impressive as "On the Road". To me it was a guide to life, yes the character was living on the streets and desperate to find a source of income but the freedom of not having things to anchor one to the earth really appealed to me. Since I loved that book I was very excited to read "1984" and I am very glad I did. At the time the book was written it was a glimpse into the horrifying future and although not all of the horrors became reality a few of the prophesies did come true. The large flat screens projecting images 24 hours a day, video cameras in the streets watching people, and political propaganda littering the streets can all be easily translated into every day life , though a lot of it happened after 1984. I can sympathize with the main character's urge to be an individual to get away from his oppressive life and to life freely. George Orwell wrote this book not long after the events in WWII and it is not hard to see the comparisons of the world of "1984" to that of Nazi Germany. The book is well written and full of Big Brother conspiracies that will keep one's eyes glued to the pages.
I say: B+, Buy it, it is a classic work of fiction that should be on your bookshelf
2. "A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again" by David Foster Wallace (1997)
This is a collection of essays written by Wallace that are dry and serve as a purpose to flex his giant vocabulary. I begged for this book for Christmas last year and couldn't get through it. Although some parts were humorous, most had me nodding off. I am a fan of Foster's works of fiction, but definitely not a fan of his essays. I didn't make it through the whole book and I am told there is a hilarious story about why one should never take a cruise ship and maybe in the future I will give this another go, but not anytime soon.
I say: D-, Read it if you are on a deserted island and have no other books to keep you company, or if you are on a horrifying cruise.
3. "Bike Snob" by Eben Weiss (2010)
This is the perfect gift book for anyone who rides a bike. The illustrations are great and the wit of this book is elating. Eben really dissects then rebuilds the world of cycling one cog at a time. The highlights of the book for me where the identifications of different types of cyclists like the Contraption Captains and the Lone Wolves, all of which do exist, are analyzed and categorized to a T. This book is simply hilarious and serves as a guidebook for new and veteran cyclists.
I say: B+, Buy this book for a friend
4. "Bohemian Manifesto: A Field Guide to Living on the Edge" by Laren Stover (2004)
If one needs a guide to be Bohemian than one is not Bohemian. I picked up this book thinking it would be funny but instead it was naive and a little insulting. Many reviews said this book is to be a light-hearted take on the Bohemian lifestyle and the author herself was raised by Bohemians but to me it sounded very Bourgeois.
I say: D-, Don't even bother with it.
5. "Bowl of Cherries" by Millard Kaufman (2007)
This is Kaufman's first novel and it was written while he was well into his nineties, surprisingly enough the main character is a teenage boy and Kaufman does an amazing job of creating this character. The boy is an extremely intelligent kid who is accepted into college in his mid teens only to drop out and study in the home of a wacky professor who happens to have a beautiful sixteen year old daughter. As you can guess the boy does ludicrous things to get the adoration of the beauty and even ends up in a prison half way across the world. It is an excellent story told so vividly I had to remind myself often that it was a work of fiction.
I say: A, Buy this book and read it while drinking lots of coffee.
6. "Brave Story" by Miyuki Miyabe (2003)
This book is part Labyrinth, part Lord of the Rings with a bit of Harry Potter and many video games combined into one. The story is of a young boy who finds himself facing a future of uncertainty when he discovers his parents are getting divorced. He escapes his home and enters an alternate universe that is in peril and needs his help to survive. The young boy encounters many hardships and makes many friends along his way and all of his experiences in this alternate world help him to understand the events in his real life. This is a great book for children who may be going through the same struggles with their home life. It is positive and in a way a helpful guide to dealing with divorce.
I say: B+, It is a rather large book but captivating. Suitable for children over 12.
7. "Clumsy" by Jeffrey Brown (2002)
This palm sized graphic novel is an in-depth look into a relationship Brown once had, from beginning to the painful end. The illustrations are simple as well as the text, but anyone who has ever loved and lost can relate to this book. I have read several other things by Brown and all of them have been entertaining. This book is simple and is perfect for a bus or subway ride as it fits perfectly into a purse or even pocket.
I say: B Pick it up, just don't read right after a break up.
8. "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer (2009)
This book is one man's struggle to find out where exactly the food he puts on his child's plate come from. It was no east feat as he ultimately had to break into a few places to get the responses he was looking for. I bought this book last year to encourage my sister in her decision to go vegetarian and I think it worked. I have read many books on animal abuse and slaughter and didn't think I would find any new information in the book, but I was wrong. I hadn't been aware of the fishing industry and how gruesome it really is. It made me want to warn pescatarians everywhere of the horrible atrocities going on in our oceans, but being Vegan one learns not to accost others but teach by example. The book is very descriptive of animal slaughtering so may not be for those with weak stomachs but it is informative and very helpful for those with questions about the origins of their food.
I say: A+ Insightful and well written. Buy it for a friend
9. "Eeeee Eee Eeee" by Tao Lin (2007)
This book makes me think of the interrupting cow knock knock joke. The character is approaching adulthood and just in the beginning of deep future thoughts when out of nowhere bears rip his car door off, he shares dinners with ex-presidents and dolphins and witnesses the beating of Elijah Wood. The book is completely surreal and not recommended for those with the very linear approach to literature. There is no real beginning or end just a cataclysm of events with no real definition. I like the book as it accosted my brain with absurdities. I liked it, but I think most people will hate it.
I say: A- Don't buy it, you will most likely hate it.
10. "Fun Home" by Alison Bechdel (2006)
The author tells of her own childhood of being a tomboy raised by a very effeminate father. The two could not be more opposite yet through the telling of her story you can still see glimpses of her love for her father even after discovering his homosexuality and affairs with young men. The story is sad and tells of a woman who's own accomplishments or coming out was always squashed by her father's own life. Her moments were constantly over-shadowed by her father's and until his death, her life paled in comparison to his. She incorporated actual journal entries from her younger self in this graphic novel that really highlight the despair she felt at particular moments. As far as family dramas go, this one is amazing, heart-breaking and often times hilarious.
I say: B+ The art is great and her storytelling wonderful. Add it to your collection.
11. "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson (2004)
I was told by two different people to read this book and although very well written it was not a book for me. The story is told in journal entries by an old man written to his very young son. The man is a preacher and tells of his life in Gilead, how it has changed and grown, flourished and died in the wake of two wars, the civil rights movement and other historical events. The journal entries take a turn when the preacher suspects his long time friend's son (also the preacher's namesake) is trying to impose upon his marriage to a much younger woman. He turns from a kind man to one with a seed of distaste growing in his belly. He has troubles getting over his own insecurities to give help and advice to the friend's troubled son. It is a slow moving story and not too much is revealed but the hardest part I had with it was the religious aspects of it. This man is a pastor seeking the righteous path but is constantly slandering the troubled man. There are many discussions of bible passages that I was not familiar with having been raised away from the church and having little interest in religion.
I say: C- It was not the story for me. However, I do think others may find it very intriguing.
12. "Home" by Marilynne Robinson (2008)
This story actually coincides with "Gilead" and it told through the older sister of the troubled man. This story I thought was far more interesting. The story tells of the man's addiction to drink, of his love of a woman that is not accepted by society, the child he has with her and of the many mistakes he made in the past. It is sad and at times very heart wrenching. This fills in may of the blanks "Gilead" has and when reading them together I did get a greater appreciation of "Gilead".
I say B+, Check it out from the library
13. "Housekeeping" by Marilynne Robinson (1980)
This book tells of two girls orphaned by their mother who are raised by many different women in their family, the final guardian being their mentally unstable aunt. The girls take two very different paths but are both troubled by their upbringing. The writing is fantastic and the book is meant to be savoured, so pick it up but don't read it too fast as you may skip by much of the simple beauty.
I say: A- It is to be treasured.
14. "How We Are Hungry" by Dave Eggers (2005)
A collection of short stories by Eggers that will pull you in every direction. Every array of emotion is displayed throughout this collection. Dave Eggers is an incredibly talented writer and everything I have read of his fills me with awe. Just buy this book already. Laugh, cry, feel helplessly alone and then become amazed that one man could elicit such emotions from a 200 page book.
I say: A+ Get it today!
15. "I Know This Much Is True" by Wally Lamb (1998)
This book was a double score as I found it in the free book cart at Changing Hands and it was actually a really good read. I read it in a matter of days as Lamb has a way of sucking his reader right into his books by portraying human emotions in its rawest forms. I had read "She's Come Undone" by Lamb about five years ago and was impressed by his ability to write in the perceptive of a female from adolescence to adulthood. He masterfully did the same in " I Know This Much Is True" telling the story of twin brothers who couldn't be anymore different. He also does a stellar job of telling the story of their Sicilian immigrant grandfather and his journey to America and thereafter. Coming from an Italian family much of the portrayal hit very close to home within my own family's history. This book would be a good book club read as there is much to discuss on every page.
I say: A, A+ if you can get it for free like I did!
16. "Infinite Jest" by David Foster Wallace (1996)
I loved this book, then I hated it and wanted to kick it in it's little book spine, but then I loved it again. The first fifty pages are incredible, then the next two hundred are taxing and require a persistence I almost didn't have, but there is a payoff, the next 850 pages are spectacular. Yes it is a 1,000+ page book, it is heavy, the type is small and it requires two bookmarks but it is worth it. This book gave me nightmares, it consumed every thought I had for three months (the average read time) and I still think of this book often almost one year later. DFW has the knack for such incredible detail that parts of the book gave me goosebumps and one part made me so sick I almost puked. The story lines focus on drug abuse, unhealthy families, top secret French-Canadian wheelchair assassins , a uninhabitable wastelands near Michigan and Tennis. If you decide to take on this monstrous book check out Infinite Summer, a website dedicated to the reading and understanding of "Infinite Jest."
I say: A++ Buy it, read it, love it and on a bonus side you can use it to throw at and injure a would be attacker.
17. "Just Kids" by Patti Smith
I just finished this book last night and though I knew very little of either Patti Smith or Robert Mapplethorpe I found this book mesmerizing. These two were destined for fame. They had a few lean years in New York but were surrounded by poets, intellectuals, musicians and artists to fuel their creativity. With friends like Edgar Winter, Todd Rundgren, Jim Carroll and William Burroughs it is no wonder these two succeeded in bringing their art to the masses. Smith tells the story of their blossoming romance and their incredible friendship right up until Mapplethorpe's death in 1989. Smith is a talented poet and her memoir of her life with Mapplethorpe is a must read.
I say: A+ Pick this book up for your music loving friends, but be sure to read it first.
18. "Mao, The Unknown Story" by Jung Chang
Finally someone with the balls to tell the dark side of one of the world's most violent dictators. From the humble beginnings to his rise in Communism in the heavily Russian influenced China to his years as a tyrannical leader. This book reads much like a text book with a staggering amount of information on every page. Most books written about Mao were either sugar coated or written by his colleagues so it is refreshing to see a more accurate tale of Mao's reign in China.
I say: B+ Don't bother with unless you really want to learn about Mao Tse-tung.
19. "My Abandonment" by Peter Rock (2009)
This book is loosely based off of the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart and a few other interviews with abducted children. The story is about a father and daughter duo living in Forest Park in Portland. They have built an underground dwelling and live off of the old man's armed forces pension. When discovered by a police officer the two are taken into custody and given the rare opportunity to live on a farm and work for their rent. This doesn't last long as the father had delusions that they are being watched and they once again take off for a life in the wilderness. The book is crazy and will have you at the edge of your seat.
I say: A- Check it out from the library.
20. "My One Night Stand With Cancer" by Tania Katan (2005)
As some of you may have read a few months back I got the opportunity to work with Katan on a photo shoot and was her official "Cupcake Sponsor." It was a pleasure to meet her and meet the woman behind such an inspiring book. The book is a memoir of Katan's battle, not one but twice with breast cancer. The thing about this book is it is so hilarious it rarely gives a moments pause to reflect on the fact that Katan was fighting for her life. Her description of chemotherapy is so funny you almost forget she has cancer. There are definite moments where she reflects on her closeness to death but the hope and positivity is what stands out in the book. This is a great gift for any woman who has or is going through the battle of breast cancer. Katan proves there is life after cancer, and it is a great one!
I say: A+ This book is meant to be shared with everyone
21. "Oh Pure and Radiant Heart" by Lydia Millet (2005)
Another amazing female author from Arizona! I wasn't too sure about this book at first it sounded a little too science fiction for me, but alas, I loved it! Millet has this amazing way of intertwining the past and present into this amazing story about the inventors of the Atom bomb returning to life and facing the present state of the earth. They go on a campaign to beg the UN to stop making nuclear weapons and encounter a ton of believers on the mission to spread world peace. Many of the followers are extreme religious sects but a small few really believe the scientists have returned to share a positive message that should be hard by everyone. This book was great and every other page or so it help real facts about the Atom bomb, Hiroshima and tales from survivors of the A-Bomb attacks. It is marvelously written and Millet possesses an incredible imagination to make such a tale come to life.
I say: A- Buy this book and lend it to good friends.
22. "Pink Think" by Lynn Peril (2002)
This book is great for the inner feminist is all of us. Peril takes a look at advertisements, books and television geared towards women in the fifties and sixties. She reveals her finds in a way that is humorous but doesn't undermine the point of the book. Women were encouraged to think and behave in a "proper" manner and if not they were thought to remain single for the rest of their lives. Everything they learned from home economics class, ladies magazines and even ads for feminine hygiene products was to teach them to be lovely homemakers. Jobs were something to do before getting married, the ideal jobs included typist, phone operator and in some cases a school teacher. Once married the woman was expected to quit her job and care for her husband, make him look good for work, encourage him to set goals and prepare him for raises and promotions. All I can say is, we have come a long way baby! Thank goodness for the women's rights movement!
I say: B Pick it up for a friend!
23. "Special Topics In Calamity Physics" by Marisha Pessl (2006)
I loved this book from beginning to the very end. The story is told by a teenage girl and it reads as a memoir but it is a work of fiction. The story is about a group of friends and a mysterious murder and comes across very witty. It reminded me a bit of "The Basic Eight" by Daniel Handler but with a few more twists and turns. I noticed on Amazon people said the book was difficult to read as there were many lenghty sentences and one needed a dictionary to read along with the book. I really didn't find the book too difficult to read, there are moments when the main character talks in circles and speaks in a very bookish manner, but she is supposed to be a highly intelligent girl, so I wouldn't have expected anything less. The book is amazing and would be a good fit for a seious reader, no Tom Clancy fans here.
I say: A+ Pessl is brilliant and it shows!
24. "The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz (2007)
This book is a Pulitzer winner and there is no wonder why, it is incredible. The story is about Oscar, a shy, over-weight bot who after spending the summer in the Dominican Republic with his grandmother grows into a man. He falls in love with a woman much older than him and with this love comes unbeleiveable pain. This book is beautiful and also terribly sad. The characters is this book are well developed and the amount of factual informaion provided within the story really gives one the understanding of what life is truly like in the Dominican Republic.
I say: A+ Make sure to read with a box of tissues
25. "The Broon Of The System" by David Foster Wallace (1987)
Just like "Infinite Jest" this book has a cast of kooky characters and many of the events that occur within the book are unpredictable. A man eats over-eats to grow to epic propotions, a bird learns Bible verses and ends up a televangelist, and an elderly grandmother disaapears with her retirement home companions to perform espionage. Though most of the characters are ridiculous the main character Lenore Beadsman is easily approachable and I hate to say it, "normal." This book is charming and great for those who aren't afraid for their novels to read like a carnival. I had a super fun time reading this and I highy recommend.
I say: A+ Wallace was a genius, it is a shame he is no longer with us.
26. "The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time" byMark Haddon (2003)
Katie suggested this book for an online bookclub and I am glad that she did. The book focus' on a murder mystery that a 15 year old Autistic boy tried to unravle. With the boy's Autism there are moments in the book where he seems a lot younger than he is, behaving similar to a toddler. There are aslo other moments when he solves incredible math euations that really lets someone glimpse into his complicated mind. I just read a review of Amazon about this book that was written by someone with Autism and I was impressed with the way they took may parts of the book and dissected the charecter's actions and related it to their own personal lives. The review is worth a read if interested in this book.
I Say: B check it out from the library.
27. "The Passion" by Jeanette Winterson (1987)
Tim introduced me to Winterson's work with her book "Sexing The Cherry" and I feel in love. Her writing style is very similar to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and is hihgly imaginative. Her characters are very whimsical and ever passionate. In "The Passion" she tells the story of a French soldier serving in Napolean's army, and as Napoleaon's personal chef. The soldier has a love affair so incredible with a red haired beauty he ends up institutionalized. The story is written like a long and beautiful poem and is very addicting. This is one book I had troubles setting down.
I say: A Beautiful and imaginative
28. "The Year Of The Flood" by Margaret Atwood (2009)
Atwood is definitely a skilled write but the story line in "The Year Of The Flood" to me, was boring and uninspiring. The character's, though interesting, aren't very approachable. Their personalities, inner thoughts and even the reasons for their behavior isn't very well developed. The story tells of survivors of a "flood" that kills off most of the human race, leaving few people alive in the wake of the destruction. These people have to learn to survive on little and defend themselves againt vicious animals and villians. The story had a lot of potential but I feel Atwood dropped the ball on this one.
I say: F, Don't bother with it
29. "Thrive Diet" by Brendan Brazier (2007)
Vegan Triathlete Brendan Brazier lays out a diet guide for optimal performance in everyday life. The book is pary nutritional information and part recipe book. The recipes in this book are killer and not very time consuming and are perfect for anyone interested in a whole food diet. I had the opportunity to meet Brazier and he is a truly insperational person, not to mention he is incredibly fit! This book would be a perfect guide to getting healthy in 2011.
I say: A+ Pick it up today and get started on a healthier way of living
30. "Vegan Girls Guide To Life" by Melisser Elliott (2010)
As a Vegan and as a lady, I am pleased to have this book on my bookshelf. Over the last few months I have used this book many times as a reference book, a cook book and as an inspirational tool. Elliott interviews over a dozen Vegan women from all over the globe asking their ideas on Veganism, asking for insight to living a healthy life and also how they incorporate Veganism into their work lives. Many of these women own their own businesses that encompass their passion for all living things. As someone who is in the beginning stages of starting her own business this book serves as proof that smart Vegan women are making things happen for them all over the globe. On a bonus note, my dear freind Tracy is featured along with her handmade soaps in this amazing book. Score!
I say: A if you are a woman and a Vegan, this book is for you!
31. "Watch Your Mouth" by Daniel Handler (2000)
I love Handler, and if you haven't read any of his books, get on it! He is amazing and he has a secret...he is Lemony Snicket. Uh huh, he write fantastic children's books as well as facinating adult books. This book is full of uncomfortable situations and has many distubing twists and turns. Operas, incest and a giant clay golem all factor in to make this black comdey a squeamish and disturbing read.
I say: B+ not my favorite work of Handler's but a good rea nonetheless
32. "West With The Night" by Beryl Markham (1942)
This story is a memoir of Markham's childhood growing up in British governed Africa. She leads an extroidinary life as the daughter of a entrepaneur and horse breeder. She is taught to hunt wild jungle cats and boars, how to breed and raise horses and in her adulthood how to fly a plane leading her to become the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic. Markham writes beautifully and infact there is a forward in the book by Ernest Hemingway giving her much praise on her beatifully written account of her life in the African bush. Markham was an amazing and strong woman who contsantly proved that women were capable of more than just looking pretty in a dress.
I say: A Buy this book for a strong woman in your life.
33. "What Is The What" by Dave Eggers (2007)
Everyone needs to read this book. I had to force Timmy to and when he finished it her was blown away by Eggers re-telling of one man's struggle as a Lost Boy in Africa and as a lost African in the United States. Valentino's story is a hard one to read, his journey across the desert in search of safety is so heart-breakingly tragic it is almost impossible to believe he made it out alive and even more impossible to believe that he is using his tale of survival to help others. The tragedy doesn't end when Valentino arrives in America, as he finds it hard to adjust, aquire a job and assimilate to life as a "ormal "American." The luxuries we take fro granted (running water, telvision, toaster ovens etc...) are all new to Valention and his friends. He was often made fun of and worst of all attacked in his own home. This story is a powerful one and shows how strong one's will to live truly is. He is a hero and one to look up to.
I say: A+ Buy this book today
34. "Whompeyjawed" by Mitch Cullin (2007)
The story of this naive high school boy living in a small town in Texas is one filled with drama, dissappointments and the struggle to escape the monotony of a small town. The main character puts on a strong front for his girlfriend and younger brother but revelas himself as a normal insecure teenage to his best friends. The story is told ina simple and yet very emotional manner. The main character is easy to relate to, and although a bit stereotypical at times, is less than dissappointing.
I say: B check it out from the library.