Monday, December 31, 2007

Best of 2007 - Goal for 2008

My description of the 2007 goal: "This year, I'll attempt to tackle Time's Top 100, ALA's Top 100, the top 10 books that are banned in 2006/2007, and 5 books about different religions. With some overlap and already-reads, I should reach approximately 90 books for the year."

While I surpassed my reading goal in quantity, I didn't meet my goal for the religious education. I read the Bible and part of the Torah, as well as The God Delusion. The Koran will be read, though it is not part of my 2008 goal.

In addition, I switched my goal mid-way through the year, concentrating on banned books, no matter what year they were published. Throw in a couple "looks good while waiting in line" novels and let's call it a good year.

My favorites for 2007:

A Separate Peace, by John Knowles. A proper prep school novel, and a banned book besides.

A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That, by Lisa Glatt. Simple, succinct prose.

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. The best comedic/ironic novel that I read this year.

Finn, by Jon Clinch. An excellent twist on a classic.

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. Worth the wait, and now I get all of the suave references.

The Secret Life of Harry Houdini, by William Kalush and Larry Sloman. More a favorite for personal reasons, like a 9-year-old son with an interest in magic, but still a remarkable biography.

The Terror, by Dan Simmons. Perhaps it's the nightmares it induced, or maybe it's the can't-get-outta-my-head imagery, but probably the unforgettable climax. If all authors took the care to research like Simmons, ah, what a wonderful world it would be.

Atonement, by Ian McEwan. The only almost-TKAM book for the year (To Kill a Mockingbird, the novel that I hold as the example of all that is sacred in the world of writing.) I'm not ashamed to admit that I still weep when I reread the end.


I'm grateful for this blog because it supplements my terrible memory. Former students always get a happy smile, but I've warned them from the beginning of class that I will not remember their names after finals, even if I remember their knack for metaphor or gift for imagery.

So when someone recommends a book, I check the blog. There have been a few occasions where I start reading a book and have a sense of deja vu, only to see that I have read it already, and most of the time disliked it. This is why you will see more XX posts - reminders to me that no matter how many people suggest it, that book did not work for me. And, in the unforgettable words of a reader, "There is not enough time to read shit books."

Another way to aid my memory is the 1001 books spreadsheet created by the fantastic duo at Arukiyomi. I have read 120 books out of the 1001 that I am urged to "read before I die." While I disagree with many of the selections, I hope that this coming year will encourage others to voice their own opinions, telling me which books I should read in addition to these chosen 1001.

I liked the idea of reading the Pulitzer prize-winners, as well as the Booker finalists. My time will be limited in 2008, however. Between writing two novels and teaching full-time, I've shifted reading aside. Even my bedside table has books hidden now; notebooks and scribbled sheets take precedence.

Thus, the official goal:

I read 150 books in a year, then tackled 90+ of the all-time greats and banned books. For 2008, I will read at least 60 books from the 1001 books "you should read before you die" list, as well as those brought up to challenge these recommendations by my blog readers. I'll continue to review new books that I find challenging and interesting... a high standard for this year.

I wish you all a year of peace and joyful reading.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

93. "The Terror" - Dan Simmons

With another glowing recommendation from Stephen King, I was a little hesitant when I picked up this novel as I was exiting the library, arms full. What a smart choice.

Simmons combines the true story of the 1845 British expedition to find the Northwest Passage with a touch of the macabre. The two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, are icebound for two years. A creature resembling a humanoid-polar bear is slowly killing off the men. They are also running out of food and hope.

It is 800-plus pages of tightly woven plotlines and sensational description based on methodical research. The bibliography at the end of the novel is mind-boggling; Simmons branches beyond the normal scope of the horror writer into a new cross-genre of historical horror.

I loved every page of it.

4.8 out of 5.0 Polar Bear Shots.

XX. "Clara Callan"

Two sisters fighting via letters, repetitive, made it to page 35.

Friday, December 28, 2007

"A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read." - Mark Twain

Informal poll... what shall the Books for Breakfast blog concentrate on for 2008?

1. 1001 books you should read before you die

2. Penguin's 100 classic books

3. The top book award for each of the United States during the past five years.

4. A book for each country on the planet (The Terror for Antarctica, for example).

5. Other?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

92. "The Shadow of the Wind" - Carlos Ruiz Zapon

One of my graduate students spoke of his dislike of the technique used by novelists and screenwriters where the huge surprise is saved for the last five minutes. He preferred knowing the end in advance.

While we debated the merits of this, I never considered how knowing a false ending could infuriate me. Thank you, The Shadow of the Wind, for showing me how *not* to foreshadow.

Written like an old-fashioned whodunit with a splash of Stephen King-esque male-based slapstick, this novel aims to create a literary mystery set in post-war Spain. The narrator, Daniel, is a book-lover who falls in love with an author named Julian Carax. Strangely, someone is tracking down all of Carax's novels and burning them.

This could be a rally cry for the book lover, but it falls short, landing in ashes instead of smoldering coals. It did get a rave review from Stephen King (but, as I said, it is very similar to the maestro's work).

2.0 out of 5.0 Spanish Town Cocktails.

91. "The Pirate's Daughter" - Margaret Cezair-Thompson

Errol Flynn, shipwrecked on the outer islet of Jamaica, finds a new place to "start over" from his horrible career as a famous actor and regular gigilo. Enter Ida, a local girl/nymphet that slowly seduces him.

The author stated that she wrote this book based on historical facts regarding Flynn, as well as her own desire to see Jamaican stories in literature. Unfortunately, I felt like she may not have been the right person to introduce readers to the loveliness of Jamaica.

There are few descriptions, and the decent ones are recycled. What I learned from its pages I've known from other stories. In short, it read like a high-brow Jackie Collins novel... all plot, no substance.

1.0 out of 5.0 Jamaican Yo-Yos.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous mind." - Samuel Johnson

2006 - Read 150 books in a year. Check.
2007 - Read 90 books, mostly banned books. Check.

What shall my goal be for 2008?

90. "Atonement" - Ian McEwan

As long-suffering readers of this blog know, I will not see the movie unless I've read the book... at least, not knowingly. After Atonement received so many Oscar nods, I quickly checked this one out, despite a friend's warning that it "bored her to tears."

My experience couldn't have been different.

Based right before and during WWII, this is Briony's tale, a story to atone for a horrendous lie that changed the lives of lovers, her sister, Cecelia, and the charlady's son, Robbie Turner. It is rich in detail, reminiscent of Virginia Woolf, but that similarity is taken care of later in the book.

At times it was a bit self-aggrandizing. "See how great I am, but I'm hiding behind my author-character." The bitter mirror is turned to all of the characters, though, and nothing can be disguised. Admirable writing.

Simply, I wept over the last 20 pages, then reread them. I don't think I can go to the film, now. Lovely experiences with such books are what keep this soul stumbling along.

4.99 out of 5.0 Gold Cadillacs.

89. "Portnoy's Complaint" - Philip Roth

Alexander Portnoy is not happy. Sexually deviant, guilty, frigid regarding relationships... yes. Happy, no.

Thus, we find Portnoy on the psychoanalyst's couch, where he proceeds to describe his life for the entire novel. Or kvetch. Published during the sexual sixties, Roth questions everything about sex through a Jewish-tinted lens. After all, Portnoy is not happy because of his upbringing, a hilarious look at the (now stereotypical) Jewish family.

Jason recommended this book as an alternative to Roth's other novels that contain the character, Nathan Zuckerman, an alter-ego of the author. What amused me the most is how similar some of the images and scenes were to the Zuckerman books, which of course leads one to wonder where fiction falls and truth ties.

But I digress... I laughed, but I think the shock value was lost between 1969 and now.

3.25 out of 5.0 Dirty Condoms.

Friday, December 14, 2007

86. 87. 88. "His Dark Materials" - Philip Pullman

The trilogy, The Golden Compass (in theatres now, though I haven't seen the film), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, has garnered its own publicity due to the author's outspoken opinions about atheism. But like all books, the symbolism is only recognizable if you are looking for it, and most children (I would recommend this series for ages 10 and up) adore characters and plot before language and deep meaning.

Of the three, The Amber Spyglass is my favorite. It provides a fearful look at the afterlife that gave me nightmares. It also ends heroically, with sacrifice, that even the most die-hard religious right can't ignore for its effect.

I won't get into the story lines or plot; simply, these are intriguing fantasy books akin to The Chronicles of Narnia. If they get children to read, then a gallant nod to Pullman.

3.75 out of 5.0 Corpse Revivors.

Monday, December 03, 2007

XX. "Finnegan's Wake" - James Joyce

Dear husband calls me during the middle of my writing group's meeting. "I picked up a book from the library for you," he says. "Tell me what this means..." He proceeded to speak in tongues. I think he's been tippling in the port a bit early. "Nevermind," he says. "I know if I wanted to read this book, I'd have to listen to Brad Pitt in Trainspotting first."

The book is Finnegan's Wake. I think my husband has gone crazy. It is, after all, just a book.

Yes. A maddening, infuriating novel of hellish proportions that has forced me to resign my MENSA membership. I flipped through chapters, looking for some desperate clue to unlock its anagrams. Nuttin' honey.

Perhaps I need my literature spoon fed, at least in English. It is a sad day for this book lover.