Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Yeas and Nays, January through June 2008

I’ve read so, so many good books thus far this year that it’s almost impossible for me to choose a mere six, which is what I’ve done the past couple of years (my theory being six books for the first six months of the year and then six for the second half). Thus, I’m giving you a spare one this go-around. Still, I feel bad to have left out quite a few others. Oh well, they can’t all be favorites, can they?

So here they are, six (plus one) favorite reads of the first half of 2008 (alphabetically by title):

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
Hold on a second. I’ll tell you a little something about this book when I’m done building this section of my shrine to John Connolly. There. That second golden arrow is now in place. So, remember the first time you ever read [fill in the blank here. For me it was The Phantom Tollbooth] at age [10], and you were completely transported to another world in which you were so immersed you forgot your own name? When you finally came out of it, you told everyone, “This is the best book ever!” Well, Connolly knows exactly how you felt. Better yet, he knows exactly how to make you feel that way again (well, except you won’t tell anyone it’s the “best book ever,” because we adults don’t do such things, right?). I have no idea how he does it. Read this book, please, and see if you can tell me how. Warning to would-be readers, though: Bob was not nearly as enamored of this one as I was, and I had expected he would be. However, if you loved the movie Pan's Labyrinth, chances are you'll at least like this one.

Eustace and Hilda by L. P. Hartley
I already waxed poetic about this one here, and then, sort of, again here. Still, I could probably write another entire post (or two) on it, because I forgot to say a lot. For instance, Eustace sometimes resembled Walter Mitty for me. And Lady Nelly is one of my favorite sorts of characters – the family member who raises others’ eyebrows, does whatever she wants, and still draws people to her. And it made me want to walk along the coast of England, something I haven’t done in years, and to spend a month in Venice, something I’ve never done. And did I mention it’s everything in one: psychological, philosophical, funny, heartbreaking, and brilliantly executed? (Oh yes, I think maybe I did.) So good, I finished the library copy and had to order my own (sort of, it was a "gift for Bob." Maybe he'll like it better than The Book of Lost Things).

Fun Home by Allison Bechdel
Ssshhh. We have to be very quiet while discussing this one. Uh-oh. Too late. My inner book snob just woke up and is so appalled and pissed to find a graphic memoir on this list, she’s declared she’s not speaking to me. I must say, it’s nice to have silenced her. I think she was off in the library boning up on reading ancient texts in their original languages the day I wrote this.

Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski
You know how sometimes you read a book by an author and decide it’s so perfect you can’t read anything else by him or her, because you’re bound to be disappointed? That’s how I’ve felt about The Victorian Chaise-longue since reading it a few years ago. Then, at the urging of pushers friends (one of whom was Becky, who lent it to me), I went ahead and read this one. Now I’m saying, “Bring on more Laski.” I dare you to read this book and to get to the last page without saying, “Oh. My. God.” (And no cheating. This is a book that ought to come with some sort of electric shocking device to zap those who turn to the last page and read it when they’re only halfway through the book.)

I See By My Outfit by Peter S. Beagle
Boys will be boys, which means they’ll do things like pair up with each other as Beagle did with his friend Phil Sigunick in the (what must have been coldest on record, by this account) spring of 1963, to ride motor scooters from New York City to San Francisco. And sometimes, girls just love to watch them, especially when they’re the sort of boys who can make us laugh really hard, while also touching our sentimental sides. This girl wanted to jump on the backs of their scooters and ride along with them to meet all those interesting people, eat all that food (well, not all of it, but on those days when people were being kind and feeding them well), and listen to them play borrowed guitars while everyone around them sang. Someone please volunteer to be the person to keep reminding me every so often to read some more Beagle.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
This book impressed thirteen-year-old Emily no end by being the first book about humans, not animals, to make her cry. Twenty-one years later, it still made me cry. And I don’t mean just a lump in my throat. I mean real tears on my cheeks. I’m glad to know the thirteen-year-old me understood enough – despite most of this book being so very foreign to life as she knew it – to cry. If you’ve never read it, you’re in for a beautiful, heart-breaking treat when you get around to it.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
My dear Pusher #2 was absolutely right: this just may be Sedaris’s best yet. Don’t read it while you’re eating, unless you’re accompanied by someone well-acquainted with the Heimlich maneuver. Don’t read it in public places unless you relish the idea of complete strangers whipping out their cell phones and dialing 911 to report someone rolling around on the floor in an epileptic fit. I’m glad that Sedaris is gay and I’m married. Otherwise, I’d have a much harder time keeping that thirteen-year-old-Emily from wiping the Tree-Grows-in-Brooklyn tears off her face and writing the sorts of fan letters she loves to write, the ones full of such profound sentences as, “You are SO-O-O funny!” Or “I can’t believe we are so much alike! I’m from North Carolina, too. I was a hobo for Halloween last year. Isn’t it all too weird?!” Then I’d have to buy a poster for my wall and rename my teddy bear David after him.

Now, for those of you who are going to chide me for adding to their TBR lists/piles/tomes, I’m adding a new feature this year. Here are six books I could have done without and that you can probably do without, as well:

Beat Not the Bones by Charlotte Jay
A perfect example of a stellar premise completely ruined by poor execution. This is the book to pick up at 1:30 a.m. if your goal is to get back to sleep. If you want to know more about how much I didn’t like it, you can take a look here.

Friends and Relations by Elizabeth Bowen
Life really is just way too short to be wasted on books that one only continues reading because she is desperately seeking the humor, insight, and magnificent character development promised by the back cover copy and the critics. It’s also probably too short to bother with reading my full take on this one here, but feel free to do so if you're into wasting time.

The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red by Joyce Reardon (really Ridley Pearson)
Why oh why oh why didn’t I abandon this one? Perhaps because the first third of the book was quite well-written and intriguing. Then it crumbled and became more than absurd. It could have been so good if only Pearson had known the meaning of the word “subtle.” Instead, it just fell apart and became laughable. I think, when it comes to Pearson, I’m going to have to break my “give every author two chances” rule.

Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult
Here was a story that was definitely unique and interesting enough that I could forgive the shoddy writing, but Picoult is so annoying. This is the second book of hers I couldn’t put down while reading. It garnered great conversations between Bob and me. Yet, I found myself, once again, constantly wanting to shake her and to say, “Just tell the story. It’s a good one. You’ve got a great imagination. Quit trying to write like [fill in the blank with your favorite female literary writer] when you can’t.” Most of all, though, I wanted to say, “Listen to your characters when they take you in a different direction, instead of forcing them to fit into your original plot.” And then there are her non-existent editors and proofreaders. Don’t get me started there.

The Seasoning of a Chef by Doug Psaltis with Michael Psaltis
Here was a story that most definitely was not unique and interesting enough that I could forgive the shoddy writing. If you’re looking for an Anthony Bourdain wannabe who isn’t, this is the book for you. I really did try, because it’s been quite sometime since I read a good “food and chef-ing” book, but it was like trying to learn to like sun-dried tomatoes. It just wasn’t going to happen.

The Wonderful World of Indian Cookery by Rohini Singh
Unless you were born with a cardamom pod in one hand and curry leaves in the other, this book will teach you very little about how to cook Indian food in your American kitchen. And the editor of this one should be ashamed to bear that title. Again, my full take, if you’re interested, is here.

And finally, some news. I haven't succumbed to MySpace or FaceBook yet, despite invitations from friends. However, Marissa did manage to entice me to, where I am now keeping track of books I read. This has been a great solution to the "should I or shouldn't I keep an ongoing list on my blog?" question that I just have never been able to answer. I've already invited those of you who are in my gmail address book, but for anyone else who might be interested, just send me an email, and I'll send you an invite.


Rebecca H. said...

It's fun reading your thoughts on Goodreads -- I'm not into it myself (yet), but I do like getting your updates in my email! Interesting list of likes and dislikes -- I'm struck by how many books are here that I haven't heard of before, except through you -- you have a way of finding interesting and unusual things!

Anonymous said...

My husband read and loved Book of Lost Things. Now here you are raving about it. I'm really going to have to find a way to read this one soon. And thanks for the Beagle tip. I read The Last Unicorn ages ago and enjoyed it. I'll have to give this one a try.

Emily Barton said...

Dorr, it's called working in the publishing industry, having friends in the library world, oh yes, and blogs (but you already know how those can lead you to books). You don't really need to get into goodreads, because you blog is so thorough, but glad you're enjoying my thoughts.

Oh yes, Stef, I think you'd really like both the Connolly and the Beagle (and two I won't have to put in the TBR tome when you write about them). You'd also like the Bechdel if you haven't read it yet (can't remember whether or not you have).

ZoesMom said...

Yup, I just got a few additions to my TBR list.

Anonymous said...

Ugh. I WISH you would get on facebook. I mean, it's totally and completely annoying but still. Please. For the love of....
Anyway - great list! I've heard so many things about Connolly's Lost Things and I believe he wrote a mystical mystery series I really liked so this is definitely on my list! And I appreciate the books NOT to read, as well -so important! I feel like the SlOWEST reader in the world this's taking me about a month a book. I think it's because I'm writing so much more?

Emily Barton said...

ZM, if Becky hasn't already lent you Little Boy Lost, get her to lend it to you.

Court,I just feel blogs are bad enough without a Facebook addiction as well. (I actually AM there somewhere. I just never do anything about it.) And I knew (how, I haven't a clue, since, you know, it couldn't possibly be because I'd appreciate such things) you'd appreciate a Things Not to Read List. Don't worry, sometimes we have slow reading years. The writing is obviously more important to you right now.

Susan said...

After that stellar review, I will get a copy of Book of Lost Things! So far no one has anything bad to say about it! And your thirteen year old and mine should get together, since mine cried so hard the first I read it, I haven't been able to read it since. but it's turning up on lists and maybe I won't cry quite so hard this time!! *sniff*
i'll have to look out for that Peter Beagle, I think there's a free spirit rider in all of us, don't you? Sounds like a great book! and I'm reading Tamsin soon, and The Innkeeper's Song, so that should remind you in the next while about him!
and thanks for the handy books not to read list!
I'm off to do your meme now! finally!! (It's friday night, I can stay up late....)

Emily Barton said...

Oh, Susan, yes. You will most definitely, like The Book of Lost Things. You can't be a lover of fairytales and NOT like that book. And try A Tree Grows in Brooklyn again. I got quite a ways through it before I cried this time and was wondering if I actually would. And good, you'll help keep me reading more Beagle.