Saturday, December 27, 2008

Yeas and Nays of July - December 2008

It’s been another quite good half year of reading, and I find it pretty tough, yet again, to honor my blogging tradition of choosing my six favorite reads (and my 2008 “tradition” of adding my six least favorites) from July - December. Goodreads helped this go-around, because I could go back and see which books I gave the most stars and remember what I said about them. The six “yeas” are those I would highly recommend adding to your TBR lists. If you see any of the six “nays” hanging out anywhere, I’d highly recommend running in the opposite direction. I’m giving them to you in alphabetical order by title this time.


The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten

If Ina Garten were a man, I’d want to marry her. What’s not to love about her? She made me want to cook, to bake, even (horrors!) to entertain. I love the way she encourages the reader to think of recipes as suggestions, not as scripts to be followed religiously. That’s how I’ve always thought of recipes.

A Death in the Family by James Agee

I wrote in my book journal, “Wow! Just plain wow!” Agee had an amazing ability to get inside people’s heads with poetic majesty. I wish I had at least ten more novels by him to read. If you haven’t read it, drop everything and do so (I say that a lot when I like a book, don’t I? But I really mean it this time).

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M.R. James

I think it had been about five years or so since I’d last read James, so I decided it was about time to pay him another visit this past fall. I’m not one much to be very scared by ghost stories at this point in my life, but he has a few, like “Lost Hearts” that still manage to ignite my imagination, sending a couple of shivers down my spine when I think about them too much (or when I’m walking around the cemetery at dusk). Mostly, I just love the way he writes, the way his imagination works (is there anything cooler than “The Mezzotint?”), and his subtle sense of humor.

Hearts and Minds by Rosie Thornton

There’s nothing I like better than superb characterization, except maybe superb characterization paired with an interesting, believable story and subtle humor. This one manages to put all three together, culminating in a true-to-life ending that gives hope without tying everything up neatly in an unrealistic bow. The characters will live with you while you read it and leave lasting imprints when you’ve finished.

Ross Macdonald by Tom Nolan

I didn’t expect to be so glued to this one, but I was. Nolan is a very matter-of-fact, prosaic writer. Nonetheless, this book was absolutely fascinating. Interesting story of a man who had a very interesting life. Interesting as a history of the mystery genre. Interesting as a look into the publishing industry. Interesting as a “Who’s and Who Was Who of Mystery Writing.” Oh, and did I mention this book was extremely interesting?

Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

This one makes The Book of Lost Things look like mere child’s play. I guess I’m a philosopher at heart, because I was mesmerized by it from the get-go. It’s so much more than a history of philosophy in novel form. It’s a history of western civilization, really, and a history of literature, religion, psychology…everything. It’s also a fun post-modernist romp. About halfway through it, I thought, “This one ought to be required reading for all high school students.” I still think so.


The Casting Away of Mrs. Lex and Mrs. Aleshine by Frank R. Stockton

This “classic” comic novel would have made a much better short story. Like so many Saturday Night Live skits, it was tiresome as it dragged on, letting the joke get way too old. I didn’t bother to finish it.

The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs

I read this one, because I had it confused with The Knitting Circle (recommended to me by someone whose recommendations I respect). Sometimes I’m in the mood for an over-the-top-made-for-the-Lifetime-channel-tearjerker-TV-movie, but I really prefer it in movie, not book form, because it doesn’t waste as much time. I really only finished it because I was on vacation and was too lazy that day to go out and get something else to read (anyone else ever do that?), and it wasn't quite such a waste of time while on vacation.

Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp

Supposedly a great YA ghost story. Great idea, maybe, but poorly executed, and a bit too goody-two-shoes for me. Finished it because it was short, and I kept expecting it to get better.

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by E. Ware

Made me feel like the dumbest kid on earth (and I feel even dumber having recently discovered that David Sedaris recommends it). I just did not get it. Didn’t finish it (truth be told? Barely started it).

The Midnight Before Christmas by William Bernhardt

I’ll be hopeful and generous and concede that maybe this one was written in a rush for a greedy publisher eager to capitalize on the season. Otherwise, I’m going to despair that this author is apparently highly regarded and that the publishing industry employees editors who allow something like this to be printed. I finished it because I was stuck on an airplane, and my other books were in the suitcase in the overhead compartment.

Such a Pretty Fat: One Narcissist’s Quest to Discover if Her Life Makes Her Ass Look Big and Why Pie is Not the Answer by Jen Lancaster

Funny in places, but the narcissist spiel is overdone and irritating after a while, and again, her editor ought to be ashamed for letting this one get published as is. I managed to finish it because of those “funny in places” bits.

And now, I’m headed up to Maine (and snow!) in a few days, don’t expect to post before I leave, and will wish everyone Happy New Year! “See” you when I get back.


Eva said...

If you enjoyed Sophie's World, you should definitely check out The Solitaire Mystery as well! I really love them both. :)

I'm w/ you on The Friday Night Knitting Club...haven't read any of the others.

Anonymous said...

I hope you have a very good trip and a very happy New Year.

Emily Barton said...

Eva, well, if you're recommending it and comparing it to Sophie's World, then I guess The Solitaire Mystery better go in the TBR tome.

Lokesh, thank you! I plan on it (and everyone will hear all about it when I get back).

Anonymous said...

Awesome, thanks for vetting these and providing such detailed reviews, I'll definitely check some of these out. When I first met my husband he was working his way through Sophie and when we got married 5 years later he still hadn't finished it. I tried and wasn't able to make much headway either. It seemed like a book I wished I'd read in HS.

Eva said...

The Solitaire Mystery is also by Gaarder-sorry if I didn't make that clear. ;)

also, I just wanted to let you know the blog is up and running. :)

Rebecca H. said...

I've heard great things about the Agee book from others and now you're raving about it, so maybe I should pick it up one day! I agree with you about the Thornton book too -- it was so much fun. Have a great time in Maine.

Anonymous said...

happy new year to you! Have a lovely time in Maine. "See" you when you return!

litlove said...

I do love everyone's 'best of' lists - I shall certainly be looking out for these ones, particularly the Agee, who is a writer I'd never heard of. And I'm hoping you are having a wonderful, wonderful time in Maine. How sensible to get away from it all and have a holiday at this mad time of year.

litlove said...

Something happens to my comments on this site, I've noticed. They don't always come through - might I be ending up in the spam filter? (If you ever receive this). I did enjoy your list and will try to work my way around a few of them in 2009!

Anonymous said...

I didn't much like Jimmy Corrigan either. It's supposed to be a "classic" graphic novel but I suppose like regular novels graphic novel have different kinds of appeal too. Hope you are having fun in Maine!

Emily Barton said...

Ms. HPH, you're welcome for the vetting, although you might want to be skeptical of someone who loved Sophie's World when you couldn't get through it. I sometimes have very odd "loves" and "hates" when it comes to reading.

Eva, I figured that out after I looked it up :-)! And thanks for the blog link.

Dorr, I'd definitely recommend the Agee. It might be one you could teach at some point.

Litlove, I DID have a wonderful, wonderful time in Maine! I hope your lost comments were merely the result of my not being around to post them, and that they weren't truly lost, because I didn't find anything in my spam.

Stef, a friend of mine told me I must not have much of a "cool factor," if I didn't like Jimmy Corrigan. I was very relieved. I've never had a "cool factor," and would be quite dismayed suddenly to have developed one.

knitseashore said...

I bought Mr. Seashore (aka Mr. Suitcase) the James book for Christmas based on your recommendation a little while ago. He's reading it now so I'm curious to see what he thinks!

I'm still loving the Jean Webster book you gave to me several Christmases ago, when we worked in a galaxy far, far away. :)

Emily Barton said...

Ms. Knits, oh, you'll have to let me know what Mr. Suitcase thinks of it. Meanwhile, Webster is a gem, worth reading and re-reading with endless mugs of tea, isn't she?

Susan said...

Happy New Year to you too, even if I'm a little late, it's because I was without internet too! We were in England for three weeks and the in-laws computer refused to work. good in some ways, very bad in others.

Meanwhile, I've joined the Bad Bloggers group, whereby anyone who gets me to add books to my TBR pile gets points, and after 6 months the winner will get to choose a book from my 'have read' pile that I will send them!! You hereby get 3 points for this list here - Ina, who I am just discovering. I'll fight you for, I think I still like Nigella better!, the Ross MacDonald looks great, and the MR James I've been meaning to read for ages, but can't find a copy. so you are now at 10 points, near the top! Keep it up, Emily! lol

Emily Barton said...

Susan, Happy New Year, to you, too! 10 points already. Oh my! Not that I want to be a book pusher (okay, yes I do), but I hope you find many more through me this year, as I have through you.