Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Yeas and Nays January through June

It's that time of year again: Emily's best and worst reads from the first half of the year. Actually, I'm a little late, seeing as June ended two weeks ago, but, oh well. Last year at this time, I gave you six favorite reads and six least favorite reads, but I cheated and gave an extra favorite. This year, (lucky me) I only read four books that I didn't like. I've decided that means I can "borrow" two from the least favorite column, which allows me to give you eight favorites to keep the total at 12. I've also decided that any books that have been featured in a "You've GOT to Read This" post will not show up here, because I'm trying to cut down on repetition, and well, you're all smart. If I've, at some point, screamed, "You've GOT to read this," then you can probably figure out it's a favorite. (Yes, it's my blog, so not only do I get to be late, but I also get to make the rules.) Here you go:

Americana: And Other Poems
by John Updike
Emily's Inner Literary Snob (EILS -- a slippery sort of character): You hate contemporary poetry.
Emily (E): No I don't.
EILS: Come on. You recite stuff from The New Yorker laughing out loud.
E: Yes, but not Updike. Besides, that's you laughing, not me.
EILS: Well, what's so great about Updike?
E: I sat down to read the first few poems to see what it was like. Next thing I knew, I was done with the book.
EILS: You know, I've seen you do that with a collection of Get Fuzzy cartoons.
E: Hey, don't knock Get Fuzzy. This was different, though. I was mesmerized. I couldn't believe this man knew me so well.
EILS: You mean your pea brain could understand more than two poems in the collection.
E: Well, yes...
EILS: Credentials for a Pulitzer, I'm sure...
(My fellow bloggers, do not listen to EILS, who ought to be shot. It was a fantastic collection of poems, a great introduction to Updike for me, one that tapped into all the right emotions, which is exactly what poetry ought to do.)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Dear Mr. Gaiman, will you marry me? Oh, wait a minute. I'm already married to the man I long-ago decided would be my one-and-only husband. Wandering around in the wonderful worlds you create can make a girl forget such things. Oh well, since we can't marry, would you please promise to keep writing books that tease my imagination in such fun, wonderful ways? (Oh, and more ghosts, please.)

In the Fall by Jeffrey Lent
Don't you just hate it when snotty book reviewers compare authors to those who have come before them? Nine times out of ten, they don't seem to know what they're talking about, do they? And don't you hate it when people insist you must read a book, especially yet another one of those multi-generational family sagas? Faulkner's, I mean, Lent's book is a contemporary masterpiece that you don't really have to read, you know, if you don't want me to like you.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Once upon a time, there was this author who could take you on a breathtaking quest, full of magic and truth. You'd laugh. You'd gasp. You'd cry. Oh, and you'd get to ride a unicorn, the most beautiful creature in the woods.

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
Gee, I have absolutely no idea why I might relate to an intelligent woman stuck in provincial Small Town America, bored out of her mind as a housewife. I do wonder, though, why Sinclair Lewis has gone out of fashion. I've now read two of his books, both of which are great testaments to the fact that society is evolving at less than a snail's pace in 20th-and-21st-century America.

She by H. Rider Haggard
It was a dark and stormy night when a different author sent us on another (very weird, eerie, and mysterious) quest. There were no unicorns to ride on this quest through the jungles of Africa, but if you were to embark on the journey, you just might (if you're able to decipher the code on a potsherd), in a dark cave somewhere, discover the secret to immortality. Then again, after what you've been through, the fearsome woman you've met, and the price you'd have to pay, you just may not want it (if you're a nineteenth-century man, that is).

Stiff by Mary Roach
(Ring! Ring!) Hello?... Dr. Freud?... Thanks so much for calling... Well, since we last talked, I did do something that might be considered a little odd... I read a whole book about cadavers and their many, uh, interesting uses... Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I did laugh my way through a good deal of it... Obsessed with death? I don't really... Necrophilia?... I hadn't really thought... You don't think it just could be that I find Roach's spunk and curiosity admirable and that I love the way she writes (all those wry little asides), and I wish I had her courage (not to mention her iron stomach)?... I am not suffering from pen envy. (Click.)

Twilight of the Gods by Richard Garnett
Back during Queen Victoria's reign, when most were busy with the likes of Thomas Hardy and Anthony Trollope and perhaps a Bronte or two, others were fortunate enough to have been reading a wonderful little collection of stories that would one day all-but-disappear. Here, they found the likes of a waning Apollo whose lyre had most likely been pawned. Or they found Lucifer, transformed into a pope and grievously missing his tail. Perhaps they stumbled across a dumb oracle. My guess is that somewhere in Discworld (a place I've come to know and love in 2009. I know, I know. What took me so long?) there is a gold-leafed copy of this book being kept under lock and key and that there are rumors of a Mr. Pratchett (nobody is really sure whether he exists or not) who holds the key.

King Lear
(yes, the one by William Shakespeare)
No, I do not hate Shakespeare, so please put away your guns. I just hate King Lear. Unlike many, many other books I've reread as an adult, this one did not improve during the 20+ intervening years since the last time I read it. As far as I'm concerned, here's proof that even Shakespeare could have his off days.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
Sometimes one doesn't like a book not because it's bad, per se, but because it's just too disturbing to read and is nothing new to the reader. This would be a terrific book, maybe, for someone who needs to have his or her eyes opened to the horrors inflicted upon children around the world. I'm not that person and really didn't need to subject my over-active imagination to this one.

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
(From my goodreads.com comments)
Verily I say unto you that
you will find no profundity here
unless, perhaps, you take up that bong
or eat that mushroom.
Nor will you find anything that thousands of others
did not say long, long before, far more magnificently.
And you may very well sob, asking yourself,
"Why did I waste an hour of my time thus?"
Fear not. You may happen upon an opportunity to weave it
into a novel.
Now, return to Plato, Aeschylus, Aristophanes... for your profundity,
and do not forget that life is too short for tripe.

The Real Cool Killers by Chester Himes
The real bad book. You can read more here, if you can be bothered.


Susan said...

You are the second person to rave about Sinclair Lewis recently! I might have to give in and give him a try. I like how you wittily refer to the fact that his book is still relevant because cities are progressing at a snail's pace!!! lol

And if Mr Gaiman is marrying anyone else, it's me first!! No wait, I'm married too. Darn it. Maybe there's an alternate universe, many alternate universes, where we do get to meet these men we idolize, and we charm them completely with our sarcasm and wit? a la Elizabeth Bennett....

I have one of Mary Roach's books, one of these days I'll get to it!!
love the pen envy!!! tee hee

and I have to reread The Last Unicorn, it's been many years since I read it. Lately my daughter has been renting it so I've seen the lovely movie version, but you know me, the book is always better! I'm so glad you loved it though.

Sheesh, my reply here might be as long as your original post! I'll go now....

Courtney said...

I completely agree regarding In the Fall - and Lent has a new book out that has received excellent reviews - I think I will pick it up soon. Now I don't want to reread King Lear because I really loved it in college and I want to retain that memory...

bloglily said...

Wow, Emily! I'm so happy to have this list. For one thing, it was fun to read, but for another, Sinclair Lewis??? It's never occurred to me to read him -- for some reason I've always thought it would be too painfully REAL. But now I think maybe I am wrong. xo

Stefanie said...

Pretty good that there were only 4 nays. I hope the second half of the year goes even better! And thanks for giving yet more books to add to my TBR list!

Rebecca H. said...

Very nice list! There are quite a few there I'm not familiar with, so it's a bit of payback for the books I've foisted on you, I can see. Well, that's fair. The Lewis sounds particularly good.

knitseashore said...

I've always wanted to read Main Street; Chris liked it a lot and with your recommendation too, I must move it up the TBR list.

King Lear didn't bother me too much; Hamlet is still my favorite though.

Emily Barton said...

Susan, you would definitely like both Roach (Spook, her other book I've read,is all about ghosts) and Lewis. And let's find that alternate universe...

Court, yes, Lent's got a new book (plus a few others I haven't read) to savor. And if you liked Lear in college, you'll probably still like it. I just never have.

Bloglily, Lewis is very painfully real but also very funny.

Stef, you're always welcome, especially since half my TBR tome is full of stuff you've read.

Dorr, maybe I can make Lewis popular again if everyone here starts to read him and starts passing on the word?

Ms. Knits, oh Hamlet, yes! Now THERE'S a Shakespeare play worth reading (and seeing as often as possible).