Thursday, January 29, 2009

Weekly Geeks: That's Classic!

Behold! This is the part of the week where I extol the classics complete with utterly random linkage. Thanks to the Weekly Geeks for this fine opportunity to type my fingers off!

In the third Weekly Geeks of 2009, let's have fun with the classics. For our purposes, I'm defining a classic as anything written over 100 years ago and still in print.

For your assignment this week, choose two or more of the following questions:

1) How do you feel about classic literature? Are you intimidated by it? Love it? Not sure because you never actually tried it? Don't get why anyone reads anything else? Which classics, if any, have you truly loved? Which would you recommend for someone who has very little experience reading older books? Go all out, sell us on it!

Actually, I'm going to go ahead and break with the definition of classics here because most of my favorite books that I consider to be classics (and I think a lot of people consider classics) haven't reached their 100th birthdays yet, but I would be hard-pressed to remove them from classic status based on that criterion alone. For my purposes, I'm going to use...say...1950 or so for my cut-off date for classichood though it all just kind of makes me wonder who decides which books are classics and which ones just aren't.

Anyhow - getting on with it. I've got a love hate relationship with classics. Some I love, and some I hate (I bet you needed that explained in detail, right?). Some of the best books I've read are classics and so are some of the worst. I have a longstanding and well-publicized dislike of W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage which I tried with great tenacity to read the summer before my senior year of high school, hoping upon hope that some great redeeming characteristic would make itself known, but it didn't. Just the thought of this book continues to frighten me, though, it seems there are quite a few people that are fans of this dreadful tome. That same year I struggled through Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, an author I've nearly always wanted to like but whose work I haven't yet been able to appreciate, unless, of course, you count A Christmas Carol. Shakespeare was always kind of a killer for me, too, but for a few notable soliloquies. Sophomore year of high school was also a pretty dreadful exercise in classic reading, and I credit it with my continuing dislike of Moby Dick (even abridged!) and The Red Badge of Courage. And don't get me started on Lord of the Flies. Argh.

But, wait, lest you begin to believe that I am a huge classic hater, let me regale you with other stories. In the vast pit that is high school required reading, I did encounter a few great gems. The first comes with a story. So, I have a notoriously bad track record of choosing classics off lists of required reading. You know, you'd be assigned this book, that book, and the other book and then for the final book of the year you'd have to choose some book from a list of "worthy" literature. In cases like this the books assigned by the teacher would be pretty decent, okay, and so-so, but the one that I chose myself would inevitably be utterly torturous (and inescapable given that I'd already committed to it by the time I recognized its awfulness). Case in point - I picked Great Expectations for myself, and you may remember it from the last paragraph. One year, I went out on a limb and chose Steinbeck's East of Eden. Out on a limb because it's quite a doorstopper, and you only get so much time to read such things. Everyone thought I was insane, but it still ranks as my one and only successful foray into choosing a required reading classic for myself. Loved it - I can still remember sitting at lunch in the cafeteria and reading East of Eden even amid the din because I liked it that much. Of Mice and Men - another Steinbeck winner, though it is on the heavily depressing side.

I enjoyed a bunch of the usual suspects - Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, etc, but maybe not as much as other people seem to. I was a big fan of George Eliot's Silas Marner and a huge, huge fan of Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory which I guess is considered a classic, though I'm sure it's debatable. Oh, and Russian lit has always been a hit with me - Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, Fathers and Sons by Turgenev, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Solzhenitsyn (which I may or may not have spelled right). Yes, I undoubtedly need to read some more Russian lit. And, of course, your fantasy classics The Lord of the Rings trilogy (and The Hobbit too!) and The Chronicles of Narnia. And how about (this is where we lapse into no organization at all) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Anne of Green Gables, and All Quiet on the Western Front's underloved sequel The Road Back about post-war Germany (also debatable in its classichood, but a great book nonetheless)?

Oh, and I have very fond childhood memories of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell and White Fang by Jack London, too. Do those count? And will somebody please stop me from continuing to ramble on indefinitely about every classic I've ever read in my life (yes, there are still a few I haven't mentioned, and I'm sure you hope I don't...)

All very worthwile reads and all currently making me feel guilty for not more actively pursuing classic reading now. I guess maybe I'm a little afraid because I'm paranoid that I'll pick up another enormous dud (given my track record with freedom of choice) and be soured on classic works yet again despite so many notable successes, which isn't to say I don't have a bunch of classics lurking on my shelves awaiting my attention. Oh yes, they are there, calling out to me...

3) Let's say you're vacationing with your dear cousin Myrtle, and she forgot to bring a book. The two of you venture into the hip independent bookstore around the corner, where she primly announces that she only reads classic literature. If you don't find her a book, she'll never let you get any reading done! What contemporary books with classic appeal would you pull off the shelf for her?

Okay, I promise this answer will be shorter. I have three ideas for silly cousin Myrtle (I mean, she forgot to bring a book? Come on!). Not super contemporary but Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry for the epic storytelling that's associated with classics. It's a huge chunkster and yet totally absorbing from cover to cover - should keep Myrtle out of my hair for a while. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson because so much of what people appreciate from classics is the beauty of the language, and this one has the most delicious language that I've read in some time. Last, and a little out of left field, maybe The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers because it's a sort of love story that seems so re-readable that you'd get more and more from with each re-read. Even on my first read, there was something about it that just seemed inherently "classic." It seemed to me when I read it that it had so many layers of meaning that you could just go on pealing them off forever if you chose to read it again and again, and a classic should definitely stand up to re-reading, no?

4) As you explore the other Weekly Geeks posts: Did any inspire you to want to read a book you've never read before—or reread one to give it another chance? Tell us all about it, including a link to the post or posts that sparked your interest. If you end up reading the book, be sure to include a link to your post about it in a future Weekly Geeks post!

Well, I haven't been around to visit too many folks quite yet, but Chris and company have me convinced that maybe I should give Dickens another shot and have (another) go at A Tale of Two Cities. Perhaps I shall!

Monday, January 26, 2009

A (not bookish) Funny!

Tonight I have for you - an illustration of me - IN REAL LIFE! Point, laugh, and be merry!

So (my friends always said the funniest stories started with "so"), my 10-year-old cousin got Guitar Hero World Tour for Christmas. I tried it once and quickly became addicted. Now, I take every chance I get to go over and play with his toys rock with him and my aunt and uncle, on occasion, too. We're not very good, but we have a great time. So, tonight after they provided me with a scrumptious (and authentic!) Mexican dinner, my cousin and I set off for the playroom to have a round of Guitar Hero. As we were playing, my aunt decided she would go visit my grandparents - behold this dialogue and see if you notice anything odd.

Aunt: I'll be back in a little. I'm going to see Gram and Pap.
Cousin: You're leaving us here by ourselves?!?!?
Aunt: Well, your dad's here!
Aunt: And you know, Megan's a grown up!
Me: Surprise!

Guess my secret's out, though I am, apparently, "too fun to be a grown up." Being a grown-up is way over-rated anyway, no?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I Have Lived a Thousand Years by Livia Bitton-Jackson

Greetings, bloglings. I'm afraid I don't have much to report, the whole tainted chicken episode, while not lasting terribly long, did kind of knock my whole week for a loop. Thanks all, for your comments on the previous post, I am, indeed, feeling much better - in fact, I was better astonishingly quickly, which was great (and it was good getting to watch that inauguration).

I was happily reading about a book a week, which is a rate of reading I deem acceptable for myself given my turtle-like reading capabilities and many distractions like jobs and relationships with humans and televisions and blogs and things, but I've sadly fallen off the pace since I didn't much feel like doing any of the things I normally do through the week (speaking of, you should see my Google Reader! On second thought, maybe you shouldn' might make you scream or cry like it does me). Due to my failure to promptly review books that I've read, however, I do have a book to review! It's next weekend that's in jeopardy not least because I probably won't have a book to review (much less time to review it). *Sigh* But onto more depressing fare. Yes, that's right, it's time for my "annual" January Holocaust book, which thankfully, has not morphed into a January Holocaust-fest like last year.

I Have Lived a Thousand Years is Livia Bitton-Jackson's (born Elli Friedmann) memoir of growing up during the Holocaust. Her story begins as the Nazis invade Budapest. Shortly thereafter, Elli and her family are forced into a ghetto which then leads to their imprisonment and forced labor in a seemingly endless litany of concentration camps.

Aimed more at a young adult audience, I Have Lived a Thousand Years is written in a present-tense first person style that is reminiscent of a girl's diary. Though it may be aimed a younger audience, it doesn't gloss over the painful details of a childhood lived under the impossible cruelty of the Nazis, though it doesn't always give quite as many vivid details as others I've read. Somehow, though, it is not the most violent and tortuous situations that leave the biggest impression but the more understated moments, like the image of Elli running barefoot outside realizing she didn't get to say good-bye to her father, possibly for the last time, or the sound of the old men in the ghetto constantly chanting the Psalms in the days after the younger men are taken away.

The conundrum of reviewing the Holocaust memoir is that you can't. I can't very well sit and say "I enjoyed this or that," but Bitton-Jackson's memories are vivid and well-told. After the first few chapters, the writing flows easily and for a story of such painful events, it is surprisingly difficult to put down. Even though I've read my fair share of Holocaust memoirs, I was staggered by many of Elli's experiences not least the sheer amount of places she and her mother are taken by train to do forced labor over a relatively short period of time. The only minor quibble I could make with the writing is that the most dramatic language seems to arrive well before the most dramatic events. The narrative, well before the family is experiencing ghettos and concentration camps, is peppered with "Oh my Gods" and "Will I ever...?" that seem to indicate extensive foreknowledge which seems a bit overblown in a book that is written from a present tense perspective and an unnecessary effort to create drama. Soon, though, the events change to suit the language. While the writing continues in the same way, the drama and tragedy are totally real and well-suited to the language, and there is no longer a need for it to be manufactured by portentous language.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What Being a Geek Means To Me

Greetings, fellow internet travelers! I've decided to funnel my personal interludes into even posts with relatively little actual content since so many of you seem to enjoy them. (Yay! You like me! You really like me...and all my circular ramblings!)

Having sufficiently recovered from eating some tainted chicken yesterday at work (I don't recommend this - it kind of sucks - but if you're going to eat tainted chicken, definitely do it the day before a really historic presidential inauguration so you can take the day off without guilt but not be so ill that you can't enjoy watching the the new president get sworn in and give a really great speech), I sat down this evening with the intention of writing an e-mail to someone about a book exchange I'm taking part in. Pretty basic - a little "hey, how you doing? I'm sending this book to X person." Instead of just getting to the point I rambled on somewhat humorously (I hope) for several paragraphs. Having done that, I thought, "Hey, I can't let all this verbosity (is that a word? I think it's a word...spellchecker?) go to waste. I should go blog so I can afflict people with it semi-publicly." So, I trundled myself over to the new Weekly Geeks site, where a group of people have picked up where Dewey left off. It's good to see that people have really stepped up to continue it, and I look forward to continuing to participate.

Anyhow, here's this week's question...

For those who have been with the group, either from the start or joined within recent months, what does being a member mean to you? What do you enjoy about the group? What are some of your more memorable Weekly Geeks that we might could do again? What could be improved as we continue the legacy that Dewey gave us?

I've been geeking since the very beginning. I wasn't going to sign up initially, but then I thought, hey I only really have to do it when I feel like it, and hey, this is Dewey - it can't help but be cool. So, sign up I did, and I've been at it on and off ever since.

To me, as to many others it seems, Weekly Geeks is about community. I think that I was a particularly big fan of the weeks when we were asked to go out and visit some Geeks we hadn't seen before either to comb their archives or to find something we had in common or just to leave a comment to say "hey, I've been here" and post the links to our travels in our Weekly Geeks post. The very first week, I remember, was like this, and I "met" a bunch of people whose blogs I still read mostly faithfully, if quietly, today. It's always fun getting out and "discovering" some new faces since it seems like even more great book bloggers are being added to our ranks every day. Between the Weekly Geeks and the 24 Hour Read-a-thon, there are an immense number of bloggers I've come to love because of Dewey's efforts at building up our community with both events.

Obviously, those sorts of make new friends "assignments" stuck out the most for me, but I also rather enjoyed being told to catch up on my reviews or organize my challenges and all those sorts of things that gave me just that little bit of needed motivation to get moving on some things that prove all to easy to put off.

If I had to suggest but one improvement, and I think it's been suggested already, I would like to see the weekly post spotlighting some peoples' response to the previous week's post. As much as I'd like to, I don't always get to visit as many people on the Mr. Linky as I'd like to, so it's kind of nice to have that spotlight so I'll at least go out and visit a few - or a few more.

Thanks to everybody who is working hard to continue this great thing that Dewey gave us. I'm sure we all greatly appreciate your efforts.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

Wow, it's been a slow week in blogland for me, which is bad because it seems that everybody else is really back in the bloggy swing of things. Blogland is in full swing and so's the workload at my job where it seems like we were busier than ever this week. Every day I try to sit down and read what everybody's writing and rarely get very far before getting distracted by all of life's have tos (and a few of those pesky other want tos, too). It all reminds me of why I've always been (and continue to be despite my best efforts) a big old lurker. All this commenting stuff makes this bloghopping take so much longer. Yet it would be a bizarre contradiction if I stopped taking the time to comment in the name of getting through the posts in my Google reader quicker, no?

Is anybody starting to get the feeling that the brief personal interludes at the beginning of most of my posts with actual content are merely serving to get me into the flow of writing? Because I'm pretty sure that's why I do this. Or else I'm just dragging my feet without really knowing why. Anywho, I'm all warmed up now, so on to the good stuff...

I finished a great book last weekend and my first read that will be released this year. It was one of those books that was fully satisfying and one that I knew that I would be recommending before I even came close to turning the last page. Any book that can make me forget that A) it's snowing outside and B) I'm sitting on a rock hard kitchen chair that's really making my back hurt for a considerable amount of time definitely gets my vote. Now the irony in all this is that, uh, I don't even remember requesting this ARC. Terrible, right? It arrived in the mail, and I was like...I chose this? I guess it sounds good, but when did I choose this? Oh well, all's well that ends well, and this book certainly does!

The book in question, of course, is Erica Bauermeister's debut novel The School of Essential Ingredients. Lillian recognizes from an early age that food is powerful. For Lillian, flavors can heal, spices can seduce, and even an ordinary apple can be magical for someone who eats it at just the right moment. During a monthly cooking class at her restaurant, Lillian sets out to show that cooking is much more than simply following directions in a recipe and eating is much more than a practical action to stave off hunger. As her students come from their seperate walks of life, each of their personal stories is illuminated and each of their lives is impacted by lessons they learn under Lillian's perceptive tutelage, lessons that extend far beyond how to bake a good cake or prepare Thanksgiving dinner. Slowly but surely, Lillian's students come to discover the power of a good meal to bring people together, to heal past hurts, and to alter the course of current struggles.

She saw that cookies that were soft and warm satisfied a different human need than those that were crisp and cooled. The more she cooked, the more she began to view spices as carriers of the emotions and memories of the places they were originally from and all those they had traveled through over the years. She discovered that people seemed to react to spices much as they did to other people, relaxing instinctively into some, shivering into a kind of emotional rigor mortis when encountering others.

The School of Essential Ingredients is a briliant blend of the obvious and the subtle just like the flavors that change the lives of Bauermeister's characters. Bauermeister's writing is a rare and sensual treat as her writing brings scents, flavors, and textures to life right alongside the poignantly rendered moments in the lives of each of the characters. Each of the students is fleshed out and all are having experiences that it is easy for the reader to relate to their own life. Their stories are both sweet and sad, but above all, genuine. Bauermeister's debut is a delicious story about food, about love, and about life that left me totally satisfied, even as I wiped a tear or two from my eye.

The frosting was a thick buttercream, rich as a satin dress laid against the firm, fragile texture of the cake. With each bite, the cake melted first, then the frosting, one after another, like lovers tumbling into bed.

That's two for two on books making me cry in 2009 which is actually a highly unusual event. And I should have written this review right after I finished the book instead of now when the afterglow has worn off in the face of a week of hard work - then maybe it would not be so feeble - though it is admirably concise, for me. *sigh* I loved this book a lot more than it seems like from the review, mmkay?

The School of Essential Ingredients will be available where books are sold on January 22, 2009. And have I mentioned that it was really, really good?

Read other reviews at:

A Reader's Respite
Books and Cooks

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Introspecting...I mean..Booking Through Thursday

But, enough about books … Other things have words, too, right? Like … songs!

If you’re anything like me, there are songs that you love because of their lyrics; writers you admire because their songs have depth, meaning, or just a sheer playfulness that has nothing to do with the tunes.

So, today’s question?

What songs … either specific songs, or songs in general by a specific group or writer … have words that you love?
And … do the tunes that go with the fantastic lyrics live up to them?

Wow, I haven't done this meme in a long, long time, but today's topic just begged for a little navel gazing on my part, and who doesn't love a little shameless navel gazing on occasion? I love all of my music collection with a fiery passion, but my favorite songs are the ones that have lyrics that connect to how I'm feeling or whatever is going on in my life. There are certain song lyrics that lurk inside my subconscious associated with all the more important times in my life. I love the tunes, too, but it's the lyrics that really make these songs "sing." Here's a few...

Boston - Augustana

I think I'll go to Boston,
I think that I'm just tired
I think I need a new town, to leave this all behind...
I think I need a sunrise, I'm tired of the sunset,
I hear it's nice in summer, some snow would be nice...

The Dance - Garth Brooks

And now I'm glad I didn't know,
The way it all would end, the way it all would go,
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I'd have had to miss the dance

I'm Moving On - Rascal Flatts

I've lived in this place and I know all the faces
Each one is different but they're always the same
They mean me no harm but it's time that I face it
They'll never allow me to change
But I never dreamed home would end up where I don't belong
I'm movin' on

Life for Love - Enter the Haggis

Arms stretched
To catch the next horizon
A line to keep your eyes on
And I'm inclined to stare
But you close
Your eyes and wish for rainbows
Anywhere the wind blows
You will find me there
You pull your coat around your shoulders
You don't know what I know
Wind is only air

My Old Friend - Tim McGraw

My old friend, I recall
The times we had are hanging on my wall
I wouldn't trade them for gold
Cause they laught and they cry me and
somehow sanctify me
And they're woven in the stories I have told
And tell again...

Only Hope - Um...I like the Mandy Moore version.

Sing to me the song of the stars
Of your galaxy dancing and laughing
and laughing again
When it feels like my dreams are so far
Sing to me of the plans that you have
for me over again

When There's No One Around - Garth Brooks

This is a glimpse of a child that's within
He's so immature but he's still my best friend
If he could learn how to fly he'd never touch down
He's the kid that I am when there's no one around

This is the dance I do every day
I let my feet go and get carried away
I let my soul lead and follow the sound
It's the dance that I do when there's no one around

There they are - a song about Boston, oddly popular just as I was moving to Boston hoping to leave behind a string of disappointments. A song about not regretting the things that I've done, even though I'm often tempted to think so many of them were mistakes when it comes to the practical everyday living of life. A song about leaving a part of my life where I couldn't grow or change because everyone already had an idea of who I was that I desperately wanted to escape. A song that simultaneously encompasses the part of me that is game for every new experience and the one that's scared and wants to sit and wait and see if something comes along. A song about the friends that I love more than anything, yet fail to keep in touch with as life sweeps me along. A song about God's plan that want to trust in, and a song about getting in touch with my truest self - you know, the one I shuffle off and stash on a high shelf when there are people around.

Maybe not all what the songwriters intended as the meaning but their meaning to me. They all have meaning for me, and that's what makes the lyrics seem especially good to me, though, hopefully they seem good to some other people, too, or else I bet you're all quite bored with all this.....well...self-reflection (*ahem* navel-gazing). I did kind of warn you, didn't I?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Longest Trip Home by John Grogan

I'm sitting down to review this book, and I'm thinking about a book store. A certain big name bookstore that I'm thinking of (One word! Starts with a "B"!), as some may know, has no established biography/memoir section. Instead, it haphazardly lumps its memoirs and biographies among its other categories which, is, for all intensive purposes, abysmal. If it's a person associated with music - you'll find that biography amid books about learning to play the guitar and the like. Literary figures' biographies/memoirs fall under the literature and fiction category of the store despite being neither (though this categorization is, perhaps, closer the mark) - likewise are filed the memoirs of people with no fame or preconceived notions to draw on. This practice leads to memoirs popping up in the unlikeliest of places with little or no attention to subject matter when it comes to categorization, only a passing thought to what the author or figure might be associated with.

Imagine my utter lack of surprise, then, while browsing at this store's little brother store to find The Longest Trip Home, a humorous and touching depiction of John Grogan's rather ordinary life nestled among the rest of the books in the - can you guess it? - animal section. But for a passing mention of a childhood pet and, of course, a brief mention of the infamous Marley that has little to no bearing on the rest of the memoir, this book has nothing at all to do with animals. While I love this store, this is one of the more irritating things about it. What a disservice they are doing to this book and many like it by mercilessly mis-categorizing them in order to avoid doing something so practical as creating a memoir/biography section which customers are often asking for leaving booksellers blundering about in their attempts to explain why so large a bookstore would fail to have such a section. Hiding books where no one would guess they would be and creating an impression that a book should have a certain subject matter that it really doesn't contain certainly doesn't do authors or readers any favors.

But, that's enough of me on my soapbox. I've got a book to review here, you know?

In The Longest Trip Home, John Grogan maps his journey from his idyllic suburban childhood with his fiercely Catholic parents into his adulthood as a journalist attempting to reconcile his own worldview with his parents' faith. Grogan's childhood in suburban Detroit is the epitome of everything his Catholic parents didn't have in their own childhoods' and wished for their children to have. Their chosen neighborhood is full of green backyards, features a private beach of sorts shared by the whole neighborhood, and most importantly contains a Catholic school to educate their four children.

Grogan's childhood is marked by his rebellions both small and large against his parents' rigidly held but well-intentioned Catholic morals. Though Grogan loves and respects his parents and sees them for the good people they are despite and perhaps because of their pious meddling, he can't seem to grasp their faith. Nonetheless, he paves over his indiscretions and lack of belief with lies big and small until, as he grows older and leaves for college, he realizes that he is living two lives in a desperate attempt not to disappoint the people he loves most. When the truth begins to come out, John and his parents will have to find away to cross the divide between his two lives.

The Longest Trip Home is a finely wrought tale of growing up. Grogan's anecdotes of his childhood and teenage antics as well as his pleas to God to deliver him from the consequence of his comical missteps are laugh out loud funny. Much more profound, though, is his chronicle of growing up and beginning to understand his parents for who they are and to understand himself in what he cannot share with them. Even so, his story is filled with the love and respect he has for his parents both as a child under their discipline and as an adult who knows that he will never share the intense faith that pervades his parents' lives. Grogan's story comes full circle as he returns, with his brothers and sister, to sit at his father's death bed, and it is here that the book is at its most powerful. John's last moments with his father are rendered so poignantly that I found myself crying as if I knew them both personally. Grogan's memoir is a quiet but powerful tale of what would be an ordinary life and an ordinary family were they not made extraordinary by their great love and Grogan's exemplary writing.

Standing there, I thought about spring's glide into summer, and summer's march to autumn, and the reliable promise of dawn in every setting sun. I thought about the old maple tree that fell in the yard and the young garden that flourished in its footprint. Mostly I thought about Dad and the exemplary life he had led - and, for all our differences, the indelible mark he had left on me.

This book was released in October 2008, and if you're looking for it at *cough*Borders*ahem, cough, cough* you can find it in the "Animal" section. ;-)

Monday, January 5, 2009

The 2008 Leafy Awards

Come one, come all to the second annual Leafy Awards wherein I make up some bogus categories and bizarre commentary in order to honor every book I found worthy (or unworthy as the case may be) this past year and be entertaining all at once. Now if I weren't the laziest blogger on the Earth (Hello, I'm Megan, and I'm the Laziest Blogger on the Whole EARTH!), I would make a cute little graphic with, you know, a leaf or something on it, to commemorate this tradition and make this post more visually appealing. Instead, I'll consider my great feat in doing this simply being able to spell the word "commemorate" (or did the spell checker do it? You'll never know, will you?). Without further ado, here are the honors. Of the severely feeble 42 books I managed to read this year (hey you, quit pointing and laughing), these are the ones that most grabbed my attention both good and bad.

Surprise Hits

Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff (Why, this is a novel in verse. As an admitted loather of all things poetry related, I shouldn't have liked this at all, and yet, it was the first book of the year that I really really liked. And if I'd reprised the category of "Best Tearjerker" this year, it would have won in that category, too.)
A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father by Augusten Burroughs (Because it's so depressing that no one could very well like it, and yet, it was really good.)

Best Memoir

Tears of the Desert by Halima Bashir (Why are you even waiting for my justification? You should be out reading this!)

Best Laugh out Loud Funny Travel Memoirs

The Cactus Eaters by Dan White (What this guy did is just insane...and hilarious!)
Queen of the Road by Doreen Orion (A part of me wishes it had been me touring the U.S. in a sweet converted bus, but since I couldn't, this was definitely the next best thing.)

Best Historical Fiction

Sweetsmoke by David Fuller (also voted "Most Likely To Make Me Miss Historic Election Coverage" because I couldn't put it down on election night)

Best Pageturner

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer (I heart angsty vampire love stories...mmkay? There it is. My secret shame out on the table for all to see. Also voted "Most Likely to Make Me Forget To Christmas Shop/Pay My Bills/Feed the Dog/Get Out of Bed")

Best YA Fiction

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (What a realistic narrator! What a spot on depiction of high school life!)
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (What incredible atmosphere! What brilliant plotting! Also voted "Best Book to Distract Me from Being Dreadfully Ill during my much anticipated Long Weekend Off From Work")

Most Unique

When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale (It's like a book written by my 9 year old cousin except without being terrible and featuring lots of fart jokes. Oh and he's not British. Really, maybe you should just click on the link and read the review because I'm not quite getting the commentary right here...)
Ellington Boulevard by Adam Langer (It's a novel about a musical based on the characters of a novel buying a flat in New York City in a musical in real life...and it's not half so confusing as this sentence! As a matter of fact, it's quite awesome.)

Best Women's Fiction

The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton (Because it's a heartwarming sort of story without being too...fluffy. Also voted "Book the Most Women In My Family Read this Year as a direct result of my shameless evangelizing")

Best Re-Read

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (Because I've tried to like Dickens, but don't. And yet, I like this book. Enough to read it twice.)

The Christmas Heartwrencher

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (This is a new category born of my unintentional tendency to read a really emotionally grueling yet incredibly awesome book on or very near Christmas Day. Last year it was After You'd Gone. This year, this. Also born of the fact that I find it impossible to categorize but loved it irrationally.)

The Best Story Ever Told Really Poorly

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin (Greg Mortensen seems like about the most awesome guy going with all the very incredible things he is doing with education in Pakistan, and his story is powerful and captivating. However, this book took me nearly an eon to read and was you say...clunky.)

Most Depressing
(It should be noted that I like depressing books. An unhealthy percentage of the books I read tend toward the depressing. This Leafy is awarded for merciless, unrelenting depression taking place through 90% of the book in question. It should also be noted that both of these books were actually really good.)

Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally (This book just smacks you in the face again and again with the unbearable cruelty of the Holocaust, but then in the other 10 percent of the book here's this Nazi Party member using his evil for good, so to speak, to save more people than any other one person saved during the Holocaust.)
A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs (You may have noticed this listed under "Surprise hits," too. So depressing it's good.)

Book That Probably Got My Blog the Most Hits

Black Wave by Jean and John Silverwood (Hey, I didn't even really like it, but I guess maybe I owe it a debt of gratitude or some sort of recognition or something. Or whatever.)

The Mehs (AKA Books Everybody Else Loved that I just felt...meh AKA books that put me in the book blogger leper colony)

Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan (Great writing, but, uh...not really a mystery. Ooops. My bad.)
Aberrations by Penelope Przekop
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

There it is, everybody! Another year of reading in the books (hah! I didn't even mean to say that!). Onward, to another year of great reading!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

War Through the Generations Reading Challenge

Anna and Serena are hosting a series of very interesting challenges directed at reading books about wars and their impact. The first is a World War II challenge. Participants are asked to commit to reading at least 5 books by the end of 2009. I've always been interested in reading books about World War II and the Holocaust, so I'm hard pressed to resist signing up for this challenge. Given my track record with challenges and the fact that I've already gone overboard joining them, I'll be shooting for the minimum 5 books.

Here's a tentative list...

I Have Lived a Thousand Years by Livia Bitton-Jackson
Resistance by Agnes Humbert
Guernica by Dave Boling
Pied Piper by Nevil Shute
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

I'm quite excited about this challenge, but, I should mention, even if you're not the challenge joining sort or have already overburdened yourself with challenges for this new year, you should still check out their great WWII Reading List which is a pretty great resource if you happen to be interested in reading some great books from this important time period. Being a total list hound, this may be what drew me in the first place....

The 2009 Pub Challenge

This is the 2009 continuation of the one challenge I successfully completed last year, so I'll be trying to go two for two. The challenge is simply to read 9 books published for the first time in 2009, 5 of which must be fiction, none of which may be YA.

My choices will most likely be taken from this list...

1. The Glister by John Burnside
2. The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
3. Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton
4. The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips
5. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
6. First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria by Eve Brown-Waite

The 2009 ARC Reading Challenge

Teddy has brought back the ARC reading challenge which I joined (and failed at!) last year. This year it's an all year event that requires us to list all the ARCs, which are defined as "anything sent from a publisher or author with the expectation that we will review them," in our possession and should we have over 12, we should read and review 12 within the year to meet the requirements of the challenge.

Suffice it to say that I have well over 12, so I will be reading 12 (hopefully *more*!). Here comes the really unpleasant part - the listing of the "ARCs" in my possession.

1. In the Country of Brooklyn by Peter Golenbock
2. The Longest Trip Home by John Grogan Review
3. Franklin and Lucy by Joseph E. Persico
4. Hurry Down Sunshine by Michael Greenberg
5. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
6. The White Mary by Kira Salak
7. Stealing Athena by Karen Essex
8. Apples and Oranges by Marie Brenner
9. The Queen of Sleepy Eye by Patti Hill Review
10. The Glimmer Palace by Beatrice Colin
11. Resistance by Agnes Humbert
12. Guernica by Dave Boling
13. Stalin's Children by Owen Matthews
14. Heavier Than Air by Nona Caspers
15. The Painter From Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein
16. The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister Review
17. The Glister by John Burnside Review
18. The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson
19. The Fireman's Wife by Jack Riggs Review
20. Joker One by Donovan Campbell
21. American Rust by Philipp Meyer
22. The Weight of a Mustard Seed by Wendell Steavenson
23. Something Like Beautiful by Asha Bandele
24. The Lost City of Z by David Grann
25. The Belivers by Zoe Heller
26. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
27. Canvey Island by James Runcie Review
28. Outcasts United by Warren St. John
29. When Skateboards Will Be Free by Said Sayrafiezadeh
30. Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth
31. Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung
32. Baby Jesus Pawn Shop by Lucia Orth
33. Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redmption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton Review
34. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See Review
35. Don't Call Me a Crook by Bob Moore Review
36. Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
37. The Wish Maker by Ali Sethi
38. First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria by Eve Browne-Waite Review
39. Stone's Fall by Iain Pears
40. The Blue Notebook by James Levine
41. The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
42. Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji
43. The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips Review
44. Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant
45. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
46. The Texicans by Nina Vida Review
47. The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha
48. The Rapture by Liz Jensen
49. South of Broad by Pat Conroy
50. The Invention of Everything Else by Smantha Hunt
51. Homer's Odyssey by Gwen Cooper
52. Family Sentence by Jeanine Cornillot
53. Black Angels by Linda Beatrice Brown
54. The Killing Circle by Andrew Pyper
55. The Information Officer by Mark Mills
56. The Geography of Love by Glenda Burgess

Books Read in 2009

New Year, New List!

1. The Longest Trip Home by John Grogan (331)
*2. The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister (240)
3. I Have Lived a Thousand Years by Livia Bitton-Jackson (216)

4. Canvey Island by James Runcie (300)
*5. The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue (320)

6. The Queen of Sleepy Eye by Patti Hill (388)
7. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (203)
8. The Glister by John Burnside (228)

9. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (145)
*10. Picking Cotton by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton with Erin Torneo (291)
11. The China Garden by Liz Berry (284)

12. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (309)
13. A Step From Heaven by An Na (156)
*14. The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips (287)

*15. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen (374)
16. Lake News by Barbara Delinsky (380)

17. In the Beauty of the Lilies by John Updike (491)
18. Don't Call Me a Crook! by Bob Moore (255)

19. Indian Creek Chronicles by Pete Fromm (184)
20. The Texicans by Nina Vida (296)
*21. Pied Piper by Nevil Shute (272)

22. First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria by Eve Brown-Waite (306)
23. Stardust by Neil Gaiman (248)

*24. Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going (183)
25. The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (470)
26. The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty (291)
27. Freewill by Chris Lynch (148)
28. The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty (344)


29. The Fireman's Wife by Jack Riggs (300)
30. Wild Roses by Deb Caletti (296)
31. Black Angels by Linda Beatrice Brown (258)
32. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (287)


33. In the Country of Brooklyn by Peter Golenbock (663)
34. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (96)
35. Downsiders by Neal Shusterman (244)