Friday, June 27, 2008

Reading update: July 2

Despite the lack of updates on my reading, I actually have found quite a lot of time to read lately. (Funny what happens when your social life consists almost entirely of a boyfriend who is 600+ miles away most of the time and 6 or 7 friends who are currently all completely snowed under at work). Here's the list, to the best of my memory. I'm sure I'm missing some, but if I can't remember them, they probably weren't all that great, anyway.

Amitav Ghosh -- The Hungry Tide

Lovely throughout, not all that satisfying in the end. Hate that.

David Mitchell -- The Cloud Atlas
This one was a surprise to me. I normally hate super-postmodern/experimental books, and Mitchell definitely falls under that category. But after hearing several friends whose taste in books I really trust rave about how great this book was, I finally gave in. Boy, am I glad I did. The Cloud Atlas is a series of 6 or so stories, set in all different time periods and worlds, linked only tenuously to one another. Each story is a different genre, from futuristic sci-fi to 18th century epistolary novel and so on, and the book has a sort of nested set-up, in which each story breaks off suddenly, only to be resumed again in the second half of the book. Hard to explain, but lovely, lovely, lovely to read. Every single one of the stories grabbed me and pulled me in, and I am still utterly amazed at Mitchell's ability to write so eloquently in so many different voices and genres. Not a top-5 book for me, but definitely way up there in terms of favorites.

Jennifer Sey - Chalked Up
Had a brief period of minor obsession with gymnastics. Something about the Olympics coming up, I'm sure. This just came out, the memoir of a former US gymnastics champion. Interesting, not great. I found it to be a fairly typical lambasting of the gymnastics world and its negative effects on little girls' bodies, minds, and spirits. I will say that Sey places more accountability on herself than most books of this type -- she doesn't just blame all her misery on the coaches, so that was refreshing.

Joan Ryan -- Little Girls in Pretty Boxes
Not much to say about this one. Part of the same momentary obsession as the above book. (And you know what the silliest part is? I don't even have a working TV, so I probably won't watch even a lick of the Olympics this summer).

Jack O'Connnell -- The Resurrectionist
Very interesting novel. I'm struggling to even describe it. It's very film-noir, in a way, and it makes me feel like you feel when you hear the words "It was a dark and stormy night." In other words, in my head, the book is all wrapped in blue-black sky and menacing clouds. Basically, it's about a father, Sweeney, who brings his young son, Danny to a hospital where the doctors claim they'll be able to wake him from the coma he's been in since a tragic accident. O'Connell interweaves the story of Danny and his father with the world of a series of dark comic books that the boy was reading before he lost consciousness, and it's the blurring of fantasy and reality that's most interesting. I loved the way O'Connell leaves us wondering what is real and what is the grief-fueled fantasy of a devastated father. Really enjoyed it.

Lee Martin -- The Bright Forever
This book left me feeling a little . . . dirty. (No, not in THAT way!) More like . . . complicit. Basically, it's the story of a little girl's tragic disappearance and the ripples of its aftermath out into the world of those around her. Martin does a masterful job of revealing the story bit by bit so that the reader only gradually realizes that the solid ground beneath her feet, and her clear understanding of "what happened" and how the various characters were involved, is little more than quicksand. You're left feeling like you bought into the lies the characters told themselves, and like you're somehow complicit in what happens to the girl. I didn't find the characters in this story likable at all, in the end, but they were real, to be sure. And, in fact, I didn't much like the story, but I like the mastery behind it. This is not a book that leaves you feeling good when you've finished it, it's not beautiful. But it does make you feel unsettled, uneasy, and it sticks with you, and I think that takes, in fact, more talent, then just writing something that makes your reader feel good.

Lloyd Alexander -- The Book of Three
A book I loved as a kid. I still enjoyed it this time around, but didn't find it nearly as compelling. Reading it did, however, make me totally nostalgic for the Black Cauldron PC game my dad bought for me in the late 80s. Of course, he was the one who spent most of the time playing the game -- he kicked ASS at it, and I was, unfortunately, too easily frustrated.

Robyn Scott -- 20 Chickens for a Saddle
I listened to this one on CD in my car, and it was a good book for that approach. First of all, Scott has a beautiful, lilting New Zealand accent, which I could listen to for approximately, oh, forever, without tiring. But it was also a fascinating story. I've read many white-person-out-of-place-in-Africa books before, but usually they feel much more distant from my life. (The Poisonwood Bible, for example, is set in the '60s, and Out of Africa somewhere earlier, even, than that). But Scott is actually a few years younger than me, so her childhood in Africa was happening so close to my own childhood in a world as far off as imaginable. Really, really funny, but also poignant, and Scott has a real ear for description of a landscape. I've never been to Africa, but I could imagine it all in my head so easily. It also totally made me want to run away and live in a converted cowshed in the African outback for a while. :-)

Beverly Cleary -- The Mouse and the Motorcycle
For work. Never read this one as a kid, but it's cute.

Beverly Cleary -- Ramona the Pest
Also for work. I'd forgotten that Ramona's cat is named Picky-picky. What a great name! I'm totally naming my next cat Picky-picky. (Aside: I have a friend that named his cats Beezus and Ramona. So cute! I wish I'd thought of it first).

L. Frank Baum -- The Wizard of Oz.
Yep, for work. The slippers aren't ruby in the book! I feel betrayed by the movie industry!

Astrid Lindgren -- Pippi Longstocking
Yep, my job involves reading lots of kids books. Didn't like this as much as I did as a kid. Now Pippi seems sort of annoying, whereas then she was totally jealousy-worthy because of her freedom and complete disregard for the rules.

Trenton Lee Stewart -- The Mysterious Benedict Society
Best new kids chapter book I've read in ages and ages. Loved the characters, loved the writing, loved the story. Stewart's writing reminds me a bit of Roald Dahl, in terms of both style and quirkiness. I actually picked this one up from a display in a bookstore -- not for work! Can't recommend it enough, for kids of all ages.

Jeffrey Ford -- The Shadow Year
This book creeped me out. Seriously. It gave me nightmares. I made myself finish it, but I can't say I really enjoyed it that much.

These are totally not in order, and I'm positive I'm missing some, but oh well. Right now, I'm trying to plow my way through 100 Years of Solitude for my book group, and I'm also reading Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson.

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