I read 29 books this past year. This does not include the self-help books I skimmed, which I did not include in my “One Word Book Reviews” because, quite honestly, who likes to admit they’re reading self-help books?
29 books isn’t a particularly grand number for someone who claims to be a “voracious” reader. In fact, initially I was sure I had read 39 books- recounting I am somewhat shocked the number is so low. What have I been doing this year? Writing too many blog posts, I guess.
Most of the books I read weren’t even particularly memorable. Of course, it’s hard to tell if a book is worth committing time to until you’re a good way into it, and once I am invested, even a little, in a book, it’s hard for me to close it leave it behind.
This year, I read three books about the holocaust, several memoirs about Christian life, two classics, two books about fundamentalist Mormons, one lesbian love story (you can probably guess which one by the title, which SHOULD have clued me in, but didn’t), and one book about a woman who falls in love with a man who was raised by wolves. Which was weird. I read more female than male authors, and hardly any non-fiction.
So, here is a review of some of the books I read in 2010 in three categories: Pretty Pretty Bad, Meh, and Pretty Pretty Good.
Pretty Pretty Bad:
The Shunning by Beverly Lewis: And this is why I don’t read Christian fiction. Plot: An Amish girl is shunned by her family for something or other, I forget what. Why is the Christian book market inundated with Amish romance novels? What is the obsession with the plain people? I mean, I like the movie Witness, but it had Harrison Ford and a young Viggo Mortensen. Beverly Lewis is a major Christian author. This book had a ridiculous plot, shoddy prose, and a predictable, absurd ending. It was Harlequin without the sex.
Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott: I love Anne Lamott. I really do. Operating Instructions helped me through my severe post-partum depression after Caleb was born. (I think I’m still here thanks to Zoloft and that book.) Anne is refreshingly candid, and really, really funny. Grace (Eventually) is her third book of essays about her faith. A friend commented that although she enjoys Lamott’s writing, as a person, Lamott hasn’t really… progressed. Grown. Become wiser. Learned from her mistakes. Those kind of things.
I began this book when it was first published and finally finished it last year. There are some lovely pieces, but so many are just full of political wackiness. In one essay, Anne vehemently slams anybody and everybody who is against abortion. And though Anne’s passion was once something I appreciated about her, her passionate stance, dare I say hatred, of anyone who refers to a fetus as a human being, is unreasonable. And scary. And to follow up that essay with another about how she helped a dying friend commit suicide was just- what’s the word? There’s no word. It was too much.
Her essays have turned from thoughts on personal faith to far, far, far leftist propaganda. And here’s what bothers me most. As much as I love Anne and her hippie Jesus-loving ways, I know in my heart of hearts that she would not like me.
The Language of Trees by Ilie Ruby: Ruby’s ghost story is set on Canandaigua Lake, which is just outside of Rochester. The novel was profiled in the local paper, and always one to support “local” authors (I’m not actually sure that she’s local), I ordered it right away. Yes, I spend way too much money on books.
I think this is her first novel, so I’m cutting her some slack. Ruby weaves together Native American folklore with a pretty forgettable love story. However, Ruby’s lyrical prose saves the novel and I have a feeling her next novel will be better.
Churched: One Kid's Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess by Matthew Paul Turner: Another kindle read- this one was funny, but felt incomplete. I imagine writing it was a cathartic exercise for Turner, a guy raised in a strict, fundamentalist church. The book is filled with stories that will astound the non-religious. (For the rest of us, it’s hardly anything we haven’t heard before.) My beef is with the title: I have no idea where he stands with God now. I frequent Turner’s blog, Jesus Needs New PR, which only baffles me further. The book felt incomplete to me, probably because Turner hasn’t yet reconciled his beliefs, whatever they may be, with the holy mess from whence he came. Still, he is a witty writer, and I will watch out for future books.
Second Nature by Alice Hoffman: Hoffman writes fantastic stories- modern-day magical realism. There’s always an extraordinary facet to her storytelling, and I usually enjoy her novels. This one, the one about the woman who falls in love with a man who was raised by wolves, was too much of a stretch for me. A reader needs a story to be believable. And this was too far a stretch of imagination and ultimately failed as a “fairy tale,” though it was as bleak as Grimm’s.
Pretty Pretty Good
Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro: There is one short story in this volume that I can’t get out of my head. Every writer should read Munro, arguably the greatest female writer alive today. Her stories are poetry.
Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz: The novel’s protagonist is an admissions officer at Princeton. The author was once an admissions officer at, I believe, Dartmouth. The story isn’t particularly compelling, though it holds one’s interest- some reviewers complain about the main character’s “aloofness.” Just the same, I liked her, and empathized with her personal plights and her fall into a rather deep depression. The most fascinating aspect of the book is the rare glimpse into the inner-workings of an ivy-league school’s admissions process. Plus, there are enough allusions to great literary characters and scenes to keep any book geek on her toes.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky: This is supposedly the easiest of Dostoevsky’s novels. I’m going to tell you why reading these Russian novels is so difficult, just in case you were wondering. Every character has three different names, and they all freaking sound the same.
Our main character is the murderous yet sympathetic Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov. Sometimes he is referred to by his first two names, sometimes only by his last name. His close friends and family call him Rodya. All of the main characters are similarly afflicted with multiple slavic names. Semyonovna Marmeladov- or Sonya! Dmitri Prokofych Razumikhin! Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin! (Who is not to be confused with Porfiry Petrovich, of course.) My pee-sized brain had trouble at first, but thankfully, the characters are distinct and can be sorted out in context.
A truly great novel. It raises moral ambiguity within the reader- sure Rodya killed two women in cold blood, but we do so want him to get away with it. Because poverty drove him to it, and deep down, he’s a decent man who loves his family. And isn’t his inner turmoil punishment enough?
Other stand-outs from this year include Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, Markus Zuasak’s I Am The Messenger, Edith Wharton’s Twilight Sleep, and Lorrie Moore’s Anagrams.
As for the self-help books. They were both pretty good. One was about depression and the other about organization. The problem with both books was the way they were set up: the first halves explain why we are the way we are: depressed, unorganized, or in my case, both. The second half offers solutions. If, like me, you have difficulty FINISHING a self-help book, you end up knowing WHY you are the way you are, but have no idea how to fix yourself.
Both books seemed promising; perhaps I’ll give them another go.
The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs
Living Organized: Proven Steps for a Clutter-Free and Beautiful Home
Because I am a comment whore and because I LOVE a good book recommendation: what was your favorite read of 2010? (Commenting is actually quite easy. You can even comment anonymously if you want to.)