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December booklist

1. An Abundance of Katherines, John Green

I read three John Green books this month, and this one was my favorite, for reasons probably explained later. Nutshell version: Colin has dated 19 girls named Katherine, and every one of them has broken up with him. In the throes of his latest heartbreak, he and a friend take a road trip, and end up in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere where they randomly stay with locals. Hijinks ensue, but mostly not in the way I expected, which is one reason I ♥ this book.

Also, it's FUNNY. And has FOOTNOTES.

2. A Jane Austen Education, William Deresiewicz

She [Austen] did not think her existence was quiet or trivial or boring: she thought it was delightful and enthralling, and she wanted us to see that our own are, too...

I was starting to get it now: the wonderful thing about life, if you live it right, is that it keeps taking you by surprise.

This is an honest-to-goodness intellectual-but-not-dry-or-snooty look at JA and her works (no OMG DARCY!!1! here) and you know what? I just absolutely loved it.

3. Digging up the Past, Sir Leonard Woolley

A charming little treatise from 1937 about why archeology is important. Best part: the photographs showing archeologists on digs in the Egyptian desert in three-piece suits!

4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling (audio)

YAY HARRY POTTER. It's been lovely rediscovering these books in a new format.

5. Medium Raw, Anthony Bourdain

He's blunt, often rude. He has a foul mouth. Look, I'm not recommending that anyone should read his books. But here's a sampling of why I love love LOVE Anthony Bourdain:

I'm extremely skeptical of the "language of addiction." I never saw heroin or cocaine as "my illness." I saw them as bad choices that I walked knowingly into.

PETA doesn't want stressed animals to be cruelly crowded into sheds, ankle-deep in their own crap, because they don't want any animals to die - ever - and basically think that chickens should, over time, gain the right to vote. I don't want animals stressed or crowded or treated cruelly or inhumanely because that makes them provably less delicious. And, often, less safe to eat.

Also, evidence that age and fatherhood is softening the man:

The fact that [my daughter is] a girl requires, I believe, extra effort. Dada may have, at various times in his life, been a pig, but Dada surely does not want to ever look like a pig again. This can't possibly be overstated. As the first of two boys, I can't even imagine what it must be like for a little girl to see her dad leering at another of her sex. This creature will soon grow up to be a young woman and that's something I consider every day.

I figure, I'm going to spoil the s**t out of this kid for a while, then pack her off to tae kwon do as soon as she's four years old. Her first day of second grade and Little Timmy at the desk behind her tries to pull her hair? He's getting an elbow to the thorax. My little girl may grow up with lots of problems: spoiled; with unrealistic expectations of the world; cultural identification confusion, perhaps (a product of too much traveling in her early years); considering the food she's exposed to, she shall surely have a jaded palate; and an aged and possibly infirm dad by the time she's sixteen. But she ain't gonna have any problems with self-esteem

And seriously, he can't be all bad when he admits to having adopted one shelter cat after another for his entire adult life.

6. Anna and the French Kiss, Stephanie Perkins

A good example of fun-but-realistic teen lit: it may be a boarding school, but there's not a paranormal ANYTHING in sight. It's light, it's bubbly, it's set in Paris... but it also deals remarkably realistically with the way teens actually feel and process things. That is to say, it's got some depth under the fluff. Also, the not-so-subtle Nicholas-Sparks type character made my WEEK.

7. Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon

If this is what's coming out of the Spanish literary scene these days, then I'm hoping we'll see more English translations heading our way. I admit I found this slow going at times, but more for sheer volume of information presented and not because of any lack of interest in the characters or plot. It's a wee bit gothic, a whole lot mystery, with a healthy helping of love and a whole lot of book-love.

Plot is too dense for me to even begin to describe it - look it up on Goodreads. :)

8. Matched, Ally Condie

More dystopian ya lit. Sigh. Sigh because I love a good dystopian novel, and this really, really had potential. I was TOTALLY into it, until ... see review #16.

However: this wins points for some genuinely interesting world-building (wish it had been fleshed out more, though) and excellent use of poetry.

"Do not go gentle into that good night."

It is one of my favorites of all the Hundred Poems, the ones our Society chose to keep, back when they decided our culture was too cluttered. They created commissions to choose the hundred best of everything: Hundred Songs, Hundred Paintings, Hundred Stories, Hundred Poems. The rest were eliminated. Gone forever. For the best,the Society said, and everyone believed because it made sense. How can we appreciate anything fully when overwhelmed with too much?

9. Frankly, My Dear, Molly Haskell

A study on the influence of Gone with the Wind on culture. I learned a bit I didn't know, and hey - I love talking about things I love, and reading this book was like having a great conversation about one of MY favorite books. (love the book, the movie's good but it's the book that has my heart.)

10. So Yesterday, Scott Westerfield

More YA, this time a mystery involving ideas found in books like The Tipping Point or Bellweather: what makes something popular and how can you harness that power? It was ... eh. Perfectly okay but nothing special.

11. Yonie Wondernose, Marguerite De Angeli

I tracked this down for my dad for Christmas - a beautiful children's book he remembered from the 1950s. Yonie is a little Amish boy who longs prove that he can be trusted like a man, but ach, his wondernose (curiosity) keeps getting him into trouble! This is just darling. De Angeli had great respect for the plain people and it shows. The illustrations are spectacular.

12. Looking For Alaska, John Green

I'm glad I don't do star ratings, because technically, this is an amazing book. It's well-written. It tackles tough issues head-on, and does it well. John Green perfectly captures the hurt and anger and confusion when someone makes a decision that take themselves away from you - whether it's suicide, or stupid choices, or the friend who suddenly does a 180 ... the feelings of loss and guilt and fear.

That is the fear: I have lost something important, and I cannot find it, and I need it. It is fear like if someone lost his glasses and went to the glasses store and they told him that the world had run out of glasses and he would just have to do without.

I feel like the execution of this book deserves darn near close to 5 stars.

But then there's how I FELT about it.

I hated Alaska, and I felt like we were supposed to love her - but what Miles saw as sexy, mysterious, and pixy-like, I saw as selfish, destructive, and deeply troubled. She needed help, not to be looked on as a goddess.

Besides that, the whole novel was one great big ball of foreboding, which is definitely not my favorite.

Fair warning: lots of swears. Lots and lots of drinking. Some sex. But also the most realistic portrayal of grief (in many different forms) I've seen in a long time, and so I think it's right up there with Sherman Alexie's Flight as far as Important Books go. This may not be the book for you, but there are people out there for whom it will be exactly the right book.

13. Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson

Bryyyyyyyyyyson. And lots and lots of linguistics!

14. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson

Yet more Bryson. Why did I think for so long that his book about his childhood wouldn't be interesting?! Seriously laugh-out-loud funny. As best I can tell, not having grown up in Iowa and definitely not having grown up in the 1950s, he captured the 1950s midwest perfectly.

... not that he isn't prone to exaggeration, especially when it comes to his mother.

15. Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman, Sam Wasson

Rather like Frankly, My Dear, only about Breakfast at Tiffany's obviously. This was more of a look at culture/feminism, and my favorite bits of all were about the choices of clothing for the movie and how that directly influenced fashions.

16. Crossed, Ally Condie

...this could have been so good. And it was not. It was boring. It was love-triangly. It suffers from middle-of-the-trilogy syndrome. It pretty much made me lose interest in the world that drew me into Matched. Disappointing!

17. Paper Towns, John Green

Look, is it sick that it's a blessing to have her out of the house? Of course it's sick. But she was a sickness in this family! How do you look for someone who announces she won't be found, who always leaves clues that lead nowhere, who runs away constantly? You can't!

Another selfish, self-centered, messed-up character who we're apparently supposed to find enthralling. Margo's run away more than a few times - she leaves clues behind, but claims she doesn't want to be found, and is entirely ungrateful when her worried friends disrupt their lives (and graduations!) to try to find her.

You were just playing with us, weren't you? You just wanted to make sure that even after you left to go have your fun, you were still the axis we spun around.

Maybe she was, maybe she wasn't. Again, though the writing was superb, I just could not totally like a book with such an unlikeable main character.

18. The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, Kathleen Flinn

A memoir about what it's really like to attend Le Cordon Bleu in Paris! Flinn is not the most adept of writers, and her attempts to grasp at deeper meanings seemed, well, a stretch at times. But the food saves the book - even a mediocre author can't ruin a book about food this amazing.

19. The Giant, William Pene du Bois

Ya'll know The 21 Balloons, right? (if not, find it, and read it. Now.) Somehow I never knew du Bois wrote anything else, until I found an old copy of this. The illustrations are great, the story of a very normal little boy who just happens to be ten stories high (give or take) is ridiculous and adorable. Love the quaint style!

20. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, JK Rowling (audio)

I think when I first read this I was annoyed at Harry for being so dang moody and angry the whole book, but on second thought ... I totally think he had a right to be.

21. Animal Vegetable Mineral, Barbara Kingsolver

Celebrated novelist moves her family to a farm and resolves to eat only locally sourced food for a year. Well ... sorta. Ok, this was a good book. It totally got me inspired to experiment in the garden a little more next year. I love her appreciation for good foods in season, her commitment to home cooking, her passion for a good stalk of asparagus. I also love that she's fairly un-snooty about the whole deal, isn't a OMG EATING ANIMALS IS MURDER! PETA-type person, and seems to avoid making others feel guilty for NOT living as she chooses to.


It did seem like this was a "good-parts" book: all the happy family-togetherness moments, all the triumphs, all the sweetness and light - all of that is there. What's missing are the failures, the arguments, and any sort of real longing for one of the forbidden foods. (I just want a BANANA, DANG IT.) I also noticed that sort of casually slipped into the very end of the book are a whole list of foods they made exceptions for. Hey, it's their project, they can make the rules: but I just spent a whole book thinking they were really only eating what they could grow/raise themselves or find from local farmers. It felt a bit sneaky to suddenly find out they were buying California raisins all along.

22. A Stolen Life, Jaycee Dugard

Good grief it is amazing anyone can live through 18 years of captivity and come out anywhere near normal. I don't normally read books like these because I really don't want to know the lengths to which a human being can mistreat another human being, but her story was so simply and honestly written that I finished it off in a few hours without even meaning to.

23. Grace for the Good Girl, Emily P. Freeman

Not even going to try to review this one except to say that it's good, and worth reading. Something will speak to you even if most of it doesn't.

Total books for this year: 150. Tomorrow come the 2011 Book Awards!



( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 31st, 2011 10:10 pm (UTC)
Have you read "The Angel's Game" also by Zafon? Great :-D

"An Abundance of Katherines" has been added to my ever-growing to read list ;)

Completely agree with you on both "Matched" and "Crossed".
Jan. 2nd, 2012 10:56 pm (UTC)
No, but if I see it I'll give it a shot!

I suppose I'll read the third Ally Condie book when it comes out, just to see what happens, but ... meh. I hate when a series does that!
Jan. 3rd, 2012 04:03 am (UTC)
Same! I couldn't wait to read "Crossed", now I'm pretty indifferent about reading the last book.
Jan. 2nd, 2012 09:48 pm (UTC)
I can see what you mean about John Green; for myself, my main problem with his books is that he seems to be writing the same story (slightly quirky boy searches for unattainable girl) over and over again. I'm hoping that The Fault in Our Stars will be different, or at least come at it from a different angle.
Jan. 2nd, 2012 10:53 pm (UTC)
The whole time I was reading Paper Towns, I was thinking how much it was like Looking for Alaska. Abundance of Katherines felt different enough to me (though with the same quicky boy/mysterious girl theme) that I was okay with it - I mean, if you find something that works for you, go for it - but PT and LfA were really TOO similar.
Jan. 2nd, 2012 11:05 pm (UTC)
Abundance was the first Green book I read, so there's also the fact that what seemed fresh and original then later on felt a bit less interesting. But it is true that that one had a different feel than the other two.
Jan. 3rd, 2012 01:47 pm (UTC)
Yes, same with me. I'm glad I picked that one up first.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )