Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Comprehensive List of the Minuscule Amount of Books I read in 2012 and My Subsequent Thoughts About Them

I feel quite ashamed of the amount of books I read this year.  Hmm... more like the amount of books I didn't read....  There were a few left unfinished, Anna Karenina, Lolita, and American Psycho, I'm coming for you! Also, can Anna Karenina taking up two months of reading time be my excuse for the paltry list below?  Yes?  Right, onward.

By Nightfall, Michael Cunningham
Honestly, I am not exactly sure when I read this, whether it was December or January, but considering I didn't start reading the following entry until February, I'm going to guess By Nightfall was my initial read of 2012.

Cunningham is a beautiful writer, and paints a stunning narrative about a Manhattan art-buyer Peter and his wife Rebecca.  Peter is already facing into existential mid-life crisis territory when Rebecca's troubled brother "Mizzy" shows up and further exacerbates tensions.

An addictive read from the author of The Hours.  Never has anyone managed to make such narcissistic characters so sympathetic.


The Killer Inside Me, Jim Thompson
My curiosity was struck for this novel when the eponymous film was released to much controversy a couple of years ago.  It's funny what the public accept through prose, but freak out about on film, but I digress....

I still have yet to see the film, but the book was thoroughly engaging.  I wouldn't say it is any literary masterpiece, but it is uniquely effective in delving into the mind of psychopath; not just merely seeing things from his perspective, but we witness the constant negotiations our protagonist engages with himself; wrestling between his sadistic desires and conscience guilt.

Death in Spring, Merce Rodoreda
Rodoreda's novel is a feast for the senses.  It is lush in imagery, allegory, and symbolism.  Our protagonist is a fourteen-year-old boy, whom we meet when he watches his father commit suicide.  This traumatic opening sets the tone of the novel, one filled with descriptions of the rituals and superstitions that pervade the life of this teen and the village he lives in.  Through his eyes we see those who grapple with these limitations that subsequent these rules, and even those who rebel against, and the consequences they suffer.

It's traumatic, terrifying, and emotional, but quite possibly one of the most gorgeous narratives I have ever read, and this is just the translation, just think how beautiful the original Catalan script could be. Highly recommended. 

Lady Chatterley's Lover,  D. H. Lawrence
Ahm, dare I say this was anti-climatic? 

Published in 1928, this is a revolutionary novel in many ways, and faced years of censorship.  It even managed to play a role in the American sexual revolution, as referred to in Mad Men that one time when Peggy is still an innocent lost soul.

Lady Chatterley is lost in an unfulfilled marriage. Themes of class, love, and sexuality (obviously) filter throughout the novel.

I guess what disappointed me was the heroine, I didn't expect her to be quite so selfish, obviously she goes through quite a development and become more grounded, but by then the fairy tale ending is of course out of her grasp.

I don't know, overall I was just underwhelmed, as can happen when one reads a cult literary classic I suppose.

Then Again, Diane Keaton
If you want to laugh, cry, and appreciate your parents to no end, then Then Again is the read for you!

Keaton takes us on a lyrical, journey of her life, an undertaking that itself was inspired by the actress's discovery of her own mother's journals.

It's just poignant and refreshing because it has none of the self-serving narcissism you would expect from a Hollywood biography.  It's very much to do with who she is as a person and where she has come from.  Keaton is a very self aware individual who lives beyond the glamour of her industry, and seeks clarity from the choices she has made.  This book is very gratifying and will indeed make you reassess your own life choices.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams
I guess this technically shouldn't be on the list, not a novel, but, I read the extended version, with the alternate original ending that Williams wanted to be staged.  It was far more bleak and abstract and would have been staggering on stage I am sure.

2013 will hopefully bring me to finally watching the film now....

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy Kahling
This is the kind of book that makes me re-evaluate what the fuck I am doing with my life.  When Kahling was my age she had already achieved so much professionally, and has only continued on to do more amazing things.  She was the only female writer during the first series of The Office, and now she writes and stars in her own show.  I'm not saying I want to be a "star" of anything, but her ambition is staggering and admirable. And her memoir proves that, as well as that she's humble and hilarious to boot. 

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
Back in July I headed to New York, and post-seven hour transatlantic flight I was dying to escape the sorrowful dilemmas in Anna Karenina.  My sisterly encouraged me to read Fahrenheit 451, and quite frankly I think she may have been offended that I hadn't already.

It's a dystopian treat for all you masochists out there.  A criticism of censorship and dictatorship alike, the novel takes place in a world where books have been banned.  Reading is regarded as anarchistic.  Fire men no longer stop fires, but rather start them.  They are out to punish those who dare stash books under the floor boards, hiding above light fixtures...

Guy Montag is a fireman, we meet him as he himself experiences a moral turning point.  Is one man enough to overturn the misconception that society has forced onto literature?

An addictive and evocative read.

Cherish your books children.

Also, avoid the film at all costs.

Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann
One of the highlights of the year, I happened to be in New York City when I read this, feeling as if I was journeying along with the Dolls, through the Upper East Side, Midtown, and the like.  Fortunately I didn't yield the same dependence on men and pills as they did.  But never say never I guess.

Anne, Jennifer, and Neely start out as plucky young women who arrive in New York with aspirations, some modest, in Anne's case, some excessive, in Neely's showbiz-obsessed mind.

Life in the big city soon reveals itself to not be as simple as first presumed.  When pressures get to much Jennifer turns to her "little dolls" to help her cope and achieve her dreams.  This is a decision treacherous for all three woman, and leads to a life of unrelenting misery.

Frustratingly brilliant depiction of women on the wrong side of the feminine revolution.

Talking to Girls about Duran Duran, Rob Sheffield
Sheffield's first novel, Love is a Mixtape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time, weaved an endearing tapestry charting his relationship with his first wife through their shared appreciation of music, specifically through the lost art of the mixtape, and the symbolism that encapsulates.  Love is a Mixtape was decidedly poignant because we are aware of the inevitable, Renee's death.

Talking to Girls about Duran Duran is a more light-hearted affair, and thoroughly charming in the process.  Sheffield wields an incredible talent of utilizing music to evoke a period in his life and the emotions surrounding that.

Deliriously nostalgic, Sheffield is a candid writer who brings out the feels.  

In Zanesville, Jo Ann Beard
I bought this on a whim in The Strand (like I do with most of my purchases in The Strand, the employees there have such impeccable taste).  Having never heard of the author, or the book, I wasn't sure what to expect but the plot intrigued me enough to indulge.

It's a book about that contentious time in a teenager's life.  You are no longer a child, but you are certainly not an adult yet.  In Zanesville poises many questions, some of which many of us can relate to surely.  What do you do when your best friend in the whole world, your beacon of safety, suddenly seems aloof?  When you have no one on the outside to turn to, where does one turn when the home situation is so precarious?

We don't learn the name of our protagonist, perhaps Beard wanted this to be a novel of self-reflection for the reader.  We all went through the same tumultuous time when hormones made surfacing to the day difficult, so there is undoubtedly something here for everyone.

A coming of age tale with a curious sense of doom throughout. 

Geek Love, Katherine Dunn
A stunningly complex book about a unique family of unique talents.  The Binewski clan are the head of a travelling circus. The patriarch and matriarch, Al and Lil, devise a plan to create their own little circus freaks.  Throughout each pregnancy, Lil is willingly subjected to drug taking and radioactive elements in the hopes that at the end of gestation, they'll have a masterpiece befit for a circus.  Given how the children come to be, Geek Love is a tale of family with some seriously sinister undertones.  Their's is a love they that warns against the dangerous of dependency.  Olympia (Oly) is our main narrative voice.  The story switches between two periods of time, building towards two equally consuming crescendos.

The highest honour of the year goes to Geek Love, book of the year, wish I had heard of this 1989 publication a long time ago.

Stephen Fry in America, Stephen Fry
Listen, Stephen Fry can do no wrong.  Even though he's the smartest person any of us know, as he travels across the United States he is graciously humble and honest.  He admits the preconceptions he had about various aspects of American culture, and is respectfully remorseful over then.

The book is entertaining, and isn't simply a feast on tourist attractions.  In the prologue he alludes to the fact that America cannot simply be painted with one brush, that every state is like its own country which holds its own culture.  His journey of epic proportions proves this, and most states (bar a couple unfortunately) have been given the utmost attention in the portraits he creates for each.

He's a true gent and when I finally get around to my own grand tour of the fifty states, this will undoubtedly be my companion guide. 

Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children,  Ransom Riggs
I spied this book during an ill-advised browse through the Urban Outfitters website.  The cover was quite arresting and it was decided it must be purchased.

After his grandfather's mysterious death, Jacob Portman sets out on his own investigation which brings him al the way to Wales, to search for the home where his grandfather was housed as an orphan of World War II.  The ensuing adventure is accompanied by reams of old photos that we are assured haven't been doctored in any form.

This was a huge disappointment, but the reason I believe is not because it was a bad or even badly written novel, but because this belongs in the Young Adult genre.  I am not saying I am above this genre, but I didn't enter into the book knowing this, and so was woefully underwhelmed by the two dimensional characterizations as well as the predictable narrative progress.  Jacob was just such a predictable protagonist!  Mighty frustrating stuff.


2012 brought alot of unexpected treasures my way.  Here's hoping my 2013 reading list will be more ambitious and impressive as well as continuing with the amazing quality. 

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