BoB 2017

The Tenth Circle Jodi Picoult:  Not exactly a circle of Hell but I won’t be reading any more from her unless strongly recommended.

 

Eyeless in Gaza Aldous Huxley:  Tough read due to its topicality but comprehensive treatise on early 20th century philosophical thought and social norms (ur-abnorms).  William Godwin a hundred years later.

For love is self-energizing.  Produces the means whereby its policy can be carried out…

The Man Who Loved Children Christina Stead:  More than once I thought of Finnegan’s Wake during this arduous reading endeavor with a cult following that includes Robert Stone and Jonathan Franzen.  For what it’s worth, I won’t forget Sam and Henny Pollitt but like Loo-loo at the end (spoiler alert), I can’t help but wonder why I didn’t run away sooner.

How different everything looked, like the morning of the world, that hour before all other hours which Thoreau speaks of, that most matinal hour.

The Sound of Waves Yukio Mishima:  A fable-like love story thats real strength comes from its sense of place and how it shapes lives: 

His fisherman’s conception of the sea was close to that of the farmer for his land.The sea was the place where he earned his living, a rippling field where, instead of waving heads of rice or wheat, the white and formless harvest of waves was forever swaying above the unrelieved blueness of a sensitive and yielding soil.

 

Bitter Bronx Jerome Charyn:  13 short stories revolving around memorable characters from a memorable neighborhood.  Looking forward to the novels!

An Artist of the Floating World Kazuo Ishiguro:  Entertaining example of a classic unreliable narrator.  Makes us question our perspective and sense of self through the eyes of an aging artist in post WWII Japan.

Too Much Happiness Alice Munro:  The title story pretty much sums up my reaction to this story collection.  Unremarkable but well-written in spots.  No deep connection with the characters or the narratives they inhabit.

Boy, Snow, Bird Helen Oyeyemi:  An intriguing novel about identity – racial, sexual, geopolitical.  Not entirely cohesive but interesting enough to read more by her.

The Moonstone Wilkie Collins:  Although more closely related to his buddy Dickens and the Victorian era, a touch of early Romanticism in this one.  Great character development and a mystery/suspense plot while maintaining the language of a literary work.

The Terranauts TC Boyle:  In typically entertaining fashion, the author takes us on an entirely plausible journey into the bizarre realms of life.  Explores gender identity, media, feminist themes (to name a few) and makes it fun.

Wild Things, Wild Places Jane Alexander: Disjointed account of the travels by the author (and actress).  She does go to some very cool places and offers her and her companions’ musings on conservation, evolution, natural selection, etc.

The Japanese Lover Isabel Allende:  A good story and topical for the anniversary of the internment camp announcement.  Nothing especially alluring about her writing style but will continue to read based on plot summaries.

The Boy in the Moon Ian Brown:  Wow, what to say…the author is a journalist so very clear stylistically and a lot of in-depth info on an uncomfortable subject…rare genetic disorders.  A heart-rending account of his son’s condition and the lives it changed.

A Farewell to Arms Ernest Hemingway:  Latest reading provided a fresh appreciation of the setting now having been to Italy.  Typically awesome descriptions of setting and the emptiness of war.  Dialogue between Henry and Catherine laughable.

Heroes of the Frontier Dave Eggers:  Such a good story and well-told but still looking for something more from him as far as literary devices and style.  Quite possibly pseudo-academic snobbery on my part!

A human’s choice is either to see new things, mountains, waterfalls, deadly storms and seas and volcanoes, or to see the same man-made things endlessly reconfigured.

 

Welding with Children Tim Gattreaux:  A great selection of stories set in Louisiana but displaying universal themes.  Clear, down-home style like a breath of fresh country air.

‘A Season in Hell’ and other Writings Arthur Rimbaud:  Timeless combination of prose poems and metered poetry still vibrant and meaningful.  Possibly as interesting is the short, combustive, creative life of the author.

When We Were Orphans Kazuo Ishiguro:  Well-written as usual, Sherlock Holmes-esque detective story that turns into a somewhat hallucinatory adventure tale of loss and sacrifice.

But for those like us, our fate is to face the world as orphans, chasing through long years the shadows of vanished parents. There is nothing left for it but to try and see through our missions to the end, as best we can, for until we do so, we will be permitted no calm…

 

The Girl from Venice Martin Cruz Smith:  Not exactly ‘Gorky’ but his best in years of course I’m a sucker for an Italian setting.  Hesitate to call it a cheese-read** because the characters and language are so well done.  I’ll be back for more!

You Should Pity Us Instead Amy Gustine:  Great collection of short stories about manic moms and pseudo/dys/functional families and relationships.  Chock-full of poignant metaphors.  Look forward to following her progress towards the inevitable novel.

The Sorrow Gondola Tomas Transtromer:  Should’ve figured from the title that these poems were no Ginsbergian celebration of self and art.  Still, too abstract for me to gain real traction.

The Moon is Down John Steinbeck:  Realized it was a 2nd reading a few pages in but enjoyed it as a poignant, propagandist portrayal of life under occupation.

The Invention of Nature* Andrea Wolff:  Biography of Alexander von Humboldt that pretty much shaped the rest of my year and will continue to permeate my life.  A comprehensive account of his life and times and how they reverberate in today’s views on nature.

Celine Peter Heller:  The author has an impressive writing resume but this one felt like his publishing team identified the “old lady” consumer demographic and told him to supply something they’d like.  Very skeptical of future writings.

Robert Louis Stevenson:  Interviews and Recollections RC Terry:  The adventure begins…literally and literarily for the year.  Super interesting format for a literary auto/biography.

Empty Mile Matthew Stokoe:  Well-written narrative with sadly un-sympathetic characters.  Wait, I take that back, (spoiler alert!) the two characters you grow attached to die and all the losers live happily ever after with their miserable selves.

Humboldt:  Life on America’s Marijuana Frontier Emily Brady:  Very straight-forward read detailing the stories of 4 individuals in the weed culture:  a sweet old-growth farmer from the Seventies,  a local cop, a likable drug dealer and a local who left the area and never worked in the industry.  (her “brother” is Mikal Wilde:  https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndca/pr/humboldt-county-marijuana-farmer-sentenced-life-prison-plus-35-years-murdering)  Happen to know a few people/places mentioned including the house where I read the book.

The Motorcycle Diaries* Che Guevara:  Another dangerous travel book in that it inspires me to wander off.  Despite the political intonations and ramifications, the narrative overwhelms with the spirit of adventure embodied by the author and his companion, Alberto Granado, as they haphazardly traverse South America with the barest of necessities.

It is there, in the final moments, for the people whose farthest horizon has always been tomorrow, that one comprehends the profound tragedy circumscribing the life of the proletariat the world over.

 

Out of Africa* Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen):  Way more than a travelogue as it’s an adventure story told at an excruciatingly slow pace but filled with incredible language and sense of place.  Highly recommend reading the book and then re/watching the movie.

Camping-places fix themselves in your mind as if you had spent long periods of your life in them.You will remember a curve of your waggon track in the grass of the plain, like the features of a friend.

 

The Redemption of Galen Pike Carys Davies:  An Australian prize-winning collection of short stories done in a traditional style covering various topics using a multitude of narrative voices and devices culminating in the title story…which is pretty bad-ass.

Midnight in the Bright Ideas Bookstore Matthew Sullivan:  Sounds like a Hallmark movie and reads like on too.  Couldn’t resist the setting as a fictional version of what used to be one of my favorite bookstores and where I spent many formative reading hours, the Tattered Cover.

George Washington’s Secret Six Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger:  Real-life story of intrigue told in a clear and enjoyable style.  True story account of Revolutionary War spies in New York City detailing their difficulties, movements, techniques and personalities.

The Last of His Kind* David Roberts:  Slightly extra-reverent look at Bradford Washburn that I picked up in the Denali bookstore.  Incredible life spanning 90+ years of mountaineering (including equipment tests on McKinley for WWII) and outdoor photography innovations.  Inspired me to stay off glaciers and read more of this author in a comfortable chair preferably overlooking the Homer Spit as a storm rolls in.

Measuring the World Daniel Kehlmann:  Started out as a lark-ish historical fiction featuring AvH (aka Humboldt) and Carl Friedrich Gauss.  Ended up as an exploration of the deeper meaning of existence without being preachy or relying on intellectual circumspection.  Looking forward to more!

Princes were poor pigs too, they lived and struggled and died like everyone else. The real tyrants were the laws of nature.

 

Yellow Don Lee:  Collection of stories focusing on ethnic identity…especially Asian as the title suggests.  They share the same setting which is a small town on the Central Cali coast thinking it must be Half Moon Bay.

We Aspired Pete Sinclair:  Some interesting anecdotes from the Teton climbing community of the 50s, 60s and 70s.  A bit technical on the climbing side and as such came off as pretentious and officious.

The Talented Ribkins Ladee Hubbard:  First effort by this well-degreed author and will read more.  Off-the-wall plot allows the story to be both entertaining and enlightening.  Seeming to be too light it does manage to delve into more meaningful themes that kinda sneak up on ya.

The Re-Live Box and Other Stories TC Boyle:  Another disturbing effort from the master of making the mundane bizarre…from an author who stays one step ahead of the looney bin.

A Plague of Secrets John Lescroart:  Indulgent cheese-read in the SF lawyer series.

Wintering* Peter Geye:  Amazing that one of my favorite reads of the year came from an author new to me who I just happened upon in the New Fiction section of the library.  An elaborate intertwining of small town families and the consequences of existing amongst that much history.  Minnesotans take special note of this one!

I ought to feel relief.Of this I’m sure.But do you know what it’s like to hold proof of the last heartache you’ll ever know in your own raw hands?...these things have made of my heart what this season has of the splintering pines along the river.

 

Jerzy Jerome Charyn:  Felt like this was the perfect subject matter for this author’s particular voice.  Still questionable on future reads.  The redeeming factor here is the Jerzy Kosinsky-Peter Sellers-Brit Eklund web which somehow includes Stalin’s daughter and Victoria Sellers-childhood friend of Heidi Fleiss and eventual Playboy model.  None of this is covered in the book but it had me watching the Pink Panther movies (and Being There) with a new perspective.

Magpie Murders Anthony Horowitz:  Forgettable detective novel.  Its most redeeming quality was how it tried to emulate a classic Agatha Christie novel.

Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun* Sarah Lapido Manyika:  Can’t recommend this novella enough!  Focuses on a crossroads in the life of Dr. Morayo Da Silva as she negotiates turning 75 living alone in SF after life as a Nigerian diplomat’s wife, university professor and author. 

Men Without Women Haruki Murakami:  A little close to home but a fitting collection of stories about men getting through life without the women they have loved.

We were mistaken about the time when we should have met.Like forgetting when you’re supposed to meet someone.You get the time of day and place right, but miscalculate the day.

 

What Maisie Knew Henry James:  Annual holiday classic (not that it’s about holidays) but still not jumping on the James bandwagon.  Straightforward tale of parents shirking their responsibilities only to be supplanted by surrogates just as ludicrous but more loving.

Maisie received in petrification the full force of her mother’s huge painted eyes—they were like Japanese lanterns swung under vestal arches.

 

The Aspern Papers Henry James:  Much more enjoyable reading experience and even though it is a truncated novel you still get the full effect of James use of language for plot, setting and character development.

The Last Animal Abby Geni:  Impressive collection of stories mostly surrounding how the presence or lack of animals subtly but deeply alter our lives.  A few misses here but mostly hits.

In their domestication, dogs became permanent puppies, never fully maturing as they would in the wild…People, however, also lost a portion of their brains—a section that had to do with emotional experience. Part of the human capacity to have feelings disappeared, surrendered to their canine companions.

 

Camino Island John Grisham:  Okay I should’ve stopped at 47 but I’m a sucker for a year-ending cheese-read and this was light even for Grisham.  Out with the old and in with the new!

 

Probably great but just not for me.  Books I started but didn’t finish:

Swing Time Zadie Smith:  populist drivel

I am Abraham Jerome Charyn: not the narrative tone for me

The Brothers K David James Duncan:  made it halfway through this full familial bildungsroman.  May re-visit.  Definitely for the baseball-lover.

              

*books that really stood out for the year…very subjective

**a cheese read being a book that’s enjoyable while reading but not much substance, much like those delightful cheese puffs from Cheetos

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