Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 favorites and my list for 2011

I would like to make a top ten list for this past year, but I only read twenty books this year, well, actually twenty-one books.  So a top ten list would be kind of silly. 

My favorite books of the past year are the Millennium Series -- Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Girl Who Played with Fire and Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.  Loved those books.  At the beginning of the school year, I let someone borrow my copy of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and haven't seen it since, no mention of it, so not even sure if the person is reading it or not.  But I decided to use that as my excuse to purchase the deluxe box set of the series. 

I also really liked The Invisible Bridge.  I thought that book was kind of amazing.  Now I'm even thinking of visiting Budapest this summer.

So those are my top four books.  Now I can start working on my reading list for next year.

I joined an online book club that has a reading challenge -- twelve books that have to be books that have been on our reading list for at least year, plus two alternates. 

Right now this is my list:

1. Witching Hour by Anne Rice (I've wanted to read this for years, I read the vampire books, but never this one.  I think I've been waiting for the right time to read it, a long break and a dark mood.)

2. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby  (I've liked everything he's written and have had a copy of this sitting by my bed for a couple of years.  I enjoyed the movie quite a bit.)

3. Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Woman who Created Her  (another book I've had for years but have never gotten around to reading)
4. Water for Elephants (I want to read this before the movie comes out!)

5. Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (I started to read this last year, but knowing that it would be dark, I didn't feel I could handle it.  But it's something I must read, I read everything by Atwood.)

6. Persuasion by Jane Austen (I need to read something by Austen, and this was the book mentioned in Lake House.  I bought a very nice copy of this at Barnes and Noble a while back, but have never gotten around to reading it.)

7. Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy (another one that has been on the reading list for years)

8. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingslover (Last year, I bought this for my mother because she's a big Barbara Kingslover fan, I planned to give it to her for Christmas, but when I saw that the book was about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, I decided I would try to read it before giving it to my mother.  A year later, still sitting by the bed.)

9. Schulz and Peanuts: A biography (another one I received as soon as the book was published and have yet to read it.)

10. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (this is the Oprah influence here -- I've already read Tale of Two Cities)

11. Private Patient by PD James (PD James is one of my favorite authors, not sure why I've not read this yet.  I'm sure I bought it as soon as it was released.  But I always try to wait until I know I'll have a lot of time to read, hers are not books that work well with only a few pages a day.)

12. Fried Green Tomatoes (Loved this movie and have wanted to read the book for years)

13. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy  (I read Tess when I was a teenager and I would like to read it again as an adult.)
14. On The Road by Jack Kerouac  (Everyone should read this at some point in her life, right?)

Other books I wanted to include on the list - Mists of Avalon, A Town Like Alice, and David Copperfield. 

Something about which I am very embarrassed is that I've only read one book by Dickens (Tale of Two Cities) and have never read anything by Jane Austen.  I recently tried reading Pride and Prejudice, but maybe I just wasn't in the right mood.  It was taking me forever and there was a hold on it at the library, so I had to return it before I could finish it.  I've since downloaded it to my Kindle, for free, but haven't felt any strong desire to continue reading it.  I added Persuasion to the list because it's mentioned so much in one of my favorite movies -- The Lake House. 

I got a Kindle for my birthday, but I still have an issue with paying for digital books.  Really difficult to pay for a digital file when I know I can get the books for free at the library.  However, I've downloaded lots and lots of free classics.  I'm hoping this will encourage me to get back to reading the classics. 

And there are several books released within the last year that I hope to read soon.  (We couldn't include books from the past year on our reading challenge list.)  The book I'm most looking forward to reading is Keith Richards' biography and I'm hoping to read Fannie Flagg's I Still Dream About You before I return to school next week.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Summer We Read Gatsby by Danielle Ganek

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books.  It's one of those books that is short enough that it can be read in a day or two, and I admit, I've read it several times.  Such a beautiful book.  So when I saw the title of this book, I was intrigued.  I didn't know much about the book before I picked it up at the library -- I sort of like diving into a book without a clue as to what it is about.

Within the first few pages, it is mentioned that Cassie, or Stella, depending on who's talking to her, is feeling sad and a bit weepy thinking of the aunt she's lost, even though she'd not spent much time with her in recent years.  Immediately I bonded with this character, understanding too well what it was like to hover under a cloud of grief caused by the loss of an aunt who played an integral role in my childhood.  Months later and still I'm never prepared for the cloud bursts and raining tears that start up without warning.  As silly as it sounds, as soon as I read that part about Cassie missing her aunt, I felt that there was a reason for me to read this book even if that reason was simply to have someone - albeit a fictional someone - with which to commiserate.

The story is about two half sisters who inherit their aunt's house in the Hamptons.  Their aunt, Lydia, asked them to sell the house and split the profits because there is no way they can afford the upkeep on the house.  In a letter she mentions that she hopes they find within the house a "thing of value."  The sisters assume this to be an object of value and are on a quest to locate this object within the house. 

Truth is, there isn't much of a story here, not a whole lot happens.  The sisters go to parties, they hang out with their friends, they talk about the house and the things inside the house but not a lot happens.  At moments you think there is going to be something of a mystery and even a hint of danger involving the strange artist living in the house.  But the mystery develops into more of a comedy and the danger never materializes like I thought it would.  I don't want to give anything away, but I will warn to not expect much to develop with regard to suspense or mystery.  But that's fine, I didn't feel that the lack of action or any big dramatic storyline took anything away from this book because the characters are such interesting people.

I loved the characters in this story, the two very different sisters and the eccentric neighbors.  Even the aunt, only there in their memories, seemed to be someone that everyone would have enjoyed being around.  She was single and had no children, she taught literature at a boys school in New York City and she loved Paris and books and art and artists.  (Do you see why I liked this aunt?)  The novel is filled with a cast of amusing, clever, and likable characters.  Also, besides the many references to literature and Gatsby in particular, there are several art references, mostly about Jackson Pollock.  I wanted to be inside this book, having a "dressing" drink with Peck and Cassie.  I wanted to live their life and spend the summer at Fool's House with them.

I was sad when the story was over.  I wasn't ready for it to end.  I wanted to know more.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

My interest in Jane Grey was sparked by a painting I saw at the National Gallery in London.  She was queen for nine days and eventually beheaded for being queen.  Also, I really love the name, "Jane Grey" but that's probably because it makes me think of Jean Grey, one of my favorite X-Men.

In the bookstore of the National Gallery, there were several books and videos about the painting and about Jane Grey.  I bought a DVD, and considered buying a book, but couldn't decide which one I wanted.  There were several by Weir.

When I returned home from my trip, I looked up the author at the library.  She's a historian and has written quite a few non-fiction books, but this was her first novelization.  Seemed like a good place to start reading about the Tudors.

I found the story interesting.  But I found the style a bit odd.  It's written in first person, but every few pages, the narrator changes.  Seems like there could have been a better way to tell the story.  I guess I find it especially bothersome because so much effort is put into trying to figure out what is going on in the minds of each of these people.  I realize it's historical fiction, and a novel, not factual, but it does involve events that really happened.  In the beginning Jane's mother despises her and in the end she's distraught over what happens to her.  Then we have Jane's husband who rapes her in the beginning of the marriage and is extremely cruel to her, but later adores her and misses her so much he carves her name in the wall.  None of that made sense to me.

The story is about Jane, who has very ambitious parents.  When they fail to get her married to the king, they make arrangements to involve her in a plot that will eventually make her queen.  Jane is, as the title indicates, innocent in all of this.  She doesn't want to be queen, she doesn't want to be married, she just wants to be left alone with her books.  That's what makes this so tragic.  She was punished for things that were entirely beyond her control.

What I most get out of books about this time period is the horror and destruction caused by people's beliefs in God.  This all takes place around the time of the Protestant uprising.  People are executed for having Protestant beliefs, and then another king is in place and suddenly people are punished for being Catholic.  Jane was very much part of the Protestant movement.  According to this book, she held her beliefs so strongly that even in the end when she was told she could live if she would convert to Catholicism and she wouldn't.  That seems absurd, because it isn't as if the two religions are that different.  Same God, same Bible, same characters in the book, just different ways of worship.  She was sixteen and willing to die for a fairly new form of a religion rather than go back to the form that had been around for centuries?  I'm not saying that Catholics are the one true way, but still.  That's extreme.
More than anything though, it makes me very glad I don't participate in any sort of organized religion.  Knowing the bloodshed these religions, all of them, have, it makes it very difficult for me to view them as organizations with which I would want to affiliate myself.  They were really just businesses, all about power and control.  Whoever was in power had no issues with crushing those who were not in power.  It's all very disturbing.  Very harsh times.

Back to the book though, I liked it enough that I plan to read more books by Weir.  I've already checked out Lady Elizabeth.  I did feel that reading the book taught me a lot about the time period that I didn't know, and I find this an easier way to learn than from a history book, even if the novel isn't completely accurate.  As far as we know, the history books aren't any more accurate.