Thursday, April 24, 2008

Don't you hate it when....?

Have you ever tried to read a really bad book? It is rare for me to quit reading a book once that I have started it, but every once in awhile I just can’t finish one. Last night was one of those times. In fact, the book was so bad, I finally threw it across the room! Something, I might add, that I have never done. But it deserved it. What a bad book.

The specific book that I am talking about right now is The Shack by William Young. There was a huge display and promotion for this book when I was in Barnes and Noble a couple of weeks ago and I got suckered into buying it. Big mistake.

The premise of the story is a good one and on paper sounds very interesting. Mack’s youngest daughter is abducted during a family camping trip and is never found, presumed dead. The dress she was wearing is found all bloody in an old run down shack in the middle of the woods. Four years later, Mack receives a note in the mail from “Papa”, his wife’s name for God. The note tells him to meet him in the shack the following weekend, and, of course, against his better judgment, Mack goes.

I know, I know…so far it sounds like a good story. What threw me off of the book was how it was written. I kept checking the back cover, thinking that I had bought a Young Adult Christian novel. It read so simplisticly that I couldn’t stand it. It reads like it was a book written for 6th graders. And everyone was praying for everyone else every moment. Now, I don’t have anything against prayer and praying for others, but in the real world that isn’t the conversation that everyone has at every opportunity. I just couldn’t go on with finishing the book!

As I said, I rarely don’t finish a book, but it happens once or twice a year.

Then, there have also been those times that I do finish a book and the ending is so poor that I am mad at myself for wasting the time to read it!

There are so many good books out there to be read, I just hate to spend time on a “bad” book!

The Gathering

The Gathering by Anne Enright.
As promised after seeing that this book won the 2008 Man Booker Prize, I went out and bought the book and read it. It is hard to understand why it won the prize, when I have read so many other better books. The book was good, just not that good. And going to the Barnes and Noble site, I saw that there were others reviewing the book who felt like reading the book was a waste of time. So be forewarned.

It is actually a good story, but written difficult. (I know that doesn't really make sense). It takes place in Ireland and is told by Veronica Hegarty, one of twelve children of a very traditional Irish Catholic family. The family has gathered together for the funeral of her older brother, Liam, who walked into the sea with stones in his pockets.

Through-out the book, Veronica examines her resentment toward her “Mammy”, who none of the family ever wanted to upset and kept things from her to avoid upsetting her, and toward her husband and children, apparently for tying her down. Mixed into that, Veronica shares a secret from childhood involving her grandparent’s generation. She spends a lot of the book either imagining and/or remembering her grandparent’s lives, especially her grandmother, Ada.

The book is also examining some of Liam’s life. Veronica states: "the seeds of my brother's death were sown many years ago…" She could be referring to numerous things, including the childhood secret. Liam led a life of destruction, mixed with alcoholism. He had detached himself fairly much from the family, just showing up every once in awhile.

It never felt like any of the characters in the novel were developed fully. I didn’t really feel like I especially cared about any of them. This was one of those books that I kept reading thinking that it would get better. And, in a sense, it did. At the end, there was a feeling of continuity, among all the other emotions that threaded through the book (regret, passion, anger, love, etc.).

Do I recommend the book? Not really. It wasn’t a bad read, but there are others that are so much better.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

2003 Favorite Books

Man, this was a good year for good books! I found that I read 48 books in 2003. And it was quite difficult to narrow it down to a manageable favorite list! Here is what I came up with:

Lost Nation-Jeffrey Lent
Keeping The Faith-Frank and John Schaffer
The Mercy Seat-Rilla Askew
Red Water-Judith Freeman
My Losing Season-Pat Conroy
Big Stone Gap-Adriana Trigiani
Oral History-Lee Smith
Rachel’s Holiday-Marian Keyes
The Secret Lives of Bees-Sue Monk Kidd
Swan-Frances Mayes
Sins of the 7th Sister-Huston Curtiss
More Than You Know-Beth Gutcheon

I am sure that many of you have read some of these books listed. Several of them were very popular books. And honestly, I am not sure that I can even mark which ones were my very favorites! I really liked Lost Nation. Oral History, Rachel's Holiday (a fun book) and The Secret Lives of Bees. I am a huge fan of Jeffrey Lent and Lee Smith, so they can't really miss with me.

Let me know if you try any of these, or if you have already read them, what you thought. Let's help others find good reads!

The Worst Thing I've Done

No, this isn't some confession of the worst thing I have done. It is the name of the last book that I have read: The Worst Thing I've Done by Ursula Hegi.

The story is about 3 childhood friends, Jake, Mason and Annie. Mason appears to be a severe personality disorder (just my clinical opinion), who appears to successfully dictate whatever he wants the relationships between the three of them to be at any given time. Annie ends up marrying Mason, primarily because Jake could handle being the one left out, and Mason couldn't. The three remain best friends over the years. When Annie's little sister is left orphaned, the three vow to raise her together. Opal, Annie's sister, is nineteen years younger than Annie and together they struggle with their mother/sister relationship.

The book is well written and the story grabbed me immediately. I believe that the first sentence of this book may possibly be the best first sentence of a book that I have ever read:
"Tonight, Annie is driving from North Sea to Montauk and back to North Sea as she has every night since Mason killed himself."

Unless suicide is a present trauma for someone, who could resist reading more after that sentence? It pulled me into the story immediately. And I was not disappointed. Even in death, Mason has a huge pull/influence on Jake, Annie and Opal. Thankfully, Annie has a woman she grew up with that was her mother's best friend, whom Annie calls "Aunt Stormy". Annie and Opal go to stay with Aunt Stormy after Mason kills himself and Aunt Stormy wisely allows Annie to mourn, but gently guides her to healing.
This is a somewhat complicated book about very complicated relationships, but I found it easy to read. I will be curious to hear what others think about it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Some Related Book-Musings

I ran into Barnes and Noble today to pick up The Gathering. I could not believe how hard it was for me to leave that store. I just wanted to wander and wander and wander there all day long. There are so many books that I want to read. It is such an addiction. I ended up also buying The Shack, which I had never heard of before, but it sounded really good. Also bought a bargain book, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, again sounded really good. I had to check and found that the newest (and latest) Harry Potter book is still not out in paperback. I am thinking that I will finish the book that I am currently reading at home (The Worst Thing I've Done) over the weekend, so I had to be prepared. God knows, I could not go without a good book to read. How would I sleep without reading? How could I function without a good book? I don't have anyone near by who could help me out. The Farmington Library has a quite meager selection. I have to be prepared. I have books at home, of course, but right now I am not feeling like re-reading something. I need a new high...uh, I mean, book. Does that sound like addiction. Is so, no, I do not want recovery. I have not hit bottom. I want to keep reading. It is not interfering with my life. I am a functional book addict. Am I in denial? Am I crazy? No, I just like to read.

Has anyone tried buying books from I have about 70 books for sale on the site. They have been listed there for several months. Apparently, I either have priced them too high, or I choose books that people just don't want. The very first day that I put books up on the site for sale, I sold one. And that has been it. So much for making enough each month to make your monthly house payment, as I read in one article about selling books! Anyway, it is a really neat site, and you can get books cheap there, so I do recommend it. That is if you are willing to wait to have a book sent to you (as opposed to walking into the book store and buying it for immediate access). Of course, you can also get on the library's waiting list for a book, again if you are willing to wait. I have ordered from Amazon on-line and it has taken several weeks to get the book, so that is not usually a good option for me.

And how about mail Book Clubs? I belong to the Quality Paperback Book Club, and have for years. I don't order as much from them anymore as I used to , but I still like to get the monthly magazine to read about the books that are coming out. Paying postage for the books is a killer. I don't think that any money is saved after you pay those expenses. Of course, they would argue that you get "points" toward more books. But again, you still have to pay the shipping and handling and it adds up. But I do like the QPBC...they offer good books for reading. I have belonged to other Book Clubs over the years (hard to resist those get 10 free books, or whatever), but I have settled with just QPBC for several years now, and it has been good.

I am always checking books out when I am at thrift shops (such as Goodwill) and garage sales, etc. I often find some really good books, really cheap. I am pretty particular about what I read, but I usually can find something that I am interested in reading.

I guess I suffer from what many other book addicts have...if I read a book that I really like, I have to own it. I do often re-read books at some point if they have really settled in my mind.

Book Award Winners

After reviewing the list of the Top 10 Favorite Books, I thought that it might be interesting to look at what books won the Pulitzer Prize for 2008.

2008 Pulitzer Prize:
Fiction: "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," by Junot Diaz (Riverhead Books).

Finalists: "Tree of Smoke" by Denis Johnson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and
"Shakespeare's Kitchen" by Lore Segal (The New Press).

General Nonfiction: "The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945," by Saul Friedlander (HarperCollins).
Finalists: "The Cigarette Century" by Allan Brandt (Basic Books);
"The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century" by Alex Ross (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

I am embarrassed to say that I have not even heard of any of these books. Does that mean that I don’t read great books? Not at all. But I guess that we all have different ideas of great books. But then, since I have not read any of these, perhaps if I do read them, I would consider them Pulitzer Prize deserving. Have any of you read them? Is anyone game to reading them?

Here is a link/address to see the review of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao that was in The New York Times.

See if it interests you in the book. It didn’t me.

New York Times review of The Tree of Smoke:

Again, I am not interested.

And a review from the Los Angeles Times for Shakespeare’s Kitchen:,1,6885107.story?coll=la-business-games.

Sounds like a book I might enjoy. I am a little put off because it is short stories and I don’t usually like to read short stories, but the reviews seem to indicate that the stories all intertwine, so I might be willing to try it.

Meanwhile, I was also checking out the winner of the 2008 Booker Prize, and found a list of all of the past Booker Award winners, so here is that list:
Booker Prize Winners:
2007 - The Gathering (Enright)

2006 - The Inheritance of Loss (Desai)

2005 - The Sea (Banville)

2004 - The Line of Beauty (Hollinghurst)

2003 - Vernon God Little (Pierre)

2002 - Life of Pi (Martel)

2001 - True History of the Kelly Gang (Carey)

2000 - The Blind Assassin (Atwood)1

999 - Disgrace (Coetzee)

1998 - Amsterdam: A Novel (McEwan)

1997 - The God of Small Things (Roy)

1996 - Last Orders (Swift)

1995 - The Ghost Road (Barker)

1994 - How Late It Was, How Late (Kelman)

1993 - Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (Doyle)

1992 - The English Patient (Ondaatje)

1992 - Sacred Hunger (Unsworth)

1991 - The Famished Road (Okri)

1990 - Possession: A Romance (Byatt)

1989 - The Remains of the Day (Ishiguro)

1988 - Oscar and Lucinda (Carey)

1987 - Moon Tiger (Lively)

1986 - The Old Devils (Amis)

1985 - The Bone People (Hulme)

1984 - Hotel Du Lac (Brookner)

1983 - Life & Times of Michael K (Coetzee)

1982 - Schindler's Ark (Keneally)

1981 - Midnight's Children (Rushdie)

1980 - Rites of Passage (Golding)

1979 - Offshore (Fitzgerald)

1978 - The Sea, the Sea (Murdoch)

1977 - Staying on (Scott)

1976 - Saville (Storey)

1975 - Heat and Dust (Jhabvala)

1974 - The Conservationist (Gordimer)

1974 - Holiday (Middleton)

1973 - The Siege of Krishnapur (Farrell)

1972 - G. (Berger)

1971 - In a Free State (Naipaul)

1970 - The Elected Member (Rubens)

1969 - Something to Answer For (Newby)

I notice that several of the years have more than 1 book listed. I don't know if there was a tie that year, or what.

I have read a few of these and they were very good reads. I am more likely to try to read some of these, especially since I have heard of them, than I am to read the Pulitzer Prize winners.

Anyone have any suggestions from this list? I think that I will read The Gathering next. Watch for my posting on it.

Top 10 Favorite Books-Reuters poll

Do you pay attention to polls? Wednesday Reuters came out with the Top 10 Favorite Books. It is an interesting list, and made me think and consider both my reading preferences and to ponder the US citizens reading preferences.

Here is the full article:

Tue Apr 08 19:07:12 UTC 2008

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - When it comes to literary pursuits in the United States most people agree on at least one thing -- the most popular book is the Bible, according to a new survey.
It came in first in a Harris Poll of nearly 2,513 adults but the second choice in the survey was not as clear cut.

"While the Bible is number one among each of the different demographic groups, there is a large difference in the number two favorite book," Harris said in a statement announcing the results.
Men chose J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and women selected Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind" as their second-favorite book, according to the online poll.

But the second choice for 18- to 31-year-olds was J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, while 32- to 43-year-olds named Stephen King's "The Stand" and Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons".
Picks for second-favorite book also varied according to region. "Gone With the Wind" was number two in the southern and midwestern United States while easterners chose "The Lord of the Rings" and westerners opted for "The Stand".
Whites and Hispanics picked "Gone With the Wind" as their second-favorite book after the Bible, while African-Americans preferred "Angels and Demons".

"Finally, they may not agree on candidates, but one thing that brings together partisans is their favorite book. For Republicans, Democrats and Independents, the top two books are the same -- the Bible followed by "Gone With the Wind."

Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code", "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee, "Angels and Demons" by Dan Brown, "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand and "Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger rounded out the top 10 favorites.
(Reporting by Julie Mollins; editing by Patricia Reaney)

So to sum up, this article is saying that the Top 10 Favorite books are:

The Bible
Gone With the Wind
Lord of the Rings
Harry Potter series
The Stand
The Davinci Code
To Kill a Mockingbird
Angels and Demons
Atlas Shrugged
Catcher In the Rye

Now I have not read Lord of the Rings or The Stand, so I can’t include them in my comments, although I do have to admit that Stephen King is a great writer. His character development is incredible! And who in their right mind is going to contradict that The Bible is not a great read? But The Davinci Code and Angels and Demons? Come on…they were good but of all the books in the world to choose from? And Gone With the Wind? A nice read, but again, out of all the books there are to choose from?

Now, you all know that I love the Harry Potter books, but I am not sure I would include them in my list of all-time favorite books (although, maybe I would, they are just that good!).

Honestly, I have never sat down to consider what would be my Top 10 Favorite Books, but I can easily list my Top 3 Favorite Books:

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Have you given any thought to your list of favorite books? Let me know what they are. I would love to know what books other people love…I may find a new favorite book.

To Kill A Mockingbird has been my very favorite book since I first read it when I was 12 years old and that has been oh, so many years ago (ok, 46 to be exact). And trust me, I have read a good number of books in the past 46 years, and none have ever replaced it as my favorite. I re-read it every couple of years, just for the sheer enjoyment! I was even going to name my first child Jeremiah and call him “Jem” after the book. However, my first was a girl and I am sure that she considers herself lucky that we didn’t call her “Scout”! But that is how much I love that book.

So come on, folks, tell us your favorite 3 books (or whatever number you choose to share).