Friday, December 31, 2010

The Rest of the Year-End Stuff

This is my last end-of-year post, promise!  This is the official Top Five and Complete List for future reference sake, with a few more stats and percentages thrown in for good measure.

When the year was half through, I posted about the top five books of the first half of 2010.  Now with the year complete, those choices have changed somewhat.  These books were so good that I'll be reading more from that author in 2011.  In no particular order:

Star of the Sea (will be reading Redemption Falls in 2011)
The Lacuna (will be reading either Prodigal Summer or The Bean Trees in 2011)
Mansfield Park (will be re-reading Persuasion in 2011)
Slaughterhouse-Five (still figuring where to go after this one...? Breakfast of Champions?)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (P.S.) [Paperback]Star Of The Sea - Farewell To Old IrelandThe Lacuna: A Novel (P.S.)Mansfield Park (Everyman's Library (Cloth))Slaughterhouse-Five
Joy in the Morning: A Novel (P.S.)Redemption Falls: A NovelThe Bean Trees: A Novel (P.S.)Persuasion (Everyman's Library)Breakfast of Champions: A Novel

First come the percentages (thanks to Brenna at Literary Musings for the inspiration):
Books read in 2010: 120
Average number read per month: 12

Total number of "chunksters" (450+ pages): 10
Pages read in 2010: 32,715
Average number of pages per book: 273

Percentage of male authors read: 43%
Percentage of "new to me" authors: 69%
Percentage of books read that are older than me: 28%
Percentage of books read that were published this year: 11%
Percentage of books read that were read for book club: 13%

Nonfiction: 21%
84 Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff--5 stars
The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls--4.5 stars
Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis--4.5 stars
Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt--4.5 stars
Black Potatoes, Susan Campbell Baroletti--4.5 stars
Dumbing Down Our Kids, Charles J. Sykes--4 stars
And the Word Came with Power, Joanne Shetler--4 stars
A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation, Noah Lukeman--4 stars

All New Square Foot Gardening, Mel Bartholomew--4 stars

Skin, Lori Bergamotto--4 stars

Thunderstruck, Erik Larson--4 stars

Deconstructing Penguins, Lawrence & Nancy Goldstone--4 stars

A Girl From Yamhill, Beverly Cleary--4 stars

The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Sixties, Jonathan Leaf--3.5 stars
No Plot? No Problem! Chris Baty--3.5 stars
The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, Noah Lukeman--3.5 stars
In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan--3.5 stars
Crap. Zest Books--3.5 stars
The Polysyllabic Spree, Nick Hornby--3.5 stars
Developing a Supernatural Lifestyle, Kris Vallotton--3 stars
Catching Their Talk in a Box, Betty M. Hockett--3 stars
Writing Christian Fiction, Ron Benrey--3 stars
Anne Bradstreet, D.B. Kellogg--3 stars
In the Dark Streets Shineth, David McCullough--3 stars
Fitness Illustrated, Brian Sharkey--2.5 stars

Classics: 10%
Mansfield Park, Jane Austen--5 stars
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith--5 stars
Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut--5 stars
The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck--4.5 stars
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens--4.5 stars
Precious Bane, Mary Webb--4 stars
The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov--4 stars
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou--4 stars
Dubliners, James Joyce--3.5 stars
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll--3 stars
Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll--3 stars
April Twilights, Willa Cather--3 stars

Adult Fiction: 30%
Star of the Sea, Joseph O'Connor--5 stars
The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver--4.5 stars
The Help, Kathryn Stockett--4 stars
Prayers for Sale, Sandra Dallas--4 stars
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford--4 stars
Random Harvest, James Hilton--4 stars
Keeping the House, Ellen Baker--4 stars
Little Bee, Chris Cleave--4 stars
Winter's Bone, Daniel Woodrell--4 stars
Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel--4 stars
High Fidelity, Nick Hornby--4 stars
Tinkers, Paul Harding--4 stars
The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood--4 stars
Sweetie, Kathryn Magendie--4 stars
Room, Emma Donoghue--4 stars
When the Elephants Dance, Tess Uriza Holthe--3.5 stars
Resurrection in May, Lisa Samson--3.5 stars
The Samurai's Garden, Gail Tsukiyama--3.5 stars
The 19th Wife, David Ebershoff--3.5 stars
Prisoners in the Palace, Michaela MacColl--3.5 stars
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak--3.5 stars
The Piano Teacher, Janice Y. K. Lee--3 stars
The Friday Night Knitting Club, Kate Jacobs--3 stars
Sixteen Brides, Stephanie Grace Whitson--3 stars
Daughter of Fortune, Isabel Allende--3 stars
Time Among the Dead, Thomas Rayfiel--3 stars

The Kitchen Boy, Robert Alexander--3 stars
Masquerade, Nancy Moser--3 stars
Whitethorn Woods, Maeve Binchy--3 stars
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender--3 stars
The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom--2.5 stars
The Double Bind, Chris Bohjalian--2.5 stars
Flower Children, Maxine Swann--2.5 stars
Gentlemen of the Road, Michael Chabon--2 stars
The Alchemist, Paul Coelho--1.5 stars
Gods in Alabama, Joshilyn Jackson--1 star

Junior/Young Adult Fiction: 39%
Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson--5 stars
Dragon Slippers, Jessica Day George--4.5 stars
Matilda, Roald Dahl--4.5 stars

Red Sails to Capri, Ann Weil--4.5 stars

The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook, Joyce Lankester Brisely--4 stars
Abel's Island, William Steig--4 stars
The Underneath, Kathy Appelt--4 stars
Dragon Flight, Jessica Day George--4 stars
Dragon Spear, Jessica Day George--4 stars
Black Ships Before Troy, Rosemary Sutcliff--4 stars
Al Capone Does My Shirts, Gennifer Choldenko--4 stars
The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan--4 stars
Detectives in Togas, Henry Winterfield--4 stars
Adam of the Road, Elizabeth Janet Gray--4 stars
The Bronze Bow, Elizabeth George Speare--4 stars
Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine--4 stars
Ramona Forever, Beverly Cleary--4 stars
Princess of the Midnight Ball, Jessica Day George--4 stars
Flame Over Tara, Madeleine Polland--4 stars
Strawberry Girl, Lois Lenski--4 stars
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Laura Amy Schlitz--4 stars
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie--4 stars
Smile, Raina Telgemeier--4 stars
Dragon Slippers, Jessica Day George-4 stars
Rabbit Hill, Robert Lawson--3.5 stars
Criss Cross, Lynne Rae Perkins--3.5 stars
Mystery of the Roman Ransom, Henry Winterfield--3.5 stars
Lily's Crossing, Patricia Reilly Giff--3.5 stars
Stardust, Neil Gaiman--3.5 stars
Black Horses for the King, Anne McCaffrey--3.5 stars
The Goose Girl, Shannon Hale--3.5 stars
Henry Huggins, Beverly Cleary--3.5 stars
Family Under the Bridge, Natalie Savage Carlson--3.5 stars
Gray Horses, Hope Larson--3.5 stars
The Return of the Plant That Ate Dirty Socks, Nancy McArthur--3 stars
The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Beverly Cleary--3 stars
The Sea of Monsters, Rick Riordan--3 stars
The Titan's Curse, Rick Riordan--3 stars
The Bread Winner, Arvella Whitmore--3 stars
Olive's Ocean, Kevin Henkes--3 stars
The Boxcar Children, Gertrude Chandler Warner--3 stars
Ginger Pye, Eleanor Estes--3 stars
The Light at Tern Rock, Julia L. Sauer--3 stars
The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder--3 stars
Tales of Robin Hood, Tony Allan--3 stars
Whittington, Alan Armstrong--2.5 stars
Thirteen Reasons Why, Jay Asher--2 stars

And a little comparison chart from the last couple of years:

I must note that the Non-Fiction read in 2008 includes a large portion of Junior Non-Fiction, (all Non-Fiction has been lumped together,) thereby resulting in a huge percentage of Junior level reading that year--mostly kiddo/school related.  The only stat that I'm not so happy with based on this chart is that my Classic consumption is down from last year (even though my quality Adult Fiction was better).  I'm hoping to correct that somewhat in 2011.

So long 2010, it's been great fun.  Here's to more good times!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-FiveTitle: Slaughterhouse Five
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Pages: 288
Published: 2009 Dial Press (orig.1969)
My Rating: 5 stars

Why did this book have to end?  No, really...why?  I could easily have read on...was the story over already?

And more importantly: is all Kurt Vonnegut like this?  If so, I need more.

The writing, the humor, the depth, the story, the characters--everything was so engaging, so interesting, so different and well done.

I've claimed for YEARS that I don't like Science Fiction (even put it in my mini-bio for the Indie Lit Awards).  Is Slaughterhouse-Five really considered to be Science Fiction?  If I was put to task, I've no idea what sort of genre I'd try to fit it into.

After reading it, I can understand why I didn't really have any idea what it was going to be about.  Because it isn't just about the plot-line, it's much more than that.  Yes, Billy Pilgrim gets unstuck in time.  That, however, is just the surface.  And to be entirely honest, I'm not sure I've figured out all the meaning and symbolism, but I am enjoying letting it all meld into a happy gelatinous bubble in my brain (ew, that sounds gross).

My scattered ramblings certainly haven't done much to tell what the book is about, but perhaps that is fitting to the book being discussed.  Slaughterhouse-Five is quick, simple, disjointed, but also deep, layered, effective.

I'll leave you with a quote, and perhaps you can leave me with suggestions of what to read next?
Over the years, people I've met have often asked me what I'm working on, and I've usually replied that the main thing was a book about Dresden.
I said that to Harrison Starr, the movie-maker, one time, and he raised his eyebrows and inquired, "Is it an anti-war book?"
"Yes," I said, "I guess."
"You know what I say to people when I hear they're writing anti-war books?"
"No.  What do you say, Harrison Starr?"
"I say, 'Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?'"
What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers.  I believe that, too.
And even if wars didn't keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Okay, here it is. The mile long End-Of-Year-Survey.  It was only a matter of time. (hm, goofy pun...sorry about that.)  Thanks to The Perpetual Page Turner for supplying the questions!

2011 was a good reading year for me.  Not only in number of books read (117 so far!) but in quality, which I largely credit to getting connected with other book blogs.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (P.S.) [Paperback] 1. Best book of 2010? A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (my pick for Book Club #1, a high school re-read, and one of those books that I'll probably own multiple copies of eventually)
   1b. 5-star books of 2010? 4 books: about 3% of this year's books.
        - A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
        - Star of the Sea
        - Speak
        - 84 Charing Cross Road
   1c. 4.5-star books of 2010? (because I'm stingy with my 5-stars, and the 4.5-stars are pretty close,) an additional 11 books, together equaling 12.5% of this year's books.
        - A Christmas Carol
        - Angela's Ashes
        - Mere Christianity
        - Black Potatoes
        - The Glass Castle
        - Red Sails to Capri
        - The Lacuna
        - The Good Earth
        - Matilda
        - Prayers for Sale
        - Mansfield Park

2. Worst book of 2010? Because I didn’t know what I was getting into, and because both ended up being genres I don’t fancy, it’s a tie between The Alchemist and Gods in Alabama.  That’ll teach me to read a book without looking into it first.
   2b. 1-star & 2-star books of 2010? 5 books: about 4% of this year's books.
        - Gods in Alabama
        - The Alchemist
        - The Five People You Meet in Heaven
        - Thirteen Reasons Why

        - Gentlemen of the Road

3. Most Disappointing Book of 2010? Dubliners, because I really did want to like James Joyce.  I just didn’t connect with him at all.  Oh well.  I’m all over it now. (cue Jamie Cullum)

4. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2010?The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck).  For some reason I expected something dry that I wouldn’t relate to.  Instead, I found a book full of feeling and made connections with a culture and time that I didn’t think I would.

5. Book you recommended to people most in 2010? Either A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or Speak.  Those two should be read by everybody on earth. :)

6. Best series you discovered in 2010? I don’t really like series.  Too much guilt (to keep up with them) and work (to remember everything) without a great payoff (each book just usually isn’t as good as a single non-series book).  But I did read Jessica Day George’s Dragon Slippers series, and thought it was a lot of fun.

7. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2010? Neil Gaiman, Nick Hornby, Helene Hanff, Joseph O’Connor, Margaret Atwood, Paul Harding.  There’s all kinds of great stuff out there, isn’t there?

8. Most hilarious read of 2010?  I don’t know if I read hilarious books.  ??  But The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie) did have me smiling and laughing throughout...and what I've read of Slaughterhouse Five so far has definitely had me laughing as well.

9. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2010? Thrilling?  Hm.  Unputdownable? Hm.  I don't know if I read thrilling, unputdownable books either.  ??  The Glass Castle definitely kept me reading, as did the previously mentioned: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian and Slaughterhouse Five.

10. Book you most anticipated in 2010? Mansfield Park (Jane Austen).  It was the last of Austen’s published books I hadn’t read and it felt a little sad to have reached the end of that road.  I like to start my year off with a little Austen…from now on it’ll have to be a re-read, something unpublished, or related to her in some other way.

11. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2010? Star of the Sea, Keeping the House (actually repurchased Star of the Sea for the pretty cover, and bought Keeping the House for the fun art)
Star Of The Sea - Farewell To Old IrelandKeeping the House: A Novel
12. Most memorable character in 2010? Rob from High Fidelity.  Not that I liked the guy, necessarily, but he was a very real person, and therefore very memorable.

13. Most beautifully written book in 2010? Tinkers (Paul Harding) This one was all about the writing.  It didn’t contain my favorite sentence or paragraph of the year, but the whole thing was just gorgeous.

14. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2010? A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  I don’t know if I’ve ever had such an intense reaction to a book as I did when Francie Nolan’s teacher degraded her so severely about her writing. I was literally shaking with anger and had to put the book down.

15. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2010 to finally read? A Christmas Carol.  Thought I’d read it, but I hadn’t.  Problem rectified thanks to my 10 year-old daughter.

In the next couple of days I'll be posting my full list of 2010 books, along  with a few more stats...these are my lazy days (Vacation!!) so I'm also hoping to get a couple more books read before everything is final.  I'll be finishing Slaughterhouse Five tonight and jumping into ROOM (totally ignoring the fact that I was going to finished Our Mutual Friend this year...ugh...) and maybe even finishing one more read-aloud for my girls.  Wish me luck!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sweetie by Kathryn Magendie

SweetieTitle: Sweetie
Author: Kathryn Magendie
Pages: 200
Published: 2010 Bell Bridge Books
Read for: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
My Rating: 4 stars

*This book is being offered by the publisher as a free Kindle book until the end of the year!  Check it out.

Tender Graces
Tender Graces
I'd like to introduce you to Kathryn Magendie: an author that bridges the gap between literary fiction and genre fiction, and deserves a closer look.

Magendie's writing is soothing and poetic, and is paired with a great plot that sucks you straight through the book.  Apart from the first couple of pages that it took me to get into the rhythm of the book, I really didn't want to set it down.  The real surprise, though--the icing on the cake, so to speak--is the balance achieved between the lyrical writing, the realistic characters, and the captivating story.

Sweetie is the story of Melissa: ever the outcast: ever the new girl in the new town, who makes friends with the untamed Sweetie.  It is a coming of age story, and has some heartbreaking moments that go hand-in-hand with growing up.  It is a Southern novel, combining sorrowful nostalgia with just the right touch of humor.  It is also a bit magical, leaving you pondering and wondering even after the story has ended.

I was surprised to find myself reading slower toward the end of the book.  I didn't want it to end!  (That doesn't often happen to me.)  It brought to mind Fannie Flagg (Standing in the Rainbow), Lee Miller (Fair and Tender Ladies) and Natalie Babbitt (Tuck Everlasting).  While it was thoughtful (and all of those other adjectives I've been throwing around,) it wasn't sappy, unrealistic, or overdone.  Like I said, amazingly balanced.

Secret Graces
Secret Graces
This is Kathryn Magendie's third novel, and the second that LibraryThing has provided me for review.  Both been very enjoyable reads.  I am still of the opinion that the titles and cover art chosen do not properly represent the novels they contain: the outsides are rather sickeningly sweet while the novels themselves are a nice balance of engaging plot and thoughtful prose.  I am hoping that this does not impede the awareness of this up-and-coming author.  I would love to see her work become more well known.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Quiet Masterpieces

Literary Blog Hop
What a great question for the Literary Blog Hop (hosted by The Blue Bookcase)!  Thanks to Lisa at Bibliophiliac (from whom the question comes)...I'm sure my TBR will become much heavier after this weekend!  The question:

What literary title (fiction or non-fiction) do you love that has been under-appreciated?  What quiet masterpiece do you want more readers to know?

This question makes me happy for two reasons.  One, there are so many fabulous books that don't receive the attention they ought to, and I'm looking forward to getting my hands on some new treasures.  Two, I've been wanting to talk about William Maxwell and hadn't gotten around to doing it.  This is my chance!

William Maxwell (1908-2000) certainly isn't unknown.  With a long career at The New Yorker as the fiction editor (1936-1976), in addition to having many published novels and stories, he definitely has reason to be talked about.  For all this talent, however, I rarely see his name mentioned.

William Maxwell: Early Novels and Stories
Early Works
They Came Like SwallowsMy introduction to William Maxwell came through the novel They Came Like Swallows.  This very short book (192 pages) is highly autobiographical, but it is also beautifully written and incredibly captivating.  It takes place in the Midwest in 1918, and is a close look at the impact that the flu epidemic had on an 8 year-old boy.  Initially I was simply happy to have found a novel covering America during WWI with a focus on the epidemic--a topic that is often overshadowed by the devastation of WWII.  I quickly discovered, however, that this little book is something special.

William Maxwell: Later Novels and Stories: The Ch√Ęteau / So Long, See You Tomorrow (Library of America #184)
Later Works
Rarely, if ever, have I read such an intimate and honest portrayal of a person's real self. It is quite commonplace to read of people's actions and doings. It is fairly typical to read a story of a person as perceived through someone else's eyes. I've often read a book that shows what a person thinks of himself. But to hear the inner workings of one's self, the feelings and thoughts and reactions that happen without our permission--or perhaps without even our conscious knowledge--and in such a matter of fact way, is moving. This is the part of a person that cries out to be loved and accepted: just as they are. This is the part of a person that is rather unexplainable. Yet William Maxwell has done it. Beautifully.

Maxwell's writing is simple, yet powerful.  If you haven't experienced it, you really should.

Want to know more?
List of Works
Quickie Wiki Bio
An Excerpt: 'The Actual Thing'
A Plethora of NY Times Articles