Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Statistical Roundup- My Year in Books

For the fourth consecutive year I present... the numbers.

How many books read in 2013? As of today, I've read 74 books this year. That's down significantly from 95 last year. I read a couple of very long books, and less crime, but basically life has been crazy and I didn't get as much time to read. Working on my crafting business has also taken reading time away.

How many fiction and non fiction? 13 nonfiction and the rest fiction. Last year I also read 12 nonfiction.

Male/Female author ratio? 
42 by men, 32 by women. Better than last year's ratio but it needs improvement to be more equal. Basically, I don't keep track of this kind of thing as I'm reading. I just read what I want.

Favorite book of 2013?
The Son, by Philipp Meyer. Just read it already.

Least favorite?
Something I didn't finish. I don't remember.

 Any that you simply couldn’t finish and why?
A few. I have a bunch of half-finished graphic novels, books of essays and the like hanging around. I tried to read a big recently-published Italian opus and failed. Stuff like that.

Oldest book read:
Coronation Summer, by Angela Thirkell, originally published in 1937 and about a pair of young girls traveling to London for the coronation of Queen Victoria. They buy pretty dresses, flirt with boys and have fun.

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt.

Longest and shortest book titles?
Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala and Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal, by Jeanette Winterson

Longest and shortest books?
The All of It, by Jeannette Haien was probably the shortest; The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt was probably the longest.

How many books from the library?

Any translated books?
I read books translated from Italian, French, Hebrew, German, Greek, Chinese and Russian.

Most read author of the year, and how many books by that author?
Three each from Jane Gardam and Massimo Carlotto.

Any re-reads?
No re-reads this year!

Favorite character of the year?
Peter McCullough from The Son.

Which countries did you go to through the page in your year of reading?
Through books I went to Ireland, Israel, Poland, France, Italy, Australia, South Africa, England, America, Greece, Germany, Norway, Holland, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China, Laos, Canada, Japan and Korea.

Which book wouldn’t you have read without someone’s specific recommendation?
The Snow Hunters, by Paul Yoon, recommended by my coworker Jennifer.

Which author was new to you in 2013 that you now want to read the entire works of?
Lydia Millet. I loved her Magnificence and want to read all of her books.

Which books are you annoyed you didn’t read?
I'm a little annoyed I didn't get to the Serge Gainsbourg biography I picked up last year, and Morrissey: The Pageant of His Bleeding Heart, not to mention Morrissey's new autobiography. Yes I love moody vocalists, sue me.

Did you read any books you have always been meaning to read?
Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal, by Jeanette Winterson. That was last year's annoyed-I-didn't-read.
My Hopes for 2014: 
  • I hope I read more books!
  • I hope to have time to pursue my own interests and keep up with current releases.
  • I hope to attend more bookish events and have more bookish fun. 2013 was distinctly lacking in bookish fun. You know what I miss? BEA, conferences, networking opportunities, meeting authors.
  • I hope to get to some of the dusty books on the back bookshelves.
That's it for me! It's been a great year in books! What are the highlights of your bookish year, and what do you hope for 2014?

Monday, December 30, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

What am I not reading?

I'm continuing to read, and really loving, Paul Scott's Staying On. It's a subtle, funny and richly detailed portrait of a small corner of India in the 1960s as an elderly British couple live out their last years and a young Indian couple try to navigate their changing, evolving country.

I started Ken Kalfus's Equilateral, a hard-to-categorize story set at the end of the 19th century, when intelligent life on Mars has been confirmed and a group of scientists attempt a massive stunt to gain that planet's attention. It's mannered and slow but the suspense is undeniable.

Finally, I'm keeping on with The Kept. It's set in a very wintry place, full of ice and snow and cold, and it's like that here so it's hard to read because I feel like I need to bundle up even more to read it! But I do like it.

I think I'm desperately trying to raise my numbers for the year and cram whatever I can before the 31st. What are you reading this week?
See more at Bookjourney.wordpress.com.

Friday, December 27, 2013

My Favorite Reads of 2013

I feel like this year was a slower reading year for me than others; I haven't done the actual statistics yet, but I've only reviewed 26 releases from 2013, which is lower than previous years' counts for current releases. Rather than pick a top 10, I eyeballed the list of books I've read and jotted down those that stood out as, well, outstanding. Without further ado, and in no particular order,

My Favorite 2013 Releases

MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood. One of my favorite living writers brings her post apocalyptic
trilogy to a close with the best book of the bunch. Not to sound like a teenager, but it gave me all the feelings.

The Daughters of Mars, by Thomas Keneally. I was just talking about this book with a coworker. We agreed that it's top-notch literary fiction about World War 1 that will set your brain and your heart on fire.

The Dinner, by Herman Koch. Love it or hate it, but no book published in 2013 will get you revved up like this one!

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid. The book has a silly title but it's actually a bittersweet, moving and brilliant story of two lives and a changing world.

A Dark Redemption, by Stav Sherez. Wow. Just, I mean, if you like crime, it doesn't get much better than this. Set in London and the first in a series, it's a showstopper.

Summertime, All the Cats are Bored, by Philippe Georget. Also crime, this one mixes sunshine and shadow in a riveting and movie-ready story about murder in the south of France.

The Son, by Philipp Meyer. A multigenerational story about Texas and America, The Son is destined to be an American classic. Read it now!

The Daylight Gate, by Jeanette Winterson. Jeanette Winterson's books remind me just how good good writing can be. This historical-horror novel manages to be razor-sharp, ice-cold and searing-hot all at the same time.

Best of the Backlist

Daniel Stein, Interpreter, by Ludmila Ulitskaya. I love Ulitskaya's books so much, and this is the best one I've read. Love.

My Traitor's Heart, by Rian Malan. This essential book on South Africa should be on everyone's required reading list. If you have been reading about Mandela lately, read this too.

In a Strange Room, by Damon Galgut. Galgut has a new book coming in the spring and they're already talking Booker about it; this one will give you some insight into why.

Happy Ending, by Francesca Duranti. This bittersweet, beautiful family story set in Italy will break your heart and stitch it up again.

Agent Zigzag and Double Cross, by Ben Macintyre. Ben Macintyre is officially my favorite historian with his page-turning, immensely enjoyable histories of World War 2 espionage. Read one and you'll want to read them all.

Corelli's Mandolin, by Louis de Bernieres. This is a historical-fiction epic of the old school, a book to fall in love with and get lost in.

How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill. I loved this light introduction to the history of my favorite country. I learned a lot and it helped me on my trip, too!

Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal, by Jeanette Winterson. Winterson just knocks it out of the park with this memoir about her two mothers. I just don't know what to say. Incredible.

So that's it for my favorites. If I can get around to it, I'll do a statistical roundup and some reading reflections. What are your favorites this year? Tell me in the comments!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all who are celebrating; if you're not, just have a great week! I'll see you all soon.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Review: THE ALL OF IT, by Jeannette Haien

The All of It, by Jeannette Haien. Published by Harper Perennial 2011.

So a week ago legendary author/bookstore owner Ann Patchett made a last-minute appearance at the bookstore where I work. The event was packed and she was terrific- funny, charismatic and polished. As part of the event she recommended a couple of her favorite books, including this little gem, The All of It, which she was influential in getting republished and for which she wrote the introduction. Naturally everyone scooped it up, myself included.

The All of It is a short novel, really a novella, about a priest named Father Declan and his relationship with a couple, Enda and Kevin, in midcentury Ireland. Kevin is dying as the book opens, and he has a last secret to share, but he passes before he can let it out. So Enda tells him "the all of it," the secret behind her and Kevin's longstanding relationship. She spills the secret quickly so that some readers might look at the 125-odd pages that remain and say, "well, I know the big thing, why should I finish?" The reason to finish is Jeannette Haien's luminous prose and the meditations that follow on the nature of love, life and empathy.

The All of It is a novel to read by the fireplace in an afternoon, with a cup of cocoa and a blanket. It will shake you up emotionally but it will comfort you, too; pondering Enda's revelation and its implications, watching Father Declan sort out his complicated feelings towards this enigmatic woman and enjoying the last few pages of suspense are what make this novel great even after the twist has come and gone. It's deceptive in its simplicity, a novel that isn't even really about what you think it's about when you first open its pages. It's a book I'd recommend to just about any reader, too.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Monday, December 16, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well this past week I finished two short books, Massimo Carlotto's The Colombian Mule and Jeannette Haien's The All of It. The All of It was recommended by Ann Patchett, who wrote the introduction to the Harper Perennial edition and appeared at the bookstore where I work last Monday night. Of course we completely sold out of the book after her event- which was great! The book is really good. I'll write a review soon, or at least I hope to. I'm so behind on reviews I'll never catch up!

This week I'm still working on James Scott's The Kept, and I started reading Deborah Levy's Swimming Home, nominated for the Man Booker Prize a year or two ago. It's about a group of people sharing a summer house in France and experiencing various relationship issues. I like it a lot. It's a short book and it's reading quickly. I'm still working on Staying On, but this week is going to be crazy for me and I don't know how much reading I'll be able to do. I feel like I need to put everything on hold until after Christmas next week, which is coming up way too fast for me!

And you? More at BookJourney.wordpress.com.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Review: THE GOLDFINCH, by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. Published 2013 by Little, Brown.

So, where to begin? If you were a fan of Donna Tartt's debut hit, The Secret History, you've probably at least heard of her new blockbuster, her first novel in almost twenty years, The Goldfinch. Her second novel didn't so as well as the cult-hit Secret History, so this new book was greeted with both excitement and trepidation. I remember loving The Secret History but it was so long ago that she hasn't exactly stayed at the top of my authors to watch, so when the new book came out I wasn't sure I was going to read it but my friends were so enthusiastic that I decided to give it a try.

Whoa. So The Goldfinch is about a boy whose life changes forever when the museum he is visiting with his mother is bombed. She dies, and he steals a painting, a backpack-sized (fictional) old masterpiece called "The Goldfinch." That day he also meets two people whose lives will continue to intersect with his even though one of them dies, and collides with a wealthy family which will contribute to this altered course of destiny.

Theo Decker is just thirteen on this day, a New Yorker living with his beautiful mother after his father abandons the family. He doesn't expect his life to change that much. But the future will take him to the heights of New York society, its back-room antiques shops and workrooms, the wilds of Las Vegas and the underworld of Europe. When the book opens he is an adult recounting his story from an Amsterdam hotel room under shady circumstances. After a brief orientation he takes us back to that day that changed everything and from there the book is a straight-up, nonstop forward-moving bullet train. Eventually we catch up with, then surpass, Theo in the hotel room, to a time when his life begins to resemble that of a normal person.

It's a while getting there, though. Along the way we meet Pippa, a girl Theo meets at the museum that day, her uncle's partner James Hobart, who takes Theo under his wing and teaches him the antiques business, the high-society Barbour family (son Andy is Theo's childhood best friend) with troubles of its own, Theo's reckless father and his new wife in Las Vegas, and Boris, a Ukrainian kid who becomes unofficial family. Events have a relentless momentum; you'll be gasping for air turning the pages. The characters more than the plot kept me going. A friend put it best- nothing happens for a long time, then everything happens at once.

But while nothing is happening you're getting to know Theo and the others, beginning to understand the machinery that's making it all move and enjoying Tartt's steam-engine writing. The story feels picaresque and I always say I don't like picaresques but then I keep reading picaresques I like a lot., like The Goldfinch. Theo's life is bleak, dark and often hopeless but by the time things got bad I had grown to care about him enough to hope for him, and the story ends on a note of hope and redemption even though he clearly will not get everything he wants. Some suspension of disbelief is warranted towards the end of his adventures, but overall The Goldfinch is a strong, very suspenseful and very hard to put down literary coming of age story. I think readers on the popular and literary ends of the spectrum will enjoy it and I think it would make a great book club selection and holiday gift.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I received a review copy from Little, Brown.

Monday, December 9, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I had a busy reading week! I finished Holiday, by Stanley Middleton, then blasted through The Daylight Gate and Jeanette Winterson's memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? All of those books were really excellent and will be some tough acts to follow. I read the memoir in two sittings. Just, wow.

But follow them I must, and to do so I'm treating myself to another Booker Prize winner, Paul Scott's Staying On, a sort of coda to his four-volume Raj Quartet series about the end of the British in India. I'm just a few pages in but I'm really enjoying it.

I'm also keeping on with The Kept, as its secrets slowly unfurl. It's not the fastest moving book ever but I think I just reached a turning point. Can't wait to see what's around the corner!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Boston Bibliophile's 2013 Gift Guide Part 3- Fiction!

OK, this is definitely my favorite part of Christmas book shopping- the novels. Novels can be tricky to pick out for someone else but a lot of times I think people over-think this particular segment of gift-buying. Most books are perfectly reasonable to read and most people don't get upset at the giver if the book doesn't work out- so don't worry so much, OK? Just pick something that looks like it makes sense even if it might not be the perfect fit. It'll be fine, honestly!

That said, here are my suggestions.

Joanna Trollope's updated Sense and Sensibility is an easy choice for the Jane Austen fan, the chicklit reader or the light-romance reader. And there's a lot of cross-over there!

The special boxed edition of Junot Diaz's How to Lose Her would be great for that hipster you bought that Nick Hornby book for.

Foodies and Francophiles will savor Jonathan Grimwood's solid and entertaining The Last Banquet.

For crime readers, I recommend Stav Sherez's A Dark Redemption, a gritty London noir and first in a new series. It's also one of the best 2013 books I read hands-down.

Italophiles have lots to choose from among 2013 releases. Sarah Dunant's Blood and Beauty recounts the Borgias with a racy and enthralling story of politics and love. Goliarda Sapienza's The Art of Joy is a historical-fiction feast from the 20th century, following the adventures of one woman through the century.  And Elena Ferrante's The Story of a New Name brings up to speed on the lives of two Neapolitan women at the beginning of the century and should be given and read with its prequel, My Brilliant Friend.

Some recent heavy-hitter releases perfect for the literary reader include Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, Philipp Meyer's essential classic The Son (a western but so much more), and Eleanor Catton's Booker Prize winner, The Luminaries.

Other books I like for the literary reader that might not be on the bestseller table are:

A True Novel, by Minae Mizumura, an updated version of Wuthering Heights which reviews tell me is much more than a mere retelling;

James Purdy's The Complete Short Stories, and

Thomas Keneally's excellent The Daughters of Mars, about two sisters who become nurses during World War 1 (give it alongside Joe Sacco's The Great War). I loved the Keneally book in particular!

What are you giving this year? What do you hope to get? Any suggestions for science fiction readers, popular fiction, romance,
or anything else I've forgotten?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Boston Bibliophile's 2013 Gift Guide Part 2- History, Cooking, Graphica and More

Here I am back with more gift ideas. Today I'll tackle history, the cooking section and more.

For foodie lit, there are two I think are great. Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste, by Luke Barr does what it says on the label, talk about some of the pre-eminent cooks and food writers of their day and their collision in 1970s France.

Also a big hit at the bookstore this year is Michael Pollan's latest, Cooked.
You might know Pollan from The Omnivore's Dilemma and other milestones of modern food thinking.

As far as cookbooks, the holiday season always brings out the heavyweights- Alice Waters has a new one, along with pretty much every celebrity chef. Yottam Ottolenghi's books have been selling like hotcakes too. But the only one I want is one that came out early this year, Beatrice Peltre's La Tartine Gourmande. This book is delectable to look at and to cook from. Her lime spaghetti is a staple on my table and lots of these will become favorites of yours or your favorite cook's too.

Over in the essay section, get Ten Years in the Tub, Nick Hornby's collection of his Stuff I've Been Reading column, for the hipster in your life. I promise an appreciative smirk in return.

The music fan's cup runneth over this holiday season. Morrissey's hotly anticipated Autobiography hit the shelves this week, joining a biography of Johnny Cash, and letters from John Lennon and Leonard Bernstein. Tony Fletcher's A Light That Never Goes Out would be a great companion to Morrissey's book!

Bio fans will also enjoy books from Edna O'Brien and Anjelica Huston and books about J.D. Salinger, Jim Henson and Ian Fleming.

In the history section, I love the looks of The History of America in 100 Objects- a great gift for your inlaws maybe?- and The Discovery of Middle Earth by Graham Robb, about the achievements of the Celts. I think either would make great gifts for that "I didn't know that" reader who likes to discover new things and ideas.

My Promised Land by Ari Shavit is required reading for current-events buffs and folks interested in the Middle East. This selection is not a sop to Hanukkah- I think readers of any background should read this essential book about Israel and its relationship to itself.

Finally I hope every one of you runs out for Joe Sacco's incredible and moving The Great War, a single huge, continuous illustration of Europe on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. This book works for graphica fans, history buffs, your dad, and everyone in between. Seriously, this will blow your mind.

Come back soon for my fiction picks!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Boston Bibliophile's 2013 Gift Guide, Part One- Fun Books

Looking over the offerings at the bookstore this season, I was simply overwhelmed with the choices, so I have to break my gift guide up into several parts. Today I'll cover nonfiction "fun" books- art, style, pets and more.

Last year we had the Big New Yorker Book of Dogs; this year they're giving cat lovers their due with essays, stories, comics and more about the best pets in the world. The Big New Yorker Book of Cats will be great for the cat lover in your life.

But if you or someone you love happens to love dogs, Shake, by Carli Davidson, is a fun photo book with pictures of 61 dogs shaking their little selves around. Cute. At the end there is a little making-of section too.

For the geek in your life, the "it" gift book of the
year has to be Guillermo del Toro Cabinet of Curiosities. This is a stunning volume including lots and lots of the artist and director's art, sketches, behind-the-scenes stories and more. Seriously-it's amazing.

Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half collection is shooting fish in a barrel, but
if it's not on your radar it should be. Her blog is terrific and this collection highlights some of the best from her slice-of-life illustrated stories, including some not shown on her website. It's not as adult-oriented as the also-great Oatmeal collections but I would recommend it for teens and up.

Your favorite word-nerds will love Wordbirds, Liesl Schillinger's beautifully illustrated lexicon of modern neologisms. She includes things like Faceboast for bragging on social media, and Factose Intolerant, the practice of shunning foods of which you believe you're intolerant. Ha ha. I think Wordbirds would make a great gift for lots of people.

 For the fashionista in your life, Paris Street Style: A Guide to Effortless Chic, by Isabelle Thomas, is a fun collection of photos and light text on dressing and clothes that you can actually put to use with items already in your closet or easy-to-find staples. Oh, I can wear that with that? Yup!

One of the most beautiful literary gift books I've come across is Conference of the Birds as illustrated by Peter Sis. Sis is known for writing and illustrating childrens' books; Conference of the Birds is a classic 12th-century Persian poem about a time when all the world's birds gathered to choose a king. In paperback and at a very approachable $18, it would make a very nice present.

On the other side of the spectrum in price and presentation is the absolutely stunning The Vatican: All the Paintings: The Complete Collection of Old Masters, Plus More than 300 Sculptures, Maps, Tapestries, and other Artifacts. I can't think of a more impressive gift for that special art lover or Italophile in your life. It's a big heavy hardcover and clocks in around $75.00 but for the right person, it's worth it!

Part Two, coming later this week, will include history, cookery, music and graphica. Part Three, later still, will include my top picks for fiction. Stay tuned!

Monday, December 2, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

With Thanksgiving last week and attendant family activities, I wasn't really big on blogging- obviously. I finished The Goldfinch as predicted and I set one book aside and started a couple of new ones. Because that's just the way I rock it.

Anyhoo I hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving. I did. Did you shop at local independents on Small Business Saturday? The bookstore where I work had a very successful SBS and even had some local authors hand-selling and chatting with customers. Fun!

On to the books!
I'm nearly done with Jeannette Winterson's The Daylight Gate, and I have to say I'm loving it. She's just so good. It's about witches in medieval England and more suited to Halloween than Christmastime but there is no wrong time to read Jeannette Winterson. Ever.

I started reading Stanley Middleton's 1974 Booker Prize winner, Holiday, and I'm enjoying it. It's a classic old-school just-plain-well-written book about a failing marriage. Remember when good books didn't have to be flashy or experimental or trendy or whatever? Yeah, that.

And I put Ari Shavit's My Promised Land on my bedside table and read the first chapter, which is excellent. I think I mentioned that one last week but didn't actually start it until late last week. So there.

What about you? More It's Monday at ShouldbeReading.wordpress.com.