The End of Year Book Report (#3)

July through December 2017

 

Title: Four Seasons in Rome

Author: Anthony Doerr

Date Finished: 7/23

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: Ah, so beautiful. Every sentence of this book was lovely.  It’s a memoir of the author’s year in Rome while writing a novel, just after his wife gave birth to twins. I am not at all interested in children or parenting, yet even though the children are featured prominently in this story, I loved it and felt I could relate. That’s how well it was written. I was immersed in he and his wife’s experiences as foreigners trying to make Italy their home. And Doerr’s use of words made me pause many, many times to consider my own feelings or form elaborate mental images of what he was seeing.

 

 

Title: Hillbilly Elegy

Author: JD Vance

Date Finished: 7/25

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 8

Notes: This was worth the wait in the library queue. This book is a unique look at the experiences of someone growing up poor in America, someone who should have been a failure and made nothing of himself. What makes it unique are the takeaways, what the author attributes to his ultimate success in life. So many decisions, big and small, combined with circumstance. His honest yet non-judgmental look at everyone around him is refreshing and valuable too. It’s a good sociological exploration of Appalachia written in a relatable and ingestible way.

 

Title: The Circle

Author: Dave Eggers

Date Finished: 7/30

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 5

Notes: This is a beach book, which will never get top marks from me, but that’s OK, that’s the point of a beach book. The prose should be easy. But even for what it is, I thought the plot was underdeveloped. I got 200 pages in and was still wondering what was going to happen. I gave him points for creativity – the way he took social media as it exists now and expanded it into something much more invasive in a very Black Mirror kind of way was good. But it seems he was impressed with himself too much and a spent a long time on describing this future world and company at the expense of forward action. And the action that did happen was fairly predictable. But it’s a fast, fun read if you’re looking for something light, although it is almost 500 pages long.

 

 

Title: The Art of Travel

Author: Alain de Botton

Date Finished: 8/6

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: It’s been awhile since I picked up a de Botton book, although I have been watching a lot of his School of Life videos on YouTube. I missed his words. I read it once through, slowly, a chapter a night, and then went back immediately through some of my favorite chapters. It’s amazing how much you miss or pick up on depending on the mood in which you read the book. There were chunks of it I didn’t remember reading at all, even though I had just a week ago. Overall, I loved this book, as I knew I would. As with all of his work, I loved it equally for his treatment of the subject matter as for his wordsmithing. There were chapters in which I could have underlined every single sentence because they resonated with me so strongly. He is in my brain. I didn’t rate it a 10, though, because one chapter fell flat, and because the artwork in black and white and in such a small format didn’t work for me. I had to look at a lot of the art online to really get a feel for what he was feeling.

 

Title: The Naked Swiss

Author: Clare O’Dea

Date Finished: 8/25

Finished: Yes

Format: Kindle

Ranking Out of 10: 8

Notes: I knew basically nothing about Switzerland except watches, fondue, and knives. This book was enlightening…and horrifying. It will make you never want to live there and possibly not even visit. Of course the author has her own biases, so it’s worth getting other opinions, but I have to believe she is presenting undeniable facts. What she says about sexism and treatment of immigrants is not good. Not good at all. Despite the fact she is a naturalized citizen, so she obviously likes it there, she really drags out all the country’s skeletons.

 

 

Title: The Girls

Author: Emma Cline

Date Finished: 9/2

Finished: Yes

Format: Kindle

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: This is an interesting twist on fan fiction, I guess. Obviously the story is about the Manson gang, but she uses different names to fictionalize it a bit, which lets the reader make her own mental images. The author has a clear agenda to give the reader a message about female empowerment and what is wrong with society, and I felt that message was too heavy-handed at times, which is the primary reason for my low ranking. When I read fiction, I want fiction, not a political treatise. But the book makes for good, light summer reading, despite its heavy subject matter.

 

 

Title: Heidi

Author: Johanna Spyri

Date Finished: 9/5

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: I had the opportunity to visit Heidiland while I was in Switzerland this year. I loved the story of Heidi when I was a child, but much like other stories that I read so long ago, I couldn’t quite remember the plot. So I decided to read it again. I didn’t expect to like it as much since it is a book written for children, and I’m trying to evaluate it here keeping in mind that I’m not the intended audience. It’s a sweet story, but I really think the last third could have been greatly condensed. Spyri just goes on and on with details and scenes that don’t add anything. I tuned out quite often because there wasn’t any tension or conflict. The characters were all just hanging out on the alm, not doing much of anything. Even so, I still think every child should read this book. I identify so strongly with the beginning when Heidi arrives to her grandfather’s and can’t help ripping her clothes off and running wild, chasing the goats up the hill. Who wouldn’t feel like doing that in the beautiful Swiss hills?

 

 

Title: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Author: Bryan Mealer and William Kamkwamba

Date Finished: 9/22

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 4

Notes: The essence of the story is inspiring and worth hearing, but the book is poorly written. It seems like the author didn’t quite know how to make William’s story novel-length, so he threw in a bunch of unrelated anecdotes from William’s life to fill space. There are a lot of non-sequiturs, interesting parts that were glossed over, and parts that left me scratching my head. The author should have done more effort to find a unifying theme and approach for all the bits and pieces he included.

 

 

Title: Economics in One Lesson

Author: Henry Hazlitt

Date Finished: 9/29

Finished: No

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 8 

Notes: An oldie but a goodie and worth a read. The only reason I didn’t finish it is that I’m firmly on the side of the author, so to me, the book felt a bit repetitive. I didn’t need all of his examples to buy into the truth of his one lesson. Highly recommended for anyone who doesn’t know that much about economics and is looking to learn. He covers a wide range of topics in an approachable manner.

 

 

Title: You’ll Grow Out of It

Author: Jessi Klein

Date Finished: 10/18

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: True to its genre, this book was lighthearted and entertaining. It contains two dozen essays about her life, mostly about her romantic life. Her experiences are relatable and the writing is accessible and fun. This isn’t stellar prose, but it’s good background listening.

 

 

Title: In Other Words

Author: Jhumpa Lahiri

Date Finished: 10/22

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 7 

Notes: This book was on my to-read list since it came out because I love Lahiri’s fiction and am very much into learning languages. I was immediately fascinated by her immersion into Italian and willingness to write in it. But the book fell somewhat flat for me. To be sure, there were segments I connected to strongly and knew exactly what she meant or was feeling, but others were…I don’t know…too introspective? Too personal and not generalizable to her audience? Maybe part of it is because I feel I missed out since the book was bilingual and I don’t know Italian. I enjoy bilingual books and the opportunity to pick up new words and phrases and test my own knowledge, but I couldn’t do that with this book. I loved it less than I expected to.

 

 

Title: We Are All Shipwrecks

Author: Kelly Grey Carlisle

Date Finished: 10/25

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: I tore through this book in a few short days. I couldn’t stop reading. It’s a memoir of someone with a fascinating and terrible childhood that was worlds apart from my own and yet so easy to connect. Her experiences made you feel for her and want to go back in time and reassure the child that everything will turn out well. The prose is highly readable, making you feel as if you are having a conversation with her.

 

 

Title: Hidden Machinery

Author: Margot Livesey

Date Finished: 10/26

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 7 

Notes: I say I finished this one, but I really only skimmed through it. It’s not as good as good as Reading Like a Writer, which I loved. The references are a bit more obscure, and the points are a bit harder to follow and get useful takeaways from. She used her examples in a more academic than practical way, it seemed to me. Also there were a lot of elements of memoir in this book. It’s still very good and serious writers will find it a beneficial read. I just found it somewhat hard to digest.

 

 

Title: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Author: Arundati Roy

Date Finished: 11/7 

Finished: No

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 6 

Notes: Ah, the much awaited new Roy novel! It was gifted to me back in July, but as always, my to-read stack was quite large, so it took a few months before I got into it. I was deeply engrossed in the first section, in the story and the writing equally. I think that was slightly under 200 pages. But with the second section, the novel started to fall apart for me. I didn’t care about the new characters she introduced. I didn’t like the style of writing – she plopped down pages and pages of police reports and news articles about the characters into the narrative. They weren’t well woven in and seemed to be info dumps. They pulled me out of the action. Also, I couldn’t relate to the whole Kashmir conflict storyline. I’ve read plenty about places I’m not from and have no connection to, but I didn’t care about her characters drama related to this conflict at all. I decided I didn’t care enough to finish the last third before it was time to pass it off to someone else.

 

 

Title: Heating and Cooling

Author: Beth Ann Fennelly

Date Finished: 11/7

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: This is delightful, quick read. Microessays, some only one sentence long, all funny and charming. Read it, and you’ll find yourself reading quite a few of the segments aloud to different people in your life you know will be able to relate.

 

 

Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Author: Stephen Chbosky

Date Finished: 11/11

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 6  

Notes: I’m not the audience for this YA novel, of course, but it was recommended to me and it’s an easy, lazy Saturday afternoon read. I know some adults who regularly read YA, but I’m not one of them, and it was an interesting experience. I found the book kind of preachy and moralistic. I think that as a teen, I would have rebelled against this style of writing, but who knows. Maybe I’m only saying that now through an adult lens. The story was sweet and I can see why the book as popular. It mirrors the experiences of a lot of teenagers. And, because of the moralistic nature, has some good one-liners.

 

 

Title: A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in the Trash

Author: Alexander Masters

Date Finished: 11/16

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard Cover

Ranking Out of 10: 6  

Notes: This book starts slowly and is tempting to set aside permanently. But if you stick with, it gets quite interesting. You’ll find yourself really curious about who the author of the journals is. The way the author uncovers the journal writer’s life bit by bit and reveals his findings in his book keeps you reading, but also questioning some of his decisions. The bits about his own life that he weaves in don’t always fit or complement the narrative of the journals. What he reveals about the journal writer at the end of the book is probably not what you expect. The book is a constant guessing game, a real puzzle to be solved as you read.

 

 

Title: Seven Autopsies of Nora Hanneman

Author: Courtney E. Morgan

Date Finished: 11/20

Finished: No

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 5 

Notes: I really wanted to like this book – the tone and subject matter is right up my alley. I was drawn into bits of imagery and individual sentences, but every story was unsatisfying. They were hard to follow, made no sense, and left me with a “huh?” feeling at the end. I read about two-thirds of them but just couldn’t connect as much as I wanted to.

 

 

 

Title: Demon Haunted World

Author: Carl Sagan

Date Finished: 11/23 

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 8  

Notes: This book is highly recommended for anyone who wants to understand more about Carl Sagan and why science education matters. He tears down the superstitions (demons) we hold and emphasizes the importance of clear, rational, science-based thinking and how we can help others have that mindset. This is a commentary on American culture and politics in an approachable way, with an action plan for how we can improve as people. Despite the heavy subject matter, the style is easy for anyone to listen to and understand.

 

 

Title: Men Without Women

Author: Haruki Murakami

Date Finished: 11/28

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 5 

Notes: I enjoy Murakami’s novels (1Q84 and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle) very much, so I expected to like these stories, but for the most part, I didn’t. There were segments of each that I liked, but as stories overall, none of these grabbed me. Murakami did a lot explaining, even of unnecessary concepts, like having a character describe what anorexia is. I was interested in the weirdness of the stories, the novel circumstances and perspectives, but for the most part, I didn’t really think the stories were good.

 

 

Title: Anne of Green Gables

Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery

Date Finished: 12/8

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 10 

Notes: Yes, another throwback, just like Heidi earlier in the year. This was fueled by watching Anne with an E on Netflix and seeing how much they bastardized the story, playing around with timelines and adding all sorts of events and circumstances that were not part of the book. That made me wonder how much of the 1980s television series version was true to the book, so I took another listen. Pretty true, as it turns out! I tore through this audio book in a just a few days, and then started on to the next one, Anne of Avonlea, but found I wasn’t really that interested. I just wanted to make that comparison and indulge in a little nostalgia temporarily. But I’ll always love the story of Anne!

 

 

Title: No Country For Old Men

Author: Cormac McCarthy

Date Finished: 12/25

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback, but read entirely out loud

Ranking Out of 10: 8

Notes: I saw the movie when it came out but didn’t really remember the plot at all. This story moved quickly and was engaging. A page turner for sure! It was interesting to read out loud because of the Hemingway-esque plain style. McCarthy uses a lot of ands to connect phrase after phrase, and when you read out loud, you really notice how often you are saying that word. But during the parts that were read to me, I didn’t notice them at all, for whatever that’s worth. I’m glad I revisited this story and McCarthy because he’s not a writer I would think on my own that I would be interested in emulating, but in fact, I am.

 

Books I Started But Didn’t Get Far Enough Into to Rate Before I Quit: Cockeyed (Ryan Knighton), Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere (Jan Morris), Requiem for a Dream (Hubert Selby, Jr), Super Sad True Love Story (Gary Shteyngart), The Dallas Myth (Harvey J. Graff), Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (Barbara Demick), The Godfather (Mario Puzo), City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas (Roger Crowley)

Two Poetry Books I Read: Calenday (Lauren Haldeman) and The Boss (Victoria Chang)

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