50 Book Challenge 2005

50. Fifth Business (266 pp.) by Robertson Davies (Dec 26). Wow. What a great surprise. I've had this book on the shelf forever and have heard great things about Davies. I finally picked it up and loved it. I don't know how to describe it. It's a memoir of a elder man telling how he ended up where he did and about all these interesting characters in his life. This is a terrible explanation but I'm not inspired to do better right now.

49. This Side of Paradise (213 pp.) by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Dec 20). Ug. What a slog. I didn't like the story or the characters. I just ran my eyes over the words.

48. nonrequired reading (233 pp.) by Wislawa Szymborska (Dec 15). This author won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1996 and is known (not by me) as a poet. These pieces are "book reviews" from a column she wrote. I put "book reviews" in quotes because these are much better than reviews. They are charming stories and/or commentary related to the book and its subject matter. Fun reading.

47. The Time Traveler's Wife (536 pp.) by Audrey Niffenegger (Nov 25). I don't know what I can write about this book without the suggestion of spoilers. I loved it.

46. The Opposite of Fate (398 pp.) by Amy Tan (Nov 19). Whew. Back on track. I've got a long weekend next weekend plus time off at Xmas so I thing I'm in good shape here. This book is subtitled "Memories of a Writing Life" and is an assembled mishmash of NF pieces over the years. If you read her fiction, it's fun to see the connections to real life or how she found inspiration. One of the best pieces in the book is the one where she takes on the American literature scene. First she talks about the literary interpretations/criticisms of her work explaining she's not smart enough to plot the symbolism and meaning that students/critics find in her work. The essay also talks about something that I'm going to greatly simplify here, but basically political correctness in literature. Do writers have responsibilities like creating role models and only showing the positive side of things, and in the case of ethnic writers: teaching some sort of ethnic lesson? She says no, with great elegance, I might add.

45. The Shadow of the Wind (486 pp.) by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Nov 11). Crap! It took me a month to read this book. I was completely ahead of schedule and now I'm under pressure. 5 books in what ... six weeks? I've got a couple graphic novels I can burn through in a weekend if it looks like I won't make it. I enjoyed the book but didn't love it. I think it's meant to be read in bigger chunks and not here and there on the train or right before bedtime. It skips around in time and introduces different people in different time periods so half the time I wasn't sure who we were talking about so I'd end up looking at a Photoshop book or something. And then around p. 375 it turns amazing. I said to Billy, "Who writes a book that doesn't get great until p. 375?" and he said, "Who reads a book that doesn't get great until p. 375?" I urge you not to avoid the book on my account. Do some homework. It's set in Spain and made me want to see Spain. You might like it more than I did.

44. The Bookman's Promise by John Dunning (Oct 12). I've read a couple of this guy's detective novels. The protagonist is a bookman and the stories revolve around books -- which is sort of cool. This one was a bit of a stretch. I had a hard time buying that people are going to go to such incredible lengths, even murder, over a *book*. The collectible texts in question were by a man named Richard Burton, (not the actor, this guy who I had assumed the entire time, was made up. But the afternote mentions way to learn more about him. Now I know.)

43. Brick Lane by Monica Ali (Oct 2). Excellent book about a Bangladesh woman who is married off and goes to live in London. The culture clash is a huge part but also people and relationships and how relationships and viewpoints change. This is a sad simplification.

42. The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger (Sep 17). What a harrowing book. I stayed up late to finish it and that meteorological violence is some strange energy to drop off to sleep with. Glad to wake up to clear sky and solid ground.

41. The Summer I Dared by Barbara Delinsky (Sep 4). Priscilla loaned me this after I told her how much I liked The Lobster Chronicles (book #34). It's a sort-of women's empowerment romance novel set in a community with lobster fishing and the lust object is a lobsterman. Not ordinarily what I'd read but fun for a summer vacation book.

40. The Last Battle by CS Lewis (Aug 28). Always my least favorite in the series. Narnia ended and everyong "died." Couldn't help but notice in these more PC times that in these stories the brown people were bad and the white people ended up as kings and queens. Still love the series.

39. The Magician's Nephew by CS Lewis (Aug 27).

38. The Horse and His Boy by CS Lewis (Aug 20). When I was younger I never liked this one very much but I like it a lot now.

37. The Silver Chair by CS Lewis (Aug 19). I like the part with the giants.

36. Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis (Aug 16). I like the part with the guy who turned to gold in the pool.

35. Prince Caspian by CS Lewis (Aug 13). Now I guess I'm going to read them all.

34. The Lobster Chronicles by Linda Greenlaw (Aug 13). This book was on the shelf. Bob took Priscilla to see Greenlaw when she was in town at some point and they both liked the book so I picked it up this week. It's a whole different world and even culture from what we have here. She writes about lobster-fishing and life on a small island populated with other lobster-fishing families. I loved it.

33. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis (Aug 12). I wrote about Narnia the other day and decided to read the book. At first I wasn't going to list it on the 50 but then I decided, it IS a book and I did read it rather than doing something else so it counts. I also saw the trailer for the film again today and it still looks fantastic.

32. Idoru by William Gibson (Aug 6). I just found an author FAQ that suggests reading Virtual Light first. I think that's on the shelf as well. I'll stick in the stack and read it later. I love WG books because of the weird technology that sounds like it could be real and he only tells you a tiny bit less than what you need to know to get the story. This one was fun, but not spectacular.

31. Mary Wolf by Cynthia D. Grant (Jul 31). Another depressing YA book that was recommended on an old list. WTF? What happened to YA books with talking fauns and tripods and little houses on the prairie? I've read half a dozen YA books that were about kids that had mean parents and all the kids were mean to them and nothing good happened to them. Who wants to read that?

30. In the Middle of the Night by Robert Cormier (Jul 27). This is a YA book that was recommended on an old list I had and I can't think of any reason anyone should ever read this book. Let's never speak of it again.

29. The Dog of the Marriage by Amy Hempel (Jul 22). I love Amy Hempel but I can think of few people I'd recommend her to. It's an odd voice. I can't think of a good word ... simultaneously sardonic and heart-breaking. No telling. All showing, and barely that. But brilliant.

28. Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston (Jul 18). Remember the guy whose arm got stuck when he was rock climbing and he had to cut it off to save himself? This is his book. This is not the kind of book I would ever pick up myself but it was a gift and I cracked it this weekend expecting to make a polite skim through and wow, completely riveting story. I stayed up late last night to finish it.

27. Aloft by Chang-Rae Lee (Jul 13). This writer reminds me of Richard Ford. It's a good book and fantastic writing. It's about a 59 year old guy with marginal people skills who is trying to figure himself out. Both funny and sad and perhaps a wee bit long.

26. Easter Island by Jennifer Vanderbes (Jul 5). Excellent. The cover says it recalls Possession by A.S. Byatt and that's accurate. It's several storylines consisting of chick problems combined with studies of Easter Island. That probably doesn't sound like a recommendation but it is.

** note -- totally on track for 50 books this year **

25. A Galaxy Not So Far Away Glenn Kenny ed. (Jun 28). Bob bought this for me, I think a year ago last xmas. I don't know why I didn't pick it up sooner. It's a bunch of Star Wars geek essays, many of them completely straightforward on topics like why Boba Fett is cool or comparing martial arts and the Force. Several of these writers are most likely crazy.

24. That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx (Jun 24). I loved this book. For some reason I remember thinking it took me a bit to get into The Shipping News and I expected the same with this but nope, started it and couldn't read it fast enough. It's set in the Texas Panhandle and her characters are so vivid and the environment such a huge part of the story. One of the best on this list so far.

23. Field of Honor by D.L. Birchfield (Jun 13). Completely loopy book about a Choctaw Marine Corps deserter who finds an underground Choctaw civilization. DLB is a friend from Wordcraft days.

22. Iced by Jenny Siler (May 27). Last time I was at the library I could only find 1 of the books I was looking for and it seemed silly to check out only one book so I wandered around trying to find at least 1 more. I'd heard another of Siler's books was good so I grabbed this. It's a well written murder-mystery set in Missoula, Montana. Not much else to say.

21. The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus (May 24). Hilarious watching the wretched behavior of the weathy parental people, particularly the whackjob Mom, but overall not much of a story here. Doormat student takes abuse and in the climactic finale reminds us it's about the children.

20. The Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill (May 20). When I started this book, I thought it was sort of gimmicky -- ordinary slice of life only the Minotaur is a character in a parallel reality where a half man, half bull is seen as odd, but not impossible. Turned out to be a surprising heart twister. Worth tracking down.

19. When the Nines Roll Over & Other Stories by David Benioff (May 12). This is the guy who wrote the screenplay for Troy. Some of these stories were unbelievably good. Some of them felt like he was trying every possible gimmick for a writing class. Perfect train reading.

18. The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch (May 7). I am surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. The author is an accomplished poet who also happens to be an undertaker and he writes essays about life through the unique filter of a person who deals with death every day.

17. Lucky Girls by Nell Freudenberger (Apr 28). This book was on everybody's top ten list when it came out a couple years ago and she is a great writer and a couple of these stories are true gems. But a couple of them didn't appear to have anything that resembled an ending and I had a problem with this. Call me pedant if you wish but I think a story needs some tiny moment of closure at the end.

16. Only Begotten Daughter by James Morrow (Apr 23). I would have given up on this book at around page 50 except that it was the only thing I had with me on a heavy public transportation and waiting for things day so by the time I'd read half, I figured I'd go ahead and finish. (See above about inner non-quitter). It's an immaculate conception in the form of a zygote showing up in a guy's sperm donation and he ends up raising Jesus' sister. Mildly entertaining.

15. House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday (Apr 15). Beautiful but ultimately sad book. Too bad there's so much sex in it because otherwise eighth graders should have to read it.

14. Cry Dance by Kirk Mitchell (Mar 28). I sort of gave up reading mystery books except for my annual Kinsey Milhone, but Priscilla gave me this and it's sort of Tony Hillerman, in that the detectives are Indian and their adventures take place around Indian Country. Not bad.

13. I, Elizabeth by Rosalind Miles (Mar 22). Super interesting book about Queen Elizabeth but way too long. I saw some people on the 50 book challenge put their page counts and this book (618 pp) made me consider adding that part too.

12. Making Movies by Sidney Lumet (Mar 11). Excellent book by the director who won the honorary Oscar this year. All kinds of insights into movie making.

11. Chronicles, v.1 by Bob Dylan (Mar 7). I've never been a Dylan person but I loved this book and intend to make a point of listening to his music. I'm sure Bob has piles of it downstairs somewhere.

10. Persepolis 2: The Story of A Return by Marjane Satrapi (Feb 27). Just as good as #1.

9. Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland (Feb 24). This was a good book to read when I was just starting riding the train. Easy to pick up and get into. Not sure it totally holds together, but I enjoyed it.

8. Persepolis: The Story of A Childhood by Marjane Satrapi (Feb 22). Excellent graphic memoir about a woman who grew up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Talk about girl power.

7. Weesquachak and the Lost Ones by Ruby Slipperjack (Feb 20). This is written by a First Nations author and it had a good heart but had the sort of dysfunctional relationships and violence you'd expect in a story about Indians.

6. hypocrite in a pouffy white dress by Susan Jane Gilman (Feb 14). Hilarious memoir by a woman who grew up in NYC. She came to Powell's and turns out, she's married to an amazing Bob too.

5. The Polysyballic Spree by Nick Hornby (Feb 7). Hornby's essays about books. Excellent as always.

4. Straight Man by Richard Russo (Feb 5). Hannah gave me this book and it is hilarious. Bob is reading it now. Russo characters are perfectly written.

3. Three Junes by Julia Glass (Jan 21). Excellent. I couldn't believe how fast I plowed through it. Beautiful prose and a thoughtful look at several generations of one family. Now I'm starting to sound like a book blurb writer and not very original. Oh well.

2. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (Jan 14). Gobbled it up in the space to 2 days. Great protagonist. The part in the subway station is killer.

1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling (Jan 12). To sum up my earlier review, I thought it was great up to the 3rd act when it became barely tacked together. Also: Editor. Now. Please.