Books I've Read 2009
I know, I know. This is horribly late. Expect the list of books I read in 2010 sometime around November 2011.
Books I’ve Read 2009
* indicates re-read
- The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield – This book is genius. It is exactly how I want to be able to write – it pulls from 18th and 19th century literature (Jane Eyre figures prominently, but many other books are drawn from and mentioned). It is a drama, a thriller, a ghost story, a romance, all rolled into one. It is, in many ways, a love letter to books, and about how very good books can affect our lives. As an avowed and lifelong bibliophile, I can certainly relate.
- The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, Sylvia Plath, edited by Karen V. Kukil - Obviously, the editor didn’t cut so much as she expanded upon what Plath wrote – noting the journaling materials, noting the different people that the reader might not otherwise know about, adding different appendices. Reading this while reading The Bell Jar is quite enlightening for any Sylvia Plath fan. I am amazed and envious at how maturely and beautifully she wrote in her late teens and early twenties, even if sometimes she does come across as a bit pretentious during this period. And the later writing, when she was struggling with disciplining herself enough to write without assignments, while struggling with her anxiety and bouts of depression, all while trying to be a paragon of a wife and mother, are somehow uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time. Especially since everyone knows her end.
- *The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath – This wouldn’t have been published in the U.S. until after Sylvia Plath’s mother died, but it generated such a buzz in England that the American audience pretty much demanded its release. I read this in college, but very little of it stuck with me, and I can’t imagine why that would’ve been the case. I think that the book is brilliant, and it gives me some idea of what a schizophrenic breakdown is like, in a sad and beautiful prose.
- The Colossus and Other Poems, Sylvia Plath – Yes, I’m on a roll. I remember reading some of these poems in college, and also reading that Plath used a thesaurus almost obsessively while writing poetry. I found these poems beautiful but slightly cold. They didn’t make much of an impression on me, in college or in the present. Just nice, pretty words to read.
- Ariel and Other Poems, Sylvia Plath – After reading The Colossus and Other Poems, I find that Ariel is much more my style, when it comes to poetry. There is a sort of raw elegance to her later work, which I really enjoy – not so polished, not so much with the thesaurus, but beautiful words and phrases all the same. So many of the poems have a quiet menace as well, which is really affecting. The version of this book that I read was edited by Plath’s daughter, and followed the form that Plath originally intended the book to take (the first published edition of this book was edited and much changed by Ted Hughes, Plath’s husband).
- The Darcy Connection, Elizabeth Aston - I needed to take a break from Sylvia Plath, and this was the perfect book to take a break with. Aston has apparently written several sequels to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, one of my favorite books of all time. Though this book uses more modern language than anything Austen wrote, it still has that Austen feel of supreme politeness on the surface, with several frissons of passion underneath. It follows the two daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Collins, one of whom is the goddaughter of Elizabeth Darcy, and entirely too much like Mrs. Darcy for Mr. Collins’ taste. The daughters travel to London, and of course, hijinks ensue…
- Birthday Letters, Ted Hughes – This book of poetry is almost entirely about Hughes’ relationship with and marriage to Sylvia Plath, who killed herself in 1963. I enjoy Hughes’ style of poetry very much – it is a rather straightforward style, almost prose-like, and I can understand why Plath herself spoke of the virility of Hughes’ work. Some of the poems were quite sweet and sad, but I started to notice a pattern in which every poem ended with Plath’s death, almost suddenly. “We were in a tent, we were swimming, BOOM, you’re dead.” The device, which started out shocking and poignant, ended up almost annoying. Also, I tried to be objective, but Ted Hughes was kind of a bastard to Sylvia Plath, it’s well-documented, so when he goes on about how he wishes he could have “saved” her, I roll my eyes a little.
- Sabine, A. P. – Oh, how I love this type of novel! In the tradition of A Secret History, The Lake of Dead Languages, Beast by Joyce Carol Oates, this novel concerns an elite/sequestered/rarified group of high school or college students dealing with rather Gothic things in a rather Gothic manner. This novel is set at a boarding school in the French countryside, where the narrator is a 17-year-old student, one of only five. She falls for Sabine, her teacher, and begins to believe that the headmistress is a vampire when Sabine falls ill with a blood disorder. It is a quick read and unfolds in a satisfyingly mysterious and poetic manner, which is exactly what I ask for in this type of novel.
- Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris – I got to see about three episodes of the TV show “True Blood” last fall, and I was hooked but had no HBO. Luckily, the show is based on a series of novels! This is the first, and I have heard that the first season of the show follows this book pretty closely. And oh, was this book enjoyable! In fact, based on the few episodes I saw, I would say that this book is a little more believable in its white trash element. I’m in love with Sookie Stackhouse – what a great character. And, without giving anything away, there was a moment, a revelation toward the end of the book that made me squeal with delight.
- From Hell, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell – I've been really getting into graphic novels lately, and I figured that I'd start with some of the classics. And this one is a big one – the drawing, the story line, the ridiculous amount of research that must have gone into this made it epic. I saw the Johnny Depp movie, which was good, but this graphic novel is so much better, so much more involved.
- Watchmen, Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins – Another classic. I saw the movie before I read this, and I thought that they were quite similar. Of course, the book explained more, and went more into the individual feelings of the Watchmen. Very enjoyable.
12. The Secret Life of Laszlo, Count Dracula, Rodericke Anscombe – What if, instead of a famous, supernatural vampire, Dracula was instead a demented serial killer living in the 19th century? This book is written by a psychiatrist, and is definitely a compelling look at why someone might be drawn or commanded to kill. It started off a bit slow, but it's a definite builder, and it ends with a bang.
13. The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood – Yet another slightly gothic family-secrets-style novel. Margaret Atwood is a master at such things. The fact that I guessed much of the ending after about 100 pages in no way subtracted from my enjoyment of the book. It's a hefty novel, but I read it pretty quickly. So enjoyable.
14. *The House on the Strand, Daphne du Maurier – I don't know if I read the whole thing, but I remember reading the beginning in high school. It's about a man who, at the urging of his college friend, an eccentric scientist, participates in experiments that send him back to the 14th century. He becomes so involved in the past that he ignores the dangers of the drug that he's taking as well as the strain he's putting on his marriage. This book isn't so much a thriller as it is a sort of parable against living in the past, either figuratively or literally.
15. Death: At Death's Door, Jill Thompson – While this was cute, I hadn't read any of Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics yet (this book is a sort of outside story, featuring Death as the lead), so I wasn't horribly sure what was going on. I think that it was about what would happen if Hell wasn't taking anyone in. It was very anime-style.
16. *Rose Madder, Stephen King – My favorite Stephen King novel ever, and one that I reread often. It's the story of a severely abused wife who escapes her cop husband, first by moving to a new city, and then by enlisting the help of a mythic, insane goddess in a sort of dreamworld, all the while finding strength that she didn't know she had. Oh, how I love it!
17. The Eternals, Neil Gaiman – Ooh, I like Neil Gaiman, and I am really getting into comics in a way I never have before. This book delves into the origins of the earth and all of the beings on it in a pretty unexpected way.
18. The Echo, Minette Walters – I've read and enjoyed The Dark Room, and I like Minette Walters' approach to mystery – she writes in a sort of quiet, matter-of-fact way, and the mystery elements are solid (everything is explained) but intelligent, not formulaic. This is the story of a reporter looking into the background of a homeless man who died in a wealthy woman's garage... and of course nothing is as it seems.
19. The Killer Book of Serial Killers, Tom Philbin and Michael Philbin – This is a pretty topical book. It's not terribly in-depth, and the authors' forays into the psychology of the individual serial killers is a bit simplistic. But it is morbidly fascinating. If you're into that kind of thing.
20. Rock Star Babylon, Jon Holmes - Another topical sort of book, this catalogs different rumors and stories about rock stars. Many of the people talked about are British, so I didn't know who they were, but it is a very quick and entertaining read.
21. The Apothecary's Daughter, Julie Klassen – Obviously, this is about an apothecary's daughter; she has the aptitude to continue her father's work, but isn't sure that she wants to. On top of that, female apothecaries were being forced out of the business at the time, and the protagonist is being pushed and pulled between her wealthy uncle and aunt, her hard-working father, London and a small town, two very different men... and she's haunted by her mother, who left the family years before. A really good book, the kind that I don't want to put down.
22. *Different Seasons, Stephen King – This is a collection of four novellas, the first three of which have been turned into movies - “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Apt Pupil” and “Stand By Me.” I've read this before, and I've seen all of the movies, so reading the novellas was a nice revisit. However, I didn't remember the fourth novella, “The Breathing Method,” at all. It ended up being my favorite. It's a sort of wintry ghost story. They should really make a movie about it...
23. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith – Unbelievably awesome! Grahame-Smith took a much-beloved novel and added zombies to the mix. It sounds like a gimmick, and it is, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable! I especially loved that the zombies are hardly ever called “zombies” - instead they are “the unmentionables,” or some other, more polite phrase. Also, instead of verbal sparring, Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy engage in actual fisticuffs. And, several times, people politely vomit into their hands.
24. The Thing Around Your Neck, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Adichie is the kind of writer who makes me jealous. She has a real economy of phrase, and this collection of short stories is very, very good. My favorite story involved several writers from different countries in Africa, brought together for fellowships by a wealthy Englishman who proceeds to tell them that their work isn't “African” enough.
25. Coraline, Neil Gaiman – I am very late to the party, of course, but Neil Gaiman is delightful. I love when inventive authors describe the world through the eyes of a child, all the while using rather matter-of-fact language.
26. Madeleine is Sleeping, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum – This book is simultaneously quite beautiful and quite gross. While Madeleine sleeps, fantastic things happen to people around her, like the large woman who grows wings and starts flying around (and cataloging her poo). ...I won't lie, I was confused a few times.
27. The Absolute Sandman, Volume 1, Neil Gaiman – I love reading about Victorian-era occultism, and the idea of circles of powerful men trying to make themselves more powerful by using the black arts. This is how Neil Gaiman's Sandman series starts, with the Sandman imprisoned by just such a group. This volume documents his escape and subsequent search for his mystical belongings, which he needs to bring sleep to the world, along with single issues exploring things that he's done in the past. I am now a full-fledged Gaiman fan, and am finally catching up with the rest of the world.
28. Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness in the West, Cormac McCarthy – This is bleak and hopeless, and McCarthy is rather spare with his pronouns, so sometimes you're not sure who's talking or who they're talking about, but you get the point. This is basically the story of the genocide of indigenous people in the Southwest and in Mexico, and so of course it is supposed to be bleak. I liked it, but I think I can read only one book like this a year.
29. *Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte – I hadn't read it since I was in my teens, and back then everything was, "Why can't Heathcliff love the younger Catherine? Why can't Linton be nicer? Why would the elder Catherine pick Edgar over Heathcliff?," and on, and on, blah blah blah. Back then, to me, passionate romances were the best. You couldn't really be in love unless you were constantly making each other unhappy, every evil man had a beautiful soul, all the more precious because it was guarded (I seriously wanted Heathcliff to get together with the younger Catherine!). Conflict was a sign of caring. Heathcliff and Catherine would have been happy forever if they'd ended up together. At the ancient age of 31, I feel exactly the opposite. The elder Catherine wanted to have her cake and eat it too (I still don't understand that phrase - are you not supposed to have the cake once you get it?). The younger Catherine put up with entirely too much bullshit, as did her father. Heathcliff had no redeeming characteristics. As for Linton, he should have been throttled at birth! And Healthcliff and Catherine would have driven each other crazy had they gotten married, it's obvious to me now.
30. The Alchemist, Paulo Coehlo – A friend gave this book to me while I was between jobs, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. While I'm not a terribly spiritual person, there were certain lessons to be learned from this book, if you're willing – like the idea that you might not need to travel far and wide to find what you want. Still, most of the spiritualism was lost on me.
31. Defiance, Nechama Tec – This book is amazing! The author set out to find Jewish heroes from World War II, and the story that she found is astonishing and inspiring. This is the story of the Bielski brothers, who set out to escape the persecution of Jews in Russia, and became the saviors of hundreds of people. They set up massive camps in the remote forests that they knew so well, taking in any refugees they came across – later they planned and executed rescue missions, when the Russian ghettoes were being liquidated - and they were able to evade Nazis and Nazi informers for several years. Even chockful of facts as it is, even knowing the outcome as I did, I found this book to be as thrilling as any novel I've read.
32. Elizabeth I, CEO: Strategic Lessons from the Leader Who Built an Empire, Alan Axelrod – I rather enjoy books that marry historical fact with lessons in that will help you now. I could read an autobiography of Elizabeth I, but it is nice to see her through an eye that is openly and unabashedly modern - in that context, it's amazing how forward-thinking Elizabeth I was. Though I don't ever inspire to be a CEO, I think that the lessons presented here are useful for almost any level of worker, from learning how to play to your strengths to owning up when you make a mistake. And it is interesting reading on its own.
33. My Sister's Keeper, Jodi Picoult – Hello, punch in the heart. Hello, sobbing in my room while reading. I once read an interview in which another writer called Jodi Picoult's work “torture porn for moms,”and I kind of have to agree. I can't say that I enjoyed the story, but it was compelling and enraging, and at times I felt like I couldn't stop reading it. And now I can honestly say that, while I'm glad I read this, “torture porn for moms” isn't my thing.
34. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Winifred Watson – How delightful this book is! Like I imagine a sloe gin fizz tastes. Light, frothy fun mixed with the shyness and uncertainty of a woman of a certain age who feel like life has passed her by. I know I just described it as “frothy,” but of course the characters are actually a lot more serious and complex than you first think them to be, which makes the book very satisfying.