2011

This page is a mess – in all sorts of styles.   That said,  it does, in one way or another, outline the books I read in 2011.

NOVEMBER

135.  11/28 – 11.22..63 by Stephen King (Audio) 8 – 849 pgs

134.  11/26 –  Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyers (Audio) 7 384 pgs

133.  11/24 – Ransom by David Malouf (paper) 8   240 pgs

132.  11/23 – The Greater Journey by David McCullough (paper) 8.5   576 pgs

131.  11/20  The Litigators by John Grisham (audio) 7.5 – 400 pagse

130.  11/18  Feast Day of Fools by James Lee Burke (Audio) 7 – 480 pgs

129.  11/14  Little Bee by Chris Cleeve  (Kindle) ?  – 271 pgs

128.  11/13  The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco  (HC)  9  – 464 pgs

127.  11/9  A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan  (Kindle)  8.5 – 352 pgs

126. 11/ 8   The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides –  (Kindle) 8.5 – 416 pgs

125.  11/6  Still Life by Louise Penny – (Audio)  6 – 320 pgs

124.  11/5   1Q84 by Huraki Murkami (Audio & Kindle) 10 – 944 pgs

123   11/ 05 A Month in the Country – by J.L. Carr  (PB) 9 – 135 pgs

October, 2011

 122  We Have Always Lived in the Castle
by Shirley Jackson
1965 – 224 pages – rating 9

There are only three people still living in Blackwood House,   18 year-old Merricat, her older sister Constance and their aging Uncle Julian.  This is because the others,  the parents of the girls,  their parents and Julian’s wife were killed by arsenic which was put in the sugar bowl at dinner one evening.Merricat is the totally unreliable first person narrator but she never talks about the murders.  Uncle Julian talks about the murders, the loss of his wife, the trial of Constance.  Merricat goes to the market and deals with outsiders but it is these folks in the “castle” who are the outsiders.   One day their distant cousin Charles shows up and changes start.  They have always avoided any changes.Like so much of Jackson’s fiction this is an incredible book,  so much attention is given to detail,  the characters so finely drawn, the suspense so carefully built.   This was one of my Halloween books.  (lol)

121.   10/28  

The Savage City:  Race, Murder and a City on the Edge
by T.J. English
2011/ 496 pages /rating 8

This book was sometimes too dark and gritty  for my tastes.  Other times it suited me just fine.  I stayed up way after hours to finish it last night.   The narrative switches between two or three narratives –  first there is the story of George Whitmore,  a poor, black, well-meaning but ignorant and innocent kid from New Jersey who is picked up for murder and framed for it.  The second story is the one of Bill Phillips, a cop/hustler, corruption personified, taking bribes and payoffs and protection money from the people in his district.  The third story is that of the Black power movement which picked up on the struggles and shot them to national headlines with rioting while their own organization went down in the flames.   It was the framing that got gritty,  of George Whitmore and by Bill Phillips.Although I live in California,  I remembered much of it as I read along.  Not the names but the big events,  the murders of the Career Girls, the protests, the city in flames,  the “mau-mau” talk as well as the corruption scandals.  It was a hard time.  Did anything really get changed –  maybe a bit – but I wonder.

120.  10/26

A Canticle for Liebowitz
by Walter Miller
1960 – 368 pages
rating – 8.5

Said to be of the best sci-fi stories of all time.  Set in the far future, after apocalyptic times for mankind,  the world is back to real basics but the church is alive and well.  It keeps records and relics and all sorts of stuff from the first age.  A young novice finds the works of on Liebowitz,  the patron saint of his order,  through the help of an apparently supernatural hermit, hobo, wanderer.

The merits of his findings are debated, the findings hidden and then the world goes into another stage – always ending in the bloody fighting to annihilate the “others.”

I really,  really enjoyed the first half of this book but when it got to the second and third worlds the number of characters was confusing.

119.  10/24

After the Funeral
by Agatha Christie
1953 / audio – read by Hugh Fraser
rating – 6

Typical Agatha Christie/Hercule Poirot book.  I used to read a lot of these when I was in my early 20s.  Now I don’t seem t like them as much – Christie reveals some info only with the revelations of guilt.  I did guess this one pretty early on, anyway.

 
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118.  10/23

Buddenbrooks
by Thomas Mann
1901 / 735 pages

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117 .   10/22   Chiefs

Chiefs

by Stuart Woods
Detective / 1981
Audio – Mark Hammer
Rating 6

 

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116.  10/30

  Generosity
by Richard Powers
  2011 /  rating  8
 

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115.  10/18/11

 
In the Garden of the Beasts
by Eric Larson,2011,
366 pages,  rating 8
 
 
 
 
 
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114. –  10/17/11

Life by Keith Richareds
narrated by 
rating 8
 

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113.   10/14/11 –  

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

  pub. 2010 –  384 pages – Audio  read by:  Orlagh Cassidy, Bahni Turpin                           finished 10/14/11 –   rating  6

Historical fiction –  1790-1815 or so,  Williamsburg Virginia area, a tobacco plantation – for the most part.

This started out so well and then about half way,  when Lavinia,  the orphaned Irish  girl sent to the plantation to work with the slaves for her indenture, grows up, it just falls flat.  Lavinia is a great kid,  a bit naive but that should have straightened itself out by the time she was 12 or earlier.

There are so many characters, so many huge emotional issues turning traumatic – by the end of the book it felt like a soap opera romance.  The narration was fine.

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112.   10/11/11 –  

The Rebel Angels by Robertson Davies –

(book 1 of The Cornish Trilogy) –   1981 – 311 pages –  finished 10/11/11  rating 9 –  paperback

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111.   10/10/11  – The Law of Nines by Terry Goodkind – 2009 – 500 pages – audio  – 2

stupid – aliens fight about earth –  Not even going to bother with a picture.

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110.   10/8/11 –  Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

finished 10/8 –  pub. 2011 – Audible read by Jennifer Ehle –  rating   7

I loved Brooks’ first novel,  Year of Wonders and I really enjoyed her second, March, but since them I’ve felt that the quality has just slid off.   People of the Book had such a promising premise but I think Brooks just doesn’t have the talent to pull that off.   Nine Parts of Desire, a 1994 work of non-fiction is okay – not something I’d recommend.

Caleb’s Crossing is wonderfully well written but the PCness of it grates at times.  The protagonist is just a wee tad too 21st century for my historical preferences.  I suspect that Brooks did her research and the background is accurate.

Links

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caleb_Cheeshahteaumuck

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wampanoag_people

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_College

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109.   10/5/11 –  C. by Tom McCarthy 

 pub. 2010/ 380 pgs / rating 8

I made a lot of notes for the first half of this book and then I got bored.  The book picked up again later but for about 75 pages in the middle it was nothing but war and tunnels and drugs. Okay fine.  But I was never able to get back “into” the book.

There’s a lot of Pynchon in this book,  from “as above, so below,”  little ditties,  “everything is connected” and Kenosha.   Lots more.

What I loved was the beautifully crafted and wonderfully dense prose. The first part reminded me of The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt. Then the setting changed to a mountain health resort – The Magic Mountain or The Road To Wellville, I’m sure.   But then came Gravity’s Rainbow with the

The name is from Carbon,  I suppose,  but there are lots of “C” words in the book – Carrafax (the protagonist) for one.

Carrafax is in tune with something most of us are not.  How he got that way is a question,  could have been his birth,  his sister, his near death experiences.  He sees and hears things most of us don’t.  There’s a rhythm to the universe, a sound.

The setting varies as he travels from his home in Kent, England, to a health resort in Bavaria, to the WWI war front in northern France and finally, to Egypt.

September, 2011  (no reviews available)

9/2 The English Patient by Michael Ondaaji – 20th – 8

9/7 Love and Summer by Wiliam Trevor -Booker 16th -224 pgs – 8

9/9   The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner – CC 16th- 224 pgs – 8

9/10  State of Wonder by Terry Pratcett 7.5

9/13   Jennie Gerhardt by T. Dreiser 8

9/15  The Man In the Wooden Hat by Jane Garham 8.5

9/17  1959 by Fred Kaplan 6.5

9/21  Passing On – Lively – 8

9/27  The Flight From the Enchanter by Iris Murdoch – 20th C.

9/29  Exiles by Ron Hanson – Cafe

9/30  War and Peace by Tolstoy CGII (re)

August,  2011

Not so many in August (but I was reading War and Peace).  I was in North Dakota and reading but unable (or unwilling) to post reviews.   Here are some very brief descriptions:

Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynn

This is popular history for the lay reader of Native American issues. There are some readers who are offended by the blatant racism and violence depicted but it’s not from the author’s pen but that of his sources. Gwynn mostly used primary sources, many of them from US military personnel others from the settlers who were affected so yes, there is a lot of racism and description of horrendous acts committed by the Indians.But Gwynn didn’t stop there. He analyzed the sources and methods of the sources. For me, the book added to my appreciation of and respect for the Comanches and I went on to read more.Quanah Parker is not given the space he deserves judging by the title. It’s not about him although there is some information toward the end.

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8/10 Main Street by Sinclair Lewis -8

Interesting book – 1900s,  Minnesota.  a girl with big ideas moves to a small town and tries to change their ways.  Pulitzer – 1929?

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8/5 Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabakov 8

Funny novel about a wealthy man who marries a wanna-be movie star in the days before the “talkies.”

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8/10 The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman – 2010 – 7.5

Rather a disappointment but perhaps it was just bad timing.  Mostall the characters all work for a failing English newspaper in contemporary Italy.  They characters are lazy and quirky or just bored. The most interesting was a woman who was living in the past, reading the old papers.

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8/14 The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles – 8

Dated – this does not stand the “test of time.”   It’s basically a take off on Hardy’s Tess of the D’ubervilles but with Fowles using lots of post-modern techniques – serious self-reflective  author/narrator (imo, it was intrusive) describing what he was doing.  The story itself was worthy of  Hardy or Dickens,  Fowles screwed it up.

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8/20 Empire by Pekka Hamalainen-9.5

Excellent rather scholarly book on the Empire and imperialist attributes of the Comanche nation.  It starts at about 1700 – I am very impressed with the Hamalainen book. It may not be quite “from the Comanche point of view,” but it’s about so much more than what is usually
presented in any US oriented book. We usually only got that the Comanches were fierce, nomadic warriors on horseback, not that they had a whole system of ”raiding-and-trading” to sustain them and not who exactly they fought when, where and why.

One new thing is that Hamalainen discusses the wars, alliances and trading between the tribes in more detail than I’ve ever read before.  I only knew that the various tribes fought each other.  Hamalainen discusses why.

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8/20 Old Filth by Jane Gardam –  9

The story of a doddering old judge of the Empire’s life.  Retired, Feathers lives comfortably outside of London now,  with his wife Betty.  But it hasn’t always been so – not by a long shot.  Feathers is not at all what you would think if you met him –  Raj orphan they’re called,  these abandoned children of the Empire.   Fascinating story – I went on to read the companion book,  The Man in the Wooden Hat.

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8/25 Doc by Mary Doria Russell – 2011 / rating 9

Kick-ass story of Doc Holliday and the Earp Brothers in Dodge City.  Doc has left his well-to-do existence in Atlanta for the drier world of the wild west – he has TB.  There he meets  Besides my just thoroughly enjoying the novel, I liked the way Russell used the historical background, and therhythm and language were perfect.

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The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

Fascinating non-fiction about the development of information transfer – communication.  From the drumbeats of South Africa to the micro-chip and internet of today Gliek follows the story from Babbage’s machine and Marshall McLuhan’s idea that the medium is the message

JULY 2011

Remainder

Empire of the Sun by J.D. Farrell

Comanche Empire by Pekka Hakunin

The Lacuña  by Barbara Kingsolver

Destiny Disrupted  by Asmay

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowery

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

In the First Circle by Alexander Solzhenitzen

The Worst Hard Time by Tim

 June 2011

The Fifth Witness

Shock of Gray

 Children of God

 The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

A Pigeon and a Boy by Meir Shalev

MAY, 2011

Too Big To Fail

Even Deadlier

In a Strange Room

31 Hours

The Marx Family Saga

Jesus Interrupted

In the Plex

According To Queeney

The Oracle of Stamboul

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age

 Apollo’s Angels by Jennifer Homans

APRIL, 2011

Child’s Play by David Malouf

 An Imaginary Life by David Malouf

The Warmth of Other Suns

Skinny Dip by Carl Haiasin

Theft by Peter Carey

Alas Babylon by David Malouf

Beasts by Joyce Carol Oates

I Hotel  by

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

Just Kids

Travels in the Interior of Africa

Water Music by Tim Winton

A Rule Against Murder

Death Comes For the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Murder on Nob Hill

MARCH 2011

38.  3/31  Endgame – Frank Brady

37.  3/27  The Moral Landscape – Sam Harris

36.  3/ 27 The  Big Tent Wedding Party – Alexander McCall SMith

35.  3/26 Vintage Murder – Ngaio Marsh

34.  3/26 Day – A.L. Kennedy

33.  3/20 The Winter Queen – Boris Akunin

32.  3/19 A Town Called Alice – Nevile Shute

31.  3/16  A World Lit Only By Fire – William Manchester

30.  3/13 Bellweather = Connie WIllis

29.  3/13  The Immoralist – Andres Gide

28.  3/13  The Prestige –  Christopher Priest

27.  3/6  Unbroken – Laura Hildenbrand

26.  3/5 Killing Floor – Lee Child

25.  3/1  Love in the Time of Cholera –  Gabriel Garcia Marquez

24.  3/1  Tender is the Night –  F. Scott Fitzgerald

February 2011

23  2/26  The Tourist by Olin Steinhauer

22   2/26  Crooked Letter Crooked Letter  by Tom Franklin

21   2/21  The Secret of the Seventh Son by Glenn Cooper

20   2/19   Travels in Siberia by  Ian Frazier

19   2/18   Stone’s Fall by  Ian Pears

18   2/ 11 Fieldwork by MIsha Berlinski

17   2/10  The Finkler Question by  Howard Jacobson

I thought that book was so funny – but it’s satire again –   My review:

Julian Treslove really wants to be Jewish –  he REALLY wants to be Jewish.  His two best friends are intellectually oriented Jews,  he meets a very desirable woman and she is Jewish.   He’s been studying Judaism for many years,  but somehow,  he never can quite make it to the inner circle of his friends.

Treslove’s desire hasn’t got much to do with religion; he can’t just convert because that won’t give him what he wants which has more to do with the sense of belonging.   His friends  seem to have this home and family in their shared identity but Treslove is truly outside that chosen circle.

Jacobson’s very Jewish book is about what it means to be a Jew in today’s world what with the Gaza strip and all.   It’s about wanting an identity,  wanting to belong.

But it’s also about what it means to actually belong to that inner circle which somehow can’t quite be broken into or out of.   Do you support Israel or condemn her?   How do you react to anti-Semitic attacks?   It’s about love and loyalty and, in the end, maybe,  faith.

16.   2/ 6 The White Tiger by  Aravind Agida
by Aravind Adiga
2008 –  288 pages
read by John Lee
rating – 7.5

How to break out of the viscous cycle of owner/master corruption endemic to contemporary India – this is the problem Balram,  the narrator of The White Tiger,  faces.   He’s a very low caste worker in a sweet shop,  then a driver for a wealthy businessman and his wife,  Pinkie Madam.   There is no way to break out without hurting his family in very serious ways.

The book is comic and heavily satirical.  John Lee is great.

The things Balram learns is that the world is a jungle but some beasts have colder blood than others.   In a series of letters to the premier of China who will be coming to visit the country,  Balram lays it all out –  how democracy works in India.

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15.   2/ 5 The Greenlanders by  Jane Smiley
by  Jane Smiley
1988  – 584  pages
rating – 9.5
NOTES

If this book were about 200 pages shorter it would be one of my best reads of all time.   But after about 300 pages of famine after famine and the feuds and seal hunts that it got really old.  The ending picks up again but it’s almost too late.

Set in 14th century Greenland and told in the manner of the old Norse tales, Jane Smiley’s The Greenlanders is certainly a tour de force – a masterpiece. This is a fictionalization of the last hundred years or so of Norway’s Greenland settlement.

The trouble is that she takes 580+ pages to complete her tale. I was fascinated for the first 300 or so but then I got bored. Yes, I have to acknowledge the brilliance of the entire thing, but much of it is repetitious and it’s divided into only three chapters plus a short epilogue. The style is dense, almost ponderous, but it’s consistent and so the reader becomes accustomed to it and I actually found it enjoyable reading – at first.

Why is it a masterpiece? I suppose because Smiley captures the essence of settlement people. There’s something int here which rings so true. Smiley includes everything from religion to festival traditions and from folk tales to clothes and gender roles. Smiley seems to have been very thorough in her research but perhaps she could have edited it more thoroughly.   See NOTES

14.   2/4   The Concrete Blonde by  Michael Connelly

 January

13.  1/29  As I Lay Dying  by William Faulkner – 10

12.   1/ 29 Child 44 – by Tom Rob Smith – 8 (A for crime)

11.  1/28  The Devil’s Punchbowl  by Greg Isles –  (C for crime)

10.  1/23  Foreign Bodies – by Cynthia Ozick – 9

9.  1/22  Solomon Gursky Was Here  – by Mordecai Richler – 9

8.   1/18  The Mote in God’s Eye  by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle -( B+ for sci-fi)

7.   1/ 9 Fifty Grand  by  Adrian McKinty – rating 6 (B+ for detective)

6.   1/7   The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett – 8

5.   1/6  City of Thieves – David Benioff – 8

4.  1/6  Cleopatra by Duane Roller – 8

3.  1/6    Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner – 9.5

2.  1/3-   Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro – 8

1.   1/3 – The Ambassadors by Henry James – 9

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For prior to 10/2011 (with some overlap) see

The Books of Bek at
http://web.me.com/bekker2/My_Happy_Stuff/Reading_2011/Reading_2011.html

Best of 2011:

NON-FICTION

  • Comanche Empire by Pekka Hamalainen
  • Apollo’s Angels by Jennifer Homans
  • Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner
  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
  • The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
FICTION:
  • The Greenlanders by  Jane Smiley
  • I Hotel by Karen Yamashita
  • In the First Circle by Alexander Solschenizyn
  • The Rebel Angels by Robertson Davies –
  • The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco  (HC)
  •  1Q84 by Huraki Murkami

Crime:

  • Child 44 – by Tom Rob Smith (Stalist era Russia)
  • The Litigators by John Grisham (trial)
  •  Crewel Yule by Monica Ferris  (funny-cozy)
  • The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Denmark)

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