Saturday, December 23, 2006

52 Books, 52 Weeks: Year 2 in Review

Huzzah! I met my 52 Books 52 Weeks challenge for the second year in a row. Below you can read about everything I’ve consumed in the past twelve months:

2006 Introduction
I made some more specific goals this year as I wanted to read more acclaimed writings, but I found out that it’s impossible to ignore my ever-changing reading desires. I only made it about halfway.

1. Best American Short Stories 2005 edited by Michael Chabon
An excellent collection of short stories, introduced by the wonderful Michael Chabon and including pieces by Tom Perrotta, J. Robert Lennon, and Alice Munro.

1.5. The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
My first defeat of the year as I got only halfway through the story before abandoning it. It’s a rambling tale of a man who has no idea what he wants and even though I invested 300 pages in it, I knew it was better to stop there when I realized our reading relationship wasn’t working out.

2. The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs
A staff writer at Esquire, Jacobs chronicles his self-imposed task of reading the entire Encyclopaedia Brittanica. A telling memoir, full of random facts and realizations about the author and his family.

3. A Dame to Kill For by Frank Miller
Book 2 in the Sin City series, this one follows Dwight as he breaks free from Ava, a manipulative former lover with less than honorable intentions.

4. Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
My first Wodehouse, which was fantastic and left me wanting to read everything he’s done. Bertie Wooster mucks up the romantic involvements of Gussie Fink-Nottle and Madeline Basset and Jeeves has to set everything straight.

5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
Here’s where I became a full-fledged Potter fan. I was floored when Rowling resurrected Voldemort and enjoyed the back-story of the Tri-Wizard tournament.

6. Division Street: America by Studs Terkel
The GB Book Club turns to the godfather of social and oral histories. I only wished Terkel would have included some of his own conclusions about the work rather than leaving it all up the to reader.

7. I Sailed with Magellan by Stuart Dybek
Hands down, the worst book I read this year. I hated the way Dybek wrote sex and women and was grossed out by his seeming obsession with lactating breasts.

8. V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
Sadly, the movie did not live up to this incredible illustrated story of totalitarianism and intolerance inspired by the Thatcher reign in England. (Not 9/11, as the movie would so sanctimoniously have you believe.)

9. McSweeney’s No. 15 edited by Dave Eggers
A collection of pieces by Icelandic writers and my decision to finally subscribe to the literary journal. Although, truth be told, I have yet to do this.

10. The Wings of the Dove by Henry James
I loved this book about a conniving young woman who befriends a dying rich American in order to marry her penniless love. Things end disastrously with the protagonist winning neither money nor husband (neither of which her hateful self deserved).

11. Memory Mambo by Achy Obejas
Juani Casas is a young lesbian living in the northwest side of Chicago. She has a tempestuous relationship with her sister’s abusive husband and is swept up in a hurricane of emotion with her girlfriend Gina. The story describes Juani’s attempt to find the truth behind her family as Cuban exiles and herself as a woman.

12. Hotel World by Ali Smith
A weird story about five lives that affected by the death of one, told from the viewpoints of each of those five (including the dead girl). Smith was nominated for a Booker and an Orange prize for this book.

[I started reading The English Patient by Michael Ondjaate right around here, but didn’t finish it and didn’t even blog about it because it was so incredibly boring.]

13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
Not as great as the fourth book, but Harry finally stepped up and took an active role in his life. Sirius Black dies, Snape is confirmed as a former Death Eater (or is he a current one?), and Dumbledore and Voldemort do battle in a scene that I can’t wait to see translated to film.

14. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
While I very much enjoyed this story about a young man who essentially sells his soul to always remain beautiful and young, I was surprised by just how gay it was. Everyone talks about it as a classic, but, oddly, no one ever mentions the homosexual overtones.

15. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
An excellent memoir that truly finds the ordinary in the extraordinary. In addition to signing my book, Amy also very cutely referenced herself by writing “see page 83,” which makes immediate sense if you’ve ever seen me in person.

16. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro
A reread that pushed me out of my reading slump. Munro writes women amazingly and puts the chick lit genre to shame.

17. Instant Love by Jami Attenberg
An interesting book of short stories about different girls as they grow up and learn about love. I was surprised by how much I really liked it, but I guess I tend to assume the worst about contemporary stories about girls learning to love (hence the chick lit comment above).

18. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
I finally got caught up on the Harry Potter books before being accidentally spoiled for the death in this volume. Although, I did guess it before I even started reading. Harry’s on his own from this point on, so it’ll be interesting to see how Rowling finishes him off.

19. Coffee Will Make You Black by April Sinclair
Another GB Book Club read. It’s a young adult story about a black girl who deals first hand with racism, sexism, and homophobia in her neighborhood and high school.

20. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
Whenever I think about the best book I read this year, Prep stands out as the one. It’s a coming of age story about an Indiana girl in a New England boarding school, written in a way that while fully allowing the reader into her head also makes the reader remember their own school experiences. I loved it.

21. Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett’s memoir of her intense friendship with fellow author Lucy Grealy. While I reserve commenting on what their relationship was actually like, I couldn’t identify with the written relationship of codependence and drug and alcohol abuse.

22. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
If Prep was the best read of my year, then Watchmen was a very close second. This graphic novel gives superheroes an accessibility and humanity that elevates the entire genre. Highly enjoyable.

23. The Minority Report and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
A fabulous collection of science fiction stories that was better than any of Dick’s full-length novels I’ve read. (To tell the truth, I’ve only read two, but I still liked the stories better.)

24. Best American Essays 2005 edited by Susan Orlean
Includes pieces by Jonathan Franzen, David Sedaris, and David Foster Wallace.

25. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
A book I would have never read were it not for the GB Book Club, but despite its immense popularity I was highly impressed by this non-fiction account of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and the deranged murders of America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes.

26. What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal] by Zoe Heller
Nominated for a Booker prize, this book is written in a clever way so that the story is really more about the narrator than the object of her writings. Excellent character development.

27. The Luck of the Bodkins by P.G. Wodehouse
Another mess of romantic relationships involving Monty Bodkins, the object of his affection Gertrude Butterwick, two brothers Ambrose and Reggie Tennyson, an American filmmaker, and his actress employee. An amusing tale of bumbling idiots.

28. Sons of the Rapture by Todd Dills
Reviewed for a Book Club feature, I didn’t truly love this book, but it had many elements and qualities that I think other people will enjoy. Not quite my taste, but by no means bad.

29. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
A retelling of the Jane Eyre story, but from the viewpoint of the first Mrs. Rochester. This book is one of the Modern Library 100, but it’s confusing and lacking in direction, so I don’t know how it made the list.

30. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
A wonderful little treat of vignettes, detailing narrator Esperanza’s coming of age. I bought Caramelo shortly after finishing this.

31. The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket
Here the Baudelaire siblings are picked up by Kit Snicket and taken to a hotel that’s really a mirror of an underwater library chronicling all of VFD. Not that we finally learn what VFD is.

32. The Inferno by Dante Aligheri
Although difficult to read, owing to tons of historical and cultural references that are outside my knowledge, the highly annotated version I bought made it much easier to grasp the story beneath. This was one of my big, personal reading goals met.

33. Best American Nonrequired Reading 2005 edited by Dave Eggers
Featuring pieces by Jhumpa Lahiri, Jonathan Tel, and Kate Krautkramer. An all around enjoyable collection of short works.

34. Bitchfest edited by Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler
A celebration of ten years of Bitch Magazine featuring some of their best essays and new essays written just for the book. I got some weird looks when reading this on the El, but I really couldn’t put it down. This renewed my love for the magazine.

35. The Unauthorized Autobiography by Lemony Snicket
I thought this might give me some answers to the infernal questions in the Series of Unfortunate Events, but it was really just more misdirection. Cute, but not very informative.

36. A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I love Sherlock Holmes! I never knew how great these stories were until I actually started reading them. I now understand why this character has been so greatly incorporated into pop culture.

37. The End by Lemony Snicket
The end of the series, yes. But answers to everything Snicket’s built up over the past twelve books? Not so much. A little less than satisfying, but perhaps I’ll enjoy the series more on a reread.

38. Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliott Perlman
An awesome, long story told from seven different viewpoints all centering on an obsession, a kidnapped child, and the man mixed up in it all. A disappointing ending kept this from being my favorite read of the year.

39. The Big Fat Kill by Frank Miller
Third in the Sin City series, this is the portion of the movie featuring Clive Owen, Brittany Murphy, and Rosario Dawson. Much better in book form, of course.

40. The Anxiety of Everyday Objects by Aurelie Sheehan
Somewhat born of the chick lit genre, this book is so much more worthy. The narrator is a filmmaker who must deal with the discrepancy between her dream and her actual career as a glorified secretary in a law firm. The ending’s a bit too clean, but still a good read.

41. Larry’s Party by Carol Shields
The fact that I didn’t enjoy this story as much as I thought I would made me realize that I shouldn’t force myself to read books I’m not ready to read. I hope to return to this one day and find the story of ordinary man Larry Weller as extraordinary as I suspect it is.

42. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
My first superhero comic, a dark look at an aging Batman as he redefeats the Joker and some weird mutants that I didn’t entirely understand. Perhaps not the best first choice.

43. Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman
A cute little book about books whose only downfall is how short it is. I could read about Fadiman’s bookish quirks for much longer than the one day this took me.

44. The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sherlock Holmes solves it again! This story is about a stolen treasure, mysterious letters sent to a young woman, a pygmy, and a one-legged man.

45. Native Son by Richard Wright
The second of only two rereads this year, I liked this book so much more than the first time I was forced to read it in my general humanities college class. The extreme racism inherent in the story is depressing when you realize it was once present and not past.

46. The Turn of the Screw, The Aspern Papers, and Two Other Stories by Henry James
Despite loving The Wings of the Dove, I didn’t even really understand these stories. I had to look up online summaries to grasp the plotline of the supposed gothic ghost story.

47. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
And surprisingly, I did like this story of a dying woman and her family’s attempt to honor her final wish. I didn’t entirely understand it, but I can certainly fathom rereading it to get more out of it.

48. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
A simple story of a preacher’s life as he writes down his memories as he comes close to death. More about the powerful ties of family and the importance of forgiveness, understanding, and love than about any specific religious doctrine.

49. It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken by Seth
Seth’s autobiographical comic focuses on his obsession with an artist who had one panel printed in a New Yorker before seemingly falling off the face of the earth. As always, Seth’s illustrations and narrative are stunning.

50. Woe is I by Patricia T. O’Connor
A cute book about grammar written for those who haven’t thought about grammar since elementary school. Would have been better if it were written for those who still care about grammar and want to learn how to improve their verbal prowess.

51. So Many Books, So Little Time by Sara Nelson
A book about books that is so ridiculously bad than I finished it only because it was so bad. Unlike Anne Fadiman, I don’t care to read anything else Sara Nelson has written.

52. Classic Stories 1 by Ray Bradbury
Collects two books of short stories for yet another breathtaking view on life – future, past, and present. This receives an honorary best read of the year, only because it would be unfair of me to automatically bestow “best read” to an author I already know I love.


Anonymous Sara said...

Just found your page through Semicolon's lists of the best of 2006. I'm glad to find someone else who reads, like I do, a mix of adult fiction, graphic novels, and ya fiction. I'll be interested in hearing how 2007 turns out!

12:38 AM  

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