Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Deposit Your 2¢ Here

Ann Hodgman, writing in the New York Times Book Review this weekend says:

Think of all the people in the short stories you’ve read over the past 20 years: so many mildly depressed characters who were sort of like you, trudging morosely through lives that were sort of like yours, coping with existential problems you could sort of identify with. How many of these stories do you remember in detail? How many do you remember at all?

If you substitute the word “novel” for “short stories” this would describe my reading in 2007 (and yes, probably in 2006, 2005, etc.). But it was worse in 2007. In this post that I wrote earlier in January I whined about how boring all the books were that I read last year; apparently Ms. Hodgman is bored too. It felt nice to have company. And it seems I have more company. Susan Balee, writing in a comment on this blog, said:

I know how you feel. A lot of literary fiction feels similar these last years -- no doubt because, written in the same era, authors are dealing with the same themes. A rash of last year's books referenced 9/11 in one way or another, and loads of books in the last few years are about Alzheimer's and dying parents.

Interesting. So maybe it isn’t that I’m choosing boring books, but that the books have become all the same. In which case there’s no avoiding boring books, right? But lots of people aren’t bored! I got some really good comments from people who suggested things that they liked. Here is what has come so far:

The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Wells
Name all the Animals by Alison Smith
Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks
Backyard Giants by Susan Warren
Small Island by Andrea Levy
Ghost Light by Frank Rich
A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz
Into Thin Air (and other books) by Jon Krakauer

And Susan suggested that I read books written in earlier eras. She has herself just finished War and Peace. Ann Hodgman (in the NY Times) was reviewing a collection of short stories by Max Apple, and these don’t sound dull either. So there must be some good stuff to read, somewhere!

Hence I need your help: If you read a book in 2007 that you think was great (and you think I might like it), send me the title and author and I’ll add it to my list. You can email me: abookaweek1 AT yahoo DOT com (don’t forget the 1) or leave me a comment. When more people have weighed in, I’ll write another post.


Anonymous said...

My recommendations for you:
The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve (I like everything I've read of hers)
Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The first two are great murder mysteries, the third about a missionary family, and last about a little German girl during WWII.

If you've read any of these yet, I'd be curious to know what you thought. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting topic. I'm afraid I have to disagree...perhaps I haven't been reading as long or as prolificly (did I spell that right?), but I think to say that one book is like the next is to say that one person is like the next. Yeah, perhaps we have the same problems: not enough money, a rocky marriage, aging parents, rebellious teenagers, but how could you really say that two stories are the same? Don't get me wrong, I see what you're saying, I'm just offering up a different viewpoint.

Here's a couple of books I recommend:

Word Freak by Stefan Fastis
Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber
I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb

Have you read any of these? All of them?

Oh, and anything by Barbara Kingsolver is great, but The Poisonwood Bible is in my Top 10, if not my Top 5.

Becky Holmes said...

Maw books: Thanks! I have read all these (and loved them!) except the Book Thief. I already have that one on my TBR list at the library and have been meaning to get to it.

Becky Holmes said...

Trish, thanks for your thoughts. I don't mean to trivialize books by saying that they are all the same. I do agree that they are not. Perhaps I was over-generalizing. But I do think you know what I mean. Thanks for these recommendations. I haven't ready any of these.

Anonymous said...

Short, original, truly sweet, funny, and definetely not about boring normal people:
"All my friends are superheroes" by Andrew Kaufman.
Tom's friends really are superheroes, including his fiancee, The Perfectionist, who has the ability to make everythin perfect.
"The Frog-Kisser [one of Tom's superhero friends] was in highschool when she first discovered her power. Dating the captain of the football team had left her drained and unfulfilled. That's when she discovered Brian, the head of the debating club, and her latent powers emerged.
Blessed with the abilities to transform geeks into winners, she is cursed with the reality that once she enables this transformation, the origin of her initial attraction is gone."

Anonymous said...

My top 5 from 2007:
1. The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty
2. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
3. Candles Burning by Tabitha King & Michael McDowell
4. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
5. After Dark by Haruki Murakami

Megan said...

Some standouts for me in 2007:

After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell
The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers
The Rest of Her Life by Laura Moriarty
Black & White by Dani Shapiro
Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett

And I would defintely second Small Island - great book!

I see where you're coming from with books starting to seem the same and blend together. It starts to seem that way to me, too, especially when I read too much literary fiction (which my tastes tend toward) back to back to back. Sometimes if I mix up my genres a bit and read something out of habit for me (fantasy, mystery, horror, or even, egads, chick lit!), when I go back to lit fiction, it seems less...unmemorable.

Anonymous said...

Great point, Megan. After reading two heavy novels in a row, I just turned to one of those sweet "#1 Ladies Detective Agency" novels by Alexander McCall Smith. It's the perfect chaser.

Wow, there is just so much to read. I read all the time, but I haven't read the majority of the novels listed here. But I remember putting several of them on my TBR list, from "Drowning Ruth" to "The Crimson Petal and the White." I love this blog for all the great suggestions -- yours, Becky, and also those of your readers.

PS: "I Know This Much Is True" by Wally Lamb knocked my socks off when I read it many years ago. It's much better than the one of his Oprah recommended. In fact, I've never managed to get into *any* of his other novels, but this one was impossible to put down.

My favorite Kingsolver: "The Bean Trees."

Doreen Orion said...

2007 seemed to have been a great year for me, reading wise. Maybe I was lucky. These were my favorites:

The Tender Bar by JR Moehringer
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Map of the World by Jane Hamilton The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle
The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

Ted said...

A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
Howards End - E. M. Forster (!)
The Goldbug Variations - Richard Powers
Tell My Everything - Sarah Salway
Orlando - Virginia Woolf
Cloud Street - Tim Winton
Franny and Zooey

I think one can really have that - everything feels the same - experience about anything in life. And then it's good to shake things up a little. Read works from a different time period or a different culture. I love reading Rohinton Mistry, for instance, because on the one hand, Indian culture seems so far away from my own. On the other hand, it is just people and their lives, the events are recognizable but so different. These are all marvelous books that each do their job in a unique way. Perhaps one will give you a pick-me-up.

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