Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 in Books

Time for my annual list of books I read over the past year (my 2007 edition is here). First, the statistics:
  • 32 books read.
  • 5 British, 21 American (1 Russian-American), 2 French (1 translated, 1 not), 1 Danish (written in English), 1 Mexican (written in English), 1 Indian (written in English), 1 Sri Lankan-Canadian
  • 22 books by 19 different male authors, 9 books by 9 different female authors; 1 anthology.
  • 13 non-fiction/memoir/advice, 19 fiction/poetry/humor.
  • 28 read for pleasure, 4 for school.
  • 30 new reads, 2 re-reads.
Weirdest connections between three books I read this year:
  • The Memoir Trifecta (written about here)
  • I read 2 Jewish-themed alternate history-novels: The Plot Against America and The Yiddish Policemen's Union. And The Plot Against America takes place during the exact same years, in the same region of the country, and among the same ethnic group as does Michael Chabon's earlier novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
Now for the list. I link to my blog postings if I've written about the books already, and provide brief notes/comments if I haven't posted about the book.
  • The Dangerous Book for Boys. Highly recommended. Yes, really! I think that the best books create and evoke a whole world in the reader's imagination, and this one certainly does: a fantasy of Edwardian boyhood.
  • Letters to a Young Artist. Mixed feelings. As I read this book, I thought that Anna Deavere Smith had a lot of good things to say...but one year on, I can barely remember any of them. I don't do well with books that consist only of abstract musings and advice on "being an artist."
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Highly recommended.
  • The Dud Avocado. Recommended.
  • The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Recommended. Some aspects of it, like the gangster subplot, are not successful, but since I'm the same age as the characters--and they are memorable characters--it was a good read.
  • Fin-de-Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture. Recommended. Fin-de-siecle Vienna is one of the places I would go to if I had a time machine, and this is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning collection of essays on some of its major figures.
  • Introducing Kafka. Highly recommended. A weird, but great little mini-biography of Kafka in graphic-novel form, with illustrations by R. Crumb.
  • Monsieur Vénus. Mixed feelings. In general, "scandalous and decadent" French novels never appeal to me as much as I think they will. This book has some interesting things to say about gender roles, which is why we read it for class--but was it fun to read? No.
  • Thunder at Twilight: Vienna 1913-1914. Highly recommended. One of the most exciting history books I've ever read: it reads like a novel, and makes the atmosphere of late-Habsburg Vienna come alive.
  • Hons and Rebels. Highly recommended.
  • Entertainers and the Entertained. Not recommended. John Houseman led a very interesting life and some of that makes it into this collection; but it would probably be better just to read his autobiography, as there is a lot of filler in this book.
  • My Life in France. Recommended. I love Julia Child's no-nonsense voice. She makes her love for France clear, while avoiding gushy sentimentality.
  • The Yiddish Policemen's Union. Highly recommended.
  • Seven Gothic Tales. Recommended.
  • Attack of the Theater People. Mixed feelings. I thought that How I Paid for College hung together better...and I worry that Edward's misadventures are going to get steadily less charming the older he gets.
  • Wonder Boys. Recommended. Kind of a "shaggy professor story," in that I don't know if it says anything meaningful about life, but it's a very fun read. I like the movie version, too, which wisely eliminates the weakest section of the novel--Grady's Passover seder with his estranged wife's family.
  • Wicked. Mixed feelings.
  • The Four Agreements. To be avoided.
  • The God of Small Things. Mixed feelings. Friends had told me that it would make me cry, and it didn't, so I suppose it was inevitable that I felt disappointed.
  • The Maltese Falcon (re-read). Recommended.
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (re-read). Highly recommended.
  • Divisadero. To be avoided.
  • The Blue Flower. Recommended.
  • Oh the Glory of It All. Highly recommended.
  • Tales of the City. Highly recommended for San Franciscans; good, but not as essential, for everyone else.
  • The Man Who Ate Everything. Recommended. I read Jeffrey Steingarten's other book, It Must've Been Something I Ate, last year, and enjoyed it...this is more of the same, which is what I wanted.
  • Frankenstein. Recommended. It's a classic, and a quick read at that...what's not to like?
  • Fierce Pajamas: Humor Writing from The New Yorker. Recommended, as long as you like "New Yorker humor." A good book to keep on your nightstand and read a few pieces a day. Some great parodies, classic short stories, light verse.
  • Pnin. Highly recommended.
  • The Plot Against America. Recommended. This is the first Philip Roth I've read, and while I wasn't blown away, I liked his characterization and general style. I just feel that this book didn't quite hang together, in the way that Roth tries to combine the genres of "simple family drama" and "alternate-history political thriller."
  • The Rest Is Noise. Highly recommended.
  • Arthur Rimbaud: Complete Works. Mixed feelings. Of course I'm glad to have familiarized myself with Rimbaud. But I don't know whether I needed to read his complete works--the poems, with their highly abstract language, all blended into one another after a while. I should've read fewer poems, and read them in French.
I fulfilled one of my goals of getting more comfortable reading nonfiction, though I read even fewer books in translation than I did in 2007, and I still have a lot of plays sitting unread on my shelf. I'm not going to set reading goals for the year ahead, but I am curious whether my 2009 statistics will be different from those of years past. 2009, after all, will be my first full year out of school, free from homework and able to read books entirely of my own choosing.

See ya on the flipside (of the calendar, that is).

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