Saturday, December 31, 2005

Year In Review

I started Pie Not Included at the beginning of the year, and now I have a delightful way to look back on the books I read this year. My goal was to read fifty books this year (I think last year I read fortysomething, one of which was Ulysses which obviously counts extra).

So this year I read 72 books, most of which were reviewed right here. (I still need to post my Cloud Atlas review but it's on my work computer, and I'm in California for the holidays.)

Of these 72 books, 28 were written by women; 44 were written by men. (Damn.) 22 were for my reading list project. I've been focusing on the Radcliffe list; I have 33 books left to go on that list. (I'm not looking forward to Finnegans Wake or The Fountainhead.)

My top five books of the year were:

The Sun Also Rises, just magnificent writing. The reason Hemingway is considered great.
The Corrections, a contemporary classic. Perfect characters.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which I never officially reviewed, but loved. Her best yet.
Invisible Man, impressed me with its use of symbolism especially.
Appointment in Samarra, another classic that's worth your time.

My bottom five books were:

The Wind in the Willows, which featured a toad in a dress and was annoying.
Main Street, so very boring.
Kim, almost impossible to get through.
Artemis Fowl, horrid little titular character.
The Virgin, amateurish.

My overly ambitious reading goals for the next year are to finish off the Radcliffe list and also to read at least one hundred books. Thanks for reading my book blog this year! See you in 2006.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Geisha, A Life (by Mineko Iwasaki)

Another fast read. I got this book for Christmas and tore through it in a couple of days. Basically it's the memoir of the geisha on whom Memoirs of a Geisha was loosely based.

I loved Memoirs of a Geisha (even though many people I know hated it) but I didn't really realize that it misrepresented geisha until I read this book. I do think the writing in Memoirs is a lot richer, but of course the true story is more, well, true.

It's worth reading; Iwasaki has quite a personality! From stabbing a guy in the hand to hanging out in closets to closing the venerable okiya in her charge, she has a mind of her own and a unique approach to her own destiny.

A Thread of Grace (by Maria Doria Russell)

I bought this book in the airport. I've had bad luck with previous airport picks, but this was on a shelf with The Kite Runner and The Time Traveler's Wife so it seemed like it might not suck. It's a historical novel about Italy during the second World War, mainly focusing on Jews and the people who help them.

My favorite thing about the book, other than learning about this interesting historical period (what effect the fall of Mussolini had, for instance), was that the outcomes of the lives of the characters weren't cop outs. You know, usually all the red shirts die to show you how horrible the Nazis are and whatnot, but the core of characters somehow miraculously survives the war. I'm here to tell you that, without giving too much away, she's a lot more realistic about it.

But I'm suspicious about this book because it was such a quick read. I can't decide if it's actually a good book, because it felt almost breezy. Considering the subject matter, maybe what I'm saying is that it could have been meatier?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

S is for Silence (by Sue Grafton)

As much as certain people (I is for Ian) might laugh at me, I always look forward to the next Sue Grafton mystery. (Many have speculated that once she's made it to Z, she's going to move on to the Greek alphabet. I personally can't wait to read Pi is for Pirates.)

In this one, Kinsey's been hired to unravel the mysterious disappearance of Violet Sullivan, now thirty-five years in the past. I think Grafton is getting a little bored with the series and bored with Kinsey's life, because there are a lot of third-person flashbacks to 1953, and not a lot of talk about Kinsey's life. (She's dating someone in this book, but he is relegated to a cameo appearance, as is Henry.)

I didn't really mind the change of pace, though, because the storyline is so engrossing, and the flashbacks are interesting once the story gets going. By the end, I really did care what was going to happen to many of the characters, for good or ill. It kept me interested enough to read the book in one sitting.

I do think there are some unrealistic factors, though, starting with so many of the principals being conveniently alive and well and still living in the same small town. Or if not, they're remarkably easy to locate. And the whole concept in the first place; there's no compelling reason why most of these questions haven't been asked or answered for thirty-five years.

On the whole, though, if you're a fan of the series, I think you'll enjoy this one. Or at least I did!

[ETA: My horoscope for today says "Mysteries emerge today. You figure things out and may enjoy puzzles, riddles, novels, crime stories, or thrillers." Eerie.]