Saturday, December 31, 2016

Year-End Book Wrapup '16

My goal this year was to read 50 books; I achieved this goal and read 57 books this year. 32 were by women, 17 were by men, and 1 was co-authored by both.

Top five books of the year:

1. An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine
I think this was the last book I read for the Read Harder challenge, for the "Set in the Middle East" category. This novel was a wonderful discovery. A quiet, pensive, thoughtful meditation on what literature brings to our lives. I also loved experiencing the life of the Beiruti narrator. My favorite read of the year.

2. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Another Read Harder Challenge book, and also a Tournament of Books finalist. This book changed my perception of the Vietnam War profoundly -- I had been so used to seeing it exclusively through an American lens that I didn't even realize I was doing it. Another highly recommended novel.

3. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
The memoir of a brilliant neurologist who is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and writes up until the end. Profoundly moving and beautifully written.

4. The Sellout by Paul Beatty
This comedic exploration of race set in Los Angeles won the Tournament of Books, and deservedly so. Hilarious and urgent. An absolute highlight this year.

5. Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
This is Ruth Reichl's first memoir, and it was simply delightful in every way. I must read more from her this year.

Honorable mentions: A Little Life, Slade House, The Good Lord Bird, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, The Signature of All Things, Underground Airlines, The Last Policeman

Bottom five books:

1. Mislaid by Nell Zink
It's kind of a tossup between my first two "worsts" for which I truly disliked more. I finished this only because it was a book club choice. I did not enjoy it or find it plausible at all.

2. The Invaders by Karolina Waclawiak
Finished this out of loyalty to the Tournament of Books but really disliked this one too. Mediocre and irritating.

3. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
I ranted about this in my previous entry, so I won't belabor the point. I didn't like it though!

4. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
Some interesting insights, but torpedoed by casual sexism throughout.

5. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Enjoyable fluff until it completely failed to wrap up its plotlines, much less wrap them up satisfyingly.

Next year I will stick with the same two goals I achieved this year: read at at least 50 books and complete the Read Harder Challenge. I'll be updating this post as the year goes on, as I did last year, with my selections for the challenge.  I'll dig into the Goodreads suggestions soon too; they are how I found An Unnecessary Woman last year! Some good categories this time around, too.

Total: 22/24

[X] Book about sports: The End of the Perfect 10
[X] Debut novel: All the Birds in the Sky
[X] Book about books: Among the Janeites
[X] Set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author: 100 Years of Solitude
[ ] By an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative
[X] All-ages comic: Princeless
[X] Published between 1900 and 1950: The Custom of the Country
[X] Travel memoir: Wild
[X] Book you’ve read before: I re-read, but did not blog about, Murder on the Orient Express
[X] Set within 100 miles of your location: Tales of the City and All the Birds in the Sky
[X] Set more than 5000 miles from your location: The Three-Body Problem
[X] Fantasy novel: Carry On
[X] Nonfiction book about technology: Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime
[X] About war: The Fall of the House of Dixie
[X] YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+:  Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
[X] Book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country: The Handmaid's Tale
[X] Classic by an author of color: Kindred
[X] Superhero comic with a female lead. Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1
[X] A book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey: The Autobiography of Malcolm X
[X] An LGBTQ+ romance novel: Treasure
[X] Published by a micropress: Joy
[X] Collection of stories by a woman: 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl
[ ] Collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love
[X] A book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe counts, but surprisingly Underground Railroad does not, since there is a chapter from a white character's perspective

Happy new (book) year, everyone!

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Friday, December 30, 2016

The Magicians (by Lev Grossman)

I finished this one out of spite.

I'm not sure what I'm missing here, exactly, since tons of people love these books. But this did not work for me at all. My issues:

For much of the book, there is absolutely no plot. There are some interesting scenes, a cool world, and things start to come together by the end, but by the time the characters had gotten all the way through magic school and graduated and still no plot had appeared, I was over it.

Brakebills= Hogwarts. Fillory = Narnia. So far, so obvious. However, the Harry Potter books are name-checked in the story and exist in this world.  Fillory novels also exist in this world, but once they characters encounter Fillory, they take it for granted that the world is real and not fictional.Why? Why do they take this for granted when clearly fictional magic exists? Why is Harry Potter treated as 100% fictional even though they go to magic school? Why do they accept the Fillory books as 100% accurate rather than a possibly fictionalized version of a real place? No internal logic here!

Also why does everyone love Fillory so much? It is awful. But characters talk about wanting to stay there forever....?

Quentin is a dick. He's supposed to be a dick, I grant you, and part of the point of this novel is to have the main character fail to learn and grow and basically just be a dick the whole time. But once the plot appears, he is kind of just along for the ride, fails to learn and grow but also fails to do anything that impacts anything. What is the point of following him around in the first place?

Female characters are often described in terms of their breasts. I should have highlighted all the gratuitous breast references.

tl;dr: dislike button.

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Vacation Reads

I prepared for vacation with a ton of books, and did get through two full books and half of two other ones, but mostly I came down with pneumonia and was too sick to read. Now the next two books that I am halfway through, The Mummy Case and The Magicians, just remind me of how sick I felt. It's the same reason I can't yet look at my vacation photos. Maybe when I'm well again.

Anyway, these are the two I did finish:

The Curse of the Pharaohs (by Elizabeth Peters)

The second book in the Amelia Peabody series. I enjoyed it, I think, but I remember almost nothing about it. I still enjoy Amelia and Emerson, even though they seem to do nothing but have sex. That's all I can remember about this book: lots of fade-to-black sex.  In Egypt.

Cruel Beautiful World (by Caroline Leavitt)

The premise of this is that a young girl named Lucy runs away with her creepo high school teacher in the 1970s. He's a controlling creepo, and the novel follows Lucy's story as well as those of her sister and adoptive mother, who are left behind. I liked the plot structure, the writing was fine, some of the characters were interesting, but I don''t know. I felt meh about it all in the end. 

And sidebar, I will probably finish it eventually, but can I just point out that The Magicians has no plot? I enjoy the whole Hogwarts vibe, but seriously, where is the plot? Anyone?

Addendum: I finished The Mummy Case (the climax at the end was hilarious, and I love the precocious character of Ramses).  I read a bit further into TheMagicians and now not only does it lack plot, but the protagonist is a total dick. Do I give up at this point?

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