Inspired by Dana Huff, I thought I’d write about the books I read in 2010, which, at 23, turns out is a lot more than I thought, not as many as Dana read, but considering that I wrote my second AP English test prep book last year also, I think it’s not too terrible an achievement.
Non fiction: 2
Young Adult: 4
Short fiction collections: 3
Graphic novel: 1
My top five of the year, in no particular order
- Unaccustomed Earth
- The Help
- Olive Kitteridge
- Crossing to Safety
About each book
- I began 2010 by reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett; I really loved this book. It was one of the few all year that I literally could not put down. Her characters were real, sad, uplifting, and honest.
- I jumped on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo bandwagon and had a lot of fun with the first book by Steig Larsson. I loved Larsson’s detail, down to the type of hard drive on the computer. While the situation Harriet Vanger found herself in seemed unrealistic, the mystery was fun, and Lisbeth is a unique heroine.
- I loved the protagonist in Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. We should never imagine what might be in someone else’s heart or head. I loved the honor and respect for old people in this book, too.
- I did not like Chris Cleave’s Little Bee. I found the main characters (except for the refugees) to be whiny, self-centered, and unsympathetic.
- The most fun part of the The Girl Who Played with Fire was Lisbeth’s shopping spree at IKEA. But the introduction of an evil father and brother was interesting also. These books may not be great literature, but they are quite fun to read.
- I read Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov because I felt I should read it. I found it to be somewhat dense, or maybe I was overly tired when I read it, but I didn’t really enjoy it nor appreciate it like I’m sure I should have.
- A good friend sent me Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario. This book really helped me see the complexities of immigration in a new way.
- I agree with those who’ve said that The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest could have used a bit more editing, but as it was the last book in the trilogy and I knew Mr. Larsson would sadly not be writing any more books, I didn’t want it to end. Plus, I really liked the way Lisbeth could help, even though she was hospitalized for the majority of the novel.
- A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick was one I’d wanted to read for awhile, so I bought it. I wish I’d just borrowed it from the library. It was interesting, but just a little too sensational for me.
- Unaccustomed Earth by Jumpha Lahiri is a collection of stories about Indian immigrants in the United States, about culture clashes and upward mobility, and it was one of the best books I had read in a long time. It is definitely in my top five for the year.
- I love Sherman Alexie but didn’t know what I was in for with The Toughest Indian in the World. This collection of stories is much less about reservation life than some of his other work and more about people dealing with tough times, tough situations. The characters are gritty. The writing is brilliant.
- I also love Billy Crystal, but he comes across better on stage than he does on the page. I was desperate for something to read (for free) and 700 Sundays is a book someone gave my husband as a gift. Some nice moments, but overall, not a great book. Kind of just wanted to get through it.
- Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman was the first of several books I read on vacation. We have a 10 hour drive to my dad’s cabin in Minnesota, and my husband prefers to do all the driving, which leaves me with a lot of time. I am lucky I can read in the car. So, this was my first book. The point of view in this book is really unique, a young boy with cerebral palsy who cannot speak and thinks his dad is going to kill him. Wow. The story is heartbreaking, but also funny.
- Next from the vacation book bag was Anthem by Ayn Rand, a book I should have read years ago. I had no expectations for this book, except that I know a bit about Rand’s philosophical views. I really liked this little dystopian novel, especially the golden ending. I may try to incorporate it into my AP English class.
- Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi was next. Can you tell that I took little books on vacation? I had seen the movie and loved it, so my friend lent me the graphic novel, which, like any book, was more detailed and better than the movie. I would recommend this book for anyone who wants to understand Iran better.
- Still Life by A.S. Byatt got me stuck in neutral. I started it at the end of my vacation, but it took me many weeks to read. I just didn’t love this book. I have read Byatt before (Posession, Babel Tower), and was used to her erudite style, but Still Life just wore me down. One thing that I didn’t know when I began the book was that it was part of a trilogy. Even so, I found the characters to be fairly uninteresting, their situations so far from my experience. The descriptions of giving birth in the 1950′s in nearly inhumane situations were riveting though. This book was lent to me, and I’m so glad I didn’t buy it.
- My third experience with a collection of stories was Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. I really liked this book. I had no idea what to expect, but loved the way the character, Olive, is the thread that links all of the stories, and that each one is not necessarily about her. Even so, Strout develops Olive’s character throughout, so that by the end, a woman who I did not even like at the beginning ends up being humanized. I liked reading this book as a reader and as a writer.
- There are some books one reads because one thinks one should, and this is the reason I checked Anna Karenina out of the school library in September. From the crispness of the pages and the stiffness of the binding, I am sure I am the first one to have pulled this book from the shelves. I am also sure that I have no right to suggest such a thing, but Tolstoy could have used a good editor. Had the book been even 200 pages less than it was, it would have been much more readable. Still, the characters and the situations were interesting and I didn’t give up on it nor want to punish myself like I did when I read Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov a few years ago. I admire Tolstoy quite a lot and have read several of his short stories. I’m glad I read it, but also glad I’m done reading it.
- Dope Sick by Walter Dean Myers seems to be an odd follow up to the previous book. I didn’t choose it. A young man I mentor did, and we exchanged the book each day, adding our sticky note comments. It was a nice experience. I can see how Myers appeals to boys, especially more urban boys who feel their lives are happening beyond their control. It was not, after all, that memorable–at least not for me.
- I heard Todd Strasser speak at the Illinois Association of Teachers of English conference and bought three of his books, one of which was Con-fidence, a book for middle school age girls. I am glad I read it. I had been looking for a high interest easy read for some of my low level readers. The girl I consequently recommended it to loved it. She read it twice. The other two I bought are also out in circulation, but I haven’t read those yet.
- I bought Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner at a great little book store in Bailey’s Harbor in the summer, but hadn’t read it yet. One of my favorite books of all time is Angle of Repose also by Stegner. I really liked this book as well. The characters were so interesting and the settings familiar (especially Madison, WI). I would highly recommend it. I think it probably is an accurate look at how people began to reinvent themselves coming out of the Depression and after WWII.
- In my desire to connect with my reluctant readers (especially boys), I will sometimes choose books they are reading. That’s what prompted me to read The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. I felt the book was somewhat formulaic (hero’s journey for one thing), but it was much funnier than I thought, a quality that seems to be missing in a lot of books. Plus, Percy is a good hero for kids who think they’ve got everything against them. I am not sure I’ll read the rest of the series, but I feel like I can connect better now and can more confidently recommend the books for certain students.
- I did not choose the last book I read in 2010, even though it had sat, unread, on my own shelves for many years. My sister gave me a beautiful hard cover copy of Beloved, saying something like, ‘good luck,’ as she handed it to me. Toni Morrison does have the reputation of being difficult to read, and maybe that’s why I didn’t read it sooner. I’m not sure. I’ve read other books by her. But this choice was made by several junior girls who talked me into being in a book club with them. I wonder how they’re doing with it. I found Sethe’s story to be enigmatic, at least at first, then downright heartbreaking and poetic at the end. I am glad Morrison didn’t tell me everything right away. I think I had to love Sethe before I could understand why she did what she did. One question that I would like to ask my new book club is whether or not we have the right to forgive her. I am glad I read this book, which according to Morrison is her monument to slavery, her attempt to honor those who suffered.