Books read in December

The books this month seem to be more of “passing time” books than anything. Nothing groundbreaking here. Although, I did like Me & Orsen Wells. When is that movie coming out, anyway?

Keeping Faith: a novel
Jodi Picoult
Engrossing story with dumb title, I quite enjoyed the twists and turns. It wasn’t high literature (even for my low standards) but it was a fun read.

Side note. In the author interview at the end of the novel Picoult mentions that she researches like crazy for books because she can’t stand to have errors. I found two, one of which was quite glaring: the grandmother character, who is in her 50s mentions that the War of the Worlds broadcast “scared her and her husband to death.” I find this to be amazing, because the novel is set in 1999. This puts the grandmother’s character as being born in the early to mid 40s. So, not only would the grandmother not have been married in 1938 when the broadcast was first aired, but she also woudn’t have even been alive. Also, there was a reference to a nail being put “in Jesus Christ’s side.” I found this to be off and three minutes of googling has indeed revealed that Jesus’ side was pierced by a spear. Geez oh Pete, for an author who is a stickler for accuracy, these should have been cleaned up early on.

The Last Blue Mile
Kim Ponders
I checked this out because this story of a female Air Force Academy Cadet does not intersect with my own life experiences in any way. The book provided a nice window into Air Force culture. Based on what I read, I’m glad for the window and will not be seeking a door into Air Force Culture any time soon.

A Model Summer
Paula Porizkova
The book that convinced me there is little actual glamor in modeling. How does a sheltered fifteen year old girl spending her summer working as a model in Paris fare? The answer is not surprising. As the quote on the back of the book says, the novel “bravely offers no easy answers.” Engrossing and disturbing.

Me & Orson Wells
Robert Kaplow
The “voice” in this novel is fun and fresh and the novel itself is a fun time capsule to 1930s Broadway and Orson Wells. I found out about halfway through that Zac Ephron will be playing the main character which didn’t match the picture in my head at all, but I look forward to seeing Orson Wells recreated for the screen and this book also inspired our next choice for the Shakespeare Project: Julius Caesar.

Rex Pickett
I found this movie to be highly annoying–the main characters were incredibly juvenile and idiotic. Someone nicely summed up the movie as “Dumb and Dumber do Wine Country.” So why read the book? Though I hated the movie, the story and characters have stuck with me, and when I came across the novel on the library shelves I figured the book might provide a little more insight.

Indeed, I liked the book much better than the movie. The book had the advantage, as books do, of letting us into the minds of at least one of the men. This humanized him for me and softened my judgment. The story is well written, clips along, has some incredible passages and uses vocabulary that had me reaching for the dictionary several times. Don’t get me wrong, the men are still idiotic, but much more human. This would be a nice vacation read.

Unplugging Philco
Jim Knipfel
My initial reaction was enjoyment. This futuristic novel is set in New York City, where massive amounts of freedoms Americans enjoy today have voluntarily been given up due to “the Horribleness”–an incident that flattened Tupolo. This novel was clearly written to skewer the post-9/11 world we live in. However, as the story dragged on, the life Wally Philco lives left me sad. Near the middle of the book, things look like they would work out for him in some small way, but I realized I was about two chapters away from the end and this wasn’t going to end well. I put down the book for a few days, and eventually returned to find that, indeed, the ending was not what I was looking for. Not only that, I found it to be not believable. Two days later, I’m still thinking, “But wait. If the ending is true, then how did X work?” This is not a good sign for a book.

The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns
Elizabeth Leiknes
A slim novel, this initially had me tittering as I read along. But somewhere in the middle–which I guess would be about page 80–it bogged down and I lost interest. This was a clever premise, but not the best execution. I’m interested to see if Leiknes‘ next novel will be a bit better.

Started but did not finish

Braided Lives
Marge Piercy
It’s the 1950s and Marge Piercy’s main character doesn’t want a man to posses her. Hmmm. Good luck with that. Having just read her memoir, I can tell that large portions of this novel are inspired by her own life. It seemed like things were going to be grim, and so my attention waned. Also? Horrible 80’s-esque cover. So bad it is almost good.

Past Caring
Robert Goddard
I never really got to caring about the character, so I couldn’t move through to past caring. When I hit page fifty and I’m still wondering if I will start to be interested soon, it is time to put down the novel.

Our Lady of Greenwich Village
Dermot McEvoy
A manly novel, that takes the men in it too seriously. Pete Hamill writes better novels set in bars. This suffers from the book equivalent of the movie problem of “too many identical white guys in suits.” About the fifth time I asked myself, “Who is this person and why are they on the page right now?” I decided I really didn’t care and gave up.

Three sentence movie reviews–The Candidate

Man, has this been a vacation of not-so-great movies. This movie is excellent for the following: looking at Robert Redford; fun 70s fashions; wondering whatever happened to singing, scantily clad campaign workers; and Don Porter’s excellent performance as Senator Crocker Jarmon. I got this for free from the library, so I guess I didn’t lose much, aside from two hours of my life.

poster from:

Three sentence movie reviews–Central Station

Yet another movie I just didn’t connect with. The story was interesting, the characters were fully formed and well acted, and yet, if the power had gone out in the middle of the film I would have happily moved on to another activity. I’m so ambivalent, I can’t come up with a third sentence.

I finally enter Steve Duin’s reading contest!

Every year Steve Duin, columnist for the Oregonian holds a reading contest to see who can read the most pages during the year. The winner always reads some number that even I, a voracious reader, think insane. Like over 100,000. This year, I sent in my entry of 21,177 pages read which was 71 books. I sent this note along with with spreadsheet.

Dear Mr. Duin,

My page total isn’t anywhere near winning, but my goal this year was to actually get my entry to you. I’ve never been able to keep track of pages read on my own—that extra step of flipping to the back and seeing what the last pages was has always eluded me. In the back of my journals, I’ve kept track of “books read” since 1987, but in 2008, I began using Goodreads. At the end of last year I discovered I could export my list of books read and they listed page numbers. This year I just had to export, sum and save in Excel and voila! I finally enter the contest.

This was not the best fiction reading year. Around March I got annoyed at all the unsatisfying novels I was reading and just started re-reading things I liked. Hence the appearance of Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer. Things picked up mid-summer and I devoured some books during my August vacation. I would say the most quietly delightful “what if” sort of novel was Abraham Lincoln: A Novel Life, by our own Tony Wolk. What if Abraham Lincoln showed up in 1950’s Illinois? My absolute favorite novel, if forced to choose, was Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife. Aside from being an engrossing story, the novel itself was a gentle reminder that the famous people I know (and judge) everything about, may in fact be media creations. Which reminds me, the other favorite novel I read the year—do your readers really actually stick to one? I can’t imagine—was Three Girls and their Brother by Theresa Rebeck. A commentary on the media culture in our country, the voices of each character are amazing. This book also wins the “don’t judge a book by its cover” award as its cover was hideous and not at all reflective of the novel.

Nonfiction-wise, it was a smashing year. I discovered permaculture theory and, thanks to the library, devoured many books on the topic. I have a tiny back yard, but I think I’m a farmer at heart, and due to the permaculture books I read, I am transforming my “land” into a more sustainable environment. The best non-fiction book I read was Urban Homestead, your guide to self-sufficient living in the city. Unlike 99% of the books I read, I finished my library copy, returned it and immediately bought my own copy. Reading the various tutorials on growing and foraging for food, making bread, cheese and preserves, all I could think was “these are my people.” What could be more fun than that?

Next year, I aim to not only enter my number of pages, but also write an essay. Until I retire (30 years hence) that seems to be my only hope for winning your contest.

Good reading,


6/25/10 Note: I just looked at the contest results (published 2/1/10) and I got 34th! Not bad. But seriously, do those 100,000 plus pages people ever go outside?

Here is the list of books people chose as their favorites. (Published 2/1/10)

Here is the annual column about the reading contest. I, sadly, am not mentioned (Published 2/1/10)

I love librarians

For years I’ve been describing one of my favorite kind of books as listed above. Who knew that there was one word to say all that? Well, probably a lot of people. And, more importantly, librarians, who not only printed up a handy sign, but had a whole bunch of buildungsromans set out for us to check out. Thanks librarians! And also thanks to the clerks who probably fetched all the books!

Three sentence movie reviews–Woman on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown

This was my first Pedro Almodovar film and I don’t think it was the best starting place. I didn’t really connect to any of the characters, though I thought their fashion sense was interesting. When the Mambo Taxi Driver is the most exciting thing in the movie, something hasn’t worked.

poster from:

Three sentence movie reviews–Lars and the Real Girl

Despite good reviews, the concept of this movie weirded me out and I didn’t see it. Recommendation by a movie watching friend convinced me to watch it and while doing so I realized my feelings were similar to the characters in the movie. This is a sweet, fabulous, hopeful movie about the human condition, and one innocent enough–I kid you not!–that you could watch it with your church-going grandmother.

ps. Paul Schneider! Patricia Clarkson! You MUST see this!

poster from:

Three sentence movie reviews–The Talented Mr. Ripley

I saw this movie in the theater when it first came out and remembered it as an “eh” movie. My second viewing left me with a different impression due to a fabulous cast, beautiful clothes and top-notch acting. I remembered the plot and how it would all end, but I was still tense the entire film.

poster from: