Books read in January 2010

A goodly number of books this month, helped along by the day in bed reading on 1/1/10. This was a good month for reading and I suspect many of these books will appear at the end of 2010 book awards.

Heart Sick
Chelsea Cain
“Gloriously Gruesome Suspense…” said the Staff Pick bookmark inserted in this book. Boy, does that hit the nail on the head. Still, I devoured it, gruesome though it was. How could I not? It’s written by the woman I think of as my “older sister” (a theoretical relationship similar to the one I have with my “movie boyfriend” Edward Norton) and the book is set firmly in actual, recognizable Portland.

The serial killer/murder mystery is not really my genre (aside from the book couple–Kenzie/Gennaro–I want to marry) and I suspect this story might be a tiny bit predictable. I had to skip entire pages of text because I don’t do torture. Still, aside from those things, how could I not love a book set in my born-again home town, with a main character subletting a condo not far from where I work and dialogue such as this:

“Archie will explain. He’s downstairs in the car. I couldn’t find a fucking place to park. Your neighborhood is awash with ambling Yuppies.”

Can I really refer to a gruesome, disturbing book as delightful? With my soft spot for Chelsea Cain, indeed I can.

Laura Ingalls Wilder: A writer’s life
Pamela Smith Hall
I undoubtedly know about this book because the author is a Portlander, but I would have found it anyway. I tend to read everything I come across that has to do with Wilder.

This was a very readable, accessible book that traces Wilder’s journey as a writer and seems specifically to have been written to discount the theories that some authors have put forth that Wilder’s daughter Rose Wilder Lane wrote the Little House Series.

I had discounted those theories already as they seemed to overlook the writing career Wilder had before she began her famous series. The book follows Wilder’s life chronologically, and, in her early years, compares and contrasts Wilder’s unpublished autobiographical manuscript Pioneer Girl with details in the Little House series. This in itself was interesting.

A teacher at my school was annoyed at her student teacher for labeling the Little House series as fiction. “They are autobiography!” she firmly stated. I kept quiet, and wondered just how they are shelved at the official library. I have read enough to know that her books are not the whole truth of her life. Hill does an excellent job of highlighting the changes Wilder made to her own story to establish the mythos of her family–her experiences, heightened by her story telling and shaped by her and her daughter’s editing, have become the pioneer experience for millions of people across the world.

The other point gleaned from this book is to have a tough hide if your own daughter is your editor. Wilder and Lane were close, but Lane rejected the life her mother chose–leaving it as soon as she could. Hill provides evidence, again and again, of a mother daughter relationship probably familiar to many. It is a relationship both close and strained, and Lane comes across as a ruthless editor, unsparing of her mother’s feelings.

Still, the two remained close throughout their lives and their work together provided a series that has probably done more than any other to shape my world view. The book provides a nice bibliography for me to plunder, and has me wondering why, aside from the unspeakable television series, the story of the Ingalls family has never been adapted for the silver screen. Also, is there a good biography of Rose Wilder Lane?

The Dawn of a To-Morrow
Francis Hodgson Burnett
I came across this book while moodily wandering the stacks and checked it out partially because I’d never read any adult fiction by Burnett, but primarily because it was incredibly short and I figured I could handle it.

Had I not started reading it at 1:23 am, I probably could have finished this in one sitting. This strikes me as something that originally was serialized in a magazine at the turn of the century. Unlike most books written before 1950 and written in dialect, this was an incredibly easy read.

People familiar with the Annotated Secret Garden will recognize Burnett’s life philosophy in this book. People familiar with Wayne Dyer’s beliefs will not find Burnett’s views much different than his.

Overall, a sweet story, and a nice way to begin the new year.

The Last Summer (of you and me)
Ann Brashares
I picked this book up at the library off a display featuring “Bildungsromans” which, a helpful sign explained to me was: “a novel about the early years of somebody’s life, exploring the development of his or her character and personality.” God, I love librarians. Who knew that my favorite type of book actually had a name? And such a fun one.

I was also interested in seeing how Brashares fared writing adult fiction. Sometimes the transition between Young Adult and Adult Fiction *ahem, Judy Blume, ahem* can be a rocky one. Her “Traveling Pants” were fabulous, could she maintain her winning streak in the harsh world of adult fiction?

I loved this book. Every once in awhile I come across a book where the author writes–so much better than I ever could–the feelings I have. This was one of those novels. I’ve been thinking of first loves now and again lately, and how heart breaking they always are. Even if they end in the best possible way, doesn’t every one look back at them with a sense of sadness? I think Curtis Sittenfeld hit the nail on the head in Amercian Wife when she wrote: “..her tone was reflective in that way that is inevitably sad, because the past is part sad.”

So this story of three people merging their past with their present was wonderful to submerge myself in. The tension, ache and slowly building tragedy were delightful. I saw what was going to happen and how it would end, and I didn’t care. It was the journey I enjoyed the most. What a beautiful way to spend a cold and rainy day. This is why I am a reader.

Beth Bosworth
I enjoyed this book so much at the beginning and through the middle and then, I’m not sure what happened. The premise is one I like—asthmatic dorky Jewish girl in the 60s helps out a superhero who travels through time to help literary figures. It even had a fabulous secondary character in Rachael Fish. But it just seemed to lose steam.
This Cold Country
Annabel Davis Groff
It took me a few weeks to realize the source of the vague sense of unease when I read this book. I was falling for a stereotype that I don’t actually believe: that smart rich people live in the cities, and dumb, poor people live in the country. This book takes place in several different rural places, but they are all in England or Ireland, and happen to also be estates with are lousy with rich people. So my inner stereotype was having trouble reconciling the rich people with rural setting.
I didn’t love this book, but it was engrossing, and had to do with several life choices I’m not familiar with: being a Land Girl during WWII, marrying someone you had only met a few times and then going to live in an entirely different country with your new husband’s relatives—whom you have never met—while he goes off to fight the war.
The author repeatedly used a plot device wherein she would tell the story in chronological order, then suddenly with no warning jump forward so I was confused as to what exactly was going on, then she would go back and fill me in. The effect was supposed to be intriguing, I think, but mostly it gave me literary whiplash.
Dave Cullen
Whenever a big, strange thing happens, one of my first thoughts is, “I will be so glad, when someone writes the book explaining this event.” It’s only natural. When confusing things happen, I want an author to clearly explain to me why the event has occurred.
I had to wait 10 years to find out every thing I wanted to know about Columbine, but the wait was worth it. This is probably one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in years and I couldn’t stop talking about it, despite nearly everyone I spoke with’s reaction of discomfort.
Cullen takes you step-by-step through the school shooting, introducing you to the killers, the victims, the parents, the school administrators as well as the sheriff and investigators who worked on the case. As the book moves along, you learn why everything, and I mean everything, we learned about Columbine, was not actually true.
For such a horrific topic, I read this book compulsively until I finished it. The only thing keeping it from five stars was its lack of a who’s who list. It was hard for me to keep track of people as Cullen caught up with them. However, now that I’ve warned you, you can make your own list.

Started, but did not finish

Sexing the Cherry
Jeanette Winterson
A clerk at Krakow, a coffee shop, recommended this book to me. I liked the title, but that was a about it. I get what the author was doing, I just couldn’t stay focused on the story because of it.

John Kroger
I expected to begin this book and then drift away from it early on and eventually take it back to the library. This is what happened, but not for the reasons I thought. This book is great! It is witty and interesting and easy to read, and a fascinating look at an area of law most of us non-lawyers probably barely think about. I highly recommend it. It is also a very long book and Kroger won an Oregon book award this year so people at the library requested it before I could finish it. I would like to someday, though. And you should read it too.

2 thoughts on “Books read in January 2010”

  1. Very busy! I would hate to see my meager reading list for January. Sheesh! I need to make more time. Darn idiot box and licking my wounds from darling monsters keeps me in a state of brain-dead wonder when I need it most. Must amend my ways…

    I am interested in the Wilder book. Looks great!

  2. I have read two of these books – the Ann Brashares book – I don't remember it that well which just annoys me. I hate that I can give up 4-5 hours to something and all I can remember was it was a good book, and I agree a good cross over into adult lit. from teeny bopper land (ok I know you did not use this exact verbage). I also read but could not finish the Columbine book. It was good and I was very interested in it, but there was something about it that was too raw for me and I had to stop reading it. I may check it out another time, but I literally lost a night of sleep over that book. My hubby was out of town and I went into my girls' room and pulled them into sleep with me to finally settle my thoughts. It was not so much the book but the idea of something like that ever happening where my girls go to school. It certainly got my attention.

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