Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Review of Books for 2009

Despite its title and look, this is not a book blog—or rather, it isn't a blog dedicated only to books. In my humble opinion, reading is just one facet of my remarkable intelligence. I have a life outside of books—like bitching, waiting for the UPS guy to deliver "stuff", and planting cash crops of radishes on my future burial plot to help pay for it—and I write about those things too. This duality offends many dedicated book bloggers (none of whom are on my sidebar), and the snoots shun me. I don't mind a bit of shunning here and there, but the notion of burning at the stake for The Great Pretender of Book Reviewing bothers me.

During 2009, I read 72 books, and I have 3 in progress. Of the 72, I reviewed 25 that I opined would be of interest to my general readers. Books that are different, something new, something borrowed, something blue. DISCLAIMER: Please remember that these are my opinions; your results may vary.


The Book Thief, Markus Zusak, Young Adult

Innovative writing (Death is the narrator), a story that takes place inside Hitler's Germany, and unforgettable characters like Liesel Meminger and her best friend Rudy Steiner made this book unforgettable. As I wrote in my review, "Despite foreshadowing by Death, I was a wreck by book's end."

The quote I used also bears repeating. Death tells us, shortly after the Allies have bombed a place named Köln where five hundred were killed:

Five hundred souls.
I carried them in my fingers, like suitcases. Or I'd throw them over my shoulder. It was only the children I carried in my arms.
This book haunts me still.


The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne, Young Adult

I cannot for the life of me understand the popularity of this book, other than the supposed tear-jerker anti-climax. Bruno, the nine-year-old "protaga-nist," is a self-absorbed brat and just about as dumb as they come.

In a praise blurb, New York magazine says, “A book that tells a very bad story, gently.” Wrong, New York magazine. There is no way to tell a story as horrific as the Holocaust gently, especially when Bruno uses numbskull puns throughout the book: "The Fury" for the Fuhrer and "Out-With" for Auschwitz.

As I said in my review, "I do not take negative reviews lightly, and they are never a snap decision. I gave this book a lot of thought over several days, a lot of time writing and rewriting and, in the final analysis, I recommend it to no one . . .  it is a disgrace to the Holocaust."

OTHER GOOD BOOKS THIS YEAR (In no particular order.)

Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri. Her second book of long short stories, I thought it was better than her first collection, Interpreter of Maladies, which won a Pulitzer.

Collected Stories; Sanctuary; Absalom! Absalom!, William Faulkner. I like the guy—what can I say?

The Complete Stories of Truman Capote.

“Yesterday afternoon the six o’clock bus ran over Miss Bobbit.”
So begins the story “Children on Their Birthdays,” and I dare any reader to put it down after an opening sentence like this one. Unfortunately, Capote only published twenty stories during his early career, but every  one is a gem.

A couple of fun ones:

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins. Another Young Adult book, it is a sci-fi thriller with a strong female lead. The story and action does not stop, making it almost impossible to put down. Wandering Coyote has read the second book in the trilogy, Catching Fire, and she assures me that the pace is even faster and the story superb.

The Lovers, John Connolly. The eighth installment in the Charlie Parker series, his books are getting darker and playing up the supernatural angle. And John, in person, is such a funny, likeable guy. I guess you can't tell a book by its author, a statement which makes absolutely no sense at all.

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You can read the full reviews of these books by clicking on or around the wormy apple on the sidebar. Coming up next is a review of Cormac McCarthy's The Road—one of those books I have to think about before I review it.


Kevin Musgrove said...

You have yourself a good New Year, young fellow me lad.

Looking forward to more next year.

Timekeeper said...

Wow, 72 books in a year. I am impressed. If I get 10 a year I'm lucky. I'm a slow reader and I never go to bed without a book. The book that stands out for me this year is Coben's Tell No One. Coben showed me he's a master at suspense. Also Ed McGaa three books helped me with what I'm currently writing, Timekeeper II
Happy New Year.

St Jude said...

I was given Truman Capote's in cold blood to read when I was 15 by my English teacher. I think it was too early and I stayed away from reading anymore until a couple of years ago when I read his short stories. Well worth the wait.

Kim Ayres said...

Have you thought about growing slightly more lucrative crops on your burial plot, to pay it off quicker? Opium poppies, for example...

Wandering Coyote said...

Happy New Year to you & Martha!

I remember well you snarky post on the Striped PJ book...Classic stuff!

I have no idea how many books I read this year...I could count if I wanted to, but I really don't.

And FFS, Charlie, put down EVERYTHING you're doing and read CATCHING FIRE!!!!!!

Kim said...

Happy New Year Charlie ~ I wish for you good health great books and interesting blogs and wonderful friends and a lot more time to enjoy all of them!

Sorry i flaked off again , its been a really rough year *big hug*

Diane said...

The Book Thief was an amazing book. Sorry The Boy in the Striped PJS disappointed you...I liked it (oh well).

Hope that you have a Happy and Healthy New Year. May all they books that your read in 2010 be terrific.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Charlie! Happy New Year to you, Martha, and the rest of your family! I wish you more books, more blogging, and more reading this 2010!

Your post about The Book Thief being your best book for 2009 makes me want to pull my copy from the shelf. I'm going to read it soon!

Mary Witzl said...

I'll give The Book Thief another go, Charlie, now that I've read you review. I didn't dislike it, but for some reason I couldn't get into it. And we share an opinion on The Boy in Striped PJs. Sometimes I feel like I'm not a discerning reader -- I tend to have a taste for a wide variety of styles and genres -- but whoever gave this book a shining review has me beat all hollow.

Last year, I decided to make a list of all the books I read. I got to about 30, then realized I was forgetting as many as I was writing down. This year I'm going to try and do better!

Happy 2010, Charlie, and keep those radishes going!

Pat said...

Happy New Year!
'This duality offends many dedicated book bloggers (none of whom are on my sidebar),'
If I hadn't renewed my pledge to be a better person I'd say b----r the dedicated book bloggers. Stay the way that you are:) Please.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I could not get past the having read 72 books in 09 part! I think I read 10. You are a better man than I am, Charlie.

Happy New Year to you and the lovely Martha!

koonsmother said...

Who are these "snoots" of whom you speak? Show me them. I will give them the sharp edge of my tongue. You are a very discerning reader, Dr. Worm, and your reviews are worth reading, always. Some people take themselves, and others, much too seriously.