Books! (Part I)

I live in a city without an English-language lending library.

Think about that for a minute. Liam said the other day “reading is an expensive habit,” and I have to say that out here, he’s right. I cannot tell you–mostly because I don’t even want to think about it–how much money we spend on books.

Which, I guess, in the scheme of things, is better than spending money on meth, for instance, or playing the ponies, or a lifetime supply of chocolate (I can hear some of you thinking that maybe that last one is debatable, but not to me).  And of course, I’m delighted that my kids have turned into voracious readers because hey, that’s a good problem to have, but I’m thinking they’re going to have to start mugging kids for their lunch money in order to support their habit.

It also means, as much as it galls me, that for the most part our entire family reads on some kind of e-device. Books on kindle are cheaper and easier to get; I don’t have to drive to the bookstore, I don’t have to pay shipping.

God knows at end-of-year time, there are lots of book lists to consult. Try Outlaw Mama, who wrote her list in tweet-speak; or look at the mahvelous Marinka who already has her list of “must reads” for 2013.

My list of books to read (or avoid) should’ve been published in the waning days of 2012. Whoops. So much for New Year’s resolution #2, 455: blog with regularity. I broke that bitch before it was even the new year. Dang. On the other hand, don’t you feel better about yourself now? I’ll bet you didn’t break any resolutions before you even made them.  (And of course, you can click on any of the titles I mention and go directly to Amazon.)

If you haven’t read Hilary Mantel’s books about Cromwell, Hank Eight, and his galpals, you owe it to yourself to read these now. Like, right now. Be prepared to leave the 21st century and take up residence in in the 16th for a good long time. Mantel won a Booker Prize for Wolf Hall and another one for the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies.  I’m thinking when the final book comes out, she’s going to make it a hat trick.

Front Cover

I read some great mysteries/thrillers this year: there were two by Lee Childs, Worth Dying For and A Wanted Man, and okay, one of those might have come out in 2010, but I read it in 2012. Childs’ character, Jack Reacher is a classic American loner whose methods border on vigilantism. The books are nicely atmospheric, the plots aren’t too repetitive, and the women characters are usually more than just window dressing. Don’t bother with the movie: use the price of your movie ticket to download a few of these books (go back to the first in the series) and settle in. Make yourself a bowl of popcorn and you’re all set.

Do you know the Mistress of the Art of Death? She’s otherwise known as Adelia Aguilar, the heroine of this series set during the reign of Henry II, just after the War of the Roses (the real one, not the Michael Douglas/Kathleen Turner one). Adelia was trained in Salerno as a doctor who specializes in what we would now call forensic science. In other words: she cuts up dead people and looks inside ’em. Sort of like the non-Zooey Deschanel does on the TV show “Bones.” But given that women couldn’t be doctors, Adelia pretends to defer to her traveling companion, an Arab eunuch named Mansur. We find out how this odd pair ended up in England, working for Henry II, in the first book, Mistress of the Art of Death. The plots and motives will seem incredibly contemporary–I guess people have been killing each other for the same reasons for centuries now–but the historical details, particularly about the lives of women, are fantastically interesting.

More “genre fiction:” I read The Twelve, the sequel to Justin Cronin’s The Passage, parts of which scared me so badly I had to sleep with a wee light on. The Twelve suffers by comparison, alas. Here’s the worst thing you can say about a novel that’s supposed to be really, really creepy: it was really, really dull. Too many characters, too many plot lines (many of which seemed to be “borrowed,” let’s say, from Stephen King’s The Stand).

No vampires here, but lots of demons, djinns, lesser spirits, and a few magicians capable of wrestling with these bad guys: Throne of the Crescent Moon reads like a great fantasy novel, complete with political intrigue, wise-cracking good guys, a few shape-shifters, and some seriously wicked spirits. In a change of pace, though, the novel is set in some nameless Middle Eastern country and so the entire book has a different flavor.  This novel seems to be the first in a series, which is great, but the book ended so abruptly (I thought, in fact, that perhaps the entire thing hadn’t downloaded completely) that it’s hard to tell where the next book is headed.

A book I disliked intensely even though everyone else loved it: Gone Girl. Figured out plot twist #1 about six pages in; stopped caring for any of the central characters about 25 pages in; wished the entire thing would just hurry up and be over at about page 80, and thought the final denouement, including Big Plot Twist #2 was just…meh. I’m sort of confused, in fact, by why everything thinks it’s so fantastic. Someone please clue me in.

A book everyone was curious about: JK Rowlings PHP (post-harry-potter) book. Didn’t bother to read it. Do not feel that this is any great loss, myself.

A book that taught me about psychoanalysis and cartoons: Are You My Mother? No, not the PD Eastman book about that damn bird who thinks that maybe a tractor is his mom. No, I’m talking about the sort-of sequel to Alison Bechdel’s brilliant graphic novel Fun Home. In the new book, Bechdel confronts her relationship with her mother (or tries to) and also studies the theories of DW Winnicott. Winnicott studied mothers and children; the idea of the “transitional object” is Winnicott’s: the blanky, the binky, the floppy bunny, all those things that help the infant handle separation from the mother.  That’s why that book about the bird is so annoying: there is no transitional object; nothing can replace mommy.  Mommy bird just wanted a little time off,  get out of the nest for a minute, but baby bird just keeps coming after her. Take it from this mommy bird: read Bechdel’s books, in any order you want; they are fantastic.

What did you read and love (or hate) in 2012? What are you looking forward to reading in 2013?

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9 Responses to Books! (Part I)

  1. Marinka January 11, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    I’m so ashamed, but i could not finish Wolf Hall.

    And I share your feelings about Gone Girl. Except I didn’t figure anything out, but I hated all the characters and thought it was really misogynistic.
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    • Deborah Quinn January 12, 2013 at 10:43 am #

      THANK YOU for saying that about Gone Girl. THe whole thing…I mean, perhaps we should applaud her for being willing to create such nasty characters but then again…why would I want to read characters who are so nasty? THat’s just like…life. Give me at least something I can root for, even just one minor character? Is that too much to ask?

  2. Arnebya January 11, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

    I wish I had written down the parts of Gone Girl that I thoroughly enjoyed. There were instances where, to me, her words leapt off the page and I loved it. It wasn’t all the time and it was before the initial twist (I think). I enjoyed it overall, though, but the ending made me feel like the author stopped thinking of how to end it creatively. It felt like a let down, honestly. But I liked that both characters were so deplorable. (And the Desi part just seemed too easy.) I read JK Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy. It took me two tries (couldn’t finish within the first three weeks of library loan so I returned it and got back on the waiting list.) I enjoyed it enough. It wasn’t fantastic or anything and it felt like too many characters to really find one to like and too many characters to really flesh them out, make them real. I didn’t care for any of them (except one of the children and that’s only because she was the underdog.) So nope, didn’t miss anything there. I do like Lee Childs’ Jack Reacher and must admit I have no interest in the movie (but then, I’ve been burned so many times by movie adaptations that I’m still upset at My Sister’s Keeper but am just as happy to say that I’m still quite thrilled with what was done with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.)
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    • Deborah Quinn January 12, 2013 at 10:41 am #

      You know, I didn’t see the Dragon Tattoo movies, not the English ones and not the Swedish originals. Hmm. I agree that movie versions all too often suck but I’m told this “perks of being a wallflower” was both a good book AND a good movie. Might have to check it out. And aren’t those Reacher books great? Do you read the Robicheaux novels by James Lee Burke that are set in New Orleans/Baton Rouge? Dave is much more developed as a character than Reacher – the books are really good. REALLY good.

      • Arnebya January 14, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

        Hmm nope, haven’t read the Robicheaux novels. I’ll see if they’re at the library. Another movie I didn’t bother to see: The Hunger Games. The then 11-yr-old wanted to see it but I told her to read the book first. She made it to chapter 2 and put it down. We were reading together, though, and I finished it (then picked up the other two because although the author’s writing irritated me, the concept was enough to keep me interested. Fragments. She wrote. In sentence fragments. Like this. Repeatedly.)
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        • Deborah Quinn January 17, 2013 at 8:38 am #

          sighing about the idea of just going to the liberry…Hunger Games. Better movie than book, I thought, actually. Book I was interesting & sort of great, I thought, and then the writing.just.sucked. Exactly as you describe. Painful. To Read. Other ways to create. Emphasis.
          I think.

  3. Dick Horwich January 12, 2013 at 2:22 am #

    For work, I’m re-reading Greenblatt’s “Renaissance Self-fashioning” (probably the most influential critical book of the past 30 years, at least in Renaissance Studies), and there are chapters about Sir Thomas More (who’s central to “Wolf Hall”) and Sir Thomas Wyatt, who’s a minor but important character in “Bringing Up the Bodies.” And both novels provided me with a wonderful human context for G’s insights. Not that he’s a slacker in that department. A favorite quote: “Having a conversation with Henry VIII would have been like small talk with Stalin.”

  4. Ami January 17, 2013 at 6:53 am #

    I read Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series in 2012. All but the last one, because I just can’t bring myself to finish the series- it was too lovely. The first couple of books in the series aren’t the strongest, but then Penny find her stride and the rest are outstanding.
    I also loved Lisa Lutz’s series The Spellman Files. They were very entertaining and funny, with the best cast of characters I’ve run across in a long, long time.
    I’m going to have to check out Wolf Hall because I am a sucker for a good Henry VIII book.
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    • Deborah Quinn January 17, 2013 at 8:36 am #

      thanks for these titles; I’ve not heard of them so now they’re on my list!

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