Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Reading through 2013

It should be no surprise to you now, dear readers, that I read a decent amount per year. I've started to keep track of all the books I read, so I can reference which books I've read when, etc. Thinking through the books I've read at a certain time I can usually recall the memories of what I was feeling during that time. It's sort of like the literary soundtrack of my life. It's wonderful.

Anyway, like last year, I'm going to go over all the books I read from January to December of 2013. I was living in Finland at first, then by March moved to the UK. The books changed accordingly. Funny how that happens.

I'd like to say that I kept with my goal of only reading things of note and reputation, as was my intention for 2013. Though there were no seriously bad books from this past year, I'd have to say you'll see for yourself from my list that I didn't stay with that after Tolstoy.

And so without further ado, a review of the reads of 2013:

1. The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates
A way to start off the year with a bang, I can tell you that. This was about a man who commits suicide by jumping off of Niagara Falls the day after marrying his wife and what she goes through following his death. I'd never read any Oates before and I was curious; I'm glad I put in the time to read one of her books. She's a great writer, though her storylines tend to be on the more somber side. Seems an odd but somehow emotionally good choice as I was touring London for the first time before moving there two months later.

2. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
I actually picked up this book for £1 after finishing The Falls too early on my London scouting trip. Extremely British, all of this. I finished it while touring through Thailand - while a good book for reading while in London, a very stiffly incongruent choice for Thailand.

3. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
A fantastic, meaningful book - one of my favorites from the year. I read most of it in Thailand and finished it back in Helsinki. If you haven't read this one, I suggest reading it - but only at the time when you are receptive to deeper meanings.

4. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
One of the last books I picked up from my beloved Arkadia before departing from Finland. The idea was to go back and read classics that I'd somehow missed in my earlier years. Well, this did exactly that. And for the record, this book shouldn't be called Anna Karenina, as it's not about her for most of it. It's instead about Konstantin Levin and his interest in writing a book about farming. Be prepared should you breach this one - it's 800 pages of ponderings on different farming techniques.

5. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Clearly when I stopped reading the deep classics and started with something a little more lighthearted and contemporary. Right book at the right time, that's all I'll say. First time I tried reading through it I got stuck in the Pray section. This time it was smoothing going all the way through.

6. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
The first nonfiction book I read for the year. I met this author when this book first came out as my then-boyfriend (and highschool sweetheart) had gotten a copy from his sister for Christmas. Awkwardly she ignored me and tried to chat up my boyfriend, despite the fact that I was the one asking her questions and handing her the book to sign. Perhaps because of this memory, I didn't enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. It was good to know what could happen to your body should you donate it to science (it's not always what you think they do with cadavers), but I found her humor a bit stale. Glad I read it but glad I gave it away soon after.

7. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
I've read several of Lisa See's books and they're always well-written and fascinating. This one had the added benefit of teaching me about Chinese immigration back in the day, when my family would have first been coming over to America. I learned a lot from this book and was surprised to hear confirmation from my family that relatives of mine went through the same thing.

8. Memory Palace by Hari Kunrzu
The book that started the exhibit I saw at the V&A earlier in the year that so fascinated me. Post-apocalyptic London and the idea of memory keepers. Beautiful and totally worth it. Hard to get copies of this outside of the museum so I'm super impressed it's even acknowledged on Amazon. Must be the kindle edition that is pumping it up. :)

9. Manhattan Nocturne by Colin Harrison
A rather cheesy book I picked up from Arkadia on one of my trades. I knew I was in for a silly read when Cosmopolitan magazine (renowned for its ridiculous but hilarious sex articles in the States) was promoting it as a sultry read. Not the greatest book in the world, but hilarious beach-side entertainment for what it was worth.

10. The Shack by Wm. Paul Young
Surprisingly liberal take on God and the afterlife. A sad read, given the initial storyline, but I'm glad I read it because it changed the way I think about the holy spirit.

11. Diary by Chuck Palahniuk
First book I've read of his, despite being interested in reading the actual Fight Club novel that sparked the fabulous movie. Good and surprising; I didn't expect his books to read like mystery novels, given how Fight Club was portrayed. I am going to look further into his writings.

12. Bad Men by John Connolly
This was a mediocre thriller. I became enamored with this author after reading his The Book of Lost Things several years back. Seems that Lost Things was a fluke and the majority of his books are like this. Would probably be great as a made-for-television movie; just the right thrill, adventure, and cheese.

13. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Surprisingly good storyline, though saddening. This book had a lot more depth than I originally suspected, having spotted it in Target years ago and curious about it ever since. I would recommend this one for those who like historic mysteries and novels.

14. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
I've actually got nothing to say; it was entertaining and light.

15. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
After reading the first book last year, I felt I should finish the trilogy, especially since I had all of them already. Although I think these are great books from the point of entertainment and writing style, I actually don't love the grittiness that comes with this storyline. It's a bit too grotesque for me. There is so much graphic detail in the killing and abuse scenes that it's too visceral.

16. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
Had to finish the trilogy once I started going through this. Good for knowledge when watching the movies (I've seen all the Swedish ones and also the American remake), but again, not one of my favorite series, despite his captivating writing style.

17. Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Another book turned into a movie. I have also seen both the Swedish and American versions of this story (they're basically the same movie). The movies were great and the book was also good. Detached in the way Nordic writers tend to be. Definitely worth a read, and an interesting one at that.

18. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
My nominated best book of 2013. Very well-written and one of the first books that has made me rethink life perspectives and choices, especially in relation to having children. Am really interested in seeing the movie (which had a big entrance onto the independent film festival scene), but haven't gotten there yet. If you're fine with stories that have no likable characters and will make you seriously think, this one is one of those.

19. Silent House by Orhan Pamuk
I totally got suckered into this one at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport because I'd finished We Need to Talk About Kevin on the plane over and I had nothing to read on the way back and more dorkily, this author has won a Nobel Prize in Literature at some point in time, which said to me he was significant enough to read. I was at least trying to keep with my goal of noteworthy books by taking this one in. And it was one of the few choices I had in English at the airport (go figure). I thought it was fine; I could see how this author would have written something noteworthy; this book was all about a very particular time in the history of Turkey that I think most authors have overlooked. Something something peek into what life was like then and how complex the culture was, etc etc. Not my bag, but I don't feel cheated having read it.

20. Blankets by Craig Thompson
A beautiful graphic novel about growing up. Surprisingly emotional, which I did not expect. This was given to me (on loan) from JBL; he said I should read it, and I a day. "Raw" is the word I would use to describe it.

21. The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl
I loved the storyline of this book: scholars realize that a series of murders being committed are inspired by the seven levels of hell in Dante's Inferno. It has all the makings of a book I would love. It was alright though; I should have known that this might slightly let me down as I didn't really enjoy one of this author's other books: The Poe Shadow.

22. Color of the Sea by John Hamamura
Took me while to want to read this book but when I did, it was worth it. A lot like Shanghai Girls but with Japanese immigrants instead of Chinese.

23. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
24. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
25. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
I think it's easy to see why I read these all in succession after seeing "Catching Fire" in theaters, which was awesome and even better than the first movie. I just had to know how it ended, especially after finding out the third book is being split into two movies, so there will be four total. I wasn't going to wait another 3 years to find out what happened. So instead I read all of them in a week. Yes, a week. They're not long by any means but it did involve a lot of reading...especially when you consider the fact that in that week I only had one night where I was actually home after work. Not a lot of sleep, is the main conclusion of that.

This also broke the rule I'd made to myself about seeing movies first and then reading the books, so it's more like books are adding extra detail, rather than movies cutting out/changing essential or noteworthy parts. But oh well, you only live once and I was obsessed with the Hunger Games story once I saw the second movie (yes, that good).

26. Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James
27. Fifty Shades Darker by EL James
In my defense I'm reading these for popular knowledge; I want to know why so many people are drawn to them and what all the fuss was about. I have also done this for the Twilight Saga. Every book series deserves its fair chance and I wanted to know what made these so popular.

Two words: sex scenes. They're every other page at least and very explicit. I do admit that they're definitely written from a woman's point of view, in that they do a good job of going into the emotional aspects of sex but...

...the rest of the story is horrible. It's not particularly well-written and the base storyline, when stripped down, is exactly the same as Twilight:
Young girl, insecure, clumsy and inexperienced, meets too-good-to-be-true gorgeous man who is interested in only her. He's rich and powerful and they fall in love, mostly to the detriment of the girl. The girl has worries and doubts, is abused in various ways and feels bad about herself, but because of her feelings, continues with this horrible relationship despite her friends and family telling her it's no good.

What bothers me about this series (and I'm about to finish the third book, leaving no stone unturned) is the apparent choices for female main characters nowadays in mainstream series: on one hand we have the Bella Swans and Anastasia Steeles, and on the other hand we have the Katniss Everdeens. One set is insecure and lacking confidence, always thin and beautiful, who attract the deadly but gorgeous men, and the other set is rough, rugged, brusquely emotionless, yet can take care of herself.

There are many other shades of women in real life; so where are these?

Enough of my ramblings though; overall it was a brilliant year of reads. Nothing stood out as particularly bad (though if I'm forced to choose one it would might be Fifty Shades...maybe).

I'm happy to report that all my read books went to good places afterwards - either donated to my train station library, given to friends and coworkers to borrow (with no deadline), returned to their rightful owners, or left in my California home to be traded at a later date.

So here's to reading even more in 2014! I look forward to getting into the books I received for Christmas and others I've had in my queue. To every book for the right occasion.

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