Thursday, December 25, 2008

Overview for 2008

I have never done this before, but I feel like taking a look at what I have read this year. I look though my blog around Christmas every year, because from this list I choose books to give to friends. I also like to put the past year's books into an Excel file, so I can do some sorting by author, year, etc. This year at times I haven't been as diligent recording books I've read, so I might have missed some, and I usually don't include any Latvian reading I have done, though I don't do much - maybe it is out of embarrassment on how little I read in Latvian. Even so, by the end of the year I should have about 60 books under my belt, and I feel this is pretty OK, considering my busy life. At this point I have 58 books in my list, 19 of them published in 2008. Actually most of what I read is recent - 72% from the last four years. It is wonderful to not be constrained by any required reading, so I just read what interests me, what lands in my scope of awareness. And since most of what I "read" I actually listen to, it means that my Audio Books store is highly influential in my choices. They get all the bestsellers, and that is the shelf I tend to browse first, and at times I will ask their advice, especially when I'm looking for some light reading.

My biggest find and joy was Geraldine Brooks. People of the Book was immediately my favorite book of the year, and then a patron at the library suggested other books by her, so I read every book she has written, except for March, which I will tackle this coming year. I couldn't wait till Christmas, so I started sharing People of the Book with friends earlier in the year. I liked all her books, but the one that blew me away was Nine Parts of Desire: the Hidden World of Islamic Women. That too was shared earlier in the year.

I also followed up on previous favorite authors, such as Elizabeth Gilbert with her book of short stories Pilgrims and the biographical Last American Man, both good but not as inspiring as Eat, Pray, Love. From Louise Erdrich I read her latest - Plague of Doves.

I went to Sweden for a couple of days this March and wanted to read something by Swedish authors. I picked up a few books there, got a few more back home. The best was Stieg Larsson's Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, first of a mystery trilogy and the only one translated into English. That led me to a book by one of my favorite children's authors - Astrid Lindgren, and I got an old beat-up copy of Bill Bergson, Master Detective.

[I will post this, though incomplete, to make sure I don't forget to continue it.]

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Widows of Eastwick by John Updike (2008)

Another one I missed entering in here. I read in Time magazine how three well known authors had revisited former works. At some point not too long ago I read Updike's Witches of Eastwick, having loved the movie. Now he has written a sequel - the Widows of Eastwick. The same three "witches", after their husbands die, start traveling together, finally deciding to go back for a summer in Eastwick. I enjoyed this book about women getting older. Again, I wish I had written this right after reading it.

Beach House by Jane Green (2008)

I read this a couple of months ago and could have sworn I wrote up a blurb somewhere, but it's not here, so I just want to record that I read this. An eccentric older woman lives alone in Nantucket, but can't afford to maintain the large house, so she takes on boarders. We get to hear each person's story - what brings them to Nantucket - and all are looking for something. The way they all connected was a bit too much, but it was a nice story, I liked the characters and the writing.

Friday, December 19, 2008

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (2001)

This translation from Turkish is written as one of my favorite genres - art history fiction. Set in Istanbul of 1591, it tells the story of a group of miniaturists or artists that illustrate texts, full of details of the art and thinking behind the art of those days. It is also a mystery, as it starts out with a murder and it is written in a very interesting manner (there must be some name for this style), where each chapter furthers the story in the voice of a different character - well the eight or so main characters, plus the corpse, a dog, a horse, Satan, dervishes, the color red, etc.

Maybe the fault lay with the fact that I was listening to this, and I seem to do better with foreign names when I see then visually than hear them. Maybe that I am totally unfamiliar with all the stories and legends alluded to in the book. Maybe because I couldn't see the art the author was describing. (Don't I complain about this on all the art history novels?) But I wished the book was half as long. I finally checked it out from the library - originally to double check spellings of things, to flip back to something I hadn't understood, but then I couldn't take it anymore and I just read it till it was finished - faster and with the ability to skim when wanting to skip over something quickly and reread something I hadn't understood. The author is well reknown throughout Europe, winner of prizes, translated in many languages... or maybe I just wasn't intellectual enough for this book.

But not all is lost. I did get a sense of this part of the world - what, when, where WAS the Ottoman Empire? I did enjoy the stories of the apprentices coming to work for master minituarists. Coffee plays a role, considered decadent by some. Of course women have a rough time, but they actually did have the right to divorce - especially when their husband doesn't return home for years. It took me a while to catch on that the relationship between masters and apprentices wasn't all OK and that there was a lot of pedaphelia going on. One passage explained that if women walked around uncovered, men would walk around erect. And to take care of urges that couldn't be normally satisfied, they used prostitutes and young boys. Great :(

Interesting how much art development depended on the patron, in this case the Sultan. The next Sultan wasn't interested in art and illustrated texts weren't made in his time. Then there is the controversy between Muslim and "Frankish" (Europpean?) art, where in the latter individuality of the artist is encouraged, as is depiction of actual people, instead of copying old masters without variation.

The story? One of the artists is murdered at the very beginning, and we find out who it is at the very end. There is Master Osman and his studio of artists, where the best are called Butterfly, Olive and Stork. There is Enishte, Shekure's father, who has been commissioned by the Sultan to put together a unique book, and he uses all the best artists from Osman's studio. Then there is Black, who has been in love with Shekure since childhood, but who has been gone many years to war and the world. Shekure's husband has not been back from the war for four years and she has moved with her two boys back in with her father, avoiding her husbands brother. Black would like to marry her. At one point to determine which artist is the murdered, Osman requests to be allowed into the Sultan's treasure room to look at all the old books. This seems a ploy to give us a history and influences on all the books of the times. In the audio format I couldn't absorb much of this. Interesting, but not one I will recommend further.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Divine Justice by David Baldacci (2008)

This continues the story begun in Stone Cold and takes Oliver Stone out of the DC area into a small mountainous town in Virginia, as he has to lay low for killing a couple of people. Ends up uncovering a huge problem in this gentle town. All the Camel Club members participate.

Stone Cold by David Baldacci (2007)

Baldacci has become one of my favorite spy novelists. This continues the story line of the Camel Club after the Collectors (where someone is killed in the Library of Congress). The plot is too complex to even begin to retell, but someone is killing off Oliver Stone's (AKA John Carr's) former colleagues in the super secret Triple 6 division. Then we have Annabelle Conroy running from crazy casino owner Jerry Bagger, whom she conned for killing her mother.

Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley (2008)

Wasn't expecting much, but found a delightful and very funny book about our presidency and Supreme Court. Judge Pepper Cartwright is a judge, but works on TV, like Judge Judy. Since the president can't get his real candidates through, he offers Cartwright up as a nominee for the Supreme Court, and she gets the job.

Paper Towns by John Green (2008)

"Quentin has been in love with Margo for years, so when she includes him in a madcap night of escapades and then disappears, he feels compelled to search for her and to learn why she is so unhappy. This suspenseful and emotionally taut story of self-discovery and compassion is laced with smart-aleck humor and graceful prose." School Library Journal