Reading Year in Review

Mr. FezLast year, I reflected on my year in reading, and I felt it appropriate to do so this year as well. If I were feeling really ambitious, I would reflect on the decade, but I’m frankly not feeling that ambitious—well, other than to say my favorite reads of the decade are J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

This year I read or listened to 29 books (six more than last year), the first of which was The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, my favorite new author discovery of the year. I read the following books (my reviews are linked if I wrote one; if not, the link will take you to the Amazon page for the book):

Not that plowing through books in order to increase your book count is the most important thing about reading, but I have discovered three new ways to pack more reading in: 1) audio books in the car (I may be the last person on earth to figure this out); 2) reading two or three books at at time, which is weird, but does help me read more than I would if I did one at a time (must be the way my reading habits work); and 3) books on the iPhone (Stanza, Classics, Kindle, or the like). When the lights have to go out at night or when I’m stuck somewhere, I have my phone with me (my iPhone has an alarm clock on it, and I set it to wake me up—works even if the power goes off, so yes, I guess I’m paranoid), so I can get some reading done. The iPhone book reader apps are backlit, which means I can read even in the dark without disturbing my husband.

Some thoughts:

  • Jim Dale is an excellent reader of J.K. Rowling’s books. I haven’t listened to too many audio books. As I said, they’re a new discovery, but he is excellent.
  • Possibly my favorite book in this bunch (that I read for the first time) is The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.
  • Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was an exceptionally good biography and the best nonfiction I read this year.
  • I read five classics this year (and one book that is becoming a classic—Grendel). Not too bad as getting through some of the classics is a goal of mine.
  • Six Jasper Fforde books and seven J.K. Rowling audio books make series fantasy the dominant genre this year.
  • Best villain: Count Fosco in The Woman in White. Much more likable and well-developed than Voldemort, not as heinous and over-the-top as Black Jack Randall.
  • Best protagonist: Thursday Next in the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde.
  • I didn’t finish any book challenges this year. Let’s hope I do better next year. 😉

photo credit: quinn.anya

Alice Hoffman Goes Nuts on Twitter

Social networking can be a great vehicle for artists to get closer to their fans. The glimpse into the lives of artists as people and to possibly even interact with those artists are important reasons why I think so many people follow celebrities on Twitter (full disclosure, I follow Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Wil Wheaton, Michael Ian Black, John Hodgman, Joe Hill, and Neil Gaiman on Twitter). Of course, I this sort of transparency is probably not a good thing if those glimpses into the lives of artists reveal them to be, well, jerks.

Gawker posted a story about writer Alice Hoffman, who was enraged by a lukewarm review of her work by Roberta Silman in The Boston Globe. It was reminicent of when Anne Rice freaked out on Amazon reviewers. Listen, as a writer myself, I know it doesn’t feel good for someone to criticize your work, but it’s going to happen. Not everyone is going to like everything you write. They just won’t. I cannot for the life of me figure out why Amazon reviewers rated Alice Hoffman’s book Blackbird House so highly. I really didn’t like it. To be honest, in terms of a more critical and accurate rating, I think the Goodreads rating is probably closer. I gave the novel three stars on Goodreads. The current ratings for the book at Amazon and Goodreads vary by approximately one star. File that information away for next time you get a book based on good Amazon reviews and find yourself disappointed (check Goodreads!).

What’s ridiculous about Hoffman’s infantile tirade is that she’s been writing for long enough that she should know criticism comes with the territory, which also means that not every review is going to be glowing. In fact, some might even be bad. The sad thing for Hoffman is seeing her public reaction will likely turn some readers off her works. I already didn’t like the one book I read, but I wouldn’t have ruled out reading another book. You know what though? I have now. She showed absolutely no class. If, as she claims, she was truly just disappointed that the reviewer gave away too much of the plot, then why not take the high road and say something like “Disappointed that Roberta Silman spoiled too much the plot in her review” and leave it at that? And cloaking her bad behavior under the guise of defending herself or feminism was just sad. I have no desire to support someone who acts like that with my purchases or even my patronage of her books in the library. She learned a tough lesson: anything that goes on the Web can’t really be deleted.

Update: Alice Hoffman issued what is, in my opinion, a weak apology for her Twitter rant. Anytime someone starts out by saying “I feel this whole situation has been completely blown out of proportion,” well, anything that follows just sounds insincere.

Second Update: If you want to see Alice Hoffman’s entire “Twitter meltdown,” download this PDF (Thanks, Steve!).

New York Times Review of The Lace Reader

The New York Times posted a review of Brunonia Barry’s novel, The Lace Reader.  I thought the review was very fair and quite accurate, particularly about Towner’s creative writing stopping the forward motion of the plot, which was something I couldn’t articulate when I wrote my own review.  Still, I think the book is well worth a read.  Check it out!

When I have an opportunity, I’ll post my review of Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue, which I finished reading last night.  I am embarking on a re-read of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows before I turn back to new literature.

Times Book Reviews

New York Times book reviews filled my RSS reader this morning.  So I can close some tabs in my browser, I will tell you about the books that caught my eye.

How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz is an autobiographical account of the children’s author’s arrival in Turkistan as a refugee from Warsaw in 1939.  His father goes to the market, but comes back home with a map instead of food for the family.  As a child who loved globes and maps (still do), I can relate to the protagonist’s discovery of the world through maps.  [Read the review.]

As the reviewer notes, biographies of Robert Frost are certainly common enough, but Brian Hall’s Fall of Frost is a novelized biography of the poet.  How does it work?  In the eyes of the reviewer, not so well.

Richard Bausch’s account of a murder committed by a soldier in WWII, Peace examines “how to preserve justice and personal integrity amid war’s insanity.”  The novel begins with a soldier’s murder of a German woman.  According to the reviewer:

Great writing about war — by Primo Levi, Erich Maria Remarque, Wilfred Owen — asks the same questions. What would you do? How can you bear witness? How can you preserve dignity and humanity in an inhuman struggle? These are the most (perhaps the only) important questions in conflict, and they always have been, whether the battle is fought in Amiens, Anzio or Abu Ghraib.

I learned that the OED has no plans to publish another print edition of the dictionary.  Doesn’t surprise me.  None of my students even think of turning to a dictionary on the bookshelf in order to complete their vocabulary assignments for my class.  When I point them toward one of these archaic devices after they have complained about finding the etymology for one of their vocabulary words, the response is usually something like, “Oh yeah, those things still exist.”  Perhaps the OED online wouldn’t be such a bad thing?  Then again, never having owned any print version of an OED dictionary, maybe I don’t have the same attachment to a print OED that the article’s author has.  Well, change is always hard, isn’t it?

Louise Erdrich has a new novel.  The Plague of Doves is the story of a public lynching of several Native Americans that haunts a small North Dakota town decades after it took place.  The novel’s multiple narrators attempt to unravel the story of who really committed the crime for which the Native Americans were lynched, but, as the reviewer notes, the real story is the complicated web of relationships among the town’s residents.  The genealogist in me can’t resist a book with that kind of description.

Is anyone else kind of annoyed by James Frey’s posts at the Amazon blog?  I mean, today it was a link to a review of his own book in Time, which bothered for some reason I can’t put my finger on.

I think I’ll be finishing The Book of Air and Shadows today, so peek in later for the review.  It won’t be pretty.