Jane Brody, author
This is the time of year that I review all the books that I read through the previous year. This year I hit a personal high of 17 full books read.
Last year’s reading started with “Last Night Twisted River” by John Irving, which To paraphrase and take out of context, New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani, called this book a deeply felt and often moving story. In my notes about the books I read, I wrote this about Irving’s novel – It was a one family saga that at times was very moving. Pay attention to the first sentence – I do recall thinking about the story for a while I after finished it, which is always a good sign for me.
“The Humbling” by Philip Roth. Roth is an amazing writer. He is credibly smooth story telling. This is another story of an aging male, this one an actor, who realizes he lost his magic. I rather enjoyed it.
“The Meaning of Night, A Confession” by Michael Cox. I was in the mood for a mystery after Irving and Roth. From my notes, this story takes place in 19th Century England. Two murders take place in this heartbreaking story of how unfair the world can be.
“Point Omega” by Don DeLillo. This is a novella that provides no answers to the questions raised, but the language is wonderful and so are the descriptions.
“Ordinary Thunderstorms” by William Boyd. This novel captures how a life can turn around in a heartbeat from good to unbelievably bad.
“Miss O’Dell: My Hard Days and Long Nights with The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and the Women They Loved” by Chris O’Dell with Katherine Ketcham. This was fun reading and provided a bit of insight into the lives of mostly The Beatles, who she worked for at Apple for a number of years. I found out that George Harrison told Ringo that he loved Ringo’s wife. Eric Clapton fell in love with George Harrison’s wife. Chris O’Dell fell in love with Leon Russell. Besides who fell for whom there was who played on whose albums.
“A Reliable Wife” by Robert Goolrick. This was one of my favorites for the year because it was the one I still continue to think about. From the dusk jacket: For Ralph Truitt, the wealthy businessman who had advertised for “a reliable wife,” this was also to be a new beginning. Years of solitude, denial, and remorse, would be erased, and Catherine Land, whoever she might be, would be the vessel of his desires, the keeper of his secrets, the means to recover what was lost.
“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’ Brien, the 20th anniversary edition. I must have been watching The Pacific on HBO and got into a combat mood. Once I got into it I realized that I read much of it previously in various excerpted short stories about Vietnam. It captures the turmoil teenagers had to deal with regarding the draft and combat. This is very good and a classic.
“The Imperfectionists” by Tom Rachman. Each chapter is about another person in the newsroom. It started out slow, but I got into by the end. I think the reviews were a bit over the top. From the NYTimes Notable Books: This intricate novel is built around the personal stories of staff members at an improbable English-language newspaper in Rome, and of the family who founded it in the 1950s.
“Matterhorn” by Karl Marlantes is a book about second lieutenant Waino Mellas and his comrades in Barvo Company. The year is 1969 and Mellas, a reservist with an Ivy League education has been assigned to lead a rifle platoon of forty Marines, most of whom are teenagers. If you ever wondered what war was like and how you might hold up, I highly recommend this book. The story is all fiction, but you know it was written with a lot of truth from experience. Marlantes is a graduate of Yale University and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. He served as a Marine in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two purple Hearts, and ten air medals. This was his first novel. In my notes, I wrote that it was terrible what soldiers had to endure, which included battle, the elements, and management (higher ranking officers).
“Mr. Peanut” by Adam Ross. A first novel. It’s very good and extremely well written. This is a book that needs to be read twice to see all the clues. Or, you can do what daughter does, which is read the ending first so you can see the tricks and clues as you go along.
“Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” by Helen Simonson. A delightful old fashion love story set in an English village. I rather enjoyed and savored this book.
“The Brooklyn Follies” by Paul Auster. He captures marriage and divorce and even older kids. A truly satisfying book.
“All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost” by Lan Samantha Chang. Another favorite that I thoroughly enjoyed; from the dusk jacket: At the renowned writing school in Bonnerville, every student is simultaneously terrified of and attracted to the charismatic and mysterious poet and professor Miranda Sturgis, whose high standards for art are both intimidating and inspiring. In my notes, I wrote that I thought this was a great companion piece to Nicholson Baker’s “The Anthropologist.”
“The Vaults” by Toby Ball. A first novel. Not sure how I found this book, it may have been by cruising through Amazon. In either case, the book was not what I expected, but not all that unsatisfying either. Probably the weakness of the books I read this year.
“The Fall of Giants” by Ken Follett. After thoroughly enjoying “World without End” and “Pillars of the Earth,” I had to get this first book of a planned trilogy. This starts off during World War One. Not as good as former two books, but a nice set up to the next installment.
“Sunset Park” by Paul Auster was not as an enjoyable read as "The Brooklyn Follies," but this was still interesting only because it was very easy reading. No doubt an English class would have a lot of material here for analyzing this book, but for me it was a pleasant book and capped off my 2010 reading list.
Bits and pieces
The following are the books that I read when I don't feel like reading a novel. So, the myriad books that I have picked up and put down and picked up again include:
“Secret Historian: The life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade” by Justin Spring. This book was nominated for a few awards and raved about by critics. It was a mesmerizing and shocking book. Right from the dusk jacket: Drawn from the secret, never-before seen diaries, journals, and sexual records of the novelist, poet, and university professor Samuel M. Steward, Secret Historian is a sensational reconstruction of one of the most extraordinary hidden lives of the twentieth century. As an intimate fried of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Tokias, and Thornton Wilder, Steward maintained a secret sex life from childhood on and documented his experiences in brilliantly vivid (and often funny) detail. Steward worked closely with Alfred Kinsey on his landmark sex research.
“Life” By Keith Richards. I am not sure there is anything more to be said about this book. It's interesting, but I like it only in pieces.
"Dino, Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams" by Nick Tosches. Dean Martin's life is every bit as interesting, maybe more so, than Keith Richards. Richards was certainly more creative.
"Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language" by Patricia T. Conner and Stewart Kellerman. When did we Americans lose our British accent? Answer: we didn't lose it. The British once spoke pretty much as we do. The English accent that we now associate with educated British speech is a relatively new phenomenon and didn't develop until after the American Revolution.
"The Grand Design" by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. We are more insignificant that we ever imagined.