Tuesday, October 26, 2010

2010: January to June Favorite Reads

The best books I’ve read between January and June of 2010:

Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury. First time I’ve read this an adult. It’s not quite cohesive as a novel, but wallops a double-dose of nostalgia: Bradbury’s for his childhood, and mine, for reconnecting with an old beloved book.

Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin. Love this simple, rich story of a young woman’s maturation-through-immigration. Caution: there is one section that will make you cry buckets of salty, sad tears. I knew when I was in the middle of this tender novel that I wished it were three times as long. It's quiet and understated and elegant, this story of a young Irish woman who comes to America and finds her own strength and self. Reminiscent of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and an immersible world unto itself.

Underworld by Don DeLillo. Epic monster of a story that seems to presuppose the horrors of the 2000s by looking at the less-but-still horrific 1950s through the 1990s.*

True Grit by Charles Portis. My sister told me to read this years ago and, very typical to our family tradition, I bought it and then resisted, telling myself that I just didn't want to read a Western. Well, let me tell you that this is a quick, wonderful read, full of wiley characters and intrigue and snowy rides and lovable horses. Most of all, its narrator, Mattie, is a smart spitfire fourteen-year-old with courage and an almost pathological determination for justice mixed with vengeance in reaction to the senseless murder of her father. Read it!

When I Came West by Laurie Wagner Buyer. Memoir about a shy and naive woman who drops out of college to live with a Vietnam vet in Montana. He’s paranoid, controlling, and completely self-reliant. She’s eager to learn and finds her own capacity for surviving the harsh environment, inside the house and out.

If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, stories by Robin Black. Each story in this collection has its own loss, its own secret heart. They do exactly what short stories should, distill a moment in time in the life of a character, present a situation in its crisis or its quiet contemplation. My favorite story turned out to be the one I thought I wouldn't like, about a woman who's had a stroke, who must contend with the choices of her forty-year-old daughter. While I was reading many of these Black stories, I wondered how she got into my head and knew what I've been thinking about all my life.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower. The invented worlds of these Wells Tower stories are worlds I recognize from my childhood--the colors and language of anger and reaching out before jerking back, the bewildering lines of sex and alcohol and aimlessness too. Tower is a master of detail, all vital and snapping, shaping this universe that could easily be the underside of your daily routine. It was easy to sink into each story, to taste the bittersweet tang of missed opportunity and regretful behavior.

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Ishiguro is gifted and has complete control of his narratives. This dystopian novel about the ethics of cloning is a psychological and emotional minefield. Part psychodrama, part meditation on the pull of childhood, part cautionary tale about the potential perils of progressive biology, this story of children growing up together in a home, all pointed toward a shared and certain future, is grim and full of rich emotional tugs. Would be excellent discussion material for a book group. It’s going to be a movie. It won’t make as much sense as a movie. Just read it.

The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch. This is one of the weirdest novels I’ve read in years, with lots of twists, gorgeous narrative, and outlandish behavior on behalf of its arrogant, selfish narrator, Charles Arrowby. I couldn’t put it down. Written in 1978. An exhaustive exploration of the inside of obsession and jealousy, along with the lengths we might go to fulfill a perceived desire, acting only on impulse and caprice. Compared with many modern, hip and/or cynical novels, The Sea, the Sea is rich, intricate, and packed with both plot and ideas, unafraid to venture into the psyche to seek love and enlightenment. It doesn't matter whether or not you "like" the main character, Charles Arrowby. If you surrender to his telling, if you allow yourself to steep inside this novel's surges and strangeness and mystery, you will have opened yourself to a work of art.

Fun fact: It was not reviewed in the New Yorker, even though several of her earlier novels were, with varying degrees of insults.

Stay tuned for July-December, 2010 coming shortly.


  1. Yikes, Mrs. Tree. That's a huge list. And what were the cast offs, would be my question. Is there stuff you read that made you think, "Ugh. Can't believe I wasted my time on that."

    Posting your snail mail would not be a good idea, but I'm sure you've already thought of that. If you want to send me an email at lgranzyk@yahoo.com, I can forward your email to Lisa. I know she really wants you to have a broadside.

    I'm glad I found your blog. I knew you were book-ish, but wow!

  2. Oh yes, I definitely read some crap last year. And I bailed on a few of the worst ones. I'd say most of the books I read fall right in the middle.


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