Friday, January 9, 2009

A Year of Books

It's time to retire the reading list from 2008 and start a new one for 2009, so I'll post the whole shebang here to archive:

Reading List 2008
  • I See You Everywhere by Julia Glass
  • Iodine by Haven Kimmel
  • Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan
    The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
  • American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart poetry collection
  • I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
  • Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates
  • What Now? by Ann Patchett
  • Good Dog. Stay. by Anna Quindlen
  • The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
  • For Love of Common Words by Steve Scafidi
  • The Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs
  • The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta
  • Dinner Diaries by Betsy Block
  • Barefoot by Elin Hilderbrand
  • The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted by Elizabeth Berg
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • The Road to Cana by Anne Rice
  • Men and Their Mothers by Mameve Medwed
  • Look at Me: My Life with Aspberger's by John Elder Robison
  • The Used World by Haven Kimmel
  • Winter Study by Nevada Barr
  • The Rock that is Higher: Story as Truth by Madeleine L'Engle
  • The Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
  • A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas
It's a little shorter than you'd hope for a year's worth of reading, but really, I'm amazed I found the time for all of these, given the amount of time blog reading/writing, Facebook, and hours and hours of television usurped. Oh, and you know, taking care of my children and my house.

Over the next few days, I'll share my thoughts on a few of the more recent reads, starting with:

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld:
This is a fictionalized "imagining" of the life of Laura Bush, here called Alice Lindgren Blackwell. At first, the connection to the real life prominent figure is distracting, and sent me googling certain facts to see how they lined up with the authentic biography, but eventually I came to really enjoy the character in the context of the book, and enjoy her life for its own right. Sittenfeld supposedly is a big fan of Laura Bush, got some flack from her liberal friends for writing an essay in defense of her that later led her to write this book. I wouldn't say this book paints an entirely positive portrait of the Bushes, George W. in particular. I did find myself identifying quite a bit with Alice and her choices, and I think that's the sign of a well developed character. Others weren't quite as well defined. Charlie, her husband and eventual president, was a bit too uncomplicated. I guess you could say the same of W's public persona, but what I liked about the book was that she didn't do that for Alice's character. There's a large jump towards the end of the novel that makes the character of their daughter seem even more flat.

I've read all of Sittenfeld's novels, and while this one is in some ways a departure for her, it also has some common elements. There are times when Sittenfeld seems to be overly fascinated with the sordid. I don't want to give away any plot points for those that would like to read the book, but let's just say that there are sex scenes that are far more graphic than I would have liked, especially since the characters are modeled on actual people I have to see on the news on a daily basis. The storyline involving her grandmother also was distracting, not in its subject matter, but in its presentation. Alice is shocked about something she discovers in a way that seemed excessive. On reflection, I'm chalking it up to an accurate representation of the character's naivete and ultimate growth, but it's rare you read a book where there is such a lack of reflective analysis upon such memories from a first person narrator.

Another thing I found interesting about this book was the time period a good chunk of the book was set in. It seemed so odd to me to be reading about figures I think of as so much older than myself coming of age (living as a single, dating people in their early thirties) in the mid to late seventies. Not that there were a lot of references to make this setting distracting, but Alice does date a Vietnam vet for a time, and she is a school librarian, so the books she talks about were appropriate to my own childhood. I don't know why this struck me as it did -- I guess I just tend to think of "history" even of contemporary figures as so much more distant. I need to remember I am getting to be the age where I have a "history" as well, and that the incoming president is really only a decade older than myself, with cultural touch points not that different than my own.

Overall, this was a fascinating imagining of a life I'd wondered about myself. Whether it's accurate or not is a discussion that's maybe not the point, though it surely makes me a little interested in Laura Bush's upcoming memoir and what exactly it may reveal.

I'll try to find some time to share some thoughts on a couple other recent reads in the next week or so!


mep said...

American Wife is definitely on my to-read list. I have cut and pasted your 2008 list (though there is some overlap with my own) to my want-to-read list. I'm going to try for a little less t.v. in 2009, but that might just be the lack-of-good-programming-right-now-post-holiday-blues speaking.

CaraBee said...

I'm going to borrow your idea and keep track of what I'm reading. I haven't ever and I have no idea how many books I am actually reading. Also, might keep me on track in my goal to read more books that have more substance.