25. The Age of Shiva by Manil Suri
I didn’t realize it until after I picked up the book and started reading it, but the author is actually a professor at UMBC. Not that it’s relevant to how I felt about the book. I just thought it was interesting. The book takes place in India starting in the 1950’s and into at least the 1980’s. It might have even been a little later than that. It got hard to keep track of the time. It’s basically the story of one woman’s life after she becomes entangled in a misunderstanding that leads her to have to marry a man her family believes to be beneath her station in life and whose family is very different from the one she grew up in. The story follows the trajectory of her marriage and then her raising of her son. It was a pretty good book, but I felt like it was a bit too long. I was really enjoying at the beginning, but it started to drag for me at the end. The book wasn’t plot based at all, so I felt like the story could have been shortened and not dragged out for so long. By the end I was just ready to be done reading it. I give it a 7 out of 10.
24. I’m Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted: A Memoir by Jennifer Finney Boylan
The only reason I picked up this book is because I had read something else by the author and enjoyed it. Otherwise I probably would never have picked up something that had to do with ghosts and hauntings. The book is written by Jennifer Finney Boylan formerly James Boylan an author (obviously) and professor at Colby College in Maine. The first book I read by her was She’s Not Their, which chronicles Boylan’s decision to have a sex change operation.
In this book Boylan talks about the house she grew up in that seemed haunted to her. She discusses the haunting experiences she had, but mostly she talks about her feelings and experiences growing up and feeling not quite right and her desire to be a girl. She also goes into depth about her relationshi with her sister, which is only briefly touched on in She’s Not There. Although they were close growing up, Lydia has not spoken to Jenny since learning of her decision to become a woman.
So mostly the book really for the most part fills in more of the gaps from She’s Not There and provides a bit of an update. It was a good book, but I’m really getting kind of tired of these memoirists who write one bestselling memoir and then feel the need to continuously provide us with more information about their lives in more and more books. There are multiple ones out there at this point, but I’m specifically thinking of Augusten Burroughs. I enjoyed Running with Scissors. He second book Dry was okay. And I refused to read any more of the like 800 books he’s written since then because seriously find something else to write about or give it up. I don’t care about your life that much. So although I enjoyed this book and She’s Not There, it will be the last memoir I’m going to read by Jennifer Finney Boylan.
23. Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult
A prosecutor of many child sexual abuse cases finds out that her own 5 year old son has been sexually abused, and not believing that the system actually works takes matters into her own hands and shoots the perpetrator. The story covers finding out about the abuse, figuring out who the abuser is, and the ramifications of her actions. A pretty engaging book although not one of my favorites of hers. I give it an 8 out of 10.
22. The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
The story of three African immigrants in Washington, D.C. The story mainly focuses on Stephanos, an immigrant from Ethiopia who opens his own small market in Logan Circle. The book wasn’t bad, but I really just could not get into it for some reason. There were some really well written parts, but I just didn’t care about the characters at all, and I felt left hanging at the end of the book. I give it a 5 out of 10.
21. An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England by Brock Clarke
This book rather sucked. The main character is an idiot who could have avoided pretty much everything in his life by just telling the truth, but he never does. The plot is rather ridiculous as well. The book starts with the main character getting out of prison after 10 years. He was in there because as a teenager he accidentally set fire to the Emily Dickenson house and killed 2 people who happened to be in there at the time. He then creates a life for himself with a wife and children. But problems arise when the son of the 2 people he killed shows up out of nowhere 10 years later to exact his revenge. Then other writer’s homes in New England start getting burned down and the main character of course is accused and manages to unnecessarily get himself mixed up in all of it. Again if he had just told the truth it could have all been avoided. A pretty annoying book. I give it a 2 out of 10.
20. Blindsided: A Reluctant Memoir by Richard M. Cohen
I recently read Strong at the Broken Places also written by Cohen. In that book he touches on his own battle with MS and colon cancer, but doesn’t get into much detail as he had already covered it in this book Blindsided. It’s basically a memoir detailing getting diagnosed with MS and how it affected his life. He also concentrates on just the basic stuff of life like his jobs, meeting his wife Meredith Vieira, having their 3 children and how his MS and his battle with two different bouts of colon cancer have affected their lives together. He gives a good detail of the physical things and does try to touch on the emotional stuff, but having read his newer book first I actually felt like I got a better feel for his emotional state and reactions to his diseases in his brief allusions to them in Strong at the Broken Places. I thought that was interesting. It was a good book anyway. I give it a 7 out of 10.
19. The Doctor’s Daughter by Hilma Wolitzer
I really liked this book. It’s kind of hard to describe because mostly it’s a character piece. The main character Alice tries to figure out what is causing the uneasy feeling she has while dealing with a struggling marriage, a son who is involved in illicit activities, and a father who is dying of Alzheimer’s. She looks to her past and the relationship between her doctor father and poet mother to try and piece together events that she feels are haunting her. I give the book an 8 out of 10.
18. Her Last Death by Susanna Sonnenberg
If you follow book news in any way you probably saw the recent headlines about another memoirist falsifying her book this past week. Even worse than James Frey and his embellishments in a Million Little Pieces (which I read and totally hated before any of that stuff came to light, btw), Margaret B. Jones or in real life Margaret Seltzer totally made up a story about how she was the half caucasian half Native American foster child of some woman referred to as Big Mom, who grew up in the streets of LA becoming a gang member and eventually getting out and graduating from the University of Oregan. Turns out not a word of it is true. Her sister saw some interview with her in the NY Times and turned her in. She apparently grew up in an intact family really well off, went to private school. But never did graduate from the University of Oregan. It’s a shame that’s all made up because it sounded like a really good book and now the publisher has pulled it off the shelves.
At any rate I bring this all up because it all came out while I was reading Her Last Death, which itself is a pretty farfetched sounding memoir. It’s the story of the relationship between Susanna and her mother Daphne, and also her sister Penelope. It starts off with Susanna deciding not to fly down to Barbados to see her mother on what is supposed to be her final deathbed (she’s had others real and imaginary throughout the years) after she is hit by a car and remains in a coma for what turns out to be months. She then goes back through time explaining their rocky relationship and her mother’s drug abuse and insane behavior. She vilifies her mother, but her father who sounds pretty awful too, but is only mentioned in small segments, she apparently has forgiven.
According to the memoir she lived through some extraordinary things and knew a lot of famous people that her parents and grandparents knew over the years. It was kind of annoying because although she would name drop a few people like my Norman Mailer lived across the street and touched my hair as kid, but in most instances she would just say stuff like a famous rockstar that I’m not going to name, etc. It made it kind of hard to believe and made it more like she was making stuff up when she refused to name names.
It was an interesting story, but it’s definitely one that’s hard to believe is fully true. But perhaps it is. I have no way of knowing. And she’s pretty out there as a writer with pieces in many magazines and a regular column in her local Montana newspaper, so she’s probably more on the up and up than some of these other people at least.
It’s a pretty good read either way though. I give it a 7 out of 10.
17. The Gathering by Anne Enright
This book won the 2007 Man Booker Award. I usually really like the Man Booker Award winners, although I hated 2006’s. So I was looking forward to reading this one. I was a bit worried because after it won I saw a lot of press on it not being worthy and how it was way too depressing, etc. I wound up really liking it though. The story is told by a sister who is collecting her brother’s body from London and returning it to Ireland for the funeral. The story is kind of convoluted as you go back and forth in time with her going to get the body and being at home waiting for the funeral, and then the actual funeral itself. Interspersed is also her interpretation of the past when she and her brother were children, as well as her imagined story of her grandparents lives. It sounds kind of weird, but it fit together really well. It was a very well written book, and I enjoyed it greatly. I also didn’t think it was that depressing, so there all you haters. I give it an 8 out of 10.