23. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
As I was reading this book I pretty much compared it to Rabbit, Run by John Updike as well as the television show Mad Men. They both share a lot of the same themes about suburban ennui during the late 1950’s early, 1960’s. Rabbit, Run and Revolutionary Road were written about the same time and do both focus on that theme of how did I wind up in this dreary suburban life when at one time my life had so much more potential. As you may recall I hated Rabbit, Run. I did not feel the same way about Revolutionary Road. It’s really a character study of April and Frank who feel unfilled living their picture perfect suburban life. It’s a deep read and not at all a happy book, but if you actually liked Rabbit, Run or enjoy Mad Men you would probably like this book. I’m kind of curious about the movie now because I don’t see how well this book would translate to a movie. I feel like it would be rather boring, but I’ll probably watch it at some point just to find out. I rate the book 7 out of 10.
22. Night Watch by Sarah Waters
I really enjoyed this book. It takes place in London at the beginning, end, and after WWII except in reverse order. The story involves a number of people most of them coupled in some way whose lives intertwine in various ways throughout the story. It took me awhile at the beginning to get a hang of all the characters because there are quite a few, but after that it wasn’t a problem. The book definitely keeps you engaged because the story starts in 1947 and you learn things about what happened to the characters in the past to bring them where they are now, but it’s all very cryptic. The next section of the novel is 1944, which answers some of those questions but also brings up new ones. The final section 1941 ties together all the loose ends in regards to the past. However, my one complaint with the book is that I felt like the 1947 part really leaves you hanging as to what is going to happen to the characters in the present/future, but you never return once you start heading into the past. A well-written, engaging book though. I rate it 8 out of 10.
21. Shelf Life: Romance, Mystery, Drama, and Other Page-Turning Adventures from a Year in a Bookstore by Suzanne Strempek Shea
I read one other non-fiction book by this author and really enjoyed it, so I added some of her other titles to my to-read list. She also writes fiction books, which I have not read any of. I really enjoyed this book as well, so perhaps I’ll have to check out some of those.
This book describes her experience working in a small non-chain bookstore after recovering from cancer. She was working in the bookstore at the same time I was working at Barnes and Noble so I remember dealing with a lot of the same books she talks about, so that added another layer for me. But I’m sure anyone who has worked in a public services job can relate to the story. There were a few times I felt like she got excessive with lists of things like titles, genres, etc., but other than that I have no complaints about the book. A quick, fun read. I give it 8 out of 10.
20. American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America’s Backroads by Pascale Le Draoulec
The author regales us with her cross country drive from California to New York stopping in small towns and big cities along the way looking for pie. She repeats the trip the following summer following a southern route and also has a few side trips throughout the year in-between. It’s a kind of whimsical book with her talking to people in small-town America about pie and how it relates to their lives. The book is also interspersed with recipes for pie she picks up along her journeys. It makes you really want to eat some pie. I give it a 7 out of 10.
19. My Dream of You by Nuala O’Faolain
I really only picked this book up because I was running out of the books I brought on vacation with me and someone left it in our villa. It seemed like it was my best option among the Da Vinci Code and James Patterson type books that abounded. After finishing Prep I was not in the mood for another book about a woman with no self-esteem and that you really just couldn’t get behind because her actions were so self-destructive for no apparent reason. Unfortunately that is what I got. This book is about Kathleen de Burca an Irish woman who fled to London at the age of 20 and is now just returning 30 years later to research a love affair between an English aristocratic woman and one of her servants at the end of the Irish potato famine. The story goes back and forth between Kathleen’s present life, her past life in both her childhood and later after she left Ireland, and the story between the lovers that she is researching. I didn’t really care for this book. I give it a 4 out of 10.
18. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
The first book by the author of one of my favorite books from last year (American Wife). Unfortunately this book does not come anywhere close to being as good as American Wife. The writing style was still good, but like with Rabbit, Run I just really didn’t like the main character, Lee. She was whiny and self-absorbed with horrible self-esteem, and by the end I just didn’t care. The story follows her through 4 years of boarding school. She’s made out to be some poor rube from Indiana who is somewhat out of place at boarding school. It’s obvious that her classmates don’t feel about her the way that she thinks they do, and it just gets old listening to her constant self-pity when you know it’s her own fault that she basically has no friends. In some ways it reminded me of I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe in that that book was also about a girl from the sticks who went away to school and felt like she didn’t fit in, although that book takes place in college and Prep is in high school. I like I Am Charlotte Simmons much better though. I give this book a 4 out of 10.
17. Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
This is actually a Young Adult book, so it was a really quick read. I really enjoyed it though. The story centers around Naomi, who loses her memory of the past 6 years after falling down a flight of stairs at her high school. She tries to piece back together her relationships, and reexamines where her life has apparently ended up without remembering how she got there. I give it an 8 out of 10.
16. Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Relin tells the story of how Mortenson almost loses his life during a botched attempt to climb K2 and winds up recovering in a small Pakistani village. He vows to return and build a school in the village, which begins his quest to build schools in small villages throughout the region. It’s a compelling story, and the work that Mortenson has accomplished is truly inspiring. I did feel that Mortenson was somewhat glamorized though. Relin occasionally will make a statement about Mortenson’s personality or behavior that makes you think there’s more to the story, but he always glosses over it seemingly wanting to keep the story focused on Mortenson’s accomplishments. I also found the writing to be a bit jarring at times. The majority of the book is written as a story being told by Relin. However, he occasionally throws in a quotes from Mortenson or other people he spoke to during his research for the book. I don’t feel like he integrated them very well. The fact that I noticed when he did this instead of them just flowing with the story indicates that they weren’t very well integrated. Despite it’s flaws it really is an excellent book with an amazing story. I give it 7 out of 10.
15. Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin by Norah Vincent
Vincent decides to check herself in to 3 different mental institutions: one public, one private, and one kind of new agey place to examine their differences. The story doesn’t quite follow her initial goal, as Vincent, who has experienced major depressive episodes in the past, falls into a major depression after checking out of the public institution. Thus the final 2/3 of the book where she examines the other 2 institutions become more about her own treatment than the institutions themselves. I don’t think this necessarily detracted from the book as some reviews I saw did. It just gives it another dimension. She spends about 10 days in each institution. She writes about her experiences in each place, the kinds of people she meets there, the kinds of treatments offered, and whether she thinks institutionalization is effective. I thought it was a thought-provoking book that offered good insight into one aspect of treating mental illness. I give it a 7 out of 10.
14. The Road to McCarthy: Around the World in Search of Ireland by Pete McCarthy
Part history, part travel writing memoir. The author travels around to various parts of the world where Irish emigrants have settled. His travels take him to places like Tasmania, Tangiers, New York City, Montana, and Alaska. An interesting book with wry humor. Fans of Bill Bryson’s books or ‘Round Ireland with a Fridge would enjoy this book. I plan to go back and read McCarthy’s first book, McCarthy’s Bar. I give it a 7 out of 10.