7. Emily, Alone by Steward O’Nan
Another advanced readers copy that I picked up for free at ALA Midwinter. I have long had some other O’Nan books on my to-read list, but for whatever reason had never actually read anything by him until now. I actually really enjoyed this book, but feel like it is something that very few people would like. In order to appreciate this book you would definitely need to be into books that are purely character study as there is entirely no plot in this book. The novel revolves around Emily, an 80 year old widow living in Pittsburgh. Her children and grandchildren all live at a distance and she regrets not getting to see them frequently. She spends most of her time with her equally elderly sister-in-law. The book is really a chronicle of her thoughts and actions over a years time. I O’Nan did an excellent job of capturing this time in someone’s life, and it made me reflect on my own aging grandmother and parents-in-law and how little I get to see them. An excellent read if you appreciate these types of novels. I give it an 8 out of 10.
6. When You Were Mine by Elizabeth Noble
I received a free copy of this book at ALA Midwinter. It isn’t something I probably would have actively sought out to read, but since I had it I decided to read it. It was a really quick read and more along the lines of chick lit/romance, which is why it is something I normally wouldn’t have read. The story revolves around a woman who is involved in a faltering relationship with a man she has been living with for 10 years. During the same time her best friend gets diagnosed with cancer and she reconnects with her high school boyfriend. Some parts of the book take you back into the past to describe her high school relationship and how she ended up where she is now. It was an okay read. I’m not sure if someone who likes this genre would care for it more than I did. It’s probably worth checking out if you like these types of books. I give it a 5 out of 10.
5. Plastic: A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel
I received this book as an e-galley from NetGalley. After reading it I now know more about plastic than I ever thought possible. This is not necessarily a bad thing, I just had no idea how much there was to know about plastic. Freinkel looks at plastic through the lens of ordinary plastic things we encounter each day with each chapter devoted to a specific plastic object:comb, chair, Frisbee, IV bag, disposable lighter, grocery bag, soda bottle, and credit card. Each chapter delves into the specific type of plastic involved in making the item, the history of the item itself and it’s production, and the larger implications. Although she definitely touches on the environmental impact of plastic the book is not a flat out plastic is entirely evil stop using it now type screed. It is a very well researched book that is designed to make you think about plastic and its uses for good or ill. It definitely opened my eyes to just how much plastic exists in my life. With all the information about the types and manufacturing of plastic it is pretty science heavy, but is still very readable. It’s just not a light read. I give it a 7 out of 10.
4. The Awakening (The Vampire Diaries #1) by L.J. Smith
I admit I am entirely addicted to the television show The Vampire Diaries. It like the other vampire show currently on television, True Blood, is based on a series of books in this case young adult novels. I tried to read the Sookie Stackhouse series True Blood is based on and had to quit after the first book I found the writing so awful. When I saw The Vampire Diaries available to check out as ebooks from my public library I decided to give them a try too. These books were written in the early 90s so actually predate the current vampire craze and even Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Since the television show started after all the other vampire stuff came out many people falsely believe that this series is a rip-off from Twilight, but if anything it’s the other way around. There were definitely some passages in this book that I felt were almost exactly the same as some stuff in Twilight. Interestingly I found more similarities between Twilight and this book than I do between the book and the television show. There are several characters in the book that don’t exist in the show and vice versa and the back stories for the characters that do exist are quite different. I particularly dislike the lead character, Elena in the books. She comes across very differently in at least this first book than she does in the show. I much prefer the show to this book, but unlike the True Blood books I’ll probably finish off this series. It seems so different than the show I’m not really worried about spoiling anything for myself and although some of it seems a bit surfacey I don’t think the writing is bad but merely written for a young adult audience. I give it a 5 out of 10.
3. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachmann
I read this book for one of my book clubs. I really didn’t enjoy it that much. The writing in the novel was good, so I can see how other people might really like this book. It just wasn’t my cup of tea for two reasons. First, the story revolves around a paper written in Italy written for American ex-pats around the world. Each chapter is focuses on a new character who has ties to the paper in some fashion, most of them being the journalists who work there. It’s really more of a book of short stories with a common thread than it is a novel. I am really not a fan of the short story genre at all, so I had a hard time getting in to this book. Second, every single character in the book has a horribly depressing life. There are a lot of characters since each chapter is about a new person and not a single one of them has any sort of happy life. It was doubly hard for me to get into a book where every single character is entirely miserable. I already know at least one other person in my book club really enjoyed the book, so as I said even though I didn’t care for it the writing is such that others might actually really like it. I give it a 4 out of 10.
2. Danger to Self: On the Front Line with an ER Psychiatrist by Paul R. Linde
I love medical oriented books and I have a Masters in Counseling so I was really looking forward to reading this book. Linde shares stories of his time serving as an ER psychiatrist with each chapter focusing on one patient. I felt like Linde had a hard time stepping out of his doctor role and into the shoes of readers without medical degrees. I’m highly academic and I found some of it a bit much, so I don’t think this book would hold high appeal for the general populous. I also didn’t find it as engaging as I had hoped. There were some really interesting cases though, and he did a good job of examining his own reactions to the patients. I give it a 6 out of 10.
1. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande
I read several books last year regarding patient safety specifically focusing on using checklists, so I wasn’t sure that I was going to get much out of this book. I have enjoyed previous books by Gawande though so I did want to read his take on the issue. I’m glad I read it because it was completely different than the other books I read on the issue. He does talk about developing and using checklists in medicine, most specifically surgery. However he also talks about the barriers to using checklists and the use of checklists in other professions such as construction, investing, and aviation. He touches on why checklists do and do not work. It came at the issue in a totally different manner than other books I had read, so it was a good complement to what I already knew. Gawande is always an engaging writer on medical issues and this book is no exception. I give it an 8 out of 10.
I always like to do a little year end wrap up with the best books I read in the previous year. Unfortunately looking back through my reviews for 2010 it appears that I read very few books that I would consider great reads. The one book that I knew would be on my list as soon as I read it was one of the first books I read in 2010, which was the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. You can read my review of it here. That would definitely be my choice for best book of the year, and I have seen it listed on pretty much every best book list for 2010. I obviously fully support that. I always like to choose at least one non-fiction and one fiction book. I didn’t like any fiction books I read nearly as much as I liked the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but looking back at my reviews the fiction book I gave my highest rating was Little Bee by Chris Cleave. You can read my review of it here. Hopefully I’ll read some better books in 2011.
76. The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us by Christopher Chabris
This book by a Harvard psychologist is a really interesting look at how things like our memories and observations really don’t work the way they think we do and how our perceptions of how they should work influence the way we live our lives. The author talks about a number of psychological experiments that show how our memories and perceptions work and applies them to real life situations to exhibit how our misconceptions about how these things should work influence our beliefs and actions. I found it to be a really fascinating book that will hopefully help me think more about the way I’m perceiving things. I give it an 8 out of 10.