Monday, June 28, 2010

What Happens When You're Spending Your Time Reading Like a Maniac

"No shame in saying that I felt a loneliness drifting through me. Funny how it waws, everyone perched with their own tale, beginning in some strange middle point, the trying so hard to tell it all, to have it all make sense, logical and final."
Let the Great World Spin

I'm finding that sometimes, life gets in the way of even the most well-intentioned plans like keeping a blog, for instance. I haven't updated here since APRIL?! How have I become so detached from something that I was so excited about?! But never fear, dear Reader--for, although my blog-writing goals have fallen to a dusty way-side, my reading habits have grown and developed. In fact, I have been simply devouring books to the point where I wonder where I find time to do much else (and those around me worry about my well-being). I can blame one word on my recent obsessive reading--SUMMER. When I was still in school (okay... I'm still "in school," but I'm talking about real school here) the idea of summer meant way more free time than I knew what to do with, which usually meant that I ended up longing for school and filled my days splitting my energies between swimming, beating up my brother, sucking down gallons of fruit punch Kool Aid, and getting lost in book worlds. Even though I am not in real school anymore--meaning that those summers are supposed to be out of reach to me now--I refuse to give up my insanely long "to read this summer" lists and hours-long reading-fests.

Suck on that adult-world. You can't keep me down!

So, to kick off the summer (a little late), I thought I'd give you an idea of the things I have been reading! So... since Little Bee, the most notable books I've read have been:

The Swan Theives by Elizabeth Kostova--This is Kostova's newest book (and she's coming to the National Book Festival! Yay!), and although I think I had higher expectations for it, I still liked it. The book follows a psychologist who has a patient who recently tried to take a swipe at a painting in the National Gallery of Art (how fitting!! I was a little disappointed to find out that the painting doesn't exist...) and although the man won't talk about why he tried to ruin the painting, the psychologist soon becomes entangled in an ages-old mystery and, soon, in his patient's life. It's a fun mystery-type book--well written, although some of the story lines are a little hard to believe, but that's fiction for you! This book made me want to learn more about painting and art, and happy to be working at the National Gallery, even though I don't see art, really--at least I'm close!

The Last Station by Jay Parini--This was recently adapted into a movie (for which Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren were both nominated) and well worth the read! I don't know anything about Leo Tolstoy, so I really cannot attest to the historical accuracy of this historical fiction piece, but after I finished the book, I looked some things up, and it seems pretty true to life! The story is told from several perspectives of the people who surround Leo Tolstoy in his final weeks of life, the most notable of which are his wife (whom every hates), his daughter, his servant, and his "manager," but you never hear from Tolstoy himself. It's an interesting story about what seemed to be a very troubled, though revered life.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann--If you pick up none of these other books, please do yourself a favor and choose this one to read. I loved this book. Let the Great World Spin won the National Book award for 2009, and rightly so. This story follows several characters around a central event which is the real-life occurance of a man who strung a tightrope between the Twin Towers and walked it in 1974. The characters are vivid and beautifully written and include a judge, his wife who cannot get over her son's death in Vietnam and meets with a support group for it, a monk who is having trouble with his faith, a prostitute, a young boy with a penchant for graffiti, and the tightrope walker himself. This book is wonderfully written and real, and really speaks to a post-9/11 world well. The ways that all of the stories line up (or don't) is brilliant and reveals the connectivity of us all under an umbrella of tragedy, hope, and spectacle. Seriously. Read this book.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Scaffer and Annie Burrows--Let me be frank--I put off reading this book because it was one of those ones that EVERYONE was talking about, and I'm typically not pulled in by the popularity of a book. But, I was at the library one day and spotted it and figured I'd give it a shot. I'm so glad I did. This epistolary novel (which is so awesome because it's so hard to find a good one and they're my favorite kind!) is comprised of letters written right after World War 2 between a woman writer in London and a group of people in Guernsey (an island in the Channel) who formed a book club in response to German occupation. The letters become more detailed and they all begin to grow a bond. This is a fun, touching, and easy read that is definitely suited for the beach!

The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow--If you are female, this should be on the top of your to-read list. Zaslow was the man who helped Randy Pausch put The Last Lecture on paper, and he does an excellent job with this book. This non-fiction read tells the story of a group of friends from Ames, Iowa who have been friends since grade school. There are 11 in all (although one did pass away in their early twenties) and they still get together to this day even though they are spread all around the country. Many of the girls have had tragedy, although one more so than others, and it is an amazing thing to see how these women come together even after so many years. Zaslow does a great job of interspersing information about female friendships throughout the story and it really made me think about my own friendships and how much I cherish them. This is non-fiction, but reads like fiction.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon--When my book club voted on this book, I rolled my eyes, but read it anyway since I had missed the last meeting. Oh. My. God. Even though it is almost 500 pages, I finished it in four days because I simply could not put it down. I am not someone who really likes mysteries or suspense stories, but Zafon knows how to tell a good story. The story is about a boy whose father owns a used-book store. One day he is given the chance to pick one book from the "Cemetary of Books" and he chooses The Shadow of the Wind by an obscure author whom he had never heard of and soon learns that all of the books the author has written have been burned by an anonymous man. The boy soon learns everything he can about the author and becomes involved in a tangled reality of death, disguises, burning books, love, and post-Spanish civil war politics. So awesome. It's really a great read, and I can't wait to talk about it at book club this week! Also, note that this was originally written in Spanish and has been translated... the prose is fantastic.

That's about all the time I have to write about, but here's what else I've read since my last update, and I'd be happy to discuss any of them with you and give you my opinions!

Alice Have I Been by Melanie Benjamin
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (yes, again)
The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha (based on the blog which is pure gold)
Dancing for Degas by Kathryn Wagner
Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
His Excellency George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis
I See You Everywhere by Julia Glass (I'm reading her first book right now and loving it so far! She's coming to the National Book Festival too!)
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (good God, do I love Faulkner!)
The Red Tent by Anita Diament (better than I thought it would be.. I really liked it actually!)
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (yes, this is a children's book.. but Paterson is coming to the National Book Festival and she's the new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.. I couldn't resist! Jacob Have I Loved, here I come!)
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski (yes, again. But I went to see Hamlet while there was a production at the Folger, and it made me want to read it again!)
Push by Sapphire (whooo... gird your loins before you read this one)
The Possibility of Everything by Hope Edelman (what happens when imaginary friends get out of hand..)
The Bad Beginning and The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket (I found myself missing Snicket's wit.. so I had to do it! :) )

So, on a sort of side note, I've been considering taking on the challenge to read all of the past National Book Award for Fiction winners.. which is about 60 books. But I've read about 7 of them already, and I think I'd spread it out over a few years. Thoughts?

Keep Reading (and sharing what you're reading!!)