Saturday, November 15, 2008

50 Books

This year, I'm endeavoring to read 50 books in a year. It's some kind of... 50-books-a-year challenge. I dunno, I didn't make it up! All I know is that I've neglected updating this list for awhile, but here we go:

1) The Bostonians, Henry James
2) A Drink Before the War, Dennis Lehane
3) Darkness, Take My Hand, Dennis Lehane
4) Sacred, Dennis Lehane
5) Gone, Baby, Gone, Dennis Lehane
6) Prayers for Rain, Dennis Lehane
7) Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde - Ah, this was just what I expected of it. It was very refreshing after the detective series. I love his little quips, and I like how you can see how this work inspired some of his later works. I like his timeless observations about human nature. And, though I knew the ending, I also thought I knew exactly how we would get there and I was pleased to be wrong. Dorian Gray is a remarkably memorable character, and while the book lagged in some strange places, overall I really enjoyed reading it.

8) The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted, Elizabeth Berg - This was a collection of middle-aged-female-oriented short stories and I ate it up in two sittings and then made my mom read it. Though the narrators kind of started blending together, it was Berg's voice that I enjoyed, so I could let it go. I liked the contemporary peeks at things like weight watchers, being married, getting older, etc. I would definitely suggest the collection but also the author, and I look forward to picking up something else by her next time I'm at the library.

9) The Apprentice, Tess Gerritsen - This wasn't my favorite of Gerritsen's novels. I feel like I really, really love one of her books and then the next one is horrible. For example, I loved Harvest but loathed Gravity. But those are her medical thrillers, and this is a detective series kind of thing, and I don't plan to return for more. The character was a little stale, kind of the female-cop trope, and she falls in love and it's very predictable with whom. There are definitely intrigues and great fast-paced segments, and, as always, I feel utterly rewarded by the very insightful, very factual medical information in her books (she used to be a surgeon before becoming an author). I can't say her books aren't smart in that sense; they seem well researched and even well executed. I just didn't like this whole convention, and I don't think it's meant to be her format.

10) Skin Deep, Gary Braver - Unfortunately I didn't like this book as much as some of his other thrillers. And I'm going to tell you why because you're not going to read it. On the cover, this book boasts of being a medical thriller, and is decorated with a surgical theme. As you begin to read it, you realize that the book doesn't know what it is exactly. The main character stumbles around for a bunch of it. He's a cop and the other main players are cops. They're trying to catch a serial killer. No wait. That's the cover that says there's a serial killer. In reality, only one person dies until like, chapter thirteen. Until then, the cops are trying to catch one killer. We're lead to think it might be the main character in some kind of sleeping-pill-induced fugue, but we're lead there so forcibly that we know it isn't. By the time there's a "serial killer" on the loose, and we've all admitted that it's not the main character doing the killings, it's like page 300 and by now we've guessed that... dondonDON... the only character in the entire book who isn't a cop, his wife or a corpse is a DOCTOR... and for 300 pages we're not supposed to figure out who the "serial killer" of this "medical thriller" is? I mean, give me a break. How insulting to the reader. I'll tell you this, though: there is one great twist right at the end. And if Braver had sprinkled that kind of thing throughout the book, it would have been much, much better. Ambitious, but the novel fell short of the mark. It took me forever to read because I wasn't enjoying it, and really messed up my reading pace.

11) Proof: A Play, David Auburn - After slogging through that more tedious novel, I took a break to read some plays. You can see how I need to switch things up from time to time. Proof was wonderful, for its nuance, subtlety and simplicity. It's the kind that stays with you and makes you think afterward. It's a little hard to explain without giving much away, but there's family conflict and romance and math. Curious yet? Good, you should go read it because it's fairly short (it's a play after all) and pretty good. I'd like to see it done, and I'll probably read it again at some point (if not buy it, because plays are the sort of thing I prefer to own and re-read).

12) The Exonerated, Jessica Blank - Another play, this is what's considered a social agenda documentary-style play. When we're not talking about intense family dramas, this is the sort of play I like because there's a message involved which has ramifications in daily life, and this play focuses on the death penalty. It's comprised of interviews with hundreds of real-life exonerated inmates who were falsely imprisoned for tens of years. There's unexpected humor and a lot of human depth in the stories. My only criticism with this is that it was written by actors, and I feel that it shows. There's something lacking in the organization and the style, and while it's hard to pinpoint exactly, I feel that the answer just lies somewhere in the mentality of an actor versus the mentality of a writer or director. As I said to a friend, when I read Dead Man Walking, I wanted to be in it (and was, but that's another story). When I read Laramie Project, I wanted to read it over and over again to really absorb it all (and eventually chose it as my undergrad thesis topic). I wasn't attracted in that way to The Exonerated; in fact, I think the only reason I would even see it is if it had a very talented cast, because seeing some of the acting choices with these difficult and complex characters would be interesting. I eventually realized that Dead Man Walking leaves audiences wondering if the main prisoner did or did not commit his crimes and if he will or won't die. And Laramie Project is also posed in a more storyline-style narrative. But with The Exonerated, you know that they're already out and were wrongly accused. There's kind of nowhere for it to go. This is one of the things that I feel a more talented playwright might have been able to foresee and find a solution to.

13) All My Sons, Arthur Miller - Speaking of more talented playwrights! Miller is one of my all-time favorites, and while I've read and studied many of his plays, this one play in paticular is in very few of his anthologies (of which I have three, none with this play). I was always too stubborn to buy it on its own, but now I may have to because I really loved it. Not only did I love this play, which was his first big success at age 30, and prefaced his success with Death of a Salesman (you can really see his style bloom between the two), but I also loved the edition I picked up. It had a solid, interesting introduction and overview of the play. The story is about a man who, for family's sake and for profit, sells fault parts to fighter pilots in the war, and as a result, they die. The story unfolds in numerous complexities in terms of plot and character while revealing very much about the mentality of the time (1940's) and humanity. I can't say enough good things about this, so I'll stop gushing, but go read it. I'll be buying it next time I see it.

14) Black Sunday, Thomas Harris - Okay, so I'm a big Hannibal fan and I've read all the books and seen the movies. (Except Hannibal Rising, which I also checked out from the library but then had to return because someone else had it on hold. I'll be seeing you again, child Hannibal!) So I don't know why it's taken me so long to get around to reading his first novel, which is kind of an exploratory effort for him, and basically follows the thriller genre. But it involves political intrigue espionage and a hot Israeli spy and it's very tightly crafted (save for maybe this one weird tangent thrown in to mislead the reader and, I guess, the protagonist but seriously... mostly the reader) and as with Gerritsen, what I like most about Harris is how thoroughly he researches, and how many facts and figures he gives you. It makes the world more three-dimensional and makes the reader feel intelligent. Sometimes his breadth of knowledge amazes me, and his intelligence is obvious. Not that I don't love Hannibal, but I think that when you get to the point of doing prequels, you should go back and try something new. With all of his new exposure and maturity as a writer, I think more and diverse thrillers by him would be completely wonderful and well received.

And I have a next book to read but it hasn't been cracked yet because of NaNo. I think 50 books a year should become like, 45, when there's NaNo, because the month of November is pretty much a wash.


Jess said...

Now you're just reminding me that I really want to read Proof! And I agree on NaNoWriMo - I'll read in November but my boyfriend spends the whole month glued to his laptop, writing. I spend the month volunteering, so it balances out.

The Style Bard is... said...

Haha, I spend my non-NaNo hours...writing, but for work, rather than pleasure. My brain appreciates it when I change gears and watch a TV show or read a few chapters every few thousand words or so. :)