Thursday, August 27, 2009

50 Books

Last year, I set out to read 50 books in one year starting from June 2008. I only reached 17 books by the end of May 2009, with a great bout of disappointment chronicled here.

As promised, however, I did start all over again in June 2009, determined to read 50 books before the end of May 2010.

Here's how I'm doing so far:

1)Now and Forever - Ray Bradbury (☆ ☆)
This is a collection of two novellas, entitled Somewhere a Band is Playing and Leviathan '99. The former was all right, but somewhat unrelateable. It's about a colony of writers who can't die, who live in a town of perpetual summer. The second was better--Moby Dick rewritten in space. Even if you think you're a Bradbury fan, I wouldn't recommend this.
2)The Angel of Darkness - Caleb Carr (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
All right, Carr isn't the most intelligent, sophisticated, clever writer of all time. But the guy really does carve a niche in historical fiction, and he is just such an entertaining storyteller. I read his first historical fiction novel, The Alienist, when I was in high school. A long time ago. And it left such an impression on me that I could have jumped for joy when I saw that he'd written another. I bought it without even knowing it had many of the same characters as the first book I had so loved! I strongly recommend reading The Alienist first, and then this book. Back-to-back might even be incredibly fun; I don't think you'll tire of the writing or the characters. In fact, you're really only at risk of starting to look at the world in 1890s terms and using outdated slang. I know these two novels look thick as hell, but they're real page-turners and you'll suddenly, sadly, be at the end before you know it. I'd love to go on several more adventures with these characters, and I hope you'll feel the same.
3)Life of Pi - Yann Martel (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
I really didn't know what to expect when I started reading this book. In fact, I thought it probably 'wasn't my thing'--but hey, it was $.25 at a thrift store. Boy, was I wrong, so very wrong. I adored this book, and not only that, I'm pretty sure it's in my top ten favorite books. I cried at the end, I went back to re-read portions of it, and it gave me a lot to think about. I told all of my friends to go read it immediately, and I'm telling you the same thing right now.
4)Caroline, or Change - Tony Kushner (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
This is actually the book to a musical, so much of the text is lyrics. I still haven't heard the music. I liked experiencing the show that way, rather than letting myself get distracted or become influenced by the music itself, or the singing. Sometimes music will get you emotional and not let you look at the play and its words for what it is. But this piece stands on its own two feet as a written book, and it makes a very enjoyable read. I liked this play and I would be thrilled to see it.
5)Anna in the Tropics - Nilo Cruz (☆ ☆ ☆)
I liked everything about this play, would love to see it performed, and would recommend the read to anyone. But I have a few problems with the pacing of the main action. Without getting into spoilers, let's just say nothing but talk happens for a long time, then two big events happen back-to-back, which either undermines both of them or looks like a desperate grab for drama in the final inning when, of course, it's already much too late.
6)Two Sisters and a Piano - Nilo Cruz (☆)
Apparently, this play was based loosely on Anton Chekhov's works. If you're familiar with Chekhovian theatre, it is slow, melodramatic, chock full of metaphors, and can be completely different each and every time it's staged. Nilo Cruz lived up to the slow part. That's really all I have to say.
7)Tape - Stephen Belber (☆)
A friend directed this play in NYC recently, so I gave it a read and had the chance to see it. I'm not a fan overall (mostly because the playwright seems, at times, wishywashy about his own intentions, which is not ever good), but upon viewing the show, I realized that with a good cast and director there is room to stage it well with a lot of heart and complexity. I would see it staged again.
8)The Clean House and Other Plays - Sarah Ruhl (☆)
It's not really fair that one play counts as one book (see above), but this collection of three plays counts as one book. Oh well, I'll have to suck it up and let the binding dictate how the books count. So I read all three plays pretty much straight through, and though Clean House was my favorite (the other two are Eurydice and Late: A Cowboy Song), let me just say for the record that I'm not a Sarah Ruhl fan. I would see one of her plays live, once, to see if they're more enjoyable when performed; somehow I doubt it. I think Sarah Ruhl is one of those playwrights you're going to love or hate.
9)The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz (☆ ☆)
Winner of a Pulitzer Prize, this book is smart (sometimes, I'll admit, even too smart for me), enjoyable, clever and unique. It's about...well, the title basically tells you what it's about. The story delves into Dominican heritage, traditions and history in a very fun and dynamic way. It's really more than about Oscar Wao, it's about his life, his whole family and his friends. It's a whole little world, and he is the keystone of the story. You'll like it, but make yourself get past the first 30 pages or so. I wasn't a big fan of the ending, but I won't spoil that here.
10)One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆)
This book is about the entire founding and progress of a small town (Macondo) in South America. It offers complexity, depth, richness and vibrancy. It is poetic without compromising realism or plot. It is mystical and down-to-earth. You have to read it all at once, or else you'll forget who's who, and get confused about what's going on. You have to read slowly and let the story take you away with it. This is not a beach book. It would be five stars, but it's actually just a wee bit too damn long. I'm enjoying it, but I never meant to dedicate a month to one book. And I can't take breaks and read something else a little more lightweight because, as I said, that would really make you forget what was going on in the story. Oh, well. Still better to have read than not.

As you can see, I'm already doing much better than last year. In three months, I've read more than half the books I got through from 08-09. Then again, I started out strong last year too, and fell into a false sense of security. The truth is, I should be aiming for one book per week, and it's been about 11 weeks, so I'm actually behind. I also haven't been keeping up regularly online, which is why you only get short blurbs about the books, but I promise to try to do better as I move through the year. 40 more to go!

(PS--Do you like the new star scoring system? Last year, a reader suggested that I start ranking the books, so I decided to add that feature this year! Scoring is between 1-5.)

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