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Anaya M. Baker's Neverending List O' Books 2011
Okay, I've decided to make an ongoing list of all the books I'm reading. Why not just write this down in a notebook somewhere and spare the rest of the internet, you ask? Well, in case anyone is looking for a recommendation, ideas, or just totally bored. And because I've probably started about ten pen and paper lists in the past five years and lost them all. Plus things look pretty on hubpages.
Just so that this hub is not totally devoid of value, I'll attempt to at least throw out a brief recommendation (or not), summary, point to consider, or iota of thought for each one. Or just some of them. We'll see. But at any rate, to get things started, I'll list my latest reads, since, say, August or so. (To read a condensed list without all the extra words, just scroll down to the bottom of the page).
Please feel free to leave any and all opinions, disagreements, or suggestions for further reading!
Note: As of 2012, I realized that this hub is getting a bit too cluttered. So new reads for the upcoming year will be posted at Anaya M. Baker's Neverending List O' Books 2012.
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions - Dan Ariely (2008)
Ariely draws on his own research over the years to deliver this book on the emerging study of behavioral economics. Useful for those interested in economics, or anyone simply interested in human behavior, and our not-so-rational decision-making processes. The book is an easy read, even for a die-hard right-brainer like me. Reminiscent of Malcolm Gladwell, with the notable exception being that Ariely discusses his own studies, rather than other people's.
The Portrait of a Lady - Henry James (1881)
While I do enjoy the 19th century psychological novels, this one didn't really pull me in. I think the notable lack of action and narrative distance despite the psychological element just wasn't enough for me to really get invested into the characters. That being said, I did enjoy the depiction of independent women, and the exploration of how a woman could navigate her personal freedom without the need to marry. Unfortunately, this enjoyment just wasn't enough for me to enjoy the book altogether.
The Terrible Girls - Rebecca Brown (1992)
This collection of short stories explores the sometimes frightening depths of passion and heartbreak. Brown is frequently called a modern-day Djuna Barnes, and adds a deliciously macabre (think Flannery O'Connor on angel dust) twist to the frequently overdone theme of the jilted lover. I discovered Brown a long, long time ago, when the story "Forgiveness" gave me some much needed insight into the end of a relationship. Brown is known for being a lesbian writer, but I think the stories in this collection will appeal to any gender or orientation, as the themes are pretty universal.
From Ritual to Romance - Jessie Weston (1920)
Examines the legend of the Holy Grail in Arthurian texts, and examines similarities with early pre-Christian Nature cults from ancient Greece/Rome/Phonecia. Not entirely sure if I completely agree with Weston on all points, but she presents an interesting theory.
Dead to the World - Charlaine Harris (2004)
Book four of the Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood series. It's a guilty pleasure. Don't judge me.
The Lais of Marie de France - Marie de France (c.1175)
Collection of 12th century lais, or short verse stories, told in a fairy-tale manner and dealing with the medieval world. I was initially drawn to the collection by "Lanval," a King Arthur story, but the rest of the lais are worth a read too.
The Once and Future King - T.S. White (1958)
A sweet and charming King Arthur story. Chronicles his life from boyhood to the end of his reign, with the addition of a great Merlin and plenty of magic and wizardry. Great bedtime reading, but enough basis in the traditional legend to satisfy an Arthur buff like me. At first I thought this might be suitable to read to more maturekids, but the later sections deal with too many adult themes.
A Million Little Pieces - James Frey (2003)
I've been curious about this book for a while, but finally got around to checking it out for myself. My verdict: The whole controversy was completely overblown. An addict is the definition of an unreliable narrator, which is really what was going on here. While Frey perhaps should have been a bit more careful with his embellishments, the essential story is still based on his experience, which is really all we can expect from any memoir. Beyond that, the writing was alternately compelling and irritating. Frey seems to be going too hard for an experimental style which becomes trite and redundant at times, and he is not able to sustain the voice throughout the work. Overall, I'd say its sophomoric, with flashes of brilliance. The redeeming quality of the work is its honest look into addictions, and I would still recommend it just on that basis.
Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri (1999)
Collection of short stories about first generation Indian and Bengali immigrants to America. Discusses themes such as immigration, assimilation, exile and loss. While the subject is quite interesting and well written, where Lahiri really excels as a writer is her ability to capture a universal feeling of human vulnerability, as well as her sensitive and sophisticated understanding of the frailty of human relationships.
October's Pick O' The Month
Lancelot of the Cart - Chretien de Troyes (c.1175)
The first King Arthur story that features Lancelot as a character. This one covers the relationship between Lancelot and Guinevere, including her abduction by the no-good Meleagrant, and their eventual affair. This is not the King Arthur your mom read you, there's beheading, nudity, and a good old love tryst. The translated version is actually a pretty easy read, despite being from the Middle Ages, it goes quickly and is a pretty exciting story, without too much archaic language and excessive wordiness.
Room - Emma Donoghue (2010)
Pretty spectacular, (also slightly twisted), book about a woman and her five year old son who are held hostage in a small room. The first half of the story centers around their life in captivity, the way that they relate to each other and their surroundings. The boy has been born in the room, and doesn't have any awareness of the outside world, which creates an almost sci-fi or fantasy-like construct of reality in the most ordinary of settings. The second half deals with his adaption into the larger world and the aftermath of the trauma. The description makes the book sound like a thriller, but its really not. I'd recommend it even for more squeamish readers-- it's not too graphic, and the fact that the narrator is only five softens the horror factor. Ultimately, Donoghue has written an intense psychological drama that makes you think about things like the way we construct realities and the nature of hope. Don't start this book unless you have some time though, once I got about a third of the way through I couldn't put it down.
Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error - Kathryn Schulz (2010)
This thought-provoking book explores countless sources that tackle the concept of error, scientific, literary, philosophical, and personal accounts, and suggests that error need not be considered a negative. Rather, Schulz suggest that error is actually an important means of growth, learning, and understanding both the world around us and the nature of self. Look for my upcoming review in Moral Relativism Magazine!
Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy (1985)
One of the best western fiction books out there (which is why I have it on my list of Top Ten Western Fiction Reads). Gruesomely real, with a knock your socks off ending. Caution though, while I'd highly recommend this tale of outlaws and headhunters along the U.S. Mexican border, it is so gruesomely real that I wouldn't attempt it unless you have a very strong stomach!
Parzival - Wolfram von Eschenbach (c.1225)
One of the harder Arthurian texts I've read. Overabundance of characters to keep track of, and everything is described in metaphor or complicated wording. For example, instead of "they were sad," Wolfram would write something along the lines of "all joy in that room had fled out the window." To further complicate things, the hundreds of characters are also called things like "that fair lady, his mother's sisters daughter." Besides these aspects that really slow down reading, the story is amazing! Full of magic, intrigue, chivalry, and and a version of the Grail quest I'd never heard before. Also a bunch of really strong female characters. For more, visit my hub The Women of Parzival.
You may have noticed I've been reading a lot of Arthurian stuff lately. Expect hubs to follow, once I've finished my information gathering!
Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father - Richard Rodriguez (1993)
Collection of non-fiction essays that tackle such subjects as growing up Mestizo (Mexican and Native American) in California, immigration, border tension between Mexico and the U.S., the Catholic Church, and being gay in San Francisco during the early 1980's. I read Rodriquez's Hunger of Memory over the summer, which is his best-known and best-acclaimed work, but I have to say I really enjoyed Days of Obligation a lot more. It didn't have the same empty and depressing feel as the other, just seemed to be written with a lot more feeling.
For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage - Tara Parker-Pope (2010)
Did you know that the commonly cited 50% divorce rate is overly inflated to reflect a certain generation married before the modern concept of gender equality and the "soul mate marriage"? Tara Parker-Pope analyzes decades of relationship and marriage studies to reveal some surprising insights into just which marriages are remaining successful and why. Less of a self-help book (though it does include some helpful strategies to maintain and promote healthy and passionate relationships) and more of a general diagnostic on the state of today's marriages, I liked this one so much I wrote a full review after finishing it.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - translated by J.R.R. Tolkien (c.1375)
After reading so much Arthur stuff lately (my new obsession) I decided to take a look at Tolkien's version of Gawain and the Man in Green. The last time I read it I used the Marie Borroff version, but I have to say I found the Tolkien a bit easier to understand. Plus it's just cool to see the classic influences on Tolkien's work.
She's Come Undone - Wally Lamb (1992)
Another reread, but well worth it! I was struck by Lamb's ability to make what should have been a totally unsympathetic character likeable, and well, sympathetic. Similar in some ways to Bastard Out of Carolina, but I think I like this one better.
Le Morte d'Arthur - Sir Thomas Malory (1485)
Pretty cool for a classic text. A lot of dialogue, pretty evocative and emotional. Oh, and the men do a lot of swooning whenever things get sticky. I remember that from Gawain and the Green Knight, but this one took the cake on multiple swoonings and group swoonings.
And the winner is...
White Nights, A Disgraceful Affair - Fyodor Dostoevsky (1848, 1862)
On the whole, I find Russian literature just a bit too bleak for me. However, I thoroughly enjoyed "White Nights," so I went on to read "A Disgraceful Affair," before abandoning yet another attempt to read Russian lit.
The Brief and Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz (2008)
Great book! A little magical realism, a little real realism, some Caribbean flavor (Dominican to be specific) and a whole lotta bad language. Diaz intersperses a lot of Spanish in with the narration, which some readers might want to look up. Mine was pretty rusty, but was enough to get the basic gist. Hint: Your basic Spanish/English dictionary might not be much use-- there's a lot of slang and expletives. Just use the net if you're curious.
Of Love and Shadows - Isabelle Allende (1987)
I have sort of a love/hate relationship with Allende's novels. Some of it I chalk up to poor translation, the rest I'm just critical. But even though I don't find her books to be among the finest examples of literary prowess, I'll still stay up all night reading one. That said, Love and Shadows was a page-gripper, which I spent an entire Sunday reading. I also cried. And I think she's starting to come into her own writing-wise with this one, a huge improvement from House of Spirits, her first novel.
Pastoralia - George Saunders (2000)
So totally cool! 'Nuff said. Oh yeah, if you like really bizarre stories that manage to distort the everyday in ways you'd never quite have imagined, read this book of short-ish stories.
Idylls of the King - Alfred Lord Tennyson (1885)
J.R.R. Tolkien was clearly heavily influenced by this epic poem, which is also actually a decent recount of the Arthurian legend. Reads best out loud, includes a lot of alliterative verse a la Beowulf.
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert (1857)
The second half was much, much better than the first. I have to admit, I slogged through a lot of it, then found myself totally immersed towards the end. Unless you're really into this sort of thing, I'd recommend reading Theodore Fontane's Effie Briest instead. Same genre, but absorbing all the way through, and I think a bit deeper on the psychological aspects.
Bastard Out of Carolina - Dorothy Allison
Read this one a while back, but forgot what happened. Oh, except that really gut-wrenching part (no spoilers!). Second time around, the book was a lot less shocking, but really poignant in the whole coming-of-age in the American South aspect. Also, found a really great passage on exile, which further supports my idea of exile as a more universal experience.
The Short List
- Bastard Out of Carolina (1992) - Dorothy Allison
- Madame Bovary (1857) - Gustave Flaubert
- Idylls of the King (1885) - Alfred Lord Tennyson
- Pastoralia (2000) - George Saunders
- Of Love and Shadows (1987) - Isabel Allende
- The Brief and Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao (2008) - Junot Diaz
- White Nights, A Disgraceful Affair (1848) - Fyodor Dostoevsky
- Le Morte d'Arthur (1485) - Sir Thomas Malory
- She's Come Undone (1992) - Wally Lamb
- Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (c.1375) - trans. J.R.R. Tolkien
- For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage (2010) - Tara Parker-Pope
- Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father (1993) - Richard Rodriguez
- Parzival (c.1225) - Wolfran von Eschenbach
- Blood Meridian (1985) - Cormac McCarthy
- Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (2010) - Kathryn Schulz
- Room (2010) - Emma Donaghue
- Lancelot of the Cart (c.1175) - Chretien de Troyes
- Interpreter of Maladies (1999) - Jhumpa Lahiri
- A Million Little Pieces (2003) - James Frey
- The Once and Future King (1958) - T.S. White
- The Lais of Marie de France (c.1175) - Marie de France
- Dead To the World (2004) - Charlaine Harris
- From Ritual to Romance (1920) - Jessie Weston
- The Terrible Girls (1992) - Rebecca Brown
- The Portrait of a Lady (1881) - Henry James
- Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (2008) - Dan Ariely