January 3, 2019

2018: Closing Out the Books

For the last installation of 2018 book blogging, I present my total of visually read books for 2018 as the lowest number it's been in years.  Possibly since middle school:


Final commentary on Gravity's Rainbow plus the last three books below:

Gravity's Rainbow (C+, finally finished)

Worth the effort, but boy did this book take up a huge portion of my reading effort for the year.  I was very happy to be done.
The Importance of Being Earnest (B+)
Oscar Wilde
A classic for a reason, of course.  Frivolous.  Fun.  Entertaining. 
Less (A-)
Andrew Sean Greer
I loved. Loved.  LOVED this book. The story of a 50 year old gay male author whose former partner is getting married, so he accepts all manner of invitations all over the world to concoct an excuse not to attend.  The writing is so subtly good that I found myself going back a few lines to double check that I'd fully appreciated the jokes. I don't believe I've ever read a book where the protagonist was a middle-aged gay male, and I sincerely appreciated the opportunity to get into that headspace. A friend said that this book reminded her of the Elegance of the Hedgehog (one of my favorite books of all time), and I agree.  There's almost nothing in common between the books in terms of characters or plot, but there's something about the slyly hilarious humor of the language and the honest and wistful characters and their desires that is a shared experience between them.
Rust & Stardust (B)
T. Greenwood
In 1948, young Sally Horner was kidnapped by Frank La Salle, a 50 year old mechanic, who posed as an FBI agent after observing her shoplift and used this ruse to convince her to come with him.  He kept her captive for 2 years as they traveled from Camden, New Jersey to Baltimore, Dallas, and eventually San Jose, California.  I learned from this book, that the news of this real-life story inspired Nabokov to write Lolita.  I don't usually like real-life crime novels that are not detective stories with a clean ending.  Crime as experienced by the victim is not the type of literature I like to consume. I got nightmares from criminal law class in law school.  But, this was a gifted loan from a friend, so I gave it a read.  Much like Lolita, it is a gorgeous collection of words.  It's a beautiful book.  It tells the tale from the perspective of the victim, rather than the perpetrator, which is, from the yuck-perspective, an improvement over Lolita.  It was a good, compelling read.  But, I raced to finish it as quickly as possible -- I just wanted the terrible story to end.  When it did, I was sad to be done with the writing. I would read this author's work again. 

In audiobook news, I continue to rip through them at a ridiculous pace, with 45 in this post for a yearly total of 98.  Thank goodness for Libby (the Overdrive app that let's you check out audiobooks from your local library), or else, the price of my audiobook habit would dwarf most people's cable/Internet bill!

A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court (B)
Mark Twain
Funny, like only Twain can be. A tale of a man transported from the 1800s to King Arthur's Court where he becomes a magician and exploits technology to modify the court.  Gunpowder, bicycles, baseball, etc. all play major parts, as you'd expect. 
Head On (B+)
John Scalzi
The sequel to Lock In.  Chris continues in the gender non-specified form from the original book and you can listen to it read by Amber Bensen or Will Wheaten.
Dismas Hardy (Books 7 - 17) (B)
John Lescroart
More goodness.  Caught up to modern day where Hardy's daughter is an associate at his firm.
Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in 15 Suggestions (B-)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Short and sweet, this letter from the always thoughtful author to a friend who has a newborn girl talks through her (pre-motherhood) ideas of how best to raise a daughter.  Nothing out of the ordinary, but wonderful, nonetheless.
Something In the Water (A-)
Catherine Steadman
I adored this thriller, although I had roughly figured out the "surprise" plot with about 20% left to go.  It's not ideal when you are pretty sure you know who the bad guy is and the main characters still haven't figured it out.  Even with that complaint, however, this was very enjoyable.  Also, the author is an actress, and she did her own reading -- her acting ability translated very nicely into voice acting and definitely added to the experience.  If you're looking for a comparison, this felt very similar to Girl on the Train, in terms of pacing, language, and theme.
Insurgent (B)
Allegiant (B-)
Veronica Roth
2nd & 3rd book in the Divergent Series.  The tone and pacing were similar to Divergent -- obviously young adult with obviously under-developed emotional maturity, but with that reality worked well into the fast-moving plot.  Very enjoyable and full of surprises.  
Eat, Pray, Love (B)
Elizabeth Gilbert
I needed something uplifting in the wake of the Kavanaugh hearings, and I remembered enjoying this book when I'd read it over 10 years ago.  I knew that Ms. Gilbert had evolved quite a bit since writing this book, and so had I, as well as the world.  I was interested to see how the book held up.  I am happy to report that it did hold up relatively well.
Educated (A+) 
Tara Westover
Such a raw and brave and extremely American story.  Conservative mormonism.  Preppers. Physical abuse. A hard, honest, telling of a young woman's self-education from conspiracy theory-laden origins without a birth certificate with essentially no formal home-schooling, through BYU, Oxford, Harvard, and beyond.
The Alphabet Mysteries:  A is for Alibi; B is for Burglar; C is for Corpse (B- average) -- up to H at this point
Sue Grafton
I had been looking for another mystery series I could dive into and this 3 book collection was offered by Amazon for 1 credit, so I dived in.  It's a solid offering that entertains and distracts.  Kinnsey Millhone (the main character) is a fun strong female character.  The early books are set in the 80s, and it's kind of fun to realize how different professional work was before email and cell phones.  I have been making my way through the series as they become available via my local library.
Sourdough (A)
Robin Sloan
A book club member recommended this book and WOW!  Highly recommended.  A very unique and imaginative modern day tale of an old migrant people, culture, technology, startups, San Francisco in all of its excess and the complex biology of bread starter.  Surprisingly enjoyable and insightful.
The Magician's Assistant (B+)
Ann Patchett
I knew that Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Gilbert were close friends, and this book made it clear how that friendship could have been an easy one.  This book's take on life, mysteries, relationships that don't work according to society's or our own expectations but are still treasures to be cherished all felt like something Ms. Gilbert would endorse.  Poignant, full of loss, but also full of love.
The Mrs. Pollifax Series (books 1-11) (B average)
Dorothy Gilman
So refreshing!  This adorable series is centered on a 60-something widow who, suffering from a fit of depression, decides to volunteer at the CIA to be of service in lieu of suicide.  Her general instincts about people as well as her unassuming countenance serve her well and she always saves the day.  The stories are adorable, and oddly educational since they were written in the 70s and 80s and cover bits of international conflict set in that time period that never really escalated to the point of making it into modern version of history that I'd learned  (a low bar, as I'm not remotely a history nerd).
Committed (B)
Elizabeth Gilbert
A deep historical and personal exploration of the institution of marriage.  Fascinating and educational.  I will likely be recommending this to people who struggle with the concept of marriage, as I myself, once did, before capitulating for the sake of grandparents, family, and the reality that it's much easier to be legally married to your most important person than not.
Sapiens (A-)
Yuval Noah Harari
This was a big heart-heavy look at humans and how we've co-evolved with planet earth.  Turns out, we've been wreaking havoc on the planet and causing extinctions for ages.  We exterminated the majority of the large land mammals long before we even experienced the agrarian revolution.  On one level, this book was depressing.  On the other, it was comforting -- things are *not* getting worse, we've always been an all-consumptive species that took what we wanted at the expense of everything (and everyone) else.  If you are interested in the history of humanity, warts and all, I highly recommend this book.  But fair warning, parts of it aren't pretty at all.
Magpie Murders (B+)
Anthony Horowitz
Super clever book within in a book escapade, except it's a detective mystery series within a book.  And extremely well executed.  If you like murder mysteries, I guarantee you will love this book -- so much homage to the greats, in many ways, it's a love story to the genre.
Just the Funny Parts: …And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking into the Hollywood Boys' Club (B)
Nell Scovell
Excellent memoire from the television and magazine writer who ended up collaborating with Sheryl Sandberg on Lean In.  Honest tales of what it took to succeed in her career in the 80s, 90s, 2000s, and current decade.  She's got a wry sense of humor and a great story to tell.  Very enjoyable.
Sounds like America (C+)
Free on Audible.  Great takes on regional differences/uniqueness in the US.  We probably ripped through 5 of the available episodes and enjoyed them all on a road trip over the holidays.  Perfectly consumable free content for car rides.


Jen said...

I also loved Less. I agree that there's probably a lot that I missed and would pick up in a second reading. Less as a character was the epitome of The Lovable Fool - which I think is so hard to write! He somehow doesn't come across as insufferable.

I'm halfway through Pachinko, which I'm really enjoying.

bt said...

@Jen -- I loved Pachinko. I look forward to chatting with you about it.