Monday, January 23, 2012

Playing Catch Up

Okay, I have given up on the idea of doing full reviews of any of the books I read in 2011 but have yet to review. I've decided to just present them with some quick thoughts on each. I've arranged them by my star rating, starting with five stars.

Five Stars
Billiards at Half-Past Nine, Heinrich Böll. Translated from German.
Yeah. This. This was really, really good. The Faehmel family is a German family living near Colonge. Heinrich, the family patriarch, loved to the city when he was a young man to pursue a career as an architect. His son, Robert, was conscripted into Germany's army during WWII to be a demolition expert. The book's events are all over one day, Heinrich's 80th birthday, but much of the story is told in flashbacks. Old acquaintances pop up, the past and present bleed together.
Melville House sent this to me for participating in The Art of the Novella Reading Challenge

Four Stars
To the End of the Land, David Grossman. Translated from Hebrew.
My book club decided to read this back in September. I actually ended up moving before we met to talk about it, which is probably a good thing because it took me forever to read. I just could not get into it, for some reason. I don't know if it was just my mood, or what. This book was INTENSE, and I was under a lot of stress at the time, so it just didn't seem like a good fit. There is some beautiful writing here, but the emotions were so raw that sometimes it was hard to read. I mean, it's about a woman who thinks her son is getting out of the army and then he volunteers to go back for one last mission. She's convinced that if she doesn't go home, there will be no one for the "informers" to tell that he's hurt - or worse. So she goes for a walk - a really long walk - with an old friend.
Silver Sparrow, Tayari Jones.
The story of a bigamist and his two families, only one which knows of the other. Heartbreak galore, just what I like.
Shadow Tag, Louise Erdrich.
I realized that I've never really read anything by Native American writers (that I can remember), so when I saw this book about a wife who is keeping two journals because she discovered her husband was reading one of them, I couldn't resist picking it up. I'm glad I did, because it was excellent. The couple has an incredibly complicated, tumultuous relationship, which was difficult to read about at times. You want things to end on a happy note, but perhaps that's too much to ask for.
Sula, Toni Morrison.
If I had read this at another time, it probably would have been a 5 star read. However, I picked it up not long after finishing Toni Morrison's A Mercy on audio, which completely blew me away. This was a wonderful book, but not *quite* as good as A Mercy, so it gets 4 stars. The gist - two girls grow up as best friends in a small town in the midwest, facing the limits of their gender, class, and race. The writing will take your breath away.

Three Stars
The World We Found, Thrity Umrigar
I read Umrigar's The Space Between Us a couple years ago for my book club. I thought it was just okay, even though so many of my fellow book clubbers were in love with it. I wanted to give her another try, because her books are so popular. Unfortunately, this one wasn't a favorite. It's not bad, by any means, but her style just isn't for me. This book centers around four friends who were "comrades" working for a more just India back in their university days. Now, 20-some years later, have drifted apart. When one of them, now  living in the United States, is diagnosed with cancer, the four are determined to reunite. However, that is not as simple as it seems.
I won this in a publisher's giveaway hosted on S. Krishna's Books

America and the Pill, Elaine Tyler May
This was an eye opening book about the invention and usage of oral contraceptives in the United States. May's father was a scientist involved in the approval process, and she grew up with the pill in her consciousness. She does a good job explaining the origins and controversies of the pill, while acknowledging the interplay of gender, race, and class. The biggest drawback was her use of a an internet survey of pill users, whose anecdotes where interspersed throughout the book. It just felt a bit rushed and unprofessional. 


Amy said...

This sounds like a really good bunch of books. I'm particularly interested in Shadow Tag.

MJ said...

@Amy: Shadow Tag is really good. I'm definitely going to be reading more from Erdrich.

Rayna said...

I've read a non-fiction book by Erdrich last year (Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country) and have been meaning to look around for her fiction. Maybe I should start with Shadow Tag!

If you're looking for more Native American fiction, definitely try Sherman Alexie's books. He's one of my favorite authors.

MJ said...

@Rayna: I didn't realize Erdrich wrote non-fiction. Very cool.

And I've been wanting to read something by Sherman Alexie. Some of his stuff was banned in this Tucson ridiculousness, so that's another reason to read him, in my opinion.

Vasilly said...

The only book I've read is Silver Sparrow. Loved it so much. Now I want to read everything else! :-)

MJ said...

@Vasilly: Silver sparrow was so good! I felt like I should have talked more about it, but all I could think was "It's so good!"

Eva said...

Fun books! If you're looking for Native American lit that does end on a happy (-ier) note, I'd definitely recommend looking into Thomas King! :)