Books 2011

I've always been a voracious reader but being a film student got in the way of that.  I knew I needed to watch a ton of films so I did that in 2009 (750 to be exact... yes... insanely enough... in one year).  Now I need to get back into the book flow.  My goal for the year is 40 books.

It helped being on vacation half of the month!
1) Mennonite in a Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen.  I started this book in 2010 but finished it this year.  It's a memoir about a woman who's badly injured in a car accident the week her husband leaves her for a man and returns to her Mennonite roots to convalesce.  Funny at times, slightly troubling at others (religious mockery) but enjoyable nonetheless.  Worth reading.
2) Iron Shoes by Molly Giles. This novel is a relatively quick read about a woman on the brink of a mid-life crisis caring for a difficult, dying parent.  It's very strange to read a book where you don't like ANY of the main characters.  Some of the ancillary characters were too poorly developed to provide true support to the main character's struggles.  A bit of a depressing read.  I don't recommend.
3) Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor.  Non-fiction book about a brain scientist's recovery after a stroke.  Moments of strength and weakness.  It gets a bit too touchy feely yogi-like at the end for me.  She lost me for good when the book came to a natural conclusion, then continued for 3 more chapters.  There's some good information, some of which is really interesting, like in the beginning, but I wouldn't call this a page-turner. 
4) Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.  I can absolutely see why this one was banned. I don't particularly enjoy being cursed out the entire time I'm reading a book.  It was a pretty easy read.  Very stream-of-consciousness which I was actually far more tolerant of than I've ever been before.

5) Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez.  Novel about slave women used by their masters and the effect of those relationships on their lives.  Interesting at times, infuriating at others.  I also enjoyed the notes at the end about how the author researched the story.  A definite page-turner.  Worth reading.   

6) The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood by Jane Leavy.  Nonfiction book about the Yankee great featuring tons of interviews.  This book obviously took a lot of work and was a labor of love.  I read this on a recommendation of someone who said, "You don't have to even like baseball to enjoy this book."  I'm going to have to disagree on that one.  It will make a 100-page or so section a lot easier to get through.  This book took me a long time because I have a marginal enjoyment of baseball but some passages were really tedious.  When you have some incredibly tangential person telling you their every Mickey memory and you don't have any of your own, it gets a bit boring and monotonous.  I think baseball fans would really enjoy it, though.  The author skirts what made Mickey Mickey until the end.  I'm sure that's intentional but it kept me disengaged for large chunks of the book.  I probably wouldn't read it again.  I was thinking about people to give this to from the first 50 pages.  It's not that it was poorly written, just not my kind of book.
7) Five Things I Can't Live Without by Holly Shumas.  It's about a woman who never lives in the moment until she decides to quit the job she hates to re-write people's internet dating bios.  This was the chick lit novel I needed to get myself back in the reading game.  I've been reading these really dense books that I can't get through.  I needed something light like I used to read on airplanes.  The type of book you can, and I did, read in a day.  It moves quickly and was pretty enjoyable.  There were a few plot holes but to be expected.  Perfect airplane read.
8) Seen It All and Done the Rest by Pearl Cleage. A novel about a Black American ex-pat aging actress forced out of her job and her search for home.  It's also about helping her troubled granddaughter in Atlanta.  Another quick and enjoyable airplane read.

9) Edmund Bertram's Diary by Amanda Grange.  A novel set in the early 1800s about a young man finding his way through life and love as shown through his diary.  Interesting enough but not my favorite book to read.  When it took a Pride and Prejudice turn, I felt my mild affection for this book fall.  I wouldn't recommend this one for most.  I bought it because it was on sale...  But generally price doesn't mean anything.
10) Something Blue by Emily Giffin.  Great chick lit about a woman coping with her best friend stealing her fiancé.  Very easy read and still well-written. Also shout out to the Wake grad who wrote it!  I'll be reading more of her work when it becomes available from the library.

11) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It's the story of a mysterious man living among the filthy rich. The cadence of the writing felt off to me from the beginning, I didn't particularly connect with any of the characters.  It all felt frivolous.   I can honestly say I didn't enjoy this book.   
12) Love the One You're With by Emily Giffin.  Another chick lit by an author I read last month.  I didn't like this one as much.  The entire book was essentially build-up to her final decision.  There was some satisfaction in the finale but the journey was rather nerve-wracking.  Definitely not the relaxing airplane read.
13) Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. A historical fiction about a WWII bombing squadron from the officers' and fliers' perspectives.  I really hated reading this.  It was out of sequence and went in circles so you heard the same story with different details two or three or four times.  Incredibly frustrating at times. Moderately interesting at others.  It took me months to finish this month.  I'm so glad to be done.  Good riddance.
14) Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh. I picked up this book because it seemed like it might be light and it was near the Giffin books in the library.  It's the tale of the multiple Mrs. Kimbles, wives of a man who seems to collect them.  Each wife gets her own section of the story with a little overlap.  This book would have been much more enjoyable if it hadn't seemed to be following a list of clichés it needed to hit.  Really annoying.  So all in all just okay.
15) Miss Black America by Veronica Chambers. The story of a little girl with an afrocentric father, abandoned by her beautiful mother.  The writer does an excellent job of creating mystery in the story, revealing details that seem to point toward an assured end or foreshadow just the right event.  Sometimes things unfold in that direction and sometimes not.  It worked wonderfully. I really enjoyed this book.
16) Bossypants by Tina Fey. Extremely funny. I was guffawing in spots.  Easy read with some unexpected good insight. Definitely recommend this one.
17) Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin.  The story of two women who get caught in unexpected situations living parallel but intertwining lives.  Pretty good.  An easy airplane read but a bit more difficult to read than some of Giffin's other works because of the subject matter: infidelity.  Difficult in how you feel for the characters.  Thoughtfully written.

18) H.owtoBeSingle by LizT.uccillo.  Awful.  A sloppily written book about a single woman who's nearly 40 who decides to write a book about single women around the world.  Way too many poorly developed characters.  I just really can't understand why if she had to have more than one secondary character she had to have 4.  None of them were adequately developed.  Some were almost ignored.  Why bother to ever include them?  Way too long, way too sloppily written.  It almost felt unedited.  I hate to write a book review like this but I want none of you to ever read it.
19) Baby Proof by Emily Giffin. I really appreciate how she makes you care about people.  This story was about a couple who didn't want children ripped apart when one of them suddenly does want children.  Pretty enjoyable.
20) Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin. Another solid book.  This one about a woman who falls in love with her best friend's fiancé.  It's actually the book that precedes  "Something Blue," the first Giffin book I read.  I wish I'd read this first because there was no mystery for me in this book.  I already knew what was going to happen and how.

21) A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. Much ballyhooed allegedly autobiographical book about an addict in rehab trying to work through his issues.  I could not separate myself from the fact that he was exposed for fraud and lying his way through this book.  I also can't separate the feeling of phoniness.  I would be shocked if he didn't say Catcher in the Rye is one of his favorite books.  It has that same feel plus an air of depression and unnecessary repetition.  It would be an understatement to say I did not enjoy this book.  I had to stop and read others along the way.  I do not get the hype. 
22) White Teeth by Zadie Smith. This book about the interwoven lives of two army buddies and their children and the people they meet.  Interesting.  And you never really have an idea where it's all going until you near the end.  But that end came together a little too neatly and yet was still dissatisfying.  Very strange.  Sometimes a dissatisfying end can ruin the whole book.  This one felt unfinished but that didn't really diminish my enjoyment of the rest of the book.  I wouldn't call it a must-read but I think you could get some joy out of it.
23) Making Time, Making Change: Avoiding Overload in College Teaching by Douglas Reimondo Robertson.  Cool book.  Title explains it all.  Once you get past the rather dated exhortations to google things and digitize your work, quite enjoyable.  I don't have a teaching position lined up for the fall, but I figure I'd like to avoid overload before it happens.  If I can get ahead of these feelings, I can put myself at a greater advantage.  Can't wait to use some of these things in life!

24) My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due. Black sci-fi novel about an immortal and his mortal wife and the secrets that will drive them apart and keep them together.  LOVED IT!  Finished it in less than 48 hours and couldn't put it down!  Definitely read it!
25) The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  OMG I didn't expect to like this book about the dust bowl migration but I did!  It's a classic for a reason!  He skillfully interweaves general migration stories with the tale of the Joad family-- complete with a strong matriarch and a likeable murderer.  Right!?  Loved it.
26) Teaching What You Don't Know by Therese Huston.  AWESOME book about teaching on the collegiate level!  The reality is that most professors at some point in their careers find themselves teaching outside of their areas of expertise.  This book gives tons of concrete methods of coping.  I loved it!  So many great tips for making your course fantastic.  Can't wait to implement them!  I would recommend this for any professor.
27) The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. A memoir about a woman with dysfunctional but loving parents and an upbeat outlook on a very depressing childhood.  I really wanted some relief from the sadness.  Though there were moments of redemption, I longed for things to go right sooner.  Still, it was very well-written and I couldn't put it down.  I finished it in 28 or so hours.

28) The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell.  A novel about two stories, of at first unknown connection, one set in the present, the other in the past.  Slow start.  It picked up a bit.  I don't like it when authors tell me a character will die.  This book has that which creates a nice tension but that tension isn't appropriately alleviated over the next several hundred pages.  There needed to be some sort of signposts to help us solve the mystery.  I didn't dislike it, but I did end the book feeling dissatisfied. 
29) Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg.  An ode to an elderly woman beloved by her small town and extended family.  The short chapters and abundance of characters made reading this book frustrating at times.  There were some poorly-developed characters I just didn't care about.  Others needed more time because they were so interesting.  Had some warm fuzzies.  Good enough.
30) What They Didn't Teach You in Graduate School: 199 Helpful Hints for Success in Your Academic Career by Paul Gray & david E. Drew.  Unlike the title, this book is brief.  I read it in a few hours.  Some chapters were more presently helpful (teaching, job searches, tenure) than others, some will clearly be helpful later (tenure, research, grants, reviewing) some tips felt more like filler (stress & exercise).  But overall, I think many people at different points in their careers can benefit from this book.
31) How Did You Get This Number by Sloane Crosley.  A humorous book of essays about a New Yorker and her tails of life, love and adventure with some travel thrown in for good measure.  I enjoyed it.  Even the things I couldn't relate to were relatable.  Nice easy read.  And well-written.
32) One Hundred Names for Love by Diane Ackerman. Written by the wife of an author who suffered a debilitating stroke and their efforts to regain some normalcy and at least part of his vocabulary.  I mostly enjoyed it.  It just lasted a bit too long in too much non-life stroke-related detail for me.

33) Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable. This book explores unknown or previously obscured or embellished details about the life of Malcolm X.  It also serves as a debunker of myths; some related to The Autobiography of Malcolm X.  Very interesting read.  I found myself most irritated when the author inserted himself into the story, drawing conclusions.  At times he made definitive statements about things I felt there was no way he could have possibly known.  I found the afterword helpful as he explained his process in creating the book.  This was less narrative than the Autobiography which at times made it less enjoyable.  He also seemed to take some unnecessary detours explaining things that were somewhat corollary to X's life.  There were also times where it felt overly intrusive and I wondered how much we really need to know about his life and how much we really truly can.  A slow start but overall, worth reading.
34) Dilemma: A Priest's Struggle with Faith and Love by Father Albert Cutié. This memoir shows the story behind a famous Roman Catholic priest who left the RC church when he fell in love.  Self-indulgent.  While there were some interesting moments, overall, it was repetitive and felt like his 300-page airing of grievances.  It was also rather self-congratulatory at times.  Part of the problem is that he wrote this book incredibly fresh off of his "fall from grace."  It's difficult to have perspective on something when the wounds are still so raw.  Even without names, in many circumstances, it's easy to see exactly who the people are who he feels treated him the worst.  I'm sure if he wrote this five years from now, it would be not only a different book, but a better one.
35) My Parents Were Awesome: Before Fanny Packs & Minivans, They Were People Too edited by Eliot Glazer.  This collection of stories about various people's parents features a time when those old people we know were young and hip.  I almost didn't finish this book.  At just a few pages each, many of the stories are far too short to do any one couple any justice.  Amazingly, a couple that refused to talk about themselves or each other was too long.  Because they're written by people with varied experience writing anything longer than an email, some stories are captivating while others merely exist.  This reads more like the website the book originated from than a collection of cohesive stories.  You may be saying how could collected works from multiple sources work?  Well... the original Chicken Soup for the Soul comes to mind.  Though written by different people, they all seem to follow a workable theme and are reasonably well-written.  I will say it made me want to write (more) about my own parents so there's that.
36) Writing, Directing and Producing Documentary Films and Videos by Alan Rosenthal.  This was an assigned book for one of my classes that we never truly utilized.  It was a great resource and I've come up with the perfect class to teach using this text.  Each chapter also sparked inspiration for a variety of assignments including group work in and out of class, test questions, papers, discussions & debates.  Though dated at times (floppy disk, anyone?), I really enjoyed much of this book.

37) Producer: Lessons from 30 Years in Television by Wendy Walker.  I was reviewing this book for possible usage in a course and have decided not to use it.  While there were some interesting anecdotes, many were transformed into life lessons and opinions. Some were overly broad and loosely related to television while, more sparsely, others were more easily identifiable as news-related. While Walker absolutely has invaluable insight, this read more like a self-help memoir than an unveiling of how her considerable experiences can teach future generations in television.
38) The Living Blood by Tananarive Due. This second book in the immortal series picks up not long after the first book left off and focuses on the growing abilities of Jessica Jacobs-Wolde's immortal child.  Their story intersects with the desperate father of a sick child.  I read this book thinking, "How does she come UP with these things??"  Loved it!  Already reading book 3 with book 4 sitting on a book stack in the living room!
39) The Blood Colony by Tananarive Due. This third book in the immortal series felt like a placeholder. There wasn't a ton of action and it was low on suspense by comparison to the previous two books. I was ready to move on to book 4.
40) My Soul to Take by Tananarive Due. This fourth book in the immortal series moved from the beginning. I loved it even though it felt final. I would be okay if this was the last book in the series.
41) The Hunger Games by Suzette Collins. A fast-paced, post-apocalyptic book about children forced to fight for their lives. Lots of chapter-to-chapter cliffhangers and twists and turns. Some things felt a bit contrived but not enough that I didn't want to finish and then upon finishing (ANOTHER cliffhanger!!!) want to move on to the next book.

42) Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Awesome, awesome book about a woman with her three husbands and her trials in love and marriage. Set in Florida around the turn of the 20th century. I'm glad I put this on my books to read before I turned 30. Such a page turner. I finished it in less than 24 hours.
43) Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. Cute, easy but well-written read about an IT guy assigned to read people's emails and the girl he comes to like as a result of reading her emails. I really enjoyed it. Great airplane read.
44) Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Classic book about a group of boys who lose all sense of civilization when they're trapped on an island without any adults. Kind of shocking and sad to read as an adult. Poor little scared babies acting out because they wanted their mommies and daddies. Though it was pretty intriguing and became a page-turner toward the end, I can't say I really enjoyed reading it. Part of that is directly related to how fresh the film was for me even though I'd seen it more than almost two years previously. There was no suspense.
45) Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close. Though this book about women marrying has three "main" characters, two are woefully underdeveloped. Though the third is the most developed, she still a muddy picture at the end. Then there are a host of lesser characters that make sporadic re-appearances but are still so lightly-discussed they're nearly impossible to tell apart. Eh. Not the worst book I've read this year, but certainly not the best. Not even in the chick lit category.
46) Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. This story of being black in the 20th century when race relations were most tenuous and tensions were high. An invisible man recounts his pre-invisibility life. Slow start but really picked up in the last few hundred pages. The first book in a while that made me want to read a literary critique. Really intriguing.
47) Dear Cary by Dyan Cannon. The delicious Cary Grant's fourth (and 33 years younger) wife writes about her courtship, marriage, parenthood with, stormy relationship and divorce with the actor. I always feel uncomfortable when people write a book leveling some pretty harsh charges against someone who's long-dead. The book is filled with drama. The early part of their courtship as told by Cannon was really sweet. But there were times I wanted to put the book down... those times came early and a little too often. It's still celebrity gossip even if the main celebrity of mention is dead. It was like a train wreck, though. I didn't want to look away.
48) The Wake of the Wind by J. California Cooper. The story of slaves freed and the family both biological and adopted that grew in the days of struggle after abolition. A peaceful book that moves at a leisurely pace though fraught with tension manifested in quiet ways. The manifestation of the tension was not equal to that created. Still, I enjoyed reading the ups and downs of a growing family. It made me think of my own ancestors and their travails in acquiring and keeping land as blacks in the deep south. I would love to know what's next for the Freemans in Cooper's book. A good read.
49) Who Do You Think You Are? by Alyse Myers. This memoir written by a New York Times-published essayist takes us through a fraught and fractured mother-daughter relationship. Horrifying and moving, the story begins with the author taking her mother's lock box of memories after her mother's death. Written like a long-form essay, the story unfolds beautifully and memorably. It made me feel even more grateful for the wonderful relationship my mother and I have.
50) Dear Husband by Joyce Carol Oates. Fourteen stories of sad and/or unfulfilled lives. Incredibly depressing read. There wasn't a truly joyous story among them.

Note: An "airplane read" for me is a book that is engaging, flows nicely and doesn't require me to think too deeply. It is NOT a slight or indicative of the quality of writing. I just like to lay back and relax while in flight.

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