Sunday, June 24, 2007

Mid-year Recap

Here are some musings about the books I've read so far in 2007. See Read in 2007 on the sidebar for a complete list and links to

Favorite book: Toss up between Special Topics in Calamity Physics (novel) and The Barnum Museum (short stories), although Atonement and Magic For Beginners are strong contenders.

Favorite short story: There were so many! I'd have to go with one of the following:

  • "Lull" from Magic For Beginners - Kelly Link

  • "The Game of Clue" from The Barnum Museum - Steven Millhauser

  • "Meet Me In The Moon Room" from Meet Me In The Moon Room - Ray Vukcevich ( A collection that did not make it into my favorite book section only because I have not yet finished it.)

Least Favorite Book: White Noise - Don Delillo. Which, slim as it is, would have benefited from being shorter.

Least Favorite Short Story/Novella Collection: There weren't any. All seven collections that I have read were strong. The weakest of the bunch was Steven Millhauser's The King In the Trees which I did not like because I thought he had written about themes of two of the three novellas better in another collection.

Most overrated: Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller and Amsterdam by Ian McEwan.

I pinpointed elsewhere on this blog why I did not like Notes on a Scandal. To sum it up, the book never explores or reflects upon the taboo themes that it dredges up to move the plot. It's ludicrous to me that it was nominated for anything, let alone shortlisted for a Booker.

I had similar problems with Amsterdam. While thematically and conceptually interesting, the characters were caricatures and the ending was preposterous. If you have never read Ian McEwan, steer clear of this one and pick up Atonement. Critics agree that Atonement is the superior book. I had no idea just exactly how superior it was until I finished Amsterdam feeling empty and annoyed.

Book that took the longest time to read: Wings of the Dove by Henry James, what else?

Honorable Mentions: The Ghost Writer by John Harwood. I love a good ghost story, and John Harwood's The Ghost Writer delivers not one, but four of the best and creepiest ones I've had the pleasure to read. This one's also an excellent mystery.

Mid-year Recap Continued...

My last post became so overly long that I decided to separate it into two.

Lastly, here are the four authors that I've been introduced to this year that I think particularly deserves mention:
Alice Munro, Steven Millhauser, and Ray Vukcevich, and Marisha Pessl.

I discovered Alice Munro on the train, so I will forever associate her with flitting light and the pattern of leaves dancing across the page. I love her for her darkness, ambiguity, and lilting language, but also for her ability to capture female characters with such clarity.

I was so captivated by "The Game of Clue", and the rest of The Barnum Museum, that I quickly hunted down every one of Steven Millhauser's short story/novella collections. Millhauser focuses on the study of miniatures, details, Critics find individual stories strong, but not enough variations in the themes of his collections. I don't have a problem with this, since I find almost all of the stories in his collections written so exquisitely.

I loved Special Topics In Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl.

The book is narrated by the precocious Blue Van Meer documenting the seminal events in her life that lead up to the mysterious death of her beautiful and much worshiped teacher Hannah Schneider. Blue Van Meer narrates the way that the Gilmore Girls would talk on speed, with numerous references to books, quotations, science, philosophy, movies, and music. Click here, here, and here for reviews.

It took extraordinary amounts of will to put down the book. I read it while stirring the pot, playing with the cat, and watching tv. I decided to take a bath instead of a shower, just so I could keep on reading the book. I would let out squeals of joy that scared my boyfriend and my cat, because the book was just that good. And I would stop every hundred pages or so, scared that I was going too fast, that it would end too soon. 40 pages before the end, I even thought about starting over from the beginning just so I could delay the inevitable end.

To my surprise some literary folks did not share my enthusiasm for Special Topics in Calamity Physics, leading me to the conclusion that you either delight and revel in this book, or find it irritating to no end.

Still I think most people can agree that Ms. Marisha Pessl is a force to be reckoned with. And I can't wait till she comes out with another book.

Lastly there is Ray Vukcevich. An author published by Small Beer Press. It's hard not to mourn for an obscure author who so richly deserve to be widely read, appreciated, and discussed. Ray Vukcevich captures moments of terror, foreboding, longing, and regret in short stories that are often no more than three or four pages long. Read him. You will not regret it.