Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010: Mission Accomplished

In January, I vowed to read more (not a resolution - those are too hard to keep). If you've been following this blog or even if you're reading this now, all you have to do is look to the right to see the list of books that I have read this year. Sixteen books in 12 months! I think that might be the most non-school reading I've ever done. I tried to balance non-fiction with fiction. I chose books that I initially thought were out of my comfort zone. I even started a couple that I just could not finish. As 2010 comes to an end, I thought I'd share my thoughts about the books that found their way to my nightstand.

Game Change
Wow! This book was a whirlwind look at the 2008 presidential campaign. I learned a few things from it.

First, I never EVER want to work on a campaign - not even for a school board member. As much as I felt like I lived this campaign through work (and believe me, I did), I could not believe how insane it was for the people who were paid to politic.

Second, I still believe in that "hopey-changey stuff." I do wish President Barack Obama could be as effective a communicator as Candidate Obama. It's sad that a president who has accomplished so much in two year's time hasn't been able to manage the anger and get ahead of the false stories to make sure America knows what's happening in Washington. He has about a year to do get better at that or else there will be someone else in The White House.

Third, while I am surprised and proud that America could elect an African American president, I am stunned at how women who run for office are viewed. The way Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin were scrutinized in the press, by the voters and by the late night comedians was offensive. These are women who - love them or hate them - worked hard to take on men. Yet the fact that they are mothers/have a uterus held them back. I would like to say that there will be a strong, confident, capable women who is elected to lead America, but as long as people continue to attack these candidates because they are women, it's like we're taking huge leaps backwards.

The Help
Oh my.

This was the first book I read in a long time that made me happy. It's strange to write that about a book that deals with the civil rights movement - told from the perspective of the black women who worked for white families and the white women who hired them - but it's true.

I felt like I was peeking into a time that feels like it happened centuries ago. And it was interesting to read this in a time when racism is still very much alive in America. I love that it was written in a way that makes it hard not to feel the voice of each character.

I only hope that the movie version of this novel stays true to the book and that the actors deliver the dialog just as I imagined it. No pressure.

The Carrie Diaries
I did not expect great things from this book. In fact, I kind of expected it to be mediocre.

I wish it had risen to that level.

Candace Bushnell is one lucky writer. She wrote a so-so book that Michael Patrick King was able to spin into a lovable television series. I would like him to stop with the Sex and The City movies.

This book, about Carrie Bradshaw's early years was so predictable. But without the visual help of a television series/movie, I just had to use my imagination to see the character. Know what? She was like that girl you wanted to like but couldn't.

Ms. Bushnell has fooled me for the last time.

The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee
My potty mouth was excited about this book. My brain wasn't so sure.

Once I finished this book, I realized this might be the truest title of a memoir.

It's brave to talk about peeing the bed into your teens. Redemption? That comes from selling books that talk about peeing the bed into your dreams.

This book was funny and charming (if you look don't look at the pictures - how about a little warning on the cover that the book contains a penis picture?). Also, I read it in about a week. Considering my ambitious plan to read more, that was a plus. I'm not sure if this will get me to seek more books penned (or typed, I guess that's how writers do things these days) by people who make a living being funny, but I did enjoy this.

War
Coming off the silliness, this was a complete shock.

While I am definitely not cut out for military life (for starters, I hate camping), I have always been interested in stories from the battlefield. This was probably closer than I would ever want to get.

This detailed view of life in one of the most dangerous places in the world was rattling. War is not pretty. War in Afghanistan is quite possibly the ugliest thing imaginable. What this book did was make me even more appreciative of the men and women who have been fighting this war for years. Winning war in that country has been impossible for many countries. I'm not sure that America or its allies will ever achieve victory there. I just hope that it finds some way to reach the Afghan people to let them know that they can take back their country from those who wish them (and the world) harm.

Every Last One
I've enjoyed Anna Quindlen's other books, but this one was not memorable.

Looking up the description of the book made me remember just how tragic this story was. Did I forget it because I knew that this book would make me sad and hopeful? Or did I forget it because I read other tragic books that were better?

I don't know. I wish I remembered more about this family's sad story. But I don't. That makes me a little sad. I'm sure I liked this book. I just can't remember why. I can't even remember who I handed off this book to when I finished it. That darned memory loss has hit me hard with this one.

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner
I wish I were Stephenie Meyer. A little vampire vision spun into a multi-million dollar empire? Yes, please. If I knew of the next big thing, I'd be working like crazy on it. Instead, I'm paying for these books and blogging about them. Who's jealous?

This book, kind of a spin-off of the Twilight series, was a very easy read. In fact, it was one little story - not even chapters to break it up.

While I have not enjoyed the movies based on this book (Kristen Stewart might be the worst actress ever - unless moping is the best form of acting), I have enjoyed the books. They're very descriptive and so easy to flip through that it's not impossible to finish one book in a weekend. I consider that a good thing when reading these kind of books. That's my simple brain speaking.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
The idea of a girl who can taste emotions when she eats seemed strange. By the end, I was wondering if I would want such a thing.

Sure, the picture of the cake drew me in to this book. But the story hooked me. While I read this book, I noticed myself thinking about food as I ate it. Where did it come from? Who cooked it? And I noticed that when I cooked, if I was happy when I was in the kitchen, it seemed food tasted better.

I was sad for the main character's older brother. He was incapable of handling his special power. In fact, there was one moment where I was wondering what happened - then begging people to read it so I could talk to them about it.

One Day
There's a reason this book has made so many lists of the best of 2010.

It's not just good. It's great!

As a girl who does not love romantic comedies, I was a bit unsure of this one. But by the end, I was happy it was not predictable. This one is being made into a movie. I hope it makes me feel the same way as the book did. If so, it could join the ranks of one of my favorite movies: Love Actually.

Everything Is Going To Be Great
I never read Eat Pray Love because I always thought it seemed a bit sad - a single girl reading a book that was meant to be part memoir, part self-help. This book could not have been further from that.

I don't know what it is about books written by funny ladies that must include penises (this one includes a sketch), but I guess that's part of the adventure. Ladies who buy these books should just assume that will, um, come up in the pages.

I loved the crazy adventure this trip to Europe became. I loved that it made me want to find someone to finance my own adventure (still looking for sponsors). I loved that it was not neatly wrapped up in a happy ending - though it did make me smile by the end.

Red Hook Road
Now this is a tragic book I have not forgotten!

It's rare that a book can make me happy, then make me cry in the first chapter. This did that and more.

Reading about two families torn apart and then brought together through the course of this story was at times too much to take. I found myself rooting for these people to realize they shared the same pain. I also kept shouting at one character to snap out of it. Truth: when you shout at books, you get nothing but blank stares from the letters.

By the last page, I was happy.

Freedom
I missed out on this much-hyped author when The Corrections was released. The size of this book had me skeptical, but so many people were raving about this, so I lugged it around while I powered through it.

The writing was great. I just wish the characters had been less than jerky. I couldn't help but compare this book to the movie Closer. I liked that film, but I hated every single character in it. Not one had a decent quality.

This book was slightly different in that I found some of the characters redeemable. It just took me hanging in about 570 pages or so before I saw that.

That said, I did like this book. I'm not sure I want to read the previous book - or even if I'll take on the next one. Well, maybe I'll download the e-version so I don't pull a muscle hauling it around.

Celebrity Chekhov
I was interested in this book for two reasons: 1) I never read a single sentence of Chekhov; 2) I liked the idea of taking classic literature and mingling it with pop culture.

It was interesting, but I found myself being a little too critical of some of the short stories. A story in which Nicole Richie is jealous of Paris Hilton? Has this author not even scanned an issue of US Weekly or Perez Hilton's website?

Once I reminded myself that these were just stories not plucked from the tabloids, I let go enjoyed it.

Also, I'm claiming to have read Chekhov. See? I'm a smarty pants.

Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington
I'd like to start by saying I did not pay for this book. One of my co-workers picked it up at the governor's victory party on Election Night. I was curious about this book because I am convinced this man is not going to serve his full next term.

Reading this book, I don't believe he wants to be president. Really. You can't criticize Washington when you live in the big white house. I think Rick Perry wants a job speaking or on Fox News.

This book, while a mere 240 pages, offered nothing I had not heard in a campaign speech. It made me angry. Talk about bringing jobs to Texas, but don't mention the fact that those business are leaving other countries and states for tax breaks that - in the long term - don't benefit Texans. Don't talk about the horrible state of education here. Don't talk about the huge budget deficit looming over Texas. Just talk about the nice points. It's like seeing your distant relatives - just stick to the nice stuff so they think you're perfect. Keep the bad stuff for the immediate family.

Room
This book is told from the perspective of a five-year-old boy. He and his mother live in a room where they're being held captive. His mother does such a good job of keeping the horrible truth from him - until she realizes they must get out.

I never once thought, "This is ridiculous."

I was completely lost in this boy's innocence and strength. How scary the outside world must be to someone who's only idea of life outside a room has come from a television. And how scary it must be to see things up close that seemed make believe. But this writer pulled it off.

This is one of my favorite books I read this year.

Decision Points
Full Disclosure: I liked Governor George W. Bush. He was nice. I don't know what happened when he went to Washington. That's why I was eager to read this book.

Instead of telling his story chronologically, he broke it down by his "decision points" (get it?). At times, I thought it was strange (a single chapter on Afghanistan?). But by the end, it made sense.

Kind of.

The book includes the former president's apologies and explanations. I was a little surprised that no where did it mention Pat Tillman - if anyone's family deserved to hear an apology, it's his. Aside from that, Mr. Bush accepts responsibility for many things, though that won't please everyone.

I wonder if not for the stories including his mother, Barbara, if I would have enjoyed this book as much as I did. It was the first presidential autobiography I have read that I breezed through. That's not an insult to Mr. Bush. It's a compliment to the editors who kept this book from including paragraph-long sentences that did not provide a stopping point (looking at you, Mr. Clinton).

Books I did not finish:

  • Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition - This book was so out of sequence that my little brain could not keep up. It's being turned into a PBS series, so I'll give that a try.
  • Seven Events That Made America America - I had no idea how preachy this book would be. I made it one chapter before deciding it wasn't really a history lesson - it was more of a "liberals are ruining America" lesson. If I wanted that, I would only watch Fox News.
No matter what I think of the books I chose this year, I have been happy to pass them off to friends and family. So, here's where I do that. These books are sitting in my guest room just waiting for a new owner.
If you're interested, let me know and I will get it/them to you.

And here's what books are on my nightstand now.
Some have been there for months. I vow to get through them (and pass them on) in the coming months. Plus, Santa bought me Color Nook, so I want to download some books to read on that. I am only planning on using it for books that are more than 350 pages - unless I love it so much that I don't want to buy real books anymore.
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