31 December 2009

another year in books - a collaboration

Here are reviews of the best books we read this year. We've rated them using a hearts system, with ♥♥♥♥♥ as the highest recommendation. Enjoy!

Lane Meyer's picks

Eating the Dinosaur - Chuck Klosterman

If I could be any writer it would either have to be David Sedaris or Chuck Klosterman. He writes the way I think and covers subject matter that I've only dreamed of delving into. In this new book, he discusses a broad range of topics in his essays stemming from the art of the interview, why In Utero had to be publicized as a sucky album, to why Rivers Cuomo has the "yellow fever." Be prepared to be captivated. ♥♥♥♥

Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and its Aftermath - Michael Norman and Elizabeth Norman

Definitely a heavy subject matter. These types of topics have always fascinated and frightened me. This particular book recounts the grueling and horrific events surrounding the World War II battle at Bataan and the treatment experienced by many Filipino and American Soldiers. The book also features images by Ben Steele, a soldier who had been a POW for over a thousand days at Bataan while disclosing his experiences on the pacific front. If you're into these types of books it is worth a read, even if you're not you'll be better for having read it. ♥♥♥½

Stephen Colbert's Tek Jansen - John Layman et al

What can I say that hasn't already been said about Tek Jansen? He's great, cunning and way too into himself. This first graphic novel features our lovely hero being demoted, starting a universal war with the optiklons, and all the while managing to score with the alien ladies. A must read for any Colbert fan. ♥♥♥½

Wish You Were Here: An Essential Guide to Your favourite Music Scenes-from Punk to Indie and Everything in Between - Leslie Simon


Jen's picks

The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

This book has garnered both criticism and praise, flack and acclaim, popularity...and well more popularity with a blockbuster film. The central theme borders on pedophilia, an amputation scene is featured in detail and the book unravels very slowly at the beginning. What spurns me to recommend this book regardless is the way in which Niffenegger constructs the time traveler’s voyages so seamlessly. I consider the expertise required to write a book that spans so many different time periods an astounding talent; I am amazed at how Niffenegger weaves her many stories together without dropping a single thread. The title of this book eludes me as I would not consider the time traveler's wife to be the book's protagonist. Both central characters are very interesting though, a librarian and an artist, and their personalities support a book that is largely plot-driven (I am often weary of plot-driven books and favour strong characters instead). So, I am recommending this book with a caution -- I am certain that it is far more bittersweet than the film, which I have not bothered to see. If you are longing for a typical love story, this book is not the one. If you are looking for a fantastic example of writer’s craft, then continue beyond the first 50 pages. ♥♥♥♥

Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell

What is an “outlier”? And I quote: “Outlier is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience […] [Gladwell] is interested in people who are outliers—in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August.

This book proposes the 10, 000 hour rule stating that it takes anyone at least this length of time spent in practice to become an expert in any area; I love this concept because it acknowledges luck in regards to accessing the optimal conditions needed to practice, but it is uplifting to find that hard work garners results. Gladwell examines Beatlemania and Bill Gates, distilling their success partially into a serious of “being in the right place at the right time” moments, which sounds cliché, but is very entertaining on the page. This book’s explanation of plane crashes is also very fascinating and includes actual snippets of airline traffic control conversation (only interesting if Gladwell is narrating, I’m sure). As my friends here on the blog can attest, I’m not a huge reader of non-fiction. However, I assure you that this book is worth your time and have found Gladwell to be a storyteller in his own right. ♥♥♥♥

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This epistolary (a novel in letters) is a foray into the historical details of the Nazi occupation on the British Channel Islands. The book maintains historical accuracy while whisking the reader through a romantic plotline and slowly revealing the details of a secret society. It is so clever that the book is written by two authors as the letters have such unique voices and the characters display such individual personalities. Juliet, a writer, is absolutely my favourite character, rejecting men that others would deem a “great catch”. Isola, owner of a pet parrot on the island, spends her days learning to read the bumps on people’s heads (Phrenology) and is very entertaining herself! In short, this book is home to wonderful characters and is beautifully written. One passage that I thoroughly enjoyed was Juliet’s commentary on a mysterious letter. She says, “I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret honing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers”. So please, for Juliet’s sake, allow this book to hone its way to your nightstand! ♥♥♥♥♥

Elaine's picks

I love reading short stories because I will often start a book and not pick it up again for days, even weeks, so there’s little worry about forgetting plot.

The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God and Other Stories - Etgar Keret

I found this gem during a book shopping trip in search of a new author. The stories, set mainly in the Middle East, are REALLY short - 4 pages on average. Keret's tales are unique, unpredictable and pack a whallop despite their length. "Knellers Happy Campers", probably the best and longest story in the collection at 40 pages, is saved for last. Adapted into a movie aptly titled "Wristcutters: A Love Story" (2006), it's Keret's imagined life after suicide. This collection is a recommended read for those who like short stories with big impact. The stories are translated so typos abound. ♥♥♥♥

Pastoralia - George Saunders

I decided to check out Saunders' other works after reading The Braindead Megaphone last year. I read a couple of his books this year but Pastoralia, a collection of short stories, was definitely the best and more memorable. Saunders' tales are original and are perfect blends of humour and satire. Standout stories include a Stone Age reenactor faces work politics drama and a family struggling to make ends meet experiences a not-so-divine resurrection. This book made the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. ♥♥♥♥♥

My Goat Ate Its Own Legs: Tales for Adults - Alex Burrett

The catchy title alone begs readership. Burrett's tales are imaginative, bizarre, quirky and oftentimes repulsive. If you're in the mood for dark and morbid stories, pick up a copy. From the goat that ate its own leg, the woman who dated Death, the inseparable couple (literally!), to seeing God go about his very personal business, this collection is sure to entertain. While a very interesting read, the lack of proofreading was distracting. ♥♥♥½

Self-Help: Stories - Lorrie Moore

In this collection of "instructive" stories about family and lovers, losses and gains, you'll find humour, wit and emotionality. Beautifully written, memorable tales include "How to Be an Other Woman" and "How to Become a Writer." ♥♥♥♥

Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Jeff Kinney

If you're in the mood to relive your middle-school years, this is a definite read. I decided to read this book not because I wanted to reminisce (I hated middle school) but because this is a highly requested book by the kids in my program and I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. This diary chronicles a year in the life of young Greg Heffley. From the "cheese curse", Halloween adventures, school cliques, to BFF troubles, you're sure to find an entry you can relate to. Pretty funny stuff! ♥♥♥½

1 comment:

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