Last time it was movies, this time let’s catch up with some books I forgot to tell you about to close out my reading in 2012. There’s a lot of them, so for this time let’s only do books for grown ass people.
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
Listen, I am just as Tudor obsessed as the next person. What’s not to like? King Henry and all his debauched sexy business, the parade of unfortunate wives, people getting all killed up every five minutes, the Church, the government, wars, drama, intrigue, secrets, power. So what if you already know the story? Didn’t we all watch Jonathan Rhys-Meyers doing the naked bootango even though we already knew the story? However! There’s a lot of details in this retelling. Some people will love all the particulars. Others will wonder why this is happening to them. As for me, I liked it, I appreciated it, but by the end, I was saturated in Tudorness in way where I thought I would never want to think about them again. It’s like a huge Thanksgiving meal. You enjoy it while it’s happening but at a certain point if you have to eat one more bite you are going to be like that barfy guy in Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life.” By the last page, I was all NOT ONE MORE TUDOR OR I SHALL BLOW LITERARY CHUNKS.
The Hope Factory, by Lavanya Sankaran
Two connected people in Bangalore: Anand, an unhappily married dedicated father and small factory owner, and Kamala, a widowed servant with a teenage son who works in Anand’s house. Both try to live principled lives within complicated social and economic structures that make it almost impossible to do so. It worked on several levels: as a family story, as a social commentary, as an economic critique of globalization and more. Hey, lookee there, I had no annoying me-commentary to add about that one. That was like a straight up description and stuff. Weird.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
A funny satire with lots of inside jokes for Seattle people thrown in (well, I guess it’s Seattle-specific in the same way Portlandia is Portland-specific. But really, isn’t Portlandia just as much about Park Slope or wherever just as much as Portland?). I am always interested in books like this where it’s funny and snarky but rides right along the edge of being a bit mean. I think it stays on the non-mean side of things, which I always like not only because it’s nicer to be that way but more so because I think it’s harder to do as a writer. It can be an easier choice to be mean sometimes. Or maybe it’s because I just don’t like mean and so that has more to do with me than the writing. I am always thinking that I want to be funny and maybe snarky but I really, really don’t want to be an asshole. Hey, how about we make this review be all about me and my neuroses? Done and done.
The Crackle and the Frost, by Lorenzo Mattotti
Let me quote from the text of this graphic novel: “How was I to orient myself during my trip toward the frontiers of fear? The only compass I had on me was Alice’s letter, with all of its silences.” If you are the type of person who gets a rash from sentences like that, this one is mos def not for you. The illustrations are spooky and bold- I enjoyed looking at them.
The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
The thing that was really working for me in this one was the setting. Morgenstern creates a really interesting world that is super fun to imagine and magical and romantic. I was lucky enough to have read this on a vacation where I pretty much read most of it all in one sitting, which only added to being totally immersed. The storytelling is a bit flowery, but I found that totally appropriate.
How Should a Person Be?, by Sheila Heti
So this one gets described as being part of the whole Lena Dunham pre-Girls oeuvre (yes, effers, I said oeuvre) where one of the central questions is about how the contemporary younger lady artist plays with her own representation via mixing up fictionalized versions of herself with real stuff, etc. This is just the type of question that drives some people buh-nay-nays, but for others it’s the total shit. I come down on the loving this sort of thing end of the spectrum. At least usually I do. This time though, I just couldn’t. It just went to a place where the intellectualizing of Heti’s life got to be unbearable to me. And believe me, I have a high threshold for loving this sort of caca.
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
What everyone else says is true: compulsively readable, interesting, fun. It’s interesting to me that so many people loved this book so much because I usually find that many people don’t like to read unlikable characters and I found this one to be chock full of hah-rible people.
The Middlesteins, by Jami Attenberg
There are those sad novels about sad people who have dysfunctional families/relationships and bleak luck and reams of hopeless disappointment with no end in sight, and the author somehow makes it simultaneously depressing and beautiful. This book was one of those.
Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV, by Warren Littlefield
This books was so weirdly written. The format was distracting to me. Each chapter focused on a particular show (Seinfeld, for example) and the editor interviewed a bunch of people about that show (actors, executives, producers, writers) and then there are just a bunch of quotes from these people, one after another, like a disjointed script. That’s it. Good for people that really care about things like time-slot wars (guilty!), and not so good for people that just want dish.
The Wandering Falcon, by Jamil Ahmad
A man and a woman have run away from their village and had a child just outside a military fort in the area where Afghanistan and Pakistan meet. This child’s life is loosely followed as he travels from place to place until adulthood in this series of interconnected short stories that describes the region, politics, societies, and people of this area pre-9/11. The stories are that lovely mixture that can sometimes happen where everything is simply told but impossibly complex at the same time. I don’t usually do favorites, but this one would be in the running for my top pick of 2012.
The Round House, by Louise Erdrich
This one would would also be in my top picks for the year. Essentially it’s the story of a 13-year-old boy whose mother has been raped at the beginning of the book. He and his father, who is a tribal judge (they are Ojibwe) spend the book trying to find the perpetrator and bring him to justice. It’s a family story, a story about tribal land rights and politics, a coming of age story, an everything story, really. Characters are great, the language is great, the pace and plot are engrossing, the setting is vivid, the story is straightforward if you want to read it that way but there are layers underneath everything too if you want to dig for them. Sometimes writers are so good at what they do that it sort of makes me a little mad. This was one of those.