Last year my mother asked me for a list of what I wanted for Christmas that was specifically things my grandmother could buy for me, with the stipulation of “no books.” I didn’t know what to do. No books for Christmas? That just doesn’t make sense. Every year my Christmas wish list contains more books than anything else. It’s usually books that I want but can’t justify spending the money on. This year I share my holiday wish list with you. 

Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill
I collect children’s books and this one is a favorite from my childhood. I used to own it, but I have no idea where it is now. Ever since I got a black cat of my own, I can’t help but be reminded of Jenny Linsky and her cat friends so I need to own it again.  

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
I didn’t read The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao until this year, prompted by just how much I want to read This Is How You Lose Her. I really hope it lives up to the hype. 

Jonathan Adler: On Happy Chic Colors
                On Happy Chic Accessorizing
                My Prescription for Anti-Depressive Living
I love books about interior design and I love Jonathan Adler, so these three books are all win.

Vintage Cocktails by Brina Van Flandern
I’m a sucker for vintage and who doesn’t love cocktails? Also, while I haven’t had a chance to look at this one in person, I have the feeling that it’s going to have gorgeous photographs, which is always a plus.

Fairytales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version by Phillip Pullman
I love fairytales and will buy any fairytale book I can find. The fact that Phillip Pullman is behind this one just makes it that much better. It’s been very hard for me to not buy this for myself, but I’m fairly certain someone already bought it for me. This is the one on my list I’m probably most excited about.

 I love lists, especially end-of-year lists and end-of-year lists about books are like pure heaven to me. I’m usually terrible about keeping track of what I read throughout the year, but this year happened to be different for two reasons. 1) I’ve officially run out of shelf space for my books so they all congregated in a pile and 2) my list is embarrassingly telling of my personal life. If you know me there’s such an obvious pattern to what I’ve read. I was torn between trying to keep it in order of when I read them and keeping books by the same author together, It’s a weird mishmash of the two, so bear with me. There are a few embarrassing titles in there, but for the most part I think this is a good representation of the fact that I will read anything.

Pink Smog by Francesca Lia Block: I read Weetzie Bat somewhere around the age of 11 or 12 and my life hasn’t been the same since. Despite the fact that I’m a fully grown adult, I still love Francesca Lia Block. I was a little wary of her writing a prequel to Weetzie Bat, especially so many years later, but I think she stayed true to the character.

The Elementals by Francesca Lia Block: Not so much a fan of this one, but I think it’s because FLB accomplished what she wanted. This book was disturbing and I think that was the point. It was well written, but it left me feeling uneasy.

Nymmph by Francesca Lia Block

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

Bite Me by Christopher Moore: There’s a distinct possibility I read this last year and not this one, but it was mixed in with the rest of the books I read in 2012, so I’m including it.

The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss: Interesting concept, but I think the story got overshadowed by the idea.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman: Again, I may have read this one last year.

Clockwork Angel By Cassandra Clare

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: A reread in preparation for the movie.

Talking to Girls about Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield: A reread, but I love Rob Sheffiield and his take on music and life.

The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan: I loved this so much that I made Amy read it, forgetting completely that I underlined something horribly embarrassing in it. She didn’t tease me too much…

The Whisperers by John Connolly

The Undead by John Connolly

Rebel Bookseller by Andrew Laties

Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: A reread. I hadn’t read it since high school and felt the need to remedy that.

Very Fond of Food by Sophie Dahl: I don’t really cook, but I love cookbooks and will read them front to back like a novel. A delicious novel.

I Am an Executioner by Rajesh Parameswaran

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery: I didn’t finish this one. It was just too dry and uninteresting to me.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov

Unforgettable You by Daisy Fuentes: Mildy embarrassing, but I really will read anything.

The Likeness by Tana French: Many people recommended Tana French to me and I finally gave in and read this one. It made me mad at myself for waiting so long to read her books.

Faithfull Place by Tana French: My favorite of the three.

 In the Woods by Tana French

 The Killing Floor by Lee Child

 Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

Nemesis by Jo Nesbo

The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbo

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper: So, so good. I cried reading the end of this.

Plan B by Jonathan Tropper 

The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper

Everything Changes by Jonathan Tropper

One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper

The Jewish Book of Why by Alfred J Kolatch: I’ve been thinking about converting and have been trying to educate myself.

Stars of David by Abigail Pagreen

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami: I mentioned before that this book makes the rounds amongst my friends and this year was my turn. I was a little intimidated by the size and the violent subject matter, but I loved it. So much so, I went out and bought the movie as soon as I finished it.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: Another one that people kept trying to get me to read that I put off for whatever reason. I ended up loving it, which proves I should listen to my friends more often.  

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby: Another one that made me cry.

Imagine by Jonah Lehrer: I started reading this two weeks before it came out that Jonah Lehrer fabricated some of his facts. I didn’t finish it, not because of the controversy, but because it was boring.

The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje: My introduction to Michael Ondaatje and I completely fell in love with him.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje: The end of this one was read through a haze of tears. I can’t even begin to express how much I loved this story.

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht

A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman

Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Then Again by Diane Keaton: I didn’t finish this one. I really want to like Diane Keaton, but for whatever reason she annoys the crap out of me. This book didn’t help matters.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: Reread for book club.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger : Another reread for book club.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Dodger by Terry Pratchett: I love Terry Pratchett and this book proves that he can do no wrong.

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett: The Tiffany Aching books are my favorite of all of Terry Pratchett’s books and this one might be the best of them.

 Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

PaulaFox the-night-strangers aloha_cover2

In the spirit of Best of 2012 book lists, I wanted to share the books I’ve read in 2012 and maybe a few thoughts about them along the way. Really, I just like to look back to see what path I followed with my books each year, and maybe you’ll find one or two you want to check out, too.

More or less chronologically, here we go:

Faithful Place, Tana French: I’m a fan. French wrote one of my recent favorite books, The Likeness, which had me so enthralled I took a half day off of work to come home and keep reading it. A young man flees his home after his young love abandons him, only to have to return home and deal with every single problem and person he himself left behind—and learn a painful truth.

The Wordy Shipmates, Sarah Vowell (audio)

San Francisco Poems, Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The Inner Circle, Brad Meltzer (audio): I love Brad. He’s funny on Twitter and he has a show, Decoded, that I’m kind of addicted to, which examines “the meanings behind various symbolism, alleged secret codes and conspiracies that surround us everyday.” I love that kind of thing, so I had to check out one of books. A great diversion for my commute. And that it took place in the National Archives with an archivist protagonist/hero, all the better.

Witches on the Road Tonight, Sheri Holman

Atmospheric Disturbances, Rivka Galchen: See my earlier post, which combined with this one indicates just how long this remained unfinished.

The Consolations of Philosophy, Alain de Boton (audio)

The Walking Dead, Book 2: I felt I needed to catch up for the next season of the TV series, but it’s already gone so far afield it doesn’t really matter.

Aloha from Hell, Richard Kadrey: Third in the Sandman Slim series, which is terrifically well-written and a ride of story if you enjoy the devil, vampires, angels, zombies, and all manner of preternatural beings . Which I do.

The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman

Freedom, Jonathan Franzen (audio)

The Four Fingers of Death, Rick Moody

Shopgirl, Steve Martin (audio)

I Drink for a Reason, David Cross (audio)

Point Omega, Don Delillo (audio)

Pygmy, Chuck Palahniuk (audio): Wow. This was a great one to listen to. The cadence of the story, the “dialogue” or narrator’s voice, was so out of the norm it was a fresh “reading” experience. A young exchange student insinuates himself into a caricature of a “typical American” family, absorbs the oddities of American culture, and secretly seeks to infiltrate the country to enact Operation Havoc against it.

The Gunslinger, Stephen King

Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes: The Authorized Adaptation, Ron Wimberly: Something Wicked is one of my all-time favorite books, a bittersweet story of the innocence of childhood being left behind, of facing difficult decisions that speak to your true nature, of two friends choosing different paths. I couldn’t pass up the graphic novel.

Tell-All, Chuck Palahniuk (audio)

Gonzo: A Graphic Biography of Hunter S. Thompson, Will Bingley & Anthony Hope-Smith

The Ice Queen, Alice Hoffman (audio)

Everything I Needed to Know about Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume, Jennifer O’Connell, ed.

This Is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper

Unseen Academicals, Terry Pratchett (audio)

A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan

Look Me in the Eye, John Elder Robison

Throttle, Joe Hill and Stephen King

The White Devil, Justin Evans

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

Stalin’s Ghost, Martin Cruz Smith (audio)

Summer of Night, Dan Simmons

In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan (audio): The Omnivore’s Dilemma opened my eyes to the reality of where our food comes from, even what we consider organic. Who knew that corn is in pretty much everything we eat? In Defense of Food taught me some more important lessons, particularly that the more health claims a food’s packaging has, the farther you should run from it. Also, if your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, it’s not food.

The Devotion of Suspect X, Keigo Higashino

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

WIZZYWIG: Portrait of a Serial Hacker, Ed Piskor: A local guy getting lots of good attention; I had to make my purchase in support. Once again I discovered that my choices of graphic novels are inevitably very sad stories. Such was the case with this one as well, but, another eye-opening text, it was well worth the read.

Horns, Joe Hill

Good Omens, Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

Indignation, Philip Roth (audio)

The Subterraneans, Jack Kerouac: Reading this on an airplane coming home from Chicago, my row-mate turned to me and said, “That must be a really good book.” I held it up and said, “Yeah, Jack Kerouac.” And the blank look on his face was the end of our conversation.

Wreck This Journal, Keri Smith: Okay, not really a book one reads, but I learned a lesson from this one, too: I’m not nearly as creative as I think I am. I took the directions on each page pretty literally (yeah, I guess that’s how I am), and then I visited the book’s Tumblr and saw all the awesome things people were doing… Inspired by other people’s creativity, I wanted to throw my book away and start over again. (But I didn’t.)

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Stieg Larsson (audio)

Stardust, Neil Gaiman

Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger: Perks and Catcher were re-reads for book club, and also because a) I couldn’t remember the book well enough to see how faithful the movie was, and b) I didn’t really remember the connection it was supposed to have to Catcher. For some reason, I found Catcher humorous this time around. I know it’s not supposed to be a funny book, but I definitely interpreted all of Holden’s activities and concerns through the eyes of an older person.

The Coldest Winter: A Stringer in Liberated Europe, Paula Fox: I have this thing for war memoirs and the like. It started, I think, when I was a manuscript reader then freelance editor for a small publishing company; they were my favorite jobs. This book is poetic in its remembrance of the author’s experiences among the people and the locales her work carried her to. It’s lovely.

The Night Strangers, Chris Bohjalian: Just pages into the book, while nothing had really happened yet, it was already the spookiest thing I’d read in quite some time. I’m still reading this one, but after a father’s tragedy, he and his wife and two daughters move to a “house with a history” in New England so he can heal. But there’s a strange little door in the basement, and something a little more is brewing where I am now.

When She Was Good, Philip Roth (audio)

What were your favorite books on your nightstand this year?

In my circle of friends there are certain bookish things that we have all bonded over. It seems like every summer one of us reads Battle Royale for the first time. Drood has made the rounds as well (this year is my year.) Amy and I found ourselves coincidentally starting The Blind Assassin on the same day. We both found it to be such an ordeal to get through it that we share a common dislike of Margaret Atwood. And everyone hates Bret Easton Ellis.

I personally have never read anything by him*, but every time he comes up in conversation everyone warns me so vehemently not to read any of his books that it makes me want to. I’m curious what the big deal is and why is he so awful? I saw American Psycho when it first came out, but that was in my younger and dumber days and I didn’t really know anything about Bret Easton Ellis. I just knew the book was controversial and therefore the movie was as well. I remember leaving the theater unimpressed and feeling like maybe I was missing something.

So, against my better judgment and in spite of all the warnings of my friends, I’m challenging myself to read a Bret Easton Ellis book. I’m thinking American Psycho, but I’m taking suggestions. I’m also curious how other people feel about Bret Easton Ellis, both as an author and in light of his comments about Kathryn Bigelow.  If you were a fan before, has your opinion changed because of what he said or do you, like me, think his tweets are so ridiculous that they can’t really be taken seriously?


*No counting his twitter feed, which makes me laugh even though I’m sure that’s not his intent.

Playing Catchup

December 12, 2012 // Book Reviews

Now that we’re approaching year’s end, I’m making a mad dash to finish a bunch of books that I’d started over the year but got distracted from as the “next thing” caught my attention.

In the past several days, these have included:

  • Stardust, Neil Gaiman – I started this one just before attending Neil’s lecture for Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures (“Neil Gaiman & an Evening of Stardust”) when I realized how awkward it could be to attend a lecture focused on a book I had not read. I was only halfway through before his talk, and luckily, he didn’t read any further ahead than I’d gotten at that point, and he talked mostly about a lot of other stuff. Bonus for me: the passage he read included a line that had charmed me in my own reading: The fire that was burning in the grate of Monday and Brown’s belched and twisted in a flurry of greens and scarlets, topped with a fizz of silver twinkles, of the kind one can make for oneself at the parlor fire with a handful of tossed iron filings.” Why did this jump at me? Something about the iron filings, but when he read those words, my heart gave a little flutter in recognition and I smiled.
  • Atmospheric Disturbances, Rivka Galchen – When I started to read this book, a coworker happened to ask me what I was reading right then. Just out of the blue; it’s not like I had the book with me. I laughed for a second and kind of wished I didn’t have to answer because I knew how weird it would sound. “Well, I’m reading this book about a man who thinks his wife has been replaced by a doppelganger and he has a patient who thinks he can control the weather and works for the meteorological academy … but he’s gone missing.” It was a fun if confounding read. Not only do you begin to question a lot about his “reality” but the fact that the author’s own last name works its way in as a mysterious background figure plays with the reality of the reader. A spot-on description of the book was used in a 2008 New Yorker review by James wood: “Galchen’s novel more boldly denies us the comfort of a conclusive explanation. ‘Atmospheric Disturbances’ is a novel of consciousness, not a novel about consciousness.”
  • Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s, John Elder Robison – When this book came out in 2007, I remember enjoying a passage I’d seen where he talked about petting a girl with a stick in an attempt to make friends. Turns out I could have just lived with knowing that passage and been happy. Don’t get me wrong: he led an interesting life (KISS!), and it was enlightening to get his take on his experience with the world (“And now I know it is perfectly natural for me not to look at someone when I talk. Those of us with Asperger’s are just not comfortable doing it. In fact, I don’t really understand why it’s considered normal to stare at someone’s eyeballs.”), but otherwise, it felt kind of flat to me. I often feel this way about autobiographies, though; they seem very forced and very focused on small details, and I come away away disappointed. Also, coincidentally, as I was finishing it, the news came out that the diagnosis Asperger’s disorder was being dropped and tucked under autism spectrum disorder.