2011: A year in books

One of my goals for 2011 is to read more. I used to have a somewhat compulsive behavior: I’d buy books that looked interesting in order to keep them around for  ‘when I have the time’. That turned into something of a disaster and I was thankfully able to recognize this and got rid of everything I hadn’t gotten around to reading. It’s very important to me to keep this up, so I made a decision LAST YEAR not to buy any more books until I’d read everything I had in my possession.

This arrangement worked quite well, until I decided at the end of ’10 to read all of the Harry Potter books before the final installment comes out this summer. Aside from that decision, I’ve been really good:) As of yet I haven’t bought any new books (save for the Potters that I can’t borrow from friends and books that I bought that I have already read and love enough to own), but I DID buy a few books for myself over the recent Xmas holiday, as a kind of ‘congratulations’ for doing so well last year. I bought myself four books: Kabuki (#1), Never Let Me Go, Kwaidan: Japanese Ghost Stories and the Best of Roald Dahl.

I’d already read this collection of short stories from Dahl, but had loaned my copy to a friend before moving to Germany. I hadn’t intended to get it back but decided that I really, really needed to have these stories in my possession at all times. I then proceeded to read the other two books within the span of a week.

This page will serve as a way to keep myself accountable and honest. I’m going to post a small report of every book I read this year. I’ll add dates, when I can remember to do so. I knock out a book in roughly a week, depending on how much time I have. I’ve been behind lately due to other projects, but am feeling back on track lately:)

1. Never Let Me Go, Kazuro Ishiguro
This book was fucking heartbreaking. I read the review a few months ago on Salon and decided that I needed to read the book before seeing the movie. The movie hasn’t made it here to Germany yet, so I made good on that 🙂 It grabbed me from page one and I really could NOT wait to put it down. It’s not often that I’m excited to drop what I’m doing to get back to a book, but that’s exactly what happened with this one.

2. Kabuki (#1) Circle of Blood, David Mack
I got to know the work of Mr. Mack as an art student. I’d wanted to read the books but never got around to it, even though I know a lot of the work from the series quite well. When I went to the Wizard Worlds Comic Con in Chicago, 2008, I got to meet David Mack (and get a photo!!!). He gave me a LOT of free, signed stuff (thank you, sir!) and I ended up buying whatever I could of the Kabuki series. This, sadly, was only volumes 5 and 6. Being the completist that I am, I refused to read these until I’d gotten through the first four. I’d been searching for them here and previously in Baltimore, with no luck (save for placing orders online, which I kind of forgot to do).

So while we were back over the break, I was in Atomic Books, which is like my favorite book store in Baltimore, and there was volume 1. Had I found any of the others, they would have come home with me, too. But alas, only #1 was there. It came back with me and I’d finished it in a day and a half.

Because of my interest in the martial arts, of women in the martial arts, of comics and manga especially, and of the work of David Mack, I enjoyed the comic immensely. There was no way around that! I’m looking forward to finding and reading #2.

3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, JK Rowling
I’d owned the first Harry Potter previously when I tried to get into reading the series a few years ago and never opened it. After Half Blood Prince came out, I made the decision to try again. I’d knocked out the ones before last year and had to buy this one myself in order to continue reading the series in order.

I saw the movies before reading any of these. I have to say, I like that the movies have held mostly true to the stories, but I really love how much earlier we get to see/know about certain characters (like Lavender) in the books. There’s a lot that can’t be put into movies that generally serves for character development and side plots. I appreciate that the movies have walked a good line with all of that.

4. Vanity Fair, William Thackeray (Feb 15)
This was my first venture into the Kindle Experience, and I have to say, I’m good with the Kindle. My only complaint so far is that between the Mac App and the iPhone App, it didn’t update my farthest read point for some reason, so I had to fish a little between them to find where I’d left off. But, not a big deal, overall.

I really liked the story, although old English is sometimes a little rough to read. This was by no means Shakespeare, but after reading a bunch of modern books, it’s hard to dive right into the long sentences of the English past/19th Century. Considering I’d read Justine a week or so prior, it was better than that.. but still. The storyline was fine, the story was fine, I found myself torn between the two separate main characters (Rebecca and Amelia) at first, but was more interested in the Amelia story as the pages passed. A good read, and nice that it was free on Amazon!

5. Justine, the Marquis de Sade (Feb 2)
I don’t know why, but for some reason I was thinking about the Marquis de Sade, and that movie with Kate Winslet that came out a while back about him, and wondering what all the fuss was about. Since his work is past copyright law, you can read all of it online for free (this was the move that made me think I should check out this ‘Kindle’ business), so I took the plunge one lonely night to see for myself.

Justine is NOT for the weak stomaches, or for people who can’t read old-style French translated into something like old-style English. It’s a rough read on all accounts. Reading the book kind of upset me, because if you knew NOTHING of the Marquis and only judged his work based off of what you could garner from the movie Quills, you’d think he was writing some romantic, albeit dirty, literature, rather than full-on applause of the Libertine lifestyle. The word Libertine sounds so much nicer than what was described in the book’s pages, I have to wonder if he wasn’t just extreme.

As a female the books are hard to read, since from the standpoint of a Libertine, we’re only here to be used/abused in order to please men however they see fit. I wonder how many of these things, or things like them really occurred in the past, and how many were just fantasies. This is something I am sure I could find out with a little research, but I’m not going to do that here/now.

The book’s happenings reminded me a lot of another hard-to-stomach book, Jerzy Kosinski’s the Painted Bird, which I had to read twice in high school. Certain scenes in that book had a physical effect on me as well, and I walked away from Justine thinking that I never had to read it again, although I was glad that I did.

6. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert (Feb 24)
I’ll write more on this later, but I’m really starting to wonder if all of these 19th century books about women were written more as cautionary tales to keep ‘good’ women in line than as ACTUAL stories. Between this and Vanity Fair, that’s the thought of the month. I’m going to give the period dramas a rest for now and get back into the present.

The book held me, but I found myself feeling really angry with Emma (the protagonist) and sorry for Charles (her husband). Through all of her resentment and affairs, Charles was pretty clueless, supportive and always busy. It reminded me a lot of my father and my mother, but I also saw a lot of my former self in the pages describing Emma’s affairs and emotions. Even as a person with a cheating history, I was annoyed with how selfish Emma was, and that’s saying a lot.

I can’t decide if this means I’ve just grown up since then (obviously) or if that part of the story was overwritten/over exaggerated (also kind of obvious).

7. Kwaidan: Japanese Ghost Stories, Lafcadio Hearn (March 1)
I don’t remember where I picked up this book. It was either from Atomic Books or from Barnes and Noble. I’m tempted to go with B+N because I got a few books at one time while in the store, and there are the remains of a sticker in the bottom right corner, which signifies ‘B+N Bargain Book’ to me. But still, I can’t remember.

Originally published in the 30’s by a scholar of all things Japanese, this is a book of Japanese Ghost Stories. However, it should be noted that these stories are not like typical American ghost stories: they aren’t really intended to scare the reader and definitely do not. Instead they are entertaining, lighthearted, creepy and oftentimes reassuring. Of what, I don’t know, but I know that I’ll sleep just fine tonight. Not the case when I watch movies like ‘the Amityville Horror’, which was bread in the neighborhood where I grew up in NY.

I have to say… at the halfway point (and around 1 in the morning), I considered putting the book down and just going to bed… but the sheer amount of caffeine I had to drink to keep the headache away today begged to differ, and I knocked the book out in a few hours. I really loved a bunch of the stories, and there were very few that weren’t entertaining on one level or another. Even better were the author’s notes and footnotes, so you understood unfamiliar words and phrases. Or when the translation could have been done in a different way, which I truly appreciate now that there’s a second language on my tongue.

I will say though that the true prize of the book is definitely the last three sections of studies on insects. The ants studies (the last) were by far my favorite, including no actual ghost story for accompaniment, this was more of a social study of society and the future of the (much younger in comparison) human race. The picture it paints reads a lot like the leftovers of a Gaiman story I read once last year. On one hand, exciting and interesting, on the other, well, I’ll feel sorry for men when it happens. But not too sorry, since by then I’ll be long gone.

Definitely at least sit down in the book store and read a few, if you can find this book.

8. Kabuki #2, Dreams, David Mack (March 2)
I think it’s fitting that I read this today, since I just read Kwaidan last night. Completely unbeknownst to me, these books are both on the subjects of death, the afterlife and noh/kabuki customs and stories. That’s a nice coincidence and it made for some good continuity.

Dreams was a short read, and I believe that this is the shortest in the series. It only took me about 30-40 minutes while I was sitting on the couch with René. It has been, so far, the most beautiful of the books that I’ve read so far, as Dreams is fully in color. This departure from book 1 is specifically a concept, that whenever our heroine is in the dream world, the scenes are in color. Which appears to be working well, so far, but I’m only on book two.

I chose to read it today because I placed an order for book 3 about two weeks ago, and I wanted to be finished with 2 by the time 3 came in.

As I said earlier, I’m a massive David Mack fan. There’s been a lot going on for me internally in relation to my own artwork, and I feel like reading Kwaidan and the Kabuki books is kind of prepping me for what I think lies ahead. It’s high time I got back to my love.

9. Collapse, Jared Diamond (March 9)
Just… FINALLY. I’ve had this book in my possession for at least 3 years. I’ve been ‘reading it’ for almost 6 months now, picking it up and putting it down again because I never had the time to really dig in to it. Jared Diamond roped me in with an earlier book, called Guns, Germs and Steel, about how societies/cultures have failed or succeeded based on their location and natural resources. Collapse is kind of the opposite, citing all of the reasons why many previous societies have failed. These books are long, full of information and not for anyone that doesn’t believe in evolution. This is full-on science. Everything in the books is reported, all of the evidence cited and listed for future reference, and it is quite honestly written in a really common sense approach. In fact, if they weren’t so long I’d be assigning them as reading to my English students.

So I finally finished the book today, and that’s kind of bittersweet since I’ve been trying to do that for at least half a year. The book is a good one that I’d suggest anyone read, specifically because it draws direct parallels between societies of the past and the present, shows what we are doing wrong, how we can fix it, and argues down every conflicting argument that less-concerned people may have.

The most valuable thing for me, I think, was in the further reading section in the back of the book. Beginning at the bottom of page 555, Jared summarizes what we, as individuals can do in order to do our part and make a difference. I found this really helpful, because often people ask me what THEY can do to combat practices that they may not agree with in the business or political world. In those last pages, Jared spells out all of our options. I find this really wonderful, because so many authors spend a lot of time complaining and almost no time focusing on how we can make positive changes. For me personally, a few of these things were already in practice for me, but reading MORE was helpful and inspiring.

10. Squirrel seeks Chipmunk, David Sedaris (March 15)
I need to own this book.

I mentioned to my friend Deb (who had let me read the first two stories from this a few months ago) that I am currently reading Aesop’s Fables, and that I was really enjoying it so far. I’m a major fan of short stories. She told me that I should finish this book by Sedaris. I said, ‘ok’. So she gave it to me last night and I knocked it out today on the hour-long bus ride back from my teaching job (long story).

I remember that most of the books David has put out have made it onto bestseller lists. I don’t know if this one has, but it’s good enough to sell a lot of copies. I guess the question is whether or not people really want to read what Mr. Sedaris is putting down. SsC is a ‘modest bestiary’, by its own claim. And that’s true. The stories are all parables/fables starring animals in the main roles, each story with its own moral or basic thought/point becoming obvious at the end. I thoroughly enjoy these stories, wherever they are from. I love Grimm’s Fairy Tales (the real ones, not the Disney versions), Neil Gaiman and Roald Dahl. So to me, based on those styles, this book from Sedaris is not far off-mark.

I’d recommend it to anyone and will definitely purchase it to keep in my collection to lend to others. Some of the stories are a little dark and gory, but that doesn’t bother me.

11. Aesop’s Fables (March 16)
FYI, NO, I didn’t read all of the fables in one day. I’ve been reading them for a while on the Kindle for iPhone app (not an ad, just saying it is a lifesaver like it was today). I think they should be required reading for high schoolers, if not middle schoolers. I think they’d take a lot away from these. I say that for a lot of reasons, and not just the fact that they are fables with lessons… I think at that age, we’re really impressionable. And maybe people might take a lot more away from them than we would at, say, age 5 or 10. I don’t know. I mean, we’ve got a LOT going on internally and in our exterior lives, and they might be helpful.

So many of these are stories that we all know, but don’t know the origin of. Yeah, the origin is Aesop, a man born into slavery around 650BC who was allowed to become a free man by his second master on account of his intellect. That’s an awesome story in and of itself, you could spend an entire semester picking apart his life and the stories.

It was an awesome read, esp in conjunction with the Sedaris stories.

12. Kabuki #3: Masks of the Noh, David Mack (March 21)
Somehow, even though I told myself to slow down on the Potter books (and I’ve got a deadline there, in two to three months), I’ve managed to purchase the 3rd installment from Mr. Mack and put #4 on order. So maybe I should rethink the buying of the Potter books, esp since I had three here that were borrowed, meaning I’m not technically buying the whole set… I picked this up before work and knocked it out AFTER work. In about an hour.

Masks of the Noh is, for me, mostly side story, as the ‘story’ is taking place as Dreams (#2) is happening, for the most part. Along with all of that aside stuff, we get to know about the OTHER Noh fighters, which is cool. Until now they’ve been footnotes and we haven’t gotten to read much about them. Technically, by the end of the book we still don’t know a lot about them, but that’s all coming later on. So this was a good beginning, with the beginnings of some side or sub plots occurring as the characters are searching for Kabuki.

A cool aspect of #3 is that since Mack wrote each of the characters to be different, and this book is all about them, he had each illustrated by a different artist. I haven’t seen this done TOO often and I’m not sure how common it is in the world of comics and graphic novels, but I like the changes in the style between characters. It adds a bit more depth than if it would have been completely done by David alone.

13. At the Mountains of Madness, H.P. Lovecraft (March 22)
I might have to write more on this one later, as it’s way past my bed time… but holy shit, that was a good read. Now I understand the conversations surrounding people trying to draw what Lovecraft described in his stories… I was having trouble even picturing the city described, let alone the beings he included. I can’t imagine how anyone could try to make a movie of this.

Thanks to my friends that suggested Lovecraft. I’ll definitely be reading more!

14. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (April 28)
I read this one in record time: 3 days. I had to take a break from my hardcore reading, because my nails are really suffering… I’ve been on and off with the Rothko book and the Art of War for the month, but haven’t really dived in the way that I do with the Potter books: I fricking devour these.

One of my friends recently told me that he has ALL the Potter books in English (here, in Germany!), so no more hunting through the kids section of Hugendubel for me anymore!

This one was kind of comical, because I’d just started into it when the movie version came on tv on Tuesday night. I decided it would be silly to watch AND read it, so I watched the movie and put the book down for that night. I was up and reading again the next day.

It felt odd to be reading the book when I could just as easily watch the movie, but this book really solidified WHY I’m doing just that: there are so many side stories, so much character development that the movies had to leave out… All of this is in the books and totally missed, if one just sees the movies.

For instance, the entire Dobby storyline, not to mention Winky AND how she relates to the Crouch family, all of this is missing from the corresponding movie, and it’s things like that that made me decide to read the books before the release of the final film next in July. I want to know ALL the information, all the side stories that make it a richer and deeper storyline than what we get in the movies, which are ultimately well done for being crunched into feature length films.

I’m flying to Japan next week, plenty of time to read the next two on the way there and back. I can’t wait! I just wish I could read my Rothko book so hard… He’s a rockstar to me and it’s such a long, drawn out read, his biography is… 14 books in 17 weeks isn’t terrible so far, I think I can up that average to one a week, if not higher.

15. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (May 11)
I picked up Order of the Phoenix because it was RIGHT THERE when I walked into Hugendubel, I’d been thinking back and forth about whether to buy it or not for my trip to Japan, and I took it as a sign. So I hatched a plan to knock out Order on the way TO Japan, and Half-Blood Prince on the way back. A friend had loaned me HBP a few months ago and I’ve been waiting to read it in the correct order.

On the upside, I knocked out 3/4 of the book on the flight to Japan. It took me two quick nights after that to finish it completely. On the downside, I ended up starting on HBP the next evening, and now I’m afraid that I’ll finish it BEFORE arriving back at Frankfurt on Monday morning, as my trip is a much longer one (due to a longer layover in Shanghai) and the book is shorter.

Order was a good read, I really couldn’t stop reading it. I think Goblet might still be my favorite movie of them all (so far), but Order so far has been the best book. I’m excited to get this half-year goal knocked out a month early 🙂

16. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (May 16)
Yes, that’s correct, this one only took me a few days. One and a half, if you count that I read just about all of it on the plane ride back from Japan. And my prediction was correct: I was finished before I even touched down in Shanghai for my layover. Sigh.

I’m glad that plan (for all of the reading to be done on the planes) worked out so well. I receive the final HP installment from a friend on Friday or Monday, so I’ll definitely achieve the ‘all Potter books before Part II’ goal that I set last year in November. Rock. This was definitely the way to do it, I don’t think I could have stood to wait for each new book to be written as they came initially.

17. The Tales of Beedle the Bard, J.K. Rowling (May 17)
My friend Jo gave me this with all of the other Potter books I asked to borrow, since he had them all in English (great, since he’s German. It meant I didn’t have to wait for Hugendubel to get them in when they sold the ONE copy of each book that they kept in the store). I read it on a whim, as purely supplemental, because as I wrote the other day, I’m waiting for him (he’s the friend) to lend me the final Potter installment in a few days.

As I said, this was purely a supplemental read, but I actually liked it a lot. I am a sucker for fairy tales/children’s stories and I might have to own this one, as I like how they are written and what they say, even if it was something extra just to go along with the Potter series.

It’s written as if it’s a bunch of old fairy tales (think: the Grimm Brothers or Aesop’s Fables) translated by Hermione Granger and has ‘notes’ left by Albus Dumbledore in his will to Hogwarts. So it’s all a part of the greater series of Potter stories, and sheds some light on smaller side story items, like Lucius Malfoy’s issues with Dumbledore and the story of the Three Brothers, which casual readers will get to see/read in the final book.

18. The Best of Roald Dahl  (May 22)
I had already read a handful of the stories in this collection, but I went through again for two reasons. First, some of my students are interested to read the work of Roald Dahl, so I had to comb through all of them to find a few that I could copy and hand out to the students. Second, a particular student of mine would like to read ALL of the short stories, and I see him tomorrow, so I had to do all of this over the weekend in order to go to my office tomorrow and make photocopies of said stories, before handing him the book for a week or so.

I love this man’s work. Everyone knows him, as they know Dr Seuss, as the man that writes wonderful stories for children. While this is most certainly the case, he’s also got a darker side, just as Seuss did. I love that side. Sure, I loved Matilda and The Witches, but his short stories are much different, much darker, much more adult. I recommend that anyone should read him. And I mean it.

My personal favorites from the collection in the book: the Visitor, the Way Up to Heaven, Man From the South, Lamb to the Slaughter, and Pig. I could easily say that I love them all, but those are by far my absolute favorites.

19. Fragile Things, Neil Gaiman (May 24)
I just about shit myself when I saw that there was ANOTHER collection of NG short stories in the Hugendubel English section. It was the only one and I snatched it the hell up!

I really love Neil’s writing, but I think, somehow, that Smoke and Mirrors, an earlier collection of his, might be a better introduction for anyone looking to get into his short stories. That being said, there are some real beauties in here. It’s far less sexually graphic than S+M (hahha) but that’s actually kind of a good thing. Not that it should be any kind of consideration, but the writing from that collection against this collection feels slightly older. That being said, I’d call about half of the stories in this grouping ‘favorites’, and there are a few that I need to read again, such as the (written for Tori Amos’s CD) collection Strange Little Girls. I didn’t realize that was what I was reading WHILE I was reading it, so I need to go back and re-read.

Stories I’d recommend from this group: October in the Chair, Other People, The Problem of Susan, Goliath, How to Talk to Girls at Parties (the reason I bought the book, I love this story!) and Sunbird. 

There are many more, and they are all great, but these are the ones I’d give to friends to read, if they’d never heard of or read any Gaiman before. It’s a really good set, though, and I’d recommend it to anyone that likes Neil’s writing. Something really interesting that happens throughout this book: a lot of the same characters keep popping up or being mentioned in later stories, which to me is pretty genius and shows a lot of thought in the editing and order. Also of interest is the short novella at the end, The Monarch of the Glen, which is a kind of follow-up to his full-length book American Gods. I haven’t read that book yet, but it’s on the list for this year!

20. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (May 26)
The book about the roaring twenties in spot number 20. That was sheer coincidence, by the way. The reason I picked up this book was for one of my more advanced students. He’d heard that I was reading with other students and wanted to read as well. So I told him that he should read some of the ‘American Classics’, as they are called, and after listing a few it turned out that he’d read nearly all of them. We settled on Gatsby because it was one of the few that he hadn’t read yet, and I was interested to do a re-read, over 10 years later.

I hadn’t read the book since high school, and I’m starting to wonder if I bothered reading this one completely through at all. There were certain parts of it that I remembered, but I didn’t remember the ending, or anything past the descriptions of the parties at Gatsby’s house. Looking back and knowing myself, I am sure that I got bogged down in the verbose-ness of the book and maybe quit it, as it is mighty descriptive and that’s not usually my bag unless it’s Kerouac or Thompson holding the pen. I know that I was already mastering bullshit in high school, so it wouldn’t be a stretch. On the other hand, I distinctly remember suffering through the visual (imagined) trauma of Jerzy Kosinski’s Painted Bird TWICE, and I’m sure that with THAT book filling my mind and haunting my imagination, there was no room for Gatsby to call its own.

This book is really stunning in how well it’s managed to capture that specific group of people who so easily flourished in the twenties. I don’t wish to have been a part of it, but the book is impeccably written and full of highly personal imagery that could transport anyone who was half-awake to the scenes within.

21. The Awful German Language, Mark Twain (May 28)
This is more of a brochure than a full-on book, but I’m listing it here all the same. This is a brochure, or pamphlet, on Mark Twain’s disdain of the German Language. As Philip Murphy writes in the introduction (in German), it is obvious that the man actually quite enjoys, possibly even LIKES the language, and that this is written from a very American/English point of view.

That being said, every issue he puts to paper in this is completely right-on. The articles. The tenses. The genders which make NO sense. The long words that are just seven individual words put together that won’t be found as one long word in the dictionary, and so on. It’s all true, it’s all difficult and hateful and unfriendly to outside, non-native speakers. One of the better parts of the brochure is towards the end, when he offers suggestions of ways to make the German language better, offering removal of the Dativ altogether, and offering punishments for the long, un-hyphenated words like the death penalty. The piece is obviously satirical in nature.

Also great is his address that comes a few pages later, first written in German (as it was given) and then translated DIRECTLY into English, without paying attention to sentence structure. This is both amusing and helpful, as it shows English speakers the syntax of German sentences, which is quite different from our own.

22. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (May 31)
Yes, I did read this in the time between the last book and this date. I told you, I can’t put these things down. So, here we are at the last of the Potter books. I’ve met my goal to read them all before the last movie comes out, which I’m very happy about… but now I’m wishing I would have waited a bit longer as now there’s a little over a month until the movie hits and I’m going to go crazy waiting in the meantime!

Now that I’ve read all of them, I should probably choose a favorite or something. I’m a little annoyed at the ending of this one, it went simultaneously too fast and too slow. I kind of wish there was MORE post-explanations or summaries, but I’m not angry at the ending. I hope that the movie follows the book well enough. I’d say that I have to agree with Kristi, that Order of the Phoenix was my favorite, with Half-Blood Prince coming in next. I just liked them better as stories, even though HBP felt to me like it was just filling space between Order and this last one. 

As a side note, I’m sad that there are no more Potter stories to read, but glad that now I can get on to some more ‘adult’ books… looking at my list from this year, you’d think I was a teenager. And I intend to change that!!

23. Life of Pi, Yann Martel (June 18)
This might be one of my favorites of the year. Just, wow. What an amazing book. Contrary to the title, the book is  not about the number 3.14, but about a boy who survives a shipwreck for over 200 days in the Pacific ocean with an adult male tiger on board. It is, apparently, a true story. And it is gorgeously done.

I found the book in the English section of the local bookstore, and something about it made me grab it. The English section isn’t so big and I’ve already read a good percentage of the books on its shelves… but I think I’d heard about this book or read about it somewhere, because I recognized it by title pretty instantly. Reading the back cover sold me.

There’s a lot about religion in this book early on, but not in a ‘beat you over the head with my religion’ kind of way. It actually kind of gripped me that a young boy who was raised with no real exposure to world religions felt the need to learn and practice not only his native Hinduism, but also Catholicism and Islam. It was actually quite refreshing, to put it lightly. I’ll be pulling a quote from the book for a full blog entry soon. There’s also a lot about animals, the observations of a child who grew up, quite literally, in a zoo. Really interesting reading, most definitely.

By all that is good in the world, I definitely recommend that anyone read this book. It is wonderful.

24. Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman (June 26)
I found the motherload of Gaiman books at the library on Friday, and took out two this time. I’ll take out the others next time, after I’ve finished the five that I brought  home.

This book was amazing. I couldn’t stop reading it, and it took me less than a full day to get through it. I highly recommend it to anyone that is a fan of Neil, fantasy or that kind of twisted-reality that you often wonder about… does it really exist, and we just don’t see it? This book is the stuff of my dreams. So close to reality that it must be real. I’ll definitely buy this book to keep on hand, in order to read again later. It’s too good to only read once.

25. Lord of the Flies, William Golding (June 28)
In case you happen to be wondering, NO I don’t have all the time in the world, I’m just a fast reader. This book was really easy and good to read. I never read it in high school and know that it’s on most required reading lists. To that, I say, good idea. This is a great book for teens to read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it even as an adult.

I had some trouble keeping in mind that the characters were all 12 and under, in my head they were more like 15- and 16-year olds. I don’t know why. The story was a hard one to read, and I find it entirely TOO coincidental, TOO perfect, that they are rescued just as Ralph is about to get killed. But, I guess that’s how stories work most of the time, so ok.

Aside from that small plot issue, it’s a good book and I’d recommend it. There are a few different levels of meaning that one could take from the book, and I think that’s what makes it so good for teens, but also for adults. ANYONE could find some meaning in this book.

26. Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman (June 30)
I have to say, this is not my favorite of Neil’s books. I’d even put Good Omens, which he wrote with Terry Pratchett, above it. That’s not a terrible thing to say, since GO was a pretty good book, but I think this might be on the list for my least favorite of his books so far. I know I can’t expect to be dazzled and amazed every single time by one author. But I think Neil might have a higher batting average with me than most authors do. That’s all I’m saying.

Overall, it was a good story, but it’s not one that I feel the need to own. I had trouble holding on to the story and found myself putting this book down to do other things more than any of the others I’ve read lately.

27. Jonathon Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach (July 10)
I took a little break from reading. It’s partially due to just running out of books (aside from the ones listed below), partially because I was busy, partially because my boyfriend went on a trip, leaving me with the car, and therefore far less time to read on the bus.

I’ve read this book before. I read it in my senior year of high school, when my friend Mike H. from art class told me that he wanted everyone to read it. I had to read it, write my name in it, and then give it back. It was, for lack of a better word, simply inspiring. At that point in my life, I was just starting to understand that there were a lot of people telling me what I should be doing and what I couldn’t do, and that I didn’t actually have to listen to any of them (my parents included).

It’s a really easy read, it’s a really great idea. It is definitely an inspiring book, although I’m at a point in my life where I don’t need to be inspired in this way, if that makes sense. I’m already in another time or place, like one of the more advanced birds in the book, and now I’m working on other things that are going to make me better. I’ve already taken those first steps.

I’m glad I found the book at the library, though, and glad I got to read it again:)

28. Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, Richard Bach (July 12)
Week 28, book 28! I think I’m doing well so far for the halfway point!

I’d read about this book a few years ago and thought back then that I had to read it. So when I saw it at the library next to JLS, I had to pick it up. I like this one better than JLS, and I’m sure that’s because it’s not only a better written story (IMO), but also because it touches on what my personal ideas about existence and religion are.

Mostly, I have no religion, because I have chosen not to subscribe to anything organized. But a lot of my ideas are in line with the ideas of Astrologers, and that’s where this book goes, with its ideas of different planes of existence and being here on earth as a learning experience (i.e., a spirit having a human experience, rather than the more popular idea of humans having spiritual experiences). It’s majorly empowering and inspirational, and I’d recommend this book to others over JLS just about any day of the week.

One of my favorite quotes is also on the back cover: ‘Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re still alive, it isn’t‘.

That about sums it up.

29. A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini (July 15)
This book was AS heartbreaking, if not moreso, than Never Let Me Go. Granted, it’s a different type of heartbreak, but it’s sad all the same, even though it has a happy ending. 

Kristi told me she’d loved the book, and that was enough for me to want to read it. Now, I’m set on reading The Kite Runner, also from Hosseini.

The story takes place in and around Afghanistan, and focuses on something that ends up being approximately present day, just past 9/11. It’s an account of what some might call the typical treatment and struggle of women in the country as power switched hands multiple times. It’s terrible to think (to KNOW) that there are still places, still people, that treat women as property, or not as smart as men, or worthless except for when it comes to bearing sons. The story is about two women whose lives are forced together, and the bonds they build as they try to survive.

I’d recommend that anyone read it. In fact, I might have to buy it, because I think I could read this one again.

30. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho (July 17)
I’ve read this book before. I read it back in about 2007 or so, when I was taking an Entrepreneurship class at MICA. One of our first assignments was to share books we have read, that we thought everyone should read. About half of the class named this book. I found it a few weeks later at a used bookstore and bought it immediately.

I read it again because one of my students decided he wanted to try an English book. So it’s been his homework for the past few months (he was on vacation) to read this. We’d read a bit each week and then discuss the reading to check for comprehension (and also to practice speaking in the third person).

I really enjoy books like this and Jonathon Livingston Seagull, because I feel like they are the exact books that might push us to work towards what we want, if we haven’t done so already. I like this story a lot, although the ‘Soul of the World’ stuff is a bit of overload for anyone that isn’t into that kind of idea or religious affiliation. Regardless, though, the story has a great ‘moral’ and I can’t imagine anyone reading this book and NOT being inspired to go and follow their dreams.

31. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou (July 26)
I took a break from reading to sew some shirts, but I’m back on it. Kristi told me I would like this book, and she was absolutely right. I was sold from the heartbreaking opening chapter, where a little girl in the harsh south dreams of waking up one day ‘out of my black ugly dream’ to be blonde-haired and blue-eyed, and that would be a better life, HER life, somehow.

This book was phenomenal, and I have a huge amount of respect for Ms Angelou. I can’t wait to read the rest of her books. I hope the library carries them.

32. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (Illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia), Aug 2
I finished book 32 (here in week 31) after starting and stopping other books that I was not so inclined to read. I started to read a David Sedaris book and decided I didn’t like it. I then tried to read a Ray Bradbury book, but found I wasn’t interested in that book, either. After that, I started to read ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn‘, and decided that I should hold off on that one until I had a trip to NY coming up, as it takes place in Corrie and Jim’s hood (and the hood that my folks grew up in), and I’d like to have a more vivid image of the streets I know relatively well than I would if I read it, oh, now.

So I picked up  the book that I haven’t read in a while, this one. I have this specific copy because Kristi knew I would love the illustrations (and she was right), so I got a copy for Xmas. And seriously, as Alice so astutely thinks in the book, ‘what is the use of a book without pictures or conversation’? True, Alice, so true. It was a nice change to read a book with gorgeous illustrations, that you could break from the story in order to stare at once in a while.

So I noticed that the story that remained in my head was that of the movie, more than that of the original story, and now I feel like I should re-read all of my favorite children’s stories, since I haven’t watched any of the movies in a while… that will come in time. I’ll definitely buy them if they’re illustrated by madame Garcia, because this book is effing beautiful and I will open it just to look at the pictures, and often.

The story went much faster than I remembered it going. My favorite quote is nearly at the halfway point, which is a conversation that takes place between Alice and the Cheshire cat; below:

A: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
C: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
A: I don’t care much where —
C: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.

That, friends, is a metaphor for LIFE.

33. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins, Aug 22
I was roaming through the airport bookstore when I came across this, and realized that while I’ve wanted to read it, it’s not one that I expect to find at the library in Würz. So I picked it up (it was only like $8) and knocked it out on the plane ride back home from San Diego. I didn’t let myself read it until I ran out of battery power on the computer, because I needed to get some work done on that long ride.

So oh my god, this book was good. It was a really fast and easy read. I’m not usually a fan of books written in the first person/present tense, but this story was totally suited to be written that way.

Sometimes, I can’t believe the ideas that come out of some people’s heads. The premise of this story is that in the future, America has fallen and been re-structured into 12 (originally 13) districts, with the Capitol somewhere hidden in the rocky mountains. The people tried to revolt, and failed, and now once a year the Capitol holds the Hunger Games, and requires each district to hand up two teenagers who must ultimately go to the capitol to compete, and kill all of their competitors in order to ‘win’ in a televised event that the rest of the country is required to watch. It’s a definite commentary on the state of government and the huge divide between the has and has nots. A really great story though, and the characters come into their own well enough. I fell in love with little Roo. I think she may have been my favorite, past the more major players. I hope that later on we get to learn why Cinna chose to work with District 12. I don’t think we’re finished with him yet. I’m excited that this is a trilogy, I might have to go pick up parts 2 and 3 tomorrow 🙂

I’d recommend this to friends and my students alike.

34. Kabuki Volume 4: Skin Deep, David Mack, Aug 23
Why, yes, I did knock out that book today while waiting for the train. And you know what else? I picked up the final two Hunger Games books as well, so there will be a lot of new entries this week:)

I think that Skin Deep my be my favorite of the Kabuki series so far, just for the imagery alone. There’s a lot more color and actual illustration (as opposed to the normal b+w of most comics and the earlier storylines) in this book than in the previous ones, and I kind of love the place that Kabuki is in, mentally, in this story. She’s in something of a psych ward, where all of the inmates are from clandestine corporations just like the Noh. And they’ve all gone off-track, or ‘malfunctioned’ somehow, and are being contained for psych evaluation before getting placed somewhere else, whether that is in another organization, or in a protection program.

Loved it. And I love the self-acceptance that is slowly seeping into Kabuki’s mind. It’s a good turning point for the series:)

35. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire , Suzanne Collins, Aug 24
Of course, I did go directly to the bookstore and pick up numbers 2 and 3. I’m not as happy with these covers as I am with the American version, but whatever, the stuff inside is still the same. I’m also a bit embarrassed that these had to be found in the children’s section Well, the ‘YA’ section, right next to my Potter books and the Twilight series. I’ll read at a higher level once I’m out out of the series!

This book was equally as easy to read and interesting/exciting as the last one, but now the story is taking on a new twist and focusing on the uprising that no one in the story is able to stop. The Hunger Games themselves take part once again, with a twist, so our hero and heroine from the last book must compete again, a mere 9 months after winning the last time.

It’s a good story, I can’t wait to see how the series ends. Probably today.

36. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins, Aug 25
I appreciate the way that Suzanne Collins writes in the first person. Especially when it comes to the action scenes, it makes everything feel a lot more realistic. I know that it’s a tool that’s kind of frowned-upon in the literary world, but I think that in some cases, much like with the (limited) use of Comic Sans, you can justify it. This story, and storyline, totally justifies the first person/present tense perspective.

Mockingjay was a great final installment to the series, and the answer to our major question of who Katniss will end up with is answered in the final pages. FINALLY. I knew someone was going to have to die or do something terrible, and I guess I knew who she’d end up with, but how it happens is pretty sad, nonetheless.

René was kind of shocked at how I couldn’t stop reading them, I think he’s about to start reading the first book because of that 🙂

37. Kabuki: Metamorphosis (Volume 5), David Mack, Aug 26
I wrote earlier that Skin Deep (4) was my favorite story in the Kabuki lineup so far. Today I’ve changed my mind. Metamorphosis just body slammed SD.

Amazing story, amazing artwork (as always).

I’m not sure what changed my mind. Obviously both take place in the same location, it’s just that this story goes far deeper into what goes on during Kabuki’s reawakening and coming to terms with herself. We get to meet the other inmates and finally meet Akemi, who also turns out to be a Noh operative of the past.

It’ll be interesting to read Volume 6, which appears to be about another of the operatives… I don’t think Kabuki’s story is quite finished, but it was a very final-feeling ending at the end of this one.

38. Kabuki: Scarab: Lost in Translation (Volume 6), David Mack, Aug 27
In a turn/branch from the story that took place across books 4 and 5, we finally get to meet one of the other characters and really get to know them. Scarab came from a different place than Kabuki altogether, but in the beginning, her motives seemed about the same.

The story ends at the same place, but from a different angle. We get more information about what happened and find out about one of the institution workers in the process. The end is fucking heartbreaking, though, and where it leaves off is kind of a cliffhanger. If Akemi would try to take the place of any of the other characters, she would have been in the clear. But taking the place of Ukemi will spell obvious problems, which I imagine will/do get handled in the 7th edition of the story.

Something that caught me about this book is that the spiritual/art and training ideas and techniques that come up in this story (that showed up also in the last two) are really along the same line as what I train in. Also of interest is the quoting from Sword and the Brush, which I recently ordered and plan to read in the next few weeks. I love when books I’m reading mention books I’ve already read or am about to read. I can’t wait to read Alchemy, the 7th installment.

39. Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll, Sept 4
I really appreciate the Gutenberg Project. A friend of mine quoted Alice part 2 last week, and I decided that this story MUST be on that website, and alas, it was. So I’ve been reading it on my computer for the past few days whenever Insomia strikes. I think that’s fitting.

All in all, this book was a ton of nonsense. I love the story about the Walrus and the Oysters, but honestly, if it were any longer I would have had to put it down. That being said, now I’ve read it. I’ve got 2 more books up for reading on the computer, and I think they’ll be better fits.

40. The Call of Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft,
Sept 4
It took a second story, but I think that I DO like the work of Lovecraft more than I expected to.

One of the things that I’m starting to enjoy about his writing is the fact that he describes the way that monsters look, but not in such a great detail that you can really, really figure out in your head exactly what they look like. An example of this would be doing an image search for ‘Cthulhu’ on google: while there are a few things that remain the same (wings, tentacled face), the rest seems completely up to debate. Which I guess it is, since there is only minimal description given in this story itself.

I really enjoyed this story. And I think that if I were to go back and read ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ again, that I’d enjoy it more the second time as well.

41. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence, Sept 27
Yes, it’s taken me a while to read this one and to get back to reading in general, thanks to my September ‘get stuff done’ challenge/goal. But I found this book on a list of ‘the most banned (or complained about) books in America’ and checked it out, along with a few others, from my local library.

I’ve decided that I’m not a fan of the writing before 1940. I say 1940, as it’s the decade when Dahl started writing, and his work is the oldest that I have seemed to like recently. This book came about between the two world wars, and has that completely drawn-out style to it. I can’t quite wrap my head around why this book, among some of the other ‘classics’ on the list were banned from some curriculums, except I guess it does get a bit racy. No more racy than anything you’d see on Jersey Shore, seriously, but I guess when we get into describing it almost literally (instead of calling it ‘smushing’, or whatever the kids are saying on that show) and naming parts of the body, that tends to offend the abstinence-only parental units. Because their kids totally aren’t already talking about sex by the time they’re into double-digits or anything.

It was an ok read, but hard to get into and I really had to force myself. I took to skimming, because it got TOO descriptive sometimes, and overly descriptive for me is just verbal masturbation. I want the story, Holden. Finish the story already!

I don’t feel like I’ve learned much from this book. But I imagine reading it as a teenager might be more enlightening. If you can keep your attention on it. Life in the early 1900’s seems like it was amazingly boring for the upper classes.

42. Animal Farm, George Orwell, Sept 29
I love that this is book number 42. It’s the answer to the universal question then, right? But seriously, this book is amazing, quick and painless. It’s mostly painless, I mean. There are some parts that make your stomach want to turn. And not because they’re hard to read or graphic, which they’re really not. They’re hard to read because anyone reading them can think back to a recent situation in our world or own government when something similar has happened or been said.

I like that the book has no real ‘conclusive action’, aside from the pigs and humans arguing in the farmhouse. I love that we’re left to ponder what would happen next. This is an amazingly poignant, hard hitting, fucked up story. And things are scarier, I think, when they’re really happening.

43. In Cold Blood, Truman Capote, Oct 3
This was an amazing, really well-written book. I kind of knew the story already, since it was a part of the movie Capote, but I hadn’t read the book. In fact, I hadn’t read anything from Truman before this book, and I have to say that I really love how he writes.

He went through all of the events chronologically, and made sure to recount every point of view in that order. I love that he included EVERYTHING that happened, right down to the conspiracy theories. I also love that he kept himself mostly out of the story, which seems hard to do for a lot of modern writers. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the crime/true stories genre. It’s SUCH a good, easy and gripping read. I couldn’t stop reading it.

44. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, Oct 25
This book might win the ‘heartbreaker of the year’ award. It was, without a doubt, amazingly hard to keep reading. And it wasn’t hard because it was written poorly or in an odd style. It was really well written and completely easy to read, even if it was a bit slow-moving.

It was just so hard to keep reading when you knew, deep down in your gut, that no matter what this family did, things would never get better. I drew a lot of parallels between what went on in this book and things that go on today. It is uncanny how pertinent this book still is, a half-century plus after being written. We obviously haven’t come that far, or far enough, regardless of the technological advances. That makes me sad.

I’d recommend this book to anyone. I think it’s a must-read for all Americans and can’t believe it’s on the challenged/banned books list.

45. Northern Lights, Philip Pullman, Nov 1
Happy Day of the Dead to you! I’ve been reading this book for about a week and finally finished it today. I did enjoy reading it and I loved the premise of it, but I’m not sure I really want to dive into the rest of the series just yet.

I’m always a fan of religious fiction, and this definitely was an interesting twist. A land with Catholicism and Well Fargo, but also with armored bears and witches. And prophecies, and tribes, etc. I really enjoyed the symolism and parallel stories that played out. It’s easy to see why this one was put on the banned/challenged list: too many religious details and a questioning of the church, no doubt.

46. Kabuki Volume 7: The Alchemy, David Mack, Nov 6
I certainly couldn’t choose a favorite of the Kabuki editions, but this one really resonated for me. There are so many ideas that come out of this book, and so many coincidences… it’s just amazing to read it. I feel like everyone should read the Kabuki series just to get to this book, just to get to those ideas and the feelings that they draw out of us.

I had to stop reading the book on Friday to get some things done, and I ended up doing some research on a specific topic yesterday, then having a conversation last night coincidentally about the topic, only to come back and finish reading the story this morning and see that topic written in the final pages.

That’s the kind of thing happening with this book, that’s the coincidence that keeps  happening to me. It’s exciting to feel that in touch with what’s happening around me.

As an aside, I like that David wrote himself into this story (rather than the archetypal image of Kabuki that he was already using) and ran the story in a circle around his children’s book (which I’ve put on my amazon wish list:). I love circular storytelling.

47. American Gods (tenth anniversary edition), Neil Gaiman, Dec 23
I haven’t been ‘not reading’, I’ve just been reading books of fairy tales and short stories and kind of suffering through them, and not finishing them. I finally gave up trying to force myself through a book of short stories by various authors and picked up something I wanted to read. And I was NOT disappointed.

I got this book because there was a book signing that a friend of mine was going to, and he told me about it beforehand. I ordered the book and my friend Sam had it signed for me. Um, amazing!! So I was reading a personalized version for the past few days.

I’d read about Shadow in a collection of short stories from Neil and I kind of knew the idea of the story from there. But I had no idea how deep Neil’s rabbit hole went and it was a pleasant surprise, to read it all from front to back.

To anyone else who’s read this book: did you have the image in your head that Shadow was actually Nathan Explosion from Metalocalypse? Because that’s kind of how I imagine he looked,  but with a sweeter temperament. But I still imagine he looked like this guy over here.

I kind of like that I (the reader) came to the same conclusions as Shadow did at about the same time or just before. I guess the way Neil wrote it, that’s how it’s supposed to happen, but it felt like I wasn’t shocked very often during the story, even though it was a rather unbelievable tale, like most of Neil’s work.

I’d highly recommend this one to anyone who likes Neil, or fictional/fantasy literature that isn’t 100% fiction. There’s a lot of truth in the pages of this book. But that’s kind of the case for all of Neil’s work, even if his stuff does fall into the fiction category.

48. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, Dec 26
This book was effing amazing. While I feel like it could have addressed MUCH MORE than it actually did, the things that it did question and did address were enough. At first I was a bit upset at the lack of certain character’s development, but then it became apparent that some characters weren’t developed because their people were not, hence the many uses of the word ‘infantile’ in peoples’ descriptions.

Either way, I had a thought near the end of the book: I was thinking that between this story, Never Let Me Go, Northern Lights and the Hunger Games Trilogy, there’s this similar theme of the human folly involved in trying to control natural aspects of our lives or the nature of human beings, period. It seems that most often we’re put in the line of certain characters who have given all of their human characteristics away in order to live a more comfortable, care- or pain-free life, to mostly depressing or disastrous effects.

If it can be imagined, then it can be done is how the old saying goes, and it’s pretty terrifying to think of worlds like those in the Hunger Games or Never Let Me Go, where the people have all but lost their humanity and empathy. But is it really so terrifying? Aren’t we, to a lesser or just another, different extent, already there?

49. Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk, Dec 27
Yes, I DID read this book in about one day. And honestly, this was such a nice difference to the movie. I love that there are things that the movie put more weight on, like Bob, but I love how the book worked things out and the things that we missed in the film or that were rearranged for time or storyline management.

This book was amazing to read, and of course I saw the movie first. I’m almost glad that I saw the movie first, because I spent the entire book hearing Edward Norton, and that’s NEVER a bad thing. I had images of people in my head and it made the story move a little faster, a little smoother than they do when I have to stop and imagine things on my own. I’m not saying that I enjoy being lazy, just that that stuff often takes time and brain power. Yes, read this book. Absolutely, yes.

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