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Author Topic: 2013 books in 2013  (Read 11983 times)

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MissKitty

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Re: 2013 books in 2013
« Reply #15 on: January 20, 2013, 09:14:40 PM »

1. Friends Like These - Danny Wallace
2. A Lucky Child - Thomas Buergenthal
3. Going to Sea in a Sieve: The Autobiography - Danny Baker
4. Breathitt County - Stephen D. Bowling M.A.
5. Where Dead Voices Gather - Nick Tosches

Without doubt, this is an incredibly well-researched book on one of music's lesser known and mostly forgotten minstrels from the 1920's: Emmett Miller. Miller was one of the country's last blackface singers, and for a few brief years was also the best; better even, than the well-known (or at least well-remembered) Al Jolson. If the book focused solely on Miller, it would have been a slim but interesting read, but Tosches isn't content to simply tell Miller's story in a linear fashion. Instead, the book is bogged down in minutial details and pointless ramblings about the history of American music from before the Civil War through Ed Saunders and The Fugs.

Most of the time, I felt as though I was reading someone's note cards that, having been scattered across a floor, were hastily gathered up and used in the order they were picked up, regardless of the outcome. Very bizarre - but not nearly as bizarre as some of the pompous pontifications that Tosches throws in all too regularly. Take, for instance:

"Emmett Dewey Miller was born in Macon on Friday, Feb. 2, 1900. This may not be the equivalent, perhaps, of a precise dating of the Magdalen Papyrus;but hey pallie, after 20 years searching, it is no matter of mean potatoes, either. That I share this coveted revelation so selflessly, openly, and without gain attests surely that I am the Christian I hold myself to be. So take it, and may it serve you well. All I ask is that you do not take credit where credit is not due. A gift such as this belongs to the world. May scholars everywhere, and seekers after every knowledge, look to me and by my example learn. Pull down thy vanity, thy greed, and vainglory, pull down."

There's plenty more where that came from, sadly. At times, it seemed as though the book was written by two very different people- a fastidious researcher and diehard music fan, and a seriously disturbed nutter. Emmett Miller deserved better.
« Last Edit: January 20, 2013, 09:47:51 PM by MissKitty »
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Bubba McBubba

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Re: 2013 books in 2013
« Reply #16 on: January 21, 2013, 08:35:00 PM »

2. “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë

Finally addressed another one of the many glaring omissions in the litany of great classics I have read.

I approached “Jane Eyre” knowing very little about it except what little I gleaned from Jasper Fforde's debut Thursday Next novel “The Eyre Affair”.  In Fforde's book, characters weave in and out of “Jane Eyre”, and the end result is the original editing of Brontë's novel is changed.  About halfway through my read of this classic, I began to wonder if the ending would be how it was originally in “The Eyre Affair” or if it would be what it was changed to.  Or perhaps it would be something entirely different.  I ain't sayin', just as to not spoil the ending of one or both books.

As for the experience of reading this solely on its own merits, I initially found myself glued to the book.  I thought about silk-screening my own t-shirt that read “Fuck off, I'm reading Jane Eyre”, except I wasn't planning on taking so long to finish it that I would still be reading it during weather appropriate for a t-shirt (whether any situation is appropriate for a shirt with this sentiment is up for debate).

Alas, I found my interest diminishing with each time the plot changes the setting to a new location and started to wonder if I would finish reading it under a tree in full foliage.  I loved the opening pages at the Reed household, but was a tad disappointed when we moved to the Lowood boarding school.  Then I found myself caught up in the storyline at Lowood and hated to leave there for Thornfield, even if that is where the core of the book resides.  I especially found myself attached to one particular character at Lowood who I will not name lest I spoil their fate, and I was surprised by how much this person's fate touched me.

Thornfield is the point where the book began to disappoint me on several counts.  First, the answer to the mystery surrounding the household is pretty daft, regardless of whether or not one tries to put it in context of the period in which the text was written.  Also, I truly and deeply hated the third-and-a-half act that seems to only pad out the novel with the forced melodrama of St. John and his sisters.  I was especially irked at the thoroughly unbelievable coincidence that is introduced by this development.  And as for the smug and pious St. John: what kind of jerk actually has “Saint” as part of his first name?  You don't know how badly I wish somebody would have told St. John to eat a dick.

On the plus side, there were many aspect of the book that surprised me.  The writing was impressive and at times surprisingly contemporary; however, there were passages that I found difficult to follow, or to determine what was the tone or intent of a given character.  I simply chalked up such instances to how the standard style of writing has changed over time, and how even words evolve into entirely different meanings (such as how the word “nice” meant simple-minded only a bit more than a century ago).

I was also surprised at how both Jane and Mr. Rochester are often described as unattractive, as I always thought “Eyre” was supposed to be some epic romance populated with beautiful people.  I believe I was partly misled by the choice of actors in those roles in every TV and movie adaptation I can recall.  As of this writing, the most recent movie cast Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, neither of whom I can remember ever being described as ugly.

Despite my gripes about the second half of the book, I found the conclusion to be quite satisfactory.  I just wish we had not had quite so many, and so many preposterous, steps to get there.  But my reason for taking this journey at all was because it was inevitable I should at some point.  After all, to “Eyre” is human; unfortunately, reading it was somewhat less than divine.

Recommended?  Yes.
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Ella Minnow Pea

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Re: 2013 books in 2013
« Reply #17 on: January 21, 2013, 10:16:44 PM »

Jane Eyre is my favorite novel, and I read it annually as a teenager/early 20s. It's interesting to think how having read the Eyre Affair first would influence your predictions of the ending. I'm glad you found the ending satisfactory. (I admit that on some re-reads, I'd skip some of the meandering.) The actors cast as Rochester over the years are a fascinating list: Orson Wells, Charlton Heston, Timothy Dalton, and William Hurt. I think Ciarán Hinds comes closest to how I'd imaged him, but I really enjoyed watching how Michael Fassbender portrayed the character.
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va-vacious

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Re: 2013 books in 2013
« Reply #18 on: January 21, 2013, 10:26:42 PM »

Ella, I knew you'd have something to say about Jane Eyre!
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daytime drinking

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Re: 2013 books in 2013
« Reply #19 on: January 22, 2013, 10:03:19 AM »

i have a copy given me by my girlfriend.  she didn't trust me with her first edition for some reason.  i'll eventually make around to it once i only buy books when i've read the dozens i haven't gotten around to yet.  i really enjoyed wurthering heights, if i hadn't, no way i'd make time for jane eyre.  maybe, though seeing as it got bubba's seal of approval
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Bubba McBubba

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Re: 2013 books in 2013
« Reply #20 on: January 22, 2013, 09:07:45 PM »

Jane Eyre is my favorite novel, and I read it annually as a teenager/early 20s. It's interesting to think how having read the Eyre Affair first would influence your predictions of the ending. I'm glad you found the ending satisfactory. (I admit that on some re-reads, I'd skip some of the meandering.) The actors cast as Rochester over the years are a fascinating list: Orson Wells, Charlton Heston, Timothy Dalton, and William Hurt. I think Ciarán Hinds comes closest to how I'd imaged him, but I really enjoyed watching how Michael Fassbender portrayed the character.

Now, seeing as to how "Jane Eyre" is your favorite novel, I want to state that I mean no offense by the following question and am asking out of genuine curiosity: why does the novel have so much appeal to you (to have read it so many times)?

As for the actors who have played Mr. Rochester over the decades, that may be a diverse list, but I still don't think any of them are as unattractive as Brontë describes the character in the book.  Now, if that was 70's era Welles, grossly corpulent and reduced to doing commercials for frozen peas and documentaries on Nostradamus, then that would be something (and I insist he co-star with the same vintage Bette Davis in her "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" drag as Jane).
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Ella Minnow Pea

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Re: 2013 books in 2013
« Reply #21 on: January 22, 2013, 11:25:05 PM »

Now, seeing as to how "Jane Eyre" is your favorite novel, I want to state that I mean no offense by the following question and am asking out of genuine curiosity: why does the novel have so much appeal to you (to have read it so many times)?
My favorite books growing in elementary school always featured a strong female lead who had some sort of adventure - Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, The Westing Game, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, A Wrinkle in Time, etc. During junior high, I started reading romance novels for teens (Sweet Dreams, Wildfire, etc.) that weren't going to win any literary awards. So when I had to pick a book to read in 9th grade from the summer reading list, I went with Jane Eyre. There was a bit of the mystery aspect - what are those noises in the attic? - and romance with a satisfying ending (unlike my perception of Wuthering Heights, which I still haven't actually read). So when I wanted to read a good romance where looks didn't matter, I'd go back to Jane Eyre. It wasn't until after college that I discovered the world of regency romances, which satisfied my romance story need. Now I read it to take me back to that point in my life when anything seemed possible - as captured in the story of Jane. It's similar to going back to a favorite album from when you are 14 or 15. (I'm one of the apparently few people who actually enjoyed high school - including ninth grade.) My other favorite book? Howl's Moving Castle - with another self-sufficient heroine
« Last Edit: January 22, 2013, 11:34:49 PM by Ella Minnow Pea »
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Jen

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Re: 2013 books in 2013
« Reply #22 on: January 25, 2013, 09:22:35 AM »

I too am a huge fan of Charlotte Brontë. Not just Jane Eyre (which was my first novel of hers that I read back in HS), but also Villette and The Professor. Thank you for reminding me how much I have wanted to read the biography written by her friend...added to my Amazon wishlist so I could remember to read it. I will say, I never found myself wanting to skip parts of the novel and I have read it numerous times. I guess we all have different tastes and tolerances. :)

1 The House of Velvet and Glass-Katherine Howe
2 The Fifth Knight-E.M. Powell
3 In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin-Erik Larson

The Fifth Knight I purchased as Kindle serial so actually started reading this while on vacation way back in the first week of December. The serial style was kind of fun but waiting two weeks in between each section meant I had to find another book to read. Not a big deal though and for the price of $1.99 for the book, having to wait is a small price to pay. I enjoyed the novel, set back in the 1100s of King Henry and Queen Eleanor and Thomas Beckett. The story involved the murder of Beckett and those who were involved and a few fictional characters (obviously). The main characters were an anchoress who witnessed the murder and at least for the fiction aspect of the novel, was part of the reasons for Beckett's murder. The other character was a knight involved in the murder plot and came to rescue the nun when he realized the plans that the noblemen who lead the murder of Beckett and kidnap of the nun (not very nice plans). The resulting plot involved rescue, pursuit, murder, conspiracy, and romance. My only beef might have been the ending but overall, an easy read, engrossing historical fiction novel.

In the Garden of Beasts was a book I received from a friend for Christmas. I enjoyed The Devil in the White City so was looking forward to reading this book. I love history and any time someone can write it in a way that makes it as fascinating as it really is, I rejoice. Ok, maybe that word is overstating it a bit but I would read more nonfiction if the author was able to make it interesting and not a yawn fest. I personally had never heard of Ambassador Dodd but found myself really feeling for him in the role he was sort of foisted into. The story of him and his family and their time in Germany was very interesting as I didn't really ever know just how long the atrocities went on before WWII. Perhaps I did but forgot. Reading books like these are great reminders why as a people, we cannot be complacent with our leaders. Even though we don't have anyone (thank goodness) who is just batsh*t crazy like Hitler in power, we still need to stay engaged and aware.
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Ella Minnow Pea

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Re: 2013 books in 2013
« Reply #23 on: January 25, 2013, 12:52:36 PM »

I too am a huge fan of Charlotte Brontë. Not just Jane Eyre (which was my first novel of hers that I read back in HS), but also Villette and The Professor. Thank you for reminding me how much I have wanted to read the biography written by her friend...added to my Amazon wishlist so I could remember to read it. I will say, I never found myself wanting to skip parts of the novel and I have read it numerous times. I guess we all have different tastes and tolerances. :)
It's more a case of wanting to finish so I could go to sleep, as I would generally re-read it all at once. Sadly I haven't read her other books, so I'm adding them and the biography to my to read list now. Thanks!
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MissKitty

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Re: 2013 books in 2013
« Reply #24 on: January 27, 2013, 09:48:00 PM »

1. Friends Like These - Danny Wallace
2. A Lucky Child - Thomas Buergenthal
3. Going to Sea in a Sieve: The Autobiography - Danny Baker
4. Breathitt County - Stephen D. Bowling M.A.
5. Where Dead Voices Gather - Nick Tosches
6. Alive in the Killing Fields - Nawuth Keat

A true account of the events in Cambodia during the reign of Pol Pot and the Khymer Rouge (red communists), as told by Keat, whose mother, grandparents and several siblings were murdered before his eyes when he was 8 years old. Keat himself was shot three times, but survived. Over the course of the next few years - roughly between 1973-1980 - he, his older sister, brother-in-law and younger siblings worked as slaves in various Khymer Rouge camps. You've probably heard the Dead Kennedy's lyric "you'll work harder with a gun in your back for a bowl of rice a day..." and the only thing wrong with that is that they never got a bowl of rice; they were lucky to get a handful of rice, and sometimes went days with nothing at all.  That he survived the slave labor, then the Vietnamese soldiers who fought Pol Pots army, then the Thai refugee camps, is a testament to his luck and cleverness. Keat's story is an amazing tale of survival against all odds.
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cyclone

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Re: 2013 books in 2013
« Reply #25 on: January 27, 2013, 10:17:55 PM »

1. How Music Works by David Byrne
2. Junkie by William S. Burroughs
3. Queer by William S. Burroughs
4. Revenge of the Lawn: Stories 1962-1970 by Richard Brautigan

5. The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover

Brilliant.

Curious, has anyone tackled this?



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Bubba McBubba

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Re: 2013 books in 2013
« Reply #26 on: January 28, 2013, 09:13:33 PM »


Curious, has anyone tackled this?



Yep.  I went through a phase a few years back where I read about a dozen PKD books.  I don't recall being especially impressed with this title, but I have fond memories of "Man In the High Castle" and "A Scanner Darkly".

3. “Jar City” by Arnaldur Indridason

A scent card dangles from the ceiling of the morgue, hanging between two autopsy tables.

Now, it is pretty easy to deduce a “scent card” is an air freshener, and yet this example is indicative of a conundrum I am experiencing regarding this book.  “Jar City” is the first of this author's novels to be translated from his native Icelandic, and it is hard to tell if this mystery is badly translated or simply bad.

I suspect it is a combination of the two, as this novel has a nearly threadbare plot that is somehow still fairly difficult to follow, and that is partly because of many occurrences of odd turns of phrase that require unnecessary effort to untangle.  There also may have been some cultural differences here that I would have appreciated if they were presented in any sort of context that somebody who has not been to Iceland would understand.  But, once again, I don't honestly know if many of the characters' seemingly unprovoked actions and obfuscated dialog reads true to Icelanders, or if this is simply poor writing compounded by an indelicate translation.

“Jar City” is supposedly the most popular crime novel to emerge from what was at one time thought to be a promising literary scene out of Iceland.  But the title of the book seems to sum up everything for me that is wrong with it: it wants to appear mysterious but comes across as a bit silly, it feels like an inaccurate translation from another language even before you learn what the title describes and, once you do learn this, the discovery is not particularly interesting or shocking.

Recommended?  No

4. “We Are What We Pretend to Be” by Kurt Vonnegut

“We Are What We Pretend to Be” is a slim volume containing two novellas that bookend Vonnegut's career, both of which were unpublished until their appearance here.

“Basic Training” was written prior to Vonnegut's life-transforming service in WWII and it shows.  I don't mean that in a bad way necessarily.  It is a very solidly written story (almost surprisingly so) of a teen on the cusp of manhood, struggling with many sudden life changes that have stolen his dreams of becoming a pianist and stranding him on the farm of an obdurate relative nicknamed “The General”.  But, while more enjoyable than I expected, “Training” is missing the voice that we know so well from Vonnegut's key novels.  The experience is not unlike early Tom Waits, where the songs are often clever enough, but there are no hints of the radically distinctive style that was to come later.

On the other end of chronological, and almost every other, scale is “If God Were Alive Today”.  While “Training” tells a relatively simple story in a straightforward manner, “God” is a scattershot and highly abstract character study done in very broad strokes.  What I found most interesting about this novella, is that is was the beginning of what was to be a novel, and yet this works on its own, however perversely.  So, in a way, we are given a unique insight into Vonnegut's writing process, perhaps not for all of his works, but at least what was to be his next novel.

Both novellas contained here are intriguing, not the least because they seem to have so little in common except for being written by the same author.  Having this opportunity to experience the radical transformation of such a legendary talent, by way of two previously unpublished pieces from the extreme chronological ends of his career, was fascinating to me, even if these works are not critical reading on only their own merits.

Recommended?  For Vonnegut completists
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Re: 2013 books in 2013
« Reply #27 on: January 31, 2013, 11:24:02 AM »

1 • Bodhi Oser - Fuck This Book
2 • Neville Judd - 57 - Initial Draft
A friend I have known since I was 16 - and who has been (amongst other things) Al Stewart's biographer, Tori Amos' date at a wedding and Lemmy's ex-wife's paramour for a while - writes his 'star-ridden' autobiography, then trusts me with initial draft for my consideration. I diplomatically consider it still in 'need of quite a bit of work'
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c-lando

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Re: 2013 books in 2013
« Reply #28 on: January 31, 2013, 12:59:36 PM »

2 • Neville Judd - 57 - Initial Draft
A friend I have known since I was 16 - and who has been (amongst other things) Al Stewart's biographer, Tori Amos' date at a wedding and Lemmy's ex-wife's paramour for a while - writes his 'star-ridden' autobiography, then trusts me with initial draft for my consideration. I diplomatically consider it still in 'need of quite a bit of work'
HAHAHAHAAHHAHAHA.
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MissKitty

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Re: 2013 books in 2013
« Reply #29 on: February 03, 2013, 07:56:08 AM »

1. Friends Like These - Danny Wallace
2. A Lucky Child - Thomas Buergenthal
3. Going to Sea in a Sieve: The Autobiography - Danny Baker
4. Breathitt County - Stephen D. Bowling M.A.
5. Where Dead Voices Gather - Nick Tosches
6. Alive in the Killing Fields - Nawuth Keat
7. The Secret Holocaust Diaries - Nonna Bannister

The author's maternal family was a wealthy, highly regarded Cossack family. Memories of her childhood through age 12 color the first half of this book. Her grandfather had been a member of the last Tsar (Nicholas Romanov)'s staff and a high ranking member of his army; he was killed during the Bolshevik Revolution and his family escaped into Ukraine, where Nonna was born in 1927. Her early years were idyllic, even as Stalin's imposed hardships on the Ukranian people spread. Nonna's grandmother lived in what she referred to as "The Grand Dacha," a 37-room home near The Black Sea.

Things begin to change rapidly after Hitler breaks his nonaggression pact with Stalin. Nonna's older brother is sent off to Latvia to live with an uncle in the hopes that he will escape the Russian draft. He is never seen or heard from again. Nonna's aunts, uncles and cousins eventually decide to leave the Grand Dacha for the east, hoping to escape the advancing German army. Their train is heavily bombed and none of them survive. Nonna, her father and mother, grandmother and one last hired hand, Petrovich, continue to live at the dacha. Petrovich is caught one morning by the Russian army as he gathers coal for the family. He, too, is never seen or heard from again.

Nonna'a father goes into hiding, living in an underground tunnel between the house and outdoor larder. When the German army arrives, they find the family's wine cellar and proceed to get wrecked. Father has developed a cold while living in the damp, cold tunnel, and his cough is heard by the drunken soldiers, who find him, beat him nearly to death, and gouge out his eyes. He is left to suffer a long, slow and agonizing death.

Nonna and her mother are eventually rounded up by the Germans  and sent to a labor camp in Poland; she last sees her grandmother at the train station as she and her mother leave for the west. While her labor camp experiences are bad, she realizes that the Russian (or Ost - Eastern) and Polish prisoners/workers have it infinitely better than the Jewish ones. Plus Nonna has a secret weapon given to her by her father: fluency in four languages. She quickly becomes invaluable to the Germans and goes to work, along with her mother, as a translator in a Catholic hospital inside Germany. Further atrocities await, however, at the hands of the Gestapo. Nonna is lucky to see liberation. Her mother doesn't get that luxury.

That she was able to maintain a diary, and keep her older ones throughout the war,  is remarkable. That she waited nearly 50 years before telling her American husband and children of her life before and during the war is astonishing.

If I have one gripe about this book, it is that the photos she refers to, which she managed to keep with her throughout the entire ordeal, are not published within the pages. Why refer to and describe the photos of the Grand Dacha, her grandmother, family, Petrovich, and so on, but not show those cherished pictures? Still, it is but a small complaint of an overall fascinating look at WWII through the eyes and experiences of someone who was not Jewish.
« Last Edit: February 03, 2013, 08:03:48 AM by MissKitty »
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