Monthly Archives: December 2014

2014 in Review

This past year, I read 30 books! That averages out to 2.5 books per month, or 1 book per 12.2 days. That’s a total of 10,855 pages, or 30 pages every day. Apparently 30 pages every day = 30 books in a year!

Because I’m a nerd, here are some additional statistics about my reading. You’re so welcome.

My most-read genre was YA (Young Adult) encompassing 20% of the books in 2014. I’m surprised that 10% of my reads were classics, as typically I only read 1 each year. I don’t anticipate my romance/erotica category to be as high for 2015; this year’s was skewed by the Fifty Shades trilogy.

I also went through to see what my ratings were. I separated into “all 30 books” and “book club only (12) books”.  I rated the most books as 3’s (which I think is to be expected). I didn’t have anything below a 2.5 for book club books, and nothing below a 2 for all books. I think that’s due to a general level of quality when choosing books. (My lone 2 rating belongs to the last of the Fifty Shades books which I felt compelled to finish to complete the series.) I did find it pleasantly surprising that my 3 top-rated books were all book club choices (here, here, and here).

All Books

 

Club Books

 

And last but not least, where all my books came from. I’m obviously a big library user because 50% of my books came from the library (I’m counting ebooks and audiobooks in that). About 25% (8 books) were either borrowed from someone else or they were “other” which in this case means either given to me or found in my collection of existing books. The remaining 7 books were purchased either new or used. Based on some rough Amazon calculations, had I bought all the books brand spanking new, I would have spent about $280 on books. Instead, I spent only $63. (The major purchase at $18 was Insurgent which had an infinite library hold and was impossible at that time to find used.)

Book

 

I hope that’s enough nerd stuff for your liking. Bring on 2015!

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The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/9e3/45106722/files/2014/12/img_0972.jpgSummary (Amazon): Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. It begins,

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.”

His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: surprisingly current

Somehow I escaped high school without having to read this book. It’s been on my list for a while of books that I probably should have read, and luckily one of the girls in my book club brought it to our book swap meeting. It was a bit hard to get in to for me, but once I did, I actually really liked it.

The book is about Holden Caulfield, a teenage boy from a wealthy family, who is being kicked out of his prep school, Pencey, for bad grades. Holden is not a very likable character. He’s obviously from a rich family, and basically goes from prep school to prep school getting kicked out of each one. He has a very hipster mentality that everyone who conforms is a phony, and he’s significantly better than any of them. This is why I found it difficult to get into the book. I just really hate people who refuse to take advantage of the opportunities that they are presented with.

However, as the book progresses, the reader learns that Holden’s brother Allie, died from leukemia a few years earlier. His other brother, D.B., moved to Hollywood to be a film writer. It is obvious in the book that both of these factors have affected Holden tremendously. He also has a lot of similar experiences to other teenagers–who to date, who to be friends with, whether to have sex, what to become when you grow up, how to have a good relationship with your family. And let’s be honest, most real adults have those same issues too. We just have (hopefully) developed proper experience to make better decisions. Being a teenager is all about figuring out things. And Holden is no different. He has few friends at school (although it’s unclear whether he just thinks that he doesn’t). He has difficulty in certain classes, specifically ones he isn’t interested in. He has difficulty with women. He has strong feelings for a girl Jane, who his roommate goes out with. Holden doesn’t believe that his roommate gave her the proper respect that she deserved, so they get into a fist fight. But then later in the book, he goes out with this girl Sally, who he doesn’t really like, and he also solicits a prostitute but they don’t end up having sex. I kind of got the idea that he was just a confused hormonal teenager who was caught between being respectful and succumbing to his hormones.

He does have what seems to be a really great relationship with his youngest sibling, Phoebe. Before the reader even meets her, Holden has touted her as being really incredible, especially for a kid. And I thought Phoebe was really a good character. I guess maybe she shared my same thoughts about Holden. She was sympathetic toward him, but she also realized that he was unhappy (she asked Holden to name one thing he liked and he couldn’t come up with anything) and in trouble. Toward the end of the book, Holden meets her to tell her his plan to travel out west to live as a deaf-mute, but when she arrives with a suitcase so that she can come along, he is upset and tells her no. They argue and she gets very upset with him (which it seemed as this was an unusual occurrence) but eventually they somewhat make amends. Holden returns home with her, ends up in therapy, and is to start a new school the following year.

Verdict: 3.5 stars

I really felt like most of the book was a statement about mental health, especially in someone at such an important age. Holden is obviously very depressed due to his one brother’s death and due to the other brother’s absence (and possibly his success due to being phony), and I’m glad at the end, he did finally get help (It was written in the 50s and some people today still think that therapy is for wimps). It’s also a story about growing up and finding yourself. The title of the book comes from a song (that I am totally unfamiliar with) that Holden mishears as “If a body catch a body coming through the rye”. He develops this misheard lyric into an imagination where he is watching over children who are playing in a rye field on a cliff. He is responsible for catching any children who fall. Holden gets upset when he sees vulgar graffiti at Phoebe’s school which shows he has a very strong association with protecting the children–perhaps he thinks he had to grow up too fast. The book was written in 1951, but the book doesn’t seem dated at all (with the exception of typewriters!) as I think most people have experienced at least some of the same things at one point or another in their life.  I’m glad I finally read it.

 

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The Private Lives of Trees – Alejandro Zamba

IMG_0878.JPGSummary (Amazon): Each night, Julián has been improvising a story about trees for his stepdaughter, but tonight something is different. As Julián becomes increasingly concerned that his wife won’t return, he imagines what Daniela—at twenty, at thirty years old, without a mother—will think of his novel.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: layers

I picked up this book on a whim when I was at Marfa Book Company. It’s a thin book–98 pages–and I was expecting it to be unusual. However, I didn’t expect it to be what it was. It is a story within a story. The author, Zamba, writes a story about a man who tells a story about trees. In the story, that main character, Julian, is writing a book about trees. Julian spends every evening telling his step-daughter an ongoing story about trees, and every Sunday, he works on a book about a man tending his bonsai (so it’s really about Julian because he has a bonsai). Confused yet?

This night however, that he is telling Daniela her nightly story, his wife is late. As time grows later and later, Julian’s mind begins to wander. He remembers the story of how they met. He remembers the previous woman he was dating. His mind drifts to what may have made Veronica late. It’s basically a chain of consciousness–where Julian’s mind goes while he is anxiously awaiting his wife’s return.

As the night turns into morning, he begins to think of having to take care of Daniela all alone–what she will be like at age 15, age 30. Who her boyfriend will be and what she will do for a living. How eventually she will read Julian’s book about the bonsai.

And then at the very end of the book, there is a small second chapter of about 4 pages. It’s the following morning. Veronica has not returned. Julian walks Daniela to school and is told by one of the teachers that there is to be a parent teacher conference. Julian tells Daniela that they need to study more, and then she goes to class.

The End.

Review: 3 stars.

Despite thinking that this book would be about something else, I still wanted to like it. And I did to an extent. I liked the idea of it. It was very imaginative, and some of the emotion in the day dreams was good. Especially when Julian was wavering back and forth as to whether he deserved for Veronica to not return. But to end it in the way that it did. It was just so meh. I didn’t need full closure, but it seems a bit silly that someone would be so blasé about your wife not returning and that you have to take care of her child.

 

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A Painted House – John Grisham

IMG_0854.JPGSummary (Amazon): The hill people and the Mexicans arrived on the same day. It was a Wednesday, early in September 1952. The Cardinals were five games behind the Dodgers with three weeks to go, and the season looked hopeless. The cotton, however, was waist-high to my father, over my head, and he and my grandfather could be heard before supper whispering words that were seldom heard. It could be a “good crop.”

Thus begins the new novel from John Grisham, a story inspired by his own childhood in rural Arkansas. The narrator is a farm boy named Luke Chandler, age seven, who lives in the cotton fields with his parents and grandparents in a little house that’s never been painted. The Chandlers farm eighty acres that they rent, not own, and when the cotton is ready they hire a truckload of Mexicans and a family from the Ozarks to help harvest it.

For six weeks they pick cotton, battling the heat, the rain, the fatigue, and, sometimes, each other. As the weeks pass Luke sees and hears things no seven-year-old could possibly be prepared for, and finds himself keeping secrets that not only threaten the crop but will change the lives of the Chandlers forever.

A Painted House is a moving story of one boy’s journey from innocence to experience.

My Review (Spoilers!!):

Executive Summary: dull

John Grisham was our “Pick an Author” category this year. The idea is to pick an author who has a plethora of books and then everyone in book club can choose one and read it. I had actually never read any of John Grisham’s works and as he is an influential American author, I was excited to have some motivation to read something of his. I would have chosen The Firm as I feel like that is his best novel, however, I found this book on our book shelf and decided to read it instead. (Neither my husband nor I knows where this book came from, but I suspect it may have been purchased by someone in the airport at some time.)

The story is narrated by Luke, a seven year old boy who lives on a cotton farm in rural Arkansas (outside of Black Oak) with his parents and grandparents. His uncle Ricky is in Korea for the war. It’s 1952.

It’s cotton picking season, so the farmers hire “hill people” from the Ozarks and Mexicans to help pick. Luke’s family gets a self-entitled hill family called the Spruills. Within the Spruills is a mother, father, a beautiful girl named Tally who is 17, a boy named Trot who has one limp arm, a giant behemoth of a man called Hank, and two other boys of no real concern. It’s basically a circus act wrapped up in a bunch of hillbillies. They also get a group of 10 Mexicans of whom the reader only knows two–the leader, Miguel, and a rough looking one called Cowboy. The Spruills start off on the wrong foot with Luke because a) they set up their camp in the front yard, right on home plate of his baseball field, and b) they insult the fact that Luke’s family’s house isn’t painted. (thus the name of the book)

The book proceeds with picking cotton during the week and going to town on Saturdays. And listening to the St. Louis Cardinals on the radio during the evenings. Everything is going pretty regularly until one trip to town, a rough group of local boys, the Siscos, pick a fight with one of the hill people. Hank steps in to defend the hill person (and mostly just because he loves picking fights), he kills the one Sisco kid. Luke and his friend are there to witness it.

When the town cop comes poking about asking questions, Hank says that Luke witnessed the fight and Luke lies to say that Hank was simply defending himself 3-1 against the Siscos, when in reality it was more of a brutal attack as Hank is very unstable.

As the summer rolls on and Luke helps his mother tend her garden, they begin to notice small sections of their house are painted. They eventually realize that Trot is painting their house while the others are out picking cotton, and that the sister, Tally, is paying for the paint with her cotton money.

One summer evening, a baseball game begins on the farm. It turns out that Cowboy is quite a good pitcher, and he delights in striking out Hank, who becomes furious and attacks him. Cowboy pulls out a switchblade, and the fight is over…for now. The Mexicans continue to complain about someone keeping them up all night by throwing dirt clods at their window, and everyone assumes it is Hank. However, no one wants to do anything about it because Hank is big and scary and is good at picking cotton.

Meanwhile, like every small town, there is gossip happening at the neighboring farm. Apparently the young girl who lives there is pregnant and won’t say who the father is. Luke’s mother and grandmother periodically drop in to provide vegetables and to try to get gossip to provide to the rest of the town. When the baby is coming, the two women go over to the neighbors to provide support, and Luke and Tally sneakily watch from outside. In the morning, one of the girl’s brothers comes over to their house and announces that the baby is Ricky’s. Everyone is floored and realizes that they are now unable to gossip about this occurrence because it will shame their own family as well. (Serves them right)

The clodding of the Mexican’s house continues, and coupled with the ceaseless rains, Pappy decides that it’s time that Hank goes home. The Spruills, who seem exhausted by having to constantly defend him, agree and send him to hitchhike his way home. However, on the way, Cowboy follows Hank and kills him, dumping his body in the river. And of course Luke also is there to see this. So as a 7 year old in a sleepy farm town, he has now witnessed two murders. OK. Cowboy knew he was there and threatens Luke that if he ever says a peep, Cowboy will murder Luke’s mother.

The rain keeps falling and the river is starting to flood. The family awakens one day to find the truck gone and both Tally and Cowboy are missing. They locate the sheriff eventually and then track down the truck at the train station. They have filled the truck with gasoline. Tally left a note for her family that tells them that she and Cowboy are heading north and are going to get married. The Spruills head home to the Ozarks.

Luke’s father buys some additional paint to finish the job that Trot had started. Luke takes on the task with a seven year old’s vigor. That is he works hard at it but is in no way upset when the Mexicans take over the task! Eventually the flooding becomes so bad that the Mexicans leave to go to a different farm that has higher land. Luke’s mother has confided to him that they are planning on heading to Flint so his dad can work at the Buick factory.

The rains continue and the neighbor appears. His home is flooded, and with tears in his eyes, he begs for a place to stay. They rescue the family with a row boat and set them up in the barn. They continue to paint the house with what little money is left.

Before they leave, Luke’s mother tells him that she is having another baby. He confides to her that he and Tally witnessed Libby’s birth. On one final trip into town, he confesses to his Pappy what happened with Hank and Cowboy. Pappy says it will be their secret. Luke and his parents head to Jonesboro to catch the train with the question of whether they will ever return to live in Arkansas.

Verdict: 3 Stars

The book was 450+ pages, and not a whole lot happened during it. Luckily Grisham is a good writer so the story wasn’t terrible, but it was really just not my style. I also thought it was a little egregious that two murders were written into a small town that the same small child happened to see. I’m in my thirties and have lived in small towns and big cities and have never been witness to one, let alone two, murders. I will try to go back at some point and read one of Grisham’s more typical novels. I think I would like those more.

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Marfa Book Company

I spent Thanksgiving in the town of Marfa, Texas. If you aren’t familiar, I won’t judge (but you should look it up!). It’s a town of only 2000 people, a three hour drive from the closest airport. However, it’s a great town in so many ways. The town was predominately known for its fort during WW2, but it was reborn in the 70s by the artist Donald Judd. Due to this artistic influence, the town developed into a really great quirky place. One of the places in the town was the Marfa Book Company, a great little independent book store that also sold pottery and art. I had to support the place so I ended up buying two unusual books–The Private Life of Trees and Autobiography of a Corpse. I can’t wait to read them both.

 

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