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You know, reading is fundamental and so on and so forth.

Currently reading: Birds of America by Lorrie Moore.

1. Stieg Larsson - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ★★★

This book... I don't even know if I truly liked it or not. The first chapter was one of the most painfully tedious and boring things I've ever read, ever. I kind of just had to glaze over my mind to even get through it alive. Then, slowly, it started to get more interesting. Somewhere between pages 150 and 200, I got really into it, though less in the sense that I was actually enjoying it, and more in the sense that I was confused and it was eating me alive not to know what was going on. But then, near the end, I started to figure out the answers to the mysteries before the book told me so that wasn't very fun. Overall, I think it was engrossing but not exactly fulfilling. What interested me most were the little snippets of Lisbeth Salander's back story and the strangeness of her personality and there wasn't nearly enough of that to suit me. Probably the only reason I would read the other books in the series is to learn more about her and also because it's very difficult for me to leave a series unfinished once I start it. Still, I'm undecided on whether I will actually go on to the next book or not at the moment.

2. Lorrie Moore - Self-Help ★★★★★

Lorrie Moore can do no wrong in my book. She might possibly be my favorite author. She's certainly the one I'd like to emulate most in my own writing but I know I could never touch her. Her writing leaves such an impact and creates such clear images without relying on overly flowery descriptions and big, impressive words. Instead, she makes ordinary words seem extraordinary which, to me, is much more impressive. It's hard to make words we've all heard a million times sound fresh and interesting again but she does. Every single sentence is a joy to read. Best stories in this collection: How to Be An Other Woman, What Is Seized, How to Become a Writer, To Fill. Now I think I'm going to reread all of her books this year.

3. Suzanne Collins - Mockingjay ★★

HEY GUYS, SPOILERS AHOY! Oh my God, this book frustrated me so much. It was so disappointing. First of all, it felt like nothing really happened. When stuff did happen, I was just bored by it. It didn't have me on the edge of my seat like both of the Hunger Games in the other books did. Sure, I kept wanting to read but that was because a. every single chapter ends on a cliffhanger and I hate stopping on cliffhangers and b. I just kept hoping the next chapter would be more exciting! But overall, there were so many things that bothered me about this book. Most of the characters seemed completely different. Collins made Gale so unlikable in this book and he had the lamest, most throwaway ending ever, which sucks because I loved him in the other books. I wanted him to end up with Katniss, if she had to end up with someone. (Which is another thing: I was really hoping these books wouldn't end on a typical teenage romance/has-to-choose-between-two-guys note and let Katniss go off on her own but, of course, I knew that would end up being only wishful thinking.) But his character was so ruined that I didn't even care anymore if she chose Peeta (which, of course, she does because Gale literally disappears and gets two sentences in the last few chapters, WTF). I don't really have a problem with Peeta. At least his personality changes had to do with the fact that he went totally fucking crazy and, actually, his craziness was the most entertaining part of the book. Then there's Katniss, who I thought I liked, but by the end of this book, I hated her. I hated her incessant whining about being the Mockingjay but the one scene that made me hate her most was when she voted "yes" to hold another Hunger Games. UMMMM.... WHAT?!? KATNISS, THE GIRL WHO SPENT THE ENTIRE BOOK YELLING AT GALE FOR BEING SO GUNG-HO ABOUT MURDERING OTHER PEOPLE, VOTES TO KILL MORE PEOPLE FOR NO REASON! I know her sister just died but JESUS. Oh yeah, speaking of that, Prim's death was unnecessary and just plain cruel. I understand not every character can live but WTF, girl was thirteen. NOT COOL. Also, I was sad when Finnick died but I pretty much knew it had to be coming. Ugh. And just the events of the last couple chapters... agklshaslgheiwghlsglks!!!!111!!! I feel like everyone went crazy right along with Peeta by the end. I didn't care what happened. I wanted the whole country to go up in a fiery inferno by then. I didn't know anymore who I was supposed to be rooting for and who I was against. Seriously, if you would have told me after the second book that I would end up hating everyone except Peeta I would not have believed you but, yep, that's pretty much the case. I should not be so worked up about this but I can't help it.

4. Emma Donaghue - Room ★★★★★

This book was amazing, a real page-turner - though not in the typical sense (except in the beginning when you want to see whether they will escape from Room or not). But, really, there are only a couple action-y scenes so how addictive it becomes very quickly is quite impressive. I was skeptical at first about it being written from the POV of a five-year-old, because it is so hard to write something that actually sounds like a five-year-old, but Donaghue really made it work brilliantly. The story wouldn't have been nearly as fascinating if it wasn't seen through the eyes of Jack, who, in some ways, is so precocious but, in others, is so mentally stunted compared to children in normal circumstances. It was really surreal at times to imagine how strange the outside world must appear to him. A very interesting read, highly recommended.

5. Jonathan Franzen - Freedom ★★★

Eh... I wasn't terribly impressed by this. The writing was fine and I guess it was technically a good book but it just didn't quite work for me. There were parts that I really liked but it was just so damn long that there were also parts I found nearly unbearable, particularly the pages and pages of unnecessary politics/business talk. Good Lord, so boring. It wasn't close to the worst thing I've ever read but it felt kind of like I was never going to finish it.

6. Lorrie Moore - Anagrams ★★★★★

It's been two years since I first read this and, thankfully, it held up the second time around. The first four or five (I forget how many) parts of this aren't amazing but it really doesn't matter because they only take up about 1/3 or less of the book. The final part, the bulk of it, is incredible, seriously, just... incredible. I envy her writing so much. She says such profound things with such simplicity. They're so obvious yet you wonder how she ever came up with them. I especially love in this story the repeated "Life is sad, here is somebody" and how it holds a different meaning every time it's repeated. It's also injected so seamlessly into the story that you hardly notice it is a repeated motif. It's just there, effortless, not at all forced, brilliant.

7. Ann Patchett - Bel Canto ★★★★

For at least a year now, I swear I've read the inside cover summary for this book every other time I've gone to the library and ultimately decided it didn't sound like something I would be into. Well, for lack of other options, I finally decided to give it a chance and I'm actually very glad I did. It was far more entertaining and truly enjoyable than I thought it would be. I was surprised to find myself quite pulled in just by the end of the first chapter. The subject matter - terrorism though it's really about so much more than that as well - is handled in a very unique way and the author manages to make you feel invested in both the "good" and the "bad" guys, to the point where you end up not even being sure anymore who is who, which is how the characters end up feeling too. The only thing that keeps me from giving it the highest rating is the epilogue. Though the ending to the final chapter was very bleak, I kind of liked it that way. You've kind of been set up for that ending so, though it's upsetting, it isn't at all unexpected. But then it's as if the author got scared of leaving things there so she added on a couple more totally unnecessary pages containing events that, honestly, aren't even very true to the characters for me. But considering it really is no more than five or so pages, that's easy enough to look past when you consider how captivating and well-written the rest of the book is.

8. The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver ★★★★★

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. The prose, the story, the characters - it was all just so fucking rich and beautiful. I put off reading this book for a long time because I thought it would be all about God and religion but that's not what it is at all. I definitely want to read it again sometime but it's such a massive undertaking, both due to the length and the strong emotional impact, that I'm also slightly overwhelmed by the thought.

9. East of Eden - John Steinbeck ★★★½

It took me for-freaking-ever to get into this book because it seemed to take for-freaking-ever for the plot to actually get moving. But probably about halfway in, it finally started to get more interesting and then I started to quite enjoy it and finished the second half much more quickly than the first. It's a good book, no doubt, and the story's very epic and sprawling and I grew quite fond of several of the characters but just be warned: this is definitely a book that requires vast amounts of patience, at least in my case it did.

10. The Vast Fields of Ordinary - Nick Burd ★★★★

This is a nice coming-of-age/coming out story and one of the best young adult books I've read in a very long time. I like that it's cute and light - I finished it in one sitting, maybe about four or five hours - but it's also got some deeper meaning buried within. The main thing I liked about it though was that it told the story of this teenage boy coming to terms with growing up and while coming to terms with his homosexuality was a part of that it never really took over the story entirely. I mean, the fact that he was gay wasn't made a huge deal of like it would be in a lot of other books. I liked that it was so underplayed; it was just there.

11. One Day - David Nicholls ★★

Ugh. I wanted to like this book. I thought I would like this book. But I didn't. From the start, I very much disliked it and I hoped that I would warm up to it but that never happened. I very nearly didn't finish. To me, it seemed like it was trying so hard to be hip and modern with the way it was structured when in actuality it just played out like a vapid chick-lit novel with a vaguely creative concept wanting desperately to be something more and failing. Also, the ending was so manipulative and clearly just meant for shock value/guaranteed tears from the reader (except I didn't cry at all so... yeah). Anyway, urgh. Maybe the movie will be better. Though I can't see the actors pulling off playing the same characters from their early twenties to their forties.

12. I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith ★★★★½

Really nice book. Cassandra is such a charismatic narrator and her descriptions of the places and people involved in the story are so rich and realistic and loving that you can't help falling for every character, even the less appealing ones. This is a very light and easy book to read and the plot isn't especially complicated or ingenious (it's basically your typical love triangle-type story) but it's so delightful and beautiful.

13. Invisible - Paul Auster ★★★★★

I don't know what it was but I got super invested in this book, like, from page one I was hooked. It reminded me a lot of certain parts of Siri Hustvedt's The Blindfold (which makes sense since Auster is her husband) but I found this book to be far more memorable and enthralling. I guess I'm a big fan of the whole mysterious-stranger-who-isn't-as-perfect-and-nice-as-they-seem plot device (which is pretty clear in a lot of my own writing) so I was bound to love this. It got really disturbing in the second part but in an "oh my God this is so twisted what is going on I can't put it down now" kind of way. Seriously, I finished this book in one night because I couldn't bear to wait to see how the story ended. And it wasn't even really a "thriller" type book. I don't know. Something about it just pulled me in and refused to let me go. Now I need to read more of his stuff ASAP.
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Shannon

January 2012

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