Saturday, January 9, 2010


In 1994, I didn't work outside the home, so I was able to cover a lot of ground with reading. The library was practically my second home.

1. The Interior Castle: The Life and Art of Jean Stafford (nonfiction) - Ann Hulbert. I had read a 1988 biography of Stafford by David Roberts that I liked so much better chiefly because of the narrative flow. By contrast, Hulbert's writing seems so flat. Zzzzzzz.

2. Clockers (novel) - Richard Price. I really enjoyed this novel about Strike, a young drug dealer with a stomach ulcer; his older brother Victor, who's trying to get his young family out of their bad neighborhood in New Jersey and Rocco the homicide detective. I'm up for a reread and I want to see the 1995 Spike Lee movie, too.

3. Maybe The Moon (novel) - Armisted Maupin. I don't remember this book. I hope that the 1994 list won't show so much LitAmnesia.

4. Judy Garland: The Secret Life of an American Legend (nonfiction) - David Shipman. A well-researched and excellently written biography of Judy Garland. Read this one, NOT the putrid Get Happy by Gerald Clarke. Please.

5. Father Melancholy's Daughter (novel) - Gail Godwin. This story of Margaret, the 21-year-old daughter of an Episcopalian priest, was my favorite novel for this year. I blush to admit that it's also the reason I joined the Episcopalian Church and got very interested in religion for a while.

6. Love and Reruns in Adams County (novel) - Mark Spencer. A comic and poignant novel about Lon, a high school baseball star who has just struck out of the minor leagues and Pamela, his ex-wife who was a golden girl in high school but is now working at the golden arches. If you see this at a library or in a used bookstore, grab it. You won't be disappointed.

7. Love Medicine (novel) - Louise Erdrich. I don't remember anything about this book, but I've got an uneasy feeling that I should. Isn't Erdrich kind of an important author?

8. Domestic Life (novel) - Paula Webb. I don't remember anything about this book.

9. The Robber Bride (novel) - Margaret Atwood. Man-stealing frenemy Zenia is such a great villain. Imagine giving yourself scurvy just to trick everyone into thinking you have a fatal disease! Atwood has a lot of fun with this one, and I did, too.

10. The Van (novel) - Roddy Doyle. I read The Barrytown Trilogy out of order, starting with the last in the series, but I think it's the best. Jimmy Rabbitte, Sr. is out of work and his best friend, Bimbo, has just been made redundant at his bakery. Bimbo comes into some money and decides to buy a fish-and-chips van. Jimmy goes in with him as a partner with often mixed and mostly comic results. There are some perfect, poignant moments that preview Doyle's later, more serious work. The action takes place in 1990 around the time of the FIFA World Cup.

11. Daphne Du Maurier (biography) - Margaret Forster. I got the impression from this biography that Du Maurier didn't really like writing all that much and that it didn't come easily for her. I'm so glad she pressed on and wrote Rebecca!

12. The Snapper (novel) - Roddy Doyle. This is the second novel in The Barrytown Trilogy. Sharon Rabbitte is pregnant and not saying who's responsible. Of course all of Barrytown is dying to know. Hilarious!

13. The Commitments (novel) - Roddy Doyle. The first novel in The Barrytown Trilogy. I saw the movie first and although the book and movie are similar, I slightly prefer the movie. Well, it is about music, so it's best as an auditory experience. But you should read the book, too!

14. Exposure (novel) - Kathryn Harrison. I don't remember anything about this novel.

15. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (novel) - Roddy Doyle. Doyle is great at portraying childhood. This seems to be a transition novel for him -- it has some funny bits like The Barrytown Trilogy, but it's more serious in tone like his follow-up novel The Woman Who Walked Into Doors.

16. Straight Through The Night (novel) - Edward Allen. Chuck Deckle is downwardly mobile. He's a quasi-intellectual who's now working as a butcher for a kosher meat processing company. His coworkers are mean and stupid and ridicule him at every turn. Chuck excuses them at first and gives them every opportunity to become at least cordial, but his slow-simmering rage becomes progressively ugly. A well-written but bleak novel.

17. She Needed Me (novel) - Walter Kirn. I don't remember anything about this novel.

18. Brightness Falls (novel) - Jay McInerney. I have a vague impression that this novel is about the greedy old 1980s and it's big and bloated like that decade.

19. Animal Farm (novel) - George Orwell. Another mother-son read. My husband was laughing at the satire as we read and my 9-year-old son wanted to know what was so funny, so he got the whole Communism subtext right then and there.

20. The Orton Diaries (nonfiction) - Joe Orton, John Lahr, editor. John Lahr does a great job of presenting the short life of playwright Joe Orton, who was an edgy character. Orton was murdered by his lover, who then committed suicide.

21. Old Friends (nonfiction) -Tracy Kidder. Tracy Kidder spends time in a nursing home. Excellent book, intelligent and satisfying -- exactly what you'd expect from Kidder.

22. Skipped Parts (novel) - Tim Sandlin. Although the premise for this novel made my skin crawl, I still thought it was somewhat interesting: It's the early 1960s. A 13-year-old boy and his mother have been 'exiled' to Wyoming from the south by the boy's grandfather because of the mother's embarrassing behavior. The boy meets a girl at his new school and they hit it off. Soon, the boy's mother is encouraging them to take it to the limit. WTF??? They do, and soon these middle-schoolers are expectant parents. Anyway, even though all of this sounds appalling, I think it could have worked in the hands of a different writer. As it is, the writing is actually pretty dull. What a strange combination.

23. The Devil's Dream (novel) - Lee Smith. I don't remember anything about this novel.

24. The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O'Brien (novel) - Oscar Hijuelos. Oh boy, here we go again with the LitAmnesia!

25. You Might As Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker (biography) - John Keats. This biographer spent a lot of time asserting that Parker didn't say a lot of those witty and scathing things she's famous for. Disappointing, but still an interesting look at the writer and the times in which she lived.

26. Black Mountain Breakdown (novel) - Lee Smith. I don't remember anything about this novel.

27. Prick Up Your Ears (biography) - John Lahr. Biography of playwright Joe Orton who was the darling of the London stage in the 1960s. He seems to have been a prankish sort all of his life -- he went to prison for a while for defacing library books! Later on, this humour would show up in the plays that he wrote, where he's just basically fucking with the audience. He was fond of the fast life and was violently murdered by his male lover who committed suicide directly after killing Orton.

28. Kicking Tomorrow (novel) -Daniel Richler. LitAmnesia. Someone should have taken me off novels completely at this point in my life.

29. Long Quiet Highway (nonfiction) - Natalie Goldberg. Goldberg writes more about her Zen journey here and how her Zen master influenced her life. Interesting to compare it to #36 for this year.

30. Primitive People (novel) - Francine Prose. You see? I can remember nonfiction; it's only novels that I'm blanking on!

31. Different Seasons (4 novellas) - Stephen King. All four of these novellas were adapted into successful movies. My favorite in the collection is Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. When I recommend King to the small handful of people who haven't read him yet, I always mention this book and Misery.

32. For Love (novel) - Sue Miller. LitAmnesia again. Sigh.

33. Sin (novel) - Josephine Hart. I don't remember what this novel is about, but I have a strong impression that it's a piece of crap. Maybe I'm wrong.

34. Feather Crowns (novel) - Bobbie Ann Mason. This bout of LitAmnesia makes me feel really bad. Bobbie Ann Mason was my idol in the early 80s. I even cried once when someone in my book group said that he hated hated hated the stories in Shiloh.

35. The Great Divorce (novel) - Valerie Martin
I don't remember anything about this novel. What was I doing, just flipping pages at intervals?
36. The Empty Mirror (nonfiction) - Janwillem van de Wetering. In the late 1950s, a Dutch guy shows up at a Japanese Zen monastery and stays there for several months, trying to learn the right path. This book is decidedly not like other Zen encounters that usually sound wide-eyed, perky and dripping with understanding and enlightenment. No, de Wetering is often grumpy and frustrated. Even at the end, he leaves the monastery not sure if the whole thing was a waste of time. A quick and humorous read.

37. The Lilac Bus (short stories) - Maeve Binchy. Binchy is great comfort reading. Grab some hot chocolate and an afghan and curl up on the couch with this book.


38. The Light In The Forest (novel) - Conrad Richter. I hate that I can't remember this book because I'm such a big fan of his Awakening Land trilogy.

39. Cadillac Jack (novel) - Larry McMurtry. The great characters you've come to expect from McMurtry against the backdrop of the flea market circuit.

40. Fade (novel) - Robert Cormier. Paul has discovered that he can fade away to nothingness. this is a family trait that his uncle also shares, as well as generations subsequent to Paul's.

41. Marlene Dietrich (biography) - Maria Riva. This biography is by Dietrich's only child. It's very well done, very intelligent.

42. Oh! (novel) - Mary Robison. I don't remember anything about this novel.

43. Miss Lonelyhearts (novel) - Nathanael West. An unnamed newspaper writer known to us only as "Miss Lonelyhearts" answers letters for a lovelorn column. He starts to feel the overwhelming responsibility of saving all those who write to him. His editor, a real bastard, ridicules both his finer feelings and those people who send letters. In the process, he destroys Miss Lonelyhearts.

44. Souls Raised From The Dead (novel) - Doris Betts. I have no memory of this novel.

45. Louisa May: A Modern Biography of Louisa May Alcott (biography) - Martha Saxon. This seems more like a joint biography of Louisa and her father, Bronson. Saxon tries to assert that LMA was in love with Thoreau, but her evidence seems weak. Also, she gets something wrong about Little Women. It was minor, but it sticks in my craw and lessened my enjoyment of this biography.

46. In A Country of Mothers (novel) A. M. Homes. LitAmnesia again. Damn.

47. Portrait of a Marriage (biography) - Nigel Nicolson. Nicolson is the son of vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. Another interesting and intelligent biography by a child with famous and unconventional parents.

48. Kate Chopin (biography) - Emily Toth. A little boring in places, but still okay.

49. On Cukor (nonfiction) - Gavin Lambert. Interviews with director George Cukor as he discusses his film. Respectful commentary by Lambert. They both love and breathe film and the shining results show in this book. Great movie stills as well.

50. The Shipping News (novel) - E. Annie Proulx. After I read this novel, I wanted to pack up and move to Newfoundland.

51. Mama Makes Up Her Mind (Essays) - Bailey White. When Bailey White writes about her mother, her prose sparkles. When Mama isn't present, she's not as effective. Also, she has a tendency to end her essays with a neat little 'click' of a conclusion that grated on my nerves after a while.

52. Platforms (nonfiction) - Pagan Kennedy. Funny and irreverent look at all that was charming and goofy about the 1970s. Great fun to read. Not highly polished -- instead, it reads like a long and friendly fanzine.

53. Charms For The Easy Life (novel) - Kaye Gibbons. I wrote that I liked this novel, but I can't remember why.

54. Confessions of a Crap Artist (novel) - Philip K. Dick. Philip K. Dick is well-known in the SF world. Before he became famous, he wrote several mainstream novels which he didn't have much luck getting published. This one was written in 1959, but it didn't see print until the mid-1970s. Unfairly overlooked -- It's as good as anything John Updike published around this time.

55. Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years (memoir) - Margaret Mead. I really enjoyed this memoir. I'd read it again in a minute. Show me a copy!

56. How To reduce Your Risk Of Breast Cancer (nonfiction) - Jon J. Michnovicz. A friend who had an episode with breast cancer insisted I read this book. It was full of good information about diet, which is now common knowledge and written in a reader-friendly style. Some tasty recipes are included as well.

57. The Man In The High Castle (novel) - Philip K. Dick. A "what-if...?" novel in which the Axis wins WWII and they divide up the USA. The main character is in hot water because he wrote a "what if...?" novel that imagines the Allies won the war. I'm not an SF/Fantasy reader, but I really like this novel which won the Hugo Award in the early 1960s.

58. The Finishing School (novel) - Gail Godwin. I don't remember anything about this book.

59. A Southern Family (novel) - Gail Godwin. I don't remember anything about this book.

60. Suicide Blonde (novel) - Darcy Steinke. A prolonged bout of LitAmnesia is a hell of a way to end your reading year. Bah.

Fiction: 42

Nonfiction: 18

Books by male authors: 30

Books by female authors: 30

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