Thursday, January 21, 2010


This was a year of feeling -- and actually being -- quite unsettled. I shivered and howled out there in storms of my own making. Somehow, there was still reading. I always had the books and by the end of the year I was seriously working out how I really wanted my life to be.

1. Regeneration (novel) - Pat Barker. Very fine WWI novel. I feel ready for a re-read.

2. A History of Reading (nonfiction) - Alberto Manguel. I remember bits about how a teenaged Manguel read aloud to his fellow Argentinian Jorge Luis Borges and how reading silently used to be viewed as an interesting feat. Manguel explores all facets of reading and books all over the world. Another one I'd like to re-read.

3. Recipes From The Dump (novel) - Abigail Stone. The only thing I remember about this novel is that the author's email was on the back flap where the biographical information is printed. I'd never seen that before, so I sent her an email and she kindly responded.

4. Mary (autobiography) - Mary Mebane. I believe this might be a 2-volume autobiography and I read volume 1. As an African-American coming of age in the 1950s, Mary had to face problems presented by the white world, but she also had to struggle against prejudices in the black community. Intelligent, balanced writing. Received an honorable mention Coretta Scott King Award.

5. Anagrams (novel) - Lorrie Moore. Re-read.

6. Night Bird: Conversations With Francoise Sagan (nonfiction) - Jean-Jacques Pauvert, David Macey (translator). A series of conversations about life, love and work with French novelist Sagan, who is most famous for her novel Bonjour Tristesse. This book was published in 1954 when Sagan was only 18 years old and became an international hit. From that time, Sagan lived a jet-set life which included two husbands, two children, lovers of both gender, fast cars, gambling and drugs. In her conversations with Pauvert, which were done in the late 1970s, she comes off quite existential.

7. A Live Coal In The Sea (novel) - Madeleine L'Engle. I don't remember anything about this novel.

8. After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie (novel) - Jean Rhys. I was captivated by Rhys' stark portrait of Julia Martin, who was once young and beautiful and has lived off of men all her adult life. Not really willing to make the compromises needed to keep these relationships going, she finds new prospects getting fewer and farther between and she's living out her life in dingy hotels, scraping for money.

9. Good Morning, Midnight (novel) - Jean Rhys. Sasha Jensen is living in Paris, if you can call it living. She's definitely at the end of her rope, living in a dismal room, drinking constantly and worried about money. She's bitter, angry and afraid of the human race in general, referring to them as a "pack of hyenas." She gets involved with a younger man who works as a gigolo, but hasn't got the energy to put into an affair.l Depressing, but so well written. Good Morning, Midnight is so angry and bleak that there immediately sprang up a false rumor that Jean Rhys had committed suicide shortly after writing this novel.

10. Voyage In The Dark (novel) - Jean Rhys. Anna is a younger version of Sasha and Julia. She's just come to England from the West Indies and works some underpaid job in the theatre. An older man makes her his mistress then tires of her, bringing on the familiar Rhys-ian downward spiral.

11. Bonjour Tristesse (novel) - Francoise Sagan. With its talk of affairs and mistresses, this novel seemed so very French to me. Teenage Cecilie enjoys life with her free-spirited, easygoing father, and she's also embarking on a summer romance. The merde hits the fan when she realizes that her father and her mother's old friend, Anne are falling in love. Cecilie enlists her new boyfriend in a plot to keep her father from remarrying.

12. Bird By Bird (nonfiction) - Anne Lamott. Funny and perceptive advice about writing. I especially loved Lamott's advice for avoiding a libel suit!

13. Rosie (novel) - Anne Lamott. LitAmnesia.

14. Quartet (novel) - Jean Rhys. I think this was one of her early ones and not quite as well crafted as the others.

15. Alias Grace (novel) - Margaret Atwood. Grace is in prison, but is she really a murderess? Based on a true case in 19th c. Canada.

16. The Rector's Wife (novel) - Joanna Trollope. Tidy little vignettes strung together. Almost too chill and neat as if she was writing the novel to go straight to Masterpiece Theatre.

17. Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year (nonfiction) - Anne Lamott. Whenever my coolest friends are expecting their first child, I present this book to them.

18. I Was Amelia Earhart (novel) - Jane Mendelsohn. Fantasy about Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan surviving the 1937 disappearance and living on some island. It reads like prose poetry. I had just seen The Piano when I read this book, so I've always imagined it as a film by Jane Campion.

19. Hard Laughter (novel) - Anne Lamott. Lamott's fiction doesn't stay with me as well as her nonfiction. LitAmnesia.

20. Wide Sargasso Sea (novel) - Jean Rhys. The story of Antoinette Bertha Mason of the West Indies before she married Edward Rochester and became the madwoman in the attic featured in Jane Eyre.

21. The Soul Of A New Machine (nonfiction) - Tracy Kidder. Although I'm a Kidder fan, this one was a bit of a slog for me with all the technical jargon.

22. Drinking: A Love Story (memoir) - Caroline Knapp. Knapp's account of her years as a functioning alcoholic. It's scary because she shows the sheer attractiveness of alcohol addiction. This memoir also contains one of the most insufferable ex-boyfriends to ever walk the face of the earth, and Knapp does a great job of poking sly fun at him.

23. We Were The Mulvaneys (novel) - Joyce Carol Oates. LitAmnesia.

24. The Family Nobody Wanted (memoir) - Helen Doss. The Dosses were one of the first families in the United States to support adoption of children of different or mixed races. Altogether, they adopted 12 children.

25. A Very Private Eye (memoir) - Barbara Pym. LitAmnesia.

26. The Long Loneliness (autobiography) - Dorothy Day. Day is one of the prominent figures in the history of "social Christianity". During her life, she moved from anarchism to socialism to Catholicism. She founded a newspaper called The Catholic Worker and opened "Houses of Hospitality" in the inner cities and later on farms where communes of people could settle. During wartime, she and the newspaper maintained a pacifistic stance. Day died in 1980, a revered figure in the American Catholic church. She is in the first stage of being considered for sainthood. A movie about her life called Entertaining Angels came out about 10 years ago.

27. Zines! (nonfiction) - V. Vale. Before there were blogs, people did fanzines, or zines, for short. This compilation features samples from the best, including Mystery Date by Lynn Peril and Thrift Score by Al Hoff as well as frank, in-depth interviews with their creators. Blogging is wonderful, but I sometimes miss the days of wielding The Big Stapler.

28. A Clockwork Orange (novel) - Anthony Burgess. Classic dystopian novel about Alex and his hoodlum friends. I read an edition that had a glossary at the back for Alex's strange slang, which Burgess created for the novel. That edition also omitted the final chapter in which Alex expresses remorse for his former violent behavior.

29. Five For Sorrow, Ten For Joy (novel) - Rumer Godden. A woman who has had hard knocks throughout her life and has worked as a prostitute, ends up at a convent and gradually changes her life and becomes a nun.
30. A Time To Dance, No Time To Weep (memoir) - Rumer Godden. LitAmnesia.

31. Crooked Little Heart (novel) - Anne Lamott. I know that this is the sequel to Rosie, but that's all I remember.

32. Anna LMNO (novel) - Sarah Glasscock. Anna works at one of the beauty shops in her little Texas town. She's saving her money to buy the shop from the owner. Meanwhile, she's been married almost 2 years to a South Africian named Bryan who needed a green card and is involved in some mysterious activities. There's a lot going on in this novel and Anna is a memorable character. I feel a residue of discomfort for liking this book because in a fit of enthusiasm I gave a copy of it to my friend for Christmas. She dutifully read it, but her thank-you note contained a scathing review. I had always assumed that my opinions were shit compared to hers, so I promptly gave my copy to the nearest used bookstore. A few years later I was feeling ever-so-much smarter and found another copy at Larry McMurtry's bookstore in Archer City. It was one of 3 books I grabbed that day. Whether my opinion is shit or not, I LOVE this goddamn book. It's part of my landscape.

33. Joy School (novel) - Elizabeth Berg. I can't understand why this author's novels don't stay with me. LitAmnesia.

34. The Invisible Circus (novel) - Jennifer Egan. LitAmnesia.

35. Love Invents Us (novel) - Amy Bloom. LitAmnesia and I feel bad about it.

36. The Cloister Walk (nonfiction) - Kathleen Norris. Norris, who was raised Protestant has been a Benedictine oblate for many years at a convent in Minnesota. This book covers one liturgical year that she spent full-time at the convent. Her prose is so clear and penetrating. I'd love to read this one again.

37. Bogart (biography) - Jeffrey Meyers. An enjoyable look writing at my favorite actor. I'd also like to read the Sperber-Lax bio as well as the 2006 book by film critic and historian Richard Schickel. What can I say? I'm a fan!

38. The Nuns (nonfiction) - Marcelle Bernstein. LitAmnesia.

39. Henry and Clara (novel)- Thomas Mallon. A novel about the couple who was seated in the balcony with President and Mrs. Lincoln at Ford's Theatre on the night Lincoln was assassinated. Their lives were full of twists and turns and sadly, they came to an end as grisly and shocking as Lincoln's.

40. The Seven Storey Mountain (autobiography) - Thomas Merton. Like Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton had a long and circuitous path towards the religious life. He eventually became a Trappist monk at Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky. Recognized as a brilliant writer even before he took vows, his writing and philosophy gave him a large worldwide following.

41. Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs (nonfiction) - Dave Barry. Barry polled readers of his column and published the winners, er..losers. I remember we all agreed about MacArthur Park.

42. Fraud (novel) - Anita Brookner. LitAmnesia. I'm sorry to say that I don't really recall plots or characters in Brookner's novels, either.

43. American Appetites (novel) - Joyce Carol Oates. The only thing I remember is that there's an accidental killing and the victim is some kind of food writer.

44. Love Warps The Mind A Little (novel) - John Dufresne. Shit! I really hate that I have LitAmnesia. I love that title!

45. Songs In Ordinary Time (novel) - Mary McGarry Morris. LitAmnesia.

46. Angela's Ashes (memoir) - Frank McCourt. McCourt's look back at his brutally poverty-stricken childhood in Limerick, Ireland during the 1930s and 40s. The first line of the book says something about how his parents should have stayed in New York City where they met and married and where Frank was born. That's damn right!

47. Bad Angel (novel) - Helen Benedict. LitAmnesia.

48. What Falls Away (memoir) - Mia Farrow. Farrow's life story, including her relationship and scandal-ridden split with Woody Allen. Written a couple of years after these events, WFA reads as if Farrow was still dazed by it all.

49. Snow Falling On Cedars (novel) - David Guterson. In the 1950s, a Japanese-American man living near Pugent Sound in Washington State is accused of murder. The autopsy scene in this book was so graphic that I had to stop reading and go throw up. Now that's good writing!

50. Pretty Boy Floyd (novel) - Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. The life and times of Charles Floyd, the famous 1930s outlaw from Oklahoma. This book has a lovely feel of the southwest that only McMurtry could provide.

51. Zeke & Ned (novel) - Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. A look at the last two Cherokee warriors, Zeke Proctor and Ned Christie. Ned has been accused of murder and has a several year's standoff with the US government, who wants to bring him to Fort Smith, Arkansas for hanging. Christie's standoff is told in sort of a strangely humorous sort of way.

52. A Virtuous Woman (novel) - Kaye Gibbons. I read her novels, but I can only remember Ellen Foster, her first one.

53. Staring At The Sun (novel) - Julian Barnes. And 1997 ends with LitAmnesia in my Christmas stocking. Ho ho ho.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, it's comforting to have a name for the affliction from which I also suffer. "LitAmnesia" is real, and it is insidious...