Sunday, January 01, 2006

Book List -- 2006*

*Feel free to add your book suggestions to the comments! I'm always looking for new titles!

(I am so behind on keeping up with listing my books -- it's been a dry few months with reading as I've been so swamped with work; here's what I have so far!)

The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Violence by James Gilligan

Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Nickel & Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

A Little More About Me by Pam Houston

Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D.

Trixie Belden: The Secret of the Mansion by Julie Campbell

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby: Another hilarious tale from Mr. Hornby, A Long Way Down tells the story of four very-different characters with one thing in common: a desire to commit suicide. The foursome are brought together one New Year's Eve when coincidentally they all four plan on jumping from the top of a 15-story building, and their journey to the ground is both funny and enlightening. Told from all four first-person points of view, this is well worth reading.

Henry and June by Anais Nin: People are always surprised to hear that I've never read any Anais Nin, and this summer seemed a good time to start. While I wasn't as impressed with the story as I wanted to be, Nin's prose is fluid, poetic, and beyond honest in its telling of her love affair with writer Henry Miller and her love obsession with Miller's beautiful wife, June. A passionate tale of a woman's awakening to desire.

Sight Hound by Pam Houston: I'm a long-time fan of Houston's prose, and while this wasn't my favorite of hers (check out Cowboys are my Weakness or Waltzing the Cat), it's still a worthy read. Sight Hound is the story of a woman and her dog, Dante, who has been diagnosed with bone cancer. It's from multiple points of view (at least 15, I'd guess) and gets a bit confusing because of this, but what the story reveals about love, fear, and human (and cainine) relationships is wise and memorable.

Fashionistas by Lynn Messina: A neighbor of mine is Messina's cousin, and she suggested I pick up Fashionistas the next time I was craving chick-lit. As is typical with chick lit, we meet a character, Vig Morgan, who is working for a fashion magazine. Vig isn't interested in fashion and her boss is nasty (er, sound familiar) and she gets involved in a plot to overthrow the evil one. It's good plane reading, but not that memorable. Still, a fun and easy romp.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut: Can you believe I've never read this? Slaughterhouse-Five is considered by some as one of the greatest anti-war novels out there. In it, we join Billy Pilgim for his journey through time -- from the horrifying firebombing of Dresden to his abduction by aliens to his life after the war and beyond. Reading it forces one to consider the meaning in our own lives, our fears and own fragmentation.

Stop That Girl by Elizabeth McKenzie: Stop That Girl is the fiction debut of a colleague's wife. It reads like a series of short stories but is also pieced together in the form of a novel in that the stories all focus on one character, Ann Ranson, and her coming of age from childhood into adulthood. This is a fairly light read, but it should not be relegated to the world of chick lit as it delves into serious issues of identity and family and love.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson: Another travel book, A Walk in the Woods tells the tale of Bryson's attempt at hiking the Appalacian Trail. In the true Bryson spirit, we are humorously treated to the trek of a middle-aged, fairly out-of-shape man who huffs and puffs his way along the 2,100-mile trail (well, he doesn't quite make it the whole way but his attempt is inspiring, nonetheless!) The book's second half sort of fell apart for me, felt a bit redundant, but it's still an excellent read for the outdoor adventurer in all of us (even for those who never make it out of the city!

Choke by Chuck Palahniuk: Yes, once again we encounter Chuck Palahniuk in 2006's book list. Choke is about Vincent Mancini, a med-school dropout who needs to pay for the care of his elderly (and deranged) mother. His scam to make the money is to fake choking in upscale restaurants; the wealthy patrons who save him, take pity on him and send him checks to support him. Oh, did I mention that he hangs out in sex addiction recovery groups to get women and also works at a bizarre (rather sadistic) colonial theme park? Strangely brilliant and brilliantly strange.

Bone by Fae Myenne Ng: Read about this book through my BBC book review!

Reading Sex and the City: I've long been obsessed with analyzing popular culture, and when I encountered this book of essays on Sex and the City, I immediately knew I had to get it. This book contains critical essays on SATC's depiction of relationships, love, friendships, fashion as well as its role in relation to the third wave of feminism. This is not fluffy stuff, but for those who love the show and love to think critically about the cultural impact of the media, it's a great read.

The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson: The Lost Continent is Bryson's story of his journey through small-town U.S.A. Characteristic of Bryson's writing, we get the luxury of unique wit combined with a genuine affection for his subject matter. For those who have never road tripped through the back roads of this country, this book provides you a realistic glimpse into sights unseen by most, into places most travel books never even mention.

Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk: Survivor tells the testimony of the last surviving member of the "Creedish Death Cult," Tender Branson, as he cruises solo over the Pacific Ocean in an airplane that will surely crash somewhere in the Australian outback when it runs out of fuel. But first, Tender tells his life's journey in a hilarious and unpredictable satire on the absurdity of the modern world.

April (partial list!):
About a Boy by Nick Hornby: About a Boy the book is far better than About a Boy the movie. Sure, I loved the movie, but the book devotes equal time to Will and Marcus, alternating point of view chapter by chapter. The ending is far more rich and complex and far less cheesy than the movie. It's the story of Will, a man whose life is devoted to doing nothing (from work to relationships), who meets (and slowly befriends) a young boy, Marcus, who is suffering through his single-mother's depression. Through their unexpected friendship, both discover who they are and what is really important in terms of friendships and love.

The Undomestic Goddess by Sophia Kinsella: What can I say? Kinsella is one of my favorite chick-lit writers. Sure, it's fluff, but it's fun fluff and I can blast through it in a day-and-a-half with little (or no) thought. This is the story of Samantha, a hard-working lawyer who suddenly loses her high-profile job in London and flees to the countryside to restart her life as a housekeeper. Ooooohhhh....does this mean that, in the process of her career shift, she may discover herself? A fun read for a long plane ride or a boring night in.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby: High Fidelity is the story of 30-something, music (but not life) obsessed Rob's investigation into the five worst breakups of his life after his relationship with long-term girlfriend, Laura, comes to an end. At first, he claims to be happy to be single again, but as he attempts to move forward, he finds he can't. A fantastic exploration of one man's mind in terms of life and love. If you've seen the movie, I think the book and movie are more close than About a Boy, though the book is, of course, is set in London. Just FYI.

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh: Read full BBC review here!

Diary: A Novel by Chuck Palahniuk: Diary is a bit of a creepy, thriller, mystery. It's the story of one-time artist turned traumatized wife, Misty Marie Kleinman, and the frightening predicament she finds herself in one summer on Waytansea Island, the summer her husband has found himself on his death bed after a failed suicide attempt. Palahniuk's prose sucks you in immediately and never lets go. It's dark, funny, visual, and never predictable.

A Certain Age by Tama Janowitz: Here's the thing. I found this book on the street in front of my apartment. It had been sitting on my bookshelf for months, untouched; but when my mood shifted to fluff this month, I pulled it out. Florence Collins is a single woman in NYC (aren't they all?) who has some, shall we say, errors in judgement while visiting her married friends in the Hamptons that set her world in a seemingly endless downward spiral. This at first seemed like your typical "chick lit" crap, but it had a dark side to it that made it more thoughtful and interesting. Florence is utterly unlikeable but at the same time, it's hard to hate her. Jamowitz uses dark humor to reveal the depths to which one will sink to not lose one's status in this world.
Skinny Bitching by Jenny Lee: I picked this up in the bargain books at Target, looking for some laughs. Lee is a newly-married 30-something woman who write humorous chapters about the transition into the world of being in your 30s. At times, I must confess, I found myself quite literally laughing outloud. Yes, the book is at times superficial fluff, but her honesty about some of the angst that 30-something women face, pulls the reader through.

The Bad Girl's Guide To Getting Personal by Cameron Tuttle: I've read a couple of the "Bad Girl's Guides," and while they're all pretty much the same, they're all very fun and a good way for a girl down in the dumps to perk up her spirits. This one reveals funny tidbits about improving one's relationships: with men, with friends, with family, with the outside world, and perhaps most importantly, with oneself. Good rainy afternoon reading.

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson: My mom sent me this to pump me up for my upcoming travels in Australia. Bryson is a travel writer with a humorous edge, and he details the history and culture of Australia in a real, honest, and loving way. At times I found myself bored with the details, but his personal (and historical) stories are vivid, funny, and enough to make one (well, me) want to go there....maybe even tomorrow!

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: I normally avoid best sellers, but when my mom suggested this, I gave in. I was very surprised at how much I loved it. It's the story of a young privileged man, Amir, who grows up in Afghanistan in the 1970s. He suffers from guilt over the way he treated his only true friend, and when he and his father move from politically-troubled Afghanistan, he must deal with his guilt. The ending is predictable to the point of being trite, but the story is brilliant, well-written, and the characters and their relationships with each other and the country they love are richly developed. Read this!

The Girlfriend Curse by Valerie Frankel: More chick-lit fluff. I'd read another book of Frankel's and thought it was terrible, but got this one for 49 cents, so why not? It's the story of a woman who leaves NYC for Vermont when she realizes she suffers the "last girlfriend syndrome," meaning her exes get married within months of breaking up with her. She winds up at a retreat for relationship-dysfunctional people. It's still poorly written, but I found myself intrigued by some of the insight into the patterns that people have in relationships. Good enough for a bubble bath and a night in.

Wicked by Gregory Maguire: I picked this up because I've heard great things about the musical and great things about the book. I love the idea of reclaiming the "Wicked Witch's" story, and definitely appreciated her character and the characters of her family and friends. However, I thought the story dragged on and on with too many details and plot points. It wasn't that well written, in terms of the prose, though the story was good. Honestly, if you want a reclaiming story, I'd read Grendel by John Gardner!

Audrey Hepburn: A Celebration by Sheridan Morley: I found this as my favorite used bookstore and thought, "What the heck. It's Audrey." If you're new to Audrey, this is a good biography, filled with a lot of details of her film career, especially the early year. But I thought Morley glossed over the post-film career, in particular her work with UNICEF. There are better bios out there!

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes: A friend gave this to me years ago, and I've only now gotten around to it. In terms of a travel memoir, there isn't much to the story beyond her settling in the Tuscany; unlike the movie (which I actually enjoyed) the character isn't suffering an internal conflict about life. She simply moves to the Tuscany with her partner and refurbishes a house. The images are beautiful, especially regarding the people and the fabulous cuisine, and there are several recipes that I'm planning on making (wish she had included more). If you're a fan of the region, I'd pick it up.

Get Your Tongue out of My Mouth, I'm Kissing You Good-Bye! by Cynthia Heimel: This isn't my favorite Heimel book, but again, her insight to the ever-changing (ever-staying-the-same) lives of women is sharp, hilarious, and almost always accurate. However, if you haven't ever read Heimel, I'd start with the classic Sex Tips for Girls.

Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson: This is Winterson's first novel, and I was stunned by how well-written her first attempt is. You can see how her style as an artist emerged from this. It's the story of a girl who was adopted into an evangelical home in the Midlands, and details her struggles as she comes to the realization that she prefers the company of her own sex. A great rite of passage story. Winterson's the best.

Shopaholic and Sister by Sophie Kinsella: Okay, it's silly chick-lit, but I love it. And this actually was better than some of the other Shopaholic stories as it breaks (well, just a bit) from the shopping-obsession and looks more deeply at Becky's character. In this one, she finds out that she has a long-lost sister who (oh horror of horrors!) doesn't like to shop. This, of course, creates a wild conflict between the two, but if you're a fan of Becky's perseverance, you know she won't give up on the relationship.

The Bone People by Keri Hulme: Quite a depressing story that follows the lives of three seemingly-differenct characters in New Zealand: Kerewin Holmes (an isolated outsider), part-Maori foster father Joe (abusive but loving), and the wild, mute, part-European child Simon. The three come together and realize that perhaps they need each other for their very survival. This is a sad book, but absolutely beautiful. At time the prose seems a bit too self-aware and pretentious, but the story is so worth the effort it takes to read.

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: Beautiful story of seemingly-impossible, eternal love. Henry DeTamble is a unintentional time traveler who meets Clare Abshire, first in the past and then finally in thei present. Their love affair spans decades and different time periods, and the unexpected ending is a testimony of their love. This is one of my favorite books I've read in years.

Naked by David Sedaris: More witty, eccentric, and profound essays from Sedaris mostly about self and family; his voice is distinct, at time hilarious and still others heartbreaking(ly hilarious).

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett: At an unnamed South African country, a birthday party is taken hostage by a terrorist organization. What seems to be an inevitably tragic situation transforms into a story of love and friendship and understanding. Read this. It's just lovely.

About Grace by Anthony Doerr: This is the story of David Winkler, a man suffering from the gift of premonition, who dreams his daughter's death. He flees from his family, desperate to avoid the dream's outcome, and the remainder of the story tells his slow attempt at rebuilding his life -- with or without his family.

Misery by Stephen King: What can I say? Annie Wilkes is one scary bitch!


Blogger Miss V said...

I've read the entire Shopaholic series and I enjoyed them all.

Have you read anything by Inida Knight? She is hilarious. My Life on a Plate is a quick read.

Right now I'm reading *Faithfull* autobiography of Marianne Faithfull. Next up will be a biography of Marie Antoinette (in anticipation of the movie) by Antonia Fraser that I found in a used bookstore. Don't you just *heart* used bookstores. I often go into the one near my apt after work and just browse around. It really relaxes me.

2:55 PM  
Blogger TessaJ said...

I've read them all, too (the Shopaholic series). Wonder if there will be any more!

Don't know Inida Knight. I'll have to check her out.

3:49 PM  
Blogger Miss V said...

For the love of GOD! She is India Knight...not Inida!

4:28 PM  
Blogger TessaJ said...

LOL. That's what I figured, but just typed what you typed ;)

Though Inida is a cool sounding name, isn't it?

4:33 PM  
Blogger A Novelist said...

I LOVED LOVED LOVED both, The Undomestic Goddess by Sophia Kinsella and Shopaholic & Sister by Sophia Kinsella! Brilliant reads. :)

8:10 AM  
Blogger TessaJ said...

Those are my favorites as well! Good chick lit is so hard to find.

8:51 AM  
Blogger steveohville speakeasy said...

so i'm bored at work and i'm reading you. thanks for the hour of enjoyment.

if you're looking for good chick lit, check out kathy hepinstall. she's a fantastic writer. her first book, "the house of gentle men" was #1 on the LA times bestseller list, and her two follow-ups, "the absence of nectar" and "the prince of lost places" did very well too.

why am i promoting her? she was my first creative director. and she's easily the best writer i will ever meet. whenever i go to a bookstore, i find her work (it's usually next to hemingway) and turn her books from spine out to cover out, you know, for a little more publicity.

kinda like commenting on a blog.

consider her books cover out.

so there you go. three more. enjoy.

4:27 PM  
Blogger TessaJ said...

Glad to keep you entertained! Chick flick is such a good distraction from life, and good chick lit is tough to find.

I'll post my May/June books in a few days (I'm behind as I've been off in Spain, so my book list has been on the backburner).

9:16 PM  
Blogger steveohville speakeasy said...

"survivor" is a great book. then again, chuck palahniuk is a great writer. just one of the unique voices writing today, a completely compelling storyteller. i usually wind up jealous when i finish one of his books.

and that's why i haven't read "choke". that idea - of someone faking his almost death - is so biting, so smart, that i'd just go crazy in killing myself over not being that good.

btw, i'm still enjoying your blog. good stuff, tessa j. you and your work are very refulgent.

11:36 PM  
Blogger TessaJ said...

"Choke" is good stuff, but it's not my favorite. Still it's worth reading, though.

I love to read authors who make me jealous. Gives me something to strive toward and reminds me (once again) that storytelling is the most sublime artform out there (oh language, you are so fucking wicked).

9:39 AM  
Blogger melanienyc said...

what a fantastic list!! :)

6:48 AM  
Blogger Nikki said...

Oh, I have been meaning to pick up a copy of Choke. Thanks for all the reviews. Great ideas for new books to add to my ever-increasing book list!

5:37 PM  

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