I’m continuing to catch up on all the books I read in 2012 but didn’t review. As always, short and sweet is the goal!State of Wonder written by Ann Patchett and read by Hope Davis Genre: Fiction, Contemporary Why I Read It: I fell under the influence of many bloggers who said the book was worth reading. My Rating: 4 stars
Bel Canto was my first Ann Patchett book, and I loved it. I then read a few more and didn’t love them. I’d written her off as “not for me” when everyone started raving about this book. Being easily influenced and because Hope Davis was the narrator, I gave it a listen. The book has an almost dream-like quality, and I found it quite involving. The basic plot it this: Researcher Dr. Marina Singh ventures deep into the Amazon to find her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson—who has been isolated in the Amazon researching a potentially lucrative new drug for their mutual employer—to get some answers about the fate of Marina’s office mate, who preceded her into the Amazon but never returned. Patchett manages to spin a fantastical tale that also feels grounded in reality. Part of me could imagine such a world existing, and I fell under the same enchantment as Marina. The characters were always surprising me (particularly Dr. Swenson), and I’m glad I took the chance on Ann Patchett again.Take the Cannoli and The Partly Cloud Patriot written by Sarah Vowell Genre: Non-Fiction, Essays, Humor Why I Read It: I’m a Vowell fan and was excited to sample some of her essays My Rating: 4 stars for Take the Cannoli and 3.5 stars for The Partly Cloudy Patriot
If you like your history presented snarkily and rambling, then Sarah Vowell is the author for you! In these collection of essays, we learn more about our favorite liberal amateur historian (such as details of her childhood and early career) while getting the usual weird assortment of historical atrocities and oddities. Of the two books, my favorite was Take The Cannoli, which was the more personal (and funnier) of the two. One of my favorite stories recounted Sarah’s driving lessons from her boss, Ira Glass. If you’re a Sarah Vowell fan, you’ll want to read both books. If you’ve not explored this quirky talent, then these are the perfect place to start. (Keep in mind, Sarah is definitely a liberal and isn’t afraid to talk politics so if you lean more to the right, she might not be a good fit for you.)Wild by Cheryl Strayed Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir Why I Read It: After discovering Strayed’s work in Tiny Beautiful Things, I wanted to read her memoir and find out more about her. Plus some woman named Oprah picked it for her book club so it was pretty inescapable for some time. My Rating: 4 stars
Wild is Strayed’s memoir of her 1,100-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. However, don’t be fooled into thinking this is a travel narrative or a serious backpacking story. It is not. Strayed basically went on the trail with very little preparation and information. In fact, she was so ill-equipped for her hike that I imagine serious outdoorsman grimacing in displeasure and judgment whilst reading it. If you take your outdoor literature seriously, you will HATE this book. With that out of the way, let me tell you what this book IS about. It is about Strayed losing her way after her mother’s death and the break-up of her marriage and her somewhat misguided attempt to find herself by undertaking a ridiculously difficult physical challenge. There are those of you (I’m looking at you, Jill and Ti) who hated this book because of Strayed’s behavior (on-trail sex, drug use, lack of preparedness, whining), but I’m not one of those haters. I see Strayed as a damaged, confused young woman who had reached the end of her rope and didn’t know how to find a way out. Rather than heading down the bad path she was on, she chose to step out of real life and take on this quest. The fact that she succeeded is a testament to her strength and perseverance. I think this trip was a crucible where Strayed entered a confused girl and came out a woman. If you like blisteringly honest memoirs about people doing foolish things but with a big and honest heart, then this a must-read. If however, you can’t stand the follies of the young and foolish or people who venture out into nature without knowing what they are doing, then steer clear as this book will annoy you to no end.State by State: 50 Writers On 50 States by Various Authors Genre: Non-Fiction, Essays Why I Read It: The premise of 50 writers writing about the 50 different states was just irresistible to me, especially when the writers include Jhumpa Lahiri, Sarah Vowell and Dave Eggers, to name just a few My Rating: 3.5 stars
As with all collections with essays by various authors, the results are somewhat uneven. However, I can’t imagine anyone who lives in or has traveled extensively in the United States not being interested in how the states they have lived in or visited are portrayed. I was thrilled that Anthony Bourdain took on my home state of New Jersey (and did a good job with it), and I thought it fitting that Oregon’s entry was one of the few in the form of a “comic” strip (which prominently featured rain and umbrellas). Looking back now, the essay I remember the most fondly was Dave Eggers’s take on Illinois. Although I read this book straight through, I think the better approach would be to read one or two states a day—or just dip your toes in every so often. In addition to the essays, there are little factoids about each state that were interesting in their own right.Savages written by Don Winslow and read by Michael Kramer Genre: Fiction, Contemporary Why I Read It: When the Oliver Stone movie version came out this summer, I decided I’d listen to the book rather than see the movie—probably a wise decision My Rating: 4 stars
First things first, this is not a book for the faint-hearted or the easily offended. I listened to it on audio when I was walking my dogs and there were times when I felt myself blushing from what I was listening to … ON MY HEADPHONES! I kept thinking “If people only knew what I was listening to now, they’d be shocked.” This is some hard-core, graphic writing … and hearing it read out loud makes it seem even more so. (By the way, Michael Kramer has the perfect voice for the material … with a kind of WTF/seen it all, done it all attitude.) The basic story deals with a love triangle between two pot dealers and their girl and what happens when they run awry of a Mexican drug cartel and the girl gets kidnapped. The writing—despite its bluntness and graphic descriptions—was good and often very funny. But this is by no means a “feel good” book. And if people in SoCal are really like the characters in this book, then I’m staying the hell away.