Les livres de 2012: round 2

Bookshelves in the study at Kathryn and Aaron's in Portland.
In between paging through baby books and catching up on past New Yorker issues, I've been doing a little book reading too. Here's the latest installment:

8. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
Before we canceled our trip to Japan, I had ordered a bunch of Japanese literature from Powell's. The lesson I learned (quickly) is that Japanese books must have good translations. Otherwise they are The Suck. 

Don't read Kitchen. Well ok, you can read it if you're fluent in Japanese I suppose... but while you're reading it, maybe you could translate a decent English version. This one was dull, slow and pointless. 

9. Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein
I read a New Yorker article about Jake Adelstein recently and it prompted me to add this book to the list of Japan books. This book reminded me a lot of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta, which I read before heading to India in 2009. I don't know why I like reading books about the mafias in the countries I'm about to visit... probably because I like to be PREPARED.

This book was good. Thrilling! I learned a ton about Japanese culture by reading about the way law enforcement works there, what a funeral is like and what it means when you meet someone with nine fingers. (Hint: MAFIA ALERT!)

10. Woman on the Other Shore by Mitsuyo Kakuta
Ohhh, translators. They failed here a little bit too. This is the story of two women who end up working together in a travel agency/housekeeping business. (Yeah. I was confused too.) We learn about their past lives, something weird happens in which people assume one of them is a lesbian (although she's not), there's a lot of traveling and cleaning houses. 

Meh. The most interesting part of it to me was to read how difficult it was for women to participate in business. Not worth the read.

11. Bringing up bebe by Pamela Druckerman
Hey! This book restored my faith in the French, in raising a baby and in the fact that my life does not end the moment my baby's begins. I read it in a single day and need to pick myself up a copy because the one I read belongs to the NYPL. 

As they are in many matters, Druckerman shows the French to be non-plussed when it comes to the craziness of baby raising. She reveals how her French neighbors practiced "La Pause" to get their infants to sleep through the night and the schedule of breakfast/lunch/snack/dinner that sets a tone of healthy eating for the rest of their lives. The day after I read the book, I was working remotely from Starbucks for a few hours. Two French women sat at a table next to me working on their computers; one of them had a baby in a stroller who quietly played with the zipper on his sweatshirt for HOURS. Their conversation wasn't interrupted by his insistence on having more snacks... he was quiet, content and observing of the room around him. 

Blew my mind. Writing this makes me realize how much I need to re-read it again stat!

12. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
I think we can all agree that Middlesex is one of the best books ever. Right? Right. I asked for this book for Christmas, got it, saw the size of it, and put it on the bookshelf to look pretty. I mean, holy intimidation. Not to mention its title made me nervous that it was going to convince me that marriage is a farce (and my young marriage has been going great, thankyouverymuch).

Then I boarded a plane to the west coast and I devoured this book. DEVOURED! It was fantastically complex and I only wished I had been in a literature class to pull it apart. I will reread this for a book club if it's the last thing I do... themes below:

13. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout
I saw people reading this book on the subway. I saw them reading it in doctor's offices, on plane rides and I saw it featured at the book store. Sometimes I get a little judgey about books and this was totally one of them. For some reason I thought it was some boring midwest story about a mother. 

And then I had a long conversation with my friend Jess (featured in that tweet above!) about books we've loved lately and she mentioned Olive Kitteridge. Jess is a smart cookie and I trust her opinion, so after I ate The Marriage Plot for lunch, I picked this up at Powell's in Portland. 

It's a book of short stories, all of which involve a character named Olive Kitteridge in some way. The stories aren't about her; they're about different people who live in her town. But it becomes a "Where's Waldo?" situation in which you try to look for her in each story. I liked it a lot and again, this would be a great book club book... lots to talk about across the short stories that make up the collection.

I like that I can still surprise Chris after several years of being together. He was flabbergasted that I wanted to read this. We watched The Daily Show's interview with Peter Bergen a few weekends ago and it was so fascinating that I immediately wanted to read Bergen's book. By immediately, I mean that I could not wait until the bookstore opened several hours later, so I stole Chris' Kindle to get a move on.

This book was SO GOOD! Here are some impressions that have stayed with me:
  • Navy Seals are NO JOKE.
  • President Obama is even more badass (and yet responsible!) than I ever knew.
  • I can't believe how complicated the search was for this guy... and how many people contributed to the effort over 10 years.
  • The scene in which the team gets into the compound to get Bin Laden was as good as any action film I've ever seen. Holy stressful!
15. 50 Shades of Gray by E.L. James
Alright. This book must be addressed. Everyone and her mother (and sister and female cousin) is reading this thing... and trying not to talk about reading it. When the office manager at work told me she had a free PDF of this trilogy, I told her to send it over. One can only receive so many clandestine texts from close friends about an erotic novel before you succumb. 

So here's the deal. Your palms are going to get sweaty. The first half of this book builds alright and the plot questions that are in the back of your mind stay there. "Oh, this is just the beginning," you think, "surely this virgin is not going to continue having multiple orgasms every 2 pages." 

EXCEPT SHE DOES. And the writing is aw.ful! The female college students featured in the book (who are American, btw) use words like "pram" and are clearly mimicking the British author who created them. Has this author ever seen a map of Seattle? The cliches build and build... until the end of the first book comes so suddenly that I thought the PDF had been cut. So I opened the second book and realized THIS DRIVEL GOES ON FOR THREE BOOKS. 

Nonetheless, I continued reading the second one until a few things happened:
1. The 22 year old woman who was a virgin until she met a S&M billionaire weeks earlier gets a marriage proposal from him.
2. The main character "bit her lip" for the quadrillionth time.
3. I had coffee, dinner and took a walk with several female friends who are all in their early 30s and looking for love. They are (understandably) a bit nervous about how long it's going to take to find someone wonderful. And I just realized that I was reading such BULLSHIT on the way home, some shit fairytale about a 22 year old kid who is about to get the most handsome man in town, have 13 orgasms a day, and a dream home within 10 days of her college graduation. And it was too insulting to continue.

So that's why the second book isn't on this list!

16. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
No spoilers, but the ending of this book is one of the most INSANE things that I've ever read. (This is compounded by the fact that it's true.)

I first read this book a couple years ago, then found a used copy to send to my friend Fanny. She's in France and likes reading books in English. Little did I know how much it would inspire her! She contacted me earlier this year to see if I would want to visit Madison, WI in June to tour the scene of Frank Lloyd Wright's home, Taliesin, featured in the book.

So since Fanny is flying in from FRANCE to see the joint, I figured I could get us there from NYC. In order to prepare for our trip, I decided to reread the book... it's just as good as I remembered. 

It's historical fiction, so you have to take lots of it with a grain of salt. But I love the way you learn about FLW, his mistress, Chicago, Europe in the early 20th century and more through the story. Totally worth a read!


EricaRW said...

1. whhhYYyYyyYyyyy is 50 Shades getting so much attention? I read 25% of the first book and couldn't bare to go on. I hated the main girl, and hated myself for turning the page. Done with that farce.

2. I will look into 'Loving Frank' we're going to Chicago in Aug and I want to tour much of his work. thx :)

Leslie said...

I love the French, and I had French friends who I admired greatly for continuing on with their loud smoky dinner parties while baby slept in the bedroom. I wanted to parent like that too, as if baby was just an addition to my life. And it's true that some babies are easy sleepers, and quietly content. Mine were not. Ever. Once the baby arrived, despite all my dreams about how I was going to make them sleep through the night and I would continue my life as before, the reality of what kind of parent I actually was and what kind of babies I actually had, changed everything. Deciding to breastfed for 12 months dictated a lot and I found myself co-sleeping and baby wearing and naturally wanting to do all the things that attachment parents do. I didn't want my baby to cry and if I could comfort him, I would. Parenthood sometimes surprises you and it always changes you. Keep your mind open and be sure to also read The Baby Book by Dr. Sears. In addition to being good advice, it made me feel good about the parenting things I was naturally drawn to. If a baby book made me feel bad about what me or my baby was doing, I tossed it. Sorry for the long comment!!

Jen said...

@Leslie- good advice!!

Jessica said...

Thanks for the shoutout! :) I appreciate these summaries -- I'll add Bringing up Bebe to my "someday" list. And now I know I definitely do NOT need to feel bad about not reading 50 Shades.

Don't forget, if you want a totally different interpretation of Mr. Wright's ladies, read T. C. Boyle's The Women. It's kind of a beast to get through, but, I think, worth it in the end.

I have another rec. You've maybe already read this, but... The Book Thief. WORDSMITH ALERT. One of the most beautiful things I've ever read. Just be prepared to cry. A lot.

Heather said...

Hi, I came here via Leslie at Lights & Letters. Thanks for the book list. I'll definitely check out Olive Kitteridge and Loving Frank. I'm a Powell's fan, too! My best friend lives in a suburb of Portland, and whenever I visit, I insist on an afternoon at the City of Books.