What 52Books is Reading in 2009

Peter from Flashlight Worthy says:

So this list will be a little bit of an experiment. There's a friend of Flashlight Worthy (would that be a FoFLW?) named Laura who set a goal to read 52 books in 2008. Well, I'm happy to report that she made it with some books to spare AND found a way to fall in love with the New York City subway again.

She's going to do the same again in 2009 so I thought we'd syndicate her blog posts as she documents her year's reading. Enjoy!


#7: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (February 16)

by Jonathan Safran Foer

The only way I can think to do this review is in the form of a list:

  1. This book was a weekend binge, but I had to stop reading at times because my heart hurt.
  2. Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss are married and have a son. They live in Brooklyn. I wonder what kind of stories they tell him.
  3. There are many sentences here worth at least an underline and an arrow exclaiming “I know! I know!”
  4. New York City is a magical place and even if someone tells you that there is a lot of pain here, it is both true and false.
  5. I don’t want this to ever be made into a movie. Ever.
  6. I kind of wish the characters of this book could meet those from "Everything is Illuminated".
  7. Once I thought I saw Jonathan Safran Foer sitting across from me at Chipotle eating a burrito. This was before I read his books.
  8. I’m not sure if I’ll ever read this again.


#6: Housekeeping (February 13)

by Marilynne Robinson

I’m not making a groundbreaking statement here when I tell you there are many books about women. You know, those great books that explain how women can band together, be strong, and conquer whatever comes their way simply by being themselves? Well there is hardly a man to be seen here, but this is not one of those books. What I found to be equally heartbreaking and comforting in this story is the reality in which the women of "Housekeeping" live. They are not always close to one another, they do not always agree, and they are not overly sentimental. What they do is continue to go about their lives with one another, slowly transforming into the women came before them. The phenomenon of time moving both forwards and backwards is strange, but just about any girl can tell you how she’s slowly turning into her mother. And even when times are hard, with little joy to be had, there is always survival mode in which women continue to move by listening to that rarely-heard voice deep from within that somehow turns thought into action. It is in this book, Robinson is able to craft an ordinary story using magnificent language that never seems to break. I was simultaneously able to look into the life of a fictional world far from my own, and into my current realm with the fine women who continue to influence my life simply by being my family. And in both worlds, there is housekeeping. Side note: Sometimes when I was reading on the subway, I would look at this cover and imagine that the D train was taking me to the wilderness. Maybe books shouldn’t be judged on their cover, but it’s nice when a picture can converge with a story, making it’s viewer travel along its tracks.

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#5: Death at the Bar (February 7)

by Ngaio Marsh

British mysteries, they kill me! Here some of the text from the back cover of the book:

Holidaying in South Devon, Luke Watchman joins in a dart game at the local pub, is struck on the hand by a dart — and dies horribly. The dart was not the lethal instrument; the brandy administered in a futile effort to revive him had not been tampered with. What then could have been the method of murder - and motive?

I, of course, can’t tell you exactly who murdered Luke Watchman, but I can tell you that this Pocket Book edition was totally fun to read. It was originally copy-written in 1940, with this edition being published at the start of World War II. The cover has some bloody beautiful artwork and the back encourages you to share it with someone in uniform. And as a bonus, I got to read fun phrases like “house of ill repute” along with “hullabaloo and a pother.” Those English people are silly.


#4: My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead: Great Love Stories, from Chekhov to Munro (February 1)

by Jeffrey Eugenides

Just like real love, this book takes work. It’s not easy to get through, and it doesn’t always make you weak in the knees. It does, however, leave you with the realization that although love cannot always be defined, it will undoubtedly leave you changed. Romance is a battlefield, and it’s all we can do to survive.

The stories presented in "My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead" show that the love felt between two people often comes at the expense of others or like an apparition somehow hard to prove. Either way, the various authors in this particular anthology are able to capture the wide array of love that is likely to befall us at some point or another. Faulkner proves that death is only a minor detail when looking for a life partner, Moore shows that just about anyone can learn how to be the other woman, and Trevor is able to explain the sad truth that time exists only to betray us all.

Eugenides does a terrific job of editing these stories, making an introduction that is worthy of a book of all its own. And because I was exhausted by the end of reading book #4, I’ll let him sum up all the things I’ve been trying so desperately to explain:

"When it comes to love, there are a million theories to explain it. But when it comes to love stories, things are simpler. A love story can never be about full possession. The happy marriage, the unrequited love, the desire that never dims - these are lucky eventualities but they aren’t love stores. Love stories depend on disappointment, on unequal births and feuding families, on matrimonial boredom and at least one cold heart. Love stories, nearly without exception, give love a bad name."

Now, excuse me while I go spend the rest of my evening with a one Mr. Phil Collins.


#3: Kafka on the Shore (January 24)

by Haruki Murakami

At the risk of sounding incredibly cheesy, to read "Kafka on the Shore" is to be "Kafka on the Shore." It somehow has the power to envelope the reader and allow her to travel to a place where time isn’t much of a factor. The story isn’t linear or cyclical, it just eliminates time in order for people to find one another. And even though the book takes on a metaphysical tone where cats talk and fish fall from the sky, the feelings in the book are so inherently human, that one finds it hard to believe that the story is one imagined only by a single person. Boys grow up and sometimes girls get younger, so when seeing the worlds of several characters collide, it comes to the attention of the reader that we are sometimes pulled in a direction not because we want to, but because there are things beyond the edge of the world that need us to be there. To say "Kafka..." took hold of me for a while would be an understatement of massive proportions. It allowed me to revisit places I’d never seen and watch as its characters became extensions of myself. I’m not saying that everyone will have this experience with the book, but if you get the chance to somehow be changed by a simple arrangement of words, I’d highly recommend it.


#2: Brooklyn Was Mine (January 12)

by Chris Knutsen, Valerie Steiker

When I started this review, my ode to Brooklyn came pouring out. Books filled with nostalgia often have that effect on readers, but I guarantee not many cities can do it like this one. "Brooklyn was Mine" is a collection of literary essays by writers who have at some point, owned Brooklyn. Or better yet: It owned them. Their stories are moving in a way that only one who has been changed here can understand. Each writer takes a turn to explain their connection to the borough and in the end, it explains why people feel the need to tell the story of their home. It may only be book #2, but something will have to prove earth shatteringly good to knock Brooklyn was Mine out of top five for 2009. You can hold me to it.


#1: The Road (January 4)

by Cormac McCarthy

Wow, this one was a doozie. It had been a while since I teared up in a book, but this did it to me. "The Road" takes place after some unknown apocalypse and tells the story of a father and son simply trying to survive. It’s not clear what happened or for how long they have been in this world of desolation, but that not the most important aspect of the story. The real story is one of survival and the length of time that love and hope will keep you alive. It makes the reader question their values while at the same time asking them to decide who and what holds the most importance in their lives. McCarthy’s style of writing is short, often deleting un/necessary apostrophes, but being involved in the story makes the difficult syntax disappear. I started out this book thinking that it would simply be a long tale of desperation and I’m glad that changed.