Friday, January 23, 2009

2008 Year in Review

The 2008 Reading List

The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien
The Hummingbird's Daughter, Luis Alberto Urrea
The Nine, Inside The Secret World of the Supreme Court, Jeffrey Toobin
The Highest Tide, Jim Lynch
Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer
Travels with My Aunt, Graham Greene
An Unquiet Mind, a Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison
Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marsha Pessl

Book of the Year

The Nine, Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, Jeffrey Toobin , which was closely followed by The Things They Carried.

Least Favorite(s)
Please note the intended departure from the language implying "stinker", "worst" or "don't bother." We each had a 'least favorite' but no one had an adamant "I HATED THIS BOOK" opinion about any of the titles we read this year. We still had loud and strong feelings (negative) about last years selection.

Travels with My Aunt and The Hummingbird's Daughter both earned two votes for least favorite, thus leaving us in agony over what to document for 2008.

None of the books on our 2008 reading list are remotely bad, and most were flat out great - so there!

The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien

Last book of the 2008 year, The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien was a finalist for the 1990 Pulitzer Prize. The author tells of his experience in Vietnam from multiple perspectives. He tells a similar story a number of times and each time it becomes more truthful.

The story isn't linear in the way that most tales are told. We are introduced to a platoon of men and then their shared experience is drawn out for us. O'Brien manages to explore the grusome details of war and the shocking immersion back to "real life" in a calm and almost poetic way.

The book is fiction, but the narrator is named "Tim O'Brien" which caused a little bit of wondering about the truthfulness of the stories. The author in an interview states that one of the chapters about "Tim" where he attempts to avoid the war that he doesn't agree with by going to Canada did not happen to him in real life. Instead, he boarded the bus and was sworn in - but felt like a coward for not being able to flee.

Even though the subject matter was difficult, and centered around the Vietnam conflict - it felt topical and relevant in today's world.

The Hummingbird's Daughter, Luis Albert Urrea

From The New YorkerTwenty years in the making, Urrea's epic novel recounts the true story of his great-aunt Teresita. In 1873, amid the political turbulence of General Porfirio Díaz's Mexican republic, Teresita is born to a fourteen-year-old Indian girl, "mounted and forgotten" by her white master. Don Tomàs Urrea later takes his illegitimate daughter into his home, where she learns to bathe every week and read "Las Hermanas Brontë." But Teresita also continues a folk education as a curandera, discovering healing powers and a mystical relationship with God. Indian pilgrims swarm to the Urrea ranch, where "St. Teresita," a mestiza Joan of Arc, kindles in them a powerful faith in God and a perilous hunger for revolution. The novel brings to life not only the deeply pious figure whom Díaz himself dubbed "the Most Dangerous Girl in Mexico" but also the blood-soaked landscape of pre-revolutionary Mexico. Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

In spite of the fact that universally, national reviews were glowing the notes from our discussion were:
B: disappointed, it was a good story, but not engaging. I had higher expectations.
H: agreed, it was disappointing. It would have been good to be able to get inside the psyche of a character.
C: didn't like thew writing, struggled for the first 200 pages. The narratives were simplistic, but the dialog was good.
A: First 200 pages were hard, but the back end was great. "I didn't hate it." Some characters were likable, such as Don Tomas Huila.
The ending was a little too Hollywood, and jumbled.
The book was sold as fiction, but the people were real, some didn't like the blurring of lines, but C pointed out that the persons were real and the story is folklore, so it has to be fiction.
The story also wasn't clear about the timeline, and the time frame of when the story takes place is unclear until the end of the book.
However, we could buy into the mysticism of the story even though most things could be explained. "I'm happy to suspend disbelief for stories.

Lastly, there were quite a few passages in Spanish with no translation, or even contextual clues to aid the non-Spanish reader.