Top Ten Books I Read In 2012

So I read quite a few good books this year, 42 so far and 11 of which I rated 5 stars. Of these, I’ve selected 10 and put together the list below. So it was quite easy to do. They are listed in an order reflecting only on the order I read them in, the last read mentioned first. These are all great books, if you haven’t read them, you should go do so now! As always, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

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  1. Elie Wiesel: Night. Wiesel’s short book about his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, is almost beyond description. It’s a must read for anyone, simply put.
  2. Victor Hugo: Les Misérables. I haven’t gotten around to writing a review of this book yet but it still seems that I have been talking about it all over the place. Hugo can write about anything and he frequently steers off on a tangent to do just so. Still, this story about Jean Valjean and Colette is a wonderful book, it’s a classic and it’s worth the many pages and the huge amount of time, it takes to take.
  3. Mark Helprin: Winter’s Tale. I really like magical realism. This story of Beverly Penn and Peter Lake and Athansor set in a mythic and fictionalized New York City is written in the most beautiful and lyrical way and I just loved it. So much in fact, that I don’t dare to read another novel by Helprin because I’m afraid that it will not live up to this one.
  4. Koushun Takami: Battle Royale. In some ways, this is the Japanese version of The Hunger Games. A class of kids with weapons are set free on an island to shoot each other down until only one remains. This is much more violent than The Hunger Games and it’s such an exciting book. Pure entertainment.
  5. Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. How does a boy handle loosing his father? How does he handle loosing him in the 9-11 attack? This is a wonderful story of a young boy dealing with this loss and at the same time, it’s an experimental novel using pictures and more to tell this story. Foer is an amazing writer and he writes so well and not only uses pictures to emphasize his story, but also paints pictures with his words. And in this way, he is telling Oscar Schell’s story as well as the story of his grandfather who survived the fire bombing of Dresden during World War II.
  6. Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White. So if everyone knew just how thrilling the classics can be, everyone would be reading them. And to get them doing so, everyone should be handed this one and told to go read it. When I read it, I just sat down and read and read and read, ignored everything around me to finish this novel to figure out what happened to Walter Hartright, Laura Fairlie, Marian Halcombe and the woman in white.
  7. Dan Simmons: Drood. On June 9, 1865, Dickens was in a train disaster that influenced him for the rest of his life. This is Simmons’ account of what happened. And it’s amazing and exhilarating and exciting and even when you’re done, you’re really not sure what happened. It was so good!
  8. Lionel Shriver: We Need To Talk About Kevin. I read this in the beginning of the year and … well, after what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it just became an even more important book. Everyone should read this. It tells the story of a mother whose son guns down several of his school mates. Is it nature or nurture who caused this to happen? If it’s nature, can you do something to prevent it from happening? I don’t want to get political here but really, everyone should read this!
  9. Donna Tartt: The Secret History. Richard Papen starts attenting college and taking Classics studies. The group of kids studying Classics studies consists of 5 other students and are taught by the charismatic Julian. But right from the beginning, you know that this group of friends kill one of their own and you’re eagerly reading on to find out why and how this happened. This is Donna Tartt’s first novel and it’s amazing! Much better than other books with a similar theme like Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics.
  10. Yiyun Li: The Vagrants. This is one of those novels that hurts you when you read it but which is worth the pain. It’s set in China in 1979 and it’s about the execution of a 28 years old woman and the consequences of this death. I’m fascinated by China and what happened in China after Mao came to power, after the Cultural Revolution and more. This is a debut novel and you should definitely read it now so you can say you were in almost from the beginning!

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Top Ten Favorite New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2012

 So we are getting closer to Christmas and it shows in the Top Ten topics as well. Last week, we listed the books we wished Santa to bring us and this week, we’re looking back on 2012 and listing the best new-to-us authors we’ve read this year. Looking back over the year, I think I’ve read some really excellent  books, I have read some not so good – and I’ve read books by authors, I haven’t read before or even in some cases, haven’t heard of before. So it was relatively easy for me to put together this list. As always, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

  1. Yiyun Li. The Vagrants was the first book I finished in 2012 and it was amazing. I just looooooved it. It was a wonderful book and it made me feel so sad. Both people and animals are hurt in it but it’s so worth reading. Yiyun Li is definitely an author that I will keep an eye out for.
  2. Lionel Shriver. We Need To Talk About Kevin freaked me out. It’s one of those books where you stay up reading it because you have to know what happens, you have to finish it – even though you have to get up early in the morning. It was such a nasty read but also very much worth reading.
  3. Dan Simmons. After finishing Drood, I knew I wanted to read more books by Simmons – especially The Terror because he mentions the story in Drood, and it sounds so fascinating.
  4. Wilkie Collins. Like Simmons, Collins was part of my Dickens-and-Drood reading this year. I grew to really like both Dickens, Simmons and Collins. The Woman in White is such a good book, I just sat there and read and read and read to finish it and find out what happened and I’m so looking forward to  reading The Moonstone.
  5. Jonathan Carroll. Almost all Carroll’s books sounds amazing. I enjoyed The Ghost in Love so much and I just want to read more, more, more. I think Carroll might end up on my favorite authors list some day in the future!
  6. Jonathan Safran Foer. Before reading it, I was convinced that Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close would be good, but I had no idea how good. I already own Everything is Illuminated, which is supposed to be even better, and Eating Animals so I hope to get around to reading these next year.
  7. Mark Helprin. I had never even heard of Mark Helprin before finding Winter’s Tale in a secondhand bookstore. I bought it – and loved it. It’s an incredibly journey you take when you read this novel and the love story and the characters just stay with you afterwards. It’s a huge novel but amazing.
  8. Ken Follett. Of course I had heard of Ken Follett before. Over and over and over. And I really had no desire to read anything by him but a friend had gifted me The Pillars of the Earth years ago so this year, I challenged myself to actually read it. And guess what, I loved it! Despite a weak ending, the novel was so so good and I’m hoping on Santa bringing me World Without End this year.
  9. Iris Murdoch. A friend challenged me to read Murdoch’s The Message to the Planet – and I liked it quite a bit. It’s a novel that makes you think and challenges you and I think some of Murdoch’s other novels will do so even more. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more by her.
  10. Victor Hugo. Les Misérables is one of those classic novels which are rather intimidating. But I had challenged myself to reading it this year and it was an amazing book. It’s huuuuuge but the story of the two lost souls at the center of the book is just beautiful. Hugo can write about sewers in a way that makes you think it the most pretty poetry. Sometimes you feel he has completely lost it but he always manages to bring it all together. And he’s even funny at times.

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Top Ten Books That Make You Think

Fourth week in a row participating in the Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! I’m having so much fun with these Top Ten lists still so even though I found this week’s theme a hard one, I’m still game. Apparently, books don’t make me think. At least not when I’m put on the spot and told to come up with a list of 10 who did. So this has actually taken a bit of effort to come up with 10.

Well, I could have taken the easy way out and just written a list of books I read when I studied for my Master’s Degree in Philosophy, but to me that felt like cheating. I mean, of course reading Locke, Heidegger, Sartre, Plato will make you think! But to me, the challenge lies in coming up with 10 novels that made you think. Non-fiction, all non-fiction, tend to make you ponder it’s subject but not all fiction do – so here’s ten novels, that has made me think.

Here’s my list:

  1. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Half of a Yellow Sun. This novel taught me about a country and a war I had never heard of: Biafra and the Nigeria-Biafra war 1967-70. This is a book about what life is like when you live in war times – how life in some ways are just the same and in other ways, very very different. I think books about war often make you think because it often shows what it means to be human, both good and bad, and you question what you would do if you were put in the same situations and had to struggle for your survival.
  2. Agatha Christie: And Then There Was None. This is crime fiction and I guess the nature of crime fiction is to make it’s reader think when we try to figure out who the killer is. I know who the killer is in this one – it’s my favorite Agatha Christie novel and I’ve read it several times so now, when I read it, I try to figure out what clues she drops along the way and if it’s possible to figure out who kills them all. Especially, since every person on the island end up dead…
  3. Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections. This was one of these books that just hit close to home. It’s a book about an elderly couple, Alfred and Enid. Alfred is suffering from beginning Alzheimer’s and Enid is struggling to get their children to come home for one last christmas. For me, this really made me think about my own family, my father having been ill for most of my life and my mother struggling to keep everyone happy and keeping up appearances. My review here.
  4. Georges Perec: Life, a User’s Manual. This is a strange book. It’s about all the people who live in an apartment building and how their lives overlap, how the thing uniting them all is this building. It’s about what makes life life. It’s not a book for everyone – but I love it. It made me think just to be able to get it – and it made me think about how our lives are made up of tiny details as well as huge events. I read it 5 years ago – I really need to read it again!
  5. Jodi Picoult: My Sister’s Keeper. Well, this is what Picoult does, isn’t it? She writes novels that makes you think. This one really grasps at the heart strings of any parent. How far would you go to save your child if she’s sick? Would you have another child and use her to get the things your first child need to survive?
  6. Kurt Vonnegut: Slaugherhouse-Five. It’s been 4 years since I read this and I really liked it. I saw it as a discussion of free will v. determinism – among other things – and that always fascinates me.
  7. Will Self: How the Dead Live. This book made me think because I just didn’t get it. I felt it was really difficult to follow and really understand what it was that Will Self wanted with it – but even though it’s been 4 years since I read it, I keep thinking about it from time to time. I’ve since read that Self doesn’t write books for readers and I can believe that! Still, Self is on a quest to find and write the truth and he doesn’t believe that it can be found in conventional linear structure. I don’t necessarily get what he intends – but it makes me think. I need to read more of his novels!
  8. Steven Hall: The Raw Shark Texts. Say the title out loud and you get the first clue that this is a special book. This is a book which toys with the idea of what a book can do. This is a book where the protagonist keeps finding letters written by his former self, trying to explain why he’s been chased by a word shark and almost drowning in his living room… This is a highly original book! And it really makes you think about what makes a book and stop fearing about the future of books!
  9. The same can be said about Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. An amazing book about how a young boy deals with loosing his father in the 9-11 attacks. Foer does things in this novel that I at least haven’t seen before. My review here.
  10. John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath. I loved this book! It’s just such an amazing book, although very depressing. The Grapes of Wrath is sadly becoming very current at the moment with the economical crisis. Both then and now, people borrowed money from the bank and lost their homes. This is a story of one of those families and how much they have to endure to try and find a way to survive. But it’s also a book about how people sometimes help each other when they are struggling and sometimes do even more than can be expected. Again, it’s a book about what it means to be a human being.

I thought this would be a hard list to make but actually, doesn’t most books make you think in one way or other? Isn’t that why we read? To learn about the world, to know more about how other people think and feel and live. When I look at the books I’ve read, a lot of them could be put on this list. I’ve chosen mostly books from before I started blogging to give them their due, both well-known and lesser known books. And I could have made the list much longer. These ten made me think, yes, but they are not necessarily the ten who made me think the most. Because how do you determine that? Almost every book makes you think – that’s the wonder and beauty of books.

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April 2012 – Monthly Wrap Up

April started with a short 9-11 theme where I read three books related to 9-11. I really like it when you get to look at a subject from different authors’ point of view. I loved it when I read a lot about Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood and I have enjoyed it with these 9-11 books too. I really have to incorporate that more in my reading in the future! But … not much else happened with regard to reading this month.

Again this month I had hoped to make it through 6 books, but darn that Clarissa. She’s standing in the way of my making it to more than 4. I’m not sure exactly what happened this month. 3 out of the 4 books were rather short – and the last one, Battle Royale, was long (624 pages) but easy to read so even though I spent time reading Clarissa, I should have read at least 5 books. And this means that I’m only 2 books ahead now. I had hoped to be 4 books ahead at this point – I need to build up a solid lead to prepare for Les Miserables later this year …

So – here’s what I did manage to finish this month.

  1. Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. An incredibly book about a boy loosing his father in the 9-11 attacks and trying to come to term with it. 5 stars.
  2. Don DeLillo: Falling Man. A survivor from the attacks on the World Trade Centers try to come to terms with his life and figure out how to put his life back together while a performance artist reenacts one of the victims’ fall all over town. 3 stars.
  3. Amy Waldman: The Submission. What if a Muslim American designs the winning monument for Ground Zero? What would happen? A good book that manages to evoke the feeling that was dominating in the time after the 9-11 attacks. 3 stars.
  4. Koushun Takami: Battle Royale. 40 students is put on an island, given weapons and told to fight each other ’till only one is still alive. The Hunger Games for adults – with much more violence. 5 stars.

I only read 1495 pages this month. Normally, I read more than 2000 pages a month so I’m not sure what happened. Yes, I did read some Clarissa, but still. I did that too in the previous months. And in some of them I read more than 2000 pages as well as a book on my kindle and some Clarissa. So this month was just bad. And I don’t know why…

So I did rather lousy with my challenges this month. I did read 3 books for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge so I have now read 13 books so far for this challenge. So I’m more than halfway there so this is going good. I did read another bonus chunkster this month for the Chunkster ChallengeBattle Royale with it’s 624 pages. I still need to read one book which is greater than 750 pages so I didn’t make any progress with this challenge. I didn’t read anything by either Haruki Murakami or Neil Gaiman, so no progress with either of these challenges. I’m struggling along with the Clarissa read-a-long – I’m finding it really hard to take time from the other books I’m reading to sit down with Clarissa. So I’m behind but not a lot and I will catch up at some point. I’m stubborn enough to finish this book this year (at least I’m pretty sure I’m that stubborn…!). And finally, my own challenge, my list of 25 books that I want to read this year … and I managed to read … none. Zero. Zilch.

Since I didn’t read even one book from my list of 25 books, I have some catching up to do. Since I don’t want to play catch-up in the last months of this year, I have to get some books read from my list and for the other challenges. So I have to focus on that in May. I plan to finish The City & The City, of course, and probably also Dragonfly in Amber and The Mists of Avalon – and hopefully 1 or two more. And that’s just to catch up! Sighs … But I made this list because I really want to read these books so I just have to buckle down and get to it! And that’s what May is for!

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Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (review)

‘/…/ one hundred ceilings had become one hundred floors, which had become nothing.’ (p. 272).

I loved this novel all the way through. It was incredible. I do not have words to really express how great this book was. The writing was so amazing. Jonathan Safran Foer painted such incredible pictures with his words and I was just blown away by it. I don’t think I can do it justice but I’m going to try to write something that can recommend this novel to others so you too can be blown away by this fantastic novel.

This is the story of young Oscar Schell, a nine-year-old boy who lost his father in the 9-11 attack. Oscar and his father used to play all kinds of games so when Oscar finds a key in an envelope labeled Black in a blue vase in his father’s closet, he thinks it’s one last treasure hunt. Oscar decides to find the lock this key fits into and he goes about this by visiting every person named Black in the phone book. He starts going to them one by one and has lots of interesting encounters but doesn’t seem to have any luck with finding the right Black.

Oscar’s voice is spot on. I love how he sometimes just rambles on and on about things he knows – and even sometimes about things he wishes he didn’t know.

Since his father’s death, Oscar has been living with his mother and with his grandmother living across the street. A huge part of this novel is about this grandmother – and about his grandfather. They both grew up in Dresden and experienced the fire bombing in WWII. Thomas Schell, Oscar’s grandfather, was in love with his grandmother’s sister who disappeared in the bombing, while pregnant with his child. Thomas Schell lost the ability to speak, has the words yes and no put on his hands and carried notebooks everywhere to be able to speak with other people. ‘/…/ instead of singing in the shower I would write out the lyrics of my favorite songs, the ink would turn the water blue or red or green, and the music would run down my legs /…/’ (p. 18).

Oscar’s grandparents tried to make it work between them by making a lot of rules but never really talked to each other about how they felt. His grandfather finally left when he found out she was pregnant with Oscar’s father and never met his son – although he wrote him letter after letter, none of them ever mailed.

I loved this tragic story of Oscar’s grandparents – how they had been through so much but wasn’t really able to connect with each other and help each other through it. I think Oscar’s grandmother’s life story is a perfect example of this. She sits in a room, writes and writes and writes, and when she finally show it to his grandfather, there’s nothing on the pages. He feels so bad since he now remembers having taken the ribbon out of the type writer and thinks that she’s not able to see that she hasn’t written anything because of her crummy eyes. He pretends to be able to read it even though there’s nothing on the pages. But in reality, she is just pretending to write and is just hitting the space bar again and again. ‘My life story was spaces.’ (p. 176). It’s so beautiful. And tragic.

This is a book about love and grief and how we deal with it. I think it’s more about these universal feelings that we all experience than it’s about 9-11. 9-11 is the setting for this story about a boy trying to come to term with loosing his dad, a dad who lost his father too. It’s about the terrible feeling when we have our parents or children ripped from us and how we try to cope, to survive and to protect the ones around us who have suffered too. It’s about people loosing their loved ones because of actions of other people, other countries’ governments or terrorists. And it’s an amazing feat.

I think Jonathan Safran Foer puts the 9-11 terror attack into context of other terrible events in human history like the bombing of Dresden in WWII and the  dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Oscar’s grandfather tells about his experiences in the bombing of Dresden, how he ended up going around in Dresden Zoo and killing all the animals as well as what he experienced on the streets. ‘/…/ I saw a woman whose blond hair and green dress were on fire, running with a silent baby in her arms /…/ through the sounds of collapsing buildings I heard the roar of that baby’s silence.’ (p. 211-213). A mother describes how her daughter died in her arms in Hiroshima. As terrible as 9-11 was, this was not the first time that civilians suffered. I think that Foer’s argument is weakened a bit by these two others being in wars because I think that the loss of civilian life is equally important, no matter what the context. But I think the people attacking 9-11 could be said to have thought they were being in a war and therefore, their action was as justified as the other two. Or rather – as little justified. Still – doesn’t more parties than one have to recognize something to be a war for it actually to be a war? And how awful it is to try and win a war by killing innocent civilians. How people suffer because of this.

Jonathan Safran Foer is an interesting author to me. He has written three novels – Everything Is Illuminated (which is on the 1001 books list), Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and Tree of Codes (an experimental novel written by carving out words from Foer’s favorite book) – as well as one non-fiction book – Eating Animals (Foer’s beliefs about our eating habits). I own Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and Eating Animals and I need to get my fingers on the two other books. They all sound so fascinating and I can’t wait to see what more he comes up with.

To me, this challenges the idea of what a novel is and what it can be – somewhat like The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall did. Hall used the words in the text to create images of this shark that attacks the narrator – it’s an extremely clever novel. In this, Jonathan Safran Foer’s second novel, he also uses the text as well as images put into the text to underline parts of his story. He has pages with only one sentence on them, he has pages of people testing pens and colors, he has pages where the writing is corrected with red ink, pages where the letters run into each other and becomes unreadable – and more. I was so fascinated by all this and when on top of this, the story was so engaging and beautiful that it was impossible to put down, it makes for an extremely great novel.

On the cover of my edition of this book, there are three words selected from three reviews from three newspapers – the words are dazzlingheartbreaking and beautiful. This is one of the few novels where I actually agree with the words put on the cover. This novel truly is all three.

  • Title: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
  • Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
  • Publisher: Penguin 
  • Year: 2005
  • Pages: 326 pages
  • Source: Own Collection
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5

Introducing a new theme: 9-11

From my experience of reading several books related to Charles Dickens and his unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood I have learned, that it brings something extra to the reading experience when you attack a theme from several angles or view points. And because of that, I would like to read more in themes – choose a few books with the same issues or some other relation to each other and read them close together. My Dickens-Drood theme has been a rather huge affair and I’m not done with it yet. But this is not preventing me from reading other themes – especially shorter themes with only a few books.

                             

When something happens, when disaster strikes, it often takes some time before it shows up in fiction and popular culture. It’s been more than 10 years since 9-11 and my impression is that not many authors have dared to write about this theme. I haven’t read any books about it yet – and I have to admit that I haven’t watched any movies with this theme either. But I have three books on my shelves about 9-11 and I’m looking forward to reading them and to see what these three different authors have to say about this theme.

  1. Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. The movie version of this was nominated for an Oscar for Best Motion Picture of the Year and the trailer looked interesting. The book looks very different from most other novels with it’s blank pages, pages with only one sentence on it or several pages with pictures of a falling man. Also, Jonathan Safran Foer is an author that I’m looking forward to reading so I’m excited about this.
  2. Don DeLillo: Falling Man. I have not had the best of luck with Don DeLillo so far. I gave up on Underworld and although I have read Mao II it didn’t make a huge impression on me (but I think I had the wrong expectations). This is a novel about a 9-11 survivor and I’m hoping this will change my impression of Don DeLillo – especially since I plan on giving Underworld another try later this year.
  3. Amy Waldman: The Submission. This novel is more about the aftermath of 9-11. It’s not mentioned explicit in this novel that it’s about 9-11 but it’s about a memorial for a devastating terrorist attack. A jury gathers to select what memorial – and the anonymous winner turns out to be an American Muslim. I’m so looking forward to reading this novel!