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Read in 2004:



A. Booker Prize winners and Short Listers, Salon top ten and other literary award winners:
Ian McEwan, "Amsterdam"
Booker award winner of 1998. Read it Feb 15-16. Wonderfully written book that explores the relationship between two friends who were former lovers of a woman who has just died as the novel opens. Short and fast paced, with many gems to be mined from text.

DBC Pierre, "Vernon God Little"
Booker award winner of 2003. A Loaner from Paul. Read it Feb 17-18. Engrossing novel depicting the misadventures of a Texas teenager who is suspected of aiding and abetting a friend who shot up his high school and then killed himself. I enjoyed the book until near the end when the author attempted to tie up all the loose ends and let the book get out of hand. Not really of award winning caliber.

Zoe Heller, "What Was She Thinking (Notes on a Scandal)"
Booker short list of 2003. From the library. Read it Feb 18-19. Well written tale of a 41 year old (but first year on the job) female teacher who has an affair with a fifteen year old male student. Well written with some nifty twists and turns.

Tobias Wolff, "Old School"
One of Salon's top ten novels of 2003. From the library. Read it Feb 19-26. Much of the plot revolves around a boy's prep school in New England in the early 1960s. Periodically famous writers are invited to visit the school and the students can write poems or stories to compete for the privilege of having a one-on-one session with the writer. Three writers we meet in the book are Robert Frost, Ayn Rand and Ernest Hemingway. In every case the venerated author subtracts from the veneration of his works. This book is a joy to anyone who has a love affair with literature. Although the 58 year old Wolff has been an acclaimed for years, this is his first novel. He manages to capture the breathless adolescent dream of a life of letters. Here's one of the better rhapsodies: "The life that produces writing can't be written about. It is a life carried on without the knowledge even of the writer, below the mind's business and noise, in deep unlit shafts where phantom messengers struggle toward us, killing one another along the way; and when a few survivors break through to our attention they are received as blandly as waiters bringing more coffee." Highly recommended.

Valerie Martin, "Property"
One of Salon' Top Ten novels of 2003. From the library. Read it April 11-14. Well written. Almost painful to read owing to the inhumanity of the slave owners who are the main characters of the book. The idiot narrator, a Louisiana plantation owner's wife, understands her own subjugation but does not translate into pity for the much more subjugated slaves.

Mark Haddon, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time"
One of Salon's Top Ten novels of 2003. From the library. Read it all April 14th. An entertaining as well as educational novel. The narrator is a 15 year old autistic English boy who claws and scratches his way through a complex world by fully utilizing his afflicted but incredibly intelligent mind. Highly recommended.

Ellen Ullman, "The Bug"
One of Salon' Top Ten novels of 2003. From the library. Read it May 8-18. I have mixed emotions about this book. Part of me says that the author is not that good a writer and made the most of her limited talents to tell an interesting story. Another part of me wonders if it is just that I am too close to the subject matter. At any rate the book to me reads like a novel with a short story attached at the end. The short story satisfactorily resolves the mystery of the bug, but it is so divorced from the rest of the book that it could easily be published separately.

David Mitchell, "Number9Dream"
Recommended by Cliff. On Booker 2001 short list. Read it June 19-27. Very well written. Mitchell sets some traps in the first chapter to turn away uncommitted readers, but after that it is a wonderful book that really evokes a flavor of contemporary Japan. Highly recommended.

Margaret Atwood, "Oryx and Crake"
On Booker 2003 short list. On CD from the library. Listened it July 4-10. Very well written but extremely depressing novel of the future in which drug companies design the illnesses as well as the cures. Also post apocalypse vision in which no much is left to live for.

Monica Ali, "Brick Lane"
One of Salon' Top Ten novels of 2003. Also on Booker 2003 short list. Borrowed from Paul. Read it July 3-14. The story was very interesting but I never really warmed to the writing style. What carries the book is the ability of the author to convey the feeling of living in a distant country alien in every aspect of language and culture.

Damon Galgut, "The Good Doctor"
On Booker 2003 short list. From the Library. Read it Aug 8-13. Well written short novel giving a vivid portrayal of a nation struggling to evolve while people are dealing with the usual human concerns of friendship and relationships. The novel suffers from the fact that there are no wholly sympathetic characters.

Susan Choi, "American Woman, a novel"
One of Salon' Top Ten novels of 2003. From the library. Read it Aug 28-31. It took me a long time to become attached to this novel, but once I got sucked in, I found it compelling. The picture of twenty-something adults in America in the early 70s isn't a pretty one. Choi's writing style isn't the greatest, but does show flashes of brilliance.

Brian Hall, "I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company"
One of Salon' Top Ten novels of 2003. From the library. Read it Sept 1-12. The author set lofty literary goals for himself and worked arduously to achieve them. There are many moments of poetical brilliance in this book. Especially in the cases of Meriweather Lewis and Sacajaweah, I felt like I was truly inside their heads and feeling what they were feeling. But overall reading this book was more work than pleasure. I am truly glad I read it, but I am somewhat reluctant to recommend it to anyone not prepared for a difficult read.

Penelope Lively, "Moon Tiger"
Booker winner from 1987. From the library on cassette. Listened to it September 22-25. This book won the Booker in 1987. It is a wonderfully written account of a brilliant woman's not very happy life. A short affair with a soldier during World War II crushes her emotionally for the rest of her life. Fascinating. Highly recommended.

T. Coraghessan Boyle, "Drop City"
From the library on cassette. Listened to it September 25-October 5th. One of Salon' Top Ten novels of 2003. Boyle is a wonderful storyteller, and his characterizations of hippies in 1970 certainly ring true. He is determined to show how people can turn their backs on society and have meaningful lives. While I greatly enjoyed this book, I wasn't convinced by his arguments.

Yann Martel, "The Life of Pi"
Booker award winner of 2002. From the library on audiocassette. Listening to it October 6-11. This is an extraordinary book on so many levels that I don't know where to begin. It richly deserves all the awards and accolades it has received. Martel, scarcely 40 years old, is an author to watch. I will definitely look into his three other books. As for "The Life of Pi," all I can tell is JUST READ IT! Highly recommended.

Peter Carey, "True History of the Kelly Gang"
Won the Booker in 2001. From the Library on audiocassette. Listened to it October 22-November 3. An interesting and informative book, but I fail to see where it deserved the Booker award over the two other nominees I've read from that year: "Atonement" and Number9Dream."

David Mitchell, "Cloud Atlas"
On Booker 2004 short list. Read it September 13th-December 6th. An absolutely phenomenal book. Difficult but worth it. In my opinion the most ambitious and important novel of the past 30 years. Highly recommended.

Rohinton Mistry, "Family Matters"
A Booker short list nominee from 2002. From the library. Listened to first half of book on audiocassette. One of the tapes was screwed up and another missing, so I finished it by reading. Started it November 11th. Finished it December 16th. A rather delightful book. About as close as a Twentieth Century novel can get to being Dickensian. A real taste of India encased in an excellent plot with lifelike characters.

Colm Toibin, "The Master"
A Booker short list nominee from 2004. From the library on audio CD. Listened to it December 5-17. A real snoozer.

Graham Swift, "Last Orders"
Booker Award winner of 1996. From the library on audio cassette. Listened to it Dec 22-31. A British version of Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying." Very sad and moving.
B. Wodehouse:
P.G. Wodehouse, two plays and a novella
Very obscure Wodehouse stuff. First a play written with Guy Bolton in which Wodehouse uses the pseudonym Stephen Powys. The play was first performed in 1948. The second is a play entitled "Candle-Light" which was "adapted" by Wodehouse from the hungarian of Siegfried Geyer.This project was taken on by Wodehouse in the late 1920s. Lastly, a Novella Wodehouse wrote for Ainslee's magazine in 1909, very early in his career. This has never been published in any anthology that I am aware of. Read them March 25th-April 10th. The plays were both adaptations, so we don't know exactly how much humor Wodehouse injected into them, but the light-hearted insights into the human condition are certainly consistent with Wodehouse's novels. The novella, an early attempt to write "adult" fiction, is somewhat overly romantic and slow moving, but there is enough humor to keep the interest through to the end of the piece.

P.G. Wodehouse, "Lord Emsworth and Others"
Read it June 10-18. A book of short stories written in the mid 1930s at the peak of the master's powers. The first and longest story is set in Blandings Castle and is easiest the best story in the book. But the three golf stories told by the oldest member were all wonderful, as was the Freddie Widgeon story, the Mr. Mulliner story and the three Ukridge tales.

P.G. Wodehouse, "Summer Moonshine"
Read it July 27th-Aug 7th. I don't understand how I managed to be a major Wodehouse fan all these many years and missed this book. Very nearly the perfect Wodehouse novel, with hilarious scenes, finely drawn characters, an unflappable butler, perfect summer weather and the gorgeous British countryside. All this plus Americans talking slang bumping up against people who pronounce "quite" as "quate." A complete joy from the first page to the last. Highly recommended.
C. Other Fiction:
Thomas Pynchon, "Vineland"
A group read within the Pynchon-L. Started last year. Finished it April 22. REading a book this slowly is certainly an enlightening experience. There are many gems inside Vineland that I had missed in my many earlier readings. This is at once a simple and difficult book, but, as with all Pynchon novels,highly recommended.

Dave Eggers, "You Shall Know Our Velocity!"
A birthday present from Angela. Read it April 30 - May 7. Eggers can surely write well. I especially enjoyed his flights into meta-fiction and post-modernism. His intensity is catching. Definitely an improvement over his first book. I look forward to greater books from him in the future.

Al Franken, "Why Not Me"
Listened to it June 10-17. Audio book. A loaner from Jeanne. Very funny and depressingly accurate look at the presidential electoral process. Franken goes a little bit too long after the election and the book becomes tiresome, only to regain it's humorous edge in the epilogue.

Carl Hiaasen, "Lucky You"
Humorous crime novel on tape from the library. Listened to it July 12-22. Another warm and wonderful novel from the author of "Basket Case." You really can't go wrong with Hiaasen. His sense of humor is impeccable and his characters leap off the page. The plot is so ridiculous I won't say a word about it.

Jonathan Safron Foer, "Everything is Illuminated"
From the Library on audiocasssette. Listened to it October 12-21. Weird wild and wonderful. Laugh out loud funny and crying out loud sad. This book alternates between breaking your heart and making you smile. And to think the author was only 23 when the book was published! What a bright future. I'll be looking out for his next book. Highly recommended.

Orson Scott Card, "Ender's Game"
Tom loaned me this and asked me to read it NOW. Read it Dec 20-28. A fun read. Excellent Sci-Fi.
D. Non Fiction:
Tom Tomorrow, "The Great Big Book of Tomorrow"
A gift from Angela. read it Jan 1-5. Political commentary and satire from the one of the brightest progressive minds today. A nice retrospective of his entire career.

Michael Moore, "Dude, Where's My Country?"
A gift from Angela. read it January 6-23. Much better than the reviews gave it credit for. Less funny than terrifying in it's exposure of what the Bushies are doing to the country. Michael Moore is a great man! Highly recommended.

Richard A. Lupoff, "The Great American Paperback"
A gift from Kathy. Read it January 24-31. Gorgeous hard-cover coffee-table book filled with full color illustrations of paperback books. Many displayed for the beauty of the cover art, but some displayed to show what the highly collectable editions of famous paperback originals looked like. A treasure for any book collector, even one who does not collect paperbacks.

Roman Jakobson, "My Futurist Year"
A gift from Rob. Read it Feb 1-14. Literature during the Russian Revolution was as volcanic as the rest of the activities in the country. Academics like Jacobson suffered and struggled and watched all the great poets die in their twenties and thirties.

Lily Burana, "Strip City"
One of the Salon Top five non-fiction books of 2002. From the library. Read it Feb 16-17. Non fiction account of a woman who is proud to be a part of the world of erotic dancing. Mildly interesting.

Lewis Porter, "John Coltrane: His Life and Music"
A gift from Tom. Read it Feb 27 - Mar 14. A fascinating biography of one of the greatest jazzmen who ever lived. Since I have next to no knowledge of musical theory, I missed a lot of the insights provided into the genius of John Coltrane, but his humanity shines through the entire book. Respect for all the people discussed in the book prevent any revelations of the seamier side of his life, such as fathering an illegitimate child and his abuse of hallucinogens, but this is a must read for any jazz lover.

Bev Harris, "Black Box Voting"
Downloaded from blackboxvoting.com. Read it April 15-24. Absolutely riveting. The big story of 2004 in my opinion. A must read for anyone who cares about democracy. Highly recommended.

E.C. Segar, "Complete Popeye, volume five"
Read it May 19-23. Volumes one through four are the color Sunday strips, which I don't own. They are for the most part non-sequential and hence of less interest to me. This is the first volume of the daily strips. Segar started Thimble Theater some time before he introduced Popeye. This volume starts with the strip from July 20th 1928, and runs thru the end of 1929.Segar was a fabulous story teller and he knew how to stretch out his tales over months worth of daily strips. An immense talent who died way too young.

E.C. Segar, "Complete Popeye, volume six"
Read it July 15-19. Popeye rolls into high gear with adventures fighting The Sea Hag and western outlaw Glint Gore, also solving mysteries with his partner Castor Oyl. Predating the comic book super-heroes by about ten years, Popeye takes a dozen bullets in his body and fights on to victory. Great fun!

E.C. Segar, "Complete Popeye, volume seven"
Read it Aug 14-27. Popeye's first endorsements of spinach and the first appearance of the mighty Bluto.

Segar, "Complete Popeye, volume eight"
read it Dec 29-31. The vote for king of Nazilia mirrors the election of 2004 with fraud, vote supression and inaccurate press reporting. Amazing. Also Popeye's venture into the Newspaper field of employment is a riot. Segar rules!

Ron Suskind, "The Price of Loyalty"
A gift from Angela. Read it May 24-June 9. I already knew what a zephyr the illegal president is, but this was a mildly interesting account form the inside.

Goodman, "Exception to the Rulers"
A Father's day present from Rob. Read it July 20-26. An absolutely fascinating book by a truly independent journalist. Amy Goodman is able to convey the frustrations and thrills of speaking truth to power. Her indictment of the corporate media is sweeping and spot on. Highly recommended.

Calvin Trillin, "Obliviously On He Sails"
a fathers day gift from Angela. Read it all Aug 28th. Short and very sweet. Funny poetry, but not as funny as his Tummy trilogy. Still, Trillin is a fabulous writer, a treasure.
E. Mysteries:
Agatha Christie, "Murder at the Vicarage"
Read it March 15-24. A mystery from 1930. The first in the Mrs. Marple series. A delightful story narrated by a small town vicar who has the misfortune of finding the most unpopular man in the town murdered in the vicar's study. Mrs. Marple figures it all out without leaving her cottage.

John Dickson Carr, "It Walks by night"
1930 mystery. Read it April 25-29. Carr, who wrote over 70 mysteries in his 40 year writing career, wrote this, his first mystery, in his early twenties and it is a very accomplished piece of work. A puzzle plot in which the solution is so twisted up that it takes a full thirty pages to explain it all. But Carr carries it off to total satisfaction.

Ruth Rendell, "The Secret House of Death"
read it June 28-30. Published in 1968, it was her third book not to feature Inspector Wexford. One of the rare mysteries where I figured out the mystery. Well written and entertaining.

Ed McBain, "The Frumious Bandersnatch"
From the library on audiocassette. Listening to it November 4-10. Not one of the best of the 87th Precinct mysteries, but enjoyable.

Stuart Kaminsky, "Black Night in Red Square"
The second Inspector Rostnikov mystery. Read it Dec 16th-19th. Very enjoyable but not quite as good as the first one. The Soviet flavor was so much fun.
total books read in 2004: 49
total from the library: 21
total listened to: 12.5

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