Inspired by the goal set by Elisa, I have decided to read fifty books this year. This was once a laughably paltry number of books, but in the last couple of years I have found myself, for various reasons, reading very little. Fifty books allows me the leeway to read only one book in a week’s time, so should I become busy or otherwise hard-pressed, it will harm me none. I would like to track my progress here. Many of these are recommendations from others.
I have read 53 of 50!
1. In Defense of Food – Michael Pollan
I gained a new view on food from this book. It altered, almost overnight, my eating habits. There is now very little processed food in my diet, I choose organic as often as possible, and I always strive to eat good food in small amounts, both savoring the food just because it’s good, but also to allow the food to fill me up.
2. Mistress – Amanda Quick
I used to be resolutely against romance novels. Their unrealistic view of the world and love matches made me upset, because they were not really going to happen. Now I appreciate their easy simplicity and happy endings. Admittedly, I didn’t really learn anything from this book, but it made me happy.
3. Julie & Julia – Julie Powell
What did I gain from this book? Well, perhaps a general sense of self-progress. Which is hard to explain, really, since it has little to do with the book itself. It certainly reinforced that personal goals (and thereby the journey taken through them) are meaningful to everyone. It’s good to have projects, it’s good to finish them, learning about yourself the whole way through.
4. Eat Pray Love – Elizabeth Gilbert
This book has taught me a lot about myself. It also made me cry, because it came at a time in my life when I needed it most. It’s taught me that I want to find God, albeit probably not your god, but the God that I need to help me through life. My personal spirituality and the achievement of balance are very important to me.
5. Dead Until Dark – Charlaine Harris
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was another simple, easy story. I admit I like love in stories, it’s nice to know when someone loves you utterly. I’ve learned through this series, both in novel form and television, that I appreciate things that genuinely foster nostalgia for my southern roots. I love to experience stories in places and cultures I know a lot about.
6. Living Dead in Dallas – Charlaine Harris
I must’ve really wanted to read this, because I didn’t even remember putting it on hold at the library and there it was! Nothing entertained me more in this book than the awesomeness that is Eric.
7. The Foundling – D. M. Cornish
This book was the single most exotic and foreign fantasy book I have ever read. While at first I wasn’t sure if I would be able to read it, I picked it up fairly quickly. He writes a bit like Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky poem, in which he uses slightly altered or existing words to have other meanings. An example from the Jabberwocky poem would be: ‘and the slithy borogoves’. Well, you get the idea, but you don’t really know what ‘borogoves’ are or what the exact definition of ‘slithy’ is. Such is some of the word usage of this book, though most are defined, whether in the narrative or in the appendix at the back. Over all, I very much liked it, though it’s hard to believe it’s marketed for teenagers. There were a few times when my chest was clenched very uncomfortably for little Rossamünd. To quote something I said about the book early on: “[It is] a fantasy novel that is so well thought out that it’s exotic, foreign mouth-feel is faintly addictive.”
8. The Lamplighter – D. M. Cornish
How can I sing the praises of Mister Sebastipole? I could read about this man for the rest of my live-long days. He is a singularly good man, in every way. To say I’m in love with him might just be an understatement. The rest of the book, as the first, is well told and well thought. My guts do not clench at Rossamund’s circumstances the way they did in the first volume, but my heart does ache for the likes of truly good people like Numps. It is rare for sound to be drawn from me while I read a book, I’m so engrossed, but in this my heart broke aloud for the sweet sadness of Numps’ vulnerability. Oh, woe, that I must wait until November for the last installment!
9. The Tao of Pooh – Benjamin Hoff
I’ve heard great things about this book! It’s a nice, quick read that’s perfect after a monstrous-large book like the last one! It took me a few pages to get into the style of Hoff’s writing, but I’ve enjoyed it’s simplicity. I never watched or read a whole lot of stuff about the Hundred Acre Wood and Pooh Corner and all that, but I do know enough to understand the allegories going on here. If I’ve taken nothing else from this book, it’s the personality types as illustrated by various Pooh characters, that you can tackle the things you hate about yourself in a way that flows ‘with the current instead of against it’, and that to get something you should give it (such as getting respect by giving respect.)
10. The Scarlet Pimpernel – Baroness Emmuska Orczy
I read this book about ten years ago and I loved it utterly. If there is a Percy Blakeney in the world, I’m dying to find him, truly. This is one of those rare books in which the romance is thorough, but not overpowering. Clever and intelligent, it kept me in earnest about what might happen next. The Baroness writes with amazingly modern clarity much of the time, too, despite the fact that the story is about a century old. It didn’t turn out to be my favorite book, which I had hoped, but I did enjoy it. The lead female felt a little over-done this read around, but I still find it fairly clever and certainly not the usual story.
11. Club Dead – Charlaine Harris
You will find the next several slots filled with Sookie Stackhouse books, because my sweet younger sister has lent me all but the most recent novel, so there is nothing at all to keep me from sloughing through them. This was definitely the most boring of her books, not that I didn’t enjoy the descriptions of Alcide and the contrasts made between him and vampires. What I appreciated most is that Harris pointed out that Alcide is not handsome, but very attractive anyway. This is a perspective close to my heart, as I often find men attractive that others do not because they aren’t ‘handsome’.
12. Dead to the World – Charlaine Harris
This was definitely better than the last one. While some parts of it were strange and sometimes hard to believe, it was enjoyable as always. I have such an appreciation for simplicity these days. However, the one draw back to this series that I’m beginning to be bothered with, is the fact that for every book there is a new person attracted to her. While I suppose that happens to normal, beautiful people, I’m having a hard time accepting it as someone who’s never experienced such a thing. At least this recent acquisition is not entirely desirable, unlike the other three hunks.
13. Dead as a Doornail – Charlaine Harris
There was a much deeper sense of disappointment at the end of this book. Too many unhappy things balling up at once without enough positive to help me rebound. Things are going to get very bad for our heroine, Harris has done a very good job getting that across in a few pages. A positive is that I’m impressed by the author’s ability to make Bill’s slim appearances and interactions with Sookie as weighty as she intends them to be. When Sookie takes in a sharp breath at his sudden presence, in my own way I do too, when their closeness thrills them both, I feel the pressure of it for them. Well done. I just hope things are going to get better soon, all I feel is very sorry for Sookie all the time.
14. Definitely Dead – Charlaine Harris
Well, it was really good to finally understand Sookie’s magnetism (although I had suspected…) I was surprised that there wasn’t more disappointment, aka characters seemingly great turning out to be bad guys, but I’m glad for this lack of spoiled friends. That’s not to say that Quinn or Amelia won’t turn out badly and that the queen won’t get worse, but… overall, it was fairly enjoyable. Feel bad for Bill since his confession. And I really like Bob, poor thing.
15. All Together Dead – Charlaine Harris
The shit’s definitely starting to hit the fan with this one. By the end of this tense and generally tiring installment, I’ve definitely decided to take a breather. I only have about three more of hers to read, after all, and I’ve just read five of them in less than a week.
16. Wild Magic – Tamora Pierce
I decided to pick up an old favorite after the draining (no pun intended) that the last books stuck me with. This was a book I read the first summer my parents were divorced, found in a box of abandoned and otherwise uninteresting books was a large-print copy of this book. (The very same one that I am using to re-read, in fact.) I loved this book and was sad to find there were no others to follow, since I felt there was much more story to tell. Four or five years later, I discovered three sequels in the bookstore and read all three in three days. I enjoyed it as much this time, as I did back then, but through older eyes. Daine is a girl who has a knack with animals, but she learns that it goes well beyond instinct, it’s wild magic. Rare and powerful, her new mage friend Numair, (large, handsome, and dark-featured) teaches her how to harness it.
17. Wolf-Speaker – Tamora Pierce
This is the second book in The Immortals quartet started in ‘Wild Magic’ above. After the death of her family by raiders, Daine had gone insane and ran with a pack of wolves, acting as though she were one. For a long time she was afraid it would happen again, but her former pack is in trouble and needs her help. She’s the only one who can act as ambassador between the wolves and the encroaching humans in their valley.
18. Emperor-Mage – Tamora Pierce
The third installment of The Immortals quartet takes place in an enemy land much like the middle-east, where an overly prideful magic-wielding emperor has angered the gods with his self-indulgence. This book further suggests that one should never judge anything as pure good or pure evil. Even the most disgusting of the immortals has redeeming features, some are less noxious than others, etc.
19. Realm of the Gods – Tamora Pierce
Finally, the part of the story I found most memorable was in this installment. One of the reasons I love Tamora Pierce is because she’s willing to do what most other young adult authors won’t, because it’s a natural progression. I sincerely doubt she intended to pair a teenage girl up with a man twice her age, but I wanted it so much the first time I read it that I was floored it actually happened. On the second run, I still enjoy it, and with a new appreciation (being interesting in older men myself.) I also still think the Dream God is very sweet (but strangely similar to Neil Gaiman’s character Dream) and that the ink blots are infinitely adorable.
20. Ultimate Auto-Detailing Projects – David H. Jacobs Jr.
This seems like a strange book to list, but seeing as how I read just about every page, I think it counts. We’re not talking about a picture book, it’s really talking to you. So, oddball that it is, I’m counting it in. It’s incredibly informative and I feel like I could make my car look like a million bucks once it’s stops raining all the time.
22. Fresh Food From Small Spaces – R. J. Ruppenthal
This book had a few fresh ideas and/or reminders for me. It reminded me that sprouting is a nutritionally dense, quick, and small-space solution. It pointed out that self-water planters are great for small spaces and taught me how to make them for my own. And, randomly, it taught me a few interesting things about using car batteries during loss of power. This guy’s as paranoid about things getting bad in the near-ish future as I am.
23. Sprouting for All Seasons – Bertha Larimore
This is a very old book that restated much that I already knew. However, it was interesting to peruse the sprout-incorporated recipes and alternate methods of sprouting.
24. The Secret of Lost Things – Sheridan Hay
This book is put together like a piece of artwork. That is not to say that it is good, however. In fact, I hated it. I thought the overall concept of the book sounded very interesting, but as the story droned along–more poetry than plot–the lack of said plot began to really bother me. As with many literary pieces, most of the characters come from unhappy origins or states of being, or are just plain bizarre. The story revolves around a group of people who are both, but that story is mostly about the ins and out of their days. This is what I hate about literary fiction: disappointment, misery, and all around tragic circumstances and outcomes. It wastes whatever good that could’ve been gleaned–at least for me. Much of the prose really is very poetic, but… I really don’t care, because it left me thoroughly aghast, repulsed, and unsatisfied. It’s narration reminds me a bit of Shadow of the Wind, though not quite as good at spinning the words as Zafon.
25. The Midwife’s Apprentice – Karen Cushman
This book taught me to appreciate the personal progress of a character when I can get it. It’s not an unhappy ending, it’s actually a ‘good for you!’ sort of end. However, the characters are not spectacular; in fact, many of them are merely pitiable or dislikable. It’s very literary in the sense that everyone is in a terrible place in a terrible way, which doesn’t usually appeal to me. The progress of the main character, however, from a lonely, crass, weak, unhappy girl into a sure, caring, strong young woman with a purpose is not lost on me.
26. Fool Moon – Jim Butcher
I rather like this book series as a wholly separate entity than the short-lived television series based off of it. I love the show, but I like these too. They’re really not all that similar, so it’s easy to separate them. The books are grittier in a detective noir sort of way. And since I’m listening to this as I drive, I must comment on the fact that James Marsters is a fabulous narrator. He interprets the materials beautifully and blends seamlessly into the voice of the main character. It was easy to forget this was a book and just listen. I will definitely listen to Marsters with the remaining installments. The most beautiful moment for me when was when Harry explains that there is more magic in a baby’s first giggle than any firestorm a wizard could ever conjure. Gorgeous.
27. Bad Moon Rising – Sherrilyn Kenyon
Miss Olivia recommended Serrilyn Kenyon. This book is something like the 26th book set in this particular modern setting of Greek pantheons, demons, and so on, but it was available when I needed it. The verdict up front: I really liked it. The extended version is that I liked it because it’s more along the lines of how I would write a ‘smutty’ ‘romance’ novel. It was very thick with plot (there was so much plot I was left stunned by it most of the time, it’s a LOT of plot), a world with great depth, and much of it was written from the man’s perspective. I could also sense there was at least one other book taking place during this one, which is a very unique feeling. I will definitely read more from this woman.
28. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
This book is soaked with incredible prose. His descriptions are vivid and gorgeously exaggerated. It’s impossible to not understand every word. And although it is written during the Nazi Inhabitation and many bad things happened then (and in the story), this book was generally uplifting and beautiful. I think this is going to be one of the year’s top reads. Oh, and P.S – it’s narrated by Death.
29. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
I’m not sure I got much out of this book. I think the stilted narration of the author in the audiobook prevented me from getting as much out of it as I could have. I also found out, too late, that it was an abridged version. The scene I had read that originally made me want to read it was omitted, amongst many other things. I’ll have to re-read this (physically read it) at a later date.
30. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Schafer
This was a short and sweet book set just after WWII. The last three books I’ve read have been in this era, which is strange but interesting. I loved the main core of characters and admired the authors’ ability to tell a story entirely through old-fashioned correspondences (letters, telegrams, cable, etc). It’s something I haven’t really seen since Dracula. I think Dorsey’s my favorite character, then perhaps Sydney. Or Susan. Anyway, it’s cute, I’d recommend it.
31. Under the Tuscan Sun – Frances Mayes
This book is a glaring instance in which the movie was far better than the book it was based on. Of course, they’re practically two different stories; almost nothing, in fact. This book was mostly a detailed, poetic tour through various places in Italy, especially Cortona, where the author and her husband live during the summers restoring the house they bought there. There is very little personal story here. I love hearing about the food and beautiful places being described, but this took it to such a level that I was rather annoyed after awhile. I tuned out often in the last half of the book. The one thing I learned from it was that I like the idea of working so hard on something every day that you ‘die every night’. Otherwise, I wipe my hands of this book.
32. The Golden Compass – Phillip Pullman
This book was great up until the last two chapters. There are two acts of mental illness one after another and it made me sick to my stomach. I do not often seek to know what lies ahead in a story, but I so strongly questioned my happiness is finishing this series. What I found has confirmed that I will not finish Pullman’s books. I wish the end didn’t compromise the story before it, because it was good. I just can’t go through more of that.
33. Bunnicula – James Howe
Totally cute! I love this book! Short and sweet, and very entertaining. I hardly remember the animated movie from when I was a child, but I remember liking the book ‘The Celery Stalks At Midnight’ (as seen below, it’s one of the next couple!). I’m thoroughly delighted with it at three- to -four-times the age I was when I first encountered them. Very intelligent, very cute, and totally fun.
34. Howliday Inn – James Howe
This one was not nearly as good as the first, but there were still a few times I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I think the main lacking element here was that Bunnicula and the family were not involved at all. It takes place at a pet boarding house where strange things are afoot. I’m hoping the next one, which gets back to Bunnicula, will do better.
35. The Celery Stalks At Midnight – James Howe
Cute-ish, but it couldn’t hold a candle to the first. Bunnicula rules all.
36. The Botany of Desire – Michael Pollan
I’ve learned so much from this book that it’s hard to figure out just how to explain it. Part history, part biology, part psychology, part mythology, part journalism, I can safely say that I have learned a lot about a lot of different things. From Johnny Appleseed to the Irish Potato Famine, from the Dutch tulip frenzy to the details of pot-production and smoking, Pollan covers a whole lot of ground in his exhibition of human desire, biological imperative, and co-evolution. A good read, but I’m not sure I’ve digested all of it yet.
37. Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein
The first half of this book, I was so delighted that I was certain this book would be added to the list of the best books I’ve read this year. Unfortunately, the latter half of the book was rife with subjects that made me uncomfortable and distressed. Evangelistic and cult themes are what made me truly uncomfortable, I think, but even subjects that don’t normally make me uncomfortable did. Spirituality and communal living where sex is shared between all occupants of a ‘nest’. It did not end well for me, but there were enough chuckles, insights, and good lines for me to be glad that I read this. I am glad, too, that I have been able to read one of the founding books of the science fiction genre.
38. Doctor Yourself – Andrew Saul, Ph.D.
Dr. Saul is a funny down-to-earth guy and I enjoyed his story-telling way of getting across the way that vitamins and minerals can solve many illnesses and conditions that are typically ‘fixed’ by drugs. It’s a book I’ll eventually buy for re-referencing the information. In the meantime, I’m working up my vitamin intake.
39. The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
This book stood alone very well. There were similarities with the movie, of course, but it was not easy to correlate the two. It had a lot of beautiful parts to it, many fun ones, but for every wonderful item, there was a monstrous and terrible item to match it. There were a lot of scenes I could have done without, but, over all, it was very well constructed. Ultimately, I prefer the movie in a big way.
40. North & South – Elizabeth Gaskell
It was a good book, with extra information the mini-series did not provide. Much of what was left out was unnecessary, though. The way the mini-series re-arranged some information highlighted aspects of the story that were important and I felt there was little loss between book and television. In fact, the series improved an important scene from the book. Then again, there are a couple of moments here and there that I would’ve enjoyed seeing on screen. Still, these things may not have been possible on screen, as there are many insights into the male character that are simply not possible from an non-narrative perspective. They did very well trying to paint the portrait despite this. I like them both, but it’s much easier to watch the series in a day than spend a week re-reading it.
41. The Alchemist – Paolo Coleho
This was a short and sweet little book. I’ve heard some complain that they didn’t like the book because they had already learned the lessons it’s trying to teach. Well, I don’t think it’s trying to teach you anything, I think it’s telling a story the way they used to tell fairy tales. In fact, the cover I chose to put above it states that it’s a fable, which is exactly what it reads like. To write a story like this is very daring today, I feel, and for it I commend him. I don’t think it’s a particularly great book, but it was well done. I enjoy the term ‘personal legend’ for one’s dreams for life. If you go after your dreams, you will achieve your personal legend. And let’s face it, if more of us thought about what our lives would look like from between two covers of a book, maybe it would be more legendary.
42. The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms – Amy Stewart
I really enjoyed this book all about earthworms. It was an easy read with lots of great facts. These creatures are immensely underestimated. I have been enjoying the worms that I already have, but after learning even more about them, I think that earthworms are ranked in the top three creatures I love best in this world. I recommend it for anyone to read.
43. Fantasy Lover – Sherrilyn Kenyon
I enjoyed this book a lot. Mostly light-hearted, this isn’t a predictable read, and it has more than enough tense moments. And even knowing that things work out in the end, the emotional moments had me teary-eyed. I’m pretty sure I like Kenyon a heckuva lot. Only, what, 24 more of her books for me to read, eh?
44. Seabiscuit: An American Legend – Laura Hillenbrand
This book is truly amazing. I laughed a lot, it brought me to tears, but best of all these incredible people really existed. It’s almost hard to believe that real people did all of these amazing things; were this successful and this heartbroken sometimes too. This story is riveting, the characters vivid, and inspiring from cover to cover.
45. Across the Nightingale Floor – Lian Hearn
It was a little refreshing to read such a Japanese story. The feel of it was familiar, because of my past experiences with the stories in their culture. Being Japanese, I was aware that the likelihood of the ending being tragic was high, making it easier to take when the time came. I appreciated some of the innovative prose and the simple beauty of it’s words. I am not sure, however, that I will continue reading these books.
46. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen – Christopher McDougall
Excellent book. I really enjoyed it. Although it is a real story, it is written very well, more like a fiction in style. Learned a LOT about running, learned a lot about the amazing Tarahumara, and enjoyed every bit of it. I wish I could say more about it, but I can’t possibly get across how cool it was. Read it.
47. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – Alan Bradley
Loved this book! So quirky. The 11-year-old girl’s voice is so very fun! It’s set in northern England in the 1950′s, and is a murder mystery as being solved by the precocious Miss Flavia Du Luce. I highly recommend it to just about anyone!
48. The Clutter Cure – Judi Culbertson
Loved this book. Unlike most other de-clutter books and shows, this book goes into the psychology behind keeping things, which allows you to rethink what you’re holding on to. It certain made me rethink my stuff, my house, and what to do with it.
49. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
It was a pretty good book. I was surprised that such a garish situation was a young adult book, but I think that’s why so many young adults appreciate it. They appreciate not being thought of as stupid, both by being written for them and being starred in by young adults surviving these terrible situations. I felt toward the end that it was a bit unbelievably fluffy in the middle of hell, but I kind of don’t mind it anyway. I hear the second book is the best one, I look forward to reading that one in the future. PS – I like that the author portrays the attractive, strong young men in the story as larger, more muscular men, rather than slender boys.
50. Tuck Everlasting – Natalie Babbitt
This book was a sweet little fairy tale right up the ending, where it was depressingly finished off. Some of the prose was enchanting, some of it was plain brilliant, and the story was sweetly simple, not caring whether or not it made logical sense. The moral was clear: You don’t want to live forever, it really sucks for you if you do. Unfortunately, the epilogue was a downer. I know what the author was trying to do, but I think the feeling was just a dreadful way to end a cute and other-wise child-like book.
51. Book of a Thousand Days – Shannon Hale
While I wondered where this was going for awhile and worried that this would end badly, it all turned out all very well. The language was a bit archaic, which fit the story, and while the end was a little fast after so much waiting (it’s hard not knowing how laws work in a fantasy world and how to circumvent them), it was a happy ending and I appreciate that. I really liked that the names of the countries were phrases involving the gods: Beloved of Ris, Song for Evella, Thoughts of Under, etc. The laws and lands were very creative, but I’m not sure that I was impressed with the characters. I liked it and I’m glad Roxy recommended it.
52. Mort – Terry Pratchett
This book is meant to be very tongue-in-cheek, but I admit that it’s been so long since I read something meant to be taken with a grain of salt that I have been unable to fully submerge myself in the intended silliness. That is not to say, of course, that I don’t appreciate what Pratchett is doing. I feel that the right tone was translated well into the mini-series’ that have been produced based on Discworld novels, but the literature itself is going to take me some getting used to. It may be, too, that this particular one is harder for me to take because I am such a fan of Death being a character. I thoroughly enjoyed a depiction of Death as the narrator of ‘The Book Thief’, and I like the concept of Death as a major character in this book as well. I just think I’m hard to please on the matter, perhaps, and am more judgmental than I might ordinarily be.
53. Stalking the Wild Asparagus – Euel Gibbons
I really loved this book. I want to own a copy of it, it’s just so damn useful. The author’s tone is perfectly casual and very informative. He makes me feel like I could walk outside and harvest a feast easily. I know better, but he makes me feel that way. Armed with a book like this, I think supplementing one’s food with items from ‘the wild larder’ as Hugh Wittingstall says, would be very easy.