Regular Rumination

2010, what a wonderful year!*

Posted by in Books, Life

*for reading that is!

2010 seems like the longest year of my life. When I look back to what I was reading at the beginning of the year, I can’t believe that that was still 2010.  You mean I only read Anne of Green Gables this year?!  I only just read and fell in love with Blankets in 2010? That wasn’t last year? Are you sure?

Blogging has had its share of ups and downs this year, but I’m pleased to be ending the year on a strong note, with only more hopes for more excellent reading and blogging in 2011.  Over the past few days I have gone back and reread a lot of my posts from the early days of Regular Rumination and I think that my little blog and I have really come into our own over the last few months.

In terms of reading, there have certainly been some hits and some misses, but for the most part, I would say that my reading of 2010 was great.  So here we are, the 2010 Regular Rumination Awards.  These are the books that struck me as particularly wonderful, that still stick with me all these months later, that I think you should be reading to make your 2011 as excellent a reading year as my 2010 was.

To avoid this just being a normal old top ten list, I’ve added made-up superlatives.

The book that was so good, I had to reread it immediately

Is anyone surprised by this choice?  When I read Blankets back on the 2 of January, I was blown away.  When I turned the last page, I went back and started it all over again.  I stayed up until the wee hours of the night rereading and reliving the relationship between Craig and Raina – in fact, I’m pretty sure I’d like to name a future daughter Raina.

What makes Blankets the best graphic novel I read this year?  The drawings absolutely took my breath away, but so did the story.  Thompson weaves together the story of his relationship with his brother and family with the story of his first love.  It’s heartbreaking and beautiful and changed the way I read graphic novels forever.  I can’t wait for Thompson’s newest, Habibi, to be released.

Honorable mention: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Best Precocious Child Narrator

This book was a total surprise.  I don’t even know how it came into my hands, other than the fact that we all know I’m enticed by a blue cover with adorable pictures on it.  What I wasn’t expecting was one of the most intelligent, endearing middle-grade fiction books I have ever read.  Bapu is Anu’s grandfather and one day, while they are out walking, he collapses.  What follows is Anu’s journey to find his grandfather again after he has passed away.  This book with simultaneously crush your heart and heal it again.  Anu has such great friends and such a great family and such wonderful insights that somehow never seem out of place coming from such a young person.  I want everyone to read this book, it is wonderful.  It deals with such heavy topics, but is also so funny.

Honorable Mention: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Most Underrated Book By A Book Blog Darling

This is a book that I don’t think I ever expected to end up on this list, but here it is: Flight by Sherman Alexie.  Alexie has had his fair share of coverage on a lot of book blogs, especially for his most recent foray into YA with The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  I loved that book, but this one is better.  Most critics didn’t like it, but I say, they are crazy.  This book is great.

Zits, our narrator, is a homeless and poor Indian boy who, in a fit of desperation, decides to blow up a bank.  Instead of dying when the bomb goes off, he is transported back in time to inhabit some famous historical figures.  Yes, the premise is different, but that is why I loved it so much.  I couldn’t get enough of it.  If I had one complaint it would be that this book is too short.  Probably one of the best compliments you can give a book, now that I think about it.

Honorable Mention: A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle

Best Book Worth All the Hype

Look, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen, is my favorite book of 2010, BUT it is a book that I think is worth the hype it received.  Is Franzen the greatest American novelist? Um, no, but he is a great US novelist.  This book so perfectly captures a specific time in our history and has made me even more eager to pick up The Corrections, Franzen’s first novel.  Maybe that will make my list next year?

Honorable Mention: A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

Best Book I Want To Put in the Hand of Every Girl/Woman I Know

It was tough to choose between the two Robin Brande books I read this year, Fat Cat and Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature, and while I thought Mena was such an amazing role model and the combination of religion and science in Freaks of Nature was brilliant, I had to pick Cat.  Maybe it’s because I saw a little bit (okay, a lot) of myself in Cat.  I wish Cat was real so we could be best friends.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I cannot wait for Brande’s next book, because I know it will be amazing.  It’s as simple as that.  Not enough people are reading these books.  Why aren’t you reading these books?  Hmmm?  Why?

Honorable Mention: Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande and Reading Women: How the Great Book of Feminism Changed My Life by Stephanie Staal
Best Memoir in a Year Full of Excellent Memoirs

 

I read so many great memoirs this year that I didn’t even get a chance to review them all and going back to pick my favorite was difficult.  I finally decided on Flyaway by Suzie Gilbert because it’s just so unique and I learned so much.  Gilbert is a wild bird rehabber and her journey is just so interesting and full of humor.  I dare you to read Gilbert’s memoir and not be charmed.

Honorable mention: Harry, a History by Melissa Anelli

Biggest Disappointment

I don’t think Great House by Nicole Krauss is a bad book, but I had such high expectation for it and it floundered under those expectations.  I don’t know if that’s my fault or the fault of the book.  It was such an even book that it was even more disappointing.  There was real greatness here, but it was ruined (for me) by the inconsistencies.

Honorable Mention: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

But let’s end this on a happy note…

Favorite Classic of 2010

Mrs. Dalloway is beautiful and contains easily some of the most amazing writing… ever.  I would have quoted the entire book if I could have.  I’m so glad the Woolf In Winter readalong made me read it, because I loved it.

Honorable  Mention: Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery (a very close second!)

2010 was a great year for reading, but here’s to hoping 2011 is even better!  Happy New Year, everyone!  I’ll see you next year, lolol.

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Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Posted by in Books, review

I had little intention of reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, because I don’t think I’m interested in the life histories of despicable people.  (Except, I am.)  I have The Corrections, and know all the scandals that surround Franzen, but just was not interesting.  One thing changed that: NPR.  Right when Freedom came out, I was doing a lot of traveling and listening to NPR on the road.  The interview with Franzen was fascinating and I loved the excerpt he read.  I knew that as soon as I could get my hands on a copy I had to read it.

Now that I have read it, it absolutely lived up to my expectations.  I know that a lot of my appreciation has to do with the writing style; the particularly detailed, almost omniscient narrator is my favorite.  I found Franzen’s voice refreshing and his vision of the US life, though somewhat bleak, was so realistic that the characters could have been my neighbors.

Freedom is a family history of the fictional  Berglunds, from Patty and Walter’s childhoods to their lukewarm courtship and their mutual betrayals over time.  Patty, a college athlete turned housewife, throws herself into renovating their house, but once the project is finished finds herself depressed.  Walter, a strong believer in population control and environmental protection, rides his bike to work every day but eventually changes jobs to a career that will alter his life forever.

Did I like Walter and Patty, or their mutual musician friend Richard?  Absolutely not.  Did I agree with the decisions their children made?  Not once.  Did I enjoy reading about their lives?  I couldn’t get enough of it.

Though I do not think this is the perfect novel, or the perfect US novel, I do think that this story perfectly captures a moment in our history with characters who, yes, are somewhat like caricatures of their real-life counterparts.  But never does Freedom venture into the unbelievable, rather only the extreme.  There is a little bit of all of us, our worst sides, in these characters.

Walter, though for much of his life he thinks he knows what he wants and how to get it, finds himself unsure of everything as he gets older and his children and wife disappoint him.  This is how that feeling is described for Walter:

“He didn’t know what to do, he didn’t know how to live.  Each new thing he encountered in life impelled him in a direction that fully convinced him of its rightness, but then the next new thing loomed up and impelled him in the opposite direction, which also felt right.  There was no controlling narrative: he seemed to himself a purely reactive pinball in a game whose only object was to stay alive for staying alive’s sake.” (318)

I also loved that Freedom existed wholly in its time period, from the late 70s to the late 2000s, with the appearances of appropriate music details and technologies, including Twitter, Priuses and Obama:

“Linda was very offended by this conversation.  Walter wasn’t really even a neighbor, he didn’t belong to the homeowners association, and the fact that he drove a Japanese hybrid, to which he’d recently applied an OBAMA bumper sticker, pointed, in her mind, toward godlessness and a callousness regarding the plight of hardworking families, like hers, who were struggling to make ends meet and raise their children to be good, loving citizens in a dangerous world.” (544)

“Anxieties hung like a cloud of no-see-ums on Canterbridge Court; they invaded every house via cable news and talk radio and the internet.  There was plenty of tweeting on Twitter, but the chirping and fluttering world of nature, which Walter had invoked as if people were still supposed to care about it, was one anxiety too many.” (546)

Freedom is going to be one of my favorite novels of the year.  It reminded me of all the things I love about Wally Lamb, with none of the problems I have with his fiction.  Will novels like Freedom and The Hour I First Believed, which are so entrenched in a time period and actually occupy the same time period, eventually sound dated?  I hope not.  I hope that they simply serve as a glimpse into our society’s idiosyncrasies and complexities.  I am eager to read The Corrections, a pre-9/11 novel, to compare it to Freedom.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Also reviewed by: Caribousmom, Lous_pages, Steph & Tony Investigate, 1000 Books with Quotes, Tales from the Reading Room,  Feminist Texican [Reads], The New Dork Review of Books.

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