Thursday, December 29, 2011

Books that Moved Me--2011

I need to keep blogging.  Inspired by David Landrum, I've decided to simply recap the books I read this year.  This isn't really a complete list.  I know I've forgotten some of them.  Since I took a Children's and Young Adult Lit class, I read a few more than I normally would have.  I'm not going to list all of the books I read for that class, unless I think those books would be truly worth someone's time to read.  These are in order of remembrance, and I'll note the author if the name comes to me.  One professional goal I have for 2012?  Read more.  Review more.  Blog more.

Books...are like lobster shells, we surround ourselves with 'em, then we grow out of 'em and leave 'em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development.--Dorothy Sayers

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
This is hands-down the best nonfiction book I've ever read.  Before that, it was a tie between Simon Winchester and Bill Bryson, but this book came out of nowhere to blow them both away.  It's the story of how Johns Hopkins scientists developed test-tube HELA cancer cells from the ovarian cancer of a poor, African-American woman who died.  What happened to her family as the result of her death is simply unreal, and I truly read this through without stopping (including not sleeping).  Rabih came home at one point, when I had just burst into tears about something I'd read, and I couldn't even tell him why I was crying, I was sobbing so hard.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
I said it last summer, and I'll say it again--this man must have sold his soul to the devil to be able to write so well.  Jam packed with beautiful turns of phrase and outstanding imagery.  A nice plot which doesn't end the way you wish it would is also a big plus.  This book would make an outstanding movie, and I'd be disappointed if ChowYun Phat didn't show up in it.

Love Wins by Ron Bell
I had to see what all of the fuss was about, so when this finally made it to Kuwait, I enjoyed reading it.  I found Bell's hipster-doofus-Imma-cool-Christian lingo laughable, and his argumentative style a bit boring.  If you still haven't read this, save yourself some time and read the first and last page of each chapter.  You'll get the idea.

Unbroken by Laura Hilldebrand
True life story of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini, who fought in World War 2, spent what seemed like an eternity in Japanese prison camp, and returned home to do a lot of good by starting a boys camp after he was saved at a Billy Graham crusade.  Oh, yeah, and did I mention he floated around on a rubber raft in the Pacific fending of starvation and shark attacks?  I read one review of this book, wherein the writer complained that the book got bogged down when Hildebrand was describing Zamperini's Japanese imprisonment.  That made me angry.  I guess we could all take the time to read what these men from the Greatest Generation endured for America.  I think this one has a movie coming out, and I hope they do justice to the book..

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
What can I say about this book?  Even if you tried to be cynical about it, it's impossible.  This one has the X-factor, and it's just a good read without anyone having to justify it.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
Still in the middle of this book, but I can see so many opportunities for interdisciplinary studies with this one. Also, great literary echoes of Heart of Darkness, Things Fall Apart and Poisonwood Bible.

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt (previously reviewed)
The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
These three get grouped together since they are by the same author.  I had the chance to take Children's Lit with Prof Schmidt when I was a student at Calvin (which is before he'd written any of these books).  I read Lizzie Bright for my class this fall and was impressed by Schmidt's images and allusions to Melville.  It was a solid read and the kind of Young Adult novel that's just as rewarding as an adult read.  Wednesday Wars, I didn't care for as much.  The voice of the narrator was a bit unbelievable for me in spots, but I didn't grow up as a kid on Long Island in the late 60s, so who am I to judge?  Okay for Now is getting lots of Newbery buzz (as did the other two).  It was better than Wednesday Wars by a long shot.  Schmidt's imagery was stronger, especially the bird motifs which drive the narrative forward symbolically.  Read it.  You'll like it.

So B. It by Sarah Weeks
A sweet book, suggested by friends.  It's a very realistic book about a very unrealistic life, but it's still believable and you want the heroine to win her coming-of-age battle.  It doesn't have a fairy tale ending, which I find quite respectful from any young adult author.

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages (previously reviewed)
White Sands, Red Menace by Ellen Klages
These books are also young adult novels.  I read the first one for class, but liked it so much, I continued on to the sequel.  Set in New Mexico in the 1940s, Klages introduces us two very realistic, very individual young ladies to root for.  The narratives are believable and Klages attention to historical detail is something to appreciate.

Your Own, Sylvia by Stephanie Hemphill (previously reviewed)
I was never a huge fan of Sylvia Plath until I read this book.  Hemphill wrote her own narrative poems to retell the life of Plath, some of which are as good as Plath's.  At first, it might seem like a simple book, until you start to pick up on the themes and motifs that tie the book and Plath's poetry together.  Plath's death was one in a string of tragic deaths surrounding her life.  I'm really glad I had a chance to study her a bit more through this verse novel.

The Poet Slave of Cuba: a Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano
Tells true story of a slave boy in colonial Cuba.  He was born into slavery, educated, set free, enslaved again, horrendously tortured, and finally set free.  It's another verse novel, and a quick read.  Another book that left me wondering about how people can be so cruel and how the human spirit can still endure.

Burning Bright by Ron Rash
I thought my favorite Southern writer was Lee Smith until I read Ron Rash.  I came across snippets of Rash's poetry while reading a book by Silas House (I don't remember which one).  It's like Rash lives in my hometown.  I read each short story right in a row, and didn't stop reading until I was finished.  Rash is definitely on my list for 2012.  I'm addicted.

Mrs. Darcy and the Blue Eyed Stranger by Lee Smith
Every time I read something by Lee Smith, I am amazed that she's not schizophrenic.  She uses so many voices, and this collection of short stories doesn't disappoint me.  I don't like all of her narrators, but there are plenty to chose from. Her turns of phrase are also a treat, such as "a life so hard and flinty that it might erupt at any moment into tongues of fire."  Smith is another author who must have sold her soul to the devil.

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
Because this book just makes me happy.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Because I find something new in this book every time I read and/or teach it.

Blind Descent (about extreme caving) by James Tabor
Mr. Sam

Mockingbird (previously reviewed)
They Called Themselves the KKK
Hitler Youth

1 comment:

  1. I love reading book reviews from people that I know. After reading this, I am even more in agony over not having an English library to which I can walk this morning and gather these up to read. I could do the kindle thing, but I'm a well-worn page turner. Besides, my son owns a used bookstore ~~ electronic downloading a book would make me feel like a traitor! :)
    But now I have to write out your list so I know what books to look for next time I'm in the States.
    I had so hoped that Bob had bought me "The Help" for Christmas (I left plenty of hints, but obviously NOT!)