So, I have a ton more time to read for fun here than I ever had back at home. I thought I would list the books that I have read and my thoughts on them.
1. Word Freak (Stefan Fastis) – Yes, I know I started this one back in Chicago in June. But due to the massive amounts of work and planning associated with getting us to Japan, I simply did not have time to finish it until I got here. Overall, I enjoyed this read. It was fun to learn more about the Scrabble subculture that I never knew existed. Although, the book did get a bit long and tedious. I enjoyed reading about the characters and interactions and didn’t so much enjoy the tedious descriptions of games and studying strategies. While interesting at the beginning, it just became dull toward the end.
2. Julie and Julia (Julie Powell) – This is one of the first books in the blogger-turned-writer movement. She initially kept a blog of her adventures as she set out to cook every recipe (over 500) from Julia Child’s book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This book is a condensation of her blog and it is slightly reformatted. I must say that I also enjoyed reading this book. I loved hearing about her adventures finding rare and interesting ingredients (ex. marrowbone) and cooking these elaborate dishes in her small, New York apartment. I did get a little tired of her woe-is-me, I am just a secretary that was scattered all over the book. I am always of the opinion that if your life sucks that bad, you should figure out a way to change it. I suppose, ultimately she did. She is no longer a secretary at a governmental agency, instead (thanks to her blog) she is a writer that gets to stay home and work wearing pajamas.
3. The Nanny Diaries (Emma McLaughlin and Nicole Kraus) – This is escapist chick lit at its finest. I’ll be honest, when we were checking out the English collection at the prefectural library I eyed this title up and passed it by, thinking as I usually do that I should read something better (more literary). But, Aaron also saw it and handed it to me later, saying that I might enjoy it given that I was a nanny once. Well, he was definitely right. I started and finished this book in just three days, mainly because it is an easy read and amusing enough to keep my attention. Two things have really hit home with me though as I have read it. One, why is it that people feel compelled to have children when they have no intention or desire to care for them? Two, I am so thankful that the family I nannied for was nowhere near this extreme. I would have gone bonkers!!
4. Skinny Dip (Carl Hiaasen) – Another book in the easy fiction category. Though not quite as enjoyable as the last. The story was still compelling, and I did read it all the way through, but it didn’t grip me in that I-can’t-put-this-book-down sort of way. Also, I get a little annoyed with sloppy editing. After all, editors are paid good money and I get frustrated when there are obvious errors of the spell-check variety. I mean seriously! I decided to pick this book up because I was familiar with some of his children’s work, I read Hoot with my fourth graders and many of them also read Flush. I am always intrigued to compare the adult and children’s books written by the same authors. So, I picked it up at the local library. Skinny Dip had many of the same themes as Hoot, a mystery-esque who-dun-it with not-so-subtle environmental and conservation undertones. A fun summer read, and I am glad to know who did it, but it leaves me wondering whether I would pick up another book by the same author. It seems as though his stories, even after reading just two, will have a similar fill-in-the-blank type formula.
5. Teacher Man (Frank McCourt) – I am always drawn to books that are written by teachers or about teachers. I can always find some elements within them that I relate to and identify with, which always makes for an interesting read. It is also reassuring to know that other teachers have the same experiences and frustrations that I have. Frank McCourt’s book was no different. He reflected on -his 30-year long teaching career in a way that was charming and frank. Some of his stories were so familiar that it seemed as though I could have been the one telling them. So, for the most part, it was an enjoyable read. I do have a few complaints, however. His writing style is a bit odd, and can be frustrating and difficult to follow. Throughout the entire book he neglected to use any quotation marks during dialogue and, often times, he also eliminated the use of many useful cues like he said, he replied, etc. This made the dialogue in the book somewhat difficult to follow and, many times, I found that I had to reread parts just to keep track of who was saying what. I’m not sure why he decided to write this way, it didn’t seem to add anything to his story and, at times, it detracted from the flow.
6. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Barabara Kingsolver) – I loved this one. It was essentially all about two of my favorite issues, food and food politics. I really enjoyed listening to how her family made choices about food, that they were actively making decisions relating to what foods they believed were good and responsible to consume. I think the more we start thinking, actively, about our power as consumers to choose and influence, the better off our world will be. Sure, it can be difficult to eat only local foods. Yes, her family did take their project to somewhat of an extreme. But, I think her story is proof that what initially began as a sacrifice, turned out to be a blessing. Her family built so many good relationships with food producers, they grew much of their own food and enjoyed that process, and they ate DELICIOUSLY for an entire year. How fantastic!
7. How to be Good (Nick Hornby) – I’ve always loved About A Boy, a movie based on a Nick Hornby novel, but I have never read any of his work. This was my first Hornby novel, and I was incredibly satisfied. Nick Hornby was able to create a dark, satirical comedy to which we can all relate on some level. A spouse that does things that drive you crazy, children siding with one parent or another, etc. And all of this is done in a way that makes it difficult to decide which character you agree with, who to support. A great book, and I look forward to reading more by Nick Hornby.
8. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella) – Total and complete crap, but I enjoyed it anyways. A great, super fluffy book to read in the ofuro each night. I will admit, not being a shopaholic myself, I did get tired of the whole shopping part of the book. But, in general, I enjoyed the story.
9. The Choice (Nicholas Sparks) – So, Nicholas Sparks is definitely my guilty pleasure. I have read every, single one of his books. His books have definitely developed a pattern, of sorts. But I do always love them. They always have love, romance, drama, and just enough spice to make it exciting to read. This one was kind of funny, I was reading in bed, nearly 60 pages from the end. I was in the middle of a really sad part of the story, and simply couldn’t stop reading because I knew the happy ending was coming soon. Predictable, yes. But sometimes that’s ok.
10. Freakonomics (Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner) – This book is written by an economist and a journalist. They work together to use economic data to answer interesting questions that, on their face, seem to be unrelated to economics at all. Hence the name, Freakonomics. Some of the questions they answer, including:
What do sumo wrestlers and teachers have in common?
Why do drug dealers live with their moms?
are quite interesting. The data and explanations they use throughout the book are compelling and easy to understand. Although, some are a little more difficult to accept than others. One answer, for example, about the relationship between legalized abortion and the decrease in crime in the 1990’s, are a little more difficult to accept. The data seem good, the explanations seem well thought out, but, yet, it is difficult to completely understand the connection between the two.
All in all, it was an easy, thought-provoking read. The authors do a good job at presenting evidence for their solutions in a way that is easy to follow and understand. I definitely am looking forward to reading the next book.
11. Eragon (Christopher Paolini) – Abandoned. I will admit, I did not get very far in this book. It only took me about 25 pages to realize that there was no way I was going to make it through all 500-some pages of this novel. First, I am not typically attracted to fantasy literature. Second, the writing is quite, shall we say, juvenille. Of course, it was written by a 15-year-old so that is to be expected. In fact, I was partly attracted to this book because it was written by a kid. Third, only 25 pages into it I was having trouble figuring out what was going on. Not usually a good sign. But, ultimately, I knew that I should not bother slogging through this book when I chose to take the newspaper into the bath one night instead. Moving on!
12. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini) – Wow. That is really all I can say about this one. It is a rare book where you are reading it and realize that it has caught you and will not let go. With about 100 pages left in the book I would not allow myself to read in bed last night because I knew that if I started reading it again, I would not stop until it was over, and I simply could not stay up that late. But that is just what I did today. I read the remaining 100 pages in one sitting and I am totally, and completely stunned. This book is everything that Eragon was not. The language was stunning. The story was original and compelling. The characters were well developed. The whole thing was captivating. It was well told and despite being terribly sad and difficult to read at times, it was satisfying to read a book that spoke about love, honor and devotion in a way that I had never read before.
13. The Long Way Down (Nick Hornby) – Abandoned. I made it through about 100 pages of this one, further than I usually get before abandoning a book, and realized that I was bored. The story and the characters simply were not compelling enough for me to want to continue. I found myself picking up other things, magazines and newspapers instead and decided it was better just to get a different book.