Mimi Smartypants: The World According to Mimi Smartypants


Stephen Jay Gould: Rocks of Ages


Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections


Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveller's Wife

Why wasn't this called The Time Traveller and his wife? It didn't seem to be about her so much.

This was well put together and avoided lots of the science bits that might have been annoying. What was annoying (creepy, even) was the wife imprinting on the time traveller at age six and never letting go. Perhaps I should think about this a bit more, but it struck me as foolish and a little wrong. OK, he was all avuncular and stuff, but it feels a little Humbert Humbert-like (and the author admitting that doesn't get her off the hook).

However, I don't know if this would have annoyed me if I hadn't been looking for something that annoyed me. The story is driven forward well and although I saw the way it was going to end up, it wasn't forced at all. There's no denying the craft here, but the core relationship was a little too one sided for my liking.


Charles Dickens: Nicholas Nickleby

This one took me ages to finish. I hated the beginning. I had to remind myself that Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist before getting around to A Tale of Two Cities. As the story unfolded, though, the nastier characters were fleshed out a bit and weren't so one dimensionally drawn.

It ends a bit too neatly and for the first time I felt that there were pointless diversions. Usually everything he does is for a reason and all the various strands are interwoven, but in this there were sub plots that seemed un-necessary. The audio quality was variable for this one too. The levels were all over the place and the reader was a little irritating in spots.

Still, he can turn out a good tale.


Willaim Trevor: The Story of Lucy Gault

I finished this a while back and I was sure I'd written here about it. Oh well. This is a well written story about a girl in limbo. Unfortunately, from this distance, I can't remember much that grabbed me about it. In fact the only thing I can remember is the one bum note struck in the whole thing and that just isn't right. I feel this book deserves more than my shaky recollections of it.


James Fenimore Cooper: The Last of the Mohicans

This book was irritating in some ways. The Indians were inferior and the women gentle. The main character kept insisting that he was no half breed, but pure white, and was arrogant and supercilious. But the book did have its satisfying aspects. Despite knowing what was going to happen (or believing I did -- hadn't I seen the movie?) and the aforementioned annoyances, I continued to listen. So there must have been some appeal (more than Nicholas Nickleby, my current listening).

Don't get me wrong -- I'll no be seeking out the other three frontier books (or whatever they're called), but despite the sometimes cloying portrayal of the women, the ignorant savage depiction of most of the Indians and the overwrought prose, it was oddly enjoyable.


Ian McEwan: Saturday

After Amsterdam I wanted to give up on Mr McEwan, but reviews of Atonement made me relent and now I've read this too. A day in the life of a privileged neurosurgeon. I'm sure there was some sort of clever parallel going on with the guy Mr. Perowne has a slight car accident with and with the impending war on Iraq. Perhaps Baxter is some sort of extended metaphor for Saddam Hussein. I found the introspection about his children more interesting -- but then  I always do, fixated as I am about my relationship with my own kids. This was diverting enough, but not as good as Atonement nor as silly as Amsterdam, thankfully.


Jane Austin: Pride and Prejudice

Like many works of literature, my knowledge of this book is shaped by the movie, and it was sobering for me to discover that a witty and well made movie can deceive you. I have to own that it might have been simplicity on my part, but I really didn't get how flawed Elizabeth is from the movie. The title makes much more sense attached to the book and the proud and prejudiced characters in it are much more evident. I have felt a sort of hankering after the manners of old -- there's something very appealing about the way these people talk -- but after however many hours it was, I felt a little constrained by it all, and longed for a bit of plain speaking.


Michael Cunningham: The Hours

I've seen the movie, so I knew what I was in for, but it's not the sort of thing you should listen to when you're wondering if life is worth living. The use of three days (four if you count Mrs. Dalloway's), extending the conceit (is that the right word) of the original book, is kinda clever, and manages not to be too clever either. I had thought that the hours of the title were the uninspiring ones between now and death, but I'm wondering now if he meant the handful of happy ones we get in each lifetime.


Charles Dickens: Bleak House

Another multi-character, interlaced, soap opera from Mr. Dickens. He's bloody good at it though. You can spot where things are going mostly, but it's not the events so much as the execution that's so enjoyable. The spontaneous combustion thing was a bit of an oddity, as it seems like an over-complicated plot device, and he's usually so concise with stuff -- not with his language, he uses a lot of words -- but with his characters and events; nothing happens that doesn't need to happen. It's a good reading too.


Tolstoy, Maupassant, others...: Totally Amazing and Interesting Short Stories from Long Dead Russian and French Authors

Ok, I may have the title wrong on this one, but I don't care. I struggled through about ten of these before giving up. I liked the Maupassant ones, but that might have been bias as I have read and enjoyed him in the past andI may have been cutting him some slack. The reader is terrible. Avoid, avoid, avoid.


Jonathan Franzen: How To Be Alone

I had this book of articles thrust upon me by a friend on the grounds that she liked the one about smoking. I had heard negative things about The Corrections (although not so much to stop me getting the audible version of it)  so I was put off this a bit. And I was partly right. Some of the articles were about things that I don't consider worthy of print, but other, less introspective things were interesting. I particularly liked the more journalistic feeling article on the Chicago Post Office.

Otherwise, the dissertations on art and the function of literature left me cold. I can see how people can struggle with these sorts of questions, but I don't think they deserve the time. This book isn't even on my reading list!


Graham Swift: Last Orders

Not a whole lot to say about this book, except that I liked it. It switches perspective all the time and after only a few pages and this confused me a bit in the beginning, until I grasped who was who. The relationships between the characters unfold slowly, interestingly, and my initial skepticism that a trip to scatter some ashes could take a whole book proved to be wrong. There's a lot of unfinished business and things worth regretting, but there's respect and comfort too. Despite a certain amount of snide-ness and eye-rolling, the main characters seem to see what's worthy in the others, and understand that most characters are flawed in some way. There are, of course, some relationships built on history and not friendship, but sometimes personal history is a very tight bind.


Ludmilla Ulitskaya: The Funeral Party

The TUS book club selection for January. It was an easy read, I did for it in two evenings and I enjoyed it. The story is centered on Alik, a dying Russian immigrant in New York, but the book seems to use him mostly as a hook to hang the stories of the other characters in his life (mostly women). The attempted coup in Russia makes an appearance half way through, but I didn't see any special significance other than to allow a couple of meaningful remarks between Alik and the daughter of one of his ex-girlfriends.

I did like the chaotic manner of the funeral and wake. It underlined to me that these things are all about those left behind, not the ones who die. An obvious enough point, but well made in this instance.

home Reading List 2004 2003