Sunday, January 6, 2008

Books I Read in 2007

Here are the books I read last year, starting from last January. I read a lot of lighter fiction and only one non-fiction book. Usually I mix in more of the classics, biographies, history, and other non-fiction, but last year I really just felt like taking a break from the deeper books and reading whatever struck my fancy. So here are the books and my mini reviews!

1. Bergdorf Blondes by Plum Sykes. It was cute, funny, and smarter than I expected. I like it when books are set in Manhattan, one of my favorite places.

2. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. He is one of my favorite fantasy authors. I first read this book in high school and now I'm finally going to read the rest of the trilogy. This book is really good, though controversial because Pullman injects some of his atheistic beliefs into the books. I'm sure you've heard about this in the news or in your e-mail warning you about the movie, which came out last month. My view is that they are his books and he can write whatever he wants. I'm open to how other people view life and religion and God. So even though I disagree with many of his viewpoints, I wasn't personally offended by the story. At least in the first book (I haven't read the other two yet), it's more of a classic fight between good and evil than anything else. I think he's a brilliant storyteller. I saw the movie last month and it was very good and true to the book.

3. The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus. This was a really fun read and I enjoyed the book very much. It too was set in NYC, which provides such a great backdrop for stories. I made sure to read it before the movie came out. I like reading a book and then watching the movie to see how they compare and to see how closely the movie and characters match what I imagined. I didn't get to see it in the theaters but I have it from Netflix right now and I plan on watching it this week.

4. The Ultimate Career by Daryl Hoole. This was an inspiring, helpful book about homemaking and mothering (the ultimate career). This was the one non-fiction book I read in full all year. I finished it in the spring while I was visiting at Penn...kind of ironic, given that the ultimate career at Penn is anything but homemaking!

5. I Heard That Song Before by Mary Higgins Clark. Another good one by one of my favorite mystery writers. I don't know how she keeps coming up with these unique ideas for stories. I have a small connection to Mary Higgins Clark. An editor of hers guest-lectured at one of my NYU classes a few years ago. She actually mentions this editor, Gypsy da Silva, in her Acknowledgments section in almost all of her books. Gypsy and my instructor were co-workers and friends, and I still have their contact information. Pretty cool! I would love to copyedit her manuscripts. She's great, but she could use some fresh ideas....such as, it's not called a "pocketbook" anymore, it's a "purse," and it's no longer a "carriage" but a "stroller." Using the former terms is such an anachronism and it's jarring to read since her books are set in the present. I really think I could help her books be even better by fixing things like that. Think Simon & Schuster will hire me? Nope--I've already tried!

6. The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud. I didn't realize until I started reading it that this is a book involving 9/11. I'd never read a 9/11 novel before, so that was new. This book got a lot of acclaim, but I didn't like it very much. I found it to be depressing and in the end a little bit pointless. I'm not really into dark reads, unless they're murder mysteries or something fun like that.

7. The Big Love by Sarah Dunn. She's a Penn alumni like me and it's set in Philadelphia, a city that I know and love. She's a really good writer--very funny and witty. The story was pretty good. It was a fast, fun read. It has an ex-Mormon character in it who is very much an ex-Mormon in her lifestyle choices. I always find it interesting when writers use Mormonism in their books. It's usually not overly positive, but sometimes they're right on target. It was mostly fine here. (Although now that I think about it, I do remember reading something and wanting to e-mail Sarah Dunn to say, "Hey, that's not true! This is what we really believe!")

8. The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler. This is another one that I wanted to read before the movie came out. (It seems that a lot of movies from books I read or wanted to read came out in 2007.) I'd heard of this book because it's been popular ever since it was published a few years ago, and since I'm a Jane Austen fan, I wanted to read it. It turned out to be just okay. I didn't love it. I didn't see it aligning all that much with Jane Austen and her novels. I wouldn't read it again, but I still want to see the movie. Maybe it will add some insights that I might have missed.

9. Sleeping with Schubert by Bonnie Marson. The best book that I read this year! One of my favorites of all time! The characters, writing, and storyline were so clever and creative. I was sad when this book was over--I really wanted it to keep on going. It was excellent. It was funny. It was touching. I highly recommend it. It's about a 30-something New York City woman who inexplicably becomes inhabited by the spirit of the great composer Franz Schubert. It's so good!

10. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Oh. my. gosh. This book was so good. I found myself thinking about it a lot during the day while I was reading it because it was so compelling and suspenseful. It came out in 2005 when John was a baby and it was a big New York Times bestseller. Now I can see why. It's an amazing book, especially since this is Kostova's first. She worked on it for ten years. She went to Yale and is extremely knowledgeable about history and European culture and geography and everything like that. I feel like I've been to many different parts of Europe after reading this book, that's how vivid her writing is. It makes you feel like you're there. The story itself is a compelling historical mystery about the legend of Dracula, which came about from a real person in history, Vlad Tepes, a 15th-century tyrannical ruler who lived in Transylvania (Romania) and fought against the invading Ottoman Empire. He was one bad dude and the legend of Dracula comes from him. The book is set in different decades, ending in 2008. I totally loved this book, and I hope Kostova will come out with another book soon.

I'm looking forward to reading more good books this year. Reading is one of my greatest pleasures in life. I think what I'll do is write a book review each time I finish a book, instead of doing a big long list like this at year's end. I haven't decided yet if I will return to my old habits of rotating through different genres during the year or if I'll have another "whatever floats my boat" kind of year, although I'm leaning more towards the latter.


Anonymous said...

I love that you're recording the books you've read. Do you remember the book I gave you as a child "My Book about Books" I want to borrow the 2 you said you really liked, "the Historian" and one other. I read so much it's hard to tell the plot without someone prodding my memory.

Donna said...

Yes, I still have "My Book About Books," and even though it's meant more for a child, I still sometimes write about my favorite books in it. It's a great little book journal. You can borrow "The Historian" and "Sleeping with Schubert." I think you'll really like them.

Alyson said...

I like your list. I had a really bad reading year in 2007. I'm not sure why. I usually read constantly, but it sort of fell off last year. It must have been that things have gotten more crazy as the kids have gotten older. Anyway, I hate that I didn't have as much time, so I'm going to try to make more time this year.

I won't let my children go see "The Golden Compass" at te theater because I fear the children's film market will lose some of its push for morality (it's already been going downhill) if the film industry realizes that they don't need to teach good things to kids to make money (I would probably let them see it if one of their friends already owned it because then we wouldn't be spending money on it. Does that make sense or do I sound insane? I know, it's weird logic.) However, I would let my children read the books if they wanted. I think the difference to me is the written word. I don't like the idea of banning books. Brooke told me that they are supposed to read The Golden Compass in 7th grade and that Liana Sowa is getting a note from her mom so that she doesn't have to read it. She asked me if I was going to do the same. I said that I wouldn't do that. I don't want her to be closed minded and not expose herself to other ideas. It's not like the book is R-rated. It just happens to be written by a person who thinks differently.

Oh, and I was looking at The Historian at Barnes and Noble and considering it, but didn't get it. Now that you've recommended it, I'll go back and get it. You can get it for around $3 as a Barnes and Noble bargin book.

Alyson said...

I'm afraid I didn't express myself well in my last comment. I sound very contradictory and I see that, but I'm not sure how to explain what I mean. I put the movie industry and publishing industry into totally different catagories. I don't know if that's a good thing or not, but I've always felt that the movie industry is more fickle and greedy. I don't know if that's a correct view. Also, watching a movie is more mindless than taking the time to read a book. So, I see boycotting a movie in totally different terms than boycotting a book. Also, I'm more apt to boycott a movie on my children's behalf than on my behalf. I, myself, would see the movie with no reservations. Anyway, if my children were interested in reading the books and we could have a discussion about the ideas and what my children think about what they've read, I would have no problem with that. They need to be exposed to different viewpoints and gain the skills to think things through.

Katie said...

Some interesting books on your list, Donna! Of those, the only one I've read is the Golden Compass, which I really enjoyed. I really didn't like the two sequels, however.

I'm also not going to see the movie and I'm not planning on letting Josh watch it. Philip Pullman has just said some interesting things with respect to his beliefs, his reasons for making the movies, and his reasons for writing the books. Although I (as an adult) can obviously dissimilate between someone else's beliefs and my own, I don't believe children can. I don't like that he is essentially the Atheist Prophet, and I would prefer not to see any of my money make its way into his hands (I borrowed the book from the library).

Do I think that such books should be banned? Absolutely not. But I do think its important that they are discussed, thoroughly, with the children who read them.

I sometimes wonder how Mr. Pullman is going to feel when he dies and goes before the Judgment seat ("Oh, crap. I really screwed up this one...")

Anyway, I started Nanny Diaries but didn't finish it b/c of some of the sensual references. I will have to read some of those other books on your list!

Have you read the book Austenland by Shannon Hale? I think you'd really like it.

Donna said...

I don't know why I don't feel more strongly about Pullman's books and the movie like you guys do. You would think I would, and I totally see where you're coming from. For some reason it just doesn't bother me that much and I think it will all end up to be pretty harmless in the end. I'll let John read the book and watch the movie when he's old enough if he wants to, and we'll talk about how people believe different things and why and good things like that.

I remember reading a big article about Philip Pullman in the New York Times in college and I felt bad for him because he seemed kind of depressed (I might be too if I had such bleak beliefs) and he said he faces a lot of discrimination for what he believes. That is something I feel like I can identify with as a Mormon. If I wrote a book in which my beliefs were central to the story, I wouldn't want people to reject it on that basis alone just because they disagree with my beliefs.
I meant to write a post about the whole controversy last month when the movie came out. Anyway, I know I'm not even touching on things like how it can affect children, but that's how I feel in a nutshell.

Donna said...

Katie, the sensual stuff in The Nanny Diaries is why I liked it so much. Ha ha! Just joking. I didn't think there was too much of that, but I do remember that there was some, but not enough for me to stop reading it.

I have Austenland and I'm going to read it this year. I know I'll love it and I'm excited to read it!

Alyson said...

What you said about Pullman makes sense. We shouldn't discriminate someone for their beliefs since we so often are. I think it's so important to be open-minded and respect what someone believes. However, I wouldn't want to further someone's cause if I think it's evil. Having said that, I have never read the books and don't know how much of his beliefs he makes clear in them. I've heard that the first one is much more harmless and his atheist beliefs become more apparent as the series progresses. That's what scares me about the idea of more films being made.

Also, children are impressionable and I think it's probably best to wait until they're older children to let them read things that could possibly shake or question their faith. I don't have a problem with Brooke reading The Golden Compass with her 7th grade class. I believe that's old enough for her to have enough confidence in her beliefs.

On another note, I thought it was funny that you said the reason you liked Nanny Diaries was because of the sensual stuff (even if you were joking). I don't mind that stuff generally. My grandma used to let me borrow her books when I was a teenager and I remember being shocked at some of the sex scenes my grandma was reading! My mom and I would laugh about that.

Donna said...

It's funny you said that because my Grandma in Mass. reads books like that too and my mother and I were just laughing about that last week, because she's so docile and you'd never think she was reading some of the stuff she does!

And I agree with what you said about kids and about Pullman. I'm pretty sure this trilogy was written for older children. Younger ones wouldn't really get it. I'm finishing up the books now (I'm still in the middle of the second one) so I'll write about it when I'm done. It's a good story and I've been enjoying it, so we'll see if that lasts! Peter and Katie didn't like the second and third ones as much.