Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 Book Review

This year I participated in a reading challenge on a message board I frequent. Our challenge this year was to read 20,100 pages. I don’t think anyone actually completed the challenge, which seemed totally do-able to me back in March but right now seems like a slightly insane goal for someone with a small child, a job, and a sewing gig on the side. I’m just past 17,000 pages so far, but I don’t think there’s any way I’ll catch up before the year is over. *shrug* Eh, there’s always next year!

Anyhow, as a result of participating in the challenge I actually kept pretty good track of what I read this year, and I’ve pulled out my favorite ten to give short reviews on. These aren’t listed in any particular order, so the ones at the bottom are as good ast he ones at the top!

My 10 Best Reads of 2010

Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity From a Consumer Culture
By: Shannon Hayes
I loved this book so much I bought 3 copies to pass around. Radical Homemakers is divided into two sections, one about (for lack of a better term), the fall and rise of homemaking, and one that details the lives of several radical homemakers. Hayes does an excellent job of describing the shift from American households as units of production to that of consumption and states her case for why she believes that reclaiming our homes as units of production is key to helping us straighten out the modern mess we’ve found ourselves in (Obesity, anyone? Environmental destruction? Maybe a little consumerism?).

While I personally don’t think I’ll go to some of the lengths she describes in this book, it was very affirming to find that I’m not the only weirdo out there, doing things like making yogurt in my crockpot, canning from my garden, sewing my own diapers, or bartering for goods and services. Overall, a fantastic and inspiring read.

The Book Thief
By: Markus Zusak
“I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that’s where they begin. Their great skill is their capacity to escalate.”

I am still trying to figure out who recommended this book to me! Either way, it was excellent. The Book Thief is narrated by Death (as a character) during Nazi Germany. While collecting souls, Death continually sees one particular little girl, a book thief, whose story we learn throughout the book. This is the kind of book that has both deep subtexts and a can’t-put-it-down-cause-I-gotta-know-what-happens plot with characters you can’t help but love. One of my favorite reads of the year.

Bodies In Motion And At Rest
By: Thomas Lynch
“The hypochondriac is therefore a hopeless case, whose illness (the fear of sickness and of death) is most often cured by sickness and death. ‘I told you so’ seems the haunting subtext of their funerals.”

I simply adore Thomas Lynch. As a poet and undertaker who isn’t actually all that far away (Michigan, I believe), he always makes the most unique and interesting observations about the human condition. His writing style is witty and humorous, which makes some of the topics he deals with every day much more bearable. Bodies In Motion And At Rest is a series of essays including observations about life, death, religion, the funeral industry, divorce, raising children, and, quite possibly my favorite, a hilarious poem about his fuming hatred for his son’s beloved cat, which begins, “One of these days she will lie there and be dead”.

In addition to this book, I also highly recommend Lynch’s other collection of essays, titled “The Undertaking”.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter
By: Seth Grahame-Smith
This book is hilarious! It reads as a biography of Abraham Lincoln, written after Lincoln’s “secret diaries” were bestowed on the author, and details the turn his life made toward vampire hunting after his mother’s death was caused by a vampire bite. The book follows the remainder of Lincoln’s life, describing factual events but attributing them to things related to vampire hunting. Loved it!

Juliet, Naked
By: Nick Hornby
I was surprised by how good this book was. I’ve always enjoyed Nick Hornby, but never like this. An aging former rock star, a devoted fan, and his inwardly lonely girlfriend all must sort out how to cope when the album Juliet, Naked is released. The album is essentially a demo version of Juliet, a prior album that an online community of fans have idolized. I love the way Hornby used the internet to fuel the events that take place in this book. There’s something about it that makes it feel like it is ours – our generation’s book, that is taking place in our generation’s world, and in our generation’s reality. The characters are lovable and all desperately flawed – which I suspect makes them all the more lovable. The story is meaningful in small ways - it isn’t going to change your life, but it does give you some things to think about and was also overall a pretty feel-good book.

The Twilight Series
By: Stephanie Meyer
So, not exactly one book, but a very good series. I initially started reading Twilight when I was pregnant with Norah and was put off by how ‘young adult’ it seemed (Erm... maybe because its a young adult book?). I, incidentally, went into labor the day I started the book and never picked it back up until late this year. But once I got started again, I couldn’t stop reading. I think once I accepted that it was going to be light reading and what I would call ‘fluff’, I got over myself and was able to just enjoy it. The romance in the story is nearly ridiculous and sickly-sweet at times, but still fun to read. It was also fun to see what vampire/werewolf ‘rules’ and legends came about in the story. A super quick and easy read, and it’s pretty fun.

The Things That Keep Us Here
By: Carla Buckley
This novel is the story of one family’s struggle for survival when bird flu becomes a pandemic of massive proportions. When I picked this up, I was prepared for disaster, The Stand style. This is not The Stand. By concentrating heavily on one family and their struggle for survival, the story became real in ways that were truly distressing. Imagine your dying neighbor leaving her baby at your doorstop and fighting amongst yourselves about whether to bring him in because you don’t know if he’s sick… and if he is, at least half of you will likely die with him. This is not a fun read, but it is a good read, if you can dig the difference. It’s a powerful look at humanity and what comes out in us when we’re forced into dire circumstances.

Fast Food Nation
By: Eric Schlosser
I don’t think I will ever eat at McDonald’s again. Even if I could stomach what I now know is in the food, my conscious won’t let me give them my money after Schlosser detailed the unethical business practices designed to oppress both employees and franchise owners. Fast Food Nation examines a variety of fast food chain practices, as well as food processing practices in America. This book particularly focused on the meat packing industry and the potato industry. Schlosser’s witty writing style made the grim news easier to read, but not necessarily easier to digest (pun definitely intended). A must read for anyone concerned about the food industry. Paired with Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (which closely examines the corn processing industry, among others), you will learn everything you ever wanted to know about fast food and processed food (except what the food companies refused to tell the authors, which is interesting in itself).

Water For Elephants
By: Sara Gruen
After his parents are killed in an auto accident one week before he’s scheduled to sit for his veterinary exam, Jacob Jankowski finds himself quite accidentally running away to join the circus. He eventually finds himself in charge of treating the animals in the circus, and in the middle of a love affair destined for disaster. It’s written mostly as a period circus piece, which I loved, and has an intriguing plot with characters that you’re rooting for desperately right up until the end. I don’t know that there was anything particularly deep or meaningful, but I really enjoyed this novel.

Full Dark, No Stars
By: Stephen King
Un-put-down-able. I finished this book in a day and a half, which for the pre-child me may not have said much, but for the mommy-Heather, is saying quite a lot. Four novellas show ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and leave you wondering…. now, what would I have done? In typical King fashion, he captures what is truly scary…. us.

And there you have it - my ten best reads of 2010.  I hope you enjoy!  And if you should happen to read any of these, please let me know what you thought!

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