Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Reminded me of Great Expectations, except I liked it. Epic soap opera, elegant writing. Franzen is the master of turning everyday occurrences into a gripping dissection of  life in general. Walter and Patty seem like your average liberal couple, but they’re anything but. Patty’s an ex-jock who gets a rash thinking about politics, and Walter is a smug environmental activist. She’s been pining for his best friend, a talented, underrated musician, since college. Does she scratch the itch? Can their marriage survive? Read, please.

Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris
I’m two books in, but they are every bit as good as the TV series, and just as much of a guilty pleasure. Like a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup. Not high-brow, but definitely satisfying.

The Girl who …. by Stieg Larsson
I ripped through these babies like a law-school student on crack. I would read until the book fell onto my nose, roll over, turn off the lights, log in six hours and pick it up again. The writing is less than elegant (translations always seem stilted), but man, does the plot make up for it.

Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk
Strange, scathing and wonderful. An indictment of religion, kind of. An indictment of the media machine, definitely. Wicked storytelling that kept me reading although I already knew the ending. The last survivor of a religious cult ends up being a media superstar, and the whole thing is like watching a plane crash. Oh, wait, the plane does crash …

The Lovely Bones by Alice Seabold
Riveting. Sad. Good idea, carried out to pretty good effect. Dead girl, pining for people to solve the mystery of her murder.

Rules by Cynthia Lord
I figured as long as I was on a youth novel, I might as well read another. A pre-teen girl deals with having an autistic brother by making lists of rules for him to follow. “No Toys in the Fish Tank.”  “Late doesn’t mean not coming.” Useful stuff that the rest of us figure out on our own, but her brother needs some help with. Sweet book. Forcing Myles to read it — it’s for his own good!

The Wild Things by Dave Eggers
It’s covered with fur! And it’s a sweet fleshing out of the children’s book that is apparently somewhat different from the movie, which I have not yet seen. I thought it stayed true to Maurice Sendak’s original sentiment, but gave the story enough new details to keep me reading. I am pushing for Myles to read it, because I think it’s something he’ll really like.

Cleaving by Julie Powell
I have to admit, on a voyeuristic level, I enjoyed parts of this as I was reading it. But, upon reflection, it is disturbing and irritating at its core. Julie, of Julie and Julia fame, goes whoring around on her wonderful husband. Oh, and she apprentices with a butcher shop. She’s a good writer, but reflecting on a shitstorm like this just after it happened is impossible. She couldn’t have, and didn’t, bring the depth required by a decent memoir. And I kind of didn’t like her after the book. Which wasn’t necessary for me to like it, but didn’t do much to keep me from putting it in the “dislike” column.

My Life in France by Julia Child
Oooh! I loved this book! Who knew Julia Child was so lovable? So affable, so sunny, but so … real? I still don’t want to eat aspic, but I really appreciated the depth of details about this defining period in her life. And now I really want to go to France.

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
As usual, I’m late to this party. But after watching the movie, I thought I should give the book a try. The book was better, of course, at telling the Julie side of things. (My Life in France is also waiting for me to dig into so that I can read the Julia part.) I prefer the profane, chubby Julie in the book to the skinny, princessy Julie in the movie. Cooking all the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking was a good idea. At first, I wished I had thought of it. Then I read the book and am really glad I didn’t. All I can say about that is, aspic. Bleck. Decent memoir, though.

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
Everyone said “read this!” and I did. It was clever, but the plot fell apart somewhere. I finished it, but it was just OK. Funny office banter, culture of layoffs, etc. Entertaining, but no real substance, though I think he wanted it to have substance. Or maybe he meant for it to be shallow and empty, like so many of its characters. Which would be ironic. But I still wouldn’t like it all that much.

I See You Everywhere by Julia Glass
I liked this, though not as much as Glass’ two other novels. I felt like there wasn’t enough evidence to support the main plot twist. I don’t want to give away what that is … but it was a good yarn for the most part. Interesting look at sisters who are friends and enemies at the same time.

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
Wow. This might be better than ‘What is the What.’  Amazing story, told with little senitmentality. Provokes outrage. Want to be pissed off at your government? Read it. Read it anyway. It’s awesome. (If you must know what it’s about, it’s one man’s collision with Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Just read it.)

Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison
Hiliarious memoir by a man with Asperger’s who didn’t know he had it until he was in his 40s. An unapologetic look at the world through his eyes — a world that often doesn’t make any sense to someone so logical. Small talk, for instance, is something it took him a lifetime to learn. (Why talk about something if it’s not important?) He’s a successful guy with a family, which is hopeful when we’re dealing with a 3-year-old and trying to imagine his future. I’d recommend this one even if you don’t know someone with Autism, though. It’s funny and enlightening.

The Brief, Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
I am still thinking about this book. It’s brilliant. The way the story unfolds (no spoilers here) is nothing short of breathtaking. I even loved the footnotes (though some were too long). It’s an amazing weaving of history and storytelling, and Diaz’s voice is unforgettable. I want to read it again.

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Boy, howdy is this a memoir! I really was prepared not to like it but felt like everyone has read it so I should. There’s a reason everyone has read it. It’s good. McCourt looks at his um, less-than-fortunate, childhood with a charming sense of humor. He wrote it when he was in his 60s, and I couldn’t help but be amazed at the details he could recall from his earliest childhood. So vivid and full of life.

10 Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew by Ellen Notbohm
I love this book for its attempt to show me the world through Simon’s eyes. He’s a person, and things are more difficult for him, and it’s my job to help him. And understand him. And every person who interacts with someone with Autism should read this. It made me cry several times.

B is for Beer by Tom Robbins
There is a beer fairy. Need I say more? Oh, everyone’s a critic and it’s a stupid book — whatever. Don’t read it if you’re expecting a great piece of literature. It’s a kids’ book for adults (and the other way around), Robbins says, and that’s just how it reads. And there’s a beer fairy! (And I have a signed copy!)

Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman
I do not understand why Ayelet Waldman is such a lightning rod for controversy. She loves her children. She loves her husband. She writes with a raw intensity I admire, especially when it comes to defending her family’s lifestyle. Which, by the way (except for all the money they have), is very similar to how Ed and I live ours. We are equal partners. When one of us runs out of gas, the other takes over. Ayelet is of the opinion that too many mothers are bound and determined to “do it all” at the expense of themselves and their marriages. I agree. My house is a disaster most of the time. I sometimes let my kids watch too much TV. I yell at my kids. I often give up and make them chicken nuggets instead of forcing them to eat a healthy, balanced meal. Am I a “bad mother?” I don’t think so. Neither is she, and neither are most of us. Yet we judge each other like crazy. As Ayelet says, “Can’t we just try to give ourselves and each other a break?”

It Sucked and Then I Cried by Heather Armstrong
Let’s be clear about this before I begin: I am not a Dooce hater. In fact, I love her blog and I think the haters can suck it and not read it if they don’t like it. That said, I was a wee bit disappointed with this one. Most of it I had read before on the blog — I was hoping for more. Her personality quirks, which are understood by those of us who read her already, might be a bit jarring to a new reader, especially because some of them are thrown out there without much explanation.  But it was very entertaining (just like her blog), and I finished it in a few sittings.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Maybe it’s the place I’m in right now, but I am reading to escape. And visiting the dark, dreary post-nuke world herein was far too depressing. I never, ever do this, but I quit. I was in the doctor’s office, waiting for an appointment, reading it, feeling my mood darken, and I shut the book. I won’t open it again. It’s beautifully written, but I can’t take it.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
My cat died today. I needed to lose myself in a book. This one worked nicely — the most lovely parts are the bond between Jacob and the animals, especially the elephant. I love books about the circus, especially this one: I Wonder When You’ll miss me. I’m not sure that this one was better than that, but it was readable and had a decent, though predictable plot.

Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Oh, go ahead, judge me. I’m judging myself. And I cried, too. I’m squarely blaming my mother-in-law, who left it on my dining room table.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Testosterone in the kitchen! Look out! Really, I love Anthony Bourdain, and his show is some of the best entertainment on TV. Though I like his voice and I don’t really think he was exaggerating, it did stop being at all shocking anymore after a point. There are only so many descriptions of drug-induced mayhem and sperm on cooks’ shoes that you can read before you start to say, “Yeah, yeah. Tell me something I haven’t heard before.” And I don’t think his experiences necessarily apply to very many kitchens, which he acknowledges in an afterword. New York City is a cooking culture all its own. There was no real structure to the book — it felt more like a collection of essays than a coherent memoir. All that said, a good read if you take it with a grain of salt and aren’t offended by how MANLY the whole thing is. And don’t expect to be hungry after reading it.

Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
Um, snooze? I skipped over whole paragraphs, which is very unlike me. It took seriously forever for this book to end. I guess I wasn’t really that invested in most of the characters and by the time I found out if they got together, I didn’t care anymore. Old-fashioned love stories are just not my thing apparently. Honestly, I can’t recommend this one.

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman
OK, Michael (Chabon), I cheated on you. I read this book in just a few days when yours sits unopened for the past month. But at least it was with your wife.
I’d been dying to know what kind of novelist Aylet Waldman is, ever since I discovered her now-defunct blog last year. It was funny and open and raw and just the kind of blog I like to read. This book did not disappoint. Though a bit chick-lit for most of the guys I know, I thought it was a thoughtful portrayal of a woman grieving the loss of a newborn baby. I loved the way she wove Central Park into the story as if it were its own character, and the stepson she’s having a hard time relating to is a brand of precocious I know all too well.

Four Letters of Love by Niall Williams
The perfect book to read while I was in Ireland (thanks, John!). It captures the beauty of the landscape and the hardy, spiritual nature of its people perfectly. Full of unapologetic metaphor, it’s an old-fashioned book without the difficult, flowery language. It’s a book that believes in God and love, and yet, it’s never cheesy. It’s a love story that unfolds like a mystery. It’s great.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
Just started, but so amazed already by his use of language. He is seriously a god. And it seems like it’s going to be another great tale. UPDATE: It is great! I kept thinking about how good the movie should be. Which is not usually something I think about when I’m reading a book, especially a good one, but the dialogue and characters are so vibrant … well, I’m sure I’ll be disappointed, as I almost always am by movies about books. But the Coen brothers are doing it, so I can still hope. Anyway, it’s a traditional detective story executed with completely unconventional methods. Chabon creates an alternate history that is believable and yet outrageous at the same time. And I don’t want to give away even the slightest bit of it. Just read it. Go. Now.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
I stayed up until 2 in the a.m. the other day to properly savor the last chapter. It was a good book — there were a few little things that bothered me, though. I thought she stretched it a bit with the numerology, and it was weird when she kept deciding things were her fate because of the letters they started with. But beyond that, it was a book that made me think about my own spiritual journey. I’m guessing I’ll have to make one someday. Ed pointed out that this makes me not agnostic. Fine. I guess I’m not. I think there’s something out there, I just think Chistianity got it all wrong. God, or whatever you want to call it, is within each of us. We are capable of reaching another plane, or level, and whether that is God or not, well, that’s for you to decide. And me. And I don’t want you telling me what I should believe. It’s personal. So there.

Searching for Caleb by Anne Tyler
I couldn’t stop at just one. Now I have really exhausted my stock. (Panic.) But I’m not sorry, no I’m not. This is such a sad, sweet tale it took my breath away in several parts. I don’t know how she convinces me that she knows what such a breadth of characters are thinking, but she does it. And with one sentence, she has me smelling, feeling, seeing a scene, knowing just what it is like to be there, in the world she has created.

“Everything was bare, scraped and smudged by the past — four bald spots on the linoleum where the table had once stood, and dimples where Duncan had tipped back in his chair, scorches and chips on the countertop, the uncurtained window filmed with cooking grease, the rickety wooden shelves empty but still bearing rings of molasses and catsup.”

What’s the plot? Does it matter? Well, in a nutshell, a really old man goes searching for his brother, who walked out of his family home with nothing but a simple wave 60 years before. The book is about regrets, longing, family and what home means.

If Morning Ever Comes by Anne Tyler
Slurp. I devoured this book. It was just what I needed. Long ago, when I discovered Anne Tyler — a friend loaned me Breathing Lessons — I went on a bender. Read nothing but her books for a few months. Then I got panicky because I was almost out. So I bought the ones I hadn’t read and squirreled them away for an emergency situation. And promptly forgot about them until I discovered this one in the basement. But I think it was meant to be. It has a perfect, simple plot and loveable characters. She’s a wonderful writer. I’d give my right pinky finger to be a sliver as talented as she is.

Population: 485 by Michael Perry
I’m usually not a non-fiction girl, and I think I need to get off of this train for a little while, because this book is annoying me. What’s the point? Does he have one? Also, I feel like this is a book written by a boy, for a boy. But I’m soldiering on, and then I swear I’m picking up some fiction. For the record, the book is about a guy who goes back to his small hometown in Wisconsin and volunteers on the firefighting squad. His snapshots of smalltown Wisconsin are mostly dead-on, and I like his narrative style. I just want a PLOT. I’ll update when I finish it.
Update: Done. It was good, but ultimately unsatisfying. I wanted more juicy details. It’s hard to get invested in characters when you don’t know their personal relationships, fears and backgrounds. I know it’s a fine line to walk, especially when you live in a small town and everyone you know is going to read the book, but that kind of detail is what made Candy Girl score a “great” and this book only an “OK” on my book scale.

Candy Girl by Diablo Cody
Blisteringly funny — I read this book in a little more than 24 hours. At times it felt like I was in the carpeted bathtub at the library reading dirty romance novels with my girlfriends. (In fourth grade, that seemed like the best use of a summer afternoon.) I love Cody’s eye for disgusting detail. I love the way she never apologizes for showing off her boobs. And I can’t wait to see Juno. You go, girl.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Yeah, yeah, I’m behind the times. I’ve meant to read this one for a long time and figured I better before Ed, who is obsessed with the book, wants to see the movie. Anyway, I was transfixed by this stupid kid, who reminds me of so many of the young men with whom I kept company during my late teens and early twenties. I was struck by his absolute naivete and sense of invincibility. I did a lot of stupid things when I was that age, and I understand the sense of bravado that comes with new freedom, especially when you’re a free spirit fleeing strict, overbearing parents. But it was the level of his ignorance — and his flat-out stupid insistence that being prepared is akin to living in civilization — that I didn’t get. But I still liked the book.

The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn
A slightly wordy but mostly fascinating account of this guy’s search for relatives that were killed in the Holocaust. Really just getting into it. I’ll keep you posted on whether it’s worth the effort.

Update: TOO MANY WORDS. The editor in me is going crazy. But the story is still intriguing, so though I am skipping all the Bible (oops, I mean Torah) passages, I’m slogging on. But it’s sloooow going.

DONE!! I finished it. Finally. Almost three months later. It was good, but I don’t know if I recommend it unless you’re Jewish or quazi-obsessed with Jewishness the way I am.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Comic relief! I can hear his whiny, girly-man voice in my head, describing his dysfunctional family. I like to read it at the gym so all the old ladies on the treadmills can stare at my while I laugh at his attraction to his midget guitar teacher or his descriptions of his foulmouthed brother “The Rooster.” If only they knew what I was reading!

What is the What by Dave Eggers
Ok, so I already read this one. I’m cheating. But I love to promote it any chance I get. Read about a lost boy of Sudan’s life through the eyes of Dave Eggers. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll care about something most of us have glazed over. One of the most important books out there and such a goddamn gripping tale you won’t regret it, I promise. Also, he gives every penny of proceeds from the book to help the people of Sudan. So buy it.

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