Monday, May 21, 2012

The Reading List

The semester is over and I lay panting on the floor under a pile of books. The first two semesters I tried to keep up a running review - a once-a-week go-over of my favorites and what they meant to me. But this semester has been more intense, and I've been less online, and here I come to the end with hardly a word said about them.

I'm not sure how many people who read this blog will be interested in these books. It's been a more "literary" semester, one with far more short story collections and less books off the bestselling list. But just in case someone is in need of some titles, here they are:

Short Story Collections:

Refresh, Refresh (Ben Percy)
Night Swimming (Pete Fromm)
Jesus' Son (Denis Johnson)
Ship Fever (Andrea Barrett)
The Pugilist at Rest (Thom Jones)
American Salvage (Bonnie Jo Campbell)
The Fireman's Wife (Richard Bausch)
Where I'm Calling From (Raymond Carver) (ebook)


A Soldier of the Great War (Mark Helprin)
Geek Love (Katherine Dunn)
Run (Ann Patchett)
City of Thieves (David Benioff)
The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway)
In the Lake of the Woods (Tim O'Brien)
Let the Great World Spin (Colum McCann)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran Foer) (ebook)
The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) (ebook)
Animal Farm (George Orwell) (ebook)
The Book Thief (Marcus Zusak) (ebook)


Indian Creek Chronicles (Pete Fromm)
Hooked (Leslie Edgarton)
Writing the Breakout Novel (Donald Maas)

There's not any in here I would not recommend, although I love some more than others.

The Book Thief, if you haven't read it, is a must. Amazing read. My son and I read it together - he for his school and I for mine, and we both were in awe. It's narrated by death, during World War II, in a small town that borders Dachau. So... yeah. Incredible.

If you don't mind a little experimental writing, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is also well worth your time. Even though it takes place in post-9-11 New York City and the narrator is a boy whose father died in the World Trade Center, it is really a story about a boy trying to find answers when there are none, and instead, finding that he isn't alone. Very touching.

If you like memoir, or books about surviving in the wild, Indian Creek Chronicles is a book I will not soon forget. I burned dinners while reading it. I got grumpy when my family demanded things like clean underwear and food. Pete is my advisor this semester, though, so I have both a face and voice to put with the story, and that might have colored my reading some. I also am a huge fan of survivalist memoir. But the writing in this is truly beautiful.

You can't go wrong with anything by Tim O'Brien, and if you haven't read him, you should. He will spoil you for any other war books. 

I found Maas's book to be very basic and simplistic, but good. I don't think there was anything revolutionary for me in it, and it seemed a little overhyped in the idea that if you follow these rules you can become a best-seller, but it's a good beginner primer for writing novels.

Hooked was a little better, although it leaned too heavily on movies, for my tastes. I underlined a ton in it while reading, but a few months later, I can't remember what it was I thought was enlightening. I guess I should go back and look at that again.

I still don't get short stories. I can enjoy them, the way I enjoy a good poem, but I don't get how they work and how they're put together. The entire list of ones I read this semester were brilliant. There wasn't a one on there I didn't like. Fromm's, again, were probably my favorite because they resonated with me the most, but all of the others were also very well written.

So now I'm onto my next semester books. The tentative list is done and turned into school, but I imagine that might change over the semester as this one did.

I know you all read a wide variety of books, very different than the ones I've been reading, so tell me: what are the best books you've read in the past five months?


  1. You know, I've never read Animal Farm. That's one I'd like to get to soon. What did you think of it?

    I like short stories, but rarely go seek them out to read. One that always stuck out to me that I read in high school was titled "The Lottery".


  2. Wow, what a diverse collection--and some of these are quite experimental.

    I've been reading a bit more adult fiction lately, looking for that sweet spot in women's fiction between literary and romance--in other words, strong writing without the go-nowhere, depressing plot. :-)

  3. book(s) in the past five months:

    Two on the writing craft: DESCRIPTION by Monica Wood (really opened my eyes on this particular element)

    STORY ENGINEERING by Larry Woods. This opened up my eyes to how plot really works.

    Pam Jenoff's THE DIPLOMAT'S WIFE was pretty good, set in England just after WW2.
    LOVED Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran.

  4. Wow, that sounds a lot like school work!! Haha! Especially ANIMAL FARM, wow! That takes me back to Freshmen year in high school!! :)

  5. That's quite a collection! I absolutely LOVED The Book Thief. Love it.

  6. Scanned your short story collection, didn't recognize anything.

    Scanned your novels and one title (besides the awesome Hunger Games!) caught my eye: The Book Thief. My daughter LOVES that book. She says its one of her favs. I think I'll have to add it to my ever-growing pile of "to be read" now.

    And I love how you say you don't get short stories, but can appreciate them the way you can appreciate a good poem. I totally relate to that!

  7. The only books I've read from your list is Hunger Games and the book thief, both of which I loved.

    I read A Fault in Our Stars a couple of months ago and that's still been my favorite this year.

    And I'm with you on the short story thing. Not my favorite. By the time you bond with the character, the story is over.