2011 Reading List: Second Half

It’s close enough to the end of the year that I feel confident posting this now (before I forget). The first half of the year can be found here.

The Lower Depths and Other Plays by Maxim Gorky

I have long been a fan of both film adaptations of this play by Jean Renoir and Akira Kurosawa. After reading the play, I love them even more.  I think both of them did a superlative job adapting this play. I’m not usually a big fan of reading plays, mostly because you miss a lot of the guts. Even though the dialog is all there, you’re missing the narrative bit. That said, Gorky is worth a read. Also in this book are the plays Enemies and The Zykovs. Personally, I think the play Enemies is even better than The Lower Depths and I prefer both film versions by Renoir and Kurosawa to the play itself.

Real World by Natsuo Kirino

This was my second book by Kirino. I read Out last year, which I discussed in last year’s book post. Like Out, Real World has a pulp quality to it. It’s not especially intricately written nor is the story overly complex. This story has several different first-person narrators, each with their own chapter. Writing this now, that’s pretty much all I can remember about it. For what it’s worth, Real World wasn’t as enjoyable as Out and that book was barely worth recommending. It’s a decent enough, quick and dirty book. It’s good airport reading for when you want something to occupy you, but don’t want anything too heavy.

The Unknown Soldier by Väinö Linna.

This book, like everything else I’ve ever read by Linna, is great. If you’re interested at all in The Continuation War between the Soviet Union and Finland during WWII, this is your book. Even if you’re not, this makes for excellent reading anyway. It follows a plucky group of Finnish soldiers from training camp through their ultimate defeat. It’s both sad and funny with that typical dry Finnish wit. You come to really love all of the characters and feel everything they feel. Well done. I wish they’d translate more Finnish lit into English.

Martha Washington by Frank Miller

Frank Miller is hit and miss with me. Some of his stuff is great (Sin City), while I’m not so fond of other books (Ronin). Martha Washington tends to falls towards the “great” category, but not necessarily squarely in it. There’s a foreword here that talks about how much Frank Miller and everyone else who worked on this really loves this character. I can see why. Martha Washington is a badass. I read the big, fat compendium of all the Martha Washington stories and it’s definitely worth a read.

Bone Palace Ballet by Charles Bukowski.

Another compilation of Bukowski poetry that I’ve owned for a while, but hadn’t gotten around to reading yet. This one has some highs and lows like the rest of them. Most of it was written when he was older. I tend to prefer his older writings. They contain a sense of perspective and sagacity that is sometimes missing in his early writing. Still, as far as his later poetry books go, this one still falls below Septuagenarian Stew. I’ve linked above to Harper Collins, who is now publishing his works, but my copy is Black Sparrow (Not that I guess that makes any difference, but I’m trying to be as accurate as possible about the books I read… and to gloat. Definitely gloating. na na na na na).

Apathy And Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan

This is funny stuff. A lot of times, when I see “funny” on the cover of a book, I brace myself for disappointment (see all of my previous book posts). It seems that a lot of writers and reviewers don’t have a sense of humor that even remotely resembles mine. Neilan does. Neilan could be my brother or my drinking buddy or my drinking bother. He’s droll, clever and he can write. He even has tangential paragraphs like I do that lead nowhere really except to a laugh. I hope he’s working on another book since this is his first. Read it. It’s short. It’s good. I liked it.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

I’d like to say that this is an interesting first-person reflection of one very uptight butler’s obliviousness to his employers Nazi tendencies and that the housekeeper is throwing her vagina at him to no avail, but interesting doesn’t really apply. I’m more inclined to use adjectives like tedious, lengthy, frustrating, annoying and boring, with minute and sporadic moments of real insight. I get it; I just don’t like it very much. I haven’t seen the movie in a thousand years, but it’s got to be better than this. Maybe? Perhaps I’m being unfair. Perhaps this book just isn’t my cup of tea, but it was a struggle to finish this.

Drinking, Smoking and Screwing: Great Writers on Good Times by various authors

I bought this book, because, well, because look at that cover. Three of my favorite things together at last and some of my favorite authors are in here as well. I started this book a thousand years ago and never finished it. Then I ran out of things on my “to be read” pile, so I started from the beginning again. Now I know why I never finished it. The problem with this book is that it’s all shorts. That’s fine, if the original stories are shorts, but for the most part, they’re not. The editor just ripped out snippets from longer works. For instance, Bukowski wrote a ton of shorts that would be perfect for this book. What did they use instead? An except from the full-length novel, Women. And he’s not the only one who got the clipped treatment either, so when you’re reading something from this book, you feel like you’re not getting the full story. Because of the format, when they’re all noshed up together like this, it reads as clinical and didactic. I really wonder how it’s possible that such titillating subject matter could teeter on boring, but this book managed it. There are some good authors in here that are enjoyable to read, but all told, you’d be better off just reading the source material from whence the excerpts came.

The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

I asked for book recommendations from everyone, even you, and one of my friends asked me if I had read this. He told me I should just kill myself now because I hadn’t and “you can’t really consider yourself well read if you haven’t read this book.” As an alternative to suicide, he handed me a copy of it. I dropped whatever I was reading and read it straight away so that I might continue to live. After reading it, I’d have to agree with my homicidal friend that you can’t really consider yourself a comic book geek until you’ve read it. Miller makes Batman interesting and I wasn’t even sure that was possible before.

Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore

And while I was on Batman, the same friend handed this book to me. While Miller is hit or miss, I love the hell out of Alan Moore, and in this book, he makes The Joker super, hella awesome. I’ve never been into superhero comics, which is why I’d never read The Dark Knight. I prefer comics like The Walking Dead or Transmetropolitan. True Batman aficionados will probably yell at me for saying this, but I’ve never found Batman to be all that great. He doesn’t even have any powers. All he has is a fucked up childhood and lots of money. Boo hoo hoo. I had a fucked up childhood, too, but you don’t see me running around in tights (probably because I don’t have his money. Oh, and I’m lazy and not exactly good. I’m more chaotic neutral.). Anyway, I always preferred the villains in the series and The Joker was my favorite. The Killing Joke takes my favorite Batman villain and adds Alan Moore to the mix, producing flawless victory.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: If what you just read about the Batman makes you want to angrily proceed directly to the comments section with your pitchfork, remember that I’m a girl, so the fact that I read comics at all is sort of impressive, right? (Maybe? Be gentle.)

We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction by Joan Didion

I’m still reading this actually. I’m only 400 some odd pages into this 1,100 plus page book. So far, every word has been worth it. This is a collection of short pieces on various topics, sometimes working into a larger work and other times, standing alone. The subject matter is fascinating to me since most of it takes place in the 60s and early 70s when I was barely a twinkle in my father’s pants. This is the first time I’ve knowingly read Didion. I say knowingly because she seems somehow familiar to me, like an old friend. She’s neurotic in a way that I am not, but I still like her. She has a very conversational style about her as if she’s talking only to you. She’s a smart, interesting lady and I could definitely spend some time with her knocking back drinks and talking.

MORE AUTHOR’S NOTE: Counting this post and the post from the first half of the year, I read 21 books in 2011. The post from 2010 has over 40 books listed. There was that month or two or four this year that I got sucked into video games. Also, I spent last month trying to write for NaNoWriMo. Plus, I have a job this year and I didn’t for half of last year. Still, that’s a lot less book to have read. This drastic reduction in number of books consumed leads me to several possible conclusions:

A) I read way more books last year than I did this year. Almost thirty times as many if my math is correct.
B) I included books in last year’s post that I didn’t actually read last year, but possibly read the year before that.
C) I am forgetting some of the books that I read this year, which is highly probable since it really seems like I am.
D) The dog ate my reading list. Also a possibility.
E) I can’t count.
F) I forgot how to read.