Friday, December 30, 2011

My Favorite Reads of 2011

I've made it a rule since my college days to read at least one book (novel or nonfiction) per week or one short story a day...And this year, I had the good fortune to start reviewing books for Shelf Awareness.  That meant that I read a lot more than usual, but I had a little less time to devote to all the books I had planned on reading. The good folks at Shelf Awareness for Readers send me an often ecclectic list of nonfiction/fiction, mysteries and romances--books I might not normally choose for myself, per se, but titles I have enjoyed reading that broaden my range. Of late, this blog tends to highlight a majority of those titles. However, I read a lot more than what I post. 

Therefore, below is a list of my Top 12 Personal Favorite Books from 2011. Please note: there is no special ranking.  Each book is so different in content/form/subject matter that I feel it is unfair to qualify them in that way. The numbers are there to simply keep the list orderly.  And unless otherwise noted, all books referenced are fiction/novels. To learn more about any of the selections, link on the title for additional information:

1)    Faith - Jennifer Haigh
2)   Coming Up for Air - Patti Callahan Henry
3)   Let's Take the Long Way Home - Gail Caldwell (memoir)
4)   The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress - Beryl Bainbridge
5)   Bin Laden's Bald Spot - Brian Doyle (short stories)
6)   The Women Jefferson Loved - Virginia Scharff (nonfiction)
7)    Emily and Einstein - Linda Francis Lee 
8)    The Solitude of Prime Numbers - Paolo Giordano
9)    Emory's Gift - W. Bruce Cameron
10)   I Married You for Happiness - Lily Tuck
11)   The Train of Small Mercies - David Rowell (short stories)
12)   Blood, Bones and Butter - Gabrielle Hamilton (memoir)

Here is a list of books I had wanted to read this year, but never got around to...I'll add them to my stack for 2012:

1)     State of Wonder - Ann Patchett
2)    The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Eugenides
3)    The Art of Fielding - Chad Hardbach
4)    Falling Together - Marisa de los Santos
5)    Death Comes to Pemberly - P.D. James

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Christmas Memory

"I've always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when He came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don't know it's getting dark. And it's been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I'll wager it never happens. I'll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself . . . I could leave the world with today in my eyes."
~from A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

I read A CHRISTMAS MEMORY by Truman Capote every year, and every year this carefully crafted story, steeped in great sensory detail and palpable atmosphere, takes on more depth and resonance. 

The setting is the rural South of the 1930s, during the Great Depression.  The story is told looking back via the perspective of a then, seven year-old boy remembering a Christmas he spent with his much older cousin, a childlike woman in her sixties who has never "seen a movie...eaten in a restaurant, traveled more than five miles from home, received or sent a telegram, read anything except funny papers and the Bible, worn cosmetics, cursed, wished someone harm, told a lie on purpose, let a hungry dog go hungry." These two seemingly lost souls are largely disregarded while living in a house populated with other people (some family members), and their being lost in the shuffle forges their friendship, along with a dog named Queenie, who rounds out the trio. 

During this one recalled Christmas, the best friends pool their nickels and dimes and set out on a quest to bake 31 Fruit Cakes (complete with a trek to acquire illicit whiskey from a creepy man named Mr. Haha Jones) to send to "persons we've met maybe once, perhaps not at all. People who've struck our fancy. Like President Roosevelt."

This aptly titled memory story is filled with details that evoke a sense of nostalgia, loss and ultimately, longing. It is a poignant, beautifully rendered tale about the bonds of love and friendship, gift-giving and the often simple pleasures that bring joy and meaning to our lives - however fleeting.  Truman Capote has given us a great gift in crafting, A Christmas Memory.  It reminds us that nothing last forever, but if we're lucky, memory does - and that is precisely what can sustain us.

Merry Christmas to all!

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
(30th Anniversary Special Edition Hardcover)
Publication Date: 2006
Knopf Books, $17.95, 9780375837890, 49 pp

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
(A Tale Blazer Paperback)
Publication Date: 1990
Perfection Learning,  $3.35, 9780895986634, 36 pp

Note:  This story was originally published in 1956.
To order this book (paperback edition) via INDIEBOUND click HERE

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Voice of the River

In the rural Northwest Rockies, a 17 year-old boy and his dog have gone missing.  It is suspected that they might've fallen through the ice of a frozen river near their home. But where are they - dead or alive? A whole community rallies to find them as acclaimed novelist and short story writer, Melanie Rae Thon (Iona Moon, In This Light) sets out to discover their whereabouts in The Voice of the River. 

The narrative is prefaced with a lengthy character description list to keep track of the various families tied to the search.  Structured in chapters set at various times amid the course of one single day, this novel appears to be about rescuing the missing.  But beneath the surface, the story probes the psyches of those who come together in this one community and how they are bound by personal tragedies and loss; grief, love and longings. Amid the search are interlude-like chapters which reflect individual characters as they struggle to find meaning and purpose for life and reconcile the secret, hidden places within their own hearts.

This is a beautifully written novel rendered via a stream-of-consciousness prose style. While this aptly coincides with the river theme, it also makes for a rather challenging read in both form and content. However, the reward of this novel is experiencing the river, all that it represents and every person drawn to it, as a moving meditation about navigating the changing currents and undercurrents of life.

FC2-Fiction Collective 2/The University of Alabama Press, Trade Paper, 978-1573661621, 216 pp.
Publication Date: September 9, 2011
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Please note: This review is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness.