Another partial Reading List, some books from 2010 that I reviewed.

Bookshelf Heschel quote
One of many bookshelves in my home, complete with children’s art, favorite quote and art by someone I love!

These are mini-reviews of memorable books I read in 2010. If I can’t get through a book, it usually won’t make it onto the list of books for me to review, so all of these were readable and most of them were excellent or worth the time. Please buy your books from a local bookstore or go to the library, if you can! Also, I am very impressionable and become very engaged with whatever I am reading or who I am interacting with, many folks are way more “discerning” than I am or critical, so you have been warned. That said, I am voracious in my reading and my perspective may be helpful to you in choosing which books you engage with.

  1. Flower Children by Maxine SwannA lovely reminiscing of growing up in the 1970’s with hippy, Harvard educated parents. Wild, lyric, sad, beautiful, crazy and communicates well the child’s perspective throughout the whole narrative. Google describes it this way: “Based on the authors own upbringing, Flower Children tells the story of four children growing up in rural Pennsylvania, impossibly at odds with their parents.”
  2. The Saturday Wife by Naomi Ragen: I hated this book, but couldn’t stop reading it. I never liked the main character who is everything I am not, Blond, vapid, money and status and looks obsessed. It’s a sad story full of excess, broken and foolish people. It’s also a satire on multiple levels. I’ll be donating it to my Temple library, which is NOTHING like the synagogues and congregations this book deals with!
  3. All the Twilight Books 1-4. Enjoyed them despite myself. Best one is the last one.
  4. The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen: Set during the mid 16th century the story of a female painter in the court of Queen Elisabeth of Spain. Interesting but not great and similar to other works of its genre. Lots of gossip and ladies in waiting and thwarted love and lust although it is somewhat historical and the artist that is the protagonist is a female painter whose works are just now being properly credited as hers.
  5. Anthropology of An American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann: Painful, intense, well written but very sad for most of the book. It is a very honest look at the life of a very beautiful American woman, complete with body hatred/confusion, sexual complexity, death of beloveds and how that shapes one. Long and engrossing.
  6. Halycon Crane by Wendy Webb: Fiction about a girl/woman uncovering dark and hard mystery of her life based on family history and a nasty ghost. Interesting.
  7. Sexual Metamorphosis edited by Jonathan Ames: Excerpts from the lives of various transgendered folk over the last two hundred years. Very good read.
  8. Blue Nude by Elizabeth Rosner: Israeli & German bound narratives and a very intense, painful and beautiful read about an artist, models, love and war. Excellent! Whether or not you are a painter or an artist, this book evokes process really well and takes you into the lines, colors and feelings of a painting, the painter, the model and the whole cooperative creation of art.
  9. Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong: Fascinating story about a girl who “for as long as she can remember, Linda has experienced a secret sense—she can “taste” words, which have the power to disrupt, dismay, or delight. She falls for names and what they evoke: Canned peaches. Dill. Orange sherbet. Parsnip (to her great regret).” Quote is from the Random House website about this book. I enjoyed this and it was hard to read because Linda tastes as she talks so sentences have foods/tastes interspersed with them. Not throughout the whole book, but it was a little challenging at times.
  10. Family Album by Penelope Lively-Loved this story about a large British family, out of keeping with the times, six kids. A very powerful mother. Narratives of each character over time except one. Read this book. Very well done.
  11. The Golem A version by Barbara Rogasky illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Excellent version of this story, with amazing illustrations. Very enjoyable and a good book to own.
  12. By Fire By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan: Takes place before 1492 in Spain. Deals with Inquisition, Jews being tortured and then expelled, intrigue, financing of Columbus’ armadas, love, and Jewish life in antiquity. I’ve read a lot of these kinds of books. Wasn’t the best, but intriguing and hard to put down nevertheless.
  13. Right of Thirst by Frank Huyler: Story of a doctor who leaves his home to go “give aid” in very remote mountain country of a small country at war (probably Pakistan or Afghanistan). After his wife dies of cancer Charles, still in shock, decides to go work for an international aid agency, one on the fringes. He leaves behind his adult son and his life as he’s known if for over 40 years. His experiences there are very hard and also help him come to terms with his wife’s death and his life in general. Medically detailed, author is a doctor, very thoughtful and of course painful too.
  14. Woodsburner by John Pipkin: Fictional story of a real fire stared by a young Thoreau. I enjoyed this book, although the spreading of the fire and what it meant was hard to read about, I found the story compelling. Several other characters besides Thoreau and their relationship to the fire are told in this book as well. Here’s a quote from the author in an article about his book. “On April 30, 1844, Thoreau started a blaze in the Concord Woods, scorching a 300-acre swath of earth between Fair Haven Bay and Concord. The fire was an accident, but the destruction of valuable woodland, the loss of firewood and lumber, and the narrowly avoided catastrophe that almost befell Concord itself angered the local residents and nearly ruined Thoreau’s reputation.” ~quote from Globe © Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company
  15. Burning Silk by Destiny Kinal: This is definitely erotica/historical fiction/magic lore. Parts of this book were really fascinating and enjoyable, other parts made me uncomfortable, not because I have a problem with erotica, but I never find rape to be erotic and there is some rape in this story. There is also love between women and love between those working together with the silk moth. The story takes place in France and early America around 1829. It is based on the production of silk and the early way silk was processed and the guild of women responsible for helping it come into being. Not sure how much of this is accurate, but it was very compelling and I rarely think about how silk becomes silk, beyond knowing a worm is involved and some mulberry trees. The book goes into the details of silk making in great depth from the perspective of the women as keepers of the moths and as mistresses/channelers/communicators with the moths/worms. Not for everyone, but if you like this kind of book, you will probably enjoy this one.
  16. The False Friend by Myla Goldberg: I consumed this book in a few hours, not able to put it down. Myla Goldberg does that to me. Very well written exploration of a childhood friendship, childhood cruelty/teasing/bullying, other traumas and mistakes and how that unfolds in the lives of our characters shaping their whole lives and personalities. I don’t want to give any of this book away. Just read it. While the content is not happy in much of this book the story is beautifully written and there is healing and honesty here that is refreshing and feels very true.
  17. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin: Story of two boys, one black, one white and their painful complicated stories in a very small Mississippi town. Vivid writing, hard themes of childhood harm, loss, violence, mistaken hatred and how it shapes their lives, and of course, finally some redemption. Hard to read in some places, because I’m a softy, but well-done and lyric writing even about ugly things.
  18. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri: Sad but beautifully written stories about Bengali immigrants to this country and their children’s lives. Very evocative, very sensitive, very honest, very well done.
  19. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova: Slightly too long tome about Vlad Tepes, known as The Impaler and transformed into a real Dracula for this story and the historians trying to both escape and find him. Interesting in parts, but too long and drawn out for my taste. I got a little bored by the end and just wanted it over. Part mystery, part romance, part history.
  20. A Curable Romantic by Joseph Skibell: So, if I haven’t mentioned this author before, his other book, A Blessing on the Moon is in my TOP TEN. A Blessing on the Moon is a very intense book, Shoah related and takes place post death in emotional and spiritual areas. I saw A Curable Romantic, a huge tome on the Northtown book counter and did a double take, JOSEPH SKIBELL! another book by him. I HAVE TO HAVE IT. I rarely buy hardcover books, but there it was and I HAD to have it. The end of this book is like the redemption of the universe. The rest of the book is amazing and was hard for me to endure. The topics were ones that are close to my heart and I had no perspective on and I was not super fond of the protagonist. I want my heroes to be heroes and this is of course rarely the case. I finished the book while visiting at my rabbi’s home for Shabbat and was laughing and umming and aaaahing for the last three chapters, pretty much every sentence. This book is supremely Jewish, full of themes, concepts, stories (biblical, yiddish and rabbinical). Not sure how someone unversed in these underlying stories will experience this book. It is superbly written, so even if some of the context doesn’t make sense, the writing will take you places.
  21. Devotion by Dani Shapiro: One of my friends in my Mussar group recommended this book. If I had a lot of money I’d buy ten copies and give them to several of my friends. As it is, it will be a birthday present or offering to many of you. A powerful and short and important memoir chronicling the search and hunger for a relationship with holiness from someone who is very modern, very uninterested in cliches or simple solutions, someone Jewish but often mistaken for a non-Jew. A yoga lover and meditator who practices and studies Buddhist teachings and yet grew up in a Yeshiva and with very religious parents. This book is also about relationships that are painful and complex with parents and with illness and loss. It is phenomenal.
  22. Resilience by Elizabeth Edwards: Short, intense story of a woman in the public eye whose life has been full of tragedy, but who is herself heroic and honest. There is pain in this book, but also a real examination of what and how a person handling death of a child, cancer of her body and her husband’s betrayal, can be alive and present, not just shut down and off.
  23. Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay: If you like Russian Ballerina narratives, full of Stalin, party politics, body punishing extraordinary beauty, jewels, mystery, love, sex, betrayal, confusion and all the good stuff of a Russian novel, this book is for you. Takes place in modern day Boston and 1950’s Russia. Hard to put down. Not exactly happy but well-wrought.
  24. The Partisan’s Daughter by Louis de Bernieres: Very sad and interesting story told by two people, one a Yugoslavian partisan’s daughter, down on her luck and illegally in London and the other a lonely pharmaceutical rep., hungry for love and connection. Well written and touching as well as tragic.
  25. Extraordinary Renditions by Andrew Ervin:Takes place in Budapest, Three folks, three intertwined stories, one a Holocaust survivor and composer, one an African American soldier posted in the city and a violinist in the orchestra performing the composers music. Painful, intense and well wrought. Good read, quick read.
  26. The Next Queen of Heaven by Gregory Macguire: Painful, beautiful, intense reading. Deals with AIDS, religion, crazy Pentacostals and catholic nuns that are ancient, teenage sexuality, pregnancy and single motherhood. I couldn’t put this book down.
  27. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert: I found this to be a good read. I know there are a lot of critics of the commercialization of this book and I agree with them. The book itself though is a very in depth chronicle of one woman’s misery and movement out of misery through her spiritual path and her exploration of self.
  28. Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes: This is one of the books Ethan had to read. I usually read all of them. Story of a crippled teenager during the time of the Revolution with Paul Revere and the Boston Tea Party and lots of other historical figures and events. Good read, well written. Newberry Medal book.
  29. The Avion My Uncle Flew by Cyrus Fisher: Another Ethan school book. Takes place after WWII in France. Young boy, intrigue, German spy hiding in the woods kind of thing, with dark drama unfolding and lots of action. Book is in French and English, mostly English, but some French too. Very enjoyable.
  30. The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis: Another Ethan school book, this one features a young girl and her family trying to survive the Taliban in Afghanistan. Poverty, sexism, danger, fear, injustice, cleverness and adventure. Great Read.
  31. Mother of the Believers by Kamran Pasha: Story about the birth of Islam told from perspective of Aisha, one of Mohammed’s wives, supposedly his most beloved. I didn’t feel drawn to any of the characters and they were all compelling folks, so the writing was a little not enough for me. It’s a good book to read if you want a novel telling the story of that time period. Very historically accurate and interesting, just not as enjoyable as it should have been.
  32. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht: An excellent read. Takes place in the  Balkans about fifteen or twenty years ago, mixing of fairytale/myths with everyday war torn reality. Very well wrought, beautiful even in its severity and not hard to read, even in the hard parts. Have already passed it on to a friend.
  33. Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum: This is the story of a family of four girls and their parents. Each of them separate from the other by many, many layers. It is a story of their secret and yet shared loneliness and longing, their losses and all that they encounter while moving to West Africa to set up a hospital. It is also a story of love, tenderness, confusion and folks coming into themselves in the face of harsh circumstances and truth unfolding. I couldn’t put it down.
  34. The Emperor of All Maladies, A Biography of Cancer by Siddharta  Mukherjee Loving this book (while hating the stories and the reality of Cancer). It is an intense look at the history and life of Cancer and our understanding and knowledge of this “malady” over the last several thousand years. Since I have several friends with cancer, this is a book I very much wanted to read. I will recommend it to all my friends dealing with cancer and to those who want to understand this disease. The book reads like a novel, really well written.

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