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Mini Year in Review, a Monday Musing

musingmondays1Coming towards the end of April, we’re a third of the way through the way through the year. What’s the favourite book you’ve read so far in 2009? What about your least favourite?

Of the twenty five books (two yet to be reviewed because I’ve been on vacation in Hawaii) read this year, Valeria’s Last Stand by Mark Fitten is the single least favorite of all. My problem with Valeria’s Last Stand is that characters are too etched to be read as a fable and fairy tale, yet they are not convincing enough to be taken seriously. It’s not believable. It’s drama that has gone way overboard. Since it’s a new book to be released in May 2009, I’ll leave readers to be the judge. If you want my advice, I do not recommend it.

In the “new old book” category, my favorite is Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which I re-read the first time since college. Probing unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, Beloved transforms history into a story so original and yet so close to the root of suffering. Although Morrison is strenuous to read, I’m afraid I cannot recommend another piece of work that attains higher merit and artistry of literature on the account of mixing poetry and folklore.

In the “new old author” category Linda Grant’s The Clothes on Their Backs is the front runner. The book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2008, of which The White Tiger (smart and well-written, but not my favorite) was the winner. The book reminds us that the way we acquire of our sense of self from what gets reflected back to us, either in the mirror or in our relationships with others.

The recently-finished The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee, takes the title of best debut novel. Not only that it was a historical fiction that set in Hong Kong during World War II, the many twists and turns of the story populated by foreigners never fails to intrigue me. Stay tuned for my full review.

24 Responses

  1. New old book: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin. She is one of my favourite authors, and re-reading this work confirmed this for me.

    Debut: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Anne Marie Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Usually snobby reader me avoids such books, but I recommended this for my online book circle (based on the self-imposed premise that I ought to suggest something different) and really enjoyed it!

    New old author: Union Street by Pat Barker. This is the first work by Pat Barker I have read. Must read more.

  2. Nice to see you back. I assume the vacation was awesome? I’ve been thinking about my favorites over the past four months lately. I loved Suite Francaise. Also loved Guernsey. I loved the two books I read by Connie May Fowler. I loved The Thirteenth Tale. I love Gone With the Wind. I’ve decided I’m too easy. I need to be a bit more critical. My year end best of list is going to be terribly painful!

  3. Probably the best and most involving book I’ve read so far this year is James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, a novel in which the protagonist is deeply conflicted because of the love he feels for another man, and who suffers intense guilt because of a tragedy which occurs partly as a result of his rejection of that love. It was a book I had dipped into, but not finished for a number of reasons, forty some years ago. I think I was much more ready for it’s themes and complexities at this stage of my life. I’ve been lucky enough to choose several very good books this year, but this one is at the top of my accolades list.

  4. I hope you’ve a wonderful time in Hawaii. I’ve a hard time narrowing my top favourites, because most of the books I read thus far are great.

    I managed to mooch a copy of The White Tiger recently and I’m looking forward to reading it (though I’ve no idea when… it all has to depend on my mood). 😉

  5. I haven’t read any of those, but Valeria’s Last Stand doesn’t sound like a boy I’d like either.

  6. Best book I read this year isn’t really a novel, it’s the anthology of P.G. Wodehouse which has all the Jeeves stories plus heaps more.

    Disappointed in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz) but my least favourite for 09 is probably Piercing by Ryu Murakami.

  7. I usually put down a book that doesn’t appeal to me or that I have trouble getting into. My favorite reads so far this year would be Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese and Beloved (thanks to you for the inspiration) by Toni Morrison.

  8. I’ve been eyeing up the Piano Teacher as well.
    Never read any Morrison but when I do Beloved would be the one I pick.
    Hawaii! I am jealous. I was there for 2 weeks in November and didn’t want to come home. I was looking for a job and a condo, but then I did a reality check 😦 I am definitely going to try and swing that some day.
    I know you had a fabulous time, so I’m sorry you’re back.

  9. Welcome back! Favorites so far this year – Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout and Therese Raquin by Emile Zola. I’ve tried to get through Beloved twice, once in college and again ten years ago, but do want to give it one more shot. I’m looking forward to your review of The Piano Teacher!

  10. I remember your review of Valeria’s Last Stand. It looked like it had so much potential. I may get it from the library when it comes out and we’ll see. But, I definitely have the Linda Grant book on my TBR list.

    Are you still on vacation? Hope you are having tons of fun and looking forward to pictures! 🙂

  11. Oddly enough for me, my favorite so far has been a non-fiction book, “The New Influencers” by Paul Gillin. It discusses how social media (blogs, MySpace, Facebook, etc.) are creating an impact not only on how we communicate but how marketing people are learning to use these “tools” to create a buzz or to make their brand. Kinda cool!

  12. CW:
    I read the novel and then listened to audio of Guernsey, it’s so much fun. Ursula Le Guin is new author to me, I shall check out her books. 🙂

  13. Sandy:
    I’m glad you enjoyed most of the books you read this year. I have so much fun reading GWTW with all of you. Hawaii is so much fun but it’s so short! I enjoyed swimming, snorkeling and reading on the beach. Spent probably two afternoons reading under the tree at the beach. 🙂

  14. Greg S:
    Kudos to you! Giovanni’s Room, although very sad and puts tears in my eyes every time I read it, it remains one of my all-time favorites. The poignant journey to find love almost mirrors my own life.

  15. Melody:
    One of the best things in Hawaii is that I have been very relaxing, away from reminder of city life, such as the cell phone ringer, the sense of time, and chores! I enjoyed whiling the day away on the beach, swimming, snorkeling, taking a nap, and reading in the shade.

  16. Yvonne:
    I hope you’re inspired by some of these great titles. 🙂

  17. Elena:
    I was debating whether I would take The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao home with me at the bookstore. I flipped through the first 15 pages or so and it didn’t really engage me.

  18. John:
    Bravo! I love Cutting for Stone and as you know, I went to the book reading at Kepler’s in Menlo Park. The novel is very gripping and is endowed with so many surprises and twists. It’s a candidate for re-read. 🙂

  19. jennygirl:
    I’ve thought about moving to Hawaii as well. Now that I’ve been to Kauai, Oahu and Maui, I have fallen in love with the island and its living. For reality check, I think I should defer the plan until I have advanced in my career here. I would love to go back for another visit anytime soon! Do read The Piano Teacher, it’s an intriguing historical fiction (romance?) that will keep you engrossed.

  20. JoAnn:
    I saw that Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout wins the Pulitzer Price 2009. So this book is going straight to my pile! 🙂

  21. iliana:
    I promise I’ll post the pictures from Hawaii soon. It was a very fun and relaxing trip, just very spontaneous. Lots of beach combing, swimming, reading, and listening to Hawaiian music during sunset. The Valeria book is just a big farce to me. I’m sure it will appeal the right readers, but the allegory just doesn’t do it for me. 🙂

  22. Greg:
    Sounds like a very fun read that explores how marketing and mass media work now. I should check it out. I’m so under-read in non-fiction!

  23. I was on the Big Island where it was very laid back, and quiet. You’re exactly right…it was the island living that did it for me.
    I will definitely put the Piano Teacher on my short list. Thanks Matt .

  24. Jennygirl:
    Big Island would be my next Hawaiian destination. Should I stay in Kona or Hilo?

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