Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Novel and Nonfiction November

Only 10 books in November.  I made up a reading plan, and of course I deviated from it.  The Caine Mutiny remains unfinished, and I never got to John Green's An Abundance of Katherines.

1. Johnny Cash: The Life - Robert Hilburn.  I wrote about my overwhelmingly positive feelings here.  This look at The Man in Black would be an excellent Christmas gift for the bookish music lovers in your life. (Kindle)

2. Jenny and the Jaws of Life - Jincy Willett.  Ever since I brought this book home from the Busan Book Swap, I've been mangling the title, calling it "Jincy and the Jaws of Life".  The stories, first published in the 1980s, have a subtle and delectable strangeness about them, but they aren't the masterpieces that David Sedaris raves about in his introduction to the new edition.  I appreciate and admire his Aeneas-like efforts to bear Jincy Willett on his influential back from near-obscurity into the literary spotlight. (Paperback)

3. The Execution of Noa P. Singleton - Elizabeth L. Silver.  With a title and premise like that, I was expecting something more searing.  I wasn't blown away, but I liked the book well enough to get into a sharp little exchange on Amazon with someone who I thought was being unnecessarily denigrating about Elizabeth Silver's writing style and word choices. I'm looking forward to her next novel (Kindle)

4. The Memory Keeper's Daughter - Kim Edwards.  The writing is gorgeous, but I never quite bought into David's reasoning for his despicable act the night the twins were born.  With that kind of weak foundation, the book seemed to get shakier as the years passed in the life of this family.  It also seemed padded, but in spite of everything, Edwards is compelling storyteller.  I couldn't stop reading. (Paperback)

5. Shadow of the Moon - M.M. Kaye.  I'm not a big fan of historical romances, but I absolutely LOVED this book, which follows the tumultuous relationship between Winter de Ballesteros and Alex Randall, set in India against the backdrop of the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857.  M.M. Kaye did an excellent job of research.  Shadow of the Moon is on or even above the same level as epics such as Gone with the Wind and Lonesome Dove.  She's even got a touch of Dickens about her, as there is one character you'll love to hate. (Harcover)

6. The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary - Joseph A. Michelli.  Since I started "Operation Carb Face" a few weeks ago, I've striven to turn my attention away from McDonalds, Burger King, and KFC.  What seems to work is promising myself a visit to Starbucks 1-2 times a week, so the coffee giant was on my radar when I found this book in my school's Global Zone.  I enjoyed the stories about the many ways Starbucks connects with its customers, its communities and the world at large.  Unfortunately, this book is written for business types, and the flow is disrupted every page or so as Michelli invites his readers to reflect on the point he just presented.  In case they're having trouble reflecting, he makes a long list of questions to prime the pump.  I thought some critical thinking skills were essential for business owners.  Can't they just absorb the stories and draw their own conclusions?  Must they be spoonfed?  Is Michelli being condescending, or does he know his audience better than I do? (Library book) 

7. Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life Without Losing Its Soul - Howard Schultz.  The Starbucks Saga picks up here in 2007, when founder Howard Schultz saw that the company was getting off track.  One of his first clues was that when he walked into a store, the smell was different. Coffee was being drowned out by the aroma of cheese from their popular breakfast sandwiches. As he looked closer, he saw other things that concerned him so much, he came back as the ceo (yes, they refer to upper management in lowercase letters, which I found a bit precious). Not only was the store in trouble, the economy was not feeling too well, and after the 2008 financial crisis, Starbucks stock, already in a downward trend, slid like a greased pig on skates. Schultz discusses that tense year, and the adjustments (often painful, such as closing more than 800 stores in the United States) and innovations (sometimes unsuccessful, like Sorbetto; sometimes a big hit, like Via instant coffee) that he tried and implemented to get things back on track.  An interesting read, but business writing seems so graceless! (Kindle)

8. The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien.  I don't know what to say.  I loved it and I was awed by it.  Fiction more true than fact.  Disturbing images, like the Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong  (who may or may not have existed as anything but a wild story) with her necklace of tongues,  Kiowa and the river of shit, Norman Bowker's endless circling of his hometown lake, young O'Brien fleeing because he's scared and scared because he's fleeing and holed up at Rainy River, the way the older O'Brien keeps saying, "Now I'm 43 years old..." as if it were an incantation and he could get some distance.  I don't know what to say.  I need to read it again, but will I know then? (Library book)

9. If on a winter's night a traveler - Italo Calvino.  This wasn't my favorite read for the month.  I liked some of the parts; I didn't care for it as a whole.  Maybe I wasn't in a playful reading mood.  I know it's considered one of the great novels of the 20th century, but I can appreciate it only marginally.  I feel the IQ points falling off of me like autumn leaves.  I'm glad I joined in on the readalong with Care and Avid Reader, but I'm even gladder that it's done. (Kindle)

10. The Birthday Boys - Beryl Bainbridge.  A fictional account of Robert Falcon Scott's ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition.  Scott and a team of four other men got to the South Pole early in 1912 to find that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had beaten them by a month.  Scott's team left the site and they died on the return journey, due to a shortage of food and fuel, injuries, and worse than anticipated weather.  Each of the five sections of Bainbridge's novel is narrated by the five men: Scott, Evans, Wilson, Bowers and Oates.  Although these men were seasoned explorers and hardy men, there is a sense that they didn't have their minds fully concentrated on what they set out to do.  A combination of bad luck, wasted energy and resources, and nearly slavish belief in and devotion to Scott seems to be a constant theme and their undoing.  More incompetent men than tragic heroes.  (Kindle)


Vasilly said...

The Things They Carried has been on my tbr list for years now. Maybe next year I'll get the courage to pick it up.

I hope December ends up being another good month of reading.

Unruly Reader said...

Your words about The Things They Carried: so true. It's the sort of book that can be completely overwhelming. I'm so glad I waited to read it until I felt ready. It continues to stun me , even a few years later.