Reading, 2009

Oh my. My reading declined dramatically this year. I only finished 67 books—last year, I managed 100. I’d love to blame it all on school, but I was in school all last year as well. I think I read more fiction last year, though, and it goes faster. And while I had hoped to be able to list 10 books that really made an impression on me, as I did last year, the numbers aren’t there. Anyway, here are 7 books that I read this year, listed in chronological order, that I believe will be memorable, regardless of quality (I’ve never said I liked everything I read).

  • The Soul’s Religion: Cultivating a Profoundly Spiritual Way of Life by Thomas Moore (9/10; finished 4/12/2009): Every now and then, you read a book that means the world to you, and is impossible to explain to anyone else. This would be one of those books. I can’t even necessarily recommend it to anyone reading this post, because it could very well be meaningless blather to another person. But for me, it was the right book at the right time.
  • The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (8/10; finished 5/26/2009): This was originally published in 1963. Shouldn’t it seem outdated by now? Quaint? Shouldn’t the issues it addresses be of historical interest only? The edition I read was published in 1998, and has an introduction by Anna Quindlen in which she asks those questions, more or less, and comes to the conclusion that the book is surprisingly relevant. I read it eleven years later, and have to agree with Quindlen, much to my frustration. Wanna bet it’ll still be topical when they start releasing 50th anniversary editions in 2013?
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance—Now With Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith (6/10; finished 7/8/2009): How could you read a book with this title and not remember it for years to come? And it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. Some parts of it worked really well for me, such as the Bennett sisters being both master zombie fighters and young women in love, or the (new) author’s explanation of why Mrs. Bennett is so shallow. Other parts, such as the subplot with Charlotte, just felt wrong even in the context of a book that probably struck many people as being wrong in the first place.
  • Once Upon a Midlife: Classic Stories and Mythic Tales to Illuminate the Middle Years by Allan B. Chinen (9/10; finished 9/8/2009): As with just about every other issue in life, I’m dealing with midlife by reading about it. Chinen’s theory is: fairy tales for children teach them how to leave home, become young adults, and establish themselves in society. But a small percentage of the world’s fairy tales are meant for adults, stories to teach them how to make the transition from youth to middle age/elderhood. Fairy tales for midlifers are often magic-free, as the characters solve their problems themselves instead of being saved by the fairy godmother. Since adults know that life isn’t as black-and-white as it seemed when they were children, “elder tales” often muddle good and evil. (Note how Gregory Maguire has found a niche with Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West and other retellings of fairy tales, told from the villain’s point of view and written for an adult audience). This was such a pleasant change from all the “how to desperately cling to your fading youth” messages you start getting in your thirties and forties!
  • Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez with Monique Tilford (4/10; finished 9/15/2009): The gist of this book is: keep track of your spending, reduce expenses, and eventually you will be able to drop the day job and work only at what makes you happy. I found it to be a horrendously irritating book. The program sounds like financial anorexia, the authors are preachy and patronizing as all get-out, and no one addresses the issue of who will do the unpleasant jobs in society if we all follow their instructions, become financially independent, and quit our jobs. But this is this book that made my future retirement real to me and nudged me toward beginning to do serious planning for it. Just not their planning.
  • Fudoki by Kij Johnson (10/10; finished 10/15/2009): Two stories intertwine in this book. One is the story of Kagaya-hime, a cat-turned-woman warrior who is journeying northwards in feudal Japan after her clan is destroyed in a fire. The other is the story of Harueme, an elderly Japanese princess who is writing Kagaya-hime’s story and reminiscing about her own life as she prepares to die. In a genre known more for flashy, sparkly action, this is a character-driven story: quiet, haunting, memorable.
  • The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy by William Strauss and Neil Howe (9/10; finished 12/24/2009) Whereas the authors’ earlier Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 mentioned world events in the context of the generations who lived through them, The Fourth Turning turns this around, concentrating on  cycles of events and tying the generations to those events. Since by the authors’ reckoning, we should be in a Fourth Turning by now, this book will be memorable simply because I’ll have to spend the next several years seeing if their hypothesis holds up to reality (the book was written in 1997). Well, if it started with 9/11, that’s not far off-schedule…
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