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999 in 2009 – Final Thoughts and Comments (long post)

 

First, I will never again commit to reading so many specific books in one year – I like to wander around in my reading. I was fine at the beginning of the year, but by the end was scrambling to fill in holes when I had other things I wanted to read.

Second, I will have to continue to keep up some book challenges. There were books on this list I would have never picked up if I hadn’t been challenged, such as Eyes of the Emperor by Graham Salisbury or Let Me Go by Helga Schneider.

Third, I was surprised that Mt. Bookpile couldn’t supply more books. I figured I would have more to fit the different categories. But then, many of the library books were audio books, which I don’t keep at home.

Here is my thoughts on the categories:

Easiest to Finish – New Books Published in 2009 – I probably finished this one at least twice over, if not three times

More Difficult Than I Guessed – Books With the Word “Heart” in the Title – I didn’t have as many of these on Mt. Bookpile as I thought. I also didn’t want them all to be romance novels.

Author Most Represented on List – Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb – What can I say? She’s very prolific and I like her books.

Here are my choices (today – this could change tomorrow) for the best books in each group:

New Books in 2009 – Horizon by Lois McMaster Bujold
Place Name in the Title – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Time Travel – The Little Book by Selden Edwards
Facial Feature – Eyes of the Emperor by Graham Salisbury
Written Before 1900 – Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
“Heart” in the Title – Dragonheart by Todd McCaffrey
Author Whose Last Name Starts With “Y” – Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto or China Dolls by Michelle Yu and Blossom Kan
Stand Alone Mysteries – Bone by Bone by Carol O’Connell
Translation – Kallocain by Karen Boye

Overall:

Most Recommended – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Best Feel Good – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Best Romance – Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson
Best Twist – Promises in Death by J.D. Robb
Least Memorable Book – Truly, Madly Manhattan by Nora Roberts
Longest Book – Hawaii by James Michener (or was it Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott?)
Most Chilling Antagonist – The Good Guy by Dean Koontz
Most Confusing – The City at the End of Time by Greg Bear
Most Interesting Non Fiction – Finding God in Unexpected Places by Philip Yancey
Most Suspenseful – The Shimmer by David Morrell
Most Tedious – The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse
Most Unexpected – Kallocain by Karen Boye
Sexiest – Mouth to Mouth by Erin McCarthy
Shortest Book – How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? or How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague
Was on Mt. Bookpile the Longest – Dragonwings by Laurence Yep

999 Challenge

 

Now that my cold is better and I can focus again…

In August I finished another seven books for this challenge. When you realize one was Hawaii and other was Greg Bear‘s weighty City at the End of Time, that’s not too shabby. I also finished up two categories – 2009 books (actually, I finished that a couple months ago, just didn’t list all the books) and books with a place name in the title.

That second one surprised me. I didn’t realize I was that close. But I decided to listen to Michael Palin’s Himalaya while working on some mundane task. It was quite interesting listening to his travelogue through the country both in what he saw and how his trip was influenced because he was doing it for the BBC. I especially enjoyed his description of some of the people/characters he met.

I found some new authors – Lynn York and The Piano Teacher as well as Michelle Yu and Blossom Kan’s China Dolls. I had fun with modern day New York City Chinatown chick lit, I have to admit.

I also spent time enjoying books by old friends – Sand Sharks by Margaret Maron which was all right, and Laguna Heat by T. Jefferson Parker which was an excellent suspense novel with his specialty of twisting the past and present together.

That means I’m still on track. Right now I’m reading Shinju by Laura Joh Rowland. A friend at work recommended this historical Japanese mystery series. I’m almost done and still haven’t decided. It’s not one I could recommend to everyone because of it’s graphic violence and sexuality. Yet it’s intriguing to watch the policeman try to solve what he know is a murder that everyone is trying to cover up. That was an age of loyalty and protocal (late 1600’s) when a samurai would fall on his own sword if he shamed his family. So the culture is different from anything that I’ve read about. (And now I know what “eta” means. When I was reading Hawaii I didn’t go back to check. The eta are the Japanese unclean – the ones who are the lowest slaves or handle dead bodies and filth.)

But when I finish Shinju, I believe I have one of the Captain Alatriste series by Arturo Perez Reverte sitting in Mt. Bookpile calling my name. It’s time to read another translated book for the 999 challenge.

I have read 59 of the 81 books. I told myself I could duplicate up to three books across the challenge (for example, I could use Madame Bovary both in translated books and in books written before 1900). I haven’t done it yet, but there is that option if I am that close but don’t quite make it by December. Right now I’m on track. I hope I can stay that way.

Reading Oddities

 

Over the years I have read different books on Chinese culture – The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, Dragonwings by Laurence Yep, Mandarin Plaid by S.J. Rozan, and others. They’re usually separated by many other books in between.

If you follow this blog, you know I spent a month recently reading Hawaii by James Michener. A major family featured is a Chinese immigrant family. It starts with their beginnings in China, then to Hawaii. The immigrant couple keep their traditions in Hawaii so the reader gets to see more.

On the recommendation of a woman at the bookstore, I picked up Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin. It is the autobiography of a ballet dancer born in China in 1961 who was raised in Chairman Mao’s regime. The Chairman died while he was still in dance school and his class became known as Mao’s last class. The government started loosening some after that, although communism was still extremely strict. From Li Cunxin’s story I am learning the cost Mao’s communism had on the peasants. His family of seven sons lived on their parents’ earning of less than $100 a year – that’s with both parents working in the field. He describes the regime up until the 1980’s when he then visited America as part of a student cultural exchange program. The differences between the two countries shocked him. I was told it was better to listen to the book. I’m glad I borrowed the audio version – I wouldn’t have gotten any of the pronunciation right. What a fascinating tale. Li Cunxin gives a good picture of both the rigors of learning ballet and the culture of China during the end of Mao’s regime. The book is excellent.

To finish it,  I picked up a book for my 999 challenge – China Dolls by Michelle Yu and Blossom Kan. Once again I am in Chinese culture – this time the immigrants’ adult children in New York City. These women in their 20’s are trying to make their own place in the city and still follow their family traditions and culture. They are trying to meld the two cultures and it isn’t easy. This is fun – and it’s Chinese chick lit. Yes, the family and culture put together the women’s and book’s background, but it’s still enjoyable chick lit.

It’s been a while since I read a book with much Chinese culture in it – now I’m immersed for a few weeks. I never know where my reading paths are going to take me next.

Sagas

 

It took 4 weeks of steady reading. I’ve finished James Michener’s Hawaii. Now I wonder what the word count is for the novel. I did a little poking around online, but couldn’t find the resource that shows this. This book is over 900 pages long with tiny print (8 point font or smaller). It was written towards the end of the time when books could meander along verbosely and keep their readers pulled in – before television and movies shortened our attention spans so much.

Hawaii did pull me in. Despite the fact it was published 50 years ago (around the same time Hawaii achieved statehood), it stands that test of time. The most difficult part is that the book has all this interesting stuff going on yet there’s so much more to go. There are many places this book could have ended. Instead, Michener went on to the next step of the state’s growth and cultural clash/interaction/melding.

The novel stabs into many things – self righteous Christians, human sacrifice, Chinese cultural foot wrapping for women, the loss of the native Hawaiian culture, the imported Japanese who never gave up hope for their country even after given evidence to the contrary, feudalism, agriculture, music, leprosy, and segregation. The book narrator looks at the island’s history objectively yet with a slightly avuncular perception.

Hawaii is an excellent book. It tests a modern reader’s patience, though. Normally if I’m able to devote reading time to a book, I can read it in 3 or 4 days. Not this one. There were also times I had to break away to read something quicker and lighter. I read this around 35 or 40 years ago. I remember parts, but there was so much I had forgotten. Michener dug under the crust and gave the reader a good historical view of the state in a fiction format.

Oh, Yeah, That’s Why I Like Reading

 

If you read this blog (there are a small few of you), you know I’m working on James Michener’s Hawaii. Once I got past the section on the missionaries and am now in the section focusing on the Chinese immigrants, I am totally caught up. The word pictures Michener weaves!

At lunch I was reading about the leper colony in Hawaii in the late 1800’s. The lawlessness is unbelievable in my world, yet believable when realizing what those people were facing.

I’m half way through the book and have two weeks to go. Despite the fact that it’s over 900 pages and the font is really small I’m sure I’ll get it done before my book club meets.

Sagas

 

Did my book club decide to read Hawaii by James Michener this year because it is the 50th anniversary of their statehood? I don’t know since the meeting for the next year’s books was when I was out of town, so I missed the discussion.

Hawaii by James A. MichenerI have finished the part that bothers me the most – the arrival of the New England missionaries. Abner Hale is the type of Christian who should never be a preaching missionary – he is too strict and narrow minded. His scholarly work is outstanding. His translation of the Bible to the Hawaiian language remains strong and correct as future scholars clean up the first translations that were done by this group of men. Michener usually shows Hale in the worst light, then throws in a few passages of the good results of much of the man’s work. Much of those results were the combination of his and his wife Jerusha’s endeavors. She is the quiet center of this section – the cause of the friction between Hale and a whaler captain, Hale’s comfort and guide, and often his subtle advisor, making him see that there are other ways besides his. By the end of this section he is reprimanded by his own church, but Hale never believes he ever betrayed his God, even whe he turns his favored son away.

The book club had their meeting again this month to choose for the next year. Next year our two month book is a true saga – David McCullough’s John Adams. I read the first half of this about five years ago but never finished it. Now I will finally get to finish this biography.

Sagas

 

Do you like to read sagas – the ones that span generations? The ones that take forever to read and no time at all?

On Sunday I flew to Seattle for a few days for work. On the plane I started Hawaii by James Michener. I had gotten up very early that morning, so slept more than read, but hey…

Now I’m working through it. I read it 40 years ago and liked it then. I’m enjoying it again, although I don’t think I’m as enthralled this time. I have a month to read it for my book club. I may need every bit of that month, too.

(Of course I have to finish The Blue Angel by Heinrich Mann, too. It’s a library book, so I didn’t take it with me. Now that I’m home again, I’ll pick it back up.)