Books I’m Reading – Winter 2011

February 23, 2011 § 2 Comments

The best part about winter is cozying up with a blanket, a hot cup of tea, and a good book–or four. Here’s what I’m reading this winter.

winter reading


I loved Franzen’s last book, The Corrections, which was published almost 10 years ago, and I couldn’t wait to dive into this latest one. Franzen seems to polarize people; to some he comes off as an egotistical hack, and to others he is one of the greatest social commentators of our time. I am in the pitch-perfect brilliant camp. His satirical tales about family, society, sex, politics, and just about everything else are Jon Stewart-acerbic, hilarious, genius, and sometimes heart-breakingly tragic. I’ve only just started this book, and I’m already savoring it like a fine wine, reading it in small portions so that it will last longer.

Franzen doesn’t introduce characters with straightforward descriptions; instead, he skewers them through catty observations:

And Patty was undeniably very into her son. Though Jessica was the more obvious credit to her parents–smitten with books, devoted to wildlife, talented at flute, stalwart on the soccer field, coveted as a babysitter, not so pretty as to be morally deformed by it, admired even by Merrie Paulsen–Joey was the child Patty could not shut up about. In her chuckling, self-deprecating way, she spilled out barrel after barrel of unfiltered detail about her and Walter’s difficulties with him. Most of her stories took the form of complaints, and yet nobody doubted that she adored the boy. She was like a woman bemoaning her gorgeous jerky boyfriend. As if she were proud of having her heart trampled by him: as if her openness to this trampling were the main thing, maybe the only thing, she cared to have the world know about.

And as a technical editor who has spent a lifetime breaking up and trimming compound sentences down to 25 words or less to make them easier to translate, I have a great appreciation for Franzen’s rambling, run-on sentences:

In the earliest years, when you could still drive a Volvo 240 without feeling self-conscious, the collective task in Ramsey Hill was to relearn certain life skills that your own parents had fled to the suburbs specifically to unlearn, like how to interest the local cops in actually doing their job, and how to protect a bike from a highly motivated thief, and when to bother rousting a drunk from your lawn furniture, and how to encourage feral cats to shit in somebody else’s children’s sandbox, and how to determine whether a public school sucked too much to bother trying to fix it.

Whee, a 105-word sentence–call me twisted, but that’s my idea of fun!

R is for Ricochet

This book is from one of the only mystery/detective series that I follow, the Kinsey Millhone mysteries.  I’ve been a fan since 1982, when the first book in the series, A is for Alibi, was published.

That’s way back when we wore polka dots, headbands, ripped sweatshirts hanging off of one shoulder, Ray-Ban sunglasses (at night), big permed hair, neon-colored everything, leg warmers, and all sorts of Madonna and Cyndi Lauper-inspired fashion. Scary!

Sorry, back to the present. (Do 80s flashbacks ever go away?)

I love these books for several reasons, but mostly because they are set in the fictional California town of Santa Teresa, which is modeled after the real town of Santa Barbara, where the author, Sue Grafton, is from. I grew up in Ventura, which is just south of Santa Barbara. That makes Kinsey Millhone, the fiesty, no-nonsense private detective narrator of the series, my fictional homie.

I love Kinsey. She lives alone in a tiny studio converted from a one-car garage, runs regularly, loves Big Macs, and has an eclectic group of friends, including a Hungarian barkeep and an 80-something year-old landlord. Kinsey has been in my life for as long as I’ve been an adult, and it feels like I’m reconnecting with an old friend whenever I pick up the latest book in this series.

Female Brain Gone Insane

Ha ha ha ha ha ha. If you can’t relate to the title of this book, then you don’t need to read it. But if you can relate, my sympathies, my dear. You are not the only one.

I ordered this book from Amazon sort of by accident. I was searching for The Female Brain, another good book, when I saw this one and ordered it too.

I know, I know, my New Year’s resolution last year was not to purchase any more books. My goal was to trade books with friends or borrow them from the library or try out one of those book-swapping web sites, but not spend money on them. I think I lasted about four months. I’m sorry, but life without that cheery, smiling Amazon box waiting for me when I get home from work every now and then is simply a life not worth living!

And I digress yet again. Female Brain Gone Insane is for menopausal women like myself who have been blindsided by symptoms that are making life crazy. In my case, the most evil symptoms have been fatigue, brain fog, and memory problems that made me feel like a doddering old fool. This book offers lots of TLC and some step-by-step instructions, including worksheets and checklists, that even in my brain-addled state I was able to follow. It contains suggestions for dietary changes, vitamins, supplements, and hormones that can help right a system gone haywire with what is basically reverse-adolescence. It also offers guidance on managing stress and identifying your emotional type. There’s an overwhelming amount of information out there about what vitamins and supplements to take, and this guide helps you figure out what and how much you might need.

I am not a medical expert, but I have done enough research now to know that at the very basic level, women should be supplementing their diets with:

  • A good multivitamin
  • Omega 3 fish oil
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D (in addition to what’s in the multivitamin). I take mine with Vitamin K-2 for added bone and heart health.

If you can, read this book without reading any reviews or otherwise knowing what it’s about. One of the coolest things about this book is trying to figure out what’s going on. The story is told from the perspective of a five-year old child who has lived his whole life in a single room. I’m at a bit of a loss as to what genre this book falls into. It’s a very strange world that you’re in inside this kid’s head, and as the circumstances of his life are slowly revealed, the story evolves from a naive and very limited view of reality into a chilling, suspenseful drama about innocence, evil, the will to survival, and the love between parent and child. And that’s all I’m saying about the plot.

This book was a milestone for me, as it is the first book I’ve read on my Android cell phone’s Kindle app.

Kindle app on Droid phone

I bought hubby a Kindle for our 25th wedding anniversary last year and was delighted to find out that you can share Kindle books among other Kindle users. My Droid X phone has an unusually large screen, but even still, I was hesitant to try to read a book on it. Staring at my phone for any extended period of time did not sound appealing. But Room was so gripping that soon after I figured out how to turn the pages on my touch screen, I was lost in the story and forgot all about the medium. I’m not ready to give up all my hard copy books quite yet, but it’s pretty cool to know that there’s always a book to read with me wherever I have my cell phone.

What are you reading this winter?


§ 2 Responses to Books I’m Reading – Winter 2011

  • Big huge Franzen fan here. Loved Corrections. Couldn’t put it down and this was during my first time ever vacation at an exotic location. I thought his acerbic wit was to die for.

    So glad to read your review. I’ve had Freedom on hold at the library forever but now I think I must break down and buy it.

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