December 22nd, 2005

last unicorn

End-of-year Book Post

Well, I did it. I read 52 books over the course of the year. This does not include those I started but didn't finish, read chunks out of (instead of front-to-back), and those I had to set aside lest I throw them at a wall ("Women Who Run With the Wolves," I'm looking at you!).

47. In Search of Islamic Feminism: One Woman's Global Journey (Elizabeth Warnock Fernea)
This was a strange book to read. It was interesting, but frustrating. It's more of a travel book than any kind of academic examination of the realities of women's lives and/or feminisms in Islamic countries and
communities. The "personal story" element is sometimes engaging, but as an anchor for the book's questions, ultimately unsatisfactory. Fernea is supposedly an expert in the area (she teaches "Middle Eastern Studies" in Austin), but she seems far too hung up on her own expectations and pre-assessments. She keeps asking the same questions, even when her interviewees tell her (repeatedly!) that they're the wrong questions to ask, that she's missing the point. **

48. Tooth and Claw (Jo Walton)
A Victorian novel with dragons! And it works surprisingly well. I really enjoyed this book, although it felt a bit short and slight at the end -- there was a little too much coincidence in the wrap-up (well,
that is how Victorian novels often wrap up, so I can't complain too much), and I would have liked to see more exploration of some of the sub-plots (particularly the "Catholic" and "abolitionist" elements).
Recommended, though. I don't think anyone else has tried anything quite like this, and that it succeeds at all is quite an accomplishment. ****

49. Blankets (Craig Thompson)
This is a book that seems to generate either adulation or outright hatred. It's been hailed as a graphic novel breakthrough into the mainstream, and disparaged as "that one graphic novel about the sensitive emo Christian dude" (Bookslut). I enjoyed the book, but the criticism is fair: it is a story about first love and loss and it is a bit mopey; that's probably part of why it's been so latched on to as a great example of graphic fiction that the mainstream can embrace. The art is, in my opinion, quite nice, attractive, but not distracting. It's no deeper than any other story of an adolescent male convinced he's
discovered angst for the first time -- but then, doesn't that kind of describe Hamlet (no, really.)? ***

50. Tipping the Velvet (Sarah Waters)
Oooh, so good. I highly recommend this one. It's a lesbian coming-of-age tale, set in 1890s England. The writing is literary, but not excessively so, and the story is fascinating. I was absorbed enough
that I wanted to shake sense into the narrator on more than one occasion. The ending was a touch on the fantastic side, but I think I can forgive it. One warning: it is quite explicit in places, although
not gratuitously so. But the easily-offended should give this one a pass. *****

51. The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (Umberto Eco)
Despite the thick-and-fast references to wartime Italian popular culture, this is probably Eco's most accessible book yet. I'm not sure that's a good thing, entirely -- while it was an enjoyable read, I
didn't feel the same intellectual density that I look for in his work, nor did I get the same sense of reward from reading it. Which is a shame, because it should be an engaging tale: a man loses his memory,
but can recall nearly everything he's ever read; he goes back to his childhood home in an attempt to recover his past. But it turns into a search for first love/the feminine, which seems just a little too... standard... for my taste. Still, Eco at his worst is not a bad read. ***

52. The Fifth Child (Doris Lessing)
Proof that children are evil! Well, sort of. This is the story of a "perfect family" that is suddenly torn apart by the birth of a child who just doesn't fit. He seems inherently different, although one could never be sure if he was really "born that way" or if it's his family's ambivalence toward him that makes him different. It's a disturbing read, a situation where the mother (whose story this is) desperately tries to do the right thing when there simply doesn't seem to be a right choice. It's an indictment not only of the idea of the perfect family, but of the society that doesn't know how to deal with anyone who doesn't fit right in. ****

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This has been an interesting experience, tracking my reading. I've never done it before -- never really taken note in any real way of what I've read (beyond, of course, class assignments). I like the idea of
being able to look back and see what I've actually read, and what I thought of it at the time. Even these little capsule reviews are helpful, although it would be nice (not realistic, but nice) to have a more detailed examination of my reading material, with plot summaries and thematic overviews as well as reviews. That won't happen, though -- sometimes it took quite long enough to get just these short little
reviews done.

I think I'll be tracking and reviewing again in the coming year -- it doesn't seem unrealistic to set myself another 52-book challenge (now, does anything I read between now and the new year count toward that
total? Hmmm....).
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