50 Books in 2011 for my friends around the world discussion

Karen's 50

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message 1: by Karen (last edited Jan 15, 2011 12:54PM) (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments As I have already explained to Evan, I will probably not get to 50 (without the magic of a kindle where do you find 50 books in English in Chile, that are actually worth reading?). But I will do my best to get close, that is my promise.

So, number 1.....
The Coffee Trader by David Liss
The Coffee Trader - David Liss
2.5 / 5
Set in Amsterdam and focussing on the life of immigrants, and especially jewish immigrants, this book was a complex mix of history that I don't know a lot about. There were some interesting comments on what it was like to live as an immigrant after escaping the Spanish inquisition, but in general the characters were developed in a relatively superficial way, thus rendering the story difficult to relate to. The plot was complicated, but not suitably veiled in mystery to provide any great surprises at the end, and towards the end I was beginning to wonder when the book might finish. I understand perhaps what the author was trying to do by framing the difficulties and constrictions of Jewish immigrants at this time in a story about commodities and futures trading, but he didn't quite achieve it. Perhaps with a less superficial and obvious description of the characters, and more time spent on their development, he may have succeeded.

message 2: by Karen (last edited Jan 30, 2011 07:38AM) (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments I Dreamed of Africa (tie-in edition) by Kuki Gallmann
I dreamed of Africa - Kuki Gallmann
I enjoyed this book. It contains vivid descriptions of life in Kenya, that evoked strong sensory reactions. It is an incredibly sad story, but the author shows remarkable courage under extremely trying circumstances, and is one of those resilient people that turns sadness into hope and opportunities. I will admit I am a sucker for a good true story, and if it then makes me cry buckets too (which this one did), I find it to be hard to be critical. Sometimes I found the stories a little disjointed, and I got a bit lost keeping track of all the characters (any true life story has a lot of characters I find), but that didn't detract from overall sense of courage which left me slightly in awe of the author.

message 3: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments Travels in a Thin Country A Journey Through Chile (Modern Library) by Sara Wheeler
Chile: Travels in a Thin Country
This rating has a couple of dependent factors, which could make it go up or down accordingly. Let me explain.
If you live in Chile or have strong associations with the country and have visited some of the places that she talks about, it will automatically go up. If you have not, it will drop considerably I suspect.
If you actually like arm-chair travel books you would also probably rate this book higher. If you do not (as I generally don't) it would drop to below what I have rated it.
My rating is a combination of number one and number two, I do live in Chile, and I do know many of the places that the author describes. I like the way that she manages to weave the history into the stories of the everyday people, along with the simple anecdotes that we all encounter when we travel. I like her spirit, and her passion. However, I don't usually read books like this because I simply don't like the genre. I prefer to go to a place and write my own narrative in my mind. You could then ask why would I even pick up this book? Again, refer to point one. Also, it was left to me by a friend, and I simply don't have a huge choice in books here in Chile!!
There is one quote which I do love though, apparently related to the author by a drunk citizen in Isla Navarino:
"When God created the world he had a handful of everything left - mountains, deserts, lakes, glaciers - and he put it all in his pocket. But there was a hole in his pocket you see, and as God walked across heaven it all trickled out, and the long trail it made on earth was Chile."

message 4: by Karen (last edited Jan 30, 2011 08:01AM) (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments A Mercy by Toni Morrison
A Mercy - Toni Morrison
An interesting book, that in typical Morrison style focuses on the relationships between women, in the era of slavery. Each character has their own voice in the book, written how they would write with often incomplete and grammatically incorrect sentences, enhancing the voice of each of the women. It is a complicated book, looking at abandonment and how mch one needs to be needed in order to have a sense of self. I got a little annoyed at the apparent lack of strength in these women, and their natural reliance on men, until I came to the last chapter and Morrison revealed the strength lying within one of them (the others remained disappointing in my eyes).
I like Morrison's books, they never fail to make me think. This is no exception, and although it lacks the plot of some of her more famous novels, her commentary on relationships is as thought-provoking as ever. When this was coupled with her successful use of the different voices, it made for an interesting read.

message 5: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments Q and A by Vikas Swarup
Q & A - Vikas Swarup
The best book I have read in ages. I think it was the basis for the movie "Slumdog Millionaire", which I also loved. The book is significantly different to the movie, and in my opinion better. I have read several excellent books from India in the last few years, and this is no exception. Witty, heartfelt, real feeling and honest, the writer takes you on a journey through an extra-ordinary life. One of those books that I just kept thinking "one more chapter, ok this is the last chapter" etc etc until 3 in the morning. Highly recommended.

And if you like this you will also enjoy Shantaram by David Gregory Roberts, which I read a couple of years ago (though at over 500 pages it might not be suitable for a 50 books in a year challenge!!). Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

message 6: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates
We were the Mulvaneys - Joyce Carol Oats
I started this book quite sometime ago, and it has taken me this challenge to finish it. I found it a little slow moving to pick up and put down as often as I usually do with books, but once I devoted some real time to it I enjoyed it. It looks at the disintergration and coping mechanisms of a 'happy all american family' when faced with the rape of their prized daughter. The portraits of each of the family members are drawn through their own narratives, and it has been some time since I have enjoyed the development of characters as much as I did here. I think the story is dramatized, but the way the characters are written I still enjoyed the book.

message 7: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments A Tiny Bit Marvellous by Dawn French
A Tiny Bit Marvellous - Dawn French
Strangely this book has a lot in common with the last while being completely different. This is about a modern-day dysfunctional British family, who don't really understand each other and have a complete lack of communication. It takes a light-hearted approach to the subject of family dynamics, while addressing some real issues faced by familys today such as work life balance, communication between teenagers and their parents, and the use of social networking for teenagers. The plot is interesting, with the Mum contemplating an affair, the daughter not speaking to the mum, and the son personifying Oscar Wilde. The voices are very well written, and the character development enjoyable, although at times I was left wanting to give the mother a good shake to try and stop her being so self-absorbed. Again, character development and voice were the highlights. Not as grim as the previous book and much easier to read.

message 8: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments Paradise  by Toni Morrison
Paradise - Toni Morrison
Another Toni Morrison book, with similar themes to everything else I have read from her of relationships between women, and the relationships between women and men. The men in this book come across as very dim, which detracted significantly from the premise for me of a completely isolated and largely self-governed African American town. It all went a bit Animal Farm towards the end, but as always left an element of mystery for the reader too.

I found it much easier to follow than A Mercy, and I liked it more. Worth a read if you like a close examination of relationships and social dynamics of isolated societies, or if like me you appreciate Toni Morrison's writing. Not her best work, but definitely worth the time.

message 9: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
A friend finally lent me this so I could see what all the fuss was about. I thought it was an interesting read, with plenty of twists and turns, and I found it strangely addictive. As Evan warned me, there is a lot of rape, but I found it an easy interesting read. I am not sure if it lives up to the hype, but I can see why it is popular and I will read the other two books when I can get hold of them.

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"It`s a bit rapey"

Still single ladies and gentleman

message 11: by Brook (new)

Brook Jadczak | 30 comments Evan wrote: ""It`s a bit rapey"

Still single ladies and gentleman"

i don't think i should be laughing at this, but i am.....

message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

There is a lot of very graphic rape in that book though for some reason.

message 13: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments Oh dear, I am a bit behind here.... damn you life for getting in the way!
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Kafka on the Shore - Haruki Murakami
I quite enjoyed this book, though I felt like I was getting lost at times. For some reason it just made me want to keep on reading, though with all the metaphysical goings on it usually wouldn't thrill me. It was a bit preachy about the way you should live your life in some parts for me, and these parts didn't seem to fit into the journey of the story naturally at times. I will probably try one more or his books, but there are other things I want to read first.

message 14: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments Number 11.
We Are All Made of Glue by Marina Lewycka
We are all made of glue - Marina Lewyck
A good easy read. Nothing outstanding about it, just your standard novel really held together by references to life as being different types of glue, hehe couldn't resist. I actually can't remember that much about it as I read it two weeks ago, and that probably speaks for its unremarkableness.

message 15: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments How We Are Hungry by Dave Eggers
How we are hungry - Dave Eggers (#12)
This is the first time I have read anything by this author, though his name has popped up a number of times. A collection of short stories is not my usual reading material, unless there is some underlying theme which there isn't here, but I loved it. It has been a long time since I read prose so original and well crafted as what is contained in this book. Some of the stories I immediately related to (climbing Kilimanjaro particularly appealed to me) and others were from completely unique points of views (a dog before he drowns was particularly interesting). I will definitely be searching out more by this author!

message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

Read Zeitoun . It was awesome.

message 17: by Karen (last edited May 26, 2011 07:02AM) (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Millennium, #3) by Stieg Larsson
The Girl who kicked the Hornet's Nest - Steig Larsson (#13)
I enjoyed this book more than the first one of his that I read (less rapey to quote Evan's phrase...) Actually from the minute I started it I was completely addicted to it and could not stop reading it. There were a lot of characters to get my head around, and the story didn't have the big plot twist of the first book, but I was entertained every minute of the way, and devoted enough hours to it that at one stage I thought I might actually be having a stroke caused by reading too much... Not a massive literary work by any means, but it should come with a sticker on the front cover "this story is highly addictive and may harm your health and relationships..."

Evan - Zeitoun has just been emailed home ready to go on my kindle.... it is no wonder I don't have a boyfriend - no one could take over from my electronic (kindle) boyfriend at this stage. He is awesome.

message 18: by Karen (last edited May 28, 2011 03:58PM) (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1) by Orson Scott Card
Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card (#14)
I don't know if this is cheating on this challenge, but I have actually already read this book before this week. However, it was about 15 yrs ago, and I couldn't remember much about it except that I loved it when I was 13 and I wondered if I would love it as much now. For some reason it popped into my head about 3 months ago, and only now with the help of my kindle did I have access to it. And the answer is yes, I loved it every bit as much 15 years after the fact. It is an intelligent book, with action to keep my 13 yr old mind happy, and an underlying story of morals, conscience and war to keep today's (rather more picky) mind happy. I probably won't now obsessively read the next 4 books in this series like I did 15 years ago, but at some stage when I am looking for a fast and entertaining but intelligent read, I will return to them again.

message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

People seem to love Ender`s Game. I should read it

message 20: by Karen (last edited May 31, 2011 10:37AM) (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri (#15)
One of the disadvantages with a Kindle is that you don't get to read the blurb on the back that tells you what a book is about. Therefore I was halfway through this book before I googled it and realised that it was actually a series of short stories and that I should probably stop trying to look for connections between each of them. In saying this I thought this was a great book, sensitively tackling the issue of Indians either living abroad or with connections abroad, and the ideas of family and community. Each time a story finished I wanted to know more, and I felt engaged and attached to each of the characters in the stories which is not a feeling easily created using short narratives. I just wish the book had been longer!

message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

hahaha awesome.

message 22: by [deleted user] (new)

Also you should read The Namesake, by the same author, it was also really great.

message 23: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Me talk pretty one day - David Sedaris (#16)
I really liked this book, and to be quite honest I am not sure why. It does not fit the "profile" of the type of books that I usually like. I think I could relate with a lot of what the author was writing (especially his experiences of trying to learn a foreign language and complete everyday tasks like buying things in the market). It is well written, funny, and honest. I will be reading more by this author!

message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

He is so good. Read "Naked" that is my fav, followed by me talk pretty. "Are those the thoughts of cows yes?" So good. His newer books are not the greatest. I would also read "holiday on ice" it is a long story about him being a christmas elf at a big NY department store, its so amazing and is the story that made he get famous.

message 25: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
Zeitoun - Dave Eggers (#17)
Evan is right, this is a great book. I can't say that I know that much about Hurrricane Katrina. I saw it on the news, and I heard about some of the horrible things that happened especially with regard to the robberies, looting and armed gangs, but this was a very personal look at how people act in times of emergency. I couldn't help thinking about how different the actions of the US government agencies were compared to the Japanese people and their agencies after the tsunami there. The book is a well written account of the incorrect detainment of one man who just wanted to help people, with a very honest account of the outcomes and consequences not only felt by him but also his family. It is a sad story, which I highly recommend reading, and we can only hope that people learn from this.

message 26: by [deleted user] (new)

How are you reading so fast???? Are you a kiwi reading robot???

message 27: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments Evan wrote: "How are you reading so fast???? Are you a kiwi reading robot???"

Haha - I told you I would speed up in winter! My classes keep cancelling leaving me whole afternoons to fill in... but I think I am going to have to slow down because I have a headache that I can't seem to shake and a feeling that it might be related to spending hours in bed with my kindle boyfriend!

message 28: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments Disgrace  by J.M. Coetzee
Disgrace - J.M. Coetzee (#18)
This book was horrible and wonderful at the same time. As the title suggests the main theme is disgrace, and it covers many aspects of this from personal disgrace brought upon oneself, personal disgrace inflicted by others, to the disgrace of animal maltreatment and the disgrace of the traditions being born into a new South Africa where martial law is the norm and widely accepted. Perhaps the most interesting line of development was the changing perspective of the author with respect to his view of women, moving from selfish and carnal to a realisation of his lack of understanding finishing and a general awe of their resilience in the face of adversity.

There is so much in this rather short book that I feel that I probably missed a lot of the allusions. I am sure that it is widely studied in University classes for this reason, and I believe that it won the Booker prize, and Coetzee was later also awarded a Nobel for literature. This is the second book of Coetzee's I have read, after my interest was piqued following a speaking he did at Melbourne book week a few years ago. Diary of a bad year, his other book that I have read, is interesting in a totally different way. It follows the relationships of three intertwined stories which in itself is not remarkable. It is the formatting that challenges the reader, as each story takes place concurrently on the page which is divided into three all the way through the book, therefore challenging the reader to keep the three stories simultaneously alive in their head. It is another book I would highly recommend not only for the literature, but especially for the original idea and the way it challenges our literary premise of what a good novel should be.
Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee

message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

That`s it, I can`t keep up. I bow to the Kindle Queen.

message 30: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments Evan wrote: "That`s it, I can`t keep up. I bow to the Kindle Queen."
Haha, like I said, not much else going on in my life at the moment! Kindle addicted... and I am still behind you!!

message 31: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments Blindness by José Saramago
Blindness - José Saramago (#19)
This book was difficult to finish after some of the other exciting easy to read books that I have been working my way through. In saying that, it is a good book. It is dense, and probably warranted a lot more thought than I gave it. I would compare it to the likes of Animal Farm, as a type of commentary on society and how it functions or doesn't function when thrown into unknown situations. The whole population goes blind except one woman, and it is an examination of the behaviour, attitudes and general coping mechanisms of this population of blind people. I had considered attempting it in Spanish, but given the density of language and ideas I am pleased that I stuck with the English version!

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Karen Leacock | 58 comments Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
Isand beneath the Sea - Isabel Allende (#20)
I enjoyed this book mostly because it was a story above all else, not designed to make me examine too many of my own values. It was about love and war and everything in between, but the underlying theme was slavery. It was reasonably written (though doesn't have anything on My Invented Country), and I enjoyed it.

message 33: by Karen (last edited Jun 26, 2011 05:27PM) (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Road - Cormac McCarthey (#21)
This book was truely horrible, and I am quite pleased to be finished it because I think it featured in a nightmare a few days ago! It is written with such humility that you relate to every difficult decision that the main characters (simply known as the man and the boy) have to make. It is bleak, there is no hope, and then things just go from bad to worse. I didn't like the ending as it seemed to go against the hopelessness of the rest of the book, and didn't fit with the story. It is a good book which is well written with an original style (hence the four stars) but it is desolate.

message 34: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway (#22)
A short and powerful account of one old man's fight to catch a massive marlin, and then the real fight to return to shore with it. A very short book, which you can't put down once you start it. This is a widely acclaimed book for very good reason, and Hemingway, as always, is the master of uncluttered powerful and suspenseful prose. A masterpiece.

message 35: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments The Psychopath Test A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson
The Psychopath Test: A Journey Throught the Madness Industry - Jon Ronson (#23)
This is an excellent book that is very hard to put down. It is a tumultuous expedition through the world of severe mental illness and madness in general. I sometimes wished it had a little more structure, and the scientist in me was dying to know if there were any studies into brain chemistry that were aligned with the famed "psychopath checklist", but overall it was a really entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable book.

message 36: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments Room by Emma Donoghue
Room - Emma Donoghue (#24)
This is a very well written book from the innocent perspective of a five year old kid. She does a great job with the writing, absolutely portraying a five year old's naive view of some horrifying events. I found it difficult to put down, but that may just be my obsessive reading behaviour. Recommended.

message 37: by [deleted user] (new)

I loved Room. So heartbreaking / well written.

message 38: by Karen (last edited Jul 06, 2011 06:45AM) (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments The Weather Makers How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth by Tim Flannery
The Weather Makers: How is Man changing the Climate and what it means for life on Earth - Tim Flannery (#25)
Yay halfway! And I had to force myself to finish this one, and I skim read quite a lot of the last part of it. So why did I read it? I have been teaching using a part of this book (which I found in a magazine) for the last couple of years, and thought while I was undertaking this ridiculous exercise of reading 50 books in a year I may as well try and educate myself a little more. What I failed to realise was that the chapter I have been using in class was the last chapter of the book (and the most interesting part) and the rest of the book is very different from this last chapter.

I can't say that this is a bad book - it's not. It is just boring. He has taken A LOT of scientific data from all fields of science, and written it into plain language that we can all understand. The picture is very grim indeed (to the point where I was questioning some of his conclusions as he works himself into a frenzy by the end of the book), and it has the potential to leave a reader thinking that the destruction of the climate of the earth and all the natural processes connected with it (food sources and water being the biggest issues) are already doomed. It does do a wonderful job of describing the effects of greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere and oceans and is very educational, but I was looking for more solutions than he seemed willing to offer. For all his innovate writing and research (of which he has done a great job) he was clearly lacking in innovative solutions. Unless you are extremely interested in all of the science behind climate change I would not recommend reading this book.

message 39: by Karen (last edited Jul 11, 2011 05:16PM) (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy (#26)
A beautifully written book with a unique perspective on life. I wasn't inspired by the story, but the prose is wonderful. Why is it that so many of the books that come out of India are this way, relying heavily on a unique vision of the world and in depth description of the people and places to carry them. Don't get me wrong, I love this about these books, I just find it interesting that for me they have the same perceived strengths (A fine balance, The inheritance of loss etc). I recommend this book.

message 40: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments Stiff The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
Stiff: The Curious lives of Human Cadavers - Mary Roach (#27)
I loved this book. It investigates all the different (and extremely interesting) ways that donated bodies are utilised. It covers the topic with humour without being crass, and I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish. I don´t know if this simply reflects my scientific experiences and interest but I highly recommend it. It isn't often you will find yourself laughing out loud at a book full of dead bodies....

message 41: by Brook (new)

Brook Jadczak | 30 comments Karen wrote: "Stiff The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
Stiff: The Curious lives of Human Cadavers - Mary Roach (#27)
I loved this book. It investigates all the different (and extremely ..."

I still haven't read this book and I'm DYING to! Pun intended!!!!

message 42: by Brook (new)

Brook Jadczak | 30 comments And i forgot to add to read her book "Boink". i really enjoyed it. she has a really good sense of humor.

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Karen, I told you that you would love that book and all its nerdy scienceness (New word , deal with it) . Also i think that Roach is a ridiculously good writer.

message 44: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments Can't wait to see what new word you invent when I read Boink and love it too....

message 45: by Brook (new)

Brook Jadczak | 30 comments i hear evan's all about innovation of the english language..... very cutting-edge....

message 46: by Karen (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1) by Suzanne Collins Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2) by Suzanne Collins Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3) by Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games Trilogy - Suzanne Collins (#28, 29 & 30)
A set of books that should come with a warning - highly addictive! I read these three in less than three days. I found them hard to rate - I loved them for the story. They reminded me of the Ender series, and the Tomorrow when the War began series (by John Marsden) which were huge when I was at school. I am a sucker for young adult literature, I love that it moves so fast, is intense, and I found these books relatively unpredictable which is a big step forward from some of the YA stuff I have read in the past. If you are looking for something fast and entertaining that won't make your brain hurt, I highly recommend this series!

message 47: by Karen (last edited Aug 28, 2011 08:34AM) (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments American Pastoral by Philip Roth
American Pastoral - Phillip Roth (#31)
The way I would describe this book is rambly (is that even an adjective?!) Maybe it was because I read it after the fast paced and exciting Hunger Games trilogy, or maybe it is just that, rambly, I don't know. The prose is great, but sometimes I wondered if he was writing just for the sake of putting more words on the page and to show off his excellent command of the style. The idea of deconstructing the typical American family was beautifully executed, but I got bored at times. Maybe I am just too impatient!!

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message 49: by Karen (last edited Aug 31, 2011 12:52PM) (new)

Karen Leacock | 58 comments Evan wrote: "WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE TYPICAL AMERICAN FAMILY???!!!!!"

Ok ok, I know nothing about TYPICAL American families (was the all in caps really necessary?? I find it a little upsetting that you are yelling at me over the interweb.....) Maybe I should have said "the stereotypical American family" or "the idealistic American family". What would you call it?!

message 50: by [deleted user] (new)

For some reason caps lock was on. whoops.

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