Allie (edith_jones) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

My book year always starts on Christmas Day, not New Year's Day like most people's.

So far I have read:

  1. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson, 1995, 282 pages.
  2. Before I go to Sleep by S.J. Watson, 2011, 358 pages.
  3. The Pact by Jodi Picoult, 1998, 496 pages.

Also, I've tried to read, but not succeeded in finishing two books:

  • The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks, updated version, 1985, 243 pages.
  • The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf, 2009, 373 pages.

    Notes from a Small Island was a re-read; this may have been the fourth time I've read it. When I'm having difficulty concentrating, or only have short spurts of time in which to read, Bryson is a perfect companion. This particular work was about his travels around the UK shortly before he and his English wife and children moved to the United States to be closer to the author's family in Iowa, and is often a re-treading of old grounds that he remembered touring when he first set foot on English soil in 1973, and an exploration of places he wished to visit before his move.

    Bryson is hilarious, sometimes outrageously funny, sometimes dry and quiet with his humour, and sometimes it is the vehemence of his various rants that gives his readers the giggles. Bryson is good for a rant about practically anything, from a boarding house landlady he encountered in Dover in the 1970s, to the appalling incomprehensibility of some of the varieties of the Scottish accent, to questions put to him by an innocent cashier at a McDonald's in Edinburgh. Never ask this man if he wants pie with that. Bryson's strongest rage is against modern developers and architects, the ones who are ruining the English landscape and doing their best to obliterate old buildings with stylish, new-fangled and incredibly ugly concrete towers that look like cereal boxes with eyes.

    However, although Bryson is the funniest annoyed tourist I've ever encountered, his love for his adopted homeland shines through so clearly that you can tell that his annoyance generally stems from a wish to preserve the country in the manner in which it existed many years back. His tales of beauties far outweighs his rants in importance, and are what turns his books from diatribes into wonderful travel books. Notes from a Small Island is great reading whether you're a Brit or a citizen of any of the less superior races of the world, and as always, it gets five stars and maybe a few more for familiarity and the feeling like when I'm reading this book I'm going home.

    Before I Go To Sleep is a story with an interesting idea, is told with a skill that belies the fact that this is S.J. Watson's first novel, and ends with a patness that almost destroys all the good I have to say about the novel. Write me a new ending that doesn't reward all the good guys and punish all the bad, and that isn't 100% entirely predictable, and then you'd have a novel that I enjoyed from start to finish. As it was, I enjoyed it from start to almost the finish, which isn't bad, and it was certainly a good read until the author crashed the book into the Land of Predictability.

    The story is of Christine, who has suffered a nasty head injury a long time in the past, and is suffering from the type of amnesia that allows her to get through each day and hold onto new memories while she is awake, but then erases all her recall after a night's sleep. Her husband must explain her existence anew every day. When a new neuropsychologist with a ground-breaking idea enters the picture, Christine begins to remember, much to her own distress, as it seems like the very foundations of her life are ones that she cannot trust. I'd recommend it for its engrossing nature and the imagination and knowledge that permitted the author to tell a fine tale, but I caution against the ending, and suggest that maybe you write your own if you are as fastidious about believable ending as I am.

    The Pact by Jodi Picoult, 1998, 496 pages, is yet another Picoult novel which I devoured with enthusiasm. When I read Picoult I get lost in the story, totally swept up by her stories, her characters, and her dialogue, which is excellent. For complete relaxation, she is who I turn to, and I'm glad that there are still more Picoult novels out there that I have not yet read.

    This novel focuses on Emily and Chris, a young woman and man, 17 years old, who have known each other since birth, grew up next door to each other, and who fall in love and start a relationship, much to the delight of both sets of their parents. When Emily kills herself one night, the first person to die in an apparent suicide pact, and when Chris survives the night with barely a scratch, the families, so close, are torn painfully apart, and Chris is charged with first degree murder. The investigation and trial portion of the novel are written with Picoult's usual intelligence, and as always, I was left asking questions about ethical problems that I never would have considered before reading the book. This one gets quite a lot of stars from me.

    Part Two (even though there wasn't a part one): Books that left me Cold.

    The Man who Mistook his wife for a hat by Oliver Sacks was a great disappointment to me. I was an avid New Yorker reader when I was married, and the medical column - Annals of Medicine - by Dr. Sacks and more recently by Dr. Atul Gawande were inevitably my favourite part of any issue that carried the column. I was highly eager to read this book by Dr. Sacks as I love his columns, and really liked the movie </i>Awakenings</i>, which was based on the true story of how patients who had fallen asleep decades ago due to an epidemic of encephalitis were awakened by the administration of L-Dopa.

    I gave up on the book halfway through. One of the things I like best about the Annals of Medicine column is that although the writers of the articles never talk down to the readers, they write in a way that makes their subjects widely comprehensible. This was not the case in this book, at all. I am well-read and have an excellent vocabularly, including a fair medical vocabulary, and I was stumped. What am I to do with a paragraph about the "faradisation of the brachial plexus"? Or "it has affinities to frenzied motor psychosis and the confabulatory ravages of Korsakov's syndrome"? I gave up. I may try again.

    The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf, is a book where I never developed any interest in any of the characters, and where I put the book down because I simply didn't care what happened to anyone in it. It's the story of two missing girls, one selectively mute, and the search for them and their families' pain. It's not just that I didn't care, even about the children in this novel, as they didn't act or think like any child I've ever met, it was the far-too-obvious uses of symbolism. I can't stand it when people are given names like (I'm serious) Fielda Mourning. Field of Mourning. Yes, that does give away the plot just a little. I don't think I'll be trying this one again.

    crossposted to 50bookchallenge
Tags: fiction, humor, memoir, mental health, modern lit, non-fiction, psychiatry, travel writing

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