Once again, I failed to meet the 50 book goal, but I've had a lot of fun doing the reading! Maybe next year? Doubtful, since my wedding and (hopefully) dissertation will get in the way. But we'll see. Maybe if I choose short books?The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Translated by Lucia Graves)Amazon LinkRating:
When I first started reading this book, I was a bit put off by the vocabulary used. It seemed a bit over the top and "stilted" somehow. But I decided to chalk that up to the fact that it is a translation and slog through it. I'm glad I did.
The book is about a young boy whose father knows of a place called the Cemetary of Forgotten Books. This is where books no one wants anymore are stored to protect them from the fate of disappearing forever. This concept really appealed to me, and the way in which it was described gave me a great picture of this place in my mind. It's a tradition in his family, when a child reaches a certain age, he may go to this place and choose one book for his very own. The main character chooses a book that changes his life forever.
Someone begins following the boy around the city. And to make matters even stranger, the person claims to be a character from the book the boy chose. Things start happening to the boy that seem to be straight from the novels pages. Any attempt to find out more about the author of the book leads him deeper and deeper into the mystery, although he finds out the author had been killed in a dual, probably by one of his good friends. It all seems to have a supernatural effect to it, and can get kind of scary/creepy at times -- especially when they visit the home for old people to visit the authors old nanny. The twists and turns in this book are Dickens-esque, and the ending even surprised me, which is hard to do. I highly recommend it, if you can get past the vocabulary.The Story of Edgar Sawtelle - David WroblewskiAmazon LinkRating:
This book definitely kept me reading, but it was kind of predictable. It's about a boy named Edgar who was born without the ability to speak. He comes from a family of dog breeders, they have their own special "Sawtelle Dog" that they breed, train and sell. Interestingly, the Sawtelle dogs were started as a kind of experiment, to see if they could breed behaviors into dogs rather than physical attributes, to make them easier to train and better companions. That's not the point of the book, but it does play a part.
After the death of Edgar's father, his uncle moves in to help him and his mother with the dogs. The expected happens, and the uncle and mother begin a relationship, which horrifies Edgar. After the accidental death of a family friend, for which Edgar is afraid he'll be blamed, Edgar takes some of the dogs and runs away. He learns a lot during his adventures and meets up with a strange man who he stays with for a while. Eventually Edgar decides to go home and face his uncle...
Overall, the book pulls you in and is a good, fun, well-told story, even if it is a bit predictable. I often forgot about Edgar's inability to speak throughout the book - we are generally aware of his thoughts, and he communicates through sign to the dogs and his mother. My only real complaint is the element of the supernatural that pops up, where Edgar can see and speak to ghosts at two (possibly three... hard to tell whether it's a ghost or he is just hallucinating for one) points in the book. I thought that was pretty lame and unrealistic, and in both cases the same effect could have been had by perfectly natural means. In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam - Robert S. McNamera and Brian VanDeMarkAmazon LinkRating:
In case you don't recognize the name, Robert S. McNamera was the Secretary of Defense during most of the Vietnam war. He wrote this book in the late 90s using notes and memoirs written by himself and others during the time of the events. His reasoning was because he saw the administration at the time making many of the same mistakes that his administration made in Vietnam. I feel that is even more true now with the situation in Iran and Afghanistan.
This was a book club book. At first, I was hesitant to read it. Skimming the book showed lots of names and places I'd never heard of (somehow my US History classes only ever got to the 1920s each year) and I thought it'd be boring and I'd be left behind not knowing what was going on. But fortunately, McNamera does a great job explaining who everyone is (and in case you miss it, there's also a list of names and descriptions in the back of the book). He's also a wonderful story teller, making the book seem a lot less like a historical text. It's not just names and dates. It tells of his relationships with both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, his relationship with other members of the cabinet and members of the military serving in Vietnam. His thoughts and opinions on different bills that are passed or memos delivered to the Presidents. I was really impressed with the book, and learned a lot about Vietnam and the government in general.Letters to a Young Mathematician - Ian StewartAmazon LinkRating:
I have no idea how to explain the genre of this, but it is excellent and highly recommended to EVERYONE, regardless of your interest in math (or lack thereof). The book unfolds as a series of letters from the author to Meg, a fictional (as far as I know) female with an interest in mathematics. The author, in case you are unaware, is a famous mathematician in real life. He's done lots of great research in the field, but in recent years his work has mainly been in writing "popular mathematics" - that is, books that the rest of us can understand to explain complicated, but interesting apsects of math that we don't see in school. Meg is made to be the daughter of a family friend. At the start of the book, she's in high school and contemplating becoming a math major. By the end of the book, she's a tenured professor/researcher at some unnamed university.
At the start of the book, she has questions about how much money she could make with a math degree, whether it will just be more of the same crap she learned in high school but with bigger numbers (as is the usual pattern before college), whether learning mathematics will change her view of the world and change her view of beauty, and so forth. As the book goes on, it changes to talk about different ways of teaching mathematics (bad vs. good teachers), what kind of research problems mathematicians tackle, what it takes to get tenure, conferences and travel around the world...
Ok, I'm making this sound really boring. It's not, not at all. It's the ANSWERS that are amazing, not the questions. Give it a try. I think you'll be surprised. It's a really fast read, and worth the few hours you'll put into it.A Mystery of Errors (A Shakespeare and Smythe Mystery) - Simon HawkeAmazon LinkRating:
Historical Fiction, Mystery
My final book of 2009, this is another short read, finished in a few hours on December 30. The main character, Symington Smythe, is traveling to London and on the way becomes friends with William Shakespeare, who is also on his way there. The two become entangled in a strange mystery, involving a girl (who Smythe falls in love with) who is engaged to be married by way of an arrangement by her father to a gentleman who she's never met. She is not interested in marrying this man, as she wants to marry for love. The man keeps flip flopping on whether he wants to marry her at all, and claiming he did not say/do the things he said/did at their last meeting. As such, she is beginning to be regarded as a madwoman. When the man is believed to be murdered, Smythe wishes to clear her name... and then the man shows up, perfectly alive, with seemingly no recollection of his murder! As the mystery unfolds, anyone with a good background in Shakespeare and the play on which the title of this book is based can probably guess the answer to the mystery, although perhaps there is a slight twist that will throw you off? Regardless, it's a very fun book with lots of little historical tidbits thrown in. I'm looking forward to finding the next books in the "Shakespeare and Smythe Mysterys" collection!