Category: favorite books

So many books. . .

Just a few more reading days remain in 2007 and as I had suspected, I didn’t read nearly as many titles as I wanted to this year. The miserable maxim “So many books, so little time,” is a nasty six-word nugget of truth.

There are, indeed, many books left on my TBR stack.

But enough moaning and groaning about the poverty of reading hours left to us after a busy day. I read some great books in 2007. I will list my faves for the Edglings and for posterity, with a special (drum roll) spotlight on my favorite book of 2007 on Monday. Off we go, in no particular order (I am not even entirely sure in which order I read them . . .)

1. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Piccoult: Trim away the bits of reality-defying details (and they are just bits) this was a great book about the bonds of familial love and how far we will let it take us.
2. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: The best part about this tale is its very satisfying ending.
3. When Madeline Was Young by Jane Hamilton: I’d waited years for Jane to write another book, ever since I read A Map of the World. I bought Madeline the day it was released in hardback, something I hardly ever do. It didn’t thrill me like Map did, but it was still artistry in words.
4. Memory Keepers Daughter by Kim Edwards: I bought it based on cover appeal alone. Even before I read the back cover copy I was ready to buy it. The little white infant dress on the cover, the icon of innocence, was the lure for me. It wasn’t my favorite book, just among my favorites. The ending was not near as satisfying at Water for Elephants, but the beginning was stellar.
5. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See: Not an easy read but expertly told. I felt pain in my toes as I read, that’s how real the depiction of foot-binding was. The interesting thing for me is, I didn’t like Lily the protag. She infuriated me big time. And yet I emotionally connected with her. I think it’s because with the first person narrative, it’s Lily who is telling the story and she is painfully transparent. She made horrible choices. And yet she told us about them anyway. Gotta have respect for that.
6. Feeling for Bones by Bethany Pierce: I didn’t read a ton of CBA literature this year (SMBSLT) but I found time to read this debut novel by Pierce. Beautiful writing, richly developed characters, no formulaic writing here. I will read more by this new writer.
7. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini: The bar was set pretty high for this second book by Hosseini. The Kite Runner was my favorite read of 2006. I liked this second book very much, but it doesn’t outfly the Kite. It’s good, maybe as good. Just not better. Still, one of my faves for 2007.
8. Peony in Love by Lisa See: Sad, sad, sad book. But completely original. Not another one in 2007 like it. Just don’t read it while sharp objects are nearby.
9. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls: Another very sad read. But somehow Walls made me smile. I don’t know how she did it. It wasn’t a humorous book, not by a long shot. But you won’t be driven to find sharp objects either. It was a riveting read.

So. There you have it. My top 9 for 2007. Come back on Monday and I’ll share with you my top read for 2007 and what awaits on my To Be Read stack for 2008.

See you then . . .

A thousand reasons to read Splendid Suns

There was a period of many months when my standard answer to, “What good books have you read lately?” was a simple three-word response: The Kite Runner. Even after I had long since read it, making it not a “lately” book at all, I’d still come back with the same answer.

I’ve tried to distinguish what moved me so much as a reader that I’d be so enamored of a book set in war-torn Afghanistan, told from the point of view of a man, and that was so desperately sad in places. I can only say Khaled Hosseini paints humanity in such simple, eloquent strokes, if you’re human, you can’t escape being drawn in: hook, line and sinker.

So I was fairly anxious to get my hands on A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini’s newest title, released just last month. My mom, an avid reader like me, got a copy the day it released and had it with her on the plane as we traveled together to my son’s graduation. Airline attendants would walk by, see the cover in her hands, and say something like, “Oooh! You’ve got it! When did you get it? Have you started it?” And for several minutes there was no talk of cabin service or $1 earphones or locating the exit nearest you, just chatter about The Kite Runner and the new book, A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Mom finished the book a few days later and handed it over to me, beaming. I tried to finish the book I’d started while waiting for this one. I couldn’t do it. I set it aside after only a day and packed my bags for Afghanistan.

It was a trip I won’t soon forget.

As in The Kite Runner, Hosseini holds nothing back just because it’s ugly. War, civil unrest, terrorism, misogyny, hatred, fear, despondency — these aren’t pretty. But the world in which Hosseini’s characters are placed is the real world, not some made-up land where nothing ever seems to go right. I think that’s what grabs me in the tales Hosseini weaves: their realism. It’s easy to care about people who seem real. And that’s the hallmark of a great fiction writer: the ability to develop characters the reader cares about deeply. Passionately. Because they become real to you.

Splendid Suns chronicles the lives of two women, beginning with their separate childhood years and ending when their lives have been entwined with the unforgettable bonds of suffering and sacrifice. The setting, Afghanistan, is a character unto itself, as it was in The Kite Runner. It is like this impassive entity that refuses to intervene when it seems it should. “Make it stop!” I found myself saying to this faceless character, often. I could almost hear it saying back to me, “You make it stop,” which was of course impossible. This powerlessness was frustrating to me as the reader, but expertly used to the story’s advantage. I felt the powerlessness of the characters to change their circumstances. Even when they tried, they could not change them. I tasted this powerlessness on every page.

This doesn’t mean there weren’t moments of tender beauty and grace in Splendid Suns. There were. That’s what kept me reading. And the ending is particularly satisfying. But like its older brother, A Thousand Splendid Suns is the kind of book that clings. Haunts. Permeates. Indwells. I long to write a book that would do the same.

I have a new answer to the question, “What good books have you read lately?” It is now a four-word answer.