Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Reading List

I have to be honest. 2012 was rather uninspiring when it came to books. Truthfully, much of this year has just involved keeping my head above water. Here is my recap. Resolutions later in the week. The coming year may bring some big changes for me personally, and for us as a family. We will see. In any event, I hope 2012 brings more than 33 measly titles. Let's shake things up this year by adding stars: 5 best, 1 worst. 

Book list:

Eldest and Brisingr: I am still not sure that I love these Paolini books. I think the story of the kid self-publishing and then getting a following is very cool, but these books are very lengthy and sometimes redundant. They are page turning because this sort of thing is, but maybe not really great. I will probably still read the last, provided I can get a deal on it, of course. Jedi Knight will probably love them in a year or two. ***

Engaging Teachers: Hey, I'm counting school books. At least the ones I read in their entirety. This is a very interesting book of essays written by teachers performing research in their classrooms. The idea of classroom teachers as researchers has never really been on my radar, but this little volume opened my eyes to a lot of things. I think it would be cool to publish in journals and so forth after I'm in practice. The current master's project I'm working on has potential for publication. I think this is something I would really enjoy. ****

Understanding By Design: This is the best curriculum book I have ever read, hands down. It provides a lot of theory, but also a wonderful scope for practice and application. I hope my next job is at a school with enough flexibility that I will be allowed to design my course from the ground up and not just be expected to tow whatever line they think is best. *****

Practical Research: Shoot me in the head. This book is, by turns, ridiculously basic (how to set up an e-mail account) and horrifically complex (unexplained formulas for statistical regressions, etc.) without any good middle ground. This book was all endurance. *

The Help: One of the best I read this year. Just as good as everybody said it was and then some. The movie left out a lot, but I also think it was a great edit and pulled in the most important aspects with wonderful performances. Whether you saw the movie or not, however, the book is remarkable. *****

Catching Fire: I read this with a tutoring student. This was a second or third reading. I think Catching Fire is my favorite of the trilogy. Less set up. No war. It is such a psychological book. Katniss' character has matured without stepping right over to crazy town. The author introduces plenty of new characters without missing a beat. And Finnick? What is not to love? It finishes with a cliffhanger second to none. I guess if you view this as a singular novel then it is a weakness, but taken as part of a whole, it works very well. I am looking forward to the movie. I thought the first one was a passable feat, with even some improvements over the book, but nothing quite captures Katniss' confusion and fear like her first person monologues. *****

Dragon books starting with Dealings With Dragons: These were cute enough. I read the four of them, but was pretty tired by the end. The first and second were the best. I think these would be spot-on for a 10 year old girl just starting to like fantasy. Funny and quirky, but a bit tiresome and predictable in spots. Ideal for a less mature reader. ***

Mockingjay: Another re-read with a tutoring student. I think this book is a fitting and painful end to the story Collins is trying to tell. I think teenagers should read these books, but mostly that they should understand them. Collins is trying to give a much bigger message than an awesome adventure story. These books force the reader to ask hard questions about the nature of war and its effect on those who fight. Is it worth it? ARE there causes worth fighting for? And no matter how hard we fight, what can we change? Is it possible for governments to be uncorrupted? People to be incorruptible? Mockingjay does drag in places, and I found myself a bit tired of being in Katniss's head--especially when she makes trips to crazy town. However, as a whole, this series is fantasy literature at its finest. I sincerely hope she doesn't write any more for the series. ****

An Innocent Man: John Grisham wrote this non-fiction account of an innocent man on death row and the years it took to free him. He used his convictions from this book to write a fictional book about the same topic. It helped me to deeply examine my own thoughts regarding our criminal justice system. My thoughts toward his main "character" however, were ambivalent. He isn't very sympathetic or likable . . . more like pitiful. The guy didn't get accused of murder for nothing.  ***

Catcher in the Rye: Really? A classic? There is a reason people are happier when teenage boys keep their thoughts to themselves. I didn't love it. I won't even pretend that I got much out of it. **

The Walk: Meh. Richard Paul Evans. I probably don't need to say more. It is an interesting premise, but the book just tries way too hard to be profound. Didactic. **

Harry Potter Books: I re-read several of these this year with Padawan. He really enjoys the reading aloud of these more difficult books. The fourth we listened to on CD in the car. They are really just so good. After Goblet of Fire I left Padawan in the dust and just had to finish the series again. The five-star rating is the series as a whole.  *****

Dare, Dream, Do: I read this book primarily because I have become virtual friends with Whitney Johnson, the author, and host of a really wonderful blog of the same name. I don't normally read this kind of book, not being really into self-help books. I find them by turns motivating and depressing. I have to say that this one was in a similar vein for me, though highly readable. Whitney chose wonderful guest blog posts to demonstrate the points she was trying to make, and her own writing and thoughts tie it all together. My ambivalence toward it (the motivating and depressing bit) probably has a lot more to do with my own issues. I'm good at dreaming, and even daring by Whitney's definition. The doing? Not so much. Though the intention of the book is to get the reader moving, it had more the effect of making me wonder just what I had accomplished because I felt the need to compare myself to the selected entrants in the book. ****

Jo's Boys: This was one of the last books on tape I listened to prior to quitting my paper route. I enjoyed it well enough. However, I must say that Alcott's best work really is little women. These books when Jo is running her school are really just thinly disguised sermons on good and righteous behavior. Even her characters who TRY to reform are often struck down. There is one character in particular I found myself really rooting for, but Alcott never let him quite rise above his station because he just wasn't perfect enough. By the end of this one I found myself saying, "I get it! If you are righteous you are blessed!" The thing is, "blessed" in Little Women means surrounded by friends and babies and laughter and books and love. Though the little women grow up and continue to say that, yes, this is what blessed means, Alcott rewards her perfectly righteous little misses with money and fame too. In addition, I think she never quite resolves the Jo and Laurie question. They are still just so chummy in this book . . . like a brother and sister . . . but I can really never quite forget that they are NOT brother and sister and that he once loved her. I just don't think Plantboy would go for me hanging out regularly with my brother-in-law like a BFF. ***

Goose Girl: I downloaded a version to listen to on our very long road trip this summer. It was really delightful. I then read some of the sequels. I liked River Secrets and Forest Born very much, and both are easier reads than Enna Burning. Enna is just a dark book. Still, none of them quite match the charm of the first. The five stars are for Goose Girl. The last two books are four stars with the series as a whole four stars. *****

Sarah's Key: This book better matches all the Second World War book-reading I did a year or two ago. This book is the terrible story of a round up of French Jews, by the French, near the beginning of the German occupation of France. This story is really fascinating, but the modern life overlaid on the past I didn't love. Why do the women in these books always feel the need to get divorced at the same time they come to terms with the past? ****

Seer of Sevenwaters: Reviewed before. The Sevenwaters books that followed the original trilogy just aren't as good. I re-read this because another one just came out. And though it doesn't look any more promising than Marillier's recent work, I have no doubt that I will read it anyway! ****

The Grapes of Wrath: I think this is a healthy book to re-read in an election year. It reminds me that the people have an on-going responsibility to fight systems that aren't working for them. It also reminds me that while neither governments or corporations have the answers, I'd still rather align with the group that at least pretends to represent the people and can be un-elected! *****

To Kill a Mockingbird: I think this one and the previous are tied in my mind for THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL. Both books have such important things to say. Though, it must be admitted, this one is more entertaining. Though themes are just as heavy in this book, its child-like narration gives it a much lighter touch. This was fun to read with a book group. I have done many re-readings of this book, but I haven't had a chance to talk about it with others since high school. My perspective have deepened and changed since then. *****

The Only Grant-Writing Book You'll Ever Need: This is actually a very engaging how-to book. I would recommend this for reading for any person setting out to write a grant, or even thinking about it. *****

The Forgotten Garden: I really enjoyed this Kate Morton book better than the one I read last year. This is a complex and layered story taking place over decades, in four generations, and through many turbulent times in history. It is a lovely story about women bonding through generations of love and mystery. An engaging read that really pulls you in from the beginning, but doesn't reveal all of its secrets until the last handful of pages. Mystery without too much macabre and no supernatural. Very enjoyable. The only thing difficult about the Morton books I've read is that time-wise she is all over the place. Each chapter (often short) in this book starts with a date and suddenly you have to re-think characters, situations, etc. I constantly had to remind myself what the characters knew versus what I knew. It would have been helpful to read with a timeline I could add to and character bios for continual reference. ****

Little House in the Big Woods: Padawan and I have been reading this series aloud and really enjoying it. This time around I enjoyed looking up a little bit more about Laura Ingalls' life and understanding better about where fact and fiction intersect in these books. I also never realized that she worked on these books with her daughter, who was probably a more gifted writer. Without Laura's past and stories there would have been no books, but without her daughter's gift for words there would have been no publishing. What a selfless thing to remain forever uncredited for such a gift to children the world over through so many generations. *****

The Robe: I am reading this for book group in January. I'm nearly finished so I'm counting it for 2012. It will probably get its own post. Not an easy read--more like a labor of love. It is probably one of the most life-changing books I ever read, however; and this read-through if proving profound again. ****

1 comment:

Janssen said...

It's been well over a decade since I read Jo's Boys and I still am sad about Dan.