Book review 2009

2009 Was a pretty good year for me and Books. Not as good as 2008, when I discovered Shannon Hale and all her glory, but better in that I didn’t read anything to do with vampires—and that is a relief. I didn’t get through as many books as I have in the past, but my leisure reading hours were considerably more full of personal relationships (one person in particular) than they have been in past years.

I feel that my selections, though few, were of good quality. Here are the few books I read, ranked for awesomeness.

Notes From A Small Island, Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is my number one favorite find of 2009. I love his snappy, goofy, witty, laughing-myself-into-tears  style. He was recommended to me by B’s wonderful mother, who shares his slightly wicked sense of humor. This book is an account of his farewell walking tour of England after having lived there for 20 years. Being a little bit of a Britophile, who explored a few of the same areas during a B&B tour in 2004, I couldn’t resist his frank look at the charms and quirks of ‘the small island.’ I think he perfectly summed up the American/England dichotomy: “In America 200 years is a long time. In England 200 miles is a long way.” That’s not a quote from the book, but I think it shares the perspective.

The Undaunted, Gerald Lund

Casting aside the fact that you and every character in the book except the protagonist have figured out the love story the first moment it is set up, this is a fantastic work. It follows more the spirit of Fire and the Covenant than The Work and the Never Ending Glory. The first section of the book is an interesting, if overwritten, look at the terrible conditions faced by English miners in the mid 1800’s. The second follows the heroic struggle of one family in a band of pioneers who attempt to settle the extreme South East of Utah in what is known as ‘The Hole in the Rock Expedition.’ The geography of the story was especially interesting to me as it takes place in and around Cedar City in the 1880s. I appreciate Lund’s ability to entwine historical accounts with hard fact and fictional character’s emotional arches. But come on, the love story. Come. On.

In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson

My second venture into Bryson’s travels and mind, this time as they criss-cross my beloved land of Australia,  was no less disappointing. This is a quote from the first chapter that I hope will help you appreciate both the scope of the book, the country, and this man’s genius wit:

“Australia is such a difficult country to keep track of. On my first visit, some years ago, I passed the time on the long flight reading a history of Australian politics in the twentieth century, wherein I encountered the startling fact that in 1967 the prime minister, Harold Holt, was strolling along a beach in Victoria when he plunged into the surf and vanished. No trace of the poor man was ever seen again. This seemed doubly astounding to me—first that Australia could just lose a prime minister (I mean, come on) and second that news of this had never reached me.”

That said, I recommend you read at least the first chapter, which is conveniently posted here: http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/b/bryson-sunburned.html

Thanks NYTs!

Persuasion, Jane Austen

Once again I found that Jane Austen is brilliant. You really have to work when you read her. The sentences are long, like, LONG, like this one doesn’t even compare, at all, even in the number of commas department.  And the vocabulary is GRE worthy, but in the end she is so funny, and so right. This is really beautiful story can be summed up in the following: Nice girl finally gets her man. I think every girl can relate, especially those who have had to wait little longer than the average, or  wade through muddier than normal circumstances to find their love.

I was pleased that I had watched two movie versions before I took the plunge, but it was worth it.

This Life She’s Chosen, Kristen Sundberg Lunstrum

I picked up this book of short stories at the SUU bookstore clearing sale for 30 cents or something ridiculous. It was really wonderful, especially for 30 cents. (by the way, why does the key board have ^ as an option, but ¢ is buried in the symbols—dumb) It was perfect for summer/beach/family reunion reading. It also reminded me how much I love short story collections. They are so manageable.

Women of Genesis: Rebekah, Orson Scott Card

Now, I’m a Card fan. Granted, he has his flaws, but I have found his works to be emotionally compelling with fascinating characters and, in his historical/biblical fiction, insightful and imaginative looks at people and events. Until this book. For the first half I had to will myself to keep going, and though the second half was better, the action was dull, but for the last forty or so pages.  In the introduction Card makes an apology for the hast in which this had to be published, and some unresolved imbalances in the story. Apology accepted. I still want to finish the ‘Women of Genesis’ series by reading Leah and Rachel as ‘Sarah,’ the first book, was excellent.

Mr. Darcy’s Daughters, Elizabeth Aston

Hopefully my last attempt at reading Austin spin-offs. This was crap. The end.

The good news at the end of this bad news ending is that 2010 started off with a literary experience I will not soon forget.

If you have not heard about or read the story of Three Cups of Tea and Greg Mortensen’s work building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, I HIGHLY recommend you look into it and read the book. It was amazing. The language is a little baffling at times but on the whole it is a stunning story of a modern hero.

Go forth, and buy/borrow:

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10 thoughts on “Book review 2009

  1. My own personal review of the books listed (whether or not you’re interested). Love, love, love Persuasion. I read all of the Women of Genesis series this year and didn’t really like them, but kept reading anyway. I didn’t like the speculation and since all they could be was speculation I guess I shouldn’t have read them in the first place. Three Cups of Tea I found interesting, but the writing wasn’t really that great and I had a diifcult time plowing through it. Amazing if the story is true and not embellished. The Bill Bryson and short story collection books sound interesting. Right now it’s Crime and Punishment for me. My favorite reading picks of 2009 were John Adams, and Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. You must read those.

  2. So much nonfiction! Humph. You totally plagiarized my comments about the ^ vs. the cent sign, btw. Don’t try to play it like my former BYU student who claimed to have a photographic memory and that’s why he would confuse things he read with his own thoughts. I didn’t buy it then, and I won’t buy it now!
    But lots of these do look good. I can’t believe you hadn’t read Persuasion yet. I love that one.

  3. Dang. Breaking Dawn was in 2008? I guess I’ll have to kick that off my 2009 list. My list was paltry for 2009. I appreciate book recommendations, especially because I don’t want to waste time with books that aren’t really that good (except, apparently Breaking Dawn).

    I’m glad you did this post.

  4. Sal, I honestly have no memory of anything you might have said or written about the ‘cent’ sign, but I will push all royalties I claim from it to you.
    Also, I am surprised by the amount of non-fiction. It wasn’t intentional. It probably also accounts for the shortness of the list. Good fiction is always easier to plow through.

    KGK- John Adams is on my list.

  5. Thanks for the tips! The Bill Bryson books look interesting. I’m going to put some Jane Austen on hold at the library right after this. I better start with “Emma” on a count of the fact that I have a daughter named after the character and all. And I’ll have to check out the Gerald Lund book for sure!

  6. Kate, I would not start with Emma. I found it the longest and hardest to get through of any I’ve read. My favorites are Sense and Sensibility and good old P&P. But, Enjoy!

  7. Thank you so much for this post. I’m kind of in a reading slump as of late. Juvenile fiction has taken over my life it seems which is great and all. (No! Not just Twilight. lol) However, I on rare occasions I want to read something written with adults in mind.

  8. Good news! I remembered two more books. Odd that I missed them, since it was just in December. I listened to The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander during my drive two and from CA over the Christmas break. Didn’t like them as much as I expected I would, but they do at least deserve to be on the list.
    I love books on tape. I should do a whole post about how great I think they are.

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