Friday, February 1, 2008

What I Read in January

Rather than just list the books I’ve read in 2008, I thought I’d copy what Tim Hallinan started doing and post about the books I’ve read each month.

Forgetfulness, by Ward Just is a book I picked up while browsing the front table at the Tattered Cover. This was at times a bit slow, but it explored some significant issues with regard to our post 9/11 emotions and views on terrorism and on being an American. I liked Just's narrative style and this book made me want to read more of him.

Josie and Jack, by Kelly Braffet: I bought this one based on Josephine Damian’s review. For anyone who reads Josephine’s blog, you’ll know I was intrigued by her enthusiasm for this one since JD starts far more books than she finishes. She’s a tough critic. I enjoyed the book and I thought it was well plotted and well written.

Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing, Illustrated by Joe Ciardiello. I hesitated to even list this one because it’s only 96 pages and most of them have illustrations or single sentences on them. I bought it when Tim Hallinan referenced it in his Writers Resources pages. It’s quite charming; it cuts right to the chase and is a good book to leave around just to have a quick reminder about some of the fundamentals. This would be the perfect gift for a writer.

Twinkle, Twinkle, by Kaori Ekuni was a book Tim Hallinan read and posted about a couple of months back. I was interested in it primarily because the chapters alternate between the points of view of a married couple. The book was translated from Japanese, so it takes place in Japan. The wife is a young, very confused and very unhappy woman who is married to a gay man. They both went into the marriage knowing what their situation was and the evolution of the relationship is painful and touching. I enjoyed this one quite a bit. It was a beautiful story.

On Love, by Alain de Botton was a book I learned about from this review at The Book Book. It is a novel about falling in and out of love, but it’s written in the style of a series of essays. I loved this book and kept reading passages from it aloud to Scott. He actually read it after I did and he very seldom reads fiction. I adore this author and have recently added four more of his books (all non-fiction) to my TBR stack.

Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill. I found Mary Gaitskill when I was bemoaning the lack of truly flawed female protagonists to Andrea Dupree, the director of my favorite place to learn writing, Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Andrea recommended Mary Gaitskill and I got what I was looking for. This was a gritty novel and when I think about how to describe it, the words that keep popping into my head are “grotesquely beautiful”. If I could craft one sentence as beautifully as Mary Gaitskill does, I would die a happy woman.

How Proust Can Change Your Life, by Alain de Botton. I loved On Love, but this one may have changed my life. In a series of chapters with titles like, “How to Take Your Time”, “How to Suffer Successfully”, “How to be a Good Friend”, and “How to Open Your Eyes”, de Botton explores topics by drawing on the works and the life of Marcel Proust. This is the best book I’ve read in a very long time. I’ve been eyeballing the mammoth copy of Swann’s Way on my shelf and trying to decide how soon I’m willing to tackle it.

The Sky Isn't Visible From Here, by Felicia C. Sullivan is the memoir of blogger and host of Writers Revealed, Felicia Sullivan. The author grew up in Brooklyn with a cocaine addicted mother who would never reveal the identity of Felicia’s father to her. The book alternates chapters recounting a childhood filled with poverty, insecurity and a rotating entourage of the men in her mother’s life, alternating with chapters of her own successful escape to Fordham and then to Columbia to pursue her MFA. Throughout her transformation from neighborhood girl to a successful Manhattanite, Felcia shares her struggles with identity, recreating herself and her plunge into and recovery from alcohol and cocaine addiction. Felcia’s mother disappeared the night before her college graduation and hasn’t been heard from in eleven years. This painful memoir recounts the struggle with this difficult relationship. I already thought Felicia was superwoman, but I am truly awed by all she's accomplished now that I know her story.

What was the best book you read in January?

A note to my Colorado blog pals. Please check out this post about an important bill going before the Colorado House Judiciary Committee on February 20th. Please urge Governor Ritter to support this bill on the juvenile direct file law.


Julie at Virtual Voyage said...

Thanks for posting this - good incentive to start reading something as well as blogs!

Josephine Damian said...

Lisa: glad you liked "Josie and Jack" - a gal from my writers group hated it because of the characters - she missed the whole point - how to make a story work with less than sympathetic characters, and how this bok offered understanding the variations and degrees of psychopathy.

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm glad you mentioned the Leonard book. I haven't heard of this but it definitely sounds like something I want to get.

"Dust Devils," a noir thriller by James Reasoner was the best thing I've read so far this year. It's short but with a lot of cool twists.

Larramie said...

Where, how and when do you find all this time to read, Lisa? Seriously?!

Carleen Brice said...

I'm with Larramie! Wow! I read a couple of good ones last month: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz and A Version of the Truth by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack.

Carleen Brice said...

And I just wrote Gov. Ritter. Thanks for making it easy to do!

Therese said...

Other than my own new novel, which is not presently in "best" shape, I've read just one book to completion. Sadly, it's not any kind of "best" either, so I won't name it!

Right now I'm reading Sue Miller's latest, with Mary Russell on deck.

Melissa Marsh said...

Hmm...I suppose the best book I read in January would probably be Maureen O'Hara's autobiography, 'TIS HERSELF. I really enjoyed it.

Lisa said...


So much to read, so little time :)


You can never tell what people will like, but I thought these were some of the most interesting and well drawn characters I've read in a very long time -- and I include the father, Jack's women -- all of the secondary characters too. I was actually pretty surprised that you liked this as much as you did because although the characters were brilliant, the action was fairly slow -- in a way that I enjoy, but didn't expect you to. :)


I should also mention that it's actually on those cardboard pages that they use for kids' books -- it's more like a book to enjoy as much for the illustrations, look and feel as for the simplicity of the rules.

I'm going to have to note "Dust Devils". I used to read lots of thrillers and I've gotten away from them, but I think there are some lessons I could learn from them that would be helpful to me right about now.


This month, all of the books were fairly short -- under 300 pages and none of them were difficult reads. Also, Scott goes to bed earlier than I do and I'm a bit of an insomniac, so I usually read for a couple of hours before I go to sleep.


I've got Oscar waiting and may tackle him this month. Oh, and thanks for writing to the Governor! Rep. Levy emailed me about the upcoming session and the bill and when I asked what else we could do she asked that we urge the Governor to support. I read through the bill twice and it sound very sensible to me.


I read Sue Miller's "The Good Mother" years ago and it really haunted me. I've got another of hers on the shelf that I've never managed to get to. I'll have to try to make the time.


It is so cool that you love all of those older movie stars and WWII era stories so much. I hope I have a chance to meet you when you go to the conference in April.

smallspiralnotebook said...

Lisa: Thank you! Thank you and more thank you!!!
Warmest, f.

Lisa said...


No, thank you. After reading your story, I am so inspired by all that you've accomplished and at the talented, confident woman that you are. Congratulations on the release of this wonderful book. I await the sequel :)

Steve Malley said...

Now that January's over, I'll say...

Nonfiction: Which Lie Did I Tell by William Goldman

Fiction: Mmm, a tie between Meg Gardiner's Crosscut and CS Harris' Why Mermaids Sing.

Lisa said...


I'll have to note these (I still have to get to Candice Harris' "What Angels Fear" -- it's on the stack).

I may have to check out the Goldman book. He is quite the interesting character himself.

Yogamum said...

I haven't been reading nearly as much as I should, but I enjoyed Geraldine Brooks' "The People of the Book" this month. I also read "The Madonnas of Leningrad" by Debra Dean -- also good, but not as good as Brooks.

Next on my stack: Neil Gaiman's "Stardust" because everyone is always raving about him and I've never read him.

debra said...

I am trying to find time to read more. Right now, it's while I'm in bed---not a good way to complete anything these days! I did read Lottery, Catching Genius, The Tin Box, Look Me in The Eye, and assorted mysteries. I'm hoping that 2008 brings me time and energy to relax and read :-)

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

I haven't read a damn thing in January, which is such a pity - I'm just too busy. I looked through my old posts the other day and was surprised at the amount of reading I used to do. What went wrong? PhD studies, that's what. *Sigh*

The best thing I'd read 'recently' is a book called 'The Raw Shark Texts' by Steven Hall. Apparently they want to make a movie out of it, which I believe will be impossible to accomplish well.

Shauna Roberts said...

I really enjoyed hearing about the books you read this month. I hope you do this again.

As for my favorite book read this month, I think it was Petty Treason by Madeleine E. Robins. It's about a "fallen woman" who's a detective in an alternate Regency England.

Sustenance Scout said...

YIKES more titles for the TBR list! This is way out of control but if I ever get to the point at which I'm reading as many books a month as you (and writing a new book, and maintaining two blogs, and working full time, and volunteering for a noble cause...!) the effort will all be worth it. Man, I'm pooped just listing all that, lol! Definitely read Oscar soon so you and Carleen and I can have a little book club session. I finished that in January, read Lynne Reeves Griffin's Negotiation Generation, and am almost done with The Time Traveler's Wife, which I've been meaning to read for ever. Also read The Acts of the Apostles for Junior Great Books with a quick review of The Giver on tap. Next up: Lisa See's Peony in Love. K.

Usman said...

My TBR is longer than ever. What I am reading is slow.
Orhan Pamuk's MY NAME IS RED. I am sure it is a great treatise in good multipoint writing for all authors. A great story. May be slow for some; not for me.
Lisa I guarantee you'll love it. Pamuk surely deserves his Nobel Prize. yes his protagonists are heavily flawed, yet likable and understandable in what they do and why.

Tim said...

Hi, Lisa --

I'm so glad you liked "Twinkle Twinkle." I really thought it was wonderful.

If you'll e-mail me a snail-mail address, I'll send you an ARC of "The Fourth Watcher," which I hope you'll enjoy. Morrow sent me scads of them (they're really generous in a lot of ways), and I'd love to send you one.

Haven't read much this month, what with everything, but what I liked best was a re-reading of Banana Yoshimoto's "Kitchen," which is one of my 10-15 favorite novels in the world.

Lisa said...


You'll have to tell me how you like Neil Gaiman. I've never read him either. "The People of the Book" sounds really good.


I hope you find more time! Hey, and your book list looks a lot like Larramie's. I read "Look Me in the Eye" and I have "Lottery", but I haven't gotten to it.

Orchid Hunter,

Hey, thank you for coming by. I can't remember how I found your blog, but your posts are fascinating. I'm still thinking about the one on sleep. And thanks for calling my attention to "The Raw Shark Texts". I just ordered it. When Fight Club, Life of Pi and Trainspotting all popped up in the first review, it sounded like something I'd like. It's possible they could adapt this (of course I haven't read it yet). The description makes me think of Memento, which I thought was great.


Actually Tim Hallinan gave me the idea. He posted his reads for December and I thought it would be a nice record beyond the list that I keep. AND, the book you described reminded me that I'm going to have to break down and look up "Regency England". I keep coming across descriptions of books set in that period and I have no idea when it was.


I think an "Oscar" lunch is a great idea. Hey, and if I had three kids (or two or one) I wouldn't be able to do any of this stuff. I don't cook often and I don't get out much :)


Well if you guarantee it, that's good enough for me. I've been meaning to read Orhan Pamuk anyway. I've read a couple of essays of his and I've actually been to Turkey three times, which makes me even more interested in reading him.


I really liked "Twinkle Twinkle" and back in July I'd resolved to read more books in translation, so that was my first (I think) translated from Japanese.

I already emailed you my address. That is so kind of you and since I read the first book in the series, I will feel especially honored to read the second one before the rest of the world gets to. Thank you very much!

Ello said...

Lisa, I can't believe you read so many! I am in awe!

Can't wait for Monday for MY reading fix! ;o)

Lana Gramlich said...

The best book I read in January was "Swords of Talera," by an incredibly sexy & talented writer named Charles Gramlich.

steve said...


I've mostly been reading books about 1968 politics and the '68 Democratic Convention--a book that's often overlooked is "No one was killed," by John Schultz.

But I needed some quick info about Zoroastrianism, as Helena's mother (in my DC novel) was a Parsi, and found the book, "Zoroastrianism," by Paula R. Hartz, in the Young Adult section of the library. It's wonderful--explains the basic tenets, gives an overview of the faith's history and includes passages from the Avestas (their holy book), commonly used prayers, and lots of pictures. I probably need to check out more "adult" literature on the faith. But this book has convinced me that Zoroastrianism is a truly beautiful religion, and that it would be a terrible shame if it disappeared.

Barrie said...

Wow, but you manage to get a lot read!

I've had the Elmore Leonard book on my TBR pile for a while. You've convinced me to move it up!

Subscribe Now: Feed Icon

Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf