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I should have known that I published my year-end post too early! I just finished another book during the final days of 2011, a Christmas gift my aunt and uncle picked off of my wish list: Beaten, Seared, and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of America by Jonathan Dixon. Jonathan is the husband of the excellent Nelly Reifler, which is how I knew of him and his book. I also saw an excerpt from the book performed at SWEET: Actors Reading Writers and knew I wanted to read it.

The excerpt found Jonathan, a student at the CIA, attending and participating in a chicken-slaughter. The actor performed the passage as poignant, but also funny, particularly a line about Jerry Garcia. It was terrific. Afterwards, when I briefly spoke to Jonathan about it, he said that he didn’t think the passage was funny at all! Reading it for myself, within the context of the rest of the book, I can see his point–it did come off as much more serious. Read the rest of this entry »

I named this post MOST MEMORABLE rather than BEST OF or something like that because I not only feel eager to revisit some of my favorite reads of the year, but my least favorite as well–perhaps Christmas brings out my catty side. I thought I’d stick to two books per list, with some honorable mentions, and chose them by simply thinking back about which books really stuck out to me, leaving off the list books that I read this year but aren’t “of” this year, like, for example, Their Eyes Were Watching God. The lists basically amount to my favorite and least favorite, but keep me from having to decide if I really did like The Marriage Plot more than some of the other excellent books I’ve read this year!

MOST MEMORABLE (RIGHT REASONS)

1. IN ZANESVILLE by JO ANN BEARD. Of course. Have I mentioned a list of favorites, ever, that didn’t include a book by Ms. Beard? If you haven’t read this yet–especially if you’ve ever been a fourteen year old girl–you need to get on it.

2. THE MARRIAGE PLOT by JEFFREY EUGENIDES. Ok. So my friend/coworker asked me the other day, “Did he just use Madeline to write about the two men in the book?”  She leaned toward answering “yes,” and although she was emotionally engaged in the book, and like me, felt as if she were reading something frighteningly close to her college experience, she wasn’t totally thrilled by the idea that Eugenides might have used his female character as an excuse to write about the men. I absolutely see her point, especially given that the last paragraph of the book is given to Mitchell, not Madeline, which definitely tells you something about whose story you’ve been reading. But, my thought is that Eugenides’s process was somewhat exposed in this novel. To me, it seemed like Madeline was his way into this world, and she introduced him to these people; I did not feel as if she were “used.” I do think that she was not the most interesting person in this book, but being less extreme of a personality than Leonard or Mitchell, acting less radically, I was able to slip into the book beside her and experience it with her. I’d love to know what others think about this! And, love to think about this. Hence its place on the list.

Also: By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, Bright Before Us by Katie Arnold-Ratliff, Revolution by Deb Olin Unferth.

MOST MEMORABLE (WRONG REASONS)

1. GREAT HOUSE by NICOLE KRAUSS. This was possibly one of the worst books I’ve ever read. And I was so unsuspecting going into it. I still can’t believe that she got away with this one. Pretentious, boring, complicated, coincidental. Blech.

2. SKIPPY DIES by PAUL MITCHELL. I really didn’t like this book, but it was what it was–not to my taste. It didn’t OFFEND me in its badness, like GREAT HOUSE.

Here’s to reading in 2012!

My lovely friend Kristen, in exchange for a typing favor I did her, sent me a package that included all three of Tayari Jones’s novels. I’ve been wanting to read her work for some time, since Kristen, her husband and I went to see her in conversation with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I was there to see the latter writer, but Ms. Jones was such a sparkly conversationalist and excellent storyteller that I was intrigued by her, too. And, of course, she came highly recommended by Kristen, and she once chose the story of another dear friend as winner in a big contest, so she’s long been on my good side.

I read the three novels in the order that Ms. Jones wrote them, starting with Leaving Atlanta, moving on to The Untelling, and yesterday, finishing up with Silver Sparrow. What a treat to read them in such quick, greedy succession.

Leaving Atlanta is the novel that made Tayari Jones famous. It is divided into three sections, each focused around a different fifth grade child in the same class. The setting is Atlanta, 1982, amidst a tragic, true-life episode, the Atlanta Child Murders in which twenty-nine African-American children were kidnapped and murdered. Chilling. The first section is Tasha’s, and is told in the third-person. Not knowing how the book was constructed while I read her section, I was fully invested in her character–not quite an outsider but not one of the most popular girls, not unkind, but not particularly kind, either. Her portrayal was fairly realistic, in this sense–she was right in the middle, not a very special child, but still, because of the careful attention paid to her, special to the reader. Tasha’s life is touched in a terrible way by the unknown murderer and, surprisingly, touched in a positive way, too.  Read the rest of this entry »