What fun!  A friend recommended this after looking at my favorites list from 2009 and I jumped right in.  It’s about a body guard in Los Angeles named David Spandau who gets a job protecting a young, hot movie star.  It has a traditional hard-boiled LA noir feel but it’s contemporary and very well done.   The plot is smooth and moves quickly.  Another interesting thing he does is to use different points of view — including some of the “bad guys”. 

Depp needs to hurry up and write another novel!


This was good.  I read “Notes on a Scandal” well before the movie was made and just loved it.  Her ability to handle an odd point of view character was perfection.  When “The Believers” came out I was intrigued but when I heard the plot – about the family of an old lefty lawyer in New York dealing with the aftermath of his stroke – it didn’t sound appealing.  So it never got on my “to read” list.  But then the book was on so many “best of” lists at the end of the year (and I was so disappointed in so many of 2009’s “best” books) that I decided to give it a try.

It’s not as enthralling as “Notes on a Scandal” but it was good.  I didn’t like the old left lawyer but I liked the family members, especially the two daughters, and was taken in by the story.  I didn’t want it to end and I want to know more about this family.

I thought I’d read enough memoirs about 20th century Chinese immigration experiences but I was wrong.  I found this book because I read a recommendation May-Lee Chai’s more recent memoir and this book was listed at the library so I decided to take a look.  It’s the story of the family’s journey from Nanjing to New York, focusing primarily on a matriarchal figure — Winberg’s mother.  May-Lee and Winberg are daughter and father and the book is told from alternating points of view.  It holds together very well.  I especially liked the later sections about May-Lee and Winberg traveling to China in the 1980’s to visit family members left behind, many of whom experienced very tough experiences in the Cultural Revolution.

I’m looking forward to reading May-Lee’s other book.

I am not enjoying this at all.  I am “reading” it as an audiobook from Audible.com.  It’s unusual for me to buy an audiobook instead of just get one from the library but I felt guilted into subscribing to Audible.com because it is a sponsor of the Slate Political Gabfest and the Slate Cultural Gabfest, which I listen to every week.  And since I was greatly looking forward to Wolf Hall, especially after the Booker Prize win, it seemed like a good selection.

But, oh my.  I just finished the first of three parts — and it was eight hours for just the first third!   But that’s not even what’s bothering me.  I like English history more than the next person and I have read many, many books about the Tudors and watched many, many movies and television programs about them.  So, maybe I know too much so the story is not edgy enough for me.  And I like Hilary Mantel.  I’ve read three or so of her other books as well as her memoir and greatly enjoyed them.  I’m finding it hard to like or care about ANY of the characters in this book.  Even the Showtime mini-series on the Tudors made me feel sympathy for Queen Katherine and even Cardinal Woolsey, but in this book I don’t care about anyone.  Let them all die.  The book’s central character is Thomas Cromwell, the secretary first to Woolsey and then to King Henry, but he is painted in a very unsympathetic light. 

I don’t think I have it in me to spend another 15 hours on this project.

Wow.  This was good, although a bit disconcerting to read right after the latest airplane terrorism attempt.  Without disclosing too much of the story — the book is about a homegrown young New Yorker who becomes a convert to an extremist Muslim sect.  The story is set in the final 31 hours before a large planned event.  The book is constructed as a series of short chapters, each with a time heading, told from the points of view of about five different characters — the protagonist, his mother, his girlfriend, his girlfriend’s little sister, etc.  The writing was smooth and enjoyable and the book really kept my attention. 

I was particularly pleased because I had attempted Hamilton’s prior book, The Camel Bookmobile, a few months ago and really didn’t like it.  This felt like it was written by a completely different person.

My Favorite Books in 2009

These are not in any order other than the order in which I read them. You will find a lot of memoir and short story collections this year.

Rowing Without Oars by Ulla-Carin Lindquist – Lindquist was a well-known TV journalist in Sweden who was stricken by a debilitating, progressive disease. This memoir is about her family and her life through the end of her life. While the subject matter is sad, the manner in which she writes about what she is going through and its effects on her family is moving and up-lifting.

Irina by Irina Baronova – this isn’t for everyone but I was captivated. Baronova was one of Balanchine’s “baby ballerinas” who came to prominence in post-revolutionary Paris during the Golden Age of ballet. She recently died and I learned she had written a memoir, which I just had to have.

Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick – a high-charged, startling memoir about growing up in New York with an emotionally challenging mother. It almost felt like I had held my stomach in from tension the whole time I was reading it.

Female Trouble by Antonya Nelson – I gave this short story collection to so many people this year! It’s amazing. I had the great luck to spend a week in Nelson’s workshop at the Napa Valley Writers Conference this summer and listening to her made me appreciate her work all the more (and set me off on a rush of reading lots of short story collections).

The Street by Ann Petry – this is a Harlem Renaissance novel about a single-mother trying to raise her child. Gritty and grabbing. Couldn’t put it down.

Firebird by Mark Doty – an extraordinary memoir about growing up. If I describe it any further it will sound much less powerful than it is.

Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas – Abigail Thomas is a big discovery for me this year. I read her two memoirs (this and “A Three Dog Life”) as well as her book on writing memoir. All are wonderful but I made myself list just one. I chose “Safekeeping” because of its startling use of narrative. I find it inspiring and whenever I am stuck in my own writing I think of this book and sometimes pull it out and read a few pages.

The Best Day The Worst Day by Donald Hall – this memoir is about poet Hall’s relationship with his wife, poet Jane Kenyon, as she dies of cancer. Heart-wrenching and sad and such a wonderful view of a couple in love.

The Last Summer of the World by Emily Mitchell – a World War I novel about the photographer Edward Steichen, who was tasked with photographing battle fields. A big, fun subplot about Auguste Rodin too.

Grant and Twain by Mark Perry – a great book about the friendship between Ulysses Grant and Mark Twain and the story behind the writing and publication of Grant’s memoir. A fun and informative read.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer – don’t know how I missed this when it came out.

Where Did You Sleep Last Night? by Danzy Senna – a memoir about the author’s parents idealistic and short-lived bi-racial marriage in the 60’s and her search to learn more about her father’s family. I saw the author read aloud from her book and then read her novel “Symptomatic” which is also wonderful.

Runaway by Alice Munro – one of the current masters of the short story form.

Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin – don’t know how I missed this collection of short stories. I pieced them out so that the book would last longer.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett – enjoyed every moment of this. Wonderful as an audiobook.

After Rain by William Trevor – Trevor is such a master. This is a set of short stories. His depiction of the narrow-minded claustrophobia of Irish life is almost too painful to read at times.

Southern Cross by Skip Horack – wonderful short story collection and his first book. I got to hear him speak at the Napa Valley Writers Conference.

For Grace Received by Valeria Parrella – this is a set of short stories by a contemporary Neapolitan writer. Very interesting view of Naples.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – it was one of my objectives to fill in the Nabokov gap in my reading. I did this as an audiobook, read by Jeremy Irons. Completely chilling.

Gifts of War by Mackenzie Ford – another World War I novel about a man working in intelligence. The book is written under a nom de plume by a well-known historian. A wonderful story and very well-crafted.