Year in Reading

A Year in Reading: Laurie

By posted at 5:28 am on January 5, 2007 2

Longtime Millions reader Laurie has a late entry to our Year in Reading series that includes her nifty system for rating books. We’re only five days into 2007 so I’m sure you’ll indulge us this brief look back at Laurie’s Year in Reading for 2006.

To the list I composed last year of ten things that make a book a good read for me you can add #11: Memorable use of language. If you want to know what the numbers below refer to, go to that list. One book stood out from the 80 titles I read this year; it is the only one so far to score positively on all criteria – To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. (“She read eighty titles?!,” you say. Twenty of those were poetry or kids books of less than 100 pages each. Another 25 titles had less than 200 pages. So over half the books I read were pretty short.)

coverTo Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11
I avoided reading this book for years thinking it would be depressing, but it’s actually full of low-key observational humor, and is simply a beautifully told story about human nature and Southern life. Absolutely the best book I read all year, head and shoulders above everything else.

Marley & Me by John Grogan (2005) 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10
As of this writing, this nonfiction remembrance of a very stupid but loving dog is still on the NYT bestseller list, over a year after its debut (wish I had a copy from the earliest initial print run). There’s a reason: it’s laugh-out-loud funny and poignant.

Walter the Farting Dog Goes On A Cruise by William Kotzwinkle (2006) 1, 3, 6, 7, 8, 10
This may be fourth or fifth in the Walter picture-book series, but is still pretty amusing, partly due to the bug-eyed dog illustrations. If you’ve ever been trapped on a cruise ship or victimized by a loving but flatulent pet, check this out (and if you haven’t, count yourself lucky).

Possum Come A-Knockin’ by N. Van Laan (1990) 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 11
Ages 4-7. Another great kids book – rhythmic, romping and humorous picture book adults can also enjoy about a family’s activities as a possum pesters them. Perfect read-aloud material.

coverDistrict & Circle by Seamus Heaney (U.K. April 2006; U.S. May 2006) 2, 4, 6, 10, 11
Heaney’s poetry is so rich in sound, imagery and careful attention to multiple meanings, observations of the human-made world, and of what that world’s tools and constructions say about the toolmakers and builders, that it’s hard not to enjoy, even when the references are obscure to a non-Irish reader. “A Shiver” concisely describes the action of a moment everyone has experienced; “Moyulla” likens a stream to a woman in lively, sensuous language. Like other poems in this short collection, these are told, as Anthony Cuda in his April 16, 2006 Washington Post review says, with “high-pressure linguistic torque.”

Deliverers of Their Country by E. Nesbit (U.K. 1899; U.S. edition 1991 illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger) 1, 3, 5, 6, 7
For ages 10-adult. Dragons start plaguing turn-of-the-century England and two children find out why in this dry-witted, short story-turned-picture-book. The 1991 edited version of the story contains beautiful illustrations by award-winning European artist Lisbeth Zwerger.

coverTales of Hulan River by Xiao (Hsiao) Hong (China 1942, U.S. 1988) 4, 6, 9, 10
Observant, quietly funny and poignant look at small-town Chinese life in the first half of the 20th century, told with great sympathy for women. Hong died in early 1941, I think; this collection of her biographical short stories wasn’t published in English until 1988. Had she lived, she might have produced the great Chinese women’s novel; a story herein of a child bride was like a long warm-up for a novel. Hong is an underrated writer who should join the shelves with Eileen Chang (Love in a Fallen City).

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (2006) 1, 3, 4, 8
For ages 10-adult. I have problems with the crucified toy rabbit scene that occurs about midway through the story. other than that, it was a riveting read. Do not give this to just any ten-year-old though; give it to a kid who won’t be upset by a tearjerker of a tale. Some readers, like Elizabeth Ward of the Washington Post who saw no redemption in the ending and called it “bleak and manipulative,” will dislike the dark tone, so caveat lector.

coverThree Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson & David O. Relin (2006) 4, 7, 9, 10
Mortenson established (and continues to establish) basic schools in the remote mountains of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan, built and supported by local communities. His story of time-consuming negotiations and hard work against tremendous obstacles is told by Relin in fine descriptive language. The memoir’s sometimes heavy-handed message, that “the enemy is ignorance. The only way to defeat it is to build relationships with these people” (as said by one Pakistani general) is so broadly ignored by the governments involved in these troubled regions that you don’t wonder that the authors felt compelled to occasionally spell it out.

Holmes On The Range by Steve Hockensmith (2006) 1, 3, 7, 11
Two cowboy brothers in the 1890s West try to solve a murder using Sherlock Holmes’ techniques. Not high literature, just fun. One of my husband’s favorites this year, too.

Other good reads of 2006:

And by category:

Grimmest
The Amalgamation Polka by Stephen Wright (2006)
Distant Star by Roberto Bolano (Spain 1996, U.S. 2004)
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (2006)

Hardest to Put Down
Deliverers of Their Country by E. Nesbit (1899)

Best History
Hell’s Broke Loose In Georgia by Scott Walker (2005)

Great Use of Language
A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, illus. T.S. Hyman (1954, 1985)
District & Circle by Seamus Heaney (U.K. April 2006; U.S. May 2006)
Timothy by Verlyn Klinkenborg (2006)
The Amalgamation Polka by Stephen Wright (2006)

Not Deep, Mostly Just Fun
Marley & Me by John Grogan (2005)
Walter the Farting Dog Goes On A Cruise by William Kotzwinkle (2006)
Possum Come A-Knockin by N. Van Laan (1990)
Holmes On The Range by Steve Hockensmith (2006)
Regarding the Fountain by Kate & Sarah Klise (1998)
Kiki Strike by Kirsten Miller (2006)

Best Illustrated Book
A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, illus. by Trina Schart Hyman (1985)
Deliverers of Their Country by E. Nesbit, illus. by Lisbeth Zwerger (1991 U.S. edition)
Walter the Farting Dog Goes On A Cruise by William Kotzwinkle, illus. by Audrey Coleman (2006)
Possum Come A-Knockin’ by Nancy Van Laan, illus. by George Booth (1990)

Worst

  • The Coldest Winter by Paula Fox (2005) Could be called “the coldest narrative.” Despite the wide range of locales (London, Paris, Warsaw, Barcelona) and people, Fox’s memoir of her experiences as a news stringer in post-WWII Europe is claustrophobic and self-centered.
  • The Man Who Could Fly & Other Stories by Rudolfo Anaya (2006) Someone needs to interpret the Chicano border experience, but not Anaya.

Most Disappointing
Averno by Louise Gluck (2006)
Flaming London by Joe R. Lansdale (2006)
One Christmas in Old Tascosa by C. Firman (2006)
The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster (2006)
Correcting the Landscape by M. K. Cole (2006)

Boring
Snow by Ellen Mattson (Sweden 2001, UK 2005)
Five Children & It by E. Nesbit (1902)

Funniest
Marley & Me by John Grogan (2005)
Walter the Farting Dog Goes On A Cruise by William Kotzwinkle (2006)

Best Book Event I Attended in 2006
1st Annual Decatur Book Festival
Finally, Atlanta has a major, general-interest book festival. Michael Connolly, Edward P. Jones, Nicholas Basbanes, Roy Blount Jr. and many other authors, combined with an antique book fair and outdoor concerts in a cafe-strewn section of Atlanta, made for a good Labor Day weekend.

Best Book Bargain
An autographed copy of Chapters for the Orthodox by Don Marquis (1934), best known for his “Archy & Mehitabel” series, for $1.00. It’s beat up and missing the dustjacket, but I’d treasure anything signed by the guy who gave the world a typing cockroach.

Thanks Laurie!





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2 Responses to “A Year in Reading: Laurie”

  1. maya
    at 1:18 pm on January 6, 2007

    Very interesting; I'll be sure to check To Kill A Mockingbird out as soon as possible. Several books on this list seem worth a read actually.

    You have a really… extensive site here, I'll be linking to it :-)

  2. Linda
    at 8:08 pm on January 7, 2007

    To Kill a Mockingbird is on my "time permitting" list. I may have to move it to TBR status instead.

    Walter the farting dog will go over well with my kids.

    Thanks for the review.

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