Tuesday Top Ten

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. Book bloggers create their own lists based on the chosen topics and post links to our lists. It’s a way of all sharing our thoughts and our love of books.  And who doesn’t love lists??

So this week the challenge was to choose the books that you thought you wouldn’t like and did – or those that you that you would like and didn’t.  This was a tough list for me – I try to read without expectation – and often it’s not until after I finish a book that I realize it failed to meet/exceeded expectations I didn’t even know I had!

First, five books I didn’t like as much as I thought I would:

  1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – I did like this book, just not as much as I thought I would given all of the hype surrounding it.  Sometimes I think the more a book gets talked up the more likely I am to be disappointed by it…
  2. Wild by Cheryl Strayed – Another book that received a lot of attention (thanks to Oprah) and build-up that I found disappointing.  I wanted to hear more about the actual trail, the things she saw and the people she met.  Instead it seemed like a frustrating story about a person destined to make poor choices and shift blame onto others.
  3. Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes – Award winners are dangerous – subconsciously the expectations are high which makes it easier to be disappointed.  While the language was beautiful I was disappointed by the story and the characters.
  4. Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara – This showed up on my to-read list after reading The End of Your Life Book Club and since it was number 22 of the best English language novels written in the 20th century I thought I couldn’t go wrong.  It wasn’t awful, I just didn’t understand it being in the top 100.
  5. 1776 by David McCullough – This is a wonderful book about the first year of the American Revolution, well researched and showing a seemingly unbiased account of events.  Unfortunately, I am a lover of stories and I wanted this book to tell me a story – it often felt too much like a textbook to me (although a very well researched and well written one) and I’m not a fan of most textbooks.

Now onto five books that I liked much more than I anticipated:

  1. Book Thief by Markus Zusak – I wouldn’t want to have a top ten list without this book in it somewhere!  Truthfully, I picked up this book at the bookstore and looked it over a number of times before I actually bought it.  Another holocaust book?  Nah – not today…  I never imagined the heartbreaking beauty that would be captured in those pages.
  2. Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz – I went through a period during my teenage years where I read a lot of Stephen King and a lot of Dean Koontz until I was honestly bored by them.  When my husband picked this one up and encouraged me to read it I was doubtful, but I love Odd and have become a true fan of this series.
  3. Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan – I expected to like this book, it’s about a bookstore after all!  I didn’t expect to love it, to love the melding of technology and antiquity, to become so engaged with the quirky set of characters and their quest.
  4. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – I heard a lot of wonderful things about this book which made me a bit wary.  I wonder if buzz about a book will actually start to lower my expectations??  But the buzz around this story was well deserved and as Eleanor & Park fell in love I fell in love with them.   My review is coming soon!
  5. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys – I was a fan of the author’s first book, Between Shades of Gray, but admittedly was concerned about her ability to write again so masterfully about a different time and place.  If anything, I ended up being a bigger fan of Out of the Easy, and was completely engrossed by both the setting and the characters.

Sense of an Ending

ImageOK, before I talk about the book I need to talk about the length of chapters in a book.  This is a silly little idiosyncrasy of mine, but I like the chapters in the books that I read to be a reasonable length.  I often read when I go to bed at night.  And whether it’s because my eyelids are growing heavy, or because they should be because the alarm clock will go off all too soon, I often tell myself that I will put down the book “after I finish this chapter”.  If the chapters are absurdly short, 2 or 3 pages, I often break the promise to myself and end up reading another 4 or 5 chapters.  But when chapters are unreasonably long, or really half of the book, like they are in The Sense of an Ending, finding a natural place for my bookmark before turning out the light becomes a frustrating pursuit.  Does that double space between paragraphs indicate a natural break?  To find out I need to keep reading, and then, well, I’m still reading.  Silly, I know, but a little pet-peeve of mine.

Julian Barnes won the 2011 Man Booker Prize for The Sense of and Ending and it received much critical acclaim, so it’s difficult for me to admit that I didn’t really like it, and not just because there were only two chapters in the entire book.  Don’t start yelling at me about how amazing it is; I will admit there were moments in the book that were thought-provoking and amazingly written.  The story is told in two parts (hence the two chapters), following the life of the main character, Tony, through his youth and then transitioning to his retirement years.  Central to the book are the stories and relationships that he shares with a love interest, Veronica, and a school friend, Adrian.  Julian Barnes certainly has a way with words as Tony ponders his life, his perception of his memories, love, loss, and friendship. Some of my favorite quotes, ones that made me stop and think, are included below:

“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but—mainly—to ourselves.” 

“When you’re young – when I was young – you want your emotions to be like the ones you read about in books. You want them to overturn your life, create and define a new reality. Later, I think, you want them to do something milder, something more practical: you want them to support your life as it is and has become. You want them to tell you that things are OK. And is there anything wrong with that?” 

“Sometimes I think the purpose of life is to reconcile us to its eventual loss by wearing us down, by proving, however long it takes, that life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” 

“History isn’t the lies of the victors, as I once glibly assured Old Joe Hunt; I know that now. It’s more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious or defeated.” 

So, with all of the great writing, why didn’t I like it?  What I love about books is the stories that they tell and the characters that they bring into my life.  Honestly, I wasn’t enamored with either in this book.  The characters were ones that I could not be inspired to love, hate, connect with, or even care all that much about. I found Tony to be dull and obsessive and a little ridiculous.  I thought Veronica was vague and aloof and difficult and annoying for no real discernible reason.  And as I spent each night trying to figure out where to stop and put my bookmark for the night, I kept waiting for the story to get good, for it to rope me in and make me care.  Unfortunately, when the story was all told, and the surprise ending revealed, I still just didn’t care.

   Title: The Sense of an Ending
   Author: Julian Barnes
   Genre: Fiction
   Pages: 163
   Publication: Knopf, October 2011