2012 Book Review in 140 Characters (Or Less)

I have a piece of unfinished business from last year: my book reviews. It’s like a piece of food left between my teeth from breakfast that I have to get out so I can concentrate more fully on my lunch (which will, undoubtedly, consist of processed cheese product and buttered starches).

But listen: I’m busy; you’re busy.  Who has time to read 25 bloated book reviews from a Mommy blogger? If you have that kind of time you either have insomnia or a trust fund.  Either way, God speed.

But for the rest of you, I am paring down my review to a mere 140 characters as an ode to Twitter, which is rich irony, considering that Twitter is the antithesis of a real, actual book that I hold in my hands and can pass on to another reader. (I’m not a Kindle convert.)

So, without further ado, here are my reviews for the books I read in 2012:

Undress Me In the Temple of Heaven, by Susan Jane Gilman

Read this travelogue about two girls romping through Communist China- one went insane and the other wrote an incredible book of a harrowing journey. (How jealous must the insane girl be today?)

The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain

At one point, she lost all of Hemingway’s drafts, which I think of whenever I lose snippets of my WIP.  This book proves many things we already know (H was an ass), but it’s a masterful read from the view of his first wife.

Everything Changes, by Jonathan Tropper

Bad mood? Read Tropper.  Wanna get inside a thinking man’s head? Read Tropper.  Funny and heartfelt, but still our beloved, irreverent Tropper.

The Magician’s Assistant, by Ann Patchett

Patchett’s first novel– how the hell did she do that? Even the names of her characters are perfect.  I envy her talent and her unforgettable stories, especially this one.

Make Me Into Zeus’ Daughter, by Barbara Robinette Moss

Meh.  Horrible alcoholic family from which emerged an articulate daughter who lives to tell the tale.  Skip this and read Glass Castle.

5Am Fifth Avenue, by Sam Wasson

Light as air, but if you care to learn more about where Breakfast at Tiffany’s fits within the popular imagination, read it.  Stoked my love for Capote, Hepburn, and “old” Hollywood.

Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls

Un-f*cking-believable story.  How Walls survived the mayhem and chaos of her early years is nearly impossible to imagine, but thank God she did, because her writing is truly art.  Put this at the top of your list: memoir at its finest.

Swamplandia, by Karen Russell

Another first novel.  The most original book I have ever read.  Still smarting on its behalf for the snub from the Pulitzer’s.  Seriously– this book is odd and memorable.  Also: disturbing because of the rape scene deep in the Everglades.

Little 15, by Stephanie Saye

Star basketball player has an affair with her coach while she’s still in high school.  Strikes fear in the heart of any mother, and illuminates a story behind headlines we see too often.  An important read.

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides

No, it’s not Middlesex, but you have to move on.  I loved this story about precocious Ivy Leaguers figuring out love while also meditating on spirituality and semiotics. Made me feel smart to read this.

Truth & Beauty, by Ann Patchett

Read this. Read this. Read this.  Incredible portrait of a long friendship between two writers.  Codependence galore from my favorite Ms. Annie P, but I loved the peeks into her writing process that are woven through the story.

Art & Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland

Not gonna lie, this one is a little dry.  Anyone struggling with whether she/he is worthy of creating art or who battles fear of the blank page/canvas/clay, this book puts fear in context and reminds the artist: just do it.

The Kiss, by Kathryn Harrison

The protagonist has a sexual affair with her father.  How, in good conscience, can I recommend this to anyone? Still turns my stomach to think of it.  Don’t know what else to say.

Say When, by Elizabeth Berg

Sweet read about a marriage that falls apart and then falls together.  Didn’t change my life, but also didn’t hurt it.

Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James

Don’t make me review this again.  Just don’t.

Fifty Shades Darker, by E.L. James

Yes, I went back for a second helping.  There were some long days of summer that I had to get through while Jeff was away. Don’t judge.

Drop Dead Healthy, by A.J. Jacobs

Hilarious year-long project recorded by Jacobs, who tried to become healthy in every aspect of his life.  I actually got a lot of health information from this book, which is fascinating.  He taught me to cook on the back burners of the stove because it’s safer.

Bringing In Finn, by Sara Connell

Her mother gave birth to her son.  Think about it, then read this gorgeous tale of healing, family and triumph. Then give it to your mother and see if she freaks out because she thinks you are asking her to carry your baby in her womb.

The Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson

A humorous meditation on what it means to be Jewish.  As a shiksa married to a Jewish man, I thoroughly enjoyed the questions raised and the answers suggested.  Won’t lie: it’s a little ponderous, but there are some brilliant characters.

Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown

You, and 7 billion people have seen her YouTube videos from TED about shame. So, go read her book.  Unless you’ve never felt shame, in which case, read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s book, because he hasn’t either.

Too Good To Be True, by Benjamin Anastas

Know anyone intimately involved with CoinStar machines because times are tough and he needs milk for his son?  Well, meet Anastas.  He lays out his financial and personal ruin after being an on-the-rise author.  A generous and intimate tale of loss.

Little Red Guard, Wenguang Huang

I would have sucked at being Communist, and this book proves it.  It’s also criminal how little I knew about China’s recent history and the hardships faced by the Chinese people.  This book made me downright patriotic and proud of being American (until that asshat NRA guy gave his speech about “good guys with guns” and I got a little down-on-America again).

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson

Who is this zany Lawson?  Who cares! She’s written a hilarious tale about taxidermy and rural life in Wall, Texas.  All bloggers should read this, because it’s funny and she’s a blogger.

The Middlesteins, by Jami Attenberg

She nailed it here: The tensions between the characters.  The relationships that family members have to addiction (mainly food addiction here) and the stuckness of it all.  I am still stunned by Attenberg’s ability to “show not tell.”

Signs of Life, by Natalie Taylor

I cried reading the first paragraph.  I cried all through this book, but in the end, I appreciated  my life and my husband more than I did before I started.  Natural result of reading about a woman who loses her husband in a freak accident when she’s 5 months pregnant.

* * *

Here’s to more books in 2013– I am already halfway through Gone Girl– It’s going to be a great year for reading.

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66 thoughts on “2012 Book Review in 140 Characters (Or Less)

  1. wow! i’m a huge reader as well and i’ve only read about a quarter of your selections. how did we read such different books in 2012?? i’m going to write some of these down. thanks for doing some research for me. 🙂 i love tropper, this is where i leave you is up there with the best reads for me. and glass castle was a real winner too.

  2. My new favorite blog post! So many book reviews (and movie trailers, but don’t get me started) give away the whole damn thing; this is JUST the right amount. That I adore nearly every book on this list just astounds me; I feel happy that we share a rich fantasy life. The one I need to give another try to is Anastas’s book; I feel willing. See you soon!

  3. Thanks! I have a few to bookmark on iBooks for 2013 reading. I read more in 2012 than I have in a long time. Forgot how much I enjoy it. Glass Castle was amazing. I didn’t read any 50-shades but I definitely don’t begrudge anyone some steamy easy-reading.

  4. Love this! Like you I read a lot but you might have me beat in 2012. I’ve also read some terrible awful books this year – research for my novel genre – that I would never share with the thinking public. Loved Glass Castle and Everything Changes. Swamplandia is on my nightstand as we speak (I actually still read books even though I have a kindle – to me they serve different purposes) as is Truth and Beauty.

  5. I’m reading Gone Girl right now, too, but just started. I read 50 books in 2011, but I sucked as a reader in 2012. I don’t feel as good about myself when I’m not reading, so I am going back to my old readerly ways in 2013.
    I loved Glass Castle. have you read her next one, Half Broke Horses? It’s a novel, but it’s based on her Grandmother’s life. So good!
    Thanks for the reviews! I’m adding some to my list!

  6. thanks for taking the time to write these. i’m always looking for a good book, and i’ve only read swamplandia on your list. i loved it, so i’ll trust your reviews.

  7. What a great choice to begin the year. Actually I can’t believe you haven’t finished it. I’m a snobby, non-genre reader and I think it’s terrific! The girl can write
    I also have had the opportunity to meet her and I think the girl has both feet on the ground.

  8. My two favorite books this year were Gone Girl and This is Where I Leave You…so, we are on the same page!! Can’t wait to read some of your selections. I draw the line at the 50 Shades stuff, though. I’ve heard you can get a urinary track infection just from reading them 🙂

  9. This is great! I’m always looking for my next good book to read. I just discovered Ann Patchett a few weeks ago and am halfway through State of Wonder. I fell in love with her writing in the first 30 pages. I agree with your suggestion of Glass Castle. A few others that you might like, based solely on your list: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Little Bee, Sarah’s Key, Brave New World (I like to throw in a classic now and then), The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing (loved how well she wrote dialogue between characters). Are you on GoodReads?

  10. brilliant. and frankly, sorry, but imma gonna copy you & do my overdue books of 2012 in tweetspeak too. maybe. but then again, as Mark Twain said (or someone said Mark Twain said), if you want a 10-page article, I can have it for you in 3 days; if you want a 3 page article, it’ll take 10 days. I might not have enough time (patience) to write so short. BUT. great book list – and you shd get to Patchett’s State of Wonder, absolutely. As for Gone, Girl? I think I’m the only person in the country who did NOT like that book. Figured out the gimmick in the first 10 pages & didn’t really give a crap about the characters for the rest of it, which I finished only so I could diss the book with full awareness. HARUMPH. Have been forced by expat life (no lending library, oh the misery) to Kindle-fy myself, and am downloading Glass Castle now.

  11. This is awesome. It’s kind of ironic because I am a huge reader, but I hate book reviews because they are so long and wordy, and I usually end up losing interest 1/4 of the way through. Every single book review should be 140 characters long. Yours are sublime.

  12. I am not having much sleep either these days due to my reading habits. Just can’t turn it off. I try to give myself a page count or a chapter end. Not working. I’ve read several on your list and have just added “Signs of Life” to my “want to read” list at Goodreads so I don’t forget about it.

    “Little 15” happened at my kids’ high school (basketball coach to the girls’ team) not once but thrice. He is currently in jail for 35 years. Sad and sickening.

    Thanks for the great suggestions. I’m so glad you did this. And I don’t know if you saw on Kathleen’s post about the marathon, but I committed us (you and me) to cheer her on at a mile marker. You in?

    • Hi Gina. I’m the author of Little 15! Sooooo many of my readers have shared stories like the one you just shared about the basketball coach. This kind of thing goes on more than we realize – that’s for sure. I hope you read my book and if you do, please let me know what you think. You can find me and Little 15 on Goodreads. Happy reading! 🙂

      • Stephanie,
        I’m heading over to Goodreads now to add it so I don’t forget. I WILL read it and I will, for sure, let you know what I think. He was a longtime married man with children. Talk about collateral damage…in droves. So sad!

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  14. Superb reviews and great post. If it helps you feel a little less intimidated, I think Ann Patchett’s first book was The Patron Saint of Liars which I can lend you. It’s decent, but not great.

  15. Oh, this is like a giant new year present to me!!!! Reading is my favorite thing and nothing makes me happier than book suggestions. I’ve read many on your list, but I now have several to add to my Goodreads queue!

  16. Now these are book reviews I can get behind! I always get so tired of reviews that blather on and on about theme and character development when all I really want to know is “should I read it or NOT?” Thank you, thank you for this – I’ve already added a few to my ‘to read’ list! Happy reading in 2013!

  17. This is awesome! I feel the same way you do about unreviewed books that I’ve read. I used to try to keep it at 1,000 characters or less, but the hell with that. 140 is a great number!

  18. I just have to respond to your part about The Middlesteins. I honestly think it was one of the best books I read last year. Mostly, because I could relate so directly to these characters. It was as if someone was writing my life. I LOVED it. I never wanted it to end. This is a great list and I have already gone online and purchased some of your other suggestions.-Ashley

  19. So many good choices and so many books I now want to check out! Wasn’t the Glass Castle freaking amazing? I thought about that book for days and days after I finished it (no, not finished- devoured. In like three days). Was not too crazy about Swamplandia, though– the Everglades Journey thing just didn’t sit right with me, and the rape scene was my last straw. Strangely awesome up until that point, however. And re: The Marriage Plot “No, it’s not Middlesex, but you have to move on.” Genius line, loved it! Can’t wait to see what you read this year! I’m currently wading through the Game of Thrones books, so I’ll get back to you when I finish those sometime in the next 25 years or so.

  20. I love these.

    I have to start reading again. It’s my reason for being, but I just can’t find time. You have shamed me into facing the 63 (no joke) books waiting by my bedside table. And in the car. And on the bookshelf, where I’ve dedicated a whole shelf to “haven’t read but really want to.”

    Sigh.

    Off the Internet to read I go…

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