I thought my last books post was maybe a month ago, but in fact it was just after Thanksgiving. Jeez, time! Slow down.
Here's what I've read since then, and of course I want to know what you've been reading, too:
Looking for Alaska by John Green. On y'all's advice, I read this after The Fault in Our Stars, and I really liked it. I didn't swoon and weep as I did over TFIOS, but it was still very good. Although it was a pretty straightforward story about realistic characters, for some reason I found myself getting lost from time to time and had to backtrack. Probably this was because I was reading it during a hectic time at work and in the throes of Christmas madness, and had nothing to do with the book at all.
It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. This was one of those "if you liked TFIOS, you'll love..." Amazon recommendations, and I have always enjoyed reading about mental hospitals, so it seemed like a good fit. It's also either already a movie or is soon to be made into one, and it's the type of thing I will want to watch when it comes out for home viewing, but I have to read the book first. I liked it a good deal. It wasn't Girl, Interrupted (one of my favorite books); still, I liked the narrative voice (realistic, non-grating, non-self-indulgent), the plot (same), and the New York setting (always enjoyable to me).
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. (You can sense a certain theme here.) This book was SO interesting to me, and the voice was unique but utterly believable. Maybe this sounds weird, but you couldn't see or feel any of the author's effort, even though I am sure it took tremendous work and lots of revisions to make this book work and to get the voice exactly right. I loved it. I could think of people I have known in my life who probably observed the world much like the narrator does, and this book made me feel like I understood them better. That's what good fiction does, right? It gives us insights into people and stories different from ourselves and our own lives, and thereby gives us greater compassion and connection. I was sad when this book ended. I have the DVD from Netflix right now, and I think it's been long enough since I read it for me to watch the movie without wanting to burn things down if it isn't right.
That reminds me, I will never, ever, EVER forgive the world for the travesty that was the movie that purported to be based upon Harriet the Spy. It made me want to boycott anything produced in Hollywood for the rest of my days, and deface that smug, stupid Hollywood sign once and for all. I avoided the movie when it came out, knowing based on the casting alone that it was going to be a horrific bastardization of THE book that got me through childhood and adolescence (I still read it from time to time, the book equivalent of comfort food), and only saw it a few years later, when it was on a cable channel and I was terminally bored or perhaps bed-ridden with the flu.
The only way I could keep getting out of bed in the morning after watching it was to think to myself that, much like the Little House TV series, the movie only shared a name with the book, and had some of the same characters, but other than that it wasn't even a derivative work; it was entirely unrelated to the literature of the same title.
Ok! Back to the list.
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed. Whoa. Whoa, whoa. WHOA. This book blew me away. You think you've read advice columns before, but this was something else entirely. Strayed is on a higher plane than anyone else who's ever sought to advise another human being about anything. Her words soothe and inspire, and she comes up with the most humane things to say to people grappling with a wide range of issues, from the pedestrian to the soul-shattering. I haven't yet read Wild; I'm saving it because I know it's going to be a barn-burner of a read, and I want to give it my fullest attention. I highlighted about 80% of Tiny Beautiful Things and I know I'm going to go back to it hundreds of times, to let her words and wisdom wash over me again.
Feeling Good Together by David Burns, MD. Since I enjoy cognitive behavioral therapy so much, I thought it might be worthwhile to read about its application to relationships. I thought a lot of the theories and advice made sense, and as I read it, I had some moments when I thought, "Hmm! I hadn't ever thought of it that way before!" The doctor-author lays out his practical advice in charts and lists that are easy to follow, and he includes lots of written exercises you can do to work on the techniques he propounds.
However. He also uses such facile examples of bad relationships and poor communication that it was difficult for me to mentally apply his ideas to the far more complex and nuanced challenges of my own daily life. (By the way, the techniques apply to all interpersonal interaction, not just to romantic relationships -- reading this book wasn't a cry for help about my marriage or anything.) For example, he uses as a case study a married couple in which the wife complains that her husband never opens up to her, but after having sessions with them both, the doctor sees that every time the husband tries to speak his mind, the wife shuts him down immediately. Many of the examples in the book were like that, where the people were almost cartoonish and the solutions to their issues were of course as easy as 1-2-3. Nevertheless, I could see how the advice would be useful in making conversations and potential fights more productive and less erosive, so to that extent it was good. I just don't think its application would solve ALL problems in a relationship (which, duh -- but the book kind of purports to do that, so in that sense it overestimates itself).
How Children Succeed by Paul Tough. I read this for a book group. It offers some new thoughts about character and what traits predict educational success (i.e., graduation from four-year college) in children, regardless of their socioeconomic background or relative educational advantages. It was interesting, with some useful points that I plan to keep in mind in parenting and, in a few years, in sussing out the right elementary school situation for Felicity. On the other hand, it was another depressing account of how gravely the public school system fails so many kids, and how incredibly hard it is to fix a system that's so terribly broken. It also ended VERY abruptly, without any really concrete solutions, so I was left feeling a bit helpless and pessimistic.
The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey. This is a novel about a dancer with a fictional New York City ballet company, so it was basically written for me personally. I was not expecting much, because so many books about dance get it all wrong or rely too heavily on stock characters and cliches, but I was more than pleasantly surprised. The writing was really excellent -- funny, lyrical, real -- and the plot and characters rang true. I wanted it to go on and on.
Bunheads by Sophie Flack. I am reading this now, and aside from also being about a dancer with a fictional New York City ballet company, it is the opposite of everything I just said about The Cranes Dance.
The Master's Muse by Varley O'Connor. As you can see, I have been sucked into a ballet book vortex. This novel is an imagined memoir of Tanaquil LeClerq, the NYCB dancer who contracted polio on a company tour in Europe in the 1950s and became wheelchair-bound. She was married to Balanchine at the time when she was stricken with polio, and the book is a fascinating, well-written imagining of their life together and the ultimate dissolution of their marriage. It was clearly researched to the hilt, but I didn't feel like I was just reading someone's research, if you know what I mean. It felt like a real memoir. I wished it were really her memoir, in fact (she was extremely private and only did a few interviews after battling polio, then lived fairly obscurely until she passed away in the 2000s). Really good, possibly great book.
I Was a Dancer by Jacques D'Amboise. Ooooh, this was sooooo gooooooood. This really was a memoir/autobiography, and I adored it. He writes in a chatty, candid way that makes you feel close to him, somehow. And what a life! He started dancing around age 12 and was with NYCB until the 1980s, amazingly enough. He was close to all the important people in NYCB history, so there is some good dance-world gossip in there and a lot of insight into what Balanchine, Robbins, and lots of other famous folks were really like. He also crammed in lots of interesting anecdotes about his family, his neighborhood growing up (Washington Heights), and the non-profit he started (National Dance Institute, which teaches dance to public school kids). He's very passionate about the arts (obviously) and about using the arts to educate and inspire children, which is fun to read about. He also has four grown children and was married to a former dancer who passed away in 2009. It's not the most organized book in the world, but I didn't mind that. It's sort of like getting pulled into the archives of a really fantastic blog. Loved it. Want to get it in hard copy to add to my dance book collection.
Balanchine by Bernard Taper. This is sort of the authoritative biography of Mr. B, and I've had it for years but never read it. Now it's time, so I am using it as my bedside book while I read fiction on my Kindle. I'm liking it so much already. Whether you're into ballet or not, GB was an utterly fascinating person, and it's got lots of photos throughout the book (not just that glossy insert they stick into the middle of biographies so you have to flip back and forth to them whenever you want to get a visual).
I'm not sure when I'll emerge from the ballet genre, but probably soon, so I'll be ready to add whatever you recommend into my queue!