Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Ten Books I Loved Five Years Ago (and Still Do)

A freebie day! A freebie day! Today's Top Ten Tuesday is our choice, and as I started pondering I thought to myself, "But what about all those books that I read years ago that I still adore but forgot about? Don't give enough love anymore? Don't shove into people's hands and onto their library request lists enough?"

Well ding-dong, I went back five years to cull a list of books I loved that still deserve your attention. Straight from 2011...

Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex by Erica Jong
First, let's just get this right out of the way -- it's not sensational, it's not grodey (much), it's thoughtful, provocative essays, short stories, and there's even an illustrated comic and dramatic dialogey thing thrown in (waves at Eve Ensler). If sex makes you uncomfortable, you may squirm a little (lot) reading it, and if you're not uncomfortable, it might still make you squirm from time to time. But it'll also make you think, ponder, and take a minute to reflect on your own experiences, attitudes, and how they came to be what they are.
Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy
Set in Athens, Henry is a genius, drunkard, American, in love with Rebecca. Rebecca is a French ex-flight attendant, artist, in love with Henry. Henry is a British archaeologist, hottie, tortured soul. They're all tortured souls in some way-- haunted by death, betrayal, and crappy family. They find each other in a twisted love triangle heightened by the unlikely friendship that grows between George and Henry. Going into this novel, and from reading the blurbs, I really thought it would be about the love triangle. And that's not new! But it really isn't so much. A REALLY BIG EVENT changes the trajectory of this novel in a big, big way. All of a sudden it was no longer about a triangle, and it morphed into more of a story of triumph and overcoming grief and insurmountable psychological trauma.

You Know When the Men Are Gone: Stories by Siobhan Fallon
You Know When the Men Are Gone is a collection of interrelated short stories about military families and the struggles that come along with service and deployment. Set in Killeen, TX (a few hours from where I live in Texas), the stories explore multiple facets of the military life. Some of the stories deal with the soldiers' feelings in combat, their longing for a normal life at home, and the struggles their wives and families experience stateside, waiting. Other stories tackle the problems soldiers encounter accepting a civilian life and a return to "normal." There's fidelity and infidelity, heartbreak, disappointment, triumph -- and inevitably -- death.

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory
The stories are short. Some are less than a page long while others max out between five and ten pages. The characters are vague with names like "A boy" or "A girl." While the characters are Everyman and Everywoman, the stories are anything but bland or nondescript. They're crazy, odd, gross, troubling, affecting, sad, joyful, stunning. Given the average length of the story, I would venture to guess there are nearly 50 stories in this book. I don't have it with me or I'd start counting. It's a huge number, though, in comparison to run-of-the-mill story collections.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
This is the story of the Ayres family and their formerly palatial estate, Hundreds Hall. England is changing as the middle class is no longer interested in being servants, tracks of homes are popping up everywhere, and the Gentry can't afford their way of lives any longer. Told by family friend, Dr. Faraday, it's really a novel about the Ayres family's undoing. Are they haunted by the disintegration of the upper crust or is the book's "little stranger" a real ghost?
Sherry and Narcotics by Nina-Marie Gardner
Gardner's strength is in writing the addict's life and conveying it as perfectly normal. At first, as I was reading through Mary's adventures with wine, I thought she was probably drinking a bit much, but she seemed to keep it indoors and function pretty well. But by the end of this book, she's a sad sack. She wears rose-colored (wine-colored?) glasses throughout her relationship with the poet and leaves the reader wondering how in heckfire she ever thought THIS and THAT were good ideas! I'll say it again -- train wreck!

Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt
Keep in mind that the tales aren't really overtly scary so much as twisty, and some of them are delightful, and one or two are a gruesome in parts. It's a mixed bag, and every story truly kept me guessing. Byatt has some wily tricks up her sleeve, and I was never, ever bored. I was never unfulfilled. Each one of these short story gems was perfectly formed on its own -- none of this wishing for a novel business!
Atonement by Ian McEwan
What I love most about McEwan's writing, this novel and On Chesil Beach, is his grasp of the intangible. He manages to put thoughts, emotions, and nuance into words in such a way that it takes my breath away. There were times reading Atonement that I literally caught myself holding my breath because the words on the page were so effortlessly effective. So evocative of the characters' internal lives. The atmosphere and expectations in this book just soar!

My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
A favorite passage from this book about Conroy's life as a reader: "Here is what I want from a  book, what I demand, what I pray for when I take up a novel and begin to read the first sentence: I want everything and nothing less, the full measure of a writer's heart. I want a novel so poetic that I do not have to turn to the standby anthologies of poetry to satisfy that itch for music, for perfection and economy of phrasing, for exactness of tone. Then, too, I want a book so filled with story and character that I read page after page without thinking of food and drink, because a writer has possessed me, crazed me with an unappeasable thirst to know what happens next. Again, I know that story is suspect in the high precincts of American fiction, but only because it brings entertainment and pleasure, the same responses that have always driven puritanical spirits at the dinner table wild when the talk turns to sexual intercourse and incontinence."
The Birth of Love by Joanna Kavenna
The Birth of Love is a good book because the time periods are varied but cohesive, the experiences seem honest, and the writing is fabulous. There's something for the historical fiction lovers, the sf crowd, and those who just love a great book. Everything seemed nicely integrated and expertly planned. All the pieces fit, and letting them unfold was a joyous reading experience.

What are some of your favorite books from years ago? It's way too easy for these gems to fall off the map!


  1. Oh, I absolutely concur about YOU KNOW WHEN THE MEN ARE GONE. Such a good book. Austin did it as a Mayor's Book Club selection while I was still working at the library. I had a fairly extensive email correspondence with the author. She was so nice. I need to reread that book.

  2. I love this topic. I noticed that I only talk about recent reads on my blog. There are a lot of older books that I love but never talk about.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  3. You Know When the Men Are Gone was fantastic! One of my favorites the year I read it. I loved Atonement, too, and still want to read the Pat Conroy.

  4. This is uch an awesome way to look back at what you've read before.

  5. I just got a little frisson up my back at seeing The Little Stranger on this list - that book is so good! I have one more Sarah Waters book to read - The Night Watch - and I keep deciding against reading it because I don't really want to be done with experiencing her novels for the first time.

  6. As soon as I read this I thought of A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell. I should reread that but part of me is worried it won't be as good as I remember it being

  7. I really liked Atonement too. I still haven't read anything else by him. :-(

  8. I love Atonement (but I also hate it a little bit).

  9. I have read NONE of these, but you didn't steer me wrong with The Sparrow, so... 10 books for the TBR mountain!

  10. As soon as I read your intro, I thought of Atonement. That was my number one read when it first came out in an ARC. I've wanted to read it a second time, but I'm afraid it won't be as magical. However, I worried about the same with The Sparrow and it was just as good, if not better, the second time around!

    I'm going to have to look for a copy of You Know When the Men Are Gone. I'm currently reading a memoir about a young woman who lost her husband in a helicopter incident in Iraq. The book is called Unremarried Widow and parts of her story take place in Killeen. The writing is very good and at times I think I'm reading a novel, not a memoir.

    Fun post, Andi!

    1. I also meant to say that I love that quote from Pat Conroy. Beach Music remains an all-time favorite and probably my first encounter with lyrical writing. I need to read this book of his!!

  11. Ooh what a fantastic topic! I really want to go back and revisit my list from 2011 now...

  12. This is a great idea! We should all re-visit our old favourites from time-to-time, because you're right about them getting so easily forgotten with all the new books coming at us everyday. There are a few on here that I haven't even heard of. I'll be checking them out for sure. And, I love Conroy's quote about reading!

  13. I cannot, for the life of me, remember The Little Stranger. I know I read it, and I know I reviewed it. However, the synopsis and my review do nothing to job my memory.

    I have avoided You Know When the Men Are Gone for years. It is odd really. My husband left the military 11 years ago, and yet I still struggle with any novel that deals with military deployments and the families left behind. I do want to read it eventually, but I don't know if my heart can handle it quite yet.

  14. Oh, my gosh! You Know When the Men Are Gone!! What a great collection! Now I'm left wondering who I have that one to because I have no idea what happened to it - ha! This is such a fun list, Andi; what a great idea!

  15. Why have I not read Pat Conroy, yet?! What is my problem? I have The Great Santini, already but still haven't read it.

  16. What a wonderful list! I feel the same way about Atonement, The Little Stranger, and My Reading Life. I met Pat Conroy not long ago, and he is an absolute sweetie pie! He loves teachers, especially English teachers. Stories for Nighttime is on my list....I keep a list on my phone just in case I need to impulsively buy a book in a bookstore (lol)! Stories for nighttime may go to the top of my list.

  17. I added Sugar in My Bowl and Stories for Nighttime to my TBR list.

  18. Oh man! I'm looking at my "best of 2010" list from January 2011, and it's making my eyes all googly. Monsters of Men, The Secret History, Megan Whalen Turner, Helen Oyeyemi. Kage Baker. Yes. I stand by all of that. What a fun exercise!

  19. Ooh, I just clicked through to the Erica Jong review and you successfully had me add it to my TBR! As someone with lots of mixed-up feelings about sex, I think this would be a great one for me to read.


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