Wednesday, January 11, 2006

2005 50 Book Challenge Wrap-Up

I never finished posting on all the books I read for the 2005 50 Book Challenge, and since I'm already underway on my reading for the 2006 version, it seemed a good time to tie up the loose ends so that I can move on into the new year, which is now a mere 11 days old.

61. Epileptic, by David B.
This graphic novel is emotional, turbulent and engrossing. It's also fairly lengthy, especially given the detailed artwork that accompanies the tale. Epileptic is the story of David B.'s childhood and family life, particularly as it pertains to his brother's epilepsy. The family attempts many different types of cures, from medical treatments to pychiatric hospitals to holistic efforts, but none of them have a long-lasting effect. And the author, as a youth, doesn't always understand the need for his brother to take away all the attention. It's a remarkable, unique memoir.

62. Batman: Year One, by Frank Miller
This isn't the first time I've read this particular comic book. It's one that I find myself returning to again and again. The artwork is so masterful and the story, as told both from the viewpoint of Commissioner Gordon and Batman himself, is gritty and tough. Recently, Frank Miller has made a return to the Batman canon with the All-Star Batman and Robin series, which has left many critics unhappy. Perhaps it's a bit unfair to compare it to such seminal stuff as Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, though.

63. Maus I: My Father Bleeds History, by Art Spiegelman
Continuing the graphic novel kick for the year's end, I picked up this book that I'd long been intending to read. It's a depiction of the persecution of Jews at the hands of the Nazis during World War II, and it can be very tough to read. The artist draws the Jews as mice, while the Nazis are cats. (There are also some pigs and other assorted animals scattered throughout the tale.) You'd think that using animals to tell the story would dilute it somewhat, but that's not the case at all.

64. Maus II: And Here My Troubles Begin, by Art Spiegelman
A continuation of the first book, written several years later. Spiegelman found himself so affected by various events, including his father's own death, that it was ultimately difficult to continue. Book II is every bit as traumatizing as the first, but a well-told story that I would particularly recommend to teenagers learning the history of the Holocaust.

65. Dragonlance Chronicles: Dragons of Autumn Twilight
I do enjoy books of the fantasy genre a great deal, and people who love similar stuff seem to universally recommend the Dragonlance series - with my husband being one of them. I found the first book of the group to be a fun read, and particularly liked the slow development of the dark mage character, Raistlin. I think the stories would make for outstanding video games in the RPG arena, to be honest (and realize that there are non-video games centered on the subject matter already).

66. I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe
I wish I had written my thoughts on this book as I was reading it, because I've lost a lot of the closeness to it that made me genuinely angry. It's a vile book that uses stereotypes for characters and is groan-inducing at almost every turn. The title character is a sweet, brilliant girl from the mountains of North Carolina, where her poor family resides. It's unimaginable that *anyone* from such humble trappings could ever be smart enough to earn a scholarship to an Ivy League-type school, and yet she overcomes! How wonderful! Trouble is, when she arrives at the school, people treat her terribly due to her insufficient circumstances.

Now, I attended college some years ago and I didn't go to an Ivy League school, but I cannot imagine real-life people acting in any way close to the characters in this novel. It's a soap opera, pure and simple. If you can enjoy it on that level and try to forget that Wolfe was once a lauded writer whose books were cause for great anticipation, it's adequate. If you're looking for something insightful, however, avoid it at all costs. You'll be rolling your eyes every third paragraph, I guarantee. And considering that the book is a massive 688 pages, that makes for some tired eyes indeed.

67. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
Just as I wish I had expressed my ire during the reading of Charlotte Simmons, I similarly am sad that I didn't discuss my admiration for this young adult novel soon after I finished reading it. Set in the Pacific Northwest, the story centers on a high school student named Isabella who moves to the area to live with her father in a sort of self-imposed exile. She soon meets a mysterious young man named Edward, who makes her swoon even though he seems to have an inexplicable hatred for her. She soon realizes that she's misinterpreting his emotions, and also that his family harbors a deep secret. For anyone who ever loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer when it was good, this is a definite must-read.

68. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
What a dark vision of Batman this is. I'm not a particular fan of the "Robin" character here, but the story is solid and the Joker is horrific. So is Batman, in many ways.

69. Tsotsi, by Athol Fugard
Set in South Africa, this book is the story of a young street thug (tsotsi literally means "thug") who undergoes a crisis of conscience that causes him to change. The book can be very difficult to stomach at times - realizing that people lived in appalling conditions and had to resort to desperate means makes me feel very fortunate to have been brought up in the country where I live. Tsotsi is not a particularly likeable character, even when he undergoes his change. I'm looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation, which received raves at the Toronto Film Festival, to see if I feel differently about the whole thing.

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