Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Books of 2009

This past year was interesting, book-wise. After moving to the U.S. it took me a while to start reading fiction again: the non-fiction shelves of the libraries and second hand bookstores just were too inviting. 2009 began and ended with fiction, and it was good to be in imaginary worlds for a change. Joining the Finnish book club also did me a world of good, as it introduced me to authors I had never read before, thanks to my prejudices about Finnish novelists.

Without further ado, here is the book list from 2009 with short synopses. Once again, I did not get to my goal of reading one book per week--let's see what happens next year!

1. My Year of Meats by Ruth L. Ozeki. Japanese-American documentary maker struggles to find a narrative for a meat propaganda project she is hired for. The central question is: who is considered a "real" American?
2. Ennen päivänlaskua ei voi ("The Troll") by Johanna Sinisalo. Speculative fiction where trolls from Finnish fairytales cause as many tabloid headlines as wolves near peoples' homes.
3. Hum Bows, Not Hot Dogs! by Bob Santos. Community organizer Bob Santos's history on the birth and development of the International District in Seattle.
4. Popco by Scarlett Thomas. Creative minds are brought together to create ultimate toys. Code writing, breaking, and criticism of marketing ensues (such a fun book!)
5. The Code Book by Simon Singh. Thomas referenced to this nonfiction book in Popco; it deals with the history of code writing and code breaking.
6. Ihanat naiset rannalla ("Wonderful Women on the Beach") by Monika Fagerholm. Bored middle-class, Swedish-Finnish women and men on the verge of a breakdown on a beautiful summer's day.
7. The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. Discusses the concept of "beauty myth", and in which ways it is a constant stress to women: if you are not beautiful enough, you are ignored. If you are beautiful, your success is explained away with you having used "womanly wiles" and that you cannot possibly be smart--why else would the statement "She's not only pretty; she is also smart!" exist, as if this was some kind of an anomaly...
8. I'm a Lebowski, You're a Lebowski: Life, the Big Lebowski, and What Have You by Bill Green. A fan book for Lebowski fans.
9. How to Live in Small Spaces by Terence Conran. Design tricks for people who live in small apartments.
10. Escape by Carolyn Jessop and Laura Palmer. An insider's expose on the horrid life of the extreme Mormon community, FLDS.
11. He's a Stud, She's a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know About by Jessica Valenti. A laugh-out-loud funny book on double standards that I think all women already know about. Nevertheless, Valenti provides humor and to-the-point arguments on why such double standards are absolute bull.
12. The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived by Allan Lazar, Dan Karlan and Jeremy Salter. An account of fictional characters that the authors deem influential to the everyday lives of people.
13. Dream Catcher by Margaret Salinger. J.D. Salinger's daughter's autobiography.
14. She's Such a Geek! Women write about Science, Technology and Other Nerdy Stuff edited by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Anders. A collection of essays from women scientists and all-around nerds on becoming what they are.
15. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. Short story collection on Indian immigrant experiences in the United States.
16. Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher. A classic, where teenaged girls were interviewed on matters that are having a great effect on their self esteem, success and life in general.
17. Tokyo Doesn't Love Us Anymore by Ray Loriga. A dystopian novel about a salesman pitching and partaking in using a memory erasing pill.
18. Stolen Sharpie Revolution: A DIY Zine Resource by Alex Wrekk. What it says!
19. Fruits Basket vol 14 by Natsuki Takaya. One in the line of my fave manga.
20. No Logo by Naomi Klein. A classic from the late 90s exposing the ways in which brands make their money, and how branding changed the world of marketing from selling goods that help you to selling feelings and self-esteem.
21. Viimeinen kesäyö ("Last Summer Night") by Leena Lehtolainen. A collection of crime stories.
22. Puhdistus ("Purge") by Sofi Oksanen. The lives of an old Estonian woman and a young Russian sex slave are intertwined in a history of wars and abuse.
23. Viidakkolapsi ("The Jungle Child") by Sabine Kuegler. The daughter of a missionary family in a remote locatin relates her story among an Amazonian tribe in this autobiography.
24. Uutispommi ("The Bomber") by Liza Marklund. Swedish crime!
25. When I Forgot by Elina Hirvonen. Personal tragedies and the effects of 9-11 on the psyche of Finns and American immigrants in Finland.
26. Take the Cannoli by Sarah Vowell. A collection of essays ranging from stories about Vowell's eccentric father to a surreal, hipster-ly ironic trip to Disneyland.
27. Vaimoni ("My Wife") by Tuula-Liina Varis. A man wishes his obese, subservient and quiet wife would disappear. She does.
28. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. A fun guide on how to write.
29. The Museum of Kitchy Stitches by Stitchy McYarnpants. A silly look at old knitted atrocities, with additional snark.
30. Nobelin testamentti ("Nobel's Testament") by Liza Marklund. Swedish crime, again!
31. The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson. Accounts of great inventions by men such as Ben Franklin, through sheer curiosity and perseverence and, sometimes, luck.
32. Elinkautinen ("Life Sentence") by Liza Marklund. Swedish crime... I know, I'm a broken record!
33. Sankarit ("Heroes") by Johanna Sinisalo. Sinisalo's modernized take on the Kalevala, the Finnish mythology.
34. Ei kiitos ("No Thank You") by Anna-Leena Härkönen. A bleak look into the life of a middle-aged, frustrated German teacher whose husband rather sits in front of the computer than has sex with her. Trouble ensues.
35. Sinut ("You (object)") by Umayya Abu-Hanna. Vignettes from Abu-Hanna's memories on moving to Finland among one of the first brown-skinned people around, to language-learning hilarity and observations on the changing Finnish society.
36. Heikosti positiivinen ("Weakly positive") by Anna-Leena Härkönen. An autobiographical account of Härkönen's post-partum depression.
37. Kädettömät kuninkaat ja muita häiritseviä tarinoita ("Handless kings and other disturbing stories") by Johanna Sinisalo. A collection of sci-fi stories.
38. Veljeni Pentti ("My Brother Pentti") by Sirkka Garam. Pentti Saarikoski's sister writes about him.
39. Kilpikonna ja Olkimarsalkka ("The Turtle and the Straw Marshall") by Tuula-Liina Varis. Pentti Saarikoski's ex-wife writes about their relationship.
40. Baby Jane by Sofi Oksanen. Two lesbians hatch a plan to make money by selling dirty underwear to dirty men. Soon it becomes evident that this plan is just enabling a mental health problem.
41. Kommentteja kaksoiselämään ("Commentaries on a double life") by Olli Nuutinen. A beloved Finnish textbook writer discusses his life as a homosexual during times when it was far from being accepted, even in "liberal" Finland.
42. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. The history and ensuing confusion of an intersex person. How much does nature dictate how we behave? How much does nurture affect us?
43. Elämänmeno ("The Way Life Is") by Pirkko Saisio. Working class life in the early 1900 Helsinki, where disappointments rather than expectations are met.
44. Raja ("Boundary") by Riikka Pulkkinen. A novel about what personal boundaries are, and what to do with the boundaries between life and death.
45. Luokkaretkellä hyvinvointiyhteiskunnassa ("Taking a class trip in a welfare society) by Katriina Järvinen and Laura Kolbe. Essays on class consciousness in Finland, where class is almost a taboo subject, yet still prevalent in the ways in which people are viewed. After all, acknowledgement of classes might make it sound like everybody is not equal after all...
46. Paikka auringossa ("A Place in the Sun") by Liza Marklund. Swedish crime!
47. Väärän jäljillä ("Chasing the Wrong One") by Liza Marklund. Swedish crime!
48. Miehet jotka vihaavat naisia ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") by Stieg Larsson. Um. Also Swedish crime, but less serial!

Oh, and I apparently have completely forgotten to write about one book:

49. Stalinin lehmät by Sofi Oksanen. Estonian-Finnish girl's trek in trying to find out her identity: in Estonia she hears Finns being derided as loud, drunk and stupid, while back at home Estonian women are called whores by Finns. Between these two expected identities and trying to hide them, the protagonist develops an eating disorder, which is the only thing she seems to be in control of.

Edited to add: Looking at the list, I realize also that this is the first year when the majority of books I have read have been written by women: only 9 out of the 48 were written by men.  Compare this to the previous year, where 24 out of 38 were written by men. Good to have some variety - I have enjoyed pretty much every single book I have read and posted about here, so I'm very thankful for all the new author acquaintances I have met through recommendations this previous year! Now back to my Stieg Larsson...


  1. Oooh, I just got When I Forgot when I was home. Hopefully it's good, heh...

  2. Wah, apparently I have not set to get comments from here in my email. Shoot!

    Let me know what you thought of it! It felt weirdly realistic, because it was about a time period that is so strongly in my mind, yet this is the first time someone has written a novel with MY point of view in it... This is exactly how it was in Finland. I just wish the book had been longer: I felt like there was some kind of an urgency in getting the story out, although there would have been still a lot to write about without the story becoming repetitious, finger-pointing or too cheesy.