Tag Archives: an abundance of katherines

Best of 2011: Book Edition

I wish that I had read enough books this year for a top 10, but that just wasn’t the case. I mean, I read more than ten books, but most of them weren’t worthy of the list. And I suspected that you didn’t want to hear about the Christopher Marlowe plays that I read for a class last winter. You will notice that three of my five choices are young adult novels. What can I say? I know what I like.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

John Green has become a very big part of my life. He and his brother have been exchanging video blogs since 2007, and an entire community has grown around their videos. My friend Jenny told me about the “vlogbrothers” months ago, but I didn’t really investigate until after reading Katherines. Now my Christmas list contains John Green’s two other novels available in paperback. It’s already evident to me that he’s one of the great talents in young adult literature today. Katherines got its blog moment in the sun here. For the purposes of this list, I will just reiterate that it is intelligently written with an engaging premise and hilarious characters. Any YA lover (or book lover, really) will appreciate this novel.

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

Sarah Dessen is an author about whom I can probably never be impartial. After all, she has been near and dear to my heart for 10 years now. What Happened to Goodbye was one of the most highly anticipated books in my reading life this year. While I can’t count it as her best work, I will say that it definitely lives up to her past novels. This book focuses in part on the world of restaurants. As a hardcore Dessen fan, I know that the behind-the-scenes knowledge comes from her days as a waitress at the Flying Burrito. I would recommend the book to Dessen fans of yore, along with her other two most recent novels.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I have to say, I’m a sucker for this kind of story. The kind where most things seem almost normal, except for the one detail that makes it all feel horribly wrong. At first glance the narrator could be a woman reminiscing about her days at boarding school. However, from the first pages Kathy makes references to more mysterious aspects of her world. The novel is slow-moving, but Ishiguro is adept at doling out enough hints to keep the reader interested until the full purpose of the boarding school children is revealed. Written in a beautiful and impressively subtle style, it raises many questions about morality in medical science and the nature of personhood.  There’s also a lovely film adaptation that I would recommend — after reading the book, of course.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

I reviewed this book very recently on the blog, so I won’t go into much detail here. Suffice to say that I have great respect for what Margaret Atwood has done in this book. It reminds me of her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, but for all that they both portray dystopian futures, Oryx and Crake has a very different vision. I, for one, found it wildly compelling.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

There was really no contest for number one. I could have easily included the entire Hunger Games Trilogy on this list, but instead I picked my favorite book in the series. In keeping with the unintentional theme of the book list, it’s both young adult and science fiction. Collins uses the best facets of the YA genre to her advantage, presenting fast-paced novels that still manage to be thought-provoking. There’s a rebellious teenage girl and a love triangle, but there’s also a critique of the voyeuristic tendencies in our culture, particularly a fascination with other people’s suffering. I like Catching Fire the best because it deepens the characters and complicates relationships before the action-packed third installment. These are books that inspire passion in readers. They were certainly my most exciting reading experience of 2011.


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An Abundance of John Green

Of my three library picks, the first book that I chose to read was An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. The concept was intriguingly quirky, and I had a hankering for some young adult fiction.

Colin Singleton is a highly intelligent — and highly neurotic — high school graduate, who has managed to only date girls named Katherine. From a one-hour elementary school fling to the most recent girl to break his heart, they are Katherines all. Perhaps even more significantly, they have all dumped him. In search of an answer to his Katherine conundrum, Colin decides to write a theorem that predicts the outcome of his relationships. He sets off on a road trip with his snarky best friend, and as you might imagine, colorful characters and personal growth ensue.

The only difficult part about this book is the premise itself. You have to accept that one guy could find nineteen women with the same name and have some sort of romance with all of them. Accepting the premise is well worth it though because the story itself is a lot of fun. There was plenty of humor to be found in Colin’s overly intellectual approach to romance. I mean, only an emotional dunce would try to convert his relationships into a mathematical formula. As someone who has known her fair share intellectually mature but emotionally stunted people, this was a character type that I could appreciate.

John Green found creative ways to express Colin’s neurotic tendencies. He used footnotes to relay extra information and provide mathematical explanations for the Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability. This technique mirrors the way that Colin can’t resist inserting random trivia into his conversations. As English professors love to remind us, form is content! One of the coolest things about writing, I think, is that the story can be expressed not just through words, but through how the words are presented.

Now that I’ve read one John Green novel, I would love to check out the others. When my friend Jenny was recommending him to me, she had some reservations about whether An Abundance of Katherines would be the best starting point. As it turned out, it was the only one of his books at the library branch that I visited. So there you go! It certainly left me wanting more. Hopefully Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns will be in my future.

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Back in the Stacks

The trouble with having a variety of interests is that you can’t indulge them all at once. For that reason, I tend to go on “kicks” with one thing or another. When I started this blog, I thought that I would be writing a fair amount about books. Instead I found myself on a lengthy movie kick. My latest ill-fated attempt to reread Emma is evidence that I just haven’t been in the reading frame of mind. Since I spend all day helping children learn how to read, it’s an ironic predicament.

Hopefully that will soon change. I got my Hennepin County Library card weeks ago, but I had yet to set foot in an actual library until today. I must admit, I was a bit of a library snob. The first branch I visited was so small that I drove to a different one before checking out books. The experience made me appreciate the Fargo Public Library, which is now absolutely beautiful in its new building. I like the feeling of being “lost in the stacks”, and the sites that I visited today seemed to be going for a more open floorplan.

But I digress. I can’t fault the second library because it had exactly the books I wanted. What are they, you ask? Well . . .

The Sixty-Eight Rooms, by Marianne Malone

This book was recommended to me by that intrepid professor of creative nonfiction Dennis Cass. It’s a children’s book about the Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago that he found incredibly imaginative. Working at an elementary school, it seemed an appropriate choice.

An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green

Another recommendation, this time from my friend Jenny. I feel like John Green is someone who I’ve missed out on in the young adult scene. The premise is also intriguing: a neurotic high school graduate who has dated (and been dumped by) nineteen girls named Katherine.

Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

I’ve been wanting to read this book for years, literally. A post-apocalyptic love story by Margaret Atwood? You don’t have to tell me twice.

My vow, Gentle Readers, is this:  I will read these three books and review them on the blog. Coincidentally I picked out books for three different age groups, so it should make for an interesting time. Prepare to be English-major-ed in the not-too-distant future.

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