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Book 21

  1. Matheson, Richard — I Am Legend (161 pages)
  2. McCarthy, Cormac — No Country for Old Men (307 pages)
  3. Dexter, Gary — Why Not Catch 21?: The Stories Behind the Titles (213 pages)
  4. Ryman, Geoff — 253 (366 pages)
  5. Wyndham, John — The Day of the Triffids (267 pages)
  6. Kurkov, Andrey — Death and the Penguin (228 pages)
  7. Chesterton, G.K. — Orthodoxy (183 pages)
  8. Gibbs, Christopher H., ed. — The Cambridge Companion to Schubert (334 pages)
  9. Sendak, Maurice — Where the Wild Things Are (48 pages — though only 1 page will count towards my tally)
  10. Hurston, Zora Neale — Their Eyes Were Watching God (215 pages)
  11. Clarke, Arthur C. — Rendezvous With Rama (245 pages)
  12. Clarke, Arthur C. — The City and the Stars (246 pages)
  13. Chesterton, G.K. — The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (205 pages)
  14. Tepper, Sheri S. — Beauty (468 pages)
  15. Slawson, Douglas J. — Ambition and Arrogance: Cardinal William O'Connell of Boston and the American Catholic Church (186 pages)
  16. Belloc, Hilaire — The Great Heresies (166 pages)
  17. Waugh, Evelyn — Brideshead Revisited (326 pages)
  18. Rawicz, Slavomir — The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom (278 pages)
  19. Junger, Sebastian — The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea (309 pages)
  20. Seth, Vikram — An Equal Music (486 pages)
  21. Dubus III, Andre — House of Sand and Fog (351 pages)

Page count: 5346.

I've been wanting to read House of Sand and Fog for a few years for perhaps the wrong reason: I'm a huge Jennifer Connelly fan, have been wanting to watch the movie, but did not want to watch the movie until I'd read the book. Not compelling enough a reason to elevate this to the top of my reading list, certainly, but when nothing else was calling me and this was just sitting at the top of the stack, I seized the opportunity.

House of Sand and Fog is all about opportunity: one person's missed opportunity becomes someone else's opportunity to restore some lost dignity. Basically, a clerk in town hall makes a mistake, and the lives of three families become hopelessly intertwined. Each party does what they feel is the right thing, and it is certainly difficult to find fault with any of them in the first half of the book. Dubus brilliantly presents both sides of the situation in alternating first-person narratives, first from the Iranian colonel's point of view, in his not-quite-right English, then from the young woman's perspective, that of recovering addict, housecleaner, recently abandoned wife for whom nothing ever seems to go right. The third affected family is that of the sheriff who evicted Kathy from her home. Despite his increasing involvement in the story, he represents the system, that huge impersonal entity that fails to work and that acts as the catalyst to create bad situations, and thus it is appropriate that his story is only ever told in the third person, either through the colonel or Kathy's eyes or through the reader's.

This is a fantastic and complex story, with no clear good guy or bad guy, no happy resolution, but many beautiful, unsentimental slices of real life in all its uncensored ugliness. My only complaint is that Dubus painted such an unflattering picture of Panamanians at the very beginning of the book.

The movie was okay. It featured strong individual acting performances, especially from Ben Kingsley, who was Oscar-worthy as the Iranian colonel. The actor who played Sheriff Burdon was a weak point, and I felt the moviemakers made poor choices in their excisions from, additions to, and reordering of the plot. The movie sacrifices much of the backstory and psychology in order to make an action thriller, and as a consequence it is less thrilling than the book.

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