Thursday, December 31, 2009

Chris' Top 10 Favorite Reads of 2009

Another year gone, another stack of books read and shared.  The books listed below are a good cross-section of titles on my reading list.  A few of them were provided by Carole and Kathy, two of my most trusted book critics, and a few titles I stumbled upon on my own.  Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order.

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society — A compelling story that also serves as a history lesson.  I knew people suffered, did without during World War II, but I never stopped to think of what exactly that meant.  This book tells that story with heart, wit and engagement — and a few interesting voices.

Drood — Long, but oh so good.  I loved every page of this tale of Charles Dickens' last years of life, told by his friend Wilkie Collins (himself an author of great repute: The Woman in White, anyone?).  I was absolutely smitten by the second chapter. 

Beginner's Greek — I re-told lovely, charming and breathtaking tale of star-crossed love over and over this past summer to Judy, Leigh and anyone else who would listen as I read the tale of Peter and Holly.  I was sorry to finish this one.

The Geography of Bliss — I am thrilled to have discovered Eric Weiner on a top 100 list and will continue to read him as he continues to report and publish. His assessment of these locations is fair and lively, and I felt as though I was there with him through his rich descriptions and humorous observations.

The Graveyard Book — Neil Gaiman never fails to entertain and enlighten.  Apparently he thought up this story a couple of decades ago when his child would play in the graveyard next to his home.  How, exactly, does one raise a child in a graveyard — especially if one is a ghost?  You'd be amazed.  I know I was.

A Reliable Wife — Twists, turns and unexpected beauty in this sleeper novel of a mail order bride who isn't what she appears to be.  Nor is her new husband — or anyone else in the story.  Robert Goolrick illustrates turn-of-the-century poverty in America.

The Strain —David describes this as vampires meet CSI.  How easy would it be for vampires to infiltrate New York City? Written by movie director Guillermo del Torro and horror writer Chuck Hogan, the book is the first of a planned trilogy.  I'm anxious for the second installment in 2010.

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer — If all scary books and horror tales could be this clever and enjoyable, I'd read even more of them. The debut novelist Jonathan L. Howard offers a unique and interesting tale of Hell, redemption, traveling circuses and decomposition.  (Not in that order.)

The Twilight Saga — An old-fashioned love story between a lovely young girl and her vampire boyfriend takes a few unexpected turns as we find out whether love can conquer all.  After you finish these hefty tomes, you will understand, finally, the meaning behind "Team Jacob" and "Team Edward."  Twilight: it's not just for teenage girls anymore.

Astrid and Veronika — Two women's lives intertwine in this well-written modest novel.  The character-driven story is rich and full, and readers will appreciate friendships even more as they read this thin but robust novel.

Bonus favorite: A Christmas Carol.  After watching every film adaptation on earth of this classic ghost tale, I decided to take a page from Carole's book and read Dickens' tale.  When I say the book always is better than the movie, I usually mean it — but with this book, I am as emphatic as I can be.  If you have yet to read this book, do so.  Don't wait until Christmas: this book of redemption is good any day of the year. 

The book I enjoyed least this year was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  It was too lurid for me, like the close-up shots of gooey corpses in the television crime shows.  I don't mind graphic descriptions, but I do mind gratuitous descriptions of awful experiences.  This book had both.

What are your favorites?  What terrible books have you read (and lived to tell the tale)?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Can You Recall Your Favorite Books of the Year?

This has been a great year for books, and I'm sure it's easy for you to identify your favorite books.  Get those lists ready to compare with my "best of" list to be published on From One Book Lover at the end of the year, and see how our lists compare.

Can you guess my faves? Check out the books reviewed in 2009 on From One Book Lover and Book Lovers, Get Your English On!, two book blogs on which I worked this calendar year.  See if you can guess my top 10.

If you have a blog, e-mail me your URL and I'll try to guess your favorites of 2009 in return. Maybe we read the same books.... you never know.

When I publish my "best of" list, be sure to chime in and share your ideas and opinions. I'm always looking for a new great book to read!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

DC Poetry Slam Winning Poem

From The Washington Post's Answer Sheet: the winning poem of this year's DC SCORES Poetry Slam! contest.  Congrats to the 9-year-old fourth grader Jasia Smith, and enjoy her poem.

Let’s All Save The World Together

Do you like nature?
Do you like playing outside?
Do you like hiking or watching the beach tides?

So Let’s Save the World Together!

It’s getting warmer nowadays
So don’t let the hot weather carry you away.
Reuse, Recycle, Reduce and don’t litter.
So tell this to relatives, friends and baby sitters!

So let’s save the world Together!

Go green, plant gardens, plant bushes or even a rose
And bring back that fresh natural smell to your nose.
Save electricity and cut off the lights and bring back those peaceful and cooler nights.
Don’t waste the water we need to drink
So please don’t let those precious drops go down the sink!

So Let’s Save the World Together!

by Jasia Smith
Burrville Elementary School, Washington, DC

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I Hope I'm Not There Yet — But Still, Good Ideas


The second half of my life will be black 
to the white rind of the old and fading moon. 
The second half of my life will be water 
over the cracked floor of these desert years. 
I will land on my feet this time, 
knowing at least two languages and who 
my friends are. I will dress for the 
occasion, and my hair shall be 
whatever color I please.
Everyone will go on celebrating the old 
birthday, counting the years as usual, 
but I will count myself new from this 
inception, this imprint of my own desire. 

The second half of my life will be swift, 
past leaning fenceposts, a gravel shoulder, 
asphalt tickets, the beckon of open road. 
The second half of my life will be wide-eyed, 
fingers shifting through fine sands, 
arms loose at my sides, wandering feet. 
There will be new dreams every night, 
and the drapes will never be closed. 
I will toss my string of keys into a deep 
well and old letters into the grate. 

The second half of my life will be ice
breaking up on the river,
rain soaking the fields, a hand
held out, a fire,
and smoke going
upward, always up.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

On My Father's Birthday, a Lovely Poem


Today is my daughter's fourteenth birthday
So I bought her roses—five red, nine pink—
To commemorate impending womanhood. She liked
Them I think better than the balloons her mother
& I would sneak into her room while she slept
To celebrate birthdays one through thirteen.
Or maybe she was just humoring me
Who had just turned fifty & looked ridiculous
Standing there in her doorway, holding them
Like a torch. "Soon enough," the Fates were
Whispering, but I doubt she heard them,
Soon enough she would. Still she left off
The internet, cradled & squeezed the thorny blooms
& gave me an authentic look not what I usually get.

from The Unexamined Life. © Custom Words, 2007.

courtesy The Writer's Almanac

Monday, December 7, 2009

Taken In by the Villains of Literature

When asked why someone reads a classic story, the answer often is that the characters are memorable.  Often, characters are redemptive, loving, loveable, attractive.

But what if they're not?

Listverse intrigued me with a recent list of the 10 Vilest Villains in Literature.  I now am revising my classics reading list to include one or two of the more interesting villains.

I am already familiar with more than half of the villains on the Listverse list.  (I'm not sure if I should be pleased or concerned.)  I have met the Wicked Witch of the West courtesy of two different authors.  I'm also intimately familiar with Sauron, thanks to my recent obsession with The Lord of the Rings (thank you, Peter Jackson and J.R.R. Tolkien!).  I know I read Beowulf in college, but I claim no ability to retain anything I was scheduled to discuss in excruciating detail at 8 a.m. on a Monday.  I also know Satan, though not on a first-name basis.

However, I have yet to meet the Transylvanian count, and I look forward to our introduction in Dracula.  I've seen him at a glance, but we never had a chance to get acquainted.

I also have added Bill Sykes (of Oliver Twist) to my list.  I remember the revulsion I felt when seeing him on stage in the musical Oliver!; even as a 10-year-old, I knew evil when it crossed my path.  I also suspect Charles Dickens can scare the, forgive me, dickens out of me with a good bad guy.  Right now David and I are becoming acquainted with the soon-to-be-redeemed Ebenezer Scrooge, and I am mesmerized by Dickens' prose in A Christmas Carol.  I believe I have learned the trick to novelist: read him out loud, and you literally can't put down his tale.

Can you recommend some villains you have met?  What repelled you?  More importantly, what attracted you?  (I promise I won't tell.)