Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Reading Year in Review: Six Faves from 2011

This has not been the most stellar year for reading. Much has happened in this booklover's life: two moves, two deaths, packing and unpacking — and the revelation of a grand library in a new home.

I pretty much stopped paying attention to what I was reading, and I apologize to myself and to you, my Faithful Reader. I hope to do better by you this year.

Despite my best efforts, I did encounter a few really good books this year.  Here are some, in no particular order:
  • The Gift of Fear — Just because we can't articulate that which makes us fearful doesn't mean we should ignore those signs. Intuition is more important than all of the "common sense" in the world (though the latter should not be ignored, either). Just ask Gavin de Becker.
  • Dracula — This classic stands the test of time. Everyone takes away something interesting from this timeless tale.  Mine was the understanding that much of modern vampire lore began with Bram Stoker's novel.
  • 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America — I never wrote a review because "OMG I LOVED THIS BOOK" doesn't quite articulate how this book eerily foresees a future being constructed in today's real world. Unsettling rather than hysterical, it still amused me. 
  • The Map of Time — I am a sucker for a good time-travel book, and this is one. It went places I didn't expect, and I loved every minute. You will, too.
  • Cutting for Stone — Gorgeous, sweeping, touching, stunning, moving... It's a must-read if you have eyeballs.
  • Little Princes — I can't remember the last time I really, really liked an author the way I liked Conor Grennan.  His authenticity and honesty was amazing, and I so enjoyed joining him on his "accidental" journey.

I didn't include Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children because I am not past the "I LOVELOVELOVED THIS BOOK" (note the annoying all-caps) and I want to wait until the sequel this year of A Discovery of Witches. (I know, what am I thinking?!)

So, what were some of your fave books this year?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

And Then Came Ginger

I have two words for you: Ginger Galore.
With a face like that, what else is there to write?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

NaNoWriMo: On the Other Side

November was a crazy month that included a lingering sinus infection, a major multi-day holiday, a friend's wedding, weird weather and my attempt at writing a novel.

Guess which one I liked the most? (No, you wise acres, not the sinus infection!)

National Novel Writing Month was an experience that reinforced what most productive writers understand: don't wait for "inspiration" — create it.  Every day, as I sit at the computer for work, I dredge up material for the assorted projects. Not everything that comes out of my brain and fingers is award-winning.  Some days are better than others. Some days I'm on fire and others I just show up and type materials that are "good enough." Some days the words are stellar and others it's just enough to get the job done.

The difference between a good day and a bad day: on a bad day, I don't even show up.  And that, my friends, is the definition of failure.

I'm not saying every bit of junk we produce needs to see the light of day.  In fact, I don't intend to show my "novel" to more than one or two souls.  However, I followed the objectives of the project established by NaNoWriMo and managed to succeed. I created a document totaling 50, 202 words between November 1-30.


Well, why not?

On November 1, I scratched my head and wondered exactly what in the world I was going to write — until I remembered: The Foreigner!  Well, I didn't remember it by name, but I remembered the play description. The play is about a shy man who pretends to not know English on a cruise full of English-speaking people.  What other situations can create opportunities for people to share information, confess, reveal or otherwise communicate?

I came up with one. It involved The Cowboy.

Not every word was stellar.  In fact, much of it probably was contrived, and possibly impossible to read.  The chapters that feature The Cowboy, however, were ingenious, if I dare say so myself.  There may be a story in there somewhere, or bits of one, or even a short story that can be edited and re-purposed.  Maybe. I won't make any promises.  I wrote many, many pages of words, and some of those words (beyond articles and conjunctions) may be of use at some point in the future. But really, I don't care. What I do care is that I know I can do something like that, possibly even better, in the future. All it takes is the precious commodity of time — which, for the story burning in me is a small price to pay.

Thanks, NaNoWriMo.  If I can pull it off again next year, maybe I'll even come up with a story and outline in October.

And the rest of you: what are you waiting for? You can wait until next November — or you can start now to warm up for the next one. I think I'll choose the latter.  Let me know which you choose.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Precious Gift, The Gift of Fear

You know when your skin prickles and you just know something isn't right?  That is instinct, something most of us ignore if we think it will cause us embarrassment.

Gavin de Becker will convince you to react otherwise in his brilliant book, The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence.

For de Becker, instinct is the gathering of data we cannot articulate but simply understand.  If a voice comes from a location a person should not logically be traveling, if the gesture or tone of voice doesn't comfort us as it should, if the offer for help seems too forceful — our minds won't explain it to us, but upon reflection, it all makes sense.

Equally important is knowing the difference between what should cause fear and how we invoke it in ourselves.  Being petrified that you're in an empty parking lot is a waste of fear if there is no real threat.  Using your spidey-senses to listen for the unexpected footsteps, however, is a good way to determine a true threat and use your fear only if needed.

The author earned my trust early on in his book as he revealed his own background in security and safety.  Just because presidents, military, national security and celebrities trust him doesn't make him enough of a reliable resource.  What he says, how he says it and how he determines the danger of a situation seems sane, reasonable and thoughtful.

He takes a look at many different threats people could face: in the workplace, at home, from strangers and those familiar.  He offers indicators, tips on what to look for to help assess the real threat.  Someone writes a thousand fan letters: weird, but maybe not threatening.  I know, isn't "weird" already threatening?  Not necessarily.  If you feel threatened, always consult a professional — but let this professional help you determine if you need to consult a professional.

This is not a self-defense book, but a rational look at human behavior.  Based on his experiences, de Becker asks certain questions and analyzes behavior to help clients go beyond fear and into the situation itself.  Is the "stalker" really a threat, or a nuisance?  How can you best determine that and end the situation?  Will a restraining order do more harm than good to deter the abusive spouse?  Most importantly, should someone really be afraid in a situation?  Is what they perceive a threat really dangerous?

I strongly recommend this book.  I plan to get extra copies of this book and share it with pretty much everyone I know, men and women.  Anyone can find themselves threatened and in danger, and the more people who know what to look for and how to reasonably respond, the better.