Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Racking Up — and Rating — Books Read in 2013 (With Last-Minute Addition)

I read a lot this year, more than I realized: nearly six dozen tomes in all. Now, to be fair, a few were books for younger readers — but that means they were shorter, or more carefully illustrated, as opposed to being less robust and complex. 

Good authors write to the story and trust their audience. Good readers read the story and trust their authors. That perfect match makes for heavenly reading, and I made quite a few good matches this calendar year.

What was my favorite book? As if I could choose one! Well, here are a few (in no particular order) that stayed with me long after I turned the last page:
  • Life After Life — what if you could take nearly every path life could offer? (review)
  • Dr. Sleep — Finished it in the waning hours of 2013, so right now all I can say is, "Wow." If I can manage more of a response than that, there may be a review.
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers — examine Indian "slums" and poverty through the eyes of the residents of Annawadi (review)
  • Tiny Beautiful Things — like a hug from a special friend (review)
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane childhood in all its terrifying complexity (review)
  • Salt Sugar Fat — it's no accident that you love a particular processed food, and this fascinating tome takes a look at how processed foods evolved in America
  • Let the Great World Spin — the intersection of lives in the shadow of Philippe Petit's daring tightrope walk between the Twin Towers
  • The Dinner — think you know where the story's going? Think again. (review)
  • The Creeps — Return to Biddlecombe at Christmas to see how Samuel Johnson, Boswell, Nurd and a few other familiar characters battle the forces of evil (and a few scary elves)
  • The Winter Sea and The Firebird (in that order) — fall in love with history, fiction and one or two independent spirits via these compelling tales 

I made a few bad matches, too. One that comes to mind is A Visit from the Goon Squad: I can't understand why it won so many awards when it could not make me care about the characters and tales. Another was Southern Gods, which despite its fascinating concept was way too gory for me. (That means it will be perfect for my husband, David, whose criteria for a good movie is, "Does anybody die?") I wasn't keen on Caleb's Crossing, but its sin was the wrong narrator who couldn't give me the intricacies of the story I really came to the novel to read. (It was as much about the narrator as it was the subject, a sort of bait-and-switch.)

I took a few detours down "juvenile fiction" lane. I'm a huge fan of Cynthia Rylant's Mr. Putter and Tabby series, who join Mrs. Teaberry and Zeke in more than their share of adventures. Neil Gaiman provided more than a few graphic novels or heavily illustrated stories, and I will forever love the father who good-naturedly traveled around town until his son retrieved him. The experiences of Miss Finch creeped me out, and I was able to re-read a few of my favorite animal tales recreated as graphic novels.

After disliking an iconic novel by Ursula K. LeGuin, we both were redeemed by her Catwing series.

My reading took me me to India, North Korea, Ireland, Scotland, England, Russia, Africa, the Netherlands and Hell. I've lived a different life every day, and lived multiple lives in time. I've been to hell, I've been dead, I've been nearly dead and I've known the right neighbors.

I made a summer reading list and promptly abandoned it. I haven't come to terms with the fact that I will not read everything, and maybe not even everything I want to read, but I'll keep trying. Just tonight I found three more books to read. I'll figure it out. Really.

Here is this year's reading list (probably not totally complete, considering I deleted the list by accident in September and had to recreate it from memory). Did you read any on this list? What are some of your year's reads you'd recommend? Tell me!

2013 Reading List
  1. Dr. Sleep
  2. Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins
  3. Caleb's Crossing
  4. Mr. Putter and Tabby Clear the Decks
  5. Mr. Putter and Tabby Stir the Soup 
  6. The Poisonwood Bible
  7. Mr. Putter and Tabby Make a Wish
  8. Mr. Putter and Tabby Dance the Dance
  9. Mr. Putter and Tabby Ring the Bell
  10. Creatures of the Night
  11. Crazy Hair
  12. The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish
  13. The Arrival
  14. Stitches
  15. Selected Stories/Open Secrets — Alice Munro
  16. The Bookman's Promise
  17. Cat Versus Human
  18. The Dinner
  19. The Creeps 
  20. The Vagina Monologues
  21. The Seventeen Traditions
  22. Humans of New York
  23. Bossypants
  24. The Winter Sea
  25. Sh*t My Dad Says
  26. Illusions
  27. Ella Minnow Pea
  28. Under New York  
  29. The Firebird 
  30. Catwings 
  31. Catwings Return
  32. Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings
  33. Jane on Her Own: A Catwings Tale
  34. Southern Gods
  35. Unnatural Creatures
  36. Dreamfever
  37. Poe's Children
  38. The Tarantula in My Purse and 172 Other Wild Pets
  39. Salt Sugar Fat
  40. The New Yorker Book of Cat Cartoons
  41. The Charles Addams Mother Goose
  42. If I Stay
  43. Inferno
  44. The Ocean at the End of the Lane
  45. Let the Great World Spin
  46. Smut
  47. Next
  48. Every Day
  49. Life After Life
  50. Up the Down Staircase
  51. Will Write for Food
  52. Social Media Marketing
  53. Wishes Fulfilled
  54. The Tao of Womanhood
  55. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Taoism
  56. The Winds of Marble Arch
  57. An Outrageous Affair
  58. The facts in the case of the departure of Miss Finch 
  59.  The Dangerous Alphabet
  60. Blueberry Girl
  61. Notorious Nineteen
  62. The Twelve Terrors of Christmas
  63.  Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich
  64.  M is for Magic
  65.  Tiny Beautiful Things
  66.  Hello, Goodbye, Hello
  67.  The Round House
  68.  A Visit from the Goon Squad
  69.  The Lucky Gourd Shop
  70.  Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Monday, December 30, 2013

Caleb's Crossing, Without Much of Caleb

Caleb's Crossing has been on my bookshelf for years. My friend Carole and I purchased it in 2011 as soon as we saw it for sale. Both she and I enjoyed Geraldine Brooks' books in the past. We have seen met her on previous book signing tours and enjoyed her other books.

And yet this one languished on our shelves for years.

After reading it, I can see why: it was not her best.

The story is of Caleb, a Native American Indian who lived on the island now known as Martha's Vineyard, who was the first of his tribe to graduate from Harvard University in 1665.

Well, not exactly. It's as much about the narrator, Bethia Mayfield, as the character named in the title. Bethia  is a teenage English girl who, remarkably, is a feminist of her age. She was smarter than her older brother, who was being educated to follow his father into the ministry, but was denied an education because of her sex. She chafed against her society's boundaries. One of her society's boundaries was a relationship with any American Indian on the island, with whom her settlement had an uneasy truce. She chose a relationship with a young male of the tribe, an added taboo.

Alas, Caleb's world was described by an outsider with no intimate knowledge of his culture. Indeed, she harbored many of the biases against Caleb's people as her own society did. The second-hand information, filtered through Bethia's eyes, dampened my enthusiasm for the novel. Never did we get Caleb's perspective, and Caleb's words were shared through Bethia, who was not a reliable narrator.

The novel is written as a personal journal kept by Bethia — often written days, months, even years after an event. Her details are complete, rich and full,  not at all like journal entries one would expect so long after the fact, and another reason for me to mistrust her as a narrator. References to historical events and characters were carefully shared to create a sense of connection to this colonial period. If you like colonial history, this might be a good book for you.

Bethia's character was a 21st century woman who every once in a while flashed a colonial, meeker face. The constant interjection of her religious beliefs in her writing and the use of colonial-period language didn't change that fact: she was not a girl of that age.

Finally, there was little urgency in the tale. Only once or twice did I rush through the story to discover the resolution of a situation.

I'm sorry to say I wouldn't recommend this book.

I can, however, recommend every other tome in Brooks' collection. Consider that, then read Caleb's Crossing, and tell me if you agree with my assessment.

Friday, December 20, 2013

On the Horizon: Miss Peregrine's Sequel

I'd ask if you remembered Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, but that's a silly question. Heaven knows I couldn't forget it.

So imagine my delight when I saw this book trailer:

The sequel! Be still my heart!

Oh, don't worry: I pre-ordered it months ago. And I've checked my order twice, just to make sure.

Are you excited, too? What are you reading to get ready? And will you re-read the original in anticipation?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Poetry Wednesday: Feline Night Before Christmas

Thanks to Miss Liberty for this Christmas poem, in the spirit of Clement Clark3 Moore, that cat people can truly understand. 

Although I am featuring my ever-delightful Miss Ginger Galore, please visit  Miss Liberty's website to see her fun photo and read her poem in its natural habitat!

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
The felines were chasing a toy catnip mouse.
The stalking began in the hall and from there
They managed to corner it under a chair.

I attempted to nestle all snug in my bed
But the kitties decided to dance on my head.
An idea it hit me, it came like a clap
And I sent them off chasing a Poland Springs cap.

When out in the kitchen there arose such a clatter
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away down the hall I flew like a witch
I entered the kitchen and groped for the switch.

The moon on the breast of the white kitchen tile
Gave the luster of mid-day to the cats' chew toy pile.
When what to my wondering eyes did I see?
The remains of my poster of Angelina Jolie.

Without giving much thought or having to check
I knew in a moment it must be Steinbeck.
More rapid than eagles, his paws were such trouble
Adept at turning possessions into piles of rubble.

"You bastard! You monster! You rotten little cat!
I'll skin you alive and make you into a hat!"
To the top of the fridge! To the top of the desk!
The kitties took flight, away from the mess.

As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So out to the bedroom the felines they flew
"I'll get you, Millay, and your little son, too."

And then, in a twinkling, I heard in the hall,
The batting and pawing of each toy cat ball.
As I raged in my head, and was turning around,
Down the hallway the fur-beasts then came with a bound.

They were dressed all in fur, from their heads to their feet,
And they yelled out they still needed something to eat.
But a bowl full of food still sat on the floor
As I'd fed the two monsters a mere hour before.

Their eyes - they were wild! Their tails, how they twitched!
As they rubbed on my ankles and they moaned and they bitched.
Millay's droll little mouth was open like Jaws
And Steinbeck kept batting my knees with his paws.

They wouldn't listen as I explained I'd fed them before
Continuing to howl and to writhe on the floor.
So I got out the Friskies, and I got out the cup,
And gave them more food so they'd shut the f**k up.

Steinbeck mewed not a sound, but went straight to work
At filling his belly — the little fur-jerk.
Millay sniffed at the bowl, then with nose in the air,
Pretended no interest in what she found there.

"Eat the damn food, you rotten little cow!
I hope that you're happy — I'm wide awake now."
The clock, it read four — I thought I would weep.
I turned toward the bedroom, hoping for sleep.

"Merry Christmas, you monsters, with your cold little hearts.
I'm taking a nap - then I'll sell you for parts."
And I heard them exclaim as the two of them fled,
"Merry Christmas, dear human - your gift's under the bed."

—Poem by Miss Liberty

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Mr. Putter and Tabby: They're Up to Something!

The other day, I wondered about some old friends — so I let the library help me reconnect with them.

These friends are Mr. Putter and Tabby, an adventuresome elderly gentleman and his older, charming cat. Author Cynthia Rylant teams up with illustrator Arthur Howard to share his unusual adventures with juvenile readers like me.

This couple of characters live next door to Mrs. Teaberry, the more adventurous of the two, and her good dog, Zeke. Usually it's Mrs. Teaberry who has the idea to try something different, and Mr. Putter is always in. However, when Mr. Putter has the idea — well, watch out!

I stumbled across these characters a few years ago, just by chance. Having a few tabbies in my life made me feel kin to Mr. Putter, and growing up with dogs made me appreciate Mrs. Teaberry. I had to find out what they could get up to in their silver years.

Plus, on a purely academic level, it's nice to remind children that older people aren't all dinosaurs — and that older pets can be good companions.

And the illustrations — well, see for yourself.

So, last night, Ginger and I read a few adventures. We have a few more waiting for us (thank you, Library!). It's always nice to see what these four can get up to, and they have yet to disappoint. Something as tame as tea can become a crazy day for them!

If ever you want a laugh, turn to Mr. Putter, Tabby, Mrs. Teaberry and Zeke.

Who are your favorite characters? What do you think of illustrated books?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Poetry Wednesday: Happy Birthday, Emily Dickinson

"Arcturus" is his other name

"Arcturus" is his other name—
I'd rather call him "Star."
It's very mean of Science
To go and interfere!

I slew a worm the other day—
A "Savant" passing by
Murmured "Resurgam"—"Centipede"!
"Oh Lord—how frail are we"!

I pull a flower from the woods—
A monster with a glass
Computes the stamens in a breath—
And has her in a "class"!

Whereas I took the Butterfly
Aforetime in my hat—
He sits erect in "Cabinets"—
The Clover bells forgot.

What once was "Heaven"
Is "Zenith" now—
Where I proposed to go
When Time's brief masquerade was done
Is mapped and charted too.

What if the poles should frisk about
And stand upon their heads!
I hope I'm ready for "the worst"—
Whatever prank betides!

Perhaps the "Kingdom of Heaven's" changed—
I hope the "Children" there Won't be "new fashioned" when I come—
And laugh at me—and stare—

I hope the Father in the skies
Will lift his little girl—
Old fashioned—naught—everything—
Over the stile of "Pearl."

— Emily Dickinson
Courtesy Poem Hunter

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Christmas Reading: What's on Your List?

Readers are a sentimental lot who re-read when appropriate. I'm not a frequent re-reader, but I do have a few favorites I pull out at about this time of year. I also throw a few new ones into the mix every year, and sometimes they join the usual holiday suspects the next year.

First, my husband David and I re-read A Christmas Carol. We have a lovely reprint of the original, complete with drawings, that we read aloud (hopefully before Christmas Day). It was so important to us that we — okay, I — bought a second copy before the library was set up in our current home. If you've never read it, please pick it up today and read a few pages aloud. It's how Charles Dickens intended it to be experienced, and it sounds glorious.

Another favorite is Connie Willis' Miracle and Other Christmas Stories, which has an excellent mix of classic sci-fi and mystery — with a couple of surprises.

A new read I plan to pick up this season is Holidays on Ice. I want to see how David Sedaris views Christmas.

Enhance your joy of the season with The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore. It will quickly become a holiday favorite. Imagine angels, death, confused boys, a former movie queen a la Xena, Warrior Princess and a dog experiencing Christmas in Pine Cove. Honestly, it's a hoot.

Consider a few other Christmas classics, like The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which I picked up from the library for this very reason. 

Remember, books don't have to be long to be good: consider A Visit from St. Nicholas — known best by its first line, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," which I read to my nieces and nephews when we were together for Christmas.  

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a great tale to share with folks of all ages. (Please don't mention the live-action movie. Ever.)  

The Polar Express and A Child's Christmas in Wales also are great options.

There's Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory, a poignant memory that will stay with readers for long after the story ends.  

Skipping Christmas and Visions of Sugar Plums will transport you to unique ideas of the holidays and what the season really may mean. 

Learn more about Kris Kringle in The Autobiography of Santa Claus and take a trip back to another time.

Stop by your local library and let your librarian guide you through other interesting options. There's a lot of material out there about a fascinating, emotion-filled holiday.

What are you reading this season?