Monday, December 31, 2012

The Book Year in Review: 2012 Edition

2012 was a great year for books, and not just because adults got their own summer book club. (Although that was a bonus, I agree!)

I read some great books for Fall for the Book (FFTB) this year, including (but not limited to) The Submission and Age of Miracles. I was able to meet Amy Waldman, Michael Chabon, Eleanor Brown, Karen Thompson Walker and Alice Walker.  I missed Katherine Boo, but I'm reading her book Behind the Beautiful Forevers at this moment — and I encourage you to read it, too. Next on my FFTB list: Weird Sisters.

I met authors outside of the festival, including Tom Perotta, whose book The Leftovers made me appreciate how well he can create a story that can end but still carry on.

I read quite a few worthy biographies, including Let's Pretend This Never Happened and How to Be a Woman. I laughed, I cried, I celebrated their lives and foibles. What great tales!

I'm sorry I was so light on my reviews, but I'll try to be better next year — and maybe even catch up, perish the thought!

Now, back to discussing the summer book club (because summer reading is the best).

I loved summer book clubs as a child. I loved my library and wanted any opportunity to go there. I remembered the thrill of joining a summer book club, the challenge of reading more than I did last year, more than anyone else the current year (or the previous year, for that matter). I remember there being prizes, but that was always a bonus, never the reason.

And I missed it.

So, rather than lament that there were no adult book clubs, I started my own summer book club. Stacy and Karen were the first to join. It was so fun, and those women put me to shame with their voluminous reading lists. I even read a book with Karen — and did something I never did before: read ahead. (Okay, I didn't exactly read ahead as much as skim ahead to make sure Lady was okay in The Great Stink. I won't spoil it for you, but the ending of that story was satisfying enough for me that I can with a clear conscience recommend the book.)

Chris' Summer Book Club will continue next year, so start planning your summer reading soon. Last year, the timeframe was the summer solstice to the autumnal equinox: did that work for you? Would you prefer to start on Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer? Let's discuss! Oh, and remember to make your reading list ample: if you don't dream, you'll never know how far you can go. I will refer to my 2012 summer reading list when trying to decide what makes the 2013 list, and I know a few more excellent books will survive the cut.

Then there were the books that made my heart sing. Did I mention The Night Circus yet? Well, that's crazy: I've spoken about it ad nauseum since I finished in the spring. For the first few days after I finished it, all I could say was, "Wow." So do yourself a favor and read it. Put down what you're reading and pick it up at your favorite bookstore or library. Actually, get two: one to keep and one to share.

I also learned a few classics aren't all they're cracked up to be, in my opinion. I'm a huge fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs, but he continued to disappoint me with Princess of Mars and The Land that Time Forgot. Also on the classics list were We Have Always Lived in the Castle and A Town Like Alice. With some, they weren't bad, but they weren't all up to my expectations. For example, when the heroine is a strong, resilient woman, one would think she'd shine in the book, but Neville Shute always seemed more amazed by her technology than with her spirit. Others were a slow simmer, or just written in another century (with all of the sensibilities that went along with them).

I have not read (or re-read) classic books on which the most highly anticipated movies released this year — Anna Karenina, The Hobbit and Les Misèrables (and darned if I always forget how to type the accent on the latter). I can live with that. For now.

I also read enough books that scared me, not the least of which was The Woman in Black, John Dies at the End and This Book is Full of Spiders. I'm proud of myself that I didn't have nightmares (although I didn't sleep as soundly on the nights David was traveling). This buoys me for more shocking books — maybe trying again to get through The Terror. Okay, maybe I'd better not get ahead of myself... Any suggestions? The Woman in White, perhaps, or another classic? What did you read that scared you?

You know, I don't think I have a definitive list. I hope to remedy that soon, with links to my reviews.

In the end, I had a rich reading year — and next year will be equally rich.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

List: My Book Pile of '12

This year, I changed a few ways I do things: a new house, new technology — why not?

But now I haven't the foggiest what I have read this year.

It's true: I used to record them in the monthly pages of my organizer, which I affectionately called "my brick." (It was that heavy.) Then I got a Kindle Fire and started using Google Calendar (which, I realize, in the end will lack the permanence and reference of my Franklin Covey pages).

This streamlining encouraged me to stop recording my books as I finished them. Now I have multiple sources, none of them easily organized and quick to provide information. Sigh. I thought I was being so clever.

Now, I shall record on this page, in no particular order, all of the books I have read this year. That I can remember. Feel free to let me know how wrong I am, for that is the only thing of which I am certain.

My 2012 Reading List (I think; subject to change when I remember another one or realize I read it last year instead)

  1. The Submission
  2. The Age of Miracles
  3. Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute
  4. The Great Stink
  5. How To Be a Woman
  6. Mockingjay
  7. Catching Fire
  8. Fifty Shades Freed
  9. Beyond Hades: The Prometheus Wars
  10. The Night Circus
  11. Fifty Shades Darker
  12. A Princess of Mars
  13. Fifty Shades of Grey
  14. We Have Always Lived in the Castle
  15. Explosive Eighteen
  16. The Hunger Games
  17. Faefever 
  18. Visitants
  19. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  20. One of Our Thursdays is Missing
  21. The Woman in Black
  22. The Devil's Elixir
  23. The Mirror
  24. A Town Like Alice
  25. The Innocents
  26. What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank
  27. Lamb 
  28. The Leftovers 
  29. The Tiger's Wife
  30. The Broken Mirror
  31. Let's Pretend This Never Happened
  32. Dino Dung
  33. Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe
  34. How To Be A Woman 
  35. Behind the Beautiful Forevers 
  36. Two Against the Tide 
  37. Miracle and Other Christmas Stories (re-read)
  38. From the Borderlands: Stories of Terror and Madness (reread, much to my surprise) 
  39. The Odds: A Love Story 
  40. The Song of the Quarkbeast 
  41. John Dies at the End
  42. This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It
  43. Before I Go To Sleep 
  44. Mr. Pusskins: A Love Story
  45. Mr. Pusskins and Little Whiskers: Another Love Story 
Not a bad list. The volume is thanks to the Chris' Summer Reading Club. The variety is thanks to a reading club, Fall for the Book and very good recommendations from friends and family.

For the record, I have a few favorites:
  • If you haven't read The Night Circus yet, go do that now.
  • Fragments made me weep for such a fragile, creative artist.
  • I'm standing on a chair because of How to Be a Woman.
  • I'm still laughing from Let's Pretend This Never Happened.
  • My love for India grows with Behind the Beautiful Forevers.
  • Get weirded out with David Wong. Seriously, dude.

What did you read this year?

More importantly, how do you remember all you've read?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Poetry Wednesday: What's in My Journal

What's in My Journal

Odd things, like a button drawer. Mean
Thing, fishhooks, barbs in your hand.
But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable.
Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous
discards. Space for knickknacks, and for
Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify.
Clues that lead nowhere, that never connected
anyway. Deliberate obfuscation, the kind
that takes genius. Chasms in character.
Loud omissions. Mornings that yawn above
a new grave. Pages you know exist
but you can't find them. Someone's terribly
inevitable life story, maybe mine.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Solstice! Happy Yule!

Fire and Ice 

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Poem courtesy
Image courtesy Perpetual Inspiration

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Illusions of Privacy

I received a letter addressed to people who don't live in my house. Not that unusual: the U.S. Postal Service is generous enough to make sure plenty of people who used to live here still receive mail at this address.

The name on this mail was new, and it looked like a Christmas card. No last name on the return address, which wasn't insurmountable, but I'd had a long day and I wanted to take the path of least resistance.

I searched the web for the names of the recipients and what I think is their city and state. Bingo: right at the top of the list is someone on Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, Blogger, Pinterest and Google+ whose name matches one of the recipients, with a mention of the other addressee in the text below the link.

I visited the blog and found an e-mail address. I also found a photo of a woman large with child, comments about her continuing pregnancy and details about a recent visit to the obstetrician. Her blog posts contain quite a few photos and lots of details about her health, her alma mater, her husband — plenty of personal information, which appears to be the nature of her blog.

I sent her an e-mail, asking if there's an address to which I can send this mis-addressed correspondence.

Her response was hesitant. Yes, she has friends by the name and at the address I mentioned in my e-mail. She's contacted them to find out if they've sent something. In the meantime, she writes, obviously I can understand why she doesn't tell me where she lives.

Actually, no, I don't understand: I never asked where she lived. I asked to what address she wanted me to send her card. She could have given me any mailing address — her husband's office, a friend's address, general delivery. I'd have been glad to leave it on my porch for her, if that was her druthers. All I wanted to do was give her a card intended for her and her husband. It is, after all, Christmas.

I returned it to sender.

She told anyone with Internet access the status of her cervix, but she considered her address private. What a crazy world.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Poetry Wednesday: Toward the Winter Solstice

Toward the Winter Solstice

Although the roof is just a story high,
It dizzies me a little to look down.
I lariat-twirl the rope of Christmas lights
And cast it to the weeping birch's crown;
A dowel into which I've screwed a hook
Enables me to reach, lift, drape, and twine
The cord among the boughs so that the bulbs
Will accent the tree's elegant design.

Friends, passing home from work or shopping, pause
And call up commendations or critiques.
I make adjustments. Though a potpourri
Of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs,
We all are conscious of the time of year;
We all enjoy its colorful displays
And keep some festival that mitigates
The dwindling warmth and compass of the days.

Some say that L.A. doesn't suit the Yule,
But UPS vans now like magi make
Their present-laden rounds, while fallen leaves
Are gaily resurrected in their wake;
The desert lifts a full moon from the east
And issues a dry Santa Ana breeze,
And valets at chic restaurants will soon
Be tending flocks of cars and SUV's.

And as the neighborhoods sink into dusk
The fan palms scattered all across town stand
More calmly prominent, and this place seems
A vast oasis in the Holy Land.
This house might be a caravansary,
The tree a kind of cordial fountainhead
Of welcome, looped and decked with necklaces
And ceintures of green, yellow , blue, and red.

Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem
Occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;
It's comforting to look up from this roof
And feel that, while all changes, nothing's lost,
To recollect that in antiquity
The winter solstice fell in Capricorn
And that, in the Orion Nebula,
From swirling gas, new stars are being born.

"Toward the Winter Solstice" from Toward the Winter Solstice. © Swallow Press, 2005. 
Courtesy of


Friday, December 14, 2012

Bilbo Baggins: The Sting of His — er, Words?

Though not strictly related to The Hobbit, the movie that opened today, this quote by Bilbo Baggins (the star of The Hobbit) still amuses me.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Poetry Wednesday: The Feast of Lights

The Feast of Lights
Kindle the taper like the steadfast star

Ablaze on evening's forehead o'er the earth,

And add each night a lustre till afar

An eightfold splendor shine above thy hearth.

Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre,

Blow the brass trumpet and the harsh-tongued horn;

Chant psalms of victory till the heart takes fire,

The Maccabean spirit leap new-born.

Remember how from wintry dawn till night,

Such songs were sung in Zion, when again

On the high altar flamed the sacred light,

And, purified from every Syrian stain,

The foam-white walls with golden shields were hung,

With crowns and silken spoils, and at the shrine,

Stood, midst their conqueror-tribe, five chieftains sprung

From one heroic stock, one seed divine.

Five branches grown from Mattathias' stem,

The Blessed John, the Keen-Eyed Jonathan,

Simon the fair, the Burst-of Spring, the Gem,

Eleazar, Help of-God; o'er all his clan

Judas the Lion-Prince, the Avenging Rod,

Towered in warrior-beauty, uncrowned king,

Armed with the breastplate and the sword of God,

Whose praise is: "He received the perishing."

They who had camped within the mountain-pass,

Couched on the rock, and tented neath the sky,

Who saw from Mizpah's heights the tangled grass

Choke the wide Temple-courts, the altar lie

Disfigured and polluted--who had flung

Their faces on the stones, and mourned aloud

And rent their garments, wailing with one tongue,

Crushed as a wind-swept bed of reeds is bowed,

Even they by one voice fired, one heart of flame,

Though broken reeds, had risen, and were men,

They rushed upon the spoiler and o'ercame,

Each arm for freedom had the strength of ten.

Now is their mourning into dancing turned,

Their sackcloth doffed for garments of delight,

Week-long the festive torches shall be burned,

Music and revelry wed day with night.

Still ours the dance, the feast, the glorious Psalm,

The mystic lights of emblem, and the Word.

Where is our Judas? Where our five-branched palm?

Where are the lion-warriors of the Lord?

Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre,

Sound the brass trumpet and the harsh-tongued horn,

Chant hymns of victory till the heart take fire,

The Maccabean spirit leap new-born!

by Emma Lazarus

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Poetry Wednesday: The Christmas Trees

The Christmas Trees

(A Christmas Circular Letter)

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
“There aren’t enough to be worth while.”
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”

“You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, “A thousand.”

“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”

He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

by Robert Frost