Reading Resolutions Revisited

Happy New Year! The time when so many of us resolve anew to Do Better in whatever ways we feel we need to! While I’m always hesitant to set goals like “lose 10 pounds!” (losing weight is really, really hard!), I do try to make the New Year mark a return to reformed eating. The holiday season (which I define as the week of Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve) is a time of guiltless indulgence on my part, in which I eat sugar and other things that are not necessarily good for me with some degree of abandon and almost zero feelings of guilt.

So today at work I brought one of my typical “reformed eating” lunches: Greek yogurt, grapes, and a portion of crackers. I am a very picky eater: the only brand of Greek yogurt I can stomach is Liberté, and if I’m eating yogurt for lunch I prefer Greek because it’s more filling than other types of yogurt. As it happened, when I was at the grocery store, the only Liberté yogurt they had was labeled “Méditerranée”. “How different could it be,” I thought to myself, and put two in my cart without further review.

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Look at my grown up lunch!

Today, I walked back from the fridge to my desk feeling so proud of my responsible and adult-y ways, with my baggy of grapes and container of yogurt. Running high on not having to do the Dance of the Microwaves with all the other people crowded into the tiny kitchen on our floor, I admittedly thought things like “Maybe I will lose five pounds without even trying!”

I popped out to the Liberté web site as I stirred my yogurt to find out the difference between Méditerranée and Greek yogurt. Whereupon I discovered that my “healthy” yogurt lunch was actually made with whole milk (gag) and contained 37% (probably more) of my daily allotment of saturated fat. So, in other words, pretty different from their fat-free Greek yogurt (which also has about half as many calories as this Méditerranée stuff).

As my mother and her mother would remind me, “Pride goeth before a fall.”

On the other hand, the Liberté Méditerranée lime yogurt was absolutely delicious.

The same optimism which inspired me to try the Mediterranean yogurt leads me to make my 2014 reading resolutions, in spite of the fact that I only achieved approximately half of 2013’s resolutions. Which half, you wonder?

I read some nonfiction last year, but nothing that jumped out to me as something my brother-in-law might enjoy. (In the spirit of New Year’s optimism, I award myself partial credit for this one.) I finished Middlemarch in literally the final moments before my thirtieth birthday. (Double points, because it’s Middlemarch.) I read one book originally written in a language other than English (Danish), translated into English (it wasn’t quite blog-worthy; still, full credit awarded). And if my grand plans for a long-distance book club never got off the ground, well, I think maybe that’s on Life, and not on me, so I awarded myself partial credit for this one too (I came up with a list of books we ought to read).

Starting fresh for 2014…should I bite off another classic to try my patience (and yours)? Should I resolve to finally commit to reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell?

According to my Goodreads profile, I read approximately 30 books in 2013, which frankly seems low. I feel as though I must have read more than 30 and simply failed to log them, but in reality, that’s probably true. I certainly started more than 30 books in 2013. So, in 2014, I’m going to try to finish more than 30 books. I’ve certainly got enough material: my electronic stack of books to be read (these are books I’ve already purchased) is nearly forty titles long, and that doesn’t even touch on the list of books I want to read (100+) or the physical books at my bedside, which stare in judgy disappointment at me whenever I choose to re-read Mary Stewart or Georgette Heyer on a quiet evening rather than try something new. Like Nick Hornby once said in the delightful column he wrote for The Believer about the books he bought and the books he actually read in a month, my book-buying policy is almost always “ludicrously optimistic”. So let’s shoot for 40 books read in 2014: at least two originally written in a language other than English and one straight up nonfiction non-memoir book.

I’m also planning to train for (and run in) a half marathon in 2014. And generally to Do Better, which is really more of a daily resolution for me, but it bears repeating.

Here’s to ludicrous optimism! Happy 2014!

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This Year in Reading 2013

I’m probably not the only book blogger who ends up reading many more books than she actually blogs about, at least I hope I’m not. Most often it’s because I don’t always anything to say that I think the Internet wants to read after I finish a book. Partly because of that, and partly because I thought it would be fun, I thought I might wrap up this year in reading in the perennial tradition of the internet and the end of the year: with a best-of list.

Best Discoveries:

cover image via Goodreads

cover image via Goodreads

I am always looking for authors whose writing style echoes Mary Stewart, and this year, I found someone who actually comes really close! Susanna Kearsley writes delightful books: history, mystery, and romance combine with light paranormal elements to make for really enjoyable reading. I started with The Shadowy Horses (my favorite so far), and I still daydream about Eyemouth, Scotland. If light paranormal elements (clairvoyance, etc.) aren’t your cup of tea, you might try Every Secret Thing, which was published under a pseudonym (Emma Cole) – every bit as good as her other books, but without the fantastical elements that may not be to everyone’s taste.

cover image via Goodreads

cover image via Goodreads

I’ve yet to outgrow my liking for books where the right girl meets the right guy and then after going through a few requisite troubles and misunderstandings, they’re well on their way to the proverbial happy-ever-after. There are times when, frankly, nothing else will do but that sort of story, but it’s harder than you might think to find a story like that that isn’t plagued by shoddy writing or besmirched by either the trappings of the romance novel (“bodice ripping”) or extensive bad language, or both. Which is why, when I discovered Hester Browne’s books this year, I was overjoyed. I started with The Runaway Princess, but Swept Off Her Feet is my favorite so far.

Best Reads of the Year:

jane_prudence

via Goodreads

Jane and Prudence, by Barbara Pym. Oh, how I love Barbara Pym! I’m not sure anyone does social satire better than she does. Who else delivers us such gems like this one, about an awkward social visit: “She had been feeling that things were pretty desperate if one found oneself talking about and almost quoting Matthew Arnold to comparative strangers, though anything was better than having to pretend you had winter and summer curtains when you had just curtains.” Jane and Prudence is another example of Barbara Pym at her best. I loved it fiercely.

The Tortoise and the Hare, by Elizabeth Jenkins. I wrote about this book months ago, but I’m still thinking about it, and it was truly some of the finest writing and characterization I’ve read all year. Highly recommended, in spite of its bleakness.

The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker. I’ve also already written about this one, and recently, but…have you read it yet? You should really read it.

Best Surprise: Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey. This was my best – and biggest – surprise read of the year, because it wasn’t a book I thought I’d enjoy as much as I did, and I certainly didn’t expect to connect with or care about the characters as much as I did.

Greatest Reading Feat: Middlemarch. Enough said.

Best generally bookish thing(s): Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing tops the list, followed closely by Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Henry V in the BBC’s Hollow Crown miniseries. If you didn’t see it when it aired on PBS in the US, well, stream it on Amazon as instantly as possible. Both of these were too good to miss.

So tell me: what tops your list of best books and/or best general bookishness for 2013?

One Hundred

This is my one-hundredth post.

009It seemed like an occasion to be marked, celebrated with a post more noteworthy than a marginally funny story about a bizarre concert I went to recently or more thanks to all of you who continue to visit in spite of my irregular posting and wildly variable post quality.

I spent a lot of time trawling the internets for ideas for a hundredth post, which of course, obviously, led to much comparing my blog to other people’s blogs and a lot of writerly insecurity and general paralysis that this post had to be better. It’s also dark November, and I’ve been reading Housekeeping again, which, well, it’s not always good for me: it’s so full of loneliness and loss and it’s so, so beautiful. It just sometimes leaves me feeling without, too full of feels to feel. (I think I can safely say that’s a phrase Marilynne Robinson would never dream of writing.)

But if anything productive came out of all that blog comparison, I realized I haven’t given you much grounding information on who I am, and my reading tastes (favorite authors and so on). After all, why should you come to my little book blog at all, if not to find out about books you might be interested in reading yourself, general bookishness, and the occasional somewhat funny story about things that have happened to me? If authenticity is something to strive for, and I believe it is, then maybe now is the time to remedy that.

I tried to do just that with the following, in one hundred words or less, but it’s closer to two hundred (they all seemed necessary):

I love books that make me laugh, books that make me cry, books that keep me up reading in the night, and books that make me think. My ideal dinner party of authors, living or dead, would first of all involve enough of them so that I wouldn’t be expected to contribute heavily to the conversation, and would at least include: Harper Lee, C. S. Lewis, Jane Austen, Barbara Pym, Marilynne Robinson, Lady Mary Stewart, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Shakespeare. In my mind, Harper Lee and Barbara Pym would immediately corner Jane Austen like the fangirls they were; Dorothy L. Sayers, C. S. Lewis, and Marilynne Robinson would enjoy some intellectual conversation about Christianity; and after I’d effusively told Lady Mary Stewart how I’ve read This Rough Magic almost to shreds and can quote from it at length (it’s the one book I own whose broken spine is caused by me), she would find Shakespeare endlessly interesting. As would we all.

I would be happiest floating between their conversations, refilling plates and glasses and basking in the general glow of greatness.

What about you? Who is invited to your ideal dinner party of authors?

We All Need More Jane Austen In Our Lives

Although I may have given you plenty of reason to believe otherwise, I’m not a fan of the many, many spinoffs from Jane Austen’s novels. To me, generally speaking, the novels are perfect as they are, and I think we should just leave it there.

But, don’t you love the idea of making blackberry jam with blackberries picked on Box Hill, of Emma fame? LondonEats just did exactly that, and the photo of the view looks like it was taken out of one of the movies! Jam from farmers’ market berries just wouldn’t taste the same.

And while I’m against spinoffs as a general rule, if you’re dramatizing some of my favorite stories of all time, well, that’s another story. Which brings me to…

EMMA APPROVED has started! Are you watching? I am! It’s the second web series by the same people who did the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, this time retelling the story of Emma. I was a latecomer to the whole Lizzie Bennet Diaries business — I only discovered this fantastic web series in August, and I unabashedly confess to some serious, serious binge-watching.

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Binge-watching with my very own Charlotte.

You’ll think to yourself, “Oh, the next episode is only 8 minutes,” but suddenly three hours have gone by. My sister says it’s a fascinating new way to tell stories, using the ways many of us document the stories of our lives today (Twitter, Facebook, and that whole mixed bag of social media as we know it).

And finally, I saw the Austenland movie in September. When I read the book ages ago, I thought it was only marginally entertaining, but it works really, really well as a movie (and they made the main character less irritating in the movie). It’s exactly the type of movie you want to have around as the days start getting shorter.

Have you come across any great Austen-related things lately?

Things Have Been Weird

It’s been a weird couple of months. I blame turning thirty back in July. Just, since then…it’s been weird. There were some great things and some other not so great things, and mostly I just didn’t feel one hundred percent like me one hundred percent of the time.

026Some examples: My birthday falls on the last day of a month, the same day my rent is due. In July, and for the first time ever in my life, I forgot to pay my rent. That’s the level of crazy-not-myself I’m talking about. Then, in August, I had to leave town on business and was completely incapable of getting myself organized for the trip, to the extent that I took a cab from the airport to the wrong hotel, got lost trying to find the right hotel, and ended up hailing a rescue cab somewhere toward the end of the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. Not quite the auspicious start to this brand-new-to-me decade that I’d hoped for.

020And then! Just this month, the power cord to my computer died a mysterious, untimely death! Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever even heard of anything like this happening before? I hadn’t! I thought those things just worked indefinitely world-without-end-amen! And I didn’t realize the power cord wasn’t working until my computer battery was failing fast and I was afraid of Losing Everything so I shut down and my computer has been sitting cold and silent for a full two weeks while I waited for a new one. Two weeks! Two is too many.

Well, we’re back in business now, ladies and gentlemen. I had so many things to say to you when my computer was dead, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’m pressing restart on this whole thirty thing.