Tag Archives: reading

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?

The Age of Miracles

theageofmiracles

cover image via Goodreads

“Later, I would come to think of those first days as the time when we learned as a species that we had worried over the wrong things: the hole in the ozone layer, the melting of the ice caps, West Nile and swine flu and killer bees. But I guess it never is what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always different — unimagined, unprepared for, unknown.” — Karen Thompson Walker

I would be hard pressed to name a better book among my recent reads than Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles. When I finished it, my breath was caught behind a giant lump in my throat and I was for once thankful that the Josh Duhamel lookalike seated next to me on the plane I happened to be on was oblivious to what I was doing or whether I was, in fact, trying not to cry. (And that’s not a spoiler, because what makes me cry is a perfect ending: a story that knows when it’s told and ends in just the right way, with the right words.)

The Age of Miracles is the story of twelve-year-old Julia. She plays soccer, along with her best friend Hanna, and the last time that Hanna slept over at Julia’s house before a soccer game, the world started to end. That morning, before the soccer game, scientists announced on television that the rotation of the earth on its axis had begun to slow, perceptibly, and that just as there was no known cause, there was as yet no known solution.

And what comes after that? A beautifully-written, keenly observed story about growing up: the friendships that fall apart, the first loves, the loss, and the countless disappointments, against the backdrop of an impending catastrophe, in some ways not that different from the changing, uncertain world you and I grew up in.

“It was that time of life: talents were rising to the surface, weaknesses were beginning to show through, we were finding out what kinds of people we would be. Some would turn out beautiful, some funny, some shy. Some would be smart, others smarter. The chubby ones would likely always be chubby. The beloved, I sensed, would be beloved for life. And I worried that loneliness might work that way, too.”

There are so many examples of Karen Thompson Walker’s prose that I could share with you to try to incite you to read this book, but I’d be cheating you of the distinct pleasure of discovering it as you read, and a collection of quotes doth not a blog post make (generally speaking). Just…read this book. If there were some hallmarks of the first novel, if the foreshadowing felt, at times, a little heavy-handed, I ended up forgiving it.

Post-Holiday Updates and a Brand New Year

Petits fours: Round 1.

Petits fours: Round 1.

You guys! I totally cooked Christmas dinner!! And by “totally cooked Christmas dinner”, I mean that I sat back, sometimes stirred potatoes, opened the windows to air out the smell of the delicious-but-odoriferous balsamic reduction, and ate many of the petits fours that my grandmother brought over before dinner, while my sister, my brother in law, and my dad cooked like the superstars they are.

I feel compelled to note that my real contribution to Christmas Day feasting was breakfast. That’s right, I made coffee for everyone. Second coffee, that is, since everyone made their first cups themselves.

Also I made the Barefoot Contessa’s apple turnovers, mostly myself, which, well, it’s kind of a big deal.

You might remember that my mom had some surgery in December? Which led to some apprehension on my part about my sister and I cooking Christmas dinner together, since she doubts my abilities, and despite the possible wisdom of her doubt, that never fails to irritate me? Well, all that worrying was for naught, because they left me absolutely nothing to do but eat! And clean up. I wasn’t going to mention it, but…

I hope each of you had wonderful holidays with your loved ones.

I love giving presents (I love receiving them too) and this year, the present I was most excited to give were booklists for everyone in my family. I put my librarian skills to work on them all year, building a list of possibilities for everyone, and then choosing the twelve books that I thought were most likely to succeed in pleasing the recipient, making it into a little “book of the month club” booklet. Pictures would be included, but…*

For everyone except my brother in law, I had far more than twelve books to choose from, but my brother-in-law reads mostly nonfiction. And often (so I understand) non-narrative nonfiction…and not books of essays, either. I’m all about the narratives, personally, and our war interests don’t even coincide: while I went through a deeply earnest World War II obsession in my early teens that lingers today, my brother in law (so I understand) is interested in the Civil War. So I ended up having to stretch his recommendations to make twelve months. Thankfully two of the books on his list were super long, so I figured it’s possible that they will take two months each to read. It still kind of feels like a cop-out though.

But that does bring me around to my 2013 reading resolutions. (I use the word “resolution” loosely.) In no particular order, they are:

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  • Read at least one nonfiction book. I give myself a pass on the non-narrative portion, but ideally one I think my brother in law would read and enjoy.
  • Middlemarch. I will finish it or give up entirely before I turn 30, so help me!
  • See if we can’t get a long-distance book club off the ground in 2013 (this means you, E and M!).
  • And, after reading this article in The Guardian online, read at least one book in 2013 that was translated from a language other than English.

What about you? Did you make any reading resolutions for 2013?

* As the girl who left all her Christmas crafting to the last possible moment, pictures didn’t happen before the booklists were slid into stockings. And frankly, my blog resolution for 2013 is not to hold up posts for more than a day because of a lack of pertinent photographs, since my thankless family hasn’t responded to my plea for photographs with actual photographs. Perhaps they’ve thrown the booklists away and just don’t want me to know.

A Book for All Seasons

About a year ago, my mom sent me an email about a book she had just read and really enjoyed, and so I downloaded it for my Kindle, and I finally got around to starting reading it a few weeks ago. It is a book about three very different sisters who make very different choices, and how their lives turn out, and frankly it was just a little heavy going for me, at least for right now.

cover art by Charles Robinson

So I read something else, something that turned out to be the perfect book to read when the book your mother recommends to you is just too depressing, or when you miss your far-away friends, or when it’s an election year, or when there is weather of any kind, or, really, pretty much any time. Have you ever read Once on a Time, by A. A. Milne? If not, I think the time is now.

As a little girl I was delighted by Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books. As an adult (and still delighted), I attribute it to a long-standing appreciation for nonsense. Looking back on it now, there was a certain something in the narrator’s voice, something I responded to and trusted, something that said, “Listen, I am going to tell you a story,” in such a way that I had to keep reading.

Once on a Time has just that same quality about it. It is the story of the King of Euralia, his daughter Princess Hyacinth, and their friend the Countess Belvane. One day, the King and Princess Hyacinth are interrupted at breakfast when the king of a neighboring kingdom flies overhead in his magic boots. War ensues. Power struggles, princely quests, damsels in distress (maybe)…all told with supreme wit and in highly engaging style. For example:

“I am alone,” she said. “Dare I soliloquize? I will. It is a thing I have not done for weeks. ‘Oh, what a –’” She got up quickly. “Nobody could soliloquize on a log like that,” she said crossly. She decided she could do it just as effectively when standing. With one pale hand raised to the skies she began again.

Another favorite:

…they set out with no luggage and no clear idea of where they were going to sleep at night. This after all, is the best spirit in which to start a journey. It is the Gladstone bag which has killed romance.

So great was my enjoyment of this little slice of fairy tale nonsense that, laughing in bed while reading, I forced house-guests to listen to my reading aloud from it with my nightguard in. (Which, if you knew my propensity to gag if attempting to speak clearly with my nightguard in, you would interpret as a gesture indicative of my great enthusiasm. Now, having shared that delightful detail about myself, you know.)

In the preface, Milne explains that he wrote Once on a Time to amuse his wife and himself in 1915, “at a time when life was not very amusing”. If you, like me, have lately found yourself in need of a little escape from oneself and/or the world at large, this little overlooked gem of a story might be just the ticket.