Month: December 2012

TSS: Reality versus the Grand Plan

sunsalon1Today everyone seems to be posting their top 10 books and/or their reading stats for the year. I just realized, much to my chagrin, that I only read 34 books in 2012. Oh well. It was a pretty bad year for reading, and it was a pretty bad year in general. I don’t think I’m alone in encouraging 2012 to make haste. Nobody seems unhappy to see it go.

The turn of a calendar page feels more important to me this year than it has in a long time. While I am making a few (very simple) personal goals around fitness and career for 2013, I’ve decided not to plan too much when it comes to reading. Not striving for a number–although I certainly hope to do better than 34, but my reading seems to have slowed to a crawl. I may simply aim to read 52 books, one per week, and then again, I might not. I have a few other guidelines: reading from my own stacks, re-reading some old favorites. I’m not going to make any lists of what I think I’d like to re-read most, or which books from my stacks are calling me now. Instead, I’ll most likely follow my mood. I just bought myself a nice big batch of books, and I still have plenty of tempting titles on my shelves. There’s a nice mix of fiction and non-fiction for me to read as well. I will commit only to one thing: In 2013, I WILL read Wolf Hall.

As far as blogging goes, my two goals are primarily to comment more and to post more frequently. As I said above, I’ve become a terribly slow reader, and especially in the first few months of the year, all the books I have to read are chunksters all over 600 pages. But just because I don’t have anything to review doesn’t mean I can’t get out there and visit. As for posting, I may simply post more about reading and fewer reviews. I’ve never tried talking about a book while I’m reading it, at least not here on the blog, but the more I think about it, the idea appeals to me much more than writing a review that sums everything up. Instead, I might discuss as I go, and then do something like a quarterly review. (Wait–that sound suspiciously like a plan, doesn’t it?) I also hope to continue my album project, and to reorganize the blog a bit.

How about you out there? Any grand reading plans?

I’ll be back on New Year’s Day with the first of several posts to share my new books. I hope all of you have a happy and safe New Year. Here’s to 2013!

Cleaning up the Lists

I had a tidy pile of Christmas money to spend this year, so I decided to take a long look at my wishlist and determine what to buy. Given that part of my commitment to the TBR Double Dog Dare challenge means no new books until April 1, I wanted to be sure that anything I might really want to read in the coming months was one of my purchases.

For reading, I keep two separate lists: my wishlist, which consists of books I do not own but would like to read, and my TBR (to-be-read, for those not familiar with bookish jargon), which consists of books I own but have yet to read. Both of these lists are long and slightly baffling. A lot of books are getting dusty on my shelves. Some were gifts. Some I failed to finish. On others, I’ve never even cracked the spine. This alone should serve as a warning.

While I know I’ll always have a running wishlist (it’s a good reference), I need to do a better job of cleaning it out from time to time. So that’s what I did this week. As I went through everything and decided what to purchase, I deleted items I have passed over again and again. And I admit, most of my purchases were from the top of my list, recent items I’ve added over the last year. It seems I’m more likely to read something if I can still remember whatever drove me to add it to the list in the first place.

The harder part for me is tackling the TBR: I know I won’t read all the books on my shelf, but once I own a book, I’m generally reluctant to part with it. I guess I believe there’s always a chance the mood will strike. Maybe it’s time to give up that belief.

2012 End of Year Survey

I participated in The Perpetual Page-Turner‘s end-of-year survey last year, so I thought I’d try it again this year. Even trying to pick favorites for this list was difficult!

1. Best Book You Read In 2012? (You can break it down by genre if you want)

Fiction: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. (I loved the story and I thought the writing was terrific. I gather there was some hype about the author, but I never followed any of it.)
Mystery: Stone’s Fall by Iain Banks and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. (Apples and oranges. That’s why I picked two!)
Memoir: Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Non-fiction: The People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo– and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up, Richard Lloyd Parry (also gets prize for Longest Title Ever)

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

The End of Everything, by Megan Abbott. I’ve loved everything else I’ve read by her (Queenpin (review), Bury Me Deep (review), and Dare Me.)

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012?

I read Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith because my mother loves it. She sent it to me and kept asking if I had a chance to read it. I kept resisting because, to be honest, I hated the title. I expected cliched, sentimental Southern drivel. Instead I got a life story told by an interesting character with a strong voice.

4. Book you recommended to people most in 2012?

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn– I also push her other books, Dark Places and Sharp Objects, whenever I can.

5. Best series you discovered in 2012?

I didn’t start any series this year, but I did buy The Passage by Justin Cronin and intend to read it soon(ish). I have intentionally avoided series because I tend to read the first book and then fail to read the following books. For example, I’ve had Catching Fire on my Kindle for two years, and I still haven’t read it. But I will! Before the movie! I will!

6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?

Some new, some just new to me: Cheryl Strayed (Wild), Iain Banks (Stone’s Fall), Alexis Smith (Glaciers), Chad Harbach (The Art of Fielding), Ben Fountain (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk)

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

I didn’t really read any new genres, but I read more nonfiction this year than usual.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?

Stone’s Fall, Gone Girl, People Who Eat Darkness, and Wild. I read them all very quickly and they all gripped me for different reasons.

9. Book You Read In 2012 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year:

Next year? Probably none of them that soon! Too many new books to read, too many older ones to re-read already in line ahead of them. But I am sure I’ll read The Art of Fielding again.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012?

People Who Eat Darkness. It looks sinister.

Richard Lloyd Parry People Who Eat Darkness

11. Most memorable character in 2012?

Ivy Rowe in Fair and Tender Ladies, and Billy Lynn in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. I cannot see a guy in uniform now without thinking of that book.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2012?

The Art of Fielding and Fair and Tender Ladies

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012?

I hate to answer this way, but it depends on what is meant by “impact.” In terms of writing, Alice Munro (Dear Life: Stories; The View from Castle Rock), Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), and Tana French (Broken Harbor) always have an impact on me. In terms of subject matter, Methland by Nick Reding and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read?

The View from Castle Rock was on my bookshelf for about four years. Alice Munro is one of my favorite writers, but it took me forever to get to that book. Also Stone’s Fall, which I got for Christmas in 2009.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2012?

From The Art of Fielding: “Literature could turn you into an asshole; he’d learned that teaching grad-school seminars. It could teach you to treat real people the way you did characters, as instruments of your own intellectual pleasure, cadavers on which to practice your critical faculties.”

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2012?

Glaciers by Alexis Smith and The Getaway Car by Ann Patchett. The longest was probably Stone’s Fall.

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!

The Devotion of Suspect X, Keigo Higashino. It’s so cleverly plotted and interesting. I also read parts of Wild, Methland, and People Who Eat Darkness out loud to my husband.

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2012 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).

Haruki Murakami and his relationship with running, in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2012 From An Author You Read Previously

The View from Castle Rock and Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro; Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

20. Best Book You Read That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith (recommended by my mom) and Stone’s Fall by Iain Banks (recommended by countless book bloggers)

Book Blogging/Reading Life in 2012 (optional)

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2012?

Running off the Reeses. Not a book blog per se, but she does occasionally review books (a lot of history/biography) and I’ve added a fair number of titles to my wishlist based on some of her reviews. Also, she’s smart and funny and a fellow introvert, so I look forward to her posts.

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2012?

I sadly didn’t review many of the books I read in 2012, but my favorite review is probably the one I wrote for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

3. Best discussion you had on your blog?

It was short, but the discussion around Running, Reading, and Blogging was a good one about setting one’s own goals and not competing against others.

4. Most thought-provoking review or discussion you read on somebody else’s blog?

Probably anything on Ana’s blog Things Mean a Lot. She puts so much into every post, and the comments and discussions are always interesting as a result.

5. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

I had some fun chatting with Megan Abbott and Gillian Flynn on Goodreads. I tried very hard not to be a major dork. I am not sure I succeeded.

6. Best moment of book blogging in 2012?

Anytime I actually post. It’s been difficult getting back into it and staying with it, but when I do post something and I get even one comment, it makes me feel like part of something bigger.

7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

I don’t know! The ones overall that tend to get the most hits are my reviews of The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan and The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell. Pretty sure all the visitors are students trolling for information, but I’ll take what I can get.

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

My review of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

9. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

The Days of Yore, interviews with creative types about the time before they were famous.

10. Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

Yes! For the TBR Double Dare, I set out to read eight books from my TBR stack, and I did it!

Looking Ahead…

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2012 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2013?

I am too flighty in my reading choices to pick one book as a priority, but I will commit to reading Wolf Hall, finally, in 2013.

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2013?

Benediction by Kent Haruf. (I already ordered it, and it doesn’t come out until March 2013.)

3. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging In 2013?

To post on the blog on a more regular basis. I miss being part of the book blogging community.

If you participated in the survey, please feel free to leave your link in the comments!

Reader’s Journal: Glaciers by Alexis Smith

About ten years ago I grew tired of chick lit and its tropes: the mini-skirted twenty- or thirty-something women who couldn’t love (or love the right person); the eating disorders; the sassy best friends; the nagging mothers; the jobs where said mini-skirted women were overqualified, unappreciated, and underpaid. No matter how smart the writing, no matter if the book in my hand was a novel or a collection of short stories, they all began to blur together for me. To this day, I am leery of reading any book that has a woman (or women) of a certain age as its protagonist(s). And when I do try, I generally find everything the same as I left it. (I’m looking at you, Commencement.)

Given my…well, misgivings about stories involving twenty-something single women, I was surprised to find myself interested in Alexis M. Smith’s Glaciers after reading David Abrams’s mini review of it on Book Riot’s Best Books of 2012. In fact, I was so swayed by his review that I went straight over to Amazon and downloaded it to my Kindle. (Sorry, Kindle and e-book haters. To appease you, I have included the link to the publisher’s site  instead of a link to the dark empire.)

How happy I am I bought this lovely little novel. First, let me be clear: Glaciers in no way belongs under the banner of “chick lit.” Even though it has a dressmaker’s dummy on the cover, even though the blurb mentions that the protagonist has “dreams of the perfect dress” and “unrequited love for the former soldier who fixes her computer,” you should not for one second confuse this with chick lit. This novel is just plain lit, period.

Glaciers is a day in the life of Isabel, who conserves books at the Portland public library. We follow her through her present day; we flash back to her past. We learn that she wants to travel to Amsterdam. We learn that she collects old pictures and postcards. We learn about her relationship with Spoke, “the former soldier who fixes her computer.” We learn that what’s between them is more complicated than unrequited love.

The book opens with Isabel “remembering” the story of her family’s move from Seattle to Alaska, and how on their ferry trip across the water she saw a glacier calving:

Like other great creatures before them, the glaciers were dying, and their death, so distant and unimaginable, was a spectacle not to be missed. The ferry slowed where a massive glacier met the ocean; a long, low cracking announced the rupture of ice from the glacier; then came the slow lunge of the ice into the sea. This is calving–when part of a glacier breaks free and becomes an iceberg–a kind of birth. The calving sent waves, rocking the ferry. Hands gripped railings and feet separated on gridded steel. There were shouts of appreciation and fear, but nothing like grief, not even ordinary sadness.

At the end of the book, at the end of the day, another character asks Isabel to tell a story about longing. This book is about Isabel’s longing, and how really how all stories are about some kind of longing, because they always represent something that no longer exists–the past:

Her story could be told in other people’s things. The postcards and the photographs. A garnet ring and a needlepoint of the homestead. The aprons hanging from her kitchen drawer. Her soft, faded, dog-eared copy of Little House in the Big Woods. A closet full of dresses sewn before she was born.

All these things tell a story, but is it hers? It has always been more than an aesthetic choice, holding onto the past; it’s a kind of mourning for the things that do not last.

We do not last, she thinks. In the end, only the stories survive.

Glaciers is a novel about about the stories that survive us when we are gone, about the stories we are left with when others leave us. Smith infuses almost every line of this book with longing, but her prose is graceful and never melodramatic. In the hands of a different type of writer, this story could have been too precious, but Smith has such wonderful control over the mood and Isabel has such depth of character that she never becomes a type. If you have a few free hours over the holidays, or if you’re trying to meet that year-end book count, I highly recommend picking up Glaciers. You won’t regret it. You might even read it twice.

TAP: Almost Famous Soundtrack

The funny thing about the Almost Famous soundtrack is, I rarely listen to it as a whole. Actually, I don’t listen to whole albums very often anymore, but starting this project has forced me to do so, and I’m glad it has. It’s so easy to buy music tracks now and pop them into playlists to suit our moods, or to type some favorite songs into Pandora or Grooveshark and let it mix things up for us. It’s easy to forget that when a band puts together an album, they often conceive of it as a whole. Few of us as book bloggers can imagine taking quotes from our favorite novels and putting them all together in a list to make up some kind of mega-book to suit our mood, right?

Maybe that all seems a bit off-topic, but not really, because Almost Famous the movie is about music, or more accurately, about people who love music. It’s the semi-autobiographical tale of director Cameron Crowe’s beginning as a music journalist who wrote for Rolling Stone. In the film, the teenage William Miller takes an assignment from (real, but played in the movie by Philip Seymour Hoffman) rock journalism legend Lester Bangs to attend and write about a Black Sabbath concert. At the show, he falls in with a group of girls who refer to themselves as the Band Aids. William takes a shine to their leader, Penny Lane, who introduces him to the band Stillwater, an up-and-coming rock band that’s an amalgam for bands including The Allman Brothers and Bad Company that Crowe toured with and interviewed in the 1970s. Stillwater’s guitarist Russell Hammond takes a liking to William, and when Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres approaches William to do a story for the magazine, William suggests Stillwater as the subject, and then he hits the road with the band.

Almost Famous is a coming-of-age story, but it is also a love story dedicated to music, and more specifically to rock and roll. The soundtrack includes several recognizable hits from the early 1970s—”I’ve Seen All Good People” by Yes; “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John (in one of the best movie sing-along scenes ever); “America” by Simon and Garfunkel; “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd—but it also includes some deep cuts, like “Sparks” from The Who’s Tommy and “That’s the Way” by Led Zeppelin. (Led Zeppelin doesn’t often give permission for use of their songs, so I hate to complain, but I want to go on record here: I wish that Crowe would have included “Tangerine,” which is also in the film, on the soundtrack instead of “That’s the Way.” Oh well. I guess he forgot to ask me.) The soundtrack also has some “original” Stillwater recordings, songs written by Crowe’s wife, Nancy Wilson of Heart, and Peter Frampton. You can see the entire song list from the film here. They had many better songs in the film than were on the soundtrack, but it’s a well-enough-rounded representation of what was going on in rock at the time.

If you love rock and roll, you will love this movie. If you ever loved a band, you will love this movie. That’s why I love it. When I was in college, I devoted at least two years to a local band from my college town. I went to every single show that I could, and I stood right in front, to the right of the keyboard, at every show. Generally, I was with a pack of friends, and we were all a bunch of wannabe late-80s hippies in white t-shirts and long skirts and beads. The band called us “the white t-shirt brigade.” People on campus I had never met would call “Hello!” to me as I walked across campus or come up and talk to me about the shows: Where was the band playing next? Would I be at the show in Houston/Austin/Dallas? More often than not, the answer was yes. I befriended the guys in the band (sure, okay, some more closely than others—it was college!). I got on the list for every show that I could. They weren’t the only band I followed in those days (and yes, it wrecked my grade point average), but they were the first band that I ever felt so passionate about (besides, at that time, The Police), and certainly the first one I could actually talk to between sets. For me, as a lifelong music lover, it was one of the best things that ever could have happened.

When I started going to see my favorite band, the crowds were small. My friends and I mostly had the dance floor to ourselves. Over the course of a year the crowds got bigger and bigger. There was talk of a record deal. And there were the—I suppose inevitable—ego clashes and substance abuse issues that have hounded bands forever. Someone got kicked out of the band, someone else left. They were replaced. The music changed. They signed a contract and made an album. I stopped going to their shows, and eventually stopped going to live, local music shows altogether. School became a priority—I wanted to get into graduate school, I wanted to be a professor—and so music once again became something I listened to mostly in the car, driving back and forth from home and work and classes.

When I saw Almost Famous for the first time, I had mostly forgotten about all that. And oh, how I cried. And I still cry, every time I watch it. Besides the fact that music is magic, I believe that most of us long to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. In the movie, the Band Aids have a thing they say to each other: “It’s all happening!” And at that time, back then, that’s how I felt, how my friends felt. It was all happening. We were almost famous. All of us. In my heart, anyway.

Challenged

To start, I had this blog post mostly written and then I did some magic with the keyboard and the first draft disappeared. So it has been that kind of day/week/month/year. I am so ready to see 2012 out (Bye bye now. Please do hit yourself on the ass with the door on your way out.) and welcome 2013. (Actually, I cannot believe I just said that. Now I am sure to get struck by lightening or something on January 2.) This year has been, shall we say, challenging. But lately I feel like I need the kind of relief the turn of a clock or a calendar page can bring. I know so, so many people who feel this way because they’ve had a really tough year.

The harder things get, the harder I get on myself, and the more things seem to stand still. The thought struck me this afternoon that I am overwhelmed with “shoulds”: I should eat better, I should exercise more often, I should run longer/faster, I should read more, I should write every day, I should eat out less and cook more meals at home, I should stand up every ten minutes so that I won’t have a shortened life span, I should write a review of that book, I should call so-and-so, I should be more social, and on and on and on.

There is a big difference between “I should” and “I want to,” and somewhere over the last year, things I used to want to do have started to feel like “shoulds.” In this case, a smarter person would probably not add to her list of things to accomplish. But I am a pragmatic optimist. The best thing to do, sometimes, is to give yourself a stern talking to and own up to what you want.

Long-Awaited reads month buttonI haven’t been posting regularly, but one of the things that has made life the last month or so a bit more tolerable is this blog. Being a part of the book blogging community here and on Twitter serves as a reminder to stay in touch with something I love: books. It was in that spirit I decided to hook up with Ana and Iris and a bunch of other great bloggers for Long-Awaited Reads Month in January 2013. It was also in that spirit today that I signed up for The TBR Double Dog Dare hosted by C.B. at Ready When You Are, C.B. Last year I committed to read eight books from my TBR list by April 1, excluding book club books. Given my current reading pace, I’m planning to stick with eight books this year. If I get through more, then that’s just a bonus. (Full disclosure: Last year I also signed up for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2012, and I failed miserably. I think almost every book I read this summer with a few exceptions was a new book. Yeah. I SHOULD have read my own books, but I WANTED to read new books. See how I made that work?)

Another thing I was thinking of was perhaps putting together a re-reading group or challenge, if anyone is interested. I have a lot of books that I should want to re-read, but never get the chance. I have no button, I have no page (I could easily put one together), and I don’t want to pressure anyone, obviously. But if, like me, you are hankering to re-read some old favorites and you haven’t been able to get to it, then this could be our chance. Any takers? Let me know in the comments if you’re interested. (I think I have about ten readers, so if you join and fail to complete the challenge, hardly anyone would know! That’s an upside! Going for the hard sell here!)