My #10BooksofSummer Update; or, I Resent Most of the Leftovers

10 booksIn the interest of fun and making an ever-so-slight dent in my TBR, I joined Cathy’s #20BooksofSummer challenge back in June (although I must remind everyone that I am only reading 10 books because I have become the world’s slowest reader). Below is the current list, updated to show what I’ve read so far:

Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell (read)
Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead
My Antonia, Willa Cather (read)
My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante (read)
Mind of Winter, Laura Kasischke
Annihilation, Jeff Vandermeer (read)
After I’m Gone, Laura Lippman
Cleopatra, Stacy Schiff
Black Water Rising, Attica Locke (DNF)
Dirty Love: Stories, Andre Dubus III
False Mermaid, Erin Hart

So in five weeks I’ve finished four books and abandoned one, Black Water Rising, at the 22 percent mark. I had high expectations for this one, but in all honesty the writing is clunky (with little tics of dialect like, “If he was gon’ do this, he was gon’ do it big.” and that’s the narrative, not dialog even. Ugh.), and the main character is a tired cliché (example: he’s older than his wife, and he’s reticent, and she suffers his silences because of what he’s been through in his life, but they are about to have a baby so she’s getting ready to give him an ultimatum and yadda yadda). I was interested in this novel because of the Civil Rights/racism perspective, and maybe I’ll pick it up again later, but a clunky freshman book is a clunky freshman book and I just didn’t have the patience. I’ve heard so many good things about her second one, The Cutting Season, so I think I’ll move on to that when I’m ready to pick another Locke. Ha. Not intentional. I replaced it with Erin Hart’s False Mermaid, the third in her Nora Gavin series. (You can read my thoughts about the first two in the series here and here.)

I also read about 25 percent (ah, ebooks) of Philipp Meyer’s The Son. I can’t remember why I started reading it, but wow it’s good. And violent. And good. I’ve been wanting to read this for so long because it’s set in the part of Texas where I was born and lived as a child, and also because I love Westerns. I’m a city person, I hate guns, I can’t stand Rick Perry (or Ted Cruz, that fake Texan), I drive an electric car, and so on, but my fascination with the Western U.S. (especially the Southwest) is strong. They probably did something to me in the hospital when I was born.

So yes, I have been cheating on my 10 books, but I have decided to get back on track and set aside The Son and read Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra. I guess I could go on reading The Son, but something weird is happening with me this summer. All I want to do is read nonfiction. But if I had chosen all nonfiction it would have been more like the #3BooksofSummer challenge, because I read nonfiction so. very. slowly.  I tried to start both After I’m Gone and Mind of Winter because I thought I could get through them quickly, but they just weren’t holding my attention and I am starting to resent the remaining books on my list (except Cleopatra). Does this only happen to me?

I’ll also be working on a post about My Brilliant Friend and My Antonía (yes, together…they have some remarkable similarities). At least I’ve loved everything I finished, so here’s hoping that this most recent tweak helps continue the trend. Happy reading to all of you out there!

Books I Didn’t Really Need (But Bought Anyway)

For today’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, we’re asked to list ten books that recently came into our possession. I wish I could say I shopped for books with a plan or a list, but I’m pretty random when it comes to buying. Either I’ll see something on sale, or I’ll just see something from my wishlist mentioned and decide I have to have it NOW.

When I was making this list, I noticed something interesting (to me, anyway): this list includes no advanced readers’ copies (ARCs). Last year, ARCs would have been more than 50 percent of my list, but after getting behind on reviews last year (and watching my own TBR backlist grow), I decided to stop requesting them. While it was fun to get early access to books by some of my favorite authors (Tana French, Donna Tartt, Kate Atkinson, to name a few), I also started to notice that more and more people were gaining access, which meant that any review really entered the noise on pub day. Back in Ye Olde Book Blogging Times (or even in 2009 when I started this blog), ARCs were somewhat rarer, so only a couple of bloggers would have early reviews. The rest of us were reading from a wide range of books instead of just the latest and greatest, and I’ll be honest: it was more fun for me to discover books that way, and maybe that’s why I’m having more fun this year with my TBR.

Here are my ten most recent purchases:

Possession, A.S. Byatt. I’ve been meaning to pick this up ever since I read The Children’s Book back in 2010. I’ve been in the mood for longer, dense books, but they don’t always make for good blogger habits, especially for someone like me who reads one book at a time. And look at that cover! So pretty!

The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles. Another one I’ve been meaning to get to since 2010, when I read The Magus and The Collector, both of which I enjoyed thoroughly.

The French Lieutenant's Woman
Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf. The final book from Haruf, one of my favorite writers, and the last installment of the series that began with Plainsong.

Our Souls at Night
Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Bibliography, Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was a huge fan of the Little House books as a girl, so when I heard about this annotated autobiography I knew I had to have it. It’s a beautiful book and I’m sure it will be fascinating, but it’s hella big. I definitely won’t be reading it in bed.

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography
A Dual Inheritance, Joanna Hershon. Let’s see, part campus novel, part friendship epic, preppies lounging on the cover…just had my name all over it.

A Dual Inheritance
Wonderland, Stacey D’Erasmo. In general I don’t think there are enough novels about musicians, but most certainly there aren’t enough about female musicians. This was all over Best Books lists in 2014.

Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead. I loved Seating Arrangements, I love ballet, I was crazy about Mikhail Baryshnikov growing up, so…what, did you want more?

Astonish Me
My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante. So many people have been talking about this trilogy, and the first book was on sale so I thought, why not? I’ve already read it and should have a review later this week, but here’s a sneak peek: This novel is Cat’s Eye meets Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, set in post-WWII Naples, and it’s beautiful. (Haven’t read Cat’s Eye or Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? Then why are you still reading this post? Go find copies and read them!)

My Brilliant Friend

Cleopatra: A Life, Stacy Schiff. This has been on my wishlist since its pub day, and I swear I added it because I heard an interview with Schiff on Fresh Air but I cannot find a link to it. Maybe it was all a dream. Anyway, I’ve been in a non-fiction mood lately, even though I continue to read novels because it’s faster for the blog (and faster is a relative term here…ahem). It’s a conundrum, but at some point I’ll have to say so what and read this one. (An aside: I bought this through Google Books because I had some credit. Their reader seems to be okay, I think. Anyone have thoughts on this versus the Kindle/Kindle App?)

Cleopatra: A Life

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline. Another Google Books credit purchase, this novel just sounds like a fun escape. I have so little time to read and even less time to play games these days, so maybe I can get my fix reading a book about other people playing games. Certainly I understand that need to escape reality now and again (says the former Undead Priest. For the Horde!).

Ready Player One

Do you buy books based on a list or plan, or do you buy according to mood or occasion?

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Reads of 2015 (So Far)

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, asks us to list our ten favorite books of 2015 so far. Right at the beginning of April I went into a terrible reading slump that was only broken temporarily by re-reading Keith Lee Morris’s The Dart League King and then reading Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation. The result? I’ve read only 17 books so far this year. I think that’s a record low.

Nominating top ten favorites from such a short list feels weird, so I picked out five:

Seating Arrangements, Maggie Shipstead
Skippy Dies, Paul Murray
The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert
Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer
The Hand That First Held Mine, Maggie O’Farrell

And see, I already feel bad about leaving off The Lola Quartet, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, and both of the Sarah Vowell books I’ve read. But if I had read more, certainly some of those would fall off the list.

Which brings me to this: If I’m being honest, I’d also have to say that I haven’t been a good reader lately, and there’s evidence. For one, my “review” of Skippy Dies, which was all just holycowIloveditbutnotsurewhykthanksbye. Oh gosh if that wouldn’t convince you to read it I don’t know what will! I also have a post about Seating Arrangements that I wrote months ago and kept meaning to put up–but when I looked over it it last week, thinking I might post it, I was sort of happy I never did. It was just a whole lot of yammering about preppies and New England and again ohIlovedititwassogood!

Not that I think I need to write deeply about every book I read, but looking back at older posts and thinking about my current situation, I realized I have fallen into some very general bad habits when it comes to reading. I don’t take notes anymore. I don’t highlight passages or mark pages. And clearly what’s worse is that I am reading mindlessly. I’m enjoying things in the minute without really thinking about why. I suppose this sort of “love the one you’re with” approach to reading is okay once in a while. But that’s not why I got into this whole blogging thing. I got into it to talk about books. Not even to “review” them or assign them arbitrary star ratings. That definitely isn’t why I read. I read because I am interested in writing, and I like to talk about writing, and to talk about how the books I read fit into life, reading or otherwise. So if I can make a half-year resolution, it’s to be a better reader—not necessarily to read more, but more deeply than I have been.

Reader’s Journal: Into Thin Air

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest DisasterI’m not exactly a risk-taker. In fact, I’m what might be described as “indoorsy.” The most daunting thing I face daily is trying not to trip on the stairs while carrying food and drink up to my office. Given this, you might be surprised at my interest in a book like Into Thin Air.

Well, truth be told, I really wasn’t all that interested. I mainly bought it for two reasons: it was on sale, and I wanted my mother to stop nagging me about reading it already. (Don’t feel sorry for her and think that now she has nothing to nag me about. She has plenty of other things, including calling her, making one of the eleventy-million recipes she sends me, reading Wolf Hall, and wearing just a tad more mascara because it wouldn’t kill me…but I digress.) Into Thin Air is Mom’s go-to book when she can’t seem to find anything else she wants to read. The fact that a book about a terrible, real-life tragedy during a mountaineering expedition is a “go-to” book in my mother’s mind is another post entirely.

If you’re one of my hundreds of Twitter followers—I can say that now, because as I write this I am officially up to 204 followers and yes I am willingly counting you in the mix, Nissan-Dialer, whoever (whatever) you are—then you know all about the tragic events in my own life these last few weeks. But maybe you don’t so I’ll fill you in: I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, making some pretty nice (for me) progress and happy to be out of a months-long slump at last, when I hit page 439. Page 439 is the end of Section 4 in that book. So I flipped past the “Section 5” page and a pretty print of some flower drawing and found myself mid-sentence on page 471. My copy was a rather nice hard-bound edition, by the way. For several minutes I just flipped the pages back and forth, as though that simple motion might somehow cause the missing pages to appear and apologize for taking a break. The pages clearly had not been removed from the book–it was a printing error. (But what about Into Thin Air, right? Can’t I just tell this story when—nay, IF—I review The Signature of All Things? No. But I promise if I review that book I won’t tell this story again, okay? Happy?)

And so, as I am obviously some kind of Twitter power-user which is why I have so many people interested in what I have to say, I decided to tweet Viking Books and give them what for. And anyway long story short they were really nice and sent me a new hard-cover copy just like the old one except with all the pages and I have since finished that book BUT.

Obviously I had to have something to read while I waited for said book to arrive. Now I don’t know about you but I can’t start a novel while I am reading a novel, unless I am intentionally abandoning the first novel for the second. Besides that, I haven’t been having the best luck with fiction lately, but we can talk about that another time. I scrolled through my Kindle app to see what looked good, and there it was, my mother’s go-to, Into Thin Air, and I thought, why not?

Into Thin Air was published in 1997, and it recounts Jon Krakauer’s experience of following a guided expedition to the top of Mount Everest. Krakauer joined the expedition as a journalist, planning to write a piece about guided expeditions for Outside magazine. Krakauer visited Everest from April through May 1996, and the following September he did eventually go on to publish a 17,000-word story about the tragic events that occurred there. After receiving some criticism about the piece, and wanting to explore more deeply the events of that expedition–and his part in those events–he decided to write the book that would become Into Thin Air.

The most critical decision Krakauer made took place before he ever even left Seattle for Everest. Outside magazine initially invited him to travel to Everest in 1995 and park at the base camp to interview the climbers about their experiences. But Krakauer had a past with mountaineering. He saw what might be his only opportunity to summit the greatest mountain of them all, something he had dreamed of since childhood. He convinced the magazine to give him a year to train so that he could join an expedition and go all the way to the top.

When he arrived in Nepal in April 1996, Krakauer joined an expedition led by New Zealander Rob Hall, an experienced mountaineer who owned a company called Adventure Consultants. Including Krakauer, that expedition included ten climbers, seven climbing Sherpas, and three guides (including Rob Hall). There were at least thirteen other expeditions (groups and solo climbers) planning to summit Everest from the Nepalese side at the same time as Krakauer’s group, and two other expeditions summiting from the Tibetan side. And here’s where I should tell you the book includes a “Dramatis Personae” list to rival something out of Tolstoy. I cannot possibly cover what happens to all these people, except to say eight of them died in one day as the result of a freak storm (and some very bad decisions made by many players).

And really, it isn’t so much about events as it is about the telling, the recounting, the wondering, and Krakauer, pardon the obvious metaphor, is an excellent guide. Interwoven with the story of the Adventure Consultants expedition is his own past experience with mountaineering and the difficulties of mountaineering in general, some history of Everest expeditions, some history of key players like Rob Hall and Scott Fischer (lead guide of another expedition), the history of the Sherpas, and so on. I found it to Krakauer’s credit that he avoids making any one person the villain, which could have been easy to do.

That said, he does call into question some decisions that he believes contributed to the tragedy. In some cases, the decision he calls into question is the decision to climb at all, especially given that several of the people on guided expeditions that year were not mountaineers, not in the least. Writing about their first attempt to leave base camp for Camp One, Krakauer says:

“As I loaded my backpack for the morrow, I learned that between the demands of their families and and their high-powered careers, few of my fellow clients had the opportunity to go climbing more than once or twice in the previous year. Although everyone appeared to be in superb physical shape, circumstances had forced them to do the bulk of their training on StairMasters and treadmills rather than on actual peaks. This gave me pause. Physical conditioning is a crucial component of mountaineering, but there are many other equally important elements, none of which can be practiced in a gym.”

But then a bit later:

“But the question of who belongs on Everest and who doesn’t is more complicated than it might first appear. The fact that a climber has paid a large sum of money to join a guided expedition does not, by itself, mean that he or she is unfit to be on the mountain.”

Really, this is one of the biggest questions at the heart of the book, whether people should be shelling out big bucks (when Krakauer went to Everest in 1997, Adventure Consultants was charging $75,000 for the pleasure) and putting their own and other people’s (the Sherpas’ for example) lives in great danger. When Krakauer et. al. start to climb in earnest, he realizes that some people don’t even know how to use their equipment; they cannot figure out how to put the crampons on their boots, for example. Little things like that. Things you’d think you might get the really helpful salespeople at REI to show you in the store when you buy the damn things. (Although, granted, they probably won’t show you how to do it with numb hands and a raging altitude headache.)

If anyone maybe comes off as making some questionable decisions, it’s an assistant guide from Scott Fischer’s Mountain Madness team, Anatoli Boukreev. Boukreev, who was killed in an avalanche in 1997, wrote his own account of the tragedy in a book called The Climb. To say that he thought Krakauer got things wrong is an understatement, and Krakauer addresses this in a long epilogue in my edition. To be fair, Krakauer is as hard on himself as he is on any of the other key players that day, but while pointing out that he was not a guide and not responsible for any clients, while Boukreev was.

And I think that’s the right word, tragedy. If there is one thing Into Thin Air does not make me want to do, it’s climb a mountain. And in all honesty, I cannot help thinking, after reading this book, that people who want to climb mountains are just a leeeetle bit nuts, and not just because they expose themselves willingly to such things as extreme cold and going to the bathroom outdoors. Some of these people climb alone (well, with Sherpas to fix their ropes and carry their stuff, so “alone”). Some of these people climb without using supplemental oxygen. Keep in mind that Everest is at 29,029 feet above sea level. That is thin air indeed. Rarified. Um, nuts.

Certainly after reading Into Thin Air, I am interested in reading more of Krakauer’s work, but I’m also interested in reading more about why these crazy people climb mountains. I know, I know. Because they are there. Same reason I read books, which is easier, warmer, and so much safer. And while I don’t think this will be a “go-to” for me, I’m happy I picked it up. You win, Mom. This time.

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books of Summer

10 booksI’m late to the party, and really only joining for half. Today’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) asks us about the top books on our summer TBR list, and that coincides quite nicely with Cathy’s #20BooksofSummer challenge (although I am only doing 10 because I have become the world’s slowest reader). Without further ado, here are the books on my list:

Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell (read)
Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead
My Antonia, Willa Cather (read)
My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante (read)
Mind of Winter, Laura Kasischke
Annihilation, Jeff Vandermeer (read)
After I’m Gone, Laura Lippman
Cleopatra, Stacy Schiff
Black Water Rising, Attica Locke (DNF)
Dirty Love: Stories, Andre Dubus III
False Mermaid, Erin Hart

A nice mix of fiction and nonfiction, one classic, some mysteries…but lighter reads overall. I had grand plans to tackle Wolf Hall, East of Eden, and Cloud Atlas this summer , but given my slow pace those might have ended up being the only books I read. I’d like to make a bit more of a dent in my TBR pile, so we’ll see how it goes! What’s on your list?

What I’ve Been Reading

Time to take a breath! For the last month I’ve been thinking of all the reviews I want to write, because I’ve been reading some terrific books. Tomorrow! is always the day I’m finally going to write a post on this or that book. Today I realized I am so hopelessly behind that it’s never going to happen. Pretty much every book I’ve read this last month or so deserves its own post, but I suppose something is better than nothing, so here goes:

A Fine Balance CoverA Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry. This is such a sad and wonderful book. Mistry is a wonderful storyteller. A Fine Balance follows the lives of four characters: Dina Dalal, Ishvar Darji, Omprakash (Om) Darji, and Maneck Kohlah. The main part of the story takes place in Mumbai, India during The Emergency, a period from June 1975 to March 1977 when Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi suspended civil liberties and elections and established rule by decree.

Ishvar and Om are untouchables who travel from their village to Mumbai to find tailoring work. After struggling to find a job, they are hired by Dina, a widow with poor vision who has taken in piecework in order to remain independent. Dina, who is from a wealthy family, has also sublet her bedroom to a college student, Maneck, who is the only son of a former classmate. Maneck’s father is a merchant in the mountains of northern India. Their backgrounds could not be more diverse, but after much struggle and misunderstanding, they become a sort of family.

The Emergency and its direct effects on each of the characters frames much of what happens in the story, but the book never falls into the realm of political discussion. It also does not use The Emergency as a device for telling the story; instead, it’s an organic part of the plot. Even though Mistry is most certainly helping readers to understand the struggles that Indians of all backgrounds faced from post-independence in 1947 through The Emergency and to show India’s struggles as a country (religious intolerance, caste systems, poverty, and so forth), the characters’ personal stories remain the author’s primary concern. I bring this up because the style is so very different than what happens in a book like Zadie Smith’s The Autograph Man, where the author has very deliberately taken something real in the form of Judaism and Kabbalah and used them as devices to tell a story in a very particular way. I essentially read these back-to-back, so it really got me thinking about what I enjoy in storytelling, and I realized that ultimately I prefer not to have the author on the page with me. When I read The Autograph Man, I was constantly aware that I was reading a very deliberately constructed narrative, which actually distanced me from the main character, Alex, and made me twice removed from the characters in Alex’s life. I think a constructed narrative can work in the first person, because the construction can belong to/be organic to the character, but in the third person, it can be difficult to tell whose story I’m reading: the author’s or the character’s.

All that is just to say, Mistry never gets in between the reader and the story, which might be easy for an author to do, especially when his audience might be one that is not familiar with Indian politics and history. He could have–how shall I say this?–pulled a Tolstoy and given the reader a lot of information about the history of what actually happened, but instead, he just lets the characters lead their lives, and that is more powerful than anything. So if you haven’t read this book, you really, really should.

Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity Third Edition/Expanded CoverZen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury. Obviously, this is a book about writing. Confession: I’ve never read a thing by Ray Bradbury, not even Fahrenheit 451, which is really the only book of his I knew at the outset. I didn’t realize he’d written Something Wicked This Way Comes, not to mention countless other novels, stories, and plays. So why pick it up? Well, it’s a book I see recommended over and over again for fiction writers. While I can’t say I learned anything hugely profound, what I liked about this book was Bradbury’s complete joy and excitement about writing. Most books about writing focus on the suffering, the difficulty of getting something on the page. Bradbury doesn’t deny the difficulty–or rather, I should say, he’s not unrealistic. Sometimes–much of the time–your writing will be bad. But only by working and writing badly will you ever write well. This isn’t so different from advice by Stephen King or Anne Lamott, but it’s certainly delivered more effusively. It reminded me of a quote from an interview with George Saunders that I read recently: “Fun is an aspect of fiction that often gets undersold…Fun is hard to talk about. It doesn’t ‘teach’ well. … All those literary things we learn about? Theme and character and all that? My experience is you can’t get there without fun.”

This book is quick to read and definitely worth picking up if you’re interested in any kind of  writing, I think. But even if you’re “just” a reader, Bradbury talks about reading–and watching television and movies–and holding on to what you love.

Divergent (Divergent Trilogy #1) CoverDivergent, by Veronica Roth. I might be the last person in the book blogging world to have read this book, but I’m glad I did. If you haven’t read it yet and you enjoyed The Hunger Games trilogy, definitely pick this one up. I admit I didn’t like it quite as much as The Hunger Games–the love story is more central here, and Beatrice/Tris, the heroine, not quite as strong as Katniss–but it still has an interesting premise. Society has been divided into five factions: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. At the age of 16, children are tested to determine their aptitude for their particular group, and they can choose to join any faction–but choosing a new faction results in leaving behind one’s family forever. Candidates go through initiation, and those who are unsuccessful (or somehow otherwise break the rules of their faction) become one of the Factionless, who live outside the bounds of the city (dystopian, future Chicago) and do menial jobs to support themselves. Some people have no test results–they are Divergent, and they are also considered dangerous.

Unbeknownst to Beatrice/Tris, some of the factions are preparing a war to wipe out the other factions. This book ends with Tris’s discovery and the initial battle. It was a gripping, quick read, and I look forward to reading the next in the series, Insurgent.

American Salvage CoverAmerican Salvage, by Bonnie Jo Campbell. The short story collection American Salvage was a National Book Award finalist in 2009, and it’s so apparent why–these stories are terrific. Campbell is a natural storyteller in the vein of Flannery O’Connor. Given her material, I could see that some people might also want to compare her to Raymond Carver–certainly no insult.

These stories are about hard-working, small town people in upper Michigan. Most of them are poor, several are plagued by meth addictions that affect so many people in small towns. A family returns to their summer home to find it has been invaded by meth addicts. An overseer at a former construction yard realizes he is unable to arrest the natural course of things in life and marriage. A young girl who hasn’t spoken in over a year finds a way to let her shotgun speak for her. A man pines for an old girlfriend he saved from an abusive father, only to find that she considers him just another in a long line of abusers. A woman with a higher degree in agriculture tries to make a go of it as a farmer’s wife.

Campbell shares a sensibility with another one of my favorite authors, Kent Haruf. Her characters’ stories are tough, but they are also beautiful. Campbell allows her characters their dignity even in the worst circumstances, and her writing is seamless.

This collection got me thinking about how many people there are out there who don’t enjoy reading short stories. This is a collection I’d want to get in their hands to make them see what stories can be at their best. O’Connor and Munro and Carver are wonderful, but their reputations precede them and put a sort of pressure on the reader to enjoy them in a certain way. In reading this collection, readers place themselves in the hands of an able storyteller who also has the luck of being someone who has not yet become a name, someone to be imitated (although she most surely will be, because how could any writer help but want to write so well as Campbell does?). Highly recommended. I cannot wait to read her latest work, the novel Once Upon a River.

New Year, New Books (Part 2)

Please pardon my really super fabulous photography skills. Thank goodness I don’t have a food blog. I actually have thought about sharing some recipes here from time to time, but every picture I take of food…well, something happens, and let’s just say the photo never looks like anything anyone would want to eat. Ever.

As promised, in New Year, New Books (Part 1), I am sharing the “real” books I bought for Christmas. Even with the funky flash action I think you can kinda see all the titles. I am not ashamed to admit that Downton Abbey is completely responsible for my renewed interest in World War I, so I bought The Guns of August and The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 by Barbara Tuchman, as well as Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest by Wade Davis. The Guns of August won a Pulitzer, so it must be brilliant. I expect good things.

Sort of by accident I ended up with two Civil War era reads. I have had Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln on my wishlist since President Obama was elected the first time around. America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation by David Goldfield was a very recent addition to my wishlist after I heard Nancy Pearl talk about it on NPR back in November 2012. (For the record, she also talked about Liz Moore’s Heft, which I also purchased.) Here in the South, the Civil War never dies, and after many states started petitions to secede after President Obama’s recent election (and to be fair, not just states here in the South), I was curious to read about this concept of “nation” at a time when people seem more divided than ever.

I guess you can see that lately I am going through some kind of history craze (oh lord don’t let it leave me now that I spent all my Christmas money). I bought Charles C. Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus and 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created after hearing this interview on NPR’s Fresh Air.  Trust me: he’s so engaging, if you listen to the interview, you’ll want to buy the books, too!

Of course, I had to buy some more fiction (although who knows when I’ll get to it, with all those other huge tomes and the fact that I read about 30 words a day). Because I feel like practically the only person who has not read The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, I decided it was high time I got around to it. I know I added The Report by Jessica Francis Kane to my wishlist back in 2010 not long after I read Sarah Waters’s The Night Watch because I was interested in reading more novels about World War II. The two Charles Portis novels, Norwood and The Dog of the South I bought because I love True Grit so much, I am determined to read all his books. I bought only one short story collection, American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and has been on my list since it was published in 2009. And then, finally, I bought Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity, because I’ll never stop dreaming…although with all this reading to do, who has time to write?

*Just a little note: All these links are from Amazon, but I am in no way affiliated with them and I do not make any money should you choose to purchase one of these books because you know how cool I am and you probably want to read all the same books I read. I feel so much better for having said that.