Saturday, December 31, 2011

Book of the Year 2011

I was happy, I had 10 5-star books this year (not in order):
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott
The Circus Fire by Stewart O'Nan
A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Angela's Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt
My Own Two Feet: A Memoir by Beverly Cleary
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

But the book of the year for me is...
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

It's a book that really stuck with me, that I still found myself thinking about several weeks later.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: The Year We Were Famous

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

The Year We Were Famous by Carole Estby Dagg

"The first seventeen years and three months of my life were so ordinary, they would not be worth the telling."

But wow, Clara's life was about to get real interesting real fast as she and her mother try to walk across America!

Book Review: The Year We Were Famous by Carole Estby Dagg

What a cute, sweet book! And yet, it also has a lot of deeper themes and topics that would be perfect for a book club but it doesn't hit you over the head with them and if you prefer to just read it superficially for the story, it's still fun and enjoyable. (And the jacket doesn't photograph well - the book is a lot prettier in person than the images make it look.)

It's 1896. The country is in the midst of yet another depression (we had a lot of them in the 1800s). The Estbys are barely scraping by, with their father, Ole, injured and so unable to do any carpentry, the farm alone isn't enough to support a family of 10. And their mother, Helga, has taken to her bed which she is wont to do from time to time. One day Clara, the eldest, is talking with Helga about how much she admires Nellie Bly, the female journalist who was recently paid to travel around the world. It puts a bug in Helga's ear and soon she has an idea to save the farm: she'll walk across the United States and get someone to pay her to do so. She's mostly doing it to save the farm, but she also wants to prove that women are strong and can do things many men think they can't, which she hopes by default will mean voting as she's a staunch suffragist.

As Helga isn't in the best of health, having just spent a month or so in bed, and inclined to crash into depression as quickly as her flights of fancy hit (pretty easy to see undiagnosed bipolar disorder), Ole asks Clara to join Helga on her walk. Helga gets a woman publisher in New York to agree to pay her $10,000 if she (and Clara) can make the walk in seven months. No one thinks they can do it. The first day, without any preparation, they walk 26 miles. Having recently walked a marathon myself, and not in corsets, floor-length skirts, or ill-fitting work boots, I am astonished at their fortitude. And they keep going despite bad weather, no food, no places to stay (they rely on the kindness of strangers the entire way), occasional very unfortunate bad directions or wrong ways, blisters, no water, dangerous strangers, and they keep walking for 4000 miles.

Do they make it? Do they make the deadline? Do they save the farm? Will Clara marry the neighbor Erick (nice but boring) when they return? What of the handsome journalist she meets along the way? Will mother and daughter kill each other on the trip?

While the story itself has more than enough excitement to keep one entertained throughout, the novel also brings up questions of obligations, responsibilities, whether sticking out a crazy bet like this shows determination or foolhardiness, should Clara follow her heart and her ambitions, or help save her family and settle down, and what was our country thinking a century ago with no safety nets at all when times got tough aside? There are a lot of topics for potential discussion, but I enjoyed it thoroughly just with the story itself. It was a very fast read (I read it on 2 days) and I highly recommend it. Being based on the true-life story of the author's great-grandmother and great-aunt just made it that much more interesting!

I bought this book at my local independent bookstore.

2011 Reading Challenges wrap-up

Chunkster Reading Challenge
February 1, 2011 - January 31, 2012
A chunkster is 450 pages or more of adult literature. A chunkster should be a challenge. No Audio books in the chunkster.
Do These Books Make my Butt Look Big? - this option is for the reader who can't resist bigger and bigger books and wants to commit to SIX Chunksters from the following categories:
2 books which are between 450 - 550 pages in length; CHECK
2 books which are 551 - 750 pages in length; ONE
2 books which are GREATER than 750 pages in length. ONE

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee - 470 pages
Peyton Place by Grace Metalious - 512 pages
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins - 567 pages
Shogun: A Novel of Japan by James Clavell - 1210 pages

This challenge technically isn't done for another month. I will need to do another brief wrap-up for the Chunkster at the end of January, especially since I haven't quite finished yet. My last two chunksters should be:
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak 592 pages (this one I am positive of as it is my January book club book.)
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry 945 pages
It was harder than I thought it would be. I think combining this challenge - and not at the lowest level - with the 100+ books challenge was not the most sensible thing I've done.

100+ Reading Challenge
I made this in 2010, but only by counting 15 rereads. My goal in 2011 was to do it with no rereads! The new Challenge counter on Goodreads really helped me keep up. I had to read 8.3 books per month to keep up. And according to GoodReads, my previous all-time record was 88 back in 1999!

100/100 with no rereads! Finished two days ago.

Southern Literature Challenge
Level 4--Y'all come back now, y'hear! Read 4 books. The challenge will run from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011. Read a book(s)--non-fiction or fiction of any genre, adult or young adult--written by an author from the South and set mostly in the South.

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz
The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker
The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson

I would have had a harder time with this except that two books I read for Bibliofeast certainly qualified (Watery and Reservoir).

2011 Reading from My Shelves Project
This challenge runs Jan 1-Dec. 12, you set your goal but the minimum is 12, and the main part of the challenge is: Read books from your own shelves, and then pass the books on to someone else: a friend, relative, the library, used book store, swap them, just as long as the book leaves your house once it has been read.

Peyton Place by Grace Metalious - I have no clue when/where I acquired this. It was obviously a used copy as it was the original paperback edition. But I have owned it for several years.

Oranges by John McPhee - I got this book in Nov 2009 from the publisher, before I had my blog.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton - I have owned this book since 1996!

Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz - I got this book in 7/2010 after I saw one of Mr. Horwitz's other books at my friend's apartment in Chicago and I fell in love and got all 3 of his travel/history books.

Addition by Toni Jordan - the publisher sent me a copy of this book when it was published, 2/09.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks - At the request of my former boss, Barbara, I got this book in 1/2010. I took too long to read this book!

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls - I don't know exactly when or how I acquired this book (I suspect a library sale) but I added it to GoodReads in 7/2010.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis - I bought this book almost exactly a year ago at a used bookstore in Nashville.

How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely - I think I requested this book from the publisher, in the summer of 2009.

John Adams by David McCullough - I bought this audio book (CDs) at my previous work in 2009.

The Burden of Proof by Scott Turow - I bought this book used from a street vendor in New York circa 2001.

The Women by T.C. Boyle - I think I got this book free from the publisher, but I got it almost two years ago.

Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin by Norah Vincent - this is an audio book so it's weird to think of it as being on my "shelf" but it was on my iTunes shelf since Oct. 2010

From Time to Time by Jack Finney - I don't know where or when I acquired this. I suspect I got it in New York, used, which means 2004 at the latest.

This is the only challenge I didn't finish! I don't like that. I did manage to hit the minimum (14) but not the goal I set for myself (20). Surprisingly, I found I didn't much like this challenge. I was buying new books and reading reviews and occasionally getting ARCs and I felt like I couldn't read them. No new books. I felt a little less involved in new publishing this year than in the recent past, and that's not a good thing. Publishing is my business and I need to be current and I need to be able to speak to today's marketplace. While I think I will hit this somewhat easily next year, with my Australia challenge in particular, I'm glad that I can read finally a book I bought last month without guilt.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book Review: The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly

Do you have sisters? I have two sisters and two step-sisters. Do you love Little Women by Louisa May Alcott? I do. Well in The Little Women Letters, Gabrielle Donnelly tells the story of Jo March's three great-great-granddaughters, living in contemporary London and dealing with many of the same issues that Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy did.

Emma, the oldest, is the sensible, organized, budget-minded one and is planning her wedding to wonderful Matthew. Lulu, the middle sister, is at a loss with what to do with her life professionally, as well as not really clicking with any men lately. Sophie, the youngest, is a bubbly, pretty, flaky, aspiring actress. We follow them and their mother Fee - which is short for Josephine, which is also Emma's first name - and father David, along with Lulu's best friend Charlie (a girl) who is beautiful, nice and rich (if only we all had such best friends) as they prepare for the wedding. The main character is mostly Lulu, but the point of view does shift as well sometimes to Sophie and Emma (I actually wish Ms. Donnelly had committed to Lulu and told the whole book from her point of view) who have their own, albeit less fraught, issues as well. But Lulu is really stressed by her lack of direction (and her family's well-meaning constant needling doesn't help) and while looking for something in the attic for her mother, she runs across a collection of letters from her great-great-grandmother Jo March to her sisters Meg, Amy, and Beth in the 1860s. Lulu finds solace in Jo's travails and speed bumps, knowing that Jo found direction and love.

The book was a tad sweet for me. It's basically the 2011 version of 1990s chick-lit but without a pink cover and with parents added in (which does make it unique.) But I found it unrealistic. All three girls are in their 20s (27, 25, 22) and all still live in town (of me and my 6 siblings, only 2 live in our hometown and both have not always lived there since college - they both moved back later), all still eat dinner with their parents regularly, talk all the time, never have secrets from each other, and I don't know why Lulu at 24-25 needs to have her entire life figured out. She's not exactly over the hill or anything. It's also okay if women aren't all romantically paired off by their mid-20s, but this book went with the usual tropes where at the end everyone must have careers on track, romance sorted, and be completely on track with no more speed bumps in the future. That said, if you're looking for a light, fun book with a happy ending, The Little Women Letters is sweet and endearing.

I got this book (an ARC) as a gift from a friend who works at an independent bookstore.

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Last Nude

Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Last Nude by Ellis Avery

Synopsis from the publisher:
A stunning story of love, sexual obsession, treachery, and tragedy, about an artist and her most famous muse in Paris between the world wars.

Paris, 1927. In the heady years before the crash, financiers drape their mistresses in Chanel, while expatriates flock to the avant-garde bookshop Shakespeare and Company. One day in July, a young American named Rafaela Fano gets into the car of a coolly dazzling stranger, the Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka.

Struggling to halt a downward slide toward prostitution, Rafaela agrees to model for the artist, a dispossessed Saint Petersburg aristocrat with a murky past. The two become lovers, and Rafaela inspires Tamara's most iconic Jazz Age images, among them her most accomplished-and coveted-works of art. A season as the painter's muse teaches Rafaela some hard lessons: Tamara is a cocktail of raw hunger and glittering artifice. And all the while, their romantic idyll is threatened by history's darkening tide.

Inspired by real events in de Lempicka's history, The Last Nude is a tour de force of historical imagination. Ellis Avery gives the reader a tantalizing window into a lost Paris, an age already vanishing as the inexorable forces of history close in on two tangled lives. Spellbinding and provocative, this is a novel about genius and craft, love and desire, regret and, most of all, hope that can transcend time and circumstance.

Publishing on 1/5/2012 by Riverhead Books.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Book Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

I had heard this book would be great for a book club, and that it would probably never be picked for mine because it is so horrifying for parents (I am the only non-parent) so I decided to go ahead and read it and not wait to see if it was picked. And I agree on both counts. This book is not for the faint of heart, not for those currently hoping for a child, and not for anyone who likes happy stories. That said, I loved it, as much as one can love a horrible, dreadful story about an evil boy and his iffy mother.

Told in letters written to her estranged husband, Franklin, Eva is trying to make sense of what has happened in their lives: their son Kevin shot and killed a dozen of his high school classmates, a teacher, and a cafeteria worker. Eva is trying to figure out how much culpability she shares for how Kevin turned out, and how much was simply the way Kevin is.

From the very beginning Eva, president of a company that publishes budget travel guides, is ambiguous about having a child. Franklin, more traditional, is less ambiguous, but neither of them feels very strongly about it except that it seemed that they ought to have a baby. Once Eva became pregnant, Franklin became very overprotective of her. Well not of her exactly, but of the unborn baby - in fact he seemed to care less about Eva herself. Once Kevin is born - really from the first minute, he seems to reject Eva and is frighteningly unhappy around her. But not around Franklin. And it's not as if he simply loves Franklin more and only Franklin can soothe him - it's like this baby is scarily intelligent and hates his parents and is pitting them against each other. Franklin things Eva is exaggerating and not trying hard enough. And things do not improve from here. As Kevin gets older, he becomes more evil and manipulative and horrid. And naturally Eva is distant and conflicted and struggles with her feelings. Franklin increasingly thinks Eva misunderstands their innocent boy (who plays him like a fiddle) and their marriage disintegrates.

But is Eva right? After all. she's telling the story so naturally she'd be telling us only her perspective - is Kevin truly evil from birth? Or has her coldness and distance made him so? Is he really as horrible and manipulative as she thinks? Or is Franklin perhaps at least a little bit right? Well, given that we know the outcome from the beginning (mass murderer), it does give Eva's version credence, but you can't help but wonder if perhaps she could have tried harder and perhaps Kevin picked up on her ambivalence about being a mother. And yet, we must wonder why Franklin doesn't reply to Eva's letters, why he doesn't visit Kevin in prison, and what Kevin could have done to finally have destroyed his faith in him. I will admit to being shocked a bit by the ending.

The book is riveting, fascinating, un-put-downable (in fact I read while waiting to tee off on the golf course.) It is fantastically written with a distinctive voice and raises many, many questions. For a daring, strong book club this book would lead to an excellent discussion. A week after I read it, I still find myself thinking about it. Apparently some readers think Eva is the evil one in the book and I freely admit to being in the other camp, believing that Kevin truly was horrid from conception and next to nothing could have been done to prevent the tragedy. In fact, I think Eva was a much, much better mother to the wretched boy than most people (myself included) would be and that those who think she's at fault are holding her to unfairly high, unachievable standards. But you should read it yourself to decide if you agree.

I bought this book at a used bookstore.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Little Women Letters

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly p. 130

"Lulu dropped the letter and looked up into the blue sky above the attic window, smiling at what must surely be her great-great-grandmother's first sight of her great-great-grandfather, Professor Bhaer. Until now, Lulu had always pictured her great-great-grandfather, Professor Bhaer, as a staid and middle-aged man; but before he became Professor Bhaer, he must of course have been plain young Herr Bhaer, and how curiously gratifying it was to know that he had been handsome, too."

Yes, she is talking about that Jo and that Professor Bhaer! This is (ostensibly) the story of the great-great-granddaughters of Jo March of Little Women fame.

Monday, December 26, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly

Earth (the Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race by Jon Stewart (audio)

Up next:
Fury: A Memoir by Koren Zailckas
The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship by Jeffrey Zaslow
Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman

Friday, December 23, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: We Need to Talk About Kevin

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

"Dear Franklin, I'm unsure why one trifling incident this afternoon has moved me to write to you."

I find the word "trifling" very interesting in this sentence.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Quiet

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Synopsis from the publisher:
At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who invent and create but prefer not to pitch their own ideas; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled “quiet,” it is to introverts we owe many of the great contributions to society—from Van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.

Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with the indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Susan Cain charts the rise of “the extrovert ideal” over the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects—how it helps to determine everything from how parishioners worship to who excels at Harvard Business School. And she draws on cutting-edge research on the biology and psychology of temperament to reveal how introverts can modulate their personalities according to circumstance, how to empower an introverted child, and how companies can harness the natural talents of introverts. This extraordinary book has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.

Publishing by Random House on 1/24/2012.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: Intern by Sandeep Jauhar

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Intern: A Doctor's Initiation by Sandeep Jauhar p. 37

"One night at the beginning of my first internal medicine clerkship of third year, a resident, a stocky, cocksure man, admitted a patient from he emergency room. 'See if you can figure him out,' he said to me on his way out of the hospital the next morning."

So begins the hardest year of Sandeep's life.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Review: Intern: A Doctor's Initiation by Sandeep Jauhar

Have you ever wondered how accurate "Grey's Anatomy" is? I was pretty sure not all medical students are so attractive and falling into bed with each other and their bosses quite so frequently, but I thought it did a decent job of showing the long hours, screw-ups and doubt that interns and residents go through while learning the hard task of being a doctor. However after reading Dr. Jauhar's memoir, it seems that as usual, Hollywood has lightened things up quite a bit.

Sandeep is working on his Ph.D. in physics when he decides his prospective career isn't going to be enough for him, and he wants to be a doctor after all, inspired partly by having previously dated a girl with Lupus. While he finishes up his physics research, he takes premed prerequisites, and gets into Washington University in St. Louis. Since he already has that degree under his belt, he's able to complete medical school in 4 years instead of 5 (although that still puts him at the ancient age of 29- oh no! - as his father points out.) And then he goes to New York to begin his internship which is at the same hospital where his older brother also works as a doctor. There he experiences what I hope is the hardest year of his life.

The cases and patients are fascinating (if occasionally gross) and he's brutally honest about the doubt, exhaustion, depression, errors, and flaws he experiences in the process. He does think about quitting, but sticks it out. He has a hard time deciding on a specialty (and he has less time to make this decision because of the 4-year fast-tracking). And he meets a girl, Sonia, also training to be a doctor. He loves her but isn't sure that a 2-doctor marriage can work out well.

Despite many misgivings and questions and uncomfortable situations and some questionable medical issues, Sandeep gets through the year (and the first year of residency, as the book really covers two years not just one). It's a pretty fast read, he's a good writer who can mostly make medical jargon plain to regular readers (and where he doesn't, it's moot), and his experiences made me feel like my own career missteps in my 20s were pretty minor in comparison. It was an interesting tale of a career path I am very glad to only watch from the sidelines.

I bought this book used from my local independant bookstore.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
My Own Two Feet: A Memoir by Beverly Cleary
Intern: A Doctor's Initiation by Sandeep Jauhar

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Up next:
A Widow's Story: A Memoir by Joyce Carol Oates
The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks
Cost by Roxana Robinson

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Book Review: My Own Two Feet: A Memoir by Beverly Cleary

Wow, I didn't think this would happen but I actually loved My Own Two Feet even more than A Girl From Yamhill! And it's very well titled as Beverly is trying very, very hard through the whole book to get out from under her mother's thumb.

The book starts just where Yamhill left off, with Beverly heading off to Southern California to stay with her aunt and attend junior college. Naturally, her mother is sure this will be a disaster but Beverly goes anyway. She has a good time and gets good grades. But her aunt doesn't want her to stay with them again next year. Beverly, much more resourceful than she gives herself credit for, manages to meet a girl in a similar situation and they decide to be roommates and manage to find a reasonable boarding situation. And at the end of two years, Beverly transfers to U-Cal (aka Berkeley) where she finagles her way into the only co-op dorm for women near campus. She sits for the dreaded English Comprehensives and goes off to attend graduate school in library science. Meanwhile she makes friends, dates boys, attends classes, and occasionally deals with her incredibly negative mother.

Silly me, each time she met a new boy I'd think "is this the one?" not thinking that "the one" would be the guy with the last name Cleary (duh! I had trouble throughout both books remembering that her last name was Bunn.) When she and Clarence finally meet and start dating, it's not head over heels instantly for either one, and instead they date for a long time, getting to know each to her quite well. Her mother hates him immediately (truly she would have hated anyone Beverly loved I think) because he was Catholic (they are Protestant). But as we know will happen they marry anyway.

War breaks out and Beverly works at a library on an army base and later in one at a hospital. She also works in a bookstore over many Christmases and always makes the best of things. Finally, after the war when she no longer needs to work for the army (never her favorite), she decides to finally write the children's book she has known she was going to write since she was a child herself. And she thinks of a boy who finds a dog, and a story she heard on base about a family who had to get a box from a grocery store during a rainstorm because that was the only way they could bring their dog home on the streetcar. And Henry Huggins is born (and Ribsy!) We end the book with her thinking about a nice girl named Ellen whose woolen underwear is very inconvenient in ballet class (Ellen Tebbits is my favorite of all Beverly Cleary's books!

I adored this book. Beverly is such a wonderful young woman, I think I would have liked to be friends with her. She makes the best of situations (probably as a result of growing up during the Depression, which could have made her depressed and always thinking about what might have been, like her mother, but it does not), and she gets through every problem through hard work, creativity, and determination. Everything does not go her way (see: the dreaded English comps) like for everyone, and yet she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. We don't see the success - only the years of hard work and deprivations and bullying by her mother who could have given Joan Crawford lessons in emotional abuse. She's just on the cusp of succeeding despite poor odds when we leave her, secure in the knowledge that everything will work out. Beverly would make a fantastic role model for any young girl with dreams and goals, and I now feel more warmly towards her than ever. I feel I need to reread many more of her books and perhaps I will in 2012. I highly, highly recommend this book.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I bought this book from my local independant bookstore.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: My Own Two Feet

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

My Own Two Feet: A Memoir by Beverly Cleary pp. 59-60

"The last semester of my freshman year was coming to an end, and I was elected to Alpha Gamma Sigma, the honor society. Late one afternoon, when Verna and I were working in the kitchen, I worked up courage to ask the question that had worried me for some time: "Do you want me to come back next year?"

Beverly has been living with her Aunt Verna in Ontario, California, to attend junior college (which is free in California). In the midst of the Depression, even going to a year of college was a luxury, and a free place to stay was vital. Was Beverly going to lose that advantage, and possibly have to drop out of school?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Heft

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Heft by Liz Moore

Synopsis from the publisher:
Former academic Arthur Opp weighs 550 pounds and hasn't left his rambling Brooklyn home in a decade. Twenty miles away, in Yonkers, seventeen-year-old Kel Keller navigates life as the poor kid in a rich school and pins his hopes on what seems like a promising baseball career-if he can untangle himself from his family drama. The link between this unlikely pair is Kel's mother, Charlene, a former student of Arthur's.

After nearly two decades of silence, it is Charlene's unexpected phone call to Arthur-a plea for help-that jostles them into action. Through Arthur and Kel's own quirky and lovable voices, Heft tells the winning story of two improbable heroes whose sudden connection transforms both their lives. Like Elizabeth McCracken's The Giant's House, Heft is a novel about love and family found in the most unexpected places.

Publishing 1/23/2012 by W W Norton & Co Inc.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Book Review: From Time to Time by Jack Finney

I read Time and Again back in 1999, right before I moved to New York (thanks to a former New Yorker who insisted it was required reading.) I read it again for book club about 5 years ago. I acquired this sequel at some point in between and finally got around to reading it!

In the first book Si works with some professors and army personnel on The Project and eventually he is one of the few successful people who learned how to time travel. It's a somewhat simple (and yet very complicated) notion related to Einstein's theories of time, that we are harnessed to the here and now by things and our thoughts and the knowledge that now is when we are. If you immerse yourself in another time and eventually truly believe you live in that time, with the help of self-hypnosis, you can be then. In the first book, Si's portal is The Dakota, an apartment building that is in present-day Manhattan and also existed in the 1880s. But now that he has gotten better at it, he doesn't need massive preparations and he can go to the Brooklyn Bridge (actually called the East River Bridge in the 1880s) and go back to "now" (which I assume is still the 1970s although this book was written in 1995 and isn't specific.) He did something kind of bad at the end of the first book and he goes back because he feels guilty and wants to see if what he did has the effect on the future (or present) that he thinks it did.

When back in the present-day, he runs into the army liaison from The Project and he convinced Si that he should do one last trip before heading back to the 1880s for good (he's fallen in love and has a family there.) It's vitally important and ought to be relatively easy considering how momentous it is: prevent WWI. WWI apparently didn't have to happen, could have been averted, and was such a stupid, senseless war that it really shouldn't have been. So off to 1911 Si goes, into the world of vaudeville and the Turkey Trot.

Why on earth there was such a terribly long divergence into vaudeville I surely don't know, other than that the author was intrigued by it and did a lot of research. It's interesting how sometimes we get an overwhelming mass of details and information about things like vaudeville, and other times he'd just mention in passing "though of course I knew, as who didn't, who the sinister and notorious Gerald Montizambert was." (p. 254). Well I've never heard of him. Do I really need a 6-page description of an all-day horse-ride with Theodore Roosevelt, when other things from the past are just tossed off? It felt unbalanced in that.

Also there were a few errors like using "entitled" for "titled" (a big pet peeve of mine), and to me the most difficult to believe (after the whole time travel thing) is that Si, a lifelong New Yorker (I believe, or at least his whole adulthood - I don't remember that detail from the first book all that well) wouldn't recognize what building looks like a ship and "one might sail her up Broadway or the Fifth Avenue." (p. 117). Yes, the Flatiron building didn't exist in the 1880s but he's only been in the 1880s for about 5 years. I've been gone from New York for 7 years and it was glaringly obvious to me. (Yes, I did work in the Flatiron building so I'm more aware of it than most.) For Pete's sake, it is where Broadway and Fifth Avenue cross! It made me think Si was an idiot.

Overall, the book was fast-paced and intriguing, but it does bog down a bit in vaudeville and I was annoyed that he kept calling (to himself) this woman the Jotta Girl instead of her name, and it was uneven. Also, the long-awaited for scenes on the Titanic, which are teased on the back of the book, are only in the second to last chapter so you have to wait a long, long time for that to pay off! It was nice to see what happened to Si, but it was nowhere near as good as Time and Again, and I'm glad it was short and sweet as it certainly was a trifle.

I haven't got a clue where I acquired this book having owned it for over 10 years, but I certainly did not get it for a review.

Teaser Tuesdays: From Time to Time

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

From Time to Time by Jack Finney p. 30

"Yes, but... say it."
"The white letters high on the painted black hull of that ship read Titanic, as I've told people for the rest of my life."

So says an elderly lawyer, remembering going down to the Hudson River with his father to watch the famous ship docking in New York. Confusing? Well, as Einstein said, history is a river and the past is still there, its just behind a bend. And sometimes, perhaps, history has changed (as a result of Si and his co-Projecters, for example). Some people, it seems have retained the old memories from the previous history.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Book Review: 'Tis by Frank McCourt

I am done with Frank McCourt! Yes, I know this is book 2 of 3 but I read Teacher Man first. And I'm glad I did because while I did enjoy this book, I don't know that I would have gone on to a third book after this one.

So Frank has made it to New York. Thanks to a creepy priest he met on board the ship, he gets a job at a hotel, cleaning. He wants more but with his bad eyes and his lack of a high school diploma he isn't likely to get anywhere. So while his friends are trying to avoid getting drafted to Korea, he signs up. The army fixes his teeth and does what it can for his eyes, and send him off to Germany and he trains to be a clerk where he learned typing and organization. Back in America he talks NYU into letting him attend conditionally, given his lack of a high school education. Unbeknownst to him he's in the education school, but that's okay. He meets cute girls and is baffled by the young, privileged teens he's in school with who discuss Camus and drink coffee while he works on the docks in warehouses.

Naturally life goes on and he does eventually get a teaching job and marry and has a daughter. But after he's done with school, I didn't like the style of the book as much. It lost its narrative thread and instead the chapters towards the end felt more like essays, like they should be titled things like "Our buddy Frank" and "My new job at Stuyvesant High School." After all the nuanced detail we've gotten of his entire life up to here, it's disappointing to not know much about why his marriage broke up, or even be able to figure out exactly what year it is and how old he is. The essays jump around a bit and so in one his daughter will be 10 and in the next, he's talking about changing her diaper. It was good to get closure with his parents' lives. But I was a little disappointed at the end with the structure.

That said, it was still wonderful. As always, I really loved that Frank McCourt narrated it himself. Many parts were hilariously funny that I don't think would translate as quite as humorous in print. It ended abruptly without even a second separating McCourt's last word from Audible's tagline but that's a minor detail and Audible's issue, not McCourt's. 'Tis is an appropriate follow-up that finishes up the stories begun in Angela's Ashes. And although I listened to Teacher Man long before I started reviewing, I would recommend it very highly.

I got this book from Audible.com.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery
'Tis: A Memoir by Frank McCourt
From Time to Time by Jack Finney

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Up next:
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Book Review: Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery

I was starting to worry about the Green Gables series, that I just wasn't going to like any of the books anymore, but Rainbow Valley redeemed it for me! Although, oddly, the Blythes are only a minor role in the book. But, as usual, what I loved was that it read more like a novel than a collection of short stories.

The book is mostly about the Merediths, the minister Dad and his four kids. Naturally they become fast friends with the Blythes and spend a lot of time in Rainbow Valley (I'm not completely sure of the layout of the town but it seems that they just live across the valley from the Blythes so it makes sense.) Their father is loving and kind, and the best preacher Glen St. Mary has ever seen, but he is easily distracted, absorbed by his books, and disinclined to remarry simply to get a housekeeper. When the children discover Mary Vance, a runaway house girl from a neighboring town, it seems as if the housekeeping issues might be helped but Aunt Martha will not let Mary cook, and she's also a bad influence when it comes to the Merediths' language and telling them ghost stories. Mary is eventually adopted by Miss Cornelia and while she's still a frequent companion, the Merediths are back to trying to raise themselves. Although, their father has become friends with the beautiful and thoughtful spinster Rosemary West, so might there be wedding bells and a new mother on the horizon? Or will circumstances get between them and happiness?

Anne and her children make frequent appearances, as friends and confidants (although several times Anne's absence has been a plot point as it forced people to find other confidants.) But they are not the main characters, and yet that didn't bother me. And I liked that Mary and Cornelia appeared off and on throughout and that certain clues were set up early in the book that didn't pay off until the end - a marker of a novel, not short stories. And somehow, some way, you just know that everything will work out. I am really looking forward to Rilla of Ingleside, the last book in the series!

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: When She Woke

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

"When she woke, she was red."

It's neat that the first line of this novel is also the title. I don't see that often. But it does mean so much more than that, as the whole book is about Hannah's awakening.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Brothers (And Me)

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Brothers (And Me): A Memoir of Loving and Giving by Donna Britt

Synopsis from the publisher:
Donna Britt has always been surrounded by men-her father, three brothers, two husbands, three sons, countless friends. She learned to give to them at an early age. But after her beloved brother Darrell's senseless killing by police 30 years ago, she began giving more, unconsciously seeking to help other men the way she couldn't help Darrell.

Brothers (And Me) navigates Britt's life through her relationships with men-resulting in a tender, funny and heartbreaking exploration of universal issues of gender and race. It asks: Why, for so long, did Britt-like millions of seemingly self-aware women-rarely put herself first?

With attuned storytelling and hard-wrought introspection, Britt finds that even the sharpest woman may need reminding that giving to others requires giving to oneself.

Publishing on 12/8/11 by Little, Brown & Co.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Book Review: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

The plot of this book intrigued me - a futuristic retelling of The Scarlet Letter - along with the reviews and as the author is coming to town tonight, I decided to jump this book to the head of the pile and read it right away! Now, I'm not 100% sure just yet, but I think When She Woke might just end up being the best book I've read all year.

Hannah Payne has been chromed - turned fire engine red - as punishment for killing her unborn baby by having an abortion. We are about 20 years in the future (not quite as far out as most futuristic books which made this one both more relatable, and also much more terrifying.) After 9/11, Los Angeles has been nuclear bombed and the United States has practically wiped Iran off the planet. A religious political party has taken hold and fundamentalism is on the rise. Hannah grew up in a fundamentalist household, wearing only long skirts, not reading unapproved books, and being taught to become a helpmeet for her future husband. Her family thinks there's no reason for women to go to college, and she has never worn pants. So it's surprising when she falls in love with her married minister, Rev. Dale. And she gets pregnant. And abortion is now a horrible crime, due to the fact that several years ago a super strain of the clap went around and most women are now infertile. The chroming was invented as a cost saving measure after the Second Great Depression, so society no longer has to pay to house inmates (aside from violent murderers) and instead the general public's shunning, harassment, and sometimes assaults and murder, are the criminals' punishment now. There are also blues (sexual crimes) yellows (misdemeanors) and others, but reds (abortion, attempted murder) are among the worst. And now Hannah has to try to find her way in a world where her God has abandoned her, her family has mostly disowned her, her lover has to keep quiet, and she doesn't know where to turn. The title, in addition to being very literal, describing how she woke and found herself red, also refers to Hannah's awakening. She discovers she can think and be an independent individual, she doesn't need a man to figure things out for her, and she also needs to discover a new relationship with God (or not.)

I don't remember The Scarlet Letter all that well, having last read it about 20 years ago, but it did seem to match up in spots to my memories, but Ms. Jordan didn't claim to be doing a literal rewrite, so if there are flaws in the parallels, I wouldn't worry about them (obviously, right off the bat we see an issue where her daughter isn't alive which should tell people this is more of an interpretation of the earlier work.) The writing is alive and sharp, the terrifying aspects of chroming that Hannah goes through are palpable, and the future Mr. Jordan has drawn is terrifyingly close and plausible. I wanted to reach into the book and help Hannah, she seemed so real. And normally I find a lot of religion off-putting, but not here; it was handled so even-handedly that I think anyone except the most close-minded people will find moments of understanding and clarity. Parts of the book were even action-packed and I felt anxious and scared for Hannah and the people who helped her. I hope and pray that the United States would never become so intolerant and judgmental, but I do fear we are headed that way. And books like When She Woke are great because it's not only a good read, but a good opener for a dialogue about our future and how to avoid some mistakes when we still have time.

A friend who works at a bookstore sent me an ARC.

Teaser Tuesdays: When She Woke

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan p. 27

"She almost hadn't gone through with it. She'd taken the pregnancy test at just over six weeks, after her second missed period, and then agonized for another month before screwing up the courage to act."

And then she did. And then she dealt with the consequences.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Book Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

I was intrigued by this book, telling the story of Hemingway's first wife, Hadley, but, while I have liked the three Hemingway books I have read very much, I don't like him as a person at all. Luckily, it was assigned by book club so I didn't have to decide to read it. Luckily, because I really did enjoy it!

Hadley and Ernest met at a party in Chicago when Hadley was in town from St. Louis visiting friends. Hadley was a 28-year-old spinster and Ernest was a 20-year-old back from WWI. It's the roaring twenties and Prohibition has just started. After a brief, whirlwind romance, they marry, and depart for Paris. In Paris they meet a ton of famous people (if this wasn't based on true facts, it would be unrealistic in the volume of famous associates) from Ezra Pound to F. Scott Fitzgerald to Gertrude Stein. They drink a ton, Ernest is nasty to Hadley, they have a son, things go downhill and eventually implode. He writes In Our Time and The Sun Also Rises (two of his books that I have read).

Hadley is a doormat, but she does it conscientiously, after having seen both her mother and Ernest's mother emasculate their husbands. And also Ernest really needed a lot of support (A LOT) and Hadley was great at providing that no matter what. It seemed when he started to gain success and was getting positive reinforcement from a lot of sources, he didn't need her anymore and that's when the relationship started to fail.

I truly felt like I was in the twenties in Paris. Ms. McLain obviously did her research and it shows in a good way, with the feel and atmosphere. There were a few minor bits of language that seemed anachronistic, but they didn't bother me. I know the Hemingways and their whole crowd were big on nicknames but I could have stood for a little less accuracy there as the nicknames were voluminous and got very confusing. Particularly when Ernest and Hadley used the same nickname for each other (more than one!)

For me the book was a fast read, I really liked Hadley (not everyone in my book club did though because of the doormat factor), I liked learning about the ex-pat writers, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. It did not make me like Hemingway more, but the fact that I didn't like him didn't hurt the book for me at all.

I got this book at the Friends of the Library book sale.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
'Tis: A Memoir by Frank McCourt (audio)
Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery

Up next:
Happens Every Day: An All-Too-True Story by Isabel Gillies
Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatnessby Joshua Wolf Shenk
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Reading Challenges 2012

These are the 2012 challenges I'm signing up for. After reading 100 books in 2011, I'm not going to do that again, but I don't expect my number to drop too much below that. I'm only signing up for two challenges next year because on both of them I'm signing up for the top level. This year with four challenges, it was very hard to finish all of them even though they weren't at the top level.

From the website:
Non-Fiction Non-Memoir Reading Challenge
January 1, 2012 – December 31, 2012

I've decided to host a challenge to motivate myself and others to read more nonfiction. To make it more of a challenge, the Non-Fiction Non-Memoir Reading Challenge will exclude memoirs, which seem to be the most read type of nonfiction among the book blogs I follow. Instead, we'll focus on learning about a variety of different topics and discovering new facts. The challenge will run from January 1, 2012 through December 31, 2012.

What Counts:
- Books can be any format (bound, ebook, audio) but must be written for adults or young adults.
- Books can cover many different topics, including science, technology, religion, sociology, business, biography, politics, economics, history, food, art/design, etc.
- How-to, self-help and travel books are permitted, as long as you actual read them cover to cover, and don't just use them as a reference.
- Crossovers with other challenges are permitted.

What Does Not Count:
- Reference books, cookbooks and instruction manuals that are not meant to be read cover to cover
- Essays and articles
- How-to, self-help or travel books that are not read cover to cover
- Memoirs, journals and autobiographies
- Books written for children
- Re-reads don't count since the point is to learn something new

Elementary - 5 nonfiction books
Diploma - 10 nonfiction books
Bachelor's Degree - 15 nonfiction books
Master's Degree - 25 nonfiction books

Carin's comments: well the non-memoirs was intriguing to me since that's definitely my favorite genre, but I do think of myself as a more general non-fiction reader. I checked my stats so far for 2011 and I've read 13 books I'd consider general nonfiction (although a couple are tricky as to whether they are really memoirs or not.) But I do like general nonfiction and I have a couple of big ones on my must-read list for 2012 already, so I am going to try to tackle this. And I'll go for the Bachelor's Degree level! I'm very glad audio books count because most of my audio listening is nonfiction.

A few possibilities on my bookshelves:
The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding by Robert Hughes
Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home by Dan Ariely
Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol
A Brave Vessel: The True Tale of the Castaways Who Rescued Jamestown and Inspired Shakespeare's The Tempest by Hobson Woodward
Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization by Lars Brownworth
Looking for a Ship by John McPhee
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean
Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse by James L. Swanson
The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases by Michael Capuzzo
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson
For All the Tea in China by Sarah Rose
The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science by Douglas Starr
Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman's Quest to Make a Difference by Warren St. John
The Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Medicine, Madness, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
The Crofter and the Laird by John McPhee
Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris by David King

2012 Aussie Author Challenge
Whether you are a patriotic Australian, an aspiring or armchair tourist or simply an international reader wanting to discover some talented new authors with like-minded readers, the 2012 Aussie Author Challenge could be for you!

Challenge Period: 1 January 2012 – 31 December 2012
OBJECTIVE Read and review books written by Australian Authors – physical books, ebooks and audiobooks, fiction and non-fiction!

Challenge Levels:
TOURIST – Read and review 3 books by at least 2 different Australian Authors
DINKY-DI – Read and review 12 books by at least 6 different Australian authors
‘Dinky-Di’ is Australian slang meaning ‘true or genuine’.

Carin: I did this challenge 2 years ago at the Tourist level. I am going to Australia in the summer of 2012 (woo hoo!) so this is a natural as I'll be reading up, and I'm going to sign up for the Dinky-Di level. It might be a little hard for me to achieve here in the states but I expect I'll purchase a few books while in Australia. After all, if I (still no ereader for me) try to bring all the books for the horribly long flights and two weeks, I'll be over my weight limit in no time. If I only bring books for the flight there, I should be able to finish this challenge without too much trouble.
On my list currently:
Tommo and Hawk (The Potato Factory, #2) by Bryce Courtenay (yes, I have already read Book 1)
Solomon's Song (The Potato Factory, #3) by Bryce Courtenay
The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding by Robert Hughes
I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
True North: A Memoir by Jill Ker Conway (yes, I have already read her first memoir)
Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden
Pobby and Dingan by Ben Rice
Eucalyptus by Murray Bail (this one I need to buy)
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
March by Geraldine Brooks
Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James

Hm, I had no idea I already owned so many books by Australian authors! I guess I could complete this without any special orders or travelling, but that will still make it more fun, if I pick up a few books there that I can't get here.

Gaps in the List

Last week the PWxyz blog posted about having a Literary Wall of Shame and admitted to some classics he'd not yet gotten around to reading. With the year winding down, it is an obvious time to assess, as well as in planning for next year. Also, it was recently made very plain to me that I have an enormous, gaping hole in my literary expertise: The Russians. So here are my own wall of shame books, and I hope to have read a few of them by this time next year.

1. Any Russian novel. Any one at all. I own a super-short one, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn. In fact, it's tentatively on my list to read before the end of the year since I've owned it for more than 10 years and it's only 160 pages (I am 2 books behind if I want to have read 100 books this year so from here on out it's mostly short books for me.) A friend strongly recommended Crime and Punishment, which has also tempted me from hearing Frank McCourt talking about it in 'Tis, but a friend who has both read more Russians and knows my literary tastes very well has said that wouldn't be a great one for me. I'm thinking Anna Karenina might be more do-able. I've also owned a copy of that for well over 10 years (probably closer to 17) but I've heard the latest translation is far superior, so a new purchase may be in order. we'll see.
Update: my book club picked Doctor Zhivago by Poris Pasternak for January, so this one I'll knock out early!

2. Dickens. This one I admit to swiping from PWxyz but I have been thinking about improving my Dickens knowledge for years. My boss from about 4 years ago has read all of Dickens which impressed the heck out of me. I have read 3.5 (I did not finish David Copperfield although I aced the test on it.) I loved the recent Masterpiece Theater productions of Bleak House and Little Dorrit. And a couple of years my mother got be a few lovely antique leather-bound editions of his novels (by no means the whole set but I am hopeful she may find more in the future.) Little Dorrit is one of the ones from my Mom, and I picked up a Bleak House at a Border's Going Out of Business sale. I'd like to read at least one of those next year.

3. Finish Jane Austen. When I was in college I took my senior seminar on Jane Austen. My professor got pregnant and put on bedrest midway through the semester and while it was quickly worked out (we met at her house and she reclined in a La-Z-Boy) we did miss a class or two. Which meant that at the end of the semester while we had read all 6 novels, we had not read The Juvenilia or Lady Susan. She suggested this was not exactly a terrible thing as we can claim that no, we haven't read ALL of Jane Austen and seem a little more sane, but as a long-card-carrying member of the Jane Austen Society, it's time to finally read that last book that I bought for the class.

4. Moby-Dick. I have read THREE other Melville stories: Billy Budd, Bartleby the Scrivener, and Typee. None of them encouraged me to pick up a book ten times longer by the author. But, the book has been taunting me for years. This is a serious long-shot though.

I think I'm sticking with 4. I'm okay with the fact that I haven't (yet) gotten around to Bonfire of the Vanities or The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and I'm simply never ever going to read Catcher in the Rye or Love in the Time of Cholera, I don't care how many other people love them (unless they're assigned for book club but even then I might skip). I know a lot about those books and I know I'm going to hate them. As for the not gotten around to yet, well there's still time! They're on my list. Check in next December to see if I accomplished any of these goals.