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Pondering My 2013 Reading List (With a Last-Minute Addition)

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I read a lot this year, more than I realized: nearly six dozen tomes in all. Now, to be fair, a few were books for younger readers — but that means they were shorter, or more carefully illustrated, as opposed to being less robust and complex. 

Good authors write to the story and trust their audience. Good readers read the story and trust their authors. That perfect match makes for heavenly reading, and I made quite a few good matches this calendar year.

What was my favorite book? As if I could choose one! Well, here are a few (in no particular order) that stayed with me long after I turned the last page:
Life After Life — what if you could take nearly every path life could offer?(review)Dr. Sleep — Finished it in the waning hours of 2013, so right now all I can say is, "Wow." If I can manage more of a response than that, there may be a review.Behind the Beautiful Forevers — examine Indian "slums" and poverty through the eyes of the residents of Annawadi (r…

Review: Caleb's Crossing

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Caleb's Crossing has been on my bookshelf for years. My friend Carole and I purchased it in 2011 as soon as we saw it for sale. Both she and I enjoyed Geraldine Brooks' books in the past. We have seen met her on previous book signing tours and enjoyed her other books.

And yet this one languished on our shelves for years.

After reading it, I can see why: it was not her best.

The story is of Caleb, a Native American Indian who lived on the island now known as Martha's Vineyard, who was the first of his tribe to graduate from Harvard University in 1665.

Well, not exactly. It's as much about the narrator, Bethia Mayfield, as the character named in the title. Bethia  is a teenage English girl who, remarkably, is a feminist of her age. She was smarter than her older brother, who was being educated to follow his father into the ministry, but was denied an education because of her sex. She chafed against her society's boundaries. One of her society's bound…

Ransom Riggs is At It Again

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... and I can't wait!


(For the record, I've pre-ordered it.)

Mr. Putter and Tabby: They're Up to Something!

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The other day, I wondered about some old friends — so I let the library help me reconnect with them.

These friends are Mr. Putter and Tabby, an adventuresome elderly gentleman and his older, charming cat. Author Cynthia Rylant teams up with illustrator Arthur Howard to share his unusual adventures with juvenile readers like me.

This couple of characters live next door to Mrs. Teaberry, the more adventurous of the two, and her good dog, Zeke. Usually it's Mrs. Teaberry who has the idea to try something different, and Mr. Putter is always in. However, when Mr. Putter has the idea — well, watch out!

I stumbled across these characters a few years ago, just by chance. Having a few tabbies in my life made me feel kin to Mr. Putter, and growing up with dogs made me appreciate Mrs. Teaberry. I had to find out what they could get up to in their silver years.

Plus, on a purely academic level, it's nice to remind children that older people aren't all dinosaurs — and that older pets …

Poetry Wednesday: Happy, Birthday, Emily Dickinson!

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"Arcturus" is his other name

"Arcturus" is his other name—
I'd rather call him "Star."
It's very mean of Science
To go and interfere!

I slew a worm the other day—
A "Savant" passing by
Murmured "Resurgam"—"Centipede"!
"Oh Lord—how frail are we"!

I pull a flower from the woods—
A monster with a glass
Computes the stamens in a breath—
And has her in a "class"!

Whereas I took the Butterfly
Aforetime in my hat—
He sits erect in "Cabinets"—
The Clover bells forgot.

What once was "Heaven"
Is "Zenith" now—
Where I proposed to go
When Time's brief masquerade was done
Is mapped and charted too.

What if the poles should frisk about
And stand upon their heads!
I hope I'm ready for "the worst"—
Whatever prank betides!

Perhaps the "Kingdom of Heaven's" changed—
I hope the "Children" there Won't be "new fashioned" when I come—

Christmas Reading: What's on Your Shelf?

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Readers are a sentimental lot who re-read when appropriate. I'm not a frequent re-reader, but I do have a few favorites I pull out at about this time of year. I also throw a few new ones into the mix every year, and sometimes they join the usual holiday suspects the next year.

First, my husband David and I re-read A Christmas Carol. We have a lovely reprint of the original, complete with drawings, that we read aloud (hopefully before Christmas Day). It was so important to us that we — okay, I — bought a second copy before the library was set up in our current home. If you've never read it, please pick it up today and read a few pages aloud. It's how Charles Dickens intended it to be experienced, and it sounds glorious.

Another favorite is Connie Willis' Miracle and Other Christmas Stories, which has an excellent mix of classic sci-fi and mystery — with a couple of surprises.

A new read I plan to pick up this season is Holidays on Ice. I want to see how David Se…

Poetry Wednesday: Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving
Later, after dinner, we examine your uncle’s photos of trees, flowers, waterfalls, birds until I just can’t stand it another second. I am not at one with nature.Never was. Some of the people can be fooled all of the time, even when you yawn right in their faces.
Guests, or ghosts, have taken over the house, lounging in the living room, watching t.v. Ugly images of war and politics are all I see. Cancel the rest of the holidays, please, until this knot can be untied and our hearts released.
-- Terence Winch Courtesy Best American Poetry

Poetry Wednesday: The One Precious

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Review: The Dinner

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I remember the initial clamor over The Dinner. Radio hosts were gasping, "It's an incredible book!" So I picked it up — and found it tedious.

Then I did the only thing I could do: I gave it to my friend Carole, my Other Reading Self, to help me see if it was me or the book. When she handed it back, she said, "You have to give it another try."

Then I mentioned on Twitter that I was giving The Dinner another shot, Random House Canada told me this.

Now I tell you:


Paul and Claire meet Serge and Babette for dinner. What happens next: well, the minion said it all.

Books in translation often display a clumsy gait to me, especially books originally written in German or Germanic languages. (The Reader failed this reader before I even got to the pedophilia.) However, This translation was very smooth, allowing the undercurrent of the narrator's apparent awkwardness to knock the reader off-kilter.

And don't get sidetracked by the narrator's tangents. Don&#…

Poetry Wednesday: The German Ward

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The German Ward

When the years of strife are over and my
recollection fades
Of the wards wherein I worked the weeks
away,
I shall still see, as a visions rising 'mid the War-
time shades,
The ward in France where German wounded
lay.

I shall see the pallid faces and the half-sus-
picious eyes,
I shall hear the bitter groans and laboured
breath,
And recall the loud complaining and the weary
tedious cries,
And the sights and smells of blood and wounds
and death.

I shall see the convoy cases, blanket-covered
on the floor,
And watch the heavy stretcher-work begin,
And the gleam of knives and bottles through
the open theatre door,
And the operation patients carried in.

I shall see the Sister standing, with her form
of youthful grace,
And the humour and the wisdom of her
smile,
And the tale of three years' warfare on her thin
expressive face-
The weariness of many a toil-filled while.

I shall think of how I worked for her with
nerve and heart and mind,
And marvelled at her courage an…

In Honor of Veterans Day Never Forget

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In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

Poetry Wednesday: Te Deum

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Te Deum

Not because of victories
I sing,
having none,
but for the common sunshine,
the breeze,
the largess of the spring.

Not for victory
but for the day's work done
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais
but at the common table.

by Charles Reznikoff
Courtesy poets.org


Review: Bossypants

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I wasn't sure what to expect from comedienne Tina Fey's memoir, Bossypants. She is so young, yet iconicand very successful. I wasn't completely disappointed with the memoir, but I also wasn't completely satisfied.
I thought she wrote some funny stuff in her book and I laughed out loud quite often. I like funny. But I've read consistently funnier memoirs by people who aren't "professionally" funny. (Caitlin Moran, anyone? Jenny Lawson?) I know, the curse of the comedienne is that she's always expected to be hilarious, which isn't fair — but only when you bump into her at the grocery store.

May I also ads: I have read more honest and revealing memoirs. At times she skated across the top, rather safely. That was disappointing.

I was a little surprised by what she chose to include in her memoir: some of it was a little out of left field (climbing a mountain at night) and some of it was unexpectedly personal and rather un-funny (wanting a s…

All Hallow's Read: All Souls

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Happy Halloween!

Enjoy this poem as part of All Hallow's Read 2013.

For maximum effect, read it aloud.




All Souls


            I

A thin moon faints in the sky o’erhead,
And dumb in the churchyard lie the dead.
Walk we not, Sweet, by garden ways,
Where the late rose hangs and the phlox delays,
But forth of the gate and down the road,
Past the church and the yews, to their dim abode.
For it’s turn of the year and All Souls’ night,
When the dead can hear and the dead have sight.

            II

Fear not that sound like wind in the trees:
It is only their call that comes on the breeze;
Fear not the shudder that seems to pass:
It is only the tread of their feet on the grass;
Fear not the drip of the bough as you stoop:
It is only the touch of their hands that grope —
For the year’s on the turn, and it’s All Souls’ night,
When the dead can yearn and the dead can smite.

            III

And where should a man bring his sweet to woo
But here, where such hundreds were lovers too?
Where lie the dead lips that thirst…

Library Loot: The Halloween Edition

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Yes, it's nearly Halloween - can't you tell from my Library Loot?

There is enough scary stuff (or possible scary stuff) to keep me occupied. The problem is, not much has scared me yet.

I also picked up a little classic literature. I am hoping that will satisfy.
Ghost Story has a reputation of being one of the scariest books written in the 1970s. I wanted traditional horror. Alas, I didn't enjoy it: the story was slow to build and rather obvious. I stopped reading it after I anticipated every plot point for the first 50 pages. I really wanted to like it.

Now I wonder what other books from my childhood I would view in the same way, as slow and predictable. (Yes, I read all of those books I wasn't supposed to, that were way beyond my years. It was the 70s — I think it was the law.)

I did, however, likeThe Vagina Monologues. That classic did not disappoint.

I also plan to scan local ghost lore for a little scare. It's always nice to know what's happening …

All Hallow's Read — Be Ready to Share!

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There are many reasons to like  author Neil Gaiman. All Hallow's Read is one of them.

All Hallow's Read is an excellent way to share the love of books and reading. If you love books and stories, then you love sharing those very things. (I know I do.) Neil Gaiman encourages that. In fact, he says — but wait, let me let him tell you himself.


Me, I share poetry. Every Halloween, trick-or-treaters receive not only good chocolate candy (the kind I'd eat, and usually do, until I have to give it away), but also a poem. I've shared the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Edna St. Vincent Millay. This year, I've chosen — wait. I can't tell you until Halloween.

What poems would you share for Halloween? (Note the plural. You don't have to stop at one.)

If you're looking for novels, I'd recommend one by the man himself, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, or the delightfully weird story John Dies at the End.

What are you reading for Halloween? Is it scary, gory o…

Summer Reading, Fondly Remembered

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As the days grow chillier and the sun sets sooner each night, I look back fondly on my summer reading — and, I have to say, it was pretty good. 

Below is a list of books I completed, the final book skidding in under the wire as the clock ticked down to autumn.

I did not like all of the books. In fact, I probably would not recommend Southern Gods or Poe's Children. (The former was more gory than Gothic, the latter too eclectic and scattered a vision.) I threw a couple of children's books into the mix, and more than my share of hefty tomes.

Here they are, the most recent at the top of the list.
IllusionsElla Minnow PeaUnder New YorkThe FirebirdCatwingsCatwings ReturnWonderful Alexander and the CatwingsJane on her Own: A Catwings TaleSouthern GodsUnnatural Creatures DreamfeverPoe's ChildrenThe Tarantula in My Purse and 172 Other Wild PetsSalt Sugar Fat The New Yorker Book of Cat CartoonsThe Charles Addams Mother GooseIf I StayInfernoThe Ocean at the End of the Lane Let the Gre…