Monthly Archives: December 2012

Sixth Day: Book Pick of the Year

I don’t have a book of the year for 2012. There is no clear winner, so I declare no winner.

How do I judge this? Books that are books of the year, should pop instantly to the top of the mind as books that have stayed with me. They roll around in the mind and come back at odd moments. I remember the characters and think about them. None of the books I read this year stand out as that memorable. When I looked through the pages of my reading journal (kept since 1993, now in its fourth volume) for 2012, I found books I remembered and nodded, yes, that was an enjoyable read. But none got in my head  like my pick for last year, Room.

Maybe Room was one of those extraordinary books that just gets in your head and stays there, and maybe that doesn’t happen every year. Maybe I should go easier on the books I read this year. I did get pretty distracted at the end of this year with the moving and doing NaNoWriMo and a bunch of other things in November. In this spirit, here is a list of books read in 2012 that I passed on to others. None of them are my pick of the year. There just isn’t one.

1. Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber. I hesitated before putting this book on this list. I read it in 2012 and purged it from my library in 2012. I was disappointed by it. When I was in the process of moving, I took about 10 boxes of books with me to a Sr. High/College fall retreat at camp. I announced there were free books, and a hoard descended upon the boxes and picked through them. One young woman asked me for recommendations. I spotted Weber’s book, looked at the person, then said “I think you’ll like this book. I didn’t, but I think you will.” And she did. I passed it on to someone who liked it better than I did.

2. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I’ve not given this to anyone in particular, but I’ve certainly recommended it many times at the bookshop where I work. Stayed in my head for the first part of the year. Looking forward to the sequel. Not quite pick-of-the-year stickiness though.

3. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. I’ve used this as my pick of the month at the bookshop where I work, and also recommended it there. I will be reading this again. I think it takes a while to digest.

4. The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. Gave away for Christmas. Doesn’t make pick of the year because I’d forgotten about it until I saw it in a bookshop and then it all came flooding back. Jumped on it, bought it, gave it away. I hope 1Mom enjoys it.

5. In the Bleak Mid-Winter by Julia Spencer-Fleming. Read it, realized we should sell it at the bookshop where I work, recommended it to my manager. Both the store manager and the customer service manager are now hooked on the series. Score.

Do you have a pick of the year? Did any book stick in your head as a stand out for the year?


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Fifth Day: J. K. Rowling

RABro got me The Casual Vacancy for Christmas. This is very exciting. I’m looking forward to it, despite the indifferent to negative reviews I’ve seen. I don’t necessarily trust reviewers any more, particularly when they get their copy of a much anticipated book and have a deadline in less than a day. Sometimes one must savour a book, not barrel through it looking for something to say in a review.

I re-read the Potter series during Advent as an escape from reality. Potter is a very handy escape series. It can take a week to read, and one can profitably read and re-read the books. That is to say, I can read and re-read the books. I’m not sure about everyone else. I think I’ve heard of other people re-reading Potter, so I think it is more than just me. I think Rowling will turn out to be a good writer, because she writes even when she doesn’t need to — she has enough money just from Potter and movies — but because she likes to tell stories. I think this is important.

I’m still enjoying The Elegance of the Hedgehog so it will be at least a day before I turn to Ms Rowling’s latest work. I’ll tell you if the reviewers had anything useful to say when I’m done.

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Fourth Day: Coffee Messages

I got two great coffee mugs for Christmas. They have different messages on them. I think they go together quite well.




The first one I got from 1Mom. We laughed at the mug’s message because, well, its what we do. That’s it over there. 1Mom and I are temperamentally similar. We relate to the message.









This mug I got from RABro. It also made me smile because it is the stiff upper lip thing and I like the variants on this wartime poster that have appeared in the last year or so. In internet-speak, it has become a bit of a meme. And the red goes with the accent colours in my apartment.





The mugs kind of go together. They balance each other. I think they’ll get along nicely on my shelf.


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Third Day: A French translation

I requested and received The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbary for Christmas from RABro. This book is set in Paris, and is translated from the French. (All you readers of French out there might want to read it in the original.) I am enjoying it very much. It is hard to describe exactly what the book is about. Philosophy. The meaning of life. Deep thoughts by unlikely people. All these phrases might describe the book. You should just go and find it and read it. It is a few years old at this point, but you can find it at large bookshops and probably also at small independent bookshops as well. It is lovely. Go find it. Now.

What books did you get for Christmas?

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Second Day: The effects of war (pro doves)

I got two books from 1Mom for Christmas that she categorized as books on the aftereffects of war. One is The Ash Garden by Dennis Bock, set in Ontario and Japan. The other is The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. From my perusal of summaries and my memory of the movie of The Reader, both are about the effects of war on teens or children who grow up in the shadow of conflict. This is interesting for many reasons and has been a side interest of mine, but not one I’ve followed up on in my reading of books on the wars. I’ve more focussed on grown-ups in the wars, people who were in the conflict or who refused to join the army or things like that. I think that interest comes from my ADad and AGrandfather who served in very different ways in the second and first war respectively. ADad was in the air force. His father, my AGrandfather was a conscientious objector who served as a stretcher-bearer on the front. I’ve only recently started to see bits and pieces about this kind of service in the first war, and it was nuts. My grandfather never ever talked about it. Ever.

Fiction is an interesting way into the way the world looks for people on the inside of an historical event. Well researched, well imagined historical fiction provides a window into another time and place. I’m looking forward to my books on the aftereffects of war.

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First Day: St. Athanasius (in a pear tree?)

As noted last year, the twelve days of Christmas are days AFTER Christmas. Counting differs among people, but I usually count day 1 as starting Christmas Day at sundown, so here we are on the first day of Christmas, St. Stephen’s day, the day Good King Wenceslas went out.

For some seasonal theological reading, I got myself St. Athanasius On the Incarnation, from the Popular Patristics Series. This particular translation was done in the mid-twentieth century by “a religious of C.S.M.V.” This particular female religious was a correspondent of C.S. Lewis, and he wrote the introduction to this translation. I must confess that so far I’ve only read the introduction, and feel I could profitably stop and just meditate on it for a while. I’ve read bits and pieces of Lewis’s introduction to OTI before. If you google something like “Lewis reading old books” you’ll find lots of blogs and other pages that quote extensively from this short essay. Just get the book and read the whole introduction. It rocks. Basically it is about the importance of reading old books as well as new books. This is a subject which was dear to C.S. Lewis’s heart and recurs throughout his educational and literary criticism essays and books. We should, Lewis suggests, read two old books for every one new one. It isn’t clear what Lewis defines as “old” but certainly it means something other than the best-seller list and current-year prize-winners. It may begin with the backlist of authors, but it certainly extends to authors who are dead, and have been dead for some time.

I’ve decided that I need to somehow define an “old” book so that I am trying to do a one old and one new book ratio in my reading for 2013. Note the word “try”. For a complete and better-thought-through set of 2013 Reading Resolutions, tune into this blog on the seventh day of Christmastide. Have you thought about your Reading Resolutions? Do tell.

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Happy Christmas Eve Eve

Today it is officially almost Christmas. You can say Merry Christmas and I won’t yell at you in my head that it is still Advent, not Christmas. Yesterday night was 1Fam Christmas. Today I hit the road to go to AFam Christmas. I will return for the 12 days of Christmas to report on things like what books I got for Christmas, and reading in 2012.

Merry Christmas!

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I work in retail, in a bookshop. This means that Christmas music plays continually in the store from the first week of December. Mercifully I’m only there 4 days a week; however, I sit under one of the sound system speakers. I notice when songs are played again and again. I notice that there are days when it seems like the radio station plays only their selections for the Worst Versions of Christmas Songs Ever. And by today, December 21, I am Not Interested in hearing any of their Christmas music any longer. At first we joked and made predictions for the song of the day. (Example: “Holly Jolly Christmas,” 4 times by 5 o’clock.) Now we just make snide remarks about the versions and singing ability of some soloists.

I have to tell you that my least favourite of all the Christmas songs ever is “Santa Baby” first recorded in 1953 or so. Ick. I quite like the carol “O Holy Night” but am afraid that there are some particularly terrible versions of this floating around out there, that feature aging sopranos missing their notes.

What about you? What Christmas song do you hate? What song do you like, but hate to hear massacred in the various recorded versions?


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Hurray for Used Bookstores!

Today I found that a used bookshop that I had not visited in some time was still open. This was good news as another on the same stretch of road had closed. I happily went into the still open shop, found the same helpful people inside, and space to browse the extensive collection of books. I came away with a mystery that one of the helpful people inside recommended (“if you don’t like it, bring it back, we’ll trade it for another”), another mystery in a series I discovered this year, two books from the Church of England series by Susan Howatch that I didn’t yet own and a Chaim Potok novel I haven’t read. I thought I’d read all of Potok, happy discovery that I’m wrong!

I like used bookshops. A lot. I visited one of my current favourites yesterday and had a happy conversation with the proprietor about the books of Haruki Murakami. I like nice people who work in used bookshops, who read lots of books, who like what they sell, and who understand the concept of browsing the shop.

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A time to speak and a time to be silent

For today, a list of links that may be thought-provoking.

1. Roger Ebert on violence in media.

2. A post on irony which suggests that many of us, not just hipsters, have forgotten how to take life seriously. How do we discern when to be ironic and when not to be ironic? (Also, some people who write songs don’t know what irony actually is.) I plan to think some more about this and possibly write a whole post about it.

3. And finally, in honour of AMom and her many gingerbread architectural wonders over the years, some literary gingerbread houses.

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