2011 Reading Review(s)

*Trumpet solo intro*
Ladies & gentlemen, boys & girls, creepers & kitty cats,
it’s that time of year again…

Tweet-size book reviews 2011!!

In 2011, I polished off one more book than I did last year, for a grand total of 18. (Last year also included 5 repeats. This year: 3.) The final 10 weeks of the year proved more productive than the first 10 months, too. Thanks to summertime—in which I spent more time swimming and socializing and watching all 4 seasons of Mad Men in a matter of days…summer things—I didn’t finish a single book for a few months.
So unusual, 2011.

I’ve enjoyed making this little trip down reading-memory-lane for two years now
(2009, 2010), so here we go again:

1) The Brain in Love — Dr. Daniel Amen
What we think about when we think about love…Dr. Amen knows what’s up. Boy meets girl meets brain chemicals. “Sex & the Synapse”?

2) The Year of Magical Thinking — Joan Didion
Beautifully sad 2nd reading. “When we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer.”

3) Blankets — Craig Thompson
Momma’s first graphic novel. Nostalgic, lovely story illustrated in black & white. Borrowed from a friend who loves it — even better.

4) The Kind Diet — Alicia Silverstone
Cookbook / lifestyle guide by the girl from Clueless. “Flirting” with clean eating = easier than quitting turkey cold-turkey. (Whatever.)

5) Bossypants — Tina Fey
Pre-ordered? Yes. Devoured? You bet. LOL at the back jacket alone? Absolutely. Delusional fantasies of being just like her? Even worse now.

6) The War of Art — Steven Pressfield
Grand little creativity guide. Short, meditative chapters. “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us.”

7) The Artist’s Way — Julia Cameron
The Paper Mill got all philosophical w/ this 12-week course in soul-searchery. Thanks, HBlair, for being my partner in crime & creativity.

8) Letter to a Christian Nation — Sam Harris
“It is terrible that we all die & lose everything we love; it is doubly terrible that so many human beings suffer needlessly while alive.”

9) The Moviegoer — Walker Percy
A friend described as Catcher in the Rye for twentysomethings. Loved it more now than as an undergrad. Like Casablanca. Some art takes time.

10) Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close — Jonathan Safran Foer
JSF changes my life once again! (Reading Eating Animals helped me decide to not do that anymore.) Final 50 pages or so, perfection.

11) Winnie The Pooh — A. A. Milne
Precious! Somehow never read it as a kid. So clever and sweet. Hope to bring forth more Tigger qualities than Eeyore ones from now on.

12) How I Became A Famous Novelist — Steve Hely
I love @HelyTimes so much. Writes for The Office. Writes hilarious novel, had me laughing out loud on an airplane. Thurber Prize 2010.

13) Sleepwalk With Me — Mike Birbiglia (Tinkles)
Funny, well-written memoir of standup (& sleepwalking). Shows us his secrets & leaves us laughing. Not easy to do. Love / hate him for it.

14) Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? — Mindy Kaling
The year of baller memoirs by funny ladies, ladies! This book is absolutely what I hoped it would be. Witty, charming, a little dorky…love.

15) The Alchemist — Paulo Coelho
I’d always heard rave reviews. A delightful allegory — like a Disney movie without the musically talented anthropomorphic characters.

16) Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So – Mark Vonnegut
Kurt V’s son, son! He’s a doctor who’s also schizophrenic. The second half > the first. (so, I’m saying, read it…and stick with it.)

17) Holidays on Ice — David Sedaris
Book club was bothered by this irreverent read, a popular item at Urban Outfitters book stacks everywhere. I love D.S., still.

18) STUFF: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things
– Randy O. Frost & Gail Steketee

Authors pioneered research on the disorder disorder (before it was cool — or a reality TV show). Is reality for a lot of people. Fascinating.

:: The End ::

In 2012, I plan to read 29 books for my 29th year. This resolution will demand a purposeful increase in reading productivity…but I feel like I can do it. I read 27 in 2009, after all. Yowza.


C is for Catharsis

Munro is my homegirl.

Tonight at Book Club, we talked about the short stories of Alice Munro. Heather picked two stories for all of us to read–“Walker Brothers Cowboy” & “Postcard”–then asked us to add a third. Mine was “Material.” (In case any of you are dying to run out and read some excellent short stories as homework, now you know where to start.)

I haven’t really read short stories since college fiction classes, and I was surprised how much I loved them all and felt immersed in the little world of each story’s characters. I was also sad to have each one end so soon, knowing I could never know the rest of the story… Not surprisingly, I identified quite a lot with one strong theme in the three stories I read: how women reconcile themselves to past relationships that are never quite resolved.

Aha. There it is again. The R-word (and we’re only on C!)…in which I found so much inspiration during last February’s blogging binge. I certainly don’t intend to have relationships dominate this round of writing, but the more my friends keep getting married or having babies or becoming Facebook official (you know, whatever), I can’t help but think about love, and I wonder, as Alice Munro seems to, why it so easily goes wrong.

Munro’s sad stories led me to today’s word:

C is for Catharsis

On “A” day, I said that one of my favorite emotions is the feeling of surprise discovery. I also really enjoy the feeling of surprise tears, and I should clarify the difference between this and sadness. I don’t enjoy being sad, but I do enjoy the rush of surprise emotion that might accompany a sad song, movie or book (or, you know, real life situation…). Or of course it’s also good when I’m so overjoyed that I unexpectedly well up. So happy tears or sad tears, it’s the unexpected part that makes them particularly enjoyable for me. (Say, the way it feels to watch the last shot in Magnolia, or to read Oskar’s Stephen Hawking letter in Extremely Loud, or to hear Sarah Siskind sing on NPR for the first time. More to come on her, btw.)

Wikipedia tells me this about catharsis:

Catharsis or katharsis (Ancient Greek: κάθαρσις) is a Greek word meaning “cleansing” or “purging.” It is derived from the verb καθαίρειν, kathairein, “to purify, purge,” and it is related to the adjective καθαρός, katharos, “pure or clean.”

Aha, and there’s the difference between cathartic tears and regular-old-sad tears: the cleanness you feel afterwards.

Unfelt feelings build up, like residue. Like your heart is the “before” shot in a Windex commercial, and it just gets worse the more you leave it alone, but catharsis brings you toward the “after” shot, when the modestly attractive lady is smiling proudly at her squeaky clean window.

And just like you have to clean your windows more than once in a lifetime, I think you have to purge bad feelings more than once sometimes, too. I envy, but don’t entirely understand, people who break up and move on forever, never looking back. I haven’t found emotional Windex strong enough for that yet. So I turn to my catharsis toolbox. Music, movies, books that help me feel my way to clean. Today I added Alice Munro, and I reached back for an old cathartic friend, “Lovin’s for Fools” by Sarah Siskind.

Here’s a new version where she sings with Bon Iver. It’s so beautiful it hurts a little, but it also leaves my heart feeling a little bit more “after” than before:

Now it’s on.

Lately I’ve found myself thinking, “aw man, if I had an iPhone, I’d get a picture of that!” whenever I’m in the presence of something pretty, weird, or pretty weird—forgetting that I have pre-camera technology attached to my face, and I have free sharing software in my brain.

Somehow I think I’ve let myself forget one of my favorite things about me: my compulsion to randomly jot down the minutiae of the daily.  (Hold up: I just found a way to use “me,” “myself” and “I” in one sentence. And that makes me glad.) Bummed that I can’t snap an instant photo of something, I forget that I can describe it almost as instantly, and share it just as effectively, with words.

Reading The Moviegoer for the second time, I find I appreciate Binx Bolling’s meanderings and musings much more than I did as a college student. I had no patience for his descriptions then. I wanted the Instagram. But now I find myself longing to meander. Longing to have something in mind that’s worth musing about.

Thinking about this post, I heard the “click…click…” from the start of Grandaddy’s song “Now It’s On” in my head as I imagined clicking photos. So I looked up the video, and realizing I’ve never seen it, I took a minute to watch the whole thing. (What an extravagant internet choice, watching an entire video, start to finish.) I’ve loved this song for almost a decade, and now I love the video, too. (If you have an affinity for twinkle lights, stuffed animals or anachronistic dudes in giant hamster wheels, I have a feeling that so will you.)