Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Reading Recap

999 Challenge:
Read 9 books in each of 9 categories during 2009

Done! (And I’m definitely done with this volume of reading!)

My list follows, including ratings. Click the link to read my review. Click the book’s image (most are included at the end of this post) to peruse it on Amazon. Brief comments about every book can be found on my Challenge thread at LibraryThing.

•Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman (****) (See review)
•Direct Red by Gabriel Weston (****) (See review)
•Homer's Odyssey by Gwen Cooper (****) (See review)
•Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (*****)
•Lucky Girl by Mei-Ling Hopgood (***) See review)
•Spiced by Dalia Jurgensen (***) (See review)
•Stitches by David Small (*****)
•The Lives Our Mothers Leave Us by Patti Davis (****) (See review)
•The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson (***) (See review)

•Child of My Heart by Alice McDermott (****)
•Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (****) (See review)
•Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (*****) (See review)
•Ravens by George Dawes Green (****) (See review)
•Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead (****)
•The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano (****) (See review)
•The Long Fall by Walter Mosley (***) (See review)
•The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister (*****) (See review)
•The Visibles by Sara Shepard (***) (See review)

Reading Globally
•84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (****)
•A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve (****) (See review)
•Coraline by Neil Gaiman (***)
•Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery (***) (See review)
•Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea (****) (See review)
•Off the Tourist Trail ed. by Dorling Kindersley (*****) (See review)
•Small Kingdoms by Anastasia Hobbet (****) (See review)
•The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan (****) (See review)
•The Spare Room by Helen Garner (*****) (See review)

Banned/Challenged/Taboo-Topic Books
•And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell (*****) (See review)
•Cut by Patricia McCormick (****)
•Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson (*****) (See review)
•Guys are Waffles, Girls are Spaghetti by Chad Eastham (***) (See review)
•My Little Red Book ed. by Rachel Kauder Nalebuff (****) (See review)
•The Blue Notebook by James Levine (****) (See review)
•The Call of the Wild by Jack London (****)
•The Color Purple by Alice Walker (****)
•The Last Bridge by Teri Coyne (****) (See review)

Laughing Out Loud
•Border Songs by Jim Lynch (*****) (See review)
•I Did It His Way by Johnny Hart (****) (See review)
•Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen (***) (See review)
•New Tricks by David Rosenfelt (***) (See review)
•Notes From the Underwire by Quinn Cummings (*****) (See review)
•On the Money: The Economy in Cartoons ed. by Robert Mankoff (*****) (See review)
•Really, You've Done Enough by Sarah Walker (***) (See review)
•The Family Man by Elinor Lipman (****) (See review)
•The McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes (*****) (See review)

Looooong Books
•A Fortunate Age by Joanna Smith Rakoff (***) (See review)
•American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (****)
•Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (*****) (See review)
•Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (*****)
•Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (***)
•Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (*****)
•Something Happened by Joseph Heller (****) (See review)
•The Help by Kathryn Stockett (*****) (See review)
•Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann (****)

Artist Dates
•ABC3D by Marion Bataille (****)
•Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten (*****)
•Bellevue Literary Review (Fall 2009) ed. by Danielle Ofri (****)
•Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (*****) (See review)
•Fodor's Italy 2009 (*****) (See review)
•Lonely Planet Bluelist 2008 (****) (See review)
•Martha Stewart's Cupcakes ed. by Martha Stewart Living (****)
•Momofuku by David Chang (*****) (See review)
•The Other Side by Istvan Banyai (***) (See review)

•Conquering Fear by Harold Kushner (****) (See review)
•Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (****) (See review)
•How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman (****)
•In Cheap We Trust by Lauren Weber (*****) (See review)
•Listening to Prozac by Peter D. Kramer (****)
•Methland by Nick Reding (****) (See review)
•Summer World by Bernd Heinrich (****) (See review)
•The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra (***)
•You Were Always Mom's Favorite! by Deborah Tannen (***) (See review)

Wild Card
•Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville (***) (See review)
•Bird in Hand by Christina Baker Kline (***) (See review)
•Change the World for Ten Bucks: Small Actions x Lots of People = Big Change (**) (See review)
•Freaky Monday by Mary Rodgers and Heather Hach (***) (See review)
•How Not to Look Old by Charla Krupp (***)
•Sink Reflections by Marla Cilley (****)
•The Miles Between by Mary Pearson (****) (See review)
•The Truth About Middle Managers by Paul Osterman (**) (See review)
•When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (****) (See review)

Notable Off-Challenge Reads
•Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals by Christopher Payne (*****) (See review)
•Drive by Daniel Pink (****) (See review)
•Love, Loss, and What I Wore by Ilene Beckerman (****)
•Thin Places by Mary DeMuth (****) (See review)

*My 2009 Top 10* (in alphabetical order)
Border Songs by Jim Lynch
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Stitches by David Small
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes ed. by McSweeney’s
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

Next Post: 2010 Reading Preview
Soon-ish Post: What I Learned While Reading in 2009

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Six-Word Resolutions

From the Leonard Lopate Show and Smith Magazine (the group behind the books of six-word memoirs) came a segment about six-word resolutions. Before I was even five minutes into the 35-minute podcast (audio here), and before I’d thought about my own resolutions, I heard one that stuck:

This year, I’m only saying yes. (quin browne)
It’s like in good improvisation, where the actors always say Yes to one another. Not a literal Yes of dialogue or action, but a creative Yes -- an agreement to openness, to be in the moment; that whatever is offered from one is accepted, responded to, built upon by the other. Yes moves improvisation forward; resistance kills it.

It reminds me of a quote on my refrigerator:

Accept what people offer. Drink their milkshakes. Take their love. (Wally Lamb)
Yes, thank you.

Yes, let’s veer off our practiced scripts and improvise life a little in 2010.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Recently, the final step in an online form required me to type the answer to this Captcha:

What is the first word in the phrase "gadux usu lihab cutagu ofuza"?
Feeling like I’d stumbled into an anagram from NPR’s Sunday Puzzle, I searched for an English word hidden amid the letters and spaces. When I was unsuccessful after a minute, I wondered if I was over-thinking the matter. Wasn’t a “word” simply one or more letters, grouped together?

I entered “gadux” and the website was happy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Minute a Day

I'd felt creatively flat and had recently returned to the wellspring -- Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way and its twin practices of Morning Pages and Artist Dates. So I was interested to see that Cameron has sliced her material in a new and accessible way in The Artist's Way Every Day, a collection of daily excerpts about the creative process. Might there be magic in her tiny inspirations, ingested every day?

I opened the book to that day's entry, November 14:

So often in a creative career, the magic that is required is quite simply the courage to go on. Singers must sing their scales. Actors must learn their monologues. Writers like myself must spend time at the keys. We would like a break in the weather. We would like a break, period, but the breaks, if they come, will not come today. Today is about keeping on.

I marked that page to make it easy to find later, and I’ve marked half a dozen more pages since then. Highly recommended to inspire -- and ground :) -- anyone in creative pursuit.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

O! Canada

Curiosities noted during a recent visit to British Columbia:

(Left) Ye olde Gastown neighborhood of Vancouver, where the lamps are powered by ... CFLs!

(Right) Sharps (needles) disposal box in the ladies' room of Victoria's luxurious Empress Hotel ... a sign that self-injected therapies have expanded 'way beyond occasional insulin.

(Left) Self-explanatory from a church in Nanaimo -- and a concept I could get behind.

(Right) Again from Nanaimo, and I think I know what they mean.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Brush With Celebrity (Accommodations)

My husband's childhood home in Iowa was full-up with family over Thanksgiving, plus a cat I'm allergic to, so we checked into the tiny town's motel. At the registration desk, I noticed a framed photo of the owner and her family with Barack Obama. I knew he'd campaigned here before the 2008 primary -- last year, I'd walked past the main-street storefront that housed a fitness center and someone had pointed to the treadmill he'd worked out on -- but the overnight accommodations hadn't occurred to me.

I asked about the photo and my question launched her spiel. He'd stayed there. Room 200. His advance team had called about accommoda- tions, and after answering a few questions she'd said, "I don’t think you know how small we are, what kind of place this is." They said, "Oh, we know." In the end, they'd taken 18 rooms. The next morning, she'd made his breakfast herself. She's good with omelettes but he'd wanted three eggs, over medium. It took seven eggs before she'd managed three over medium.

My husband and I exchanged glances. “Is Room 200 available?”