Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Books Read

Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb
Downtown: My Manhattan by Pete Hamill
North River by Pete Hamill
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
French Milk by Lucy Knisley
Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo
Two Guys Read Jane Austen by Steve Chandler and Terrence N. Hill
A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlene de Blasi
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Toibin
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
The Big House by George Howe Colt
Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield
The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever
The Shack by William Paul Young
Therese Raquin by Emile Zola
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
Austenland by Shannon Hale
Fire In The Blood by Irene Nemirovsky
A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen

*click on title for review

2009 Short Stories Reviewed

A Christmas Memory by Truman Caopte
Vanka by Anton Chekhov
The Ex-mas Feast by Uwem Akpan
I Dated Jane Austen by T.C. Boyle
Redundant by Dorothy K. Haynes
Ashputtle by Angela Carter
Roaring Tower by Stella Gibbons
The Station Road by Ann Bridge
The Villa Lucienne by Ella D'Arcy
The Old Nurse's Story by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Sisters by James Joyce
It's Beginning to Hurt by James Lasdun
Chicxulub by T.C. Boyle
Modern Love by T.C. Boyle
Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman
Rosa (from The Shawl) by Cynthia Ozick
The Dress by Louise Erdrich
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick
Everyday Use by Alice Walker
Double Birthday by Willa Cather
The Other Woman by Sherwood Anderson
The Lady's Maid's Bell by Edith Wharton
The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe
A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell
Quail Seed by Saki
I Stand Here Ironing by Tillie Olsen
The Unicorn in the Garden by James Thurber
The Swimmer by John Cheever
The Story of An Hour by Kate Chopin

*click on title for review

2009 Awards



One Lovely Blog Award
from:
Margaret @ Books Please







Literary Blogger Award
from:





Kreative Blogger Award
from:






Lemonade Award
from:








Honest Scrap Award
from:
Laurel-Rain Snow @ Obsessions & Compulsions
Heather @ Gofita's Pages








Super Comments Award
from:
Zetor @ MOG'S Blog









Over The Top Award
from:








Heartfelt Award
from:






Splash Award
from:





Your Blog Rocks Award
from:
Heather @ Gofita's Pages







Zombie Chicken Award
from:





Friends Award
from:
Heather @ Gofita's Pages




Friendly Blogger Award
from:








Your Blog is Fabulous Award
from:

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Things - 2009

My first year of blogging has also been a fantastic year for reading. Although my totals don't even approach what many bloggers are able to read, I have enjoyed this year's books more than ever. Some of that can be attributed to more thoughtful book selection on my part, but most of the credit goes to other book bloggers. This year, exactly half the books I read were a direct result of your recommendations. Thank you!

Top 5 Books of 2009:


















The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield - review here
Therese Raquin by Emile Zola - review here
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri - review here
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout - review here; my bookclub reaction here
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett - review here

Honorable Mention:

Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple - review here
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin - review here
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins - review here
That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo - review here
The Hour I First Believed - by Wally Lamb - review here
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto - review here
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim - review here
North River by Pete Hamill - review here

Favorite Graphic Novel/Memoir:

Ethel & Ernest
by Raymond Briggs
(review here)




Favorite Non-fiction:

Downtown: My Manhattan
by Pete Hamill
(review here)



Favorite Audiobook:

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett
(review here)





SHORT STORIES

2009 will be remembered as the year I rediscovered short stories. It's probably accurate to say that the last short story I read was in high school and, even then, I didn't particularly appreciate them. This year, I reviewed 35 short stories here and read quite a few more.

Overall Favorite Story
"The Dress" by Louise Erdrich
(review here)

Favorite Ghost Story
"The Old Nurse's Story" by Elizabeth Gaskell
(my review here; read the story here)

Favorite Holiday Story
"A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote
(my review here)

Most Powerful Story
"Chicxulub" by T.C. Boyle
(my review here; read the story here)

Funniest Story
"I Dated Jane Austen" by T.C. Boyle
(my review here; read the story here)

Honorable Mention
"The Swimmer" by John Cheever
"When Everyone Was Pregnant" by John Updike
"A Jury of Her Peers" by Susan Glaspell
"Double Birthday" by Willa Cather


AUTHORS

In 2009, I read 27 new-to-me authors. Most were recommended by bloggers; several I hadn't even heard of at this time last year. I'll definitely be reading more of these favorites.

Favorite Author Discoveries - 2009

Louise Erdrich
Emile Zola
Colm Toibin
Dorothy Canfield (Fisher)
Alan Bennett
Dorothy Whipple
Banana Yoshimoto
Pete Hamill

A Reflections and Resolutions post is coming later this week.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Some Bookish Statistics

The end-of-the year tallying has begun. I know it's a little obsessive, but this kind of thing helps me access the current year and set goals for the one ahead.

Total books read in 2009 - 43 (may get to 44)

the breakdown:
fiction - 35
nonfiction - 8 (lower than normal)

audiobooks - 12
classics - 9 (thought this would be higher)
contemporary - 32
graphic novels - 3
in translation - 4
plays - 1
YA - 1
short stories - ??, but reviewed 35

authors
male authors - 24
female authors - 19
new-to-me authors - 27

sources
new purchases - 20 (afraid to tally unread purchases)
library books - 14
from my stacks - 5 (this number really needs to be higher next year)
gifts - 4

blogger recommendations - 22

Stay tuned. Reflections, Resolutions, and Favorites List coming later this week...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

TSS: Thank You, Santa!


Here we are... the final Sunday Salon of 2009!

Christmas was wonderful, but this weekend is all about relaxation. We hosted Christmas Eve dinner for my family (a much-modified version of the traditional Italian Seven Fish Feast), went to Midnight Mass (which now takes place at 10 PM!), then came home for a champagne toast and 'Santa business'.

Gone are the days of the 5 AM present frenzy! I was the first one up Christmas morning, and enjoyed a quiet cup of coffee while waiting for the girls. When two of the three are up, the third one is awakened (along with my husband) for stockings.

Next comes our relatively new Christmas Breakfast tradition. This year we enjoyed Nan's Baked French Toast. You can find her recipe here. I used a combination of strawberries and blueberries - it was delicious!!

Finally, it was time for presents. Everyone was delighted with their gifts. The biggest round of applause and laughter came when Daughter #1 opened her Jane Austen Action Figure! There were lots of books under the tree this year.
Here is my stack:
From the top:
What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller - a recent addition to my wish list, thanks to Claire
The Women by T.C. Boyle (signed!) - Boyle, one of last year's 'discoveries', is fast becoming a favorite. This is his most recent novel.
The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich (signed first edition!) - Erdrich is one of my 'discoveries' this year. My daughter found this signed copy at her college bookstore.
A Year in Japan by Kate T. Williamson - both Eva and Staci loved this, and Santa must have heard me complaining about our library system not having a copy
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel - I guess Santa got tired of hearing me whine about the non-renewable library copy due back January 2nd!

Later, it was off to my sister's for more gifts and Christmas Dinner.

A beautiful stack of new books, but you'll never guess what I chose to curl up on the couch with yesterday afternoon.... Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf!

I was feeling very relaxed and stress-free, and figured that was the perfect frame of mind to attempt Virginia Woolf. I just fluffed the pillows, threw the afghan on my feet, and let the words kind of flow over me... and do you know what? It's working!!

There are at least a couple of failed attempts at Virginia Woolf in my past, but I think this time will be different. And just in time for Woolf in Winter, too!
Did you receive books for the holidays? What are you reading this week?

I'll be posting a year-end wrap up, my list of favorites, and a few resolutions later this week. But now, I must return to Mrs. Dalloway...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays - Wolf Hall

"He knows by the way people look at him that his face is still bruised. Morgan Williams had done an inventory of him before he left: teeth (miraculously) still in his head, and two eyes, miraculously seeing. Two arms, two legs: what more do you want?"

by Hilary Mantel
page 11

There's been very little progress on this non-renewable library book. Is anybody getting much reading done in the pre-holiday frenzy? I'm hoping Santa will bring me a copy of my very own!

For more teasers, visit MizB at Should Be Reading.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Computer issues and the holidays are not a good combination!
Hope to get things resolved and return to blogging shortly...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Library Loot - Bad Timing?


After being at the top of the library hold list for the last two months, it finally arrived!

Over the weekend, I picked up Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and, so far, have managed to read only one chapter. Don't get me wrong. It was a great chapter and I'm looking forward to reading more, but...

Could there be a worse time to pick up this dense, 532 page historical novel? There won't be much reading time until after Christmas, and Wolf Hall is due January 2. Will this turn out to be a "test read"? Will I get hooked, decide to keep it and pay the late fees? Will Santa bring me another book that I'll "need" to start immediately? Stay tuned...

Library loot is a weekly meme co-hosted by Eva and Marg.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote

After a couple of decidedly untraditional stories, Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory", set in the depression-era rural south, had me sighing with relief at the end of the first paragraph.

"Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar."

This house is home to several members of a family, including an old woman and a young boy (our narrator) she calls Buddy. The two friends obviously have a very special bond.

"It's always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: 'It's fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat.' "

The boy's memories of the season follow. On the first day of "fruitcake weather", the two gather 'windfall pecans'. The second day finds them buying the rest of the necessary ingredients, with money that has been carefully saved all year. On the third day, the baking commences.

The fruitcakes (as many as 31) are given to people that matter to the old woman and boy. Some are people the two barely know - like the bus driver that waves as he passes by every other day. One is even sent to President Roosevelt at the White House, and the old woman imagines him enjoying it on Christmas morning.

The boy shares the adventure of cutting down the Christmas tree:
" 'It should be, muses my friend, 'twice as tall as a boy. So a boy can't steal the star.' The one we pick is twice as tall as me. A brave handsome brute that survives thirty hatchet strokes before it keels with a creaking rending cry. Lugging it like a kill, we commence the long trek out. Every few yards we abandon the struggle, sit down and pant. But we have the strength of triumphant huntsmen; that and the tree's virile, icy perfume revive us, goad us on."

The making and giving of homespun gifts is also described. The entire story is beautifully written and a joy to read.

Truman Capote wrote this autobiographical story in 1956. It was first published in Madamoiselle and, later, as a book. It was also made into a movie in 1997 starring Patty Duke and Piper Laurie.

An internet search turned up this You Tube video that has Capote reading the story himself. Enjoy!


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Weekend Cooking: Secret Ingredients

Saturday means Weekend Cooking - a weekly event hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Last week, I made Snickerdoodles before we traveled to a basketball tournament at Williams College (Daughter #1 and the girls loved them!). This week, I thought I'd share my book purchase.

Before Saturday's game, we had time to explore the lovely shops and cafes in Williamstown. My favorite was Water Street Books, which turned out to be the Williams College bookstore. There was quite a bit of activity that morning (kids making Christmas ornaments, books being gift-wrapped, hot chocolate and cookies offered) which, combined with the cozy atmosphere, made me wish I had hours for browsing.

My sole purchase (amazing will-power was exercised, believe me!) was Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink. This has been around for a while, but a paperback edition was recently introduced. Since I love cooking, eating, and The New Yorker, this collection looks like a sure winner!

The essays are grouped in sections including: Dining Out, Eating In, Fishing and Foraging, The Pour, Fiction, and more. Cartoons are also liberally sprinkled throughout the collection.

I sampled "Don't Eat Before Reading This" by Anthony Bourdain, originally published in 1999. It includes such pearls of wisdom as:

"In New York, locals dine during the week. Weekends are considered amateur nights - for tourists, rubes, and the well-done-ordering pre-theater crowds. The fish may be just as fresh on Friday, but it's on Tuesday that you've got the goodwill of the kitchen on your side."

"Most chefs believe that supermarket chickens in this country are slimy and tasteless compared with European varieties. Pork, on the other hand, is cool... Pork tastes different, depending on what you do with it, but chicken always tastes like chicken."

Most of this essay, and much more, was included in Bourdain's book Kitchen Confidential. The audio version is read by the author and very well done. It offers a whole new perspective on dining out!

I hope to occasionally share other essays from this collection in future Weekend Cooking posts.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton

The Quiche of Death
by M.C. Beaton
St. Martin's Press
originally published 1992
272 pages


'Tis the season... for a cozy mystery and, thanks to Book Psmith, I have discovered Agatha Raisin. Have you met her? At 53, Agatha has retired early from her public relations firm in London to move to the small village of Carsely.

"She had come a long way from her working-class background in Birmingham. She had survived an unfortunate marriage and had come out of it, divorced and battered in spirit, but determined to succeed in life. All her business efforts were to one end, the realization of a dream - a cottage in the Cotswolds." (page 1)

To Agatha, the Cotswolds "represented everything she wanted in life: beauty, tranquility and security... Even as a child, she had become determined that one day she would live in one of those pretty cottages in a quiet peaceful village, far from the noise and smells of the city."

By the end of the first page, I already like Agatha, I love the setting and, although cozy mysteries are a departure from my usual reading fare, I'm ready to settle in for some fun.

Agatha finds herself slightly bored and lonely despite the idyllic setting. In an effort to meet people and make friends, she enters a local baking contest. The small problem of not being a baker is solved by purchasing a quiche from a London bakery. The quiche doesn't win, and things begin to get complicated when the judge dies after eating a second slice. Of course, Agatha lends the local police agency an unsolicited hand in solving the mystery - risking her own life along the way.

The Quiche of Death has me thinking of adding the occasional cozy mystery to my literary diet . The village characters are delightful and, with twenty titles in the series, there will be plenty of further escapades for this "lovelorn middle-aged detective".

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"A Chaparral Christmas Gift" by O. Henry

Week two of Christmas Stories and it's pretty obvious these stories were not compiled by Hallmark. "A Chaparral Christmas Gift" by O. Henry, written in 1910, is set in southwest ranching country. It opens:

"The original cause of the trouble was about twenty years in growing... Had you lived anywhere within fifty miles of Sundown Ranch you would have heard of it. It possessed a quantity of jet-black hair, a pair of extremely frank, deep-brown eyes and a laugh that rippled cross the prairie like the sound of a hidden brook. The name was Rosita McMullen..."

Though Rosita has many admirers, two stand out from the crowd. Madison Lane, a young cattleman, wins Rosita's hand and the two are married on Christmas Day. The spurned lover, Johnny McRoy, takes rejection hard, crashes the wedding, and shoots off his gun while yelling "I'll give you a Christmas present!".

"It was considered an improper act to shoot the bride and groom at the wedding" and the guests defend the couple. The shooter is deterred, but makes his intention known to "shoot better next time".

That night Johnny is reborn as the Frio Kid. The notorious 'bad man' is eventually responsible for eighteen deaths. Rosita fears for their lives, especially at Christmastime.

"Many tales are told along the border of his impudent courage and daring. But he was not one of the breed of desperadoes who have seasons of generosity and even of softness. They say he never had mercy on the object of his anger. Yet at this and every Christmastide it is well to give each one credit, if it can be done, for whatever speck of good he may have possessed. If the Frio Kid ever did a kindly act or felt a throb of generosity in his heart it was once at such a time and season, and this is the way it happened."

The Frio Kid does, indeed, have a Christmas gift for Rosita. It has been said that O. Henry is the master of surprise endings. He lives up to his reputation here, and I'm not going to spoil the story. You can read it for yourself here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays - Wishin' and Hopin'

"The year I was a fifth-grade student at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial, our teacher, Sister Dymphna, had a nervous breakdown in front of the class. To this day, I can hear Sister's screams and see her flailing attempts to shoo away the circling Prince of Darkness."

by Wally Lamb
(opening sentences)

If you like that teaser, let me give you a few more sentences from the opening paragraph. It sets up the book so well.

"I am, today, what most people would consider a responsible citizen. I have an advanced degree in Film Studies, a tenured professorship, and an eco-friendly Prius. I vote, volunteer at the soup kitchen, compost, floss... That said, my conscience and I have unfinished business. What follows is both my confession and act of contrition. Forgive me, reader, for I have sinned. It was I, who on that long-ago day triggered Sister's meltdown. For this and all the sins of my past life, I am heartily sorry."

Now if you're still interested, I urge you to pick up this funny holiday story set in the 1960's. It's very quick reading (I read half of the 271 pages last night) , and reminds me of A Christmas Story (you know... Ralphie and the Red Ryder BB gun). This book has 'movie' written all over it. I'll finish it tonight - the Christmas cards will just have to wait!

For more teasers, visit MizB at Should Be Reading.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Weekend Cooking: Snickerdoodles

Saturday has come to mean Weekend Cooking, the new feature hosted at Beth Fish Reads. Stop by, see what's cooking, and leave your link to any type of food-related post.

I've been baking this week, but not Christmas cookies just yet. We're traveling to Massachusetts this weekend for Daughter #1's basketball tournament, and she has requested "Snickerdoodles".

This is the recipe my mother used when I was growing up. It's hard to believe that I've been making them with my girls since they needed a step-stool to reach the kitchen counter! The recipe is very kid-friendly. What child doesn't enjoy rolling the dough into little balls and rolling the balls in cinnamon sugar?

Snickerdoodles

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 3/4 cup flour
2 teaspoon cream of tarter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix flour, cream of tarter, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Mix 2 T sugar and 2 tsp cinnamon in small bowl. Set aside

In an electric mixer, combine butter, shortening, sugar , and eggs. Beat until smooth and fluffy.

Gradually add in flour mixture. Shape dough by rounded teaspoonfuls into balls. Roll balls in cinnamon/sugar mixture.

Place 2" apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 - 10 minutes or until set. Immediately remove from cookie sheet.
Enjoy!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Library Loot - December 4

Library loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva (A Striped Armchair) and Marg (Reading Adventures) that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. It's been a couple months since I have participated, but I'm excited about this week's loot.

Wishin' and Hopin'
by Wally Lamb
I don't remember where I first heard about this, but my name went on the list (along with many other library patrons) the day it was released. Two days ago, I was third in line. Yesterday, Wishin' and Hopin' was waiting for me! Wally Lamb is a great storyteller and I've enjoyed all his books, so can't wait to get started on this one. We're traveling to Massachusetts later today for Daughter #1's basketball tournament. Now I've got some holiday reading to bring along.


by Melvyn Bragg

Jill at Fizzy Thoughts reviewed this last week and I put a hold on it right away. Now I just hope that with all the holiday hoopla, there will be time to read it!

I've also been at the top of the Wolf Hall hold list for several weeks now. (What's taking so long, anyway?) As it gets deeper into December, my reading time is sure to dwindle, and I'm worried that this will arrive at the worst possible time. Did you find anything interesting at the library this week?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

by Banana Yoshimoto, 1988
translated from the Japanese by Megan Backus
Grove Press, 1993

"The place I like best in this world is the kitchen. No matter where it is, no matter what kind, if it's a kitchen, if it's a place where they make food, it's fine with me. Ideally it should be well broken in. Lots of tea towels, dry and immaculate. White tile catching the light (ting! ting!)."

So opens this slim novella, and I already love it. By page 20, I'm a fan of the author and wondering if she has written anything else. Something about this crystal clear, simple prose appeals to me. The writing is crisp and elegant, but tinged with sadness.

But what is Kitchen about? A young woman, Mikage, moves in with her friend Yuichi and his mother Eriko (who used to be his father), after the death of the grandmother who raised her. The book deals with themes of love and loss, loneliness, transsexuality, coping and moving forward.

At just over 100 pages, it would be easy to speed through this novella, but there are too many sentences, beautiful and profound, that make you want to stop, reread, and think. Here are a few of my favorites:

"When was it I realized that, on this dark and solitary path we all walk, the only way we can light is our own? Although I was raised with love, I was always lonely." (page 21)

"To the extent that I had come to understand that despair does not necessarily result in annihilation, that one can go on in spite if it, I had become hardened. Was that what it means to be an adult, to live with ugly ambiguities? I didn't like it, but it made it easier to go on." (page 56)

"People aren't overcome by situations or outside forces; defeat invades from within, I thought." (page 92)

"Truly happy memories always live on, shining. Over time, one by one, they come back to life." (page 100)

"Moonlight Shadow", Yoshimoto's first short story that won the Nihon University Department of Arts Prize in 1986, is also included in the book. It deals with similar themes and is equally beautiful.

The cover of Kitchen is striking, but I haven't seen photos of the back posted. It's too good to miss, so I've included it here. Many of you also know that I like to coordinate books with bookmarks. This is the bookmark I won from our Japanese Literature Challenge hostess Bellezza, and it definitely enhanced my reading experience.
Banana Yoshimoto is one of my favorite author discoveries this year, and I look forward to reading her other books and essays. I'm grateful for all the blogger reviews I've read, particularly those from Nymeth, Eva, and Tony, but it was Mel's review that finally prompted me to pick up Kitchen. Now I must decide which 'Banana' to read next.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas Stories for December

The Virago Book of Ghost Stories made October Short Story Mondays such fun, I decided to read from a holiday collection for December, too.

Perhaps I started checking the local stores too early, but neither B&N nor Borders had a collection in stock. Amazon was the next option, but the number of choices there was overwhelming. What could I do but turn to other bloggers for suggestions? A conversation on twitter and comments on my blog lead me to purchase Christmas Stories from Everyman's Pocket Classics, a book I first heard about around this time last year from Darlene.

This list of authors included reads like a literary Who's Who, and I couldn't wait to get started! Since December 1 happened to fall on a Tuesday, Short Story Monday is a day late this week.

"Vanka" by Anton Chekhov, originally appearing in The Cook's Wedding and Other Stories (1922), was the first story I chose. In it, a young orphaned boy, working as an apprenticed shoemaker for a cruel master, is writing a letter on Christmas Eve to his grandfather. The letter is a plea to be removed from the horrible situation and allowed come 'home' to the family that employs his grandfather as a night watchman.

Chekhov's description of Christmas Eve night is beautiful:

"The air is still, fresh, and transparent. The night is dark, but one can see the whole village with its white roofs and coils of smoke coming from the chimneys, the trees are silvered with hoar frost, the snowdrifts. The whole sky spangled with gay twinkling stars, and the Milky Way is as distinct as though it had been washed and rubbed with snow for a holiday..."

The letter, though, is simply sad. It reads:

"Dear grandfather, it is more than I can bear, it's simply no life at all. I want to run away to the village, but I have no boots, and I am afraid of the frost. When I grow up big I will take care of you for this, and not let anyone annoy you, and when you die I will pray for the rest of your soul, just as for my mammy's."

The boy addresses the letter "To grandfather in the village" but later adds a name to the envelope, and naively drops it in the box before returning home to dream sweet, hopeful dreams.

The story left me with an empty, somewhat bittersweet feeling... not at all what I was expecting from Christmas stories! You can read the story here. Visit The Book Mine Set for more short story posts.



Sunday, November 29, 2009

TSS: Holiday Weekend Wrap-Up and A Look Ahead

Good morning! It's been long, happy, holiday weekend, but feels like I've been away from this blog for weeks. Let's get caught up...

The holiday:

First, Thanksgiving was perfect! Daughter #1 was home from college, my brother and his family were visiting from Pennsylvania, and my parents and second brother came for the day. The table was set for a relatively small crowd of 13 (all three sisters spent the day with in-laws). We enjoyed the traditional Thanksgiving meal, and the company was superb!

In anticipation of Black Friday shopping, my oldest daughter had 5 friends spend the night. They were out the door by 4AM, but Daughter #1 was back home and in bed by 9! I avoid the mall at all cost on this day. We also hosted the 'leftover feast' on Friday...same crowd as Thanksgiving, plus my three sisters and their families. The teen girls slipped out to the movie to see New Moon that evening, some for the second time!

Yesterday was the annual Family Christmas Party. Always held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, it gives us a chance to spend time with my aunt, cousins, and their families before the holiday frenzy really takes hold. The highlight is definitely the Yankee Auction gift exchange!

Today, I will brave the mall crowds and begin Christmas shopping with Daughter #1. Since her Monday morning class was cancelled, she'll stay home an extra night, avoid the holiday traffic, and return to campus tomorrow.

Reading:

Despite all the activities, time was carved out for reading. Before the leftovers on Friday, I finished North River by Pete Hamill. For some reason, I was anticipating not liking this, but was very pleasantly surprised. Hamill is also the author (and reader) of my current audiobook , Downtown: My Manhattan. A personal history, woven together with a history of the city, it is quite enjoyable in this format. Both books are in preparation for his talk at the Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series in early December.

I finished Great Expectations by Charles Dickens on audio. Initially this was a combination read at home, listen in the car book, but the reader was excellent and the audio version "won". Classics aren't my usual audio fare, but I'm wondering if I should start adding them to the mix. Do you ever listen to classics?

Bookish Plans:

I must get caught up on reviews! Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto was fabulous, as was The Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton (in totally different ways, of course), but I haven't managed to get anything written. North River can also be added to this list.

Short Story Mondays will take on a holiday theme for the coming month with Everyman's Pocket Classics Christmas Stories. If I get a chance to read one later today, this may even begin tomorrow!

What to read next? I'm not quite sure. A Drinking Life: A Memoir by Pete Hamill, came from the library. I seem to get more from the lectures when I've read more by the author, so this is a possibility. There are also several novels and classics I'm ready to pick up, but another Agatha Raisin cozy mystery would also fit my current mood. What's a girl to do...

Enjoy your Sunday, and I'll be by to visit this evening.

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