Monday, December 31, 2012

A Poem for New Year's Eve

New Year Resolve
by May Sarton

The time has come
To stop allowing the clutter
To clutter my mind
Like dirty snow,
Shove it off and find
Clear time, clear water.

Time for a change,
Let silence in like a cat
Who has sat at my door
Neither wild nor strange
Hoping for food from my store
And shivering on the mat.

Let silence in.
She will rarely speak or mew,
She will sleep on my bed
And all I have ever been
Either false or true
Will live again in my head.

For it is now or not
As old age silts the stream,
To shove away the clutter,
To untie every knot,
To take the time to dream,
To come back to still water.

"New Year Resolve" by May Sarton, from Collected Poems 1930-1993.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Clarissa Group Read: The End

It all began with a simple twitter conversation. Sometime last December, Terri tweeted that she was going to read Clarissa. I responded with encouragement and interest. One thing lead to another. Soon we were a group of two dozen readers with a plan to read the 537 letters (roughly 1500 pages) on their corresponding dates  between January 10 and December 18.

Terri and I never expected such an enthusiastic response to our project. I also never dreamed Samuel Richardson could be so long-winded!  Early comments from the group focused on adjusting to the 18th century language, women's lives in the 1700's, and Richardson's obvious need of an editor, but soon we were all involved in Clarissa's plight. And then...

Nothing... happened... for weeks.

Most of us fell behind in our reading. Some abandoned it altogether. I got as far as the May letters (around page 600), but a small group persevered to the end.

Please join us in congratulating:

Cat - Tell Me A Story
Christina - The Literary Bunny- (final post)
Lindsey - Sparks' Notes
Helen - She Reads Novels
Charlotte - Charlotte Reads Classics (final post)

Let me know if I've missed anyone. Also, if you include a link to your final post in the comments, I will add it here. 

Failing to complete my own project is an embarrassment, but I'm happy for the new friends and wonderful blogs I discovered in the process.  I will return to Clarissa eventually, but with a different approach - it will get my undivided attention. Reading Clarissa was always enjoyable, yet always a struggle to pick up after even short break.

So what's next? If you're up for another year-long group read, Amy and Iris are tackling War and Peace. I need a little break.

Terri and I thank you all for reading along with us this year.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Pin It and Do It Wrap-up

Trish's  Holiday Pin It and Do It Challenge officially ends on Monday, so I'll wrap things up by sharing a few Christmas week pins.  After my somewhat disappointing attempts at fall decor, I decided to return to recipes. All photos are from Pinterest... I was too busy cooking.

Sweet Potato Cauliflower Soup
We love soup, and I wanted to have a couple varieties on hand when the girls came home. Twin A's request for sweet potato soup lead to one of my first pins (pinned 34 weeks ago via Care onto my Soup & Stew board), but the soup actually tasted more like cauliflower than sweet potatoes. The garam masala, purchased especially for this recipe, added depth to the flavor. Only one of the girls liked it as much as I did and my husband didn't even try it. I'm not sure whether I'll make it again.

Brie and Raspberry Phyllo Cups
A member of my book club always brings these tasty treats to our summer pot luck dinner. I wanted to serve them as an appetizer on Christmas Eve, but wasn't sure of the baking time or temperature. I went searching for a recipe and pinned it - simple, elegant, and delicious.

Green Beans Almondine
Also prepared for Christmas Eve dinner, but I've never used an actual recipe. The shallots were a flavorful addition. I will definitely use this pinned recipe again.

Gingerbread Pancakes
As soon as I repinned this recipe from Amanda, I knew it would be served for Christmas breakfast. We substituted plain Greek yogurt for sour cream. Topped with sauteed pears, this recipe is definitely a keeper!

Broccoli Cauliflower Casserole
I needed a vegetable casserole for Christmas dinner and decided to try something new. This pin from McCormick was a big hit.

These five recipes, combined with my fall pins, land me in the 'Pin Obsessed' category - very fitting! Thanks again for hosting, Trish.

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has a food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up over the weekend.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Twenty Questions: A Year-End Book Survey

1. What is the best book you read in 2012?
I listed my ten favorites in yesterday's post.

2. Most disappointing book?
Ragtime  by E.L. Doctorow

3. Most surprising (in a good way) book of 2012?
This is How You Lose Her  by Junot Diaz (audio)

4. Book(s) you recommended most in 2012?
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake  by Anna Quindlen
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry  by Rachel Joyce

5. Best series you discovered in 2012?
I avoided series this year.

6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?
Amor Towles
Elizabeth Gaskell
See my full list of ten here.

7. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?
The Homecoming of Samuel Lake  by Jenny Wingfield

8. Book you most anticipated in 2012?
The Uninvited Guests  by Sadie Jones

9. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012?

10. Most memorable character in 2012?
Swan Lake, The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

11. Most beautifully written book read in 2012?
Rules of Civility  by Amor Towles

12. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012?
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen

13. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read?
North and South  by Elizabeth Gaskell

14. Favorite passage/quote from a book read in 2012?

"In out twenties, when there is still so much time ahead of us, time that seems ample for a hundred indecisions, for a hundred visions and revisions - we draw a card, and we must decide right then and there whether to keep that card and discard the next, or discard the first and keep the second. And before we know it, the deck has been played out and the decisions we have just made will shape our lives for decades to come."
― Amor Towles, Rules of Civility

“The thing about old friends is not that they love you, but that they know you. They remember that disastrous New Year's Eve when you mixed White Russians and champagne, and how you wore that red maternity dress until everyone was sick of seeing the blaze of it in the office, and the uncomfortable couch in your first apartment and the smoky stove in your beach rental. They look at you and don't really think you look older because they've grown old along with you, and, like the faded paint in a beloved room, they're used to the look. And then one of them is gone, and you've lost a chunk of yourself. The stories of the terrorist attacks of 2001, the tsunami, the Japanese earthquake always used numbers, the deaths of thousands a measure of how great the disaster. Catastrophe is numerical. Loss is singular, one beloved at a time.”
― Anna Quindlen, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake

15. Book read in 2012 that you would be most likely to reread in 2013?
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake  by Anna Quindlen

16. Best classic(s) read in 2012?
North and South  by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall  by Anne Bronte

17. Best translated work you read in 2012?
The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

18. Any titles abandoned in 2012 you might read in 2013?
NW  by Zadie Smith on audio - I may try it in print

19. Any challenges completed in 2012?
2012 was a challenge-free year.

20. Any read-alongs completed in 2012?
No, I failed miserably with my own year-long group read of Clarissa by Samuel Richardson.

Survey adapted from The Perpetual Page-Turner. Let me know if you decide to play along.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Favorite Books of 2012

It's that time again...  I love all the yearly wrap-up posts and "best of" lists bloggers are so fond of compiling. It's fun to see which books stood out or left a lasting impression, and which ones missed the mark.

My favorites this year include both fiction and non-fiction, new releases and classics, a work in translation, and a collection of short stories. Here are my favorite books of 2012, listed in the order I read them:

by Siobhan Fallon 
narrated by Cassandra Campbell

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake  (a read/listen combo)
by Jenny Wingfield
narrated by Catherine Taber

by Junichiro Tanizaki

by Anna Quindlen

by Amor Towles

North and South (read/listen combo)
by Elizabeth Gaskell 
narrated by Juliet Stevenson

by Ernest Hemingway
(Is it really the same book I read in high school?)

by Rachel Joyce

by Anne Brontë

by Alice Steinbach

What is your favorite book of 2012? Have you read any of these?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas to All...

“Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart. ” 

― Washington Irving

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Monday Mention: Nutcracker by E.T.A Hoffman

The Nutcracker  has long been part of  my family's holiday tradition. All three girls danced in local productions when they were younger and we often attended the professional ballet, too. As a result, our collection of Nutcracker  memorabilia - ornaments, books, and figurines - has grown over the years. We enjoy reliving the memories each year as we unpack these precious treasures.

Today I'm pleased to share with you the newest addition to our collection, courtesy of the lovely people at Crown.  But beware, E.T.A. Hoffann's Nutcracker, with pictures by the legendary Maurice Sendak, is not the ballet of our childhoods. This is a slightly darker version of the tale based on Hoffmann's 1816 extended short story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King".

As with any children's book, the pictures really matter most to me and Sendak, as always, perfectly captures the mood with his brilliant illustrations. This book may not be suitable for very young children, but should appeal to the older elementary crowd.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

TSS: The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Good morning and happy Sunday! The final Christmas preparations are now underway as we begin our last-minute wrapping, baking, and cooking. The girls arrived home on Friday, just ahead of the storm. With a fresh foot of snow, a White Christmas is now assured!

Just a couple of things to share today. First, I never properly mentioned the Random House Open House last week. The company put together a fabulously bookish day full of ideas, information, and inspiration. For me the highlight was finally meeting other bloggers, several of whom I've been reading for years. Candace (Beth Fish Reads), Diane (Bookchickdi), and Colleen (Books in the City) instantly seemed like old friends... and they have convinced me to attend BEA in May! Meeting Anna Quindlen was simply amazing, too. It was wonderful chatting with her as she signed my book. Her portion of the program was definitely my favorite. Here are a few photos from the event:

The schedule was posted at check-in

Choose two books...

Photo op with Yes, Chef  author Marcus Samuelsson

Lunch, inspired by a Random House cookbook

Book signed by Anna Quindlen

A wine tasting to end the day

My daughter attended the event, too. Read her recap at Fitness and Frozen Grapes.

Another highlight of my trip to New York was seeing the play The Heiress, based on Henry James' novel Washington Square. We enjoyed it immensely and, with Dan Stevens in a primary role, it helped tide us over until season three of Downton Abbey premiers on January 6.

 Now I'm reading Washington Square... it's been on my shelf for a couple of years and the timing is perfect. Sure, Henry James requires a little extra concentration, but this seems to be one of his more straight-forward novels and I'm enjoying it so far.

How will you spend this last Sunday of advent?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz (audio)

This is How You Lose Her
by Junot Díaz
narrated by the author
Penguin Audio, 2012
5 hours 14 minutes
source: review copy from publisher

Publisher's Summary:

Junot Díaz burst into the literary world with Drown, a collection of indelible stories that revealed a major new writer with the "eye of a journalist and the tongue of a poet" (Newsweek). His eagerly awaited first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, arrived like a thunderclap, topping best-of-the-year lists and winning a host of major awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. Now Díaz turns his prodigious talent to the haunting, impossible power of love.

The stories in This Is How You Lose Her, by turns hilarious and devastating, raucous and tender, lay bare the infinite longing and inevitable weaknesses of our all-too-human hearts. They capture the heat of new passion, the recklessness with which we betray what we most treasure, and the torture we go through - "the begging, the crawling over glass, the crying" - to try to mend what we've broken beyond repair. They recall the echoes that intimacy leaves behind, even where we thought we did not care. They teach us the catechism of affections: that the faithlessness of the fathers is visited upon the children; that what we do unto our exes is inevitably done in turn unto us; and that loving thy neighbor as thyself is a commandment more safely honored on platonic than erotic terms. Most of all, these stories remind us that the habit of passion always triumphs over experience, and that "love, when it hits us for real, has a half-life of forever."

My semi-connected thoughts on these loosely connected stories:

  • Wow, I have never heard so many f-bombs in a single book before!
  • Maybe this isn't for me after all...
  • But the stories are so compelling.
  • And I love it when an author is also a good narrator. It means the reader experiences the book the way it is meant to sound.
  • I wonder how much of this is autobiographical.
  • These stories are so sad...
  • The juxtaposition of the crude and the academic is surprisingly effective.
  • This guy can really write! I need to get a copy of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Read or listen?
If you are at all inclined toward this book (and you really should be), listen - definitely. There is a great deal of power and emotion conveyed in the words, especially when spoken by an author who knows how they are supposed to sound.

My rating:

Bottom line:
Junot Díaz is clearly a huge talent. With lots of bad language and sexual references, these stories will not have universal appeal. However, if this relatively conservative 50-something reader warmed up to them, I suspect almost anyone can.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuesday Intro: Washington Square by Henry James

During a portion of the first half of the present century, and more particularly during the latter part of it, there flourished and practised in the city of New York a physician who enjoyed perhaps an exceptional share of the consideration which, in the United States, has always been bestowed upon distinguished members of the medical profession. This profession in America has constantly been held in honour, and more successfully than elsewhere has put forward a claim to the epithet of "liberal." In a country in which, to play a social part, you must either earn your income or make believe that you earn it, the healing art has appeared in a high degree to combine two recognised sources of credit. It belongs to the realm of the practical, which in the United States is a great recommendation; and it is touched by the light of science—a merit appreciated in a community in which the love of knowledge has not always been accompanied by leisure and opportunity.  
It was an element in Dr. Sloper's reputation that his learning and his skill were very evenly balanced; he was what you might call a scholarly doctor, and yet there was nothing abstract in his remedies—he always ordered you to take something. Though he was felt to be extremely thorough, he was not uncomfortably theoretic, and if he sometimes explained matters rather more minutely than might seem of use to the patient, he never went so far (like some practitioners one has heard of) as to trust to the explanation alone, but always left behind him an inscrutable prescription. There were some doctors that left the prescription without offering any explanation at all; and he did not belong to that class either, which was, after all, the most vulgar. It will be seen that I am describing a clever man; and this is really the reason why Dr. Sloper had become a local celebrity.

Washington Square
by Henry James

During my stay in New York City last week, my daughter and I saw the play The Heiress, which is based on Washington Square by Henry James. We enjoyed it immensely and, with Dan Stevens in a primary role, it helped tide us over until season three of Downton Abbey premiers on January 6.

Washington Square is on my shelf and this seems like the perfect time to get started. What do you think of the opening?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening paragraph(s). Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Monday Mention: Two for One

With the end of the year looming and a backlog of books to talk about, I'm doubling up on today's Monday Mention.

Where'd You Go Bernadette 
by Maria Semple

I was already on my library's waiting list for this novel when Amy's post appeared in my google reader.   Given my weakness for epistolary novels, her description of the narrative as "a crazy quilt of emails, faxes, police records, and Bee's (the middle school daughter of Bernadette) narration" sent me straight to the bookstore. The plot revolves around Bernadette's disappearance prior to a family trip to Antarctica -the trip itself is Bee's reward for getting perfect grades throughout middle school. This novel is full of family dysfunction, but it's pure fun.
My rating:

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry 
by Rachel Joyce
This novel was an unexpected gem! Recently retired, unassuming Harold Fry leads a quiet life. One day he receives a letter from an old friend, Queenie Hennessey, who is dying of cancer. He walks to the mailbox to post his response but decides to deliver it personally instead. Thus, Harold sets off on his unusual journey.  I know it sounds strange, but this was incredibly heartwarming book, and one of my favorites of 2012. For a more complete review, check out what Marie has to say.
My rating:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Top 10 Tuesday: Favorite New (to me) Authors 2012

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we're talking about 2012 author discoveries. Here are my favorite new-to-me authors of 2012, in no particular order.

                            Amor Towels - Rules of Civility
                            Junot Diaz - This is How You Lose Her
                            Elizabeth Gaskell - North and South
                            Anne Bronte - The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
                            Agatha Christie - And Then There Were None
                           Jennie Wingfield - The Homecoming of Samuel Lake
                           Junichiro Tanizaki - The Makioka Sisters
                           Rachel Joyce - The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
                           Siobhan Fallon - You Know When the Men Are Gone
                           Jennifer Egan - A Visit From the Goon Squad

Which authors have made your 2012 brighter?
Find more Top 10 Tuesday posts here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Monday Mention: Comet's Tale by Steven D. Wolf

Comet's Tale: How the Dog I Rescued Saved My Life 
by Steven D. Wolf with Lynette Padwa
Algonquin Books , 2012
257 pages
source: library

Comet's Tale is a truly heartwarming story of a man and his dog. As Steven Wolf's spinal health deteriorated and simple activities became insurmountable tasks, his rescued greyhound, Comet, was called to the life of a service dog.

The book begins as Comet 'chooses' Steve. It talks about Comet's adjustment to life as a pet, her eventual training (its highs and lows), and the compromises Steve makes due to disability. I loved reading about Comet's devotion to her master, and frequently found myself smiling and nodding my head in recognition of what I have come to recognize as nearly universal greyhound actions, habits, and mannerisms.

Comet's Tale prompted me to reflect on the many ways Zelda has enriched our lives, and it reaffirmed the decision we made two and a half years ago to rescue a retired greyhound. This is a book any dog lover will enjoy, but for greyhound owners like me (or anyone considering adopting a retired racer) it is a must read.

My rating:


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