Saturday, January 5, 2013

My Best Books of 2012


I read twenty-five books this year—about average for me; fewer than I’d like to, but not a bad number. These are the best among them.


This isn’t a list of best books of 2012—just the best ones I read in 2012. Only a few were actually published during the past year. Some are from recent years, others are much older, but all were outstanding and well worth reading. (They’re given in the order in which I read them, not in ranked order.)


The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. This novel about three recent graduates of Brown University at first seems as though it might be a typical, forgettable story about young people drifting after college, their sexual and other problems; but it is surprisingly deep and rich as it follows the troubled relationship of two of the protagonists—one of whom is struggling with mental illness—and the spiritual quest of the third.


In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. The chilling true story of an American family in Germany during the early days of the Nazi regime, focusing especially on the daughter, who gets involved in an affair with the head of the Gestapo.


Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov. A sad-comic novel about an elderly professor who is made a figure of fun by his professional colleagues yet triumphs in the end.


Great House by Nicole Krauss. A wonderful novel that follows an antique desk (yes) from the present back in time through the lives of the people who owned it. Krauss is one of our best young novelists; her History of Love was also outstanding.


van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. A huge, all-encompassing, and compassionate portrait of the great painter and the psychological demons that drove him. van Gogh’s own self-destructiveness is wrenching to read about, as are the many failures he experienced in his life, but his genius always shines through. The book is large but reads like a novel, and it’s liberally illustrated with many of his greatest and lesser-known works, including early sketches.


Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. I’ve already written about these; my personal best of the year.


The Pickwick Papers. Dickens’ first and most comic novel. The characterizations of Pickwick and his servant Sam Weller alone make this worth reading.


Of Time and the River by Thomas Wolfe. Wolfe’s sequel to Look Homeward, Angel, which I loved. I spent four years looking for this sequel and finally discovered it in a used book store in Philadelphia. Longer and less unified than Angel—probably too long— but still a fascinating look at the young adulthood of would-be writer Eugene Gant, literary stand-in for Wolfe himself.


Fahrenheit 451. Ray Bradbury’s classic about a futuristic society in which books are banned and “firemen” are those whose job it is to burn them. It tells the story of one fireman who eventually joins the rebels—a cadre of outcasts from society who memorize books.


Catherine of Aragon by Garrett Mattingly. Well-written and enlightening biography of Henry VIII’s first and later discarded wife, it shows a woman of education, class, and strength who was loved by her people, loyal to her husband the king, and eventually destroyed by him.


The Seven-Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. Merton’s autobiography of his well-traveled youth and eventual calling to serve God as a Carthusian monk—an order that observes silence.


Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander. If you’re at all interested in near-death experiences, this is a must read. The author is a neurosurgeon who suffered a ferocious viral attack that nearly destroyed his brain and had him in a coma for almost a week—during which period  he visited the afterlife and came back with the knowledge of perfect and everlasting love.



So those are my “bests” for the past year. As 2013 begins, I have a store of treasures waiting to be opened and read, beginning with Zadie Smith’s NW. I’m looking forward to another year of great reading, and maybe I can break thirty books this year!


Anyone else have lists of their “bests”? I’d love to read them.






Friday, January 4, 2013

One Word for 2013: Renewal: Part 2
Yesterday I posted my one word for 2013: “renewal.” Now here are some specific areas in which I feel the need for renewal:
Writing. Although I began blogging this year, I have not made much time at all for indulging in my love of other types of creative writing. I have been promising myself every year that I would return to the revised draft of my long-ago NaNoWriMo novel, yet so far I haven’t made any further progress on it. This is something I really want to do for my own fulfillment. I don’t have any illusions about finding a professional, commercial publisher for it, although I’d like to try; I’m really thinking of looking into self-publishing, just so I can say I did it. And, since I’m not getting any younger, I’d love to have a workable draft finished before my next birthday in September. So I will make this public here: My first act of renewal will be to renew my zest for writing. And to help me get started, I've signed up for an online writing course.
Health and fitness. This is something everybody identifies with. Two years ago I had thyroid disease that really took a toll on me; last year I had a lingering virus and a fall and concussion. So I haven't been paying enough attention to exercising in a while. I’m reasonably healthy now but I need to concentrate on getting more fit and (hopefully) losing about 10 pounds. During the nice warm weather I find it pretty easy to go out and jog, but I get completely lost in the winter. So I need to find indoor exercises. And just this morning I went out and bought myself some pretty new workout wear, just to help get in the mood!
Return and recommitment to blogging. Last New Year’s Day I began this blog in a rush of enthusiasm. I was constantly looking for things to write about and managed to find quite a few. As weeks and months passed, I discovered a wealth of wonderful blogs and wonderful people blogging, and I really enjoyed reading and meeting all of them. I tackled the A-Z Challenge with enthusiasm. But in time I found that I was beginning to neglect both my own blog and those of others that I had enjoyed and signed up to follow. Yes, time does get scarce sometimes, but this year I want to form the habit of blogging at least once a week, as well as visiting other blogs at least once a day. I enjoy having this outlet for my thoughts, feelings, enthusiasms, and sorrows, and I don’t want to lose that.
Faith. I strongly believe that God saw me through the trials of these past years; I certainly called on Him often enough. I’ve found sustenance from attending Mass and being part of my church community, but I also want to explore and deepen my faith by learning more about exactly what faith is and how God’s presence is manifested in our lives. I finished up this year by reading The Seven-Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton and Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander, both of which gave me a lot to think about. I plan to continue my reading in this area.
My love of learning. From advancing as a crocheter to returning to my passion for English history, I hope to spend this year constantly learning—one of the things I originally planned to focus on in this blog. I also want to learn to cook and bake more than I do rather than relying on the same recipes all the time. And who knows what other opportunities there may be to learn? I hope to stay open to them.
Being and becoming a more giving person. This is one area in which I feel I benefited from the experience of caregiving. Since caring for my mother, I feel as though I’ve opened up much more to the world and other people. I’m still shy and introverted, but now I think there are really things I can do within those limits to help others: the prayer shawl ministry I joined at church; the Christmas-caroling group, again at church, in which we visited nursing homes; and the day my husband and I spent working for Habitat for Humanity are just small examples.  I really believe that every one of us can do things to make life easier for those who need help.
• And of course maintaining and renewing my ties with family and friends.
Again, I wish all of you a healthy, happy, and prosperous new year, and may you achieve all of your own goals!


Thursday, January 3, 2013

One Word for 2013: Renewal

While thinking about how to write a New Year post and to celebrate one year of blogging, I came across the One-Word Challenge.

The challenge is to choose just one word to describe what you want this year to be. So here is my word for 2013:

Image by Melanie at Only a Breath

After five difficult years that began with my brother’s death and culminated in the loss of my mother in August, I feel the need to renew my life, my spirit, my peace of mind, my health, you name it. I’ve been looking forward to this year to do that, but until now I hadn’t wrapped it up in a single word. I think this one is perfect.

At the most stressful times during caregiving for my mother, I found strength in knowing that it couldn’t last forever, that someday I would be able to breathe easily again, to be free from worry about her; at the time I felt a little guilty and selfish about those feelings. But I knew I would need to find renewal and new purpose once my life was no longer entwined with hers. In the days after she passed, I had a sense of calm and peace in knowing that she was safe now and that I had done well by her. Now that the months since have given me some solace and perspective, my hope for this year is to extend that sense of peace and to return to finding the core of loves, interests, and maybe even talents that define me to myself.
I’ll write more about this tomorrow. In the meantime, I invite you to visit the link given above and consider choosing one word to define the year 2013 for yourself! When you find one, visit  Melanie, and she will generously make you a beautiful button like mine with your very own word on it!
And please feel free to share your words here.
A happy and successful New Year to you all!