Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Books Read in 2008, plus statistics

1. Suffer the Little Children (Donna Leon), Conversation with Books, 40 for 40
2. What Is the What (Dave Eggers), book group, 40 for 40
3. Himalayas (Michael Palin), unabridged audio
4. Service Included (Phoebe Damrosch)
5. Death at La Fenice (Donna Leon)
6. Sunday Philosophy Club (Alexander McCall Smith), unabridged audio, re-read
7. Trail of Crumbs (Kim Sunee)
8. The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Michael Pollan), book group, 40 for 40
9. A Taxonomy of Barnacles (Galt Niederhoffer), 40 for 40
10. The View from the Seventh Layer (Kevin Brockmeier)
11. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Winifred Watson)
12. Death in a Strange Country (Donna Leon)
13. Beezus and Ramona (Beverly Cleary)
14. Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper (Fuchsia Dunlop)
15. Maisie Dobbs (Jacqueline Winspear), unabridged audio
16. Devil May Care (Sebastian Faulks)
17. Then We Came to the End (Joshua Ferris), book group
18. Petite Anglaise (Catherine Sanderson)
19. Kitchen Confidential (Anthony Bourdain), read aloud to Mr. Bibliotonic, re-read
20. All We Ever Wanted Was Everything (Janelle Brown)
21. Abbess of Crewe (Muriel Spark)
22. Hens Dancing (Raffaella Barker), Reading Circle
23. A Death in Venice (Daniel Silva), read aloud to Mr. Bibliotonic
24. Homer Price (Robert McCloskey), read aloud to little Bibliotonics
25. Casino Royale (Ian Fleming)
26. Crime Brulee (Nancy Fairbanks)
27. Centerburg Tales (Robert McCloskey), read aloud to little Bibliotonics
28. Let’s Get Primitive (Heather Menicucci)
29. Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Shaffer & Barrows)
30. Kenny and the Dragon (Tony diTerlizzi), read aloud to little Bibliotonics
31. Truffled Feathers (Nancy Fairbanks)
32. Summer at Tiffany (Marjorie Hart)
33. The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Brian Selznick)
34. The Man Who Ate the World (Jay Rayner)
35. Thirty-Three Teeth (Colin Cotterill)
36. Annunciations of Hank Meyerson, Scholar and Mama’s Boy (Scott Muskin), book group
37. Life Class (Pat Barker), unabridged audio, '09 Conversation with Books
38. People of the Book (Geraldine Brooks)
39. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Haruki Murakami)
40. Real World (Natsuo Kirino)
41. Coraline (Neil Gaiman), graphic novel
42. Lulu in Marrakech (Diane Johnson), 41 for 41
43. The Mist (Stephen King)
44. Gumbo Tales (Sara Roahen)
45. Summertime (Raffaella Barker)
46. Friends, Lovers, Chocolate (Alexander McCall Smith), 41 for 41
47. Atmospheric Disturbances (Rivka Galchen)
48. Right Attitude to Rain (Alexander McCall Smith)
49. The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food (Judith Jones)
50. French Milk (Lucy Knisley), Reading Circle
51. Shakespeare Wrote for Money (Nick Hornby)
52. Careful Use of Compliments (Alexander McCall Smith)
53. The Ruins (Scott Smith), audio
54. The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday (Alexander McCall Smith)
55. Immoveable Feast (John Baxter), Reading Circle
56. Deltora Quest 01: The Forests of Silence (Emily Rodda), read aloud to little Bibliotonics
57. Deltora Quest 02: The Lake of Tears (Emily Rodda), read aloud to little Bibliotonics
58. Deltora Quest 03: City of Rats (Emily Rodda), read aloud to little Bibliotonics
59. How to Train Your Dragon (Cressida Cowell), read aloud to little Bibliotonics
60. How to Be a Pirate (Cressida Cowell), read aloud to little Bibliotonics
61. Warriors 01: Into the Wild (Erin Hunter), read aloud to little Bibliotonics

Fiction: 44
Nonfiction: 16
Books written by women: 34
Books written by men: 26
40 for 40 challenge: 4
41 for 41 challenge: 2
Mystery/thrillers: 17
Culinary essays: 9
Travel essays: 1
First novels: 6
Memoirs: 6
Books published in 2008: 17
Graphic novels: 2
Children's books: 12
Books by Donna Leon: 3
Books by Alexander McCall Smith: 4
Audio: 5
Story collections: 1

Friday, December 26, 2008

notes on vacation reading

The boys are outside tossing the football, which give me a moment, while on vacation, to sneak away for some writing. My mother-in-law’s house is large but full, and the sound of loud (albeit joyful) children carries in unexpected ways. I’m really not very good at filtering the chaos so reading has been difficult, though I’m managing where I can. For example, on Tuesday, Mr. Bibliotonic and I took the boys into New York City to visit the Natural History Museum. Part of my duty as copilot was to read aloud to the driver and passengers so I started Tunnels, a fantasy for middle readers by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams.

In the first few chapters, we’ve been introduced to Will, our fourteen-year-old protagonist, and his father, a museum curator. They’ve been digging a tunnel in their London suburb and have discovered what seems to be a long-abandoned underground railway line. In a parallel storyline, a construction worker, in knocking out a brick wall for his employer, has stumbled upon a secret passage, as well as a window through which he can see people clad in Victorian garb, executing some task. Even though the story and characters have piqued my interest, the authors are slow to reveal, teasing the plot out painfully—already, I feel like they need to pick up the pace a bit.

I’m also getting caught up on New Yorker back issues, starting with the November 24 food issue. I loved Jane Kramer’s article about Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, self-taught anthropologists and authors of such award-winning cookbooks as Hot Sour Salty Sweet, about the Mekong Delta’s culture, people, and food. Kramer provides an unvarnished look at how the couple met (he was a part-time smuggler and light heroin user, she was a lawyer on vacation); the life they created, for themselves and their two sons, as world travelers/observers/connoisseurs; and their process for research and writing their marvelous cookbooks. The winter fiction double issue also awaits me. I purchased it mainly for the Roberto Bolano story, which I’m hoping will tide me over until I can crack 2666 and Savage Detectives.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

happy merry to all!

It’s Merry Chaos here in Princeton. Has a year gone by already? The weather is gorgeously warm, which is such a treat after the brutal winter storms and their aftermath that we've encountered at home and here on the East Coast. The sky is a beautiful blue color, which I'm enjoying from the playroom's picture windows while I catch up on New Yorker back issues and read Graham Robb's The Discovery of France.

And, my kids have each declared this to be the Best. Christmas. Ever! Surrounded by family, I couldn't agree more.

No matter where you are and what you believe, I hope that your day is filled with peace and glad tidings!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

currently reading

~ The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday (Alexander McCall Smith)
Close on the heels of finishing The Careful Use of Compliments, the fourth Isabel Dalhousie novel, I started The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday. Published in September ’08, Muddy Saturday is the latest book in the series. Potential SPOILERS follow so if you haven’t read #4, avert your eyes NOW.

I’m on page 88, but having a hard time getting into this story. It’s possible that this episode simply isn’t as compelling as previous titles. It’s also possible that I’ve ODed on Isabel Dalhousie. Her Edinburgh has become a little stifling. She’s rearing a baby, navigating motherhood, and avoiding a permanent relationship with Jamie, the baby’s father. She’s also the owner of the Journal for Applied Ethics, which she purchased after the previous board wanted to oust her from the position she held as editor. Isabel is asked by an acquaintance to help a doctor who has been disgraced by charges of fraud over a new drug. I really liked Careful Use of Compliments—every word held my attention—but, so far, Muddy Saturday doesn’t even come close to reaching the same heights.

~ Immoveable Feast (John Baxter)
The flap copy calls Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas a “witty cultural and culinary education,” which just happens to be one of my favorite book flavors. This travel memoir is a December selection for an online book group I follow. Timely, yes—and I’m glad it was chosen because I might otherwise have missed it.

Australian-born film critic Baxter marries a French woman, and family challenges him to cook their next Christmas meal. For eighteen people. At their ancestral family home. What follows is the meal planning with essays on the individual components—oysters, suckling pig, apples, cheese, and wine.

Here’s Baxter on tasting blue cheese for the first time:
It was a mild, somewhat too-salty variation on Roquefort. But if the phrase “to melt in one’s mouth” has any meaning for me, it was formed in that moment. The fragment disappeared without my being aware of it. Only one other thing evaporated on the tongue in quiet the same way—the communion wafer that I took dutifully at Sunday mass. But that papery piece of bread left nothing behind nothing, not even the taste of sanctity, whereas the Roquefort bequeathed a flavor anyone who truly releases cheese will recognize: a breath of the earth.
His writing style is kind of old-school journalism, and I kind of like it. If nothing else, the way Baxter teases out his subject has had the effect of making me nostalgic for Christmas 1995, which I spent in Bordeaux, France, with John and my family as my sister, Michele, was preparing for her nuptials. Her fiance’s family prepared the most amazing multicourse Christmas meal, replete with oysters, capon, and a different wine for each course. As part of my culinary education, I learned to slurp an oyster from its shell, pressing gently for its brininess and mineral sharpness. Of course it helped that the oysters were local, from the Arcachon basin, where we had, just earlier that day, climbed the Dune du Pyla, paying penance for the assault on our livers.

I'm looking forward to seeing how Baxter's meal turns out.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

a few more end-of-year roundups

~ NPR has pulled all of their best of the year lists into one easy to access page, and from there, you can click on any of the original pieces from Alan Cheuse, Maureen Corrigan, blogger Jessa Crispin, and others. I took special inspiration from T. Susan Chang's 10 Best Cookbooks of the Year.

~ The Washington Post's critics recommend holiday titles—fiction and nonfiction—for gift-givers, as well as elect their ten favorite books of the year and include a few titles that have been underrepresented on other lists. Jonathan Yardley picks the best from among the 49 books—mostly nonfiction—that he reviewed in 2008. I am glad to see Sara Roahen's Gumbo Tales here.

And, if you can tolerate another agenda, and want to get a jump on your 2009 reading, the January Indie Next list is available.

[ed] Fixed the Indie Next link, hopefully it will work longer.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

best books of 2008

The year is drawing to a close so it must be time to publish the best whatever roundups. For a book lover, the ultimate end-of-year survey is the New York Times Book Review's Notable Books in the holiday issue, my very favorite of the year. Even though the print edition isn't due until this coming Sunday (12/7), the NYT, probably for their own exposure, has made the list available online. The Editor's Choice, the 10 best of the best books from 2008, which is set to appear in print the following Sunday (12/14), was posted this morning.

Cracking open the Book Review on Sunday morning, over bagels and lox and strong coffee, will lack all of the suspense I associate with this issue. I'm sad about this trend (yes, I know it will help booksellers, GFT), but I will adjust to this brave new age of technology in which pre-emptive publishing is a rule rather than a carefully laid publicity plan. The 2008 Editor's Choice has a solid fiction collection, and I look forward to bumping up some titles on my TBR list.

Bonus: Read exacting critic Kakutani's 10 favorite books for 2008.