Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in Books

I'm pretty impressed with how many books I managed to read last year. Here are my short little book reports. My favorites are indicated with asterisks.

1. When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

The first half was laugh out loud funny, and I am rarely the type of person to laugh out loud at a book. Road Trips was an especially funny story. The second half was slower.

2. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

This is exactly the kind of book I cannot put down and want to read in any free moment I have. Yes, it may be formulaic. Yes, the characters may have been a bit one-dimensional. Yes, I could see a movie script rolling out with little trouble, something in the vein of The Family Stone. But I loved it. It was funny and fast paced and had some great one liners.

3. *State of Wonder* by Anne Patchett

The synopsis on the book jacket was not at all interesting to me, but I had heard so many people rave about this that I had to give it a try. I'm glad I did. It was like reading about the strangest dream I've ever had, yet it was so realistically rendered and the characters were so fleshed out and flawed and rich. I loved it.

4. How to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan Tropper

After 2 Tropper books in a row I see how formulaic his novels are, and yet I really enjoy them. Mediocre Jewish guy marries up, has a narcissistic mother, a father who didn't hug him enough and a slightly inappropriate relationship with his sister (does Tropper HAVE a sister?). But again, it was a fun, easy, light read that had some interesting insight into losing a spouse.

5. Bel Canto by Anne Patchett

I may be the only person on the planet who didn't LOVE this book. I had a really hard time getting into it. The plot was interesting, yes, but maybe there were TOO many characters all of who's heads we were jumping into and out of. And without giving anything away, I HATED the epilogue.

6. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

Funny, quick, I want to be BFF's with Mindy.

7. Husband and Wife by Leah Stewart

This book started out whiny for me. I didn't like either the husband or the wife and didn't really care what happened to them, but I'm glad I kept reading, because although I never really grew to like the characters, I loved the insight into how a marriage can fall apart, how spouses can grow apart and then together again. It reminded me a bit of The Heights by Peter Hedges with the same fly-on-the-wall insight into the dissolution of a marriage of Blue Valentine.

8. *The Fault in Our Stars* by John Green

This was such a beautiful book. It might be classified as Young Adult, but nothing really makes it so other than that the main characters are teenagers. I was impressed that Green seemed to capture a teenage girl's voice pretty well. It was funny, poignant, and incredibly sad.

9. Half a Life by Darin Strauss

Here is where I realize I need to stop reading such depressing books... But seriously, I didn't like this. It's written in a very train-of-thought kind of way which I often have a hard time getting into. Sometimes it just takes me a while to get into the author's head, so I gave this a chance, but I never could get into Mr. Strauss's groove. I respect that it was intended to be a very real account of his emotions and grappling with how he felt and how he SHOULD feel after such a life-changing event, and in real life our emotions and reactions aren't neat and tidy, but it was quite disorganized feeling. Maybe that was the point, though? Maybe I am not highly evolved enough for this. Then I read in the acknowledgements that Dave Eggers had a heavy hand in editing this, and I recognized his trying-too-hard voice all over it. I'm just not a fan of Eggers' voice in memoirs.

10. Confessions of a Scary Mommy by Jill Smokler

I don't really remember this that well now. It was recommended by a friend. It was a quick read, and kinda funny, but not anything I hadn't heard before.

11. *Gone Girl* by Gillian Flynn

Holy sociopaths! As my good friend said, "[Flynn's] characters are chock full of WTF." But I could not. Put. It. Down. And although a lot of people took issue with the ending, I felt like it fit the characters.

12. Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell

I barely remember this only a few weeks after reading it. It's short stories, that much I remember. I just remember I felt like there was too much "mystery" and too much left unsaid that we were meant to read into the characters, in every story and I didn't like that.

13. This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman

The premise is intriguing (15 year old boy receives a pornographic video via email from a 13 year old classmate which ends up going viral. His family proceeds to fall apart). One small misstep by an otherwise good kid can change his whole future. It made me do a lot thinking about how I, as a parent, might avoid such events. But then the whole thing fell apart. Schulman rushes the ending, like she had gotten these characters into such a clusterfuck she didn't know how to get them out. And we end with a glimpse into the 13 year old's future which was strange because she wasn't really the point.

14. Looking For Alaska by John Green

I read this on vacation... that's... all I remember? I mean, I remember the plot, but I can't say it affected me in any real way. I'll say it was just good.

15. *A Grownup Kind of Pretty* by Joshilyn Jackson

Loved this.

16. Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner

I enjoyed this. It makes me wish I had a close group of girlfriends.

17. Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

Eh. Quick, beachy read.

18. **Mudbound** by Hillary Jordan

Probably the best book I read all year. Maybe the only book I've ever openly wept while reading. And one of a few that I think I'll re-read.

19. Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close

I kind of hated this. Jennifer Close has a really bleak view of marriage, and I don't think she even realizes it. She wrote about every male-female relationship (and there are many in this book) in the same grim way, but wrote it as if we all feel this way and we're all just accepting it. For the record: No.

20. Canada by Richard Ford

I really hated this. God it was boring. The plot is extremely interesting (a teenage boy's parents become bank robbers - and everything that lead up to that process - and he is sent to live in Canada with a stranger), but it is so long and drawn out with so much description of the landscape. Around page 300 I really thought hard about throwing in the towel, but I powered through and, gosh, I wish I had just quit and not wasted my time. But hey, my dad thinks this will win the Pulitzer, so obviously there is some disagreement about whether this sucked or not.

21. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

I think this book benefited from the fact that I read it right after Canada. It was long and not much happened, but instead of page upon page of descriptions of the country-side it was page upon page of character development. Which I love. And my dad would have hated it. I told him I didn't think he'd like it and not to read it, but on second thought I should have bought him a copy to get back at him from making me read Canada.

22. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

It took me a long time to get through this book, but I don't mean that as a strike against it. It was actually quite good, it was really moving and kind of depressing in a way that I didn't expect.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Dear Mia: Part 11

You are almost 21 months old now, and I have to say this age is HARD. You are naughty with little concept of consequences. You hit, you kick, you bite, you throw things. You follow directions one minute, then completely ignore me the next. I am realizing that this age is as much a test for me, and a learning experience for me, as it is for you. I sometimes expect a bit too much of you because of how bright you are, I forget how young you still are. But even so, sometimes taking you out in public is like going out with a drunk girlfriend. I know you KNOW how to behave, but for the moment you are short on the resources to do so.

I also realize that any naughty behavior is purely for attention at this point, in fact, if you are being naughty while I am not in the room you will tattle on yourself, shouting, "Mia standing on chair!" which you know you're not supposed to do.

You ask "Wuh-sat?" about everything, even things you know. A million times a day I am answering "What IS that? Do you know?" And now it was morphed into "Wuh-sat, right dere?" usually said while pointing at a total stranger in the grocery store. Or "Wuh-sat -blank- doin?" Which is actually pretty funny, like the other day when you pointed to the button on my coat and said "Wuh-sat button doin?" 

We talk about Christmas a lot, and my genius idea was to take you to see the mall Santa several times in the hopes that you would eventually sit on his lap for a picture, but it has totally backfired as we've been three times now and you just seem to get more scared of him every time. The first time you walked right up and high fives him. The second time you walked right up, but stood in front of him shaking with fear, and the third time you wouldn't even wave to him as we walked past. In fact you often mutter to yourself, "Sit Santa's lap?" And then shake your head with a scowl, "No. No. No."

You are, however obsessed with Rudolph which you only refer to as "Roof-off Red-nose Reindeer Had Shiny Noooooooose." You command me to sing it several times an hour, and can finish each line yourself. If we hear it on the radio you shout with glee (see what I did there?) as if it is playing just for you. You love your Christmas pajamas that have reindeer on the feet and request I put them on you at every diaper change. You call them your "Roof-off Jams."

You sit for hours a day looking at your books. You love going to the library, sitting at the little tables and chairs and having an infinite selection to flip through. You are very into the Clifford books right now, having completely dogeared the two books we own. Whenever we visit someone else's house you seem to have a radar that hones in on where they keep the children's books and are happy to sit reading, ignoring the chaos around you. One of my favorite things in life is listening to you read books to yourself. It only takes one or two readings by us for you to essentially memorize the book and repeat it to yourself in your own little abridged language while flipping the appropriate pages.

On the flip side, the most annoying thing you do is repeat EVERYTHING you say until someone acknowledges you (in fact, as I write this I realize your dad does the same thing), and, girlfriend, you feel the need to narrate everything. I spend my entire day saying, "Yes, Elmo is red. Yes, I see you looking out the window. Yes, I HEAR Rudolph on the radio." And God help us all if your dad and I are trying to have a conversation in your presence because you will just repeat yourself until you turn blue in the face.

You are not a dancer. You love music and singing. You love jumping and climbing. You live drawing and painting, but you don't dance. This is weird to me because I can't help but tap my foot to any beat I hear and your dad likes to dance too. I just thought this was interesting to note.

Your favorite toys are probably your stuffed animals which we call your buddies.Your favorite is probably your Minnie Mouse whom you carry all over the house talking to. In fact, she is becoming your scapegoat sometimes for naughty things you know you aren't supposed to do. I hear your little voice in the other room saying, "Minnie touch Daddy's treats?" as I hear rustling in the candy bowl I thought was out of your reach, and I catch you holding Minnie up so her hand is in the bowl.

 You have become a somewhat better eater over the last couple of weeks (or maybe I have just lowered my standards). In fact, I've gotten you to eat some carrots and spinach in the last week. Some of your favorite foods are instant oatmeal, vegetarian "chicken" nuggets, yogurt, blueberries, beans, milk, peanut butter, pancakes, bacon, not mention any sweets you can get your hands on.

You are learning your colors. You cannot make hard "c" and "k" sounds. You often refer to yourself as "Mia Bo Bia." You call the hood on your coat a "neighborhood," which I totally perpetuate because I think it's awesome. You love to be tickled. You shriek with joy whenever your dad comes home from work. You are still an early bird, chirping happily at 6am every morning. You love slides. You are currently a little afraid of the shower after accidentally turning the showerhead on during bathtime.

There are some horrible, scary things going on in the world right now, my love, and my own mother tells me the only way to cope is to pull every one I love closer to me, so excuse me if I smother you with kisses and blow raspberries on your belly every hour on the hour. You are my heart personified, and I don't know what I would do if harm ever came to you, so all I can do is tell you I love you a million times a day. All I can do is hope that you know how much love surrounds you, because it is a whole lot. A whole lot, little one.