Wednesday, February 29, 2012

For the Record: February 2012

Whether it's due to the time of year or my new attempt at keeping my reading motivation high and healthy, I've had another good month of reading--both in number of books and quality.

Historically, I seem to get a good amount of reading done in the beginning of the year, possibly because December is usually quite the reverse.  I'm not huge on New Year's Resolutions but I do like goals, so I'm sure that jumping into a new set of goals boosts my motivation.

I've continued with my new goal to alternate books I read for an obligation, and those I read for fun.  (What constitutes "obligation" is entirely up to interpretation, but mostly consists of ARCs, book club books, and recently the Indie Lit Awards short list.)  Last year I got to feeling like all of my reads were obligatory, which was a direct contrast to the years before that in which my reading was entirely driven by my mood.  In both extremes, I found myself in reading slumps--dissatisfied and bored.  This year has been a good balance so far, keeping my motivation and anticipation up.

I'm looking forward to being able to talk about the Indie Lit Awards short list soon!  The winners will be announced in a couple of weeks, at which time I'll be able to opinionize all I like.

12 Books Read in February: (23 year-to-date)
1 Read-Aloud for my kiddos:
  - The Birchbark House, Louise Erdrich (3.5)
1 for Book Club:
  - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer (4ish) (see my review)
2 for the Indie Lit Awards Short List:
  - Cross Currents, John Shors
  - Dance Lessons, Aine Greaney
8 others:
  - The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick (4) (see my review)
  - The Song of the Lark, Willa Cather (5) (see my review)
  - 1776, David McCullough (3.5)
  - Night, Elie Weisel (4.5)
  - 11/22/63, Stephen King (4.5)
  - The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor (4)
  - Love and Summer, William Trevor (4)
  - The Frozen Thames, Helen Humphreys (4)


Challenges: (10 year-to-date)
This month I read 6 books of 51 for my various year-long challenges:
   - Willa Cather: The Song of the Lark (3 more to go)
   - TBR shelf: 1776 (8 more to go)
   - Wishlist: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (10 more to go)
   - Back to the Classics: Night & The Song of the Lark (6 more to go)
   - Short Stories: Flannery O'Connor (2 more to go)

2 Current Reads:
  - The Odd Clauses, Jay Wexler.  An ARC from LibraryThing, this one isn't long but I'm having a hard time making myself sit down and engage.  I'll be done with it this weekend, one way or another.
  - Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer, Steven Millhauser.  Feeling the need to read a Pulitzer combined with the desire to read something turn-of-the-century-ish...this seemed to fit those requirements, though I don't know anything else about it.


On My Nightstand:
 I'm still eager to read The Hand That First Held mine, since I didn't get to that this month, and there are a few others calling to me as well:
  - Heat Lightning, Helen Hull
  - The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes
  - The Hand That First Held Mine, Maggie O'Farrell
  - Mr. Churchill's Secretary, Susan Ella MacNeal (ARC from LibraryThing)


Friday, February 24, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer

It wasn't so long ago that I seemed to see this book on every blog I visited. The amazing quotes I read were the reason why I had my book club read Everything is Illuminated last year--I wanted to read EL&IC to see what you all were talking about, but I wanted to experience Jonathan Safran Foer in the order he was published. Based on all I'd heard, I was a little worried that if I read EL&IC first, I might not enjoy Everything is Illuminated.

As it turned out, I did enjoy Everything is Illuminated quite a bit, but I'm afraid that the reverse has happened: Jonathan Safran Foer may be one of those authors whose first work read becomes the favorite.  My first experience was one of wonder--everything felt fun and original, his writing, his characters, his story were all grounds for discovery.  This second experience wasn't as glittery and new.  The characters held a similar quirkiness to his other characters; the writing had a cadence that was no longer unique.  I enjoyed it, I appreciated it, but it didn't hold quite the magic for me that the other did.

That being said, Foer does manage to present his ideas through very different people and their very different circumstances, making the way the story ties together all the more meaningful.  Each person that Oskar encounters as he makes his way through New York City has a story, just as each person we pass each day has a story, but Oskar--unlike most of us--is allowed the privilege of hearing those stories and becoming (if for just a moment) part of their lives.  There is something incredibly unifying about this; something brave about pushing against the profound loneliness of a crowd.
Mom told me, "It probably gets pretty lonely to be Grandma, don't you think?" I told her, "It probably gets pretty lonely to be anyone."(p. 69)
Generally known as a novel of 9/11, I think it works much better when viewed as a novel of loving and loss.  The idea that 'living is harder than dying' is returned to again and again throughout the book. What is living?  What is love?  Why do we live?  Why do we love?
I promised myself I would stay until I found her, but as night began to come in, I knew I had to go home, I hated myself for going, why couldn't I be the kind of person who stays? (p.114)
I love how Foer gets right down to the heart of humanity.  Some of his characters have habits and opinions bordering on absurd, but through these extremes normal becomes simplified and understandable.  I might not hold onto hundreds of empty envelopes, but perhaps I do hold onto empty promises, empty words.  I might not keep a scrapbook of everything that's happened to me, but perhaps I do horde the inconsequential in other ways, continually looking back through those moments in my mind.  I might not be dealing with grief, but perhaps I still erect walls around myself as a barrier against pain.
You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness. (p.180)
It is a call to appreciate life, to be thankful for what you have when you have it, to be brave enough to be a part of someone else's life, regardless of the drawbacks.  Live life--don't let it pass you by.  
"She let out a laugh, and then she put her hand over her mouth, like she was angry at herself for forgetting her sadness." (p.254)

(note: lucky for me, this book was on my wish list & counts for my wish list challenge...also, my book club will be discussing it on Monday, so I'll get more opinions on it then!)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Reading Roundup: Teen Fiction

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Levithan & Cohn
No, I haven't seen the movie, but I did happen to count how many times the lovely little word f**k appeared in the book.  My count may be off, because I was getting a little blurry-eyed, but I can tell you that my copy of the book earned it's very own permanent bookmark.  Not that I care ever so much, but when the book is 183pp, and the count of any four-letter word is over's a little distracting.

...and this bookmark shall serve to
remind us of the contents therein...
The story is quite good, actually.  It starts when Nick asks Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes, and continues--in alternating chapters--to show how one [very long] night can be enough to change your focus on life.  I liked the picture of the New York music scene through the eyes of these teens, and I liked seeing them reassess their view on life, but the 'conversational' tone didn't work for me so much.  Levithan does seem to have a gift for story-telling, though, and I will be reading more of his ventures and collaborations in the future.

Elske, Cynthia Voigt
Mmm, I love Cynthia Voigt.  Did you read Dicey's Song or Homecoming when you were young?  I remember reading those books and thinking that they were very serious books to be read by so young a person.  Not just because of the topic--Voigt has a special talent for making young people feel important and intelligent.

The "Kingdom" series begins with Jackaroo, though each book stands alone and needn't be treated as a series.  They combine fairy-tale fantasy with a Middle Ages flavor, all the while telling a meaningful, exciting story.  The characters are about as real as you can get, especially considering the Robin-Hood-esque nature of the setting.  Each story is so well told that it feels more like historical fiction than fantasy.

Best part?  She's written a gazillion books, so there's more where this came from.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret & WonderStruck, Brian Selznick

Selznick's books are something special.  They're simple, yet complex, quick to read while still feeling like an accomplishment.  I actually read Wonderstruck first, and decided that both of these books were perfect examples of the kind of younger-reader-book that would be a joy to have on my shelf regardless whether I have kiddos living with me or not.  The size of the book, the quality of the art, the magnetism of the story, and the relatively short time commitment leave you with a sense of magic and wonder regardless of your age.

The historical component in Hugo was captivating, especially how it was tied in with the drawings--and how interesting to see it turned into a film.  Have you seen Hugo yet?  My family is both curious and a little afraid it won't live up to the experience of the book (really, how could it?)  Wonderstruck was not quite as good, perhaps, but still unique and very enjoyable. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What's On Your Coffee Table?

So, what's your opinion on Coffee Table Books?
  • Do you actually leave books on your coffee table for people to browse through?
  • If so, were they bought specifically for that purpose?
  • If so, are they books that you yourself would be interested in thumbing through?
  • If so, what's the ratio of text to pictures?
Have you ever had a spread of Coffee Table Books at your local bookstore's bargain bin inspire your gag reflex?  Not because of the subject matter, but because they seem to be sad, worn-out excuses for books? How about the:
  • generic collections of sub-par photographs from a standard set of locations (America! Italy! Greece!)
  • compendiums of historical high-points buffeted by empty text (Civil War! Ancient China! Renaissance!)
  • clips & snippets of paintings arranged into odd categories (Cherubs! Herbs! Puppies!) 
I just can't handle that stuff.

There are some books, however, that are completely Coffee Table Worthy.  When it comes to a quick browse, the more pictures the better--but they must be quality photographs or what's the point?  I actually don't keep these sorts of books on my coffee table--although I would if it weren't for the fact that it's always heavy laden with papers and crafts and other temporary visitors deposited onto the catch-all by my children.  Someday...when I'm all grown up...I'll have a coffee table that lives for books like these:

I love nature (LOVE) so things like these catch my eye:

Nests: Fifty Nests and the Birds that Built Them
Seeing Trees

And whether you like it or not, I'm definitely intrigued by this:

Why is Lincoln's face so intriguing? Is that just me?

And what about some of this?
This may be the only way I'll ever decide to "read" Moby-Dick.
The first two I've purchased as gifts, the second two I would like to have someone else purchase as a gift to me (pretty please?? email me for my address??)  Art with a twist, that's my kind of coffee table book.  What does your coffee table look like?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What I Do While Listening to AudioBooks

I've discovered more time. Did I tell you that?  Well, maybe that's not entirely true, but I've found a fabulous way to multi-task, which is almost as good.  I've always said that I don't have time to listen to audio books, since I'm never alone--no commute, no quiet time--but I'm discovering that's not completely accurate.  A few days to myself at the beginning of the year spurred me to try, and since then I've found that I actually have more time than I thought.

One of the things I love (apart from reading) is quilting.  I love the feel of the fabric, the creativity in the design, and the colors (oh how I love colors).

When my kiddos were little toddlettes, I quilted much more than I read.  It was easy enough to sew & watch kids play, not so easy for me to read and watch kids play.  I taught myself to quilt (& ended up with some bragging rights even--what a shock!) but as my kiddos grew up a bit and I started home-schooling, I began to do much more reading and much less quilting.  Life is like that.

I'm doing less schooling at home now.  My 7 year-old is at home with me, but she loves having her creative time just as much as I do.  Thus I find myself with bits of time to start using those fabrics and finishing up those projects and not feel guilty because I'm MULTI-TASKING (said in a big, booming "God" voice of course--it's that huge) by listening to a book while I sew.  Why didn't I think of that before?  Brilliant!

My latest project is what I'm calling my Slice of Pi quilt.  I had a lovely stack of gorgeous modern-ish fabrics that I was dying to use but dreading cutting apart.  I wanted to come up with a quilt design that showcased and complemented the fabrics, but nothing seemed good enough.  Finally I decided that 2" strips would still show off the fabrics enough, and I went about drafting a pattern on graph paper (love graph paper.)

My original design (below) was a random placement of strips that would run horizontally, creating a column down the center of the bed.  But then my husband (the math/science brain) asked if the placement was based on any sort of mathematical algorithm (um, no) like Pi (hm, good idea).  I'm impressionable, and so decided to see what it would look like (see photo above).  I ended up finding the first 50 digits of pi quite interesting.  (I'm also somewhat of a people-pleaser, so orientation of the strips changed so that it would make more sense to Chris.)

I decided on a base line, and used 2" intervals to determine placement.  Therefore, the first strip is 6" above the base line, the second is 2", the third is 8" and so on.  Each strip is 40" long.  The fabrics are arranged in a nicely organized, pretend-random manner.

Sewing the binding...kitties and quilts go together well.

Overall, I'm quite happy with how it turned out.  Quilt design can do a number on my creative senses--I want it to be perfect, but because quilt construction is a pretty long process, (with no easy way to change your mind midway,) I go through waves of alternating excitement and fear about how it will end up.  Will it be wonderful? Horrible?  Listening to a book while quilting, I've found, does help even out some of these emotions (wonder of wonders!)  I'm still debating about the pillows, but meanwhile my husband is sure that he's going to get smarter by osmosis each night that he sleeps under it, and I'm thrilled to have found a way to combine two of my hobbies.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Song of the Lark by Willa Cather

This seems to be one of those loveit/hateit books.  Reviews on GoodReads and LibraryThing vary from boredom to that wonderful combination of tears and laughter.  Why the disparity? I think it has a lot to do with the themes.  You either identify, or you don't.

The story follows Thea Kronborg from her humble beginnings in a small rural town, to adulthood and her struggle to fully realize her creative potential.  Thea is different from the other people in Moonstone, and eventually she must decide what she wants out of life--and if she's willing to pay the price to get it.
“I only want impossible things,” she said roughly. “The others don’t interest me.”
Not just a coming-of-age story, nor even a simple humble-beginnings tale, The Song of the Lark has much to say about prejudice, music, family, art, and that elusive quality-of-life.

Coming from a small town myself, it was easy to identify with the small town dynamics, as the following quotation shows.  This excerpt is also a good example of how, even in the midst of the heartache, Cather adds morsels of humor (similar to Tolstoy's sense of humor--derived from observing people of different kinds.)
"The fear of the tongue, that terror of little towns, is usually felt more keenly by the minister’s family than by other households. Whenever the Kronborgs wanted to do anything, even to buy a new carpet, they had to take counsel together as to whether people would talk. Mrs. Kronborg had her own conviction that people talked when they felt like it, and said what they chose, no matter how the minister’s family conducted themselves. But she did not impart these dangerous ideas to her children."
"Song of the Lark" by Jules Adolphe Breton--
a painting that Thea falls in love with in
Willa Cather's novel.
Another aspect of this small town was the depiction of the prejudice against Mexican citizens--people who had more history in the area than the new European immigrants--seeing this early picture was intriguing to me in light of the ongoing issues today.  When Thea would escape to the other side of town to hear Spanish Johnny play his mandolin and watch the women comb their long, black hair, I wished I was there with her.  Likewise, seeing Chicago and New York in the age when music and opera were the mark of culture was a little like traveling to a more sparkling era myself.

Many of the people who don't enjoy this book seem to get bored and irritated with Thea after the section on her childhood ends.  For me, this being a re-read, I was anxious to get past the childhood and onto the "good stuff".   It is seeing Thea realize that her dissatisfaction stems from a huge creativity without release; it is watching her struggle with her choice to strive for great things; it is the sadness of her success, that make my heart ache.
“Nothing is far and nothing is near, if one desires. The world is little, people are little, human life is little. There is only one big thing--desire. And before it, when it is big, all is little.”
Thea's childhood is drawn largely from Cather's own formative years, perhaps explaining why those characters are so real and multi-faceted.  I loved her mother--what a woman!  Though we only get peeks and glimpses of her, it is enough to foster admiration.
“She won’t come back a little girl,” Mrs. Kronborg said to her husband as they turned to go home. “Anyhow, she’s been a sweet one.”
If I'm able to clear my head of all the wonderful thoughts and ideas Cather imparts, of all the beautiful language for just a bit, I'd be honest and tell you that Song of the Lark does lean towards being philosophical--even somewhat sentimental at times.  Additionally, as the novel progresses, Thea becomes more distant from the story, and less likable.  However, I've never read anywhere else such an exact understanding and honest portrayal of the artistic struggle.  Especially, perhaps, for a woman.

I wouldn't recommend Song of the Lark to everyone, (in fact, if you aren't driven by passionate creativity you might read it & wonder what the heck I'm gushing about,) but if you have a artistic soul you are likely to find a unique experience here.

(Note: This is stop 5 of 19 in my challenge to read Willa Cather chronologically.  After Song of the Lark is My Antonia.)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Literary Blog Hop: Writing About Myself

It's been a while, but this weekend I'm hanging out with the Literary Blog Hop.  Wanna hang with me? You should! I'd love to know what you think about this week's topic:

Literary Blog HopIn the epilogue for Fargo Rock CityChuck Klosterman writes:
"It's always been my theory that criticism is really just veiled autobiography; whenever someone writes about a piece of art, they're really just writing about themselves."
Do you agree?

I don't agree with the insinuation that every criticism, review, or critique is written with the ulterior motive of talking about themselves.  That's silliness.

However, even with a critical distance between function and feeling, a review is still personal.  There may be no mention of 'feelings', the review or critique may indeed feel objective, it may be fair and honest, but make no mistake: it's personal.  By its very nature, a review or criticism is subject to the reviewer's personality and experiences.  Every opinion is. Each reading experience is unique to itself.

Even the processes of logic and literary criticism are subject to your knowledge, experiences, and preferences.

The question isn't whether there should be a balance between the personal and professional, but what is a good balance for your tastes and purposes.

I've never been one to find much enjoyment in distilling any art form until it is only an assortment of functional components.  To take the magic out of art is to take the oxygen out of the air.  You're left with something useless.
“Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”  ― Stephen King
For me? There's a reason I read more book blogs than professional reviews.  I like to know a bit of who you are--without that personal touch I have no real reason to trust your opinion.  The technical stuff (plot, pace, character development, writing quality and enjoyability) is important, but without any personality or background about the reading experience, it tends to fall flat.

Have you found your balance?  You probably know what type of reviews you like to read--are they the same style as how you try to write?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

One and Only: The Untold Story of On the Road

I haven't read On the Road (yet--planning on joining Wallace for her read-along) so reading the untold story might seem a little backward...but I have my reasons.  Promise.

Reason the First, (the Obvious): I received the [audio] book free and don't yet own On the Road. (I'm trying to decide which cover I like best. It's complicated.)  LibraryThing seems to like giving me books (and I seem to like requesting them) and once I have them I've got to read them right?
I'm liking this cover.

Reason the Second, (the Justification):  I know next to nothing about the Beats, but I want to. Especially since moving into a modern 1960s house, I've had a growing desire to develop a bigger picture of the 60s, and yet seem to have no problem procrastinating in that area.

Reason the Third, (the Philosophical):  With a reputation for philosophical intellectualism as well as continual praise, I figured On the Road falls firmly into the "Classics" camp.  What this means for me is that I like to know a little bit about the era before reading it so that I can pick up on as many references as possible.  This is an evolving theory of mine, but it has made a huge difference in the past.

I tried to start learning
about the Beats with their
poetry.  Didn't  work so
well. Still, it's a cute book!
Let's Get On With It.  One and Only is the story of On the Road, of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, told from the point of view of Lu Anne Henderson (a.k.a. MaryLou).  This isn't a huge, complex biography.  Rather, it is comprised largely of an interview the author had with Lu Anne many years ago.  A lengthy introduction is given by the author, a revised transcript follows, and the book ends with a short commentary by Lu Anne's daughter.  My favorite section, perhaps in part because of the audio version I listened to, was the middle: hearing Lu Anne's voice.

While her somewhat meandering commentary occasionally felt repetitive, the entire book weighed in at less than 250 pages, so I couldn't complain much.  I enjoyed the pictures and hearing Lu Anne's voice.  She seemed such a joyful person overall, always willing to think the best of people, and seemed somewhat speechless to find that other people didn't necessarily do the same.

Lu Anne was married to Neal Cassady from a young age, and although the marriage was annulled (also at a young age) their relationship stayed much the same throughout their lives, to hear her tell it.  She relates some of the adventures they had while travelling across the country, underpinning each event with the fact that they were young, they were poor, they were surviving.  They were just holding it together, really.

A fun behind-the-scenes look at Kerouac, this book also felt like a good introduction to some of the main characters in On the Road.  Reading the book itself no longer seems quite as scary.  In fact, I'm getting pretty curious to see the story through Kerouac's creativity.  Have you read it?  Any other suggestions for getting to know the Beats?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Unbroken and MAUS: WWII Nonfiction

I seem to have found myself on a kick of WWII nonfiction, starting the year with Unbroken, and quickly following that with The Complete MAUS, and eager to begin Night.  Unbroken and MAUS address different parts of the war, the Pacific theater and the Holocaust, making for an interesting, well-rounded perspective.
I wasn't planning on reading Unbroken.  It was one of those books that had gotten so many amazing reviews that I instantly felt skeptical.  That didn't stop me, however, from giving the book to my dad for Christmas.  His dad had flown in the same type of plane (B-24) in WWII as Louis Zamperini (albeit in a different location) which made the story all the more interesting to him.  He began reading it and telling me how interesting it was at about the same time I found out that Zamperini would be coming to my son's high school to speak.  That was something I didn't want to miss out on.  Not only did I buy the book, but I also started an trial: when I couldn't read, I listened; when I couldn't listen, I read.

Unbroken is quite a page-turner.  I had to keep reminding myself that these were actual events.  Some of the events in the Pacific Ocean reminded me of Life of Pi as far as the implausibility, but this was real.  Unbelievable, except that there's a guy who lived to tell about it.

Not a great photo, but that was Louie in
the wheelchair--a fab fellow!
If you've hung around me enough, you may remember that I'm not a big memoir person, nor am I an ocean person.  Fortunately, these weren't the slightest factors while reading the book.  Of course, it isn't a memoir, but it doesn't even reek of the touchy-feely vibe I occasionally get from memoirs.  And the ocean? Maybe it was because there weren't a bunch of nautical terms, maybe because he was enduring it instead of enjoying it, but I wasn't bothered at all.

There were a couple of points that I was afraid the writing was going to bog down, (I thought that his childhood and the POW sections were both a tad longer than they needed to be,) but it never once got to the point that I wanted to set the book down.  It's a book that I'd recommend to all but the most sensitive readers.

Seeing Louis Zamperini and hearing him speak was such a good experience.  He just turned 95, but he is still so quick and funny. He talked of his youthful shenanigans, of meeting Hitler at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and his too-eventful time in service.  He told of a time when he was asked if his time as a POW had any positive outcomes, and he remarked that it certainly had--it had prepared him for 55 years of marriage!

I heard about The Complete MAUS sometime last year when I saw it on a list of "must-reads" for high school students.  My eldest is in 10th grade this year, and so my ears were wide open for more engaging books on important topics (his school's required reading seems to be very Shakespeare oriented--which is fine except for the fact that the imbalance means the kids are missing out on so many other wonderful experiences.  It's up to me to make up for that!  Good news for me is that my influence doesn't end after his senior year!)  I'm still trying to get my 15 year-old to read this, but my then 12 year-old did read it and was greatly impacted.

Perhaps it is inevitable, more than 50 years after the Holocaust, to feel like you've heard it all before--though the story doesn't get old, when MAUS is lumped together with all the other books about the topic, this one doesn't feel quite as shocking, quite as big--but it is important nonetheless.  To stop reading about the Holocaust is to say that these people's stories don't matter, that the people themselves don't matter.  By keeping the story alive, and making it new for each generation, you are honoring the lives of all those affected by the trauma.

(photo credit/more about Spiegelman)
Seeing the story through my son's eyes reminded me what it was like to hear of Auschwitz for the first time.  While MAUS deals with the generational affects of the Holocaust almost more than with the events themselves, it gives a very realistic picture of Nazi Germany as well as the lasting consequences.

If you haven't ventured into graphic novels, this is a good place to start....combine some history with a new format and see what happens.  The story is full of things to think about--more contemplative than shocking, more layers and depth than you might think.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

For the Record: January 2012

There is something invigorating about beginning a new year and the initial drive to accomplish all those new goals.  This month has been about 3 things: nonfiction, Indie Lit Awards, and making sure I'm reading books I want to read.  So far it has worked out well.

  - 2011 didn't have nearly enough nonfiction, so I'm busy quenching that thirst, partially with the help of a newfound love: (more on that soon.)

  - Participating in the Indie Lit Awards has been, once again, a good experience.  I won't be able to share my opinions about the short list until the winner is announced mid-March, but believe me: there are opinions. :)

  - In an attempt to enjoy my reading more, I've mandated that at least every other book needs to be one that I want to read...not for an obligation.  So far, it has been wonderful.  It isn't even that I'm reading completely different books than I would have otherwise, but I'm appreciating what I read more, and feeling more freedom with my choices.

11 Books Read in January:
1 ARC:
  - One and Only: the Untold Story of On the Road, Gerald Nicosia (3)
1 Read-Aloud for my kiddos:
  - DragonQuest, Donita K. Paul (3)
3 for the Indie Lit Awards Short List:
  - Silver Sparrow, Tayari Jones
  - The Last Time I Saw Paris, Lynn Sheene
  - The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
6 others:
  - Up and Down Stairs, Jeremy Musson (4) (see my review)
  - On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan (4.5) (see my review)
  - Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand (4.5)
  - Q's Legacy, Helene Hanff (3) (see my review)
  - The Complete MAUS, Art Spiegelman (4)
  - Newspaper Blackout, Austin Kleon (3.5) (see my review)

This month I read 4 books of 51 for my various year-long challenges:
   - poetry: Newspaper Blackout (2 more to go)
   - TBR shelf: Q's Legacy (9 more to go)
   - Wishlist: On Chesil Beach (11 more to go)
   - Back to the Classics: The Complete MAUS (8 more to go)

These don't count the two month-long challenges I plan on doing (junior fiction in April, classic novellas in August). Since I need to be reading 4 to 5 books/month to keep up with these challenges, I'd say I'm doing all right.

3 Current Reads:
  - Song of the Lark, Willa Cather.  This is a re-read for me.  I super super loved it the first time I read it, so I'm looking forward to luxuriating in it a bit this time around.  It will count towards my Willa Cather Challenge as well as my Back to the Classics Challenge.
  - 1776, David McCullough.  I've had [multiple copies of] this book for a few years now, and I've finally begun reading it.  Actually, I've begun listening to it.  I've discovered that I have more time for audiobooks than I thought I had, and it's a great way to get some nonfiction read.  1776 will count towards my TBR Shelf challenge.
  - The Frozen Thames, Helen Humpreys.  Made up of forty vignettes about the times the Thames has frozen solid, this delightful book is perfect for when you can't set aside more than a few minutes (or a few brain cells) to read.

On My Nightstand:
 I just posted about all the new books that recently came into my house--those are the ones I'm longing to get to!  I do have some more obligatory reading, though, so the next few books will probably be these:
  - Cross Currents, John Shors (for the Indie Lit Awards short list)
  - Night, Elie Wiesel
  - The Odd Clauses, Jay Wexler (for LibraryThing Early Reviewers)
  - The Hand That First Held Mine, Maggie O'Farrell