Thursday, January 28, 2016

News of the World - Paulette Jiles

We tend to think of history in rather finite units, as if each event or crisis was limited to a number of years or physical location wholly independent of other events. As such, it is often the connections that astonish us: the realization that the 1890s saw not only Indian massacres (Wounded Knee) and a gold rush (Klondike) but also early automobiles and moving pictures: things from seemingly different times. Add to those events the thought that this was when Sherlock Holmes and The Time Machine were published, the Olympics were reinstated, and yet the American Civil War had ended a mere 25 years before.

Into some version of this post-Civil War America, Paulette Jiles has drawn a picture of Texas and how the advance of technology meets the Old West. With the wireless telegraph making international news closer than ever before, it might be tempting to think the world was a newly modern place as a whole. In many areas, however, news of the world may as well have been fairy tales for how fantastic it seemed.

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd makes his living by traveling through Texas, reading national and international news to a paying audience. He is feeling his age, and wants nothing more than to put war behind him and live a peaceful life. This is not to happen yet, however, as he soon finds himself faced with a challenge: transporting a young orphan girl to her relatives from whom she had been kidnapped by Kiowa raiders four years before. Ten-year-old Johanna has no interest in leaving her Indian family—she has no memory of life before the Kiowa—but she doesn't have a choice: the Kiowa have traded her in for some much needed supplies and the promise of peace.

I came to love Cpt. Kidd and the way he cared for Johanna. I loved how his mind would wander back to memories of his wife and thoughts of his daughters and forward to what his future might hold. I loved the sights and sounds of the Old West, a land fraught with tension and resentment and a severe lack of leadership. I loved the peek into the Kiowa approach to life and watching Johanna's strengths and weaknesses. I loved the writing. It was a perfect combination of action and introspection.
Loss of reputation and the regard of our fellow persons is in any society, from Iceland to Malaysia, a terrible blow to the spirit. It is worse than being penniless and more cutting than the blades of enemies.

In many ways I was reminded of True Grit while reading this. Every character was unique and vivid, and yet a certain spare, desolate quality permeated the landscape. Small in size but big in heart, this book is one to share and reread.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

it's a sad day in my book world

Two sad pieces of news hit my book world today. The first was a headline I read when opening my new app this morning about Alan Rickman. He will always be Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility to me (and Prof. Snape to my daughter). His voice was just something to bask in, wasn't it? Turns out, he recorded Thomas Hardy's Return of the Native, so that will be my next audio book. And Sense and Sensibility may just be the movie of the night.

The other piece of sad news hit my email inbox regarding my local independent bookshop. They've been struggling for quite some time, and apparently the holiday sales weren't enough of a boost to keep them rolling. (Neither were all of my book purchases apparently!) It saddens me that my city of nearly a half million people is unable to support a single independent bookstore. We have a couple used book stores and two branches of Barnes & Noble, but it just isn't quite the same. Some day I'd love to live in a literary city. For now, I'm in the process of deciding which neighboring store will be my new local/mail order store.

Sigh. Sad day.

Monday, January 4, 2016

2016 Goals and Ambitions

My main goal for 2016 is to begin writing again. Since that is a highly focused and creative process for me, it is something that fell by the wayside as my home remodel usurped more and more of my time in the last few years, and is something I'm keen to get back to.

I haven't stipulated what type of writing specifically I want to be doing, because at this point my goal is simply to write. At least five days a week. Even if it's something that no one else will ever see. However, it's only natural that one of my main outlets should be my blog. As such, I've done some preliminary thinking on some humble aspirations.

Continue with my monthly wrap-up posts.
     This kept me sane during my house remodel. Whatever else was happening, I at least had a brief time once a month when I could reflect on how I'd spent those rare free moments. When life was especially stressful and I was tempted to stop blogging altogether in order to eliminate something from my plate, I would remind myself: this is one thing I do for me.

Write at least one book review each month.
     I don't even remember the last book review I wrote, and that is one of the things that I loved about blogging from the beginning: the chance to really think through something I'd read and share it with others. It might be my favorite read of the month, or a book that provided especially stimulating thought and conversation, or a book that just needs a rant.

Quarterly Inbox posts.
    I had started this at the beginning of 2015, just as a way to see how many books I purchased and whether I read them immediately or not. I stopped mid-year after moving house a gazillion times and losing all my brain cells, but I think I'm emerging from the zombie zone and am going to give it another shot.

Quarterly Knitting posts.
     Often when I read, I'm also knitting (or have knitting nearby) and I thought it would be a fun thing to track every now and again. I also have a passion for quilting, but since that is also (in addition to writing) a highly focused and creative process, I find the time for it much less often than I do for knitting, which is more of a craft than an art for me.

In addition to these blog posts, I'm going to make a concentrated effort to visit all of your blogs and keep up with what is going on with you. I know that some of my old blogging friends have moved on to other things. While that saddens me, I also know that there are friends out there waiting to be found, and that's exciting.

On the reading front, I have set a goal of 75 books for 2016. I'd like at least 12 to be some sort of classic and 12 to be some sort of nonfiction. I'm also going to try to read from my shelves, since I finally have all my books on display and there are quite a few that are still waiting to be read and are calling to me.

I always want to add more goals at the beginning of the year, but I'm going to stop here since I know that even these will be a challenge. I do like a good deadline though! Happy reading to you all, hopefully we'll be chatting soon.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2015: Year in Review

On one hand, I'm having a hard time believing this year is finally coming to an end. On the other hand, this year has felt like its been two or three times as long as usual so I'm eager to get on with a new year! My house project is finally done so maybe I can get back to whatever it was I used to do before we started. Blogging perhaps?

Biggest success this year?  Reading what I felt like, when I felt like. Letting go of most of my reading goals ended up being a good thing.

Biggest goal for 2016? Apart from being more involved in my blog, (I've resolved to write more this year in general,) I'd like to focus on reading titles from my shelves now that I finally have my books all in one place.

84 books read in 2015 - More than the last two years, color me surprised!

  • 21.5% NONFICTION (18 books) 4.5% up from 2014
  • 45% ADULT FICTION (38 books) 9% down from 2014
  • 21.5% JUNIOR/TEEN FICTION (18 books) 14.5% down from 2014
  • 12% CLASSICS (10 books) 3% up from 2014
9 "CHUNKSTERS" (450+ pages)

TOP FIVE of 2014:
Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (funny, complex characters and vivid setting)
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (wonderfully told history)
The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor (introspective and evocative of person and place)
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (perfectly told Civil War history)
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (atmospheric and captivating)


5 stars:
  - The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson
  - Being Mortal, Atul Gawande
  - The Landmark History of the American People, Vol. I, Daniel Boorstin
4.5 stars:
  - The Lexicographer's Dilemma, Jack Lynch
  - The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo
  - Dead Wake, Erik Larson

5 stars:
  - Main Street, Sinclair Lewis
  - Mary Barton, Elizabeth Gaskell
4.5 stars:
  - The Optimist's Daughter, Eudora Welty

Adult Fiction:
5 stars:
  - We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
  - The Edge of Sadness, Edwin O'Connor
  - The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara
4.5 stars:
  - The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
  - Wolf Winter, Cecilia Eckback
  - The Martian, Andy Weir

Junior/Teen Fiction:
  - Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Robert C. O'Brien
4.5 stars:
  - Tuesdays at the Castle, Jessica Day George