Thursday, December 22, 2011

Great Holiday Reads

Barbara: As the time for holiday downtime is fast upon us (no matter what you celebrate, most of us get to at least enjoy the off-hours), I thought I’d offer up some of my favourite reads from this year.

My daughter recommended this one and it is awesome: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. It is fast-paced, intensely vivid, and often heartbreaking. Tragedy and curses lace the story, sort of like a hip, modern-day 100 Years of Solitude. But there is an undeniably beating heart at its core. The end took my breath away. And it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008, so how’s that for a recommendation?

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson is probably on lots of people’s lists right now. It’s a biography of the World’s Fair in 1893 Chicago, but with the intertwined stories of one of the worst serial killers in American history and the epic efforts of big city dreamers and schemers, it reads very much like page-turning fiction. Larson does write a bit melodramatically at times, but that doesn’t detract from a really satisfying read.

Like the above book, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston was on my Book Club list this year. And it is a remarkable, amazing, poignant, brave, and singular story. Written in 1937 when women’s lit was still trying to be taken seriously, never mind that by African American women, this book captures time and place like few others I’ve read. She uses dialect through much of the book, which can be hard to read at first, but this only gets you closer and deeper into her visceral experience. It is so captivating, a great timeless read by any standard.

Any good holiday books on your shelf???


  1. Thanks Barb !!!
    And yeah i read your comment on the last post :P I got your email on the weekend...I was talking about my reply to your email.. gosh i was so excited and so glad that you liked the paintings. I cannot tell you how great i was feeling when i read your mail....!!! FLOORED ???? Really...??? WOW.... thats a big compliment !!!!!
    ..I was so happy i wrote a big 'thank you' reply to you right away..:D lol... :D ... there have been some problems in my account.... so i just wanted to make sure if you got my reply or not.......

  2. *sighs* I love to read, but I didn't read much this year...and I've forgotten most of the books I read. But your recommendations sound interesting. :)

    Gladly, I still know how to turn a computer on.

    I read "When God was a rabbit" by Sarah Winman, which I bought in Manchester this year.

    I do have two rabbits, so the title is really fitting.

    "This is a book about a brother and a sister. It's a book about secrets and starting over, friendship and family, triumph and tragedy, and everything in between. More than anything, it's a book about love in all its forms.

    In a remarkably honest and confident voice, Sarah Winman has written the story of a memorable young heroine, Elly, and her loss of innocence-a magical portrait of growing up and the pull and power of family ties. From Essex and Cornwall to the streets of New York, from 1968 to the events of 9/11, When God Was a Rabbit follows the evolving bond of love and secrets between Elly and her brother Joe, and her increasing concern for an unusual best friend, Jenny Penny, who has secrets of her own. With its wit and humor, engaging characters whose eccentricities are adroitly and sometimes darkly drawn, and its themes of memory and identity, When God Was a Rabbit is a love letter to true friendship and fraternal love."

    Liked it very much. :)

  3. Thanks for the reading suggestions Barb, I always love recommendations.

    I have read some really good books this year, but one of the best, I think is "To Be Sung Underwater" by Tom McNeal

    Another really sweet book is "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" by Helen Simonson

    Also "Sanctus" by Simon Toyne a very quick and exciting read.

    Happy reading by the fire, now all we need is a big snowstorm!!!!!

  4. I've always wanted to read Their Eyes were Watching God. Maybe I will get a chance to read it on this break :] I have always wanted to read The Help as well.

    FYI: today's my parent's 30th anniversary!!!!!

    P.S. Shalaka: pics of the paintings? :D

  5. Thank you so much for the suggestions! I placed "The Devil in the White City" in my queue, and I should be receiving that in just a couple weeks. I'm currently reading "Their Eyes Were Watching God", and I definitely concur that it is a remarkable story and the dialect adds to its riches.

    This year my two favorite books have been Terry Fallis's "Best Laid Plans" which is a Canadian political satire. I was literally laughing out loud on virtually every page. I also finally got around to reading Betty Friedan's "Feminine Mystique". That could have been written today, so many of the themes still appear in our culture! It definitely changed my perceptions on how society trains its women.

  6. Downtime, what the heck is that? I've never heard of this word you speak. Just kidding, well kind of.

    I'm a big reader and I'm always looking for new books so I'll add these to my Kobos wish list. Actually I don't think I have anything new to read right now either so good timing.
    Some of my recent reads I enjoyed are: "IQ 84" by Haruki Morakami (sp?) someone gave it to me and I wasn't sure I'd enjoy it as it looked a little too sci-fi for me but it turned out to be really good. "The Guardians" by Andrew Pyper was a really good mystery and one called "The Little Shadows" I can't rememebr who it's by but it was about three sisters in vaudeville around the first world war.

  7. I have read so many books this year. Right now I am reading Blue Nights by Joan Didion. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Kemmon,The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot,Just Kids by Patti Smith and Pearl of China by Amchee Min to name a few of my favorites this year. My all time favorites remain A Fine Balance and Geek Love. I love to read and read on average about a book a week. I list them all and rate them so I can find recommendations easily for friends.

  8. Well, I ALWAYS recommend Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott, The Bishop and the Missing L Train by Andrew Greeley, and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett! :)

    But, to add to that list:

    This year, I read Life Is So Good: One Man's Extraordinary Journey through the 20th Century and How he Learned to Read at Age 98 by George Dawson and Richard Glaubman. It was staggering. I now consider this a must read for everyone! Incredible, incredible, incredible autobiography and history lesson all rolled into one!

    This year added another book to my comfort reading list -- those books that I pull off the shelf when I need some page turning TLC when I'm sick or very sad or something. Please, please, please read So Others May Live by Martha J. LaGuardia-Kotite. The first part of the book is the story of the development of the rescue swimmer program in the USCG. The following chapters are true stories of USCG aircrew SAR work. The last SAR story chapter is the tale of the tremendous efforts of the USCG during Hurricane Katrina. This book has it all: human interest turns, adventure and excitement, joy and heartbreak, and, above all, respect for the honorable job done wholeheartedly by these men and women every hour of every day of the year. If you find yourself dragging a little through the first 2 or 3 chapters (if you aren't as helicopter and ocean obsessed as I am! lol), skip over and read one of the SAR chapters and then come back to the history stuff.

    A book that I read long ago but would really like to offer up here and how is The Search for God at Harvard by Ari L. Goldman.
    Observant Jewish religion writer from the NYT takes a sabbatical year to study religion at Harvard Divinity School. I don't care if you are atheist, Catholic, Apostolic, Hassidic, Amish, Hindu, or Zoroastrian, this is a GOOD book and well, well worth a thoughtful reading.

    I also highly recommend Made By Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World by Mark Frauenfelder (one of the head Happy Mutants on boingboing).
    This book is a very pleasant, meaningful, romp of a read. It's message is that of the DIY/Maker/Crafter revolution. His take on subjects ranging from failure to chickens to bees to children are heartening.

  9. Kelly that is so sweet !!!! I'd love to show you my paintings...are you on flickr ???

  10. Shalaka, I did not receive your reply (which is why I didn't know if you got my response). If you want, please feel free to leave your flickr address here because I'm sure lots of people will be amazed at your wonderful work.

    Oooh, I love all these suggestions!! I will definitely bookmark this page for reference. I haven't read most of these (except Anne Lamott who I also adore, and I love Joan Didion, although I haven't picked up Blue Nights yet). Thanks all!!

  11. My fave book this year was "Broken Open" by Elizabeth Lesser. I also loved "The Help" and "This Lovely Life" by Vicki Forman. (but the last one is not very christmassy...pretty heavy)

  12. oh ok....This is my photostream.... i just created the account so.... its not so organized :P
    (i am just keeping it open for a change my privacy settings tomorrow evening...i hope you guys understand :) )

    And Barb....check it out if you can coz ive added some more stuff.....and yeah i sent you the mail again...... i guess there definitely is something wrong with my account i gotta check...

  13. Well, I have read a lot this year, but I think one of my favorites was Jane Eyre. I would suggest it to anyone, but it's not exactly a happy story. Personally, I didn't like to ending and I also thought some of the events in the novel were a bit overdone or they just did not work well with the text as a whole, but overall it was a good read.
    I am looking forward to reading Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. It looks fantastic. I don't usually plan what I'm going to read because if I do, I never stick to the list. I just pick a book off the shelf based on my interests at the moment and my mood.
    In the last week, I have read 3 books. One was about Marie Antoinette, one about Nefertiti, and the other was just a random bit of fun, light contemporary reading. I love historical fiction and classic literature, so that tends to be what I look for.

  14. Hi everybody,
    I really don’t read too much interesting… I really love Sherlock Holmes. Other than that I can’t really recommend anything. I am going to keep this list you all have suggested though! This list will give me something new to read instead of reading Sherlock over and over like I usually do. : )
    Oh and Shalaka your pictures are beautiful!! I took art class in high school just for fun and love being creative. Your pictures are amazing!!
    And to the other Kelly, Happy Anniversary to your parents!
    -Kelly from NJ-

  15. WOW, Shalaka, your work is wonderful! They should be in a gallery! I hope you've contacted someone about selling your work. The latest one reminds me of Dali. :) Really great!

    If you haven't yet read it, Shanghai Girls is great. It's about two chinese girls whose parents give them away to marry American Chinese men to improve their standing. It follows the girls from childhood to adulthood, including the time when so many Chinese people were coming over to live in America. It's a real page turner. :)
    I'm also in the middle of George R.R. Martin's series, Game of Thrones. It's really good but I wish I'd never started them. I'm almost done with the third book in the series...and there are more, and they are more expensive than I'd like but I'm too invested to quit now.
    Under the Dome is a pretty good Stephen King book, though it tends to lean towards gruesome at times.
    A Prayer for Owen Meany was also very well written and enjoyable.
    HUGS Karen

  16. Karen -

    Just get the rest of the Game of Thrones to read free via interlibrary loan or cheap used online! :)

  17. I just finished reading the Black Narcissus. That was really good! I love the movie and the book is excellent too. Now I'm reading Swiss Family Robinson. Loving the language. Now I want to find ways to use the words repast and repose in my daily vocabulary.

  18. Thank you all for these great suggestions!! I am so coming back here for my next reads. And I love that there are some great classics here too (Swiss Family Robinson! Jane Eyre! Oh, and I will always consider Prayer for Owen Meaney a classic).

    Shalaka, thanks so much for sharing your paintings with the group. I knew they'd love them!!

  19. I am currently reading "2030", written by the actor Albert Brooks. "2030" is a reference to the year in which the book takes place. I wasn't so sure about the whole future-y style, but I like it so far! :)

  20. Wow.....I just woke up...... and reading all your compliments brought the biggest smile on my face...Yeah Barb, you were right... I am so glad I shared my Paintings with you guys !!!!! And i am your Facebook Friend now YAY !!!!!!! i did send you a request yesterday....but your profile picture was a little ....unclear :P

    Kelly from NJ - Thank you so much !! Art was always my favourite subject really :D !

    Karen Fraizer - Awwwhh...... Thanks !!! well these are digital paintings so... i wont be able to sell them but these paintings show my potential to paint complex backgrounds for animation movies...And now that you mentioned....Yes it reminds me of Dali too :D... its so weird... since the very first day i started painting that... i was thinking "this reminds me of something.... i can't remember what ??" and now you said it Thanks !!! lolz

    Wow you guys are the best !!!!!!! I love you all !!!! xoxo

  21. Right now, I'm glancing through Freaks, Geeks and Asperger's Syndrome by Luke Jackson when my son is not looking through it. It provides some insight into the maze that is the teenaged autistic mind... puzzling. :) The author has Asperger's Syndrome (on the autism spectrum), and he articulates things so well.

    When I'm not reading the "Junk Food for the Brain" or "Easy to Put Down" books (aka, romance novels), the only things I've been reading (or hearing, mainly because my son loves audio books) are Earth: The Book, America the Book: Democracy Inaction by Jon Stewart and the Daily Show, and I Am America (And So Can You) by Stephen Colbert. The irony here is that I'm Canadian. :)

    Otherwise, I like reading some of Uncle John's Bathroom Readers. I find them incredibly interesting, but I'm odd that way. :)

  22. I Haven't read a lot of books... i am pretty picky.... i don't commonly go for tragic books...I think ten times before i buy one :P...But I recently read "Deception Point" by Dan Brown... i thought it was pretty interesting....Its about an Alien conspiracy theory.....And i really loved "The Alchemist" by Paolo Coelho


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