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One of my favorite blogging events of 2013 was the first edition of The Armchair Audies, organized by the Literary Housewife and the Guilded Earlobe. The idea is that bloggers choose at least one category of the Audies Awards, listen to all the nominated titles, and then make their predictions.
Last year I chose the History category, had lots of fun, but failed miserably in my prediction. After seeing the 2013 nominees I’ve decided to stick to History, even though, as last year, there’s an overwhelming focus given to American History (and the world so big!).
Here they are:
The story behind the Vitruvian Man – the nominee I’m most curious about.
A history of San Francisco in the crazy years between 1967 and 1982, “when the city radically changed itself—and then revolutionized the world“.
After San Fran in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, enter LA in the 50s. Portrayed as ”the white spot of America“, it hid “crooked cops, ruthless newspaper tycoons, corrupt politicians, and East Coast gangsters“.
How cool does this sound? It’s a movie in the making:
“The Dirty Dozen meets Band of Brothers in this true story of how a rusty old New Orleans banana boat staffed with an unlikely crew of international merchant seamen, a gang of inmates from a local jail, and a French harbor pilot spirited out of Morocco by O.S.S. agents in the trunk of a Chevy, were drafted into service in WWII — and heroically succeeded in setting the stage for Patton’s epic invasion of North Africa.”
A book about the West Coast’s recording studio scene of the ’60s. A bit too similar to Season of the Witch, but it still sounds… groovy.
Pacific Crucible tells the story of the first months of the Pacific war, when the U.S. Navy shook off the worst defeat in American military history (Pearl Harbor) and seized the strategic initiative.
I though military war, especially naval, was not my cuppa until I started reading Patrick O’Brian. I’m hoping this book will have the same effect.
Credits: Cathy Thorne
Hi there *waves*, just wanted to let you know that all is well on this side of the line. The baby in still inside and we’ve entered the last month. This last trimester is taking longer than that other two put together.
About three weeks ago I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, fortunately a mild case and so far it just means I need to be monitored closely and often. Still doing my normal life and working, but it sort of unbalanced my routine and blogging was one of the victims. Then last week I had The Flu To End All Flues and that didn’t help either.
SPOILERS FOR SEASON 3 OF DOWNTON ABBEY
When I told friends about the pre-eclampsia some of them mention Lady Sybil’s untimely death (thanks you guys!). That also led to a bit of an embarrassing exchanged with my doctor:
Me: Do you watch Downton Abbey? There’s a character there that dies of eclampsia. Lots of friends mentioned it, it comes up high on Google when you type the condition.
Doctor: You’ve just spoiled it for me. I’m still at the Christmas Special…
I’m still reading, and audiobooks in particular have been a blessing when my brain was too scattered to concentrate on the pages.
Recent books included The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (I don’t get all the fuss), How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough (interesting, but not what I expected), Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (gimmi more John Green!) and Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman (so many thoughts on this one).
Hopefully I’ll still be able to do a few more posts before putting The Sleepless Reader on an official hiatus while I try my hands at this maternity thing everyone keeps talking about. For now I had to press “read” on all posts in my Google Reader – let me know if I missed something important!
So I bought my first parenting book. For someone who loves reading so much I’m not reading anything about pregnancy: I browsed through What to Expect When You’re Expecting and The Best Friends’ Guide to Pregnancy, but mostly my partner just gives me the highlights. He’s the one keen on knowing all the details. For me, between pre-natal classes, doctor’s appointments and conversations with friends I feel I’ve all the information I need without stressing about everything that can happen.
But parenting is much more intellectually appealing. I don’t mean the technical details about schedules, potty-training and feeding, but the ones about raising happy, honest, confident, connected, fulfilled people.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot, mostly about how I was raised, what I’d try to copy, what I’d change, and the kind of parent I’d like to be. I try not to think too much about the person I’d like my son to be because it might be unfair to him (although we got excited about raising an Olympic champion during the Games… and what if – gasp! – he’s not A Reader?!).
I am curious about all the theories out there but also don’t want to read too many parenting books. I know the conflicting information can be daunting. Some titles however, are impossible to resist, like How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.
Paul Tough set out to bust the myth that
(…) success today depends primarily on cognitive skills — the kind of intelligence that gets measured on I.Q. tests, including the abilities to recognize letters and words, to calculate, to detect patterns — and that the best way to develop these skills is to practice them as much as possible, beginning as early as possible.
and replace it with the notion that
(…) noncognitive skills, like persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence, are more crucial than sheer brainpower to achieving success.
I first heard about it in a forgotten list of 2012 notable books and the premise really struck a chord as my experience also tells me that IQ is overrated. I haven’t read the book yet, but I hope that with “success” Tough means much more than financial or career paths, which my experience also tells me is only a part of the success equation.
I’m also oddly attracted to all the culture-specific books, like Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother or the French-loving ones such as French Children Don’t Throw Food and Bringing Up Bébé (interesting article Why the French don’t need parenting books).
This probably happens because I live in a very international environment, with lots of double-nationality babies and different ways of raising them. One of the most popular conversation subjects in Brussels is how to best raise a bi-, tri- or tetra-lingual baby (e.g. Portuguese mom and Polish dad who speak English among themselves, kid in a French- or Dutch-speaking nursery).
It’s all fascinating, although I have the feeling that gut-feeling, pure instinct (and maybe trial-and-error?) will put all theories in a corner when push comes to shove.
Do you have any favorite parenting book? I’d be really interested in your input!
2012 was an emotional roller-coaster, but there were some really cool things happening:
- Got pregnant!
- Touched a stone that came from the Moon
- Flew a kite for the first time (a kite I made myself!)
- Climbed the Etna Volcano in Sicily
- Watched Firefly for the first time and became a committed Browncoat
- Watched Doctor Who for the first time and became a committed Whovian
- Learned how to cook Brussels sprouts to perfection
- Tasted Key Lime Pie in Key West and Muscat d’Alsace in Alsace
- Touched the oldest tree in Belgium: Caesarsboom
I also did pretty well in the books department (considering), although I didn’t read as many as in 2011 – 84 books (minus 15). What I’m really proud of are the results of my 2012 Literary Commitments. They were:
Less challenges, more read-alongs and other community-building events
I only joined two challenges but participated in lots of other events* such as read-alongs, card and book swaps, special days, joint-reads, etc. They were all successful in making me interact more with the book blogging community, which was extremely rewarding. If I had to choose my favorite event of year I’d go for the 1st edition of the Armchair Audies organized by The Literate Housewife and The Guilded Earlobe.
Read more in different languages
Unfortunately I didn’t pick up any Spanish books, but I did read six in Portuguese and three in French.
I re-read seven books (only three in 2011) and they were among the best of the year.
Read War & Peace
Celebrate Dickens & Shakespeare
Dickens was never a favorite, but because of his anniversary I was determined to honor him. I ended up doing it by reading Claire Tomalin’s biography and A Christmas Carol.
I had never read anything by Shakespeare until 2012, when I tackled A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth. Also, I watched two of his plays: A Comedy of Errors and Henry V (a great midnight session at the Globe Theater in London).
At the Globe Theater, in good company, waiting for the show to start…
Like I said, feeling pretty good about these commitments
Now a bit of geekish statistics (2011 figures between brackets).
All pretty much the same, except there was a slight increase in ebooks, probably because of the Project Gutenberg Project.
Disclaimer: not an exact science, just some figures to give me an idea if what I’ve been up to (e.g. a classic can also be historical and a mystery, a YA can also be sci-fi or fantasy, etc).
Last year, the top “genre” was fantasy but apparently this was a classics year (only 4th place in 2011). Interesting to see the slight decrease in “uncategorized fiction”. Children’s books also had a relatively big cut (something tells me that will change in the upcoming years…).
Also not an exact division (at least one graphic novels was non-fiction).
The supremacy of fiction once again, no surprise there. I’m proud of my adventure into theater and my intro to poetry.
Better, but not quite there yet. Would love to increase the other two languages and include Spanish (which I actually read better than French).
Looking at my list I notice I’ve only read one translated book – War & Peace – but then again, I can argue that for me reading in English is reading translated lit…
PLANS FOR 2013
With a baby on the way it’s best if I really don’t make any big plans for 2013. I can only say that I’ll try to be around as much as possible and read as much as possible. Some general ideas:
- Continue to re-read more (thinking about 84 Charing Cross Road, another Guy Gavriel Kay, another Austen, North & South)
- Continue to read in different languages. Before the baby news hit, 2013 was suppose to be my year to learn more about Portuguese history. I’ll still try to give it a go.
- Participate in the Armchair Audies 2013
Happy 2013 everyone!
*2012 book blogging events, for posterity:
Where in the World are you Reading?, Armchair Audies, Reading Shakespeare Project: a Play a Month, Book Blogger Buddy System, Small Press Fortnight, Project Gutenberg Project (cont. from 2010)
This year I gave 5/5 stars to only eights books, which is almost half of 2011′s 14. Apparently not a very good year, but I’ve the feeling there’s more 4/5 and less “mehs”. I’ll only know for sure when I put together my usual geekish post with all the stats, facts & figures.
As last year and the year before, Dorothy Dunnett and Patrick O’Brian make a mark. These are my most reliable authors and I’m making both the House of Niccolo and the Aubrey/Maturin series last as much as possible, only to be picked up when a sure win is needed.
Two in list are re-reads, which really supports my decision to do more of those in 2012. Three are fantasy, three historical and, a big surprise for me, two are short-stories.
Tigana de Guy Gavriel Kay (re-read, audio)
Probably my favorite stand-alone fantasy novel of all time and this time around the experience was enhanced by the voice of Simon Vance. It was as intricate, emotional and beautiful as I remembered.
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (re-read, audio)
Another great re-read, also in audio version read by one of my favorite narrators, Davina Porter. The most fascinating thing about this experience was to compare what I focused on 15 years ago and now. Must re-read it again in another 15.
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
One of the big surprises of the year. I was completely hooked by these stories about the employees of an English newspaper based in Rome. Thank you bookclub!
The King of Attolia (The Queen’s Thief #3) by Megan Whalen Turner
I was enjoying the series, but this one made me a card-carrying fan. The book is an ode to clever plotting and I loved every line of it.
Tea with Mr. Rochester by Frances Towers
The surprise of the year. I can’t tell you how touched I was by this collection of short-stories. There’s a wonderful contrast between the small and enclosed places where the stories happen and the deep and mysterious inner lives of the characters. I’m surprised it’s not a more popular Persephone.
H.M.S. Surprise (Aubrey/Maturin #3) by Patrick O’Brian
Best of the series so far. Can it get better?!
Scales of Gold (House of Niccolo #4) and The Unicorn Hunt (House of Niccolo #5) by Dorothy Dunnett
If I had to choose the best of the best of 2012 it would have to be Scales of Gold. This adventure though deep Africa of the 15th century ticked all my boxes. The Unicorn Hunt was also very good, but possibly my least favorite of the series so far. It says something about DD that even the least good is still good enough to make it to the top list, right?
- Seraphina (Seraphina #1) by Rachel Hartman (audio) – I’m still unsure if this is a 5/5 or not.
- Gone Girl by Gillian FLynn
- Polina by Bastien Vivers (graphic novel)
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
- In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (non-fiction, audio)
- The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
First a little disclaimer: this was an unusual year for me, mostly because my father was sick most of it and finally passed away only two months after I became pregnant. Apart from how those two events affected everything else, they affected my reading a great deal. We recently moved to a new (and more baby-friendly) apartment, which also disrupted my reading routine.
All this to say that my attention spam for part of the year was probably at a 4-year-old level and my tolerance for sad stories almost non-existent. I suspect most of the books in this list are a “it’s not you, it’s me” thing and mostly a question of bad timing.
How can a book about something as dramatic as the Masada massacre be so… bland? Only managed to read the first narrator’s chapter but her continuous winning and complaining were driving me nuts. The guilt, the pathos… the SIN! O.O
I found this great quote on an Amazon review that sums up my feelings:
It seems like Hoffman could never have her character say something simple like “I was tired”. No, it had to be, “I was tired like the grasshopper is tired after the month of eating has passed and it has morphed into a cocoon of a demon, which my Mother had foreseen in her dreams and which would define my destiny.”
And the repetition. Yes, life in the desert is hard and dull, but jeeez… I kept thinking about the amazing things Dorothy Dunnett did with the same setting in Scales of Gold.
José Luís Peixoto is one of the golden children of modern Portuguese literature and this was my first book by him. I was warned about how dark, sad and depressing it was, but I still wasn’t ready for the experience.
Sometimes I think that Anglo-Saxon literature has ruined me for Portuguese books. When I go back to Lisbon I’ve the feeling that all best-sellers are either by the melancholic authors who love to dwell on the inescapable misery of the human condition or pink historical novels loosely based on true events.
I really need to do more research about what’s around – 2013 was supposed to be my Back to My Literary Roots Year, but with the baby coming who knows how much reading time I’ll have?
One of book in the History category of the Armchair Audies. The book was clearly well researched by a naval historian in love with his field of expertise, and I’m sure anything of importance about America’s first great naval war was there, but my attention wandered off once too many times while listening to it the hospital’s waiting room.
There were almost none of the personal histories that I so love in historical non-fiction, Daughan focusing instead on political and military macro-strategies.
It’s not you, it’s me!
May Sayers forgive me, but I just couldn’t finish this. I tried to labor though all the mind-boggling permutations of Scotland’s train schedules (swear I did!), but admitted defeat half-way through.
I so wanted to love this one. Seemed right up my alley. I was already well into it when I realized that I preferred doing things like organize my DVD collection or pay bills than go back to it. Maybe some other time?
Another I thought I’d love, but alas, we didn’t click. Not even sure why, after all these months.
There were also books that don’t really belong to this list because I only allowed them about 15 pages before deciding they weren’t what I needed at the time. I’m determined to give most of them a second chance:
- The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente and Ana Juan
- Vernon God Little by D.B.C. Pierre
- The Charioteer by Mary Renault
- Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer
- Mayombe by Pepetela
Last week Joanna and I met Annie Proulx during her stay in Brussels as a Passa Porta resident writer. I don’t know if these resident writer programs exist in other parts of the world, but they’re a great idea. Passa Porta is a literary center that includes a multi-language bookshop, a workshop and a space other literary organisations can use for their projects.
They also have an apartment available to foreign writers who are in the city researching (or looking for inspiration in) Flemish and Belgian culture and literature. Notable authors who’ve passed by include Jonathan Coe and Michael Cunningham.
Annie Proulx is now in residence, while doing research for her ambitious upcoming book. It’ll be a century-spanning novel about de-forestation and it include a local character, a sailor in the (sorry if I got that wrong!) Dutch East Indies Company. Most of the talk focused on Bird Cloud though, a memoir of the building of her isolated and oh-so-lovely Wyoming (the “emptiest State“) house.
She spoke about her love of geology and how the land influences people and culture, the challenges of writing short-stories (“the hardest literary form“) and the upcoming Brokeback Mountain opera (!), but my favorite parts were about her experiences as a reader and how that influenced her writing:
I don’t think of myself as a writer, I think of myself as a reader.
When you read a lot, you get a feeling for what works and what fits. It’s good to read good stuff!
You can go over a sentence 200 times until it feels right. Understanding where to stop is a matter of experience, and that comes from reading.
And here’s a photo of me and my bump getting a copy of Bad Dirt signed.
A few weeks ago I signed up for the All Hallow’s Read Swap and yesterday (hurrah!) I received my Secret Hallow’s gift. It was The Ivy Tree by Mary Steward (has anyone out there read it?) – which looks suitable spooky and Gothic, a usually winning combination with me.
Thanks again Tasha, it was the perfect choice and extra nice to receive it from an already blogging friend Only hope my package will make its Atlantic crossing safely and arrive in Georgia soon.
Yes, what you see there are 21 of the 34 books (so far) of the Morland Dynasty series by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. What makes it even worse is that the first one has been on the TBR for years now… (*blush*). They were so cheap! And they do look like the sort of books I’d love!
The others in the loot:
- The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – I’ve heard great things about it;
- The Olive Tree: A Personal Journey Through Mediterranean Olive Groves by Carol Drinkwater – because I’ve always been fascinated by olives, olive oil and olive trees;
- The Distance Between Us by Maggie O’Farrell – I really liked The Hand That First Held Mine and wanted to try something else by her;
- The Glass Painter’s Daughter by Rachel Hore – I know nothing about this one other than the blurb. It’s my blind choice of the year.
Remember when a while ago I mention that life was happening on this side of the line, leading me to a blogging and book-slump? I meant that literally. Here’s the proof!
Now that I’m done with the first trimester I’m returning to life and doing Things again. Things that don’t imply eating, sleeping and watching past episodes of Project Runway and Doctor Who, that is.
Meanwhile I also did a bit of travelling. Had a conference in Orlando and then took a few days off to go on a road-trip around Florida. So now that I’m back in already-chilly Brussels, hopefully blogging will return to regular programming.
Happy Fall/Spring (depending of where in the world you are)!
The perfect parking spot for my rented car.
Fort Myers entered history as the location of my first Gulf of Mexico swim.
One of the descendants of Hemingway’s cats at the Hemingway House, Key West.
Reading A Farewell to Arms where it was written.
One of best beaches I’ve ever visited – South Beach, Miami (reading Moab is My Washpot by Stephen Fry).
Simulation of Apollo 11′s launch, Kennedy Space Center.