Category Archives: I read

Best books of 2013

A lot of people I know had a pretty rough 2013, but mine kicked a lot of ass, I have to say. There were the big things, of course,–a new position at work, getting engaged, planning a wedding, and getting married–but plenty of tiny, wonderful moments as well. Finding the exact bias-cut red wool plaid skirt of my dreams for $2 at a North Fork thrift shop, figuring out how to make the best kale salad, getting my first full-size Christmas tree at home.

With everything else that was going on, for the first time in the last decade or so, I read less than a book a week. Still, there were a decent number of good ones and a handful of great ones, the kind that make me practically inarticulate with love when I try to explain why I like them so much (a coworker and I just stared at each other in rapturous incoherence the other day when I asked how she’d liked Fangirl; we just kept saying “it’s so goooooood,” at each other, over and over):

  • Among Others, Jo Walton. Boarding school setting: check. Fairies with their own agendas: check. A misfit finding her tribe through a love of books: check. This book is, as Rob would say, very Stephanie-friendly, but I’d put off reading it for a few years because I was afraid it couldn’t live up to the fantastic reviews. Happily, it did.
  • Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains, Catriona McPherson. I actually put off reading this for a long time too, but because I’d met the author at a party her publisher had a few years ago and had found her thoroughly charming. I prefer my mysteries dark rather than cozy and hated the idea of not liking the book as much as I’d liked the author. (I don’t know if other people who meet a lot of authors professionally have this hangup, but it’s exhausting.) I was relieved to find that the book is a delight in the vein of Christie and Sayers, and, even better, that there are seven more entries in the series.
  • Where’d You Go Bernadette?, Maria Semple. This is an example of marketing and taglines doing a book a disservice. I had picked it up, read the plot summary (woman abandons family, heartbroken daughter goes looking for her), and dismissed it as Lifetime-movie pap. But people whose tastes I trust kept recommending it, and I ended up loving it. Bernadette is a singular, sharply drawn character–smart and frustrated and fascinating and funny.
  • Awakening, S.J. Bolton. You know, I put off reading this one for a long time too–maybe that’s the trend of 2013: books I forced myself to read and ended up loving fiercely. I really love Bolton’s Lacey Flint series (the most recent entry, Lost, would have gotten its own entry on this list if this one hadn’t knocked me over the way it did), and often when I love an author’s ongoing series, I tend to not like her stand-alones as much or vice versa. It’s an older book about a wildlife vet with terrible scars on her face who gets reluctantly involved in investigating some murders where poisonous snakes are the weapons. It’s incredibly compelling and creepy–there was a point when I was in bed reading a scene in which the protagonist is exploring an abandoned (OR IS IT?!) house and actually had to put the book down and pick up a book of Simon Doonan essays because I was getting so freaked out. And all she was doing was walking around a house. That’s good writing. Side note: I think Lost is the first book she’ll be publishing using her first name instead of her initials. She wrote about making that change here.
  • No One Else Can Have You, Kathleen Hale. This is a 2014 release, but I think it’s going to be available in the next week or so. A good friend in the YA publishing business called me up a month or so ago and told me that I had to read this book immediately and, moreover, that if I didn’t like it, we probably couldn’t be friends anymore. The last book she reacted that strongly to was The Hunger Games, so I found a copy at work, devoured it in a day or two, and have been urging it on people ever since. It’s a perfectly satisfactory mystery novel, but with a weird, super awkward protagonist who is just fantastic. The author writes about writing weird while avoiding manic pixie dream girl tropes here.
  • Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park and Fangirl. These are both basically perfect books about being an outsider and making connections and moving outside your comfort zone that also address issues like poverty and being the child of someone with mental illness in a way that manages to be illuminating and nonsaccharine.

The happiest of New Year’s to all of you — here’s to an amazing 2014!

Four weeks to go

With less than a month to go until the wedding, things seem to be in a strange state where they’re both ramping up and winding down. All of the decisions are pretty much made, it’s just a matter of executing the various projects and crossing them off my various, very detailed lists. The pieces of my wedding dress are carefully laid out in the office waiting to be assembled. I have an elaborate post-it constellation on the hallway wall, there are stacks of washi tape all over the kitchen table, a huge roll of kraft paper sits in the middle of the living room floor, tripping us both up at least once a day. My mother-in-law’s basement is full of boxes of mason jars I rescued from my dad’s attic and the beautiful lanterns she’s making. I have a shopping list in progress that contains the entry “4 lbs. butter (more? — figure out).” When I started all of the fun detail planning, I had been trying to avoid certain tropes of the modern eclectic wedding, but have since given in to it and have started describing the aesthetic as “if Etsy and Pinterest had a baby and then that baby exploded all over everything.” I really love the way everything is coming together. It feels personal and warm and somehow both fancy and unfussy.

I decided to wait until after the wedding to show any pictures of these projects publicly though—I’m not superstitious, except when I am—but what I will share is a wedding-adjacent discovery: my new favorite supremely affordable yet awesome pen. I got my kickass  diamond-patterned one at PaperSource, but don’t see it on their website or anywhere else online. Writing with a nib feels great, but the pen cost less than $4 and I don’t have to deal with ink. It is the greatest of all widely available disposable pens. I know a lot of fountain pen enthusiasts and I see the appeal of going that route, I totally do. I just don’t want to go down that rabbit hole at this point.

In news of other things I recommend wholeheartedly, I loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette? I had gone out of my way to avoid this book for more than a year; I thought a story about a woman who abandoned her family and found fulfillment while her daughter searched for her sounded, frankly, both trite and dreary. I was imagining scenes of her being filled with wonder at getting to drink a whole latte by herself or getting to listen to the music she wanted to listen to in the car, then seeing a baby or something and realizing how much she missed her daughter. I was mystified by the awards and good press it got everywhere and only got around to reading it after a friend whose tastes line up with mine almost exactly said it was one of her favorite books she’d read this year. It turned out to be nothing like what I thought it was (though in my defense, the cover copy and cartoony cover are misleading). Bernadette is an ascerbic, brilliant, hilarious, difficult, loving, heavily medicated architect who moved to Seattle for her husband’s job and hates it. Her 15-year-old daughter is going to be going to boarding school on the East Coast, and Bernadette’s only friend is her virtual assistant, who lives in India. After a series of altercations with neighbors and other parents at her daughter, Bee’s, school, Bernadette takes off and Bee pieces together her recent and past histories by means of letters, emails, transcripts of conversations, and the occasional police report in order to figure out what set her off and where to go to find her. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. My only regret is that I didn’t save it to read on the beach or in a hammock somewhere. It’s pure fun.

Odds and ends

1. I finished this sweater over the weekend. Still need to give it a final blocking and get a photo of it on me though.

2. I started writing a column for Serious Eats NY. Each week, I’ll be profiling a local food artisan and reviewing one or more of their products. I’m really excited about the gig; it should be a lot of fun.

3. I made a long list of New Year’s resolutions. I *love* making resolutions. For me, they’re not at all about focusing on negative things that I want to stop and more about adding positive stuff. 2011′s include writing here on a more organized schedule (I’m thinking MWF, but haven’t decided for sure), trying one new recipe a week, which will surely help with the first one, and reading literary mystery authors I’ve either missed entirely or not read much of: P.D. James, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ian Rankin, Patricia Highsmith…

4. I finally got around to watching all of Party Down over the holidays. Holy cats, that was an awesome show! Too bad it was canceled before I even knew it existed.

5. And I did a fair bit of work on my ripple blanket over the holidays. I had to add a few colors, since I’m not going to get as many stripes out of each skein as I expected, but I think it’s working out fine.

BBC book list

Kim tagged me in one of these Facebook memes that turn up every couple of months. It’s kind of an odd list (separate entries for The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and the Chronicles of Narnia as a whole?), but it’s always fun to check myself against some random list that someone possibly at the BBC might have put together. If nothing else, it’s a good reminder to me to read some freaking Dickens already. And get around to Cloud Atlas while I’m at it. And, say, haven’t I been meaning to read Swallows and Amazons for ages now?

Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here.

Instructions: Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety. Italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish or read only an excerpt. If you decide to do one of these too, let me know!

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

6 The Bible

7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell

His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare

15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk

18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch – George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis

34 Emma -Jane Austen

35 Persuasion – Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne

41 Animal Farm – George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving

45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding

50 Atonement – Ian McEwan

51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel

52 Dune – Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville

71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

72 Dracula – Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses – James Joyce

76 The Inferno – Dante

77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal – Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession – AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

94 Watership Down – Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo