Sunday, May 19, 2013

Escapism as Procrastination

It's hard to believe that I haven't posted about life, books, or reading in almost ten months. Of course that doesn't mean I haven't been reading, reading, reading in that time. Just the opposite. As I finished up my Education Specialist degree, I often indulged in my favorite form of procrastination -- "finishing a book." As in, "I have to finish this book and then I will write that paper, work on that portfolio, complete that assignment..." We won't talk about how I usually started said book just so I could say I had to finish it before working on schoolwork.

During those final four months of my degree, I managed to escape to England, Mt. Everest, Kenya in the 1920's, a few futuristic dystopian societies, Key West, Italy, 1930's Alabama, India, and a zoo.

I even started a Pinterest board where I could post all of the books I have read so far in 2013. Feel free to take a peek at it. 

Now that I am finished with my degree, I can get back to the things I enjoy most, including writing about what I am reading. My mind is already swirling with possible topics. 

Coming soon...

From Russia with Love or "Do They Sell Samovars on eBay?"

Into Africa or "My 30-year-old Love Affair with the British Empire"

An Everest Tale or "How I Fought Altitude Sickness and Chapped Lips and Consumed Too Much Chocolate"

Plus lots of upcoming summer reading including some aliens and ghosts! 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Thinking of It as a Donation...

In our house the care and keeping of books ranks right up there with the care and keeping of our pets.

I would even go so far as to say that we have unspoken book rules. Everyone knows that we…

1. Do not break the spines of paperbacks.
2. Do not fold over corners of pages to mark our spots. (We have a wide range of bookmarks to choose from.)
3. Do not leave books splayed open on their stomachs. (You know what I mean.)
4. Do not write in books.
5. Do not eat cheetos while reading.
6. Always, always, always treat our books as if they are valued members of the household (because they are).

Those are the big rules, and it is always with a bit of trepidation in our hearts when we loan out our books to friends wondering if they will be returned to us in the same condition. We can’t help it -- it’s like sending our children to play at a new house.

Chelsea and Connor have grown up knowing what taking care of a book should entail. 

Case in point:

A couple of years ago when Chelsea finished reading Catching Fire (the second in The Hunger Games trilogy), she came barging out of her room…

Chelsea: I need Mockingjay RIGHT NOW! (Catching Fire does end in a bit of a cliffhanger.)
Me: I’m sorry, honey, I borrowed the copy I read from a student and already returned it to her.
Chelsea: WHAT??? WHAT??? You have got to be kidding me.

Stomp, stomp, stomp. SLAM.

Yes, my daughter had stormed off and slammed her door she was so upset.

But she wasn’t finished.

Creak. BAM! SLAM!

Connor turned to me, his eyes as wide as saucers, and whispered, “Did she just throw the book???”

Yes, Connor, in an ultimate act of teenage rebellion and defiance, Chelsea had committed one of the cardinal sins of book care and thrown Catching Fire. I could almost hear the words she had not spoken out loud, “Take that, Mom, for not having a copy of Mockingjay in the house.”

Recreated crime scene.

So, my children know only too well what taking care of a book means.

Which leads me to today’s story. My forced monetary donation to our local public library.

I love our library. I really do. They tend to have a great selection of books and almost without fail they always have the newest books I am dying to read but do not want to purchase for myself. 

Recently I stumbled across a reference to the Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Georgia. It is a darling little bakery, and on my list of must-dos for our Thanksgiving trip to Tybee will be a stop at Back in the Day. MUST. DO.

They even have a cookbook which I promptly checked out from our library (with visions of buying my own (maybe autographed) copy in November from the bakery).

Who wouldn’t want to visit this charming place?

Since I had the cookbook, I had to try out some of the recipes. My eye is on the Old-Fashioned Cupcakes (I even found a supplier of those adorable vintage toppers -- Sweet Estelle), but I decided to try the Snickerdoodle cookies first.

While I was cooking, Connor came in to fix a drink. Charles had bought those annoying generic Mio drink things -- a couple of squirts into a glass of water makes a kool-aid type drink. The children, of course, find these very novel and fun.

Connor was not watching where he aimed.

Evidence Exhibit A: The Weapon

Evidence Exhibit B: The Victim.

As soon as it happened, Connor was close to tears. “Oh my gosh, Mom, I am so sorry! So sorry! I thought it was over the glass. I am so sorry.” 

Connor was absolutely distraught. The very fact that he apologized over and over again shows just how sincere he was. That child does not like to say he is sorry. He got in trouble last week for a completely unrelated incident and was grounded from the computer until he admitted he had done it and that he was sorry. He lasted almost four days before he said it. That’s a long time for him to be separated from his beloved Minecraft.

Actually, I have no doubt that Connor felt actual physical pain from hurting the book. I know this because I felt actual physical pain from watching that red concentrate seep all over the page. I tried to stay calm, reassure Connor, and carry on with life.

When it was time to return the book, I decided to be honest and took the book to the circulation desk. I really truly and honestly thought I would just be paying a damage fee. After all, the book was stained but it was only the one page that actually had any juice on it -- the rest was just on the edges of the pages.


No damage fee.

I get to buy the entire book.

For $30.

I tried to reason with the librarian even going so far as to explain about the Savannah trip and everything. Call me a book snob, but I don’t want a book that has Bartow County Library stamped on it. 

There was no budging her, though. I am going to have to buy the book when my renewal on it is over.

I am trying very hard to think of it as a donation to the library, but it isn’t sticking in my head yet.


Moral of the Story: Remove books when juice is on the counter.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Some books defy explanation.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is one of them.

When asked what it is about I find myself hard pressed to find words to do it justice, and I fall back to what others have said…



“Dark as soot and bright as sparks.”


“Gorgeously imagined.”


But even those words don’t seem to quite capture this story.

It’s like holding a jar of fireflies on a summer night.

It’s like playing with Tarot cards on Halloween.

It’s like wearing a star-spangled silver gown and long white gloves and dancing in a candlelit ballroom.

It’s like eating handfuls of caramel corn and drinking cider on a cool fall night.

I cried a little when I finished the book. I devoured it, but, at the same time, I didn’t want it to end. I binged on it pure and simple, and I felt a little nauseous when I finished as if I perhaps had indulged in too many chocolate mice.

But perhaps I should begin at the beginning…

Apparently The Night Circus was published over a year ago, but the first time I was aware of it was in an ad in Entertainment Weekly.

Those same words I quoted caught my eye.

So did two little words that draw me in every time.

Fairy tale.

It doesn’t take much to catch my eye, and “fairy tale” does it in spades.

I thought to myself, “Jackie, you must remember to look up this book.”

I didn’t write it down, though, so the chances of remembering were slim.

I thought it again a couple of days ago as I tore out the article about The Hobbit to send to a friend.

Must. Remember. This. Book.

Again, I failed to write it down. Again, the chances weren’t high that I would remember.

I can only assume that this book wanted me to read it.

Yes, I firmly believe that books find you when you need them.

And I am in desperate need of the magic in these pages these days. The Night Circus knew this and was waiting for me on the shelf of the library.

I started reading it while I stood in line to check it out.

“Anticipation” reads the first word.

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not,” reads the first paragraph.

It is a shame I can’t read and drive at the same time.

I continued reading when I arrived home. Dirty dishes be damned.

I was on page 70 as we sat down to dinner.

I couldn’t read as we ate, but, being well and truly enthralled already, I did bring the book to the table. “Connor, I think you would like this book,” I said as we ate chili. I made him read the description. I read the description again as he read it.

I read and read Friday night until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.

On page 143, I cried. Not because of any major heartbreak within the pages, but from a description of the circus aficionados.

“It is these aficionados, these reveurs, who see the details in the bigger picture of the circus. They see the nuance of the costumes, the intricacy of the signs. They buy sugar flowers and do not eat them, wrapping them in paper instead and carefully bringing them home. They are enthusiasts, devotees. Addicts. Something about the circus stirs their souls, and they ache for it when it is absent.
“They seek each other out, these people of such specific like mind. They tell of how they found the circus, how those first steps were like magic. Like stepping into a fairy tale under a curtain of stars. They pontificate upon the fluffiness of the popcorn, the sweetness of the chocolate. They spend hours discussing the quality of the light, the heat of the bonfire. They sit over their drinks smiling like children and they relish being surrounded by kindred spirits, if only for an evening. When they depart, they shake hands and embrace like old friends, even if they have only just met, and as they go their separate ways they feel less alone than they had before.”

I cried because I know how those reveurs felt. I know because I feel the same way about Disney World (laugh if you must), and I know how they felt because I feel the same way about the community of fellow Disney aficionados on the DIS Boards. Yes, I am just like The Night Circus reveurs in my own modern way.

I digress.

Saturday morning I woke up and returned to the circus.

While I would like to pretend I was the picture of a glamorous reader, I cannot lie.

My teeth were unbrushed.

I didn’t shower.

My hair was a tangled mess.

I remained in purple satin pajama pants and a ratty Tinker Bell t-shirt.

Periodically I would wander into the kitchen for a Pop Tart or a sandwich or another cup of coffee.

Oh, how I longed for the food at the circus: caramel apples, popcorn, chocolate mice, hot cocoa with whipped cream, and cinnamon pastries.

At 5:00 I finished the book and forced myself to focus on the real world around me.

The real world didn’t seem quite as real as the world I had been inhabiting for the past day.

So, where does the magic of this book lie?

It is ephemeral and evanescent. Mere words on my part cannot begin to bring it to life.

It is fairy tale and a visit to the Magic Kingdom at night wrapped up in a Victorian love story with all five senses exposed to it all. 

I never stood a chance with descriptions like, “There are vendors traversing the crowd around you, selling refreshments and oddities, creations flavored with vanilla and honey, chocolate and cinnamon.”

Or with heartbreaking imagery like, “The past stays on you the way powdered sugar stays on your fingers.  Some people can get rid of it but it’s still there, the events and things that pushed you to where you are now.”

I confess I have fallen head over heels in love with Celia and her black and white ball gowns, with Marco and his gray-green eyes, with Bailey, Poppet, and Widget. With the Wishing Tree and the Ice Garden. With wrought iron gates and twinkle lights. With curling black cauldrons and fire that burns white. With red scarves and ravens. With every single page and every single character.

I would run away and join the circus if I could. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

To The Manor Born

This time of year is always super busy. Between soccer practices, soccer games, lesson plans, writing papers, grading papers, wrangling kids both at school and at home, and being a mom and wife, there barely seems time to catch my breath.

However, apparently there is always time for a new obsession.

Before I tell you about it, and then give you a slew of related book suggestions, I have to set the scene.

There is a special place in my heart for BBC/PBS British drama. My mother always loved all things English, and my early years were spent sitting next to my mother on the couch watching shows like The Irish R.M. (Highly recommend it if you have never seen it. I believe the series is on DVD now.)

It was only natural that I would grow up still loving English country estates and stories set within their walls. More on that later.

Fast forward to this time last year. I had read a couple of brief articles in Entertainment Weekly about a new show called Downton Abbey that was garnering rave reviews. Sounded like something my mother and I would both like, but then, since it was that time of craziness in the year, I promptly forgot about it. One night my mother also mentioned it, and we chatted that perhaps we should watch it. After all, Maggie Smith was in it, and we had adored her since we saw her on Broadway in Lettice and Lovage. Again, it fell by the wayside.

Fast forward yet again to December, 2011. My good friend, Jett, texted me during the Christmas vacation to tell me about a show she and her daughter, Elizabeth, were in love with -- a show called Downton Abbey. She knew I would love it and urged me to watch the first season before the second one started in January. I added it to my mental list of shows, but that was all I did.

Here is my disclaimer about that: television is not my preferred medium. There is rarely a show that I find myself sticking with for a long period of time. The only ones that were able to do so were Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lost. Once Upon a Time might get added to that list in time. I prefer reading, and I find it hard to sit still for a long period of time except when I am reading or unless the show is especially well-written and intriguing.

Back to the story: I began seeing Facebook posts between my friend Elizabeth and her sister Becky about Downton Abbey and for some reason, those posts heightened my interest in the show. I asked Elizabeth if I should be watching it, and her response was such that before I knew it, I had ordered the first season from Amazon. Wicked Amazon where I can find everything my heart desires and then some.

Downton Abbey arrived on Valentine’s Day, but I was unable to watch it until that Friday.
Oh my!

Five minutes into the show, and I was hooked. Two episodes later, I dragged myself to bed.

Saturday, armed with Girl Scout cookies and the remote, I watched the other four episodes of the first season. One more, I told myself time and time again about both the episodes and the Girl Scout cookies. I felt slightly sick after that much tv viewing and a box of cookies, but I was hooked -- I would need the second season before the day was finished.

Charles and I ran to Target, so I could get Season Two. Charles was definitely humoring me as he could not see the allure of the show. He had tried to watch the first episode with me, said, “I keep expecting Mr. Darcy to appear,” (yes, my dear husband has watched Pride and Prejudice with me even though he is more comfortable with Sports Center,) and promptly fell asleep.
I watched three more episodes Saturday night.

I watched four episodes on Sunday.

We will not be discussing how many Girl Scout cookies I consumed in that time period.

I thought I was finished except for the Christmas episode. Mistakenly, I assumed it would not be advancing the story, so I was just going to save it for another time. Silly me. Thankfully, Elizabeth made a reference to the Servants’ Ball, or I would still be in ignorance of some important plot points. I rectified that situation with two more hours on Monday (thank goodness for a four-day weekend).

Seventeen hours of Downton Abbey in a weekend.

What’s the allure?

Well, I really can’t tell you because I don’t want to ruin anything about it.

The bare bones of the premise is that it is set in the early 1900’s at Downton Abbey, a country estate that makes Pemberley look like a potting shed, and tells the story of the family that lives upstairs and the servants who live downstairs.

The bare bones don’t do it justice. I fell in love with each and every character, but I must say my two absolute favorites are the Dowager Countess, played by Maggie Smith, and Mrs. Padmore, the cook. They have the best lines. The entire show is glittery, gossipy, and compulsively watchable, to borrow the words of reviewers, and as evidenced by my own gluttony of viewing. I now talk about the characters as if I really know them and they are members of my inner circle of friends. It makes me long for a life where sandwiches are served under silver domes, where there is a cut-glass biscuit jar beside my bed, and where my shoes have Cuban heels and strappy buckles. My mother, without a doubt, would have loved it.

So, what to do now as we wait for Season Three?

Well, there are a few books that might fill the void with homes and casts of characters as riveting.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Really, this book should earn a blog post all of its own, and I am sure I will write it one day. This was my mother’s favorite book, and one of my top-two as well. As you can see, between the two of us, there are multiple copies. Cassandra tells her story with the beguiling opening sentence, “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” She lives in a crumbling castle in the 1930’s with her family, and it is the only book I have read over and over again. Really, it should be read by anyone who loves England and manor homes.
Atonement by Ian McEwan also takes place on a country estate during the 1930’s and reminds me most of Downton Abbey. Also, one of my favorite books of all-time. My copy is flagged with numerous sentences that made me gasp at their beauty.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Longbourne, Pemberley -- more lovely country estates, and I have a feeling that the Dowager Countess was much like Elizabeth Bennett when she was younger.

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. Young girl marries and moves to Manderley. Mrs. Danvers and Mrs. O’Brian -- lots of parallels there -- just saying.
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton. Set in the same period as Downton Abbey, and you will not be able to put it down. At least, I wasn’t able to do so.
Trinity by Leon Uris. Also on my all-time favorites list. If you want more background about why the Irish chauffeur, Branson, feels the way he does about Irish independence and the landed gentry, this book will explain it all. A sweeping saga that sucks you right in -- this was the first book I ever read that made me cry.
Two books that will be making their way to my house in the coming days have been listed numerous times for people who love Downton Abbey.

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons. It is about a girl who must leave Vienna in 1938 and goes to work as a housemaid in England. We will see if it lives up to the hype.
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle. Downton Abbey is filmed at Highclere Castle and is the seat of the Carnarvon family. Now those who know their Egyptology may recognize that name -- Lord Carnarvon provided the funding for Howard Carter’s expedition that found King Tut. I love tidbits like that! Anyway, the current Countess has written a book about Lady Almina who lived at Highclere during the same time period of Downton Abbey. It is non-fiction, but I am interested enough to read it.
Any other books that are similar that I should add to my list?

I will eagerly await any suggestions while I have a spot of tea. :)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dear Mr. Faulkner...

Dear Mr. Faulkner,

I am afraid our brief acquaintance must come to an end. It’s not you, it’s me. Well, it’s my inability to understand your writing. I have long cherished a hope that you and I could be BFFs, but I have come to the realization that we are not meant to be.

For twenty-two years, you have been the ghost at my shoulder as I wrote. My ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Stewart, once told me, “Your writing reminds me of William Faulkner’s.” I took it as high praise. Now…I can’t help but wonder if it was not meant to be complimentary. Was she referring to my long-winded sentences that were paragraphs within themselves, or was there something more insidious in her comment? I will forever wonder.

Although you may not know it, our paths have crossed many times. I read your short stories in both high school and college. “A Rose for Emily” was the perfect example of Southern gothic fiction. Surely, I thought, your other writing would elicit a similar sense of joy in me.

Joy? Not the word I would choose now.

When Charles and I visited New Orleans, I fell in love with Pirate’s Alley where you lived and wrote some of your first stories. I bought a picture of it. I bought a copy of your short stories at Faulkner’s Books.

I was convinced we were going to be kindred spirits.

Kindred? Not the word I would choose now.

I believed you and I would get along royally due to the company you kept. You were Southern -- I love Tennessee Williams and Eudora Welty. You were a modernist -- T.S. Eliot, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway are all great companions of mine. James Joyce? Not so much. Perhaps when I read you wrote in a stream of consciousness that should have been a tip off.

But no. I went blithely on, thinking you and I were meant to be.

You were a New Year’s resolution. I was going to become a Faulkner aficionado. I even printed off an article entitled, “How to Read Faulkner.”

I checked out The Sound and the Fury from the library. (Thank goodness I only borrowed you.)

 I settled down to spend my Friday night with you.

That is a Friday night I will never regain.

Where did we go wrong?

Perhaps it was when you trapped me in Benjy’s mind for 75 pages. 75 pages of stream of consciousness with Benjy jumping from one point to another.

Perhaps it was when I couldn’t figure out whether Quentin was a boy or a girl because Benjy kept changing from calling Quentin a him to a her. (Do you know it took me looking up a Wikipedia article to discover that there were two Quentins? How was I supposed to figure this out on my own???)

Perhaps it was the sense that I was moving through a vat of molasses in January.

When did I know we were never going to work out?

That I can answer definitively. It was in the nine pages of the second section. While I had thought Benjy was a difficult narrator, nothing prepared me for Quentin as a narrator. He was impossible to follow, and I realized…

Why was I doing this to myself? Our relationship was unhealthy to my own well-being. I could not and would not put myself through 296 more pages of this madness just to say I had read it.

You and I. We were never meant to be.

I wish you the best. Go on and live a happy life in college classes and literary circles far loftier than the ones I frequent.

One day, our paths may cross again, and I would still like to visit your lovely home, Rowan Oaks, and leave you a bottle of Jack Daniel’s at your grave. I hope that we can remain nodding acquaintances.

For my part, I have found a new BFF. Her name is Fannie Flagg and I am reading her book Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man. I knew she was the kindred spirit I was searching for within the first chapter when I had laughed out loud on every page.

Who wouldn’t love lines like, “The trip down was great. I saw real cotton growing and cows and read Burma Shave signs and there were rednecks all along the side of the road. Momma says I have white trash blood on my father’s side, but I don’t believe it”?

Maybe Daisy Fay is my rebound relationship, but she sure is a heap more fun than Benjy and Quentin.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Of Mice and Books!

Mice terrify me. Actually all rodents terrify me, but today, I am writing about mice.

Real mice and literary mice (because after all, ALL of my life can apparently be tied in with reading and books).

Let’s start with a little story about real mice.

Over the last several days, there has been a mouse in the front office of our school. This has been a bit nerve-wracking for me because I use the bathroom in the office (my room is just two doors down from it).

Well, there have been traps set all around the office with peanut butter. Yesterday, it was discovered that said mouse has been licking all the peanut butter off the traps.

Wily little mouse.

So, our assistant principal put in those high-frequency sounding mouse deterrents that plug into outlets.

What a great idea, I thought!

Not really.

Fast forward to about 2:10 yesterday afternoon. I was on my planning and feeling pretty good about life in general. I had graded all my papers, was all set for Tuesday, and was just hours away from our three-day weekend. I decided to treat myself to a few pages of the Walt Disney biography (I kid you not) I have been reading before my seventh-grade students arrived at 2:30.

Perfect peace and quiet.

When what to my peripheral vision should skitter by? A little brown scurrying piece of fur just inches away from my feet which disappeared between the bookcase and my file cabinets.

I shot out of my chair and was in the front office within seconds where I stood wringing my hands and declaring the mouse had vacated its former premises and was now in my room.

There may or may not have been a note of hysteria in my voice. Have I mentioned how much mice creep me out???

So, our principal accompanied me down to my room. Sure enough, he found the apparently baby mouse behind my file cabinet. (I was kind of hoping my paranoia had been playing tricks on me.)

I may or may not have been standing in the chair of a student desk while he was moving the bookcase and file cabinets.

Upon the arrival of two custodians and another teacher, I left them to do their thing.

Imagine my dismay when my principal arrived back in the office to tell me that they had been unsuccessful in catching the mouse, and it was now in one of my closets.

I may or may not have descended further into hysteria.

Somehow I managed to teach the last hour of the day. I taught a good portion of it standing in my doorway.

When the kids asked me why I was doing that, I did tell them about the mouse.

One Student: Um, you know mice can go under doors?

Me: The door isn’t open for the mouse. It’s open for me, because let me just say this up front, if the mouse reappears, I am out of here. You are on your own.

Another Student: Gee, thanks.

Me: I will protect you from tornadoes, fires, and armed intruders, but I cannot and will not protect you from mice.

Luckily, my students know me well enough that they just laughed. However, I don’t think they realized I was being quite serious.

Yet Another Student: But you love Mickey Mouse???

Me: That’s what we call “irony.” (I then did a quick lesson on irony. That’s me -- able to bring out the literary element tie-in even in the face of an impending nervous breakdown.)

As soon as the students were dismissed, I was out of there.

I refuse to think about the fact that the mouse will still be there on Tuesday, and that I need to get into that closet to get out the copy of CATS (again, I promise I am not making this up) I need to show my eighth graders after they take their test on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

I didn’t always hate mice. In fact, growing up, one of my favorite books was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I loved that book so much I begged my mother for a pet rat. I know, I know -- my excuse was I had never actually seen a live rodent (when I did that’s when the phobia started). I was to discover there is a huge difference between anthropomorphic rodents and real ones. Real ones do not talk and hold intelligent conversations among themselves.
Another childhood favorite was The Cricket in Times Square. Who wouldn’t love Tucker Mouse and his streetwise ways?
And Stuart Little. Also a cutie.
Recently, Despereaux from The Tale of Despereaux has entered into the pantheon of literary mice. He wields a sword. I don’t think my mouse could do that. But he can lick the peanut butter off traps without setting them off, so perhaps I am not giving him enough credit.
Mice in adult books do not fare as well as those in children’s literature.

I think you know what I mean…

Mr. Jingles…
Lennie’s mouse in Of Mice and Men
If given the choice, I would definitely pull to be a mouse in a children’s book. My chances of survival would be much higher.

Of course, no blog would be complete without mention of the leader of the Literary Mouse Club and the only mouse I will willingly take a picture with -- our very own Mickey Mouse. (He has appeared in comic books and books, so he gets to be included).
I just wish that my new resident hadn’t mistaken the presence of Mickey-related paraphernalia in my room as a sign of a mouse-friendly habitat.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Top Eleven Books of 2011!

Happy New Year’s Eve! As the final hours of 2011 tick by, I hope everyone has a great start to 2012. I have a slew of mental goals and resolutions, but above all I hope that 2012 is a better year than 2011 for me. Really and truly, I could pretty much write this year off. That’s not to say that everything has been horrible this year -- after all, there have been some highlights -- winning Teacher of the Year at my school, going to Tybee Island, my children continuing to grow into young adults, seeing my aunt and uncle from Australia again -- but losing my mother pretty much cast a pale on everything.

However, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to recapture my sense of optimism and fun -- I feel like I have let that slip away just not this year, but for several years. Of course, last night when I was being negative, Charles commented that he thought I was going to approach life more cheerfully. I had to tell him, “In 2012 -- I still have some time to be a pessimist this year.” :)

I am digressing, though. I thought it would be fun to wind up the year with a list of my top eleven books I read this past year that I have not previously mentioned on the blog. They are in no particular order except for my number one favorite of the year which goes onto my all-time favorite list.

Out of the 84 books I read this year, which ones make the list? As you will see, my list is not filled with “literary achievements.” Often, I find those books too dense and sometimes outright depressing. I read because I enjoy reading, and I read to escape the real world of emptying the dishwasher and mounds of laundry. I don’t necessarily want something that makes me want to gouge my eyes out. None of those types of books, please. So, you will see that I read a lot of what other people might call “fluff.” It’s fun fluff, though, makes me happy, and sometimes I learn a thing or two along the way.

Without further ado…

11. The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
Sarah Addison Allen writes a genre of fiction called “magic realism.” Magic realism, by definition, is a style in which magical elements are blended with the real world. In The Peach Keeper, Willa returns to her North Carolina hometown and strange occurrences begin when a skeleton is discovered underneath the old peach tree.

10. Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman
I love Carol Goodman’s books, and this one was no exception. Arcadia Falls is about a mother and her teenage daughter who go to live at a small college in upstate New York where the mother begins teaching folklore and mythology classes. Part gothic and part ode to the power of fairy tales.

9. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
The Paris Wife is the fictional story of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, and their years in Paris. Ernest Hemingway has always been one of my favorite writers -- along with a few others -- but this book was an eye-opener. I always thought of Hemingway the way he looked in his later years. You know the mental image I mean. Throughout the book, Hadley (it’s told in the first-person point of view) kept saying how good-looking Hemingway was. What??? No way! Well, I looked up some pictures. Hello, Ernest Hemingway! He was quite the looker before the drinking got to him. Changed my whole perception of him. Still don’t believe me? Google early pictures of Ernest Hemingway. Now. 


8. Swept Off Her Feet by Hester Browne
Hester Browne was an author my mother introduced me to -- British chick-lit with a beautiful vintage twist. Swept Off Her Feet is about Evie Nicholson, an antiques buyer, who can never pass up the odd antique. She is sent to Scottish castle to help the owners sell off some of their heirlooms. There were parts where I laughed out loud at Evie’s penchant for finding odd things, and there were Scottish reels and romance to sweeten the whole story. 


7. The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure
I am not one who normally reads non-fiction. I need a story with dialogue, so I tend to steer clear of anything that isn’t fiction. I made an exception for The Wilder Life, though, since I had loved the Little House books when I was little -- I can still remember being fascinated in a grossed-out kind of way that the girls made a ball out of a pig’s bladder and being in shock over the grasshoppers eating all the crops. Wendy McClure wrote about her obsession with Laura Ingalls Wilder and how she tried to recapture her lifestyle (the churning butter story had me laughing) and visit all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homesites (her purchases at the gift shops were equally amusing).  A true must-read for anybody who grew up loving The Little House on the Prairie books.

6. Summer in the South by Cathy Holton
I will admit that I started this book with very low expectations, and I was pleasantly surprised. Ava heads to Tennessee to spend the summer with the aunts of a college friend and in the process unearths quite the 1920’s/1930’s mystery. Rather surprisingly delightful.

5. The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful! Here’s the description on the back of the book: “In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown. Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her ancestors and starts to write.” That’s all I am going to tell you. Truly one of my favorites of the year.

 4. The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson
“A modern gothic novel of love, secrets, and murder -- set against the backdrop of Provence.” That’s the description on Amazon. Let me add that it all takes place in a cottage where the main character has moved with her boyfriend, Dom, of whom she knows very little.

 3. Folly Beach by Dorothea Benton Frank
Being a Charleston girl, I eagerly devour all of Dorothea Benton Frank’s books since they are set in and around my hometown. They won’t change your view of the world, but they are fun for summer reading. This is probably my favorite book that she has written because she tied in DuBose and Dorothy Heyward’s histories on Folly Beach, and how they eventually wrote Porgy and Bess with George Gershwin. Fascinating from a historical point of view.

 2. Summer Rental by Mary Kay Andrews
Another Southern author I adore is Mary Kay Andrews. Her books definitely make me smile more, and Summer Rental was another fun read. Set on the Outer Banks, it made me glad that we had rented a beach house for our summer vacation, otherwise I would have been pining away for some time with my feet in the sand.

And my number one favorite book of 2011...

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Did I hear you gasp in surprise that I had never read it before? I know. I know. To think I call myself a Southerner and a reader, and I had never before read To Kill a Mockingbird. How is that even possible???

 Somehow in my thirty-seven years, I had never read it. Well, one of my resolutions for 2011 was to read all the classic Southern authors that I had never really read before -- William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, etc. Didn’t get too far with that one, so I am putting it back on the list for this year. However, I did get around to reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and it was such a treat.

Treat? Seriously?

Yes, an absolute gem. Of course, I had seen the movie and knew the gut-wrenching story, and every time I read the name Atticus Finch, I envisioned Gregory Peck. However, nothing prepared me for the wry sense of understated humor Scout brought to the first half of the story. I laughed out loud so many times at her perceptions of life in her small town, and I was enamored, absolutely enamored, with her tale. Of course, things get dark -- really dark, but, in the end, I still loved the book and its theme of never really understanding another human being until “you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

To Kill a Mockingbird also gave me one of those oh-so-rare moments of sheer delight when I was gussing about it to a friend, and she said, “You know who Dill was in real life, don’t you?” I had to confess my ignorance, and when she told me it was Truman Capote, all the pieces of that puzzle fell together. “Oh my goodness! That explains so much!” was my response, but it didn’t come close to truly conveying my feelings of joy that here was a literary connection where I least expected it. I adore tidbits like those.

As 2012 leans ever closer, I wonder what books the year will bring to me and which resolutions and goals I will achieve. My top ones are:

1. Approach all of my life with a positive attitude.
2. Read more classic Southern authors. I think I will start with William Faulkner. With the exception of “A Rose for Emily” (one of my favorite short stories) and “Barn Burning” (a story I could have lived without reading), I have not done him credit. I think I will sweeten this goal with the prize of a trip to Rowan Oaks.
3. Refine my Southern cooking abilities. I recently bought a cookbook called Southern Cakes -- I think I will start there.

That’s as far as I have gotten -- will have to think some more…:)
Happy New Year!