Our Year in Reading 2013

book lists notebook
Our “Book of Books”

Whenever we reach year’s end, my husband Dan bemoans how short his book list is. Actually, he reads a ton for someone who works as hard as he does at a regular day job (which often requires his evenings as well) and is as involved as he is in the running of our household.

He also does this thing I really admire but don’t tend to do with my own reading, which is find a writer he likes, then read several books by the same person. Continue reading

What We Read in 2012

Moby-Dick cover
Best. Book. Ever.

For the third year in a row, I’m publishing the lists of books that my husband Dan and I read this past year. Interestingly, we both started the year with Melville, he with Billy Budd and I with Moby-Dick. A good way to start a year of reading, methinks.

The only book we both read was Don’t Take Me the Long Way, a memoir by M. C. Mars, whose cab Dan and I had the good fortune to ride in after our 25th anniversary dinner at La Folie in San Francisco. He regaled us with stories both wonderful and harrowing about driving in the City, and I eventually said in my writerly and English-teacher-y way, “Have you thought about writing some of this down?”

“I have written it down,” he said, and held up a book. He had a small box of them next to him on the front seat. We added its price to the cab fare, he signed it for us, and it ended up being the only book that both Dan and I read this year. It’s pretty entertaining stuff. Continue reading

What We Read in 2011

book lists notebookFor the second year in a row, my husband and I have kept lists of all the books we read during the year. Last year we had very few books in common, but this year we had more overlap, including David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, plus a few books one of us read in 2010 and the other in 2011 (Meloy, Franzen).

But perhaps most notable is that for the first time in — well, perhaps, ever, we agreed on a favorite book of the year: Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Quirky, compelling, plainly yet gorgeously written. I don’t know why this novel isn’t more famous. Jackson is about so much more than “The Lottery.”

I’m also struck by the way in which my husband will find a writer he likes and then just clean up through their oeuvre. Continue reading

Orientalism Alive and Well: David Mitchell’s “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet”

David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de ZoetI couldn’t wait to read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. The novel is about nearly everything I enjoy reading and writing about: Japan. The late 18th century. The early 19th century. Sailing ships. Encounters between East and West. It even includes a few references to my own pet subject, the La Pérouse expedition.

Well, now I’ve read it, and I’m so sorry to say this because it makes me look like the girl at the party who sits in the corner and scowls at all the people having fun, but I have some serious gripes with this book. Continue reading

What We Read in 2010

In 2010, for the first time in my life, I kept a list of all the books I read during the year. My husband Dan did too. We kept our lists in a small blank book we called “The Book of Books.”

Today I sat down to type up our lists, and I was struck by a few things:

First, no wonder our house and garden are such a mess. Clearly we spend all of our spare time reading.

Second, I’m impressed by the length and diversity of my husband’s reading list, especially as he’s a more-than-full-time working stiff. I’m especially impressed by how much contemporary fiction he reads. More than I do. A lot more. Honestly, if it weren’t for my book club, I wouldn’t have read much contemporary fiction at all this year.

Finally, I started reading poetry collections for the first time this year, and I wish I’d started earlier — like 20 years earlier. I’ll never live long enough now to have read enough poetry.

Our lists, in the order completed (ss=short stories; nf=non-fiction; p=poetry; g=graphic novel; unmarked=novels or plays). I could not resist the impulse to annotate a bit: Continue reading

My Pushcart nominations

This morning I walked to the mailbox and posted my Pushcart Prize nominations.

This is the best thing about being a past Pushcart winner. Well, maybe the second-best thing. The best thing, for me, is appearing right above William Carlos Williams in the index at the back of each Pushcart volume since I made my lucky appearance in the anthology a few years ago. One of these days an Oscar or Samantha Williams is going to come between me and William Carlos, and I’m going to be very sad for a few minutes.

But for as long as I or the Pushcart lasts, I get to be a contributing editor. I love everything about this, starting with the amazing fact that I am invited to send in nominations right along with seasoned editors and famous authors. I love reading something wonderful in a lit journal and feeling like I can do something about it, something more than just posting about it on Facebook. I love nominating poems and essays as well as my genre, short stories. And I love having to mail in the list—an old-fashioned letter, addressed to a real person (Bill Henderson, the man who’s kept this going for 35 years), folded into a real envelope, and affixed with a real stamp.

But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t manage to bring some stress to this delightful activity. For most of the year, I read very happily, noting any writing that amazes me on a “Pushcart nominations” list I keep on my desktop. But as the December 15 deadline draws closer, I grow anxious. At least half a dozen journals are piled up on my coffee table unfinished or even unopened. What wonderful pieces are going to lose out on getting nominated because I didn’t spend more time reading? Not that I really need more entries on my nominations list: I already have more than the ten I’m allowed. Who will I cut from the list? Continue reading

On Mornings

tea tray
My daily tea

I am not a morning person. I often don’t sleep well or enough, and frequently wake up feeling exhausted, unwell, or in pain.

Yet I’ve settled into a daily a.m. routine that not only reconciles me to waking up but reminds me pointedly of my blessings before leaving me blissfully alone to work. One day I’ll look back on these mornings with fondness, which I guess makes this post an exercise in prospective nostalgia.

Waking begins, at least in these cooler months, by fumbling about for my Japanese hanten, a quilted, hip-length, kimono-style jacket. If I can just find it and put it on first thing, getting out of bed doesn’t seem so ghastly. I’ve owned a hanten since my early 20s. My current one was a 40th birthday present from my mother and would be one of the first things I grabbed if the house were falling down and my family was already safely outside. Continue reading