Monthly Archives: December 2012

Best Books of 2012

I just barely made my annual goal of reading 150 books; this year the book-reading machine was derailed by spending lots of time poking around in guidebooks to Egypt, Jordan, and England.  I did not count most of those books in my reading totals.

But here’s my list of the Best of the Best of those 150 that I read.  In sort-of descending order…meaning that I save the best three for last.

1) Going Bovine by Libba Bray

6512140

I find so many of my very favorite books by reading books my friends hate.  Why is that?  Do we really have such opposing tastes?  But I honestly don’t see how anyone could hate this book. It’s a smart, clever, snarky real-life fantasy with heart and social commentary and brilliance all wrapped up with yard gnomes and mad cows.

2) Surviving Survival by Laurence Gonzales

surviving_survival

I’m reading a lot more non-fiction that I used to, which is excellent.   This one is completely fascinating. And if anything horrible has happened to destroy your life, this book might actually bring you genuine help and relief.

3) Lost on Planet China by J. Maarten Troost

China

Now this is the kind of travel book I like, one that doesn’t feel it has to sugar-coat anything. I couldn’t put it down! And I kept reading bits of it aloud to anyone who happened to be in the room with me, which is a sure sign I’ve found a truly fascinating book.

That said, if you’re planning a trip to China, this book just might change your mind. I’ve never really felt much desire to visit China in person, and now? I’ve *definitely* absolutely crossed it off my list of to-go places in the world. Just the pollution alone…GAH. I’m not sure the Chinese are going to live long enough to become the next Superpower in the world.

4) The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne Valente

9668611

Absolutely brilliant language, characters, and storytelling. If this book has a flaw, it’s that the language is *so* lovely and perfect, that I found it difficult to be sucked into the story at first. I just kept reading every single sentence over again and examining it like I would a jewel.  It’s technically a ‘children’s book’, but if you’re the sort of person who shuns reading a book because it’s shelved in the children’s area, then shame, shame, shame on you.

5) Breasts by Florence Williams

373026_223517067750049_1624421619_n

I was introduced to this book when a particular skeevy guy handed it over the library front desk to me…with a particularly skeevy smile. I started flipping through it, and while I imagine the skeevy guy was quite disappointed by it, I was captivated.  Fascinating, educational, and you (yes YOU!) have to read it if you own a pair of breasts – and especially if you ever plan on having children. The chapter on breast milk blew my mind, and I now believe breast milk to be one of the most amazing things on the planet.

6) White People by Frances Hodgson Burnett

14528

Such a lovely story on the fear of death, and why that fear shouldn’t exist.

7) Stay Awake by Dan Chaon

628x471

I was SO HAPPY when I saw this book on my to-be-processed cart at my library. Dan Chaon is an absolute master (and my personal favorite) in the short story genre. His language is like poetry – and in this collection, numerous times it literally does slip into poetry, in the most natural way possible. I find myself re-reading sections: the first and second time because they were so beautiful, and then again because I want to discover how he did that…right there. That perfect bit of writing.

My story favorite is definitely the last: “The Farm. The Gold. The Lily-White Hands.” Haunting. I think it’s now on my list of the five best short stories ever written.

8) The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

cover-lock_artist-quote-large

So good, and so well done. It’s really quite impossible to put this book down.  I loved the interweaving of the the past and the present.  It’s a perfect example of how to do that style of writing.

9) Meditations on Violence by Rory Miller

Meditations-on-Violence-A-Comparison-of-Martial-Arts-Training-and-Real-World-Violence

This book is not about the martial arts, or at least the majority of the book is not. The book is actually about how to prepare yourself to survive violence of any kind, and the reasons why you might, or might not. Fascinating, because Miller lives with extreme violence as a daily event, and knows of what he speaks. I particularly appreciate that his emphasis is on avoidance; his belief is that although there are times when violence is unavoidable, for most ‘ordinary’ people, it IS avoidable, simply by the decisions we make, daily. But we can’t make the right decisions if we don’t understand what we’re doing, and that’s where this book could become a life-changer.

Highly, highly recommended to everyone, women and men. Especially if you think you don’t need a book like this!

10) Violence: A Writer’s Guide by Rory Miller

5381caaee960272bca1b050d91b896285ce1d08b-thumb

I have several characters in my head that are professional criminals. I’ve always been pretty sure I know what their mindset is, but I was excited to read this book, because if I was wrong, I knew I could trust the author to shatter my illusions. (Rory Miller is the Real Deal.)

It turns out I actually do have a handle on real violence and the criminal mind! What Miller says in this book is nearly exactly what I already believed to be true, so yay me and my fictional fiends.

And then he adds on brilliant information on what exactly being tasered is like, what different types of bullets do to the human body, and where and how to strike if you want to cause someone the most pain and/or incapacitate them the fastest. And much, much more. Valuable knowledge, this.

And I love how he cuts through the politically-correct BS, and talks about the difference between men and women when it comes to violence, and how female police officers SHOULD be trained, as opposed to male officers. And when it came to women protecting themselves by avoiding dangerous situations, I wanted to stand up and applaud:

“When I tell someone that the most important thing a young woman can do to avoid being raped is to avoid places with lots of young men (and if you absolutely have to go to those place, don’t drink) the dumb responses range from: ‘Girls have a right to have fun’ to ‘You’re just blaming the victim’ all the way up to the ludicrous, ‘A woman should be able to walk naked into a biker bar and not be bothered.’ These are political ideals. They might even be the way the world should work. They are not the way the world actually works. The responsibility for self-protection has to rest with the potential victim because the potential rapist has no interest whatsoever in her safety or rights. The potential victim is the one who cares.”

11) The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

13449693

This is The Best Book I read in 2012.  Sometimes, when you read a book, it’s so different from the inside of your own head that it feels prickly, or cruel, or too big inside you. Sometimes, you love a book for just those reasons, for the differences between you. Sometimes, you read a book like that over and over and over again, until it alters the actual shape of your brain. And then you say: This book changed my life. And you love it for the rest of your life.

And sometimes, a book just is you. From the first moment you begin reading, it’s already the most perfect size and shape. The Raven Boys is that kind of book for me. It just feels so comfortable; it’s something I could have written myself, the language, the humor – it’s all so perfectly me. These characters…wow. I never even really cared about the plot, I wasn’t reading because I needed to know what the ending was, I just wanted to be here, spending time with these people. They fit me.

 

Do you have a favorite book you read this year?  I’m always looking for suggestions!  🙂

Advertisements

Joy Unending

Loved what my pastor had to say about joy last week:

So many starving souls have tasted religion and concluded that Christianity is all about sucking lemons and renouncing pleasure! It’s one thing to reject Jesus intelligently; it’s another to reject Him stupidly! “You reject me because you want joy?! You don’t even know. There are reasons to reject Me – this isn’t one of ‘em!”

-Pastor Bruce Wersen

jump-for-joy

“Joy is the serious business of Heaven.” ~ C. S. Lewis

Isaiah 55:12 – “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”

 

If only I could.

I wish I could run away to a tropical island for the next week.

s

Nothing but this, and me.

The Hobbit

I really, really like what Peter Jackson is doing with the Hobbit film trilogy.  The Hobbit has always been one of my favorite books in the world (arguably THE favorite.)  I have read it a million times, and will never stop re-reading it.  It makes me happy, just by its simple existence in the world.

Peter Jackson’s film in not the same as the book.  Its child-like whimsey is lessened, in favor of bringing in a more adult understanding of Middle Earth, and this adventure’s ultimate impact on future events.  This is not a bad thing, and Jackson did keep much of the flavor of the book.  But in leaving out some of the simpler and sillier happenings, he added so much more.  It’s as though I grew up being told a bedtime story by a beloved uncle, and now that uncle has sat me down, in the clear cold light of day, and said: Now here’s the things I didn’t tell you before.  Here is why it happened, and exactly how, and the reason I didn’t tell you before is because I wanted you to feel safe and happy and not be concerned with the Things That Are Dark, and the Things That Are Coming.  I wanted you to laugh, and not to cry.

Even when I was a kid reading the Hobbit, it felt like I was being told only half of the story, the safe part.  And I’m delighted that Jackson has decided that we are all adults now, and he can tell us everything.  And almost all every scrap of it came from Tolkien’s own writings.

Tolkien meant to tell us THIS story.  He originally planned to re-write the Hobbit, and make it much less a children’s story, and much more what it is: the first book of The Lord of the Rings saga.  I think Tolkien would be very pleased with what Jackson has done.

So, it case you can’t tell from the above, I went to see the Hobbit yesterday, and I loved it.  I actually teared up at the very beginning, just because it was so very lovely to be back in Middle Earth.   Warning: I will now talk about what happens in the film.  So if you don’t wish to be spoiled, don’t read any further!

As always, I love the look of the Shire, and Bag End.  It is so perfectly done.

bagend

This, right here, is something like what my home in Heaven will look like. I am certain of that.  It pulls to me with every fiber of my being!  I am a hobbit, really.  I love the elves, and the elven clothing, art, and designs, but I would not be happy living as an elf.

bagend2

I loved, loved, that they began the Hobbit almost exactly where they began The Fellowship of the Ring – almost to the moment.  Jackson, you are a brilliant man, and it’s obvious you love these books as much as I do.  It’s obvious you are making three films because you love them, and not because you want to make money off the fans.  (Shame on you, Patrick Rothfuss, for saying Jackson ‘crapped on your childhood’ by making this film – even though you haven’t seen it, and thus know nothing of what you rant.  The Hobbit is not “your” exclusive childhood.  It is my childhood, it is Jackson’s childhood, and belongs to everyone who loves it.  If you don’t want to see another artist’s representation, then don’t.  But don’t froth at the beard because he made a movie you don’t want to see.  In this, you suck.)  Sorry, back to the film.

Bilbo was brilliantly cast.  Martin Freeman IS Bilbo.

Bilbo-and-Gandalf-Go-High-Res

One place the film actually outshines the book, is with the personalizing of the dwarves.  I am not a fan of dwarves, generally.  The dwarves in the Hobbit book were my least favorite of any of its characters.  I really didn’t care if they regained their ancestral home from Smaug…I just wanted them to succeed because I loved Bilbo.  And Gandalf.  And everyone else.  And part of that is because dwarves have an image problem.  They are generally (in every work of fiction I’ve read or watched) the dumpy, lumpy, semi-stupid, slapstick characters.  And when there are thirteen of them?  Let’s just say…in my umpteenth readings of the Hobbit, I could only remember two of them distinctly: Thorin Oakenshield, and Bombur.  Thorin I always found a bit unlikeable (too arrogant!) and Bombur…well.  Again with the lumpy, dumpy, slapstick!

But now?  Jackson has fleshed them out for me.  I finally understand them, and who they are, and I like them – as people.  I get why Thorin is so prickly and arrogant-seeming.  I think I finally see them how Tolkien saw them.   And I love that Jackson didn’t shy from the lumpy dumpy slapstick (it’s a genuine part of the book) but also didn’t hesitate to show the other side.  Because they did have one, these dwarves.  They were warriors and rulers of men.

It doesn’t hurt that Thorin and Kili are super-hot, either:

12-jpg_100613

Can it BE that I actually have a crush on dwarves?  Dwarves???

kili-aidanturner

But my favorite dwarf is Balin, because his heart-to-heart talks with Thorin nearly broke my heart.  So SWEET.

thcc_balin_01

And the dwarves SING the SONGS.  This is my ultimate proof that Jackson loves this book like I do.  I think any other director in the world, if he were trying to make a ‘serious’ film out of a children’s book, would have left out (at the very least) the “That’s what Bilbo Baggins Hates” song.   But it worked.  It worked brilliantly.

The costuming was great – when it came to the dwarves’ costumes, and that of Radagast .  The whole concept for Radagast was gorgeously done – well, as gorgeous as a costume involving bird poop can look.  🙂  But huzzah the costumers for that one.  It makes me wish a were a beard-y type man, so I could make and wear that costume.  (Perhaps I will, anyway!)  The hobbits were also spot-on, and one of my only disappointments with Part One, is that the lady hobbit costumes I’ve been drooling over online didn’t make an appearance.  I’m absolutely making one of those!  But the elves were lacking the costume-spark.  They were…fine.  But after the close-up magic of the LOTR elvish-wear?  These weren’t nearly good enough.  The elven sets were gorgeous though, especially the place where Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel spoke.

7929160

I couldn’t find an image that really showed it well.  The use of water was beyond breathtaking.

But the best part, THE BEST PART was Riddles in the Dark.  I squee just remembering the awesomesauce-ness of that scene.  Wow.  Gollum was exactly what he should be, half heart-breaking, half terrifying.

gollum-hobbit-feature

I can’t wait for part two.