Monthly Archives: December 2010

Top Ten for ’10

Ahi poke

black-eyed peas with ham

Do you eat raw tuna or black-eyed peas on New Year’s Eve for luck?  If you’re from Pittsburgh, maybe it’s sauerkraut and hot dogs or black-eyed peas?

Do you watch the ball drop at Times Square or breathe in the fireworks?

Your New Year’s Eve tradition marks the promise of more to come; this time last year I started a tradition of listing my top 10 reads of the year.

Let me know what yours are…     and Happy New Year!

10.  Zeitoun

9.  Wolf Hall

8.  Arcadia Falls

7.  Cleopatra

6.  Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk

5.  The Kind Diet

4.   Freedom

3.  2.  1.   ….keep changing with my mood…

To see last year’s top ten:

Packing for Mars

Ever think about what the astronauts eat and drink – besides Tang and that space ice cream sold at the Air and Space museum gift shop?  Mary Roach covers incoming and outgoing nutrients, along with a number of other harrowing experiences in Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.

With a mix of scientific research, NASA experiments, and practical humor, Roach reveals behind-the-scenes preparations and in-flight stories that read like a Dave Barry adventure.  If you are a fan of bathroom humor, be sure to read Chapter 14 – “The Continuing Saga of Zero-Gravity Elimination.”

Each of the 16 chapters teases with a title and clever subtitle, e.g., “Houston, We Have a Fungus:  Space Hygiene and the Men Who Stopped Bathing for Science;” you can pick and choose how to read the book.

Roach concludes…

“ yes, the money could be better spent on Earth.  But would it?…It is always squandered.  Let’s squander some on Mars.  Let’s go out and play.”

The trip is scheduled for the 2030s…

The Last Week of a Marriage

Joyce Carol Oates

I was never a fan of Joyce Carol Oates; her penchant for evil, violence, and just plain weird  never appealed to me.  I never actively sought out her work, but when one of her short stories appeared in a New Yorker, I made myself read her contribution – and connected to her writing.

An excerpt from her newest book – a memoir – has the gripping quality of a suspense novel and the surreal facility of making the reader think she is telling a story – not the real experiences.   In “A Widow’s Story,” Oates recalls “the last week of a marriage” – when her husband of 46 years dies.

A Widow's Story: A Memoir

If you have ever been through the vigil of watching someone you love in a hospital, missing the moment of death by a hair, you will relate to her reality; if you have not, you will connect to her fiction.

The book will be published in March, 2011, and Oates promises  a book that is “ practical and darkly funny.”

If you’d like a taste now, get a copy of the December 13th New Yorker – page 70 to 79.

Happy Boxing Day

Today is Boxing Day for my Canadian friends, and a new Canadian author, Tom Rachman – author of The Imperfectionsists is cited in the December 26th Sunday New York Times Book Review…It’s {John Grisham’s}  favorite novel of the year and one of the most promising debuts…read in some time.”

I found this “comic novel” in my favorite West Hollywood bookstore – Book Soup –

Book Soup in West Hollywood

where people behind the register still read and will actually engage in a conversation about books.

If you haven’t yet read the book, and want a taste of what The Imperfectionsists is about, I reviewed it…

and the New Yorker did an interview with Rachman…

Rescue by Anita Shreve

Appreciating what you have, not wishing you had taken a different path – popular theme this time of year – what if…

And if you dare to wonder?  Clarence only gets his wings when George Bailey realizes It’s A Wonderful Life as he is living it.  Anita Shreve offers her version this year with her latest book, Rescue, but her ending is more cautious – a little schmaltzy, but not as happy as Frank Capra’s classic.

Webster, a young paramedic, meets the love of his life, Sheila, at the scene of her DWI accident.  He rescues her; she gets pregnant; they marry.  For awhile, all is well – until Sheila starts drinking again and has another car accident – this time injuring two-year old Rowan.  Thinking his life and that of their two-year old would be better off without her, Webster sends Sheila away.

Fifteen years later, after yet another accident – this time involving a rebellious drunken teenage Rowan, Sheila reenters their lives.

Shreve’s story seems a little too contrived, but through Webster, she gives us a glimpse inside the head of a man who faces death and survival in his “rescue” job everyday.    No real surprises in Rescue; instead, Shreve’s strength is in the details – inviting you to become part of the family – so that you feel you are inside the story with them.