365 – A Post A Day for 2011

         I did it!    A post a day for 2011.

Click on any date on my 2011 calendar to find something to read.

Last January, the task seemed monumental – not that I didn’t have enough to say (sometimes enough for more than once a day) – but the discipline of posting about a book, or a topic related to reading books…everyday…  could I?   Oh yes, and with pleasure.

And, yes, I really did read everything.   My secret?  When I have a choice of watching yet another lame television show or reading a book – no contest.  Besides, having relocated to another time zone, I sometimes just cannot find those old favorites.

Thanks to all those who silently encouraged me, to those who expressed a “like,” and to those who commented and sometimes carried on a conversation.

Will I try again for 2012?  Probably not every day, but I will continue to post regularly and look forward to sustaining the momentum and the fellow readers I’ve met this year.

Tonight, as I have one ear on Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Eve, I’ll be reading Chris Bohjalian’s Night Strangers – a strange ghost story set in New England – that should keep me awake past midnight.

Happy New Year, Everyone!

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Read It Again, Sam

 As this year comes to an end, you may be looking back at those books you read; maybe you’ll consider reading them again?

In his essay for the New York Times Book Review – Read It Again, Sam –  David Bowman identifies famous authors who reread books – for inspiration, for motivation, to identify a structure to follow, to discover nuances, or just in awe of great writing…

“The biographer and novelist Edmund White {notes}: ‘I reread in order to remind myself how good you have to be in order to be any good at all.’ “

Stephen King regularly rereads The Lord of the Flies and The Lord of the Rings; Helen DeWitt (The Last Samurai) started her rereads with The Nancy Drew Series; Patti Smith, winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction rereads An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, reasoning that rereading is a necessity, echoing a familiar complaint of mine:

“…I get so absorbed that upon finishing I don’t remember anything…”

 I shy away from rereading most books, preferring to move on to the next adventure.  If I do reread a book, I may understand more or “build impressions.”  I may even remember more as I finish reading a second time, but I agree with French literary theorist Roland Barthes in The Pleasure of the Text:

“…{rereading may cause pleasure}, but not my bliss: bliss may come only with the absolutely new…”

Do you have books you regularly reread?

Comfort Food Fix

Somedays only macaroni and cheese or creamy clam chowder will sooth the troubled soul.  Everyone has a favorite comfort food, and Ellie Krieger’s Comfort Food Fix has the recipes to make those artery clogging selections healthier for you.

Using her tools as nutritionist and popular host of the Food Network’s “Healthy Appetite” show, Krieger sticks to natural ingredients and simple strategies.  With nine chapters, from “Breakfast, Brunch, and Bakery” to “Desserts” – my two favorite topics, Krieger includes snacks, salads, and vegetarian dishes, as well as the routine meat, poultry, and seafood.

Not as many pictures are included as most cookbooks, but each recipe includes a footnote with a “before” and “after” count of calories, fat, sodium, and fiber; the “before” assumes you are using the worst – cream, butter, white flour, etc.; the “after” count identifies the dish with Krieger’s substitutes. Her mushroom, onion, and Gruyère Quiche with oat crust falls from 530 calories with 22 grams of saturated fat to 290 calories with only 7 grams of saturated fat.  The substitutions include old-fashioned rolled oats, low-fat buttermilk, olive oil, egg whites to supplement whole eggs, and lots of herbs.

If banana bread is your downfall, Krieger’s recipe reduces 500 calories with 12 grams of fat a slice to 300 calories with only 1.5 grams of fat.  Her secret? More bananas and non-fat yogurt in the mix.

Any cookbook that includes chocolate always get my vote, and Krieger comes through with dark chocolate pretzel clusters – only 110 calories (not that it matters when it comes to chocolate), and her index includes 8 chocolate recipes, including cookies, cupcakes, and pudding.

Krieger cautions in her “15 Fix Factors” that portion size does make a difference, but she still uses “a bit of butter” just like Julia Child, and her easy to follow recipes may be the catalyst to keeping some of those New Year’s resolutions.  I plan to use one of my Christmas gift cards to buy a copy, now that the book is due back to the library.

Tuesdays at the Castle

If your house sometimes seems to have a mind of its own – hiding your car keys, tripping you with a new wrinkle in the rug, running cold water instead of hot, Jessica Day George’s Tuesdays at the Castle may confirm your suspicions.

With Harry Potter-like shenanigans, the Castle can create new passageways, discard unwanted guests, furnish rooms sparingly or lavishly – depending on the occupant’s standing with the Castle, and play politics to anoint a new king.  On Tuesdays, the Castle always adds a new part to the castle – a room, a window, a wing – and the youngest occupant, Princess Celie, the Castle’s favorite,  records each new piece as she continues to revise her map.

When the royal parents are suddenly missing and then declared dead, outsiders try to take over the Castle and the kingdom.  Although the royal children work to solve the mystery of their missing parents and older brother, the Castle is the main character of this delightful escapade.

The children’s clever outwitting of adults, with the help of the Castle, is as enchanting as the magical diversions –  the “night of manure mayhem” may have you checking your shoes.

With an exciting and satisfying ending – Tuesdays at the Castle is a fun fantasy. Hopefully, George will continue the adventures of Princess Celie and her Castle.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

What if you could go back in time, what would you change?   Stephen King adds clever twists to the well-worn theme of time travel in 11/22/63 – but it takes a long time to get to the end – almost 900 pages.

Jake Epping, a burned out thirty-five year old English teacher in Maine, finds a portal to the past in the back of a diner scheduled to be demolished and replaced by an L.L. Bean, and decides to change history – specifically the day JFK was shot.  But no matter how long he stays in this parallel world, the portal always delivers him back to the same place and time he left, September 9, 1958.  The caveat: each visit rewinds when he goes through the portal again, so whenever he time travels, everything he did during his last visit is erased; his next trip is always the first time.  King warns “the past doesn’t want to be changed.

Stephen King’s talent for drawing a seemingly normal scene, with strange characters that are just a little off, and a plot that continues to change and surprise – sometimes terrifyingly – works well with the possibility that the world could be a better place, if only some painful history could be erased.  Although this is Stephen King, don’t expect the horrors along with the casual innuendo –  this tale is full of suspense and history and as strange as he usually writes, but not full of the usual terror.

Jake’s appreciation of the food and the life style of the era will have you yearning for a root bear and real cream in your coffee.

“…the air smelled incredibly sweet…Food tasted good; milk was delivered directly to your door.  After a period of withdrawal from my computer, {I realized} just how addicted …I’d become, spending hours reading stupid email attachments and visiting websites…”

While King plays with the familiar history, he adds the humanity that keeps the story suspenseful.  On a trial run to change the local janitor’s past, Jake tests his capabilities, armed with the knowledge of the brutality that is about to happen in the janitor’s past.  When he returns to the diner, he finds he has changed history but the “butterfly effect” created consequences.

Jake’s investigation follows Lee Harvey Oswald, but Jake’s love affair in the past with a beautiful dark-haired librarian with her own secrets, and his increased connection to people and places as they morph into an eerie combination of both worlds, will keep you reading.

How does it turn out?  Does he make a difference – change history?  Could he return to 1958, now changed with the new life he’s invented?  Throughout, time is the enemy and the controller; in the end, King has not only decided the mystery behind the assassination (as he invents it), but also offers a thoughtful treatise on life, love, and relativity.  I won’t spoil the journey by telling you the details, but the ending is both romantic and jarring.

At times, the descriptions and narrative are overdone, and King could have told the story in a shorter volume.  The book seemed to go on and on, but I got to a point of no return and could not stop; the key action is riveting and makes up for some of King’s meandering.  Though not a fan of Stephen King, I ploughed through this thick tome, and was not disappointed – suspenseful and provocative – with a good story and even better hypothesis on fate and time.

Don’t we all secretly know…{the world} is a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life…a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.”