2015 Book List

booksThis year, I only made four resolutions, but I should really add a fifth: read more. While I still prioritize getting lost in a good book, I noticed that over the course of 2014, I didn’t read as much as I’d like for a variety of reasons (coughSherlock, Downton Abbey, Call the Midwifecough). B isn’t much of a reader, so lots of times I’ll choose to watch a movie with him instead and I’m afraid this is becoming a bad habit.

So! Because reading is one of my favorite things and to get me going again, here’s the top (first) novels I want to read this year:

Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson: I first discovered Kate Atkinson in grad school and fell even deeper in love last spring while reading the brilliant Life After Life. Human Croquet is one of her earlier novels and follows the course of siblings Isobel and Charles. I don’t know anymore about the plot than that, but don’t need to. Atkinson’s writing is as evocative, lyrical and sharp as it gets.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert: This is one of the classics that, for me, has always slipped between the cracks. This is probably the first book I’m going to get my hands on and, while I’m happily married, I already feel like I relate to Emma Bovary. Sometimes life feels so routine; who doesn’t dream about an escape?

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant: I recently joined a book club and Anita Diamant’s newest novel (an Amazon Best Book of 2014) is this month’s read. B and I were recently in Boston, so I’m looking forward to exploring the city through the eyes of a young immigrant woman at the turn of the century.

Anything by Ian McEwan: Every once in a while you come across a writer who thrills you, so when it comes to Ian McEwan, I can’t choose which of his novels to read first—I want to read them all. I’ll let you know what I end up choosing, but Sweet Tooth (since I didn’t get around to it last year) and Saturday top the list.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: I’ve read nothing but beautiful reviews regarding this New York Times bestseller set in occupied France during the second world war, and have already been waiting weeks to get my hands on it (all copies are checked out at the library). I’ve become fascinated by the countless faucets of WWII, but hardly know a thing about the occupation of France. Trusting in this novel to educate and delight me.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway: Was there ever a more glamorous time in literary history than 1920s Paris? Accepting this might be the closest I ever get to this magical decade, A Moveable Feast is a must.

The Mermaid’s Daughter by Jo Baker: Longbourn was easily among the best books I read in 2014, and Baker’s newest novel, to be released in March, sounds even more strange and wonderful. I rarely read fantasy novels, but trust Baker to create a world in which I don’t want to leave.

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster: Until I have the chance to explore this breathtaking place for myself, I’ve been getting my fix of India through great novels. (I’d highly recommend Behind the Beautiful Forevers and The Space Between Us). I find the intersection of Indian and British culture and identity especially interesting, making Forster’s novel an essential read.

What great books did you read last year? I’d love your recommendations!
Em
P.S.  I finished A Farewell to Arms last night and I’m still making up my mind about it (love the writing, digesting the plot). At times like this I miss being a student for the rich discussion opportunities! And I’m a geek.

P.S. S. There’s still a couple novels from last year’s list I still need to read, but plans got derailed when I decided to finally sink into The Harry Potter series. See! I told you I’m a geek.
Picture courtesy of littlegreennotebook.blogspot.com

New Year, New Goals

Saltstraumen - Nordland - NorwayNow that we’re already more than one week into the New Year, I wanted to take some time (after a very long absence!) to reflect on this past year. A year that was good and bad, easy at times and hard at others, sweet, frustrating and full (as I hope your 2014 was too).

I started the year without a job in sight as my freelance gig ended exactly on New Year’s Eve and, almost exactly one year later, find myself six months into loving my new job within healthcare. And it’s been so good. For the first time since we got married, we have stability and the goals we’ve had for ages (buying our first home, getting Audrey a baby brother, saving for Europe) feel much closer.

In numerous ways, 2014 has been the year I’ve felt most like an adult—a feeling both unsettling and satisfying. There’s so much I miss about being a student and freelancer, like the variety, flexibility and general sense of possibility for all that lies ahead. While I still believe in possibility, so much of my life now feels regimented. I’ve already hit some early milestones—graduating college, earning my masters, getting married—and sometimes question if a new adventure will ever strike. With that said, I’ve began 2015 in a bit of a funk.

Although we’ve started the home-buying process, I wonder if it’s truly the right time or, more honestly, whether I event want to own. Yet, I’m trying to be wise financially and isn’t investing in a home a wise thing to do? So! In an effort to alleviate the anxiety I’ve felt so much this week, here’s a few resolutions I hope will brighten these fresh new days of 2015.

1. Stay present. Why is remaining in the moment such a challenge for me. Is it for you? I have no trouble pointing the finger at my Smartphone or this rush-paced world, but I can choose to slow down. At home, I’m rarely online; but at work, in moments of downtown, turning to my phone has become automatic. How else can I fill this time? I’m still sorting out how to filll these spare moments (maybe it’s okay to leave them empty?), but a few ideas include making a cup of tea, writing a poem, taking deep breaths and jotting down a list of things I’m thankful for.

2. Save money. I spent far too much in 2014 on things I didn’t need—books I could’ve borrowed from the library, eating out when we could’ve just made spaghetti. Saving is freedom and in 2015 I want to make a conscious effort to dramatically curb my spending. In fact, I’m very tempted to avoid shopping for an entire year. B doesn’t think I can do it, which makes me even more tempted to try. I’d make exceptions for socks and underwear and other essentials, but I really don’t need to shop and I don’t often wear half of what’s in my closest. Anyone want to join me?

3. Move more. Confession: I hate being confined to desk for 40+ hours a week and it’s such a frustrating oxymoron that sitting all day makes me too tired to hit the gym! I’ve been sneaking in a few barre classes here and there and always feel better for it. So my third goal this year is to get to the gym a minimum of 3/times a week and aim to squeeze in more movement everyday.

4. Be patient. The last couple of years have tested my patience in myriad ways. So many of my wants and what feels like needs to me have been perpetually deferred, which leaves me feeling restless and ungrateful for all that I do have. So this year I’m going to try and embrace the waiting and trust in God’s timing even when I don’t feel like it.

Four goals. I think I can stick to that. Sorry if this got a bit rambly, but it feels so therapeutic to write! I’d love to hear your goals for the New Year.

Have a great weekend everyone,
Em
Photo courtesy of Earthy Allurement

Three Gripping Foreign Films to Watch this Weekend

After a lovely eighty plus degree weekend, the weather has changed dramatically here in Minnesota. The air is crisp and damp from all the rain and the forty degree morning temps have made me pull sweaters and scarves out from storage. I love this chilly, cosy weather, but it also seems to zap my energy.  B has apparently felt the same because three nights this week we’ve simply curled up on the couch and watched movies. In the process, we stumbled upon three incredible foreign films.

I’m very picky when it comes to movies, probably even snobbish. For me, watching a movie is a luxury, so I always try to search out the ones genuinely worthwhile, which often leads me to seek out historical films, like the three included below. These films are so captivating you forget you’re reading subtitles and are fascinating in the way you’ll say “I can’t believe that happened.” The best part? They can all be found on Netflix.

So, whether you’re looking for a good film to watch tonight or over the weekend, I promise you these three hit the mark:

Two Lives (2012) PosterTwo Lives: Inspired by true events, this German thriller will leave you shocked and overwhelmed by the myriad secrets of the Cold War. The story of Katrine is at first confusing, then engrossing, and by the film’s end, deeply satisfying as every question has been answered.  This is a movie that makes you think about the endlessly intriguing world of international espionage as you wonder if certain secrets are best kept hidden.

Barbara: This German drama, though not a true story, offers an absorbing and intimate look into 1980s East Germany through the experience of Barbara, a doctor banished to a small country hospital. Tense, beautiful and unexpected, this film lingers long. I don’t want to say anymore to avoid spoiling it! Barbara (2012) Poster

Flame and Citron: I’m shocked that I hadn’t heard of this film before based on the true story of two Danish resistance movement fighters in WWII, code-named “Flame” and “Citron.” History-buffs or anyone fascinated by gripping true stories will be thrilled by this suspenseful account of these brave and ballsy men. The leads, played by Thure Lindhardt and Mads Mikkelsen, are brilliant and achingly believable.

Flame and Citron (2008) Poster

Have you watched any good movies lately? I’d love to get your recommendations.

On the Shelf: Jo Baker’s Longbourn

   I’ve wanted to read Longbourn, the clever and original new novel from Jo Baker, all year. Last week, I finally got my hands on it and it proved to be one of the first novels I’ve read in awhile that I absolutely devoured.  As in, staying up too late night after night even though I know I’ll wake up bleary-eyed the next morning.

Set in eighteenth-century England, Longbourn follows the ‘downstairs lives’ of the servants scarcely mentioned in Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice.  Austenites will find the novel especially delightful, but even if you’ve never read Pride and Prejudice, readers with a taste for evocative language and a setting which feels real enough to live in, will want to curl up with this cosy read.

Like millions of readers, I was enchanted by Pride and Prejudice; by the love story of Elizabeth Bennet and her Mr. Darcy; appalled at the self-importance of Mr. Collins and humored by the high-strung antics of Mrs. Bennet. Longbourn not only heightened this interest, but offered a deeply satisfying and engrossing perspective on P&P’s other world through the observations and experiences of the servants.

Baker’s careful and considered details brought regency England to life while her realistically-drawn characters offered fascinating insights into what life was like for most people. This is not the England of ball gowns and pump rooms, but one in which day to day living is only wrought by cracked hands, sore backs and hour after hour of exhausting labor.

Above all, you’ll become deeply concerned for Sarah, a young servant discovering what it means to find happiness and fulfillment in a class-constrained world. You’ll cheer on her budding romance with James and effortlessly turn the pages for hints, clues and lush details about the characters’ past and present lives which are anything but simple.

If you enjoyed Crusoe’s Daughter, you’ll definitely enjoy Longbourn.

Feeling Restless

prettyI know I’m not alone in wanting, at times, to live more than one life. Let me clarify. These last couple of years in living in Minneapolis have been, in many ways, wonderfully easy; I get to live life with my best friend; have more or less had a steady job, and have the freedom of visiting my family whenever I feel like it. Yet, a huge part of me has been feeling restless and hungry for adventure. Homesick for places I’ve never been and for people I’ve never met. (This is a quote from somewhere, I’m quite sure). I want to live abroad again. I want to travel. I’m ready for the comforts of home to be new and inspiring rather than familiar and comforting. Please tell me you sometimes feel this way, too?

B and I have talked seriously about trying to work abroad and, if it was up to me, I’d leave tomorrow. Is this normal? Has travel transformed you into a malcontent? This feeling is so difficult to describe because, in countless ways, I’m very happy with my life here. I just know that there’s more out there. And we don’t own or have kids yet, so maybe now’s the time to seek adventure?

How do you make the best of your current life circumstances? I think I need a strong dose of patience!
Em

Image courtsey of la fleur solitaire