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

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On the Shelf: Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life

lifeKate Atkinson is as precious to me as my first author-love Charlotte Brontë. Atkinson’s novels, like Brontë‘s, tremble with wit, comfort, and significance. She writes the words at the tip of your tongue with clarity and logic, achieving that incalculable balance of beauty and blood in the process.You become dizzy with the loveliness of her shapely scenes but aren’t allowed to be oblivious to the strong undercurrents of disaster.

I first discovered Kate Atkinson in Bristol–in a “Space and Place” class taught by Professor Ralph Pite. We read Behind the Scenes at the Museum and I was utterly absorbed by the feisty narrator and the novel’s hurtfully honest portrayal of family. Next I discovered Jackson Brodie and the magical combination of Atkinson’s prose in mystery form. Yet none of this reading prepared me for the force of her newest novel.

 Life After Life is spun with gold. If you read anything this year, Life After Life must be it. The story-or stories- of Ursula Todd is utterly compelling and lingers with depth and spirit long after you close the cover. The Todd family is as real as your own flesh and blood and you can’t help but absorb their joy, their loss and their tremendous fragility.

In a nutshell, it’s Ursula’s brother who expresses the hope (purpose/beauty/tragedy) of the novel:

“What if we had a chance to do it again and again until we finally got it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

The wholly lovable Ursula Todd is given the chance to do just this. As she dies and returns to us throughout the novel-set before and after the second world war-we become intimately aware of the infinite value of a single life. Not only is the novel a powerful encapsulation of English identity  in the midst of ‘the war to end all wars,’ but it answers the question we so often ask ourselves–“What If?”

If you pay any attention to book awards and bestsellers, you’ve heard about Life After Life, and I don’t need to say much more. But this is, hands down, the sweetest novel I’ve read in years and one which I know will bring you joy.

Thoughts on Writing

writeThis is my sixth week at DreamPlanGo and my fifth week in my creative writing course, i.e., it’s the most writing I’ve done since my dissertation! Some days, words simply won’t jump on the page, but on days like today, they’re coming without too much fuss. I know this is because I’ve been reading more.

On Sunday, I read all afternoon and into the evening and, for those several hours, all was right in my world. Kate Atkinson’s writing absolutely thrilled me (Life After Life review coming soon) and left me feeling deliciously inspired. I’ve also been reading about writing via Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron and Anne Lamott. These women are giants to me.

Julia Cameron, in The Right to Write, said something about writing I never thought about before and her insights feel incredibly freeing:

“Writing is about getting something down, not about thinking something up. Whenever I strive to “think something up,” writing becomes something I must stretch to achieve. It becomes loftier than I am, perhaps even something so lofty, it is beyond my grasp. When, on the other hand, I am focused on just getting something down, I have a sense of attention but not a sense of strain.”

Brilliant, right?

Little by little it’s feeling so good to chip away at my 2014 resolutions. How are your resolutions going? Or what writing advice has been helpful to you?Image courtesy of writerswrite.co.za

2014 Book List

books
Last January, fresh out of grad school and  through with assigned reading lists, I experienced what might be called a giddy rush of joy. Being able to read whatever I wanted was the greatest luxury and it was with great excitement that I penned my very own 2013 reading list. To my greater excitement, I actually made it through the majority of my list, making it high time for a new list of delicious reads.

I’m nearly finished with The Secret History by Donna Tartt–an unexpectedly dark murder story of sorts–and I’m looking forward to cracking open a few new titles. With classes starting next week (yes, I’m going back to school for the third time), I’m not sure how much time I’ll have for pleasure reading, but these are the titles on my list so far: 

Writing Down the Bones: My sister gave me this novel for Christmas and it’s honestly the best book I’ve read on how to be a writer. I’m half-ways done, but I think this will be a book I open again and again.

The King’s General: I’ve long loved Daphne du Maurier, but had never read (or heard) of this less publicized novel. Fortunately, a lovely friend recently brought it to my attention and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Walden: I read excerpts of this famed work of Thoreau in high school, but the idea of seeking solace and simplicity seems more relevant than ever in my life.

Grace: A Memoir: I admire creative people and this memoir of Vogue creative director, Grace Coddington, is certain to inspire.

Life After Life: I first discovered Kate Atkinson in Bristol with her wildly wonderful debut novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Discovering her most recent novel in the bookstore was an unexpected delight akin to the first sip of the very best hot chocolate.

Longbourne: Pride and Prejudice may not be my most favorite Austen  novel, but if Jo Baker’s characters–that is the servants of the Bennet household–are anywhere near as sharp and human as Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, Longbourne will become a new favorite.

Brideshead Revisited: Ashleigh discussed Evelyn Waugh’s masterpiece at length in her dissertation, and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since.

Sweet Tooth: I’ve yet to read anything by Ian McEwan and I’m looking forward to changing that truth this year with his most latest novel, a cold war espionage thriller.

What will you be reading in 2014? I’m also hoping to reread Jane Eyre (it’s been too long, reader!) and more D.H. Lawrence along with getting my hands on some relevant teaching books. Any recommendations are most welcome!