Yesterday was an important day. 11:11 11.11.11 happened (twice!), and also it was Veteran’s Day. With all the hype about all the number 11’s showing up, and this whole Joe Pa/Penn State mess (Let me just say this: seeing that child rape and the covering up thereof does not go unpunished is way more important than football will ever be. And I can say that because I’m a big football fan, but I’m a decent human being first. What kind of society are we if we care more about a game than protecting our children? Rant over.), I felt like a lot of people forgot about Veteran’s Day, which is humorous, really, since we would not have the ability to be care free enough to care about silly number coincidences or football if our Veteran’s had not fought and sacrificed so we could remain free. I didn’t forget, however. My father is a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War era. And these two special men were veterans as well.
Part of it is the era they grew up in, but these were not soft, in-touch-with-my-feminine-side men. I knew them as loving grandfather’s, but they were not always that way. The realities of life, of working hard on the farm growing up, and then in the military, and then as blue collar workers supporting growing families, made them tough, hard working men. They, and countless other like them, are the reason we, and some of our allies, such as the people of South Korea, are free to live as we see fit. I’m proud of my dad and my grandfather’s for many reasons, but this is one of the biggest. So thank you, Veterans. Thank you every day. Thank you for making our country a safe enough place that I can write the following paragraphs, and only seem a teeny bit vapid.
Yesterday was, as I’m sure you heard and I just noted above, 11.11.11. The whole world seemed to be very excited, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t buy into the hype a little too. I bought a magazine subscription for only $11 (yay!), I learned that The National Corduroy Association honors today as the day that looks the most like corduroy (11.11.11. Yeah, I can see it.), and all the ads of the side of my Facebook feed said things like, “Enter today only and you could win $1,111!” And this is what I did to celebrate: I made a list of 11 of my favorite books from the past 11 years.
2000: I was thirteen this year, and I checked out The Hobbit from the library for the first time. It took me a little while to get into the actual trilogy, but I read and adored The Hobbit many times over, exceeding the number of times I could re-check-out my copy without sharing with the other kids. So I moved on to the main attraction, and loved those too, but Mr. Baggin’s and his dragon will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s a well rounded miniature epic with a lot of heart and delightful characters, and, as an added bonus, you can read the whole thing in the same time it takes to read the first third of the trilogy.
2001: I’m trying to remember what I was reading in the seventh grade, but I don’t remember much. The only thing I remember is finishing Pride and Prejudice for the first time, and watching the looooong movie. Since both still grace my list of favorites, I suppose they count. I know it’s so cliché for a girl to love Pride and Prejudice, and I really do prefer Northanger Abby and Persuasions, but something about Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy holds a special place in my heart forever.
2002: This Side of Paradise was the first of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works that I discovered. Ever a modernist, Fitzgerald imbues his books with the sense that everything is meaningless, even when his material is partially autobiographical, and he fills Paradise with pure egotism, witty banter, and pointless conversations. But because the work is semi-autobiographical, he also lends it a pain and depth of experience that, while still not making it as great as Gatsby, gives it a surprising resonance. On the cusp of adulthood, and up to my neck in teenage angst, this was exactly what I needed.
2003: I found a copy of Tennyson’s The Idylls of the King at a used book sale, and the poetry train officially left my station. In a rather Anne of Green Gables twist, I would read it all the time. I’m not as big of a fan of the epic poetry these days, but Tennyson stirred in me a love of poetry that has never died. And I still have that poor, beat up copy. The water ring came from a rather large mug of chicken noodle soup. Don’t ask.
2004: Peter Pan had long been one of my favorite movies, but I’d never read the book version of it. I stumbled upon a rather old version of that as well, and aside from sparking an old book collection, I discovered that the novel is just as good, if not better than the movie. Ever feel a need to reconnect with your inner youth? This book will do the trick, and it’s beautifully written too.
2005: I read some amazing books in 2005, but none of them had an impact on me as much as The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. Since I had visions of Most of the grammatical aspects are things we’ve all learned but sometimes forget, and the section on style is practical and wise. It changed me as a writer, and it will help you too, even if all you ever write are letter’s to your Great Aunt Bess.
2006: This was the year I first read Harry Potter, but you already know all about him. But Enchantment by Orson Scott Card is just as good. Ivan is a Russian Jewish scholar who studies languages and folk takes. He’s also a runner, and one day while jogging he stumbles upon a sleeping princess set upon a pedestal in pit, protected by a ferocious bear. And suddenly, everything he has ever studied is true. This is a stunningly well written, well researched, and cohesive story, the type you could finish in one sitting without realizing that hours have passed. And it deals with fairy tales, are you surprised?
2007: I’ve never been the kind of Christian to hide myself away from my culture, or any culture. After all, the command to be in the world but not of the world still necessitates that we be actually in the world, not in your conclave down the road from it. A Faith and Culture Devotional was a chance find, something I stumbled upon by accident in a secluded corner of Barnes and Noble, but it is one of my favorite finds ever. It discusses everything from AIDS and The Enlightenment to Moby Dick and Van Gough, with each discussion being informed by faith. It is a truly fascinating ride.
2008: Azar Nafisi’s memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran was assigned to me in an unorthodox but brilliant turn by my World Literature professor. It’s called a memoir in books, but it’s so much more than just that. It’s about the intersection of literature and culture, about what it’s like to be a woman experiencing both of those things, and about the universal truths that transcend the bounds of culture, religion, and gender, and ring true to us all.
2009: In case you haven’t realized it yet, I’m a big fan of a good adventure, and an even bigger fan of originality. And no one is more original that Walter Moers. I’ve read all four of his books that are published in the United States, but The City of Dreaming Books was my first, and is still my favorite. I mean, it’s about a city and an underground labyrinth literally made of books, and the protagonist is a dinosaur. Does it get any better? I didn’t think so.
2010: The Screwtape Letter’s by C.S. Lewis in junior high before my mom decided I was too young for such an intense book. Written from an elder demon to his young apprentice, this book is intense not in its action, but in what it reveals about the inner working of the human mind, and how easily we fall prey to deceptions. it was not my favorite book of the year from an enjoyment or entertainment standpoint, but I certainly learned the most here
2011: As I have stated before, Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak is my all-time favorite book. I am in love with Yuri and Laura and Tanya and Pasha (Strelnikov), and I am in love with Russia. But more than that, I am in love with the umpteen things Pasternak really has to say. Sure, he says a lot about the revolution, but he also speaks heavily to loneliness, to the importance of individuality among and in spite of ideological trends, and to the dichotomy of worldview (from the German idea, Weltanschauung) and lifeworld (also from the German, Lebenswelt), worldview being the way we see things, and represented by Strelnikov, and lifeworld being the way we actually live, represented by Zhivago himself. Both are passionate men, two sides of the same coin really. And both would be better men, perhaps alive and not lonely men, if they were tempered. But that’s enough of that. I could go on for pages. A new translation of Dr. Zhivago came out this year, and I actually prefer it to the old one. If you’ve never read Dr . Zhivago, this translation is newly in paper back, and you should definitely check it out.
Cambria is something of a special snowflake. I’m sure there are other such weird kitties crawling around, but I’ve never met them. Today she has alternated between sleeping in this box full of stuffed animals. and tearing around the house, tail fluffy and back arched, tearing into blankets, diving under rugs, trying to eat anything that looks interesting, including shadows, and biting anything that comes across her path, including feet. Yay.
Now I’m off to buy Mindy Kaling’s new book. Happy Caturday, friends!