Monthly Archives: December 2011

I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie

To solve my big book loving problem, I’m going to be participating in The 2012 Chunkster Challenge! A chunkster is a book of 450 pages or more (525 if you’re reading in large print), and no e-books or audio books are allowed. Why? Because part of the challenge, the thrill, is to figure out a way to comfortably hold that ginormous dinosaur of a book while you’re reading.

There are different levels of the challenge, and I will be aiming to complete the Do These Books Make My Butt Look Big? level, which means I’ll be aiming to read six chunksters of varying lengths- two between 450-550 pages each, two between 551-750 pages, and two books that have more than 750 pages- in the next twelve months. It’s a little ambitious, but several of the books I already wanted to read will count towards it- A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book, Anna Karenina, The Poisonwood Bible, 1Q84, Kate Morton’s newest mystery The Distant Hours– so why not make it official?

I will not be reading any chunky books today, however. Today, I am cleaning in preparation of the friends we’re having over tonight to celebrate yet another wonderful New Year, full of promise and hope. And tomorrow I begin my first book for the Lovely Little Reading Challenge 2012! In honor of the new year, I leave you with a little challenge. I’ve already selected my first book of 2012. Based on this very short authors note, can you guess what classic British novel I’ll be reading tomorrow?

“I am not I; thou art not he or she; they are not they.”

Happy guessing! And Happy New Year, friends!

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My 12 Favorite Books of 2011

Today and tomorrow are all that remain of 2011. I can’t believe it’s gone by so quickly! As the year draws to a close, so does my very first reading challenge adventure. I’ve read several amazing books, a few terrible books, and a whole lot of books that fell in the middle somewhere. These are my 12 favorites, in…hmmmm…let’s go with alphabetical order:

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1: The Book of Lost Things: John Connolly
2: Bossypants: Tina Fey
3: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making: Cathrynne M. Valente
4: The Hunger Games Trilogy: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay: Suzanne Collins
5: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns: Mindy Kaling
6:
The Map of Time: Felix J. Palma
7: The Night Circus: Erin Morgenstern
8: One Thousand Gifts: Ann Voskamp
9: The Reading Promise: Alice Ozma
10: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: Nina Sankovitch
11: Traveling Mercies: Anne Lamott
12: The Year of Magical Thinking: Joan Didion (This book touched me so deeply that I could not bear to write up a review. Needless to say, it is a moving portrayal of grief from an author who is worthy of every bit of the praise she receives.)

Runners Up:

  • Alice I Have Been: Melanie Benjamin
  • Angry Conversations With God: Susan E. Isaacs
  • Anonymous: Alicia Britt Chole
  • Bittersweet: Shauna Niequist
  • A Jane Austen Education: William Deresiewicz
  • Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: Rhoda Janzen
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: Ransom Riggs
  • The Paris Wife: Paula McLain
  • Sideways on a Scooter: Miranda Kennedy
  • The Wilder Life: Wendy McClure
  • Zoo Story: Thomas French
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    You Are Cordially Invited to the 2012 Lovely Little Reading Challenge!

    In case you have not yet heard, Marissa, of the 2011 Reading Challenge fame, and I are at it again. 52 Books proved to be not enough of a challenge once we got into it, so as proof that we’re both deranged, we’ve decided to read 104 books- the equivalent of two a week- in 2012 in what we are formally calling The 2012 Lovely Little Reading Challenge!
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    If you are also a deranged person of the bibliophile variety and would like to join us, this is your formal invitation! Come read a literal boat load of books with us! The only guidelines are this:

  • You must read all required books (104 total) between January 1, 2012 and December 31, 2012.
  • If this is new to you, or you don’t feel like two books a week is feasible for your situation, you can participate on the Jr. level, which requires only 52 books, or one per week. Honestly, just set your goal and read along with us! The more voices in the chorus the better!
  • Each book may only count once. You can read Pride and Prejudice once a week, but it can only count once in 2012.
  • No cheating. This is about feeding and enriching our minds, so Green Eggs and Ham only counts if you’re five.
  • Books from more specific challenges can count towards this one also.
  • Keep a list of your finished books, even if it’s just in the back of a journal. You’ll be glad you did.
  • Also, this isn’t a requirement, but the challenge is better when you do it with someone. Even if it’s just a blog friend, reading quests are so much more fun when they’re shared! And I’m always available to be that blog friend, too. I love to hear about what you guys are reading; it inspires me!

    And that’s all she wrote. Well, that and also this: Marissa, my partner in crime, has started her own blog to keep track of her reading quest. If you’re interested, you can find it here.

    So start collecting those books, and Happy Reading!

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    Zoophilia: Three Great Animal Books

    I love animals. From elephants and panda bears to manatees and gorillas, you name an animal and the chances are high that I’m completely fascinated. (As long as they have legs. I don’t deal well with reptiles of the no-leg variety.)

    So it’s logical that I am completely obsessed with zoos. I want to see them all! One of the few things I love with the same intensity as a good book is a leisurely afternoon at my local zoological garden. There is nothing more peaceful than sitting inside a darkened aquarium, watching the myriad of tropical fish and sea turtles mosey around their coral home, nothing more fascinating than observing a family of bonobos playfully harass one another, nothing as awe-inspiring as watching a tigress stalk around, waiting for her lunch, or as fun as seeing a troop of otters gleefully dive and run and chatter.

    So, naturally, when my husband presented me with Betty White’s newest book, Betty and Friends: My Life at the Zoo, I promptly lost my mind.

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    Betty has been deeply involved with the Los Angeles Zoo and the cause of animal conservation for over 30 years. This book is a collection of antidotes and stunning photographs of the animal friends she has made over the years. It’s “her personal love letter to zoo’s and the animals in them.” The photographs are beautiful, and her stories are touching though brief. This reads more like a coffee table book, and is really best for the hardcore animal lover who won’t care that the photo-to-word ratio is rather high.

    Of course if you’re looking for a more story-intensive offering (and most people spending upwards of $26 on a new hardback are), there are a few surprisingly good zoological tales out there.

    Zoo Story: Life In the Garden of Captives, by Thomas French, gives a rare glimpse into the nehind-the-scenae workings of a zoo.

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    French spent six years researching in and reporting on Tampa Bay’s Lowry Park Zoo, and what resulted is an absolutely fascinating and touching account of the life of a zoo and it’s animal and human inhabitants. From the quirky (an alpha chimp with a fetish for blond women) to the painful (should we keep animals captive? Do zoos help accomplish or ultimately defeat their own conservation goals?), French, true to his journalistic heritage, does not shy away from any issue, nor does he seek to answer the questions or ease the tensions. What is left is a raw but beautiful account of the interdependent relationship of man and the lesser animals, and the stickier questions of our responsibility towards them. Both animal lovers and lovers of masterfully crafted nonfiction will be delighted by this fantastic book.

    For a more warm, homespun tale, Benjamin Mee’s memoir, We Bought A Zoo, is just the ticket.

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    This is literally my dream. If I am ever independently wealthy, I plan to purchase two things: a book store and a zoo. (Side note: the chances of a housewife from San Diego who has problems saving money because she buys too many books and also really likes shoes becoming independently wealthy are slim. I know this. But even a housewife is allowed her dreams. What else am I supposed to do while scrubbing out the bathtub?)

    Mee and his family- mother, Amelia, wife, Katherine, and a smattering of siblings- decide to use the inheritance left to them by their late father and husband to purchase the small, rundown Dartmoor Wildlife Park. They hope to renovate the dilapidated park and reopen it as not just a tourist attraction but a viable zoo that aids in the conservation and breeding of endangered animals.

    Along the way, they run into their fair share of troubles: lack of funds, their own amateur naivety about the needs of a zoo, escaped jaguars and wolves, contentions between new and old employees, and Katherine’s reoccurring brain tumor all threaten to derail the dream. But the crux of the story is that through grief, overwhelming odds, and a steep learning curve, sometimes zoo dreams do come true. The Dartmoor Zoological Park, as it is now known, is a thriving, accredited zoo, and this little memoir is now a Matt Damon blockbuster movie that opened last week, just before Christmas. I haven’t seen it yet, but if it has as much gumption as the book it’s based on, I’m sure I’ll love it.

    What about you, friends? Have you read any of these books, or any other good animal books that a zoophile such as myself shod check out? Or do you prefer your animals to be of the domesticated variety? If so, I have that too! Cambria has recently started working on her own memoir. The working title is: “The Story of Cambria: How A Stray Ally Cat Came to Rule the World.” Or something like that.

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    Lady Little Facts


    My favorite female authors:

    1. Madeleine L’Engle
    2. Denise Levertov (poet)
    3. Anne Lamott

      (I’ll say this is my top three, but fitting stuff into three’s is hard. I don’t edit myself well enough to do this. It really hurt my heart that I couldn’t also include Joan Didion or Kate DiCamillo or Edith Wharton or Kate Chopin or Sylvia Plath or Jane Austin, even if she is cliche. Can we have a “Verbose and Overstated Facts” meme? I think I’d be better at that.)

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    Merry Christmas!

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    Merry Christmas from Cambria and me!

    “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

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    The Holiday Slump

    Well, the Grinch has paid a visit to my house. He has not stolen my holiday spirit, I have buckets of that, and that would have been too easy for an old pro like Grinchy. Oh no, he took something far, far worse: my blogging mojo.

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    I may not be the most accomplished blogger out there, but it comes pretty naturally to me. Normally when I sit down to blog I make my post for the day, plus a few drafts of ideas that I can pull out in a crunch if I need to. I’m like a blogging machine, ideas flying out of my head left and right.

    And then The Blog Grinch visited, and there are no more flying ideas. He did it at Thanksgiving too. It’s too difficult to concentrate with the festive lights and the heavenly smell of the Christmas tree and a cat to pull out of the tree that she thinks is her new bed and the presents to wrap and the cookies to bake and the parties to go to and the sales to shop and the TV specials to watch…

    My synapses are over loaded; my brain just can’t process it all. I’ve tried to write about twelve book reviews. They all go something like this:

    Blah Blah Blah by Whoever was a great read. The author did good. I liked it. That’s all I can think of to say right now because my mother-in-law sent us the best fudge ever and it has killed my concentration. Must. Eat. Fudge. Now.

    Pathetic, isn’t it? But never fear! I’ve made a list of ways to get over my holiday blog slump! And incase you’re in one too, I shall share.

    Amanda’s Five Rules for Getting Over a Blogging Slump:

    1: Just get over yourself, chubsters, and eat the fudge! Whatever is distracting you, give yourself a few minutes to work it out, then come back. Make the phone call to the electric company, run over to the post office to pick up the mystery package, make sure the cat has water and isn’t stuck behind the dryer eating stray lint, eat the fudge from heaven, do ten jumping jacks to work off your fudge guilt, and then get back to work.

    2: Read a few of your favorite blogs for inspiration. I’m not saying you should blatantly copy your favorite bloggers, but it could remind you why you love to blog in the first place and give you the motivation you need to get your ten little fingers and one little brain back to work.

    3: Revisit an old, unused idea. This has been a list of many different five (or seven, or three, or fourteen) things, but the others just never panned out. That picture of Mr. Grinch has been sitting on my computer since last Christmas when I said I was finally, for real this time, going to start blogging. (Notice I didn’t start this blog until August? Yeah, timing is not my strong suite.) You just never know where some gold is lurking, but chances are you’ve got a few nuggets buried in your archives that you’ve forgotten about.

    4: When in doubt, talk about yourself. Try to make it either funny or touching, whichever you can pull off better. I know narcissism is not usually advisable, but it works in a pinch. Your followers already like you, and aside from the books/knitting/underwater basket weaving that brought you together in the first place, well placed personal antidotes can serve to strengthen your blog-friend bond. Side Note: Do not let this turn into a play-by-play of every day of your life. This is not your diary, or at least it shouldn’t be if you want anyone but your mom to read it. I have made this mistake, and guess who read my whiny blog of day past? Only my mom. And even she was bored.

    5: Fake it ’til you make it. Do I have anything worth while to say today? No, not really. But I’m pretending like I do, and someone will probably believe me. (Maybe. I hope. Please?) It’s like the idea that if you walk with confidence and act like you’re supposed to be wherever you are, you can probably get in. Many a teenager has gotten into an R rated movie this way, and I know of someone who got into the frequent flyer lounge at an airport using this technique, and you can do it to. (For the record, I am not recommending anyone sneak into anyplace they’re not supposed to be. I like rules. Rules are good. They keep you safe, and you should follow them.) The Who’s down in Whoville sang their Christmas song even without all the trappings, and Christmas came back to them. Sing your blog song, and eventually your mojo will reappear.

    And that, my friends, is the story of how I got my mojo back by blogging about losing my mojo! Isn’t the irony just fantastic? Take that, Grinchster! I hope my techniques help you too in your slumpier times.

    And now, I really must get back to my fudge eating and gift wrapping. I hope you all have a wonderful, blessed Christmas! Eat a cookie for me, okay? And if you live in a land where snow is not a fairy tale, maybe make a snowman in my honor too.

    Feliz Navidad!

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