Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Valentine's Day -- Here Before You Know It!

You might think that I'm rushing it a bit by posting photos of Valentine's Day decorations, but I must confess that I've finally put away my Santa Claus collection and needed to fill this space.  There is a Valentine mantle decorating party going on at The Story of A to Z and I wanted to take part and enjoy all of the wonderful decorating ideas.  Please drop by and take a look; you have almost three weeks to do your own decorating! 

Heirloom cut glass paired with a modern glass tray

Inexpensive valentine box, one of my collection of "hearts' books, a little milk glass tray that I gave to my mother, and hearts from a necklace I love.
Little china heart trays, a Valentine box I decorated with rubber stamps, a pretty gift card envelope, and another of my "hearts" picture books.  The bottom shelf has another heirloom footed bowl filled with ornaments in (Christmas and Valentine's Day) red and gold.

Just items gathered from around the house -- A pretty teacup and saucer, a favorite paperweight, a little box and vintage jewelry box, a Christmas ornament and a sweet cupid blowing a kiss.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Down and Troubled? Open a Box of Good Wishes!

As I've mentioned earlier, I have always treasured every card and letter I've ever received.  My practice has been to put them in a drawer or box, telling myself that I'll discard them later.  "Later" seldom arrived and I found myself with an accumlation over more than fifty years of cards. 

In keeping with my goal of becoming better organized, I decided to do something about it.  My youngest daughter and I have described ourselves as organized hoarders.  She probably inherited the "saving" trait from me, and is now accumulating treasured memories of and for her three little girls.

But back to the "organized hoarding" part.  Fifty years of greeting cards can take up a lot of room.  I decided that the most important part of each card is the handwritten "I love you" or "I've enjoyed working with you" or even the "You are old, I am young, hee hee" written in the hand of my 16-year-old.  So that's what I decided I should save.

They actually don't take up a lot of room -- just a little box that some salad plates came in holds all that I've recovered so far.  I imagine I will find more as I work on my other organizing goal for the year -- cleaning out drawers and closets and the boxes in the garage.  I may need a slightly larger box, but that's okay.  You see, they are not there just to put away in the back of a closet.  I found myself going through them again as I prepared this photograph.  I told my daughters about them when they were here at Christmas, and they wanted to look through them.  I told my husband that, if he ever doubted that someone loved, or admired, or wished him well, he should look through the box.

Much better than a box of chocolates, when you never know what you'll get!  Well, maybe not, but who says you can't have good wishes and chocolates, too?


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Best of the Best" and the Books I'll Be Reading during 2011

About five years into my 25 years as a librarian, I became interested in the annual "best books" lists.  I would look forward to the issue of People Magazine, Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, New York Review of Books, Time Magazine and a few others that featured their choices, and put together my own list of "best of the best" to guide my reading for the coming year.  It was an unscientific process, made more so by the fact that some periodicals chose five titles while others chose fifty or more, some lists included nonfiction and others separated the two, some included poetry, and other differences that made a true and fair "best of the best" list a near-impossibility.

I didn't let that deter me, because I reasoned that the very "best of the best" would rise to the top and would be found on most lists.  I would make an effort to read those books, understanding that even some of those titles would fail my own personal litmus test for readability.  For those interested in what I look for in a (fiction) book:

  • I enjoy books that are "character driven" as opposed to "plot driven". This is not to say that I don't think a good plot is important, but I can read about an interesting character for quite a while, but the best plot with cardboard characters won't keep my interest. Also, really interesting characters seem to draw action to them, and their reactions to whatever life throws at them are the basis for great reading.
  • I enjoy books about relationships (again, it's that "character" preference), especially between friends and family members.  
  • I love books that cover several generations of a family or long friendships, especially between women. 
  • I love books that help me understand myself or others more completely. 
  • I enjoy "multilayered" books, where different subplots are germinating beneath the surface.  
  • I love long books that I can enjoy over several days or weeks. They keep me going on other, less enjoyable tasks; I can always look forward to going back to my book.  
  • I enjoy books that teach me about history or geography or culture through their characters and settings.  
  • I love southern literature and authors, but not to the exclusion of other great books and authors.  
  • I love to read books by Oklahoma authors. It's my homestate and boasts of dozens of wonderful writers, many of whom I have had the pleasure of meeting.
  • I love young authors, because they will probably be around to write more.  
  • I love old (and deceased) authors, because their work is limited and all the more valuable. 
I have gone along happily since then, confident that the titles I chose from my "best of the best" list, plus all of the new titles coming out  recommended by friends, bloggers, book reviews from magazines and newspapers, and the latest books from my fairly long list of favorite authors, will provide me with more than enough to read for the coming year.  This treasure trove provides me with a never-ending feeling of wealth -- I have more than enough to read and the resources to supply me (my public library, my new Kindle, and a small budget for those books I really, really want to own.)

Now I don't even have to compile the "best of the best" list myself!  The Fiction Award Winners website has a list of the best fiction books of 2010, compiled from many lists, including Amazon, Publishers Weekly, New York Times, Library Journal, Time Magazine, Booklist, and others.  I was interested in seeing which of the "best of the best" books I had already read, and which I would probably want to read during the coming months.  (I don't apologize for the times I have decided against finishing a book from a "best" list, including a couple which were at the top of everybody's list except mine!)

These are the titles of "best of the best" fiction books for 2010, determined from the lists on which they appeared. (Go to the website for links, summaries, and details on the number and names of the lists.) (An asterisk denotes books I have read.)

*Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
To the End of the Land by David Grossman
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
Room by Emma Donoghue
Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu
Great House by Nicole Krauss
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
The Passage by Justin Cronin
*Faithful Place by Tana French
Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
One Day by David Nicholls
The Surrendered by Chang Rae-Lee
*The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
The Privileges by Jonathan Dee
By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham
The Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart
Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr
The Ask by Sam Lipsyte
Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
*The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
Sourland by Joyce Carol Oates
*Innocent by Scott Turow
Agaat by Marlene Van Niekerk
The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald
Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon

It is not my intent to read through the entire list during the coming year.  I do plan to read summaries and reviews of each title, to read many of them, and to weigh in with you on some of them.

I wish you a happy year of reading and invite your comments on this list, your own "best of the year" list, or what you plan to read in 2011.  Annie   


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Recently Read Fiction Favorites

  • A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
  • A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
  • Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
  • Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson
  • Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
  • Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos
  • Confessions of a Former Rock Queen by Kirk Bjornsgaard
  • Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
  • Faithful Place by Tana French
  • Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner
  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
  • Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson
  • Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg
  • Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow
  • Innocent by Scott Turow
  • My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira
  • Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler
  • Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
  • Private Life by Jane Smiley
  • Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
  • Roses by Leila Meacham
  • Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos
  • So Much For That by Lionel Shriver
  • South of Broad by Pat Conroy
  • That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo
  • The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt
  • The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Steig Larsson
  • The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson
  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson
  • The Given Day by Dennis Lehane
  • The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg
  • The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
  • The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers
  • The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
  • The Sky Took Him by Donis Casey
  • The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
  • The Swimming Pool by Holly LeCraw
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
  • The Wind Comes Sweeping by Marcia Preston
  • Where the God of Love Hangs Out by Amy Bloom
  • Wolf Hall by Hillary Mandel
  • World Without End by Ken Follett
  • Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks

Favorite Nonfiction and Memoir

  • All Over but the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
  • Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment and Reason by Nancy Pearl
  • Getting Over Getting Older by Lettie Cottin Pogrebin
  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
  • Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • Sharing the Journey: Women Reflecting on Life's Passages by Katherine Ball Ross
  • Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
  • The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
  • The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin
  • The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Miguel Ruiz
  • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dustbowl by Timothy Egan