Neither snow nor ice nor 10-degree temps could dampen our enthusiasm for our February visit to NYC.
But five little words took us down faster than the stock market plunge back in ’08.
Said the CE the morning after our arrival: “Something’s wrong with my foot.”
No, now it’s the OTHER foot. Same song, different verse. Or in the words of the iconic Dorothy Parker, WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS?!!!
As it turns out, the CE’s Achilles heel is his posterior tibialis tendon. His ankles have always been weak; growing up in Minnesota, he was the only kid on the block who didn’t ice-skate. Lots and lots of ankle sprains through the decades. When he started running 30-40 miles a week back in the late ’70′s, “orthotics” was not yet a buzz word. Unbenknownst to the CE, he literally ran his feet flat and in the March of 2010, the posterior tibialis tendon in his right foot rolled up like a cheap window shade.
“It’s just a sprain”, he insisted, limping around on a bum foot.
“Uh, don’t sprains heal after three months?” I asked sometime in June.
Under the you-don’t-know-what-you’ve-got-till-it’s-gone category, the posterior tibialis is one of the most important tendons in the leg. Take a moment to thank your posterior tibialis every time you raise your foot to step forward. The total flexing capacity of a healthy PTT is only three quarters of an inch, but is is very, very important three quarters of an inch.
When the ignore-it-and-it-will-go-away method didn’t work, the CE found his way to Dr. Richard Ferkel who told him that his rupture was one of the worst he had ever seen, and he has seen a lot of them. The surgery took twice as long as was expected and the rehab and post-rehab has been long and arduous. The foot is still not 100%, but recent PT to increase strength and flexibility has been helpful.
So when we arrived NYC three weeks ago and the CE pointed to the swelling in his other foot, I knew we were cooked. Since I operate at about 20% capacity with my own confounded neuromuscular issues, most everything falls to the CE, and after decades of figurative and literal “heavy lifting” combined with a probable genetic tendinous fragility, the CE’s posterior tibialis has gone on strike and screeched our hobbling little lives to a complete halt.
An x-ray earlier this week upon our return to CA suggested that the tendon is not yet ruptured, but close to it. So the CE is back in a boot. With crutches. For at least a month and probably two. Complete immobilization of the foot in the hopes that the tendon will heal. Ice. Anti-inflammatories. Patience. And lots of prayer. Yours will be gratefully appreciated!
I know, I know, this too shall pass…
So here we are, beginning of March. Right around the time that all those perkily-made New Year’s resolutions crash in shards at our feet. Right?
I am a master of magical thinking. I begin every shiny new January 1 in exuberant certainty that this will be the year in which I get everything I want! All my children will be happy. Everyone will be healthy. There will be no conflicts, no wardrobe malfunctions and no flight delays. And the Cubs are going to win the World Series, I can feel it!
I greeted 2014 by finishing my first book of the year in those chill gray pre-dawn hours that insistently and inexplicably tap insomniacs like myself on the shoulder, chortling “Good Morning!” in the middle of the night. I am not generally amused by my 3:00 and 4:00 am wake-up calls, but I waited for light on January 1 the way a child does on Christmas morning. I couldn’t wait for the sun to come up!
The book I had just finished is called Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds. Now, I am not a birder. I don’t really know very much about birds, other than chickens. (And knowing too much about chickens is not necessarily a good thing, as I’ve discovered that conversations about feather mites and bumblefoot seem to go absolutely nowhere at dinner parties).
But I had found this book during the holidays, pushed to the back of a closet where I store Christmas gifts. I must have bought it years ago to give to someone, but instead it had languished, for who knows how long, forgotten on a shelf. I couldn’t think of a soul who would want to read it. It was a reject, an unwanted stray, which, of course, instantly stirred my overdeveloped sense of responsibility. I sighed and placed it on my nightstand. It was under 200 pages. Not a big commitment to read.
It turned out to be a delight for many reasons, but especially for introducing me to a particular tradition of the birding world, which is this: the first bird you encounter on the first day of the year becomes your bird for that year. Like a riff on the Chinese New Year, I guess, but instead of facing up to the Year of the Horse (which, by the way, somewhat ominously entails a prediction for “a fast year full of conflicts”), serious birders will travel to far-flung destinations in the waning days of December in the hopes of snagging a glimpse of a Tibetan bunting or a Kakapo and proudly claiming it as “their” bird for the year.
As a raw beginner, my aspirations were modest, but as the night sky skimmed to a milky-blue, I hurriedly threw a jacket over my sleeping clothes and devised a plan. I would task the CE with liberating the hens from their coop – as much as I adore them, I didn’t want to embarrass myself by having a chicken as my bird of the year. And I deftly averted my eyes so I wouldnt see Birdie on my way out the door – love him dearly, but that bossy little cockatiel has already been my bird of the year for sixteen years now. I wanted to begin this new day of this new year with a new bird.
So of course, I made it just about twenty feet out the door before a large, black scolding crow flew right in front of me. “No!” I wailed, not a crow! Anything but a crow! I had been secretly hoping to make it back to the oceanside bluffs where I knew a Great Blue Heron can often be sighted surveying his kingdom from the top of a eucalyptus tree. But no, for me, 2014 was destined to be the Year of the Crow.
Not even anything as exotic as a raven. Just a ragged black crow, from the same flock that has noisily reminded us for two decades now that our property belongs not to us, but to them. They curse at us from the oak trees; they clatter on our roof so loudly and clumsily that I expect at any moment one will tumble down our bedroom fireplace chimney.
The crow flapped over to a low branch of a pepper tree and regarded me as sullenly as I did him. We both seemed to be thinking the same thing: of all the creatures that could step into my path on this New Year’s Day, why must it be you?
It seems I have spent an inordinate portion of my life wanting things I can’t have, so it may have been cosmic wisdom that shattered my New Year’s hopes well before noon on January 1. Resolving to make the best of this Year of the Crow, I ordered a copy of In the Company of Crows and Ravens and spent a few days learning more about my dubious companion for the year.
You know, of course, that a group is a “murder” of crows. But did you know that a flock of ravens is known as an “unkindness”? That there are 46 species of crows worldwide? That if you annoy or harass crows they will internalize a flock-wide grudge against you that will be remembered for years and perhaps even decades? Extremely social and impressively smart, crows are known to fashion tools and have learned to purposefully drop walnuts onto highways, and then lay in wait for passing cars to crack open their snack.
I learned enough about crows to regard my unbidden “spirit animal” with more curiosity than scorn. I’ve paid more attention to the comings and goings of the crows that unremittingly surveil our property. One morning I even witnessed a meeting of the minds, or at least beaks, between a crow and my little Silkie hen, Luna. The jaunty crow swaggered up to Luna as she pecked amid some begonias and for a brief, quizzical moment, the two birds touched beaks in greeting or curiosity. I held my breath, worried that the crow might have mayhem on his mind, but no, his interest satisfied, he peacefully took his leave and Luna went back to her flower bed.
Life sometimes seems so rife with petty annoyances and dashed hopes, all of which that January 1 crow sighting threatened to portend for my new year. The universe seemed to be whispering (as it so often does) lower your expectations, a skill that has never really been one of my finer points. “No majestic heron for you,” was the message, “learn to love the crow”.
And you know what? I have. The heron would have been like those fleeting moments of happiness, a rare sighting, here and then gone. But the crows are there every day, swooping from the trees in all their ridiculous cacophony. Ordinary as they are, I’ve come to feel an affection for them, a sense of ownership.
A few weeks back, I heard a confounding racket late one afternoon and stepped out on the bedroom balcony to see what was happening, There was an enormous flock – well, murder, I guess – of crows swirling wildly against the backdrop of a spectacular winter sunset. Nearly a hundred of them, roiling the sunlit sky in a startling funnel cloud of flapping and cawing. They were – dare I say – beautiful, even, yes, majestic. Those commonplace, ragtag crows put on a spectacular show for me and I realized that what the universe had really been whispering to me on January 1 was not a penance, but a nudge in the right direction. My new New Year’s resolution: celebrate the ordinary, for therein I may hope to find the extraordinary. Learn to love the crow.
I’m usually giddy with excitement every time I contemplate a trip to NYC. Can’t wait to get here! And since our last visit was way back in November, it had been too long since we’d walked through the Park, admired the windows at Bergdorf or dodged careening cabs roaring through Columbus Circle.
But this has been a winter for the books, and I am a big baby when it comes to winter.
January, 2014 came in like a lion on steroids with the Polar Vortex. Nearly 6,000 flights were canceled in the U.S., almost 8 inches of snow fell in NYC and on January 7, New Yorkers awoke to a record-busting temperature of 4 degrees Fahrenheit.
And that was just the warm-up, so to speak. As of last week, New York City had weathered fourteen snowfalls for the season, for a total of 4 feet and the most snow ever recorded for a January-February period.
My friend, Lori, sent me photos of ice chunks churning in the Hudson River. Stepdaughter Angie texted pictures of her boys dwarfed by snowbanks and lamented a seemingly endless string of snow days that kept the kids home from school. No one seemed to be humming “Winter Wonderland”.
Travel snags delayed our departure for a few days and I wasn’t as disappointed as I should have been. The California sunshine was looking pretty good to me, especially after Lori suggested I might want to get a pair of cleats from REI to avoid falling on the ice when I arrived.
We left this:
and arrived to this:
New Yorkers are tough. Regardless the weather, they plunge right ahead. I can’t tell you how many women in stiletto heels I’ve seen navigating puddles and patches of ice this week. And only in NYC do you see women gamely skidding in their Louboutins while all the dogs are clad in teeny tiny boots.
In the week since we arrived, I have come up with a dazzling array of reasons not to go outside. Just looking out the window when I wake up drains my soul. It goes beyond S.A.D. (Seasonal Affect Disorder) to something more along the lines of what I have dubbed H.U.T.C.H. – Hover Under the Covers and Hide. Until maybe April. Or May.
It’s not that it’s so cold – we’ve had mostly middling-30′s and even some 40′s since we arrived. It’s just that there is so much effort involved! There’s the moment-to-moment drama of trying to avoid going ass-over-teakettle, yes. But simply getting dressed is a project. Layer. Layer. More layers. Scarf. Gloves. Hat that makes me look like one of those horse-whipping Cossacks. Coat that makes me look like the Michelin Man. The demise of vanity. On me, a puffer coat somehow looks like a much puffier coat. It makes a person just want to, well, Hover Under those Covers and Hide.
And yet, the New Yorkers, the real ones, not impostors like me, persevere. We had dinner with our boys Thursday night, both of whom (clad in lightweight jackets!) insisted that this winter has been “no big deal”. That’s the spirit!
For those of you for whom it has been a big deal, I offer you consolation, or at least diversion, in the form of this poem by Margaret Atwood. And, remember, spring is just around the (possibly very slippery) corner!
by Margaret Atwood
Winter. Time to eat fat
and watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the cat,
a black fur sausage with yellow
Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries
to get onto my head. It’s his
way of telling whether or not I’m dead.
If I’m not, he wants to be scratched; if I am
He’ll think of something. He settles
on my chest, breathing his breath
of burped-up meat and musty sofas,
purring like a washboard. Some other tomcat,
not yet a capon, has been spraying our front door,
declaring war. It’s all about sex and territory,
which are what will finish us off
in the long run. Some cat owners around here
should snip a few testicles. If we wise
hominids were sensible, we’d do that too,
or eat our young, like sharks.
But it’s love that does us in. Over and over
again, He shoots, he scores! and famine
crouches in the bedsheets, ambushing the pulsing
eiderdown, and the windchill factor hits
thirty below, and pollution pours
out of our chimneys to keep us warm.
February, month of despair,
with a skewered heart in the centre.
I think dire thoughts, and lust for French fries
with a splash of vinegar.
Cat, enough of your greedy whining
and your small pink bumhole.
Off my face! You’re the life principle,
more or less, so get going
on a little optimism around here.
Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.
As difficult as this is for me (and for anyone who knows me) to believe, I have had multiple requests to expand on my Fashion Faux-ward post from last fall.
My qualifications for giving fashion advice? Well, I’ve been wearing clothes for more than half a century; does that give you confidence? And, if you think about it, there are all kinds of utterly unqualified people in high positions, so why shouldn’t I be one of them?
I was inspired me to do another fashion post while reading an article in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine entitled Their Time Is Now. The state of print journalism is apparently so dire that interviews are conducted in duos to draw readership, so fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg shared the spotlight here with American Hustle director David O. Russell. I was only mildly interested until Paragraph Two, wherein “the green and white wrap dress that Ms. von Furstenberg wore on the cover of Newsweek in 1976″ was noted.
THAT dress! That’s MY dress! I was 22, marginally employed by a Washington, D.C. lobby group, making less money than one is probably paid to work in a fast-food restaurant today, and I spent what for me was a king’s ransom to buy that dress at Garfinckel’s department store. I grabbed that dress off the rack and I tried it on and I didn’t care what it cost. I knew it was a bargain at any price. The fit was divine. It was day-into-evening wearable. It was pack-able, non-wrinkle-able, it was -able in every way one could wish. And it was chic relief from any of the other fashions (remember jumpsuits?) on the floor. I LOVED that dress. And I wore it for years.
The point being, sometimes you just KNOW that you have found your fashion quarry the way a big game hunter stalks his rhino. You sniff around the racks, you retreat and return, you do all kinds of magical math with your bank balance and ultimately, you emerge triumphant with THE dress or shoes or coat that is your “investment piece”.
Acquiring an investment piece can be fraught with peril. The financial part of the equation can be difficult for significant others of the male persuasion to comprehend. I call it “fashion math”: you divide sticker shock by desire and end up with a negative in the discretionary income column, but it’s all good due to the amortization of how many years you will wear the item. It all evens out in the end!
Did that make perfect sense to you?
Yeah. Not to my husband, either.
Here is another example: back in the early 2000′s, my stepdaughter, Tina, was working in NYC as a buyer for Gucci. She would probably tell you that the experience was not as glamorous as it sounds (long hours and high stress!) but one of the perks was a retail discount. The CE and I were going through the racks of stratospherically priced Gucci clothing at their Fifth Avenue flagship store and ha-ha-ha-ing at the impossibility of provincials like ourselves purchasing anything there.
And then lightning struck! A fur-lined black leather jacket practically leaped off the hanger and attached itself to me. Or at least that’s how I remember it.
“Ha-ha…ha-ha…ohmygosh look at THIS!”
Husband’s face shifts from laughter to stern look.
“Wow. This is amazing! I would wear this forever!
Husband’s face shifts from stern look to panic.
“Look at this jacket! Now THIS is an investment piece! (Tina chimes in from the background, nodding enthusiastically in the affirmative. She gets it!)
Husband knows he is beaten. Husband surrenders credit card.
Actually, it didn’t happen quite like that. Since I happen to have the loveliest and most generous husband in the world, he actually championed the purchase. Thanks to the discount and the CE’s magnanimity, I’ve been wearing that jacket for well over a decade. Think of the amortization! I’ve never seen another one like it and I still get a thrill when I put it on. That has to be worth something, right?
My guidelines for investment pieces:
1) Keep it simple. This year’s to-die-for fashion may be dead as disco next season. Embellishments, ruffles, questionable hemlines and any kind of extreme will turn your momentary triumph into eventual humiliation. Those jersey harem pants that look so cute right now? Step away!
2. Keep it real. Haven’t we all fallen madly for someone who, in the long run, is just not good for us? Such a slippery slope! Know your weaknesses – one of mine is “This will be perfect when I lose ten pounds“. Nope. Nuh-uh. Do not buy it, or at least not until after you’ve lost the ten pounds. Do not buy it if the phrase “I think I can get away with this” so much as enters your mind.
3. Anything but white. For me, an investment piece will most likely be black, because I know I will never get tired of it. My other fashionable stepdaughter, Angela, is a stylist and she says that a classic pair of black pants is an investment at any price. Or maybe your go-to color is beige or taupe – it could even be red or blue or green. But – and this is a caveat for me – other than your wedding dress, an investment piece is unlikely be white. Regardless of the quality, anything white will eventually yellow and is so easily stained. Even the most beautiful white cashmere sweater can look like hell after a few years.
4. Quality and longevity trump all. Diane von Furstenberg is still making beautiful clothes, but I haven’t seen anything lately in her current line that I would call an investment piece. She seems to use a lot of synthetic fabrics and even her silk tops seem flimsy to me. Ask yourself if the item you’re considering will still be wearable in five or even ten years and whether you will still want to wear it then.
5. Call in reinforcements. Sometimes you’re too emotionally involved to trust yourself to pull the trigger. Show the object of your affection to someone you trust to a) tell you the truth and b) not to buy it out from under you. Then you can always blame them if you hate it six months later.
As for that last one, I probably won’t be the one on your fashion advice speed dial. I’m the same person who once talked my mother into buying me a very expensive leather vest with calf-length fringe and turquoise beads. What was I thinking? I was 14. Hopefully I can be forgiven.
What is your idea of perfect happiness in life? For me, the ultimate joie de vivre would be to be surrounded at all times by great books – and get paid for it. A state of perfect joy in books – joie de livre.
But who gets to do that? Joshua Mann and Sunday Steinkirchner, that’s who.
Newlyweds, Manhattanites, Francophiles and rare book experts Josh and Sunday dropped in to visit us this week on their way from the San Francisco Antiquarian Book Fair to the 47th International Antiquarian Book Fair in Pasadena.
Sunday and Josh met in college and moved to New York City together to pursue what they thought were their chosen careers in psychology and medical research. But destiny had other ideas for them. They caught the book-collecting bug when they happened upon a seasoned copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Soon after, they purchased a first edition of Animal Farm for $40 and subsequently sold it for $4,000. Sunday says that the same book would probably go for around $8,000 today, noting that books are a way to invest in collectibles at a more attractive price point than fine art.
After following their muse to spend several months in France, they returned and took the leap of faith to open B & B Rare Books, Ltd. in downtown Manhattan. The CE happened upon them in his quest for “Modern Firsts”, which is book-collecting shorthand for the first editions of great 20th century writers like Hemingway, Fitzgerald and their ilk.
He was charmed by Josh and Sunday’s knowledge and enthusiasm, and also by their third business partner – their dog, Marlowe. I think Marlowe may have sealed many a B & B book deal, at least where the CE is concerned.
Like Alice in her adventures, Josh and Sunday’s business grew and grew, and last year they opened their lovely new gallery on East 20th Street. We happened to be in town for their opening celebration.
Book-sellers are, of course, also book-lovers, and Sunday and Josh answered quickly when I inquired as to their favorite authors while we had breakfast at the beach before they headed to Pasadena. “Oscar Wilde”, said Josh, without hesitation. “Virginia Woolf” said Sunday, adding that for her, the ultimate book capture would be a copy of Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway with a dust jacket. In the world of book-collecting, dust jackets matter, as do an array of other “points” that determine the rating of a book’s condition. An overview of what to look for when assessing a book can be found here.
In addition to Modern Firsts, Josh and Sunday’s love of Victorian literature has led them to broaden their specialities to include British Literature and 19th century literature. One of their favorite acquisitions was a Shakespeare folio that had survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 and actually still smelled of smoke.
Josh and Sunday lead a vanguard of a new generation of rare book sellers who are bringing their trade out from dusty shelves and into a century dominated by social media and e-books. If you are wondering if there’s a place for something as old-fashioned as an actual book in that milieu, you have only to hold a first edition in your hands and you will understand. I happily download many books on my Kindle, but others just have to be read in their original form. I just placed an order for copies of Middlemarch and Vanity Fair, for instance, and it seems to me that it would be almost criminal to read Jane Austen or the Bronte’s in anything but a hardbound cover.
Whatever book stirs your heart, it’s out there waiting for you. Josh and Sunday can help you find it, and your own joie de livre. Tell them the Chicken Emperor sent you.
I haven’t written about chickens in awhile.
It just didn’t seem right to report chicken sadness during the holiday season. And here it is, already February, well past time to say an official goodbye to sweet Coco.
It was a Sunday or two before Christmas. I came into the coop and found Coco sprawled on the floor. She revived a bit and even stood for a few hours, giving me and the CE time to cradle her and say our goodbyes. And then, as quietly as she had lived – Coco was a peaceful girl – she passed.
Because it was a Sunday, there was no chance of taking her to the vet and so we don’t know exactly why she died. My guess is that it was a reproductive issue – internal laying, perhaps, or maybe ovarian cancer. After her summer molt, she had begun laying again briefly around October and then stopped. I assumed she was taking the winter “rest” so common with chickens. When daylight hours dip below 14, many hens will take a winter sabbatical and wait until the days lengthen again to begin laying.
In retrospect, Coco was likely not “resting”. More likely, her days were coming to a close, but we couldn’t possibly know that because birds, programmed to survive in the wild amidst predators, are well-practiced at hiding any sign of vulnerability until the very end.
We have lost a number of pets in the last few years. Enough that you might think we are used to it by now.
But you never get used to death. Each morning when I walk into the coop my eyes go to the spot where I found Coco that morning and the sadness washes over me again.
Could we have done something? Probably not. When Autumn developed internal laying issues, we managed to prolong her life for a few months, but at great expense, and with no hope of a “cure”.
And we subjected Hope to weeks of well-intended veterinary poking and prodding only to learn after a necropsy that she died from incurable ovarian cancer.
So now there are just two. Little Pippa and Luna are left to fend for themselves. For the first few weeks after Coco passed, they huddled in the coop, having lost their leader and at a loss as to how to go on. An understandable reaction.
But the two brave little ones have pulled together and are venturing out now as a team. They explore the flower beds, together. They beg for treats by the kitchen door, together. They find a patch of sun and dig little dust-bathing burrows, together.
On the day we lost Coco, I thought, no more. The losses are too many and too painful. But as I watch Pippa and Luna soldier on, I see the lesson in their chicken wisdom. You have to keep moving forward.
Yet two does not make a flock. We have to find some companions for these sweet little hens. And that is not as simple as it seems. There is choreography involved in adding to a flock. You must either have a broody hen to raise the chicks, or you must hand-raise them yourself until they are the same size as the existing birds and then convince them all to co-exist. Barnyard diplomacy is a delicate proposition and I am no Henry Kissinger, so this must be managed carefully. Pippa went broody last spring – I’m crossing my fingers that it will happen again.
After Coco died, the hardest moment of the day for me was when I would go out to lock down the coop after dark. Pippa always slept on a high shelf near the ceiling of the coop, and Luna would sleepily peer out the window at me, alone on the roost. How sad for her, I thought. But when I went out to the coop a few nights ago, I saw two little heads peering out at me: Pippa has come down from the rafters and the two little friends now roost together at night. Life goes on.
I never leave the house without a book. Even if I’m in the car, on the way out of the driveway and realize I am book-less, I will go back to retrieve one. Yes, the reading sickness is that strong with me and probably with some of you. Reading is nurture, survival, communion. A good book can make all the difference in a bad day.
My favorite books of the fifty-three I read this year, if you’re looking to seed your to-read list, are as follows, alphabetical by author:
Watership Down by Richard Adams
The Inferno by Dante Alighieri
Out of Africa by Karen Blixen
How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill
Ghost Wars by Steve Coll
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Isak Dineson: The Life of a Storyteller by Judith Thurman
Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
The Aeneid by Virgil
And here is the remainder of my 2013 reading list:
39. An Intriguing Life: A Memoir of War, Washington, and Marriage to an American Spymaster by Cynthia Helms
I’m not certain the world was waiting on edge to hear from the feisty Ms. Helms, the widow of Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms, but her reminiscences of her experience as a WRN during WWII and life in 1970′s-era Washington, D.C. held my interest.
40.The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
I want to love everything Henry James wrote because of his association with my beloved Edith Wharton. But I must confess to not absolutely loving this book. Isabel Archer is considered one of James’ – and literature’s – great characters, but I lost patience with her poor decisions early on. Isabel, you should have gone with the Caspar Goodwood choice and spared us your misery.
41. Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro
There is no disputing Munro’s ability. After all, she was recently rewarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature. But I cannot tell a lie: I did not love these stories. The bleakness of the landscape was not a problem, it was the bleakness of the souls therein. Maybe that was her point…
42. Othello by William Shakespeare
You have probably read all of Shakespeare’s plays, but I have not, so I am attempting to repair that gap by picking one off here and there. And where better to start than with Othello. Poor Othello! Poor Desdemona! And evil, evil Iago. “Villainy, villainy, villainy!” It’s what you get when you love “not wisely, but too well”. Highly recommended.
43. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
Bryson made me laugh out loud several times in this book, and I would happily have given it four stars, save for his tendency to use his prodigious wit a bit too sharply here and there, giving an impression that he is more arrogant than affable. But I learned so much! Along the way of his adventure, Bryson aptly describes our fumbling national Forest Service, details the sad fate of the American Chestnut tree and visits the abandoned, burning anthracite mines of Pennsylvania.
44. The Paris Wife: A Novel by Paula Mclain
I was wary of this book. As a fictionalized version of the courtship and doomed marriage of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson, I feared sentimentality, hero-worship, melodrama or worse. But my fears were unfounded – this was a very satisfying – if sad – read.
45.Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
I know everyone else loved this collection of short stories. I did not. If you want to read about the poignant ups and downs of small-town life, skip this one set in Maine and go straight to Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio to see how it should be done. Not recommended.
46. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
A lovely and erudite novel about late 1930′s New York City. A bit of a morality tale, reversing Ayn Rand-ian celebration of capitalist ascendancy for redemption through rejection of all that glitters. Recommended.
47. The Inferno by Dante Alighieri (re-read)
I’ve already gone on and on about the genius of Dante. Let’s just say that The Divine Comedy is a continual astonishment to me and in my top five lifetime reads. VIB (Very Important Book) and highly recommended.
48. The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone 760 pages
I am hoping to finally visit Italy this year, and this biography of the great Michelangelo Buonarroti is a magnificent primer on Renaissance art and history in Rome and Florence. Highly recommended.
49. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
Why, oh why, have we (and by we, I mean the world collectively) done nothing to rescue the people of North Korea? One of the lucky defectors interviewed for this book learns after her daring escape that “dogs in China ate better than doctors in North Korea.” The author states that 42% of North Korean children have been physically damaged by stunting due to malnutrition. As for the incalculable damage to their souls, the thorough and objective reporting in this book brilliantly reveals the horror that has been visited upon three generations of North Koreans. Highly recommended.
50. Fractures by Lamar Herrin
This novel about a dysfunctional family in the midst of a decision about hydro-fracking on their property may have been the worst book I read this year. I suspect it would never have been published if not for the controversy that currently rages over hydraulic fracturing. The members of my book club have various opinions about “fracking” but everyone agreed that the characters in this book were completely unsympathetic. Not recommended.
51. The Revenge of Geography by Robert D. Kaplan
An elegantly conceived and written overview of the ways in which geopolitics have and will continue to influence planet Earth. This was a challenging read for me, but well worth the effort. Kaplan romps from Thucydides to Hobbes to geography gurus Mackinder, Spykman and Bracken as he patiently leads the reader to understand what may be in store for our future. Highly recommended.
52. 1776 by David McCullough (re-read)
McCullough details one very significant year in the American Revolution and he does it so very well. The Siege of Boston, Henry Knox’s heroic retrieval of the cannon at Ticonderoga and the Battle of Long Island are among the highlights. Highly recommended.
53. The Greater Inclination by Edith Wharton
A slim collection of short stories written early in Wharton’s career and before she hit her masterful literary stride. I am one of Wharton’s biggest fans, but I suggest that if you are only going to read one or two or her works, this is not it.
Many people challenge themselves to read 75 books in a year. I don’t think I will ever be one of them. But I read a dozen more books in 2013 than in 2012 and more than 20,000 pages, which is a new record for me. Of the 53 books I completed, I liked 31 of them, was neutral about 6, and hated and absolutely loved an equal number of 8. Like the proverbial box of chocolates, you never know what you’ll get when you open a book. Onward to 2014 reading – I hope you’ll join me!