January 12, 2009

Favorite Reads, 2008

Before we get any further into this new year, I wanted to share my favorite books of the past year. There are just a few of them -- for while I read a lot of books, not that many of them stuck to my ribs and joined the ranks of "Favorite Reads Ever." None of the books below were actually published this past year. Two are a couple years old, and one was written in the 1940s.

Okay, enough throat-clearing.

3. The Shadow Catcher, by Marianne Wiggins.
I wrote a full-length post about it here. I still have the copy on the lower shelf of my bedside table, and seeing it makes me happy that I chose it, back at the little bookstore in the Mandalay Bay in Vegas. Also, in the earlier post, I wrote that my dad probably had a book or two of Edward S. Curtis's in his possession. My mom was rooting around in my dad's still-full closet this year when I was visiting, and sure enough, I did spy at least one old book of Curtis's there. Something to snag at some later date. Again, as I wrote before, this is a sentimental favorite, not only because it a was a good read, but also because so much of it reminded me of my late dad, and how I wish I could have told him about it.

2. I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith.
Light and bubbly as mimosa over Sunday brunch. I would think you'd have to be a terrible cynic or grump not to like this book, narrated by seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain. (Great name. And so reminiscent of my high school goth nom de plume,
Morticia B. Cavendish.) I have some nice memories of reading this under the warm covers on some of the first chilly days of fall. Actually, I don't think we had any chilly days this fall. Such is the power of suggestion, since Cassandra and her sister are living in near-poverty in a very chilly and damp old English castle, dreaming of how to make some money, buy new dresses, and simply not go to bed hungry every night. Cassandra also wrote many of the sections in her journal (three long sections of which comprise the novel) by candlelight. Give me long enough and I'll tell you that this is the method by which I remember reading the book.

Speaking of high school: I remember asking my senior-year AP English teacher, Ms. Vi Klessig, if she'd read a certain book. "
I stopped reading coming of age novels when I came of age," was her response. Well. Evidently, at middle age, I have yet to come of age myself, as I'm still a sucker for any juicy tale told by an emoting adolescent. Now that I think of it, Ms. Klessig was quite the grump and cynic. Besides, how could you not like the writer who also wrote the famous One Hundred and One Dalmations, and gave the two parent dogs the very English and charming names of "Perdita" and "Pongo." Very charming, very English. A keeper.

and, drumroll, please....

1. The Principals of Uncertainty, by Maira Kalman.
Well. What to say about this book? It's a series of paintings, photographs and thoughts by graphic designer, artist and author Kalman. The tone and atmosphere pretty well convey how I've felt on and off for the entire year: sad, hopeful, heartbroken, optimistic -- all at once. She takes note of and recreates moments of beauty and joy and relates them to her own memories of family and friends, and to all of us here on the planet.

Maira Kalman is in love with life and the beauty of the human race. She is also blown out the water and rendered speechless by the death of her beloved mother. The book originally appeard as a series of blog posts on the New York Times site. One series, or chapter as it appears in the book, is linked here.

I believe the series linked to above is the first chapter, or section, of the book. The intelligence, the wit, the loss, are all right there in this entry. I encourage you to click.

To the right is the last illustration of this section, a copy of the map of the U.S. through the eyes of her Russian immigrant mother. The bottom reads:

My mother drew this map for me. This is the world through her eyes. She is no longer alive, and it is impossible to bear. She loved Fred Astaire. And there you go. On you go. Hapless, heroic us."

And on we go, into another year of reading.

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