Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Best Books of 2011

These are all the books who got a 5 star rating out of me in 2011:

(in no particular order)

1.  White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

This is a completely unvarnished view of India. Two friends of mine lived in India for 2 years with their children and it reminded me of how she would often sigh and day "Oh India...", how they loved and were so frustrated with it at the same time. The main character is an admitted murderer from the outset of the story, but you spend the majority of the book trying to figure out the motivations and the particulars of the murder itself, which is not revealed until more than 3/4 of the way through the story. So that it places you in this interesting position of not being sure if you should sympathize with the character or not. In the end, I'm not sure if that conflict is really resolved. The book has 2 great things going for it - a very engaging plot, but also a dialogue about India itself that is very worthwhile and mind provoking. Some of the best fiction I read so far this year.  There was something about this that just stuck with me - portions of it which I would think of off and on months later or ways in which complicated aspects of humanity were described which really struck me as being particularly astute - especially where culture is concerned.  

2.  Homicide by David Gregory

This is a very long and detailed book of non-fiction. At first I think I found it slightly daunting, and not as easy to delve into as a work of fiction. Just trying to keep all the various detectives straights seemed like a task. But then around 100 pages in - something happened. This book became better than fiction. Because it isn't fiction. It's real. And it has a sick poetry. A demented beauty that I could not put down. Almost literally, from 100 pages in, I carried this book with me everywhere. I read to the exclusion of other chores and tasks I should have accomplished - and I have devoured it and finished it and then found myself with that disappointed feeling a person has when the thing that they've devoted themselves to for a long time is suddenly over.

This book is a thing of beauty about some of the ugliest humanity has to offer. 

3.  Lit by Mary Karr

I've always liked Karr's writing. I think this may be her best yet. She writes beautifully composed sentences and expresses her thoughts with gorgeous language. It is likely her background as a poet which makes this so easy for her as compared to most memoirists. I loved this story. If her life is a trilogy - with Liar's Club and Cherry being parts I and II, here in part III we get the real pay off. An unfailingly honest portrayal of her life - she neither paints herself as better than she should nor worse - probably something only a person who has been through lots of therapy can do with such clarity. Some memoirs read like a sordid re-telling of events, some read as an accusation of those who surrounded them, hers reads like a personal triumph. 

4.  Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Once I began this I could hardly put it down. In fact, I had to finish it - practically reading it straight through - so that I could accomplish something else with my life.

The genius of Rebecca is not so much in the prose itself - though at times, it can be quite lovely - the genius of Rebecca is in the plotting, pacing and exquisite ability du Maurier brings us a sense of place and time, as though we ourselves are the protagonist of the novel experiencing the sweet cut grass of Manderley ourselves, discovering the dusty abandoned cottage on the beach, walking with Jasper through the woods, and worrying over the cold glance of Mrs. Danvers.

The plot thickens and thickens much like when you stir a home made pudding on the stove - slowly at first, unsure of when it will finally turn into a pudding, but then gradually sensing how thick it is becoming until suddenly we have a bubbling delicious dessert. Rebecca is something to be enjoyed in all it's macabre and gothic glory.

*spoiler-ish alert*

I do wish for a different sort of ending for Max and his bride. I long for the story having a different twist and sudden happiness thrust upon them. But I believe the author gives us a fair compromise under the circumstances. A murder has been committed. We could not, in good conscience enjoy our "happy ending" under those auspices. No, instead, morality dictates we be content with what is.

*spoiler-ish alert ended*

I only wish I had read this as a younger girl - perhaps around the same time Jane Eyre enthralled me so. As it is, I enjoyed it very very much. But I think a younger version of myself would have been even more enchanted by the story of the Mrs. de Winters, Manderley and the gardens would have been all the more vivid, and Mrs. Danvers all the more sinister.

5.  Bossypants by Tina Fey

Not since David Sedaris, has someone written a memoir style book so thoroughly entertaining and laugh out loud hilarious. I adored every minute of this and will definitely read it again. The chapter on her Dad is so perfect, I've read it aloud to anyone who will listen.

6.  We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver

One of the most provacative and well-written novels I've read in a long time. Shriver's voice is uniquely dark, captivating and sharply brilliant. Her writing makes me envious. Her language is delicious. Her vocablary delectable. And her subject matter is complex and timely. Do we make monsters or are they born? Can we ever know for sure? There are usually two modes of thoughts on this nature vs. nurture debate. Three, if you count the folks who would rather take the ambiguous path of saying "both"..."maybe". The complications in trying to arrive at a conclusion to that question are immense and I don't mind not really having the answer, though the question endlessly fascinates me. I devoured this book in less than a day. Though we often say "I couldn't put it down" a rarely mean it with the ferocity to which I attended to this book. I'm sad it's over, if not relieved at the same time.

7.  The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog:  And other Stories by Bruce D. Perry

A fascinating read for anyone interested in psychology, particularly where the brain development and nurturing are involved. Perry presents some cases which help us understand better the ways in which humans develop into healthy people and what might happen when something goes awry with that process. More importantly though, he gives us a road map of practical remedies that have the potential to make a big difference when things don't go as planned in lives of children and their nurturing.

8.  The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure

I loved this book. I always really enjoy Wendy's writing, so I knew I would like it, and the fact that I really loved Laura Ingalls Wilder when I was a kid - it was pretty much a given that I would enjoy this. But I was suprised at how touching I found Wendy's explorations of just why exactly, Laura became such a big part of my 70s childhood. Well that sounds weird, Wendy was exploring her own reasons for why Laura was such a big part of her childhood AND trying to figure out why this was still something she was carrying around in her heart. But I felt like Wendy was trying to figure this out for all of us, every one of us who cared about the Little House books, and maybe sort of the Laura and Mary from the tv show too. I discovered the books first, but later, because I did watch the TV show for several years, the whole thing became of a piece in my head. Wendy's writing is funny and deeply contemplative all at the same time. Sometimes I feel like Wendy is some long lost sister or something because she just thinks in ways that I relate to, and she can make me laugh. If you loved Little House or if you love Wendy, you love this book.

9.  Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Murakami has an incredible ability to pull me into a story and keep me entranced, even when, in the case of this book, the bare bones of the story are pretty spare. He has a way with mood and he has a way of making seemingly mundane things seem enchanting. As a meditation on love and it's various permutations, I thought this was lovely.

10.  The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

I thoroughly enjoyed my time reading this rather long novel. Collins writes what is considered one of the most classic thriller stories of all time. The most enjoyable thing about this is that you're never quite sure what's going to happen next though you sort of see where it's going. I liked the device of having the different sections of the book written from differing perspectives - even sometimes marginal characters who make an interesting contribution to the arc. The characters are very interesting, especially the sinister Count Fosco who is quite complex. I also thought that rather surprisingly, the novel has quite a feminist perspective - though I am unsure how purposeful that was. I think one thing I liked most might be considered a draw back by some, which is the length of the novel - it is QUITE long - but I liked that I could read a few pages every night and feel like someone was telling me a complex and interesting bedtime story. Because on final analysis the story really isn't very realistic or believable, but that's rather besides the point. The fun is in the journey, and feeling like a kid again in rapt attention to a story that lets our imagination roam.

11.  Little Bee by Chris Cleave

A really beautiful, though sad, and moving story. There were so many sentences and paragraphs in this book which I thought were gorgeously constructed. A great discussion book for a book club, there are a lot of great themes explored here. The story of a Nigerian girl who tries to immigrate to England after experiencing some extreme hardships in her own country. But really, the book is about so much more than that. I hesitate to describe it too much because I think the way it unfolds is important to preserve for the reader. Just know you'll be moved.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Best Films of 2011

Well, I guess I should say the best films I saw - Here's my take on this years best, my top 10 in no particular order:


Thank you Kristen Wiig for making me laugh harder than I thought possible this summer.  4 times.  YEP, I saw this 4 times.  Once by myself and then 3 times dragging various folks I could talk into it along for the ride.  Witty, twisted, with pathos and some moments of outright brilliance, I can't imagine how it could have been better.  

2.  The King's Speech (technically this came out last year but I didn't see it until after the first of the year)

Excellent, brilliant acting, beautifully written, wonderful story, which takes the time to be historically accurate. One of the best films I have seen in a really long time.

3. The Rabbit Hole

Even though I wanted to see this film for a while, I avoided it for a few weeks because I was worried it would be too depressing. Although it certainly has it's fair share of sadness and difficulty, it a totally redeeming ride of a film. I felt like the film was a nice catharsis for people going through various types of grief. Beautifully acted, I loved both Eckhart and Kidman as well as a great performance by Miles Teller. Highly recommend it.

4. The Future

This is a little gem of a film. Miranda July is has created a film that manages to be both challenging and rewarding in equal measure. In a treatment which could fall on it's face because it might be too heavy, too depressing, too cheesy, too quirky, or too pat, it doesn't become "too" anything, but rather it is just the right mixture of whimsical musings and meandering philosophical yearning with some satisfying results. It's kind of magical and manages to be positive while pondering some pretty big questions of existence, love, time, and the big existential questions. Tricky and sublime.

5. Young Adult

This was amazingly good in a really kind of sardonic way. Theron is barely likable - but plays this role like a genius. She's stunning and gorgeous in some of her shots, and then shows her age for us while she's laying in bed with a hangover. Salvaging herself from our complete dis-like of her character when she reveals she has trichinosis as we watch her pluck her ever perfectly blonde hairs out by their roots and store them in a little pile of sadness. She's the girl we loved to hate in high school, pretty and perfect and smart to boot. Now grown up and living away from her hometown Mavis can't quite get over her high school boyfriend. Which is something quite a few women can relate to. But what's interesting her is that we figure out what she really can't get over is well...herself. She misses being the princess of the high school. The big fish in the little pond and going back to her hometown is as much about trying to regain a sense of her power as the "it" girl as it is about the boyfriend or anything else. As much as we might not like to I think almost anyone can see a little of ourselves in Mavis. 30 and 40 somethings hanging on to our youth in a sort of arrested development. In the end Mavis learns something important about herself - actually lots of important things, and if we're paying attention we might learn something too. Of course, to keep things from being too neatly sewn up, in the end, we still can't help but think Mavis is too good for her hometown anyway. And though she grows...she never totally gets over herself either. I liked that it didn't have a happy tied up in ribbons ending. The film says a lot about pop culture and what happens when you realize your life isn't going to be a fairytale. But not in a sad way...just in a truthful way.

6. Happy Thank you More Please

1. It made me really really really happy
2. It made me feel good about...well, pretty much everything and everyone
3. It gave me hope in the best possible way

7.  Martha Marcy May Marlene

A compelling taut psycholgical thriller that never get's boring, even if we are smacked by the abrupt ending. There's a lot to like about this - interesting structure, contemplative and wound, great photography, and compelling issues. Tense. Excellent exploration of psychological illness and the dynamics of group think while still managing to tackle some questions about the nature of reality and morality. Simply gorgeous lush photography too.

8. Somewhere

I've seen this three times. Look, it's not for everyone. But I really love it. I think Sofia Coppola is a genius. The pacing of this film is langorous and wonderful. Dorff is excellent, Fanning is fabulous and Pontius is kind of playing a version of himself here, but the best version of himself and adds some great touches to the over-all mood. It's an art piece of a film and I adore it. We spend time pondering what gives life meaning and we come out with some pretty good results.

9. The Guard

This is pure excellence.  Dead funny, witty and awesome.  A well acted piece of british brilliance I LOVED.  

10.  Tree of Life

It's poetic and visually gorgeous. It's challenging, but not unduly so. It has an emotional resonance which I thought was astounding. How is the director able to convey so much with little dialogue? The characters emotions are so true, you really do feel that they capture real people having real emotions. It's epic. In the sense that it attempts to capture everything from the creation to death to birth to all the big existential questions of life. And yet, it's quiet. It is soft and visual. It's a visual journey that you just let go, and let wash over you like waves. Every frame, every shot, is a little piece of art in and of itself.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Perfect Purples

Purple contains to be a fairly popular color of late - here are the best rooms I found in 2011:

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Out of Sorts


I don't even really know exactly what "out of sorts" is suppose to mean.  I could look up the exact definition of the term or whatever but I'm just flying by the seat of my pants here so no time for that really.  I just seems to fit where I'm at right now.

I'm not depressed, I'm kind of stressed, I'm very distracted, I'm often forgetful, I'm definitely tired, I've been a little sick, I'm no longer much of a fan of the holidays (I know sad, and shame on me and all of that but...I'm trying okay, and that's about the best I can do right now), I'm oddly obsessive about random things which I can never quite figure out about myself.  I've said before it seems very close to an adult form of ADD.  But maybe everyone is sort of like that and they just don't talk about it?

Nah.  I know that's not really true either because I know lots of people who are really focused and task oriented and all of that - and somehow, that's just never going to be me.  And I felt bad about that for a long time - I mean, that's the way we are all suppose to be right?  Or somehow I got that idea somewhere along the way.  But I dunno - it seems like that sucks a whole lot of fun and spontaneous what-not out of my life if I even try to do that too much.  I get kind of snappy at my kids and I'm not a fan of that whole 'be on top of things and get stuff done' thing.

I'm not saying I don't like to get things done either.  I do.  But it's more like I have this rotating list in my head of stuff and suddenly it will just be THE DAY to do that particular thing.  I might have been thinking about that thing for months and suddenly it will just be like "oh, todays the day to paint that room!  okay then".  That's just how my life works best.  And I'm okay with that.


so I am super super super busy right now.  And I'm not DOING that much but I'm just super super busy.  We only have one car at the moment and my kids school isn't close by, and my oldest kid's college is kind far and then he also has a work schedule for us to pay attention to, and between just that driving people around business sometimes I'm like "uhhhh...am I going to even be able to get all these people where they need to be on time today??"  Life gets a little more complex when your children are adults or nearly adults and they all have their schedules which you don't have that much control over any more.  Do you know?  And then I am just all about my math class whenever my free time allows for math.  By that I mean that if I'm not driving up and down the 51, or trying to catch up my laundry or running to Walgreens for posters for the school project or you know, whatever, then I'm sitting in front of some math problems.  Luckily, I have found a wonderful tutor so I feel like I"m finally making some progress in that department.

Anyway  - what I'm saying is that I'm kind of out of sorts.  And I when I feel PARTICULARLY out of sorts I kind of fixate on unimportant things.  like:

I totally dig the blog Nat the Fat Rat.  I think I am obsessed with that blog because I think it feels like I should have a life a little more like hers sometimes.  I'm in good company though.  Even Salon.com wrote a recent article on why many women are obsessed wit the hip mormon mommy bloggers.

In addition I can get unduly excited about learning that Sofia Coppola is working on a new movie.  You have no idea how many times this year I've watched "Somewhere" (a movie with a very limited fan base by the way) just as a exercise in good mental health.

I can plan a pretend trip to Italy and spend a good hour mapping out exactly what I would do.  It's crazy.  I mean, you know, hopefully someday I'll be able to put all that random trip planning knowledge to good use, but that's not going to be for quite a while.

One day I spent about an hour looking at different companies who make macaroons.  And analyzing if macaroons are the new cupcake.  And if so, shouldn't someone be opening a Macaroon joint in Phoenix sometime soon. And are there good macaroon companies who ship over-night?

I know right?  the least important things I should be doing.  I resist it as much as possible.  But sometimes it just has to happen.

Because sometimes when you're out of sorts?  the only way to sort yourself out is to give your mind a break from anything REAL.


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