Monthly Archives: December 2016

Reading Materials: December

I really enjoyed looking back at the books I read in 2016, so I thought I’d finish the year with another book roundup. Without further ado (and without spoilers!), here are the titles I’ve read since November 8:

  1. The Gardener, S.A. Bodeen. This was a book I read for the middle school book club in which Tyler and I participate. It was a compact, well-written adventure story with just enough of a sci-fi element to appeal to most middle schoolers.
  2. Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett. I felt like this book bit off more than it could chew – a lot of characters, a lot of plot, a lot of different time periods. I had a hard time mustering the energy to engage with the whole cast. And, ultimately, I didn’t really like, or care about, any of them. I’ve felt this way about several books I read this year – they were well-written, but ultimately felt empty.
  3. Magical Thinking, Augusten Burroughs. I read this on the recommendation of a friend. First, Mr. Burroughs is a very sharp, funny storyteller. Second, Mr. Burroughs seems like kind of an asshole. I’m not sure when “being inappropriate,” in and of itself, became such a laudable trait. Saying something inappropriate is very funny when it’s occasionally deployed by someone who otherwise plays by society’s rules. It’s tedious when it’s your only trick.
  4. Glory Over Everything, Kathleen Grissom. So, if I’m in the car, I will use Siri to dictate texts. When I returned this book to the friend from whom I borrowed it, I let her know by a text. When I finally looked at it later, it made me laugh so hard I cried. It said, “I just dropped glory over everything in your mailbox.” Because Siri didn’t catch on that it was a book title, it looked like I had done something potentially obscene to my friend’s mailbox. Oops. ANYWAY, I enjoyed this book but didn’t love it. I felt the same way about this book’s prequel, The Kitchen House. Some of the conflicts were a little too contrived, and some of the “lucky breaks” seemed a little too lucky. And in this book, it seemed that just when you started to get a feel for a character, he or she would die. That was inconvenient.
  5. Ninety Miles to Havana, Enrique Flores-Galbis. This was another middle school book club book, and I felt it did a good job of exposing the 12-14-year-old set to a glimpse of post-Revolution Cuba without veering into the nitty-gritty or trying to make a big political statement. As a native Floridian, a story about Cuban refugees is always appealing, but this would be a good tale for any middle schooler looking for an introduction to this part of history.
  6. Dreams of Gods and Monsters, Laini Taylor. This was the best series I read all year, and I saved this particular book for Thanksgiving break….and then stayed up until 1:00 a.m. to finish it. It was outstanding. The author managed to create a whole world with light brushstrokes. There is not a lot of ink wasted on detailing the minutiae of the realm, and the relationships between various races of creatures, and all that. She gives you enough information to make the story believable, and then gets back to moving the story along.
  7. Panic, Sharon M. Draper. This was lent to me by the middle school librarian, to see what I thought of it. My first thought was, I can’t believe this is a book for middle school kids!! It deals with the abduction and brutal sexual assault of a teenage dancer, and it is difficult to read. If your middle schooler is exceptionally mature, he or she may be able to see past that to the beautiful parts of the book (the missing girl’s dance friends cope with her loss by….dancing). One thing that bothered me about this book is that the dialog is almost entirely in teen slang, and it already feels a little dated.
  8. The Martian, Andy Weir. This book grabbed me by the throat on page one and didn’t let go until the very end. The narrator, Mark Watley, is one of the best-executed characters I met all year. Immediately upon finishing the book, I made Jason read it. I don’t do that often.
  9. The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George. A friend let me borrow this book, and I selected it for my book club’s January meeting. On the one hand, I love books about books, and books about bookshops, so I really enjoyed those parts. On the other hand, I get very aggravated by Manic Pixie Dream Girls, and I felt like this book featured a particularly egregious example of the type, so I got very twitchy at those parts. Overall, I liked the book and look forward to talking about it with my book club.
  10. Dead to the World, Charlaine Harris. Like all the Sookie Stackhouse novels, this book was fun fluff. I find them adorable.

Happy Reading!

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Home for the Holidays

It seems to me that every year the all-Christmas-music station will pick one particular earworm to play, over and over, as covered by different artists. This year, I feel the song I heard most often was “(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays,” written by Al Stillman and Robert Allen and originally recorded in 1954 by Perry Como. You can go ahead and sing along:

Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays
‘Cause no matter how far away you roam
When you pine for the sunshine of a friendly gaze
For the holidays you can’t beat home, sweet home…

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This is not my favorite Christmas song. Not even in the top ten. But I’ve heard it so many times in the car (and in elevators, in stores, etc.) I’ve started thinking about it more and more.

I came to a realization.

This is my thirty-seventh Christmas, and for the first time in my life I didn’t have to go anywhere to feel home for the holidays.

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I grew up in Jacksonville, where both my grandmothers lived. The closest we got to “over the river and through the woods” was visiting my dad’s mom on the far shore of the mighty St. Johns, about a 20 minute drive.

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My first Christmas away from home occurred in college, when I spent the holiday with a boyfriend’s family in Ohio. There was snow. It was weird. I missed “normal” Christmas – the eleven o’clock service at Riverside Presbyterian Church, good-natured whining about the 75 degree temperatures, and eating my grandmother’s tomato aspic off my family’s Christmas plates.

Even as I got older, and had homes of my own, I missed being home – on Sherwood Road – for the holidays.

Things have changed.

For example, Riverside no longer has an eleven o’clock Christmas Eve service.

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My grandmothers – both the one over the river and the one who made aspic – are gone, along with my father. My parents’ home is basically empty.

So, many of the things that made “normal” Christmas normal no longer exist.

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But some do. It was once again absurdly warm on Christmas Day, and the good-natured complaining ensued as it always has. As for the Christmas plates, I brought them over from my mom’s house just after Thanksgiving, so we were able to use them in our home. (There was no aspic. That’s one tradition I am happy to do without.)

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That was really the last piece that brought Christmas to my home. Growing up, we used them every year, and my father would remind us children to orient the plates so that the star atop the Christmas tree was pointing up. Of course, this reminder came AFTER the plates were filled with food. But whatever.

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The plates join pieces from my father’s Christmas village, my parents’ nativity set, and a Christmas tree skirt hand-beaded by my great-aunt. If I can’t have my whole family, at least I have some of the things that made the holiday special to them.

More importantly, over the last year I have made an effort to embrace Tallahassee as my tribe, my people. I have made more friends, and allowed my roots to sink into the sandy soil. For the first time, when I contemplated not being here for Christmas, I felt I would be missing something. Ten years after moving here, this is finally Home.

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I’m Sorry I Forgot Your Birthday

Hi.

If you’ve had a birthday in the last 43 days, it is entirely likely that you did not receive a completely generic Facebook message from me to mark the occasion.

I’m sorry.

When the East Coast polls closed on Election Day, I removed Facebook from my phone. I stopped visiting all social media sites, with the exception of Instagram (because it’s pretty apolitical). I stayed completely away for one week. Since then, I’ve checked Facebook every few days, and have kept my own posting to an absolute minimum.

It was awesome. And humbling. But mostly awesome.

I found myself amazed at how much time I had wasted being upset at people who, for all intents and purposes, existed only on the internet. I’m not even talking about far-flung distant relatives or friends-of-friends. I am talking about the online personas of people who are dear friends in real life. I don’t mean that they use fake names or fake profiles or anything like that. I am talking about people who are kind, generous, and thoughtful in person – and hate-filled, hysterical, and blinded by fear on Facebook. People who hug me when they see me in the grocery store, then go online and re-post an article smugly degrading stay-at-home-moms, or minivan drivers, or churchgoers. Or Republicans.

It was awesome to be free of all that anxiety and anger. I found myself enjoying my in-person friendships more, and making an effort to stay in touch with people, rather than passively being filled in on their lives via news feed. I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I read a bunch of books. I listened to podcasts. I spent time being creative.

The experience was also humbling. I don’t think anyone noticed my absence, and if they did, no one commented on it. That’s fine! I didn’t intend to make a statement, I was just trying to alleviate my own low-level anxiety. But it’s a little sobering to watch life go on without your participation.

I realize that this blog will auto-post to Facebook, which is delightfully ironic.

While I enjoyed my week of total abstention from Facebook, I don’t think I’ll quit it entirely. I’m pretty comfortable with my current level of participation. I’ve become pretty aggressive about hiding posts. My test is this: if so-and-so’s words would be embarrassing (for me or them) if spoken loudly in a crowded restaurant, I ask Facebook to show me fewer posts like that. Facebook is not an educational tool. More and more, I feel it’s the dregs.

 

 

 

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