Well, as 2013 comes to a close I must confess that this was not a prolific year when it comes to reading, for me. I usually hover around 50 books or so, but this past year I only read 36, a total of 12,960 pages. I marvel at some other bloggers out there that are reading upwards of 100 or 150 books per year. I wish I could do this, I really do. But I am actually a very slow reader when it comes down to it, and especially through the first half of 2013 I found myself quite busy with other activities. At any rate, I gave it some thought and came up with a list of five books I really enjoyed -- books that thoroughly captivated my attention, throughout the year. Here they are, listed only in the order in which they were read:
1) Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters. 2) The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco. 3) Cutting For Stone, by Abraham Verghese. 4) The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. 5) The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick DeWitt.
There are so many other books I read that were excellent, but these above were top-notch. Fingersmith for its ingenious twists and turns. The Name of the Rose for its deep brooding mystery and intellectual appeal. Cutting For Stone for its depth, its range, and attention to detail. The Goldfinch for the way the author couches such timeless themes in a thoroughly modern tale. And The Sisters Brothers for its unique blend of wild-west craziness, lawlessness, and [yet] thoughtfulness. I'm currently reading The Circle, by Dave Eggers. A book that seems, were I to finish it in the next two days [which I probably won't] would surely displace one of these five, it's so good, so far. Happy Reading to you all in 2014!
I spent Christmas Day at my best friend's place, and lo and behold, there was a gift for me under the tree. He and his wife presented me with a new toaster. It's the one on the right, in the above photo. My old one [on the left] was on its last legs, and so this was a very timely gift. Because -- I love toast! I acquired the old toaster 17 years ago, when my girlfriend Juile moved away to Japan and never came back. You could say, I lost a good woman, but gained an even better toaster! The thing has served me well. As I installed the new one in its place beside my microwave, I put the old one in the new box to take down to the garbage area of my building -- but then I got all nostalgic about it. And I got to thinking… [maybe a bit too much, as you will soon find out, if you keep reading…] Here's the deal --
I always buy the same kind of bread. Country Harvest Ancient Grains -- a fresh loaf of it seen here to the left. Each bag of this particular kind of bread contains 15 slices. Anyone who knows me knows that I never go to work in the morning without first making a sandwich to eat during my first break time. So -- there goes ten slices of bread every week, for sure. This leaves me with five in the bag, and I can assure you, I consume those other five slices in my weekend breakfasts and late-night snacks. In fact, this is a very conservative figure -- I actually get into a second loaf of bread every week. But for simplicity's sake, let's just round it off and say that I eat, on the average, one loaf of this bread per week. Each loaf of bread [those 15 slices of it] measure nine inches in length. You can see a ruler alongside the bread in the photo, if you are in need of empirical evidence. If you multiply that nine inches of bread by 52 [the number of weeks in a year] it comes to 468 inches, or 39 feet -- of like, bread. In other words, a stack of toast 39 feet high, if piled on top of each other. If you multiply that amount by the 17 years I've been using that old toaster, it comes to [are you ready for this?] -- a stack of toast measuring 663 feet up into the air. I found that figure a bit staggering, really. So I wanted a better visual perspective on what is going on, and found that there are two famous buildings in the world that are exactly 663 feet in height.
The Trump Tower in New York City [to the left] and The Heron Tower in London, England [to the right]. Hence, at a conservative minimum now, if I were to pile all the toast I've made [and eaten] with that old toaster in the past 17 years, the stack of toast would reach up to the very top of these skyscrapers. That's a lot of gluten! Thankfully, I am tolerant. 13,260 slices of toast. Wow! So -- vertically satisfied with my research I quit thinking about it for a while. But then, a bit later, I started thinking about it again. I wondered -- [by now you are thinking I should be placed in an asylum, am I right? Or, that I have the most boring life on earth? Thing is, you would not be too far from the truth on both counts…] anyhow -- I wondered -- what if all that toast was laid out horizontally, end to end? So I measured three slices, and then extrapolated with a calculator. Turns out that each loaf of bread is 65 inches or 5.41 feet long, when laid out end to end. This means that I have been eating [again, a minimum] of 281.6 feet of bread per year. Multiplied by 17 years, this amounts to 4,788 feet, or the equivalent of 9/10ths of a mile of toast. For my Canadian and European metric system friends -- this translates to 1.46 kilometres. In conclusion, I know what you're thinking at this point -- you're thinking: No wonder that Julie girl left him! *****
Why do adults foster the credulity of children? Is it really so obviously wrong, when a child believes in Father Christmas, to lead her to a gentle little game of questioning? How many chimneys would he have to reach, if he is to deliver presents to all the children in the world? How fast would his reindeer have to fly in order that he should finish the task by Christmas morning? Don't tell her point blank that there is no Father Christmas. Just encourage her in the unfaultable habit of sceptical questioning. -- Richard Dawkins, An Appetite For Wonder --
Every so often you sort of stumble upon a book and it ends up being a real "WOW" experience. I acquired The Sisters Brothers over a year ago at a book sale, at the recommendation of "C" -- who reads my blog, and was at the same sale. I think she actually handed it to me and said "You have to read this!" She was right. What a terrific book, I just finished it last night, but it is still resonating and echoing through me. I am not a reader of "westerns" -- and you probably aren't, either. This book is sometimes spoken of as being in that genre -- the Western -- but trust me, this is not Louis L'Amour or Zane Grey writing this. Patrick DeWitt is a genius. He takes a tale of the wild wild west, and turns it into something damn near poetic. And no -- it's not poetry -- it's just that the two main characters, Charlie and Eli Sisters, are ruthless killers -- yet they are also thinkers. Sensitive. Especially Eli, who is the narrator. This thing is written in first-person, from his point of view. They are mercenary killers, itinerate outlaws who travel as hitmen. And this is the story of their… final job. Oh my God it is an ingenious book. At times so brutal, yet tinged with elements of farce, and humor. I loved it. Loved it. One of the best books I have read this year, for sure. I believed every page of The Sisters Brothers -- and if any of you know me, you know that is always the verbal representation of my highest praise for a novel. I have to believe in it. I believed in this one. Watch this incredibly excellent video-clip, which delineates the novel better than I ever could do it. I agree with everything said by the panel at the end, after the actual commentary by the author.
Miracles are like meatballs, because nobody can exactly agree what they are made of, where they come from, or how often they should appear. -- Lemony Snicket, The Carnivorous Carnival -- I'm not sure about miracles, but I think that meatballs should occur -- daily!
GOD, I hope he does not somehow read my blog! Because, generally, I love John Irving's stuff -- I've read a real lot of it, almost all of it. But having just finished his most recent book, In One Person -- I don't know. I really have to watch what I say, because Irving is a skilled wrestler, and he could beat me up! But this book, overall, just did not connect with me. This is partially why it took me somewhere around three weeks to finish it. It's the story of this guy, Billy Abbott, who is struggling [and then not struggling] from early adolescence on into adulthood, with his bisexuality. The core of the story takes place in America during the 1970's and then '80's, when AIDS was really making itself known -- and in that sense, I think that it does well in elucidating a lot about the history of intolerance toward homosexuality -- and how things have changed in that regard. But from simply an artifice perspective -- I find that I have problems with Irving's characterization… of his characters. And often, with his dialogue. And these are two real biggees with me, in novels. I have to believe that a) this is how people act, and b) this is how people talk -- when I read a novel. One of my favorite books of all time is A Prayer For Owen Meany, but, gee whiz, I'm getting weary with how Irving focuses on people's idiosyncrasies, and [in my opinion] exaggerates living in the past, or, just [and I hate to say it this way, but I must]….. they just cannot seem to GET OVER THINGS. We move on. We forgive. We even forget, sometimes. It's all about self-preservation. But I find that with a lot of what Irving writes, his characters can't seem to do this, and it wearies me. And by the way, I'm not referring to homosexuality here, in the case of this novel, as if that is something that one should "get over with" -- no. Not at all. It's just that life is more three-dimensional than I think John Irving is willing to grant his characters. And so this novel, even though it has a really nice cover, I can award it only three [possibly male-clasped] bra-straps, of a potential five. *****
I recently got a beautiful book for a birthday gift. It's the new autobiography of Richard Dawkins. An Appetite for Wonder. The Making of a Scientist. I can't wait to read it, really. Ever since reading his The God Delusion [well, even before that] I have been fascinated with his ideas. So often Dawkins is criticized for being too blunt, crass, rude or judgmental in his pronouncements, especially as they concern religion and belief in the supernatural, etc. But at the same time, one must admit, he is a hard man to argue with. I mean -- it just makes sense, what he says. And he isn't always rude. The following YouTube clip is a fine example of that. In my opinion, it is wrongly titled, because what he is saying is not leveled as an attack on Islam, or any one religion per se -- it's simply a rational, well-spoken, and even polite response to a good question. I hope it makes as much sense to you as it does to me.
It's been quite a while since I ever posted a "Saturday Snapshot" on my blog. Actually, it's been quite a while since I posted anything on my blog. Last night was my annual Christmas work party. It was really a great time, even though the snowstorm meant I had to wait over two hours for a cab to get home. And I won a Christmas wreath! At first, I thought I had won the 50" TV that was also given away, or the Samsung computer. But as it turned out, it was this wreath. It's gorgeous, and smells divine -- made of real pine. As it goes though, my cat Kennedy thinks it's something to eat. Because all the doors on my floor have been recently re-painted, I decided it would be kind of wrong to pound a new nail hole in there to hang this up. So --- this afternoon I went down to see Owen, the superintendent, and I gave him the wreath. He'll hang it up in the foyer so that everyone in my building can enjoy it. Hope you are all having a great December. As for me, I have one eye on the calendar. In three weeks time I will be in Mexico AND AWAY FROM ALL THIS SNOW!!
There are always surprises. Life may be inveterately grim and the surprises disproportionately unpleasant, but it would be hardly worth living if there were no exceptions, no sunny days, no acts of random kindness. -- T.C. Boyle, The Tortilla Curtain --
I wonder if I am unique in this -- another year goes by and you think of all the books you intended to read, and have not yet read. This is just ONE STACK of a few of my recent acquisitions -- and it does seem that at the end of the year, they tend to pile up. My birthday occurs in December, so along with that, and early Christmas gifts, I am always inundated with terrific stuff to read. From the top: Why Does The World Exist?, by Jim Holt. This is one I am eager to get into. A philosophical examination of the idea: Why is there something, rather than nothing? Water Music, by T.C. Boyle. His first novel, I'm really looking forward to this one. A comedic African adventure story, set in the late 18th Century. All Other Nights, by Dara Horn. A historical novel about a guy sent to murder his own uncle, who is plotting to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy. Speaks for itself? I've always been interested in all things Tolstoyish. At Home In The World, by Joyce Maynard. This memoir is written by the woman who was, at the mere age of eighteen, involved in a romantic affair with writer J.D. Salinger. The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick DeWitt. I've been meaning to read this allegedly hilarious "western" for quite a while now. An Appetite For Wonder, by Richard Dawkins. Autobiography of the famous atheistic scientist. I've always loved Richard Dawkins, and want to find out what makes him tick.
So -- a lot of good reading ahead of me, in 2014. These, and many many unnamed and as yet, unpiled, others. Have any of you read any of these mentioned ones? Maybe your comments will help me with where to start. *****
In 1921, a New York rabbi asked Einstein if he believed in God. "I believe in Spinoza's God," he answered, "who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings." -- Jim Holt, Why Does The World Exist? --
I grabbed a pile of dust, and holding it up, foolishly asked for as many birthdays as the grains of dust, I forgot to ask that they be years of youth. -- Ovid, Metamorphoses -- [Today is mine -- and I forgot, too.]
After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked—as I am surprisingly often—why I bother to get up in the mornings. -- Richard Dawkins --
When I was reading with what Miss Frost described as the "reckless desperation of a burglar ravishing a mansion," she once said to me, "Slow down, William. Savor, don't gorge. And when you love a book, commit one glorious sentence of it -- perhaps your favorite sentence -- to memory. That way you won't forget the language of the story that moved you to tears." -- John Irving, In One Person --
Today was a really quiet day for me -- a time to reflect. Maybe it was the way some snow fell real gently outside, yet it was not cold out. Or windy. I did some Christmas shopping -- mostly books, and even one for me -- and then afterwards I stopped at another store to buy wrapping paper. I was already in the lineup to pay when I glanced at the chocolate bar section and saw this Bounty. It made me miss my dad. In 12 days, it will be 14 years since he passed away. He was a salesman and spent a lot of time on the road. So often when he would come home from… wherever… he would have chocolate bars for my younger sister and me. It is a fond memory of mine, as a kid. It just made me feel good, I guess, to know he was thinking of us. Plus I liked chocolate bars. He liked them, too. And this was one of his favorites. Bounty. I hadn't seen that bar anywhere for so long -- I'm surprised they still make them. The main ingredient is coconut. And when you tear it open, there are two of them in there. Maybe that was a part of his thinking… he knew I would give him half of it? Sweet memories, today, of my sweet dad.