Tuesday, July 8, 2014

All The Light We Cannot See

I read a lot of books.  It has always been a passion in my life.  Many of those books are very good; some are great.  But every once in a while a book will come my way and nothing less than the adjective "magnificent" will do it justice.

How I came to hear about All The Light We Cannot See I really can't remember.  I wasn't familiar with its author, Anthony Doerr.  I knew nothing of the impressive number of prizes he has won for his writing.  Someone must have made a suggestion, given a hint, that settled in my subconscious.  I don't know who to thank; but, if it was you I owe you big time.  It was somewhere around page 80 when I knew, really knew, I held something very special in my hands.

I bought the book in May the day after its publication date and from what I had heard from my now forgotten source, I had every expectation that it would be "good."  It certainly started out that way:

Leaflets

At dusk they pour from the sky.  They blow across the ramparts, turn cartwheels over rooftops, flutter into the ravines between houses.  Entire streets swirl with them, flashing white against the cobbles.  Urgent message to the inhabitants of this town, they say.  Depart immediately into open country.
The tide climbs.  The moon hangs small and yellow and gibbous.  On the rooftops of beachfront hotels to the east, and in the gardens behind them, a half-dozen American artillery units drop incendiary rounds into the mouths of mortars. 
And with that beginning Doerr slowly peels back his beautifully conceived story petal by petal.  It is written in what an English major would call "non-linear narrative" in that the story unfolds not in chronological order but is deconstructed and then put back together.  In the hands of an artist with the heart of a poet and the technical skill of an rocket scientist, it works.  It works brilliantly.

Doerr opens his narrative on August 7, 1944, when the Germans launch their last big offensive in Normandy, but he weaves in and out of the past.  At the center of the story is Marie-Laure, who lives with her father in Paris near the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, where he works.  She has been blind since the age of six.  When the Nazis occupy Paris, they flee to Saint-Malo to live with Marie-Laure's reclusive uncle Etienne:
Water surrounds the city on four sides.  Its link to the rest of France is tenuous:  a causeway, a bridge, a spit of sand.  We are Malouins first, say the people of Saint-Malo.  Bretons next.  French if there's anything left over.
Three hundred miles northeast of Paris, Werner Pfenning is growing up in Essen, Germany.  He is small for his age and the milky-whiteness of his hair "stops people in their tracks."  Werner is also a genius when it comes to radios...magnetism, electricity, circuits, induction, conduction.  These are his special gifts and they are very valuable to The Third Reich.  Just the sort of boy they can use.  Or is he?

Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel was a gemologist before the war; his particular gift was for diamonds.  There are rumors that the fuhrer has begun to prepare a wish list of precious objects to be gathered from all over Europe and Russia.

The capitulation of France is only weeks past, and already he has seen things he did not dream he would see in six lifetimes.  A seventeenth-century globe as big around as a small car, with rubies to mark volcanoes, sapphires clustered around the poles, and diamonds for world capitals....Where the police confiscated these treasures and from whom, he does not ask.
But von Rumpel has only one true obsession:  The Sea of Flames.

The earth shifts, shrugs, stretches.  One year, one day, one hour, a great upflow of magma gathers a seam of crystals and drives it toward the surface, mile after burning mile; it cools inside a huge, smoking xenolith of kimberlite, and there it waits.  Century after century.  Rain, wind, cubic miles of ice.  Bedrock becomes boulders, boulders become stones; the ice retreats, a lake forms, and galaxies of freshwater clams flap their million shells at the sun and close and die and the lake seeps away....Until another year, another day, another hour, when a storm claws one particular stone out of a canyon and sends it into a clattering flow of alluvium, where eventually it finds, one evening, the attention of a prince who knows what he is looking for.

Marie-Laure, Werner, von Rumpel, the Sea of Flames:  slowly and steadily Doerr weaves them together in an expertly crafted and stunningly beautiful, seamless cloth.  Like a literary version of Ravel's symphony Bolero, it is gently relentless in its tempo.

I predict this for you:  it is a novel that you will find impossible to forget;  it will not leave you.  As one review said, "[I]t makes you think forever differently about the big things - love, fear, cruelty, kindness, the countless facets of the human heart."











Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Filing Down Rough Edges

"The rough edges of society are often in need of filing down."  That is often-used dictum in many appellate rulings involving cases of intentional infliction of emotional distress.  It is more or less the grown-up version of the dictum heard on the playground, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me."  So, okay.  But even if they don't hurt, at the very least they have the power to make us grumpy.

Two incidents occurred yesterday that caused me to think about those rough edges. I will begin by stating that I don't see (or rather feel) those scratchy bits too often.   I live in a very small city in the American South and, believe it or not, people are generally pretty polite here.  There is an abundance of Yes, Sir-ing and Yes, Ma'am-ing and pardon me, please and thank you going on.  When my children were very small a friend from "up North" called me on the telephone.  One of the kids answered and when asked if I was in said, "Yes, ma'am.  I'll get her.  Please hold."  She asked me, "HOW do you get them to do that."  The answer was simple.  I didn't.  It was just part of the culture and all their friends talked the same way they did.  They heard it in school, they heard it at play.  I imagine it is different in the big cities of the South, like Atlanta for instance, but where I live we're still pretty quaint.  People may caution an errant youngster to "Be still or I'm going to wear you out."  And a teacher might "fuss" at you for forgetting your homework yet again.  But generally speaking it's all fairly benign.

And so, you see, blatant acts of rudeness - which may go unnoticed elsewhere - stick out like a boil on Jimmy Durante's nose here.

It was time for lunch.  I generally don't go out at lunch but yesterday was a beautiful day and I wanted to be out in it.   I figured I would drive over to the new biggest-ever-in-these-parts-grocery-store and check out their deli.  Along a busy stretch of a 4 lane city street I had to stop for traffic.  There was a red light and about 5 cars ahead of me and then another intersecting street.  Stopping before the intersecting street (so as not to block the traffic coming to the right and left) was not only the polite thing to do, it is also the law.  It is a fairly long light but I was listening to an Agatha Christie audio book so the wait didn't bother me.

There was one car stopped behind me and as I glanced in the rear-view mirror I could see him shouting - I presumed to himself - which seemed strange enough. But then he suddenly threw his car into reverse in a screech of his wheels and whipped into the left hand lane, swung around me, made a right turn into the intersecting street and then into a gas-food-mart parking lot.  When he got out, he turned to my direction and glared hard.  He didn't pull up to the gas pumps, but stomped into the mart instead.  He was probably a young man badly in need of cigarettes and I stood in his way for an agonizing 2 or 3 minutes...which I guess can SEEM like hours when one needs a smoke.  What disappointed me most was that he was a soldier.  A part of me - the careless part - the part that doesn't think about consequences before bamboozling my way into something - said, "Go into that market this minute and tell that boy to behave himself.  Especially when he is a representation of so many people who give so much."  The Mom in me wanted to "wear him out."  But when the light turned green my sensible alter ego stepped on the gas pedal and drove on.  It was a small encounter - well, near encounter - and I don't know why it made such an impression on me, but it did and I thought about it several times that day.   And I'm obviously thinking about it again.

The second incident occurred - again - at a traffic light.  This time I was the third car in a line of about 6.  When the light turned green, the first car went through the intersection but the car in front of me was obviously not paying attention.  You won't hear people honking their horns very much around here.  Folks who are stopped behind you will sit for a few minutes hoping you'll wake up.  After they figured you've fallen asleep or died they will give the horn a little "tap" to shake you out of your lethargy.  Then everyone waves..."Thanks"  or "Sorry"  or "Yeah, well, okay"...and goes about their business.  However yesterday one of the cars behind me laid on the horn, which was more irritating than the slacker stopped in front of me, and was so unusual I wondered if the driver might be from someplace like New York or Massachusetts or New Jersey where such things are common practice.  Naturally, the fellow ahead figured it was me and not only flipped me the bird he rolled down his window to do it and flew his finger-flag thusly for a good half-block.  "It wasn't me," I mouthed.  But he sped off in a fit of pique.

These incidents reminded me of something that happened in London a few years ago.  I took one of those big black cabs to the Chunnel station where one catches the channel train to France.  I wanted to tip the cabbie 20% and was trying to make the dollars to pound/Euro conversion quickly in my head.  I handed him some bills and asked, "I'm sorry, what would 20% of the total be?"  I meant well but I must have offended him because he retorted angrily, "I'm a cab driver not a bleedin' mathematician," and took off...zoom...zoom.  I stood in the street watching him go, stunned silent, wondering what I had said that made him so upset.  It stuck with me and I can see it as clearly as if it happened last week.

So, what is my point?  We move about in society minding our own business, usually with the best of intentions - or at the very least no intentions whatsoever - and every once in a while we get snagged by one of those sharp edges.  Like any sharp edge it feels rough, or scratchy, or it can hurt.  It usually takes us by surprise because if we could predict where they lie in wait we could avoid those prickly parts.  Perhaps that is why we remember them.  They come as a surprise - they shock - they bewilder.  We are left without the chance to explain or defend or question or resolve.

I have no idea what the moral of the story is.  Perhaps it's that no matter where you live or where you go, they are out there.  Hopefully not in abundance.  When confronted with them we must remember the words of the inimitable Teddy Roosevelt:  "Speak softly,but carry a big fat file."












Tuesday, May 13, 2014

She's B-a-a-a-c-k

It’s Spring! The birds are singing, the jasmine is perfuming the air, the days are warm and sunny and I am ignoring the vegetable plants at the garden store. Oh, sure. They sit there shoulder to shoulder on their newly hosed shelves promising a bounty of luscious ripe beefsteak tomatoes, baskets of plump glossy eggplant, and vines heavily laden with beans…long and deeply green. No.  Fool me once. After last year’s harvest of two eggplant and a yellow cherry tomato I refuse to be conned by the leafy devils. They can just go ahead and break someone else’s heart this season.  I'll rely on the Farmer's Market.

 But flowers! I can do flowers.  Flowers have always seemed fairly independent – just a little watering and a little deadheading and voila.  I had no intention of trotting over to the garden center this Saturday but the thought came to me as I was doing errands that, on such a beautiful day, it was the place that made the most sense.

Years and years ago - what seems now like a lifetime ago because it was - I gardened.  I grew flowers.  I spent every weekend outside planting and pulling and watering and coaxing.   On my birthday I would receive gifts like garden gloves, spades, clippers, sun dials, garden figures.  One day while I was in the garden tending to a mound of Lantana, my next door neighbor ran over to tell me he had seen a hummingbird!  "A humming bird!" he exclaimed.  With my pruners I pointed to the feeder I set up between our yards.  "Yes, they've been invited."  It was a simple encounter, but seeing him so excited made me happy and I've remembered it ever since.  Sadly, I think that was the last year I had hummers come to visit.

Life is fluid and things change.  Sometimes (perhaps often) one gets thrown a curve ball and one's focus has to change as well.  And in all that changing and figuring out and thinking hard and working even harder, little bits of yourself can get chipped away.  It is almost imperceptible because the process is a slow one; but, it is a steady one.  The truth is I had larger problems to solve than leaf mold. As a result the beds got buried under seasons of autumn leaves and eventually gardening gifts seemed impractical.   Oh, every now and then I'd plant something in a pot or two but I never really returned to what I would call gardening gardening.  That full-throttled, hearty digging, compost enriching, all-morning pruning, water soaked dirt fest.  I stopped spending winter days looking through seed catalogs.

The happy news is that caught in time that fragmented and tangential change of course can once again be set right.  It's like waking from a long nap and finding that the light has adjusted.  It is brighter or darker, more golden or more fiery.  Different...yes.  But it is still all around and helping things to grow.

And thus awakened from my nap I spent the morning at the garden center considering the way the violet petunia looked with the chartreuse creeping jenny and debating if the dusty miller could get along with the orange Gerbera.  I felt the pieces falling into place and I was once again on vaguely familiar ground. True, I had forgotten all the Latin names for the plants - something at which I was fairly proficient in the long-ago.  But I recognized their faces and eventually we will become familiar friends once again.  Admittedly it's just a small beginning, but I hope to stick with it.  Outside is such a nice place to be and when I look over the terrain I envision all sorts of possibilities.  Real gardeners are always looking for places to turn new earth.  I just might be signing up for those seed catalogs after all.

I'm also sending out fauna invitations.  I bought a bag of small bird seed (millet and the like) and one bag of Black Oil Sunflower seeds.  Although my feeder is supposed to be squirrel-proof, I saw one very clever fellow hanging upside down by his hind legs and scooping out a pawful this morning.   I am on the hunt for a baffle that will slip over the stand.  I try to discourage squirrels since they are apt to rent out my attic during the winter and are very undesirable tenants.  The cardinals honed in right away.  Who else might come?  In hopeful anticipation I brewed up a batch of nectar.

Coming back to gardening feels good.  Coming back feels right.  And, with enough enticement perhaps the hummingbirds will come back as well.  Perhaps I should hang out a sign, "All Organic and Home Brewed."  It might work.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Marcie And Life

I don't hang around Facebook very much...mostly just to spy on my offspring...but I recently read the post of a dear friend, whose name is not Marcie but that's what I'll call her.  It said, "I love my life.  I hope you love yours..."  I was just about to post a glib response, like "Yeah, I'd love your life too" or maybe "Wanna' switch?"  But I did not.  I did not because I paused and thought about what she said.  I thought about it slowly..."I love my life."  Marcie did not say, "I love life."  We all - well most of us - love life itself, especially considering the alternative.  No.  Marcie wrote that she loves her life.  As I thought about it - and continued to think about it for days - the profoundness of that brief comment settled somewhere very deep.

It lingered.  The thought hovered over my head like one of those dialog balloons and intrigued me so much that I began to ask members of my "team" at work whether he or she loved their life.  Not life, but their life.  "Why...are you dying?" was the first response of a Mr. Smarty-Pants who is in the midst of a divorce, and who then responded, "No, I hate my life right now because I either have to sleep on a friend's couch or live in my car."  Another said he loved his life on the weekends but only if there was beer in the fridge.  Obviously, I was not going to get anything close to meaningful responses from this crowd so I dropped the query and they all seemed very much relieved.  The subject of the conversation changed to something a little more comfortable - I think it was basketball.  Nevertheless, the obvious question - the one I avoided asking was:  Do I love mine?  It's something to think about, isn't it.

I'm not trying to sound all Existentialisty, which, of course I couldn't do if I tried since I remember very little about it from my college philosophy class other than that it made my head hurt.  I do recall something about first existence and then experience...or was it the other way around?  Or was it essence and not experience?  Or none of the above?  In any event, "I love my life" demonstrates a philosophical attitude that is easy to understand if you know the person who holds it.

If you asked her, I do not believe Marcie would ever say her life has been perfect but it is different from the lives many of us live in one important respect:  Marcie really concentrates on doing good.   That is how she lives her life but I'm not sure she goes about it with that intent upper most in her mind.  I think "doing good" might just come naturally to her - like some people can play the piano without taking lessons.  So does looking at the glass half-full.  She reminds me of the phrase, "Getting what you want is not the same as wanting what you have."  And looking back over the years I've known her, I can honestly say that even when things in her life were less than sunny, Marcie has been able to maintain an aura of happiness about her - I guess you could say she possesses that rarest of qualities:  "a touch of grace."  It is fun to be around her and when you part you really do feel better about life - in general and your own.

So, yes, I can see how she is able to say "I love my life."  It's a mighty fine one..mighty fine.


Monday, February 17, 2014

To Everything There Is A Season; And A Time For Every Purpose

A few years ago my sister found a lovely full-color facsimile edition of The Country Diary Of An Edwardian Lady, a nature diary kept in 1906 by illustrator/naturalist Edith Holden who lived in the village of Olton, Warwickshire, England.

Holden began her journal on January 1, 1906 and continued to capture the change of seasons through the use of her keen eye, careful hand, and beautiful artwork.   Not exclusively a diary, as the year progressed she also included a few of her favorite poems (Byron, Burns, Wordsworth, E. B. Browning) and her personal observations of the world around her.  Edith Holden worked as an illustrator following art school and her work has been published in several books, but rumor has it that she never allowed anyone to look at this diary.  And apparently no one did until nearly 70 years after her death when it was discovered on a bookshelf in a country house. I can imagine what a spectacular find that would have been for any book lover!

In 1911 Edith married a sculptor, Ernest Smith and moved to Chelsea.  They had no children.

On March 16, 1920, while she was attempting to gather the buds from chestnut trees, she drowned in the Thames.  She was only 49 years old.


After my sister gave me this lovely diary, I learned that it was a popular coffee table book when first published.  But it is also an inspiration for would-be diarists, journal keepers, bird watchers, naturalists, and just plain folks who like to get outside and observe nature - perhaps even an encouragement to make a record of one's own.


Certainly, few of us have the artistic talent of an Edith Holden, but even without the illustrations, it is delightful to know that on December 27, 1906, "in the paper today it reports that all Britain lies under snow from John O'Groats to Land's End for the first time for six years." Or that on the 30th "[t]he blackbirds and thrushes are usually rather shy, and fly away at the approach of any-one but now they only hop away to a little distance and sit watching with their bright eyes from beneath the friendly shelter of a bush, waiting to go back to their feast of crumbs."




But the promise of Spring is the promise of Spring.  It was so back then, and so it is now.  In 1906, on what would decades later be my birthday, Edith Holden went to Stratford on Avon and "walked to Shottery across the meadows.  On the way I gathered Hawthorn blossom from the hedges and saw fields yellow with Buttercups and banks of blue Speedwell.  The Dandelions were a wonderful sight along the railway cutting."

I would like to have known her and through her diary I almost feel I do.  As it is, I'm not much of a painter, but this might be the year I invest in some brushes and a box of watercolors.  It's never too late to learn, and if this diary proves anything it proves that to everything there is a season.  Edith would approve.





Thursday, January 9, 2014

She Doesn't Care Much For Literature

"She doesn't care much for literature, she just wants to read a good book."  Who said that or something like it?  I read it recently...I don't know...somewhere.  The where and the who escape me.  But when you think about it, unless one is an academic, don't we all just want to read a good book?  It is the reason I read book blogs, and a little of why I write one myself.  It is also how I get myself into a bit of trouble every now and then.

I was looking at my on-line library account this morning and began to realize exactly how out of hand things are getting.

The following Holds are waiting for me to pick up, which I have to do by tomorrow or they will be put back into circulation:

Life After Life, Kate Atkinson
Tell The Wolves I'm Home, Carol Rifka Brunt (a copy each of the audio and the paper book)
Lucky Break, Esther Freud

However, after I do pick them up the traffic backup will get very dicey since I already have the following out on loan:

From Time To Time, Jack Finney
Time And Again, Jack Finney (which I am currently reading);
A Pale View Of The Hills, Kazuo Ishiguro
Started Early, Took My Dog, Kate Atkinson
Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks
The Time Traveler's Guide To Medieval England, Ian Mortimer;
The Summer Book, Tove Jansson
The English Girl, Daniel Silva
Murder is Easy, Agatha Christie (audio)
Bring Up The Bodies, Hilary Mantel (audio and my current commute read).

All are due at the end of the month, although I can renew them.  Nevertheless, I will probably return the Jansson and the Mortimer unread this weekend, along with Caleb's Crossing, which I was only going to read for a book club.   I wasn't crazy about Brooks' Year of Wonders and I probably would not read anything else by her at my own choosing.  I will probably return The English Girl, which pains me.  Well, let someone else read it and I'll get around to it this summer perhaps. Silva's books are good beach books.  And Agatha might have to go back since I am fully into Bring Up The Bodies, which is over 12 hours long, I only drive one hour per day, and I drive it 5 days per week.  Easy math tells me it will take weeks to finish it.

Since I'm talking about it, is not Hilary Mantel's writing just exquisite?  I mean really.  Today, as Cromwell was remembering the sounds at Austin Friars, he notes that one of those sounds was "the whisper of ink across a page..."  Can't you just hear it yourself?  Can't you see the quill, and the wooden desk, and the precious paper?  All of that in an economy of words that is nothing short of brilliant.  If my car didn't know the way to work without my telling it how to get there I would probably be in Macon at this very moment.  But it does and I'm here. The frustrating thing about an audio book is the inability to rewind to that precise thing one wants to hear again.  I will probably buy a copy of the book in any event, so I'll be able to find it again.

And, of course, there are the books I own.  I couldn't wait for River of Smoke, the second book in the Ibus trilogy by Amitov Ghosh to be published but held off reading it for so long that I may have to re-read Sea Of Poppies first because I can't remember many details other than the fact that I loved it.  But I didn't find it an easy book to read, so I am not looking forward to diving back in.

I have no idea what made me order The Long Ships by Frans Bengtsson right before Christmas, but apparently it was a "must have" and when it came in the mail I had nearly forgotten all about it.  A friend and colleague gave me three thrillers last month which are still on the back seat of my car by authors I never read.  Scott Turow, Baldacci (whose first name I can't remember), and another one whose first and last name I can't remember.   He also gave me The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling that is currently sitting on the floor under my office desk and has been for several months which makes it one less space for the cleaning crew to vacuum. Although I'd like to read them, none are high priority.  I always worry about being asked about them.  Touchy situation when someone actually hands you a book and expects you to read it.

I am expecting the sixth Flavia de Luce book, The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley, to be shipped out to me next week from Barnes & Noble.  [Ah-ha!!  Steve Berry!  That's the one whose first and last name I could not remember. I suddenly did.  Frightening.]  When it arrives I know I'll drop everything else and will probably finish it in a weekend.

I know I need a solid reading plan; but, I would follow it only so long and then someone in a blog would mention something absolutely wonderful...such a good book...a book that you can read read.  You know the kind I mean.  And when they did, I would fly off the handle and track it down with single-mindedness only to find that when I eventually did get it into my hot hands I would be off on another tangent.  It is just so...so...well, I don't have to tell you.  You know.








Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Please Drop In And Stay Awhile

If you would come over to the house and sit down beside the fire - it's cool enough this time of year, especially in the evening, to warrant a nice little fire - I might brew us a good pot of tea.  Earl Grey, perhaps.  I might even take down a bottle of a modest brandy (you like brandy, don't you?) and then we could settle in and talk about what we've read this year.  Please pull up that wing-back chair.  That one right there is quite comfy.

I had these chairs made for me...let me see...25 years ago.  I selected the frame style and then the fabric and waited six months for them to be completed.   The cushions are filled with down - soft on your bottom.  A little less wear on the derriere, so to speak. The cost seemed frightening at the time, but I knew they would last forever - or at least longer than I would - and they have not disappointed.  I clearly remember how old they are because on the very day they were finally delivered my daughter took a crayon and drew a lovely picture of a "princess" on the back of one of them. She was almost 4.  She was also very considerate because she chose the color pink!  At the time, the chairs were covered in a woven fabric depicting thistles in pastel shades of blue, and gray and pink.  The princess blended in after a going over with a soft cloth and some Ivory soap.  I know it sounds crazy, but I wanted to leave just a bit of the princess remaining - a slender finger pointing to a blue thorn; the hint of a happy smile peering above a curling vine.  The chair was officially in the home of a family with children and it was appropriate that it should settle in just as it did.

So please do settle yourself in as well.  If you are still a bit chilly you can wrap that knitted shawl over you.  I don't believe in heated rooms, to the frustration of the gas company, because all the oxygen gets sucked out of them.  They also dry the skin and give me twitchy airways which are things I can live without.

The best books read this year were all great surprises and I never would have guessed they would be the ones to make the cut.   One of the assistants at the office insisted I read a book by Stephen King that she had just finished.  Years ago I read The Dark Half, which by the way I read over a monstrously stormy weekend with all the attendant lightening and cracking thunder.  Perfect for a book that scared the bejeezus out of me.  After that I've never been tempted to pick up another King.  She was so enthusiastic, however, that I actually plunked down fifteen bucks and ordered a copy of 11/22/63 from Barnes & Noble.  It's hefty - over 840 pages - and I hoped I could stay engaged long enough to finish it.  We've all been there.  You're reading a book and at some point you're thinking about fixing the drip in the kitchen sink or how to get that spot out of the rug where the dog decided to punish you for forgetting to pick up his Milk Bones at the grocery.  You drag yourself back to the page and re-read that paragraph again, this time with your brows furrowed in forced concentration when the next thing you know you're wondering if you paid the lawn guy.  That didn't happen with this one.   I had a really hard time putting it down and restrained the urge to find out how it ended by jumping to the back and reading the last few pages early.  But I didn't.  I waited and it was worth the wait.  I seldom suddenly burst into tears on the last page of a book, but I did on this one.  I did not expect that to happen.  I was a mess.

The other big surprise was the audio version of The Invasion Of The Body Snathcers by Jack Finney.  I am not a huge fan of audio books, but I get them from the library because I like to "read" during my commute to work.  This particular version is read by Kristoffer Tabori and his voice and tone are pitch perfect.  I am also not a fan of Science Fiction, or at least I wasn't until now.  The story was a perfect blend of humor and horror and suspense.

I found two new authors this year:  Louise Penny and Jeanne Ray.  I don't know where I heard about Penny (but thank you Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are). Litlove over at Tales From The Reading Room suggested Ray.  (And if I knew how to link to her post on Julie And Romeo, I would do that here.)   As much as I liked the Julie, I loved Eat Cake and cared about every one of those wacky, flawed, funny characters.  That is a lot of what it's all about, right?  Spending time with people you like and cheering for them to be happy.  That one was a real gem.

Louise Penny writes a series of mysteries starring Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector of the Surete du Quebec.  Also known as The Three Pines Series, in the books I've read so far Gamache goes about solving unconventional homicides by sifting through loads of suspects, strange characters, and the requisite red herring or two or more.  In a word, they are good, my favorites so far being The Beautiful Mystery and How The Light Gets In.

There was a little book suggested by, I think, Stefanie over at So Many Books that was subtly magnificent.  Address Unknown by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor is so short it can be read in about an hour.  Not really a book, but more of a short story, it is positively gripping and amazing and all those other superlatives and I hope you will take a little time to find it (I downloaded it to my Kindle) and read it.  There will be almost no investment of time, but it will stay with you I promise.

John Adams, by David McCullough has been sitting on my bookshelves for a long time and I finally got around to reading it early this year.  Do most Americans even realize what we owe this man who became the second President of the United States?  McCullough will educate them.  The book is really a love story.  The love of a man for his country and the love between the man and his wife, Abigail.  What a pair that would be to have over for dinner.  Since I've been reading about time travel, that might be a good destination.

I've re-read a couple of favorites this year which will always be "the best" reads, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, by James Hilton and the Harper Lee masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird.  The ones we know and love and can almost recite by heart are always on the best list, like the comfy flannel shirt - the one that can't be replaced even when the buttons fall off and holes pop open at the elbows.

Speaking of comfy, may I pour you another brandy?  As I do, kindly tell me what you've been up to and what you've been reading.  You have my undivided attention.  I'll be giving a presentation on the topic of "Communication" next year for a professional organization I belong to, so I had to learn how to do it myself.  It seems I've been doing it wrong all these years.  Did you know that listening is the first step in being an effective communicator?  Who knew?  I guess my mother was right all those years ago when she advised me, "If you're talking, you're not learning." Wisdom,  right there.  Right..smack...there.  So I am listening with all of my ears. What is that you say?  No, I only have two.

Oh...and please help yourself to another cookie.  They're gluten free.