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.