As the year ends

“There are years that ask questions, and years that answer. -Zora Neale Hurston

I don’t know who Zora was, but I like that quote. When I saw it a few weeks ago, I thought “yes, this year asked a lot of questions, and I hope 2014 answers them.” And then I thought about it some more and was reading back over my end of 2012 thoughts and I realized that actually, 2013 answered a lot of questions that 2012 had asked. It’s just taken some looking back to notice that.

It was a roller coaster of a year. There were a lot of ups, but there were a lot of really deep downs too. To quote one of my closest friends, Nicole, who said this recently in an email, “Life is a serious bitch sometimes. It’s worth it all and has some really fantastic stuff, but it hurts like hell.” That’s pretty much how I feel about 2013. John Green also has some words I like: “Maybe there’s something you’re afraid to say, or someone you’re afraid to love, or somewhere you’re afraid to go. It’s gonna hurt. It’s gonna hurt because it matters.”

2013 mattered. I had no idea what it was going to hold, and it blew me away at times, both in joy and in pain. But it mattered. I am not the same person now as it ends as I was when it started, and I’m betting most of you would say the same thing about yourself.

What it held, for me, in a nutshell: Some kick-ass times with friends, all throughout the year. Travels. Really great conversations. Seeing and spending time with my old roommate, seeing Eastern Montana and North Dakota. I surprised my parents and showed up in GA on the 4th of July and ultimately got to see them 3 times this year since I was also there in February and then cruised to the Bahamas with them in October. I visited with my brother and sister in law twice. I had some amazingly perfect conversations with my niece and nephew. I saw my oldest and dearest friend and got wrapped around the little fingers of both of her children. Later in the year I cried with and for her as her dad almost died and then rejoiced with her when he survived. I inherited a best-friend-in-law when David married the man he loves and I had more fun being a part of that than can be described. I gained a few more friends through that time as well. I saw New York City as an adult (the last time I was there was 8th grade). There was some hiking and some snowshoeing. I quit running (but that’s not a forever quit). I made some really tough choices. I made a few desperately needed changes, and some others came about more as a consequence of the intentional ones. Some of those are still being worked on. Closure came about in two situations that needed it, both very different, both very difficult, one of which I’m still healing from. I barely scratched the surface of some goals and dreams. There was a promotion at work and most days that is a good thing. I read a lot of good books and watched a lot of good TV and movies, along with some not quite as good. I saw Mumford and Sons in concert for the 2nd time and loved it as much as the first. I wrote. And I made plans to write more. I made a blanket for a precious little boy who peed on me the first time we met. I cried, a lot. But I also laughed a lot. I talked about a lot of books with really intelligent women. I drank a beer in the shower one incredibly hot summer afternoon and it was perfect and for some reason many of my friends find it to be both hilarious and wonderful and so I thought it should make this end of the year post. My library fine was paid off by Alisha for my birthday. I wore a funny hat and sold Christmas trees. I lived out of two places at the same time as I prepare to move in a few weeks (more on that later). I made a lot of lists. I wrote quite a few letters. 2013 was busy.

Usually I make a list of to-dos for the next year. And they are pretty specific. Honestly, I’m not in a place where I think I can do that for 2014. I don’t want a list to check off or to fail in completing, even though there are already some ideas on a list in my head. For right now, I just want to think about the not-so-specific-things that I am fairly certain will go on.

I will listen to more music. I will watch more TV and movies, and maybe I’ll go see a show or two. I will read, a lot, and I will talk about those books with others. I will write. I will have opinions that sometimes get shared and sometimes do not. I will sing out loud when a song I like comes on in the car and I am alone, and maybe even if I am not alone. I will dance to music that is playing when I am at home. I will dream and I will pray and I will search and I will think deeply. I will go to work and do the best job that I can. I will cook and bake and eat out. I will love with all that I have and I will work on forgiveness more and more. These are the things that are not on a 2014 to-do list as they don’t have to be.

2013 was hard and beautiful and difficult and lovely and it was worth it. 2014 is a fresh start, a new beginning, and holds a lot of potential. I’m excited to see what it holds.

See you next year!

2013-2014

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Books 2013

Considering that I take it as a personal challenge to convince other readers who don’t like to quit books that they can, in fact, quit a book they don’t like, you would think that at the end of the year I would only be concerned about quality instead of quantity. But the truth is, there is just a part of me that is absolutely not happy if the total at the end of year is not at least 24. So when goodreads sent me my “See Your Year in Books” email a couple of weeks ago and it said “Congratulations! You read 22 books!” I snarled and immediately started book 23, which I finished today, and today I started book 24 and it is going on this list because it WILL be done before the end of the day on Tuesday therefore it counts. But the better news it that I did, in fact, read some quality books this year.

This list is in reverse chronological order, starting with where I am right now, with the exception of my favorites, which will be listed last regardless of when in the year I read them. And this year I am listing all of the books I read instead of just the ones I wanted to specifically highlight. Just for fun.

Looking for Alaska by John Green: let’s just go ahead and point out that Green will be on this list 3 times this year and also it is the first year I’ve read anything by him. I don’t have an opinion yet because I’m only 51 pages in but I will be done by Tuesday. I will.

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe: Will and his mom, both avid readers, form an unintentional book club while she is undergoing treatment for cancer. You can tell by the title how it ends. It’s a true story, and it’s touching and difficult. One of my favorite parts was their discussion of Gilead and Home, as Will’s mom was a huge fan of Marilynne Robinson.

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger: my first Salinger. Constant dialogue and not a lot of action and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It will not be my last Salinger.

Paper Towns by John Green: insightful in interesting ways but not as good as the Green that shows up later on this list.

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza: very thought-provoking

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling): it was the perfect cruise vacation private detective novel and I hope Rowling writes more of them.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer: this book has made it onto several best of 2013 lists and while I am not sorry I read it, I disagree with it being one of the best. It was a very long 463 pages of little to no plot and all character driven. It had some moments of true depth but they were few and far between and I was relieved when I was done.

January First by Michael Schofield: the youngest child on record to be diagnosed with schizophrenia-this is her story of “descent into madness and her father’s struggle to save her.” I was incredibly intrigued but ended up feeling increasingly angry and frustrated with both the hospitals and her parents.

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris: I always love Sedaris, except not the fiction chapters.

The Last Letter From Your Lover by JoJo Moyes: I read this because Moyes wrote one of my favorites of the year (later in the list) and the library happened to have it on the shelf-no hold required. Mostly I spent my week with it embarrassed that it looked like a romance novel and hoping no one in the coffee shop was noticing that. But I ended up liking it more when it was over than I had expected to.

Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy: The prologue will confuse you. The rest of the book will intrigue you, make you sad and thoughtful, wish you could reach in and fix a few flaws. The very end will make your heart beat a bit faster as everything comes full circle in a way you didn’t see coming.

Night by Elie Wiesel: I feel like I should have liked it more than I did.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: Loved it. It’s making the rounds in Literary Society which makes me happy.

Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander: Dark and weird

Starvation Heights: A True Story of Murder and Malice in the Pacific Northwest by Gregg Olson: An interesting (and crazy) true story

Travels with My Aunt by Graham Green: delightful

The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister: the follow up to one of my favorites of a few years ago, The School of Essential Ingredients. Loved it almost as much as the first one.

And that brings me to my favorites. Yep, I have 7 favorites (because I know you were counting to get to 24). Sometimes I give my favorites their own special titles, like “favorite fiction” or “favorite book by an author I want to stalk” or something like that. This year I’m just going to say these were my favorite books of the year for whatever reason they happened to be a favorite.

Home by Marilynne Robinson: This is the many-years-later follow up to Gilead which I loved in 2010, and I think I loved Home even more. I related to the characters even more than I had in Gilead. In 2012, I named her book Housekeeping one of the top fiction books of the year (here is a link to my 2012 list of books, which is on the old site I’m no longer writing on). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again-Robinson is a genius of a writer.

The Circle by Dave Eggers: If you’ve ever had a conversation with me about favorite authors overall, you already know I love Eggers and read everything he writes, even though I have not always loved every book. He gives me a lot to think about every time. I really got into this one. It’s the one I read all 500 pages of in one weekend. It’s been discussed at Literary Society twice now with more times on the horizon. If you are on a social network at all, read this book. If you despise them, read this book. The story is fast moving and easy and will make you roll your eyes and then smirk and then stare at the pages in disbelief and then panic because you know it’s not all that far fetched. The main character is flat and the ending is rushed but it is still so very good and needs to be read. Critical reviews compared it to Orwell’s 1984. Read it.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. I’ve already reviewed this book here. I hope Hosseini keeps writing.

Confessions of a Latter Day Virgin by Nicole Hardy. Already reviewed here. I love that I have forced this book upon a few people who have come back and loved it as much as I did. I suppose this is my favorite non-fiction of the year (if I was giving my favorites specific categories) as it’s the only non-fiction of the top 7.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. Already reviewed here.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Already reviewed here. This was the year of John Green for me. I’m ok with that. Please please tell me if you read this book so we can discuss it.

And finally, the book I really am pushing on almost everyone: Me Before You by JoJo Moyes. Discussed already here. If you read this book, you need to have my phone number, because the texts I get when people are reading this one make me smile and then sometimes when they are done and they text me how much they are crying, I start crying again too.

If you’re still reading, thanks for getting all the way though my list! I really loved this year in books. I hope 2014 is even better!

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The Fault In Our Stars

Speaking of how we relate to people…

Have you read The Fault In Our Stars by John Green yet? Do not tell me that you don’t read young adult fiction, because I don’t either. Except for The Hunger Games and Harry Potter and apparently John Green.

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Side note : Did you know that John Green voted for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in a “best young adult novel ever” poll put on by Entertainment Weekly (still my shameless guilty pleasure) even though his own book was one of the four finalists (along with To Kill a Mockingbird and The Perks of Being a Wallflower)? Because he credits Potter in his own success.

Back to my main point: have you read this book? Let me sell it to you: it is a tragically sad love story about high school aged kids with cancer, who have insight far beyond their years but is completely believable in their story. It is one of the saddest books I’ve ever read. Ever. I read it in two nights. The first night, I cried some. The second, I never stopped crying. I kept having to put the book down to clean up all the snot I had everywhere and because I was crying so much I couldn’t see the words on the page. But I could not stop. And honestly, even though the main character is a 16 year old girl, I didn’t realize it was a young adult novel until the 2nd night, half way through it, when I happened to see the genre listed on the back and I thought “What? Why I am so emotionally involved in a YA novel? I don’t care I just have to know what happens.” After I finished it, it was in my car for a few days before I had a chance to take it back to the library. One of those days I found myself with a 10 minute wait while sitting in my car. I picked it up and re-read the last few pages. And cried my eyes out again.

This was a book I put on Katie’s required summer reading list (Katie is a teacher and doesn’t get to read much during the school year but I give her a list before the start of every summer and she gets through as many as she can). She texted me late one night during the summer while at the beach with a large group of family and friends and said “I just want you to know that everyone is out there having fun and I am alone in the bedroom with this book crying so hard and I am not far from the end but I just have to stop and go be with my family.” It was one of my favorite texts all year.

I read it back early in the year, so I honestly can’t bring to mind too many specific details, though I could pull out a few if we were chatting about it in person. But the whole story is there in my memory, in its hauntingly beautiful way.

If you see the movie next year and you don’t read the book first…well you probably shouldn’t talk to me about it. Ok, so put your hands on a copy and read it. Tell me when you’re done, and then when the movie comes out we’ll all talk about whether we liked it or not. Deal? Good.

One thing: if you are already in a sad place, this is not the book for you. I suggest reading this when you are feeling emotionally stable in the rest of your life.