For Valentine’s Day: Top Ten Love Letters from Famous Writers

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As Valentine’s Day approaches, once again frantic Google searches are conducted to find someone who has said what you would like to say. Here are ten writers who wrote letters to their beloveds. Some are touching, some are steamy, some are funny. Perhaps you will find some inspiration from their words.

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1.  Ludwig Van Beethoven to his “Immortal Beloved” 

July 6, 1806

My angel, my all, my very self — only a few words today and at that with your pencil — not till tomorrow will my lodgings be definitely determined upon — what a useless waste of time. Why this deep sorrow where necessity speaks — can our love endure except through sacrifices — except through not demanding everything — can you change it that you are not wholly mine, I not wholly thine?

Oh, God! look out into the beauties of nature and comfort yourself with that which must be — love demands everything and that very justly — that it is with me so far as you are concerned, and you with
me. If we were wholly united you would feel the pain of it as little as I!

Now a quick change to things internal from things external. We shall surely see each other; moreover, I cannot communicate to you the observations I have made during the last few days touching my own life — if our hearts were always close together I would make none of the kind. My heart is full of many things to say to you – Ah! — there are moments when I feel that speech is nothing after all — cheer up — remain my true, only treasure, my all as I am yours; the gods must send us the rest that which shall be best for us.

Your faithful,
Ludwig

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2. James Joyce to Nora Barnacle 

15 August, 1904

My dear Nora,

It has just struck me. I came in at half past eleven. Since then I have been sitting in an easy chair like a fool. I could do nothing. I hear nothing but your voice. I am like a fool hearing you call me ‘Dear.’ I offended two men today by leaving them coolly. I wanted to hear your voice, not theirs.

When I am with you I leave aside my contemptuous, suspicious nature. I wish I felt your head on my shoulder. I think I will go to bed.

I have been a half-hour writing this thing. Will you write something to me? I hope you will. How am I to sign myself? I won’t sign anything at all, because I don’t know what to sign myself.

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3. Charles Bukowski to Linda King 

1972

 I liked your hand-walking act; that got me hotter than hell…. everything you do gets me hotter than hell…. throwing clay against the ceiling… you bitch, you red hot shrew, you lovely lovely woman…. you have put new poems and new hope and new joy and new tricks into an old dog, I love you, your pussy hairs I felt with my fingers, the inside of your pussy, wet, hot, I felt with my fingers; you, up against the refrigerator, you have such a wonderful refrigerator, your hair dangling down, wild, you there, the wild bird of you the wild thing of you, hot, lewd, miraculous…. twisting after your head, trying to grab your tongue with my mouth, with my tongue…. we were in Burbank and I was in love, ultramarine love, my good god damned godess, my goad, my bitch, my my my my beating breathing hair-lined cunt of Paradise, I love you… and your refrigerator, and as we grabbed and wrestled, that sculpted head watching us with his little lyrical cynical love-smile, burning…
I want you,
I want you,
I want YOU
YOU YOU YOU YOU YOU YOU!

napoleon_young

4.  Napoleon Bonaparte to Josephine

Paris, December 1795

I wake filled with thoughts of you. Your portrait and the intoxicating evening which we spent yesterday have left my senses in turmoil. Sweet, incomparable Josephine, what a strange effect you have on my heart! Are you angry? Do I see you looking sad? Are you worried?… My soul aches with sorrow, and there can be no rest for you lover; but is there still more in store for me when, yielding to the profound feelings which overwhelm me, I draw from your lips, from your heart a love which consumes me with fire? Ah! it was last night that I fully realized how false an image of you your portrait gives!

You are leaving at noon; I shall see you in three hours.

Until then, mio dolce amor, a thousand kisses; but give me none in return, for they set my blood on fire.

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5.  Virginia Woolf to Vita Sackville-West 

“Look Here Vita — throw over your man, and we’ll go to Hampton Court and dine on the river together and walk in the garden in the moonlight and come home late and have a bottle of wine and get tipsy, and I’ll tell you all the things I have in my head, millions, myriads — They won’t stir by day, only by dark on the river. Think of that. Throw over your man, I say, and come.”

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6.  Lewis Carroll to Gertrude Chataway

Christ Church, Oxford, October 28, 1876

My Dearest Gertrude:

You will be sorry, and surprised, and puzzled, to hear what a queer illness I have had ever since you went. I sent for the doctor, and said, “Give me some medicine. for I’m tired.” He said, “Nonsense and stuff! You don’t want medicine: go to bed!”

I said, “No; it isn’t the sort of tiredness that wants bed. I’m tired in the face.” He looked a little grave, and said, “Oh, it’s your nose that’s tired: a person often talks too much when he thinks he knows a
great deal.” I said, “No, it isn’t the nose. Perhaps it’s the hair.” Then he looked rather grave, and said, “Now I understand: you’ve been playing too many hairs on the pianoforte.”

“No, indeed I haven’t!” I said, “and it isn’t exactly the hair: it’s more about the nose and chin.” Then he looked a good deal graver, and said, “Have you been walking much on your chin lately?” I said, “No.” “Well!” he said, “it puzzles me very much.

Do you think it’s in the lips?” “Of course!” I said. “That’s exactly what it is!”

Then he looked very grave indeed, and said, “I think you must have been giving too many kisses.” “Well,” I said, “I did give one kiss to a baby child, a little friend of mine.”

“Think again,” he said; “are you sure it was only one?” I thought again, and said, “Perhaps it was eleven times.” Then the doctor said, “You must not give her any more till your lips are quite rested
again.” “But what am I to do?” I said, “because you see, I owe her a hundred and eighty-two more.” Then he looked so grave that tears ran down his cheeks, and he said, “You may send them to her in a box.”

Then I remembered a little box that I once bought at Dover, and thought I would someday give it to some little girl or other. So I have packed them all in it very carefully. Tell me if they come safe or if any are lost on the way.”

Lewis Carroll

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7.  Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas

1893

My Own Boy,
Your sonnet is quite lovely, and it is a marvel that those red-roseleaf lips of yours should be made no less for the madness of music and song than for the madness of kissing. Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry. I know Hyacinthus, whom Apollo loved so madly, was you in Greek days. Why are you alone in London, and when do you go to Salisbury? Do go there to cool your hands in the grey twilight of Gothic things, and come here whenever you like. It is a lovely place and lacks only you; but go to Salisbury first.
Always, with undying love,
Yours, Oscar

hugo

8.  Victor Hugo to Adele Foucher

1821

My dearest,
When two souls, which have sought each other for,
however long in the throng, have finally found each other …a union, fiery and pure as they themselves are… begins on earth and continues forever in heaven.

This union is love, true love, … a religion, which deifies the loved one, whose life comes from devotion and passion, and for which the greatest sacrifices are the sweetest delights.

This is the love which you inspire in me… Your soul is made to love with the purity and passion of angels; but perhaps it can only love another angel, in which case I must tremble with apprehension.

Yours forever,
Victor Hugo

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9.  Ernest Hemingway to Mary Welsh

April 16, 1945

Dearest Pickle,

So now I’m going out on the boat with Paxthe and Don Andres and Gregorio and stay out all day and then come in and will be sure there will be letters or a letter. And maybe there will be. If there aren’t I’ll be a sad s.o.a.b. But you know how you handle that of course? You last through until the next morning. I suppose I’d better figure on there being nothing until tomorrow night and then it won’t be so bad tonight.

Please write me Pickle. If it were a job you had to do you’d do it. It’s tough as hell without you and I’m doing it straight but I miss you so [I] could die. If anything happened to you I’d die the way an animal will die in the Zoo if something happens to his mate.

Much love my dearest Mary and know I’m not impatient. I’m just desperate.

Ernest

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10.  Honore de Balzac to Evelina Hanska

June 1836

My beloved angel,

I am nearly mad about you, as much as one can be mad: I cannot bring together two ideas that you do not interpose yourself between them.

I can no longer think of anything but you.  In spite of myself, my imagination carries me to you.  I grasp you, I kiss you, I caress you, a thousand of the most amorous caresses take possession of me.

As for my heart, there you will always be – very much so.  I have a delicious sense of you there.  But my God, what is to become of me, if you have deprived me of my reason?  This is a monomania which, this morning, terrifies me.

I rise up every moment saying to myself, “Come, I am going there!” Then I sit down again, moved by the sense of my obligations.  There is a frightful conflict.  This is not life.  I have never before been like that.  You have devoured everything.

I feel foolish and happy as soon as I think of you.  I whirl round in a delicious dream in which in one instant I live a thousand years. What a horrible situation!

Overcome with love, feeling love in every pore, living only for love, and seeing oneself consumed by griefs, and caught in a thousand spiders’ threads.

O, my darling Eva, you did not know it.  I picked up your card.  It is there before me, and I talk to you as if you were there.  I see you, as I did yesterday, beautiful, astonishingly beautiful.

Yesterday, during the whole evening, I said to myself “she is mine!” Ah!  The angels are not as happy in Paradise as I was yesterday!

 


How to Read a Book a Day in 2013

Perhaps one of your resolutions for 2013, like so many people’s, is to read more this year. I’m guessing, though, that you did not set yourself the daunting task of reading a grand total of 365 books over the course of as many days. That would be crazy, right? Not according to Jeff Ryan of Slate, who proved in 2012 that such a resolution, though insane, is not impossible to achieve. While I certainly do not have plans to attempt Ryan’s wacky goal myself, the tactics he employed to reach that number might help anyone looking to cover more literary ground this year. Here’s how he did it, how you can learn from it, and why Ryan’s goal might actually not have been so wacky after all…

For a resolution like this, Ryan had to start out with some ground rules. And no, priority No. 1 was not to lower the minimum page count of the books on his list. It was to avoid scrimping on his current duties as father, husband, and full-time job-holder.

My test for this was my wife: I didn’t even tell her I was tackling a book a day until six weeks into the project. If she suspected I was slacking—dishes undone, litter box a ruin, laundry growing sentient—then I was failing my prime directive.

The preference for quick reads didn’t come into play until rule No. 2: Read short books.

I don’t deny that 2012 was not the year for me to launch into Terry Goodkind. Want some Tolstoy? The Forged Coupon, not War and Peace.

Don’t hide your YA, exercise shamelessness if you want to reach your 365 book goal.

In similar fashion, if I had to point out a third rule of Ryan’s in this project, it’d be “Don’t be a snob.” You don’t get to read 365 books in a year without padding out your reading list with a bit of light fodder. The journalist’s “literary junk food” as he calls it consisted of “zombie novels, books about Old Hollywood,  books about video games (I can’t play you anymore, but I can read about you!), comedians’ memoirs, and essay collections.” Anyone else’s indulgence of guilty pleasures would easily stretch to include Young Adult books, chick lit, comic books, even erotica. Does everything you read have to be Booker-worthy? Not if the goal is simply to read and learn more, so feel free to exercise a bit of shamelessness.

One of Ryan’s most important tactics was to read multiple books at once. If you’re anything like me, you’ll imagine this point as being annoying; I like to give my full attention to a novel without interruption from other works, if I can manage it. But the thing about this project is that it opens your eyes to how many different things you already read simultaneously everyday, besides books, and how much extra stuff can be forsaken in order to read more literature. For instance, Ryan might in one day finish up a 1,000 page tome he’d been working on for a while, approach the end of an audiobook on his drive home, and close the final chapter on a Chronicles of Narnia novel with his daughter at bedtime. Sound like the kind of multitasking you’re used to?

And what happens when you replace the normal go-to forms of entertainment crunching up your free time and replace them with books? What might you inadvertently give up? For Ryan it was video games, “direct-to-DVD horror films” (in the manner of Starship Troopers 2 and Saw V-VII), and music, as he exclusively listened to audiobooks on his iPod. It’s also not difficult to imagine how much more most of us would read were it not  for our TV addictions. To many people, some of those casualties would be unforgivable. To others, pledging to read a book a day might help to check off other resolutions we might often swear to keep but never manage to.

It’s this new awareness of how most of us use our free time that suddenly makes this resolution appear less impossible and more like something we already engage in:

If you follow my path and read a book a day in 2013, you’ll find that you truly, truly will not be reading more than usual. Right now, you are probably reading a comparable amount to me—but you’re reading newspapers, Facebook and Twitter, and the work of the fine folks at Slate. I let that stuff go for a year in the interest of making my quota. (Maybe that’s why I liked essay collections so much; they’re like magazines in book format.) I always dreamed that in retirement I might be able to knock off a book a day: Turns out, I didn’t have to wait.

So you see, pledging to read more in 2013 doesn’t have to be a futile promise. As for me, I’m going to try something infinitely more manageable than 365 books and focus on six authors I always mean to read but never get around to. They are:  David Mitchell, Haruki Murakami, David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Phillip Roth, and (just for fun, because I’m appalling when it comes to Russian lit knowledge) Leo Tolstoy.

Do you have any literature-related resolutions planned? Perhaps you’ll plan to read a book a month, or even to participate in 2013’s NaNoWriMo? Please, share your ideas on how to read more in a comment below. Whatever you resolve this New Year’s, I hope your 2013 is full of inspiring and enjoyable reads!


Ten Writers….Errrr…Toast… the Future: Thoughts for New Years’ 2013

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Looking for some words to guide revelers into the future? Here are some sentiments from writers who have pondered the unknown.

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1.  Looking for Alaska by John Green 

Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia…You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.

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2.  Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham

I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.

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3.  The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir 

Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.

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4.  Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson 

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

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5.  The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

“The key question to keep asking is, Are you spending your time on the right things? Because time is all you have. ”

(Bonus, because I love this book so much)

“Look, I’m going to find a way to be happy, and I’d really love to be happy with you, but if I can’t be happy with you, then I’ll find a way to be happy without you.”

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6.  Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

“Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place. . . . With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don’t have to sit in no bar room blowin’ in our jack jus’ because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us.”

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7.  Tik-Tok by John Sladek

The future, according to some scientists, will be exactly like the past, only far more expensive.

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8.  The Theban Plays by Sophocles

Whoever neglects the arts when he is young has lost the past and is dead to the future.

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9.  Stephen Wright, Comedian

I was a peripheral visionary. I could see the future, but only way off to the side.

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10.  Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott 

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”


These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

It’s almost a new year, let the embarrassing work Christmas parties commence and the Auld Lang Synes ring! For my part, I’d like to say farewell to 2012 and herald 2013 with a list of favorite things I discovered or enjoyed this past year, for the most part online. Hopefully you’ll agree that this collection has a little something for everyone: students, teachers, avid readers, art admirers, humorists, or simply the perennially curious.

Working for eNotes I try my best to promote learning at every age. I strongly feel that if you cannot participate in a classroom, you should at least maintain an active level of curiosity and wonder about the world around you. With the many information-grabbing, curio-snapping sites below, you’ll never be at a loss for tools of learning and instruction…

1. Brain Pickings

It’s not hard to imagine the Internet as a museum of wonders. It’s much harder to imagine oneself as the curator of such an exhibit. Enter superwoman Maria Popova, “interestingness hunter-gatherer and curious mind at large” and creator of the wonderful blog Brain Pickings, the site that collects everything funny, captivating, and obscure from the far corners of the interweb for your consumption. Without Brain Pickings this year I would not have learnt of Salvador Dali’s struggle between skepticism and faith, or of how to talk about books I haven’t read, or book spine poetry and how to dabble in it myself.

Brain Pickings is a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are… Brain Pickings is your LEGO treasure chest, full of pieces across art, design, science, technology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, you-name-itology.

2. Underground New York Public Library

As the Sartorialist does for the fashion conscious, UNYPL documents in photographs the penchants of everyday people in a bustling metropolis, the difference being that creator Ourit Ben-Haim is more interested in what you’re reading than who you’re wearing. If you’re looking for book recommendations hot off the pavement, this blog is the place to find them. And if you’re looking for the picture of a kid grossed out by reading Fifty Shades, that can be arranged too.

But the best part about UNYPL (besides the also stellar visuals themselves) is that beneath every caption telling you what the subject is reading, you’ll find links to either “Read” by purchasing the book online or “Borrow” the book from your local library (via the very handy WorldCat library network service). You’ll find works you never knew existed, not only in a New York subway, but right outside your front door, too.

The photos come together as a visual library. This library freely lends out a reminder that we’re capable of traveling to great depths within ourselves and as a whole.

3. What a year for literary adaptations!

Yes, books are adapted for the silver screen all the time, but in 2012 the results really stuck out for me, either for their ambitious undertakings (naysayers said Cloud Atlas and Life of Pi could never be made into films) or for their daring takes on old classics (such as the stage play-esque adaptation of Anna Karenina and the forthcoming 3D “red curtain” spin on The Great Gatsby). It’s also the year that most of the Internet fell in love with the British series Sherlock, a modern-day adaptation of the Holmes mystery series (and precursor to CBS’s Elementary). There are so many more books worth a mention here… Cosmopolis, The Hobbit, Great Expectations, On the Road, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Midnight’s Children… come Oscar season, the awards will be dominated by films that were originally books. Watch out for a punch up over the Best Adapted Screenplay prize, not to mention the Best Visual Effects nod, as filmakers outdid themselves in 2012 to recreate the stunning landscapes of these imaginative novels.

4. S#@! My Students Write

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If you are or have ever been in charge of a classroom, you’ll likely have a few gems in your back pocket similar to the above. Now there’s a tumblr account to collect other unintentionally hilarious snippets from teachers everywhere, and yes they’re all true. Even this one. And this one. You would not believe how much tumblr helped me waste time ahem, grow as a person this year.

S#@! My Students Write: Evidence of the true cost of educational funding cuts.

5. eNotes Quizzes

Interestingly, a great way to counteract the above problem! This year we at eNotes released our very own collection of quizzes across hundreds of book titles. And because they’re all developed in-house, these quizzes contain thousands of unique questions geared towards helping students study for their literature tests. They’re also a pretty fun way to kill a few minutes, or 30… Out of all of eNotes’ releases in 2012, Quizzes iss definitely my favorite, and it’s an area of the site we expect to grow and grow. If you haven’t checked it out yet, test your knowledge today to try and beat some of our top quiz takers.

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6. TED Talks

Okay, I admit, I must seem a little late to the game right now, but omg TED Talks!! I love you. You’re so great, you even made it into one of those futuristic teasers for the Prometheus movie. Where else could I learn about neo-evolution, how to 3D print a human kidney, or about time-lapse nature photography all in one place? I also believe that any site that allows you to sort through its video archives by “Rated jaw-dropping” must contain some very humbling stuff. If you’ve never visited TED before… what are you doing with your life? Get on it now, or better, watch one of my favorite ever talks below:

We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.

Free knowledge for all! (If not a free pass to their annual TED Conferences, which will run you more than the cost of ten Coachella tickets. But hey, that’s what the video archives are for.) If you’re interested in keeping up to date with all the world’s brilliant ideas, this non-profit organization has a great blog to peruse, too.

7. Books on the Nightstand

A podcast I discovered just this year, BOTNS is a great resource to turn to to stay ahead of the latest book-selling trends. Hosted by industry insiders Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman, the show offers lots of great conversation on new releases, mostly sorted into various categories (their holiday gift guide does a great job of this, collating best graphic novels, best non-fiction, best children’s lit, and so on into a neat gift-giving manual). It’s because of this podcast that I picked up my current read, Age of Miracles, and have a lot more waiting on my Amazon wish list. Check out the show notes on their website for lots of good end-of-year recommendations, plus info on their annual reading challenge and Booktopia Festival.

8. Twitterature

Last but not least, if you’ve read any of my past posts you may have noticed my growing fascination this year with the idea of “Twitterature.” I was never a great supporter of Twitter until 2012–I knew it was a good publicity tool, yes, but how could it actually work for me in my life? At best, I thought of tweets as glorified Facebook statuses, and the last thing I wanted to read on the Internet were the details of others’ lives eating chips and looking out windows. I do enough of that on my own, thank you very much. I also don’t like this new word we have in our lexicon thanks to Twitter: hashtag. To me, it’s an ugly word that now, unfortunately, is somebody’s ugly name. But I digress…

In May I encountered Jennifer Egan’s short story created purely for Twitter, “Black Box.” The installments, all published as tweets of 140 characters or less, read like a kind of poetry. It struck a chord with me–if tweets reveal a person’s thoughts, then perhaps narration is perfectly suited to Twitter? Luckily, authors across the world have taken this idea and run with it. At this year’s Twitter Fiction Festival, I encountered a variety of stories created purely for this new form, from the murder mystery narrated by three party guests’ Twitter accounts, to a retelling of Hardy’s The Turn of the Screw, via the perspective of the nanny’s tweets.

While I still may not hold a Twitter account personally, I am eager to see where this new avenue of literature leads to in 2013, especially in light of the latest Bridget Jones’ scoop.  It’s always exciting to feel in the midst of a big change in the world of literature. Sure, tweeters may not make up the next Romantics, or Beats, or Angry Young Men, but they might, just might, be carving out a new form for a brave new literary world.

Well, that’s all from me until next year. Happy holidays, and a very happy 2013 to everyone! I hope this new year will be just as exciting as our last.


Top 10 Most Recommended Books of 2012

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“Do give books for Christmas. They’re never fattening, seldom sinful, and permanently personal.”  ~ Lenore Hershey

So many books, so little time… If you are still floundering about for a good Christmas gift, here is a list that may help.  Recently,  Flavorwire complied a list of the most recommend books from fifteen respected magazines and newspapers and determined how many times works had been recommended to readers.   You can read their full list of dozens of titles here, but here are the top ten of all those titles with the most mentions:

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1. Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Nine recommendations)

The sequel to Hilary Mantel’s 2009 Man Booker Prize winner and New York Times bestseller, Wolf Hall delves into the heart of Tudor history with the downfall of Anne BoleynThough he battled for seven years to marry her, Henry is disenchanted with Anne Boleyn. She has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. When the discarded Katherine dies in exile from the court, Anne stands starkly exposed, the focus of gossip and malice.At a word from Henry, Thomas Cromwell is ready to bring her down. Over three terrifying weeks, Anne is ensnared in a web of conspiracy, while the demure Jane Seymour stands waiting her turn for the poisoned wedding ring. But Anne and her powerful family will not yield without a ferocious struggle.

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2.  Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (Seven recommendations)

A finalist for the National Book Award!  Three minutes and forty-three seconds of intense warfare with Iraqi insurgents has transformed the eight surviving men of Bravo Squad into America’s most sought-after heroes. Now they’re on a media-intensive nationwide tour to reinvigorate support for the war. On this rainy Thanksgiving, the Bravos are guests of the Dallas Cowboys, slated to be part of the halftime show alongside Destiny’s Child.Among the Bravos is Specialist Billy Lynn. Surrounded by patriots sporting flag pins on their lapels and Support Our Troops bumper stickers, he is thrust into the company of the Cowboys’ owner and his coterie of wealthy colleagues; a born-again Cowboys cheerleader; a veteran Hollywood producer; and supersized players eager for a vicarious taste of war. Over the course of this day, Billy will drink and brawl, yearn for home and mourn those missing, face a heart-wrenching decision, and discover pure love and a bitter wisdom far beyond his years.

 

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3.  Behind the Beautiful Forevers:  Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo (Seven recommendations)

While the distance between rich and poor is growing in the U.S., the gap between the haves and have-nots in India is staggering to behold. This first book by a New Yorker staff writer (and Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter for the Washington Post) jolts the reader’s consciousness with the opposing realities of poverty and wealth in a searing visit to the Annawaldi settlement, a flimflam slum that has recently sprung up in the western suburbs of the gigantic city of Mumbai, perched tentatively along the modern highway leading to the airport and almost within a stone’s throw of new, luxurious hotels. We first meet Abdul, whose daily grind is to collect trash and sell it; in doing so, he has “lifted his large family above subsistence.” Boo takes us all around the community, introducing us to a slew of disadvantaged individuals who, nevertheless, draw on their inner strength to not only face the dreary day but also ponder a day to come that will, perhaps, be a little brighter. Sympathetic yet objective and eloquently rendered. –Brad Hooper, Booklist

 
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4.   Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed (Seven recommendations)

A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again. At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone.

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  5.  The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers (Seven recommendations)

“The war tried to kill us in the spring.” So begins this powerful account of friendship and loss. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. Bound together since basic training when Bartle makes a promise to bring Murphy safely home, the two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for.In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger. As reality begins to blur into a hazy nightmare, Murphy becomes increasingly unmoored from the world around him and Bartle takes actions he could never have imagined.

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6.  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn  (Six recommendations)

On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick’s wife Amy disappears. There are signs of struggle in the house and Nick quickly becomes the prime suspect. It doesn’t help that Nick hasn’t been completely honest with the police and, as Amy’s case drags out for weeks, more and more vilifying evidence appears against him. Nick, however, maintains his innocence. Told from alternating points of view between Nick and Amy, Gillian Flynn creates an untrustworthy world that changes chapter-to-chapter. Calling Gone Girl a psychological thriller is an understatement. As revelation after revelation unfolds, it becomes clear that the truth does not exist in the middle of Nick and Amy’s points of view; in fact, the truth is far more dark, more twisted, and more creepy than you can imagine. Gone Girl is masterfully plotted from start to finish and the suspense doesn’t waver for one page. It’s one of those books you will feel the need to discuss immediately after finishing because the ending doesn’t just come; it punches you in the gut. Caley Anderson

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7.  Iron Curtain:  The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956 by Anne Applebaum (Five Recommendations)

At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union to its surprise and delight found itself in control of a huge swath of territory in Eastern Europe. Stalin and his secret police set out to convert a dozen radically different countries to Communism, a completely new political and moral system. In Iron Curtain, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anne Applebaum describes how the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe were created and what daily life was like once they were complete. She draws on newly opened East European archives, interviews, and personal accounts translated for the first time to portray in devastating detail the dilemmas faced by millions of individuals trying to adjust to a way of life that challenged their every belief and took away everything they had accumulated. Today the Soviet Bloc is a lost civilization, one whose cruelty, paranoia, bizarre morality, and strange aesthetics Applebaum captures in the electrifying pages of Iron Curtain.

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8.  This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz  (Five recommendations)

On a beach in the Dominican Republic, a doomed relationship flounders. In the heat of a hospital laundry room in New Jersey, a woman does her lover’s washing and thinks about his wife. In Boston, a man buys his love child, his only son, a first baseball bat and glove. At the heart of these stories is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness–and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own.

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9.   The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert A. Caro  (Five recommendations)

The Passage of Power follows Lyndon Johnson through both the most frustrating and the most triumphant periods of his career—1958 to1964.  It is a time that would see him trade the extraordinary power he had created for himself as Senate Majority Leader for what became the wretched powerlessness of a Vice President in an administration that disdained and distrusted him. Yet it was, as well, the time in which the presidency, the goal he had always pursued, would be thrust upon him in the moment it took an assassin’s bullet to reach its mark.By 1958, as Johnson began to maneuver for the presidency, he was known as one of the most brilliant politicians of his time, the greatest Senate Leader in our history. But the 1960 nomination would go to the young senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy. Caro gives us an unparalleled account of the machinations behind both the nomination and Kennedy’s decision to offer Johnson the vice presidency, revealing the extent of Robert Kennedy’s efforts to force Johnson off the ticket.

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10.  Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon (Four recommendations)

Solomon’s startling proposition is that diversity is what unites us all. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. While each of these characteristics is potentially isolating, the experience of difference within families is universal, as are the triumphs of love Solomon documents in every chapter.

All parenting turns on a crucial question: to what extent parents should accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves. Drawing on forty thousand pages of interview transcripts with more than three hundred families, Solomon mines the eloquence of ordinary people facing extreme challenges.


Olive, the Other Reindeer and Other Misunderstood Christmas Lyrics

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Did you know that misunderstood lyrics have their own special word? They are called mondegreens.” The neologism was coined in 1954 in the magazine Harper’s Bazaar when a woman named Sylvia Wright discovered, to her surprise, that the last line of a famous Scottish ballad was “and they laid him on the green”, and not, as she had always sung it, “and Lady Mondegreen.”

Christmas lyrics seem to have many mondegreens. Perhaps because most of us learn carols and popular Christmas songs as children and kids are willing to just give it a go.

Here are some examples of some holiday-infused mondgreens:

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Feliz Navidad

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Sing it, Jose!

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The First Noel 

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Frosty the Snowman 

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abominable

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

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Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

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Hmmm… Seems to be a Book! Ten Gift Suggestions for Christmas Reading

Among my friends, (who, lets face it, often regard sunlight as the enemy) there can never be a better Christmas present than a coveted book. Most of our friends, family members, and colleagues know we love to read. However, what to get your favorite bibliophile can be daunting:

“Hmmmm… well, Diana sorta likes cats. How about this special, 40 lb tome of Cats Through the Ages?” 

-or-

“Who doesn’t want to learn the ancient art of origami?” (*Me) …Variation: “Who doesn’t like spy novels?”  (*Also me).

So, instead of grabbing a random book, here are ten suggestions from my well-read friends that may help you select a welcomed gift that will actually be read:

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10.  Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel 

This Man-Booker prize winning sequel, as well as  Mantel’s first novel Wolf Hall (which also won the Man-Booker!) are both on my personal list.

From Publisher’s Weekly: Henry VIII’s challenge to the church’s power with his desire to divorce his queen and marry Anne Boleyn set off a tidal wave of religious, political and societal turmoil that reverberated throughout 16th-century.

9.  Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats 

A required volume for lovers of poetry. Both newcomers and those already familiar with the work of Yeats will appreciate this collection which ” includes all of the poems authorized by Yeats for inclusion in his standard canon. Breathtaking in range, it encompasses the entire arc of his career, from luminous reworkings of ancient Irish myths and legends to passionate meditations on the demands and rewards of youth and old age, from exquisite, occasionally whimsical songs of love, nature, and art to somber and angry poems of life in a nation torn by war and uprising.”

8. The Language of Flowers by Vanesa Diffenbach

Consider picking this New York Times best-seller and recent book club favorite:

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

7.  January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her by Michael Scofield

A good choice for a lover of non-fiction reads, one friend says the memoir is “heartbreaking and engrossing at the same time. I couldn’t put it down and read it mostly in one day.”

At six years old, January Schofield, “Janni,” to her family, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, one of the worst mental illnesses known to man.  What’s more, schizophrenia is 20 to 30 times more severe in children than in adults and in January’s case, doctors say, she is hallucinating 95 percent of the time that she is awake. Potent psychiatric drugs that would level most adults barely faze her.

7.  The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy 

Got a political junkie on your list? A friend tells me this is a Can’t-Put-It-Down choice.

Starting with the surprisingly effective relationship of Harry S. Truman and Herbert Hoover, and following through “Obama and His Club,” TIME Magazine‘s Executive Editor Nancy Gibbs and Washington Bureau Chief Michael Duffy trace the surprising, complicated story of “the world’s most exclusive fraternity.” Sitting presidents and their predecessors have at times proved remarkably simpatico, at others impossible thorns in each other’s sides. The authors’ extensive research demonstrates that ex-Presidents have a penchant for morphing from consummate team players into irascible rogues, sometimes within weeks, as they strive both to remain relevant and to shape their own legacies.

6.  The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor

Under that frayed sports coat lies the heart of a beast! Your English professor or quiet librarian may well be hiding a little secret… tattoos that express their love of literature. This beautiful text is “a collection of more than 150 full-color photographs of human epidermis indelibly adorned with quotations and illustrations from Dickinson to Pynchon, from Shakespeare to Plath. With beloved lines of verse, literary portraits, and illustrations—and statements from the bearers on their tattoos’ history and the personal significance of the chosen literary work—The Word Made Flesh is part collection of photographs and part literary anthology written on skin.”

5.  Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Perfect for both the  book lover, bookstore lover, and mystery fan, Sloan’s novel is “a gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life—mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore.”

4.  Fairy Tales from the Brother’s Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman

Most people know that the versions of the Grimm Brothers’ tales many of us grew up with were “sanitized” verisons of the original stories. In this new edition, author Philip Pullman “retells his fifty favorites, from much-loved stories like “Cinderella” and “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Rapunzel” and “Hansel and Gretel” to lesser-known treasures like “The Three Snake Leaves,” “Godfather Death” and “The Girl with No Hands.” At  the end of each tale he offers a brief personal commentary, opening a window on the sources of the tales, the various forms they’ve taken over the centuries and their everlasting appeal.”

3.  Judging a Book by Its Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere by Laura Leto 

This is another entry from my personal Wish List. Do you know how some people snoop through bathroom medicine cabinets or desk drawers? Personally, I eye their bookshelves. Most book lovers do. We want to know what we have in common or who we need to stay away from, often making instant friendships or enemies based on libraries alone. In her study, Leto provides a “hilarious send-up of—and inspired homage to—the passionate and peculiar world of book culture.”

2. Cezanne: A Life by Alex Danchev

Okay, I confess. This is also on my list (get yer own blog!).  Cezanne’s life has long fascinated me, and after hearing an interview with Danchev, I am eager to learn more.  Here’s an overview:

With brisk intellect, rich documentation, and eighty-eight color and fifty-two black-and-white illustrations, Danchev tells the story of an artist who was originally considered a madman, a barbarian, and a sociopath. Beginning with the unsettled teenager in Aix, Danchev takes us through the trials of a painter who believed that art must be an expression of temperament but was tormented by self-doubt, who was rejected by the Salon for forty years, who sold nothing outside his immediate circle until his thirties, who had a family that he kept secret from his father until his forties, who had his first exhibition at the age of fifty-six—but who fiercely maintained his revolutionary beliefs.

1.  Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kerns Goodwin

Steven Spielberg’s wonderful new film Lincoln was largely based on the research of famed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Anyone interested in politics or history will certainly enjoy this compelling re-examination of the drama surrounding the eventual adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment.


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