Saturday, December 18, 2010

Favorite Books of 2010

Even as I reflect on my favorite books of 2010, the stack of books for 2011 grows in front of my eyes. I just started reading a biography of Florence Nightingale, Nightingales by Gillian Gill who wrote one of my favorite books of 2009, We Two about Victoria and Albert. Two other biographies await: Franklin and Eleanor, An Extraordinary Marriage by Hazel Rowley and Reading Jackie, Her Autobiography in Books by William Kuhn. My shelves overflow with novels to read as well, but the one I am most eager for and I think will be the perfect winter read is the new translation of Dr Zhivago. But I jump ahead. Many of the books I read in 2010 were for the book group/class I take through UW continuing education. For 9 Tuesday mornings a semester a group of 40 or so people meet for discussion led by a masterful facilitator, Emily Auerbach. I often end the session liking the book much more than I did when I finished reading it. I am also stunned sometimes by what I have missed in my reading of a book, so this group is teaching me to be a more careful, deeper reader. At the same time I sometimes feel a conflict about devoting so much of my reading time to a book I have not selected. So many books, so little time! At any rate, here is my list of favorites for 2010.

1. The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt. I don't usually declare a top favorite, but I will this year and this is it. I know I will reread this book, as I have read Byatt's Possession. Enchanting and disturbing, often in the same sentence. Now out in paperback--get it!
2. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
3. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
4. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. This was for the book class, and probably my third read of the book and just as moving as the first time--maybe more so. First published in 1990, this books stands firm in every way.
5. Life of Pi by Martel. I had resisted this book for whatever reason, but read it for the group and it has stayed with me.
6. Atonement by Ian McEwan
7. Vanity Fair by Thackery
8. Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar. A favorite author.
9. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. While this was not her best, it was worth reading. She always is.
10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I reread this because I gave it to my Dad to read. Loved it all over again. Also, read a bio of Lee, which while it didn't make my favorites list, did help give a context to the author and her writing.
11. The Quiet American by Graham Greene. This inspires me to read more books by Greene. I had previously only read The Power and the Glory.
12. Family Album by Penelope Lively. Another favorite author.
13. The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone. I gave this book to granddaughter Maren this summer. It is the story of two young people who visit the Thorne miniature rooms at the Chicago Institute of Art and while there they some how become small enough to enter the rooms. The adventures begin. This fall we took Maren to see the rooms and while nothing magical happened, we loved being there and the book is a delight.
14. The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill. The latest in her mystery series.
15. An Expert in Murder, A Josephine Tey Mystery by Nicola Upson. Can't wait to read the next one.

1. Compassion, Listening to the Cries of the World by Christina Feldman
2. Howard's End is on the Landing, A Year of Reading from Home by Susan Hill. This is the mystery writer. She decides that for a year she will only read what she already owns. I could do that--should do that. The only problem with the book is that is added many titles to my already long list!
3. Another Country, Navigating the Emotional Terrain of our Elders by Mary Pipher. Another wise book from a wise woman.
4. The Journal Keeper, A Memoir by Phyllis Theroux. Answered many questions for me about my own writing and journal keeping.
5. A Life of Being, Having and Doing Enough by Wayne Muller. Yes!!!!!
6. Women Food and God, An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth. Read it twice. Need to read again. Touches some deep places within. Plan to read the new book by Marianne Williamson on the same topic.
7. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. A very important book--not sure why is didn't make Best Book lists.
8. Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell. Friendship and loss-tender and true.
9. Seeking Perspective, Weaving Spirituality and Psychology in Search of Clarity by Robert J. Wicks. This has been on my shelf for a long time and I am so glad I finally got to it.
10. Intimacy and Solitude by Stephanie Dowrick.

What are your favorites for this year? Any books you are giving or hoping to receive? All book talk is welcome. Happy reading!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Reframing My Response: Reluctant to Relaxed

For some reason I have been dragging my feet through the whole Christmas process this year. Now what is that about? I love Christmas and all the preparations and always have. I understand that is not true for everyone and that Christmas can be a very difficult time for many, but for the most part that has not been my story. True, like everyone else I can feel overwhelmed and wonder how IT will all get done. I wonder how many times in our married life my husband has said, "Don't worry, it all gets done, " and I have responded, not kindly, "True, that's because I do IT." Not that he is an innocent bystander. Over the years he has been an active participant in the Christmas Express, but I am clearly the engineer and the conductor. And I love those roles.

What's the difference this year? Why, for example, have I completed a task, such as going to the post office with packages that need to be mailed, and then come home and stretched out on my chaise with a good book, instead of wrapping additional packages? Why have I agreed so easily to go out for a movie on Friday night, instead of staying home to write our annual Christmas letter? I have told friends I feel as if I am stuck in low gear this year. I speed up only with great reluctance. I have even been doing some chores typically reserved for January, such as cleaning my closet and taking loads to Goodwill. How is that possible with all that needs to be done?

The answer seems to be "because I can." I finally realized that I am not so much "reluctant," as "relaxed," and I can be relaxed because I no longer have as much to do as I did in the years when I was working fulltime and the kids were still living at home. The calendar used to burst with church and school activities and dates for entertaining and concerts and parties and responsibilities for volunteering and somehow laundry and grocery shopping and bathroom cleaning still needed to be done. How did I manage it and how do my children manage it now?

Sitting for 20 minutes of centering prayer one recent morning allowed me to reframe my response to this full time of year. Yes, I am in low gear, but not because I don't have enough energy or because I have managed one too many Christmases or because I have the all too common "Christmas Blues." I am not reluctant to enter the joys of the season. Far from it. Instead, I am in a new stage of my life--one not driven by busyness and other peoples' schedules and needs. I have incredible freedom to enjoy and treasure the gifts of these days. No, I am not reluctant. I am relaxed.

I think I'll fix a cup of cocoa and read a couple chapters in the mystery I started this weekend before I return to addressing Christmas cards.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Creating Christmas Context

I wasn't going to decorate the house for Christmas this year. I'm not exactly sure why I made that decision. A variety of reasons: Not decorating would leave more time for writing. Instead of hosting Bruce's work party in December, we had it in November this year. The second floor will be painted early in January, requiring more than enough energy to dismantle those rooms without also putting away Christmas decorations. Valid reasons, I guess. I couldn't put my finger on it. Perhaps all the years of doing major decorating simply caught up with me. We will be in Minnesota again this year for Christmas, so why not make things easier for ourselves and not go through the major week long effort to transform the house for the season?

But then...I relented--just a bit--and one thing led to another.

First, the day after Thanksgiving I got out the box of vintage Christmas candles. Our 8 year old granddaughter, Maren, likes to create the seasonal display of old dime-store candles. Since she wasn't here when it was time to arrange the pilgrims and turkeys, it only seemed fair to let her position the angels, Santas, carollers and other sweet reminders of simpler times. What a good job she did!
With a chance encounter with a neighbor, who asked me if I my Christmas bins were out of the storage rooms ready to unload, I could feel myself weakening. Then Bruce created a wonderful sense of welcome on the front porch.
How could I not continue what had been started? The welcome needed to extend inside the house,
and the Santa Als, created by a good and talented friend, a collection that grows every year, needed to take their usual place in the dining room cupboard.

Soon the house was looking like Christmas, but I limited myself. No trees. No unloading the bins of Christmas dishes. I know where they are, and I will unpack them if and when I need them. I limited my time, as well. One day. Not two or three or four or more, as in the days when I replaced curtains with vintage Christmas tablecloths and had a tree in every room. Still, there are Christmas touches throughout the first floor, and I am pleased with this year's context for Christmas.

Decorating the house has always been the first task on my Christmas to do list. I need the setting to move into the season, to begin the other preparations. In an odd way, hanging garland and tying bows and unwrapping delicate mercury glass balls is a way for me to clear the space and bring clarity to what else needs to be done as the days march along. In the presence of the lights and the sparkle and the memories of years past, I regain my composure from feeling overwhelmed by addressing cards and writing letters and shopping and wrapping ETC. ETC. Every morning now when I come down the stairs and see that Bruce has turned on the lights on the banister and the mantel, a welcome to the day, I am reminded of the gifts of this time, the chance I have to deepen my connection to God in every moment.

There is still lots to do, and I suspect I won't be writing much this month, but I love this month. I love these days of whispering snow and a shawl around my shoulder and smells of cinnamon and fresh greens. I love Advent with its active waiting, and I love Christmas graced with connections and hopes and dreams and love remembered and love shared. May this be a time of many blessings for you and yours.