Snowflakes That Stay on My Paws and My Whiskers

It’s snowing again! Big fluffy flakes of Christmas-y snow, the kind Sunshine loves to leap and bound and roll and dig and flail in, resulting in this:

Sunshine in her snow pantaloons

Pantalooooons! And let me tell you, they are EXTRA cute and cuddly when she comes back to bed with you after going out and rolling around in the snow at 7am.

Apparently we are having crazy record-setting snowstorms in Boston this month; the one last Thursday was more snow in one day than Boston usually gets in all of December! Or so the local news tells me. (OMG, I know, WHAT am I doing, watching real news! This is what the strike has driven me to! But sometimes it’s just on in the background and I end up de-muting it in the hopes that it’ll magically be like The Daily Show, but no, it never is. Sigh. I miss them.)

(Side note: And they’re coming back! January 7! But without their writers. Isn’t that weird? What will that be like? I’m very curious. And not mollified! What do we want? FAIR DRAGONS!)

Well, as I promised, I’m posting early for next week, since I’ll be spending most of Christmas in a car (whee!). And also in case this might be helpful for you last-minute shoppers who find yourselves galloping frantically around Barnes & Noble this weekend. Not that that’ll happen to any of you, I’m sure.

Bear in mind that this is just a list of my favorites of the books I read this year; most of them weren’t actually published in 2007, because yikes, like I could keep up with that. And don’t worry, I’ll try to avoid spoilers in my comments!

My Favorite Books of 2007 (in no particular order):

For awesome, bad-ass teen girls and anyone who likes seeing a story from a whole new perspective:
Not the End of the World, by Geraldine McCaughrean

I’ve mentioned this book before; it’s the one from the point of view of Noah’s daughter on the Ark. I read it several months ago, but my notes on it say, comprehensively, “I LOVED IT.” (what? doesn’t everyone take notes on the books they read?) (oh, I’m not a HUGE dork; I’m only a medium-sized dork. I take very short notes, mainly so I’ll remember if I liked it or not and why. And so I can look back and remember what I’ve read, because with the sieve I have for a brain, it’s possible otherwise that in ten years I could pick up Crime and Punishment and be like, “Dude! This book starts with a MURDER! I should totally read it! I bet it’s AWESOME!” and we wouldn’t want me to make THAT mistake again, would we? Because then you’d all have to hear about it ALL OVER AGAIN, right here in this blog, and haven’t the poor Dostoevsky fans suffered enough?)

For grown-ups who like smart, thoughtful mysteries, like maybe your mom, if she’s anything like my mom, who will second me on this, and that’s saying something, because she’s kind of picky (I mean, my goodness, you should see her Netflix ratings — one star for everything! no movie pleases me! be more entertaining! you FAIL! Luckily she is nicer about books, especially my books, WHEW):
Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson

I loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooove Kate Atkinson. I think she is one of the most brilliant, talented, astonishing writers in the entire universe. Here she weaves together three mysteries through one appealing, kind of noir-ish detective, Jackson Brodie, but it’s more than a mystery novel because it’s really about people and life and relationships and family and ack it’s just fantastic. Maybe if I keep writing until I’m 1000 years old I’ll finally be able to write a sentence half as brilliant as any of hers.

Case Histories was sort of her break-out book (I keep seeing people reading it on trains and subways and things! YAY! Go Kate Atkinson!) so maybe you (or your gift recipient) have already read it, in which case, try her first book, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, which is dark and complicated but is definitely one of my favorite books ever. Or try her short story collection, titled, hilariously, Not the End of the World (not to be confused with Geraldine McCaughrean’s same-titled book!). The stories are sort of loosely connected in surprising ways, one of which is that she mentions Buffy the Vampire Slayer in almost all of them (see, I knew I loved her!).

For reluctant readers, Buffy fans, people who like superheroes, or anyone who likes their stories hilarious and unpredictable:
Runaways 4 through 6, by Brian K. Vaughan


Buffy, Season Eight: Long Way Home, by Joss Whedon

The Buffy: Season Eight graphic novels are an obvious must-have for anyone who ever loved Buffy, and now the first five are available in one convenient book! Hooray!

And if they already have it, or if they don’t know Buffy, try giving them the Runaways series. HOLY BANANAS. In volume one, the kids discover that their parents are all supervillains. Supervillains! Why hasn’t anyone ever thought of this before? Plus it’s so funny and very action-packed, and the dialogue is clever, and besides, it’s probably more appropriate for the 10 and up age range than some of the other books on this list. Such as this next one.

For your friend who thinks history is boring, or the one with a crush on Prince William, or the one who would be running a country of her own by now if she only knew the right people:
Sex with Kings, by Eleanor Herman

Yeah, people keep seeing this book on my shelf and going “WHAT?” or “Ooooh!” or “Dude, what are you reading???” But it’s a history book! I swear! It’s all about the various royal mistresses of various royal people such as King Louis XIV or King Charles II. It is SO interesting. For instance, did you know that one of King Louis XIV’s mistresses, Madame de Montespan, was banished from his bedroom when he found out she was using dark witchcraft to keep him in love with her? (Perhaps successfully -– he wasn’t interested in her until she lured him into a dinner where she put her dread potion in his food.) We’re talking seriously horrifying witchcraft, too, involving BABIES’ BLOOD! Grrrrooooooss! Fascinating! Read it!

And oh my goodness, it looks like she’s written a follow-up, Sex with the Queen! Score! I know what I’m buying myself for Christmas!

For the person who enjoys a good apoplectic fit:
Atonement, by Ian McEwan

I wasn’t sure whether to put this on the list, because the ending made me SO ANGRY that I nearly flung the book across the room (how can you call that “atoning”??? seriously??? what is WRONG WITH YOU, Briony?). I read it on our honeymoon and luckily so did Adam, because as soon as I finished it I needed to talk about it. For, like, the rest of the honeymoon. We’d be sitting calmly in an airport in Cambodia and I’d suddenly be like, “OMG, she could at least have — I can’t believe she — no! It’s not OK! Tell me you agree that it’s not OK,” and Adam would be like, “Yes, dear,” and I’d be like, “Exactly.” (See why I married him?)

But the conclusion I eventually came to (after much seething and growling and fuming) is that I think it actually must be a very good book to have made me think about it so much. It made me mad in a clever way — not, for instance, by being long and whiny with annoying, self-involved characters (yes, I’m looking at you, Crime and Punishment) (Aww, OK, poor Dostoevsky fans, I promise I’ll pick something else to berate next year), or by being the most visually horrifying thing I’ve ever seen (sorry, Happy Feet…or wait, no, I’m not sorry. YOU should be sorry! I STILL can’t love penguins the way I used to! You RUINED PENGUINS!).

Instead, Atonement made me mad by surprising me and by having its characters do some very questionable things. I’m really hoping Ian McEwan did this intentionally — to make us think about what atonement really means — and not because he agrees with what the main character does. If this is what he really thinks, then I might hate the book, but if he’s just messing with us (and I think he is, because the book is really brilliantly written), then OK, it’s good. And worth reading. As long as you prepare by having someone you can talk to about it immediately afterwards. I can totally see why this is a perfect book club book (much like Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, which is completely mindblowingly amazing).

Also, his description of the girl at the beginning who wants to be a writer, and her thought processes about writing, is kind of perfect. I really really remember feeling that way when I was a kid wanting to be a writer. So that I loved.

For your sardonic wise friend, especially if they are now or were ever a very smart thirteen-year-old boy:
Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell

I do mean “very smart,” because this is technically an adult book, although the main character is 13. And he does witness a couple of pretty adult things. But I think if you’re already reading Catcher in the Rye or I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (which totally traumatized me when I had to read it in English class at the age of 14, by the way), then you can handle this funny, brilliant, fascinating book by the ridiculously genius author of Cloud Atlas (which is DEFINITELY one of my favorite books of all time ever. I get wild bubbles of happiness inside just THINKING about that book).

For those who like frothy, thrilling, escapist fun:
The Luxe, by Anna Godberson

OK, first of all, how awesome is this cover? Can she even MOVE in that gorgeous dress? Don’t you just WANT all 500 pink yards of it? Well, if that’s your reaction, then you’d probably like this book. Don’t go in expecting Pride and Prejudice; it’s more like Gossip Girl but set in 1899 New York. (Confession: I’ve only read the first Gossip Girl book, so I actually mean it’s like the TV show, which I am a teeny bit addicted to.) Scandal! Seduction! Really thrilling ball gowns!

I don’t usually use the word “frothy,” which defines as “playfully frivolous in character or content” and/or “marked by high spirits or excitement.” Both of those seem right for this –- lots of high-spirited midnight trysts and secret affairs and frivolous climbing out of windows and everything!

If you’re under 14, your mom might not approve (but it’s HISTORICAL scandal and seduction! Moooom!), but perhaps you can convince her by first learning something important and educational about turn-of-the-century New York. Such as that the New York City subway first opened in 1904. 1904!!! I know those trains sometimes FEEL 100 years old, but holy smokes! Central Park is even older than that; in order to build it, in the mid-1800’s, they first had to evict hundreds of poor folks who were living there. Also, according to Wikipedia, they had to cart in like half a million cubic feet of topsoil from New Jersey, because the Manhattan soil wasn’t good enough for the shrubberies they were planning. Isn’t that fascinating? Central Park is part New Jersey! And just think, you’d never have known it if it weren’t for trying to convince your mom to let you read this book. Try telling her that all kinds of reading can be educational; for instance, I learned that Venice has glass-blowing from a Nancy Drew book when I was, like, nine. And look, I still remember!

Oh, and The Luxe actually was published this year, so there’s one, at least!

For your friend who is SO SAD that there’s no more Harry Potter to read, or for your other friend who’s always like, “psh, Harry Potter; I only read REAL fantasy”:
Conrad’s Fate, by Diana Wynne Jones

Another one of my favorite authors ever, and her new Chrestomanci book is as fabulous as the others. I know, I’ve gone on and on about her before. But seriously, anything by Diana Wynne Jones would be a perfect gift for bereft Harry Potter fans.

And finally, the one I just finished (in two days), which might be joining the ranks of my favorite books ever…

For the curious reader, the Jeopardy! fan, the trivia nut, or the most interesting person you know:
Prisoner of Trebekistan, by Bob Harris

Wow. OK, yes, I like Jeopardy! quite a lot and OK, maybe there’s a part of me that would like to be on the show one day (all right, fine, so maybe I am more than a medium-sized dork).

But even if you could care less about game shows, this book will grab you by the eyeballs and not let you put it down until you’re done. (Ew, that was an unnecessary metaphor, wasn’t it?) Remember Seabiscuit? And how that book was A-MAZING even though it was about horse racing? I have no interest in horse racing at all, but it was SO well written that I couldn’t put it down and I still think it’s one of my top five favorite books ever. This has the same effect -– each Jeopardy! game he describes is pulse-pounding and suspenseful, his tips on memory and learning make me totally want to go out and learn all the capitals of Africa because his approach actually sounds fun, and best of all, the whole book is funny, touching, thought-provoking, and cleverly constructed. I like how everything comes together in the end. Now I want to win lots of Jeopardy! games just so I can be friends with Bob Harris.

I’m afraid there is no possible way that I’ll be finishing Quicksilver before the end of the year, so if I like it enough, it’ll have to go on next year’s list. It’s super-well-written, and I really feel like I’m getting smarter as I read it, but I am kind of waiting for a female character to show up and make things more exciting. I hear there are pirates later, too! I will totally hang in there for pirates!

Well, I hope that all helps. Although, of course, I should point out that the perfect Christmas gift for anyone is one of my books. 🙂 Or ALL of them! Mwa ha ha!

Of course, after you and everyone you know read all these books I’ve recommended, you’ll be extra way smart, so then you should go here:

Free Rice

and show off your giant brain in a way that also makes the world a better place. Yes! Finally a way to use vocabulary to save the world! (Other than, you, know, diplomacy.) Every time you pick the right definition of a word, they donate 20 grains of rice through the United Nations to end world hunger. Wooo! And the graphic of the rice bowl on the right fills up as you do it, which is also very satisfying. Check it out!

I am an enormous vocabulary geek (in case you couldn’t tell from the way I write) and what I love about Free Rice is that there are actually tons of words there that I don’t know. But when I guess correctly it makes me feel much smarter than I am. Besides, now I know what a spiracle is! (a blowhole!) And also the meaning of alary! (wing-shaped!) Who knew? And they tell you you’re right in this very excited way, too, like this:

demulcent = soothing

Here are some other words I didn’t know:
formicary = anthill
piccalilli = relish (apparently of East Indian origin! I bet it’s one of those mystery green or orange or black sauces that always come in those cute silver four-dish side containers when you go out for Indian food, only I’m always too chicken to actually try them because about the spiciest food I can handle is naan. Delicate taste buds! Seriously!)
grimalkin = elderly female cat
sempiternal = endless (even Microsoft Word doesn’t think that’s a real word)
duff = pudding (Of course this is Scottish. And it involves currants.)
coruscation = sparkle (wow, sparkle is a MUCH cuter word than coruscation. “She has a coruscation in her eye” sounds dire and potentially medically alarming.)

Don’t we all feel smarter now? Let’s see if I can remember any of that tomorrow, of course. I know I’ve gotten piccalilli before and forgotten it. I don’t mind letting all of Crime and Punishment slowly waft out of my head, but the meaning of piccalilli! Must! Keep!

I wish you all happy fluffy snow and happy fluffy snow-pantalooned dogs and a very coruscating Christmas filled with sempiternal demulcent duff! (yikes! OK, maybe a sparkly Christmas full of presents and pie instead.) Yay!

Quote of the Day:
“My body was well-trained for a Jeopardy! day. It was also well trained for washing up on a beach, huffing for air, and being carted back to sea on a pallet by concerned marine biologists. … When you’re trying to learn everything that ever happened anywhere to anyone, it’s hard to know when to stop.”
— Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan clip_image001