10 Best of 2010

While I may not have read as much as I wanted to in 2010, I definitely read more than ten great books. Here are the top ten that I read in 2010, many of which were published prior to this year. In no particular order...

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell- My husband had been pestering me to read this ever since he finished a few years ago and I could kick myself for putting it off for so long. Amazing writing that ties several different narratives together, this book is a what it means to be "well-crafted". We also went to one of his readings this summer- Mitchell is as humble as he is brilliant.

Super Sad True Love Story
by Gary Shteyngart- I love Shteyngart, but he is definitely not for everyone. His narrators aren't always completely likable and the social commentary that he provides may be too accurate for some. Personally, I think he's amusing, a great writer, and, in this text, forces you to think about what the near future will be like.

One Best Hike: Half Dome
by Rick Deutsch- I hiked Half Dome in Yosemite with my brother this year and this guide was an outstanding resource. It provided information for pre-hike necessities and for every point along the way.

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones- I really loved this novel- so much of it was about the act and importance of reading, and what literacy means to different people. For those that love Dickens' Great Expectations you will appreciate the tie in to this classic. It's set on a tropical island that has been completely cut off from the world, until the only white man there start reading to the children. It's a little explicit at times, as far as violence and sex, but the uncheesy sentimentality behind it is well done.

Solar by Ian McEwan- I agree with some critics that say this isn't his best novel, but I actually really enjoyed it. McEwan's writing is still up to par and I really appreciated his take on global warming, the environment, and the overall message that the world needs to invest in clean energy. Just make sure you go into this book accepting that you're not always supposed to like main characters.

Big Machine by Victor Luvalle- I generally stay away from science fiction, but this book was outstanding. Luvalle's narrative voice has a life of its own and his combination of philosophy, psychology, and straight up crazy is fantastic.

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell- If you need a book for a plane trip or to read by the pool in a few months this is perfect. Witty and hilarious, it's a quick read about an ex-mobster turned doctor.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy- If I had to put my top ten in order, this text would be near the top. McCarthy's ability to say so much, so simply is a true art form. This book is dark, depressing, and exhausting (obviously, since it's about a man and his son trying to survive after some sort of unnamed nuclear holocaust).

Campbell Biology by various authors- I'm not suggesting you necessarily read this, but since it's my favorite books of 2010 I had to include it. I read the stupid text cover to cover (over a thousand pages) to prepare for the biology CSET, which I passed. I'm hoping this credential helps save my job next year, plus I actually love cells, ecology, and the human body.

Midnight's Children
by Salman Rushdie- I confess, I'm not quite done with it, but I know it would make the list. Magical realism, coming of age, and politics in India- what's not to love?

Runners Up: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, The Irresistible Henry House, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, By Nightfall, and The Long Run.

Don't Waste Your Time: Tell All, In the Kitchen, Fun with Problems or The Nanny Returns.

What books did you love in 2010?


I have mixed feelings about New Year's Resolutions- I think they can be good if people really stick to them, but waiting to January 1st can be an exercise in procrastination (if you weigh 350 pounds in August you may want to move your ass and eat your veggies mid-year instead of waiting). Society seems to accept not sticking to New Year's resolutions, since the whole thing is a bit gimmicky, which may not be the best thing if you're trying to give up smoking. I haven't made any for a few years, but this year I thought it might be fun to make some literary resolutions- then, if I'm still blogging, I can see how I did when 2011 is over.

Read more 2010 has been incredibly busy, and many of the things that have taken up my time have included reading for something that I wouldn't exactly call pleasure (finishing my Master's and studying to get my science credential). In 2010 I read only 26 books, compared to 39 in 2009. I'm not going to put a number out there, but I'd definitely like to go over 30 in 2011.

Try a graphic novel I'm still actually having a lot of trouble calling them "graphic novels," as I'm more inclined to just say "comic book." My husband, whose judgment I trust, has read several over the past few years and raves about both the stories and art. And I do believe Times Magazine listed The Watchman as one of their top 100 novels, so at some point in 2011 I'll give this genre a try.

Get real I generally stick to contemporary fiction/authors, but I do enjoy a good biography or piece of nonficiton occasionally. While I do learn a lot from fiction, I feel that I'm actually being educated when reading nonfiction. Unfortunately, the writing isn't as always top shelf and can be dry. No promises, but I'm sure I can squeeze in a few.

Writing Like so many of my fellow English degree holders, I'd like to one day write a novel. This year I plan to continue actively contemplating this endeavor (please note I didn't necessarily say I was going to physically do anything about it...)

Finish what you start I have been in the middle of Don DeLillo's Underworld for years now- I call it my "project" book. I read its prologue in a class in college and received it that year for Christmas. It's a beast of a book (832 pages), and, for those not familar with DeLillo, he's a wordy son of a bitch. Every year or so I pick it up and start again and put it down for whatever reason (one of the only books I've ever not finished). But, I generally finish what I start and it truly is a great piece of writing, so I'm missing out if I don't. I just hope I don't have to restart it...

Go to more readings Going to author readings is one of my favorite things to do. Unfortunately, for some crazy reason, no one wants to come to Riverside, so I'm forced to drive to LA. Most readings are on Monday or Tuesday nights, which makes it difficult to schedule in. As an English teacher, I think the district should give me a sub the day after...

Curb the habit I really need to stop buying books. On average, I end up with maybe one or two new ones a month, which doesn't sound like too many, but for our spacing issues it is. I'm probably going using them as a running reward- a new book every 150 miles or so (hmmm, so that means a new book every six weeks... not sure if that's too much better).

We'll see how I do!

Reality Bites

Books and More Books!

Christmas break this year has been a little crazy- I made a quick trip up North for an early Christmas, came back home to get ready for our trip, celebrated the holidays early with my inlaws, and then headed to sunny Hawaii. As far as reading, I've mostly been studying an Oahu travel guide (Fodor's is my favorite), although I've been trying to get in some Rushdie (Potter #4 was too big to lug on the plane).

After a long day of hiking, beaching (I made it up, deal with it), eating, and drinking, we're back to our room a little early and I've decided to brag about the awesome books my family and husband got me for Christmas. Some girls want purses, some ask for clothes, and there are definitely those that hint around for jewelery, but I'm one that asks for books. I hate asking for things, but am generally hounded for ideas starting in November, so I eventually give in. I don't feel quite so guilty asking for books, since they are relatively inexpensive, not too difficult to find, and easily wrapped. So here's what I've got to make room on the shelves for:

Since I love cooking and try to make at least one new thing a week, I was super psyched to get How to Cook Like a Top Chef, 5 Ingredient Fix by Claire Robinson, Spike Medelsohn's The Good Stuff Cookbook.

I've gotten the travel/adventure-within-reason bug the last year or two, so the written log of the documentary 180 Degrees South (men who climb a mountain in Patagonia) and the travel account The Lost Girls (three women who journey around the world) will probably multiply my wanderlust exponentially.

I also received a subscription to the literary/snarky commentary magazine The New Yorker. I feel that it's necessary to have a weekly reminder of how uncultured I am.


Typically my genre of choice, I'm the proud new owner of:

- Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez
- The Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langar
- Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
- Flesh and Blood by Michael Cunningham
- The Lords of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon

Please note, that these are all actual books- none of that ereader nonsense for me! Happy holidays.

The Bastards at Borders

While making a quick stop into Borders tonight I allowed myself to be suckered into upgrading my free Borders rewards card into the souped up "plus" version (please note, I did say that "I allowed" myself... taking responsibility is the first step in addiction). The stupid lady saw me hesitate before saying no and went in for the kill: "Ten dollar coupon... free shipping on all orders... ten percent off everything, always... forty percent off bestseller hardbacks... coupon for free coffee..." All I heard was, "More ways to justify buying books! Do it!" So, I did it. Damn.

A few hours later I have to admit to some buyer's remorse. First of all, I primarily buy my books through Amazon, which has cheaper prices than Borders both in stores and online, so the free shipping and ten percent off isn't very helpful. Secondly, I don't really buy "bestsellers," since they're mostly [insert nice word for crap that won't offend people that read those]. Oh, and I don't generally drink things with calories, unless it's full of booze, so the fancyshmancy coffee isn't exactly relevant. And, now that I look through their coupon book full of supposed savings, I'm even more regretful. It's has coupons for kid's books, Harlequin romance novels (augh), books for Dummies, and a free "Fancy Nancy Fan Club Kit" (who the fuck is Nancy?).

Damn those Borders bastards.

Holiday Gift Giving Guide

I love giving gifts for Christmas! For those like me that habitually give the gift of words, here's some suggestions, with a 10 words or less explanation (I've read them all):

For Moms: The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa
Grunwald (project house baby grows up, works at Disney, love trouble)

The Ungrateful Teenager: Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun (life sucks when you run away from home)

The Classics Lover: The Illustrated Jane Eyre by Jane Austen and Dame Darcy (classic text with neat Gothic illustrations)

The Couch Potato: Spark by John Ratey and Eric Hagerman (move your ass to curb unhealthiness and brain cell loss)

The Fifth Grader (or adult): Where the Wild Things Are by Dave Eggers (awesome adaptation of the children's book)

The "Deport all 'dem illegals" person: Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle ("illegals" aren't all lazy and dumb like some people insinuate) *I'd like to go off a tangent here but will not. Sigh.

The Casual R
eader You'd Like to Slightly Challenge: Loving Frank by Nancy Horan (there's more to Frank Lloyd Wright than architecture)

The Person You Secretly Hate: Tell All by Chuck Palahniuk (oh dear God it's pulling teeth without Novocaine)

The Grey's Anatomy Lover: Another Day in the Frontal Lobe by Katrina Firlik (being a doctor is more than hanging out with McDreamy)

The Republican: Companero: The Life and Death of Che Guevera (let's get some facts about communism and socialism, shall we?)

Fans of Smart, Witty Contemporary Lit: The Beautiful Miscellaneous by Dominic Smith (teenager awakes from coma with insane memory; bildungsroman)

Happy shopping! No sizes needed!

This Book Might/Will/Should Make Me Faster

Disclaimer: For those of you who find it incredibly annoying to listen to runners, you might want to stop here, although I promise this post does connect to a book.

It's been almost a year since I ran my first "race" (I find it odd to say I'm racing when I never have any hope whatsoever of winning), a 5k (3.1 miles) at a local park. Since then I have done two 10 ks and now 3 half marathons (13.1 miles), and have come to what I think is a pivotal point in this hobby I love to hate so much- I either need to get faster and start "training for a purpose," or I need to move on before I go crazy. At first I was running to stay fit and burn more calories. I entered races so I had something to motivate me, and you can't beat a free shirt, the medal, and all those bananas at the finish line! It has worked extremely well this year- since I started using the Nike+ Sensor five months ago I have logged over 400 miles and I average 4-5 runs a week. Unfortunately, I've gotten very accepting of an unsatisfactory pace that has plateaued, as demonstrated by coming in about 4 minutes under my half marathon PR yesterday at Rock and Roll Las Vegas. Not okay.

A day later I'm opting to be proactive rather than pissed, as my next half is in early February (Surf City in Huntington). I pulled Run Less, Run Faster, by Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, and Ray Moss, off the shelf and read through it today while recuperating from muscles that are very unimpressed by Vegas' cold and my inability to pace myself adequately (first 4 miles at 1.5 minutes faster than what they should have been... oops). I bought this book a few months ago on a book buying binge since it had very positive reviews and was affiliated with the sport's monthly bible, Runner's World. Basically, what this book promotes is three structured runs a week, combined with two or three cross training workouts. This is a hard pill for me to swallow; anything less than four runs a week makes me feel like a lazy oompaloompa. But, while reading, the old Christine who used to work in research came out and started salivating at the data the authors dangled- the people that followed this plan improved anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes on their marathon times (granted their scientific plan hasn't you know, gone through an IRB or been replicated by an outside researcher). It all makes a lot of sense on a biological level- I'm just struggling with the idea of changing what I normally do!

I doubt I'll follow their prescribed plan exactly, but I after reading I've taken away some really helpful strategies. I do need a plan- I need to run fartleks, I need to tempo, and I need to stretch (I've got the long runs down already). I also must start pushing myself more, cross training, and at least consider doing more strength training that just my abs. No more running "junk miles" (okay, maybe once a week).

So, we'll see what ends up happening at Surf City (then Big Sur in May, and then possibly Seattle June). I do think it's entirely fitting that when I need help with something I of course rely on a book.
Me after the Disneyland Half in September- I was happy that I finished. That's not working for me anymore!

Potter Update

I love chocolate. Sometimes I like a lot of chocolate. Eventually, though, I step away from the peanut better cups (or ice cream, cookies, or Cocoa Puffs) and find something somewhat nutritious to snack on instead.

This is what's happening the Harry Potter books. I've had a lot of a good thing and I'm ready to take a break. In fact, I've reached a bit of a plateau- I haven't read since Sunday (gasp).

The natural step would be to finish the book I'm on (still the fourth) and take a break. A Potter Hiatus. Unfortunately, for those that don't know me, I generally finish what I start.

Potter it is.