Thursday, December 31, 2009

100 Books in 2009

One of my New Year's resolutions for 2009 was to read at least 100 books. To prove that I made it (I'm currently halfway through my 101st book!), I'm listing them below...

Month Title Author

1. January The Tale of Despereaux Kate DiCamillo
2. January A Great and Terrible Beauty Libba Bray
3. January Inkheart Cornelia Funke
4. January A Separate Peace John Knowles
5. January An Abundance of Katherines John Green
6. January The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam Anne Marie Fleming
7. January Team of Rivals Doris Kearns Goodwin
8. January Princess on the Brink Meg Cabot
9. January And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks J. Kerouac, W.S. Burroughs
10. February Sandman: Brief Lives Neil Gaiman
11. February Princess Mia Meg Cabot
12. February Princess Forever Meg Cabot
13. February The Thief Lord Cornelia Funke
14. February Pretty Monsters Kelly Link
15. February Looking for Alaska John Green
16. February Sandman: Worlds’ End Neil Gaiman
17. February The Diary of Anne Frank Anne Frank
18. March Jurassic Park Michael Crichton
19. March Eldest Christopher Paolini
20. March Goose Chase Patrice Kindl
21. March The House of the Scorpion Nancy Farmer
22. March The Subtle Knife Phillip Pullman
23. March Witch Baby Francesca Lia Block
24. April Haunted Chuck Palahniuk
25. April The Ramsay Scallop Frances Temple
26. April 13 Little Blue Envelopes Maureen Johnson
27. April Blueberry Girl Neil Gaiman
28. April This Place Has No Atmosphere Paula Danzinger
29. April Sorcery and Cecelia Pat Wrede & Caroline Stevermier
30. April The Last Lecture Randy Pausch
31. April Over Sea, Under Stone Susan Cooper
32. April The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins
33. April The Forest of Hands and Teeth Carrie Ryan
34. May Suite Scarlett Maureen Johnson
35. May How to Ditch Your Fairy Justine Larbalestier
36. May The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax Dorothy Gilman
37. May The Brimstone Journals Ron Koertge
38. May The Book of Three Lloyd Alexander
39. May The Plot That Thickened P.G. Wodehouse
40. May The Almost Moon Alice Sebold
41. May House of Many Ways Diana Wynn Jones
42. May Travels of Thelonious: Fog Mound Susan Schade & Jon Buller
43. May The Loud Silence of Francine Green Karen Cushman
44. June Enter Three Witches Caroline B. Cooney
45. June The Diana Chronicles Tina Brown
46. June Devil Bones Kathy Reichs
47. June Tithe Holly Black
48. June The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks E. Lockhart
49. June So Yesterday Scott Westerfeld
50. June Hit and Run Lawrence Block
51. June Sleeping Arrangements Madeleine Wickham
52. June Enchanted April Elizabeth Von Arnim
53. June The Far Side of Evil Sylvia Louise Engdahl
54. July Dealing with Dragons Patricia Wrede
55. July Rebel Angels Libba Bray
56. July The Last Olympian Rick Riordan
57. August The Higher Power of Lucky Susan Patron
58. August Ten Things I Hate About Me Randa Abdel-Fattah
59. August Saturday Ian McEwan
60. August The Coyote Road Editors Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
61. August The Boyfriend List E. Lockhart
62. August City of Bones Cassandra Clare
63. August Little (Grrl) Lost Charles De Lint
64. August The Sweet, Far Thing Libba Bray
65. August The Girl With No Shadow Joanne Harris
66. August Walking on Glass Alma Fullterton
67. August Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen Dyan Sheldon
68. August Slam Nick Hornby
69. September City of Ashes Cassandra Clare
70. September Don’t Look Down Jennifer Crusie & Bob Mayer
71. September Catching Fire Suzanne Collins
72. September The Legend of Hugo Cabret Brian Selznick
73. September City of Glass Cassandra Clare
74. September Spindle’s End Robin McKinley
75. October Princess Academy Shannon Hale
76. October Gregor the Overlander Suzanne Collins
77. October Going Bovine Libba Bray
78. October Live From New York Tom Shales & James Andrew Miller
79. October Anansi Boys Neil Gaiman
80. October Each Little Bird That Sings Deborah Wiles
81. October The Shakespeare Stealer Gary Blackwood
82. October Shakespeare’s Secret Elise Broach
83. October Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane Suzanne Collins
84. November Bat 6 Virginia Euwer Wolff
85. November Virtual War Gloria Skurzynski
86. November Geektastic Editors Holly Black & Cecil Castellucci
87. December Girl At Sea Maureen Johnson
88. December Snow, Glass, Apples Neil Gaiman
89. December Special Topics in Calamity Physics Marisha Pessl
90. December The Wish Gail Carson Levine
91. December Odd and the Frost Giants Neil Gaiman
92. December The Pirates in an Adventure With Scientists Gideon Defoe
93. December The Pirates in an Adventure With Ahab Gideon Defoe
94. December The Waters and the Wild Francesca Lia Block
95. December Fire and Wings Editor Marianne Carus
96. December My Fair Godmother Janette Rallison
97. December Midnight Girl Will Shetterly
98. December Everlost Neal Shusterman
99. December Let It Snow John Green, Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle
100. December Rise and Shine Anna Quindlen

My rules were fairly simple: I counted books I read myself and audiobooks. I did not count textbooks or articles that I read for school. No abridged titles allowed! I did not add a book to the list until I finished it, which means some books I started in June ended up on the list in September. The eagle-eyed viewer might notice that #27, Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman, is a picture book. It is the only picture book on the list, and I added it (a) because I was excited about the book, and (b) because it symbolizes the 42 picture books (no exaggeration there!) that I read over the course of my Children's Literature class this fall.

So there you have it... my reading in 2009. My resolution for next year will have more to do with quality than quantity. This year's list is heavily populated by titles in the Young Adult, Children's Books, Science Fiction, and Fantasy genres. While I love all these books and will continue reading them, this year I'm going to challenge myself to read more in the Classics, Non-Fiction, and Literary Fiction genres.

Here's to 2010! Happy reading!

Monday, December 21, 2009


I sprained my ankle Saturday morning, the bad kind of sprain that might as well be a break even though "no bones were harmed in the making of this injury." It's okay. I'm icing it, taking medicine. Things are going well. But when I went to the doctor's office this morning to get X-rays taken, I was reminded of something. A man raced to hold the door open for me. Another person in the parking lot stayed to make sure I got into my car okay and even held one of my crutches as I fumbled in my purse for the car key. These small kindnesses and encouraging actions really made my day.

At the beginning of the movie "Love Actually," Hugh Grant's character has a monologue about love which plays over images from the arrivals gate at an airport. You see people hugging, grabbing each others' bags, kissing, laughing, glad to see each other, uniting, glad to be here... The point is that "love is actually all around," and that sometimes we just get blinders on and forget to look for it. We hear a lot about how the world is a dangerous place these days, and about all the bad things people do to each other, but the reminder is there: look for the good that's out there too. Because you'll find it.

I forget this sometimes, which may be why I've been blessed with weak ankles - consider them a reminder, my very own "Love Actually" monologue if you will.

My first bad sprains were about seven years ago. In high school soccer I sprained my left ankle, which healed up in time for me to return halfway through the season, but then sprained my right ankle on the first game back. It was frustrating and saddening, but people were so nice about it. Suddenly everyone would hold doors open for me. Classmates helped me carry my bags. Cars that would normally honk at me to get out of the way waited for me to crutch my way across the street.

My next major ordeal with sprained ankles happened in 2006. I was studying abroad in Europe, and accidentally stepped in a hole made by a missing paving stone when dashing across a busy street in Florence. CRACK. My foot turned, and I stumbled the rest of the way across the street, using my purse as a makeshift crutch and biting my lip to hold back cursing and tears. That was only a couple days into our week-long spring break trip to Italy, so I hobbled around Florence, Rome, Naples, and Capri with a foot the size of a softball and the color of a decaying blueberry. But time heals, right? And soon we were back in London and my foot, though a little weak, was pretty much healed.

A couple months passed, and suddenly it was two days before we were due to fly home to the States. My friends and I were planning to go out for the evening, so I dashed upstairs to grab some shoes so we could leave. My foot, that same caught-in-a-pothole-in-Florence ankle, came down wrong on the top landing, and instead of a cracking noise, this time it sounded more like a shattering crunch. Instantly a huge, hard lump of something that felt distinctly like bone jutted out from my foot at a very unsettling angle.

I was rushed to the emergency room, and let me just say as an aside here - experiencing socialized medicine firsthand when you are in desperate pain in a somewhat-foreign place is a comfort and a joy. It was wonderful having someone care more about my pain and physical condition than my insurance provider and method of payment. My flatmates were waiting out in the waiting area (including the girl who paid the taxi fare to get me to the hospital knowing at that point I couldn't afford to buy groceries, let alone pay her back for it), and I got to talking to a fellow patient - a seventy-year-old woman who'd taken a spill on the sidewalk on her way to a dinner party and had hit her head. All of these people helped comfort me and keep me calm.

People at the airport made jokes to cheer me up as I sped past the lines at security in a wheelchair. A week later I was exiting a subway car in New York (the first and only time I've been to the city was on crutches from that ankle injury), and one of the subway car monitors (I don't know what you call them... Not the drivers, the ones that sit in the cars near the middle), poked his head out and said to me, "You can do it! Don't get discouraged."

My parents have been to New York only once, in the 70s, and had always told me horror stories about how the people there are so rude. But as I crutched around the city, I discovered quite the opposite to be true. I encountered a security guard who chased me down to tell me an easier way to get into the Museum of Natural History, a woman in Little Italy who helped me duck into a doorway when an unexpected downpour could have easily soaked me to the bone, a street musician who improvised a song to cheer me up, and a kind of sketchy-looking guy in Chinatown who tried to illegally sell us designer purses and who grunted sympathetically when he saw my foot and said, “I been cut once, on my leg. It’s shit.”

So I guess that's my point: People really do care. People do nice things. People don't like seeing other people in pain or need. People go out of their way to help others. People do these things every day all over the world, consciously choosing to make the heroic gesture or to offer the encouraging word.

I bet you're one of these people, so thank you.

Seriously, thank you.

Happy Holidays, everyone. And thanks for everything you do that contributes to the peace, love, and kindness that make the season bright.

Monday, December 7, 2009


I have a problem with the word “damsel.” It really isn’t fair of me to take it out on the word itself, but the connotation it has derived is horrendous. I can’t hear the word without finishing the phrase with those two additional words: “in distress.”

The word “damsel” implies helplessness. It implies a passive object, not an active person. I much prefer “maiden” or “princess” or even “my lady.” A lady or a princess or a maiden can at least fight back. But to be a tie-me-to-the-railroad-tracks-or-feed-me-to-the-dragons damsel? That would be a most boring and terrible fate.

No thank you!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

My Irrepressible Shadow

I wrote a song tonight in honor of a fictional character. Well, that's not exactly true. Or at least, that's not the full of it. People do that all the time. Search YouTube for just a second and you know what I mean.

I wrote a song for a girl named Anastasia. You won't know Anastasia, at least not this particular girl named Anastasia, because she hasn't escaped from my head yet. She's been trying. She first slipped onto a piece of paper (technically, a computer document) almost precisely 12 years ago. She's been haunting me ever since.

The words are simple, and they're repeated often.

She is there,
at the back of everything I think or do or say
She is there,
my irrepressible shadow

Why do you do this to me,
my lovely golden girl?
Anastasia, my love, my only
Why do you do this to me,
my lovely golden girl?
You were a part of me,
the deepest part of me.

But now you're gone...
You've gone away
And I'm a shell of the thing
that you were
that I was
standing here today

Reprised Verse
She was there
Do you know what it was that she was to me?
She was my
sense of adventure.
She was there
Do you know what it was that she was to me?
She was my love of life,
my sense of mystery and wonder

Reprised Chorus
Why do you do this to me,
my lovely golden girl?
Anastasia, my love, my only.
Why have you gone away, so it seems, never to return?
You were a part of me
The deepest part of me

Now you're gone...

Yeah... so that was the song. Didn't mean to lapse into it there, but it just sort of happened. The sad thing is, that doesn't do it justice. The melody is what makes it.

I was a little perturbed at first. I mean, look at the lyrics. There's this girl named Anastasia in my head, in my thoughts, she's basically been stalking me for 12 years. She's fictional, too, so there's the whole why-are-you-treating-this-figment-of-your-imagination-like-a-real-person thing.

Here's the answer: because she is a real person.

She is pretty much the person that I was when I was eleven years old: full of wonder, full of hope, full of the idea that the world actually had some mysterious potential. That line about "she was my sense of adventure." It's true! That first draft of Wishbook, the story and the world she belongs to... anybody reading it now wouldn't see what I see in it. I think it'd be like anybody looking at Niggle's painting of the tree (from Tolkien's short story "Leaf by Niggle"). When Niggle looks at the painting, it's this imperfect thing that will never truly capture the beautiful, perfect thing that's in his head. And I feel like anything I try to write to let Anastasia become a real person in a story of her own is going to be a bunch of painted leaves on a canvas, nothing more.

It's still sketchy, I guess, writing a song to a fictional character. Especially when I call her "my love, my only." But that's not a lie either. I loved those days when I saw adventure in the unlikeliest of places. I love the person I once was. And that person is my "only," the only thing I want to get back to.

So I wrote it like a love-lost song, but maybe it's a love-found song. Because the fact that she's resurrecting herself after so much time... she's been in hibernation these last few years, barely poking her head up, and when she did, it was never to impose herself and insist on being heard... she usually just let me squash her back into the boring, predictable shape my life takes now.

Anastasia, come back. I mean it. Insist on your story being heard, and maybe I'll finally get the guts to tell it.