Friday, December 31, 2010

My Favorite Books of 2010

My reading has suffered this year. According to my LibraryThing tags (which probably isn't the most accurate measurement), I've read 47 books this year. While this isn't bad, it is still lower than my tally in past years. However, I can honestly say that the books I did read in 2010 were, for the most part, very good. Here are, in no particular order, my favorites from the past year:

Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim: My favorite theatre composer/lyricist published a compilation of his lyrics up to 1981's Merrily We Roll Along. This is a must-have for any theatre lover, and I am eagerly awaiting Sondheim's follow-up book, Look, I Made a Hat, which is supposed to be published in the fall of 2011.

The Glamour of Grammar by Roy Peter Clark: A well-written, thoughtful, and fun look at grammar and language. When I received this book as part of LibraryThing's early readers program, my boss gently teased me because: 1) I was reading a book about grammar, 2) this book was selected for me because my book collection on the site suggested that I would enjoy a book about grammar, and 3) I really, really liked this book.

Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife by Francine Prose: When I was getting my master's and doing my student teaching, I found myself having to teach The Diary of Anne Frank (the play) to a bunch of surly eighth graders. This experience, and a prior experience serving as the technical director for the play, made me develop an aversion to Anne Frank. However, Prose's thoughtful and well-argued analysis of the diary encouraged me to revisit the diary and look at as both a piece of literature and a historical document.

Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin: Yes, I know that this book is very gossipy, but it is also fascinating and well-written. Furthermore, even though I find it hard to completely buy into Heilemann and Halperin's narrative since they don't cite their sources, some of the revelations that have come out in the time since the 2008 election (such as George W. Bush's reaction to John McCain's puzzling behavior in the wake of the financial crisis) help verify their claims.

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell: Although Sarah Vowell has been on the literary scene for a while, I hadn't read any of her works until this year, and I am a little sad that it took me this long to read them. Assassination Vacation and The Wordy Shipmates are both very good, but I have a soft spot for The Party Cloudy Patriot, since it helped keep me (relatively) sane and happy during my interminable wait at the air port in November. 

How Do You Measure a Year?

When the fauxhemians in Rent asked that question in the 1990s, they offered a list of ways that we could measure a year. These ways included measuring it in daylights, sunsets, midnights, cups of coffee, and (of course) love. In addition to these rather whimsical methods, the past few years have given us another way: measuring a year in terms of doing something slightly off-beat. 

An entire subgenre of books have emerged from this idea. Last year, The Writing Spider blog spotlighted this trend, citing A.J. Jacobs's The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically and Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love as examples. The writer jokingly suggests a number of ideas that she can do in order to become famous by following in the questionable footsteps of people like Julie Powell.

I've read a number of these types of books, and I must admit that I'm torn about the entire idea. On one hand, I appreciate that these people have dedicated a year of their lives to doing something on a regular basis. On the other hand, these types of books have become so ubiquitous that I can't help but be cynical about the authors' motivations. Rather than trying to find themselves or learning more about the world around them, it can be easy to attribute their dedication to their desire for fame or money (or both).

What is your take on these types of books? Have you read any that you have found enjoyable?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmastime is Here: A Few Songs to Help You Get in the Mood

As usual, I've been neglecting this blog; life, specifically in the form of my jobs and my research, has been in the way. While I am hoping to post a bit more next week, here are a few of my favorite songs to help you get in the mood (especially if you're like me and are spending the day frantically trying to get ready for the holidays):

"An Angel Returned" by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra

TSO isn't for all tastes, and (at least in my opinion) none of their subsequent albums have been nearly as good as their first outing, Christmas Eve and Other Stories. However, this song always makes me happy and reminds me to embrace the goodwill, the cheer, and (yes) the inherent cheesiness of this time of year.

"Christmas Bells are Ringing" by Nat King Cole

Although most people default to Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song," I prefer the cheerfulness and liveliness of this song.

"Merry Christmas Darling" by The Carpenters

This isn't a happy song, but if you are looking for a somewhat melancholy (but not too melancholy) Christmas song, this is the perfect bet.