I was planning to write my traditional year-end posts on books and my annual book challenge, as well as other posts on film, travel, and television; however, after being promoted to lead editor on what has turned out to be a holy mess of a project needing lots of TLC, December slipped quickly away and was not the time for reflection and review that I had hoped for back when I started the holiday season with my First Lines book challenge. I did manage round-ups of my San Francisco Opera and So You Think You Can Dance viewing, but, for the rest, I humbly present The Year in Stuff.
The Year in Travel
It has been an odd travel year. In my first full year as a freelancer, a move I made in part to be able to travel more, I barely left home. (Note: This is probably unsurprising to anyone who has actually gone into business for themselves.) Not only did I feel I needed to be around to pick up work when I could, but I also went back to a stricter budget. So, I limited my few getaways to using miles to visit friends in Seattle and Los Angeles. Of course, I did manage to squeeze in one National Park on my Seattle trip: Mount Rainier.
However, everything changed when one of my elderly aunts died in the summer and I realized I had been promising for almost a year to visit my extended family in France and still hadn’t pulled the trigger and bought tickets. This dovetailed nicely with a trip La Javanaise was planning to the UK and Ireland and she convinced me to take the plunge and join her for a few days in Scotland, which has long been a dream destination for me. So, in addition to once again attending the opera and ballet in Paris, I was able to make a first-time visit to my cousin’s place in Armagnac, as well as see Edinburgh, Glencoe, Oban, and Loch Lomond in the Trossachs National Park. I will write up these trips on my travel blog in January. (New Year’s Resolution #1)
Best Dining View of 2013: The Lodge on Loch Lomond in Luss, UK
Now that my freelancing business is picking up, I hope to be able to enjoy more trips like this in 2014 and beyond.
The Year in Random Musings (Mostly on Twitter)
Favorite book salon drink: the Spicy Pacific Martini (wasabi vodka, serrano chilis, and passion fruit juice) at Pacific Catch in the Inner Sunset
Gift I used the most: cocktail dice from @PixKristin
Favorite epitaph tweet: “If I believed in cemeteries, I think I would want my tombstone to read: Gone too soon. But at least she finally finished WOLF HALL.” (Don’t worry this was my only epitaph tweet during the year.)
Favorite random tweet: “Sometimes I feel sorry for the alouette and then other times I think it got what was coming to it.”
Favorite haiku tweet: “Too late, I noticed, it was a sparkly bath bomb; Damn you to hell, Lush.”
Favorite new French word: organigramme (company org chart), from HHhH
Celebrity death that hit me the hardest: Roger Ebert
Biggest revelation (book): a scarily high percentage of my knowledge of Ancient Rome comes from I, Claudius
Biggest revelation (Internet): some people actually pronounce gif with a hard “g” (one of many examples how gin has never steered me wrong)
The “Thank God For Twitter”/ “This Time Suck Is Killing Me” Special Achievement Award (tie): The hunt for the Boston bomber and the Texas abortion debates
The Year in Music, Film, and Television
Favorite Song: “Song for Zula” by Phosphorescent
Favorite Song (runner-up): “Closer” by Tegan and Sara
Favorite Night at the Symphony: Itzhak Perlman (San Francisco Symphony)
Favorite Night at the Ballet: La Dame aux Camélias at the Palais Garnier (Opéra de Paris)
Favorite Night at the Opera: Princess Ida at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (The Lamplighters)
Favorite Musical Experience: Live-tweeting the final dress rehearsal of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (San Francisco Opera)
Best Film to Watch Over and Over: The Heat
Best Film on the Big Screen: Gravity
Best Double Feature: Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles
Special Achievement in “Pleasant Surprise”: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Favorite foreign film (drama): La Vie d’Adèle (Blue Is the Warmest Color)
Favorite foreign film (comedy): Il comandante e la cicogna (Garibaldi’s Lovers)
Best Lead Performance by a Duo (Female): La Vie d’Adèle
Best Lead Performance by a Duo (Male): Dallas Buyers Club
Best Soundtrack: The Great Gatsby
Best Opening Credits Song: “Skyfall” from Skyfall
Best Opening Credits Song (runner-up): “Fight the Power” from The Heat
Worst Use of San Francisco: Blue Jasmine
Best Awards Show Hosts: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler at the Golden Globes
Favorite British Invasion: The Bletchley Circle
Favorite Invader from the Great White North: Orphan Black
Favorite Hulu Discovery: Engrenages (Spiral). A French police drama somewhere between The Wire and Law and Order.
Special Achievement in “Unpleasant Surprise”: Seeing a college friend (now a congressman) in a Daily Show segment. That is never good.
Most Coveted TV Library: Downton Abbey
The Year in Books
Trying to be extra ambitious this year, and having easily made my goal of sixty books in previous years, I increased my Goodreads reading goal to seventy-two books. Naturally, this then meant I didn’t even read sixty. What’s worse is that I was absolutely abysmal at writing up reviews and am still woefully behind there. (New Year’s Resolution #2)
However, I did do fairly well with my TBR challenge, finishing sixteen of the thirty books I set aside. You can see the final list in the order I read them on my book challenge page. I’ve included The Barbary Coast, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid on there because I have already begun all three and will finish them in January. (New Year’s Resolution #3)
Favorite TBR Challenge Book: The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Least Favorite TBR Challenge Book (tie): A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer and Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The TBR Challenge Book I Wish I Had Managed to Read Instead: The Octopus: A Story of California by Frank Norris
Of the eleven books I didn’t read, I’ve already given away three. I will temporarily keep the others until April Fools Day and the end of the Triple Dog Dare, when they will all go on to a home with someone who can love them better than me. (New Year’s Resolution #4)
Of the books I did manage to read, I want to highlight those I’ve read since The (Half) Year in Books.
Best Discovery: Amélie Nothomb. While I only read one book by her, Stupeur et tremblements (Fear and Trembling), I look forward to reading many more. She has a delightful sense of humor and I loved her self-deprecating style.
Biggest Surprise: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling). I had no interest in The Casual Vacancy but, when the pseudonym news on this one broke, I was intrigued. While it reads a bit slow for a typical crime book, the character development was strong and I look forward to more in the series. Since much of the tale revolves around the paparazzi, it was interesting to be reading this in the middle of the “royal baby watch” madness.
Biggest Surprise (runner-up): Les Heures souterraines (Underground Time) by Delphine de Vigan. This book, about two forty-somethings almost meeting as they go about their daily lives in Paris, was a runner-up for the Prix Goncourt. So I wasn’t surprised it was good, but I was surprised by how easy it was to read, while still being remarkably poetic.
Best Classic (tie): Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson and The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I decided to read Stevenson because I went to Scotland and Kidnapped was the perfect choice as much of it takes place in the Highlands. The Hound of the Baskervilles was technically a re-read but I had forgotten just how good a tale it is. Definitely the best of the stand-alone Holmes/Watson novels.
Biggest Accomplishment: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I think this was my third attempt at this book. Not because I didn’t like it, but it reads slow and always seemed to come due at the library before I was finished. Plus, it is quite long…
Longest Book: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. At 532 pages, Wolf Hall was the clear “winner” here, with The Shadow of the Wind and May We Be Forgiven the closest competitors at 487 and 480 pages respectively. While I felt like I read far more short books this year, I actually read a dozen books that were over 400 pages and over 17,000 pages total during the year.
Shortest Book: Jane Austen by Sylvia Townsend Warner. At 36 pages, this was more of an essay on the author, but it was in book form.
Biggest Disappointment: The Stranger by Camilla Läckberg. This fourth installment of the Fjällbacka series felt like a formula to me and I was able to guess multiple plot strands far in advance, something I’m normally very bad at. It was still was an entertaining read, but Läckberg’s repetition of the underlying premise (abused child seeks revenge) makes me very dubious about what is in store for the next volume, The Hidden Child.
Best Lesson Learned: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis. For a long time, one of the guiding mantras of my reading was “no Oprah books” and I’m sorry to report that Oprah 2.0 seems to suffer from the same tendency to pick horrible books (you know the ones, “inspiring” books where one character, usually a woman, suffers horribly, usually by losing a child, only to somehow find some kind of miserable redemption in the end). I read the first section of this one and just knew it would be one of those books. I returned it to the library mostly unread.
Most Disturbing: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. The true story that Moby-Dick was based on. Three words: Whales. Shipwreck. Cannibalism.
Favorite Series: The Thomas Cromwell trilogy by Hilary Mantel. While I’m in the minority in that I preferred Wolf Hall to Bring Up the Bodies, both were fabulous reads and I can’t wait until the final volume comes out in 2015.
Most Recurring Theme: Britishness. In a year that I finally made it to Scotland, it is perhaps fitting that the British Isles so dominated my reading, with over half of the books I read being from English or Scottish authors. These included classics from Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Robert Louis Stevenson as well as books from relatively new favorite authors S.J. Bolton, Jane Harris, and Ian McEwan. I also took on the first two books in Hilary Mantel’s acclaimed Cromwell trilogy, as well as a popular first novel by Robert Galbraith, aka J.K. Rowling. Non-fiction included Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman and Moranthology and the close-to-my-heart memoir Stet: An Editor’s Life by Diane Athill.
Best in Family Drama: May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes. I can’t really say why I liked this novel so much, but, given that it prevented Hilary Mantel from completing the British literary prize hat trick of Booker-Costa-Orange, I shouldn’t be surprised. The story looks at the themes of family, guilt, and redemption in the New York suburbs. It is darkly funny and I recommend it as an entertaining, literary read. It’s long, but moves quickly—one of my favorite books of the year. Between this and last year’s winner (The Song of Achilles), I highly recommend the Women’s Prize for Fiction as a source for good book recommendations.
Total books read: 55
Books on my shelves as of January 1, 2013: 23 (42%)
Books acquired in 2013: 1 (2%)
Books borrowed from friends: 2 (4%)
Books borrowed from the library: 27 (49%)
Audiobooks: 2 (4%)
Classics (Prior to 1945): 13 (24%)
Recent Books (2009-2013): 21 (38%)
Fiction vs. Nonfiction: 42 (76%) vs. 13 (24%) This is very close to last year’s split.
Female authors vs. Male authors: 25 (56%) vs. 20 (44%) This is exactly the same as last year’s split.
New World (Americas) vs. Old World (Europe): 17 (31%) vs. 38 (69%) Last year this skewed to the US and Canada but this year the Brits and the French seemed to take over. Clearly I need more diversity in my reading. There certainly needs to be at least some Africa and Asia in the mix.
Books in translation: 3 (5%) This is fewer than last year, but I also read 4 books in French as well.
What was your favorite book, movie, or performance of the year? Let me know in the comment box below what cultural event or product gave you the most joy in 2013.