Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Books of 2010

Here are the stats on my reading this year-if you're brave enough.

How many books read in 2010?
Didn't keep an exact count, but more than two hundred were read.

How many fiction and non fiction?
Mainly fiction... maybe about fifty non-fiction.

Male/Female author ratio?
Half were male and half were female.

Favourite book of 2010?
Probably Les Miserables, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, or The Knife of Never Letting Go.

Least favourite?
This one won't make me too popular- but Pride and Prejudice. I just could not ignore the whining characters!

Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins. I had that one preordered on Amazon!

Longest and shortest book titles?
Dune was the shortest book title, and On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Darwin was the longest.

Longest and shortest books?
 Les Miserables was the longest, ranking in at about 1280 pages, while The Communist Manifesto by Marx was the shortest at 70 pages.

 How many books from the library?
Almost all were from the library.

Any translated books?
Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, twenty manga in the Tsubasa series.

Most read author of the year, and how many books by that author?
I happened across Michelle Paver's six-book series, the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. They combined two things I love- mythology, and archaeology. It's the Stone Age saga of a boy who can speak to wolves, and the dark sorcerers trying to use his powers for their own.
the first book in the series

Any re-reads?
Too many to name! I am a chronic re-reader, and if I find a book that I like, I will read it, and re-read it. I think the most times I've re-read something was when I discovered the Lord of the Rings. I re-read that trilogy about fifteen times.

Favourite character of the year?
 It's a toss-up between Valjean, Edgar Sawtelle, Todd Hewitt ( of the Chaos Walking trilogy), and Gemma Doyle (of the Great and Terrible Beauty trilogy).

Which countries did you go to through the page in your year of reading?
France, Japan, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdoms, many different planets and worlds.

Which book wouldn’t you have read without someone’s specific recommendation?
Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. It's an epic tale of intrigue, magic, and mystery.

Here's the author's summery: 'Elantris was once the city of the gods, where anyone who was 'chosen' went to live. Ten years ago, the Elantrians lost their powers and caught a terrible disease instead. From that point on, Elantris became a prison city/contamination zone for any who caught that disease—for the Dor continues to choose people and curse them.
Raoden, a prince, catches the disease...and is thrown into the city by his own father. Sarene, Raoden's sight-unseen fiancee from a political treaty, arrives in the city and gets involved in schemes, troubles, and politics involving Elantris. Hrathen, a priest and missionary, is sent to convert the people of Arelon—and is told that if he fails, the people of the country will need to be killed instead. The three stories intertwine as the truth of what happened to Elantris, and its inhabitants, ten years ago is unearthed.'

Which author was new to you in 2010 that you now want to read the entire works of?
Scott Westerfield, Libba Bray, Patrick Ness... I could go on for pages and pages- but I won't.

Which books are you annoyed you didn’t read?
I'm annoyed that the sequel to The Maze Runner hasn't come in at the library- I need to read it!

 Did you read any books you have always been meaning to read?
Les Miserables, Dracula, Frankenstein, A Great and Terrible Beauty (by Libba Bray).

What books are you planning to read in 2011? 
Magic Study by Maria Snyder, Sapphique by Catherine Fisher, and The Scorch Trials by James Dashner.

 I'm looking forward to a new year- one that's full of books!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Northern Lights

shimmers on the horizon
a rainbow without regulations
its colors cold and crystalline
I look up
Beautiful, but it will freeze 
you if you touch it

(I thought of this poem when I was writing a short story set in Alaska the other day. Hope you enjoyed it!)

Amazing singer

I have discovered a new songstress- Loreena McKennit! This is the first song I had ever heard by her, and I was completely blown away. I swear, it's like hearing an angel sing. Here's the "Lady of Shallot," based on the poem by Tennyson. Find the whole poem here.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Edgar Sawtelle lives with his mother Trudy and his father Gar in the backwoods of Wisconsin, where they breed and train a fictitious species of dog, set apart by their personality, intelligence, and rational capabilities. It's a difficult job, but it's in their blood. Their loves are tranquil until Gar's brother Claude comes to visit, bringing with him an undertow of threatening mystery. When Gar dies unexpectedly, Claude is quick to take over his place in the household. Soon, Edgar discovers that Claude played a role in his father's accident, but when he tries to reveal his uncle as the murderer, his plans crash and burn- with about as much repercussion as a runaway train.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a powerful coming of age story. It borrows motifs from Hamlet and mythology, as well as from The Call of the Wild. I read it in a day, poring over it until long after the moon had risen. Then, I tucked it under my pillow, to look at again first thing the next morning. It's one of those rare books when after you've finished it, it becomes a part of you forever.

A new year...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas 2010!

I hope you're all enjoying the merriest of Christmases!

The story behind favorite Christmas traditions (part 4) Christmas Carols

Nothing makes me feel more Christmasy than hearing a snatch of a familiar Christmas carol float out of the radio. They're inescapably everywhere- in stores, played at band concerts, and even in commercials.
But where did Christmas carols first begin?
In the tenth and eleventh centuries, most European religious songs were solemn and weighty. But in the twelfth century, that changed when St. Francis of Assisi penned songs of joyous acclimation for his congregation to sing.
A Latin Christmas carol
The word 'carol' derives from either the French 'carole' or the Latin 'carula', both words meaning 'a circular dance'. And indeed, most carols seem circular in their verse scheme, and most have a lively rhythm, as for a dance. Soon, wassailers (Christmas carolers) were singing St. Francis' songs from door-to-door.
After the Reformation, Christmas carols were even more popular. Reformers such as Martin Luther actually wrote carols, and encouraged their public use.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when Christmas was more widely celebrated, more carols were composed then ever before. Many of the carols we now sing today, such as Silent Night, Away in a Manger, and Hark! the Herald Angels Sing were written at this time.

Many Christmas carols continue to be written today, and everyone has that favorite Christmas tune.
Mine is Joy to the World, written by Isaac Watts in the eighteenth century, and the melody is based on one of the recitatives from the Messiah by Handel.
What are your favorite Christmas carols?

The story behind favorite Christmas traditions (part 3) Baking

At Christmastime, one of the main fixtures are the cookies. The gingerbread house is one of the trademarks of the season, along with gingerbread men.
Christmas cookies are a worldwide phenomenon. In every place where Christmas is celebrated, families mix, stir, and bake.
Alfajores, a shortbread and caramel sandwich cookie from Peru
From alfajores to zimtsterne, every country has its own distinct Christmas cookies.

Zimtsterne, a traditional star-shaped cookie from Sweden
And not only cookies, but also trifles, sweetbreads, pies, and cakes fill our tables.
Why do we bake so plentifully at Christmastime, of all times?
In the ninth or tenth centuries, Christmas Eve was a time of fasting, as a way of celebrating Christ's birth. As a result, everyone felt famished when they woke on Christmas morning. And at the beginning, a thick bland porridge was served for breakfast. But later, some mothers thought of adding dried fruits, honey, and spices to the mixture to make it more of a special meal. The porridge was too stiff to stir, and so it was wrapped in cloth, and dunked in boiling water to soften it up. And so, pudding was invented.
Around the time of the Crusades, wheat flour began to replace the porridge, and eggs were added to make it stick together. The English used the word plum to mean any dried fruit, so the dish became known as plum pudding. Soon, other sweet confections were made to break the fast on Christmas morning.
Since I have Italian roots, most of my favorite Christmas confections are things like strufoli, pizzeles, but most of all, panettone.
Panettone, a traditional Italian sweetbread.
It's a sweetbread from Milan, and is fluffy in texture, with candied orange zest and raisins. Some kinds have chocolate instead.
No matter what, I always have a large slice every Christmas.
What are your favorite Christmas treats?

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Christmas Mystery

Ever since I was little, I've loved The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder. It's a sort of story-in-a-story, and set in Norway on the day before the first of December.
A boy named Joachim discovers a handmade advent calendar in the window of a bookshop, and takes it home. When he opens the first door, a slip of paper falls out, and he begins to read it. It's the first part of a story of a girl named Elisabet, who follows a little lamb out of a department store in order to pet it. Intriguingly enough, there's another girl called Elisabet, who went missing from Joachim's hometown- and she's been gone for over fifty years. Each door holds another part of the tale, and it's not long before the mysterious story begins to interfere with Joachim's own life.
There's a chapter for every day in December, just like an advent calendar. It's a read that's both deep and entertaining. I find it difficult to read only one entry every day!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The story behind favorite Christmas traditions (part 2) Candles

It's a few days before Christmas Eve. A family is driving through a neighborhood that's in a rural area, looking at all the Christmas lights, cups of hot chocolate warming their hands and mouths. After a long stretch of road without houses, they see a house with lights in the windows. As they get closer, they realize that there are no red and green lights or reindeer in the yard, just warm burning lights in every window.

"Why are there candles in the windows?" asks one of the children.
"I suppose because it looks nice," says the mother. And they drive on.
But there's a reason and a history behind candles in the windows (and all over our houses) at Christmas.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, England had conquered Ireland. To keep the Irish from revolting, and to exterminate their traditions, the British instituted strict laws. Irishmen were not allowed to vote, purchase land, or even give their children schooling. Even Irish priests were banished from the land, and forbidden to return, under pain of death.
However, on the night before Christmas, Irish families of the faith lit three candles to representing Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and placed them in their windows.  Meant as a signal to any priest that might be passing by, the candles were a sign of hospitality. They told priests that the family wanted him to come in, share a meal, and celebrate Christ's Mass (Christmas).

These Irish families knew that "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
(John 1:5)
Despite the laws that tried to keep them from worshipping, they still honored the Light of the World.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The story behind favorite Christmas traditions (part 1) Trimming the Tree

The historian in me has been begging for a series of posts related to Christmas traditions, and I have decided to begin one.
Why do we trim Christmas trees with ornaments and lights?
Well, in medieval Europe, plays were performed year-round, depicting biblical events. Christmas Eve was designated as 'Adam and Eve Day,' and the story of how Adam and Eve disobeyed God in eating the forbidden fruit was reenacted by players all over the Christian world. However, directors ran across a problem when staging this drama: there aren't many fruit-bearing trees in December!
Some enterprising stage designer had a stroke of brilliance, and tied apples to the boughs of an evergreen tree to serve as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The decorated trees were so successful that long after the plays had ceased to be performed, German families still hung 'Paradise Trees' with apples.
Soon, marzipan, gingerbread, and sugared nuts were added to the trees.
But what about the lights on the tree?
 It's said that Martin Luther was walking home thorough the forest, when he glimpsed silver stars through the branches overhead, and wanted to share the beauty of this sight with his family.
Inspired, he called his family together after setting burning candles on the boughs of a small evergreen.
A candle-lit tree. Notice the apples on the bottom half.

It wasn't long before other families started doing this as well.
When Queen Victoria was a child, she was introduced to the tradition by her German cousins. She brought the tradition to England, and soon it spread to America as well.
Queen Victoria and her family enjoying their Christmas Tree

We still trim our trees with round ornaments that mimic the shapes of fruit, lights, and gingerbread men. The Christmas tree is a beautiful thing, and one of the most beloved tokens of the season. It's here to stay.