This post could also be known as "From the Lost Chapters of Trumbull is Reading...". Posting this list on the twenty-second of January? Late much? I know, I know. Truth is, between holidays and the slew of new books being released, there just didn't seem to be an appropriate time to post this. In any case, I actually managed quite a bit of reading during the month of December, and finished my year's reading challenge strong!
Yes, Chef, by Marcus Samuelsson. I've had a soft spot for Chef Samuelsson since watching him win the 2010 season of Bravo's Top Chef Masters. In this memoir, he covers his early life of being a young Ethiopian orphan adopted (with his sister) by a family in Sweden and learning to love cooking by the side of his adoptive grandmother, as well as his experiences at kitchens in Europe and America. He talks about his passion for food and cooking, but also the heartbreaking and cut-throat business of opening and running a restaurant. Extremely insightful and delightful to read. 319 pages
Consider the Fork, by Bee Wilson. I read this right after finishing Yes, Chef, continuing in the same kitchen-centered theme. This, however, challenged me to think about the gadgetry in our modern kitchens, from the development of the stove (a far cry from an outdoor fire pit) to the most basic of tools, like the spoon. Wilson's well-researched and wonderfully readable narrative frames not just the food as it changed throughout history, but how new and improved tools allowed for these changes. I'd go so far as to call this a must-read for the average foodie. 327 pages
Ancient Light, by John Banville. I picked this novel up after reading some rather luminous critical praise of it. I don't always put much stock in what critics have to say: "good" is often quite subjective when it comes to reading material. In this case, however, I'm glad I did. Ancient Light is the story of an actor at the end of his career, still struggling with the death of his daughter some years before. When he is asked to play a role opposite a fragile young actress, he seems presented with the option of making up for past mistakes. Speaking of his past, his formative years were anything but ordinary, highlighted by the affair he had at fifteen with his then-best-friend's mother. Intriguing and powerful. 288 pages
Girl in Hyacinth Blue, by Susan Vreeland. This was my book club's choice for our January meeting. Told in a series of interconnected stories, we follow a (fictional) painting by 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, from its modern installation in a private home back through its many changes of location and possession back to the painter himself. While the structure of the tales seems occasionally cumbersome, Vreeland's characters shine. 242 pages
A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan. Jennifer Egan is an author who really rather defies classification. She has written about the political drama in 1960s & 70s family life (The Invisible Circus), how our exterior defines who we see ourselves to be (Look At Me), and how our past often defines our present (The Keep). In this most recent novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, readers meet an aging former punk rock musician and music producer, and Sasha, the troubled young woman he employs, and watch as they confront the pasts that both define and haunt them. Rebellion, power, addiction, friendship and music are key themes in this unique and moving novel. 273 pages
Little Star, by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Swedish author Linqvist, author of Let the Right One In, has been compared on more than one occasion to Stephen King, and with some good reason. Lindqvist's brand of horror is full of subtle creepiness that serve to make the reader uneasy, punctuated with startling episodes of violence that serve as plot catalysts. The result here is a novel that I read compulsively and attentively, afraid to pause and afraid to blink. A retired Swedish pop duo, husband and wife, take in an odd foundling child as a baby and raise her in their basement, honing her special particular talent in the process. I definitely don't want to spoil the rest of it for you. 532 pages
Dangerous Inheritance, by Alison Weir. This is a bit of a heartbreak for me, as I ordinarily love Weir's work, both fiction and nonfiction. And don't get me wrong, Dangerous Inheritance is well researched, thoughtfully told and full of period detail that gives the narrative great nuance. The story is actually two together, that of Lady Jane Grey's younger sister Katherine's imprisonment in the Tower, as well as three other innocent political prisoners nearly a hundred years earlier, Kate Plantagenet and boy Princes Edward and Richard. While each story in its own right is very intriguing, I found the constant switching of time period and characters disjointed and tough to follow. Not my favorite of her work--that would be Innocent Traitor, a novel of Lady Jane Grey. Fingers crossed for her next book. 507 pages
Final 2012 challenge statistics:
80/100 titles: 80%
31,158/50,000 pages = 62%
So, shy of my goals, certainly. I knew starting this challenge that these goals were quite lofty, and honestly, I think that's a good thing. I liked having something to strive toward. I think perhaps this year I'd like to concentrate on some longer books, too, to help find some middle ground between my 80% and 62%.
So, for 2013 my goal is 75 titles and 35,000 pages. That puts both in the totally do-able category for me, I think, if 2012 was any indication.
What about you, my readers? Any goals or resolutions you'd like to share?