My top reads of 2012

Since the year is coming to a close, it’s time for all those top ten lists. Once again, I’m adding to the noise.  As per last year, this list does not reflect the best books released in 2012 (although there are several 2012 releases and two debut authors in my list).  I’ve limited my choices to the best books I’ve read this year.  I still haven’t picked up Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, so you won’t see it here.  I do realize that the year is not officially over yet, but I can tell my current read is not a contender. Given its length, it’s likely the last book I finish this year.  My choices are eclectic. Rather than giving you a plot review, I’ll tell you why it made my list.

10. Winter Fairy by Lola Karns (2012) – Some of you know exactly why I have to include this debut author’s book as one of my favorite reads. The characters in this holiday romance, Carson, Penelope and young Eloise stayed with me long after first meeting them.   I wish this author much success.

9. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011) – This book is tremendous fun for those of us seeped in 1980s pop culture.  The premise of a treasure hunt in  virtual reality world created by an 80’s obsessed loaner allowed Cline to incorporate song lyrics, early video games, dungeons and dragons and Ladyhawke.  It’s not deep. It’s a beach read that makes you glad you spent so much time singing New Order and Depeche Mode tunes while playing Pac-Man.

8. The Iron Queen and the Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa (both 2011) – The Iron Queen brought to an end the story of the Iron Fey from the point

Don’t judge this book by the cover!

of view of Meghan Chase, a half human, half summer fairy creature who is impervious to the iron (read technology) destroying the fairy worlds and along with it creativity and passionate emotions including love and anger.  Don’t be fooled by the Harlequin Teen publishing label and the covers. The female driven books ask if technology and creativity can co-exist.  The Iron Knight, narrated by the male fairy prince Ash, addresses the very essence of humanity.  One day, I’ll get around to writing a more in-depth review of the latter and explaining why it’s a great companion piece to Will Self’s Great Apes.

7. The Irresistable Henry House by Lisa Grunwald (2010) – Set in post-war America, Grunwald’s story of an orphan raised as a “home-economics house baby” explores the radical shifts in gender roles as both men and women adapted to the rise of feminism and changing ideas of child rearing.

6. The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (2012) – the second debut author on my list and another one I wish much success.  This book has a terrific hook. The idea of waking up in a stranger’s skin is equal parts disgusting, frightening and liberating. The clever use of letters allows the author to deliver relevant back story without it ever feeling like an “info dump” and lets the two Myfanwys be distinct characters.

5. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (orig 1992) – I feel cheated that I did not discover this series sooner because it is a whole bunch of crazy (time travel, sassy modern heroine, virginal Scotsmen) that shouldn’t work but some how does, largely due to the distinctive author voice and excellent writing skills.  I am angry at all my friends who never told me about this book. How do you live with yourselves?

4. Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason, trans. Bernard Scudder (orig 2001) –  You’ve finished Larson’s “Girl” series and Jo Nesbo’s Henry Hole mysteries so now what? Some seriously bleak Icelandic Noir.  The author captures both the desolate, haunting landscape and the interconnectedness that occurs when the national population is under 320,000.   Good news – it’s a series!

3. Your House is on Fire, Your Children are Gone by Stefan Kiesbye (2012) – The more I think about it the more I like this book.  If I did this list in January 2013 instead of now, it might make the top of the list.  I blogged about it here.

2. The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (orig 2011) – The masterful use of language reminded me of Umberto Eco. The author layered realism and magic, horror and hope to create a world worth visiting again and again.  I came away reaffirming my love of books and the transformative power of a good story.

1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (2012) – I’ve written about this book before. I debated where to put it on this list, certainly somewhere in the top five. It’s not the best book I’ve read all year.  I have enjoyed others more, but Susan Cain’s provocative book has never been far from my mind. The more I considered my list, the more I realized this is the book I’ve most passionately recommended, talked about and thought about.

Honorable mentions: Love of her Lives by Sharon Clare, Gone with a Handsomer Man by Michael Lee West, The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs, Salting Roses by Lorelle Marinello and The Book of the Dead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

For more of my reading habits, you can find me on Goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/lyratn

A hole lot of trouble to be a good neighbor

My neighbor’s son got it in his head that he needed to dig a hole over the weekend.  I have no idea why.  I do know that in the process, he found a troublesome wire. He promptly removed a four-foot section of it thus plunging my house into internet, phone and cable silence.

Trust me, I have many good ideas where to put that shovel, but I’ll suppress my anger and frustration in the effort to be a “good neighbor.”

I seem to do that a lot.  I want to ask the kid, a fourteen or fifteen year old boy to stop hanging out with his friends in his side yard, swearing and setting things aflame when my eight-year old and four-year old want to play in our adjacent back yard. (FYI – We have a corner lot.) Instead, I take the kids inside and we talk about why it might not be such a good idea to make a fire that reaches the eaves.  When the boy and his friends break out the B-B gun for target practice, the kids and I go inside, close the blinds and hope the birds and squirrels find safety.  When he takes the riding lawnmower for a daily joy-ride – his habit of the last six years – I cry for the noise and air pollution it creates.  When the kids start coughing and cover their ears we go inside.

I don’t know what to do.  The pre-kid me would have confronted the parents and the son about the repeated infringements onto my property line since their side yard is rather narrow.  The hole straddles the line and utility easement. I would be within my rights to lodge a formal complaint, but over the years, I’ve learned such confrontations rarely end well.

Besides I like our neighbors. The same kid who cut the internet line is also known to hop on the riding mower and help pick up leaves in the fall or mow the back yard when it is over 100 degrees and hubby is toiling in the front yard with the push mower.  The situation is maddening, especially when I couldn’t find solace in Pintrist, Tap Fish  or News of the Weird.  I’m glad Verizon installed a temporary line so our outage lasted only forty-eight hours.

A fence seems so…. aggressive, so final.  Besides, he could still dig a hole on the other side and unleash just as much chaos.  So I ask you, dear readers, what, if anything, would you do if these were your neighbors?

Shhhh – Introvert at work

Shhh – can you keep a secret? Ah forget it.  I want to shout from the rooftops how much I loved Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Book cover for QuietCan’t Stop Talking.  At a time when political discourse, health care and economic policy seems to be decided by who literally shouts the loudest while on TV, the radio, the pulpit or self-help seminar stage, Cain argues we need to rediscover the power of introverts.

Cain introduces her readers to a range of introverts who have found success by embracing who they are and granting themselves the tools necessary for introverts to succeed, including “restorative niches,” pursuit of a passion, and a safe way to express their ideas.  Some are well-known, like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates; others are people who could by your neighbor or the shy girl in the back of the second grade classroom.

Adding weight to the argument for valuing introverts, Cain synthesizes scholarly works from a variety of fields and makes them accessible to the lay reader.  I particularly enjoyed chapter 3 “When Collaboration Kills Creativity” and the discussion of the group think mentality.  As someone who does a lot of reading, I can occasionally identify when manuscripts have been overworked in an effort to appease all the members of a crit-group. The result is an inauthentic and rarely enjoyable book.  I hated doing group projects in school. When I led college level history discussion groups as a Teaching Assistant, I disliked giving those assignments.  When I had my own class, I stopped them. If I had read Quiet while still in the classroom, it would have given me the courage to stop the useless practice earlier.

In “Part Two: Your Biology, Your Self?” Cain pulled together complex debates in psychology, physiology and philosophy to address the nature versus nurture debate. As a parent and an introvert who must participate in the world outside my keyboard, I appreciated this section. In some ways, she was “preachin’ to the choir” when I read this section.  I wonder what the extroverts I know thought of this section. The fourth section offered practical tips for introverts negotiating an extrovert dominant culture.

As much as I loved this book, “Part Three: do all Cultures have an Extrovert Ideal?” tempered my enthusiasm.  I found this section which contrasted an introverted ideal Asian cultures with Western and particularly American thinking to be weak compared to the rest of the book.  Cain relied more on evidence from literature and one can be highly selective when picking and chosing proverbs.  For each saying from the west like “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” it’s easy to find a common phrase that reflects what Cain posits is an Asian ideal. However, since you catch more flies with honey, I’ll get back to the positive.

Quiet is an important book and well deserving of its place on the New York Times best seller list. For those I know who have read it, it’s sparked a number of discussion points. It’s changed the way I look at the world and that is no small feat.  The people I know who are most enthusiastic about reading this are all introverts.  I wish more extroverts could be convinced to pick up the book. Perhaps with enough general discussion, they will be forced to do so.  This is one conversation not to be left out of.