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Your Year in Books

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This is a little game they’ve been playing every New Year over at LibriVox. The fun is to try filling in the blanks on the questionnaire using only the titles of books you’ve read in the past year.

Here is the original set of questions provided in January 2014, with my answers based on the books I read in 2013:

Describe yourself: Working (Studs Terkel)
How do you feel: So Brave, Young, and Handsome (Leif Enger)
Describe where you currently live: On the Map (Simon Garfield)
If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Into the Beautiful North (Luis Alberto Urrea)
Your favourite form of transportation: The Underground Railroad (William Still)
Your best friend is: The Good Thief (Hannah Tinti)
You and your friends are: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows)
What’s the weather like: Winter’s Bone (Daniel Woodrell)
You fear: The Desperate Hours (Joseph Hayes)
What is the best advice you have to give: Warriors Don’t Cry (Melba Pattillo Beals)
Thought for the day: How Can We Keep From Singing (Joan Oliver Goldsmith)
How you would like to die: Long Walk to Freedom (Nelson Mandela)
Your soul’s present condition: Help, Thanks, Wow (Anne Lamott)

They repeated the game with the same set of questions in January 2015. Here were my answers that time around, based on the books I had read in 2014:

Describe yourself: An Excellent Mystery (Ellis Peters)
How do you feel: Quiet (Susan Cain)
Describe where you currently live: An Altar in the World (Barbara Taylor Brown)
If you could go anywhere, where would you go: The Little World of Don Camillo (Giovanni Guareschi)
Your favourite form of transportation: The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float (Farley Mowat)
Your best friend is: A Diary Without Dates (Enid Bagnold)
You and your friends are: In the Company of Cheerful Ladies (Alexander McCall Smith)
What’s the weather like: Snow in the Cities (Blake McKelvey)
You fear: The Inspector-General (Nikolai Gogol)
What is the best advice you have to give: Walk in a Relaxed Manner (Joyce Rupp)
Thought for the day: God Has a Dream (Desmond Tutu)
How you would like to die: One Came Home (Amy Timberlake)
Your soul’s present condition: Small Victories (Anne Lamott)

For January 2016, they’ve freshened up the game a bit by providing a different questionnaire for us to play with. Here’s how I filled it in, using titles of books I read in 2015:

All in all, I would describe last year as being: Windswept (Marq de Villiers)
I could have cried when: When Books Went to War (Molly Guptill Manning)
I would love to have some respite from: The Wreckers (Bella Bathurst)
The most unexpected thing that happened last year: Anything Can Happen (George and Helen Papashvily)
A recurring dream I had last year featured: The Inner Voice of Love (Henri Nouwen)
My non-bookish friends would say I’m: The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine (Alexander McCall Smith)
If you looked under my couch you would see: The San Francisco Earthquake as Reported in the Newspapers of that City
If I could no longer LibriVox, I would probably be: Nothing Daunted (Dorothy Wickenden)
Something most people don’t know about me is: My Discovery of England (Stephen Leacock)
My motto for 2016 will be: Imagine the Angels of Bread (Martin Espada)
I am most looking forward to: The Great Good Thing (Roderick Townley)
I’m tipping that the next big thing in Reality TV shows will be: Humans of New York (Brandon Stanton)

If you’d like to play, feel free to choose whichever set of questions appeals to you, and describe your year in books!

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Books Read in 2015

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As you may have noticed, the sticky-post at the top of this blog has changed. The 2015 LibriVox Book List Thread has been updated for the last time. To avoid having to click over to the LibriVox site to see that list again, I’m posting it here for future reference:

(Meanwhile, the new sticky-post above contains the updated link to the current year’s Book List in progress.)

Totals —
57 print books read in 2015 —
and 52 audio books listened to.

What I Read:

Print Books Read From Library:
1. When Books Went to War (Molly Guptill Manning)
2. Sam Patch, the Famous Jumper (Paul E. Johnson)
3. On Looking (Alexandra Horowitz)
4. Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel)
5. Snow in the Cities (Blake McKelvey)
6. Disasters at Sea (Liz Mechem)
7. The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Cafe (Alexander McCall Smith)
8. Encountering Ellis Island (Ronald Bayor)
9. Curse of the Narrows (Laura MacDonald)
10. The Age of Miracles (Karen Thompson Walker)
11. Windswept (Marq de Villiers)
12. The Church of Mercy (Pope Francis)
13. London Under (Peter Ackroyd)
14. A Fatal Grace (Louise Penny)
15. The Zookeeper’s Wife (Diane Ackerman)
16. Disaster: Hurricane Katrina (Christopher Cooper)
17. Imagine the Angels of Bread (Martin Espada)
18. The Warmth of Other Suns (Isabel Wilkerson)
19. All The Men in the Sea (Michael Krieger)
20. Overcoming Katrina (by D’Ann Penner and Keith Ferdinand)
21. Mavericks of the Sky (Barry Rosenberg & Catherine Macaulay)
22. Humans of New York (Brandon Stanton)
23. Flesh and Blood So Cheap (Albert Marrin)
24. The Oregon Trail (Rinker Buck)
25. Silent Leader (Rodney Brown)
26. Nothing Daunted (Dorothy Wickenden)
27. The Wreckers (Bella Bathurst)
28. Sister Wendy on Prayer (Wendy Beckett)
29. 100 Essential American Poems (ed. by Leslie Pockell)
30. The Frozen Water Trade (Gavin Weightman)
31. The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine (Alexander McCall Smith)
32. The Great Good Thing (Roderick Townley)

My Own Print Books Read:
1. Heart Mountain (Mike Mackey)
2. The Princess Bride (William Goldman)
3. Miss Pym Disposes (Josephine Tey)
4. Code Talker (Chester Nez)
6. An Altar in the World (Barbara Brown Taylor)
7. The Franchise Affair (Josephine Tey)
8. The Fellowship of the Ring (J. R. R. Tolkien)
9. The Island of Dr. Moreau (H. G. Wells)
10. The Pushcart War (Jean Merrill)
11. Brat Farrar (Josephine Tey)
12. The Little World of Don Camillo (Giovanni Guareschi)
13. Don Camillo and His Flock (Giovanni Guareschi)
14. Anything Can Happen (George and Helen Papashvily)
15. A Walk in the Woods (Bill Bryson)
16. The Two Towers (J. R. R. Tolkien)
17. God and You (William Barry)
18. The Inner Voice of Love (Henri Nouwen)
19. Kidnapped (Robert Louis Stevenson)
20. That Man is You (Louis Evely)
21. From My Seat on the Aisle (Jack Garner)
22. The Nine Tailors (Dorothy Sayers)
23. View With a Grain of Sand (Wislawa Szymborska)
24. A Child’s Christmas in Wales (Dylan Thomas)
25. The Daughter of Time (Josephine Tey)

Read for LibriVox:
Solos – (I recorded the entire book):

1. They Who Knock at Our Gates (Mary Antin)
2. San Francisco Earthquake as Reported in the Newspapers

Read for LibriVox:
Duets – (I recorded half of the book, GregG recorded the other half. Listened to entire book when finished):
1. The Secret Service (Albert Richardson)
2. History of the Earthquake & Fire in San Francisco (F. Aitkin & E. Hilton)
3. Christmastide (William Sandys)
4. Unknown London (Walter George Bell)
5. The Life of Abraham Lincoln (Ward Hill Lamon) 

Read for LibriVox:
Group Projects – (I recorded some chapters, among multiple other readers. Listened to entire book when finished):
1. BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Report (National Committee Report) 
2. Fathers of Confederation (A. H. U. Colquhoun)
3. Extermination of the American Bison (William Hornaday)
4. All Afloat (William Wood)
5. The Day of Sir Wilfred Laurier (Oscar Skelton)
6. Magna Carta Commemoration Essays (ed. by Henry Malden)
7. The Railway Builders (Oscar Skelton)
8. Final Report of the Committee to Investigate Hurricane Katrina (U.S. House of Representatives)
9. More English Fairy Tales (ed. by Joseph Jacobs)
10. LibriVox 10th Anniversary Collection (Read ten items out of 100. Listened to just about 50 others when cataloged.)
11. Some Eminent Women of Our Times (Millicent Garrett Fawcett)
12. Good Cheer Stories Every Child Should Know (ed. by Asa Don Dickenson)
13. Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule (M. K. Gandhi)
14. Cinderella (George Calderon) (Dramatic work. Read role of Aunt Judy, listened to whole play when done)
15. Helen of Troy and Other Poems (Sara Teasdale)

Listened to from LibriVox:
As Proof-Listener (or editor):

1. Tish: Chronicle of her Escapades and Excursions (Mary Roberts Rinehart)
2. Dot and the Kangaroo (Ethel Pedley)
3. Pillars of Society (Henrik Ibsen)
4. Brewing (Alfred Chaston Chapman)
5. Pearls (William J. Dakin)
6. Confessions (Saint Augustine of Hippo)
7. The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (George Gissing)
8. Dramatic Reading Scene & Story Collection (as editor of four stories)

Listened to from LibriVox:
Just Plain Listened:
1. A Negro Explorer at the North Pole (Matthew Henson)
2. Three Times and Out (Nellie McClung)
3. The American Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (Various Authors)
4. Nurse and Spy in the Union Army (Sarah Emma Edmonds)
5. The Girl at Central (Geraldine Bonner)
6. The Winning of Popular Government (Archibald MacMechan)
7. The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (Version 3) (Charles Dickens)
8. More Tish (Mary Roberts Rinehart)
9. Selected Classics of Washington Irving (Washington Irving)
10. The Day of Sir John MacDonald (Joseph Pope)
11. The Poetry of St. Teresa of Avila (St. Teresa of Avila)
12. The Autobiography of Mother Jones (Mary Harris Jones)
13. Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (James Weldon Johnson)
14. Washington Irving in London (Washington Irving)
15. My Discovery of England (Stephen Leacock)
16. Selected Essays of Samuel Johnson (Samuel Johnson)
17. The Mounties in the News (New York Times)
18. The Call of the Wild (Jack London)
19. The Amateur Emigrant (Robert Louis Stevenson)
20. Men, Women, and Guns (Sapper)
21. Kings, Queens, and Pawns (Mary Roberts Rinehart)
22. Christmas Books (Charles Dickens)
23. Christmas Short Works Collection

Humans of New York

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Humans of NYHumans of New York
by Brandon Stanton

A picture book — a completely engrossing and thought-inspiring picture book. That’s what I found on the “new books” shelf of my local library branch. I picked it up on a whim, thinking I would thumb through it in one evening and return it quickly. Instead, I kept it for the full 3-week loan, studying these photographs one by one, slowly savoring the individual faces and their brief snippets of words.

According to the book’s Introduction, this photo collection began in 2010 as a project to create a pictorial census of New York City. But as the photographer continued taking pictures of people, he found himself listening to their words, seeing their uniqueness, wanting to convery the wonderful variety of humanity in a fresh way. He began posting a portrait every day on a web site “Humans of New York” — (HONY for short). It’s been going on for several years now, and attracted more and more viewers, but I had never heard of it until I picked up this book in the library. For some of us, a traditional book is still our doorway into a new place.

There’s not much text, but what’s there is almost like found poetry:

A young girl is grooving to music on a front stoop — I really wanted to take her photo, so I walked up to the nearest adult and asked, “Does she belong to you?” Suddenly the music stopped, and I heard, “I belong to myself.” 

An old man with gray hair and a white beard leans on his cane and stares straight into the camera — “One day you’re gonna realize who I am and you’re gonna say, ‘Oh, shit’.” — “So who are you?” — “I’m the guy in your photograph.”

Two toddlers pose at the foot of a playground slide — “If we put them at the end of the slide, will they sit still?” — “For about five seconds.”

 A man working at a construction site — “You better not make it seem like we were sitting around. Don’t take the picture until the bulldozer starts moving.”

A young woman clutches a book to her heart — (a copy of “A People’s History of the Third World”) — “I want to change the world, but I don’t know how.”

An elderly woman in a fur hat stands beneath her umbrella — “When my husband was dying, I said, ‘Moe, how am I supposed to live without you?’ He told me, ‘Take the love you have for me and spread it around’.”

A young couple poses with their newborn baby — “We’re gonna be fine.”

Then there are the wordless photos, the ones that seem to shake off the need for words.

A young man stands in a downpour, dramatically pointing his cane up at the clouds.

A man kneels alone in an attitude of prayer surrounded by green grass and trees of a city park.

A little girl in a cherry-red coat and colorfully beaded hair giggles in delight as her picture is snapped.

A young woman holds still while a pair of pigeons eat out of her mittened hands.

A young man exuberantly swings upside down from a pole in a subway car.

There are faces that speak deeply all by themselves, without any action or pose at all.

A young woman on this page, an old man on that page, a group of teenagers here, all simply looking into the camera, their eyes and mouths communicating things that I can’t figure out how to describe.

This book has kept me engrossed for three weeks, just looking at people, then looking at them again.

In my job at the front gate of the zoo, I see Humans of Rochester pass before me every day. Watching the people makes even a slow day interesting. Today I saw an awkward teen couple negotiate the ettiquette challenge of who was going to pay admission. I saw an elderly man push his wife into the zoo in a wheelchair, with their toddler granddaughter riding in her grandma’s lap. I saw a little boy kissing his baby sister in her stroller. I saw the woman who daily walks her dog past our gate pause to let excited children pet the dog. I saw the parents and children, young couples, old couples, teenagers in groups, lone adults with cameras.

If my eyes were a camera, and my mind took a picture every time my eyes blinked, this is what my work day might look like. It might look like this book.

Don’t Mind the Gap

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Yeah.  It really has been three whole months since I paid any attention to this blog.

Over on the LibriVox forum, that sort of thing happens often enough that they have an acronym to cover it — RL. Anyone who explains a gap in activity by saying, “Sorry, I got caught up in RL“, is instantly understood. Real Life — it happens to all of us.

We all have an internal sense of what to drop when we are juggling too many things to carry. If I’ve got a purse, some books, and a bag of groceries containing eggs, and something’s going to slip and fall kerplop, I’ll drop the purse or books in order to hang onto the eggs. They’re most likely to be hurt, and the other things can be picked up after I safely set down the eggs.

When RL becomes a juggling act, this blog is what goes kerplop and lies underfoot until more immediately needy tasks have been safely landed.

It’s happened before, and it’ll probably happen again. Eventually, dropped items do get picked up. No harm done, really — maybe just a bit dusty from lying around so long.

Here I am, looking back to last May and considering where I left off and how I might begin again.There’s a gap that seems to require some explanation, some spackling-over. Then again, spackle is useless when the hole to be filled is too wide. Maybe this gap will just have to remain unfilled.

I haven’t actually stopped reading during this gap. I’ve just stopped documenting the reading. In my personal hierarchy of priorities, doing certain things is important — documenting what I do isn’t.

That’s such an important statement that I want to say it again — say it clearly so that it sinks into my thoughts. What I do — day by day, year by year — matters muchly. Documenting what I’ve done doesn’t matter at all in the long run.

People have lost every scrap of their life’s documents — photos, letters, diaries — in floods, fires, and wars. It hasn’t mattered. What has mattered is their lives as lived, their effect on the world and people they touch. What matters is what goes on in RL, Real Life.

The books I have read have shaped my thoughts and feelings, my character and my actions, at an internal core so deep that only God understands what goes on there. The events and people that command my attention and involvement have shaped me, too, even as I’ve played a part in shaping them. This is the unstoppable ruckus of RL and its constant development.

I pause to write now and then, as I’ve done since I was a child, because the activity of writing is for me actually an activity of thinking. Writing slows down the thought process, helps me to think with more awareness of what I’m thinking, helps me to examine what’s happening at that unseen deep core, perhaps to understand it better.

But much as I need these occasional fits of writing, I don’t need them the way I need other more immediate things. If there’s an occasional gap in the writing, that’s okay, the activity of RL is still going on and still doing its work of shaping who I am becoming. And eventually, there will always be slower moments when I can return to writing. Maybe one of those slower moments is coming along now.

As to the three-month gap, it’s not going to be filled. Let’s just hop over it and keep on going.

2015 Reading List on LibriVox Forum

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Over at LibriVox, the folks have a thread going in which we are invited to keep a running list of the books we are reading. This year I’m participating, because it’s a great way to keep track of titles that would probably get lost in my increasingly porous memory. Over here on my blog, I’m only writing about a random selection of books, not everything I’ve read. For the complete reading list, here’s the link to that LibriVox thread:

LibriVox 2015 Book Lists Thread  (This should take you directly to my list. By scrolling up and down the thread, you can also read other folks’ lists.)

(Book list last updated January 1st 2016).

On Looking

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On LookingOn Looking
by Alexandra Horowitz

Walking around the familiar blocks that surround the house I’ve lived in almost all my life, my level of attention fluctuates.  On a day when I’m walking to get somewhere in a hurry, I see only what is unexpected or surprising, passing by the just-as-usual without a thought. On a night when I’m prayer-walking before bed, I’m mentally distant from the distractions of houses and cars — and as I sink into prayer, I even forget the breeze on my face. But there are other days, when I’m venturing out for a walk after a week trapped in the house by weather or health impediments, days when I’m so refreshed to be out there again, when I wake up to all sorts of attentiveness beyond what is usual.

Walking in places not so familiar as my own block, my attention is usually more wide-ranging and open. New things to see mean deeper seeing is going on. But how to bring that sort of heightened attentiveness to my own familiar block — ah, that’s a good question. And that’s the question this author sets out to explore in this book. She undertakes to simply “go for a walk” around a familiar place, a dozen walks with a dozen different “guides” who will help her look at the block with fresh eyes and a new mind.

Walking with a toddler and seeing with a toddler’s eyes brings her attention to circles and triangles, a standpipe and an abandoned shoe. Walking with a geologist, she learns to see that even the sidewalk under her feet has a personality and a history. Another guide helps her appreciate the cacophony of printed lettering in her urban environment — from no-parking signs to faded advertising painted on brick walls — as something other than mental “noise”.  Walking with artist Maira Kalman, she begins to look with Kalman’s excitement at odd details, to stop trying to sweep them into a larger generalized picture — and she follows her guide through doors into buildings it had never occurred to her to enter — and was drawn into eye contact and conversations with strangers enough to be discomfiting.  One wildlife naturalist introduces her to her millions of neighbors who live under rocks and in trees — bugs and slugs, wasps and ants — while another naturalist introduces her to the urban wildlife menagerie —  squirrels, raccoons, pigeons, and rats.

An expert in the field of public spaces teaches her to notice how crowds of people move, how they “flock” and gather, how differently they walk on a crowded block or an empty plaza. A doctor who is accustomed to making diagnoses based on posture and gait takes a walk with our author and together they attend to all the various ways people stand and walk and move. A walk with a blind friend introduces her to all the senses other than sight — the kinesthetic sense of where one’s body is in relation to the objects all around, or the auditory sense which creates sonic “maps” which can tell us when we’ve entered a new and different space. Walking with a sound engineer, her ears learn to make sense of the urban soundscape which is usually only something to be tuned out if possible. Walking her dog, she pauses while the dog explores with his nose all the surfaces she cannot smell, while she uses her other senses and her curiosity to discover what the dog is trying to show her.

By the time the book ends, the author is able to bring all the richness of what her many guides taught her to her own individual walks, seeing a fresh city around her. Having tagged along, in a way, by reading the book, I wonder if my own walks will have become any richer, too.

Trying Again — But Don’t Expect Too Much

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It’s been months since this book blog just wilted and faded away. Somehow, the work of composing in-depth reflections examining what I’d been reading became work that I simply had no time or patience to continue.

I was still reading, though in a slightly less organized way. Simply going from one book to another, reading aloud the good parts and jotting down a few sentences and talking to people about whatever enthused me.  But then I’d just move right along to another book, without stopping to spend a couple of hours polishing up sentences describing my thoughts on the last one.  I had other things I’d rather do with that time, other things I needed to do, other things that were more important at that time. After all, the book was already percolating through my mind and soul, doing its thing inside me. Any writing that I had needed to do was done and had fulfilled its purpose. I write for myself, to work through a thought, not specifically for other people to comprehend.

My lifelong habits of scribbling cryptic half-legible notes on the backs of envelopes, the backs of old church bulletins, or the margins of pages had always been my own disorganized way of fixing slippery thoughts in my mind long enough to examine them. But once that’s done, what then? So many scribbled scraps litter my house, falling out of the back covers of books, turning up in old coat pockets and purses, bundled in rolled-up sheaves in the back of drawers. I’ve always had a recurring feeling that I’m supposed to get things better organized.  I’ve tried expanding notes into essays, polishing the trains of thought so someone other than myself might make sense of them. Essays organized in notebooks, notebooks trailing off half-filled as scraps of ideas waiting to be properly organized turn yellow, paper-clipped to the last page I actually finished writing.  Then this blog, scraps of paper transcribed into a post, half-written sentences waiting to be expanded and connected into a proper essay in complete sentences and paragraphs.  But all my life, it always sputters to a standstill.

It’s not the reading that stops, and not the thinking that stops, and not even the writing that stops.  But the organization stops.  The work of producing something presentable seems like more than I want to do, especially when it’s not necessary to my purposes.  “Presentable” — frankly — isn’t what I’m after.

So the blog died.  It’s been sitting here since last August.  The last entry is obviously truncated in mid-sentence, left hanging.  I suppose I ought to go back and add some concluding sentences to that post, just to round things off.  I suppose I will — when I get around to it.

Meanwhile, here I am again.  Why am I back?  Well, mainly because I need to keep track of the titles and authors of things I’ve read in a convenient place.  More than once lately, I’ve been groping to find a book, remembering some skewed version of the title or mixed-up version of the author’s name, only to be frustrated by too many library branches that it might be, too many shelves, and too much luckless hunting for the scrap of paper where I wrote it down months ago.  A simple book list — that’s all I need here.

So I’m back, with lower ambitions.  No essays that an English teacher might give a passing grade to.  No attempt to arrange my words in a way that makes sense to anyone else.  No re-writing and re-reading and re-editing.  Just a post to note what I’ve read, title and author. Whatever sparse notes come easily and quickly.  And that’ll be it.

As Daddy would say — “Close enough for folk music”.

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