One of the best things about the holiday season is the excuse to browse bookstores and buy books: for friends and family, for local charities eager to spread the joy of reading, and hey, just for you!
Books as gifts have always been special for me; my first memory of visiting Santa in the department store was to ask for a book--I wanted Johanna Spyri's Heidi, and sure enough, I got it! Of course that didn't work so great the year I wanted Lona by Dare Wright. (Still want Lona, sigh.)
The number of books I read in 2013 was not as extensive as in past years, but quality certainly made up for quantity. Here are the books categorized by their respective genres that stood out for me:
Historical: Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones. I bought my copy in a bookstore while strolling down the seemingly endless Las Ramblas shopping district during my trip to Barcelona this summer. I had gone in to buy some children's books in Spanish and Catalan and saw a display of books in English--surprise! I had to have this one immediately, but I saved it to read for when I got home. I'm so glad I did; set in medieval Barcelona, the book made me relive my trip through an entirely new perspective. A real page turner.
Mainstream/Romance/Series: The Stone Trilogy by Mariam Kobras. I know this series is often referred to as "romance" but to me it's more mainstream, possibly "women's fiction" if I had to really narrow it. Regardless of description, however, these three books following the story of rock star Jon Stone and his soul mate Naomi Carlsson will stay with you forever. The writing is so strong and descriptive, the characters so real and well-rounded, it's hard to keep in mind that this is fiction! Seriously, I have to constantly remind myself that these people are characters in a book--not people I have actually met. I seem to think about them all the time as if they had ongoing stories happening right now--that's how vibrant they are. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to have Mariam visit my blog as a guest author. To read her post, please just click author Mariam Kobras.
Literary: 2666 by Roberto Bolano. Difficult, haunting, disturbing . . . and I couldn't stop reading even when I didn't want to. Partly based on the horrific multiple murders of women in Juarez, Mexico, the book is divided into five distinct but interwoven stories that read as a metaphor for everything corrupt and evil in the world we live in. My feeling after finishing: I survived a walk through Hell. And I learned a lot about both life and writing, that's for sure.
Mystery: The Dinosaur Feather by S.J. Gazan. Another dark book, but very, very readable. I often stayed up past midnight just to keep reading--bad decision, but I couldn't help it. I live to read. Anyway, Dinosaur Feather was the winner of the Danish Crime Novel of the Decade (!) and I think it will especially appeal to fans of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (Although I think it's much better . . . sorry, Dragon fans.)
Scary: A Cold Season by Alison Littlewood. England. Snowstorm of the century. A single mother and her young son come to live in a creepy village where nothing is quite what it seems. I read this in one sitting and was terrified the whole way through. Need I say more?
Nonfiction: The Book of Kimono by Norio Yamanaka. I read this book after attending an exhibition of Japanese Art Deco. I've always been fascinated by Japanese art, culture, and literature, and I decided to make that my writing theme in April with my project "30 Days of Kimono." I got so enthused over the whole subject I even made a Pinterest board to go with my writing! The main thing I learned from the book however: I am very grateful to not wear a kimono, LOL! The time involved to simply get dressed must take ALL day. Whew. And then you have to be on your very best behavior for whatever hours you have left. Nope, not for me. But it was a good book.
Art Instruction: The Tao of Sketching by Qu Lei Lei. After working on my kimono project and then taking a Splash Ink Watercolor class, when I saw this book on super-sale I just had to have it. It's turned out to be one of my favorite how-to books, full of quiet wisdom and excellent painting tips.
Writing Instruction: Now Write! Screenwriting edited by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson. I have to qualify here that I have a chapter in the Now Write! Mysteries volume of this series, so I may be a teensy bit biased, but I think all the Now Write! books are some of the best around. This one on writing screenplays is incredibly helpful with advice you won't easily find elsewhere. (Note: I made another Pinterest board for the screenplay draft I wrote with the aid of the book. I do love Pinterest.)
What I'm reading now: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. I bought The Luminaries the minute I heard it had won the 2013 Man Booker Prize several weeks ago. Set in nineteenth-century New Zealand during the Gold Rush, the book is written in an unusual and archaic style reminiscent of Dickens or Thackeray that somehow actually works. I love New Zealand authors, starting with Katherine Mansfield, and it's exciting to find a new writer to add to my list.
What's next on my TBR pile: Bite Down Little Whisper by Canadian poet Don Domanski just arrived in my post box yesterday. I'm saving it up for Christmas Day when I plan to drink tea and eat cake and wrap myself in a blanket of astonishing words and images. Can't wait!
Tip of the Day: While you're doing your book shopping, don't forget about The Great Scarab Scam, Better Than Perfect, Overtaken, and The Essential Guide for New Writers, all available at my website and always with free domestic shipping. Drop me a note, say you saw this message on my blog, and I'll include an extra free copy of the Essential Guide with every order right up until January 1, 2014! Catch you later--I'm off to find some more great new reads for the new year . . .