Sunday Post #39: The Last Sunday of the Year

Sunday Post

It has been a little while since I’ve written a Sunday Post entry. December proved to be a busy month, and I have to confess that time off on Sundays wasn’t really spent writing and reflecting so much as trying to catch my breath before Monday.

I have been off work for a week’s vacation and have one more week before returning. Aside from some grading, which I will need to make some time to do in the coming week, I was able to catch up before vacation. I’ve been doing quite a lot of baking, as I typically do over the holidays: gingerbread, cookies, scones on Christmas.

My husband is visiting his parents in Tennessee, and I know they’ll be glad to visit with him. It’s pretty quiet around here without him. Not that he makes a ton of noise or anything, but you know what I mean.

Meanwhile, I have been finishing books quickly. I finished the following books since my last Sunday Post entry:

I am in the middle of a re-read of Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, this time as an audio book, and man, am I ever reminded of why I love that book so much. And yet again, it has reminded me of why the French Revolution is so endlessly fascinating. I am currently watching a History Channel documentary of the French Revolution on YouTube. I am reminded once again that I still haven’t read Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama, though I have a hardcover copy, nor have I finished Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser or Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. The Marie Antoinette biography has been in my sidebar for a long time. I would love to find another really good historical fiction book set in the French Revolution. I have already read Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran. I am not sure about Hilary Mantel’s novel A Place of Greater Safety. Have you read it? What did you think? I absolutely loved Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, but I wasn’t sure about this one. The reviews are not as glowing, and it’s a long book to commit to. I ought to just take the plunge. I’ve been thinking about reading it long enough.

I’ve had a quiet last Sunday of the year with my kids. All in all an enjoyable day reading and relaxing.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

Review: Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

Emily St. John Mandel’s fourth novel Station Eleven is probably not a book I’d have picked up if it hadn’t been recommended to me, and what I would have missed!

Station Eleven is a layered novel about the world twenty years after the apocalypse. A virulent new strain of the flu almost completely obliterates the population of the earth. Kirsten was about eight years old when the flu struck. She had been acting in a production of King Lear on the night when the flu landed in Toronto, where the novel begins. The lead actor is suddenly stricken with a heart attack and dies onstage. Twenty years later, Kirsten is traveling with a symphony/Shakespearean acting troupe that has a circuit in the Great Lakes area, bringing art and entertainment to the small communities created in the wake of the Georgian flu because “survival is insufficient.” The novel connects the stories of Kirsten, the lead actor Arthur, the man who tries to save Arthur’s life, and Arthur’s friends and family.

Wow. This book was amazing. I didn’t want to put it down, and I almost stayed up really late last night to finish it, but I made myself stop reading so I wouldn’t be dragging today at work. It would be easy for some readers to say they’re tired of dystopian fiction or to say they don’t like science fiction and dismiss this book, but the book is not like the typical dystopian or sci-fi novel I’ve read. In fact, I understand that Mandel doesn’t really classify the novel in those genres herself. The balancing act Mandel must do by weaving the various threads together and by linking the themes is fascinating to watch in terms of the writing craft. She pulls it off. Most dystopian novels deal with the immediate aftermath of an apocalypse or dwell only in the darkest parts of the world left behind. Mandel sees a bit more hope for humanity than that. Even in the darkest times and places, people have created art so that they can feel human. I was reminded of the ghetto and concentration camp at Terezin when I read this book. Even the way in which Mandel weaves the various threads together doesn’t feel too contrived or coincidental (especially given how few people are left after the Georgian flu). It just works, and it works beautifully.

At the end of the world, what survive? And how? Would we even have any time for such frivolities as art and music? I’ll let Lear himself answer that question:

O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life is cheap as beast’s. (2.4.304-307)

One of the best books I’ve read this year.

Rating: ★★★★★

Sunday Post #38: December

Sunday PostDecember is here! I guess because of the warm feelings in the lead-up to Christmas, I’ve always liked December. New Year’s Eve has always seemed inexplicably sad to me, and I wonder if it’s because it feels like the end of such a, for lack of a better word, merry season. I remember when I was in Girl Scouts we would go caroling, and I have very fond memories of Christmas as a child.

One of my favorite Christmas traditions (and I don’t care if people think this is cheesy or hate this movie) is watching Love Actually with my sister. She has lived overseas and currently lives in Texas, but we synchronize our DVD players and chat online through the movie. We haven’t settled on a date for this year.

I’m also a big fan of making Christmas cookies. Today I’m making a batch of the white chocolate and cranberry cookies that were such a hit last year. Also, as a bonus, this is the best recipe for chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever tasted.

This week I finished up Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, easily one of the best books of the year. I started reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. So far, I’m really enjoying it. My most recent tally for books completed this year is 55. I set the goal of reading 52. I should probably set a higher goal for next year. I thought 52 would be ambitious because the most books I’d read in a year previously was 50.

I’ve added the following books to my TBR pile in the last week or so:

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Some of the recommendations came from other teachers at the National Council of Teachers of English conference I attended recently. Others came from poking around and seeing what folks have enjoyed.

I was able to “win” NaNoWriMo this year. I think it’s only the second time I have been able to do it. Because one of my most valuable professional conferences takes place in November, it can be a rough month for me to complete NaNoWriMo if I fall behind while I’m at the conference. Next year, I will probably have next to no time during the conference to write because it will be in Atlanta, and I will have family and friends to visit when I’m not at the conference itself. Still, I really love participating in NaNoWriMo because of the constant encouragement and feeling of community.

I’m looking for some fun challenges for 2016. Do any of you have suggestions? I always like to do a historical fiction challenge and map the locations of my books. Every year I also like to do R. I. P. Any of you doing a fun challenge (or hosting one)? I haven’t really started looking around yet for reading challenges, but let me know if you hear of a really good one.

I have a winter playlist that’s maybe a bit dated, but I still like it.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.