Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Best Books 2013 (According to Moi)

You know the drill: I read a few books that were published in the year 2013. I make the list. You decide whether I'm crazy or not. About the books, I mean. Not in general. These were the ones I was crazy about:

1. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer 

The Interestings
Meg Wolitzer has always been one of my favourite American authors (The Wife, The Position, Surrender Dorothy) and her newest has appeared on a few "Best of"lists and for few good reasons: the subject matter is, well, interesting, and the writing is fantastic.The novel spans several decades but mostly follows a group of adolescents - children, really - who meet at summer camp in the 1970's and then follows them into their middle age. Their conversations, fights and troubles strike you as real and the title is deliciously ironic because, really, no one is quite as interesting as they think they are at age 15, non? It is yet another example that, despite what is happening to you in the zeitgeist (AIDS, cult marriages, 9/11) that the more the world changes, the more people remain maddeningly the same.

2. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened
Laugh-out-loud funny. Seriously. I know how badly the phrase LOL gets used but this finally appropriately applies. Allie Brosh, for those of you unaware, is a brilliant cartoonist and blogger who describes herself as a an artist who "lives in her bedroom"in Bend, Oregon. She wrote her first comic at 28 (I Need to be Famous by Thursday)before graduating from college. Now she writes stand-up quality material in book form and posts it to her over 5 million fans. And she gets to do it with her pyjamas on.  Culled from her blog and alongside other material it is both funny and moving: like testing her dog for mental retardation. Or eating so much cake as a five year old that she pukes rainbows. Seriously, funny. And strangely life-affirming when you consider that two years ago, Brosh her brush with depression led to the blog's 18-month hiatus and a serious contemplation of suicide (she had formed a suicide plan and was talked out of it by her husband and mother). This book is the result of her struggle and I can't imagine what the year would have been without it. Or her.

3. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains Echoed
Sometimes a book that you find in the dentist office can fool you. This sucker was just sitting there and when I went to return it after my cleaning, I secretly hoped that the receptionist would let me take it home. It was hers and she was delighted to give to me. Success! What resulted was 3 days where I didn't make meals for my family, so engrossed was I. The material is devastating ( an impoverished labourer hands over his 3-year old daughter to a wealthy couple in Kabul, for starters) and the consequences of the decisions each character makes radiate through a series of over-lapping, perspective shifting narratives that leave bring together unlikely characters in different surroundings. It's big in scope and in emotion but it never feels manipulative. Amazing storytelling.

4. The Tenth of September by George Saunders

Tenth of December
In a year that saw Alice Munro win the Nobel, it would seem short shrift to not put a book of stories on the list. This one is fantastic beyond measure and written by a guy who is universally agreed to be one of the best living writers of the millenium. His commencement speech at Syracuse University went viral this year and the message in that great piece (maybe minus the obvious advice he gives about swimming in a river full of feces) was that if you could do one important thing in life, it was to err on the side of kindness. It's that sentiment that infuses all of the pieces in this phenomenal collection. Particularly poignant is the story of a man who abandons a suicide attempt to rescue a a boy who has fallen through the ice. Saunders uses his big brain and sharp, sharp humour to good use here in innovative ways. It's almost a guide to being human.

Here are some also rans:

The book that made me happy I didn't have Rich Parisian Bourgeois Problems: The Dinner by Herman Koch

The book that made me wish I could jump a plane to London to eat everything I saw between it's pages: Ottolenghi, the Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi

The book that made me realize that some actors should stick to just reciting lines: Actor's Anonymous by James Franco

The book that gathered the most dust on my must read list and yet I still can't bring myself to open it and read it, God Damn It!: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

The book that managed to make even a father-and-son hunt for his sister's attacker seem hilarious: Let's  Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

The book that humanized the obesity epidemic for me: Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

The book that confirmed to me that living with a badly-behaved husband would be a total buzz kill: The Silent Wife by ASA Harrison

The book that confirmed that growing asparagus is a leap of faith: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Aging: Not for the Weak

So here it is. I'll try and keep it short. 

I keep forgetting my own age. I mean, I'm forty-four years old. It just seems really strange to me, and kind of awkward when I tell someone I'm a year younger than what I really am and then walk away, only to realize that I’m off by a year. I know a lot of people don't put much mind into their age, but to literally forget? I've had to actually recalculate from my birth date to see how old I was (whether I was off by a year or so). I don't have any severe mental illnesses (that I know of...) but for the past few years, every time my birthday rolls around, I literally have to calculate my age. Mostly it’s because I’ve brainwashed myself into believing that I am whatever age I want to be. Forget about age completely, I tell myself each morning and live as you see fit. This, I continuously tell myself, is the key  to keeping sprightly. And then it all goes to Hell in a hand-basket when I find myself explaining the concept of a phone booth to my kids and have them look at me like I am either, making it up, or emerging from the Dark Ages.

It's possible there is nothing wrong. From birth to the age of 21, it is a never ending series of positive milestones all lumped together. We not only count our years, but sometimes count our months in anticipation of the next step toward adulthood. But once you've reached 21, isn’t the world is pretty much your oyster? Aren’t you old enough to do what any other adult can do? There is no need for a countdown to your next birthday,  no real need to remember your exact age - especially when you have so many other numbers in life to remember.

When I told my husband about it, he thought it over carefully and decided that my age-forgetfulness wasn’t creepy or a sign of early-onset Alzheimer’s.

“You just suck at math.”