Books I Read in 2013

  1. Sense and Sensibility, Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh GrantAusten, Jane.  Pride and Prejudice.  Shameful.  I started out an English major in college and never read any Jane Austen.  But I got on a kick, watching Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet in Sense and Sensibility, then Anne Hathaway in Becoming Jane.  I thought it was time I went to the source.  And had a marvelous time.  It’s amazing how so much story can be written about so little.
  2. Austen, Jane.  Persuasion.  I was still on my “redeeming my old English major” kick.  I love the contortions these folks put themselves through to be polite and proper.  The torment!  I liked this one almost as much as Pride and Prejudice.
  3. Brach, Tara.  Radical Acceptance—Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha.  Wonderful guide to using meditation and lovingkindness in dealing with our feelings of unworthiness.  I recommend it to anyone struggling with fear, cravings and desire, or depression.  So, basically, everyone.
  4. Forney, Ellen.  Marbles—Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me.  A funny, clever, and true bipolar memoir in graphic novel form.  Very entertaining.
  5. Tana FrenchFrench, Tana.  In the Woods.  A little girl is found murdered in a small Irish town.  The lead detective grew up in that town.  In fact, he and his two best friends went missing in the woods when they were twelve.  Only he was found, with someone else’s blood in his shoes and no memory of anything that happened.  This is a wonderful thriller, as we never know if protagonist Rob Ryan is at all trustworthy as a narrator.
  6. Gabaldon, Diana.  Outlander.  There are so many things wrong with this book, I hardly know where to start.  Inconsistent characters, gratuitous sadism and torture, unbelievable action, disregard of basic human nature, floundering plot, and a heroine with the moral fortitude of a postage stamp.  Mind you, this series (Ugh.  Yes.  This is the first in a series) has an enormous fan following.  I’ve read gushing reviews, seen whole boards devoted to each character on Pinterest, and know my local library can’t keep the books in stock.  I suspect it’s because Gabaldon uses the Hurt/Comfort trope—creating a romantic situation by making one of the couple sick or injured while the other offers aid and nurturing.  But, I can’t abide writers who trot out a trope to make up for bad storytelling.  The only good thing I can say about Outlander is that I got all the way through it.  Score one for the Fried Brain!
  7. Richard Armitage, North and SouthGaskill, Elizabeth.  North and South.  At the time and place this novel was published (1830’s Britain), it was considered radical, controversial and was banned in some parts of England.  At that time, labor unions were in place, but no interaction happened between labor and “the masters.”  By the end of the story, the heroine’s influence opens new lines of communication and respect between these two classes.  I loved the language of the time and the Jane Austin-like twisty relationship between Margaret, who came from the South, and the Northern mill owner, John Thornton.  And I must admit, I came to this book through my love of the movie The Hobbit.  Actor Richard Armitage played both Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit and John Thornton in the BBC production of North & South.  What started out as fan-stalking brought me to this gem of a book.
  8. King, Stephen.  The Wind Through the Keyhole.  A late addition to The Gunslinger series.  And even though I’d throw myself in front of a car for Steve, this one didn’t do much for me.  It’s been years since I read any of the Dark Tower books, so it took a minute to reacquaint myself with the characters.  And just when I felt comfortable with them all again, the book turns out to be a story within a story within a story.  And unfortunately, none of them were very engaging.
  9. Mankell, Henning.  Faceless Killers.  After watching the BBC series Wallander, I had to see what the books had to offer.  Mankell is a Swedish national treasure, his mysteries translated into every known language on the globe, and I can see the appeal.  Wallander is a poor schlub tackling all the normal drudgery of daily life while trying to do his job, which happens to be homicide investigation.  But the detail sometimes gets to be too much, like when Kurt’s on the toilet and notices he needs to change his underwear.  TMI.  Maybe the text looses a little by being translated from the Swedish (there’s a similar stiltedness as with the Stieg Larsson books), but the story held my interest all the way to the end.  That, in itself, labels it a winner.
  10. Siegel, Daniel J.  Mindsight—The New Science of Personal Transformation.  Very interesting presentation of leading-edge neuroscience showing how mindfulness, empathy and personal relationships can heal the brain.  Lots of interesting case studies with therapeutic techniques used.  The way the author wrote like he invented mindfulness made me laugh.  He did find new ways to use it, though.
  11. Morning Glory, Christopher ReeveSpencer, LaVyrle.  Morning Glory.  This is one of my favorite movies in the public library’s DVD section.  It’s a sweet romance, but the best part is Christopher Reeve’s subtle, underplayed performance.  After watching it again this summer, I borrowed the book from my friend to see if the movie missed anything good.  Not really.  The book is still a sweet romance, though.
  12. Stewart, Mary.  A Walk in Wolf Wood.  This is a sweet Young Adult novel by an author I’ve loved since grade school.  Two kids on a picnic see a man weeping and follow him into the forest.  They’re suddenly transported back in time to become embroiled in the man’s sorrow, which includes magic, shape-shifting, villainy, and acts of courage.  A simple, lovely story.
  13. Ueland, Brenda.  If You Want to Write—A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit.  I first read this book decades ago, and the author’s incredible wisdom was lost on me then.  She tells writers and artists to stop trying to sell their work and simply create from their truth and joy.  A how-to guide for the soul, written in 1938.

The Books I Couldn’t Finish

  1. Myss, Caroline.  Archetypes.  I love mythology and the use of archetypal images and have studied archetypes from a spiritual perspective.  I dig Tarot.  I also liked Myss’ books on medical intuition.  So, I looked forward to her look at “new” archetypes in the modern world.    What a disappointment!  The book is mostly a self-help guide with little depth and less research.  Don’t waste your time.
  2. Austen, Jane.  Mansfield Park.  Okay, maybe I ODed on Austen.  This was my third book in a row.  But I just got tired of everyone treating the heroine, Fanny, like a piece of crap.   Good God, the girl is brow-beaten at every turn.  And, like the proper English maiden of the time, she takes it—even thinks she deserves it because she is “low-born.”  Pffttt.  Maybe after a break reading other stuff, I can come back to appreciate this one better.

I am Sherlocked

Sherlock

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman
as Holmes and Watson

I have fallen, and I can’t get up.  On top of that, my deeply geeky slip is showing.  What’s got me showing my fan-panties is the BBC’s current incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock.

Sherlock

Rupert Graves as DI Lestrad

I’ve always been a Holmesian—loved Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, faithfully watched every Mystery! presentation in the ’80s and 90’s with Jeremy Brett, enjoyed the new movies with Robert Downy Jr. and Jude Law.  But, my Pinterest boards kept exploding with news and images of this new Sherlock.  The amount of drool over Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman rivaled the rabid foam of the Baskerville hound.  Also, both actors cross over into my other fannish delights—Cumberbatch playing the evil Kahn in Star Trek Into Darkness, and Freeman bringing Bilbo Baggins alive in The Hobbit.  I could not get away from these guys, so decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Sherlock, Lara Pulver, Benedict Cumberbatch

The Seductress Irene Adler

Conceived by Holmesian geeks themselves, the old stories get a complete reboot into present day.  Mark Gatiss (who plays Mycroft in the series) and Steven Moffat give us a Holmes who knows everything about cell phones, terrorist cells, and cellular biology.  Their Watson is a thoughtful veteran of the Afghanistan war who blogs about his adventures with Holmes.  Instead of being smelly and incompetent, Scotland Yard’s Detective Lestrade is earnest, smart, and considers Holmes an asset.  There’s a sweet little coroner with a hopeless crush on Holmes.  Irene Adler is a professional dominatrix, Mrs. Hudson a dear, and Moriarty just bug-shit scary.  Mycroft is still a pompous twit, but in a good way.

Sherlock, Moriarty, Andrew Scott

Andrew Scott as Moriarty

My fannish heart committed itself fifteen minutes into the first episode as Watson struggles to re-enter civilian life and Holmes shows off as all genius, high-functioning sociopaths are wont to do.  Dorky, gangly, and socially offensive, Cumberbatch’s young Holmes can’t make ends meet as a consulting detective.  He meets Freeman’s Watson, whose delight and amazement in Holmes’ abilities comes as a shock as most react with repulsion, disbelief or defensiveness.  Of course, Holmes usually displays his ability dripping with smarty-pants insults, which win him no friends.  Watson becomes a buffer, which makes Sherlock easier to swallow, and provides grounding in the real world.  Together, the business and their friendship flourishes.

Martin Freeman’s performance as Watson won him a BAFTA award (the British equivalent of an Emmy) in the series first season.  Andrew Scott’s portrayal of Moriarty garnered another BAFTA in season two.  And then there are the dulcet tones of Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice (described by one fan as a jaguar inside a cello) as he speed-deduces like a velvet gatling gun.  The stories are crisp, surprising and witty.  The fact that Steven Moffat is prone to killing off his characters adds another layer of delicious tension.

Molly Hooper, Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman

Molly the Coroner, Fan-girling

Cast and crew are currently at work, with delays to accommodate Freeman’s Hobbit shoots in New Zealand.  But eventually, season three will come to PBS.  Until then, there are always the DVDs of seasons one and two.  (A word of warning:  A “season” consists of three, 90 minute episodes.  I know.)

Read between the lines of my fan-girling gush, and you’ll find a show worthy of Sir Arthur’s approval.  The game, as this Sherlock says, is on.

Books I Read in 2012

I worked hard at reading this year, though flagged the last few months.  Still, I’m proud of my comparatively long list and hope to keep exercising my ECT-damaged brain in 2013.  Maybe, someday, reading will become a pleasure again instead of a chore.  One can always dream!

  1. Antonetta, Suzanne.  A Mind Apart—Travels in a Neurodiverse World.  The first bipolar memoir I read this year, and it was stunning.  Written in stream of consciousness leaps that feel like my own brain talking.  Aside from her own bipolar experience, Antonetta also explores the concept of neurodiversity, that those of us outside the “normal” spectrum of brain function actually serve the human race with our unique perspectives.
  2. Behrman, Andy.  Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania.  This book ought to be subtitled Lack of Insight.  I know this is part of the illness.  I know self-destructive behavior is a symptom.  Maybe I’m just angry because I never had the money or connections to build a diving board this big to jump off the deep end.
  3. Brown, Sandra.  Rainwater.  Brown is one of those successful, heavy-hitter romance writers, but I found this story uninspiring. During the Depression a single mother takes in a terminally ill border.  Lots of angst and ugly prejudice, but not much else.
  4. Donovan, Susan.  Not That Kind of Girl.  My mom thought I’d like this modern romance—something to read while I did my laundry.  And since I fashion myself as a purveyor of women’s porn (fan fiction), I thought I’d see how the professionals do it.  A predictable story with a spunky heroine, persistent hero and a long, slow build-up to the steamy sex scene.  Not bad for girl-porn.
  5. Fry, Stephen.  Moab is My Washtub.  Audio CD.  Okay, this was a cheat.  I listened to this brilliant autobiography instead of reading it.  But I love Stephen Fry, and I just knew his writing would be erudite, and filled with literary nuance, and—oh, yes—lots of potty humor and wicked British swears.  I was right.  And even though I didn’t have my reading disorder in my way, I still missed half of his references.  Which was fine.  His voice is golden honey (he voiced all the Harry Potter novels), and his story of growing into his homosexuality and bipolar disorder is poignant and insightful.  I don’t care that I cheated—I wouldn’t have missed this treasure for anything.
  6. Gaddam, Sai and Ogi Ogas. A Billion Wicked Thoughts—What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire.  Fascinating study done using the internet as a research tool to probe the world’s real expression of desire.
  7. Hornbacher, Marya.  Madness: A Bipolar Life.  What a shock to read that Hornbacher received electroconvulsive therapy from the same doctor who fried me.  But, she remembers it better than I do.  She tried a few more ways to kill the pain—anorexia, alcoholism, drug abuse—but her life is my life with all the roller coaster rides and dysfunction.  It’s not easy being a member of this club.
  8. Jamison, Kay Redfield.  An Unquiet Mind.  The leading researcher in bipolar disorder tells her own story.  Very interesting to get the view of one firmly entrenched in the Western medical model.  It slays me how so many of these BP memoirs are of wealthy, successful people.  Jamison was crazy as a bedbug, but still managed a mental health clinic, taught students, and vacationed in England.  Sooooo not my life.
  9. King, Stephen. 11/22/63.  Nary a monster in sight.  Not even Lee Harvey Oswald.  The villain, if anything here, is Time itself.  Well-written and engaging—as always.
  10. Lachenmeyer, Nathaniel.  The Outsider—A Journey into My Father’s Struggle with Madness.  A fascinating account of a young man’s search to understand his father, who suffered from schizophrenia and died homeless and alone.  As the author tracks his father’s life from college professor to transient, he adds glimpses of the loving dad he knew as a child.  Deft reporting with heart-wrenching personal sorrow.
  11. McGraw, Dr. Phil.  The Ultimate Weight Solution—The 7 Keys to Weight Loss Freedom.  The right book at the right time for me.  Absolutely changed my life.  Perhaps it’s because Dr. Phil believes “self-monitoring” is the key to lasting change.  Hmmm.  Where have I heard that before?
  12. Pratchett, Terry.  The Wee Free Men.  Part of Pratchett’s hugely successful Disc World series, about a world where magic and humor rule.  I love this series, especially the books about the witches.  This time, a pre-teen witchling does battle with the Queen of the Fairies with the help of tiny, ribald, blue-skinned pictsies.  Pandemonium ensues.
  13. Smith, Hilary.  Welcome to the Jungle.  Less of a bipolar memoir than a survival manual for teens or college-aged folks just diagnosed with the illness.  Smith tackles practical matters, like how to secure a safety line when one stops taking meds against doctor’s orders (because, let’s face it, since the majority of bipolar sufferers go off their meds at some time in their lives, teens and twenty-somethings will absolutely do it).  Very reader-friendly.
  14. Sting.  Broken Music.  I love Sting’s music, so was delighted to find his memoir just as lyrical and engaging.  He creates a lovely, layered narrative that weaves together his struggle to deal with his parents’ deaths, his uncomfortable childhood, and his early success.  A beautiful book.
  15. Wiggs, Susan.  The Firebrand.  This historical romance takes place around the time of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  The heroine is an early suffragette, the hero a conservative banker.  What I liked best was the author’s ability to weave a romance between these two without compromising the heroine’s principles or zeal.  Well done and historically interesting.
  16. Wiggs, Susan.  Lakeside Cottage.  Another modern romance from my mom’s library.  This author tells a good story.  The hero saved the President from a bomb threat and has to deal with the media blitz.  He hides out at the lake, where the heroine is vacationing with her special needs son and recovering from losing her job.  Too much talking during the sex scenes, though—there is a point where conversation must cease!

Books I Couldn’t Finish

Most of the books I start, I can’t finish.  It’s the nature of my particular reading disability (thank you, ECT).  My eyes go jiggy, or something in the text jump-starts my anxiety, or the print is too small and feral.  But, sometimes I don’t finish a book just because I don’t like it.  Those are the ones I want to list.  And since I didn’t think about doing this until October, the list will be short (I hope).

  1. Fisher, Carrie.  The Best Awful.  I so wanted to enjoy this book.  I love Carrie Fisher’s humor.  And I have dreams of writing a novel with a bipolar heroine, so I thought this would be a great example of how that might be done.  Maybe I’ve read too many bipolar memoirs.  Maybe I’ve gotten intolerant and self-righteous about how hard one must work to manage a mental illness.  Whatever the reason, I could not stand the protagonist.  She’s just another self-indulgent, rich and pampered crazy person without a smidge of insight.  Boring.
  2. Martin, Michael A. and Andy Mangeles.  Star Trek Enterprise: Kobayashi Maru.  This is the writing team sanctioned to author most, if not all, the Star Trek: Enterprise novels for Pocket Books.  And it burns my ass.  While they’re great at getting the historical facts of the show correct, they stink at capturing the characters.  And their run-on sentences make me throw their novels across the room in frustration.  Repeatedly.  I gave up on this one when T’Pol and Malcolm strayed so far off-character I couldn’t suspend my disbelief any further.  Clearly, I could do a better job.  Hrumph!
  3. Walker, Alice. Anything We Love Can Be Saved.  I know Alice Walker is a national treasure.  Her work is true literature.  This book of essays is focused on her activism.  Like politics, activism makes me uncomfortable.  While I believe strongly in working for a better world, a fairer world, a healthier world, most activists I’ve met or read scare me.  The gleam is a little too bright in their eyes; the words a bit too angry.  This is one of those books.
  4. Cameron, Julia.  God is Not a Laughing Matter.  The author of The Artists’ Way talks about her spiritual path and offers exercises and journaling questions to help others do the same.  Unfortunately, she bashes meditation and vegetarianism (guess she had some experiences with “extremists”), which completely turned me off.  I love her books on creativity, but this one is defensive and fearful.  A huge disappointment.

Breathless

Batman, The Dark Knight Rises, Christian Bale

Grumblings in the press.  Critics unhappy.  They must have seen a different movie.

If you liked Batman Begins and if you thought The Dark Knight was a decent movie, then The Dark Knight Rises will suck the air out of your lungs for three hours.  I couldn’t have eaten popcorn even if I’d wanted to.  I was too busy shouting and throwing my hands in the air, or grabbing my friend, Penny, who graciously agreed to sit with me in the dark and hold me down in my seat.  Why wasn’t anyone else in the theater clapping and hooting?  Well, to be fair, a few others were, but who would know with me cheerleading in the front?

This is a perfect third act to Christopher Nolan’s saga—I don’t care what anyone else says.  It makes my storyteller’s heart very happy.

Neurodiversity

As research for my next book (tentatively titled Bipolar Bad-Assery), I’m reading memoirs by or about folks with mental illness.  I’m in the middle of one that is absolutely fascinating.

A Mind Apart by Susanne Antonetta comes across as a big Question.  Are people with Asperger’s Syndrome, autism, bipolar disorder, and other “functional” mental illnesses (who she coins as neuroatypical) actually part of Nature’s plan for biodiversity?  And if science can fine-tune gene splicing to the point of eliminating these disorders, would it diminish the human race?

Antonetta interweaves theory and philosophy with her own experiences as someone with bipolar disorder.  As a neuroatypical, her thought process is different, the way she tells a story is different, and it felt so familiar.  She jumps from pondering whale language when she and her small son come across a beached whale to obsessively attending the trial of a local boy who committed murder.  She considers the language used to define neuroatypicals and chafes against it.  She holds herself in comparison with everything—do whales and killers and lunacy have anything to say about me?

Sometimes Antonetta’s stream-of-consciousness becomes wearing, but mostly A Mind Apart is poetry written in a language I thought was mine alone.

“Prometheus” Fizzles

Prometheus doesn’t steal any fire from Ridley Scott’s original Alien concept.  It’s just a pale retread of the 1979 original, complete with an untrustworthy android, evil corporation agendas, and H.R. Geiger’s creepy/organic set design.  There’s even the idiot who gets his face too close to the “fascinating” creatures.  Puh-lease!  Add to that the completely faulty logic of why this ship is out there in the first place, and all the special effects in the world can’t suspend enough disbelief.

I hadn’t intended on seeing this movie—my horror movie-going days are long gone.  But I needed distraction this weekend, and I’d seen everything else.  Don’t make my mistake.  In the cineplex, no one can hear you scream.

The Avengers

Avengers Movie ArtI learned my stealth—a super-power, really—by sneaking into my big brother’s room, carefully filching his Marvel comics from their shrines, reading them without leaving fingerprints, and returning them in perfect numerical order.  Scott tried locking his door, but I only scoffed at his puny attempts to keep my mitts off his property.  Laws were made for mere mortals.

I learned how to draw by copying Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four.  I learned storytelling by writing Thor sequels.  Marvel fed my little soul.  So, of course, I’ve seen every movie based on my spandex-wearing friends.  They’ve all been a fun ride, some more than others.  But none has ever captured the essence of my heroes like The Avengers.

Writer/Director Joss Whedon created my favorite non-Star Trek TV—Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doll House—so to have him at the creative helm of the movie was like a Christmas present for me.  I could count on great character development, snappy dialogue, a meaningful story and off-the-charts action.  He brought it all.

Then, there’s the eye candy factor.

Woof.

There’s just something about all those bulging biceps and pectorals when they’re real instead of ink on a page.  Did I say Woof?

And for those who prefer the fairer gender, there’s plenty of slink and curvaceousness in equally skin-tight suits.

Casting Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk seems genius to me.

He’s got the Bill Bixby edge mixed with an inherent nerdy sweetness that still transfers when he’s mean and green and splattering bad guys across the pavement.  How did he do that?

This is the first movie that really felt like the comics.  The action is that fast, that galactic, that desperate.  I’ll bet Stan Lee is proud of this one.

If you’ve already seen it, you know what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t seen it—Go.  Now.  Today.  Whether you grew up playing with this gang or not, you won’t be sorry.

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