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I'm not much for Christmas.

This was not always the case.  I'm German on my mother's side, which means that my childhood Christmases were awash in decorations, baking, Advent calendars, music, visits to family members, and of course a live tree dripping with ornaments and those big old-fashioned lights that were hot to the touch.  Every December we'd watch The Charlie Brown Christmas special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and of course The Grinch (Mum always tried to write down the names of the Whos' musical instruments because she thought they were funny), eat Mum's magnificent cookies, and sing carols.  Of course we'd go to church on Christmas Eve, then open our presents on Christmas Day and either head over to my aunt and uncles' house or drive to my grandmother's farm in Venango County for the holiday.  

It was a marvelous time.  There were loads of presents for everyone (although I, as the youngest person present, always seemed to get the lion's share), one of my uncles would take me out to the barn to play with that year's crop of kittens, and Mum would cook a big dinner while Betty assisted by playing Solitaire and announcing periodically that she was bored and why was Mum trying to cook a goose anyway?  It felt old-fashioned even then, at least in part because my family was a good generation older than my friends' families and didn't buy into 1960s abominations like artificial trees, rock n' roll, or consuming excessive quantities of anything but post-prandial coffee, but what's wrong with that?

I may have even gotten an orange in my stocking from time to time.

Gradually Christmases changed for my family.  Grandma died in 1970 and we stopped going to the Farm, at least on Christmas Day itself, although Mum, Dad, and I still went over to Betty, Oscar, and Lou's house for the usual excellent meal.  The year my father died was every bit as emotional and horrible as one might expect, but once again the holiday celebration adapted as we worked our way through the grief.

Still, some things remained constant:  the beautiful triple-thick Alcoa foil wrapping paper Betty used to buy from a friend who worked for one of the corporations that made Pittsburgh great in the 1960s and 1970s; Mum's superb baking; the old Firestone Christmas compilation albums with their "gift-wrapped" artwork and selection of favorite music ranging from classical to contemporary; the beautifully decorated tree, every light meticulously positioned by Oscar before he would allow Mum, Betty, and me near it to hang the ornaments; Betty playing cards while Mum baked and cooked.  It was staid, and occasionally it was annoying, but it was familiar, and beloved, and very much home.

And the years turned, and more things changed.  I moved to Massachusetts after college, married a man who should have never been more than a college romance, and spent less and less time with my family.  My leaving was necessary for my sanity - Mum had never been quite the same after Dad died, and the rest of the family had grown increasingly insular to the point that it was like pulling teeth to get them to interact with anyone who wasn't blood - but regardless of how tense things got, I never missed Christmas in Pittsburgh.

The last time I went was 1994 - and you have no idea how odd it is to write those words, and realize that it's been eighteen years since that last, painful year.  Mum's Alzheimer's had become so obvious that we didn't dare let her bake, so I made a couple of fruit cakes and a few batches of cookies before driving down from Springfield.  We all did our best to pretend that it was normal, but it wasn't; Oscar wasn't well, Lou had passed from a heart attack years before, and Betty, always the family princess, resented me not moving home to help her but never quite came out and said so.  I think I knew when I hugged them all and got in the car next to my husband that next year there would be empty places at the table.

I was right.  Oscar lost his battle with cancer less than a year later, Mum went into a nursing home and never came out, and I was unemployed and couldn't afford to fly back, even for a few days.  And the year after that, Mum finally joined Dad and her brothers ten days before what had been her very favorite holiday.  I cried, but it was as much relief that her ordeal was over as it was sorrow that she was gone.  

As I said above, I'm not much for Christmas.  At least these days.

New Year's, on the other hand - that is my winter holiday, and it's because somehow, some way, in spite of divorce and financial difficulties and all the experiences and issues that I've dealt with over the course of fifty-two years on this oblate spheroid we humans call our home, I've managed to acquire a new family.  This family, this group of people, is one of choice, not blood.  Whether I've met them through my church, or the SCA, or fandom, or on-line, these people are my tribe, the ones I turn to in the dark times and reach out to in turn when tragedy blights their existence.  Some I've known for most of my life, some only a few years, but they are no less beloved or necessary than the ones I've lost to time and disease.

It is with this beloved community, my family of choice, that I will ring in 2013 on Monday night.  We'll gather at the home of my choir's countertenor dressed in our finest, eat and drink and watch movies, and when the seconds count down we'll toast each other with champagne and wine and sparkling cider.  Some of us will stay over for breakfast the next morning, while others will return home that night to our own beds.  

And on the way, amidst the merriment and the joy, we'll reflect on what we've done, and what we've seen, and what and who we've lost.  The Romans believed that January was governed by a god who looked both to the future and the past, and so will we.  And if there are tears amidst the laughter, and toasts to friends absent as well as present, well, isn't learning to accept the bad with the good part of life itself?  

So it is with books.  For every wonderful book, there are far more that are mediocre, or silly, or simply bad.  A precious few are so bad I write about them here, so that others can laugh or read or imitate Usain Bolt running in the opposite direction.  But those aren't the ones I'd like to celebrate tonight.  

Tonight I bring you something a little different:  the ten books, both fiction and non-fiction, that I enjoyed the most in the past year.  Some are brand new, some are new to me, and some are old favorites that I reread, but these are the ones that stood out in some way above the stacks of reading material that I worked my way through.  Some may to be your taste, others not, but these are the ones that I'll remember from 2012:

The Tainted City, by Courtney Schafer - one of the best books I read last year was Courtney Schafer's astonishingly assured first novel, The Whitefire Crossing.  This excellent sequel is darker and more complex, as heroes Dev and Kiran struggle with the consequences of their actions.  No one's motives are pure, everyone's beliefs are tested, and both Dev and Kiran must face their worst nightmares in a novel that both confirms Schafer's talent and makes the reader long for the third (and hopefully not last) book set in this world, the still-in-progress The Labyrinth of Flames.

Casket of Souls, by Lynn Flewelling - it's no secret that one of my favorite fantasy writers is Lynn Flewelling, author of the splendid Tamir Triad.  This book, the penultimate volume of the wonderfully entertaining Nightrunner series, is one of her best.  There's political intrigue, war on the borders, a touching romance between two unlikely characters, genuine tragedy, a chillingly amoral villain, and plenty of action, magic, and derring-do.  And as always, at the core of the book is the rock-solid relationship between Alec and Seregil, the dashing spies/adventurers whose love for each other anchors both their work and their lives.  I've read it twice already and it holds up just as well on rereading, which is not nearly as common as one might hope.

Captain America:  Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection, by Ed Brubaker (writer) and Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, John Paul Leon, and Michael Lark (artists) - yes, I know this isn't really a book, or even a graphic novel, but a collection of comic books that were published nearly ten years ago.  Yes, I know it's about a superhero.  Yes, I know that it's the oldest of all comic book cliches, "we're bringing back Character X that everyone thought was dead for ___ years."  If that weren't enough, it's nearly ten years old...but man oh man, it holds up well.  Ed Brubaker was determined to undo the damage done to one of Marvel's signature characters after a decade of mediocre scripts and some epically horrible mid-90s art, and he did so by taking Steve Rogers straight back to his World War II roots.  Strong writing, excellent art (especially by Steve Epting), and a sense that "yes, this could really have happened" that is far too rare in superhero comics combine to take a character who could easily be an All-American blowhard and make him human.  

New York to Dallas, by JD Robb (Nora Roberts) - one of my favorite mystery/suspense indulgences is JD Robb's excellent "In Death" series of police procedurals set in a near-future New York.  The main characters, tough but damaged homicide detective Eve Dallas and her equally wounded billionaire husband Roarke, are marvelous together, and supporting characters like the stalwart Det. Peabody are great fun.  This installment takes Eve way out of her comfort zone by sending her to Dallas, Texas, the place where she found the strength to break free from her abusive father...and where she not only has to confront the first criminal she ever arrested, but what could be a shattering revelation about her past.  

Ayn Rand Nation, by Gary Weiss - this impeccably researched, devastating examination of Ayn Rand's beliefs, books, and followers is one of the most chilling books I've read in years.  The influence of this so-called philosopher goes far, far deeper into American conservatism (and American life in general) than most people can imagine, and it has had a devastating effect on our country and our politics.  A measure of the book's worth is that not only did Randites do their best to downrate it into oblivion on, a couple of them actually came here after I gave it a favorable review and tried to argue me into oblivion (fat chance).  A must-read for any progressive who wants to know just why Paul Ryan thinks the way he does, and how so many people have come to believe that America's motto has become "I've got mine, screw you" instead of "e pluribus unum."

Midnight Rising:  John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War, by Tony Horwitz - excellent, deftly written account of John Brown, the fanatic who was willing to kill, and then to die, to free the slaves, and the doomed raid on Harper's Ferry that launched a wave of hysteria across the nation that culminated in the Civil War two years later.  Brown comes across as both  sympathetic and terrifyingly flawed, while the women who were involved with him and his followers play a surprisingly large role in the unfolding tragedy.  

Only Yesterday and Since Yesterday, by Frederick Lewis Allen - I first read Only Yesterday about twenty years ago and was enthralled by its engaging near-contemporary portrait of the Ballyhoo Decade.  Fads, fashions, slang, economic issues, politics - this is social history at its best, and it holds up very well indeed.  I didn't read its sequel, Since Yesterday, until very recently, and since I was reading the one decided to read them both.  This time I was struck not only by the witty prose and the sharp insights into what was for Allen modern life, but by the unmistakable parallels between the interwar period and today.  It's all here, just the way it was eighty and ninety years ago:  the debate over how to handle an economic collapse, the battle between modernity and tradition in morals and culture, the folly of investing in real estate and financial bubbles, the human need to escape into games and entertainment.  If nothing else, these are a prime example of the truth of the adage, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

The Generals:  American Military Command from World War II to Today, by Thomas E. Ricks - scathing look at the decline in American generalship from World War II to Iraq.  Ricks, author of the equally devastating Fiasco, takes as his model general George Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff during World War II and later architect of the Marshall Plan.  It's hard to argue with his choice as Ricks explores how Marshall, the man who chose Dwight Eisenhower to lead the Allies against Hitler, not only modernized and expanded the Army, but was never afraid to replace a failing commander.  The contrast with the later Army, where it's literally easier to discipline a grunt for losing a rifle than a William Westmoreland for losing a war, is acute, and painful.  I'm not crazy about some of Ricks' conclusions (he's way too fond of David Petraeus for my liking) but it's hard to argue with his ultimate message:  the modern Army is blighted by bad leadership and a concern for covering its actions instead of taking care of the men and women who put their lives on the line every day.

The Second World War, by Antony Beevor - superb one volume history of the greatest war of the 20th century, impeccably researched and lucidly written.  One of its greatest strengths is its emphasis on the war in Asia, especially the awful, all but forgotten conflict between China and Japan (with interference from the USSR) in the 1930s that eventually led to the war in the Pacific.  The account of the scorched earth campaign of the Nazis in the Soviet Union is particularly memorable, as is the story of a poor Korean who, thanks to war, conquest, and a whole heap of terrible luck, ended up fighting for Nazi Germany late in the European war.

American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work, by Nick Taylor - wonderful popular history of the Works Progress Administration, the government jobs program that literally put America back to work during the Roosevelt administration.  FDR's vision, political savvy, and insistence on helping the desperate now by giving them "the dignity of work" is an object lesson on how to handle an economic collapse, and a real slap in the face to the conservatives who insist that jobs programs are useless.  Again, every progressive should read this...and if nothing else, at least check out the chapter on the opening night of The Cradle Will Rock, the Marc Blitzstein play that nearly brought down Hallie Flanagan and the Federal Theater Project.


And there you have it:  ten books that I (re)read and enjoyed in 2012.  What are your favorites from the past year?  What holiday traditions do you cherish from the past?  How will you celebrate the advent of 2013?  Hoist a glass and share!


Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule

DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
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Sun 9:30 PM SciFi/Fantasy Book Club quarkstomper
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MON 8:00 PM Monday Murder Mystery Susan from 29
Mon 11:00 PM My Favorite Books/Authors edrie, MichiganChet
TUES 5:00 PM Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left bigjacbigjacbigjac
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM LGBT Literature Texdude50, Dave in Northridge
Tue 8:00 PM Contemporary Fiction Views Brecht, bookgirl
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Wed 8:00 PM Bookflurries Bookchat cfk
THU 8:00 PM Write On! SensibleShoes
Thu (first each month) 11:00 AM Monthly Bookpost AdmiralNaismith
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FRI 8:00 AM Books That Changed My Life Diana in NoVa
SAT (fourth each month) 11:00 AM Windy City Bookworm Chitown Kev
Sat 4:00 PM Daily Kos Political Book Club Freshly Squeezed Cynic
Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 06:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The years blur (8+ / 0-)

    As you know, we agreed on Ayn Rand Nation! I may be going back to last year, but the book that has made the greatest impression on me when I stop to think about it is The Hare with Amber Eyes, a family story by Edmund de Waal, the collection's current owner, about a netsuke collection which shows how art and politics cannot avoid being intertwined. I also liked Russell Shorto, The Island at the Center of the World, an excellent book about Nieuw Amsterdam and how the Dutch influence has persisted in New York.

    Fiction? What's that?

    -7.75, -8.10; Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Dave in Northridge on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 06:43:45 PM PST

  •  Ayn Rand Nation sounds interesting (5+ / 0-)

    but I think I need at least a year of not hearing anything about her first.

    I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his payroll. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

    by Tara the Antisocial Social Worker on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 06:53:48 PM PST

  •  I'm also reading Ayn Rand Nation. (6+ / 0-)

    Sex At Dawn was my birthday present, and it's just the sort of thing I like. Of course, being polyamorous, I agree with the theory, but it will be interesting to see how it shakes out.

    This year I also have discovered R. Austin Freeman's Dr. Thorndyke, and really enjoy it. Of course there is an antique feel to it, but it's just enough to be charming, and I only wish there were more.

    I also got "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer" for Christmas, and was deeply impressed and moved by it.

    I pretty much got books, chocolate, and socks for birthday (12/17) and Christmas, and that's about what I like.

    When you come to find how essential the comfort of a well-kept home is to the bodily strength and good conditions, to a sound mind and spirit, and useful days, you will reverence the good housekeeper as I do above artist or poet, beauty or genius.

    by Alexandra Lynch on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 06:55:22 PM PST

  •  Thanks! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, Youffraita, Portlaw

    I've always meant to read Only Yesterday and Since Yesterday.  They caught my eye way back in the '60s and '70s when they were required for some college courses.  Gonna put them on my list, along with that book about the WPA.

  •  I haven't read the book on Rand... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SusiesPurl, Ahianne

    ...but I have a thousand-page book in me because I was a  Rand/Objectivist fanatic for 20 years.  Not really a blind follower - I studied all her stuff and opponents' stuff very hard, along with hundreds of hours of lecture tapes; and debated for years on end.

    Then came 2008.

    Preparing for the Mayan doomsday prophecy by hastily trying to get in the good graces of snake-bird god Q’uq’umatz

    by dov12348 on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 08:45:51 PM PST

    •  That must have been a real gut check (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xaxnar, Aunt Pat

      for a lot of Randians...but the people profiled in the book (a lot of them leading lights at places like the ARI) sort of waved that away as just a mere blip on the road to free market paradise.  It was pretty scary.

      Have you written any diaries on the impact of 2008 on your thinking?  That could be very interesting.

  •  The Beevor WW II book was fantastic. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat

    Best 1-volume work IMO.  I'm a WWW II buff; especially from the Holocaust perspective.

    Preparing for the Mayan doomsday prophecy by hastily trying to get in the good graces of snake-bird god Q’uq’umatz

    by dov12348 on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 08:47:46 PM PST

  •  hi (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Youffraita, Portlaw, Ahianne, jolux, Aunt Pat

    I just finished The Tainted City and I stayed up late to do it.

    It was even better than the first one, The Whitefire Crossing, which was on my best books of the year list.  I now have to WAIT for the third one.  :)

    I have many good memories of Christmas past, too.  My daughter-in-law picked up the slack when my loved ones died and has made new memories with her parties.

    My eight grandbabies are so individual and interesting as they grow up.  I get phone calls about loose teeth coming out and "you know what, grandma, E made me watch Annie all the way on vacation," that make me smile for days.

    Best wishes for the New Year, Ellid!!  I love the sound of your party.  Hubby and I have a tradition of watching a movie at home with our once a year bottle of Asti, and a delicious coffee cake he makes.

    Happy New Year to all here!!

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 10:10:37 PM PST

    •  Glad you liked Tainted City! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Aunt Pat, cfk

      I know - now we have to wait for the third one.  But it sure should be worth it - Courtney Schafer is on my "must buy" list from now on.  

      As for the party- it'll be a lot of fun, especially after we decide what movies we'll watch.  One of our number is pushing for a Twilight movie marathon so we can laugh ourselves sick at the bad acting and sparkly vampires, someone else wants to watch Slap Shot, I'm hoping for either one of the recent Sherlock Holmes or Marvel Comics movies....

      We'll figure it out.  We always do :)

  •  I gave dear Hubby an 1889 original edition of the (6+ / 0-)

    Indiana textbook of Mathamatics, sixth grade level, which I found in an antique shop.  Dear Hubby is a retired Geometry teacher and was thrilled with the book. Since Christmas he's come up with word problems involving 19th Century agriculture and prices and has laughed and laughed.  I'm afraid to consider the kinds of test questions  he would create if he were still in the classroom. He was the faculty joker when teaching.  During the weeks he taught formal proof in Geometry  he wore his Tuxedo to class.

    •  That sounds great (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      drmah, Aunt Pat

      My dad started out as a geometry teacher and always decried the horror that was New Math.  I love the idea of wearing a tux to class!

      •  DH is now longest employee of only school system (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Aunt Pat

        he ever taught, although he's moved over to Transporportation Director.  He still thinks teaching is the hightest calling you can follow, even though Son #1 earned more in his first year as an engineer than DH ever did.  Both had 4 year Math Degrees, but teaching just isn't considered that important in US. No wonder we are ranked 25th in the world!

        (50+ years for WWS)  Go Shamrocks--- By the way, Shamrocks is a terrible name for team mascot --- too many bad things competitors can think of to discredit you)

        •  Try "The Smith College Unicorns" (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          drmah, Aunt Pat

          No, that's not actually the name of my beloved alma mater's sports teams, but yes, they did give it a trial run in the early 1980s.  Fortunately they decided against making it permanent, probably because spectators invariably burst into hysterical laughter at the idea of a women's college have a symbol of virginity as its mascot.

  •  Great diary! Thank you for writing from your (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Youffraita, Portlaw, Ahianne, Aunt Pat

    heart.  Your childhood Christmas sounds enchanting.  

    For the life of me I cannot pick out a few books that really impressed me this year - at least not new ones.  Instead of reading, I spent far too much time outside in the woods or on the lake and almost all of my reading has been my yearly re-reading.

    Every year for the past couple of decades (that sounds like such a long time!  and it wasn't!), my summer reading has been all of Jane Austen, Douglas Adams, and David Guterson (very rarely it will be a new one - not often enough!).  These are rounded out by Tiger in the Smoke, The Nine Tailors, and (surprise) To Kill a Mockingbird.  I should probably expand that  list, because I do have the time, and I am thinking of adding Tad Williams' Otherworld series.  

    Summer is always for fiction and in addition to the usual list of suspects, I like to read English mysteries.

    The rest of the year I read "serious" stuff, anthropology, archaeology, politics.  I am going to get Ayn Rand Nation and prepare for 2014.

    Happy New Year everyone.  I wish you all peace, health, and some good books.  A nice cup of tea, too.

    "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

    by Most Awesome Nana on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 12:16:37 AM PST

    •  I periodically reread old favorites (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xaxnar, Aunt Pat

      A couple of years ago it was Dorothy Sayers and Rex Stout, last year it was Lynn Flewelling, this coming year it will probably be Walter Hunt, and of course I reread Tolkien every couple of years.  I usually reread during the winter and read new works during the summer, oddly enough.  

      Happy new year!

      •  I periodically reread old favorites too. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Aunt Pat, Susan from 29

        For some reason, some members of my family can't understand why anyone would read a book more than once. Would you only listen to a Beethoven Symphony once, or never look at a robin in spring again?

        I keep going back to Bujold's Sharing Knife series. Every so often I find I need to look at Schmitz's The Witches of Karres again, or Leinster's Med Service series.

        Reading Captain Vorpatril's Alliance has been interesting. I have the impression that Bujold seems to be tying up loose ends in the Vorkosigan saga. It's as though she's trying to get everyone to a place in the saga where we can let them go on with their lives from that point on.

        She's been working them hard for years; they've earned their literary Valhalla. (I think she's made up to Ivan for all the times over the years he's been the butt of jokes with this book.)

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 03:29:14 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  re-reading LOTR now. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Aunt Pat

        went looking for The Hobbit but it had been checked out of the library.  they had LOTR and since it's been well over a decade since i last read it, i picked it up.

        frodo et al just arrived at rivendell.

        i must say it's held up amazingly well.  i had always preferred the hobbit, am really enjoying it so far.  like meeting an old friend again after many years.

        A standing army is like a standing member. It's an excellent assurance of domestic tranquility, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure. Elbridge Gerry - Constitutional Convention (1787)

        by No Exit on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 03:34:30 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I reread it this spring (0+ / 0-)

          Holds up beautifully, and now I'm old enough to notice Tolkien's eye for nature in a way I hadn't before.

          •  I had read it several times as a teen (0+ / 0-)

            I think I am enjoying it more this time around, but will wait to see if that continues to hold.  I remember thinking the middle and end dragged on quite a bit.

            Happy New Years to you :)

            A standing army is like a standing member. It's an excellent assurance of domestic tranquility, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure. Elbridge Gerry - Constitutional Convention (1787)

            by No Exit on Tue Jan 01, 2013 at 04:03:56 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  I am rereading (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Portlaw, Ahianne, xaxnar, Aunt Pat

    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo novels, but I think my favorite this year was Terry Pratchett's Making Money.  Moist von Lipwick is one of my favorite Discworld characters, and I am long overdue to buy a new copy of the first novel featuring him, Going Postal.

    To make the argument that the media has a left- or right-wing, or a liberal or a conservative bias, is like asking if the problem with Al-Qaeda is do they use too much oil in their hummus. Al Franken

    by Youffraita on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 12:49:31 AM PST

    •  I'll have to do a serious read of Pratchett (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Youffraita, xaxnar, Aunt Pat

      I've only dipped into Discworld and know that I've missed a lot.  

      •  Lots of great Discworld stuff (0+ / 0-)

        Von Lipwig is a great character, but I find the stories with Sam Vimes are some of my favorites. He's such a multi-dimensional character, it's almost always worth watching him at work.

        There's a great Discworld mini-series based on the character Tiffany Aching and the Nac Mac Feegles. Although supposedly aimed at younger readers, there are plenty of moments older readers will enjoy, including some wickedly perceptive observations along the way. There are four books in the series that I know of: The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, The Wintersmith, and I Shall Wear Midnight.

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 03:38:37 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I read "Only Yesterday" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ahianne, Aunt Pat

    several years back and completely agree with your assessment. Glad to know that "Since Yesterday" is available on line.

    Particularly interested in the WPA book. My High School Gym/Auditorium was built by the WPA. Until a few years ago, the last major sewer renovation in my town had been the work of the WPA. Most of the public parks in the city were improved by the WPA as well.

    I've read a good deal about John Brown, so naturally that book caught my eye. I'm not sure it's accurate to call him a fanatic though. His actions have to be viewed in context and the times were both violent and brutal.

    The Rand book looks like something I ought to read. I don't need to be convinced about her influence. I've known about her since I was a kid and her impact was pervasive among the sci-fi circles I ran in. Second only to Robert A. Heinlein. At least Heinlein didn't actively promote a cult of personality around himself.  

    Nothing human is alien to me.

    by WB Reeves on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 12:59:27 AM PST

    •  You'll love it (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      raboof, Ahianne, Aunt Pat, xaxnar

      The WPA did everything from art to literature to public works to bookmobiles.  So much of this country's infrastructure was done by the WPA or the CCC, it's astonishing, and it's about time we remembered their work.

      As for the Rand/Heinlein influence on SF fandom...oh God, do I hear you.  I've been in fandom to one degree or another most of my life, and the number of fans (especially male) who are 100% certain that Heinlein was right about everything and anything (including parenting, even though he didn't have children) is just scary.  I totally agree that it's a damn good thing he didn't collect followers the way Rand did...and for all that, he did something completely *un*selfish that's a real legacy to the SF community and the world through his work setting up blood drives at conventions.  That's how I got into donating, which I've done for almost three years now.

      •  Heinlein has his moments (0+ / 0-)

        Some of them a bit beyond the pale, but I think his saving grace is that while he may have had strong opinions about a number of things, unlike Rand he didn't take himself totally seriously. There are indications he had a sense of humor, for one thing.

        He didn't get into writing to save the world - he did it to make money and then found he couldn't give it up. Eventually he got to the point where he could write to please himself - but even his literary masturbation still has some redeeming moments.

        If nothing else, he should get some credit for making TANSTAAFL more widely known.

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 03:46:14 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  "Apathy" by Neilan (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat

    Absolutely hilarious satire... beyond satire. Actually, rereading it after reading it in Singapore 3 years ago...

    And i'm normally a Scandinavian crime fiction reader...

    "Neilan's wit is a razor that cuts and slashes mercilessly on every single page, in every single paragraph, so that your fingers will bleed even as tears of laughter soak your face."

  •  Heartbreaking (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat

    to read your account of your family's dissolution, and heartwarming to read of your finding family elsewhere.  Best to you and yours, and I love your book list!  Already reserved two selections at my local libe, on-line.

    Eat, drink, and be fat and drunk.

    by Ref on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 06:26:47 AM PST

  •  Still need to get around to: (0+ / 0-)

    Albion's Seed


    The Republican Brain

    (The last sounds like a title for a bad horror movie.)

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 03:49:40 PM PST

    •  I've read the former (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The prose style isn't all that impressive, but it's a fascinating book nonetheless.

      •  Written in Academic, I think (0+ / 0-)

        The definition of folk ways at the start of the book (about as far as I've gotten) is fascinating. If you want a list of all the different ways to think about designing a culture/society for a novel, well this ought to fill the bill.

        —Speech ways, conventional patterns of written and spoken language: pronunciation, vocabulary, syntax and grammar.
        —Building ways, prevailing forms of vernacular architecture and high architecture, which tend to be related to one another.
        —Family ways, the structure and function of the household and family, both in ideal and actuality.
        —Marriage ways, ideas of the marriage-bond, and cultural processes of courtship, marriage and divorce.
        —Gender ways, customs that regulate social relations between men and women.
        —Sex ways, conventional sexual attitudes and acts, and the treatment of sexual deviance.
        —Child-rearing ways, ideas of child nature and customs of child nurture.
        —Naming ways, onomastic customs including favored forenames and the descent of names within the family.
        —Age ways, attitudes toward age, experiences of aging, and age relationships.
        —Death ways, attitudes toward death, mortality rituals, mortuary customs and mourning practices.
        —Religious ways, patterns of religious worship, theology, ecclesiology and church architecture.
        —Magic ways, normative beliefs and practices concerning the supernatural.
        —Learning ways, attitudes toward literacy and learning, and conventional patterns of education.
        —Food ways, patterns of diet, nutrition, cooking, eating, feasting and fasting.
        —Dress ways, customs of dress, demeanor, and personal adornment.
        —Sport ways, attitudes toward recreation and leisure; folk games and forms of organized sport.
        —Work ways, work ethics and work experiences; attitudes toward work and the nature of work.
        —Time ways, attitudes toward the use of time, customary methods of time keeping, and the conventional rhythms of life.
        —Wealth ways, attitudes toward wealth and patterns of its distribution.
        —Rank ways, the rules by which rank is assigned, the roles which rank entails, and relations between different ranks.
        —Social ways, conventional patterns of migration, settlement, association and affiliation.
        —Order ways, ideas of order, ordering institutions, forms of disorder, and treatment of the disorderly.
        —Power ways, attitudes toward authority and power; patterns of political participation.
        —Freedom ways, prevailing ideas of liberty and restraint, and libertarian customs and institutions.
        Fischer, David Hackett (1991-03-14). Albion's Seed:Four British Folkways in America (America: A Cultural History) (Kindle Locations 519-533). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 05:36:43 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I read Only Yesterday back when I was in high (0+ / 0-)

    school and loved it.

    I'll recommend a history book for you, one that I have a strong feeling would appeal to your peculiar tastes inasmuch as they sometimes parallel mine: Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Mackay.

    Only $3.08 on!  Cheap!{keyword}&gclid=CPHz6NjNw7QCFSTZQgodRmkA6w

    I understand they have assigned this in economics classes for many decades because of its retelling of the Dutch Tulip Mania, one of the worst economic bubbles in history -- and all of it based on the Dutch stock market that was created just for trading tulip bulbs.  The book doesn't go into any of the hinky economics of it -- just the weirdness of people's ordinary behavior in that and a number of other economic bubble situations.  It was written in 1841, so it doesn't provide any 20th century examples, but you can start to see parallels very quickly.

    They might recommend it for the part about bubbles, but it's the rest of it that makes it more entertaining.  Like the alchemy fad, and the witch burning manias, and -- my favorite of them all -- the slow poisoning fad.

    Yes, there was a time when slow poisoning other people you don't like was so commonplace that it was basically reduced to a misdemeanor and shops selling slow poisons were open to the public and held in high regard.  Beating your wife to death might have been only frowned upon, but poisoning your wife-beating husband slowly, over the course of days, with poisons, was frowned upon equally.  

    In the chapter on alchemy, he posts long quotes from some of the writings of the period that are quite funny, although perhaps unintentionally on Mackay's part, as one alchemist pours his heart out complaining about how much money he spent and got swindled on this formula and that formula and oh, the heartbreak, and how you just can't trust other alchemists.

    •  That's one of my favs! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I first read it about twenty-five years ago and still pick it up from time to time.  Great, great fun.

      Another goodie:  "Curious Myths of the Middle Ages," by Sabine Baring-Gould.  The chapter on the Wandering Jew alone is worth the price.

  •  Ooh, so Winter Soldier really was that good huh (0+ / 0-)

    Between that, his awesome role in the Civil War plot (fuck you Tony...) and Chris Evans, Cap had a great decade imho. I'll have to check that out. Captain America 2 is gonna be an adaptation of Winter Soldier btw...

    Just finished 100 Bullets (great, but tapered off a bit towards the end). Catching up on all those Bleach mangas I missed (I know, I know, its trash. I can't help myself.) and I'm almost finished Maus (which is tragic for reasons I didn't expect).

    Oh, and I gotta read that My Little Pony comic that's turning the comic industry upside down by outselling X-Men....


    "See? I'm not a racist! I have a black friend!"

    by TheHalfrican on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 10:45:52 PM PST

    •  It was superb (0+ / 0-)

      I think Brubaker won the Eisner, the comic industry equivalent of an Oscar, and he deserved it.   You should be able to find it pretty easily at the local bookstore (I got mine at Barnes & Noble).  Enjoy!

    •  And as for Tony.... (0+ / 0-)

      I think he pretty much outed himself as being (at the very least) very, very, very fond of Steve with "Confession."  I seriously expected him to admit to undying love and then back down bawling uncontrollably on Sam's shoulder...

      Not that this will ever, ever happen outside of either a What If? issue, one of Reed Richards' multiverses, or an amazingly large collection of fanfiction, mind.

  •  I don't really have a favorite this year, although (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I enjoyed Ayn Rand Nation. I liked Pity the Billionaire as well. No novels stand out, though. Don't know if it is me, the books or the kindle.

    Lovely diary. May have to try Whitefire Crossing in 2013, and perhaps some JD Robb. Thanks for the recommendations, and I hope the new year provides all that you wish.

    "I cannot live without books" -- Thomas Jefferson, 1815

    by Susan Grigsby on Mon Dec 31, 2012 at 12:13:29 AM PST

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