Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy New Year... and a FABULOUS GIVEAWAY!

Well, hello there!

It's a new year and this is kind of exciting: THIS IS MY 100th BLOG POST. I kinda feel like it's cheating because I'm supposed to be doing all these 97 things, right, and I only have 43 of them done and this is my 100th post. I know I'm bad at math, but something doesn't compute. But whatever, I have still hit "post" 100 times -- or will when I finish this! (Insert noisemaker sound here.)

The reason I have the 100 is because I have written extra entries -- including the annual New Year "Hey Don't Give Up On Me!" post and books I've loved. Well, since this is the year I get Organized, I'm combining 2 posts into one. Isn't that clever? And read aaaaaallll the way to the bottom, and there will be another GIVEAWAY! (Insert that noisemaker sound again.)

So one of my New Year's Resolutions is to read more this year, and I thought that if that was one of your resolutions, too, I'd give you a list of a few of my favorites I've read over the past year or so. I've read quite a few more, but I've been bad and haven't kept track and have lent them out and can't remember them off the top of my head. But here are some that I've really enjoyed, and I hope you'll enjoy them, too:


2011 was a lucky year for us, because a new Lynn Peril book was released: Swimming in the Steno Pool! This time around my favorite author tackled the subject of secretaries throughout history, and goes way beyond the stereotypes of "office wives" making coffee. Smart, witty, and informative, whether you know shorthand or not. A must!



Another book with "swim" in the title: Swim to Me by Betsy Carter. I saw this in the Algonquin Books catalog and knew it would be a winner, because I love everything Algonquin publishes. This is no exception -- the story of a girl's journey to become a fabulous Weeki Watchee mermaid. When I was finished I was ready to book tickets to Florida and see the show.



Another one set in Florida, Swamplandia by Karen Russell. I really liked this book and loved the premise, but I did have a problem with some of the details near the end -- but don't let my persnickety-ness deter you. (I didn't like Time Traveler's Wife because of a minute detail, and it's everyone's favorite book.) I'd love to hear what you think!



Okay, this is old news by now (a lot of these are, but there are always gems in backlist titles that may get passed over the initial PR sweep), but I absolutely LOVED ROOM by Emma Donoghue. So much so, in fact, that I still, to this day, think about the characters and wonder what they're doing, much like how I felt about Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson. So powerful, and what's funny is that when I first started reading, I had no idea how she could sustain the story. Oh, she does.



This is old news, too, but still very good news: The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I read it when it first came out -- I bought into the hype of the wunderkind young author, and was so enthralled that I kept sneaking reads of it while I pretended to shelve books at the bookstore where I worked. This past year I went to dinner with a group of women, and one of them said that this book is her litmus test of potential friendships and standing gift to everyone with whom she's friends. I understand completely.



I Was Told There'd be Cake and How Did You Get This Number by Sloane Crosley. I kind of hate Sloane Crosley because she's another wunderkind -- super witty, a terrific writer, and cute. And has been compared to Dorothy Parker, David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell, three of my absolute favorites. I kind of hate her because I am totally jealous of her and wish I could be her. Sigh.



Another wit that had me laughing out loud, and that may surprise you if you've read "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, as it is one of the most horrifying (and best) short stories ever written. But one of the things that makes "The Lottery" so scary is how real it seems initially -- the everyday life of a housewife in an everyday town, but then horror seeps in. (I always thought that was what made Stephen King and Steven Spielberg's "Poltergeist" so popular, too -- everyday people confronted with terror.) Life Among the Savages is Shirley Jackson's chronicle of her own life, and it is hysterical. I want to go back and share all the funny parts here, but I won't. You need to read them for yourself. Those kooky kids!



Speaking of kooky kids... I bought Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs because I loved the cover, and it did NOT disappoint. It is all-around fantastic, from the premise, the craft, the story and the found photos within. It reminded me of the great books I read as a kid, with a little Geek Love (but much, much sweeter) thrown in. I heard there's going to be a sequel and I CANNOT WAIT.



While Miss Peregrine had a group of peculiar kids, none of them were only a foot tall, but that's where Chumpy Walnut by Will Viharo comes in. Chumpy (oh, how I love the name -- in fact, the book is chock full of fabulous names) is only 12 inches tall, but holds his own with lots of fast talkin' guys and dolls. The reviews call it "Runyon-esque," but I think it's way more Viharo-esque. Super fun read,complete with illustrations, and I'll bet you'll be wishing you had friends named Goosey, Hotsie and Cupey, too.



Another charming walk through the past, literally -- Caroline Preston, the author of The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, has collected 1920's ephemera and crafted a story (much like the found photos of Miss Peregrine) out of wonderful vintage illustrations, ads, photos, drawings, and knick knacks. And yet with just a few written words per page, she has written a novel with a terrific storyline that takes the reader from Cornish, NH, to Vassar to Manhattan to Paris and back to Cornish again and created a spunky character, the brave and independent Frankie.



The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy. Another young girl's madcap adventures in Paris. God, I LOVED this book. Just get this line as she talks about wanting "to sin" and go to the Ritz in the 1950's: "I mean... oh... Luxe, satins and silks... leopardskins and peacock's tongues. Silk -- that's what I want rubbing against me. I feel so woolen all the time." Tres magnifique!



I suppose I was on a kick this year -- single, intrepid women from decades past. Hmmm. But this one, I think, is the best of the lot. (And trust me, I loved them all.) So much so that when I finished, I went right back to page one and savored it again for a few hours.



Well, of course one of the original New York "party girls," the ultimate spunky gal about town was Holly Golightly, one of my all-time favorite characters in literature. But, believe it or not, she's not one of my favorites on the big screen, as much as I love and absolutely adore Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy. Fifth Avenue 5 a.m. is behind the scenes of the movie, and whether it's your most favorite film in the world or you feel the way I do, you will LOVE this book. Who knew that a "behind the scenes" look would be so enthralling? Trust me, it is.



And here he is, the creator of Holly, and one of my all-time, most revered authors. Now, Truman Capote was the party boy about town, and Party of the Century is the story of his famous Black and White Ball, when Truman was at his peak of fabulosity. And a side note that's so exciting for me -- I bought this book less than a mile from where Truman lived as a child, next door to Harper Lee, in Monroeville, Alabama. (One of my best friends and I went on a pilgrimage there, and it was so wonderful! Here's a photo of me at the site of Truman's old house!) Capote came a long way from his humble beginnings, and this book is a taste of that -- literally, too -- check out the decadent recipe for The Plaza's chicken hash!



Talk about GLAMOUR. I read this book while sitting on a crowded Southwest flight with the guy in front of me leaned all the way back, and a kid watching a movie on a laptop next to me with the volume turned up to 11 through his headphones, while eating a bland airport sandwich and pretzels. And there were Dick and Liz jetsetting on private planes and ginormous yachts, flying in food from Chasen's, spending millions of dollars on diamonds, and boozing it up like nobody's business. (Except it was EVERYBODY'S business. Even the Vatican's.)And yet... you still love them, and want it to work for them. I'd been chomping at the bit to read it since I read the excerpt in Vanity Fair, and it was even better (and juicier) than I hoped it would be. And what's good about this -- the very good authors clearly respect Elizabeth and Richard, and that makes a difference.


And now, drumroll, please, the best book I've read all year:



ZSA ZSA. One Lifetime is Not Enough. No,no it isn't. I am NOT kidding, this book is AMAZING. If you're friends with me on facebook, you know that already. And I hope I've converted you to the Church of Zsa Zsa. She has done EVERYTHING. You NEED this book. It will change your whole life, and you will start calling everyone dahling and realize that the Kardashians PALE in comparison to being famous for being famous -- the Gabors are the real thing, dahlings. Order it NOW.

Speaking of ordering books, I implore you to order/buy from local bookstores and/or brick and mortars. I think you all know how I feel about this, and how important it is to support your local bookseller. Show them some love!

Speaking of showing some love, it's giveaway time!

Leave a comment of YOUR favorite book you've read all year, or ever, or on your To Read list -- I would love some new recommendations, or conversation for ones I've read, too! And please share this post on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, that Google Plus, myspace, friendster, with your mom... Everywhere!

I'll draw a name from a bowl like I did here. And the prize will be the first book on this list, a copy of Lynn Peril's fabulous Swimming in the Steno Pool! Hooray! Won't that be a great way to start 2012? I'll pick the winner on January 12 around 8 pm PST, so be sure to comment by then.

Happy New Year, everyone, and thank you so much! And good luck!

43 comments:

Monika said...

I JUST started reading "Rules of Civility" and boy howdy, this is gonna be a good one!

My favorite book last year was definitely "The Help".

Charm and Poise said...

As you know, I'm a biography freak so I've read tons of bios and autobios about the people I hold near and dear (Tab Hunter, I'm looking at you!) but I would say that one of my favorite bios I read this year was Sam Irvin's biography on Kay Thompson. His prose is zingy and has so much flair, it really is as if he captured Kay Thompson right on the page!

Sparkleneely said...

Monika -- oooh, I think you will like it! I loved The Help, too, but that book sure doesn't need my help promoting it. ;) I want to see the movie, too.

Sharon -- I desperately want to read the Kay Thompson bio, as she is one of my idols! But tell me... HAVE YOU READ ZSA ZSA?????

Unknown said...
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Kelli said...

Thanks for the book list! I've got some reading to catch up on. I got a Nook for Christmas, and as much as I can't fathom not turning a real page, I'm looking forward to not having yet another book to squeeze into the shelf and dust.

My favorite book this last year was "The Help". I resisted jumping on the bandwagon, but then my step mother literally shoved the book into my hand and once I cracked it open and read the first two pages I was hooked. Still haven't succumbed to the movie...yet!

Kelly said...

Thanks for the suggestions! I'm always looking for a good read!

Thrillville said...

As a B movie/grindhouse fan I'd say my favorite book I've read in 2011 was "The Drive-in Trilogy" by Joe R. Lansdale. He's almost as nutty as I am. Chumpy loves you.

Shona said...

I'lll take myself out of the running for Lynn's book (I'm still basking in my Jell-Ring mold glory!), but I got to work with Emma Donaghue years ago at the Magic Theatre on a production of her book "Kissing the Witch." The book (and Emma) was fantastic!
My favorite books so far this year were "The Last Aloha," about the final disintigration of Hawaiian sovereignty, the "Hunger Games" triogy, and the latest Sherman Alexie. Gah, my books were all horridly depressing. At least I balanced it with tons of great 4th grader books! I'm taking your list to the library asap!

larajanepark said...

You have outdone yourself again Karen. Your posts are well worth the wait! I live for your book suggestions and most of my all time favorite books have been read at your suggestion, starting from the age of 11. Marvelous! Keep it up- food for my soul. Off to the library I go! xoxoxox lara

Supermod said...

I always love your book suggestions and this is the year I spend less time watching old TV shows on Netflix and catching up on reading.

Okay, at the risk of sounding all arty (and I'm not), best book I read last year was "The Judgement of Paris: Manet, Meisonnier and An Artistic Revolution."

My dad turned me on to it and I had no real interest in learning about Impressionism (not my favorite style). This book changed that! Well written, and an interesting blend of art attitudes, politics, and personalities from that period. Demonstrates the shift from attitudes toward classical art to Impressionism. Now, I'm a-learned.

Anonymous said...

Well, it wasn't my favorite, but since you asked, I DID read "Stories I Only Tell my Friends" by Rob Lowe. The main things that stuck with me were:

1) Mr. Lowe clearly doesn't like Andrew McCarthy much (BLAINE!)

2) Rob Lowe thinks Rob Lowe is very funny

3) He felt he was forced to play second fiddle to Josh Malina on the West Wing and he was sick of it, SICK OF IT I TELL YOU.

xo
Candace

go_minx said...

Karen, have you read "A Girl in Paris" by Shusha Guppy? It's Guppy's recollections of being a naive 17 year old, newly arrived from Iran, in fabulous 50s Paris.
http://www.amazon.com/Girl-Paris-Shusha-Guppy/dp/0749398361

MissClaireM said...

This past year I didn't read nearly as much as I usually do. But I was taken by "The Poisonwood Bible." I know, I know, I'm so late to the party. But it completely sucked me in, and I find myself thinking of it again and again since reading it. My fave book before that was "People of the Book."

Laura said...
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Laura said...

A+ list Karen, thanks!

spycygrl said...

I read Fifth Avenue based upon your reco and was so very pleased. The rest of your book list looks equally scrumptious. Looks like I better get to the library!

Karin H. said...

My mom is always comparing herself to "Red" (Joan) on MadMen. She was a secretary in big business for all her career before she retired. I want to get Swimming in the Steno Pool for her (& for me to steal after she reads it), I know she'll love it!

carrieswing said...

Can I just say that your list is SO much better than the crap my relatives give me and say, "Here, these books are great for reading on BART" which really means brainless, and I don't take BART anyway! From now on, I'm sticking with YOUR selections! xoxo

Alice Bennett said...

I just started reading Death in a Prairie House-Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders by William R. Drennan. So far, so good! When I am done, I will make my way through your great list. Last year I read Detour-A Hollywood Story by Cheryl Crane-Lana Turner's daughter! It details Cheryl's life leading up to 14 year old Cheryl plunging a knife into Lana's boyfriend and killing him! Quality stuff. Very easy read.

Sparkleneely said...

Ooohhh, I love everyone's comments! Yay!

spycygrl said...

So...disappointingly, the El Segundo Public Library carries only SOME of the books on your fab list. Of those carried, several were checked out and FURIOUS LOVE is lost somewhere in the bowels of the stacks (says it's "on shelf," yet it's nowhere to be found). I did check out SWAMPLANDIA, however, and am excited to start it.

In other news, like Karin H., my mom was a lifetime secretary. She was even the secretary to Dr. Edward Teller (aka "Father of the H-bomb") for a while. I may just have to buy SWIMMING IN THE STENO POOL for the both of us, too!

Kalli said...

One of my favorite books of all time is "Catcher in the Rye." I read it again this year because I love it so much. "Crime and Punishment" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" are two other favorites of mine.

My favorite books that I read for the first time last year are "The Help," "Darkly Dreaming Dexter," and "The Hunger Games."

Jone said...

Furious Love. Loved living vicariously through LiZ and Dicks crazy, affluent world. That's my most recent favorite...

Seren said...

Have you read "Flora Segunda" by Ysabeau S. Wilce? Because I read it last year, and if I weren't already engaged, I'd marry that book, or rather I'd enter into a joint union with it and its sequel, "Flora's Dare". The next in the series is due out in March, and I say Not. Soon. Enough.

Eduardo Melendez said...

Hi Karen, great list of books, I am also hoping to read more than last year, a year where I read over 10,000 pages but now its a new one. I am currently reading the wonderful Brideshead Revisited, a bio on Willliam Carlos Williams, The Collected Stories of Dorothy Parker and the Collected Poems of Hilda Doolittle. think I mentioned all of these at Carrie's b-day drink-a-fest! Books awaiting in my queue are: World Within World by Stephen Spender and Vile Bodies by E. Waugh.

Hmm I have to think about which book I loved last year, one which was excellent was Klaus Mann's novel Mephisto as well as his auto-bio The Turning Point and a 5 volume bio on Dostoevsky.

Susan Hult said...

I think my favorite book of last year was "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian." Words, pictures, tears, this book had it all. Plus it is a YA book and I know you love the YA books, like me. I really wanted to let my 11-year-old niece read it, but it had this whole thing about masturbation and I didn't feel it was my place to start THAT conversation. (Though maybe I will just give her "Then Again Maybe I Won't."

Lazy Mama said...

Your list from last year will be my list this year. I don't have anything new to report, but I loved THE KNOWN WORLD by Edward Jones and cannot get that book out of my mind. It's been out for awhile. He's just a really wonderful writer.

TheBayAreaBrit said...

Congrats on your 100th post. I've been sitting on 64 since July. Perhaps the rekindling of your wonderful blog will inspire me.

My favorite read of 2012 (so far) is "Charles Addams - A Cartoonist's Life" a bio by Linda Davis. He looked like Walter Matthau and yet was quite the social playboy. Peppered with some of his incredible work, it's a fun read.
Also, Charles Addams posthumously celebrated his 100th birthday this week. Spooky!

Andy said...

I can't wait to read some of these before I have to dive back into textbooks, thanks Karen!!

Dead Cow Girl said...

Great list! It's been so long since I've read a book, that I wouldn't which end to start with. Should I get a moment this year, I will be starting with Zsa Zsa... and working my way up this list. :-)

Anonymous said...

Lovely! Because of your blog, it looks like I have some new books to read! Agent K.

jjermano said...

Well, with the holidaze being what they are, I always find it helpful to start off the New Year perusing something from the diet literature. So this year I'm seeking a copy of "I Think I'll Start On Monday: The Official 8 1/2 oz. Mashed Potato Diet" by the late great Totie Fields. (Last year it was "How I Lost 10 Pounds in 53 Years" by Kaye Ballard.)

go_minx said...

Because I have the memory span of your standard household goldfish, I must ask you - did I ever tell you my father's account of Liz and Dick?

Sparkleneely said...

I just want to LIKE all of these comments, and I am so thrilled that I have a list going for 2012 thanks to all of you!

And ms Minx, DO TELL! And it's quite clear that all of us here love a GOOD STORY! SPILL!

Gabriella said...

This past year I really enjoyed The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I had a hard time getting into it but once I got used to the rythm I couldn't put it down.

I hope I win! :)

Lolly Squirrel said...

This past year I re-read "The Dress Doctor" by Edith Head & Jane Kesner Ardmore. Its always entertaining, with excellent fashion tips for the Stars! And never-ever goes out of style... ;)

Megan said...

Thank you for this list! I will definitely "Cherchez les livres!"

I read a lot of grocery store pulp this year (forwarded by my mom) so I don't have anything to recommend to you but I am determined to do better this year.

Cheers!

Kelly @ Velveteen Lounge said...

Well, it was from 2009, but my favorite book that I read in 2011 was "The Lacuna." Motivationally, I also liked "A Place of Yes," but that's too dorky to admit out loud. Oh, wait... :-D

go_minx said...

Here's the dish on Liz and Dick...
In 1969, my father went to Paris to make a film with Liz Taylor and Warren Beatty called "The Only Game in Town." The story is set in Las Vegas but Liz didn't want to be far from Dick, who was shooting "Staircase" in Paris at that time so they filmed all of the interior scenes for "Only Game" in Paris.
Anyhoo, Liz and Dick were renting some fancy chateau and would invite the cast and crew from their respective films over for lunch pretty much every weekend.
Everyone would eat and drink too much and be made to feel uncomfortable by Liz and Dick, who would get REALLY drunk and hurl insults at each other in that adorable way that only they could. It was just weird. They clearly adored each other but had some basic respect issues. Dick would insinuate that Liz was a moron and she'd fire back that he was a philandering monster. What fun it must have been!
Meanwhile, my mother was back home with my sister and me - quietly freaking out that that hussy Liz Taylor would steal my dashing father away. And with good reason. After all, if she was willing to steal her best pal Debbie Reynold's hubby, what chance did my mother have against Liz's feminine wiles?
My father phoned from Paris to tell Mom that she had nothing to worry about. Liz was on a downward trajectory, appearance-wise, and also only had eyes for Dick.
As a side note, Warren Beatty spent a considerable amount of time discussing acting/theater craft/film with my father. My father thought he was a nice young man until (dun dun DUN!) he found out that Warren was maneuvering to have his part made larger and my father's part made smaller. Word on the street has it that this is one of the sneaky techniques he has used so well over the years. (I have another Warren Beatty family story but that will have to wait until another day.)
My final comment on my father's time with Liz and Dick in Paris is in regard to the film's director George Stevens. My father was more excited about working with him than Liz because Mr. Stevens was a living legend by that time. If you do not know his name, be sure to look him up on IMDB. You will be amazed at how many great films he made and how much he achieved professionally. Unfortunately, by the time he made "Only Game," he was behaving very oddly. We now recognize such behavior as Alzheimer's Disease but no one was flinging that term around back in 1970.
The cast was largely left to their own devices with some guidance from the assistant director. It would be Mr. Stevens' last film. A much loved/hated and inglorious ending to a remarkable career.

Sparkleneely said...

GEORGE STEVENS? Hello, Place in the Sun and Giant I can name off the top of my head! How AMAZING!

And funny about The Lacuna -- we discussed it last night at dinner. Another one for my list!

Karin H. said...

Oh YES, the Lacuna was one of my FAVORITES in the last few years.

Irene O. said...

2012 Resolution: READ MORE! I love this post and want to read every single book on your list. The last book I read was "The Diary of a Lost Girl" by Margarete Bohme. I had watched the silent movie years ago but had never realized it was based on a novel from 1905.
I found the book at an old theater gift shop in Niles. The shop had loads of interesting silent era goodies, we totally need to make a return visit by TRAIN!

That is an Amazing story, Carla!

Aimée Goggins said...

I am loving 1Q84 (Murakami is one of my fave authors, and Wind-Up Bird Chronicle would be on my favorite all time books list for sure).

And, I would have to say the most inspirational book I read in 2011 was 'Animal, Vegetable, Miracle'. I'm not sure if I resisted so long because the title kind of makes me wince or what, but it really did change the way I think about and buy food.

Other recent goodies to throw into your mix: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, The Hunger Games trilogy, and The World Made By Hand.