Speaking American

9780544703391I love language. I love language differences. I particularly love regional variations in language use.

When I was growing up, I ordered a pop if I wanted a Coke or a 7-Up. I didn’t find out that this was not universal until I went to college. There I learned that some people who get what I call pop call it soda. To me, a soda was a pop with ice cream in it. I have learned since that most of the country considers this an ice cream soda. (We did have a version of this soda—the root beer float: two scoops of ice cream in a large glass, slowly pour the root beer over the ice cream, add straw, go back to horror/James Bond/Hitchcock movie.)

Speaking American, by Josh Katz, is the book I’ve wanted to read for years. Here’s the soda score:


I had been under the impression, until I read this book, that only we Minnesotans were clueless in the pop definition thing. I am happily surprised to see that Iowa, both of the Dakotas, Michigan, Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio, and the most sensible parts of Wisconsin all use pop. Even Washington State largely uses pop. Hmm. I think henceforth I shall eschew soda, and use pop exclusively. I love regionalism. Linguistically speaking.

Here’s a fun one. I grew up totally and completely saying car’-mel, two syllables. Everyone says it that way here. Then I get married, and my New York spouse says care’-ah-mell. What? Really? It sounded so pretentious to me. And then I find out that it’s purely a regional thing:


The yard sale takes up several pages. Or perhaps I should say garage sale; they seem equally common. But in Connecticut you have the tag sale, and in southeast Wisconsin you have a rummage sale. In Brooklyn they have stoop sales.

I learned (should I be admitting this?) that a frying pan and a skillet are the same thing (a skillet more common in the central south, a frying pan more common everywhere else). I had always thought a skillet was cast iron, and a frying pan was anything else. Oooh—maybe that’s a Minnesotan differentiation. (Doubtful.)

Who would think icing and frosting could have a regional rift? But they do: In the South, people suggest you can use the two words interchangeably. The north says no, they are not interchangeable (icing is thin, often used on cookies and for a very thin coating of a frosting—like a glaze; frosting is thick and often fluffy; icing doesn’t fluff). You see? You see how we get into our regionalisms? I think it is great fun.

I had no idea that everyone in the world didn’t call the strip of grass between the street and the sidewalk the boulevard. I grew up in my small town calling it the boulevard. I think that’s pretty much standard across Minnesota (but I should do some research before you take it as fact). Turns out that about three-quarters of the country doesn’t have a word for this strip. I find that hard to believe! Seriously? Is it possible that most of the country has no word for that strip between the sidewalk and the street, that many of us in Minnesota plant with flowers and other fun plants (I have a neighbor on the corner that has blessedly planted raspberries on their boulevard—can you imagine anything more generous?).

A lot of the food differences are fun. Here’s one:


Yep, they got it right. I grew up calling them crayfish. (I wonder how many people call them anything at all anymore. Are they still common?)

Other fun things I learned:

  • Most people call athletic shoes tennis shoes (I call them tennies), but in the northeast and also southern Florida, they say sneakers.
  • Some regions celebrate the night before Halloween. They call it Mischief Night (South Jersey and Philadelphia), Devil’s Night (Michigan and Pittsburgh), Goosey Night (a small bit of North Jersey), and Cabbage Night (New York and Vermont sides of Lake Champlain).
  • I am in the minority when I pronounce aunt ahnt. Except for most of Minnesota and North Dakota, northern South Dakota, and the Northeast (and a standout in Virginia), everyone else says ant.
  • There are also regional pronunciation differences in pajamas, often (no, I don’t pronounce the T), crayons, quarter, coupon, lawyer, grocery, route, and been.
  • A groundhog and a woodchuck are the same thing. (Yes, I should have known that.)
  • While most of the country has no word for when it’s raining while the sun is shining, some areas in the northeast, Florida, and Minnesota (disparate!) call it a sunshower, while the deep south calls it “the devil beating his wife.” Who knew?

This is a purely fun book, great maps, informative, interesting, and beautiful. Did I mention fun? Usually I regift my books, but I think I will do this one on a loaner basis. I want to share it with a lot of people.

Reading in the New Year

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry this year—nine books so far. Most recently I finished Cloudy With a Fire in the Basement, by Ronna Bloom, which held a number of poems that I liked. Here is my favorite:


Today I found an intact jar of plum jam at the back
of the cupboard, it opened with a satisfying suck
and plummy smell. I made that jam, had

lost track. Was probably saving it.
Stop saving everything! Julia Child cries
touching my cheek.

Poetry opens me and I’m grateful. Thank God
for Grace Paley. She writes with her heart
and peasant body. And Adrienne Rich with that brow.

Is it just the High Holidays or my age?
I feel both more
and less Jewish around them.

Spend everything! they say. Here, have a plum.
The old women of culture come back, feed us,
tell us where we came from.

—Ronna Bloom

Another poetry book I read just a few weeks earlier—The Light of Invisible Bodies, by Jeanne Lohmann—also had a poem about plums that I loved:


Though it is early to talk of autumn
the purple asters begin to dry
into decline. Toward the end of summer
something delicious happens on a hot
afternoon when I bend over a blue
china plate to eat a ripe Satsuma plum.
Sticky and sweet, the juice slides off my chin,
the dark skin slips from the red heart
that waits for my tongue. A friend said this is
the only way to eat such plums
but love, I did not tell him of a tree
heavy with fruit, year after year
the unforgotten taste of desire.

—Jeanne Lohmann

I’ve only read two fiction books thus far, and of those the clear standout is A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny. This is the 7th book in her mystery series set in Three Pines, a small village in Quebec. Since it’s the 7th in the series, I won’t bother to say anything about it other than that I loved it. If you’ve already discovered Louise Penny, you’re probably way ahead of me in the series (I am behind—there are now 12). If you haven’t heard of her and like mysteries even a little bit, consider checking her out. (The first is Still Life.) This is the best mystery series I’ve run across in years (interesting characters, good character development, an appealing setting, and I always just want to keep reading).

In the nonfiction realm, I’m currently reading The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country, by Helen Russell (a Brit). I’m nearly one-third through, and it is fun, funny, and interesting. Did you know that Denmark is the happiest country in the world? They’re also ranked highest for work-life balance (I suspect those two rankings are not unrelated). I am beginning to uncover some of the roots of Danish happiness. So far I have learned about hygge—the importance of coziness. Examples of hygge include having throws and blankets on the sofa for extra coziness, and lots of pillows and cushions. But also a large dining table that will seat at least eight people for talking and relaxing around, and perhaps a designer candleholder and some Royal Copenhagen dinnerware.

Also on my nightstand: If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: Notes from Small-Town Alaska (Heather Lende) which I am just a few pages into (noted in the LA Times as “part Annie Dillard, part Anne Lamott”—perfect for February); Just One Damned Thing After Another, by Jodi Taylor (SF, also first in a series, time travel!); and The Mother on the Other Side of the World, by James Baker Hall (poetry).

In case you happened to notice that all those books have long titles, that is no coincidence. February’s reading theme is books with long titles (the minimum is five words). Loving this theme with tons of great and fun titles. How is it possible to be retired and not have enough time to read?

The Birds Of Winter

I visited Sax Zim Bog (northern Minnesota) this weekend, looking for the winter birds that can be found especially here. Sax Zim is most famous for owls—both the great gray owl and the northern hawk owl are frequently sighted. While most (but not all) of my trips to Sax Zim have included owl sightings, that was not in the cards for this weekend.

A small disappointment, but still. Lots of other birds out there.

red_breasted_nuthatch_7I added more than a dozen birds to my year list. Northern Minnesota specialties included the pine grosbeak (several flocks in different locations), red-breasted nuthatch (at least 20), common raven (lots), northern shrike (at least four—most often seen at the very tippy top of trees), boreal chickadee (which was heard but not seen), common redpoll, gray jay (also called a whiskey jack), and black-billed magpie.

bald_eagle_adult2I also saw my first bald eagles of the year—four, I think. They are pretty common in Minnesota, but I never fail to find them beautiful and majestic. Also new to the 2017 list: pine siskin, purple finch, herring gull, common goldeneye (a duck), and broad-winged hawk.

Over the course of the day, we noticed a lot more diversity among birders than we usually see. Mostly the birders we encounter (in these areas that are specifically noted for birds) are white and middle- to rather old-aged. But on this Sax Zim visit, while we didn’t encounter very many people at all, two of them were East Indian (they told us about the marten that had been seen—not a bird, but still, how fun to see a marten, which I have never seen). They also told us of the great gray owl which they had seen at 7 that morning (when we were just leaving Minneapolis). One of the other rare birder sightings was an African American. Yay!

bb_magpie_mikewisnickiAnd especially encouraging to me was a group of young people—early 20s maybe—seriously birding the bog. There were six of them, traveling in two cars. On one stretch of road we hopscotched a bit, and kept tabs on each other. They pointed out the magpies. We pointed out the gray jays. We all appreciated the ravens.

These young people in the bog, so clearly enjoying themselves and loving this setting, not just on a lark, but clearly into the birds.

It fills me with hope.

The Things We Do

After the election, I decided to focus more on things here on the home front—at the neighborhood and city as well as the state level. It started with volunteering to “adopt” a storm drain. There were six at the intersection half a block north of our house, and we could pick whichever one we wanted. But it was just too hard to choose, so we adopted all six. This winter with the frequent thaws, we’ve been out there chopping out the snow and ice so the water can drain. You might be surprised at how difficult it can be to find a storm drain in the winter. And when you find one, you’d think the one across the street would be right across the street, right? Well, no.

But it’s always rewarding—good exercise and a sense of doing something in the community. And sometimes people stop and thank us. The bus drivers almost always wave. That feels good too. We’ve also started shoveling out both ends of our alley (where the snow always seems to accrue). We reap a very direct advantage from this, so it is not exactly a civic deed. Nonetheless, one day when we were clearing out the snow, a guy stopped his truck and asked if he could spell one of us for a while—he just wanted to help out. Maybe we will even get to meet more of our neighbors!

The other thing we’ve done right here in our neighborhood is volunteer for our small urban orchard. It is just starting out (no fruit until next year) but we will help to water and mulch and other sundry tasks as assigned. After the trees start to bear, we will also help with harvest and gleaning. It is quite an exciting project—a variety of fruit trees, including apple, crabapple, plum, pear, peach, and cherry. I wonder what a Minnesota peach will taste like?

There are a few town hall meetings coming up—two of them held/sponsored by my state senator and representative. There is also a town hall meeting in February on the minimum wage of $15 for the city of Minneapolis. I absolutely want a higher minimum wage, but I don’t know that $15 and just for the city of Minneapolis is the way to go. Geographically speaking, Minneapolis is a relatively small part of the 7-county metro area. And with a population of approximately 394,000, we are also a relatively small portion (approximately 13.5%) of the population. I need to learn more.

I have stuck to my New Year’s resolution to send a postcard a week to our new Senate majority leader. I have already heard back from him—not wordy responses but acknowledging my concerns (in this case, responding to two separate postcards, one about infrastructure and the other about healthcare). I did not actually expect him to respond to my postcards. I don’t think I’ll tell him that. I’ve also written about funding the University of Minnesota; a potential crackdown on protesters—potentially making it a felony with some serious financial implications; a suggestion that the state NOT invest in developing a from-scratch computer program to distribute health insurance premium rebates (as that has not worked so well in the past—the build from scratch part); and the definition and use of the word “exponential” (sorry, but it’s numbers AND words, an intersection I can’t ignore).

The acknowledgment has further spurred me, and I have chosen to believe that he actually appreciates these postcards. I know this is a glass half-full to overflowing viewpoint, but why not? I am always respectful and try to send interesting postcards (and a nice variety—I have scads that I’ve collected for the haiku project).

Anyway, I should have made the resolution to send AT LEAST one postcard a week, because I have already sent 10! They are addressing so many things in the Legislature (as well they should, leaving so many things undone last year) that I feel I can’t wait a week on some things. I sent three postcards on healthcare, and the legislation is now signed and done. It is a decent piece of legislation, and both sides compromised. The Republicans put some interesting things on the table that I want to learn more about: a farmers health insurance co-op, and a reinsurance program. Since I am one of the 5% that purchases my health insurance independently on the market, I watch this issue very carefully.

Not long ago I got together with a friend for lunch. We were talking about things we were doing since the election. She has doubled her volunteer commitment at a local nonprofit, working a shift two days a week instead of one. She’s made phone calls to national House and Senate leaders (and our reps as well) on various issues. She participated in the women’s march in St. Paul.

It wasn’t a tallying, it wasn’t a comparison, and often it wasn’t even the focus of the discussion. But as we moved on to the second beer, I realized that even just between the two of us, we are doing quite a lot! Lots of contact with government representatives (she more national, I more local), local involvement, even drinking local beer. Yes, I know. Civic to the bone.

A few days later, after reading the newspaper I was a bit despondent. I went online and signed two petitions (one sponsored by a Minnesota senator, one by moveon.org) and sent a congratulatory postcard to the Senate leader for the healthcare legislation which was actually quite a good compromise. But it felt so little.

And then I remembered the lunch with my friend, and when it all added up, it had seemed like a lot. And I thought it might be inspiring to track that for two or four years. So I emailed my friend and another good friend of ours with this idea: Report in on what you’re doing. It will give each of us other ideas, as we have different approaches and different areas of priority. Even if each of us did one thing a week, at the end of a year, that would be more than 150 actions. It’s not meant to be competitive, but I do hope it challenges us. And I know it will encourage us, just having this list of ongoing things that we’re doing, small and large: a postcard sent, a phone-call to a senator, attending a town hall meeting, a petition, an email, a volunteer gig, a letter to the editor, a march, a poem.

This is not a partisan thing. Everyone can do something to make community stronger, to make their voice heard, to make sure everyone’s voices are heard. Start where you’re comfortable. Maybe make a pact with a friend, keep a list. Do one thing this month, this year, tomorrow.

These are the things we do.

When it comes down to it, perhaps they’re the only things that matter.

A Whimsical Year

A few years ago, my family adopted the tradition of no “new” gifts at Christmas. You could make something, provide a service, regift, or even buy something used, but buying new was forbidden. It has been a lovely tradition, and has migrated far beyond my family Christmas.

The best idea I have come up with so far is the Whimsy Box.

This grew out of an original idea of coupons to be redeemed over the year (e.g., homemade meal of choice, dinner at favorite restaurant, a day getting lost in Fort Snelling State Park). I originally thought big—a special meal out, a special meal in, a full day at the park), maybe 10-12 a year. A lot of them were fun, but we didn’t do them all. Mood, life, timing. Sigh.

This year, as Christmas rolled around, I didn’t want to do coupons. I wanted to do something a bit more fun, with a spark of spontaneity. Hence, the Whimsy Box.

Partly the idea stemmed from the box: a fine tie box (a Native Northwest design that we got in Victoria, British Columbia; it has hinges)—a box I had thought to use as a box for a gift (thinking the box half the gift), but I changed my mind (thinking 95% chance recipient will throw said box in trash).

Not a box I was ready to part with. Beautiful box. A box for ideas. A box of the imagination. A box for suggestions. Suggestions!

Hence the Whimsy Box: I took this tie box, and filled it with whimsical ideas—things I think we will both find fun, often at the drop of a hat. More than 10. A lot more than 10. More like 50. Some examples:

  • Happy Hour at Dixie’s (great catfish basket)como-tropical
  • Take a walk by the river
  • Spend a winter afternoon at the Como Conservatory
  • Go to the downtown library (Minneapolis)
  • Spend a day at a state park
  • Walk to the mailbox
  • Learn a yoga pose
  • Visit our friend in Hastings
  • Go for a walk in the snow at night
  • Take the bus to Uptown and go to the bookstores
  • Go to Minnehaha Falls

And, since Hal has taken an interest in learning to cook a bit (ever since reading Real Food, by Nina Plank), I included several kitchen basics: learn how to fry an egg, learn how to make French toast, learn how to make pea soup, for example. And also, I thought it might be fun for us to learn how to make something together (even in our small awkward kitchen) and so I threw that idea in the box as well. We have talked about possibly doing a frittata.

This is a super easy and very personal gift you can tailor to individual preferences, whether it be to spend more time together, explore new places, spend less time together (not as crazy as it sounds—example: “I will leave the house for an afternoon and you can have the entire house to yourself.”), get more exercise, try new restaurants, get more culture, etc.

We have already had a lot of fun with it (a walk to leave books at a Little Free Library, learning to make French toast), and this weekend, I think we may make the frittata.

Monthly Reading Themes 2017

I mentioned in the last post that I’m continuing the monthly reading theme with my friend Sheila (this will be the 4th year, and I think we enjoy it more each year!).

Here are the 12 themes for 2017:

  • January: Light
  • February: Long Titles
  • March: Literary Forms
  • April: Emotions
  • May: Terrain
  • June: Celestial Objects
  • July: Proper Nouns
  • August: The ________
  • September: Man/Woman/Child
  • October: House/Home
  • Novembers: _________ & _________
  • December: Things with Wings

One of my favorite things about the monthly themes is that they cause me to look at my books through a new lens, often leading me to books that have been patiently waiting on the shelf for many years. This month for the Light theme, I finally pulled out Diane Ackerman’s The Moon By Whale Light, which I got 14 years ago! And I’m planning to start A Certain Slant of Light, by Cynthia Thayer (which has also been on the shelf for 14 years), either today or tomorrow. I’ve almost finished the poetry book, Bodies of Light, by Athena Kildegaard (4 years), and have just started Ordinary Light, by Tracy K. Smith (1 year). More Light updates as the month progresses.

I am super excited about the Long Titles theme in February (ironically the shortest month). This is purely fun. Look at these titles, and this is just from poetry:

  • Cloudy with a Fire in the Basement, Ronna Bloom
  • Like the New Moon, I Will Live My Life, Robert Bly
  • Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest, B. H. Fairchild
  • The Mothers on the Other Side of the World, James Baker Hall
  • Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty, Tony Hoagland
  • Encouragement for a Man Falling to His Death, Christopher Kennedy
  • You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake, Anna Moschovakis
  • Running Like A Woman With Her Hair on Fire, Martina Newberry
  • A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far, Adrienne Rich
  • In a Landscape of Having To Repeat, Martha Ronk
  • On the Waterbed They Sank To Their Own Levels, Sarah Rosenblatt
  • The Porch Is a Journey Different from the House, Ever Saskya
  • The Man Who Sleeps in My Office, Jason Sommer
  • Combing the Snakes from His Hair, James Thomas Stevens
  • The Girl with Bees in Her Hair, Eleanor Rand Wilner
  • Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man, Ronaldo V. Wilson
  • Diamonds on the Back of a Snake, Pam Wynn

I mean seriously, is that a fun list or what? We had in mind a general “rule” that a title had to be at least five words to be considered Long. Quick glances at fiction and nonfiction also find significant numbers of books with long (and interesting) titles.

Literary Forms (March) is another theme I’m particularly looking forward to, encompassing any book with a literary form in its title: diary, letter, narrative, poem, story, field notes, footnotes, recipe, lexicon, etc.

April is for Emotions. I know I have a lot of happiness books (The Happiness Paradox, The Happiness Project, I Care About Your Happiness, and two books simply titled Happiness), but that much Happy might get a little samey over a month. Calm! I have a couple of books in the calm realm. And then there’s Stephen King’s Joyland. I expect a scan of the mystery shelves might yield some fear, and fantasy might have—enchantment?

May is Terrain. Terrain is a catch-all for landscape, prairie, farm, desert, field, land, mountain. I have until just this moment thought of this theme entirely in terms of nonfiction (having so many rural, prairie, farm, field, land, etc. books). Poetry should be okay; poetry covers a lot of land. But what of fiction? I have at least one desert and one prairie. Hmmm. This will be interesting. Stretching is always optional, of course.

June is Celestial Objects. Probably we could do just sun, moon, and stars, but why limit ourselves? Planets, constellations, galaxies, the universe!

July is Proper Nouns. This has a lot of potential, as you might guess. I’m going to focus mostly on geographic proper nouns—I have so many books, fiction and nonfiction, with a city or country in the title. But it could also be a park, or an ocean, or a mountain range. Or Wrigley Field (which would also work for the Terrain theme in May…).

August is The _______. This theme arose completely and totally from a theme we had last year which was one-word titles (The Wedding would not count as a one-word title; we were unusually strict in specifying that “The” was not allowable). Of course we both ran across a ton of The ________ books that we wanted to read. We will be reading at least some of those in August.

September is Man/Woman/Child. This is far out enough that I haven’t given it a lot of thought, except to notice I’ve at least got a few books in poetry. And I’m for sure planning to read Just Kids (Patti Smith) for this theme, which is already coloring just a bit outside the lines. It will be interesting to see how this falls out. I think children will be seriously underrepresented in my collection!

October is House/Home, a repeat from 2016 because we both had so many books left over that we still wanted to read. And plus we realized that we had forgotten a House book we both love, House of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski. House of Leaves is a beautiful package in and of itself, one of the scariest books I’ve ever read (excepting The Shining, by Stephen King), and perhaps one of the most brilliant. Note: The basic premise of House of Leaves is that a house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. This does not sound at all scary. But as I was glued to this book, reading alone, in a large house, I started to get quite freaked out about the closet behind me…. Anyway, Sheila and I specifically chose October for House/Home and we plan to reread House of Leaves together.

The November theme is ______ & _____ (e.g., Lost and Found, Pride and Prejudice). This is so far off I haven’t thought about it at all except to note I have a few poetry books that fit the bill, and two books called Lost and Found (one fiction, one nonfiction).

December is Things with Wings. This is an expansion from an initial thought of birds. Things with wings will also include bees, butterflies and moths, airplanes, mansions and hospitals, flies, bats, and chairs. This will continue to evolve as it is still nearly a year away.

Read along! Pick a theme that appeals to you or intrigues you, and see what you find on your shelves or at the local library. For Light in the month of January, I can’t recommend anything more highly than All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. Let me know what you read—and whether you like it or not.

Happy Reading!

The Books of 2016

I love reading books, I love buying books, I love browsing books, and I love playing with and organizing books. Books are one of the major things in my life.

Throughout the year, I track the number of books I buy on a monthly basis. You may find that strange, but when you find large portions of your budget going into one category, you like to drill down and see what’s going on. In 2008, I bought 267 books (I like to think this is the peak, but the truth is, I haven’t compiled the data from the prior years; it is possible, and not improbable, that the actual annual peak was even higher than 267).

I do not read anywhere near 267 books in a typical year. The problem isn’t that I wasn’t reading. It’s that I was buying at least twice as much as I was reading, which led to a space-flow (as opposed to a cash-flow) problem. Small house, double-shelved books, piles of books on various surfaces. So I started cutting back with a goal of buying only as many books as I read in a given year. It has been a long road, but this year I bought only 85 books while I read 154. A serious improvement!

Of the 154 books I read, excluding the rereads,* 13 books came out on top as the best books of 2016.

A few comments:

Artful, by Ali Smith, completely revised my view of rereading books: She suggests that one would never say one “knows” a symphony or is done with a symphony after listening to it one time. You listen to it again and again, and each time you understand it better; a different nuance, a different mood. But people read books one time, and then they’re done. Rereading is rare, and reserved only for the best. As for myself, I tend not to reread even the books that I love, because there are so many new books out there that I want to read. But Artful has called me back to rereading, reminding me that there always seems to be something new in a book, every time you read it.

House of Coates, by Brad Zellar, left me wondering. Is it true? Not true? A compelling book no matter what, but especially if you’re from Minnesota, or have ever driven past the House of Coates, in Coates, MN.

A Mathematician’s Lament, by Paul Lockheart, unexpectedly and completely rekindled my interest in mathematics. It actually made me happy-excited about numbers again—a feeling I last had in the early stages of algebra.

Speaking American, by Josh Katz, is pure entertainment for people interested in regional language differences. In MN we say pop while most other places say soda, and we make a hotdish while most of the rest of the country makes a casserole. This fun book with maps explores these differences throughout the United States. It’s hard not to read in one sitting.

The rest of the best of 2016:

  • A Year in Japan, Kate T. Williamson (beautiful book)
  • Plant Dreaming Deep, May Sarton
  • All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
  • The Senator Next Door, Amy Klobuchar
  • Letters of a Woman Homesteader, Elinore Pruitt Stewart
  • Real Food, Nina Planck
  • Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream, Jennifer Ackerman
  • Nimona/Lumberjanes, Noelle Stevenson (graphic novels)
  • The Preservationist, David Maine (a retelling of the story of Noah)

*The reread books are The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien; and Journal of a Solitude, by May Sarton. Both of these books would be in my top 10 all-time favorite books, always worth rereading.

Also in 2016, I have managed to get rid of many many bags of books. Most to bookstores (and a few to Little Free Libraries). A conservative figure would be 200, but I think it’s closer to 350 (books, not bags).

I think one of the reasons I bought fewer books this year is because the monthly reading themes keep me focused more on my own collection. What books do I have that I might have forgotten about that fit this theme? Every month I look at the shelves with new eyes. Two of my favorite themes from last year were one-word titles (e.g., Georgia, Pinhook, Fidelity, Nimona); and work/occupation (purely fun just finding the titles: Auto Mechanic’s Daughter, A Mathematician’s Lament, The Orchardist, The Senator Next Door, The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup, The Cartographer’s Vacation—so many to choose from!).

The themes for 2017 have been decided. January’s theme is Light. If I hadn’t just read it a few months ago, I’d reread All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr—the best fiction book I read last year. If anyone out there is interested in following along with the monthly reading themes, I couldn’t recommend a better Light book for the month of January.

I’ll leave the rest of the themes for a later post. They are their own exuberance.