Thursday, December 31, 2009

How I Read 52 Books This Year

About a year ago, I made public my goal of reading 50 books in 2009.

With only hours left in the decade, I'm proud to say, I've read 52!

But here's the weird part -- it didn't actually feel like it took any time, leaving me and my loved ones relatively sane. Here's why:

-I started to take a book with me everywhere. Between lines at the grocery store, waiting for the F train (ugh), spending time on said F train and tardy dinner guests, I carved out a couple of hours each week, even with a mere 20 minute commute. I also became less grumpy about waiting for things.
-I travel a fair amount. Flights = still never on time.
-I watch almost no TV.
-Books related to work were fair game.
-I joined two book clubs. I can’t recommend this enough! I learned so much about my friends through these nerdy gatherings. These will continue in 2010!
-I’m a relatively fast reader.
-I read multiple books at a time. This allowed me to teeter and totter through fiction and non-fiction based on my mood and avoiding the feeling of being bogged down.
-I don’t read at the gym, but am not opposed to it. Tons of untapped time there.
-I cancelled three magazine subscriptions.
-I didn't play much clarinet. Frown.
-When the weather turns crappy, I become a hermit.
-In late 2008, I became a coffee drinker. Thanks, recession.

Here's what I read in 2009, in the order I read 'em in:
1. "The White Tiger" by Aravind Adiga
2. "Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson
3. "Snow Falling on Cedars" by David Guterson
4. "The Wall Street Journal Complete Real-Estate Investing Guidebook" by David Crook
5. "Barrel Fever" by Dave Sedaris
6. "A Bend in the River" by V.S. Naipaul
7. "Diary of a Bad Year" by J.M. Coetzee
8. "Levittown" by David Kushner
9. "Other Voices, Other Rooms" by Truman Capote
10. "Boyhood" by J.M. Coetzee
11. "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" by John le Carre
12. "The Sirens of Titan" by Kurt Vonnegut
13. “Dorothy Parker: Complete Stories” by Dorothy Parker
14. “The Memoirs of John Likkel” by John Likkel*
15. “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean
16. “Out of the Pits” by Caitlin Zaloom
17. “Between the Assassinations” by Aravind Adiga
18. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” by Mark Haddon
19. “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway
20. “The Partly Cloudy Patriot” by Sarah Vowell
21. “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy
22. “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” by David Foster Wallace
23. “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy
24. “Smart Women Marry Money” by Elizabeth Ford and Daniela Drake (For WSJ!)
25. “Then We Came to the End” by Joshua Ferris
26. “Nobody Move” by Denis Johnson
27. “The Name of the World” by Denis Johnson
28. “Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans: the Best of McSweeney’s Humor Category” ed. Dave Eggers, etc.
29. “The Stranger” by Albert Camus
30. “Angels” by Denis Johnson
31. "American Pastoral" by Philip Roth
32. "Reservation Blues" by Sherman Alexie
34. "The Insanity Defense" by Woody Allen
35. "Kafka on the Shore" by Haruki Murakami
36. "Indignation" by Philip Roth
37. "Snap Judgement" by David Adler (author Q and A)
38. "Midnight's Children" by Salman Rushdie
39. "Monopolygate" by Ralph Anspach (Obvi!)
40. "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" by Steig Larsson
41. "A Mercy" by Toni Morrison
42. "Revolutionary Road" by Richard Yates
43. "The Billionaire's Vinegar" by Benjamin Wallace
44. "The Night of the Gun" by David Carr
45. "Farewell, my Lovely" by Raymond Chandler
46. "Monopoly: The World's Most Famous Game and How it Got That Way" by Philip E. Orbanes
47. "The Game Makers" by Philip E. Orbanes
48. "The History of Standard Oil: Volume I" by Ida Tarbell
49. "The House of Spirits" by Isabelle Allende
50. "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan
51. "Liar's Poker" by Michael Lewis
52. “Timequake” by Kurt Vonnegut

I also jotted down a list of the movies I read this year. As I skim through the lists, my memory is jogged. “Coraline” was viewed with my eight-year-old nephew in 3-D, David Foster Wallace rattled me on my birthday, “Revolutionary Road” danced in my head as I wrote stories about the decay of the U.S. economy. I’m no Art Garfunkel or Harriet Klausner, but I’d recommend this quick, literary and film-diet notetaking for anyone.

Halfway through the year, I bought a new bookshelf. As I sit here on New Year’s Eve in a snow-covered New York City, I look at that shelf. It’s overflowing with different books recommended to me, some loaned, some purchased, from friends and family who cheered me on throughout the year. Also some favorites, begging to be re-read. (That practice was off-limits this year.) Stuck on my wall are dozens of post-its, also bearing recommendations. Thinking about books and lists is overwhelming, and as a writer by trade, incredibly humbling. Sheesh.
I’ve yet to decide what my goal for 2010 will be. Run a marathon? Read 52 more? Keep that damn closet organized?

One thing is clear: I’ve still got a lot more reading to do!**

Happy New Year!

*I came across my great-grandfather's memoirs while at home in Oregon in March and helping my grandma go through things. Since great-grandpa's tale was well over 100 pages, I decided to count it.
**Roommate comment on all this: "You're a supernerd." Sigh.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why It's Hip to be a Square (Dancer)

As a kid growing up in Oregon, I, like many other school children, suffered through square dancing in PE class.


I returned to my homeland for today's A1 story about the current status of young square dancers of the Pacific Northwest. Turns out, the numbers are dwindling and there's a fight to keep the tradition alive. And it's not my grandma's (or gym teacher's) kind of square dance anymore.

I also got the chance to interview historians about the hidden history of square dancing. It involves French trends in the 18th century, slavery and Henry Ford.

Thanks to everyone who helped me out with this story!

(PS -- Reader writes in that there's a square dance group at MIT called the Tech Squares! Awesome!)

Monday, December 07, 2009

My 8-year-old nephew interprets my existence

Here's his sketch:

Note the iPhone, purse, book and boots detail. Gotta start stashing cash in his 529 for art school.

(Meanwhile, at the WSJ DON'T BUY GIFT CARDS THIS YEAR! Avoid skimming, consider credit-card board games and why it stinks to be a 2008 college graduate.)

Lots of other schtuff in the journalistic pipeline, but keeping mum for now!