Saturday, February 6, 2016

Best Romance Books of 2015

I read a total of 84 books in 2015. I read fewer romances but had an overall superb reading year.

My list of Best Romance Books of 2015 is published by All About Romance.

My list of Best Non-Romance Books of 2015 is HERE.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Royal German 1716 Marquetry Cabinet

In 1716, Journeymen cabinetmakers Jacob Arend and Johannes Witthalm created an elaborate writing cabinet in Servacius Arend's workshop for Jacob Gallus von Hohlach. Servacius was the cabinetmaker to the court of Würzburg in Germany. The Baroque cabinet is about 70 inches tall, 65 inches wide, and about 30 inches deep.

According to Lost Art Press: "The carcase is pine with veneering in walnut. Marquetry woods are burr walnut, sycamore, tulipwood, boxwood, ebonized and stained woods; other materials include ivory, bone, turtle shell, pewter and brass. The cypher of von Hohlach is laid into snakewood. The drawers are lined with embossed decorative papers; cupboards are lined with red silk."

[Image copyrighted by Lost Art Press.]

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

My January Reading

The first month of the year and so begins another year of reading and blogging and bookish conversations. I'm looking forward to it in delight. I have so many books lined up to read already.

One new thing that I'm going to be mentioning in these round-ups are children's picture books. I read so many every month. Don't worry I won't list every one here or the 18273 times I read each one. However, there are some books that rise to the top, and I'll mention those.

Last year, I tried to read story collections of poets I already knew or had read before. This year, I'm going for new singleton poems. As a result, many will be modern, a new area for me. I'm a diehard Romantic Era fan and a fan of pastoral lyricism. We'll see how I fare this year. I have no training in poetry reading so the commentary will be superficial at best—more in the vein of "this is what I feel."

In my reading goals for the year, I said I would try to mention any facts that I have learned. In my reading this month, I learned that an amputation of the leg below the knee is vastly different from the one above the knee in terms of future mobility with prosthetics. The teenage heroine of The Running Dream had one below the knee and was able to run with her new running leg (different from her walking leg).

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Categories: Nonfiction, Life Skills
Comments: This was the first book of the new year for me. I shall be reading a little bit in it every day, so it's an ongoing project.

Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas
Categories: Romance, Victorian
Comments: Kleypas is an auto-buy author for me for her historicals and Travis series. Going into this book, I was determined not to read any reviews of the book, because I wanted a pristine reading experience. And I'm so glad I did. My commentary is posted at All About Romance. Kleypas spent a lot of time setting up the rest of the series here. The book I'm looking forward to isn't Helen's story (next) but rather West's and Pandora's story.

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) by Ann-Marie MacDonald
Categories: Play
Comments: Recommended by SonomaLass and Liz McCausland. It was my January TBR Challenge read and my comments are here.

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
Categories: Nonfiction
Comments: I skipped through and read a few sections of the book. My subsequent blog What Are Morning Pages? is posted.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
Categories: Literary Fiction
Comments: I have nothing new to add to the hundreds of thousands of words already written about this.

The Temporary Wife by Mary Balogh
Categories: Romance, Regency
Comments: I really wanted to like this book. It's a Marriage of Convenience plot with people who start out as promising characters. He finds a wife to marry by advertising for a governess. She needs money to raise her brothers and sisters and dig themselves out of their dead father's debts. They strike a deal. She will pose as his loving wife in front of his father, the duke, and his family at their ancestral pile. In return for this temporary playacting, he will give her a house, a carriage, and a large allowance. Well, naturally, things go awry. They start having feeeeelings for each other. All in all the relationship was moving along at a smart clip and I was enjoying it, and then came The Scene. I don't mind deliberate rudeness, casual thoughtlessness, thwarting, and avoiding. But I don't countenance cruelty.

"Where did you get it?" His nostrils flared.
"Your father gave it to me," she said. They had an audience — a very attentive audience.
"Take it off," he said.
"Your father—"
"Take it off." His face was white. And suddenly she was terrified of him.
She did not move her hands fast enough. He raised one of his own, curled it about the topaz, his fingers grazing over her skin none too gently, and jerked at the necklet. The catch held fast and she grimaced with pain.
"Turn around," he said.
She turned around and tilted her head forward. His fingers fumbled at the catch for what seemed like endless moments before she felt the weight of the necklet fall away from her neck onto his hand. She did not lift her head or turn around — everyone was behind her and everyone was loudly silent.

And yet, ten minutes later, she's forgiven him and is smiling at him. Two hours later, he acknowledges to himself that he's falling deeply in love with her. What kind of love is this? His anger at and hatred of his father is so consuming that he hurts his wife, makes her neck bleed, insults and humiliates her horribly in front of his entire family, just so he can score a point and drop that necklace onto the floor at his father's feet. Four hours later, she smilingly and affectionately tries to effect a reconciliation between her husband and the duke. She's too nice, she's too understanding, and it was slightly difficult for me to believe in her character.

Despite this, I appreciated how well-written and well-plotted the story was. That entire scene above is perfect in its timing and delivery. The story after all is a Balogh!

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen
Categories: Children's
Diversity: Children with physical challenges, multicultural children
Comments: A stellar read recommended by my daughter. I sobbed my heart out reading this book. Easily my best read of the month. This is what good children's books should be about: hope, joy, the power of dreaming big, hard work, focus, and living in this big wide world of ours with people of all kinds.

In short, a gifted teen runner loses part of her right leg after a tragic accident. This story is about her recovery from the depths of despair towards hope for herself and compassion for someone she perceives is not as lucky as she is. It is also the story of sheer grit and courage as she learns to run with a prosthetic and not just run for herself on the school track but to run 10 miles while pushing a wheelchair with a 100-lb girl with cerebral palsy. Unadulterated awe! (Yes, it's fiction but its effect is nonetheless just as powerful.)

Jessica brings such joy into Rosa's life, just as Rosa brought hope into Jessica's life by helping lift her out of depression.

"Jessica Carlisle wants to help Rosa do something she would never be able to do on her own—go for a run."
"When Jessica runs me," Rosa says, "I feel like I'm flying."

What is the cause Jessica and Rosa are running for?

"Quite simple, it's to have people see us, not our conditions. That's all anybody with a disability really wants. Don't sum up the person based on what you see, or what you don't understand; get to know them."

An Unexpected Family by Molly O'Keefe
Categories: Romance, Contemporary
Comments: O'Keefe is such a good writer. She does emotions really well, with depth and nuance. In this book, there seemed to be one story about the characters' actions and another story about their emotions. The story told in emotions is superb. The story told in the characters' actions doesn't make them very likeable or reliable. The hero always seems to act from anger and the heroine from questionable casualness to everything. That makes their final scene where they confess their love and forgive each other great for the story arc, but it left me with some doubt about the longevity of their HEA. That's where O'Keefe's wonderful epilogue comes in. The two wait a year and marry at the end of that. By then I was on board for their HEA.

There's also a secondary romantic story with the heroine's mother and that one is very well done. Again, the emotions are superbly handled. In fact, I liked that story better than the main one.

There's over-the-top writing, like "radiating tension like a nuclear reactor" and "blood pooled in his brain." It was a tad too much. But it's all forgivable, because overall, the writing is great.

For example, here's Lucy waiting to find out the bad news from her accountant:

She closed her phone and watched a bird—maybe a hawk, she wasn't sure—swoop along the ridgeline and ride the wind current off the Sierras. Not a care in the world, that bird. Must be nice, she thought, totally aware that she was jealous of a creature with a pea-size[d] brain.

About Jeremiah:

His smile was lopsided, rueful, and utterly self-aware. A heartbroken cowboy who was self-aware? Good Lord, he was a country song brought to life.

A romantic moment for them:

His lips fell across hers like sunlight. Light and warm and sweet and she melted into the moment, into him. He breathed out, she breathed in, and the earth stopped rotating, as if someone had just pressed pause on the rest of the world.

Mawṭinī Mawṭinī (My Homeland, My Homeland) by Ibrahim Tuqan
Categories: Poetry, eBook
Diversity: Translated from Arabic
Comments: Palestinian poet Ibrahim Tuqan composed this three-verse poem in 1934. It was adopted as the Palestinian national anthem then, and since 2004, as the Iraqi anthem. You can have a listen here to the music that supports this rousing, patriotic song composed by Muhammad Fuliefil and you can also read the original Arabic poem.

No matter our political views today, every nation believes in pride in its land, hope for its future, and the goodness of its people. For Palestine and Iraq there's anguish in every word. Will they see that future they envision?

My homeland, my homeland
Glory and beauty, sublimity and splendor
Are in your hills, are in your hills
Life and deliverance, pleasure and hope
Are in your air, are in your air
Will I see you, will I see you?

New Year by Ed Ochester
Categories: Poetry, eBook
Comments: In the fictional surreal world of dreaming, a man learns a truth he never realized in reality. He'd always assumed his mother had never said, "I love you" to him and implicitly questioned whether she ever loved him. To which, she replies:

"You’ve always been somewhat of
a fool; don’t you remember how,
that time you passed out at my birthday party,
one of your cousins told you later
I cried out ‘My son, my only son!’?"

To What You Said by Walt Whitman
Categories: Poetry, eBook
Comments: Whitman is addressing a woman saying that though she entreated him passionately to be with her, he cannot belong to her like she cannot belong to him. He is consumed by his love for his male comrades (erotic and platonic). And he's always conscious of society's censure and suspicion. In speech at least he defies it and seems to urge society to do so as well.

Behold love choked, correct, polite, always suspicious
Behold the received models of the parlors — What are they to me?

A Not So Good Night in the San Pedro of the World by Charles Bukowski
Categories: Poetry, eBook
Comments: My first reaction was to laugh at this narcissistic piece.

I have no idea of what would be of
interest to you
but I doubt that you would be of
interest to me, so don't get
in fact, come to think of it, you can
kiss my ass.

On second thought, it's a poem of deep depression.

it’s unlikely that a decent poem is in me
let us celebrate the stupidity of our

It's not a poem of anguish, of struggle, but rather one of depression where he's given up. He feels he's completely alone, no one has the slightest interest in him or what he does, and he's defiant in his loneliness. What may be defiance to him, comes across as dangerously low esteem to the reader.

In the Land of Punctuation by Christian Morgenstern
Categories: Poetry, eBook
Diversity: Translated from German
Comments: A delightful poem about the war punctuation marks wage against each other even as they tout their own usefulness.

The peaceful land of Punctuation
is filled with tension overnight
When the stops and commas of the nation
call the semicolons "parasites"


But, woe! A new war looms large,
as dashes against commas charge
And cut across the commas' necks

The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski
Categories: Children's, Picture
Comments: This book came highly recommended by a children's book librarian, but it was less successful for me. This is a case of a framing story filled with little stories inside. The framing story is about a girl who discovers a special book at school and borrows it from her teacher. When she arrives home she realizes that it is full of pictures but there are no words. A whisper tells her to not cry over the loss of words but to imagine her stories for the pictures. Every page of the book for at least a dozen pages is then filled with a picture and a 2-3-sentence fragment of the story the girl has imagined for that page.

Mr. Ox, you must please promise not to tell anyone, but we need your help. Last week..."


Their hundred-mile journey began in a sturdy wooden boat. "Are we there yet?" asked Rabbit. :In another two days and one night," replied Lion. "Oh, that a very long time. I forgot, please remind me again—where are we going?" asked Rabbit

The stories were short, discombobulating, and uninteresting. These story fragments along with the dreamlike, disjointed, superimposed pictorial characters were confusing for me for 2-3 pages and completely confusing for the audience it was meant for.

Last Stop of Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson
Categories: Children's, Picture
Diversity: Hispanic author, POC and multicultural characters, people with physical challenges
Comments: This is a brave book that has all sorts of characters from the lower socio-economic classes. The boy and his grandmother cannot afford a car, for example, and have to ride the bus everywhere. His Nana gives the best explanations for all the questions he has.

"Nana, how come we don't got a car?"
"Boy, what do we need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire, and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you."

Every Sunday after church, CJ and Nana head over to the poorest part of the town to help serve in the Soup Kitchen.

"How come we always gotta go here after church?" CJ said. He stared out the window feeling sorry for himself. He watched cars zip by on either side, watched a group of boys hop curbs on bikes.

But his grandmother's teaching holds true. When an old woman with curlers and a jar of butterflies got on the bus, he gave her a big smile and said "Good afternoon." When a man with dark glasses, a cane, and a seeing-eye dog got on board, CJ gave up his seat. When the tattooed guitarist played a song, CJ closed his eyes to feel the magic of music and in the darkness, the rhythm lifted CJ out of the bus, out of the busy city.

Nana shows him that there's magic and joy everywhere you see. You just have to look for it.

"How come it's always so dirty over here?"
She smiled and pointed to the sky.
CJ saw the perfect rainbow arcing over their soup kitchen. He wondered how his nana always found beautiful where he never even thought to look.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Coloring My Medieval Art

Oxford University's Bodleian Libraries have created an event called Color Our Collections set up for February 1 to 5. They've put together a coloring book of images of popular art from their collection. But don't feel restricted by just those images. They've suggested that art enthusiasts can color any of the images available online from their collections. The event calls for people to put their colored artwork on Twitter tagged with #ColorOurCollections Feb 1 to 5.

I decided to do image 5 from their coloring book. The original medieval manuscript is here: Auct. 4Q 2.15, Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, Lucain, Suetone, et Salluste [French] folio a2 recto.

This was a dream exercise. After months of studying medieval manuscripts, I could pretend to be a scribe coloring in a colophon in a parchment manuscript.

Here's the black-n-white image.

Here's my colored image.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Illuminated Manuscript with Gold Lettering on Purple

Book of Psalms from 9th century with gold lettering on purple parchment. It's currently housed at the Bodeleian Library at Oxford (Bodleian Douce FF 59). This is part of the Douce collection at the library.

Francis Douce (1757–1834) was an antiquary and collector. He was trained as a lawyer but quickly realized that books were his passion. For a while, he was the Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum. In 1823, he came into property and money and then onwards freely indulged his love for collecting manuscripts, books connected with English literature, especially Shakespeare, and curiosities of every description.

[Images are used with permission by Erik Kwakkel.]

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What Are Morning Pages?

A few of us have been reporting in on Twitter every day after we've written our Morning Pages. There is camaraderie and accountability in doing so. This has spurred some interest in others to likewise do them and the question came up: What, after all, are these Morning Pages?

So I turned to their creator Julia Cameron and her book The Artist's Way where she talks about them.

Morning Pages are three handwritten pages written strictly in a stream-of-consciousness style.

There's no wrong way to do the Pages. These scratchings aren't meant to be art or writing even. They're not supposed to sound smart or clever. Doing Pages is the mere act of moving a pen across a page and writing whatever comes to mind, be it petty, silly, whiny, weird, self-pitying, fragmented, negative, babyish, angry, or.... No one other than you will ever know what you've written within the pages of your notebook. MC Richards says, "Poetry often enters through the window of irrelevance." So you keep doing your Pages no matter what you write in your book.

We have all internalized this perfectionist, which Cameron calls the Censor, who critics our every move in life. Well, the Censor is there to criticize your Pages as well. So Cameron says, "By spilling out of bed and straight onto the page every morning, you learn to evade the Censor. Because there is no wrong way to write the Morning Pages, the Censor's opinion doesn't count."

If you want to do the Pages, you have to commit to doing them faithfully. You have to be all-in. The Pages are non-negotiable. Do not try to skimp or skip writing them. Whether or not you're in the mood is irrelevant. The Pages have to be written, and in so doing, you will learn that you can write whether you're angry, upset, sorrowful, depressed, ecstatic, tired, or downright bored. Write about your emotions. And if you have nothing to say, write "I can't think of anything to write about today" till you've filled three pages. You will find that within a few lines of this, your creative mind will kick in and you'll be writing about something other than being unable to write.

In her book, Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg gives this insight about her writing: "This is the practice school of writing. Like running, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Some days you don't want to run and you resist every step of the way, but you do it anyway. You practice whether you want to or not. You don't wait around for inspiration. It'll never happen. If you run regularly, you train your mind to cut through or ignore your resistance. You just do it."

Another way to look at this: The Pages are like meditation. Pish-posh, you say. How can writing about the mundane be spiritual? They're a valid form of meditation because "they give us insight and help us effect change in our lives," according to Cameron. "The Pages are a pathway to a strong and clear sense of self." You come at the Pages from a negative standpoint and in writing your heart out, a solution may present itself or a coping mechanism. Chekhov advised, "If you want to work on your art, work on your life." To which, Cameron says, "In order to have self-expression, you must have a self to express." Writing as a meditative practice will help you find your self.

You've been nodding along, agreeing with everything that I've written, but you ask: What if I am not a writer? Well, you don't have to be one. You can be a lawyer, a dancer, a painter, what-have-you. Picasso famously said, "Painting is just another way of keeping a diary." In fact, it's writers who have the hardest time with these Pages, because they attempt to write them instead of merely doing them. There's a difference. The former has an agenda, the latter is a free-form exercise where you let it all hang out. As a result of doing these Pages, what you will discover is that this free and expansive aspect of your personality that you've cultivated on the Pages will come out in other areas of your life.

So if daily Morning Pages sounds like something you'd be interested in doing, join me in Paging. Tweet me every morning and let me know you've Paged.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Today is #NationalReadaThonDay #TimeToRead

According to the National Book Foundation, today is National Read-a-thon Day. So grab a comfy chair, a snack, and a drink and go read a book. Tweet about your book, a picture of your book, a picture of you, a picture of your reading nook, or whatever takes your fancy. Mark your tweets with the hastags #NationalReadaThonDay and #TimeToRead.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Picture Day Friday: 7th Century Reliquary from one of the Oldest Christian Abbeys

This is a reliquary from the first half of the 7th century from the Abbey of Saint Maurice d'Agaune in Canton Valais, Switzerland.

The monastery is built on the ruins of a Roman shrine from 1st century BCE in the Roman staging-post of Agaunum. Eucherius, the Bishop of Lyon, is said to have had a revelation of the martyrdom of a Roman Legion led by St. Maurice in the region of the abbey in 285 CE. This is how the abbey came to be named Saint Maurice d'Agaune. It was converted to an abbey under the patronage of King Sigismund of Burgundy in early 6th century CE. Ever since then on to present day, the abbey has continued to serve its parishes. The Abbey is thus one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in the world.

Bishop St. Theodore is credited with the collection of the relics of the holy martyrs including the reliquary below.

[Image copyrighted by the New Liturgical Movement.]

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

#TBRChallenge Reading: Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) by Ann-Marie MacDonald

2016 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)
Author: Ann-Marie MacDonald
My Categories: Short Play
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Short Shorts

This is the first play I've read since high school, so my play-reading and play-digesting skills are rusty. My comments will probably reflect that. Given how much I enjoy watching plays, particularly the indie ones and ones with minimal sets/costumes/etc., I'm surprised I haven't picked up plays to read. The good news is that I thoroughly enjoyed this play and hope to read more.

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is such a clever piece of dramatic theater with marvelous play on words. It's action-packed with swashbuckling scenes, series of disguises, and real swordplay. McDonald takes actual Shakespearean dialogue from his two plays Othello and Romeo and Juliet, bends the scenes to include her modern-day character, mashes the action up by putting characters from both plays in one scene, and has everyone talking Shakespearean with her own made-up dialog. So cleverly, wittily, and tightly written.

Constance Ledbelly is a junior lecturer at Queen's University in the Renaissance English department. She's in love with Professor Night, who takes advantage of her by making her write his papers, lectures, and talks for him. She, of course, entertains hopes of marrying him, or barring that, being recommended by him to a position at Oxford that is coming up. He brings her back to earth by taking up that position himself and proposing to a rival student.

In the meantime, Constance is pursuing an obscure thesis premise. She's convinced that Othello and Romeo and Juliet were meant to be comedies and not tragedies. She believes that they were originally written as comedies but Shakespeare took those plays, deleted the role of the Wise Fool—such a necessary character in comedies—from them, and turned them into tragedies. So Constance is on the search for the Original Author. She has in her possession an indecipherable manuscript called the Gustav Manuscript, which she believes will reveal all.

From this improbable beginning, the play only becomes more implausible. But you have to give reality the heave-ho in order to enjoy this play.

Constance is propelled through a modern wormhole in the middle of the tragic turning points of both plays, one after the other. She attempts to save first Desdemona, then Juliet, from their terrible ends, and unintentionally ends up turning the tragedies into comedies. As she interrupts and turns the murderous and amorous impulses of the cross-dressing characters (Othello, Tybalt, Desdemona, Romeo, Iago, and Juliet) into more sensible courses of action, she realizes that she's the Original Author and the Wise Fool herself.

(There were two other characters, Chorus and Ghost, whose function I did not understand. Is the Chorus the narrator/oracle? Is the Ghost her conscience? These are probably theater stalwarts and play well-established roles, but my lack of experience in the theatrical arts showed up here.)

Friday, January 15, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Norwegian Stave Church

This is an ancient stave church in the village of Borgund in Sogn og Fjordane, Norway. It is the best-preserved of Norway's 28 standing stave churches. It was built between c.1180 and c.1250.

From Wikipedia about stave churches: "Its walls are formed by vertical wooden boards, or staves. The four corner posts were connected to one another by ground sills, resting on a stone foundation. The rest of the staves then rise from the ground sills, each stave notched and grooved along the sides so that they lock into one another, forming a sturdy wall. The ceiling is held up with "scissor beams" or two steeply angled supports crossing each other to form an X shape with a narrow top span and a broader bottom span."

Borgund's church has tiered, overhanging roofs, topped with a tower. The tower boasts four dragon heads similar to the ones that used to adorn the prows of Viking warships.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Best Books of 2015

I have had such a wonderful reading year! I read a total of 84 books. At the beginning of the year, I made some modest reading goals, and they paid dividends in the variety of books I had to draw upon. There was bookish gold to be found in every category and niche, no matter how they were sliced and diced. That was my single biggest takeaway of the year.

My list of Best Romance Books of 2015 will be published by All About Romance on February 6th. Here are my non-romance books.


I read some wonderful children's books this year. All were recommendations by my daughter and they were all five-star reads. Here are the top few:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio was such a tender story. A few chapters in and my heart felt like a ball of wax to be molded by this lovely boy of ten. He was born with severe physical challenges and homeschooled till fifth grade, at which point he goes to a private school. This book is about his experience there—the challenges he faces, the friendships he makes, and the personality growth that occurs.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli is a gentle love story of an unconventional girl and a conventional boy. Her gentle strangeness and unorthodox views are what draw him to her. He likes her but is very conscious of his fall from social grace because of his unpopular choice. The first part of the story establishes her personality; the second half is his story and how he negotiates his relationship with her and society at large.

Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio by Peg Kehret is an achingly sad, true story of a child suffering from polio at the height of the disease and its lifelong aftermath. And Kehret was the lucky one. She learnt to move all her limbs, was able to talk, and was eventually able to fulfill her dreams of becoming a writer. Most sufferers either die, get paralyzed, or are besieged by agonizing afflictions their whole life. I grieved for that little girl as I read the book. So much suffering at such a young age.

Truckers Terry Pratchett was a delightful story about a race of "nomes" who are little people who came from outer space and now live under the floorboards of a department store. It was funny, silly, and heartwarming. The nomes have built an entire world within the department store, including a religion. We always talk about detailed world-building, and this is one of the finest I have read.

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott is a story with a lot of historically true events and people. There's lots of flashy magic, icky creatures, intrepid child heroes, wise adults, and just plain old-fashioned derring-do. Thoroughly enjoyed it!


This category for some reason this year was filled primarily with British-set stories. The fourth is set in Australia.

How many, many times have I seen North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell? And yet till 2015, I hadn't read the actual book, and it was so much better than the miniseries, Richard HAWT Armitage notwithstanding. The romance was muted and that allowed the class and culture differences to stand out more starkly and vividly. I especially enjoyed reading the religious discussions, the business discussions including the ones about the rights of workers to unionize and strike as opposed to masters' rights, and seeing Margaret's relationships with her parents and her aunt's family and her role in the presence of these people. Gaskell's language is beautiful and accessible and it's a fast-paced novel.

For a big fan of Enid Blyton books and the miniseries Cranford, I instantly fell in love with Thrush Green by Miss Read. The voices and scenes were so distinct, I could picture them in my mind as I read the book. The inciting event is that the owner of the fair, which does a show every May Day in Thrush Green, might be closing down the show after this last hurrah. Set against this event, the lives of the main inhabitants of the small village revolve. The enjoyment of this book is in the very small details. While to some this could be boring, to me they're what make the story so enjoyable. Entire lifetimes and personalities unfold in those delicious details.

The Warden by Anthony Trollope was brought alive for me by the incredible performer Simon Vance. Trollope elevates the ordinary into the extraordinary through his minute observations, subtle nuances of story and character personalities, sudden asides of biting humor, and wry observations of the vagaries of human nature. The plot is relatively sparse and nothing hugely of import seems to be happening on the surface, and yet, it has a deep impact on all the principal parties concerned.

Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion was clever and uproariously funny with low-key delivery. Don has high-functioning Asperger's but is such a capable, brilliant man, Rosie's such a capable, brilliant woman, and they're together because they admire/like/want each other, not because they need each other in a dependent way. As a result, as a reader, you relate to them head-on as people with strengths and foibles and moments of laughter, but not as characters requiring our emotional support. It was refreshing to read about intelligent, mature people behaving in an intelligent, mature way; the uproarious humor is only on the part of the reader; the characters are very much in earnest. And so endearing!


My mystery choices this year were characterized by gentlemen detectives: aristocratic, inquisitive know-it-alls.

Who Buries the Dead by C.S. Harris was one of the best mysteries I read this year. Every spring, I read a C.S. Harris mystery novel. I never fail to pick the newest one up, because it's a guaranteed great read for me. No one I have read thus far does ominous scene-setting like Harris does. You fall into the mystery from the first page, immersed into the crime and into Regency England. She writes good stories with a muted but stylized approach to plotting and characterization. While her plotting is good, it's her characterizations that are the chief draw for me. Her protagonist, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is marvelously complicated.

Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers I have read Sayers before and have really enjoyed her detective Lord Peter Whimsey and how he and his (now) wife Harriet aid each other in solving mysteries. However, I read this book primarily because of its emphasis on how the Whimseys negotiate and conduct their marriage. What intricately developed subtlety between Whimsey and Harriet about each other's identity, sense of self-worth, respect, and wishes. They demonstrate what love is, with what care one must nurture it, with what delicacy one must treat the other, with what forethought one must treasure it.

Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross is an example of historical mystery at its finest. I enjoyed the writing and total immersion in history that's not overwrought or pointedly historical (i.e., includes details for scoring points). Ross has a gift with characterization. The pacing of the mystery was good, too. I can't wait to pick up the next book in the series.


The first four of these books deal with the effect slavery had on people in one form or the other: historical, children, modern. The next two deal with oppression of people in Asia. And the last one is about geriatric medicine.

Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice by Paula Byrne is a companion guide to the movie Belle. It is a story of a portrait painted in the late 18th century at Kenwood House that showed two beautiful, happy, young girls, one Caucasian and one African, on par. It was unheard of during those times that the African girl was not shown subordinate to the Caucasian one. The Caucasian girl was Lady Elizabeth and the African girl was Dido Elizabeth Belle, both British, half-cousins by blood, and adopted children of the Earl of Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice. What could've been a dry recitation of facts of how slaves were treat in Britain, the nobility's culpability in the slave trade, and the abolition movement was brought to life by Byrne getting out of the way and allowing the reader to see the characters and their actions and the events that happened to them so vividly. A superb piece of narrative nonfiction writing. (Writers: This is an excellent book on Georgian research to have.)

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson has got to be the most gorgeous book I have read in ages. And I mean beauty—beauty of words, beauty of thought, beauty of emotions, beauty of relationships, beauty of images—and I luxuriated in it. It is billed as a middle-grade book, but it is a book for all ages with everyone taking something different away from it. The story is recounted entirely in flashback, je me souviens..., and the prose-poetry style works very well in evoking that mood. Jaqueline spent a part of her childhood in segregated South Carolina and she puzzled over the separation between the two races.

I was drawn to Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, because I had just finished reading Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson and it dealt with race in the 1960s and 1970s. Citizen is 21st C, so it seemed like an ongoing conversation to have. These days, as societal events have shown and #BlackLivesMatter and #IStandWithAhmed have highlighted, racism is no longer under-wraps but very much out in the open. But there are also some people who consider themselves post-racial and are still involved, perhaps unknowingly, in microaggressions. What do these microaggressions feel like by the recipient? That's the thrust of Rankine's book.

I finished my meditation on the aftermath of slavery with Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, my best book of the year. I was in the middle of the book, when I got into a discussion with author Alyssa Cole about the book and she said, "So happy to hear that you're loving it so much!". To which I replied, "I don't know if 'love' is the word there. I'm moved by it. I'm excited by it. I'm awed by it. I'm awed by the power of his words. I'm awed by the progression of his thoughts—the compassion is devastating. My heart's grieving. And I'm learning." That is the power of this book. It evokes a visceral response to the sharp precision of his words that paint a stark and eloquent picture of what it means to be a young African-American man in present-day America. Toni Morrison says of the book: "This is required reading." Yes. It is. You only think you understand Black America until you read this book and realize the true depths and breadths of what it truly means.

I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai is written with joy and the voice of a young girl, despite the horrors, strife, discrimination, and pain it talks about. Malala is such a hopeful person in the face of extremes. And in this past year, she got a Nobel Prize and six A*s and four As in her GCSE examinations. I adore this young person and I'm in awe of her. In this book, I learned a tremendous lot of the history, politics, and emotional landscape of the Swat Valley of Pakistan and of the connections it has—tribal and sentimental—to Afghanistan, all through the eyes of Pashtuns, rather than Americans.

Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim was an eye-opening look at the dark country of North Korea. South-Korean-American author Suki Kim visited North Korea in various guises since 2002, but lastly in 2011, as an English teacher. She was primarily a journalist, who disguised herself as a missionary—so she was acceptable to the group of missionary volunteers—who in turn disguised themselves as teachers—so they could get entry visas to teach English. She taught the 2011 summer and fall terms at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), the elitist of colleges in North Korea. This book is about her experience and gives a first-hand account of the young men of DPRK like no other.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande is a sucker punch to the solar plexus. It deals with that subject that makes us the most uncomfortable: dying. We're all going to be doing it, but none of us wants to talk about it. Well, Gawande is talking about it—how impossible the choices are for the elderly to get the medical and physical help they need while maintaining their dignity, their autonomy (to what extent possible), their privacy, and their zest for life. Gawande certainly has not come up with a magical solution. But he's the only one willing to bring up the topic in a straightforward fashion and lay it out in all its ramifications. That he does it with elegant prose and anecdotes, makes what would otherwise be a dry read into an engrossing read.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Luttrell Psalter Illuminated Manuscript

A Psalter is a collection of all the 150 Psalms, preceded by a calendar of the Church’s feast-days, and followed by various types of prayers. The Luttrell Psalter was commissioned by Sir Geoffrey Luttrell (1276–1345), a knight and a wealthy English baron. From the style of the writing and images, it is surmised that one scribe and up to five artists worked on the manuscript.

Usually, the artwork of a costly Psalter manuscript such as this would be adorned with biblical images. However, this manuscript's artwork is in the Gothic style and depicts detailed scenes from a nobleman's life. The lively and often humorous images provide a window into the daily life (work and play) on a busy, wealthy estate in the Middle Ages.

[Image copyrighted by Giovanni Scorcioni. Used with permission.]

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Reading Goals for 2016 and the 10-Category Challenge from 2015

For a few years, I exclusively read romance. Then slowly, I started taking on other types of books. Last year, I decided to discover the reading world at large with a vengeance and to engage with it more.

So I took on the 10-Category Challenge once again. The original challenge was to read 10 books in 10 categories by October 10, 2010. I modified that to: read any number of books in 10 categories, other than romance, by December 31 to finish the challenge. The challenge has worked so well for me for the past few years that I've decided to keep it going every year. It has spurred me to step outside my comfort zone to attempt books I would not have otherwise tried reading. And I've been richly rewarded. (My list of 2015 challenge books is at the bottom of the post.)

Reading Goals For 2015

My reading goals for 2015 included: more non-romance, literary fiction, nonfiction, children's and YA fiction, poetry, and most importantly, more diversity. My diversity umbrella was pretty large: male authors, POC authors and characters, LGBTQ characters and authors, authors and characters with disabilities and challenges, non-Christian authors and characters, books in translation, and eBooks and audiobooks. In every which way I was trying to widen the scope of my reading beyond reading romance in print.

Reading Goals For 2016

I was struck by New Yorker writer Kathryn Schultz's piece on The Best Facts I Learned from Books in 2015. This is so true. You learn facts not just from nonfiction but also from superbly executed and researched fiction as well. And in the new year, I'm going to make it a point to talk about such facts and also ideas in my monthly reading round-ups.

I shall continue my quest for more diversity in my reading, along the same lines as described above. I'm also looking forward to reading more poetry and more regularly as well as reading a few plays. I also want to be more conscious of reading books by/with POC, LGBTQ, non-Christian authors/characters and those with disabilities and challenges. Among children's books, I shall be recording the picture books I read, too; however, not the 38743 times I read each book. I really need to beef up my reading in the Parenting, Writing, and Life Skills categories in 2016. Chop! Chop!

I'm also going to venture into audiobooks in a big way, at least one a month. My toe-dipping into audiobooks in 2015 was very successful. And while I don't record romance books in the 10-Category Challenge, my reading goal for 2016 is going to include participation in #SuperYear, trying to read one Harlequin Super Romance every month.

I shall also continue to participate in Wendy Crutcher's TBR Challenge where on every third Wednesday of the month, I'll comment on a book from the TBR on my blog. I try to follow Wendy's monthly themes but since my goal is to read non-romance books, my books don't always fall in the same categories.

Due to various reasons, I have reduced the number of books I buy and I read almost exclusively from the library. My many reasons include supporting our excellent library system by borrowing books and by requesting they stock in-demand new books. I also hold them accountable for supplying enough copies of those books and for stocking new releases as close to the release date as possible. In return, we donate money and books generously every year to the library.

Non-romance Reading Categories for 2016

Literary Fiction, In Translation
Detective, Mystery, Suspense, Crime, Thriller
Children's & Young Adult
Poetry & Plays
Biographies & Memoirs
Writing, Parenting, Life Skills
General Nonfiction
Audiobooks, e-Books
POC, LGBTQ, Non-Christian, Disabilities & Challenges
Male Writers

10-Category Challenge Books for 2015

Literary Fiction
—"North & South" by Elizabeth Gaskell
—"The Travelling Parsi" by Kamal Sunavala
—"The Art Forger" by B.A. Shapiro
—"The Bookman's Tale" by Charles Lovett
—"The Rosie Project" by Graeme Simsion
—"Miss Cayley's Adventures" by Grant Allen
—"The Mill on the Floss" by George Eliot
—"The Great Wall of China" by Franz Kafka
—"Thrush Green" by Miss Read
—"The Nose" by Nikolai Gogol
—"The Warden" by Anthony Trollope
—"Butterflies in November" by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
—"Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" by Helen Simonson

Detective, Mystery, Suspense, Crime, Thriller
—"The Art Forger" by B.A. Shapiro
—"The Bookman's Tale" by Charles Lovett
—"Who Buries the Dead" by C.S. Harris
—"Pietr the Latvian (Inspector Maigret)" by Georges Simenon
—"Miss Cayley's Adventures" by Grant Allen
—"The Venetian Affair" by Helen MacInnes
—"Reykjavik Nights" by Arnaldur Indriðason
—"Cut to the Quick" by Kate Ross

—"The Alchemyst: The Secrets the Immortal Nicholas Flamel" by Michael Scott
—"A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle
—"Truckers" by Terry Pratchett

Children's & Young Adult
—"The Alchemyst: The Secrets the Immortal Nicholas Flamel" by Michael Scott
—"Wonder" by R.J. Palacio
—"Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson
—"She Wore Red Trainers" by Na’ima bint Robert
—"A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle
—"Truckers" by Terry Pratchett
—"Stargirl" by Jerry Spinelli
—"Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farm" by Enid Blyton
—"My Basmati Bat Mitzvah" by Paula Freedman

—"Classic Love Poems" read by Richard Armitage
—"Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson
—"Poetry of Walt Whitman" edited by Jonathan Levin
—"Shadowskin" by Shveta Thakrar
—"A Partial History Of My Stupidity", "Branch Library", "Early Sunday Morning" by Edward Hirsch
—"Between the World and Me" by Richard Wright

General Nonfiction
—"Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice" by Paula Byrne
—"Slouching Towards Bethlehem" by Joan Didion
—"Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End" by Atul Gawande
—"Tropical Classical: Essays from Several Directions" by Pico Iyer
—"Citizen: An American Lyric" by Claudia Rankine
—"Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates
—"Inspire: A Volunteer Adventure Inspiration Book" by various authors

Biographies & Memoirs
—"The Travelling Parsi" by Kamal Sunavala
—"Making Masterpiece" by Rebecca Eaton
—"Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite" by Suki Kim
—"I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban" by Malala Yousafzai

Writing & Parenting
—"The Writer's Life: Insights from the Right to Write" by Julia Cameron
—*redacted* by Jan Faull

Life Skills
—"The One Skill: How Mastering the Art of Letting Go Will Change Your Life" by Leo Babauta
—"The Little Book of Contentment: a guide to becoming happy with life and who you are while getting things done" by Leo Babauta

Male Writers
—"The One Skill: How Mastering the Art of Letting Go Will Change Your Life" by Leo Babauta
—"The Alchemyst: The Secrets the Immortal Nicholas Flamel" by Michael Scott
—"Miss Cayley's Adventures" by Grant Allen
—"The Bookman's Tale" by Charles Lovett
—"The Little Book of Contentment: a guide to becoming happy with life and who you are while getting things done" by Leo Babauta
—"The Rosie Project" by Graeme Simsion
—"Pietr the Latvian (Inspector Maigret)" by Georges Simenon
—"Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End" by Atul Gawande
—"Truckers" by Terry Pratchett
—"Poetry of Walt Whitman" edited by Jonathan Levin
—"Stargirl" by Jerry Spinelli
—"The Great Wall of China" by Franz Kafka
—"Reykyavik Nights" by Arnaldur Indriðason
—"Tropical Classical: Essays from Several Directions" by Pico Iyer
—"A Partial History Of My Stupidity", "Branch Library", "Early Sunday Morning" by Edward Hirsch
—"The Nose" by Nikolai Gogol
—"Between the World and Me" by Richard Wright
—"Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates
—"The Warden" by Anthony Trollope

Friday, January 1, 2016

My December Reading

The last reading month of the year, and it's been such a ride. I've stretched and grown so much as a reader this year as I tried books of so many different types and moved away from reading just genre fiction. Of the books I read in December, the most challenging was Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, not for the difficulty in the prose, but because of my reaction to the complexity of the central figure. I usually plump for or against a character in the beginning of the book and that stays with me to the end. Not so here. So that was interesting for me.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Categories: literary fiction
Diversity: Pakistani-British characters
Commentary: This was my TBR Challenge book and the review was my debut post for All About Romance.

Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross
Categories: regency, mystery
Commentary: I read this book with Liz McCausland, Sunita, and Jorrie Spencer. We started discussing the book on Twitter and then moved the discussion to the comments section of Liz's blog here.

His Wife For One Night by Molly O'Keefe
Categories: romance, contemporary
Commentary: I read this book om the recommendation by Miss Bates and Wendy Crutcher, my first Harlequin SuperRomance. I had heard so much about this type of book, part-way between a category romance and a single-title romance, and this book came highly recommended, so it was a no-brainer to try it out. And I'm glad I did. I'm looking forward to reading another Super by O'Keefe next month.

She'd be armed with something far trickier and more insidious. Something he couldn't negotiate with and had never known how to handle.
His past.
He opened the door and as expected, it was her.
Mia Alatore.
And his heart slipped the reins of his brain and he was so damn glad to see her. To have her here.

It's lovely to see a person so much in thrall to another person. And this book is about one or the other being dazzled by the other. Mia has always loved Jack. Jack has always been in love with Mia but he has allowed his disbelief in love, his belief in his unlovableness, and his focus on his engineering humanitarian project to cloud his clear-sightedness about his feelings.

So this story is about Mia allowing Jack back into her life after being hurt by him over and over again and Jack discovering that despite his horrific past, he can build a stable life, one of joy and love. So it's a question of each allowing the other to see what they are like at their most vulnerable.

Both leads are strong characters and each has to bend and change and compromise in order to make the HEA happen. I enjoy stories where it's a tale of equals, where one isn't near-perfect while the other has to change a lot. It lends veracity to their HEA and I can believe in its longevity.

O'Keefe has handled Jack's reconciliation with his father, Walter, with kid gloves and finesse. I enjoyed every scene the two were in as I saw them first turn away from each other and then slowly start to turn towards each other.

He wanted to forget the abuse and the neglect. He wanted to remember the good things. The good times.
The bitter knot of anger and resentment shifted sideways in his chest, opening up some new place, a hidden chamber with light and a view.
Maybe this was forgiveness?
"Well," Walter said. "I'm just letting you know. I expect you to keep in touch better than you have been. A card now and again—"
"You want to come with me?" Jack asked. "I'm moving heifers up the fire road."

Jack might be a university professor but he was also a field engineer. And O'Keefe built his character up to be the person who could turn to ranching from engineering with passages like this:

His shoulders were broader, the calluses thicker. Jack was a man who worked. Got his hands dirty and his back bent out of shape. He dug holes and built things and that kind of work made him comfortable in his own skin. Confident in himself.

The whole deal with Jack's work brought up some incongruencies for me. He's "head of research" at a university. What does that even mean? Is he assistant chair of the hydro-engineering department? Or the professor who brings in the biggest grants? He travels so much as a modern-day Indiana Jones, doesn't he have teaching duties? Guiding PhD student duties? The end is so beautifully done that it feels miserly to quibble about Jack's engineering side of life. Other than that one conference or three, is he going to throw away his passion for engineering and his education to ranch? Ranching was part of his childhood and ranching undoubtedly is in his blood, but could he be satisfied without his intellectual engineering career? I found the end very dissatisfying because of the deliberate ambiguity of what his career is going to mean to him and to their life together.

The Notorious Rake by Mary Balogh
Categories: romance, regency
Commentary: Read this with Growly Cub and also discussed with author Miranda Neville and Dear Author blogger Janine Ballard.

The story begins with some filler and then the scene opener for the romance. It's that scene that I have the most trouble with. It features "thunderstorm sex on a picnic table," according to Miranda's succinct summation. It's also instantaneous sex between strangers who know each other by reputation, which makes each unattractive to the other, ostensibly to provide comfort to the heroine who's terrified of thunderstorms. If you're shuddering at this, do remember this is Balogh. She can write herself out of any scene. So it's best to set this scene aside and assume that the hero and heroine have had a meet cute and have known each other intimately.

Moving right along...the story becomes a story of his yearning for her unattainable self and the transformation it engenders in him. Despite the above scene, she rejects him as a lover and casts that night into an aberration on her part. She prides herself as a woman with an intelligent mind and with that mind she knows that she cannot possibly respect him and, in fact, despises him for who he is—dissolute gamester, drinker, and debaucher.

He in turn is in thrall with her being the only lady of his vast acquaintance who enjoys making love and who enjoyed making it with him...despite her now rejection of it.

He wondered yet again why he was pursuing her so relentlessly. She was so much older and plainer than most of the other dancers. At least he thought she must be. He could no longer remember if she was pretty or plain, old or young. She was Mary.

Her continued rejection of him, in harsh words most of the times hurts him so much once for him to admit: "Mary , you are vastly accomplished at giving setdowns. Do you ever consider the pain you give with them? You do not know how you wound me. I am human. I have feelings."

He sets about trying to convince her to fall into his bed despite all her resistance, till he realizes, Oh Em Gee, I'm in love with her and I'm going to wish her happy and move out of her life.

"Go, then," he said, sliding his hands hard down her arms and gripping both hands hard enough to hurt. "And be happy, Mary. That is all I want for you. Please, be happy."

Enter the machinating aunt who seeks to unite these two and also the hero with his estranged family and his dark past. (So now you know why he was dissolute. He was running away from the hurt of his dark past.) However, I really liked that despite knowing the reason for his current behavior, no one makes any excuses for it. He takes full credit for his disreputableness. The the only reason the heroine forgives him is because she's in love with him, not because she's whitewashed his misdeeds. She shows that if he's willing to change for the better, she can be a bigger person and forgive his wrongs.

One thing I realized in reading this book was the power of first names and the intimacy it implies. In a society where people were almost always referred to by their titles and last/first names (Miss So-n-So, Lord So-n-So), calling someone by their first name in public was a deliberate choice displaying impertinence and a declaration of fact or intent. And the name is used here also to invoke a wealth of emotion on part of the hero and how he thinks of her. Lovely!

Reading back some of my last few romance novel commentaries, I've realized that I seem to be reading books where there's significant growth, for the better, on the part of the hero as an individual and as husband material, but the growth in the heroine is only towards the hero—there's no scope or demand for individual growth. She somehow seems to be made well right from the beginning and the hero has to change to deserve her. So the question is: Is this the type of book I'm drawn too or is it just that these are the ones that have been falling into my hands?

Happy New Year!

Every new year brings with it hope and excitement for me. It's a chance to wash away the regrets and unfinished projects from last year and start afresh. Everything is sparkling and clean and new. It's the best time of the year for me.

For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.

—T.S Eliot

Monday, December 28, 2015

Complete List of Books I Read in 2015

Here are the links to the books I read in 2015. Lists 1-7 are pieces of one chronological list of 84 books of my Excel spreadsheet. Click on each image to embiggen.

List One

List Two

List Three

List Four

List Five

List Six

List Seven

Friday, December 25, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Oldest Working Clock

The oldest working clock is housed at the Salisbury Cathedral in England.

Johannes Vriemand, Williemus Vriemand, and Johannes Jietuijt from Delft were invited to England by Edward III to construct the clock in c. 1386. The clock was originally set up in a detached bell tower north of the cathedral. When that tower was destroyed, the working clock was moved to the cathedral tower until 1792, at which point it was decommissioned. It was re-discovered in 1929 and moved to the north transept in 1931. However, it was not in a working condition. Finally in 1956, the clock was completely repaired and restored to its original condition by Messrs. John Smith and Co. of Derby along with antiquarian horologists T.R. Robinson and R.P. Howgrave-Graham. The now-working clock was moved to its present location at the triforium level in the south transept.

According to the Salisbury Cathedral notes: "As is usual of the period, the clock has no face, being designed only to strike hours." The clock is a 12-hour clock and has to be wound up every 24 hours. The bell hammer is supposed to be connected to a bell but is disconnected these days due to the noise it makes.

[Image copyrighted by the Salisbury Cathedral.]

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Mission Statements, Life Lists, Goals, Schedules: define, design, discharge

Here are four of my posts that have proven to be among the most popular on this blog. They have all to do with architecting your life starting with small daily steps.

A Personal Mission Statement is a set of mottoes for your life that define the boundaries of who you are, what your deepest held beliefs are, how you interact with others, and what you think of yourself.

A Life List is a mondo-beyondo list of your life's dreams. There are no limits as to how many items there can be on this list. It's a personal list, so don't be shy of wishing for the most outrageous, the most selfish, the most greedy, the most anything. Every deeply held desire needs to be on this list. Don't compromise on your dreams.

Goals Making and Keeping and committing to bringing your resolutions to fruition. Goals give you something concrete to work towards and to measure progress against. Goals also give you a sense of accomplisment once you've reached them.

Scheduling Your Life is important, because if you don't label your time to dedicated actions, then that piece of time is either attached to another task or frittered away. The most basic rule of thumb when keeping to a schedule is: There is no making up lost time.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Resolute About Resolving Your Resolutions

Are you resolute about resolving your new year's resolutions this year? Here are some tips to help you on your way that have helped me tremendously. This blog is a repeat from January 2013.

Don't make generalized resolutions, such as "Be Happy." Instead make specific, measurable ones, such as "Do a yoga retreat in Hawaii over the summer"—you can measure whether you achieved this goal or not and how you felt about it.

By all means, make smaller sub-goals with deadlines that will keep the bigger goal on track to being finished.

Work on only one habit at a time. Say, in January, you'll work on X and on Y in February.

Start with the smallest, easiest habit first. And do it just for a few minutes once a day. Feeling a sense of accomplishment from the very start is what keeps the habit of habit-forming (heh!) going.

And the first step in starting a habit is to simply start. Inertia, procrastination, a feeling of being overwhelmed can all lead to a tendency to want to only imagine you having the habit, but afraid to start the work in forming the habit. So, just start!

Write it down. Well, the mind's not good about keeping everything in the foreground. Old things often get pushed into the background, even though when the thoughts first came in, they were deemed high priority. We forget; we fall into old habits by, well, habit; new issues crop up that require our immediate attention; we're tired so we say we'll do it tomorrow; etc.

Accountability is the sticky glue that binds us to our resolutions on paper. If you have to report in to a friend or a group of like-minded individual or even to your online journal, it serves as a reasonably pressured deadline that has to be achieved.

Don't have only negative or "you-must"s resolutions. Have fun ones as well, such as the yoga retreat mentioned above. If you plan only drudgery for the year, then it's guaranteed that your list of resolutions will have nary a checkmark. This is the main reason, I call them goals, not resolutions.

And the complementary one to the above is that you should feel free to abandon a resolution part-way through or even before beginning, if you feel that it's something that's never going to happen no matter how many years it shows up on your list. For me, that would mean giving up on reading Tolstoy's War and Peace in this life at least.

Revisit your list constantly to revise, add to, or subtract from the litany. It keeps the energy alive about what needs to be achieved next and it keeps the list fresh and current.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Sant'Agostino Estense Illuminated Manuscript

When Giovanni Scorcioni tweeted about the Sant'Agostino Estense, I was struck by the unusual margin decoration surrounding the images. So far, I'd only looked at English manuscripts, where the styles are distinctly different. Scorcioni mentioned that this type of artwork is typical of the Ferrarese School under the patronage of the Estense family of Ferrara. This particular manuscript is the work of the scribe Andrea dalle Vieze and the artist Tommaso da Modena. It was produced around 1482 for the Este court during the time of Ercole I d'Este, duke of Ferrara and contains the Orationes by Saint Augustine.

[Image copyrighted by Facsimile Finder. Used with permission.]

[Image copyrighted by Facsimile Finder. Used with permission.]