And the year’s book count is…

What's On the Bookshelf?


Yes, I know that there are still five days left in 2010, but I doubt that I will finish Les Miserables by then (reading a non-abridged translation…current update is: finished Book One). I’m hoping to finish Les Miserables before I return to school mid-January.

2010 was a good year for me, book reading wise. Way back in middle school, my favorite teacher suggested that I make a list of every book I read. Took a few years, but I finally got around to it. I think it’s a pretty successful exercise, and I’ll be continuing in 2011.

2011, along with having my list of what books I’ve read, will include a list of movies I’ve watched. I considered starting it this October, when I started watching a TON of classic and generally awesome movies. But that list will start January 1st as well.

As for the books I read this year, there were a few stand-outs, particularly in the getting-me-to-be-creative front. First up is Dante’s La Vita Nuova/The New Life. I read The Prince with the thought that Macchiavelli’s work would help with word-building (particularly around the power department), but it was Dante’s reshaping poetry that really stuck.

For sheer captivation, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy really grabbed my attention. I guess that 2010 was the year of the Spy for me, reading three works by John Le Carre, Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale and numerous books on spy television for my epic thesis.

And, to keep me from losing sight on the small things, Alexander McCall Smith’s works. I’ve caught up with his wonderful 44 Scotland Street series and am anxiously awaiting the release of the next one. Plus, I met Mr McCall Smith, which was wonderful.

So, what does 2011 have in store for me? Well, after finishing Victor Hugo’s epic Les Miserables, I have no idea. I want to read some of Len Deighton’s stuff, and will probably read Smiley’s People by John Le Carre (I must know how the Karla saga ends).

The Joy of the Small Things in Life

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters

On October 25, I attended a lecture given by Alexander McCall Smith at the Boston Public Library.

McCall Smith is my favorite living writer, so the opportunity to hear him speak was an amazing opportunity. Apparently he was supposed to speak at the BPL last Spring, but the Volcano Incident kept him in Europe. All the better for me, as I was in Italy and would have been unable to attend the lecture.

His lecture was a funny, touching one, like his books. His main point was one quite close to me, a person on the brink of great wide world: find the joy in the little things in life. It isn’t the great, massive things that ultimately matter. It isn’t the grand adventures that we set out on, not the jobs we hold or how much we make (but I’m sure this helps), rather, it’s those moments of laughter, of friendship, of joy that create our lives. When I look back on my life, while I have had bright, brilliant memories, its those little moments of elation: I don’t remember why we laughing, only that we were, that we were having fun. That we enjoyed ourselves.

It isn’t the drama. It isn’t the news that defines our world, though it certainly impacts us. It’s the people we know and how we spend time with them. It’s that kind hello, that sweet smile. The invitation for a walk, the hug from a friend. That’s what our life is.

These ideas, the idea of friendship, of warmth, of love, are throughout his serial works, from The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency series to 44 Scotland Street. That’s why I love them so much. You care for them, even the ones you didn’t like as much (Bertie’s mother the terrible Irene is one).

The highlights of the evening:

After the lecture, there was a brief question and answer session. I tentatively raised my hand, a thousand questions whirling about. I didn’t expect that I would be picked.

I blanked.

Somehow my mouth managed to say, “Do you laugh while writing your books?”

His response: “Yes. Sometimes my wife knocks on the door and asks me what’s so funny.”

He then recounted a scene in the forthcoming 44 Scotland Street book The Importance of Being Seven, where Bertie meets a boy who collects penknives.

That had me on cloud nine. Seeing my favorite author speak, his answering my question…and a book signing to follow.

Cue waiting in line. There, I chatted with those around me about Alexander McCall Smith’s books, travel and art.

Soon enough, it was my turn to speak briefly with Mr McCall Smith. We spoke no more than a minute or so, in which I thanked him for the speech and answering my question. I told him that his books made me happy and were an inspiration to me as a writer. He inquired about my work, and after I said I had written a novel that “wasn’t terribly good,” he said just to move on to the next one. Simple advice.

It was a pretty awesome night.

I’m still on cloud nine.

Potential Favorite Author Meeting Level: High

General Geekiness

So, I checked my email today at my internship to discover a wonderful message from my mom.

It was short, simple, little more than a copy-and-paste from a website.

This is generally what it said:

Subject: Alexander McCall Smith

October 25, 2010

6:00 pm, Boston Public Library (lecture),
700 Boylston Street, Copley Square, Boston, MA.

Being at work, my response was to simply grin widely. At school or at home, it would be more vocal, along the lines of “HURRAY!”

Alexander McCall Smith is my favorite living author. His stories make me so happy. I could be miserable, but to read a few pages of 44 Scotland Street and I’m instantly in a better mood.

I’m really, really excited. I’ve already marked it on my calendar. I’ve got my entire afternoon free. I’ll be camping out. Most camp out to meet rock stars. I camp out to meet my favorite writer.

Libraries: What wonderful way to jumpstart the imagination!

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters

I love libraries. Books spread as far as the eye can see, the quiet, the hiding amongst the stacks while perusing through an art book…ah! What joy!
To the library I went today, grabbing some fiction (Alexander McCall Smith, of course, along with some classic sci fi) and stumbled through the reference section.
Countless scores of topics live in the reference section, and from them millions of ideas conceived.
Research for The Continent commenced. I picked up a book on The Resistance during WWII, which I’ll attempt to read in the near future.

What’s On the Bookshelf? Vol. 4

What's On the Bookshelf?

Between yesterday and today, I managed to down Alexander McCall Smith’s The World According to Bertie, the fourth book in his 44 Scotland Street series. Previously, I reviewed Espresso Tales, the second book in the series. And no, I haven’t read the third.

That’s part of the charm of the series. You don’t have to read them in order. If you wanted to, you could even start with the fourth book.

My favorite story line follows Bertie, the perpetual six year old forced to go to saxophone lessons, yoga, and a psychotherapist. In this book, he has a new baby brother named Ulysses. His parents always lose their red Volvo, but this time, they manage to outdo the leaving-it-in-Glasgow situation from Espresso Tales.

Bertie is so charming and fun to read about because of his youth, and he’s precocious without being obnoxious as hell. The poor kid just wants to be like everyone else. He wants to wear jeans, have a white bedroom and play with trains rather than wearing “crushed-strawberry dungarees,” live in a pink room (his mother wants to desensitize him to color prejudices) and being forced to play house with the obnoxious Olive. There’s a little bit of Bertie in us all, I think, and that’s what makes him so endearing.

My summer reading list

What's On the Bookshelf?

It’s only the beginning of April, but I’m already thinking of what I’m going to read this summer. So, in no particular order:

Dracula by Bram Stoker

The Shining by Stephen King

Proust was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer

Moon by Tony Fletcher (reread)

Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith

Let the Right One In by John Lindqvist

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

And a bunch of other things that catch my fancy, I’m sure.

Any suggestions?