“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
–Mary Oliver

The above comes from the poem “The Summer Day,” which I read at The Library of Congress’ site Poetry 180: a poem a day for American high schools. Sometimes I really do love the world.

unknown

unknown girl and her dog

My grandma is a historian. She collects the past in the forms of photos and china dolls and stories. She’s written three books about her ancestors. People give her artifacts. They know she’ll keep them safe. They rely on her inability to throw away anything old.

I plucked the above photo from a pile of unmarked photos my grandma was offering up. A miscellaneous pile. Unmarked and untraceable. She doesn’t know who this girl is. I don’t either, obviously, but I think about her often. How she lived an entire life that has been forgotten with time. Not because the world is cruel necessarily, but because it’s persistent. Because if you don’t write them down, your stories don’t exist. This is why I write. The stories in my brain, the stories in my life: I want them to persist in the persistence.

my christmas loot

rejection

Rejection slips crowded my inbox this December. You know, the ones that read something like:

Dear Submitter,

Thank you for the opportunity to read your work. Unfortunately, it does not meet the needs of our magazine at this time.

And you’re ugly.

Regards,

The Lit Mag of Your Dreams

Probably editorial teams were anxious to clear away their work before the holidays and logically I understand that. It’s just that getting two or three rejections a day was slightly dampening my Christmas spirit. Still, if you’re not getting rejected, you’re not working. Isn’t that how the saying goes? I read about a poet who actually made a goal to get 100 rejections in 2012. That way, she could feel like she was winning even when she was losing. But she failed: only 95 rejections in 2012. Which is actually a win, I guess.

Anyway, here’s to the coming wins of 2013!

2012 favorites

I’ve been making lists of the books I read since I started reading books. It’s a bit of an obsession. Like a photo album, I like to peruse what I’ve read years past and reminisce. Also, it gives me an inflated sense of accomplishment. So what if I did nothing truly noteworthy last year?? Look at all these books I read! Thanks to GoodReads—that beautiful encourager of book-list junkies—I realized a few days ago that I’d read 32 books in 2012. And that if I hustled, I could make it 33 by the new year. I just so happened to turn 33 a few weeks ago and so obviously took this as a sign. 33 books the year I turned 33 is a great omen going into 2013, wouldn’t you say?

I’m happy to report that I met my goal around 8pm (then proceeded to raise a teacup of Martinelli’s in an early toast to the new year with my kids, directly followed by a dream-light techno dance party in our living room. Yeah. That’s how we do it around here). Here’s the best of my 2012 reading. Ten books I most adored.

1. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. You can read a more thorough description of this book’s new standard-setting awesomeness here. Let me just say that reading this will probably ruin most other contemporary books for you. Because they just won’t compare.

2. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. You know how people are always throwing around the word “genius” in their descriptions of artists? Well, I’m not one of those people. That said, Woolf is a true and unabashed genius and I count the reading of this book as a life experience.

3. When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to Present by Gail Collins. The prose here reads more like a novel than a history text. If you’re looking for a sweeping view of modern feminist history (which I felt like I’d been looking for for a decade or so), look no further.

4. God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant.  God set down in the world of couch-buying, dog-walking and beauty school attendance. Okay. So these are poems intended for YA. But each is witty and lovely and surprising and perfect.

5. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. A must-read soul crusher, folks. Talk about unsung authors. Yates is at the top of that list for me. Also, if you possibly can, you must also read his short story Oh, Joseph, I’m So Tired. Because it’s brilliant.

6. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick. Another heart breaker. Well-researched, compassionate journalism. I’ve got a serious soft spot for the plight of defected North Koreans. 

7. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I’m a painfully slow reader. But I read this book in a day. Beautiful prose. Hideous (but compelling!) subject matter. It’s the end of the world, after all. McCarthy has hit some kind of authorial nirvana. Both writing and story here soar in unconscious perfection.

8. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. This would have been so life-saving to have read in my twenties. C’est la vie. I’ll just have to pass it on to my own daughters at the appropriately poignant moment in their lives.

9. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. We are all loathe to admit it, but Oprah got a few things right.

10. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories by Alice Munro. Last but not least; this book is not an afterthought. It’s more of a given. It’s the Munro book I happened to have read this year. And any book by Munro is bound to blow one’s mind.

Cheers to good books! What were your favorites of 2012?

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