Yard sale finds


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How cute is the print from The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Boook Art? Answer: super cute. Also, a museum dedicated to picture book art? Amazing–and apparently two hours from my house. Yes, the elderly caterpillar may be a bit creepy, but I choose to think of them as a colorful, spunky duo with excellent eyesight. I bought it from an older woman and her 30-something daughter who said it had been hers–I assumed when she was a kid.

“Don’t tell anyone I don’t have kids,” I told her.

“That’s great!” they agreed.

“Would you like a minute to say goodbye?” I asked.

“It’s OK. We’re glad it’s going to such a good home.”

Which made me wonder why they assumed it was going to a good home. I could be a collector-turned-destroyer of picture book art. I could banish it to the basement. I could despise caterpillars and torch the print.

More likely, I will find a good spot for it on the staircase or in the bathroom, because every bathroom needs a whimsical caterpillar print.

At home, I noticed the exhibit was in 2004, nine years ago. I quickly did the math (well, not that quickly) and realized that the previous owner–let’s say she was 30–must have also bought it as an adult. How interesting.

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I love (Tivoli) NY

Movie scouts, listen up. You should film something in Tivoli. It’s quite possibly the sweetest little town in New York. I walk past the book shop, the vegetarian cafe, the colorful Mexican restaurant, the corner laundromat and half-wonder if real people live here. Its small, four-way intersection has stop signs, no lights, and is the hub of the town–the type of place where your waiter yells out to the guy walking by, “You got a haircut!” then continues taking your order.

The library, located in a renovated fire station, is open on Friday nights for neighborhood kids to gather and make stuff. Couples bike through town on old-fashioned bikes and precocious kids order their steak quesadillas medium-rare. I realize later that Bard is down the street. The waiter at Santa Fe tells me that yes, real people live here, some families, some professors, some students who attend Bard and some who never leave. The restaurant has the requisite twinkly lights. The porches are reminiscent of New Orleans or Savannah. The street signs are funky. Gardens are in bloom. When I visit the restaurant later in the week, the waiter comes over to say hello, like we’re old friends. I really like it here.

Santa Fe restaurant

Tivoli library

Children's room at Tivoli library

Tivoli library entrance

The Lost Sock

Painting of Tivoli four corners

Murray's

Horseshoe and plaque on Black Swan bar

Country mouse

My friends give me a hard time because I don’t have curtains on my windows. They’re just . . . too much. Yes, I suppose someone walking by could see me half-naked, but the chances are slim because I live across from a cemetery. I’m cool with ghosts checking me out. So when I arrive at my vacation rental and see a wall of windows, I am in heaven (ironically, where all the ghosts are). It’s like staying in the Philip Johnson Glass House. The only difference is that my house is not in the middle of the country so when it’s lights out on vacation, it’s the darkest darkness I’ve ever seen. Fireflies are welcome little flashlights.

As you might imagine, it’s also very quiet, aside from moths batting themselves against the windows and really, really big beetles that hurl themselves at the door so fiercely it sounds like someone is knocking. Which is a scary thought in the middle of the night. In the middle of nowhere.  Insect static aside, the quiet and stillness are welcome in a world filled with noise. And serendipity being what it is, I happen upon a fantastic podcast, On Being with Krista Tippett and the first episode I hear is an interview with Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist trying to preserve the few remaining quiet places in the world. The man really listens. Also, is that not the coolest job? Anyway, he doesn’t define quiet as the absence of all noise, but the absence of man-made or non-natural noise. Even in the quiet woods there are leaves rustling and water dripping and birds singing. I hear it all this week.

Red Hook windows

House at night

The same view at night. And this is with an exterior light on.

Dark dirt road

 

The daylight trickles in, dampened by thick tree cover that keeps the house cool in the midst of a heat wave. Maple roams the house sniffing everything, while I appreciate the well-appointed house and its mid-century modern charm. I pretend that I live there, enjoying the Bose system and walk-in shower, and devour weeks of New York magazine. I’m stealing a lot of their ideas–an old hospital cart that holds toiletries, taxidermied animals that are not as creepy as they sound, and this fantastic suitcase idea:

Suitcase of books

I have a suitcase, books and magazines too. This will happen pronto.

Maple on washer

Maple finds it is coolest on the washer

Media miscellany

* If you prefer your movies with more conversation and less leaping off tall buildings, do yourself a favor and see Before Midnight, the third in the Ethan Hawke / Julie Delpy trilogy of romantic 20-somethings who meet traveling through Europe in Before Sunrise and then meet up nine years later in Before Sunset. That second one has one of the best endings as movies go. In Before Midnight it’s another nine years later and the couple is married with twin girls. Life interrupts as it does for married couples with kids who can no longer pick up and go to Europe, except that they are in Greece, actually, so life isn’t so bad. The film comprises just a handful of scenes, all long and intimate and believable given the natural dialogue. Find some cool indie theater that’s playing all three. And expect After Midnight in another ten years with that Eric Clapton song playing in the background as the pair meanders down some cobblestone street in Venice.

* I’m re-watching all eight hours of The Thorn Birds, which is exactly the kind of melodrama needed to kick off summer: a hot, windy Australia setting; forbidden love; priest passion. It has it all. Rumor has it there’s also a “Lost Years” episode, which I will be devouring like Richard Chamberlain devours Rachel Ward in the classic scene on the beach. Where else can you get a line like “I never felt such ecstasy in God’s presence as I felt with her”? The Bridges of Madison County, I guess.

The Thorn Birds

* Do you remember Valotte, the album (and I mean album) by Julian Lennon from 19 freakin’ 84? I LOVED that man and his soft brown eyes and flowy hair, sitting on a pebble by the river playing guitar, which only now strikes me as strange. A pebble is very small and uncomfortable. Should have been rock, though I guess that was only one syllable. I see your problem, Julian. “Boulder” could have worked. Call me. But I digress, the Hey Jude dude came out with a new album this summer!! I’ve only been waiting nearly three decades. I sort of gave up on you, man. And that’s saying something because I bought your second album (possibly a tape, by then) called The Secret Value of Daydreaming. And let’s face it, Help Yourself in 1991 didn’t really count. Your new release Everything Changes is so long in coming that you bypassed the entire CD era and will go straight to digital and into my playlist titled “Music no one else buys.” Oh, who am I kidding; all my music is stuff no one else buys–and I  don’t mean that in some hipster way.

The silences of poetry

If you’ve ever been to a poetry reading, you know the silence after a poem is read. It’s a moment of reverence, appreciation, or simply I don’t get it. The rule is that you listen and hold your applause. But after fiery poems or protest poems or poems about sex and breakups, rowdy audiences applaud. Somewhere in that middle ground is a little sound that listeners emit when a poet closes a poem. A sigh, an “mmm,” a subdued acknowledgment that as an audience, says, We are moved.

The Massachusetts Poetry Festival last month was filled with rowdy poetry fans. At one reading by Nick Flynn, the applause started up and he warned that if we applauded for one, we’d better applaud for all or it was going to get mighty awkward. Poet Jill McDonough read a touching (!) poem about a classic Boston subject: road rage. At another headline event held in a church, applause reverberated again and again as Sharon Olds read poems of passion and Eduardo Corral read a poem in which a woman had names for each of her breasts. The atmosphere was electric; I felt like a Baptist ready to shout Preach it!

I’m no poet, but I’ve immersed myself in poetry over the last few years because it’s nourishing. I attended a 5-day workshop led by the brilliant Marie Howe at Omega, a bucolic campus in Rhinebeck, NY, where you could write by the lake or in a hammock or in the garden–real poet stuff. I’ve been enjoying the MA Poetry Festival every year and taking workshops on persona poems or catalogue poems or poetry collages. I’ve been reading more poetry, keeping Billy Collins’ quirky collections on my nightstand. And I’ve been writing poetry, which, according to a handful of real poets who read it, is not a good idea. The problem with a new interest is realizing that you will never be great . . . or even good. It’s a bit depressing, like taking up an instrument and realizing you have no ear or joining a dance class only to realize you are uncoordinated. One must accept one’s suckiness. Still, I resolve to keep experiencing poetry, if only for those moments when a writer lays a poem at your feet and you can offer nothing in return by a reverent silence because there is absolutely nothing to say.

poetry ecard

Give lectures to yourself

I’m not remotely a scientist, nor will I ever be, but I picked up Letters to a Young Scientist by biologist Edward O. Wilson at the library the other day, possibly because of its shiny green cover but more likely because it sounded like a book that would offer good advice to a young person, and I like to consider myself a young person. The science part was somewhat irrelevant.

Still, I learned some interesting tidbits about the field of science as a career (specialize, specialize, specialize) but felt Wilson’s message could be applied to other fields as well. This passage struck me:

“Where would you like to be, what would you most like to be doing professionally ten years from now, twenty years, fifty? Next, imagine that you are much older and looking back on a successful career. What kind of great discovery, and in what field of science [or insert your passion here], would you savor most having made?

“I recommend creating scenarios that end with goals, then choosing ones you might wish to pursue. Make it a practice to indulge in fantasy about science [again, your passion]. Make it more than just an occasional exercise. Daydream a lot. Make talking to yourself silently a relaxing pastime. Give lectures to yourself about important topics that you need to understand. Talk with others of like mind. By their dreams you shall know them.”

I don’t know about you, but when I have been asked to think about what I’ll be doing professionally ten years from now it was always during a job interview. I always had the right answer ready, but I don’t know that I ever thought about my true answer–the authentic one that probably wouldn’t have gotten me the job. It’s never too late to think about goals–professional or otherwise. So that’s your homework. Think about your future self and your goals. Learn topics you’re afraid of but that will help you (Don’t be afraid of math, he tells scientists), and watch that future self manifest.

letters to a young scientist

Yard sale finds

This weekend I headed to the Marblehead Art Walk, which was a bust. This was likely due to the fact that I missed it by an entire week (May is disappearing faster than I thought, apparently), so in wandering around looking for art or the art-making workshop I was keen to attend, I realized there was no art. But all was not lost. I hit up a few early-season yard sales and was pleasantly surprised to find (wait for it) art.

Everyone needs a pineapple oil painting, no? This one is heavily textured, like a pineapple, but the frame is a little staid for my tastes, which I probably should not have said to the seller after she gave it to me for $5, but no worries; I went to the paint store and they mixed me up a sample of an avocado green for $3. That little sample tub is my tip of the day, people; if you have something small to paint, samples are a bargain. Or does everyone know that already? Anyway, this weekend will involve funkying up the frame.

Turns out the seller is a poet so we chatted about people and organizations we had in common (You love Grub St.? I love Grub St.) and she even invited me to join a local writing group, which I must say, I hadn’t expected when buying a pineapple painting.

pineapple painting

But why stop there when I could dig up a second piece of art–this one of a madame that will go in my bathroom, if you must know. The style of the drawing (or watercolor? This is how little I know about art) is reminiscent of Toulouse Lautrec, yet it’s signed something like Lilead or Iliad, which must be wrong, because the Interweb turned up zilch about the former and a million references to Homer for the latter. Who cares. The vibrant red frame is perfect, no painting necessary.

madame drawing

I also found a packet of Bookmarks for Cooks (can’t bring myself to write in my cookbooks), which should help when I make a note like “Add more cheese.” I expect most bookmarks will say “Add more cheese.”

Finally, I scooped up this gold, worn heart locket, which is as oversized as it looks, for 25 cents. Come on! I don’t yet have the right dangly chain, so if you have one, get in touch. I need to wear this puppy before the steampunk movement passes.

heart locked

Yard sale finds

yard sale sign

The season has begun.

At a school fundraiser, I spot two things you normally don’t see on the bargain-hunting circuit: a man playing bagpipes and a girl cradling her ferret–two odd lumps that both emit strange sounds. But I will not be distracted by the hoopla. But in fact, I was distracted: by the time I make it over to a unicycle for sale, it’s gone, which is probably just as well because in what scenario am I actually mastering the thing and not falling on my face?

You might think given the unicycle and the picture below that I have kids. I don’t, but I like mini cookie cutters as much as the next kid, and they’re just the right size and shape for animal crackers. And, like I always say, where there’s a rooster banner, there’s a reason to celebrate. The tiny Halloween-themed notebooks I’ll hand out to trick-or-treaters in October.

Maple and yard sale finds

rooster banner

Given my newfound collage mania, I buy a couple of books–one of photographs, one on constellations–that I’ll try to rip up without thinking I’m going to hell. A vintage Clue game for $1 might also make its way into a collage; the furry tail in the photo will not. And my favorite find: a one-of-a-kind wood-carved painting of an aviator bunny in a polka-dotted plane. My friend pointed out that carved in the bottom corner is “July ’72,” the month and year I was born, like it was destined to be mine. I think it actually says “Judy ’72,” and while I don’t know Judy, I really wish I did. I think we’d get along.

yard sale books

Literary collage workshop

I like me some good collage therapy–an art outlet disguised as life mapping or vision boards that allows for perusing beautiful images that I collect like a magpie for what I pretend is a work of art. But I rarely find the right images or collect too many disparate images, or don’t have time to arrange them all just so. But in a literary collage workshop at the MA Poetry Festival last weekend, I grabbed materials from trunks of colorful scraps, photographs, stamps, sheets of music, and lines from poems, and realized a sort of jungle theme had emerged organically: a bird, a bunch of bananas, trees.

Time was running out as it usually does when you’re knee-deep in art-making, but the pressure worked. With only five minutes before the next workshop would begin, I started slapping down images on a board in places that felt right, that all worked.

Instructors Missy-Marie Montgomery and Trish Crapo (check out her collages here) shared their own beautiful collage creations inspired by lines of poetry and encouraged us to layer both literally (materials) and figuratively (ideas and themes); one participant said she makes a drink and a collage every night; one young girl emerged with a masterpiece. I’m putting mine up on the wall and telling visitors it’s a rare work by a local artist.

jungle collage

 

collage with peach

In addition to pages ripped from books (shudder!), the artists brought some pages that had undergone a process using Citra Solv, a cleaning agent-turned-art material that blends the ink on a page to create colorful, abstract designs. You can read it about it on this artist’s blog.

citra-solv-1-sm

 

With a minute or two left, each workshop participant introduced their collage, and I had the sudden feeling that everyone had been secret collage prodigies. Still, I loved the workshop, the creative process, the artists let loose from their poet selves. I’m eyeing my books with a new sense of possibility.

collages on display

Best books of 2012

I’m pretty sure all 20 of my readers have been counting down till the moment I reveal my favorite books of 2012. Mind you, it doesn’t mean these books were published in 2012; I just discovered them this year, or felt moved to read them, or they wore me down. In any case, out of the 39 books I read this year, my top five are as follows:

Fiction

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin is a gorgeous book not short on descriptions of nature—both wild and human. If you’ve enjoyed Plainsong or any novel by Kent Haruf, you might find a kindred story here about non-traditional families set in a familiar landscape.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes: tricky little thing.

Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron: beautifully wrought period novel. Cameron is a brilliant writer, despite an ever-present undertone of sadness, and this book made me revisit The Weekend, which I read in college when I was young and thought it was scandalous to read about lovers in a book who were both men.

A trio of novels by Tana French: In the Woods, The Likeness, and Faithful Place. This was my first venture into mysteries since the Agatha Christie novels of my youth, and let me tell you: I’d be a mystery whore if the writing in the genre were this literary. In the Woods provides two mysteries for the price of one (but be warned one may not get solved). Despite a preposterous coincidence in The Likeness that the narrative is built on, it was still a fave because of the writing, characters, and generous helping of Irishisms. I just finished her third novel, Faithful Place, and that’s up there too. I’m trying to hold off on reading her fourth book Broken Harbor lest I have to start a fan club.

Nonfiction

On Writing by Steven King: I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve turned up my nose at Mr. King’s tales of dogs, killers, and prom queens. But this man can write one inspirational memoir and a scene of joy so profound that it just might make you cry.

The End of Your Life Book Club by William Schwalbe: I suspected this might be a book along the lines of Tuesdays with Morrie (i.e., terrible). The author writes about the informal book club of sorts he has with his mother who is dying of pancreatic cancer. I didn’t think he could crack me. I was just in it for the books and conversation. I mean, I didn’t even know this woman, so I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get attached to her. Yeah. Tears.

Yup, I realize that was six books. Deal with it.

If none of these suggestions float your boat, 1) get a smaller boat or 2) check out this ridiculously exhaustive list of Best Of lists on largehearted boy. And then take three years’ of vacation to begin to tackle just 1% of the list.

And just for good measure, a couple of books I regret struggling through: Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, the much-heralded novella that did nothing for me, and an over-hyped book by a woman who called in to On Point on NPR titled Anastasia by Victor Megne, which reminds me why I don’t listen to that show.

I also started and quit five books: Wuthering Heights (seriously, two Catherines?), The House of Seven Gables (I live in Salem; I should like this. I decided instead to just to walk by the house), Dovekeepers (cut out 400 pages and you might have had me, Alice Hoffman), A History of the Senses (interesting but heavy on the details), and the lengthy memoir What to Look for in Winter (self-indulgent author, but one with an astounding vocabulary).

Happy reading.

Yard sale finds

Today’s find: a dirty bird. As my friends will attest, I have exactly one coaster, which means I’m scrambling for a place for guests to put their drinks. I spotted this tile with an odd-looking, geometric bird for $2. Dusty and sticky, I cleaned him up like a duck plucked from an oil spill, where he now sits on the coffee table—coaster count doubled.

I also found a book titled Grilled Pizzas & Piadinas, which is handy because I’ve been working on perfecting grilled pizza of late (perfecting, failing, perfecting, failing, eating anyway) and am interested to try to make piadinas, a type of flatbread used to wrap sandwiches or as a crust-like bundle for something sweet.

In addition to a sparkly metallic bracelet and a couple of CDs that the DJ sifting through the same box thought fit to pass up (The Sinatra Christmas Album and Corinne Bailey Rae, if you must know), I picked up the book Plastic Ocean for my ocean-loving friend who likes to snuggle up with a good book about the ocean’s flotilla of garbage. I mean, don’t we all?

Spine poetry

How great is this idea? Select a few books from your shelf  and shuffle them up to “write” a poem. The idea, courtesy of artist Nina Kathadourian’s Sorted Books project I read about on Brain Pickings, is called spine poetry. Brilliant, right? Peruse your bookshelf—or as this artist does: the public library, private libraries, anywhere that houses books—culling those with interesting titles to arrange a poem.

Such an interesting way to discover lines of poetry that might never be discovered otherwise, while possibly even motivating you to dust the bookshelf; it’s also time well spent with your books and even better: a reason to acquire more books.

Here are some lines I discovered:

Love is walking hand in hand,

devotion.

Enduring love:

the mother garden.

Man and camel

walking into the night;

don’t tell me the truth about love.

Happiness is a warm puppy,

driving over lemons,

the northern lights,

burnt bread and chutney,

the journey home.

Mini book reviews

I’m in an overwhelmed-by-books phase. I started The Likeness when Wild came in at the library, and even though Oprah never personally invited me to be in her book club 2.0 and even though her picks tend to be about the same female protagonist who’s suffered hardship but will overcome, I end up enjoying most of the selections. Wild is one of them. It’s possible I took a day off to read it. In many ways, I suspect author Cheryl Strayed will see the fame Elizabeth Gilbert enjoyed after publishing Eat, Pray, Love. While her book lacks the pizza of Italy and the hunky Brazilian lover, Strayed does compel readers with her tale of hiking the grueling Pacific Coast Crest Trail* with ill-fitting hiking boots and a backpack named Monster.

Now it’s on to The Likeness, which, if you took my advice, you’d be reading too, because it’s by the stellar Tana French. I just saw the Irish actress-turned-writer at the Brookline Booksmith where she did a reading with fellow mystery writer Sophie Hannah, a Brit, who read from The Other Woman’s House. Great, another book to add to the list. The hook for Hannah’s book got me: a woman browsing online videos of homes for sale spots a dead body in the living room of one—but finds the body is gone when she shows her husband.

At the reading, a pug settled in to listen but became more enamored with a woman’s bag and feet that he sniffed, inching closer and closer to both as the woman kept inching them away. It’s a tribute to these two authors and their engaging storytelling that the pug was hardly a distraction. Turns out he was a book lover too. I saw him leave with signed copies tucked under his wrinkled chin.

 

 

* I read all 336 pages of Wild believing it was the Pacific Coast Trail and not the Pacific Crest Trail. To be fair, she referred to it mostly as the PCT, but still. At several points I did wonder why we didn’t hear more about the coast . . .

Salem’s secret garden

Is there anything more enchanting than a secret garden? Well, yes. Coming upon Mr. Darcy in said secret garden. But let’s be realistic. This patch of flowers and pebbled trail is tucked away behind a church and historic home in Salem, often overlooked by tourists. Sometimes, I have it all to myself. See that red brick mansion in the background? That’s where Darcy and I live in my fantasy. We restore it to its former glory and stand gazing down upon the garden where we married, reliving the moment again and again. And then his sister saunters in and wants to play a sonata on that damn piano. Always with the piano! When will she get her own place?

These grand English-style gardens always call to mind the characters of Austen and Bronte. Can’t you just picture Jane Eyre sitting on this bench when Rochester sneaks up behind her in his creepy, romantic way?

This is where I like to sit and read about the stern yet tenderhearted men of yore. The shaded bench is better suited to courting lovers, but whatever. All I have is a book and the sunflowers before they turn brown and droop their heavy heads.

When I tire of reading, I look to the koi pond, confident that at any moment, Darcy will emerge, sopping wet in a blousy white shirt plastered to his beefy arms that he will use to lift me off the bench and into the pond for a romp.

The desecration of a library

I’m all about the ports lately. Last week was Westport, CT for the birthday. This week was Freeport, ME to see Martin Sexton at LL Bean’s Discovery Park, a free outdoor concert series that would make me like the Bean, if I were on Facebook. Anyway, the “sex” in Martin’s name is no mistake; he’s one sexy folk singer. Just look at that swoop of hair and the way he sings, eyes closed in ecstasy. Lullaby, please.

Other than sexy Sexton and the campus that is LL Bean, complete with boot mobile, there’s not a lot to Freeport. A handful of outlets would disappointment me, if I were a tourist. But strolling down Main Street, my friend Kim and I, not tourists, just naive New Englanders, encountered this sweet brick library. She snapped a picture while I pointed out its quaintness—red and solid and stout amid the trees. A classic.

The chiseled bare-chested man peering at us from just inside the door did seem an incongruous entry to the little library, but who am I to judge Down Easters? Perhaps the image helps uh, circulation.

An art exhibit, I thought, puzzled. Until my friend pointed out the sign, in alarm, confirming the desecration of a most sacred space. Freeport, if it takes me 20 years, I will strike out your entry in all guide books from Fodor’s to Frommer’s.

In the Woods

Maple will stare at you until you read this book. Engaging writing, angsty detective partners with that Will They / Won’t They question (think Stabler and Benson), and a mystery for good measure. Initially, the premise (child murder) and the creepy tree roots on the cover freaked me out, but my friend recommended it and she knows a good partner love story when she sees one (Stabler, Benson) and also because she writes good partner love stories. You’re welcome.

Now go pick up a copy, read it at the beach and come back here so we can discuss it.

Poetry is so . . . poetic

Roses are red
Violets are blue;
This poem is short
and so are you.
 

This original poem, my most creative I think, won best amateur poem in the Mass Poetry’s Festival’s newcomer category, which is not a real contest, but should be. I’d have it in the bag.

In reality, the festival breezed into Salem, set up its circus tents of inspiration all over town: workshop after workshop of scribbling poets and readings to recharge writers for months. So much to feast on. So much to plagiarize.

On Friday afternoon, the back yard of the Salem Athenaeum was one giant cliché: a circle of writers sitting under a tree in full blossom, creating poems amongst bird song, sunshine, and wind chimes. Saturday brought more sunshine and poets who could dash off a masterpiece in minutes. On Sunday, carpenter poets read their work, full of hammers and miter saws, in a dark room in the House of the Seven Gables where gables centuries old beamed to see their craftsmen. The day also brought rain, the kind of weather angsty writers need to cultivate a mood and to get down to the business of writing and brooding.

Tidbits

Do you remember Tid-Bit crackers? Maybe a dozen of us bought them in the 70s. Nabisco made them until they ditched them to focus, I suspect, on the less-than-brilliant Cheese Nips. I miss them. In honor of them, some tidbits:

*Another week of global warming in Boston. Another day of sifting past the boots and winter coat to find a skirt.

*I compliment a student in the elevator on her kickass tights. “The best kept secret?” she says. “Stripper stores.”

*I wander to the deli near the park at lunch to see everyone working in the financial and theater districts, along with the students from at least three nearby colleges, have the same idea. Frisbees are flying. I fail to make a reservation for a bench on the Common but find a spot between tourists. In blinding sunshine, I eat a pickle in the park; this is not a euphemism.

*I read an article in the campus newspaper insinuating a staffer was fired for looking at porn on his work computer. The phrase referring to his supervisor “keeping abreast of the situation” makes me chuckle.

*I just finished reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains; I could hardly concentrate.

Stuff I gave up on this month

*Wuthering Heights, a third of the way through. How many people does it take to tell a love story?

*The House of the Seven Gables, page 76. Required reading in Salem, but dull. I’ll just take a stroll by the house.

*The Dovekeepers, somewhere in Part Two. Set in 70 C.E—way too long ago. Ironically, way too long too.

*Finding a good book

*Movies from the 70s: a dim era for cinema. Should have given up on Taxi Driver after suffering through Midnight Cowboy.

*Finding the perfect winter coat

*The Republican reality show

*This year’s Oscar picks

*Rihanna

Best books of 2011

I can’t say I was looking forward to reading Salvage the Bones, the 2011 National Book Award winner for fiction. The subject matter, Hurricane Katrina, was an ugly period in American history. But I was intrigued when Jesmyn Ward won the award over Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife, a fantastic book that critics felt was a shoe-in. Well.

The Tiger’s Wife was fantastic. Loved it. But it would have been the movie with the big studio behind it winning the Oscar. You can’t help but root for the little independent. I had heard Ward, the underdog, on NPR saying how she was thrilled just to be nominated for Salvage the Bones. She sounded so sincere that I wanted her to win. When she won, I committed to read it.

The writing is harsh in the most beautiful way, punched-up to a poetic level, and tight. You like the protagonist, her brothers, and even a pit bull so much that you’re worried from page one about the storm that’s coming. The tension builds like the winds that sweep across their Mississippi land.

I read 30-odd books this year and found it hard to choose a fop five from among the many contenders. And then I remembered that no one’s making me choose five. I just like to put five in my book widget, but that I can choose 10 if I want. And I want, so here’s a recap:

I finally got around to reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a fun flight through the philosophical that everyone read when it came out in 2008. I’m slow to the table, OK? Plus, I put it down twice when I tried reading it back then. This time it stuck and I was duly rewarded. If you’re not feeling pressured to read the most newly minted novels (The Marriage Plot, The Art of Fielding, enough already), read it.

I also brushed up on a classic or two, reading Jane Eyre at last (very slow to the table). Jane and I would have been fast friends had I lived in the English countryside way back when. We could have roamed the meadows bundled in our layers, arms linked, stopping to talk about books and our crush on the quirky Rochester.

Forging on with my resolution last year to read books I might not normally pick up, and failing by page two of The Hunger Games, I gave in to the critical acclaim for last year’s National Book Awards nonfiction winner and devoured Just Kids by Patti Smith a memoir of her years spent with Robert Mapplethorpe. Oh, to have such a supportive artist and quasi-lover who champions your growth and creativity, while coming of age in New York City. What a power duo.

Under the category of titles I’d rattle off while awaiting laughter, I read and loved two books. The first was The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey. Seriously, if you don’t go out searching for snails to love after reading this, you are not human. The second, while not as lyrical, was Wesley the Owl by Stacey O’Brien. If you don’t go out looking for your own owl to mother after reading this, you are definitely not human.

Dog Years: a Memoir by poet Mark Doty that interweaves the loss of his partner  and dogs, another not-so-new book, was phenomenal and heartbreaking. And I’m not even a dog owner.

And finally, the most entertaining read, judged by how much I have to suppress laughter on the train: This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper.

Go forth and read, people.