"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What I Read: The First 10 (and a half) Books of 2013

I love to read, and these days I really have no excuse not to be reading.  I don't have a specific weekly or monthly goal-- if I do that, I tend to get obsessed with the goal and lose sight of the reading, choosing shorter books or speeding through things too quickly-- but I do have an overall goal to read 50 books this year and even that, now that I think about it, seems kind of low.  BUT... I would like to be more busy with other things in the coming months as well, such as my writing.  I have my novel draft to finish (and then SO MUCH MORE work to do on it after that point) and there are still several other ideas waiting patiently in my head (and in my journal) for their time to shine.  I can't read ALL the time, sadly. 

Also, I am a slow reader.  I am a good reader-- competent-- but I just read slowly.  I read parts over and over and think about everything.  In fact (and few know this about me) I read silently at pretty much the same speed that I read out loud because I "hear" the book in my head as I go, just as if I were saying the words.  That's why difficult-to-pronounce names trip me up.  Other people say, "Just skip it," or "Just pick something to say and move on," but I can't.  I try to get it right every time.  I remember one book in particular where this was a problem.  In The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, one of the main characters was named Rosaleen.  And I never knew (still don’t) if I should be pronouncing it ROSE-aleen or ROZ-aleen.  I kept trying to choose one, make it not matter, but I couldn't.  Every single time her name came up, my brain considered both pronunciations before moving on.  (That's a very good book, by the way.)

Usually I don't mind my slow reading.  While it would sometimes be nice to get through assigned texts faster, the things I read for pleasure or value I enjoy taking my time with.  Some of my friends re-read books over and over.  I know at least three people who routinely re-read the Harry Potter series; one of them even does it once a summer.  (At my speed, that would be physically impossible for me unless I literally did nothing else.)  I have other friends who re-read a book the moment they finish it because it was so good or because they want to "catch things they missed the first time around".  Considering all the stacks and stacks of books I have waiting, this seems like a terrible waste of time, but for me it is also unnecessary.  My close and careful perusal of books imprints most of the images and content on my mind.  I am always baffled to talk to someone about a book we have both just finished and learn they do not remember a detail that stood out so clearly to me. 

My well-worn teacher copy.
Of course there are a few books that I have re-read:  Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, because I absolutely love it. (If nothing else, you must read the story about Bill Forrester and Helen Loomis and the lime-vanilla ice which begins on page 140.)  And Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte because I loved it in college (and still do despite the 100-page tangent right before the end).  And, of course, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Due to teaching it aloud for thirteen years to every single one of my 7th grade English classes, I have now read that book 43 times.  (I have the first page memorized.) 

And there are other books I want to re-read:  The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, which I loved but cannot remember at all.  There is a quote from that book at the top of this blog and, strangely, that is the only piece of the story I have retained.  Also Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, which I remember loving in high school, and Life of Pi by Yann Martel, which made a huge impact on me.  (I'm still not convinced I want to see the movie though, despite its recognition at the Oscars.)  But it is hard to pick up something I have already read, even if I don't remember it, when there are so many unread stories waiting in the wings.  Sometimes I cheat and recommend a book to my husband so that I can re-experience it through his comments and conversations.  But he's reading the Game of Thrones series now, so... I have to wait like 3,000 more pages before I can suggest another book to him.  (Sigh.)

But I digress.  What I really wanted to do was to share the first ten (and a half) books that I read this year.  So here they are:

1.  Texas Poetry Calendar 2012, edited by Scott Wiggerman and Cindy Huyser

I actually read this one last year, mostly.  My husband and I like to take turns reading the weekly poems aloud, but we got behind over the holidays and didn’t finish until early January.  It was especially fun reading the month of September because one of my poems was published there.  Here it is. 

Enchanted Rock in September:  A Tritina
by Carie Juettner

Sandals grip the dusty smooth surface of the stone
and a bead of sweat trickles down as I make my way up
and up and up beneath the sweltering heat of the sun’s power.

Past prickly pear cacti and one lone puddle of water, I power
through the ache in my legs, pushing harder and harder against the stone,
trying to imagine how it felt centuries ago, to look up

and see, in the distance, above all the trees, filling up
the horizon, this spectacular view—this vision of power
and endurance—this natural wonder of stone.

It fuels my awe for this stone, rising up out of the landscape, full of magic, of power.

While the 2012 calendars are gone (as is 2012 itself), I believe there are still a few of the 2013 calendars for sale.  Check out the Dos Gatos Press website to snatch one up.  If you do, you’ll find a haiku by me on the week of Halloween.

2.  Let’s Pretend This Never Happened:  A Mostly True Memoir, by Jenny Lawson

This book cracked me up from cover to cover.  If you’re not sure if you want to read it, just check out Jenny’s blog.  She’s crazy in all the right ways.


3.  We the Living, by Ayn Rand

I borrowed this powerful novel from my husband’s boss’s wife at the team holiday party.  She willingly lent it to me, but said jokingly (?) that if she didn’t get it back she would hunt me down.  Then she spent the rest of the evening mimicking the paperboy from Better Off Dead.  “TWO DOLLARS!!!” Just my luck, while in my possession the cover of her book severed itself from the spine.  I made careful repairs and wrote a long note of apology before sending it back to her.  Mark still has a job, so… I guess all is good.

4.  Help! For Writers, by Roy Clark

My only real complaint about this book is the exclamation point in the title.  Otherwise it was quite helpful.  Better suited to nonfiction writers than fiction, but there were still lots of great tips and suggestions that I have used in my work.

5.  Traces of Forgotten Places:  An Artist’s Thirty-Year Exploration and Celebrations of Texas as It Was, by Don Collins

My dad gave this book to me for Christmas because he liked the drawings in it of old barns and houses and farm equipment across the state.  He loves that kind of thing.  Plus, some of the buildings are places we have seen together (such as the railroad depot in Quanah, Texas, shown below).  The images are really neat, and some of Collins’ descriptions of the places are amusing. 


6.  The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman        
I read this one for my book club.  Although the history that the story was based on interested me (the mass suicide of Jewish rebels at Masada in 73CE) I was not a fan of the book itself.

7.  Jane-Emily, by Patricia Clapp
Great little story!  To see my full review of it on Goodreads, click here. 


8.  The Stranger, by Albert Camus

I grabbed this book at Half Priced after reading the following paragraph in the article “Reading With a Writer’s Eye” by Tania Casselle in the 2013 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market: 

The Understory [by Pamela Erens] has an ominous tone which builds turn-the-page tension.  Erens had already pared the writing in revisions, but during her final draft, she read Camus’ The Stranger.  ‘It’s a very short book, with a creepy sense of omission—what’s being left out.’ Reading that made her trim back even more.”

Upon finishing the book, I was unsatisfied with it, not really understanding its power and timelessness, but after some good conversations with fellow readers and some time to look back on it, it is beginning to grow on me.  However, I still don't understand the cover.

8 ½.  A Stolen Life, by Jaycee Dugard

Jaycee Dugard is the woman who was abducted in California when she was eleven years old and then forced to live in a backyard and endure unending abuse for eighteen years before she was recued and reunited with her family.  This book is her memoir.  I picked it up because, at first glance, I thought the structure of it might help me with my own book, but after the first 70 pages or so, I couldn’t read it anymore.  I ended up skimming through the book and reading the “happy” ending.  Jaycee is an amazing example of endurance and strength and I am glad she had the courage to write down her story in such detail.  I just didn’t have the guts to read it all.


9.  Picnic, Lightning, by Billy Collins
Loved this.  I read it slowly, never more than two poems in a day.  So many of them seemed to fit my mood or thoughts so perfectly and often they inspired me to jot down some verses.  Probably my favorite moment in reading it was finding out the source for the title of the book and the poem, on page 24, of the same name.  The poem begins with a quote from Lolita.  “My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three.”

10.  2013 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, edited by Scott Francis

My mom gave me this hefty volume for Christmas and I finally took the dive into its pages this month.  There is a lot more helpful advice in there than I realized.  Not only have I found contests and magazines that seem like a good fit for my work, but many of the articles are valuable as well.  I especially liked “Ten Writing Pitfalls and How to Beat Them” by I.J. Schecter and “Reading With a Writer’s Eye” by Tania Casselle.  Teachers, the latter one would also make a great text to use in the classroom.

Whew! First ten are done!  Stay tuned for the next ten.  If you’d like to see what’s on my reading list, click here.


  1. Just testing the comments. Some people have complained that they are not working.

  2. Carie, thanks for the mention - I'm so glad you enjoyed my chapter in Novel & Short Story Writer's Market. Also, the next time I see Natalie Goldberg, I'll tell her your Writing Down the Bones car wash story / send her the link. I'm sure she'll get a kick out of that!

  3. Hi Tania! What an honor to hear from you! Thanks for your comment and for your helpful advice in the Writer's Market. And thanks too for passing on my blog post to Natalie Goldberg. I hope she gets a kick out of it and does not think I am a horrible person. I'm thinking it's 50/50 odds, right? :)