Wednesday, December 26, 2012



I read 26 books in 2012. Here are the 13 that I enjoyed the best, in order of my affection for them. All my major reading food groups are represented -- fiction, biography and mystery. The descriptions are from Barnes and Noble.

1) Never Let Me Go. Ishiguro. (novel, 2005) "A devastating novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss. As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric."

2) Capone. Bergreen.  (biography, 1996) "Delving beyond the Capone mythology. Bergreen finds a paradox: a coldblooded killer, thief, pimp, and racketeer who was also a devoted son and father; a self-styled Robin Hood who rose to the top of organized crime. Capone is a masterful portrait of an extraordinary time and of the one man who reigned supreme over it all, Al Capone."

3) Mona Lisa in Camelot. Davis.  (non-fiction, 2008) "In December 1962 Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa set sail from Paris to New York for what was arguably the riskiest art exhibition ever mounted. The fragile icon traveled like a head of state, with armed guards and military surveillance, in a temperature-controlled vault. Masterminding the entire show was First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. For eighty-eight charmed days, “Lisa Fever” swept the nation as nearly two million Americans attended exhibits in Washington, D.C. and New York. It was the greatest outpouring of appreciation for a single work of art in American history and the beginning of our nation’s love affair with the arts."

4) I Remember Nothing. Ephron. (memoir, 2011) "Filled with insights and observations that instantly ring true—and could have come only from Nora Ephron—I Remember Nothing is pure joy."
5) Mrs. Kennedy and Me. Hill. (memoir, 2012) "An enthralling, tragic, and intensely private portrayal of the captivating first lady from a man who knew her like no one else. When Secret Service agent Clint Hill was initially assigned to guard First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, he envisioned tea parties and gray-haired matrons. But as soon as he met her, he was swept up in the whirlwind of her beauty, her grace, her intelligence, her coy humor, her magnificent composure, and her extraordinary spirit. For four years, Clint was by Jackie’s side—through the early days of JFK’s presidency; the birth of sons John and Patrick and Patrick’s sudden death; Kennedy-family holidays; her intriguing meeting with Aristotle Onassis; and the president’s assassination and the dark days that followed. Filled with unforgettable details, startling revelations, and sparkling, intimate moments, this is the once-in-a-lifetime story of a man doing the most exciting job in the world, with a woman all the world loved, and the haunting tragedy that ended it all too soon."

6) Robert B. Parker's Lullaby. Adkins. (mystery, 2012) "When fourteen-year-old Mattie Sullivan asks Spenser to look into her mother’s murder, he’s not convinced by her claim that the wrong man was convicted. Mattie is street-smart, wise beyond her years, and now left to care for her younger siblings and an alcoholic grandmother in a dilapidated apartment in South Boston. But her need for closure and her determination to make things right hits Spenser where he lives. As Spenser becomes more involved, he thinks that Mattie may be onto something after all. And he’s going to need the help of his friend Hawk to find peace for Mattie—a job that’s more dangerous than he ever thought."
7) Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney. Sounes. (biography, 2010) "The first exhaustive biography of the legendary musician; it tells Sir Paul’s whole life story, from childhood to present day, from working-class Liverpool beginnings to the cultural phenomenon that was The Beatles to his many solo incarnations. Fab is the definitive portrait of McCartney, a man of contradictions and a consummate musician far more ruthless, ambitious, and moody than his relaxed public image implies. Based on original research and more than two hundred new interviews, Fab also reveals for the first time the full story of his two marriages, romances, family feuds, phenomenal wealth, and complex relationships with his fellow ex-Beatles."

8) The Spellman Files. Lutz. (mystery, 2007) "Meet Isabel "Izzy" Spellman, private investigator. This twenty-eight-year-old may have a checkered past littered with romantic mistakes, excessive drinking, and creative vandalism; she may be addicted to Get Smart reruns and prefer entering homes through windows rather than doors — but the upshot is she's good at her job as a licensed private investigator with her family's firm, Spellman Investigations. Invading people's privacy comes naturally to Izzy. In fact, it comes naturally to all the Spellmans. If only they could leave their work at the office. To be a Spellman is to snoop on a Spellman; tail a Spellman; dig up dirt on, blackmail, and wiretap a Spellman."

9) A Royal Duty. Burell. (memoir, 2003) "Now comes the long awaited book, A Royal Duty by Paul Burrell, the man in whom Diana the Princess of Wales confided on matters big and small. Paul, one of the Queen's personal footmen, met Diana during one of her first visits to Balmoral Castle. And while it may have been fate that brought them together, they shared a strong bond that endured to the end of her life. Burrell became Diana's confidant and his unique perspective casts new light on the Princess of Wales and the events that would shape her life and the lives of those around her."

10) Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero. Matthews. (biography, 2012) "Jack Kennedy said the reason people read biography is to answer that basic question. What was he like, this man whose own wife called him 'that elusive, unforgettable man'? In this New York Times bestselling biography, Chris Matthews answers that question with the verve of a novelist. As Matthews writes: 'I found a fighting prince never free of pain, never far from trouble, never accepting the world he found, never wanting to be his father’s son. He was a far greater hero than he ever wished us to know.'"

11) Bone Bed. Cornwell. (mystery, 2012) "A woman has vanished while digging a dinosaur bone bed in the remote wilderness of Canada. Somehow, the only evidence has made its way to the inbox of Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta, over two thousand miles away in Boston. She has no idea why. But as events unfold with alarming speed, Scarpetta begins to suspect that the paleontologist’s disappearance is connected to a series of crimes much closer to home: a gruesome murder, inexplicable tortures, and trace evidence from the last living creatures of the dinosaur age. When she turns to those around her, Scarpetta finds that the danger and suspicion have penetrated even her closest circles. Her niece Lucy speaks in riddles. Her lead investigator, Pete Marino, and FBI forensic psychologist and husband, Benton Wesley, have secrets of their own. Feeling alone and betrayed, Scarpetta is tempted by someone from her past as she tracks a killer both cunning and cruel."
12) Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America. Biskind. (biography, 2010) "In this compulsively readable and constantly surprising book, Peter Biskind writes the most intimate, revealing, and balanced biography ever of Hollywood legend Warren Beatty. Famously a playboy, Beatty has also been one of the most ambitious and successful stars in Hollywood. Several Beatty films have passed the test of time, from Bonnie and Clyde to Shampoo, Heaven Can Wait, Reds (for which he won the best director Oscar), Bugsy, and Bulworth. Few filmgoers realize that along with Orson Welles, Beatty is the only person ever nominated for four Academy Awards for a single film—and unlike Welles, Beatty did it twice, with Heaven Can Wait and Reds."

13) Belong to Me. de Los Santos. (novel, 2011) "Everyone has secrets. Some we keep to protect ourselves, others to protect those we love.A devoted city dweller, Cornelia Brown surprised herself when she was gripped by the sudden desire to head for an idyllic suburb. Though she knows she's made the right move, she approaches her new life with trepidation and struggles to forge friendships. Cornelia's mettle is quickly tested by judgmental neighbor Piper Truitt, the embodiment of everything Cornelia feared she would find in suburbia. A saving grace soon appears in the form of Lake, and Cornelia develops an instant bond with this warm yet elusive woman. As their individual stories unfold, the women become entangled in a web of trust, betrayal, love and loss that challenges them in ways they never imagined, and that ultimately teaches them what it means for one human being to belong to another."

For more about the Thursday 13,
or to play along yourself, click here.

My considered opinion

Elf's Ed Asner is one of my favorite movie Santas. He has just the right mix of gravitas, wisdom and warmth. And, unlike Mr. Grant, I'm sure Santa doesn't drink and yell at people.

I want Wednesday

I want to be better disciplined! Of all the things I planned to do today, the only one I accomplished was getting to the dry cleaner! C'mon, Gal! There's relaxation and then there's sloth, and I think we know which category I'm sliding deeper into each day.

The artist vs. his art

As no less an expert on these things than Bruce Springsteen once told me, "You should pay attention to the art, not the artist." I know that the two are indeed separate. And yet, I'm always surprised when I respond to one of Mel Gibson's performances.

Ransom is on as I write this. It's a well-crafted piece of entertainment with two very good performances at its core: one by Gary Sinise as the kidnapper and the other from frantic father Mel Gibson. Mel is by turns vulnerable, angry, frightened, remorseful, proud, defiant, desperate ... Gibson has the showier part but he is still authentic.

If I was dropped onto Earth from another planet, I'd even find him attractive.

But then there's "I'm glad John Lennon is dead," and "Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world," and "sugar tits" and threatening to kill the mother of his youngest child and homophobia. The rage inside this man is mighty and toxic.

Mel Gibson is an actor and a talented one. He has a compelling screen presence. His appalling personal life doesn't diminish the quality of his work, just my enjoyment of it. Every time I see him, the "fourth wall" crumbles and I'm reminded of the George Burns quote, "The secret of acting is sincerity. If you can fake that, you've got it made."

Merry Christmas to me

My gift to myself was to rid myself of some of the clutter that's running rampant again. I shredded a ton of no longer necessary paper, enough to fill (a very light) garbage bag. It took an hour!

Next up -- the magazines. I see another trip to the recycling bin in my future.