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The 2012 Review

This is the time of year when everyone looks back on the past 12 months and looks at the best and worst of etc.

I’d like to pretend like I’m different, but I’m not.

This was a big reading year for me.

I’m working through my Top 5 or other arbitrary number list in my head, but in the meantime I thought I’d look back at my reading trends and feelings this year.

Up for it? It’s happening, you don’t actually have a choice.

Like I said – big reading year for me. I make a goal for myself each year. In the past it’s been a bit lofty and I’ve handicapped myself by having to choose books that I think will get me to my goal. At the same time if I choose a goal that’s too low, it’s not going to be any kind of a challenge. This year I settled on 50. Left me room to play around with bigger books but also, 50 books is a lot.

I surpassed my goal. By a lot. As of today I’m working on finishing my 81st book. Which is the most I’ve ever read since I started keeping track of the books I read each year. And let’s face it, probably ever.

This year I discovered the delights of Agatha Christie. I never thought I was a murder mystery kind of reader but I am. I really really am. Aside from Agatha Christie, I devoured works by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and Camilla Lackberg (The Ice Princess, The Preacher, The Stonecutter, The Stranger). I even read a real life crime book about a serial killer in Paris during World War II. That book was a lot more difficult to read. Like terrifying.

My failure to read Les Miserables in time for the movie’s release notwithstanding, I did seem to be drawn to books about the French Revolution. Charles Dickens and I came to an understanding when I fell in love with A Tale of Two Cities and I gave Michelle Moran a chance to wow me (she did) when I picked up Madame Tussaud despite the awful cover. While I was fascinated by the French, I became enamoured of Russian Royals, learning all about Catherine the Great thanks to the incredible biography by Robert K. Massie. That turned into a bit of an obsession with Nicholas and Alexandra and I just picked up a book about Royal Russian women by Julia P. Gelardi (which I’m really excited about because she wrote one of my very favourite royal biographies about the five granddaughters of Queen Victoria who each became a Queen in her own right).

My book club had a big impact on my reading choices this year. Our selections ranged from so-so to downright scandalous once we started on the Fifty Shades phenomenon. I was also on the hunt for anything that might have something to do with Downton Abbey and I finished off all of the available Song of Ice and Fire books. I caved and read The Hunger Games books (which I loved), and tried my best to read War and Peace, but was ultimately foiled when my copy was missing a sizeable chunk of pages. I still haven’t managed to sort that out – when I took a copy out of the library to read the missing pages, it was a completely different version.

It was a pretty low key year for non-fiction, something I plan to work on in the New Year. I did manage to continue my love affair with Malcolm Gladwell (he kind of changed my life with Outliers this year) and was completely fascinated by the lives of the Kennedy Women (Lawrence Leamer) and members of The President’s Club.

This was also a year when I made a lot of book mistakes, which was kind of a first for me. There were a number of books that I read that I just didn’t care for. A couple that I abandoned altogether (Catch-22, Little Shadows, The Vampire Lestat) and others that I struggled through that I wanted to abandon (The Stranger’s Child, The Prague Cemetery, Bride of New France, The Firefly Cloak).

But in the end, I read almost 81 books. And that’s pretty badass.

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Madame Tussaud

Do you ever find that what you read feeds into one another? That something you read a few months ago subconsciously creates a new interest and you start reading related material unintentionally? For instance, I’ve never really read very much about the French Revolution. I’ve read a Marie Antoinette biography (the one by Antonia Fraser – it is terrific) and I get what happened but details, not so much. Then suddenly I got the urge to read A Tale of Two Cities and followed that up with Madame Tussaud. A few months ago I read Catherine the Great’s biography and she sort of makes an appearance in Madame Tussad , so…related.

Does this ever happen to you?

I love when it happens.

This brings me to my latest read. In a very roundabout way, but here we are.

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran. Don’t hate me, but I initially dismissed it because of the cover. I know – breaking one of reading’s top commandments: Thou Shalt not judge a book by its cover. But we all do it, and here we are.

For the record, I’ve done the reverse as well. I’ve been seduced by a brilliant cover to find the inside lacking. But it seems much more heinous when you dismiss a great book because the cover art doesn’t do it for you, doesn’t it?

Anyway, Madame Tussaud is excellent. I loved it. Michelle Moran does not mince words. She writes about the brutality and the uncertainty of the French Revolution in no uncertain terms. The cruelty of the guillotine, the Swiss Guard massacre, the spite with which the people treated the royal family and the mercilessness they showed when it came to rooting out anyone that might have ever had anything to do with them are all portrayed honestly in the book.

Madame Tussaud tells the story of the real Madame Tussaud, formerly Anna Maria Grosholtz, the wax sculptor who used her talents to tell the stories of the day. Her tableaus of the wealthy and eventually those political figures that were changing the face of France, attracted thousands of people. Her salon de cire was the only chance that many of these people could ever hope to catch a glimpse of those people featured in the exhibit.

But she paid a price for her success. Madame Tussaud  also explores the romantic relationship that Marie has with her neighbor and fellow exhibitor Henri Charles.

Personally the romantic storyline was secondary for me. The role that Marie played in the politics of the day meant that, as a reader, I got a front row seat to the drama that unfolded. And it was hard to read sometimes, heartbreaking, vicious, and bloody as the tale can be.

I ended up feeling real affinity for this woman whose ambition ruled her throughout one of the most terrifying epochs in our human history. She’s one of those characters that I’m sad to let go of.

If you see it, try not to judge it by its cover. The inside is a real treat. I find myself eagerly anticipating Moran’s next book, The Second Empress, which is due to be released August 14th. Also, if you’ve visited Michelle Moran’s website you will see that Madame Tussaud has been optioned as a Showtime miniseries, which is seriously exciting news.

Yup, I’m a dork. What are you gonna do?

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Shelf Log

I think we have established that I am a book hoarder. I cannot help myself. But looking at my bookshelf, seeing all the lovely titles that I had yet to crack, I imposed a book ban on myself. I was not allowed to buy any more books until I had read the ones I already had.

(Notice how we’re using the past tense?)

But then I went to Costco and these 3 books were already on my list and they were cheap so I bought those. And since then, I may have bought a couple more. But most of them have been on my list so it’s like I already had them anyway, but now I actually have them.

You know?

In an effort to curb my insanity, I thought that if I was honest about what is actually on my shelf right now and could see it in black and white it might help to curb my bookish appetite.

Actually it will probably fill me with pride – look at all the excellent books I have chosen! But we’re going to try anyway. In no particular order:

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran. Have you ever been to Madame Tussauds? Any one of them – they have them in London, New York, Vegas and Amsterdam. I’ve been to the one in Amsterdam (and I’m dying to go to the one in Vegas when I go next month) and I’ve never had so much fun in a museum before. The pictures are hilarious. Turns out that Madame Tussaud was a real person. I don’t think that I knew this. But whatevs. I saw this book and I had to have it. And now I do. And one day I’ll read it too.

In this, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, I clearly felt like I needed to flesh out my Dickens’ section a little. I already had Great ExpectationsA Christmas Carol and Hard Times (I think I must have at least another one from my time at school but I cannot think of it at the moment) but this is not enough. I still want to get my hands on the biography that was released last year (good thing it’s my birthday soon) but I recently picked up Nicholas Nickleby and then! A Tale of Two Cities without the Oprah’s Book Club thing on it! Success! (I try really hard never to collect books that have anything to do with Oprah. Ever)Once I actually read them I will feel even more superior to you.

The Kennedy Women by Laurence Leamer is languishing on my shelf for reasons unknown. I love biographies about women, The Kennedy Women should be at the top of my list. The same day I picked up this gem, I grabbed the companion: The Kennedy Men. And I actually read that one. Every time I gravitate towards it, I get distracted by something shiny. But I know once I actually crack this one, I’m going to love it.

Catch-22 has been on my list for a long long time. And I had it in my hand to buy it when I came across Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor and bought it instead. What would convince me to put down such an important work in favour of something with such an unimaginative title? Um, apparently this book was so slutty that it had to be banned in some places when it was published in 1944. Basically, Amber has to prostitute herself to stay alive in 17th century England. And Barbara Taylor Bradford did the introduction and she’s all I loved this book when I was a teenager. If Barbara Taylor Bradford says that it’s a “genuine page turner” and a “smashing read” who are we to argue? It’s heavy though – nearly 1000 pages. I think that’s going to be next.

I was on my way to my book club and had some time to kill so naturally I wandered into a bookstore unsupervised. And I was on my way to book club so I was feeling pretty smug and brilliant. And what do the smug literati buy when they are in a bookstore? War and Peace, naturally. So more than a year later, it’s still sitting on my shelf. I really really really do want to read it. So badly. But every time I get there, something else, easier, shorter, something that will help me get to my book reading goal, gets in the way. One day though, me and Tolstoy? We’re going to make this happen.

That might be it. I fear it isn’t. But these are the ones that I can come up with off the top of my head. What would you read next?