Monday, December 28, 2015

Complete List of Books I Read in 2015

Here are the links to the books I read in 2015. Lists 1-7 are pieces of one chronological list of 84 books of my Excel spreadsheet. Click on each image to embiggen.

List One

List Two

List Three

List Four

List Five

List Six

List Seven

Friday, December 25, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Oldest Working Clock

The oldest working clock is housed at the Salisbury Cathedral in England.

Johannes Vriemand, Williemus Vriemand, and Johannes Jietuijt from Delft were invited to England by Edward III to construct the clock in c. 1386. The clock was originally set up in a detached bell tower north of the cathedral. When that tower was destroyed, the working clock was moved to the cathedral tower until 1792, at which point it was decommissioned. It was re-discovered in 1929 and moved to the north transept in 1931. However, it was not in a working condition. Finally in 1956, the clock was completely repaired and restored to its original condition by Messrs. John Smith and Co. of Derby along with antiquarian horologists T.R. Robinson and R.P. Howgrave-Graham. The now-working clock was moved to its present location at the triforium level in the south transept.

According to the Salisbury Cathedral notes: "As is usual of the period, the clock has no face, being designed only to strike hours." The clock is a 12-hour clock and has to be wound up every 24 hours. The bell hammer is supposed to be connected to a bell but is disconnected these days due to the noise it makes.

[Image copyrighted by the Salisbury Cathedral.]

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Mission Statements, Life Lists, Goals, Schedules: define, design, discharge

Here are four of my posts that have proven to be among the most popular on this blog. They have all to do with architecting your life starting with small daily steps.

A Personal Mission Statement is a set of mottoes for your life that define the boundaries of who you are, what your deepest held beliefs are, how you interact with others, and what you think of yourself.

A Life List is a mondo-beyondo list of your life's dreams. There are no limits as to how many items there can be on this list. It's a personal list, so don't be shy of wishing for the most outrageous, the most selfish, the most greedy, the most anything. Every deeply held desire needs to be on this list. Don't compromise on your dreams.

Goals Making and Keeping and committing to bringing your resolutions to fruition. Goals give you something concrete to work towards and to measure progress against. Goals also give you a sense of accomplisment once you've reached them.

Scheduling Your Life is important, because if you don't label your time to dedicated actions, then that piece of time is either attached to another task or frittered away. The most basic rule of thumb when keeping to a schedule is: There is no making up lost time.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Resolute About Resolving Your Resolutions

Are you resolute about resolving your new year's resolutions this year? Here are some tips to help you on your way that have helped me tremendously. This blog is a repeat from January 2013.

Don't make generalized resolutions, such as "Be Happy." Instead make specific, measurable ones, such as "Do a yoga retreat in Hawaii over the summer"—you can measure whether you achieved this goal or not and how you felt about it.

By all means, make smaller sub-goals with deadlines that will keep the bigger goal on track to being finished.

Work on only one habit at a time. Say, in January, you'll work on X and on Y in February.

Start with the smallest, easiest habit first. And do it just for a few minutes once a day. Feeling a sense of accomplishment from the very start is what keeps the habit of habit-forming (heh!) going.

And the first step in starting a habit is to simply start. Inertia, procrastination, a feeling of being overwhelmed can all lead to a tendency to want to only imagine you having the habit, but afraid to start the work in forming the habit. So, just start!

Write it down. Well, the mind's not good about keeping everything in the foreground. Old things often get pushed into the background, even though when the thoughts first came in, they were deemed high priority. We forget; we fall into old habits by, well, habit; new issues crop up that require our immediate attention; we're tired so we say we'll do it tomorrow; etc.

Accountability is the sticky glue that binds us to our resolutions on paper. If you have to report in to a friend or a group of like-minded individual or even to your online journal, it serves as a reasonably pressured deadline that has to be achieved.

Don't have only negative or "you-must"s resolutions. Have fun ones as well, such as the yoga retreat mentioned above. If you plan only drudgery for the year, then it's guaranteed that your list of resolutions will have nary a checkmark. This is the main reason, I call them goals, not resolutions.

And the complementary one to the above is that you should feel free to abandon a resolution part-way through or even before beginning, if you feel that it's something that's never going to happen no matter how many years it shows up on your list. For me, that would mean giving up on reading Tolstoy's War and Peace in this life at least.

Revisit your list constantly to revise, add to, or subtract from the litany. It keeps the energy alive about what needs to be achieved next and it keeps the list fresh and current.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Sant'Agostino Estense Illuminated Manuscript

When Giovanni Scorcioni tweeted about the Sant'Agostino Estense, I was struck by the unusual margin decoration surrounding the images. So far, I'd only looked at English manuscripts, where the styles are distinctly different. Scorcioni mentioned that this type of artwork is typical of the Ferrarese School under the patronage of the Estense family of Ferrara. This particular manuscript is the work of the scribe Andrea dalle Vieze and the artist Tommaso da Modena. It was produced around 1482 for the Este court during the time of Ercole I d'Este, duke of Ferrara and contains the Orationes by Saint Augustine.

[Image copyrighted by Facsimile Finder. Used with permission.]

[Image copyrighted by Facsimile Finder. Used with permission.]

#TBRChallenge Reading: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

2015 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Author: Helen Simonson
My Category: literary fiction
Wendy Crutcher's Category: holiday themes

My review of this book is posted on All About Romance. This is my debut guest post for AAR. I shall not be posting regularly, just occasional ones when fancy strikes.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Chatsworth Library

Chatsworth House is the seat of the dukes of Devonshire in Derbyshire, England. It is etched in the minds of Jane Austen fans as Darcy's Pemberley. A truly magnificent estate with a truly magnificent library. Here are some pictures.

[Image provenance unknown.]

[Image copyrighted by Mark C. Newton.]

[Image copyrighted by Sellers Abroad.]

[Image copyrighted by the British Magazine.]

[Image copyrighted by Imagine Arts.]

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Unitasking: A New Way To Work

This is a blog from three years ago that is still just as relevant today as it was then.

The buzzword of the late 1990s and the 2000s was multitasking. Everyone wanted to be multitasking or wanted it bruited about that they're efficient multitaskers.

But the key question these high achievers failed to ask was: Were they effective as multitaskers? That is, at the end of the day, given the same set of tasks, did the multitaskers or the unitaskers achieve more in terms of quality and quantity?

Behavior and social scientists now believe that constant context-switching between various tasks causes people to be less effective overall. For something like walking and chewing gum, multitasking works. For something like, writing programming code for one software application and having a protracted discussion via email on another piece of software, multitasking is counterproductive to achieving milestones for either of the two tasks.

Every time you switch away from task one to task two, you have to reload all the details about task two in your mind before you can start working. Similarly, switching back to task one requires you to reload those set of details, and back and forth.

So for the intellectually challenging tasks, tasks that require a lot of attention and care, tasks involving physical and emotional intimacy, etc., unitasking is to be lauded and actively pursued.

Read what Leo Babauta has to say about Monk Mind and how to achieve single-task focus.

An aside: Busy moms will still prize multitasking. For example, here's what writer Monica Trasandes wrote in the December 2012 issue of Real Simple: "Recently I found myself walking toward the kitchen with a load of laundry in my arms, two empty coffee cups dangling from my fingers, and car keys tucked between my chin and the clothes."

I think Trasandes is a lightweight. I'd have a book tucked under one arm, a purse dangling from that elbow, the mugs held in one hand, while an empty water bottle and a board game are firmly clasped in the other hand, in addition to the laundry and keys.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Trakai Island Castle Chapel, Lithuania

The chapel of Trakai Island Castle is located on an island in Lake Galvė in Lithuania. The construction of the castle was begun in the 14th century by Kęstutis and was finished in c. 1430 by his son Vytautas the Great. Trakai was one of the major centers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

[Image copyrighted by David Iliff.]

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Reading Plan For This Month

I've been having Twitter conversations with various bookish people and promising to read this book with someone and that book with someone else and I'm confused who's reading what when. Heh! In order to sort the confusion, I'm posting the order here in which I plan on reading the books.

This first week of December, I'm reading Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson. This is my TBR Challenge Book for December.

As pre-arranged, next week, I shall be reading The Notorious Rake by Mary Balogh with Growly Cub. I shall also be reading The Jacobin's Daughter by Joanne Williamson, recommended by Joanne Renaud.

As pre-arranged, in the third week of December, I shall be reading Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross with Sunita, Liz_Mc2, and Jorrie Spencer.

As pre-arranged, in the last week of December, I hope to be reading Harlequin's Super Romances for #SuperMonth with Liz_Mc2 and Lexxi Callahan, Molly O'Keefe's Baby Makes Three and His Wife for One Night, both recommended by Miss Bates.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

My November Reading

My singular achievement of this month has been getting through a book that previously was simply not getting read. And I'm so glad I did for the story and the medium through which I received the story. The audio narrator's performance was superb and has converted me over to liking the audio format, which previously I had been uncomfortable with. Now, I feel like I can handle tough texts with my ally, the narrator. They don't seem nearly as intimidating. This bodes well for my reading/listening in 2016.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Categories: literary fiction
Diversity: Pakistani-British characters
Commentary: I was recommended this book by Ronna Sarvas Weltman on Facebook. I read that this was a story set in a quaint English village, and I was sold. It's a contemporary book but reads like a book set at least fifty years ago, and it is delightful. I'm about a fifth of the way in.

The Warden by Anthony Trollope
Categories: literary fiction, victorian
Diversity: By a male author, audiobook
Commentary: I started this book in June, but I made very slow progress and had to return it to the library. My hold came through in October, but it still wasn't getting read. The volume is deceptively slim, but there is something about the thin pages, the small font, the long sentences and paragraphs, and the small white spaces, that I had a hard time sustaining my interest and attention through the chapters. Finally in November, I downloaded the audiobook from the library. And I finished all seven hours of it easily. A hurrah for the book and a hurrah for my second audiobook of the year. And a hurrah for Trollope. Thanks to the magnificence of Simon Vance's performance—and it was a performance of the story, not a mere reading of the text—I enjoyed the story thoroughly. I surely would've been the poorer if I hadn't "read" this book.

Trollope elevates the ordinary into the extraordinary through his minute observations, subtle nuances of story and character personalities, sudden asides of biting humor, and wry observations of the vagaries of human nature. I glossed over the exaggerated sensibilities of some of the characters. I prefer subtle emotions, not overflowing ones over trifles—but those were the only negatives. The plot is relatively sparse and nothing hugely of import seems to be happening on the surface, and yet, it has a deep impact on all the principal parties concerned. I was a bit bemused over the prolonged conclusion of the book where the story threads were tied into such deliberate, neat bows.

Since I was listening, I had no recourse to sticky notes, so I cannot hold forth on various aspects of the story or even the phrases that I marveled at. I was too engrossed to pause the audio to handwrite them down, and I've, well, since forgotten them. (Perhaps you're relieved.)

I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
Categories: memoir, nonfiction
Diversity: Features Muslims of Afghani and Pakistani descent, audiobook
Commentary: I read the original adult book and also listened to the audio of the young readers' version. I blogged about this here for my TBR Challenge post.

Love is a Distant Shore by Claire Harrison
Categories: romance, contemporary (1986)
Commentary: Despite it being written in 1986, there are only a couple of remarks that show a dated sense of male-female relationships—otherwise it reads as modern as any other story written today. I have owned this book for years; it's a Mills & Boon that I got from a library Friends' sale. I have never forgotten the broad strokes of the story and enjoyed re-reading all the details. This is an enemies to friends to lovers story and I loved the slow build-up.

He's an embittered war correspondent with an injury that puts him out of commission from his regular beat. He's proud that he has reported on some of the world's worst hotspots. He has now been assigned to covering marathon swimming and the heroine in particular. He feels contempt for what he deems is a selfish endeavor of swimming 32 miles across Lake Ontario. He's a love'em-leave'em kinda guy. Given his Blond God looks, he pragmatically expects women's attraction to him as a God-given gift. Of the heroine, he thinks: "She lacked some of the physical characteristics that Geoff found particularly enticing in a woman. He went for leggy, curvaceous blondes with a bountiful pair of mammary glands." Heh! That's plain talking.

As the days go by, eventually, he comes to respect the heroine's dedication, the hard work, and the single-minded focus on one task that inspires awe in everyone around. He falls hard for her (ooh, did I love how far he had to fall from his Blond God pedestal and the humility he learned as a result). But her horrible, loveless childhood makes it impossible for her to know what love is, to even understand that she's capable of loving. All these emotions, his thoughtfulness and respect, her care, the affection of those around them, the all adds to a story with a big heart.

Here's an example of the type of writing in this book that I so enjoyed. The urban hero is out at a cottage by a small lake in the middle of the wilderness where the heroine's training. "He, the urban man, had found an unexpected consolation in nature. The croaking of frogs and the buzzing of insetcts, the patter of rain on leaves, and the scratching of a squirrel on the roof forced him to contemplate his own insignificance in the realm of things. The world ran on without him at the helm; it ran on without his participation in its daily events. It was humbling to think of himself in that way, and it was a novelty to see himself as just a small player in the natural cycle. The foundation of his life was shifting, altering, cracking like a house set on moving earth" Given his former overweening ego as a famous war correspondent, this new humility on his part coming from self-contemplation endeared him to me like nothing else.

This sort of self-examination and growth occurs in the heroine as well as she works her way through the emotions of her childhood, her resentment and care for her mother, and her figuring out of what love is and what it means for her to love. And that is the heart and soul of this book, this independent change of self and the mutual change towards one another that's set off by their initial meeting.

Heartless by Mary Balogh
Categories: romance, regency
Commentary: Every once in a while I return to this book even though the suspense is lost to me. This is a Marriage of Convenience plot, which I really like. In a society where divorce is severely frowned upon and marriages are for life, I like seeing how two people negotiate their marriage. As I said to Liz McCausland, I like reading about good marriages and how two people who may be indifferent to each other, or even dislike each other, int he beginning come to terms with their circumstances, find ways to connect, and to build a life together.

The other aspect of this story is the Big Misunderstanding plot because They Don't Talk To Each Other. This trope usually doesn't work for me, because it exasperates me. However, in the hands of a master, anything can be successful, as it is here. There are entirely valid reasons why she doesn't reveal her terrifying past (that now oppresses her present) to her husband. She's protecting her marriage and her husband. And of course, she hopes it'll simply go away. But it doesn't. And I understand her reasons for her secrets. Balogh makes it work right through to the end, as I discussed with Growly Cub.

There was a sea change of growth for the hero. I enjoyed seeing the slow movement towards redemption for him as an individual and for him as a husband. I was a bit disappointed that there is no corresponding growth for the heroine as an individual and some, but not a whole lot of, growth as a wife. However, the way she's delineated at the beginning makes her character arc inevitable.