This is not the place to complain, but the holidays could have been better this year. Fortunately, I devoted much of my time to the escapist reading of these great books:
Rita Gelman, Tales of a Female Nomad
Not the best written book in the world, in that there's not a strong narrative binding her wanderings together, but I was in the mood to read about someone else's wandering and it was perfect for that. Gelman has built a life around moving from place to place while also making deep attachments while she's in a place. Her tricks for gaining entree include wearing the local dress and cooking with the groups of women, wherever groups of women are cooking. The author is made of iron, which I envy, but when all's said and done I'd rather be an armchair traveler. She takes us to Mexico, Nicaragua in the '80s, Bali for 8 years, New Zealand, and on various trips back to the states as she maintains ties to her own family even as she builds deep relationships elsewhere. I respect her ability to notice when she is getting too comfortable and move herself on to more experiences. I hope I can do the same in my own way, with my own learning.
Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
This, on the other hand, is one of the best written books of the year. Junior is a bright kid stuck at a reservation school until he decides to transfer to the white high school, where the only other American Indian is the mascott. Never too reverent, this is a fresh take on identity politics. Highlights include the metaphorical boner over learning and the refusal of Junior's mom to take part in billionaire white-guy Ted's "generous" gift of Junior's recently deceased grandmother's pow wow dancing outfit. Just go read it already.
Pope, Eliz., The Perilous Gard
In this book, the fairies aren't little people, they're pagans and druids who took to dwelling under the earth when Christianity conquered England. They're not precisely human, however, and it takes all that our heroine Kate Sutton can muster to save her beloved from their All Hallow's Eve rite of human sacrifice.
Amy Saltzman, Downshifting
If I ever write career advice nonfiction, remind me not to include so much about the '80s that the book is hopelessly dated even a decade later. The premise is interesting: you don't have to leave your career to achieve balance, you just have to learn to set limits. However, I found the examples of corporate execs who downshifted to academia to be laughable... they're certainly not at the U of I. Most of the book consists of stories of individuals who have adjusted their careers in various ways to achieve balance in their lives. Worth browsing through, but not thorough reading.