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Emilie’s 2011 Best List

Each year, one or two categories are really easy while others are really difficult. Books will be fairly easy, movies much more difficult. Here we go…

Books:

Because I did my Quarterly Reading Reports, it’s a bit easier for me to pinpoint which books stuck with me all year long. The surprise for me, considering how slow I am when reading nonfiction, is that almost half of my best books of 2011 list are nonfiction titles.

1. House of Prayer No. 2, Mark Richard

2. Across the Universe, Beth Revis

3. Whip It, Shauna Cross

4. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick

5. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert

6. The Southern Cross, Skip Horack

7. The Devil She Knows, Bill Loehfelm

8. Matched and Crossed, Ally Condie

9. The War of Art, Steven Pressfield

10. Knowing Your Value, Mika Brzezinski

Notables include Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls and Heist Society series, Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, Jenny Han’s Summer trilogy, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver.

Movies:

This list is a little longer and includes movies I saw in the theater and watched on DVD (or streaming).

1. Country Strong

2. Daydream Nation

3. The Adjustment Bureau

4. Wild Target

5. Bridesmaids

6. Elvis & Anabelle

7. Winter’s Bone

8. Super 8

9. Hanna

10. HappyThankYouMorePlease

11. Hugo

12. Our Idiot Brother

13. Stupid, Crazy Love

14. Circo

15. War Horse

My list includes one documentary and two others that I really enjoyed were Exporting Raymond and Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. A few films that were far better than I anticipated, rising above their genres should also be noted: X-Men First Class, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Cowboys & Aliens.

TV

1. How I Met Your Mother

2. 2 Broke Girls

3. Raising Hope

4. The New Girl

5. Castle

6. Falling Skies

7. Downton Abbey

8. So You Think You Can Dance

9. Dancing with the Stars

10. Survivor

Notables include Bones, In Plain Sight and Psych of course, Storage Wars, Terra Nova, Suburgatory and Community (which I got into late this year), as well as wonderful cancelled shows I streamed on Netflix: Party Down, The Unusuals and The Good Guys.

Music:

Albums –

1. Adele’s 21

2. CAKE’s Showroom of Compassion

3. Christina Perri’s Lovestrong

4. Jenny Owen Youngs’ Batten the Hatches

5. Lissie’s Covered Up With Flowers

Singles (not from any of the above) –

1. The Generationals “Ten-Twenty-Ten”

2. Kid Cudi “Pursuit of Happiness”

3. Lil Wayne “How to Love”

4. Michael Franti & Spearhead “Say Hey (I Love You)”

5. Timothy Bloom & V. Bozeman “Till the End of Time”

On any other day, I might give different answers, but as of this moment, this is my 2011 Best List.

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Reading in Q3 – August

I really picked up the reading pace this month, making up for lost time and visiting the library a lot. Whenever I’m between movie gigs and freelancing, reading and library visits are two of my favorite things.

Dead as a Doornail, Definitely Dead, All Together Dead, From Dead to Worse, Dead and Gone, Dead in the Family, Dead Reckoning, Charlaine Harris – I’m taking something of a reading vacation for myself and breezing through these books in 2-3 days each. Definitely Dead was a bit confusing in some places, especially at the beginning with the timing. Something pretty interesting happened in the gap between books and Sookie mentions Bill was with her when it happened, so that was a bit strange to me. I’ve been loving the series so much that I’m actually becoming increasingly disappointed with True Blood and how much it’s veered away from the plots and characters of the books. Trying to enjoy the books and the show as two separate things, though I was incredibly disappointed with the Season 4 finale. I don’t know if I’ll keep watching the show.

The Southern Cross, Skip Horack – My review will be published in 225 Magazine. Link coming soon. here.

Twenty Boy Summer, Sarah Ockler – I specifically requested this book from the library after reading about it being banned. The description of the book sounded really good and the reasons for it being banned were so incredibly dumb, so I was intrigued. I’ve so rarely read a book that addressed grief so well, especially grief processed by a teen. It really resonated with my own experiences and relationships growing up, and then also with things I’ve only experienced now, as an adult.

The Devil She Knows, Bill Loehfelm – My review is upcoming in 225 Magazine. Link to come.

Bumped, Megan McCafferty – Really fascinating look at a very possible reality where teenage girls are the only ones who can conceive and so become the most important people on the planet. Up until they’re about 19. Really says a lot of powerful, interesting things about our tech-addicted society, the marketplace, relationships, growing up, all of those things. I’m increasingly impressed with not just the books that are available for teens, but the teens themselves for being such a hungry audience for these extraordinary books.

Matched, Ally Condie – And this one just blew me away. Set in a “perfect” future society that orchestrates every detail of the lives of its citizens — their meals based on ideal caloric intake, their deaths on the their 70th birthday, their jobs and their “matches” — it really demolishes the idea of perfection. This Utopia has selected 100 of the greatest paintings, songs, poems, etc. and banished the rest, a form of banning so extensive that it’s terrifying. There is no new art, no new creative thought. Citizens don’t even know how to write with their own hands, only how to select words to form messages, a cut-and-paste method. The teen characters in this book are so hungry for choice that unauthorized poems become a way of communicating connection, love, secrets and history and learning to write your name by hand becomes an enormous act of rebellion. This book has a lot in common with Fahrenheit 451 (as well as 1984), but is so cleverly wrapped up in juicy, romantic melodrama. And the most haunting thing is that the future depicted here is not at all unlikely or very far away.

The Summer I Turned Pretty, Jenny Han – Swoon. This was a just delicious teen romance set during the summer, but written so very, very well. I loved Jenny Han’s Shug and I knew I’d love this series, too. Belly, the main character, was so vivid and ferocious in her desires and uncertainties that it was impossible not to completely fall for her and identify with her. And then it turns out the book is so much more than “just” a lighthearted teen romance and I’d gotten so beautifully conned into reading a deeply emotional book about families and friendships. I had to read the next two books as quickly as I could, but my local library didn’t have them. Good thing I have a library card in three cities and two states…

The War of Art, Steven Pressfield – This book kicked my ass. It’s a drill sergeant of a book, but also calm and encouraging. It’s a short book, often with just a little text on each page. But I read it s l o w l y because each page kinda punched me in the gut. I read passages aloud to my friends, fellow writers and artists, and they never failed to kind of gasp after I finished, cause they’d gotten punched in the gut too. I can’t recommend this book enough. I actually kept it out from the library because I want to re-read it.

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Fess Up Friday – The Mission Possible Edition

I really should’ve updated last Friday, because I had something amazing to write about. Though, I was probably too wiped out from the amazing thing to write about it so immediately.

I’ve been making a list for myself of contests I want to submit writing to, of residencies and grants I want to apply for. And their deadlines. I’ve been checking the list every day and since I just made it, some of the deadlines are coming up fast. You could say some of the deadlines are NOW.

So last Thursday, I had plans to watch the Saints game out with some friends and I canceled on them. I stayed home with the game on downstairs (my office is in a loft) and cranked out a 3,000 word story. from scratch. in three hours. And then submitted it to a fiction contest. While I’m not advocating reckless unprepardness, I’m proud of myself for refusing to let the deadline daunt me. Submitting is the thing. Winning would be nice, but submitting is the objective. Creating the work and putting it out in the universe instead of holding it back till its perfect. Perfect sounds like a great idea–and it is, in moderation–but for a perfectionist like me, who’s developed an unfortunate and chronic case of lily-liver, perfect is dangerous. I’m a good writer. And I’m a good editor. I can be good at those things forever and perfect a thing to death, never letting it see the light of day outside of a few readers. OR, I can be brave and put my work out in the world, let it have a test run and see how it looks when it returns.

The best part of this mad dash to write a story was that my sister and I did it together, counseling each other in phone conversations and via text. And we both submitted to the contest.

So that was last Thursday.

This Thursday, yesterday, had a sense of deja vu. The day followed an almost identical path. I had plans with friends to watch the Saints game. And I canceled. To stay home and put together my submission for another fiction contest. The friends were supportive last week and rather incredulous this week. And while it sucked to disappoint them and ground myself to the house, the postmark deadline is today and I have a busy day, so I had to prepare the submission last night if it was ever going to get done. And it had to get done. Or else.

This time, I took a different path. I submitted a discarded chapter from my novel The Winter Circus, a chapter which doesn’t belong in the novel anymore but I’ve always loved. The events still take place in the world of the novel, but the readers don’t get to see it in real-time action anymore. It might be referenced by characters in passing, but won’t be fleshed out. So, it’s perfect. The chapter was under the word limit and required very little tweaking, as it was already pretty strong as a stand-alone. And since the chapter no longer exists in the novel, publication in a magazine is a way it may potentially reach readers.

Again, my sister and I had a war council as we decided to beat the deadline and submit regardless of the obstacles. The last I heard, she had an idea and was rolling with it. So, submitting is the thing. As Jamey always says, you gotta play the literary lotto. If you wanna win, you gotta buy a ticket.

In between these two Deadline Thursdays, I applied for a residency. Don’t worry, I took a bit more time with that one and wasn’t quite as crunched against the deadline. And now, I’m armed with a list and building the battle plan. I’ll have my war council convene as needed. We are fierce and we’re already winning.

P.S. If you’ve sensed a new determined, even war-like, attitude from me about my writing lately, I’d have to say a lot of it probably comes from reading The War of Art, which is the best and the scariest and the truest writing book I’ve read yet.

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