Books and music are so essential to me, and, I think, to a life lived with love and laughter, that I am devoting a separate page to them.
It’s about time I came back to this page and recommended some of my favorites.
Absolutely top of the list are the Aubrey-Maturin books by Patrick O’Brian, pictured above in the 20-volume paperback set I have. You will either become hooked, reading and re-reading them over and over, or you won’t get through them at all. “Do or do not, there is no try.” But I hope I’ll hook a few of you on these, they could change your life, and introduce you to a society of persons globally who love and are devoted to these books and their characters. It may take some hunting around the internet to find the 20 paperbacks, but you can get them in hardback individually or as a set in 5 hardback volumes.
I’d recommend buying (or borrowing from your local library) the first two, Master and Commander and Post Captain; after the second you’ll know if you’re hooked or if you can’t go on and you’ll be able to decide if you must possess the entire set.
If you do get hooked, there are a great many companion books including recipies for foods mentioned (Lobscouse and Spotted Dog) or biographies of other great naval heroes of the age (Chochrane, Nelson). There’s also a controversial biography of the author, Patrick O’Brian, A Life Revealed, which in hindsight I kind of wish I hadn’t read, but you decide if you want to know about the author of if you want to stick with the wonderful characters he created.
I’ve written about other historical novels and speculative fiction I enjoy in a blog post, but a book I didn’t mention is “Mountain Man” by Vardis Fisher, which was the inspiration for a Robert Redford film called “Jeremiah Johnson.”
This book changed my life, because of its description of the protagonist’s intense powers of observation, which were essential to his survival. It’s a violent story of the old west, but it fascinated me and caused me to pay much greater attention to the world around me and have greater appreciation for my five functioning senses.
I invite you to share books that changed your life in the comments. I welcome your recommendations!
Here are my favorite Christmas recordings, from what I think of as the “it goes without saying” ones to some unexpected gems that Mike and I discovered through our annual gamble of choosing several obscure or potentially awful CDs from the bargain bin.
So, starting with the “it goes without saying” essentials:
Messiahs: one with the Toronto Symphony conducted by Andrew Davis (now Sir Andrew Davis) with Kathleen Battle and Samuel Ramey, among other wonderful singers. Or the John Eliot Gardner version with the Monteverdi Choir.
Charlie Brown, of course, and Christmas Carols sung by choirs in lovely, echoey places – there’s a good one featuring the Londonderry Boys Choir, and there’s Christmas with the Cambridge Singers.
My absolute favorite, the best late-night-after-the-kids-have-gone-to-bed, have yourself soothing little eggnog recording – I just love the distant hush of the sound of this record – In the Bleak Midwinter.
In the unexpected gem category, here are a few I just grabbed because I liked the artist in another context, and I discovered records that were thoughtful and beautifully crafted, where the artist had taken the time to write new songs for the season, or rework classic ones in a new and wonderful way, or just perform well loved songs really well: Vince Gill’s Breath of Heaven. I’m not a huge country music fan, but Vince Gill’s high lonesome voice is always worth a listen (not to mention his guitar playing but that isn’t really featured here) and his recording of the title track will stop you in yours.
I also really like Shawn Colvin’s “Holiday Songs and Lullabies” – I first became aware of Shawn Colvin from “Sunny Came Home,” but I also saw her do a charming turn on “Sesame Street,” (which we still watch in our house) and so I picked this one, and I love it – another good one for late at night to settle down after a busy day of holiday preparations.
And Kenny Loggins December, which I really didn’t like the first time I listened to it, but I gave it another chance and now it is one of my favorites.
For some more uptempo or unusual holiday fun from a great musician and arranger and his great band, I like Harry Connick.
And finally Christmas Songs, which is a lot of fun, with some really interesting tracks I wouldn’t have found otherwise – but the opening “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” with Barenaked Ladies and Sara McLachlan is great, and in her (McLachlan’s) version of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song for a Winter’s Night” you can practically feel the fading embers of the fire and hear the snow-muffled sounds of a lamplit-cabin in the Canadian woods .