March 2024 books read

  • The Princess and the Goblin – George MacDonald, 1872. Comfort re-read after Phantastes, on the plane to Puerto Rico – I forgot my Nook so had to download something at the airport.
  • The Princess and Curdie – George MacDonald, 1883. Continuing to the sequel with its wonderful monsters.
  • This Other Eden – Paul Harding, 2023. Second Monday; quotes pulled, TBD.
  • The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet – Kristin Ohlson, 2014. Nature/Enviro; quotes pulled, TBD.
  • At the Back of the North Wind – George MacDonald, 1871. Of course I was pulled to re-read this one as well. The horses Diamond and Ruby must have inspired Strawberry in Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew.
  • The Warden – Anthony Trollope, 1855. Great Books; quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Demon Copperhead – Barbara Kingsolver, 2022. Amherst Book Group, so quotes pulled and TBD, but I also read this for the Mass Center for the Book March challenge, “a book whose protagonist has a different culture or lifestyle from you.” My one-sentence for that was “A compelling novel of Appalachia even if you haven’t read David Copperfield – but extra-fun if you have, to pick up on all the references.”
  • Otto, El Oso de Libro – Katie Cleminson, 2011. I’m studying Spanish with Duolingo and particularly like the bear (Falstaff), so this picture book on a cart at the library drew me right in. I enjoyed reading it aloud to Jonathan.
  • Dune – Frank Herbert, 1965. I re-read this when the first Villeneuve movie came out, and again now after seeing Dune Part 2. It’s a good adaptation but makes me want to go back to the atmosphere I imbibed as a teenager.
    • Words to add to the list of unfamiliar-yet-evocative terms: cherem, farufreluches, kanly.
    • Real words: pan and graben; he took liberties with the German spannungsbogen.
    • A Bene Gesserit saying that doesn’t show up in the lists I googled: ““The mind can go either direction under stress—toward positive or toward negative: on or off. Think of it as a spectrum whose extremes are unconsciousness at the negative end and hyperconsciousness at the positive end. The way the mind will lean under stress is strongly influenced by training.” – it is in the 3,084 (!!!) Frank Herbert quotes at GoodReads.
    • “It is possible to see peril in the finding of ultimate perfection. It is clear that the ultimate pattern contains its own fixity. In such perfection, all things move towards death.”

Short story

Neighbors” by Zach Williams (The New Yorker, March 18, 2024):

Anna had said once that it fascinated her to have the ocean so near—it was as if infinity were just outside our bedroom windows. I felt something similar in that garage, the perceptual illusion of boundlessness. I no longer needed to announce or explain myself. There was nothing to study or question. And I was too scared to think. In fact, it sometimes seems that I’ve applied conscious thought to that moment only retroactively. I took a breath and held it. A paradoxical calmness came over me. And what I felt, then, was that my life was not in me but diffused across the darkness, which was an unbroken field containing everything. Me and him. Anna, the girls. Bing. Everything. And so, no matter what happened next, there could be no consequence, because I had no identity separate from that field. No one did, nothing did. Everything just was, together, without boundaries or names. This appeared to me as a plain description of reality and not a moral or personal judgment. I had never felt anything like it, nor have I since.

February 2024 books read

  • Instructions to the Cook : A Zen Master’s Lessons in Living a Life That Matters – Bernie Glassman & Rick Fields, 2013. I was hoping for something like Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings (Edward Espe Brown, 1997), which I loved and ought to re-read, but this one eh… a little too self-congratulating. I did love this quote: “The Jewish mystics say that at the very beginning of creation, the holy flame burst into billions and billions of sparks and that these sparks have to be brought back into the holy flame.”
  • The Ends of the Circle – Paul O. Williams, 1981. I picked up this paperback somewhere recently. Even though I was reading a ton of SF in the early 80s, this hadn’t come across my radar. Quite good and refreshingly interesting about gender roles.
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum, 1900. The Far Out Film group watched the 1939 movie so I was drawn to read again, and then it turned out Lory was hosting #Ozathon24. I love that the book doesn’t have the deep back-story/”it was all a dream” baggage of the movie, and how weird it is, like when the Tin Man chops off the head of a cat because it’s chasing a mouse.
  • A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle, 1887. I picked up the Sherlock Holmes short stories I started with, when I was 10 or 11, and segued to this to read in order and because the Utah/Mormon scenes are so vivid in my memory.
  • Flights – Olga Tokarczuk, 2007.
  • Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures – Merlin Sheldrake, 2020. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • The Marvelous Land of Oz – L. Frank Baum, 1904. The Gump is great, but the sexism is not.
  • The Sign of the Four – Arthur Conan Doyle, 1890. The short stories are best because they are so concise, but I still love the long-form stuff as well.
  • Le Temps Retrouvé – Marcel Proust, 1927. I first read all of A La Recherche in college, and started it again a number of times, but this is the first time I revisited volume 7, which blew me away as an undergrad. The highs were still as high, but there was some slog in there. Quotes pulled, TBD. Reading the whole thing with two friends, and talking about it almost every week for several years, has been a highlight of my 50s. Thank you, Anne and Fran!
  • Green Doors – Ethel Cook Eliot, 1933. For the February Massachusetts Center for the Book challenge, “A book with a color in the title.” I wrote “A strange almost-romance from 1933, by an author I knew from her children’s books. A psychoanalyst falls in chaste love with a teenage patient referred to him by her sweet-seeming wicked stepmother.” I loved The Little House in the Fairy Wood so much that I digitized it for Project Gutenberg after re-discovering it, and I enjoyed The Wind Boy as well (referenced in this novel, which is a bit cringe). But the adult work doesn’t live up to that standard. This one does tie together with her most collectible book, Roses for Mexico, which is the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in that a main character is Catholic and we hear about the Little Flower. It intrigues me because Little House feels very pagan. A weird/annoying quote: “A painting by Georgia O’Keefe [which] Petra couldn’t possibly understand.” But this book did get me to finally read Phantastes! In thinking over the book I was confused about the age of the male protagonist – aha, he’s supposedly 33. Ugh, and the love interest is for sure under 20.
  • The Custom of the Country – Edith Wharton, 1913. For Great Books. I first read this for Second Monday last year, and those quotes are also still TBD – I’ll be interested to see if they match up.
  • When Grumpy Met Sunshine – Charlotte Stein, 2024. Charming and hot, but it takes hella long for the protagonist to twig that the Roy Kent character is not only the most ridiculously sweet fella evar, but also very into her.
  • Phantastes – George MacDonald, 1858. Very strange, very interesting. Green Doors (above) points out how super-creepy the Maid of the Alder Tree is, beautiful in front but rotten and hollow behind. That’s only one of many haunting, fascinating images; the doors in the island cottage remind me a bit of the hidden library in Le Guin’s Voices. I don’t think many people read MacDonald anymore, but his influence lives on.

January 2024 books read

  • The Book of Form and Emptiness – Ruth Ozeki, 2021. Quotes marked, TBD.
  • Whalefall – Daniel Kraus, 2023. Liked but didn’t love this “The Martian inside a whale” science thriller. Cool ideas, but the writing was just way, way too purple, and the peril/damage so over the top. The premise (scuba diver trapped inside a sperm whale) would have worked on its own without daddy issues and reputational repair.
  • How to Keep House While Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing – K.C. Davis, 2022. I would have gotten a lot out of this several decades go; it was really cheering/amazing to reflect how I’ve come so far with my ADHD that this was mostly second nature already, although most credit goes to Jonathan for doing the bulk of the stuff I struggle with.
  • The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career – L.M. Montgomery, 1917. Reading The Blue Castle last month got me thinking about which Montgomerys I hadn’t read yet; I started The Story Girl but am not loving it, so I turned to this memoir partly because I adore Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The One I Knew the Best of All, which I must have neglected to record because I’ve certainly read it in the past six or seven years. Anyway, this was a little interesting but not very insightful and a bit disjointed.
  • Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest – Suzanne Simard, 2021.
  • Tom Brown’s Schooldays – Thomas Hughes, 1857.
  • The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien, 1954.

Didn’t finish

The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor – Howard Marks, 2011. This came up because I was searching for a copy of Charlie Munger’s Poor Charlie’s Almanack, which doesn’t seem to be available in library systems (because out of print now, and was originally too expensive, and/or self-published and not available through distributors?) But wait, now a copy has shown up on order through CW Mars – people must have been asking since his death gave a spurt of publicity. But wait again, now an abridged version is online? Anyway, somewhere a version of this book came up in association with that one (it’s blurbed by Warren Buffett, but I thought there was more to it) and it was available through the public library. It basically emphasized to me, for the umpteenth time, that individual stock investing is a mug’s game. “The most important thing” is actually 19 different things – “they’re all important,” says Marks – most of which are outside a regular person’s control. However, I got a couple of quotes before abandoning the book:

  • “Experience is what you got when you didn’t get what you wanted.” (And just recently I heard a similar saying from a relative who’s a ski guide: “Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement.”)
  • “In basketball they say, ‘You can’t coach height.'”
  • Marks attributes this to Yogi Berra, but per QI it was first written by a Yale student in 1882: “In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.”
  • Marks calls this an adage: “Being too far ahead of your time is indistinguishable from being wrong.” Interestingly, the Internet now mostly attributes it to him!
  • Marks attributes to John Maynard Keynes, but QI traces to Gary Shilling: “The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.”

Wow, that’s a bad – but typical! – ratio on the attribution accuracy!

December 2023 books read

  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach, 1970. I read this yet again (last time was Nov ’19); I think because it’s so short, it’s on the bookcase next to the bed, and there’s something about Jonathan’s quest to be a better seagull that still speaks to me despite how cheesy it is.
  • Round the Bend – Nevil Shute, 1951. How strange – I also last read this in November 2019, right after JLS! Ah, I must have started my re-read last month after finishing The Last Temptation of Christ, and when my Nook ran out of charge I picked up JLS; I can see the connection now. I told the Great Books folks that I thought Round the Bend captured what a prophet might be like in real life more effectively than Kazantzakis did (for me at least), and JLS also becomes a prophet to the Flock.
  • The Blue Castle – L. M. Montgomery, 1926. Another book I was led to by the amazing commentariat at Ask a Manager (a username is “Valancy Stirling” and so many people remarked she’s a great character). Very satisfying revolt of a trod-upon woman who finds herself – and love into the bargain.
  • The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family – Joshua Cohen, 2021. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry – Bryan Sykes, 2001. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • David Copperfield – Charles Dickens, 1850. Re-read. Fresh quotes pulled (many more than in 2016, but I bet all of those will be in there), TBD.
  • The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers, 1940. I just re-read this last year – this time is my third book group that’s chosen it (never my recommendation) but it gets better every time.
  • The Running Grave – Robert Galbraith, 2023. “Sorely needed editing – long, slow-moving, boring, and also implausible” (for Massachusetts Center for the Book reading challenge, “a book published in 2023,” but see below).
  • The Daybreakers – Louis L’Amour, 1960. I accidentally did next December’s challenge because I didn’t realize I was looking at the 2024 page: “A well-reviewed book in your least favorite genre.” I picked Westerns and started The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt but didn’t care for it, so I fell back on a highly-rated L’Amour. My write-up: “An entertaining yarn with good characterization; my favorite thread was the importance of reading on the frontier, and Tyrel Sackett learning to write so he can correspond with his love interest” – but I couldn’t submit it and I’ll probably want to pick a different book next December. L’Amour’s reference to Bull Durham books led me down a rabbit hole. I’ll do that as a separate post!
  • The Screwtape Letters – C. S. Lewis, 1942. I wanted an easy comfort re-read (I last have this listed before my 5-year blog hiatus, but I think I may have forgotten one or more times in between… I forgot this one until a week into January!) and this always reminds me of my father. We shared a love/hate interest in Lewis, and he was both amused and semi-horrified that his name was a palindrome of “Screwtape.”
  • Supercoach: 10 Secrets to Transform Anyone’s Life – Michael Neill, 2009. A quick read, run-of-the-mill self help, on the woo end of the spectrum, but I loved that he recommends a self-improvement vacation: “Take a week off from working on yourself in any way. Don’t try to change, improve, or fix yourself – just enjoy hanging out with your work, your hobbies, and your loved ones.” I also looked up Syd Banks (a huge source of woo!), and Neill properly attributes the hedgehog/fox contrast to Archilochus instead of Isaiah Berlin, which impressed me.
  • The Birthday of the World – Ursula K. Le Guin, 2002. Read for Calmgrove’s #LoveHain. Next month Chris is doing an overview post, but this is the last of the monthly reads; I’ve so much enjoyed it!

Year in review

Goodreads shows 123 books read and 39,233 pages, so a little down from last year. Shortest was Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys (Curious George origin story) at 48 pages, and longest was Maia at 1056 pages. About 3.8 million other people read Jane Eyre (happy for all of them!) and only 11 read Paddle for Water: Canoeing 5000 Miles across America with a Message to Share and a Man I Never Intended to Marry (which means many people are missing out!).

On the blog, I’ve kept up with the monthly lists. I’ve fallen behind on publishing the quote dumps, but I’m closer to being caught up with the actual quote transcription, which is what most matters to me. I still have a backlog on my Nook but I made a lot of progress on physical books I own (except Proust, that’s going to be a bear) and on the many Google docs I had created while bus commuting pre-pandemic. Right now I have 358 published posts and 192 in draft. I think it was over 200 last year but I didn’t record it; now I have a metric at least.

November 2023 books read

I didn’t read much (for me) this month! Two of the book group books (Great Circle and Last Temptation of Christ) were doorstops, I was very busy, we traveled, and I watched more streaming TV than usual. I’ll be interested to see how the year-in-review stacks up.

  • Great Circle – Maggie Shipstead, 2021. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future – Elizabeth Kolbert, 2021. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • The Last Temptation of Christ – Nikos Kazantzakis, 1955. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Four Ways to Forgiveness – Ursula Le Guin, 1994. One of my very favorites, re-read for Calmgrove’s #LoveHain.
  • A Bullet in the Ballet – Caryl Brahms and S. J. Simon, 1937. November’s Massachusetts Center for the Book‘s challenge was “A book recommended by a local bookseller.” I had forgotten to get this lined up until the last few days of the month, so I turned to my in-house (former) bookseller Jonathan, who had recommended this to me ages ago among a bunch of others and picked it as the best bet. I wrote: “A delightfully funny mystery full of eccentric and dramatic characters. ‘Inspective Detector’ Adam Quill tries to figure out who has killed the Petroushka in Vladimir Stroganoff’s production, but his lack of ballet understanding is one of many obstacles.”

October 2023 books read

  • Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers, 2018. Number 3 in the Wayfarers quadrilogy, the one I accidentally skipped. I really like this one as well, but they do start to blur a bit. The focus on funeral rites was very interesting.
  • Small Things Like These – Claire Keegan, 2021. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Project Hail Mary – Andy Weir, 2021. My sister loved it and recommended it, and it did not disappoint. A very similar tone to The Martian but on a bigger scale. Unputdownable, and the ending was satisfying and touching. In the cold light of day I don’t 100% buy the way the alien encounter evolves, but Weir’s narrative drags you along pell-mell.
  • Black Boy – Richard Wright, 1945. But the edition I had didn’t include the second part, so I need to finish it. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • The Brilliant Abyss – Helen Scales, 2021. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Great Short Books – Kenneth C. Davis, 2022. I love books about books, and this seemed especially helpful for my Great Books group. We’ve read a lot of doorstops and people are thrilled when one of our titles is short! I added a few to the suggestion list. A mildly enjoyable read – a bit too much of a survey (for each title, there was a bio of the author, a description/review, and a list of other books by them) without much personality.
  • You Only Live Twice – Ian Fleming, 1964. Read for the Massachusetts Center for the Book October challenge, “A bestseller from the year you turned 18” – oh no, I screwed up! This was a bestseller from the year I was born! It sure seemed like a challenge to pick one…. I turned in my submission without realizing I did it wrong, so here’s my description: “The first James Bond novel I’ve read – much stranger and less of a typical thriller than I expected. I’m not sure how accurate the Japanese setting is, but the garden of poisonous plants is fascinating.”
  • How to Be Perfect: the Correct Answer to Every Moral Question – Michael Schur, 2022. I learned about this book from a profile in Harvard Magazine, and since I loved The Good Place I requested it from the library. It’s quite good – the humor seldom landed for me, but the philosophical review seemed good as a lay person. I wish I could have talked about it with my dad.
  • Dorp Dead – Julia Cunningham, 1965. The creepy cover of this book drew me in as a child when I was reading my way through the public library, and I checked it out a couple of times. I haven’t seen it since and didn’t remember much about it except that it was strange and scary. Re-reading it as an adult – hoo boy, I cannot believe this was on the middle-grade fiction shelves between Susan Cooper and Roald Dahl, although those can be scary in their own ways. Dorp Dead is super-dark and twisted, but also feels like it’s 90 degrees from a traditional story. Still unsettling after all these years. I remember being equally fascinated and mystified by her other title on the shelves at the 79th St. library, Burnish Me Bright. I see it’s illustrated by Don Freeman, author of one of my all-time favorites, the heart-warming picture book Norman the Doorman (as well as Corduroy, Dandelion, and Tilly Witch), which must have added to my confusion. I’d love to re-read that too, and now I wonder what her other books are like.
  • In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss – Amy Bloom, 2022. I heard Bloom read an excerpt on This American Life and I was mesmerized. It’s amazing.
  • There Is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love – Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell, 2017. I had some extra time in downtown Amherst and spent a very enjoyable half an hour browsing the Jones Library shelves. This impulse pick-up was bite-sized encouragement with colorful illustrations.

Short stories

Calmgrove’s #LoveHain is finishing up with Ursula K. Le Guin’s stories in the Hainish cycle, October focusing on A Fisherman of the Inland Sea. I don’t have that book but the Library of America boxed set has the Hainish stories from it: “The Shobies’ Story,” “Dancing to Ganam,” and “Another Story.” I left a comment on the blog.

September 2023 books read

  • Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope – Megan Phelps-Roper, 2019. I’ve been transcribing my aunt’s draft memoir of growing up in the Exclusive Brethren, so this was full of meaning for me. I remember Megan’s exit from the Phelps family, and how remarkable and hopeful it felt; it fascinating to read the back story, and it communicated especially well how hard it was to leave.
  • Our Missing Hearts – Celeste Ng, 2022. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us – Ed Yong, 2022. Quotes pulled – SO many quotes! TBD.
  • Double Star – Robert Heinlein, 1956. I can’t remember what got me to re-read this excellent Heinlein, beyond getting the taste of the late period ones out of my brain… it’s short and delightful. The Martian culture is both alien and believable. “I see you, Rringriil.”
  • Till We Have Faces – C. S. Lewis, 1956. Quotes pulled, TBD (re-read).
  • What Katy Did and What Katy Did at School – Susan Coolidge, 1872 and 1873. Umpteenth re-read of this series my dad introduced me to. I always think of him when I revisit these books, and this time around I wondered how much they influenced his positive view of women. I also compared the first one to Little Women – same publisher, just a few years later, clearly addressing the market need – and realized I think it’s better in some ways, especially the quirkiness of the children.
  • You Could Make This Place Beautiful – Maggie Smith, 2023. Wow, this was quite a ride. It was more bitter than I expected, but also more experimental and interesting.
  • Lulu and the Dog from the Sea – Hilary McKay, 2011. Read for the Massachusetts Center for the Book September challenge, “A book by an author with your first or last name.” Challenging for me – one-L-Hilary is rare enough, but Jonathan and I are the only two Caws-Elwitts in the world. I had a lot to read this month so picked something super-short. My one-sentence description: “A sweet tale of two intrepid friends, an old tired dog, and a young wild dog.”
  • The Wind’s Twelve Corners – Ursula K. Le Guin, 1975. Read (re-read) for Calmgrove’s #LoveHain.
  • Dragon’s Egg – Robert Forward, 1980. A classic I’d never head of until just recently. Fascinating ideas – a truly remarkable and believable alien species you see evolve – written in pedestrian style, but the creativity wins over the writing.

August 2023 books read

  • Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why – Laurence Gonzales, 1998. A fascinating exploration of disasters and how people cope with them. Children six and under have among the highest survival rates, presumably because they listen to their instincts. The people who do best accept the situation, stay calm, get organized, make a plan, execute manageable tasks well, and keep a positive mindset. There was a whole chapter on Steve Callahan, whose book Adrift I’ve read twice. It also motivated me to start re-learning the poems I have known by heart in the past, and to add some more, because of the comfort that kind of mental furniture can provide. Sobering and inspiring. For my future reference here’s the list of poems I have known at one time, in the order I learned them (to the best of my recollection):
  • The Custom of the Country – Edith Wharton, 1913. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating – Elisabeth Tova Bailey, 2010. Charming small book read for Nature and Environment, which evoked many memories of the pet snail we had in Paris when I was a kid. Bailey’s illness tunes her in to the small snail scale. Bailey quotes from many books, and thanks to her I added Helen Keller’s The World I Live In to my TBR pile because of her descriptions of touch and smell. I only pulled two quotes so no separate post.
    • “The previous spring, when I could do almost nothing, spending time with a snail had been pure entertainment. But as my functional abilities improved just a bit, watching a snail began to take patience. I wondered at what point in my convalescence I might leave the snail’s world behind.”
    • “With only thirty-two adult teeth, which had to last the rest of my life, I found myself experiencing tooth envy toward my gastropod companion. It seemed far more sensible to belong to a species that had evolved natural tooth replacement than to belong to one that had developed the dental profession.”
  • The Cat Who Walks through Walls – Robert Heinlein, 1985. Over the past few years I’ve re-read most of the late Heinleins and keep telling myself “no more” – they are so tedious – but my completist streak wins out. This one I picked up again from a random comment on Ask a Manager about limburger cheese. I remembered the bonsai tree and not much else – understandably so, I’m afraid.
  • The Guest – Emma Cline, 2023. Of course I kept hearing about this “book of the summer,” but it was the New York book group that prompted me to request it from the library. Unfortunately I got busy and didn’t follow along in real time, but I’ll enjoy catching up at some point. The book itself was a compelling read – not quite can’t-put-it-down, but close – without enough depth to stick in my mind much.
  • Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes, 1966. I’d read the story on which this was based many times before, but I’m not sure I’d actually read the whole novel before. It’s much weaker than the story, padded with a lot of unnecessary rumination. The original story is concise and memorable; it sounds like Keyes was a one-hit wonder.
  • Z is for Zachariah – Robert C. O’Brien, 1974. I re-read this when thinking about epistolary SF my sister might like. I loved loved loved Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H, which was probably my favorite novel when I was 12 or so (time to re-read!), and I remember my excitement as a young adult when I realized O’Brien had written more books. It holds up pretty well, especially in the female protagonist’s resistance to being controlled, but it’s on the bleak side – I think also true of his other books, The Silver Crown and A Report From Group 17, which I’d also like to revisit.
  • The Telling – Ursula K. Le Guin, 2000.  Re-read for Calmgrove’s #LoveHain.
  • The King of the Golden River – John Ruskin, 1851. I picked this up at a relative’s house in the UK, looking for something brief to read before bed. I’d heard of it for years, both as a children’s classic and because my mother is/was a devoted Ruskin fan. It fits seamlessly into the gazillions of tales I absorbed from the Andrew Lang fairy books – not distinctive to me in the way George MacDonald or Oscar Wilde’s fairy stories are. But I’m a little shocked I had never actually read it before.
  • Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre – Max Brooks, 2020. Read because my sister and I compared our enjoyment of his earlier oral history novel, World War Z. This wasn’t as great, but an OK page-turnerish read.
  • Leaves of Grass (deathbed edition) – Walt Whitman, 1892. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • The Galaxy, and the Ground Within – Becky Chambers, 2021. Last of the Wayfarers series – I loved this one too! But then I realized I never read the third, so I’ll do that next. I very much enjoyed this tale of travelers temporarily stuck at a galactic truck stop, building community and solidarity. These books are warm-fuzzy wish-fulfilment, but the qualities of the different aliens are so specifically and believably rendered that they have become part of my mental furniture. A tour-de-force of a very particular kind.

I am bummed that I forgot about the Massachusetts Center for the Book challenge this month. Often I’d be able to count one of the books retroactively, but for August it’s “a book in translation” and I didn’t have one! I’m missing out on the raffle, but there are so many people participating that the chances of winning are tiny anyway.

July 2023 books read

  • The Dispossessed – Ursula K. Le Guin, 1974. Another re-read (since April 2022), this time for Calmgrove’s #LoveHain.
  • Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie, 1981. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • The Colony – Audrey Magee, 2022. For Second Monday – good discussion, but I didn’t love it and didn’t flag a single passage.
  • In Spite of All Terror – Hester Burton, 1968. A comfort re-read of an old favorite that holds up very well. Burton was prolific – Castors Away! is probably the most well-known of her books – but this is the only one I’ve read. I should try more!
  • Permaculture Promise: What Permaculture Is and How It Can Help Us Reverse Climate Change, Build a More Resilient Future on Earth, and Revitalize Our Communities – Jono Neiger, 2016. Read for the Massachusetts Center for the Book July challenge, “A book borrowed from your local library.” It was also the Nature & Environment selection for the month, so there are quotes TBD, but here’s my one sentence review for now: “With brief text and lots of color illustrations, this book gives a high-level overview of dozens of ways the principles of permaculture design can help address climate change, strengthen communities, and build resilience into systems from water to energy to finance.”
  • Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection – A. J. Jacobs, 2012. Very entertaining, like all of Jacobs’ self-experimentation books, and I learned a few things. His wife, Julie, sounds awesome.
  • Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy’s Progress – Charles Dickens, 1838. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation – Alexandra Horowitz, 2013. I’ve been meaning to read Horowitz’s book on smelling, specifically (she is a dog researcher), but didn’t realize she’d written this – I loved it! It’s a wonderful exploration of noticing all kinds of input, through the senses but also learning how to understand what’s going on. The intro is a description of a brief walk in New York City, and each chapter revisits aspects of that walk alongside an expert in a relevant field (e.g. sound design, typography, geology). I gasped out loud and grinned like a maniac when a chapter on insect signs introduced my acquaintance / local hero Charley Eiseman. Plus she’s describing where I grew up, so my enjoyment was overdetermined.
  • A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers, 2016. This, #2 in the Wayfarers series that I discovered in May, stands on its own, barely overlapping with the characters of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, but it’s equally delightful.
  • The Eye of the Heron – Ursula K. Le Guin, 1978. Re-read for Calmgrove’s #LoveHain.
  • Footfall – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, 1985. An old favorite I picked up again because of seeing Oppenheimer – there’s an equivalent to the Manhattan Project I wanted to revisit. I finally assembled a list of the roman-a-clef science fiction writers who appear here (what wish-fulfillment: SF authors are brought in by NASA to help deal with an alien race, and they are the key to victory!), thanks to this discussion:
    • Robert & Virginia Anson: the Heinleins (this one I knew)
    • Wade Curtis & Nat Reynolds: Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven (this one I guessed)
    • Sherry Atkinson: presumably C. J. Cherryh
    • Joe Ransom (“he had a gaudy mustache”): probably Joe Haldeman based on commenter dlc1119 saying “you ‘Hold a Man’ for Ransom”
    • Bob Burnam: either Greg Benford or Robert Forward

June 2023 books read

  • The Trees – Percival Everett, 2021. Quotes marked, TBD.
  • Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Time – Ben Ehrenreich, 2020. Quotes marked, TBD.
  • The Dead Zone – Stephen King, 1979. One of my favorite novels, which I re-read in 2016 because it’s partly about the rise of an unhinged politician. Relevant again now, alas. On the positive side, it has a great depiction of a teenager overcoming a reading block, and a star-crossed couple who can’t be together and yet have an emotionally satisfying resolution.
  • Little Lord Fauntleroy – Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1886. Comfort re-read.
  • Ginnie and Her Juniors – Catherine Woolley, 1963. Another childhood favorite, but I hadn’t re-read this in a long time. It’s number 6 in a series (“Ginnie and Geneva”) – this is the only one I’ve read and I’m not driven to check the others out, despite the vivid writing. What I most enjoy is the climactic moment when Ginnie soothes a high-strung toddler that her parents can’t manage. Poor Ginnie’s mother gives good advice, but all she herself does is cook…
  • The Song of the Lark – Willa Cather, 1915 (although Cather revised it later – details in the post I’ll eventually build around the quotes)
  • Birnam Wood – Eleanor Catton, 2023. Read for the Massachusetts Center for the Book June challenge, “a book set in a country you’ve never visited.” I wrote “Compelling, well-written thriller that gives a real feel for New Zealand’s people and countryside.” It was more place-educational than I expected; I learned the terms hapū, hui, iwi, Oamaru stone, Pasifika, rūnanga and some indigenous plants (harakeke, horopito, toetoe, totara). Plus this slang: “‘Tu meke is, like, thanks. In the sense of, you didn’t have to do that. Above and beyond.’” “‘And hard out is, like, impressive,’ Jessica said. ‘Like, awesome, I’m impressed.’”

Short stories

Seven members of the Amherst College slow read group went on a camping retreat together and read four stories. We tackled them in order of length, with hiking and eating in between. It was delightful! We read: