December 2022 books read

  • Darkness at Pemberley – T. H. White, 1932. I love White (Once and Future King is one of my all-time favorites) but I had never read this, and I kept getting it confused with Death Comes to Pemberley (P.D. James, have also never read), not realizing it was a different book and not about Elizabeth Bennet solving mysteries. (My reaction to that is ugh, but I was thinking I should give James a chance due to her reputation, until I saw this well-written takedown – culminating in “this is EXACTLY the kind of Austen pastiche enjoyed by people who don’t actually read Austen, and who believe that all period fiction just needs some velvet and horses and servants to thrill us to our middlebrow Masterpiece Theatre marrows.” Burn. I was almost going to check it out but it really sounds terrible! But back to the book at hand…) Darkness is very weird, a how-done-it that’s almost more horror than mystery, but it held my interest and had some witty bits.
  • The Good Soldier – Ford Madox Ford, 1915.
  • The Death and Life of the Great Lakes – Dan Egan, 2017.
  • The Mote in God’s Eye – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, 1974. Many times re-read, this time because I was thinking about the ways humans are failing at dealing with climate change, and it reminded me of the fatal flaw of the Moties (it’s the crux of the plot so I won’t spoil it).
  • The Day the Guinea Pig Talked – Paul Gallico, 1963. I went through a Gallico phase as a kid because my grandmother loved him; she had at least The Snow Goose and one of the Mrs. ‘Arris books, maybe more. I also have a vivid memory of picking up Manxmouse at the library – I should revisit that one. This book I don’t think I had ever heard of, and I had pet guinea pigs! Alas, I didn’t care for it at all. Apparently it was his first book for children and to me it shows (but on Goodreads at least it has many fans!)
  • The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers, 1940.
  • The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag – Robert Heinlein, 1942. Re-read because Job (last month) reminded me of it, and it’s one of my favorite Heinleins – especially because it’s from when he wrote short (it’s a novella) or had good editing. The idea of mirrors as portals was a good segue to:
  • The Annotated Alice: 150th Anniversary Deluxe Edition: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871) by Lewis Carroll, edited by Martin Gardner, expanded and updated by Mark Burstein, 2015. Quotes marked, TBD.
  • Sodom et Gomorrhe – Marcel Proust, 1922. Quotes marked, TBD.
  • The Annotated Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (1843), edited by Michael Patrick Hearn, 2004. Quotes marked, TBD.
  • Silver on the Tree – Susan Cooper, 1977. Read for Annabookbel’s #TDiRS22.
  • The End of Your Life Book Club – Will Schwalbe, 2012. Oops, I already read this but had absolutely no memory of it! The books the mother and son read are just touched on; it’s really more of a memoir, nice but nothing new, so I think that’s why it evaporated out of my mind the first time, and will again.
  • Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals – Michael Hyatt, 2018. OK self-help, but I’m cooling on the genre as a whole. I’m doing pretty well with my goals so this didn’t light any fires in me. The only tidbit that stuck out to me was one of the reasons Hyatt gives for writing down your goals: it filters new opportunities (i.e., can hold you back from chasing the new shiny object if it’s not part of your existing list).
  • Superman, Last Son of Krypton (1978) and Miracle Monday (1981) – Eliot S! Maggin. I was one of many fans of Superman: The Movie who bought Last Son of Krypton because they thought it was either the source or the novelization of the movie. The cover was a still from the movie, and moreover, there was a sections of photographs from the movie inset. It does have the Superman origin story, but otherwise the plot is very different. But I’m glad for the mistake, because I loved these books as a teenager and they still hold up. In Maggin’s universe, Clark Kent is Superman’s one real love: he wishes he were human, so he’s enchanted with Clark’s life, wants to protect him, daydreams about him… it’s fascinating and plausible. Maggin also gives you sympathy for Lex Luthor, provides Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen with inner lives, and overall renders the superhero story into a real novel. They are not perfect books by any means, but they are surprisingly delightful.

And a quote I enjoyed from from “Talking Movies” by Adam Gopnik, New Yorker 12/5/2022:

We’re used to seeing the steady, pained smile and middle-distance gaze of a moviemaker being told by a movie lover how movies are made: we praise the dazzling dialogue of the screenwriter (whose draft was never used, but who won the credit through arbitration, while all the good lines were written the night before by the director’s pet script doctor) and the mastery of the film editor (though the scene of the helicopter swooping down the canyon of buildings was storyboarded by the second-unit art director, while the editor’s real work was managing to excise the cough of the leading man without damaging continuity) and how sensitive the director was with the women leads (whom he could barely stand to be in the same room with).

Notable this month, three books abandoned! I think these were all in a row and the “I’m just not enjoying this” was cumulative. I often put down books and don’t come back to them, but these were all active decisions to stop reading forever.

  • Strangers on a Train (Patricia Highsmith, 1950) – too creepy. I got almost half-way through, but the kind of tension she excels at is just not my thing. The Talented Mr. Ripley was plenty.
  • Billy Summers (Stephen King, 2021) I got on a bit of a King kick and hadn’t tried this new one, but a) it was dull and b) the assassin protagonist’s cover is that he’s writing a book, and I’m tired of that as a King subplot. I could see it heading in the “Rat” direction.
  • So I went on to try The Wind Through the Keyhole (Stephen King, 2012), which is part of the Dark Tower series but short. I finally read the first two in 2016 but wasn’t very motivated to continue. This I abandoned about a quarter of the way through when I hit this bit of dialogue: “There’s the dit-dah wire, and even a jing-jang.” He has such a tin ear for fantasy names. A ding-dong too far!

Year in review

Goodreads shows 130 books read and a total of 44,050 pages – it’s been going up year over year (I’ve added more book groups and read-alongs so that helps explain it). Shortest was the graphic novel of A l’ombre, 47 pages, and longest was (ugh) The Ink Black Heart at a whopping 1408. More than 6 million people also read Pride and Prejudice, but only 47 read The Day the Guinea Pig Talked.

Blogwise I’ve kept up with the monthly lists and have finally started publishing some of the drafts of the quote dumps, which I’ve now identified as such. I have a goal of five published blog posts per month this year, but we’ll see how that goes!

December 2021 books read

  • That Hideous Strength – C.S. Lewis, 1945. Re-read of the third in the “Space Trilogy.” I always enjoy this one as much as the first two but in a different way. Although there are SF elements, it centers more on the psychology of Mark Studdock. He’s a fairly awful person, but Lewis manages to make me root for him – a bit by default, because he’s the protagonist, but more so by the most realistic, cringey depiction of an outsider trying to become an insider (in academia, yet) that I’ve ever read. But the sexism in this one is off the charts, even for Lewis. It does fit in with the very flawed writers I love (Burnett, King, Yates). Most of Lewis’ books are much better, and to my mind often unwittingly undercut his reactionary views because he’s too good of a writer for the didacticism to work.
  • The Human Tide: How Population Shaped the Modern World – Paul Morland, 2019 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • The Power of Awareness: And Other Secrets from the World’s Foremost Spies, Detectives, and Special Operators on How to Stay Safe and Save Your Life – Dan Shilling, 2021. Checked out from the Forbes new books display. The Gift of Fear is way better.
  • Shoal Water – Dornford Yates, 1940. One of the gaps in my Yates collection that was filled late, so this might be only my second read. A mostly stand-alone thriller – instead of Chandos, we have new guy Jeremy Solon to make the love story easier, but old guy Jonathan Mansel to help him out. Not bad, but not his best.
  • Stuart Little – E.B. White, 1945. I always forget quite how weird this book is – not only the peculiar transition between little-kid stuff (rescuing the ring, helming the toy boat) and angsty teen/young adult (Margalo, substitute teaching, Harriet), but how the story just… stops. As I child I think I lost interest along the way so didn’t mind so much. The success of this book should probably be chalked up to a combination of Garth Williams’ wonderful illustrations and the dearth of anything better.
  • Leap of Faith: Finding Love the Modern Way – Cameron Hamilton and Lauren Speed, 2021. I got hooked by Love Is Blind on Netflix so picked this up from the new books display. A quick read – not much substance but enjoyable.
  • Dornford Yates: A Biography – A.J. Smithers, 1982. My recent Yates kick led me to check this out from the UMass library – interesting, but a bit of a hagiography (quite a trick since Yates was a next-level asshole). I picked up two good words (both in the same paragraph!): armigerous (entitled to bear a coat of arms) and fugelman (leader).
  • Novelists Against Social Change: Conservative Popular Fiction, 1920-1960 – Kate Macdonald, 2015. A serious treatment of Yates, as well as Buchan (whom I know a little) and Thirkell (only by reputation), without buying into their views. She says “While being Leftish-leaning all my adult life I have long enjoyed reading novels of the Right: a paradox that has been many times awkward to explain.” She “offers a template for reading politicized authors against the grain.” Wish I could have talked about this with my father! I wrote her a little fan comment on her site and she actually replied, which was a thrill.
  • Song of Solomon – Toni Morrison, 1977 – quotes pulled, TBD, but just in case I never get there: WOW!!!
  • Inferno – Dante Aligheiri, 1320 (Allen Mandelbaum translation, 1980) – quotes pulled, TBD
  • Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996 – Seamus Heaney, 1997 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens, 1843. I think I’ll make this an annual re-read (last was 2018 per GoodReads) – I love it every time.
  • Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place – Jackson Bird, 2019. A really good intro to trans issues in general, as well as a nice memoir. Wish J.K. Rowling would read and absorb this…
  • Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most – Greg McKeown, 2021. Eh… nothing really new? I did like that each section was summarized cumulatively, so that you re-read the summary of the first section multiple times. I was struck by “Relieve a grudge of its duties by asking, ‘What job have I hired this grudge to do?'” – I don’t really hold grudges but it has a more general application. I also liked “To simplify the process, don’t simplify the steps: simply remove them,” which tied into this fascinating study I had just read about, finding that people are less likely to hit on removing features to solve a problem even when that would be advantageous (eg balance bikes vs tricycles).

Year in review

Once again I managed to get most everything recorded in GoodReads, and as a reward it generates a spiffy Year in Books. 37,039 pages read over 123 books; shortest was Secret World of Teddy Bears (so I have the jogging teddy bear right there!) and longest was Brothers Karamazov; most popular The Midnight Library with almost 2 million other readers, and least Wife Apparent, only 8 others.

On the blog itself: in the “good” column, I caught up with the monthly lists in a push over the last few weeks of December (I back-date the posts to match when the reading happened). In the “OK” column, I’ve been more-or-less keeping up with transcribing quotes from the book group books (the only ones where I make that effort, but that’s still around 40+ a year) that have to go back to a library. In the “not great” column, I’m slowly falling behind with transcribing quotes from ebooks – which is a problem because the Nook doesn’t allow them to be offloaded or backed up, and if I had to reset I would lose them. I don’t even have an inventory of which those are, which would be a helpful first step! And in the “might need to give up on this” column, I am totally underwater on turning those draft quotes piles into publishable posts. I have around 125 mess o’ quotes drafts and each would take at least an hour or two’s work to organize and polish up even minimally. It’s still worth creating the drafts because I can search and reference them for my own purposes, and who reads this blog anyway aside from dear Jonathan? Answer from analytics: 2,293 pageviews last year (ie very few, if any, actual people). The most popular post is still my review of Tisha from 2004, which has been true for quite a while (because it’s an obscure book that people love, and because a number of people left comments, some of which are actually helpful).

December 2020 books read

  • Straight – Dick Francis, 1989. Francis used to be one of my favorite authors, but I’ve cooled on him with age. This one didn’t sound familiar, but I do think I read it once long ago (many I’ve read multiple times). I did enjoy the protagonist inheriting his brother’s jewelry business and figuring out how to keep it going; Francis’ expansion into milieus unrelated to horses kept my interest in his books going, plus I’m a sucker for getting-good-at-work plots.
  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants – Robin Wall Kimmerer, 2013. Quotes pulled, TBD, but just in case I don’t get there: I have to say this is one of the best books I’ve read in the past few years – maybe the past decade – and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’m re-reading it for a different book group now and bought my own copy because I love it that much. It has changed multiple aspects of the way I see and think about the world.
  • Lost Horizon – James Hilton, 1933. I’ve read this several times before and enjoyed it again despite the racism and misogyny. I probably first encountered it through watching the movie on TV with my family, and then I went on a James Hilton deep dive in the 80’s or 90’s. LH reminds me of other “secret advanced community” stories that I knew first, like Heinlein’s “Lost Legacy.”
  • The Forgotten Door – Alexander Key, 1965. Slight but cool children’s book by the author of Escape to Witch Mountain, with a very similar storyline.
  • The Overdue Life of Amy Byler – Kelly Harms, 2019. Ehhh…. it featured a librarian so I wanted to like it. I don’t read a lot of contemporary light fiction but I think it was well-done for that genre? It was just trying so hard to be funny and “relatable” that it ended up exhausting.
  • Dead Souls – Nikolai Gogol, 1842 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • How the Irish Became White – Noel Ignatiev, 1995 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • All 7 in the Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling, 1997 – 2007. I had surgery in December and, as planned, I re-read the HP books during my recovery. I was last seriously incapacitated (by flu) in the early oughts and re-read all the ones that had been published by then; it’s a very fond memory and I looked forward to the revisit. Rowling’s TERFishness now taints her, but my purchases are in the distant past and I still love the work. Recovery led to lots more re-reads!
  • Kavik, the Wolfdog – Walt Morey, 1968. A favorite from childhood that still holds up, despite being a straight lift from the original:
  • Lassie Come-Home – Eric Knight, 1940. Holds up even better! I love the characters we meet in passing, especially Rowlie the traveling potter.
  • The Postman – David Brin, 1985. A favorite post-apocalyptic novel that led me back to others. The P-A traveling theater troupe is such a trope (hah) that I wonder where it came from. It’s also in Folk of the Fringe, Station Eleven, and the play Mr. Burns – those come to mind but I’m sure there are others.
  • A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens, 1843. For the umpteenth time, after watching A Muppet Christmas Carol (delightfully ridiculous).
  • Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (tr. Pevear & Volokhonsky), 1878 (2000). I just read the Garnett translation for a different book club in April; this was a slow read with an Amherst College group, 50 pages a week starting in August. I haven’t even gotten to the previous quotes but I marked new ones – it will be interesting to see how much they overlap. I’ll probably do just one post for both but haven’t decided yet.
  • The Deadly Isles – Jack Vance, 1969. Vance is one of my favorite SF/fantasy writers, and I mostly enjoy his mysteries. I hadn’t read this one before; not his best but it’s interesting how the flavor of the characters is consistent. I felt the lack of his brilliant imagination of alternate cultures and environments…
  • Trullion: Alastor 2262 – Jack Vance, 1973 …so I jumped to this set of three (each title is taken from a planet in the Alastor star cluster), among my favorites of his SF/fantasy works. The first is set on a watery world and introduces the game of hussade, which apparently was imported into the Star Trek expanded universe???
  • Marune: Alastor 933 – Jack Vance, 1975. This one has stuck in my mind since I first read it decades ago. On this planet the profusion of moons means there’s seldom darkness, and the Rhune culture has developed rituals around the type of light each combination sheds. They find the act of eating in public shameful – one character says of the typical non-Rhune: “Without shame he displays his victual, salivates, wads it into his orifice, grinds it with his teeth, massages it with his tongue, impels the pulp along his intestinal tract.” The plot of each of these novels is a not-terrible whodunit, but it’s the atmosphere I love. Jonathan says he remembers public eating as taboo from Isaac Asimov’s The Naked Sun (1957) – if I didn’t hate Asimov so much I would read it to confirm. It’s also in Bunuel’s Phantom of Liberty (1974), which I haven’t seen, but it made such an impression on my parents that they mentioned it several times.

Year in review: 39,688 pages over 115 books, a few more books but many more pages than last year because there were a bunch of doorstoppers. Most popular: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, over 9 million other readers (!); least, “Un Autre Monde” (J.-H. Rosny aîné), 4 other people.

December 2019 books read

  • Finished The Chronicles of Narnia
  • A Long Way Down – Nick Hornby, 2005 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer – Jeff VanderMeer, 2007. Not your typical writing book at all. It’s a little outdated in some respects, but covers so many aspects of publication and career that it’s still full of valuable and interesting information.
  • Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming – Paul Hawken (ed.), 2017 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • The Black Envelope (Mr. Pinkerton Again!) – David Frome, 1937 – Jonathan loves silly/cozy mysteries and recommended this one as a good representative of the Mr. Pinkerton series. Not bad, not great.
  • A Death in the Family – James Agee, 1956 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • The Secret Commonwealth – Philip Pullman, 2019. I enjoyed it very much but read it quickly. I’ll re-read the whole Book of Dust trilogy after the 3rd one comes out (Wikipedia says Pullman hasn’t even started it, yikes) and have a better sense then of the whole.
  • Death From a Top Hat – Clayton Rawson, 1938 – quotes pulled, TBD
  • Measure for Murder – Clifford Witting, 1941. Another mystery Jonathan was trying out, and because it was set in the theater world and was in a series called Fifty Classics of Crime Fiction, 1900-1950 (I love best-of lists!) it was my 3rd for the month—super-unusual for me, and I’m probably off the mystery train for a while. I just picked up two interesting terms: “compactum,” a dresser (still in use in South Africa), and “Tansad” used to mean a working stool (the company name was Tan-Sad but this article says it comes from “tansad,” a French word meaning pillion seat).

Notable quote from a magazine article, “The Sanctuary” by Elif Batuman (New Yorker, Dec 19-26, 2011):

I thought about the power of the sacred: originating, if the archeologists are to be believed, in the most material expediencies of the body—how and what to eat—it overtakes the soul, making Neolithic man build Göbekli Tepe and making him bury it, sweeping through the millennia, generating monuments, strivings, vast inner landscapes. I thought about history, and the riddle of the Sphinx: what goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening? Some people say that history is progress: isn’t this just a reflection of how we’re born, tiny, weak, and speechless, and then go on to build cathedrals and fly to the moon? When others say that history is a decline from a golden age, isn’t this because youth is so brief and we regret it for so long?

Year in review

I got almost all the books I read into Goodreads this year (might have missed a few), which helpfully counts them and tells me I read 33,705 pages (!) across 104 books. The “most popular” book was Huckleberry Finn, supposedly read by 1.2 million people this year, but only 5 also read The Black Envelope (still more than I would have expected!)

However, I am tremendously underwater with my retrospective posts of quotes pulled from book group books. I have made progress with the actual pulling—backlog under 10 I think—but draft posts etc. has got to be closer to 75. It’s OK if I never finish the actual posts as long as I grab the quotes, since this blog is really just for me anyway…

December 2018 books read

  • Literary Hoaxes: An Eye-Opening History of Famous Frauds – Melissa Katsoulis, 2009. Introduced me to some interesting stories I didn’t know, but not great.
  • The End of Nature – Bill McKibben, 1989 – quotes pulled, review tdb
  • The Beautiful and Damned – F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1922 – quotes pulled, review tdb
  • The Testament of Mary – Colm Tóibín, 2012 – Read for Irish Writers group, which I wasn’t able to attend. This is the 3rd Tóibín I’ve read (all for book groups) and I am just not a fan, at all. At least this was short, and the viewpoint/topic (Mary telling the Jesus story from her point of view) interesting but not as much as I’d hoped.
  • One Train Later: A Memoir – Andy Summers, 2006. The Police were the first band I really, really loved and dove into deeply; my younger self would have relished this in a way I can’t quite. Writing’s not so good, but the part that covers the origin and rise of the band is compelling. A really abrupt ending: the hours before a 1983 concert in Bridgehampton are sprinkled throughout as intros to the chapters, and then the afterword is basically “so, we broke up, and I’m still not feeling closure.” Which I hope the reunion tour in 2007-2008 provided.
  • A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens, 1843 – Never ever gets old in my eyes.
  • The Wolves of Willoughby Chase – Joan Aiken, 1962 – I saw the description of this so many times in the back of Puffin paperbacks from the ’60s and ’70s that it’s hard to believe I never read it; I think I tried it from the library at least once but I didn’t have much of a taste for gothic as a child. What finally got me to try again was Captain Awkward mentioning it as a favorite. Enjoyed it quite a bit but didn’t love love it. – Edited to add: I pulled out a bunch of the Puffins I still have and found what may be the blurb I was thinking of, which is actually for Night Birds on Nantucket and just mentions Wolves:

    Many years ago, late in the middle watch of a calm winter’s night, a square-rigged, three masted ship, the Sarah Casket, was making her way slowly through northern seas. And on the deck a child lay sleeping in a wooden box, so still and pale that she seemed more like a wax doll than a human being. It was Dido Twite, and she had been asleep for more than ten months. (Dido was missing, presumed dead, at the end of Black Hearts in Battersea).
    Suddenly the lookout yelled from the crosstrees, ‘Whale-o! Dead ahead, not more’n a mile,’ and Dido woke at last, only to find that she was aboard one of the strangest vessels that ever sailed the seas.
    This is Joan Aiken’s third fantasy (the first was The Wolves of Willoughby Chase) and it is as deliciously outrageous as ever. Warmly recommended for readers of ten and over.

    It’s in the back of Doctor Dolittle and the Secret Lake, one of my all-time favorites, so it makes sense I would have read it many times. I found it compelling but creepy enough that I didn’t particularly seek to read the book. Now I’m intrigued!

  • A World Made by Hand – James Howard Kunstler, 2009 – The “mantasy” aspect has been widely criticized, but I was willing to overlook that for the sake of a good entry in one of my favorite genres (has dropped through the ranks but still in the top 10), post-apocalyptic fiction. But the world outlined here makes no sense. As an insightful reviewer asked, “If everyone is still around, why can’t some of the electrical infrastructure be rebuilt? If almost everybody is dead, why are they making their own shoes instead of scavenging?” Same with the power dynamics. Disappointing.
  • Sister Age – M.F.K. Fisher, 1985 – The beginning, about a weird portrait on leather of the unknown Ursula Van Ott that Fisher bought in a Swiss antiques store, is gripping, as are the memoir pieces. The short stories… not so much, alas, even the ones that center on food.
  • Le Petit Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1943 – Re-read of course, on New Year’s Eve while trying to stay awake until midnight, so the last book of the year!

I probably missed a few, but if my monthly posts are accurate I read 99 books this year. I have posts to write for most of the book group books, some of which are still hanging around full of post-it flags of quotes to pull. So I’ll be either back-dating a lot of posts or giving up on that part of this blog as being too ambitious. I’m happy I’ve stuck with the monthly lists though!

Catch-up – all of 2016

In 2016 I decided to at least keep a list of all the books I read. Along the way I inserted a few quotes. I’ll add a little info now – rereads, which book club, etc.

Jan 2016

  • Bridge Across Forever – Richard Bach (reread)
  • The Enchanted – Rene Delderfield – for Second Monday book club
  • Love in the Time of Climate Change – Brian Adams – for Nature and Environment book club
  • War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy – for Great Books club
  • She Painted Her Face – Dornford Yates (reread)
  • Seven Footprints to Satan – A. A. Merritt (reread)
  • White Dawn – James Houston (heavily referenced in The Enchanted, along with Crazy Weather below–I love books that lead to other books!)

Feb 2016

  • Crazy Weather – Charles McNichols
  • The Cat’s Table – Michael Ondjaate – for Second Monday book club

    “Mr Fonseka seemed to draw forth an assurance or a calming quality from the books he read… Mr Fonseka would not be a wealthy man. And it would be a spare life he would be certain to lead as a schoolteacher in some urban location. But he had a serenity that came with the choice of the life he wanted to live. And this serenity and certainty I have seen only among those who have the armor of books close by.

  • Silent Spring – Rachel Carson – for Nature and Environment book club
  • Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis (reread)
  • This is the Story of a Happy Marriage – Ann Patchett
  • Old Man’s War – John Scalzi
  • As I Lay Dying – Faulkner – for Great Books club – OMG! can’t un-read the decaying body in the coffin, worse than any Stephen King–but brilliant
  • The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson

    It’s like she’s pulling Post-it notes out of her hair and lecturing from them, one of my peers once complained about the teaching style of my beloved teacher Mary Ann Caws. I had to agree, this was an apt description of Caws’s style (and hair). But not only did I love this style, I also loved it that no one could tell Caws to teach otherwise. You could abide her or drop her class: the choice was yours. Ditto Eileen Myles, who tells a great story about a student at UC San Diego once complaining that her lecturing style was like “throwing a pizza at us.” My feeling is, you should be so lucky to get a pizza in the face from Eileen Myles, or a Post-it note plucked from the nest of Mary Ann Caws’s hair. (pg 48)

    “That’s what we both hate about fiction, or at least crappy fiction–it purports to provide occasions for thinking through complex issues, but really it has predetermined the positions, stuffed a narrative full of false choices, and hooked you on them, rendering you less able to see out, to get out.” (pg 82)

  • Redshirts – John Scalzi
  • The Julian Chapter – R J Palacio
  • Good in Bed – Jennifer Weiner – jeez, hate the protagonist but I ended up staying up all night to finish

March 2016

  • A Sand County Almanac – Aldo Leopold – for Nature and Environment book club
    • Analogy of history and saw/wedge/axe
    • Chickadees “draw up their white napkins and fall to;” “so small a bundle of large enthusiasms”
    • Pines analogy with politics, terms of office…
    • ”few educated people realize that the marvelous advances in [agricultural] technique made during recent decades are improvements in the pump, rather than the well”
  • The Once and Future King – T.H. White (reread)
  • The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion
  • Being Mortal – Atul Gawande (Hampshire County Reads)
  • The Feast of the Goat – Mario Vargas Llosa – for Great Books club
  • Les Bijoux de la Castafiore – Herge (reread)
  • The House that Berry Built – Dornford Yates (reread)
  • Temple of the Sun – Herge (reread)

April 2016

  • Asterix le Gaulois, Asterix et la Serpe d’Or (reread)
  • The Path of Least Resistance – Robert Fritz
  • David Copperfield – Charles Dickens (reread) – for Second Monday book club
    • The rest of the half-year is a jumble in my recollection of the daily strife and struggle of our lives; of the waning summer and the changing season; of the frosty mornings when we were rung out of bed, and the cold, cold smell of the dark nights when we were rung into bed again; of the evening schoolroom dimly lighted and indifferently warmed, and the morning schoolroom which was nothing but a great shivering-machine; of the alternation of boiled beef with roast beef, and boiled mutton with roast mutton; of clods of bread-and-butter, dog’s-eared lesson-books, cracked slates, tear-blotted copy-books, canings, rulerings, hair-cuttings, rainy Sundays, suet puddings, and a dirty atmosphere of ink surrounding all.
    • [Heep’s room] I don’t remember that any individual object had a bare, pinched, spare look; but I do remember that the whole place had.
    • [Miss Mowcher] “Take a word of advice, even from three foot nothing. Try not to associate bodily defects with mental, my good friend, except for a solid reason.”
    • …Master Micawber, whom I found a promising boy of about twelve or thirteen, very subject to that restlessness of limb which is not an unfrequent phenomenon in youths of his age. … These observations, and indeed the greater part of the observations made that evening, were interrupted by Mrs. Micawber’s discovering that Master Micawber was sitting on his boots, or holding his head on with both arms as if he felt it loose, or accidentally kicking Traddles under the table, or shuffling his feet over one another, or producing them at distances from himself apparently outrageous to nature, or lying sideways with his hair among the wine-glasses, or developing his restlessness of limb in some other form incompatible with the general interests of society.
    • Once again, let me pause upon a memorable period of my life. Let me stand aside, to see the phantoms of those days go by me, accompanying the shadow of myself, in dim procession.
    • Weeks, months, seasons, pass along. They seem little more than a summer day and a winter evening. Now, the Common where I walk with Dora is all in bloom, a field of bright gold; and now the unseen heather lies in mounds and bunches underneath a covering of snow. In a breath, the river that flows through our Sunday walks is sparkling in the summer sun, is ruffled by the winter wind, or thickened with drifting heaps of ice. Faster than ever river ran towards the sea, it flashes, darkens, and rolls away.
    • I had hoped that lighter hands than mine would help to mould her character, and that a baby-smile upon her breast might change my child-wife to a woman. It was not to be. The spirit fluttered for a moment on the threshold of its little prison, and, unconscious of captivity, took wing.
    • Early in the morning, I sauntered through the dear old tranquil streets, and again mingled with the shadows of the venerable gateways and churches. The rooks were sailing about the cathedral towers; and the towers themselves, overlooking many a long unaltered mile of the rich country and its pleasant streams, were cutting the bright morning air, as if there were no such thing as change on earth. Yet the bells, when they sounded, told me sorrowfully of change in everything; told me of their own age, and my pretty Dora’s youth; and of the many, never old, who had lived and loved and died, while the reverberations of the bells had hummed through the rusty armour of the Black Prince hanging up within, and, motes upon the deep of Time, had lost themselves in air, as circles do in water.
    • Again, Mr. Micawber had a relish in this formal piling up of words, which, however ludicrously displayed in his case, was, I must say, not at all peculiar to him. I have observed it, in the course of my life, in numbers of men. It seems to me to be a general rule. In the taking of legal oaths, for instance, deponents seem to enjoy themselves mightily when they come to several good words in succession, for the expression of one idea; as, that they utterly detest, abominate, and abjure, or so forth; and the old anathemas were made relishing on the same principle. We talk about the tyranny of words, but we like to tyrannise over them too; we are fond of having a large superfluous establishment of words to wait upon us on great occasions; we think it looks important, and sounds well. As we are not particular about the meaning of our liveries on state occasions, if they be but fine and numerous enough, so, the meaning or necessity of our words is a secondary consideration, if there be but a great parade of them. And as individuals get into trouble by making too great a show of liveries, or as slaves when they are too numerous rise against their masters, so I think I could mention a nation that has got into many great difficulties, and will get into many greater, from maintaining too large a retinue of words.
    • [Heep] “Or as certain as they used to teach at school (the same school where I picked up so much umbleness), from nine o’clock to eleven, that labor was a curse; and from eleven o’clock to one, that it was a blessing and a cheerfulness, and a dignity, and I don’t know what all, eh?” said he with a sneer.
  • The World Without Us – Alan Weisman – for Nature and Environment book club – such a great book, full of fascinating things: Bialowieza Puszcza, Varosha, Cappadocia, Rothamstead Research Archive
  • Better – Atul Gawande
  • Wonder – R.J. Palacio
  • The White Mountains – John Christopher (reread)
  • When the Tripods Came – John Christopher (reread)
  • Death Comes for the Archbishop – Willa Cather – for Great Books club
  • The Illustrated Man – Ray Bradbury (reread)
  • [skimmed] Saving the Appearances – Owen Barfield
  • The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury (reread)

May 2016

  • The City of Gold and Lead – John Christopher (reread)
  • I Curse the River of Time – Per Petterson – for Second Monday book club
    • Mao’s poem, “Shaoshan Revisited,” is translated differently into English than in this translation.
    • Reference to Tom Kristensen, Havoc
    • Sven Lindqvist, The Myth of Wu Tao-Tzu – “is social and economic liberation possible without violence? No. Is it possible with violence? No.”
    • …when it came to dying, I was scared. Not of being dead, that I could not comprehend, to be nothing was impossible to grasp and therefore really nothing to be scared of, but the dying itself I could comprehend, the very instant when you know that now comes what you have always feared, and you suddenly realise that every chance of being the person you really wanted to be, is gone for ever, and the one you were, is the one those around you will remember. Then that must feel like someone’s strong hands slowly tightening their grip around your neck until you can breathe no more, and not at all as when a door is slowly pushed open and bright light comes streaming out from the inside and a woman or a man you have always known and always liked, maybe always loved, leans out and gently takes you hand and leads you in to a place of rest, so mild and so fine, from eternity to eternity.
  • The Pool of Fire – John Christopher (reread)
  • Journey to the Ants – EO Wilson & Hobdobbler – for Nature and Environment book club
  • Christopher and Columbus – Elizabeth von Arnim
  • Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh – for Great Books club
    •     “…to know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom.”
    •     ‘Is it Good Art?’ [re chapel in Celtic Art Nouveau –]
      …”I think it’s a remarkable example of its period. Probably in eighty years it will be greatly admired.’
      ‘But surely it can’t be good twenty years ago and good in eighty years, and not good now?’
    •     ‘I always thought people had turned against him.’
      ‘My dear boy, you are very young. People turn against a handsome, clever, wealthy man like Alex? Never in your life. It is he who has driven them away.”
    •     “The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant people are. With anyone over fifty you can be fairly confident what’s been taught and what’s been left out. But these young people have such an intelligent, knowledgeable surface, and then the crust suddenly breaks and you look down into depths of confusion you didn’t know existed.”
  • The Innocence of Father Brown – G.K. Chesterton (reread)
  • Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart – Claire Harman
    • Thackeray on Bronte: “The poor little woman of genius! The fiery little eager brave tremulous homely-faced creature! I can read a great deal of her life as I fancy in her book, and see that rather than have fame, rather than any other earthly good…she wants some Tomkins or another to love her and be in love with. But you see she is a little bit of a creature without a penny of good looks, thirty years old I should think, buried in the country and eating her own heart up there, and no Tomkins will come…”
  • The Gunslinger – Stephen King
  • The Drawing of the Three – Stephen King

June 2016

  • Mansfield Park – Jane Austen (reread)
  • The Waste Lands – Stephen King
  • Changes in the Land – William Cronon – for Nature and Environment book club. Amazing!
  • Case for Three Detectives – Leo Bruce. Very very funny parody of Father Brown: Monsignor Smith, who becomes more and more shapeless (compared to a sack of coal) (others Lord Peter Wimsey, Hercule Poirot)
  • Wizard and Glass – Stephen King

July 2016

  • Bridget Jones’ Diary – Helen Fielding (reread) (no making spam by mistake, it’s marmelade; also Daniel seeing the granny panties must be only from the movie?)
  • The Kingdom of Carbonel – Barbara Sleigh (reread)
  • Etta and Otto and Russell and James – Emma Hooper – for Second Monday book club
  • Six Degrees – Mark Lynas (Queensland Wet Tropics; tepuis in Venezuela; how close the End Permian came to extinguishing life in general (nightmare conditions on the earth)) – for Nature and Environment book club
  • The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
  • Reflections in a Golden Eye – Carson McCullers – for Great Books club
  • The obstacle is the way : the timeless art of turning trials into triumph – Ryan Holiday
  • Titus Awakes – Maeve Gilmore
  • Jamaica Inn – Daphne Du Maurier
  • Fire Below – Dornford Yates (reread)

August 2016

  • The Dead Zone – Stephen King (reread)
  • A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett (reread)
  • The Turn of the Screw – Henry James (reread)
  • The Children Act – Ian McEwen – for Second Monday book club
    “…children doomed to see their fathers once or twice a month, or never, as the most purposeful men vanished into the smithy of a hot new marriage to forge new offspring.”
  • The Outermost House – Henry Beston – for Nature and Environment book club
  • A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula LeGuin (reread)
  • Podkayne of Mars – Robert Heinlein (reread)
  • Siddhartha – Herman Hesse – for Great Books club
  • Have Spacesuit, Will Travel – Robert Heinlein (reread) – character “the Mother Thing”
  • Adrift: Seventy-Six Days at Sea – Steven Callahan (reread)
  • At the Back of the North Wind – George MacDonald (reread)
  • The Tombs of Atuan – Ursula LeGuin (reread)
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Jack Thorne & John Tiffany
  • The Farthest Shore – Ursula LeGuin (reread)


  • Tehanu – Ursula LeGuin (reread)
  • Tales of Earthsea – Ursula LeGuin (reread)
  • The Other Wind – Ursula LeGuin (reread)
  • Nora Webster – Colm Toibin – for Second Monday book club
  • Botany of Desire – Michael Pollan – for Nature and Environment book club
  • The Time Travel Megapack (anthology)
  • Pickwick Papers – Charles Dickens – for Great Books club


  • The Prince of Central Park – Evan Rhodes (reread)
  • A Tale of Two Castles – Gail Carson Levine
  • The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald (reread) – for Second Monday book club
  • All Mary – Gwynedd Rae (reread)
  • Mostly Mary – Gwynedd Rae (reread)
  • Jill’s Gymkhana – Ruby Ferguson (reread)
  • Les Malheurs de Sophie – Contesse de Segur (reread)
  • Field Notes from a Catastrophe – Elizabeth Kolbert – for Nature and Environment book club
  • Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe – for Great Books club – SO good, Shakespeare and traditional African society combined
  • Biography of Hugh Walpole
  • A Wrinkle in Time – Madeline L’Engle (reread)
  • All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr – for Second Monday book club
  • Round the Bend – Nevil Shute (reread)
  • A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute (reread)


  • World War Z – Max Brooks
  • The Ascent of Rum Doodle – W. E. Bowman (reread)
  • The King in Yellow – Robert Chambers
  • Angel Island – Inez Haynes Gillmore
  • Junket, the Dog Who Liked Things Just So – Anne Hitchcock
  • 20,000 Leagues under the Sea – Jules Verne
  • Angle of Repose – Wallace Stegner – for Great Books club
  • Murder in Pastiche – Marion Mainwaring
  • The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton (reread)
  • My Family and Other Animals – Gerald Durrell (reread)


  • Citizen of the Galaxy – Robert Heinlein (reread)
  • Farmer in the Sky – Robert Heinlein (reread)
  • Beasts and Other Relatives – Gerald Durrell (reread)
  • Arabella – Georgette Heyer (reread)
  • Dubliners – James Joyce (reread) – for Second Monday book club
  • A Country Year – Sue Hubbell (reread) – for Nature and Environment book club
  • Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein (reread)
  • The Plumed Serpent – D.H. Lawrence – for Great Books club – OMG so terrible, really regret we picked it
  • Better than Before – Gretchen Rubin
  • A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (reread)