what I read in September 2020

Bad Ideas by Missy Marston (DNF)

(Audiobook) I gave it an hour, but just couldn’t get into it. It wasn’t bad, just a bit boring.

The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future by Ryder Carroll

Part organizational technique and part self-help book. Made me re-consider my planning/note-taking/record-keeping/journalling process.

The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson

(Audiobook) Fascinating. I noticed a couple of factual mistakes while I was listening (although I can’t remember what they are now), but this is an extensively researched and entertainingly written tour from human head to toe. Bryson is also a great narrator.

Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies by Tara Schuster

I’m usually pretty skeptical about life advice doled out by single, childless, affluent thirty-year-olds, but Schuster’s voice won me over.  I agree with her that learning to re-parent yourself if you didn’t get what you needed throughout childhood is essential for becoming a happy, healthy human.

Eco-Chic Bags by Alicia Steele

My biggest takeaway from this book is the existence of sewing clips. What a revelation! I probably will not make any of her bags, but I have asked for sewing clips for Christmas.

How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X Kendi

(Audiobook) A thought-provoking and deservedly successful book. I do think I would have preferred the regular book version, though, because I found Kendi’s style of narration a bit choppy to listen to.

The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life by Martha Beck 

(Audiobook) Lots of good advice (meditate, be creative, take time to play, etc), but bad narration that flattened the humour right out of it.

Knits From Nature by Dee Hardwicke

Not my kind of thing at all.

Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) by Hazel Jane Plante

One of the most creative novels I’ve ever read. The narrator deals with the grief of her best friend’s death by creating an encyclopedia about a television show they loved. It’s written by a trans author about trans characters and should be more widely known.

Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with The First Lady by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff

Reaffirms every terrible thing you’ve ever heard or thought about all of the Trumps and their entire circle. It must have been painful for Wolkoff to painstakingly explain every single way in which she is a terrible judge of character.

Ruffage: A Practical Guide to Vegetables by Abra Berens

I didn’t expect a book about vegetables to feature meat and eggs and dairy quite so prominently. Very few recipes I’d be interested in trying.

What It’s Like to Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing–What Birds Are Doing, and Why by David Allen Sibley

Lots of interesting facts about birds, but they’re all kind of jumbled up and scattered throughout the book, which is definitely not suited to an ebook format. The artwork is good, but the text reads like the research notes one might jot down while preparing to write a book about birds.

Wildflowers of Nova Scotia by the Blomidon Naturalists Society

A handy little book identifying a lot of very familiar plants.

what I read in August 2020

The Art Detective: Fakes, Frauds and Finds and the Search for Lost Treasures by Philip Mould

(Audiobook) Another fine book almost ruined by a terrible narrator. Why why why do publishers allow audiobook narrators of non-fiction to put on funny voices and/or ridiculous accents for each person? The stories behind the fakes, frauds and finds Mould discusses were fascinating; his extended riffs on the family issues, behavioural oddities and drinking problems of various collectors, experts and other gallerists were not.

Cool, Calm and Contentious by Merrill Markoe

I had high hopes based on the title, but it was less funny than I expected and a lot more sad.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

(Audiobook) I was curious to read this after watching the television adaptation and I have to say I have never seen a book-to-screen adaptation as faithful as this one. I enjoyed them both.

Keep It Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life by Twyla Tharp

A short book about the importance of staying physically and mentally flexible as one ages. It was okay.

Mobituaries:Great Lives Worth Reliving by Mo Rocca

(Audiobook) Rocca delivers well-written obituaries for a wide variety of people and things, both real and imaginary. He is particularly interested in US presidents, which I am not (current lunatic excluded), but his delivery is so entertaining I happily listened anyway. Recommended. 

More Information Than You Require by John Hodgman

(Audiobook) Uneven. The first half, comprised of “fake trivia and made-up facts,” was often very funny. The second half’s daily almanac was a bit dull and the list of 700 molemen names and occupations was brutal.

Plant-Based Meal Prep by Jackie Sobon

I haven’t gotten into meal prepping, but there are some good recipes here to try.

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

(Audiobook) In the middle of a pandemic seems as good a time as any to read/listen to a story set in 1918, during the Spanish Flu pandemic. It’s well-written and obviously thoroughly researched, but just didn’t quite grab me. I wanted to know more about the characters and less about the medical details. By times, it seemed almost like a nurses’ manual: check this, measure that, do this, repeat.

Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary L Trump PhD

(Audiobook) Wow. Wow wow wow, what a horrible group of people. I know Trump defenders are saying she only wrote the book because she and her brother were written out of their grandfather’s will, and that may be true, but she wouldn’t have had anything to write about if they hadn’t all been so awful. A whole multi-generational family of sociopaths. Read this and feel much better about your own relations.

what I read in July 2020

American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI by Kate Winkler Dawson
The interesting story of Edward Heinrich, pioneer of forensic science. Fascinating case histories, but it felt a little disjointed. Also: please don’t tease with a case in the first chapter and not get back to it until the last. I hate that.

The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump by Mary Jordan
If you ever pitied Melania for being trapped in a loveless marriage with a lying buffoon, don’t. They deserve each other.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel


Cosy: The British Art of Comfort by Laura Weir
I wouldn’t say drinking tea, wearing warm socks and hunkering down indoors are activities exclusive to the British, but what do I know?

The Durrells of Corfu by Michael Haag
A bit sloppily written, but I liked learning about the lives of the real Durrells. The show, unsurprisingly, glosses over a lot.

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Started off strong, but it faded a bit for me. It was okay.

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
(Audiobook, read beautifully by Phyllida Law)
What could I possibly say that hasn’t already been said a million times over? Staggeringly good.

The Other Side of the Coin by Angela Kelly
The behind-the-scenes details about the Queen’s wardrobe and what it’s like to work for her were great; the parts about Kelly herself were less so. The inclusion of letters from her young grandchildren about how wonderful and inspiring she is seemed odd and all the terrible low-res photos (many of which made her eyes appear to be all iris, no white, and super creepy) are not an asset.

The Room Where It Happened by John Bolton
(Audiobook, read by Robert Petkoff)
A hate-listen, simple as that. Hours and hours of this pompous blowhard going on and on about how he is always, ALWAYS, right about everything and everyone else is (almost) always wrong. Also includes: every compliment he has ever received.

Skogluft by Jørn Viurndal
The first two hundred pages explain why nature is good. The last few pages explain how to grow a bunch of pothos plants on your wall. A thousand-word magazine article would have more than sufficed.

A Visit from the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan
(Audiobook, read by Roxana Ortega)
“Spellbinding interlocking narratives,” the blurb says. I found most of it reasonably enjoyable, but not exactly spellbinding. The chapter in which an autistic child provides the statistics on pauses in a wide variety of songs was unlistenable, though.

no trees should have to die for this

Thanks to one of the three million publishing-related newsletters I receive daily, it has come to my attention that there is such a thing as an infused water cookbook. Subsequent research has proven there are, in fact, several ‘cookbooks’ for infused water. This raises questions for me, including:

  1. How long might it take to write a book about infused water? Half an hour? An hour?
  2. How many copies might a publisher of a book about infused water expect to sell? Will that number depress me?
  3. How inexperienced must one be to require instructions on how to add pieces of fruit, herbs and/or veg to a glass of water? Is this not a task the average toddler could accomplish handily?
  4. How insulting would it be to receive one of these tomes as a gift?
  5. How do I get a contract to write a book on eating chocolate?