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

Perfection.

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.

what I read in June 2020

American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis
Short stories (some very short) about women who have adapted (or are seeing the need to adapt) to meet the demands of being perfect wives and mothers. Wry and creative and funny and a bit vicious, at times. I liked it a lot.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (Audio)
Still gut-wrenching, decades later. Narrated by the author and I’d like to listen to her narrate everything.
Collected: City + Country by Sarah Richardson
The first of a series, apparently. I don’t know what the print version is like, but the ebook felt more like a magazine. Lots of pretty interiors for pristine people.
Do You Mind If I Cancel? (Things That Still Annoy Me) by Gary Janetti
I thought this would be a book of humourous essays, but it’s a boring, disjointed and repetitive autobiography by a man who is known (I have since learned) for being very funny. This came as a surprise.
Dumpty: The Age of Trump in Verse by John Lithgow
Clever and a lot of fun to write, I bet.
Fantastic Mr Fox and Other Animal Stories by Roald Dahl (Audio)
Loved it. Great narration by Chris O’Dowd, Geoffrey Palmer, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.
Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal
Tips for maintaining focus, but nothing I hadn’t heard before or learned on my own.
Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown by Anne Glenconner (Audio)
Now this is an autobiography. What a fascinating life, well-told.
Lake Success: A Novel by Gary Shteyngart (Audio)
I wasn’t sure whether to persist with this one; heaven knows there are enough novels out there following the escapades of rich, powerful, white male protagonists. I did enjoy watching the failures mount up for Barry Cohen, the clueless main character, but he still got off way too easily for his various misdemeanors. Frustratingly true to life.
Live Beautiful by Athena Calderone
Decor inspiration for rich people who live in homes that look like movie sets.
Meatless by Martha Stewart
Nicely done, Martha.
Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food by Alicia C Simpson
Lots of good ideas to try.
Vegan on the Go by Jerome Eckmeier
Hmmm, I seem to have been feeling very vegan this month. This is another good one.
A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America by Carol D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker (Audio)
Never could I have imagined I’d be interested in reading/listening to so many books about a politician, but I guess that’s what happens when a clown is put in charge.
The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West
I wish I could express myself half as well as Lindy West. Great essays.

what I read in May 2020

All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman
I read this on a recommendation from a friend and it was a good recommendation. It’s unusual and funny and I was still thinking about it a week later, which is really rare for me.
Bibliostyle: How We Live at Home with Books by Nina Freudenberger
See? I’m not the only one with A LOT of books.
Edible DIY: Simple, Giftable Recipes to Savor and Share by Lucy Baker
Some nice, easy ideas.
Everything Chocolate by America’s Test Kitchen
I want to make every single thing in this book.
Grow Food For Free by Huw Richards (Audiobook)
Worth listening to just for his Welsh accent, but lots of good advice for gardening on a budget.
Lean Out by Tara Henley
A strange book. After working herself into the ground for a couple decades, the author takes three years off to discover she needs to rest more, get fresh air and eat properly. She refuses to do any internal work on her difficulties with life (she dismisses meditation as a “life hack”) and focuses only on her conviction that all modern problems stem from a lack of community. For some reason, all of this is interspersed with long passages about all the travelling she’s done. I’m glad she feels better, but I didn’t relate.
Planting the Natural Garden by Henk Gerritsen and Piet Oudolf
A really good resource I’d like to own.
Shetland by Ann Cleeves
Beautiful photography.
Simple Farmhouse Life by Lisa Bass
I’m always skeptical when I flip through books of perfect homes decorated by perfect women with fifteen perfect children, but who knows? Maybe she only needs an hour of sleep a day.
Talking to Strangers by Marianne Boucher
My first graphic novel, I think. The author visits California as a teenager and is swept up into the Moonies cult. I identified more with her parents, of course, who must have been terrified.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle (Audiobook)
I almost gave up on this one several times because I found her introspection and need to talk about how much she loves her wife kind of tedious, but it picked up a bit when she got into what women can do for ourselves and each other and society at large.
Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis by Ada Calhoun
A book for and about the women of Generation X. Like me. Excellent.

what I read in April 2020

50 Knitted Wraps and Shawls by Marisa Nöldeke
Is it possible to have too many wraps and shawls? No. No, it isn’t.
The Blue Zones Kitchen by Dan Buettner
What a relief to read a cookbook that isn’t all photos of the author looking glamorous in an expensive kitchen.
The Crafty Gardener by Becca Anderson
A weird hodgepodge of gardening information, personal reflections and pretty photographs. The ebook formatting was bad so it might be less weird in paper form.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (Audiobook)
Finally got to this one a mere 17 years after everybody else. It was very good.
Effin Birds by Aaron Reynolds
Pairing Audubon illustrations with curse words is genius and I’ll never forgive myself for not thinking of it first.
Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo (Audiobook)
All I really remember about it is that the author is very successful at everything she tries.
Hello Color: 25 Bright Ideas for DIY Decor by Rachel Mae Smith
Not my taste, let’s leave it at that.
How to Be Fine: What We Learned from Living by the Rules of 50 Self-Help Books by Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer
Disappointingly low on details about the self-help books they studied or, contrary to what the title suggests, what they learned from those books.
How to Eat by Mark Bittman and David L Katz (Audiobook)
The answer: a plant-based diet. Which we’re already doing. So that’s good.
Longbourn by Jo Baker (Audiobook)
A really interesting concept: Pride and Prejudice from the viewpoint of the Bennet household’s servants. A smidge too long, in my opinion, but I liked it. Emma Fielding was a great narrator.
Making Space, Clutter Free by Tracy McCubbin
Why did I read this? I don’t know. It’s fine as far as de-cluttering books go, but I like having lots of resources to draw upon (i.e. clutter).
Martha Stewart’s Cookie Perfection by the editors of Martha Stewart Living
God, I love cookies so much.
The New Family Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen
Always good recipes, even if the ATK people do tend to get a bit fussy.
Open Kitchen by Susan Spungen
Seemed fine, just not the kinds of things I cook.
The Self-Care Solution by Jennifer Ashton MD
Boy, do I have a lot I could say about this one. Every month for one year, this doctor (as she reminds the reader nine million times) who appears regularly on Good Morning America (another nine million times) challenges herself to a healthy habit even though she does not need to because she is incredibly fit, thin, strong, healthy, disciplined, rich, gorgeous and perfect in every way. Absolutely nauseating and her single-minded obsession with body weight and having a flat belly is disturbing.
That’s Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms and What Our English Says About Us by Erin Moore
An American ex-pat living in London points out small cultural and language differences. It was fine.
Upcycling Celebrations by Danny Seo
Take random pieces of garbage and hot glue gun them together to make garbage decorations that 100% look like glued-together garbage.
Weather by Jenny Offill (Audiobook)
Short, linked vignettes in lieu of a plot. I liked it.
Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby (Audiobook)
I enjoy everything Samantha Irby writes and this did not disappoint. Most enjoyable read of the month, by far.



what I read in March 2020

A Warning by Anonymous
Yet more confirmation that Trump and the current American government are just as awful and dysfunctional as they seem.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
I’m not sure about all the magic stuff, but she has a lot of really smart advice on living a creative life.
Bowls by America’s Test Kitchen
Lots of appealing ideas.
Bunny by Mona Awad
Audiobook. Weird, but I liked it.
Everyday Decorating by Jeffrey Bilhuber
Not my style.
Find Your Pleasure by Cynthia Loyst
Fine (if somewhat common sense) advice on self-care, but good grief, the book is half photographs of her.
Grit by Angela Duckworth
Audiobook. Really interesting food for thought on how and why to work on one’s grit. Do hard things.
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
Very enjoyable. My kind of book.
Period Repair Manual by Lara Briden
Includes some seriously outdated information on nutrition, but her repeated recommendation to take magnesium checks out with other things I’ve read.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Needed this after A Warning. Absolute perfection.
Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown
Audiobook. Dual narrators are not my favourite device because one is inevitably weaker than the other and I end up wishing the dud’s part had been discarded entirely.
Things in Jars by Jess Kidd
A super-stylised gothic detective story. Intriguing and entertaining.
Ultimate Veg by Jamie Oliver
Yeah, I’ll try some of these.

 

 

on reading perhaps more than average

Once in a blue moon, someone penetrates my self-isolation bubble–not from COVID-19; I’ve loved the hermit lifestyle since way before it was legally mandated—to observe that I read a lot. Sometimes these people offer a few words of admiration before launching into a litany of all the reasons why they could never spend so much time reading and sometimes they scoff at my devotion to a hobby they deem worthless. (While never considering that I might feel the same about their obsession with getting manicures, binge-watching reality television or trying to get noticed by celebrities on Facebook.)

So, for future reference, I hereby list the reasons why I can read as much as I do:

  1. My children are mostly grown. Not having to wait hand and food on mouthy little tyrants frees up approximately 65 hours a day.
  2. The library. I buy as many books as I can, but rely heavily on borrowing. Having worked in a few libraries for half a dozen years, I don’t buy into the librarian-hero-worship that’s popular at the moment, but they are invaluable for anyone who needs to read and is not a millionaire.
  3. I prioritise. Read or wash the kitchen floor? Read, duh. Read or work on the taxes? Read, double duh. Read or watch Doc Martin? Watch Doc Martin. Then read.
  4. Know when to quit. This is a work in progress because, after all these years, I still have a hard time shaking this mysterious belief that I should finish everything I start. Who cares? There are no prizes for persisting with something that sucks.
  5. Audiobooks. Yes, they count as reading and disregard anyone who says they don’t. (Same goes for e-books versus paper. Format snobs are such a bore.) Audiobooks can be a bit unreliable because some narrators are terrible, but when you get a good one, it’s wonderful. I spend at least a couple hours every day doing dishes, cooking, wiping counters, folding laundry, watching the dogs poop in the yard, riding the exercise bike, picking up after slobby family members, brushing and flossing, et cetera, and now all that time is also reading time. Bingo!
  6. I accept my lack of interest in impressing others. I just can’t bring myself to read things that might be really smart, but boring. Or worthy and important, but super-depressing. Or highly praised and touted, but for no discernible reason. Until the day I get paid to read, I’ll choose what I like.

what I read in February 2020

Cozy White Cottage by Liz Marie Galvan
More of the same look that all the decorating books are about now. White-painted everything. A few black or tan accessories. Zero personality.
Food in Jars Kitchen by Marisa McClellan
I doubt I’ll ever be able to make enough preserves to use in baking and cooking, but if I did, I’d try some of these recipes.
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley (Audiobook)
Great premise; super-weird narrative technique of one person relating someone else’s story who is in turn relating someone else’s story who is in turn relating someone else’s story. Also, the monster had incredible language skills for having picked it up by eavesdropping.
Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt
Useful advice if you just so happen to be an executive with a desk job and subordinates to whom you can assign things. Not all that useful for anyone else.
JOMO Knits by Christina Boggis
Very simple and huge gauge-knits that don’t look like they’d last more than a couple wearings.
The Make Ahead Vegan Cookbook by Ginny Kay McMeans
Some recipes worth trying.
Making a Life by Melanie Falick
Very inspiring look at people with creatively fulfilling lifestyles.
My Scotland by Val McDermid
I’ve never read any of McDermid’s books and I’m not sure I ever will, but I enjoyed the photographs of Scotland.
The New Frontier by Ree Drummond
No cookbook should be 50% photographs of the author’s children.
The Plantiful Plate by Christine Wong
Fine.
She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (Audiobook)
Both excellent and so, so depressing.
Taste of Home Handmade Christmas
Crafts, not food. A few cute ideas.
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (Audiobook)
It’s been a while, but I still love it.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (Audiobook)
Amazing. 10/10.
Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by BJ Fogg
Very good. I am trying his technique, to varying degrees of success.
Two Crows Sorrow by Laura Churchill Duke
Based on a true, local, depressing story. I think it would have been stronger if it had been presented as creative non-fiction instead of a fictionalised novel. It also needed a much more thorough proofreading.
Watching You Without Me by Lynn Coady
Having seen so many descriptions of this as ‘scary’ and ‘spooky’, I almost didn’t bother, expecting it to be some kind of horror thing. But I had faith in Lynn Coady and it was justified. Very good storytelling.
When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald (Audiobook)
Yet another buzzed-about book that didn’t quite hit the mark for me. It was okay.
Your Best Home by Joe Snell
Your best home is apparently very modern in style and sparse in possessions.

what I read in January 2020

Almonds, Anchovies and Pancetta by Cal Peternell (Has only one recipe I’d even consider making, which I think is a new record low for me and cookbooks.)
Animal Hats to Knit by Luise Roberts (It takes a certain kind of person to wear an animal hat. I am not that person.)
The Art of Making Memories by Meik Wiking (Pay attention. Take pictures. Reminisce.)
Casino Royale (Audiobook. So. Many. Words. About. Playing. Cards.)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming (Fun. How I wish I’d read this one to the kids when they were little.)
Circe by Madeline Miller (Audiobook. Excellent. Excellent narrator, too.)
The Cure for Everything! by Timothy Caulfield (One long,smug refusal to consider anything that hasn’t been proven by scientific studies, while including many instances of scientific studies that have been faked or manipulated.)
Dear Girls by Ali Wong (Audiobook. Living here under my rock, I had never heard of the author, who, it turns out, is a famous actor and comedian. I enjoyed her part, but thought her husband’s final chapter ended it on a dull note.)
Grand Union by Zadie Smith (Audiobook. Short stories. Good.)
Living Crazy Healthy by Jennifer Rose Rossano (Lots of ideas to try.)
Platform by Cynthia Johnson (She makes the interesting point that you have a personal brand online, whether you like it or not, so you might as well make that personal brand into what you choose.)