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?

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.