what I read in May 2022

Baking with Dorie by Dorie Greenspan

Dorie’s bakes are more complicated and less healthy than I care for, but it was nice to flip through.

Big Book of Baby Knits by Marie Claire

I prefer my knitting patterns to be for circular needles and these are not. Cute babies, though.

Earth to Table Bakes by Bettina Schormann and Erin Schiestel

Another book of fairly involved recipes geared toward people who like spending time in the kitchen, so, not me then.

Floating in the Deep End by Patti Davis

More personal and focused on the emotional side of caregiving compared to many other books about dementia. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for insight into the caregiving experience.

Knitted Gifts for All Seasons by Wendy Bernard

Ah, Wendy Bernard always produces such good work. Lots of really nice patterns here.

Learning to Speak Alzheimer’s by Joanne Koenig Coste

A few parts are a bit dated, but overall it had a lot of good, practical information and ideas.

Lord Peter Views the Body by Dorothy L Sayers

An entertaining selection of Lord Peter Wimsey short stories. Good for reading before bed.

The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins

My favourite read of the month, by far. Imogen Gresham is initially unconcerned about her husband Evelyn’s growing relationship with their neighbour, Blanche, since Blanche is (gasp) 50 years old and not particularly physically attractive. Imogen’s denial persists until it’s too late and while part of me kept wanting to shake her to wake up and smell the coffee, another part of me thought Evelyn a pompous ass and no great loss, frankly. Really enjoyable.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Shortly after the Second World War, Helene Hanff, a young writer in New York City, sent a request to a used book shop in London and thus began a two decade friendship in letters with an employee of the store, Frank, as well as Frank’s wife, daughter, co-workers and even a neighbour.

I loved the wit and charm of the letters, the take on then-current events, the personal updates, and, of course, all the book talk.

A short volume, but a really lovely read for those days when you have lost all faith in humanity.

The Secret Life of Groceries by Benjamin Lorr

This book confirmed every shady thing I’ve ever heard or assumed about the grocery industry and managed to add a whole slew of new horrors to be disgusted by. Unspeakable sanitary conditions? Check. Shocking human rights abuses? Check. Utter lack of regard for the environment? Check. Bribes, payouts and laughably ineffective audits? Check. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Infuriating, depressing and recommended.

Kiss Myself Goodbye by Ferdinand Mount

‘Grimly funny and superbly written, with a twist on every page,’ reads the front cover blurb by Hilary Mantel, who knows a thing or two about grim humour and superb writing. Hilary’s word is good enough for me so I ordered it and, lo and behold, she was right. This is a fascinating, funny book.

I confess I hesitated at first. A whole book about this guy’s aunt? Why should I invest more than three seconds in learning about some long-dead woman who didn’t seem to do much of anything?

Oh, but she did things, all right. Lots and lots of wild lifestyle choices involving multiple name changes, an illegitimate child, secret adoptions and bigamy, just to scratch the surface. Mount spends years digging for the truth – there is a LOT of digging to do – and skillfully places his aunt’s escapades within both her geography and the social environment of the time.

I laughed and I gasped and I learned – my three keys to a really good reading experience. Highly recommended.

The Case of the Murderous Dr Cream by Dean Jobb

For about fifteen years in the late 19th century, Dr Thomas Neill Cream went on a murder spree in Canada, the United States and England, merrily poisoning people wherever he went and moving on when suspicions began to gather. He got away with it for so long thanks to police incompetence and the sexist and classist (but he’s a doctor!) attitudes of the day. (Of the day, I write, as if those things don’t exist any more. Sigh.)

Dean Jobb lays out the case in an enthralling and spectacularly researched fashion that makes it both a pleasure and infuriating to read. I don’t often say this, but all of the hype and five-star reviews and shortlists for awards are well deserved. Wholeheartedly recommended.

A Chill in the Air by Iris Origo

A short, but fascinating first-hand account of life in Italy during the build-up to Italy’s entry into the Second World War.

According to Origo, most Italians hated Hitler (and Germans) and wanted no part of fighting alongside Nazis. They truly believed only Mussolini – master negotiator, force of nature and god among men – could and would keep them out of it. Fascism was popular and democracy derided, particularly in the pro-German/anti-British propaganda in Italian newspapers. Knowing now how badly things ended for Italians, Origo’s continual hunt for signs that they’d escape the war is all the more heartbreaking.

Maybe if high school history classes focused more on gripping, first-hand accounts like this one and less on deadly boring textbooks, we wouldn’t be doomed to repeat the same stupid political cycles over and over.

Highly recommended.

The 4% Fix by Karma Brown

I’m a sucker for books about productivity and creativity and making time for meaningful pursuits and all that jazz, but this one just didn’t do it for me.

Brown’s main idea is that by getting up an hour earlier every day (for her, that’s 5 am – shudder) one can use that time to pursue a personal goal. That’s it. That’s the 4% fix. Go to bed an hour earlier so you can get up an hour earlier and do that thing you want to do before the day fills up with all the things you have to do.

This is perfectly reasonable (if not exactly revolutionary) advice, but there’s a weird insistence here on getting up at 5, as though extreme early birds are the only people who ever accomplish goals.

When I write my book on making time for meaningful pursuits (which’ll be never, apparently, since I am NOT voluntarily getting up at 5) I’ll also emphasize the importance of reserving an hour a day, but reserving it whenever it fits in with one’s own circadian rhythms and daily schedule. The only difference between taking an hour at 5 am or taking it later in the morning (or mid-afternoon or late in the evening) is that later risers don’t get to brag about how early they get up.